Orders of the Day — Land and Housing

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 14th March 1973.

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4.0 p.m.

Photo of Mr Edward Short Mr Edward Short , Newcastle upon Tyne Central

I beg to move, That this House condemns Her Majesty's Government for its failure to control the disastrous increases in house prices, rents and land prices, and to give local authorities sufficient assistance to keep rate increases within the Government's policy for prices.

Photo of Mr Selwyn Lloyd Mr Selwyn Lloyd , Wirral

I should inform the House that I have selected the amendment standing in the name of the Prime Minister and the names of his right hon. Friends— in line 1, leave out from 'House' to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: approves Her Majesty's Government's policies of fair rents accompanied by a generous national scheme of rebates and allowances, of increasing the supply of houses for owner-occupation, and of measures to make more building land available including the proposed land hoarding charge and welcomes Her Majesty's Government's measures to provide rate support grant at a record level and also additional relief to mitigate the effects of rating revaluation on domestic ratepayers.

Photo of Mr Edward Short Mr Edward Short , Newcastle upon Tyne Central

This is a debate about land prices, house prices, rents and rates. On this side of the House, we believe that it should be a major purpose of the Government to ensure that the nation is decently housed. Judged by this criterion, the present Government are a miserable failure—and "miserable" is the right word, for their failure has brought misery to vast numbers of people, to many it has brought heartbreak and frustration, while for others it has enabled previously undreamed-of fortunes to be made.

The Government have utterly failed to deal with the housing problem because they are the prisoners of their own doctrine. Central to Toryism is the belief that the free market mechanism is the best possible way to satisfy human needs, whether the need is for strawberries, houses or anything else. The theory is that rising prices will stimulate new supplies which in turn will satisfy the demand and bring down prices. In the past two and a half years, we have seen demonstrated in the most incontrovertible way that a free market in housing simply does not work in present circumstances. Rising prices have not stimulated new supplies. On the contrary, they have intensified the shortage because potential sellers hold back from selling their properties.

For example, towards the end of last year it was reported that in the Westminster City Council area 13,000 dwellings were empty. The unmistakable lesson of the past two and half years is that a free market in housing has not only failed to solve the problem but has made the problem much worse. It is futile now but also tragic to expect the free market to solve the very problem it has created. Yet that is precisely what the Government are doing. We have seen evidence of this as recently as the tiddly little proposals in the Budget for a land-hoarding tax as well as from what the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not say about the building societies.

What do the vital indices about housing show about the Government's record? They show that land prices, house prices, rents, rates and mortgage interest rates are the highest they have ever been in this country. On the other hand, they show that fewer houses have been built than at any time since the last Tory Government were in office. The London Property Letter—anyone who wants a fertile source of material about the savage philosophy of the property speculator should read it—has commented on house prices: Since the Tories' return to power house-prices have boomed as never before, giving dealers a rising market. If the second quarter of 1970 is compared with the fourth quarter of 1972, the percentage increases in house prices were as follows: London and the South-East, 37 per cent.; the South, 53 per cent.; the North-West, 46 per cent.; Scotland, 24 per cent.; Great Britain, 45 per cent.—and the figure for Great Britain for older houses, 57 per cent.

At the moment the average house in Great Britain is rising in price at the rate of £6·45 per day. There is a widespread belief that these rocketing house prices are due to the rapid rises in the price of land. Indeed, land prices, like everything else under this Government, have risen with lightning speed.

In the first half of 1970, land prices actually fell. In the second half, they rose by 6 per cent. In the first half of 1971, they rose by 8 per cent. and in the second half by 21 per cent. In the first half of 1972, they rose by 31 per cent. The Department has not yet published the figures for the second half of 1972. These increases are going up not in arithmetical progression but in geometrical progression. Every day there are in the Press examples of prices paid for land which one imagined could not possibly go higher, yet next day even higher prices are paid. I give one or two examples at random.

In December five householders of Wilmslow put 2½ acres on the market at £750,000. A leading Manchester property developer was quoted in The Guardian as saying that six houses or 20 apartments could be built on the land and that the price would work out at £200,000 per site. In Tees-side last summer, a building firm made a profit of £620,000 by selling a bit of land it had bought 18 months previously for £1 million. At Malvern last summer, seven acres of land were sold for £287,000. In Aberdeen, 82 acres of land were sold in December for £1·6 million—the highest price ever paid in the north of Scotland. In Newcastle last month, a very small piece of land was sold at a price which works out at £8,000 per site.

Then, of course, there was the famous Whitehall gazumping case. Hitchin Rural District Council had decided to sell six building plots to six needy couples, who were selected after a great deal of inquiry. The sites were offered at £4,000 each. The deal was not then concluded. Two months later, the clerk to the council wrote to the six couples and said that the district valuer had now decided that the price must be £8,500 to £9,000. Mr. Hammond, the clerk, was quoted in the Press as saying, We are surprised by the valuation. The Department of the Environment commented, We stand by the district valuer. This was deliberate gazumping by the Department.

It is, however, illuminating to analyse the average selling price of a house, which in the South-East at the moment is £12,000. In 1972, building costs accounted for 35 per cent. of the price, land accounted for 35 per cent. and profit accounted for 22 per cent. But if that breakdown is taken further back to 1971. we find that the price of land accounted in that year for 34 per cent. of the price of the house. Thus, an increase of 1 per cent. took place in 1972 on the land element in the price of the average house. The profit in 1971 accounted for only 6 per cent. so the profit rose during the year by 16 per cent. The position was that in one year the price of the house rose by 60 per cent., the land element rose by 1 per cent. and profit rose by 16 per cent.

It used to be the case that land prices pushed up house prices but now it is clearly the reverse. Land prices are being dragged up at an alarming rate by the price of houses. The simple fact now is that land price inceases are the product of house price increases plus the fear of inflation. They are not the major cause of the high prices of houses, but they are the effect. It is central to the belief of Conservative right hon. Members that the free market will bring down the price of houses.

It is asserted that more houses will mean lower prices. That is not true in the short term, nor is it true in the medium term. In a recent study by the Oxford University Institute of Economics and Statistics, Christine Whitehead estimated that one million more houses would reduce the price by only 0·3 per cent. That is £36 off the £12,000 for the average house in the south of England. That is because of the elasticity of demand among the affluent and the distortion imposed on the market by free market forces.

The conclusion must be reached, however the problem is considered, that there can be no solution to the house price problem until we have a Government who are prepared to abandon the free market mechanism and will regard housing not as a commodity to be bought and sold but as a social service where the allocation of resources is determined by need.

Photo of Mr Edward Short Mr Edward Short , Newcastle upon Tyne Central

Allow me to finish my argument. A free market is regulated by demand, and demand is determined by the distribution of income.

Photo of Mr Edward Short Mr Edward Short , Newcastle upon Tyne Central

Will the hon. Gentleman allow me to finish my point? He was talking about political hacks a moment ago. Perhaps he will have the courtesy to wait until I have finished the point which I am making. A free market is regulated by demand, and demand is determined by the distribution of income. It will be generally agreed that one of the defects in our society is the maldistribution of incomes. My right hon. and hon. Friends believe that the distribution of housing must be regulated by need and not by demand which is derived from income. The property market has ceased to be a mechanism for allocating scarce resources to meet need. It has become a mere scramble for profit for those who happen to have a stake in it.

Photo of Sir Harmar Nicholls Sir Harmar Nicholls , Peterborough

We must all listen to the right hon. Gentleman's statistics as they are bound to be accurate. They should be fitted into the general pattern. However, the right hon. Gentleman began to sound like a political hack when he started bringing his doctrinaire ideas into the matter and suggesting that a free market cannot keep down prices. If a free market does not help to bring down prices, as he suggests a monopoly would, how does he account for the fact that in the same market aft the same time nationalised electricity goes up in price, nationalised fuel goes up in price, nationalised transport goes up in price and nationalised telephones go up in price? Is it not clear that we should move from the doctrinaire approach and face the fact that in a free market monopolies are not the answer?

Photo of Mr Edward Short Mr Edward Short , Newcastle upon Tyne Central

That is an abuse of the right or privilege to intervene. I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will bear in mind the hon. Gentleman's intervention. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] The present situation is that people with the greatest housing need remain—

Photo of Mrs Elaine Kellett Mrs Elaine Kellett , Lancaster

Do those in greatest need include Jack Jones, the General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union?

Photo of Mr Edward Short Mr Edward Short , Newcastle upon Tyne Central

Perhaps the hon. Lady will listen, because I know she is interested. The people with the greatest need for housing are those who do not have the income to pay for accommodation, either by paying rent or by purchase, to meet their requirements. At the end of last year it was estimated that 1,040,000 men and 2,900,000 women were earning under £20 a week. They are the hardest hit by the housing problem. Of course they are not the only people who are hit. The problem of paying for housing is now acute for middle income groups, who are struggling to pay their mortgages. In the White Paper, "The Programme for Controlling Inflation: The Second Stage", which was presented in January, the Government said that they intended before the next stage of the policy comes into operation, to bring forward proposals which will increase the availability of building land and reduce the extent to which it is possible for people to make disproportionately high profits from transactions in land. How far does the Budget proposal go to honour that promise? We have been spared 10 per cent. VAT on house prices, but VAT will certainly be levied on solicitors' fees and estate agents' fees. VAT on those fees will add £100 to the price of the average house in the South-East. Surely a tiny part of the money which the Chancellor of the Exchequer wasted by relieving sweets of VAT, which was nutritionally criminal, could have been devoted to relieving people buying their own homes of this unnecessary tax.

Last year, on 19th June, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said on television that the profit that some people were making from land and house deals was offensive. In the Budget he introduced a land hoarding charge. What was the immediate reaction to that proposal? The reaction was seen on the Stock Exchange the next day. This is what happened to leading property shares the day after the Budget. Star (Great Britain) went up by 21p. Land Securities went up 17p. Town and Commercial Properties went up 15p. MEPC went up I 1p and British Land went up lop. That is what the property speculators thought about the land charge.

Photo of Mr Peter Rost Mr Peter Rost , Derbyshire South East

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House by how many pence the property shares went down in the previous six months in anticipation of these measures?

Photo of Mr Edward Short Mr Edward Short , Newcastle upon Tyne Central

All shares went down because of the Government's mishandling of the economy in the last six months. On 7th March The Times headline said: Charge for hoarding will not hurt speculators. It can say that again. The article commented: An unexpectedly lenient statement from the Chancellor on profits from land and property was greeted by widespread gains in the property sector of the Stock Market last night. As the charge will be levied only from the time of the Secretary of State's announcement where planning permission has been given, few speculators will be caught. It will certainly not fulfil the White Paper's specific promise to curb disproportionately high profits. It will not make any more land available for housing. Above all, it will not produce one more house, nor will it affect the price of any houses. It is a pathetic little effort to deal with nothing more than a vast national scandal.

The Budget does nothing to restrict the profit from deals in residential blocks of flats or the abuse of improvement grants in London and elsewhere by speculators and break-up operators. In the past two years there have been in London and in other large cities sustained, voracious and utterly immoral campaigns by gentlemen who extort profit from the housing shortage—profit the like of which has never been seen before in the property market.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition were right when they referred to the situation as offensive. Working-class communities in London are being dispossessed by the uncontrolled use of improvement grants. London Property Letter No. 20 described Brixton as a Klondyke because of the fortunes waiting to be made from improving old properties. An estate agents' list for improved properties in the Barnsbury area of Islington shows the effect of "improvement" on house prices. The average price in that area in 1966 was £7,000. In 1967 it was £8,380. In 1971 it was £14,545 and in 1972 it was £22,500. Each reoccupation of a dwelling in Barnsbury or Canonbury replaces two families.

To the land speculator and the improvement grant operator we must now add the break-up market operator. For example, a block of 138 flats was purchased for £750,000 and £40,000 was spent on dolling them up. They were then broken up and sold at a profit of £250,000.

The First National Finance Corporation sold its flat portfolio at a profit of £24 million because it was getting embarrassed by the whole flat-owning business. On 13th February The Guardian reported that the First National Finance Corporation was selling a substantial number of blocks to associate companies. Fairview Estates bought three central London blocks for £3·4 million, and First National Finance Corporation holds a 21·6 per cent. share in Fairview Estates. Regalian properties paid it £22·5 million of the total sale price of £76 million but First National has a 31 per cent. share in Regalian.

As The Guardian commented:First National is gaining on the swings and the roundabouts. In the City comment yesterday it was revealed that in 1972 the profits of First National Finance Corporation rose by 91 per cent. over those of 1971. Profits of property companies generally rose by 52 per cent. in the year ending July 1972. I call this offensive profiteering. All of this profiteering may be legal but it is certainly offensive to millions of ordinary people who are trying to preserve the decencies of family life in their own homes.

There is another little point which may have escaped hon. Members. Last year the Government claimed to have established a special fund of £80 million to speed up the servicing of land for development. The then Secretary of State for the Environment announced this on 27th April. He said that this was an extra £80 million of loan sanctions.

If hon. Members scrutinise the White Paper on Public Expenditure for 1976–77 they will see it suggested there that while public expenditure on the acquisition, improvement and sale of land for private housing is planned to be £82 million higher in 1972–74 than previously intended, expenditure for the following years 1974–76 has been trimmed by £51 million on the previous forecast so that only £30 million of the £80 million is a genuine increase. What a mean little trick to play on the House and on people searching for a home. It is typical of the Smart Alec who was then Secretary of State for the Environment.

There is nothing in the Budget to help the person buying his own home. Indeed, it will be much more difficult. It is virtually certain that the mortgage rate will be raised from 8½ per cent. to 9 per cent. and perhaps to 9½ per cent. On the average mortgage of £8,100 a 9 per cent. mortgage rate will mean an increase of £2·76 per month. If the rate goes up to 9½ per cent. on Friday the increase will be £5·65 per month.

The Chancellor made no proposal for helping the building societies in their difficulty. His failure to do so was, I believe, quite deliberate and is yet another example of the Government's pathetic faith in market forces, to solve the house price problem. Dearer mortgages will mean that there will be less demand for them. This will reduce the demand for houses and therefore, it is argued, prices will drop. I believe that this is quite deliberate Government policy.

There is a major problem about the fluctuations in the availability of building society funds. My right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) has suggested a building society stabilisation fund. How much more sensible it would have been if the Chancellor had established a fund for this purpose with some of the money which he used to relieve lollipops and humbugs of VAT.

Photo of Mr Norman Tebbit Mr Norman Tebbit , Epping

We should like relief from your humbug.

Photo of Mr Edward Short Mr Edward Short , Newcastle upon Tyne Central

The hon. Gentleman is noted for his profound comments.

Photo of Mr Norman Tebbit Mr Norman Tebbit , Epping

The right hon. Gentleman is noted for the humbug of his.

Photo of Mr Edward Short Mr Edward Short , Newcastle upon Tyne Central

When the Government came into office they set about demolishing a great many worthwhile pieces of machinery which they had inherited from the Labour Government and which could now be making a useful contribution in many areas of policy. They abolished the Prices and Incomes Board the IRC, Circular 10/65 in education, and much regional machinery. The Land Commission was getting under way in dealing with the availability and price of land when the Government came into office and abolished it at a stroke.

Last summer a leading article in The Guardian commented: The Land Commission, like other Wilson creations which have been destroyed, could have played a very useful part in tackling our present problems. All of these devices were destroyed by the Government for purely doctrinaire reasons. Perhaps the most spectacular failue of all in this area by this miserable Government has been their failure to build homes.

In 1972 the number of homes built were 31,000 down on the number built in 1971. What is not generally known, but will very soon be known, is that the figure for completions in 1973 will be lower than in 1972. By no stretch of the imagination can the Labour Government be blamed for that. The starts in January are 28·6 per cent. down on the previous year in public housing and 11·4 per cent. up in private housing. In total they are 4·7 per cent. down. Total completions in January are 14 per cent. down on the same period in the previous year. If right hon. Gentlemen opposite object to my taking one month then I point out that the figures for total completions in the last three-month period are 14 per cent. down on the previous year. This miserable record has been achieved during one of the mildest of winters for many years.

Not only are the Government doing nothing about the major scandals of land and house prices but they are failing lamentably in house building. Let us not hear that this is not the Government's affair because the number of houses built is merely the sum total of thousands of individual decisions taken throughout the country, as we are so often told. The Government can and must and are expected to influence the total building programme. In "A Better Tomorrow" they specifically promised "a vigorous new housing drive in the 70s". Is this that new housing drive with completions 31 per cent. down on 1971?

I have quoted a number of lower-paid workers for whom the housing situation is becoming impossible. For a large number of others, up to those with average incomes and beyond, home ownership is becoming more and more difficult. Quite apart from the impending increase in interest rates, the monthly repayments of a mortgage on the average house have increased from £36·65 in June 1970 to £65·97 in December 1972.

I am informed that the building societies would require a minimum income of £2,000 for a mortgage of this size. Older houses in London and the South-East mortgaged to the Nationwide Building Society at the end of 1972 cost an average of £11,324. The required income for a mortgage on such a house was £70 a week. I ought to mention that it also requires an assurance of 25 years security in employment at that kind of salary.

A recent survey of mortgages advanced in 1972 in Greater London showed that nine out of 10 were to people earning over £2,000 a year. The average price of the dwellings bought with the mortgages was £12,400. The average mortgage was £8,000 and the average deposit was £4,400. What chance has the lower-paid worker got? Clearly homeownership, except for the affluent, is rapidly becoming much more difficult.

Where can those who are other than affluent turn for accommodation? There is no doubt that the national stock of privately rented accommodation is diminishing while the number of households remains static. In other words, such accommodation is becoming increasingly overcrowded. Government policy is creating this overcrowding in privately rented accommodation. The escalation of house prices together with the uncontrolled availability of improvement grants, encourages landlords to sell out.

There are three choices before landlords in London and elsewhere. First they can take in tenants, the bulk of whom are likely to be unable to afford other than low rents, which will encourage the landlord to overcrowd the property with the result that the fabric of the building will decline. Secondly, the landlord can improve the property with a grant, subsequently reduce the number of occupants, evict the remainder and put up the rent by anything up to 400 per cent. There are literally hundreds of examples of this happening all over London.

When this happens the process which is coming to be called "gentrification" takes place. For instance, in Barnsley and Islington, which I have quoted, in 1962, 4 per cent. of the inhabitants were from the professional-managerial class. By 1972 this figure had risen to 50 per cent. That means that the working-class population are being forced out and pushed out.

Thirdly, the landlord can sell the house, preferably with vacant possession, or to a developer specialising in conversion to luxury flats for sale. Even well-intentioned landlords are forced or lured out of the provision of low-cost rented accommodation. In my view, private landlordism can have no permanent place in the provision of houses in future. It has been failing for a long time but in the last two years its failure has been abject.

People searching for this diminishing pool of private rented accommodation have little hope in the vast majority of cases of ever becoming house owners. Their incomes are inadequate and they simply cannot raise the amount of deposit I have mentioned. So there is a diminished chance, after 30 months of this Government, of buying, even for average earners and a very slim chance only of renting privately-owned property.

For these reasons the problem of homelessness grows and it is a shocking indictment of our society. The only statistics available are figures published annually by the DHSS and they are based on the number of applicants for temporary accommodation for the homeless. The ratio of applicants to vacancies varies from 1½ to 12. The problem is most acute in London but it is known in the regions as well. The true extent of it is not known. Certainly last year there were 100,000 families who reached the pitch of despair necessary to apply for this kind of accommodation which often entails the splitting up of families. The numbers are now almost certainly greater than those figures. The statistics are quite inadequate for either policy decisions or administrative action.

On any sensible assessment of the whole tragic housing situation a major element in the solution must be the provision of far more publicly-owned houses to let, yet in this situation the Conservative local government conference was told—by, I believe, the present Minister for Housing and Construction—that it was monstrous —that was his word, "monstrous"—for any local authority to frustrate the wishes of its tenants who want to buy their own council houses. I should have thought that the plight of the homeless or the plight of the low-income families who cannot afford to buy or cannot afford privately-rented accommodation was a great deal more monstrous than that. Has the hon. Member heard of the £1,500-a-year civil servant in Westminster who applied to Westminster City Council to buy his house and was told that the special discount price would be £30,800? Or has he heard about Peterborough Borough Council? In January the council stopped selling council houses because it said that people could no longer afford the mortgage repayments. They need to be earning at least £40 a week to purchase one of our houses. I and my colleagues believe that to sell council houses in areas of housing stress is callously to ignore the plight of the homeless and the inadequately housed. But this Government encourage it, and their encouragement of all local authorities to sell council houses is one of the best commentaries on the morality of this Government.

Manchester—I have checked this figure this week—has 12,295 people on the waiting list and 14,760 slum families awaiting public rehousing. We were told that the Housing Finance Act would encourage council house tenants to move out and to become owner-occupiers and so vacate their council houses. But what is happening in Manchester and elsewhere? In Manchester the movement from corporation houses to owner-occupier houses has been falling—and it continues to fall—since May 1972, and the movement from corporation property to private rented accommodation has been falling rapidly since August 1972. The waiting list to which I have just referred increased last year by 4,500—in 12 months.

The simple fact is that in Manchester as elsewhere people simply have nowhere else to look for a house. They must go to their council for a house, in spite of high rents induced by this Government's legislation by which the Government are making difficulties for the local authorities. They are making it as difficult as possible for them to build—that is quite deliberate Government policy—in three ways: by doing nothing about land prices; by the financial constraints on housing cost yardsticks—The Times survey of 1st December last year showed that nine out of 10 housing projects in London failed to keep within the limits; and thirdly, by the new rules about rate contributions which rise annually on a sliding scale. The local authority is the only hope for increasing numbers of house hunters, but even the local authorities are being priced out of house building. I have not mentioned the Government's quite deliberate policy of increasing council house rents.

Finally, I turn to rates. The increased rates are the last straw for the householder under this Government. the Sunday Times last Sunday said: A large number of domestic ratepayers will be paying a bill in April which will be 40 per cent. to 75 per cent above what they paid last April. This is despite the latest Budget concessions to the domestic ratepayer. Looking through Press cuttings I find the following assessments of rate increases: Worcestershire, 25 per cent.; Reading, 48 per cent.; Birmingham, 13 per cent.; Bristol, 20 per cent.; Manchester, 17·4 per cent.; Nottingham, 20 per cent.; Chesterfield, 45 per cent.

The Prime Minister's proposal to help in this difficult situation was even more pathetic than the Chancellor's land-hoarding charge. Here again the saving on lollipops and humbugs could have been used to give some significant assistance. As it is, it has been estimated that the average assistance per household in Birmingham will be £2·50 against a 13 per cent. rate increase. This means that the occupier of a three-bedroomed pre-war semi will be paying between £10 and £12 more a year even with Government assistance. The assistance in Manchester works out at rather lower than that, at £2·30 per household.

Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman , Manchester Ardwick

Is my right hon. Friend further aware that in Manchester this piddling help will be available for only 5,000 of the 173,000 ratepayers?

Photo of Mr Edward Short Mr Edward Short , Newcastle upon Tyne Central

Yes. I have the figures, but I cannot quote every figure. I have no doubt that my hon. Friend, if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will give some more figures.

Let us not be told, as the Prime Minister is so keen on telling us at Question Time, that the Government are providing 60 per cent. of local authority revenue. In Newcastle the Government are provid34 per cent.; in Gateshead, one of the hardest hit towns in Britain, they are providing 48 per cent.; in Tynemouth, 48 per cent.; and so on. So let us have an end of this story that this Government are providing six-tenths of local authority income.

It is reported in today's Press that the Prime Minister has written to Alderman Sefton of Liverpool rejecting out of hand the request of the six big cities for additional help. I must point out to the Secretary of State that unless the Government very quickly provide new sources of revenue for local authorities, their services, including education, will collapse.

What an appalling picture it all is. And blind Tory theology about the free market has led us into this. But at least this Government have done one thing. They have demonstrated, in housing as in so many other spheres, the case for Socialism. They have done this more effectively than 70 years of Labour Party propaganda. There is now no other way open to us if our people and their children are to be decently housed.

The next Labour Government will take into public ownership all land needed for housing and development to the end of the century. The next Labour Government will make one of the top priorities in the allocation of money and resources the building of 400,000 houses a year. The next Labour Government will end property speculation—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Tebbit) may laugh, but if he looks at the record he will see that our record in housing was the best five-year record in the country's history.

Hon. Members:

Sit down!

Photo of Mr Edward Short Mr Edward Short , Newcastle upon Tyne Central

The next Labour Government will repeal the Housing Finance Act and will replace it with a new Act to give fair subsidies to local authority houses which are comparable with those given to owner-occupiers—they are now running at little more than half—and will base them on local democracy.

Photo of Mrs Elaine Kellett Mrs Elaine Kellett , Lancaster

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Mr Edward Short Mr Edward Short , Newcastle upon Tyne Central

The next Labour Government will establish a national house-building agency and will give real encouragement to home ownership as did the last Labour Government. The next Labour Government will enable local authorities to take over privately-rented property. These are the kind of politics for which this side of the House and this side of the country will fight, fight and fight again.

4.42 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 Her Majesty's Government's policies of fair rents accompanied by a generous national scheme of rebates and allowances, of increasing the supply of houses for owner-occupation and of measures to make more building land available including the proposed land hoarding charge and welcomes Her Majesty's Government's measures to provide rate support grant at a record level and also additional relief to mitigate the effects of rating revaluation on domestic ratepayers. There is obviously going to be a great deal of "fight, fight and fight again" on the Opposition benches. The Opposition motion deals with house prices, rents, land prices and rates. The speech of the right hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Edward Short) covered much the same ground as did the debate on housing land held in the House just over five weeks ago. He made it clear that during that interval the Opposition's thinking has not moved very far. The Opposition show the same lack of understanding of the realities of our housing problems.

Before dealing with the little the right hon. Gentleman had to say about rents and rates, I wish to say something about housing policy generally. In my recent statement on the Layfield Report on the Greater London Development Plan, I noted that the panel agreed with the view of the Greater London Council that: Improvement of housing is the most vital step in improving the whole environment of London. We all know that that clearly applies to other cities and towns as well.

I am sure that we all regard better homes for all who suffer from bad housing, ranging from inadequate to slums, as a top social priority. To deal with this situation two things are, and always have been, essential. First, the improvement of the older housing stock must be stepped up. I do not think it was helpful for the right hon. Gentleman to say what he did about improvement grants. We have had debates on these matters before and the Labour Party ought to claim a measure of the credit for the progress made under the Act introduced by Labour. They left the discretion to the local authorities and provided that no conditions should be attached to grants. My right hon. Friends and I have continually said that it is within the discretion of the local authorities as to the circumstances in which they give grants.

It is irresponsible to suggest that this policy—which has been a great success and which has provided better homes for many people—has been gravely abused in all directions. Nor has it led to a great deal of extra harassment. In so far as that is a problem—and we recognise it—the House will know that under the Criminal Justice Act we have greatly increased the penalty for harassment and have instructed and advised local authorities to deal with abuse wherever they find it. But the need to improve the existing stock is vital as an essential part of any constructive housing policy.

Secondly, we would all agree that the rate of new house building must be kept up.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rippon Mr Geoffrey Rippon , Hexham

We went into all the statistics five weeks ago and we saw what happened over a period of years. There was a reduction, which began under the Labour Government, in the public sector, largely because in many areas the demand has fallen, and because of the difficulties which arose through building strikes and so on. The position has fluctuated over many years.

What I am saying is that we are surely all agreed—and let us try to tackle the problem in a constructive way—that the rate of new house building must be kept up. Therefore, we must consider what policies are required to pursue that aim. We also must have regard to the decline in the privately-rented sector. The Layfield Report drew attention to that aspect and much of that report is very relevant on this topic.

I do not believe that total municipalisation is the answer. It is no good the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends simply saying that private landlordism must stop. They must recognise that half the tenants in private accommodation in London and elsewhere are tenants of the home owner. If it is said that anybody who in any circumstances offers accommodation to another family must be socially evil, that will do an immense amount of harm. We must all recognise that every instrument of housing policy, public and private, must be aimed at meeting the varying needs of different areas and the range of individual requirements.

In the past decade or more I have taken part in a series of debates on housing and land prices, and time and again these debates have floundered in a mass of statistics, distortions, short-term views and a general failure to try to put the whole problem of housing, rents and land into sensible perspective. The essential problems and necessary solutions have in essence remained the same over the whole period, and at various times successive Governments have tried to deal with the situation. I venture to say that perhaps we are all partly guilty, for Oppositions tend to take different views from Governments. But housing is such an urgent social need that we must recognise the real problem and not simply say that housing is a success or failure according to what Government happens to be in office. We have all tried to bring into focus the question of supply and demand and we have had to do this at a time of rising standards and rising expectations.

Photo of Mr Frank Allaun Mr Frank Allaun , Salford East

The right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to owner-occupiers who take in tenants, but he distorts Labour policy by suggesting that owner-occupiers living in the same place as their tenants would be affected. Labour Party national policy relates to landlord-owned houses where the landlord does not live on the premises. I think the Secretary of State knows that —or at least he should know it.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rippon Mr Geoffrey Rippon , Hexham

The Labour Party in the Greater London Council issued a statement advocating the municipalisation of all rented accommodation. Nothing could be calculated to create greater alarm and despondency—and I quoted directly from that statement during the previous debate.

Rising housing and land prices—which of course are a cause of concern—are a measure of the growing demand.

The right hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central is right to say that it is the demand for housing which pushes up the price of land and, he added, the fear of inflation. That is why one would have hoped in the past months, especially in view of what right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite said when they were in office, the Opposition would have lent more support to the Government's policy for controlling inflation. It is the greatest menace to all young people wanting homes and to all people wanting a higher standard of living. It is the fear of inflation which has done so much harm here and elsewhere.

These rising prices have taken place against a high and rising desire for home ownership. I was sorry that the right hon. Gentleman was so scathing about the sale of council houses. Only a few weeks ago the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) suggested that local authorities should actually build for sale. That is why I say that it is right that each authority should determine the needs of its own area and the requirements of its own people.

We have to accept that a lot of young people and others nowadays want to own their own homes. We shall try to meet that demand and not pour scorn upon it. Thus in 1972 compared with 1970, mortgages for first-time purchasers rose from 301,000 to 371,000, for borrowers under 25 from 117,000 to 144,000, and for borrowers with incomes up to average industrial earnings from 158,000 to 192,000. One has to remember, when talking about industrial earnings these days, that £40 a week is not unreasonable take-home pay for many industrial workers. Certainly the ASLEF drivers are not very far off that sort of figure.

Undoubtedly all this demand for home ownership which has come widely from the population throughout the country, from the young and from idustrial workers, has put the building societies under considerable pressure. During 1972 the building societies had no difficulty in attracting the funds that they needed to lend for house purchases. The basic position of the building society movement remains sound. Its assets exceed £15,000 million. Repayment of principal last year reached the record figure of £1,400 million, a sum which by itself can support a large number of new advances. Nevertheless we have to accept that the building societies have to retain and attract funds from investment. Inevitably that raises the question to which the right hon. Gentleman referred —whether mortgage lending rates should be increased.

The Council of the Building Societies Association has deferred a decision on this while discussions are proceeding with the Government, and I cannot anticipate today what the outcome of those discussions may be. Difficult and conflicting considerations are involved. All that I say now is that the Government's strong pressures to deal with inflation will encourage a willingness to save from which building societies can expect to benefit.

Photo of Sir Harmar Nicholls Sir Harmar Nicholls , Peterborough

I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will recognise the magnitude and importance of this problem. If we say that we want people to own houses, the Government have to use all the power that they have to see that interest rates are kept down to a level that ordinary people can afford.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rippon Mr Geoffrey Rippon , Hexham

That is certainly important. That is why I say that the whole issue raises difficult and conflicting considerations which will have to be borne in mind. Meanwhile the building societies will continue to recognise, as they have always done, that their policies in matters such as liquidity ratios must be such as to keep mortgages available for new houses. They also recognise the special needs of first purchasers. The Government for their part are determined to pur- sue the aim of a rising house-building programme and to see that the supply of land is adequate in the future to sustain it. Only an adequate supply of land will stabilise land prices in the end.

It may help if I indicate that the measures which my predecessor and I announced are already bearing fruit. Within the South-East, in the first three quarters of 1972 planning permissions were given for 25 per cent. more dwellings than in the same period of 1971 and nearly 60 per cent. more than in the same period of 1970.

The right hon Gentleman referred also to the special loan sanction allocation of £80 million which my predecessor announced last April. About £39 million has now been committed in provisional approvals of land acquisition schemes affecting about 2,500 acres with an estimated capacity for more than 17,000 dwellings. That is not a mean little trick for the 17,000 families who will occupy those homes.

Photo of Mr Eric Ogden Mr Eric Ogden , Liverpool, West Derby

The right hon. and learned Gentleman left the subject of mortgages and building societies rather quickly. I happen to be one of the property-owning democrats whom the right hon. and learned Gentleman's party is supposed to protect and help. That means that I own about a third of the bricks and owe for the other two-thirds. Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman saying nothing about the fact that his Government have allowed the banks and other lending institutions to increase their interest rates and so put pressure on the building societies and about the fact that the Budget has also increased pressure on the building societies? Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman merely saying that there is little to be done about it? Does he intend to say nothing more about mortgage interest rates today?

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rippon Mr Geoffrey Rippon , Hexham

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on being a home owner. I am sure that it will prove to be the best investment that he has ever made. However, the hon. Gentleman has failed to notice that the rate is the same as that which the Labour Government bequeathed. I do not make any point about that, but it is a real problem. The Building Societies' Association has deferred its decision pending the further discussions to which I have referred, and I cannot anticipate the outcome. The right. hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central indicated some of the consequences which may have to be faced. It is a real problem, and I do not dispute it.

On the availability of land, in new towns in the South-East about 500 acres will have been released for private housing before the end of March. I expect 750 acres to be released in the following year and a further 3,750 acres to become available by 1975. Last October local planning authorities were asked to publish information of land available for building in their areas over the next five years. So far 17 authorities have published this information and most of the others aim to do so by the end of March. My hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction intends to have a series of meetings with councils and builders in those areas to discuss the implications of that information.

I do not doubt that more still needs to be done to increase the supply of building land because that is the way ultimately to deal with the stabilisation of prices and to stimulate the housing programme. I shall bring forward further proposals shortly. At the same time I shall be announcing the main outlines of our scheme for a land hoarding charge which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer referred to in his Budget speech. After my announcement I shall consult the local planning authorities and the house building industry about the details of the scheme.

The object of the scheme is to penalise the speculative hoarding of land with planning permission and to ensure that such land is developed promptly. In the South-East there are planning permissions outstanding for nearly a quarter of a million dwellings. But, unlike a tax on land transactions, the land hoarding charge will neither dry up the supply of land nor increase its price. On the contrary it is designed to bring forward more land for development and so, we hope, to stabilise its price.

It is typical of the Opposition's attitude to criticise this proposal before having details of it. According to the right hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central, nothing less is required than the nationalisation of all building land. In the Opposition's view housing is not a commodity to be bought and sold, and there should be no free market. To say that is to put the whole position out of perspective. Undoubtedly there is a need for public housing. But there is also a demand for home ownership in the private sector. There is also a demand for rented accommodation in both the public and the private sectors. We ought to recognise these varying needs and requirements and try to meet them. So we reject the Opposition's policy entirely, not merely because it is enormously expensive and hopelessly impractical but because it is so completely irrelevant to the housing problems of the nation.

Photo of Mr William Molloy Mr William Molloy , Ealing North

The right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about land hoarders. How will he overcome the problem that, even under the proposals of himself and the Chancellor, people will be able to hold land for as long as they like, provided that they do not submit any planning applications?

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rippon Mr Geoffrey Rippon , Hexham

I would ask the hon. Gentleman to await the details of the scheme. I have said that I will bring it forward in due course and then hold discussions about how it can be made effective. That is our objective, to make it effective. If, in due course, the hon. Member has some contribution to make in that regard, no doubt we shall listen to him with all the care he deserves.

The right hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central brushed aside in a few sentences what he described as the Government's policy of deliberately increasing rents. Then he said that a Labour Government would abolish the Housing Finance Act. This is an irrational and unhelpful approach which shows no attempt on the part of the Opposition to try to understand either the purpose of the legislation or the way in which it is working.

Under the system which we have introduced in the Housing Finance Act, the rent of a dwelling rises only if it fails to reflect the reasonable value of that dwelling, and the tenant meets only that part of the increased rent which he can afford.

Under the superseded system, to which presumably the right hon. Gentleman would like to revert, rents went up simply because the local authorities built more houses, whether or not the value of the dwelling justified the increase and with no guarantee to the tenant that he would have help towards the increase if he could not afford it.

It is a misuse of language for the Opposition motion to describe the increases due under the Housing Finance Act as "disastrous". The average increase due in 1973–74 for a local authority house will be about 40p per week, because some dwellings will be already at or near the fair rent level. It will mainly fall to be met by tenants with incomes of £35 a week and over.

Over 2 million will not pay any more rent from their own resources, either because they are receiving supplementary benefit or because of the increase of £3·50 in the needs allowance. For many tenants now receiving a rebate, the increase in the needs allowance will actually mean a reduction in rent. That is what the Government have achieved for the lower paid—a reduction in rent and not an increase. The increase falls on those who can afford it. I defy the Opposition to sustain their argument that there is anything unfair in a policy of that kind.

Most manual workers with earnings below the national average will qualify for a rebate, unless the rent of their house is much lower than the average. So the average rent increase of 40p will have to be paid mainly by council tenants with above-average earnings whose existing rent is relatively low in relation to those earnings.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner , Bolsover

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman realise that he has just made three fundamental errors in the space of three sentences? First, he suggested that local authorities, before the Housing Finance Act, could never look after the lower-paid tenants. It is only too obvious, of course, to hon. Members on this side that local authorities could subsidise on top of the subsidy which already existed.

Does the Secretary of State also recognise the error in his mention of local authority rents having reached fair rent level? Not one fair rent has yet been established in this country, because the Rent Scrutiny Board has not even met. Third, the right hon. and learned Gentleman talked about rent rebate schemes which will offset any increase for about 40 per cent. of families in this financial year. Will he now tell us that there will be another £3·50 increase for the following financial year, which will offset it again?

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rippon Mr Geoffrey Rippon , Hexham

What was a fundamental error was giving way to the hon. Gentleman. He displays the most woeful ignorance about these matters and a total unwillingness to listen to anyone else's argument. For one thing—

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner , Bolsover

Answer the question.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rippon Mr Geoffrey Rippon , Hexham

—he does not understand that the needs allowance, which is substantially increased, gives a benefit, which never existed under previous legislation, for the private as well as the public tenant. I have stated the position as it is.

Under the Housing Finance Act, we are putting an end to the system which the hon. Gentleman defends, but which I regard as irrational, unfair and inflationary. It is hard to imagine anything more inflationary than the system under which the Labour Government operated, which made it necessary every year to increase taxes so as to give subsidies to people who did not need them.

The system was unfair, because it did not protect the poorer tenants or give them any assurance that they would get their share of the subsidies which they needed. It was irrational because it produced quite different rents for similar dwellings of a similar size and amenity merely because one local authority needed to go on building and the other did not.

In the private sector, the irrational rent freeze which applied to half the dwellings caused many of them to drift into disrepair, and created the slum conditions which now the Opposition so much and so rightly deplore—as do we all. They must understand that, under the previous system, it was the tenant who suffered as much as the landlord.

If one is really concerned about the housing conditions of the people of this country, one looks first at the conditions in which they are being housed—

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner , Bolsover

Answer the question.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rippon Mr Geoffrey Rippon , Hexham

—and the means by which one can best alleviate that position.

To hold up, as the Opposition are always suggesting, the implementation of the Housing Finance Act and subsequently to repeal it would be to prolong the very injustices and anomalies which have created so much suffering and misery in the past and would be quite unfair to those tenants who alread pay a fair rent in full. So I would firmly say that we are not prepared to put off the benefits of the essential reforms contained in the Housing Finance Act.

Photo of Mr Thomas Urwin Mr Thomas Urwin , Houghton-le-Spring

Before the Secretary of State leaves this part of his speech, will he recognise that the Housing Finance Act will impose upon council tenants—those he describes as the "richer" tenants—the burden of subsidising the poorer tenants? In so doing, the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his predecessor have discarded the elementary principle of the social and moral responsibility of a Government to look after the poorer people rather than imposing the burden on those council tenants who have a little more.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rippon Mr Geoffrey Rippon , Hexham

It is a cardinal principle of Socialist philosophy that the rich should help to meet the needs of the poor.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rippon Mr Geoffrey Rippon , Hexham

Certainly it is right that the main effort that we can make from Government expenditure, which means from the taxpayers' pockets, should go to help those tenants who really need help. That we have done, and on a bigger scale than ever before.

As for rates, the right hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central displayed the same lack of realism. This is the fifth occasion in recent months on which we have discussed rates, but when the rate support grant orders were being approved last November, hon. Members opposite did not find it necessary to oppose them. That was the point at which we as a House decided on the amount of Government assistance to be given to local authorities in 1973–74, and that is what is now, I understand, being attacked.

The rate support grant settlement was reached in accordance with normal procedure, after discussions with the local authority associations. It was announced after phase 1 of our counter-inflationary policy had started and it took that policy fully into account. We knew it, the local authority associations knew it, and the House knew it. We have said all along that there would inevitably be some increase in the general level of rates this year.

Then, we thought, we made arrangements for grant which would enable local authorities on average to keep their rate increases in line with the Government's general policies, but I said at the time that, in view of the wide variations in local circumstances, which we all know, one could not say what the exact position would be in every year, because local authorities have a wide degree of discretion.

Against this background it is wrong to try to lump, as the Opposition motion does, rates with prices. Rates are, in effect, a tax. Local authorities have to raise enough revenue in rates to cover their expenditure after taking into account Government grants. They may have particular local circumstances because some have different policies regarding contingency funds and balances. Some make provision for inflation in advance and others deal with wage increases afterwards.

The expenditure of the local authorities has gone up this year partly because of inflation—local authorities have to bear a heavy burden of wage increases because, by their nature, they are labour-intensive organisations—and partly because local services are being improved and developed. Sometimes this is done with the Government's direct encouragement. At other times it is purely on the basis of local initiative.

It is right that local authorities should have discretion to determine local needs and expenditure within the framework of their responsibilities to their ratepayers, but if they do so they must pay for them. They are answerable to the ratepayers. If the ratepayers want the extra expenditure they must pay for it. The rate monitoring exercise has revealed how much discretion local authorities have in this regard, and that is not a bad thing.

In determining the level of Government support through the rate support grant in accordance with the normal procedures which have been followed under successive Governments, we allowed for more teachers—we are not, as the right hon. Gentleman suggested, imposing restrictions which prevent the expansion of education—to meet the increased numbers of children and students in higher education. We provided for more policemen. We allowed for an increase in expenditure on social services of at least 20 per cent. over two years. But we never denied that local authorities would have to meet their share of the costs of these improvements and developments.

We ensured that in 1973–74 the Government will meet 60 per cent. of the increased total expenditure compared with 58 per cent. of the lower total last year. This is a record percentage and represents a large increase in the total help given last year. On the national average it is an increase of 14·3 per cent.

In Birmingham it is an estimated 15·5 per cent. or approximately £6 million. In Bristol it is 16·4 per cent. or approximately £2½ million. In Leeds it is 22·4 per cent. or approximately £5 million. In Liverpool it is 9·5 per cent. or approximately £3 million. In Manchester it is 13·6 per cent. or approximately £3½ million. In Newcastle it is 12·7 per cent. or approximately £1 million. In Sheffield it is 27·4 per cent. or approximately £6 million.

The hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) said that the increase in rates is not due to revaluation—at any rate in his area.

Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman , Manchester Ardwick

I said nothing of the kind. In my Adjournment debate on Friday I said that the increase was due to three things—to revaluation, which alone put 7½p to 9p on each individual's rate burden, to inflation and to the fall in population, which the Prime Minister acknowledged at Question Time was one of the factors. The right hon. and learned Gentleman's Department, in a most extraordinary way intervening in Manchester's rates on the monitoring basis, having examined them with a toothcomb, telephoned and telexed Manchester that it was satisfied with all the expenditure. If all this were known, including the rate support grant, when the Prime Minister received Sir Robert Thomas and others, may I ask why they went through this farce of receiving the representatives of the great cities, having decided in advance that their case would not be met?

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rippon Mr Geoffrey Rippon , Hexham

We listened to their views. I shall tell the House that some of the problems of the great cities must be looked at in the longer term.

We have established that the rise in rates over the country as a whole has not been caused by revaluation. A number of people have, for one reason or another, suffered from severe increases in revaluation, and we should like to mitigate them. This is a problem of the increased expenditure of local authorities and the different ways in which they have treated it. I believe that Manchester has the highest rate bill of any county borough in the country and that involves some measure of expense to the ratepayers.

I cannot accept the suggestion that we did not give authorities, as a whole, sufficient assistance. We provided additional money on a large scale to meet the effects of inflation and increased costs and to provide for expanded services.

We took full account last November of all the factors to which the Opposition now seem to take exception, but which they did not raise then. Nothing that has happened since has altered our view that the settlement was essentially fair and right.

We are dealing with national figures and, as we said, there will be wide variations. No one has previously suggested, as the right hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central did today, that the way that the grant formula operates is to give 60 per cent. of the expenditure of every local authority. It has never been like that. If it had, we would not have these complicated formulae and long negotiations. As I said, there are wide variations.

In 1972, when the national average increase in rates was about 10·4 per cent., some authorities' rates rose by up to 30 per cent. and other rates actually fell by up to 20 per cent. These variations are the result of local circumstances and decisions, and I have no doubt that there will be similar variations this year for similar reasons.

The problem of the big cities, to which the hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick referred, has been a constant theme of debates and discussions in the past few weeks. We have made it clear that, in the context of the review of local government finance generally, we are examining the pressures for higher expenditure in some areas than in others. It is a rational argument that in modern times the decline in population in great city centres may create rather than diminish expenditure. We shall, if it seems appropriate, attempt to deal with this problem in a revised grant formula. However, we should not exaggerate the extent of the problem. Nor should we have the impression that it was not fully in the minds of all concerned when the rate support grant settlement was negotiated. Apart from the big cities, we must recognise that many other areas have problems at least as great on a proportionate scale as those cities.

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

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree, that irrespective of the settlement that took place last November, the great cities have serious and peculiar problems—in fact, he admitted that today—and that there is a need for immediate first-aid assistance to be given to them? This matter has been brought to the Government's attention. Yet only yesterday they decided to turn down the request made by the large cities. Is he aware that it is estimated that Liverpool is likely to be forced to put up its rates by 24½p in the domestic rate and by 29½p in the general rate at a time when the Government are arguing about keeping down inflation and prices? Will he, even at this late stage ask his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to think again about the problems of the big cities and to bring forward their proposals, as suggested by Alderman Sefton, from September to an earlier date so that the whole matter can be discussed and something done about it before the municipal elections? Or do the Government wish to put the big cities in this situation so that they may get some political kudos out of it?

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rippon Mr Geoffrey Rippon , Hexham

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman was listening. Clearly in the longer term this is a problem. It did not arise in the rate support grant settlement, although the big cities were presumably as aware of the general position then as they are now.

Many people, both inside and outside this House, said that rates would rise as a result of revaluation and that this was an act for which the Government were responsible. In fact, it has become apparent that the situation is, as always, far more complex and that the higher wage bill and rising standards which local authorities must face are the basis of the problem. We have met it partly by these substantial increases in direct Government grant. However, there are still wide variations and we shall examine them. Basically there is no evidence—it did not emerge from the arguments put forward by the big cities—that revaluation as such created this problem.

The additional factor of revaluation this year is important in so far as it affects certain individual ratepayers. It has been evident all along that revaluation would lead to changes in rate payments. This is its purpose. It is inherent in a system of taxation on property values that as values change so will the relative burdens ratepayers have to meet. That is what revaluation is all about.

This year the effects are particularly noticeable because it is 10 years since the last revaluation occurred and there have been substantial changes in relative values in different parts of the country. We had to consider whether we should postpone revaluation yet again in order to avoid the unpleasant consequences for some ratepayers. But we took into account the fact that a great many ratepayers stand to gain from revaluation and have in effect been paying too much in rates ever since Labour Members dodged their obligations and ran away from the problem five years ago. Clearly, we did not consider it right further to penalise these people in order to help those who were at present paying less.

However, we recognised that the preliminary figures available to us suggested that, overall, the effect of revaluation might be to shift a part of the rate burden from industry and commerce to the domestic household. That was one of the reasons for our decision to increase by 50 per cent. the domestic rate adjustment.

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

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rippon Mr Geoffrey Rippon , Hexham

What we did not know last autumn was the extent to which there would be variations between properties in the same area. But we could at that time, when the House considered the rate support grant orders, have a fairly clear idea of the total expenditure and the total effect of revaluation.

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

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rippon Mr Geoffrey Rippon , Hexham

So the new factor which we had to consider in the discussions which took place—

Photo of Wing Commander Sir Robert Grant-Ferris Wing Commander Sir Robert Grant-Ferris , Nantwich

Order. Mr. Heffer—I beg the right hon. and learned Gentleman's pardon and the hon. Member's pardon. I thought that the right hon. and learned Gentleman was giving way.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rippon Mr Geoffrey Rippon , Hexham

I have already given way to the hon. Member.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rippon Mr Geoffrey Rippon , Hexham

The hon. Gentleman can make his own speech. He might at least do me the courtesy of listening to the arguments, which are part of the reply to his hon. Friends about what happened in the discussions we had with the great cities.

It was only when the detailed lists became available and evidence from individual authorities was analysed that it emerged that there were some hard cases of individual ratepayers who would have to face very substantial increases due solely to revaluation, although equally others would benefit by substantial reductions.

Those increases are not in themselves wrong or unjust, but we felt that their sudden impact in one year was hard, so we have made these proposals to give relief for one year only in order to try to make the situation easier for the individual ratepayer. The measures we have introduced will, for example in Manchester, although there may not be too many people involved, help the hard case. That was the issue which we felt we had to deal with at that time.

I do not believe that we could contemplate a revision of the rate support grant formula approved by the House so recently in time to have any effect on next year's rates. With the new authorities being formed we shall have to consider the particular arguments being put forward by the great cities, although the smaller cities say "We have our problems, too". I do not necessarily concede that all the argument is on the side of the big cities.

The task of holding down the increase in rates this year is a joint one, in which both Government and local authorities have a part to play. In our view the combined effects of the rate support grant and the new domestic rate relief are as much as the Government can or should do at this time. It is now up to local authorities to consider the effects of their actions on their ratepayers in current circumstances. I believe that they should do this in the same spirit as they must shoulder their responsibility to provide better housing, whether public or private, for rent or for sale, or improved, both within the context of their general housing policies and by helping planning authorities to make more land available.

It is only by a joint effort—to which the Opposition ought to be ready to lend their support more willingly—that we can successfully meet the social needs of the nation at present.

5.25 p.m.

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

It is my intention to speak about that part of the Opposition motion which condemns the failure of the Government to give local authorities sufficient assistance to keep rate increases within the Government's policy for prices". Before I turn to Newcastle's balance sheet, and without going too far into the fields of fantasy of the Secretary of State, I want to refer to one of the asides made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman in his speech of fantasy. He referred to mortgage interest rates and to wage rates of £40. There was a clear implication that £40 a week was something quite normal. Just who does the Secretary of State think that he is kidding? How many people in his constituency of Hex-ham in Cumberland earn £40 a week? My constituency is almost next door to his. In my constituency there is great industrialisation. Therefore, one would think it to be a very prosperous constituency in terms of wage rates. But not many of my constituents earn £40 a week. I should be interested to see the reaction of farm workers in the constituency of Hexham on learning that they are doing fairly well.

I come now to the balance sheet of Newcastle City Council for the coming year. The ratepayers will be hammered on both sides of the balance sheet, because expenditure will most certainly hit an all-time high, while income from Government grants will be relatively low, certainly much lower than it ought to be for a year when Newcastle ratepayers will have to bridge a massive gap, an abyss, and are faced with a rate increase of 15p in the pound.

The Secretary of State was good enough to make a slight reference to the part of the grant based on population. Like many other major urban centres, Newcastle is suffering a steady decline in population through the overspill into areas around the city. In common with other local authorities, Newcastle's hand-out through the grant based on population is diminishing year by year. Although part of the population is being rehoused in the county area, the city of Newcastle, being the regional capital, still has to provide all the services, such as roads, shops, offices and recreational facilities. No account is taken of that.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rippon Mr Geoffrey Rippon , Hexham

The hon. Gentleman has said that no account is taken of those factors. But they are taken into account in the rate support grant system. There is an argument about whether that goes far enough. The hon. Gentleman referred to mortgage interest rates and average earnings. The price of houses is different. That is why I said that there are various needs and problems in each area.

Probably the rates of Newcastle would be a subject for any Adjournment debate. One of the factors in Newcastle's increased rate demand is the re-financing of the housing debt under the Labour Government's system, which has now been replaced by the Housing Finance Act. Another factor is the precept of the passenger transport authority, which I have suggested Newcastle should look at again.

There are such wide variations between cities that the hon. Gentleman cannot make a general case in a censure debate by rather contentious and superficial observations about Newcastle.

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

It is not for the Secretary of State to tell me how to make speech. I will make my speech in my own way and present my case about Newcastle, which I consider to be an excellent one. I am not taking any nonsense from the Secretary of State about the passenger transport authority precept amounting to a 4p rate when I am talking about an increase of 15p in the £ pound. I am not taking any damn nonsense from the Secretary of State, who has encouraged the Newcastle Tory Council to resist paying the precept to the passenger transport authority and thus deprive the old people of Tyneside of free travel.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rippon Mr Geoffrey Rippon , Hexham

I have received representations from a number of rating authorities in the area which say that their ratepayers will have to bear a heavy additional charge as a result of the activities of the passenger transport authority. I have written direct to Alderman Cunningham. My letters are on the record. That represents my publicly stated position. Action which local authorities may take for themselves is for them.

Photo of Mr Edward Short Mr Edward Short , Newcastle upon Tyne Central

It stops the old people from getting concessionary fares.

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

I will pursue this matter on another occasion. However, I must correct the Secretary of State when he says that he has received representations from a number of local authorities. That suggests that many Tyneside authorities have protested against this humanitarian scheme of the passenger transport authority to give free travel to old-age pensioners. The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, if he tells the truth, that it is the Newcastle Tory-controlled city council which has made the protest, and Castle Ward in Northumberland—the heart of his own constituency.

I do not wish to raise the temperature of the debate, but the right hon. and learned Gentleman has done his best to raise my temperature tonight. I do not wish to be personally offensive, but it is clear to some of us on this side that the Secretary of State is all too anxious to intervene on protests which come from within his constituency about the Tyneside Passenger Transport Authority and Keilder Water.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rippon Mr Geoffrey Rippon , Hexham

What I have had to say is on record. I have corresponded with Alderman Cunningham stating my view as Secretary of State. There is no dispute about who is protesting or about the point of view which I and others have expressed. All that I was saying was that I do not incite the local authorities in the area to take any view. I have not incited them to accept their responsibility for the might be lawfully laid upon them.

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

I accept fully that the Secretary of State has not incited any Tory-controlled local authority in the North-East to behave with less than decency to old-age pensioners. I would not even suggest otherwise. He has not incited them, but he has not encouraged them to accept their responsibility for the old people of the area and pay this precept.

The resources element gives extra support if the rateable value is below the national average per head of population. The high rateable value of the land in Newcastle city centre brings Newcastle just above the national average, so it gets no help from the resources element.

The barmy thing is that much of the city centre has already been cleared for redevelopment, so no rate income is available to the city council. This is not taken into account by the gems who advise the Government on fixing the resources element.

Under the needs element extra money is paid to local authorities per capita for pensioners and young children. No one would deny that young children and pensioners need much more support from the social services and health departments of a great city than other ratepayers. No distinction has been made between Bournemouth, with its prosperous pensioners, and Newcastle with many pensioners living on the breadline.

I understand that councils receive a payment of £1·69 for each person over 65, with no question asked as to what his demands on the local services are, or are likely to be, in the next year. No one will deny that the old dear who retires to a plush hotel or holiday home in Bournemouth will make much less demand on the community services than a pensioner living in a bedsitter in Newcastle will make.

The factors I have referred to mean that Newcastle gets just 34 per cent. of its net expenditure met by the Government, whereas Gateshead gets 48 per cent., Tynemouth 48 per cent., Sunderland 53 per cent., and South Shields, at the mouth of the river, 60 per cent. That is the only one which measures up to the proud proclamation of Government spokesmen in recent weeks that they are paying 60 per cent. of local authority costs.

The case of the large cities has been argued unprofitably with the Prime Minister. Apart from the large cities, Newcastle was told that its representatives would not be seen by the Prime Minister because Newcastle was not a sufficiently large city. Whether it is or is not, as a regional capital Newcastle has special needs. I am pleading the case, not just for Newcastle, but for all regional capitals which must provide many of the amenities and services that other local authorities in the area are not called upon to provide. I hope that in future the aspect of the extra expenditure involved in running a regional capital will be considered.

I have mentioned the income side of Newcastle's equation. The expenditure side is no less perplexing for Newcastle's citizens. Some factors of the equation are controlled by the Government and some by the city council. I do not blame the Government for the fact that Newcastle ratepayers are called upon to spend more per head on planning and highways than anywhere in Britain. Nor do I blame the Government for the fact that on health and libraries we are third in the league of local authority spending. I am proud that Newcastle is third in the league on health and library spending. We are fifth in the league on social services expenditure. I blame neither the Government nor the city council for that. I am pleased that we have such an excellent health and social services set-up in the city.

I indict the Government on the charge that they are responsible for pushing up the burden on Newcastle ratepayers by increasing interest rates on the money we borrow. In the last year short-term rates of borrowing have more than doubled to 11 per cent. and medium-term rates have doubled to 9 per cent. This alone will push up the city's spending by about £810,000 in the next year. Newcastle's total capital debt is £140 million, representing £700 for every man, woman and child in Newcastle—the highest level of debt of any council in the country.

I now indict the Government with the most serious charge of all—the effects of the Housing Finance Act. This was not accidental. It was deliberate Government policy. Whatever might be said in other respects about food prices and Russian grain harvest failures, on housing finance there can be no alibi: the Government must accept the baby.

The city council tells me that it will collect in the next year £600,000 less in rents from tenants than it has this year. It claims that this is because of the national rebate scheme. In the past under the Newcastle City Council rebate scheme much of the money for rent rebates came from the taxpayer through the Department of Health and Social Security. The set-up is different now. The money must now come from the other council tenants and the ratepayers.

If ever a Government played a mean confidence trick, this is it. Moving the burden of providing rent rebates from the taxpayer to the council house tenants and the ratepayers generally means that the Government have carefully redistributed more of the wealth of the nation. While the Department of Health and Social Security was paying rate rebates through supplementary benefits, people with sufficient income were paying for them in their taxes. That system has changed completely now and Newcastle council house tenants, like every council house tenant in the country, are paying the lion's share of supporting their less fortunate neighbours. There is nothing Christian or equitable in that.

Before I leave the subject of rates I wish to quote from the Newcastle Evening Chronicle. It says 'But now we are getting a very raw deal indeed. I do not think there can be another council in the country that suffers in so many ways as we are going to do in the coming year'. That is not a quotation of anything that I said to the Evening Chronicle, but a quotation from Councillor Bill Harding the Tory chairman of the city Finance Committee, discussing rates with an Evening Chronicle reporter.

Photo of Mr Edward Leadbitter Mr Edward Leadbitter , Hartlepools, The

In addition to the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Robert C. Brown) made about the social cost of rebates being passed from the taxpayer to the ratepayer, will he bear in mind that the Newcastle City Council also has an extensive house-building programme in mind in an attempt to keep pace with its housing needs, like other authorities in the North-East? But evidence has come to light, which I have passed on to the Minister's Department, of another cost which has been put on the ratepayer. That is the difference between the cost yardstick limitation on housing, which the Government refuse to change, and the high tender. The measly allowance offered is such that ratepayers will have to bear an additional £200,000 a year. or, an extra £1,000 per house constructed.

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

I accept what my hon. Friend says but I do not accept that Newcastle has an extensive council house-building programme. I hope that after May the council will have such a programme, because it needs it with 6,000 people on the waiting list. But after going further and further into the doldrums in five years under a Tory council, I can say that Newcastle does not have an extensive council house building programme.

I wish now to deal with Whitehall gazumping. My right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central referred to a case of deliberate Whitehall gazumping, but the most serious gazumping on the largest scale ever seen in this country is that carried out by Gazumper Barber in his Budget. There can be no ifs or buts about it. The new rates of interest on savings that he announced can have only one result. Interest rates to borrowers by building societies will obviously go up to the highest level ever. A rate of 9½ per cent. is forecast and it may well be above that. In the area that I represent that can only mean that fewer and fewer people of working-class origin will ever he able to afford to buy a house of their own.

5.45 p.m.

Mr. Brian Harrison:

I do not believe that anybody in his right mind can be satisfied with what is happening to housing prices and the high rate at which they have increased over the last few years. It has been a steady increase, but we must keep it in proportion. House and land prices in the United Kingdom have been extremely low compared with many other countries in Europe, Australasia and the United States. It never ceased to surprise me to find that five years ago it was much cheaper to buy a building plot in the United Kingdom on which to build a house, in most areas, except central urban areas, than in Perth, Western Australia, or one of those places where one would have thought there was a tremendous amount of land available.

We have had our land extremely cheap and it is only now that the balance has risen compared with the equivalent world prices. It has gone just a bit too far now. There are a number of reasons why I believe this to be so. The first is the fear of inflation and the second has been the availability of funds from building societies which over the last few years has probably been much greater than ever before. This has enabled people to pay almost unlimited prices for properties and to be reasonably sure of getting funds with which to buy them.

The proposed anti-hoarding tax will help to some extent to solve the problem, but that will not be the complete answer. We have to make more land available. This must be done not only through designation by local authorities of land they think will be suitable for development but by the granting of planning permissions sufficient to enable the building industry to provide housing for those people who wish to purchase it. It will also be necessary to make sufficient land available so that local authorities, particularly those in the South-East, which I know best, will be able to continue with adequate house-building programmes. I refer largely to municipal houses which can be let.

There were several other points which may also help lead to a greater stability in the price of land. These were mentioned by the hon. Member for Heywood and Royton (Mr. Joel Barnett) when he was winding up the debate on Monday night. He referred to one of the things which has pushed up the price of rural land and which in turn has had an effect on the price of urban land. He referred to a situation that might arise with a rollover arrangement on about 10 acres—that was not the exact example which he quoted—where the proceeds of sale could be used to buy a whole farm. This is done quite often and the arrangement must be completed within 12 months. It is done to avoid capital gains tax. When the roll-over provision was made it was not intended that it should apply to such a large area. It has tended to force up the price of agricultural land and consequently the price of land throughout the country. Possibly the length of time over which roll-over is permitted could be extended to two or three years, with interest paid on the tax ultimately charged.

Secondly, instead of a person's being able to sell 10 acres of land and then purchase a farm of, say, 500 acres, perhaps the roll-over for 10 acres of agricultural land should be for another 10 acres of agricultural land only, so that the sale of 10 acres of agricultural land with planning permission could not in turn buy a whole farm with roll-over relief. Those changes would help to stabilise the price of rural land and create a climate in which there was increasing stability in the whole land structure.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned death-duty-paid purchases to avoid estate duty, which he said were forcing up the price of land. I think that that is true. I should like the Government to introduce a provision under which anybody wishing to take advantage of the concession on agricultural land would have to hold it for exactly the same period as for gifts inter vivos—to hold it for seven years, and then pay duty on a graduated scale. That, too, would help to stabilise the price of land.

I have one other point on rents. To make the market a little more realistic, would not it be possible for property companies to be assessed every 15 years on the capital gains in their property portfolios? They would then at times have to disgorge some of the property they were holding, and there would be a better and freer market. Instead of sitting on an enormous portfolio growing in value all the time, they would contribute something to the community for the improvement in the value of their assets.

Those are all small points, not world-shaking suggestions that will change anything overnight. But I do not believe that some of the schemes suggested by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition would bring down the price of any house constructed between 1980 and the year 2000. We have seen schemes introduced by other Labour Governments, with all sorts of mechanisms to try to change the free market and to bring down the price of houses. All have ended in disaster, or have produced exactly the opposite to the intended effect, as happened with the development levy.

We must look at the whole picture of rents and land prices, from agricultural land right up, and try to make the market work more freely and more effectively. Then we shall have some influence on prices.

5.55 p.m.

Photo of Mr Graham Tope Mr Graham Tope , Sutton and Cheam

First, may I crave your indulgence and that of the House, Mr. Speaker, to digress briefly from the subject of the debate and say how sorry I was that on Monday I had a very important constituency engagement which made it impossible for me to be present to hear the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary's statement on the tragic death of my predecessor, Sir Richard Sharples.

I spoke in my maiden speech of the great respect in which Sir Richard was held by all my constituents. There is now in Sutton and Cheam a feeling of great shock and grief at what has happened in Bermuda. With the full backing of the people in the constituency, I have sent a telegram to Lady Sharples expressing our deep sympathy.

All hon. Members must be fully aware of the problems and heartaches caused by the enormous rise in rents and house prices. In my constituency, which is by no means an exception, particularly in London and the South East, it is becoming impossible for anyone with an income of less than £3,000 a year to buy a home of any kind—even a one-bedroom flat. Young couples are being forced to move further and further away from the area, unless they are in the minority fortunate enough to receive tremendous support from their parents.

The problem is not peculiar to my constituency but is occurring throughout London. Private rented accommodation is becoming scarcer and scarcer and more and more expensive. It is virtually impossible for a young married couple with children to find any accommodation in my area.

The right hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Edward Short) spoke of the tremendous problem of homelessness. I am only too aware that the problem is far more acute in inner London than outer London. Homelessness is increasing faster now that it has ever done. London is becoming the doss-house of the world. The right hon. Gentleman said that we do not yet have accurate figures or even approximate figures of the present numbers of homeless. Perhaps we should have them.

Photo of Mr Clinton Davis Mr Clinton Davis , Hackney Central

Will the hon. Gentleman use his influence with his own local authority, as an outer London local authority, to make land available for housing by inner London local authorities, whose difficulties he has already mentioned?

Photo of Mr Graham Tope Mr Graham Tope , Sutton and Cheam

I am not sure how much influence I have with my own local authority. I was discussing with a Tory councillor only the other day the housing problem of Sutton, which is serious enough, though not as serious as in inner London. Members on the Opposition side may be interested to know his reason for building no more council houses in Cheam, which was that if they were built the occupants would all vote Labour, with which I would strongly disagree. But though that sounds amusing, I am sure that everyone will agree that it is deplorable.

I shall certainly use my influence, such as it is, to urge my local authority and other outer London authorities to realise that the problem of homelessness in London is one for London, and that it has a responsibility to help solve it. But it has a responsibility also to solve the problem of homelessness in our own borough, which is considerable.

It is not good enough for me or other hon. Members on the Opposition side to blame the Tory Government for their manifest failure to get to grips with the problem. Nor is it good enough for Conservative Members to blame the previous Government. It is not good enough for me to say that no Government have got to grips with it. The problem of homelessness is an indictment of our society and of every Member who claims to represent it.

If the Government are serious about getting to grips with the housing crisis they should pour massive aid into housing authorities to enable them to get on with realistic house-building programmes and improvement programmes. Millions of pounds are made directly available from the Exchequer to help with road building, yet local authorities still have to scrape around to borrow money at high interest rates which saddle them with a burden of repayments, probably for ever and certainly for many years. That should stop. The Government must provide the money for local authorities to solve the problem.

Photo of Mr Peter Fry Mr Peter Fry , Wellingborough

The Liberal Party shows great concern with regional policy and regional planning, especially where often there is not a housing problem. Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the resources devoted to building roads and helping industry to go to the constituencies of some of his hon. Friends should be diverted to other areas?

Photo of Mr Graham Tope Mr Graham Tope , Sutton and Cheam

Solving the housing crisis is far more important than building more and more motorways, which increase traffic problems and do little to solve them.

There are many ways in which the housing crisis can be tackled. There is no easy, single solution, and no one pretends that there is. There is scope for far more to be done in general improvement areas. There could be more public participation, with communities deciding what sort of improvements they want. More could be done with industrialised house-building. Building societies could be encouraged to lend more for industrial house-building projects. I agree with my hon. Friends who have spoken many times in the House about the need for site value rating.

What I really want to talk about is just one way in which much could be done to solve the problem of homelessness. If the Government acted on it they would show that they were serious about tackling the problem. I refer to the scandal of the thousands of empty properties throughout the country. There is fairly wide agreement now that they should be rated—and with at least 100 per cent. rates.

I understand that 37 per cent. of our housing stock was built before 1914 and therefore is due for redevelopment. The 1961 census showed that there were 500,000 empty houses. I have not been able to obtain the 1971 census figures for empty properties, but perhaps the Minister who winds up the debate can give them to us. I suspect that they have risen considerably beyond 500,000. Yet no Government Department or any other body has looked into the problem of how to use empty houses. The Government should now institute a study of how those thousands of empty properties can be used to ease—they can only ease—the problem of homelessness.

The Department of the Environment should urge every local authority to carry out a survey of the empty properties in its area and use them. Hon. Members will be aware of the activities of the family squatting associations in London, which now have legal, constructive, binding agreement with 16 London boroughs and with Winchester City Corporation to use empty property in their areas for short-term housing. I ask the Government to carry out a survey into how that system is working. I believe that they will find it working well, and that they should therefore instruct other local authorities that "squatting" is not a dirty word and that squatting has a part to play in easing the problem of homelessness. I hope that they will advise local authorities on how to institute these agreements in order to help cope with the problem of homelessness in their areas.

I believe also that the powers of compulsory purchase should be investigated and strengthened so that local authorities are better able to purchase private empty property allowed to stand empty for a given period—say, 12 months. I am sure that all hon. Members have empty properties in their constituencies, including some owned by persons who are themselves not known to the local council and who allow them to stand empty and derelict for years, an annoyance and nuisance to neighbours and nearby residents, while at the same time there are people searching desperately for a home and asking, "Why cannot we move into that house, do it up and make it habitable?" What is the answer to that question? The powers of compulsory purchase should be strengthened to allow local authorities to take action. I believe also that the means by which compulsory purchase orders can be delayed almost indefinitely should be investigated. A compulsory purchase order should be made to take effect and not allowed to be delayed for months and years.

If the Government agree to look into these matters, I hope that they will urge local authorities to take action to alleviate the problem of homelessness by using thousands of empty properties which are available, certainly in London, as I know only too well. I do not pretend that this in itself is a simple and easy solution to the problems of homelessness and the housing crisis. I know that it is not. But it is one very important way whereby the Government and the House could prove to homeless families that we really are serious about getting to grips with our housing crisis.

Several Hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Mr Selwyn Lloyd Mr Selwyn Lloyd , Wirral

Order. I am becoming aware of the increasing number of hon. Members who wish to catch my eye. I hope that those who do will be reasonably brief.

6.8 p.m.

Photo of Mr David Waddington Mr David Waddington , Nelson and Colne

The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Tope) will forgive me if I do not follow his arguments. One of the interesting things one finds in a debate of this nature is that the problems faced in one part of the country are not the same as those faced in another. I cannot honestly say that one of the major problems facing us in North-East Lancashire is a problem of empty houses, except to the extent that nuisance is sometimes caused in a street when one house is left empty and decays because the owner is lackadaisical and dilatory in making application for an improvement grant.

There are two matters on which I am sure most of us would agree. First, one does not reduce the price of a commodity by putting a tax on it. If the Land Commission were still in existence land prices certainly would not be any lower than they are and almost certainly would be rather higher. I know that it is galling to see someone making a packet out of the sale of land, but although a further tax of that kind might gratify those who believe in the politics of envy it would not do a ha'porth of good to the ordinary person looking for a house.

The right hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne Central (Mr. Edward Short) went on a great deal about the price of land but did not put forward a single suggestion as to how it might be reduced at the present time. Nor did he, as I understood him, make any suggestion which would lead to a reduction in the price of land, even in the long term.

Secondly, most people would agree that more people than ever before are in the market wanting to buy houses, and that in itself is bound to have an impact on prices, as, indeed, the willingness of building societies to lend money over the last two years has had a great impact on prices. This is not a state of affairs about which we should be too ready to complain. We should, indeed, take pride in the fact that in the first nine months of last year 285,000 mortgages were entered into by first-time purchasers, compared with 221,000 in 1970.

We should also take pride in the fact that more young people—more people under the age of 25—were enabled to enter into mortgages in the first nine months of 1972 as compared with the first nine months of 1970. These figures, which have often been quoted, illustrate the growth of national prosperity over the last two years and give the lie to all the nonsense we hear from the Opposition about the poor beaten-down British workman starving as a result of Tory policies. We have only to look at the housing figures to see that more and more people are beginning to be able to enjoy more of the good things of life. This is something in which we can take justifiable pride.

There are two aspects of the present situation, however, which worry me a great deal. The first concerns improvement grants. At present it is extremely difficult to get a terrace-type house in my constituency. The reason is simply that some local estate agents have been snapping up these houses as soon as they have come on the market and applying for improvement grants with a view to resale. Of course, I appreciate that as a result of the easy availability of improvement grants there has been a significant im- provement in the environment, which would not have come about to anything like the same extent if more restrictive policies had been pursued over the last three or four years. But there is no doubt in my mind that as a result of grants being available to other than tenants and owner-occupiers, terrace-type properties, unimproved but providing adequate accommodation, have tended to become beyond the reach of people of really modest means.

In my constituency it is not easy to pick up such a property, because as soon as one comes on the market it is bought by someone who believes that he has a reasonable chance of getting an improvement grant, thereby improving the house and eventually offering it for resale. It is in these circumstances that some local authorities have already decided to put to the top of the queue for improvement grants owner-occupiers and tenants and to put at the bottom of the queue those who come within neither category. I would not quarrel with any local authority in my neighbourhood which adopted that approach.

Photo of Mr Paul Channon Mr Paul Channon , Southend West

I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will make clear to local authorities in his area that it is a matter for their discretion whether or not they give improvement grants. If they think that the sort of thing he has described is taking place, it is a matter for them to decide whether to give an improvement grant at all.

Photo of Mr David Waddington Mr David Waddington , Nelson and Colne

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for allowing me to reinforce the point. I was stating that I was not urging any change in policy on the part of the Government but that local authorities which took the attitude that owner-occupiers and tenants should go to the front of the queue and others to the back would get my support. They are now beginning to realise that it is in their power to do this, although some have taken rather a long time to realise that they have discretion in this as in other ways.

The other matter causing me worry concerns land. It is obvious that if the flow of building land on to the market were to increase, that, in itself, would have an impact on prices. But my experience leads me to believe that everything possible is not being done at local level to see that there is an increased flow of building land on to the market. As a trustee and beneficiary of an estate, I have personal experience of this. I give one example of the difficulties with which owners are sometimes confronted.

I know of a case in which it came to the notice of an owner that the developer of the land would have to pay a substantial sum to the local water board to obtain an adequate supply of water to the land. Not surprisingly, the question of the amount of money the board was going to ask of the developer was of considerable importance to the owner, because he could hardly come to grips with the developer and negotiate a price without having some idea of what sort of liability would be incurred by the developer for water supply before he could even start developing. The owner went to the local water board, and to his astonishment was told that it was none of his business and that the board would enter discussion only with the developer and not with the owner about things of that nature. That is the absurd kind of decision which can be made at local level and can have a disastrous impact on the rate at which land comes on to the market for development.

Another matter concerns local planning authorities. I do not believe that some of them have the machinery at their disposal to enable them to process the applications as speedily as they should. In many cases they take the view that only 20 applications, for example, can be put before the monthly planning committee meeting. If there are more they have to wait, and there are usually many more than that. Many months elapse before they are dealt with, because the authorities have not the machinery to enable the work to be done in the way it should be done.

I do not know what help the Secretary of State can give in that regard, but perhaps he can issue some advice to encourage local authorities to speed up the processes of granting planning permissions. Perhaps, also some investigation should be made into the point I raised about the water board and other public authorities which are obviously concerned in the development of land. If owners who are thinking of selling land can have proper communication with such bodies they may know where they stand.

Lastly, I do not understand what the Opposition are talking about on the subject of rents. It is ridiculous for them to talk, in the motion, about an increase towards a fair rent as a "disastrous increase", when the whole concept of the fair rent was their invention, it is sheer dishonesty to omit from the motion all mention of rebates and allowances, which now mean that no one can be obliged to pay a rent higher than he can afford. It has already been pointed out by my right hon. and learned Friend that, far from the tenant being squeezed in recent weeks, the position is that, as a result of the increase in the needs allowance of £3·50, many tenants will have a lower rather than a higher rent to pay in the near future.

6.19 p.m.

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

I will not waste time trying to educate the hon. and learned Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Waddington) on the difference between the rent that is required to persuade a private landlord to remain in private letting and the rent which a local authority, performing its social responsibilities to its tenants and families with low incomes, needs to charge in order to cover its costs, but I take up one point concerning the release of housing land. Of course it is desirable that it should be released at a steady rate which the building industry can cope with. In the past, there have been floods and droughts, and the construction industry has suffered acutely as a result. Just to speed up the release of housing land without ensuring that the building industry will be able to cope with it will produce windfall capital gains for the landowners without doing anything to the benefit of housing. Such capital gains, from which everyone, as an owner-occupier, has benefited, are a substantial contributory factor to the inflation from which we are suffering.

I wish to concentrate my remarks on an area in which, to quote the hon. and learned Member for Nelson and Colne, "the poor and beaten-down British worker is starving as a result of Tory policies." I refer to the stress areas of our cities, where, as a consequence of the free market in rents and the fact that furnished tenants have no security, there has been an immense escalation of property values, particularly in central areas. Large numbers of families are being evicted from their homes. In many city areas communities are being destroyed to make room for relatively rich people, who move in and displace the families who have been living in the area for many years.

I shall argue the case for a determined Government-supported policy of acquisition of rented accommodation. It need not necessarily be local authority ownership, but social ownership such as housing trusts or non-profit making ownership. I do not put forward this argument on the ground of political doctrine, although I do strongly believe that it is intolerable that one person should own the home of another as an investment, with the person who is living in it regarding it as his home and the landlord thinking of it as an investment. It is inevitable that a conflict of interests will arise, and that at some stage the conflict will be resolved in a way which one or other of them will regard as unfair.

Although I believe in principle that the private ownership of rented properties is undesirable, I hope that the Government and hon. Members on the Government benches will accept that it is essential that steps should be taken to bring rented low-income accommodation in the stress areas into public or social ownership before it disappears completely. There is no other possibility of retaining it.

I was pleased to note that the Secretary of State, in his comments on the Layfield Report, said that the Government believe that problems of housing stress and homelessness cannot be resolved within the context of the private rented sector alone. In the stress areas it cannot be resolved by the private sector at all. I remind the House of the Milner Holland Committee of 1965, which, in its report on Rachmanism and housing stress, at page 122, said: the houses most deficient in domestic amenities, most inadequately maintained and most in need of clearance are found among those which are privately rented, and our enquiries gave us little confidence that their present owners would be able to prevent their further deterioration, even if they are willing to attempt it. The committee continued: It was put to us by the representatives of one local authority that areas like this called for a drastic and comprehensive attack on bad living conditions, using whatever remedies seemed best suited to the particular circumstances. They might be designated as 'areas of special control'; and some authority might be set up, with responsibility for the whole area and armed with wide powers to control sales and lettings, to acquire property by agreement or compulsorily over the whole area or large parts of it, to demolish and rebuild as necessary, to require improvements to be carried out or undertake such improvements themselves, and to make grants on a more generous and more flexible basis than under the existing law. The conditions which led to the committee reporting in that way have, if anything, become worse in the stress areas. The case which the committee argued is stronger today than ever before. That view is strengthened by a good deal of authoritative evidence. The London Boroughs Association, giving evidence to a sub-committee of this House on expenditure, urged the Secretary of State to grant it powers to buy up bad landlords and improve property itself. More specific recommendations have been made from the studies recently carried out in the Colville-Tavistock areas of North Kensington.

The Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council, which is probably the most conservative of all local authorities, set up an inquiry under its former borough surveyor, Mr. Clinch. He is a public servant for whom I have considerable admiration, but in the many years I have known him he has never given any indication of departing in any significant way from the orthodox conservatism of his employing authority. Reports of Mr. Clinch's report have already appeared in the Press, and I have a draft of his report.

After reviewing the problems of the area—which is characteristic of many stress areas—and reporting on the squalor and lack of opportunity for a satisfactory family life in the prevailing conditions of multiple occupations, he discussed the economics of improvement and conversion. At paragraph 11 he reported: The operation of the improvement grants system has undoubtedly led to higher rents. He then referred to evidence submitted to him by the Notting Hill Housing Trust—one of the trusts which has been most active and most effective in the area—and said: Stress areas, especially when bordering on an area of expensive housing, are now providing opportunities for investment expectation. That is not essentially different from the effects of Rachmanism 10 years ago. Mr. Clinch refers to evidence that current profit on rents for converted one-to two-bedroomed flats in the Colville area of North Kensington is running as high as £15 to £20 a week. For non-converted, non-self-contained flats it is £10 to £15 a week. It is difficult to find a bed-sitting room at under £5 a week. As a result of his consideration of the evidence and his study of the area Mr. Clinch concluded: The Borough Council is faced with a dilemma of major proportions. It must apparently decide whether it can tolerate the perpetuation of houses in multi-family occupation without civilised amenities, promote improvement for a different class of the community than the present occupiers or attempt a solution by a direct intervention outside its current policies. Mr. Clinch then said that the appropriate policy for the council to pursue was to involve itself in a direct intervention policy with regard to Colville. He said: It has to secure that whenever possible terraces pass into the ownership of the council or a housing trust for treatment as a whole. Mr. Clinch quoted examples of the cost involved in conversion and improvement in support of his case. He gave details of a terraced house bought for £15,000 and converted at a cost of £9,000 into three lettings. He found that the minimum rate which a private landlord would have to charge to give a reasonable profit per flat would be £21·60p per week. He commented: These rentals are startling in themselves. When placed in the context of the level of income enjoyed by the present population of North Kensington they are grotesque. We have a good deal of information about the levels of income in this area. We find already that a high proportion of the tenants in the area are paying rents of more than 20 per cent. of their income. In many cases those with low incomes are paying up to 27 per cent. of their income in rent. It is impossible in these circumstances for the majority of those who now live in the area to continue to do so. Eighty per cent. of the existing population cannot pay more than £10 per week, according to the Notting Hill Housing Trust survey.

It is useless for the Minister to refer to the provisions of the Housing Finance Act. Even if the maximum allowance is increased, the basic provision of the Act is that a tenant will have to pay 40 per cent. of the so-called fair rent, and the maximum allowance available will be £8 a week. The Minister has discretion to enlarge the allowance in certain areas. I am not sure of the exact figure, but I believe that it is 25 per cent. for Chelsea and Kensington, with a £10 maximum allowance. That will still leave the majority of people in the area outside the level of converted accommodation. However, what happens is that the accommodation does not get converted for the existing occupiers to rent. The property is converted for sale.

Properties offered for sale can fetch nearly double the capitalised value of even a fair rent in an area like North Kensington, which borders on rich areas—and there are similar areas on the fringes of the centres of every city, where property values rise so fast that there is immense demand for property for sale to those who can afford to pay substantial prices. In areas like North Kensington, for example, people who help to run hospitals and public transport, the food distribution service and the construction service, are being forced out to make room for executives of businesses who want to move into London, in many cases from Europe, and want a pied-à-terre in London for use during the week or to make space for others who can afford the high price demanded. As a result, the people who have spent most of their lives in the area are being evicted; this is happening in large numbers, and these people are being forced right out of the area. This can and must be prevented. I know that the Minister is aware of the problem and is sympathetic towards it. He has the tools to deal with it if he is willing to use them. He has compulsory purchase powers. Local authorities have presented him with compulsory purchase orders but he has turned them down. Presumably, it is the Secretary of State who carries the ultimate responsibility.

I was pleased to see that a compulsory purchase order in respect of the Granby area of Liverpool had been approved. In general, the right hon. and learned Gentleman's Department has taken the view that it is not its function to confirm compulsory purchase orders, even in severe cases of harassment and mismanagement, simply to prevent housing stress. A case was presented to the Minister about a property in St. Ervans Road, North Kensington, where there had been numerous convictions for harassment and illegal eviction. Because all of the old tenants had been turned out and the present tenants were content with the landlord the Minister turned the application down.

Photo of Mr Frank Marsden Mr Frank Marsden , Liverpool Scotland

As a Member for one of the Liverpool constituencies who knows that area well, may I ask my hon. Friend whether he would not concede that in Liverpool we have demolished a lot of properties which could have been put into a good state of repair? Some properties have been demolished. unnecessarily.

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

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I would like to see far more use made of rehabilitation whenever premises are habitable. I also wish to ensure that when premises are acquired by a local authority they are not allowed to stand empty. Of course mistakes have been made—probably more in Liverpool than in many other areas.

The Secretary of State has demonstrated in Liverpool that he is willing to use compulsory purchase powers for general improvement areas. I hope that he will consider using his powers under the 1957 Housing Act and will have regard to the decision of Moore v. Ministry of Housing and Local Government, which indicated that the Minister was not restricted in exercising those powers to places where properties were required for the acquisition of houses intended to be altered, repaired or enlarged so as to make more housing units.

A reasonable interpretation of that case is that the local authority may acquire houses in the area which are unoccupied, in need of repair or improvement, or where furnished tenants are being evicted to secure vacant possession, so long as it is exercising its powers in a reasonable manner—that is, for housing provision.

I hope that the Secretary of State will pay attention to the article on compulsory purchase in the January-February issue of Housing Review. I hope, too, that he Will consider this and the provisions of Section 112 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971. He has wide powers, and I urge him to use them, before it is too late, to prevent the wholesale eviction of low-income families from cur city centres.

The Minister does not need any additional powers; he needs only the will to prevent exploitation and the hardship which results from the unfettered operations of the gentlemen who publish the London Property Letter, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Edward Short) referred. I see that, very properly, the company is known as Stonehart Publications. What is happening in our cities is a disgrace to a civilised society. It is something which will be destructive of any satisfactory standard of living for the families concerned and anyone else who seeks to remain in the cities afterwards. I urge the Secretary of State to approve as many compulsory purchase orders as are put to him, and I urge local authorities to submit as many as possible to him. I also urge them to use their powers to acquire voluntarily as many properties as possible as quickly as possible, because tomorrow or next year may be too late.

6.35 p.m.

Photo of Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop , Tiverton

The supply and availability of land have to date been spoken of as if they were the same, whereas they are not. I mention this en passant, because we are losing about 50,000 acres of our stock of land each year. Once that has gone unless and until the houses built upon it are in their turn demolished, it has gone for keeps. In Holland, on the other hand, there has been a net increase in the country's area as a result of land reclamation from the sea. I mention that because it is not the case that the total quantity of land is necessarily fixed.

With an increasing population and an availability of land which decreases yearly due to road and house construction, it is worth bearing in mind that some of the schemes which have been mooted for reclamation, in the Wash and Morecambe Bay in particular, could lead to a considerable square mileage accretion in useful land over the years. As land prices and the density of population rise we should keep our eye on this point because schemes which may not have been economically attractive when the demand for land was significantly lower may now become more attractive.

Availability of land for building implies availability of the services necessary for the land before it can be built on. It is not very helpful for local authorities to receive circulars from the Department of the Environment exhorting them to give more planning permissions for building, if they are then refused loan sanction for the sewage works without which they cannot grant planning permission. Similarly, it is not very helpful to exhort local authorities to grant more planning permissions if water boards are not allowed to increase their water rates to service loans to lay the pipes to connect the land with supplies of water, without which planning permission cannot be given.

In my part of the world—and this is doubtless true of other areas—large sums of money have been spent in constructing reservoirs the water from which cannot then be piped to land which is otherwise suitable for building, because of the interdiction on increased charges which servicing the loan to pipe that water would bring with it.

I was delighted when the Department of the Environment was set up to draw under one roof a number of different functions which ought to be co-ordinated and which used not to be. It ought to be one of the functions of the Department, in this case in conjunction with the Treasury, to see that these sorts of contradictions in public policy are not permitted to arise. I can assure hon. Members that this is a real source of the shortage of available building land in my constituency. I mean not potential land but land available now. That is undoubtedly one factor that has been forcing up land prices and, therefore, house prices.

Land use draws in two policy considerations. First, ought we to allow unlimited bungalow development, when we know that this is one of the most uneconomic uses of building land it is possible to conceive. To achieve a given square footage of accommodation requires a greater area of land with bungalow development than with any other form of housing development of which I am aware. I do not believe that sufficient attention has been paid to this. Incidentally I am told that it results in higher average use of building skills, because there is a greater area of roofing for the accommodation which it provides, and this in itself tends to involve more carpentry and tiling of the roof.

In the long run the demand for land, let it be remembered, is also affected by the question whether or not this country has a population policy, because prices respond not only to the demand at a given moment, but to what people anticipate it will be in future. If they see an extrapolation of an ever-increasing population, ever demanding more and more housing, then to those who are given to speculation it becomes a particularly attractive form of speculation not just against inflation but as a continuing, utterly predictable, trend. To the extent that the reverse is true—to the extent that the Government have a positive population stabilisation policy—this, in itself, could be a real factor in checking speculative increases in land prices.

The Government, since they were returned in 1970, issued a Green Paper—a consultative document—on rates, or, rather, on the financing of local government. I would be very grateful to my hon. Friend if, in concluding the debate, he could tell us what conclusions the Government have arrived at as a result of the consultations arising from that Green Paper, or, if that cannot yet be done, if he could give us the time scale in which the Government are minded to issue a White Paper giving their conclusions and to introduce legislation to implement them. For instance, for people living on fixed incomes, an amelioration, lasting one year, of half the difference between their previous rate plus 10 per cent. and the new rate demand is an anaesthetic rather than a cure; and it in no way answers the question of how they will, at the end of the period, be enabled to meet the increased rate charge falling upon them.

Another of the costs which fall upon the householder is that of maintenance, and here the imposition of value added tax on builders and painters is another cost which will fall upon the householder. After all, whether it is rent, rates, mortgage payments, or maintenance payments, it all has to come from the same source fundamentally, and therefore the inter- reaction of these should be considered together.

The House debated recently—and I will not reopen the subject at any length—the advisability or otherwise of controlling interest rates as a facet of general financial policy. I would merely observe that the arguments for allowing interest rates to fluctuate in response to demand for new loans are not the same as the arguments for allowing them to fluctuate on loans which have already been committed and mortgages which are already in existence, because by increasing interest rates we do not reduce the number of mortgages already out; the people have no option but to continue their mortgages and pay the extra payments—particularly if they are in conjunction with endowment policies—from incomes which only increase if they ask for increased wages, or some means of that kind, and that is antipathetic to the Government's general incomes policy.

Another drain on land availability is the requirement for car parking space. Many local authorities nowadays will not give planning permission without the provision of adequate car parking space as well, and, in some areas, not just one but two per unit of accommodation. The reason for this is entirely understandable and excellent, but it raises the question whether or not the Government should offer financial inducements to local authorities to enable them to provide vertical rather than lateral car parking. It is a very uneconomical use of land, particularly in areas which have a large though temporary tourist trade in the summer season, to devote to temporary car parking, to meet a summer peak, considerable and significant areas of land which could be used for building. The resources of these local authorities are inadequate in themselves to provide vertical car parking arrangements, which would not be self-financing. If we are serious about land conservation and use, this is another problem to which we should turn our minds in central Government as well as local government.

I have written to my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction about the technical problems which have arisen from the Housing Finance Act. Local authorities—in this case, my own, in Tiverton—have changed the system of charging council house rents from a 50- week basis to a 52-week basis. That change got caught up, unintentionally, in the Government's own formula for rent increases, with the result that council house tenants feel themselves, authentically, ill-used, however unintentional this may have been. I am looking forward to hearing a reply from my hon. Friend—not in this debate, for that would be an unreasonable use of time—as to the way in which problems of this kind can be obviated, possibly through the discretionary powers of the Minister.

I conclude by saying, first, that I exhort my hon. Friend and his colleagues in the Department of the Environment to make the individual items of their policy mutually consistent rather than mutually inconsistent. This would be particularly applicable in the provision of services which enable land to be released for building. Secondly, I exhort them not to forget that the total quantity of land in the country is not necessarily fixed, and that the increase in prices has definitely brought home to us the need to examine urgently the possibility of increasing by land reclamation the effective acreage of this overcrowded country.

6.48 p.m.

Photo of Mr David Stoddart Mr David Stoddart , Swindon

I hope that the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) will not mind if I do not follow his remarks closely, although I was very glad to hear him outline some of the difficulties which local authorities face. It is, and it has been, all too easy even for knowledgeable people to criticise the local authorities for withholding land when they have very real difficulties in allowing that land to come forward for use.

I intend to talk about the effect of the savage increases in house prices in my constituency, because Swindon has been very hard hit. Since 1970 the price of houses has risen by more than 100 per cent. Even a small terrace house is getting beyond the pocket of the ordinary working person. This rise has been largely due to speculative activities by private firms. They have certainly greatly exacerbated an already difficult situation, and some have made very rich pickings in Swindon, which is an expanding town, through land and property speculation. The Government have done little or nothing to curb that speculation.

For example, a case which came to my attention in 1972 concerned a firm by the name of McLean, to which the council had sold land at a very reasonable rate. In 1971 it advertised houses to be built on the land. On 8th September 1971, when people were reserving plots, the cost of the houses was to be £9,740. A year later, on 10th November 1972, people were informed of the new price, which was £18,980—a doubling of price in just 12 months and after the announcement of a wage freeze.

That was a staggering price increase by any stretch of the imagination. Stage 2 of the wage freeze—or, for that matter, any other stage—was made to look quite silly, especially when we remember that the additional cost of the houses, worked out on an annual repayment basis, amounted to £630 per annum. Who has had wage or salary increases of that order, except, perhaps, the surtax payer, whom the Chancellor of the Exchequer has relieved of some of his commitments?

I took up the matter very strongly with the firm. It denied making exorbitant profits, but its balance sheet showed that between 1971 and 1972 they more than doubled—from £500,000 to £1 million—while its turnover increased by less than 33⅓ per cent. I challenged it to produce its costing figures, which it refused to do. In my estimation, having made my own researches, I have no doubt that on this project of 80 houses the firm made almost £500,000—almost the equivalent of its total profit, as a group, in 1971. In my view, what the firm did was disgraceful, especially bearing in mind that the local authority had sold it the land at a reasonable price to help alleviate the housing situation in Swindon.

I wrote to the Prime Minister about the matter. He did not reply. Instead, I received a reply from the Minister for Housing and Construction. He made no attempt to deal with the real issue. His answer was that more houses must be built until supply comes into balance with demand. That sounds very hollow, bearing in mind the Government's record last year, which was the most dismal since 1963.

Another instance of a doubling of house prices in the south-western region came to my notice. Again I took up the matter with the Prime Minister and urged him to include land and house prices in phase 2 of the prices and incomes policy, which was then being debated. I have had no reply. I know that land and house prices were not included in phase 2, but it may be indicative of the Prime Minister's attitude to the House and to hon. Members that he has not bothered to reply on a matter of the utmost importance to the country.

The latest example in my constituency is of the manager of a firm moving into Swindon who looked at a house, said that he would like it, and was told that the person who had reserved it had just dropped out, although it was nearly completed, but that if he wanted it he would have to pay £1,000 over and above the £18,000 being charged to other people. Builders, speculators and people who have property for sale are making rich pickings and quick profits out of people's need. The manager was, needless to say, most irate and upset. He wants to know how, under the Government's prices and incomes policy, he is to find the extra cost.

The effect of activities of this kind has been to increase house prices in Swindon generally. They have had a serious effect on the prospects of young people and others wishing to buy or rent houses. For them the slogan "a property-owning democracy" has no meaning. Their hope of having a decent house at a price which they can afford recedes into the mists of distant time, pushed there by the parasitic actions of speculators and profiteers in housing.

Then there is the effect on the local authorities' housing lists. In my constituency the number of relet houses which have come forward over the last few months has been halved. Tenants who would otherwise have left those houses, making way for other people on the housing list, have been priced out of the owner-occupier market. The result is that those people, unable to buy a house, must wait longer for a house. The size of the housing list in Swindon has doubled. The names of more people are going on to it and the time which people must wait for rehousing by the local authority is lengthening every week.

The future seems to hold no prospect of improvement. There will undoubtedly be a substantial rise in mortgage interest rates. If we are to believe what the newspapers say, the rate may be 9½ per cent. or perhaps even 10 per cent. Local authorities, too, will be affected by the profligacy of the Government's lending policy, because the terms on which they borrow will be higher than anything known this century. This is bound to make them diffident about increasing their housing drives and providing more houses for rent. There is a great need for houses, not only for sale but to rent.

There is need for radical action to deal with the housing problem. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Edward Short) that the only way to deal with the land question is to take land into public ownership. In a monopoly situation—and because of the limited and nearly finite supply of land in this country it is bound to be a monopoly commodity—the only way to stop the price soaring year by year is to take it into public ownership. That is one of the first needs.

We should also examine the question of building costs. I have urged the Minister to institute an inquiry into this matter. An inquiry is long overdue. We should consider how the building industry is organised. It might well be that the Government should set up an agency for this purpose and perhaps to give a lead in building methods generally. The building materials industry should also be investigated to see how some of the concerns use their monopoly position to the detriment of potential house purchasers and all those in need of accommodation.

I urge the Government to encourage rather than discourage local authorities to use direct labour, because there is no doubt that genuine savings and better quality can be achieved by it.

Housing is one of the prime needs of our community. The Government must give it the highest priority they can. It will be far better if they drop some of their prestige projects, such as that at Maplin, and concentrate those resources and that financial assistance in providing housing for our people, for this probably is their greatest need.

7.0 p.m.

Photo of Mr Teddy Taylor Mr Teddy Taylor , Glasgow Cathcart

I appreciate that time is short in this debate. Therefore I shall concentrate on one particular aspect of housing prob- lems, and I shall make passing reference to two others.

I probably represent as many council tenants as any other hon. Member in the House because more than half of my constituents are council tenants. I hope that the Government will do more than encourage local authorities to offer houses for sale to sitting tenants. I say this not because of any great passionate belief in owner occupation, but simply from the point of view that people who own property are more mobile. One of today's tragedies is that many people who have waited ten years for a council house and then finally get one, find that they are immobile. The only way in which a council tenant in Glasgow can consider accepting a job in Birmingham is by moving to Birmingham and buying an expensive house there.

In these inflationary times unless people have something to sell they are totally immobile and therefore they are often forced to stay in jobs when otherwise they might not wish to do so. I have no deep-rooted belief in the sanctity of owner-occupation, but in an age when people have to move from job to job and when prices are constantly soaring, it helps when people own their property.

I have one suggestion to advance on the subject of rates. It is remarkable, at a time when rates are so expensive, that a recent answer given to me by the Secretary of State for Scotland showed that the average payment in Scotland is £61 per year. I hope that the Government will encourage local authorities to introduce easy payments schemes wherever possible. Where people are able to pay their rates in a lump sum, I hope that local authorities will be allowed to offer a reduction of 5 per cent.

I wish to draw attention to the operation of the Housing Acts 1965, 1969 and 1972 in so far as they affect private rents. The procedure laid down by the Labour Government provided for rent officers and rent assessment committees, and that system at the time appeared to be sensible and fair. The rent assessment committees gave an opportunity for tenant or landlord to appeal against a rent determination by rent officers. If the amount specified was regarded as too high or too low by a landlord or tenant, the decision could be appealed against. Unfortunately in many areas of Scotland, and in particular in Glasgow, the rent assessment committees are not providing this facility, because in recent times in almost every single case referred to rent assessment committees either by tenant or landlord the rent officer's figure has been increased. The result is that most tenants in Glasgow who know the facts are terrified to appeal to the local assessment committee against the rent officer's decision.

This is not just talk, and I hope that the Minister will look at HANSARD for 21st February where he will see that figures were given to me by the Secretary of State showing the way in which the Glasgow Rent Assessment Committee handled appeals. Some 340 cases were considered by that committee in 1972 and in 292 cases the figures fixed by the committee were higher than the rent officer's figure. In only eight cases out of the 340 did the committee make a lower determination, and in 40 cases the situation was left unchanged. It is not for me to say whether the figure set by the rent officer or that set by the rent assessment committee was right, but there appears to be something very wrong when two groups of people who are meant to be working on the same basis arrive at completely different levels of rent determinations.

I can well understand that there may be different views as between one case and another, but there appears to be a clear case of consistently higher assessments set by rent assessment committees compared with the rents arrived at by rent officers. Tenants in Glasgow are scared to go before the rent assessment committees and to use those committees as they should be used—namely, as impartial bodies to which people can appeal if they feel they have a good case.

It is interesting to note that only a few weeks ago the Court of Session in Scotland found that, in one case which was appealed against, the basis of determination adopted by the Glasgow Rent Assessment Committee was wrong. The basis used by the committee is the capital value of the house, with vacant possession. The interest is then calculated at say 8 per cent. and then there are deductions for scarcity and so on. The Glasgow Rent Assessment Committee adopted that basis in 1972 in almost every case, and the Court of Session said that it was wrong.

There is now to be an appeal to the House of Lords. If the House of Lords says that the Court of Session was right and the whole basis on which the Glasgow Rent Assessment is operating is wrong, I should like to know what will be the position of those tenants whose rents have been fixed by that committee if the House of Lords also says that the committee has been working on an entirely wrong basis.

I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has agreed to consult those concerned to inquire into what has been happening to rents in Glasgow. Something obviously is wrong and it is time that it was put right so that both tenants and landlords can come to regard the committee as an impartial body to which they can put their views.

I should like to ask the Minister of Housing and Construction to put himself in the position of a Glasgow tenant and to consider how he would feel if he were faced with the fact that out of some 340 cases, 292 had been set at a higher figure and in only eight cases had there been reductions. In face of that evidence, would he decide to appeal to the Rent Assessment Committee? I suggest that the Minister would not go before that committee.

I regard the rent allowance scheme as a splendid idea. Under the scheme a married couple with two young children with a rent of £5 per week and with an income of £35·50 or under per week would receive a rent allowance. Under the scheme a pensioner on an average rent with only £10 per week will pay no rent at all. A recent case which came to my notice involved a couple with four children who paid a rent of £3·49 per week. Under the new arrangements that man, who was earning £35 a week, would get a rent rebate of £1·12. It is very commendable that many people who did not receive aid before will now benefit under the new scheme.

I should like to put another matter to the Minister which I hope will receive his consideration in due course, if he cannot give me an answer in this debate. In his opening speech the Secretary of State for the Environment said that the Govern- ment had made special arrangements to help ratepayers in England and Wales because there had been no revaluation for ten years—unlike the situation in Scotland where we have had two revaluations. My right hon. and learned Friend said that this was being done because of the sudden increase in rates which ratepayers will be expected to meet. I suggest that something similar will be necessary in Scotland in the privately rented sector. Traditionally we in Scotland have had private rents on a much lower scale than the average rents in England and Wales. The same applies to our council houses where, by and large, our rents have been lower than in England and Wales.

This situation is being changed—in the case of council tenants by Conservative legislation and in the case of private tenants by the legislation passed by the Labour Government in 1969. Our 1972 Act reduces the period of transition from five to three years and brings in rent allowances. For those who qualify for only a small rent allowance, however the change in rent over a period of two years in three annual instalments will have a sudden impact and will result in a reduction in people's relative living standards. Most of the people concerned are elderly, because controlled tenants are people who have been in their houses for at least 30 years.

Perhaps I might give the Minister examples of cases in my own constituency. One concerns £32-a-year houses, which is admittedly ridiculously low, where rents have been increased to £340 by the rent assessment committee. Another concerns houses rented at £22 a year which have gone up to £200. In other words, there have been increases of between 700 and 1,000 per cent.

I appreciate that for poor people and those with moderate incomes the rent allowance scheme is of real benefit. No one denies it. What is more, it is new. But the same applies to council houses. In the case of council houses we have put a limit on annual rent increases of 75p per week per year. Although rents were very low, as in Glasgow, moderate, as in Saltcoats, or high, as in Edinburgh, we imposed a limit of 75p per week per year with an average increase of 50p. The same is true of the Scottish Special Housing Association houses where we see an average of 50p and a maximum of 75p.

I find it difficult to understand why we should not impose a similar limit on privately-rented houses the rents of which have been controlled and are now being increased. If we imposed a limit of, say, 75p a week each year the financial effect would be very small. Most of the houses are not going up by more than 75p per week per year, but there are a small number which are and the psychological impact of the rent determinations that we have been seeing can undermine all that the Government hope to achieve in putting across the idea that their new proposals are fair and just.

The cash involved would be nothing. In fact it would be a negative sum because less would have to be paid out in rent allowances. The number affected would be small, but the psychological impact would be considerable. It would not require more legislation. Under the Counter-Inflation Act the Government now have powers to bring forward orders to affect rents in whatever way they like. I suggest that something like this could be done by order and that there is a special case for something to be done in Scotland.

I appreciate that it is an important matter of policy and that my hon. Friend may not be able to give an answer tonight. But I should like to think that the House has listened and that my hon. Friend will not only listen but think about it in the next few weeks.

7.13 p.m.

Photo of Mr William Molloy Mr William Molloy , Ealing North

The condemnation in the Opposition motion is one of the most serious that any Government could face. This is essentially a housing debate, and we are discussing the very structure and core of our society. We are discussing the need of a good family to live in a decent home.

The fact is that literally hundreds and thousands of British citizens have no decent homes. That is even more astounding when one recalls that since the war we have been unable to resolve our housing problem. We are a nation of remarkable resourcefulness and incredible ingenuity. We are held in esteem throughout the world. But we have not been able to resolve our housing problem, and I believe the reason is that we have not yet been prepared to tackle the essentials required to resolve it. The most hopeful indication so far has been the speech today of my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Edward Short).

Behind all the statistics, what has not been mentioned is that we are talking about people—our homeless people—whether they are in Ealing, in Swansea, in Glasgow or in Birmingham, and we ought to be ashamed of that fact. They are homeless because the private enterprise system has been unable to meet their demands and because many of them in turn have been unable to meet the demands of the private enterprise system.

When we hold our surgeries one of the most common problems raised is that of our constituent who says that he is desperately in need of a home. We ask all the usual questions about where he is working and what he earns. More often than not the reply to the latter question is "In the region of £35 a week." We ask how many children he has, and whether he has been to the local authority. Faced with such a problem in my own surgery it is useless for me to tell my constituent, as I could, that there are lots of lovely houses, maisonettes and flats in the London borough of Ealing selling at between £35,000 and £40,000, or that anyone wishing to rent will have to pay only £35 a week.

When a working man knows that and goes home to his inadequately housed family, can anyone really blame him for his reaction? Probably his son and daughter are growing up and they have not separate bedrooms. His wife asks him what his union is doing about it. The man looks round for a house because he does not yet qualify for a local authority house, only to discover that he has to earn a lot more money. The standard of life is rising, but becoming more and more expensive. His wife tells him to get his union to put in a bid for more money in order to pay the kind of rent or mortgage that private entrepreneurs ask.

It is no use well-heeled people like ourselves and representatives of the media complaining when people in that position decide to protest. If they put up quietly and patiently with the indignity of being inadequately housed, they are considered to be very responsible and good British citizens. When they decide to go on no longer standing by and seeing their children growing up in appalling conditions in one or two rooms, and they demand wage increases or make protests, suddenly they are irresponsible.

That is the situation in which we find ourselves today. But who does the most complaining? It is many of those who themselves have more homes than ordinary people have rooms. We see examples time and time again. We talk glibly about trying to resolve the housing problem. Since the war we have been trying to regulate and amend the system. We must abolish the system and put another in its place.

We cannot go on expecting ordinary people to put up with being scolded by the media for going on strike and asking for more money when they read every day of the millions of pounds made in a few days by an exchange of land, or some land development.

How can I answer people in my constituency who are ill-housed and who tell me that on their way to work they pass Centre Point? Who could blame them if they suggested taking it over? We ought to say as much tonight. It ought to be taken over before 10 o'clock this evening. We should act in a way to ensure that some of our homeless got into that place and lived there rent free. That could be a start. This is what we would do if there were some other emergency—some outside threat. We should think in this way of the ordinary people who are homeless or inadequately housed.

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

The GLC already has a vast number of houses in my constituency which it is putting up for sale. When I raised with the Minister the case of a man with a wife and seven children living in a two-bedroomed council house, he said that it was not unreasonable that the political view of the GLC was that a house with four or five bedrooms should not be given to that family, but that the family should be able to buy it for £12,000 or £15,000.

Photo of Mr William Molloy Mr William Molloy , Ealing North

I agree with my hon. Friend. This is the situation that we should try to rectify. Food prices, house prices and land prices have not been held back. Everything has gone up, and when the working man tries to get more wages, a freeze is imposed on him. Can we blame him if he gets annoyed? As Aneurin Bevan used to teach us, the tragedy of much of our behaviour is that we do not arrive at the frontiers of understanding until our own souls are hurt with personal grief.

A young couple who have been married five or six years and have two or three children are fed up if they have been on the housing register for so long. If someone else comes into the locality and gets a house under some special arrangement, due to tragic circumstances, the young couple vent their venom not on the system but on the unfortunate people who have been given the house. So, apart from anything else, we are pitting people against one another.

The Prime Minister talks about one nation. He is not the first Tory Prime Minister to talk of one nation. That was also Benjamin Disraeli's ideal. That is why he joined the Tory Party. When he had been on those benches for some time, however, he described the Tory Party as nothing more than an organised hypocrisy. That is what we are seeing today.

Those of us who are close to the realities of this matter appeal to the Government to understand the problems of ordinary people. Of course there are enormous problems. It has been said that if all public authorities, private interests and other organisations were granted the amount of land they claim for essential needs, the acreage of Great Britain would have to be increased at least four times. All the reclamation in the world will not achieve that, so we must consider something else. We should consider whether the land is being used properly.

After the Chancellor's announcement, the Government are now reluctantly moving to a pseudo-Socialist approach. It is not that they want to. They do not want to impose these penalties on the land developers. They had no more idea of doing so than of nationalising Rolls-Royce. But there is just no alternative. That is why they are pouring millions into the coal industry. When private interprise will not do something the nation has to do it—and the same principle applies to housing.

Land is the important element. We in the Labour Party have said that we will take into public ownership land required for housing building. We should go further. We cannot talk simply of building homes by themselves—we must provide the social and spiritual furniture that goes with them. On the new estates there must be schools, churches, chapels, doctors' surgeries, and so on.

Let me give an example from my own constituency. A perfectly viable, enterprising firm called Rockware Glass, year in and year out, over the past decade, has increased its production. It would get applause on that account from hon. Members opposite. The shareholders have had their share and the workers have received increased wages. Consequently, there has been no industrial friction.

Suddenly, someone discovered that the land on which the factory stood would, if sold, bring more in that one deal than the efforts of the craftsmen and management over 20 years. So all the workmen have been sacked, they have nine months to get out, the factory will crumble and the land will be sold. I wonder what will go on it. A hospital?

Photo of Mr William Molloy Mr William Molloy , Ealing North

A council house estate? Even privately-built houses? Of course not. We all know what will go on it—a group of warehouses which will not be kept full, so that the expenses racket can be worked and an income tax rebate provided for the enormous firm which owns it, whose identity hardly anybody knows.

It is no use the two sides of the House arguing about how best they can help the building societies to bring down mortgage rates. If ever there was a misnomer it is that—"building" societies. The building societies do not put one brick on top of another, but they have the important element—the money. Would we entrust our defence—the maintenance of the Army, Navy and Air Force—to the building societies? Of course not. Is not the Englishman's home—his castle, which we all want to defend—equally important?

We should therefore consider establishing a special public home loans board from which people can borrow from the nation at rates of interest which will not be driven hither and thither by the market but can be under the full control of the House.

Photo of Mr William Molloy Mr William Molloy , Ealing North

The Labour Government lent to local authorities at 4 per cent., and that helped enormously.

When we talk about local authorities, we should all acknowledge the massive work done by councillors, irrespective of party. We say glibly that local authorities should do this or that. Sometimes we should pause and remember that many of the sins of this House have been visited on the local authorities—on the ordinary men and women of all parties who give up so much time to this work.

It would be silly to take land into public ownership without at the same time having a national body to provide people with the wherewithal to buy their own homes. Every family in the land should own its own home—and no one else's. Then we should have sanity.

Let us acknowledge that this is not just a question of people being ill-housed. Thousands of families are actually homeless This is the problem in the London borough of Ealing. People come to the borough with their families and end up on the streets. In this year of grace 1973, one of the problems of Ealing is to find hotels or some other accommodation for our fellow citizens, if only for a few nights. This is the grave problem behind all the statistics.

We need a really radical Socialist approach. Hon. Members opposite must concede that the old system has failed. If it had not failed we should not be having this debate. The problems are with us, so we must have a new system to see that the land required for homes and new communities is owned by the community.

If we believe in a land-owning democracy, the democracy should own the land and the control should be in this House. It can then be parcelled out to either local authorities or private people for the building of homes. I thank God for all the Labour-controlled local authorities which, over the last three decades, have built council houses. We can imagine the serious situation we should be in if they had not built houses. Therefore, we must help such authorities even more. We can do this by having proper control of the land, parcelling it out to either local authorities or private people for the purpose of building houses, and taking control of the financial side, so that when a person takes out a mortgage he does not say: "By the time I am 73 I shall have bought my house, and I am only 25 now."

That should not be the way of life for people in future. We must do something about it. We cannot achieve this ideal immediately, but if this is the road to which we are pointing it will make a massive contribution to bringing about the social content that we need. We should make it possible for every family in the British Isles to have a home in which to live and of which to be proud, where they can bring up their children in decency and honour.

7.31. p.m.

Photo of Mr Peter Fry Mr Peter Fry , Wellingborough

I hope that the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Malloy) will understand if I do not follow too closely his party political broadcast.

Today we have had the words of the late Hugh Gaitskell and the late Aneurin Bevan quoted. It is interesting, in the present mood of the Labour Party that hon. Gentlemen opposite appear to hark back to the days when all was amity and accord within their ranks. The policy of land acquisition outlined by the hon. Member for Ealing, North, would mean that this country would have greater control and less freedom in this respect than any country outside the Iron Curtain. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will make it clear to the people of this country that this is the kind of policy that the Labour Party will put forward at the next General Election.

Whilst not endorsing the terms of the Opposition motion, and realising the extent of what Her Majesty's Government have already done, I feel that it would be wrong to give the impression that there is any degree of complacency on this side of the House. I think that all hon. Members are concerned about the swift rise in house prices and the problems that this is creating for those who wish to purchase their own homes. But in dealing with the problem we must not forget that there is a growing shortage of skilled building workers, especially in the fast-developing parts of the country, such as my constituency in Northamptonshire.

In the post today I had a letter from a local builder in which he said that wages of £80 a week are being asked, expected and obtained and that, despite those high wages, there will be a shortage of skilled workers in the foreseeable future. I think that any attempt to solve the housing problem must take the capacity of the industry into account.

I appreciate that most people, when they think of housing need, are concerned mainly with the homeless, particularly in the large cities, but in the provinces there is a feeling of sympathy for young married people who are finding difficulty in buying their first homes.

I should like to mention the fate of some council house tenants who are anxious to buy the houses in which they live. Unfortunately, they find that not all local councils permit their tenants to buy, or, if they do, do not always allow the full sitting tenant discount off the purchase price which the Minister has authorised.

One of my constituents, a widow, living in a terraced house in a rural area, the other houses in the terrace having already been bought, decided last spring that she would like to buy her home. She was told that the price would be £3,400. By the time that she had organised her finances, by about October, she discovered to her horror that the price had risen to £4,750. This naturally presented her with even more problems. None the less, shortly after the New Year she was able to write to the council saying that she could go ahead at this price. Unfortunately she had over-run the time of the offer given at that price and she was told that the new price would be £6,500. Quite rightly, she is upset and wonders how her house could have increased so rapidly in value, she living there the whole time.

I accept that the earlier valuations were possibly too low, but I do not believe that the present figure is low considering the house in which this lady lives. The unfortunate aspect is that there is no sitting tenant discount available. If there were, it would have brought down the price to a level that this lady could have afforded.

I suggest to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State that it is time he examined the way that the circulars and advice that go out from the Department are being disregarded by some local authorities. I suggest it is time we ensured some standardisation in order to give fairness of treatment.

I do not normally approve of the Government intervening too much in the affairs of local authorities, but it should be pointed out to some of them that much of the money that in the past has gone towards providing council accommodation has come from national taxation. I believe that there is an argument for parity of treatment in these cases.

I turn from the council tenant to the problems of young married couples or any persons wanting to buy their first house. This problem is perhaps restricted to the South-East and the Midlands where the greatest rise in prices has occurred. [Interruption.] Wherever the problem exists, it is aggravated by inadequacies in housing.

For example, in many areas there is a chronic shortage of accommodation for the elderly and single persons, many of whom occupy houses with two or more spare bedrooms. A more flexible approach is needed to enable many of these categories to be housed in the most suitable accommodation. It should be made much easier for the single occupier or the pensioner to move into a small flat or bungalow if that is desired. I stress that the choice must be theirs, not the local authorities. Unless we do this we shall find many houses occupied by elderly people who do not feel that they can go in for improvements or the bother of changing to smaller houses, and therefore the life of that accommodation may be restricted.

If we encouraged such people to go into special accommodation we could release many houses for larger families. It makes sense in keeping the life of a house going and it makes sense on health grounds because many of the elderly people who can be given self-contained accommodation can look after themselves for many more years than they might otherwise be able to do.

I believe that the choice of moving into such accommodation should be extended to the owner-occupier and, the private tenant as well as to the council house tenant. At the moment too many local authorities will not accept on their housing lists applications from owner-occupiers or those living in self-contained accommodation. This is a short-sighted policy. I realise that many authorities have problems. I have already written to my hon. Friend about the problems of building such accommodation due to the current yardstick. I look forward to an encouraging reply. A substantial increase in the number of old persons' dwellings would do much to help solve both our housing and social problems.

The solution to our problems in this area is bound up with the problems of areas which have become known as those suitable for improvement. In far too many places young couples have a dismal choice. They have the option of either waiting a long time while they save the money to buy a house—perhaps a postwar semi-detached—or of going on the local council housing list which may mean an even longer wait in many areas.

Suitable private property to rent is becoming scarce; and so is the supply of cheaper houses to buy. These are often in areas where the future of the houses is questionable as they may be scheduled for clearance in the not too distant future.

I entirely disagree with the right hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Edward Short) on this matter. I believe that there should be an even greater emphasis on improvement and that clearance and rebuilding should take place only when it is absolutely essential. Many people, especially those in the second half of their lives, want to stay in the homes that they have occupied for a long time. The Government's policy must enable them to live in those homes for as long as possible.

Photo of Mr William Molloy Mr William Molloy , Ealing North

How can the hon. Gentleman reconcile what he has just said with the fact that in previous debates on housing recently it has been advanced from the Government side of the House that the ideal situation is for people to buy a house, to live in it for five years, to sell it at a profit and to move into a better one? I described that at the time as being a somewhat vulgar philsophy.

Photo of Mr Peter Fry Mr Peter Fry , Wellingborough

I accept that that is the general tendency among the younger owner-occupiers. But in the areas about which I have been talking many people are worried about the future and about clearance, because they want to stay put. There is a difference in the attitude of different generations to this problem.

I draw the attention of hon. Members of the Opposition to a recent memorandum prepared by the Association of Public Health Inspectors which was submitted to the Department of the Environment. On the subject of improvements it had this to say: Since speculators can play a useful part in house improvement, despite allegations that they exploit the situation in stress areas, the Association is loath to recommend any new control which might reduce the overall rate of improvement of the nation's stock of dwellings and it is considered that as far as possible local authorities should use their discretion in giving grants in these circumstances. That seems a very reasonable proposition. But later in the memorandum it is suggested that the present 75 per cent. grants which are available only in certain parts of the country should be available for all privately-owned rented dwellings, perhaps for an initial period of five years. The Association believes—I agree with it—that the figure of 300,000 improvement grants last year could be considerably increased during the next year with greater stimulus from the Government.

Furthermore, if the existing housing Acts were extended to deal even more with building maintenance, even more landlords could be persuaded to improve their properties and to lengthen the lives of them. In the rare instance where a landlord is not prepared to improve, and especially where his failure to do this could prejudice the life of houses on either side of his, the council should have power to act, and in the final resort even to make a compulsory purchase. But rather than extending the municipalisation idea, such a takeover should be for a limited period. One of the Minister's terms for agreeing to such a compulsory purchase should be that once the house is renovated it should be put back on the market at the purchase price plus the cost of improvement.

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

In my constituency the local authority made a compulsory purchase order on some disgraceful property. The Secretary of State has refused to approve the compulsory purchase order on the clearance area and says that the local authority must rehouse the 14 families in serious housing need. The land is remaining in the hands of speculators in order that they may make a profit after the council has spent public money in providing homes for those people.

Photo of Mr Peter Fry Mr Peter Fry , Wellingborough

The hon. Gentleman is talking about a highly specialised case outside my knowledge, which I am sure he has taken up with my right hon. and learned Friend.

There should be no automatic provision in respect of houses for letting, because there is a danger in such improvement areas that the council will gradually take control, bit by bit, of more and more property, until those private owners who are left find that the majority of the ownership is not in their hands and that they are at a disadvantage when it comes to a public inquiry regarding the future of such areas.

One other useful measure would be to allow greater flexibility over the question of environmental grant. At present this is fixed at a maximum of £200, a level which is not always realistic. The criterion should be one of need rather than anything else. Furthermore, even if a discretionary grant is not allowed, a grant for environmental improvements should be allowed. After all, the putting in of a new window, the cleaning of external surfaces, repointing and jobs such as that can do much to raise the tone of property and of an area. It will enable even more families to be proud of the homes in which they live.

Improvements alone, however, cannot be the whole answer. Many young people still want to buy a house but cannot afford to do so. The Government must give attention to that problem. I refuse to believe that a Government who have had the courage and ingenuity to bring into operation the Housing Finance Act can do nothing about this problem. It is the purchase of the first house which is the most difficult. After one has been an owner-occupier it becomes much easier to move on. Therefore, I put one question to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. If it is proper and reasonable to allow council house tenants to buy their homes at a large discount, even on the day after they have taken up occupation, is it very much of a step to build special homes to sell also at a discount to those buying a house for the first time?

At present, those who are lucky enough in many areas to find themselves granted the tenancy of a council house are twice privileged, because they can become owner-occupiers with little difficulty. I should like that opportunity to be provided for many more people in my area. It could mean that a house which costs £7,500 to build would cost only £6,000 to buyers, which would bring it within the means of many of my constituents.

Houses such as I suggest could be the bare bones kind of houses, leaving the purchaser the chance to improve the house when he can afford it and at his inclination. The price could be kept down by a form of leasehold tenure, perhaps limited to 99 years. A five-year resale clause would prevent most of the possible exploitation of the scheme. It would also mean that the people most likely to take advantage of the scheme would be local people who would not need or want to move in a hurry. Such a scheme would encourage young couples to remain in an area in which they could not otherwise afford to live. The cost of the discount could be paid for in many areas by the large profits which some councils have made from the sale of building land to developers and private house builders.

I do not believe that a limited experiment on these lines would be prejudicial to the private building industry. It would not appeal to everyone because many people today like to choose the kind of house in which they want to live and to choose between different kinds of estate. Furthermore, restrictions on resale would deter many others. None the less, in the long term it would encourage greater home ownership. After the period of restricted sale, people would want to move, perhaps, ten years later. This would affect the private building market. Some of these people would never have bought a house if they had moved into a council house early in their married life.

This particular scheme would need much more detailed investigation, but it is one way of providing cheaper homes for those who want to buy a home for the first time. I hope that my hon. Friend will give my idea some consideration.

7.48 p.m.

Photo of Mr William Edwards Mr William Edwards , Merionethshire

We have had one powerful sermon from a Welsh colleague who now represents the constituency of Ealing, North. I shall not deliver a long sermon to the House. I make no apology for speaking about a problem which may be thought to be peculiarly a problem of the big English cities when I represent a Welsh constituency.

The problem we face in Britain is not so much a problem of land but of the provision of homes. We should not lose sight of the fact that we are talking about the provision of housing units to ease the very serious crisis which exists.

As a practising solicitor, I have to see people—when the Whips allow—who ask me whether they are in a position to buy a house. In my area we do not see anything wrong about the ownership of land or of a home. We on this side must be careful not to convey the impression that there is something about belonging to the Labour movement that makes it wrong to own either a home or land. It is the use we make of land that is important.

Lloyd George, when proposing a policy of nationalisation of land, said that some wanted land in order to hoard it, others would change it by having an earthquake, but he would change it with the plough. Today we do not change land by ploughing it to meet our social needs so much as by developing it and putting housing units upon it.

We on this side must take care lest, in arguing our own case, we allow the Government to overlook the present crisis. The Secretary of State, who should know a great deal about housing, today conveyed nothing new. I gained the impression that the speech writer in his Department who used to write those speeches for the Land Commission Bill for our dear old friend Arthur Skeffington had come back again to write this speech. The only difference was that Arthur Skeffington at least understood what he was talking about. I formed the impression today that, in the midst of this crisis, the Secretary of State has no concept either of the magnitude of the problem or of how to tackle it.

The crucial point of the Budget is the fiscal policy the Government are adopting towards land and housing. The Budget can be judged in terms of the priority accorded to land, housing and interest rates, which affect housing more than anything else. The Budget contains nothing to deal with the present situation and the situation we shall face after Friday and the Building Societies Association meeting.

Over the last few years there have been two major factors affecting housing. The first has been the lack of security and continuity in the construction industry. We must consider that industry as it is and not as we on this side would like to see it. The uncertainties of the past have deeply affected the construction industry. Old-established firms which used regularly to provide houses for a certain type of market have turned from that type of building to rapid speculation in houses. This is understandable in view of the stop-go policies of the past.

The second factor has been the availability of money through building societies and the rates of interest charged at certain times and from year to year. The supply of money available through building societies in one year following a period of complete stop in the construction industry led to a tremendous inflation in house prices.

On Friday exactly the same situation will arise again, for if there is to be a change in the supply of money and its cost through building societies, it will lead to another stop in the construction industry.

The Secretary of State today did not even plead with the building societies, nor did he offer them any advice or ask them to do anything. If the Secretary of State continues to fail to understand the problem and continues to talk only about market forces he will have no effect on the short-term situation and in the long term he will be forced to introduce a drastic solution. The Secretary of State must act now and do something to help the building societies.

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

Surely my hon. Friend understands what the whole tenor of the Budget was. It was an almost foregone conclusion of Tuesday of last week that building society interest rates would have to rise.

Photo of Mr William Edwards Mr William Edwards , Merionethshire

Yes. The other tragic thing about the Budget is that from now until 1980 at least it fixes a level below which a building society in a free market cannot lend.

Much needs to be done with the building societies and much could be done now. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North mentioned the need to take them over. Although I agree with most of my hon. Friend's speech, I disagree with that point. It has taken a long time to build up confidence in building societies and to get people to invest in them. Nothing should be done to damage or destroy that confidence, because the supply of money through building societies is very important.

The Secretary of State could take some action however in respect of building societies. First, why is it necessary for building societies to have so many offices in so many centres of big towns? Why is it necessary for them to buy so many expensive properties for their own use? Why is it necessary for so many building societies to be competing on the same high street for more or less the same money which they will attract, anyway?

Why is it necessary for small building societies, which often do not give the best service, to offer higher rates of commission than the larger building societies? Cannot the Secretary of State crack the whip a little with some smaller societies that offer higher commission rates to agents and say, "If you can offer higher rates to people who invest with you, you should not need to increase the interest rate you charge to the public"?

I mention these short-term considerations only because I believe that if building societies take a major step on interest rates on Friday, confidence will again be destroyed in the construction industry and a level to the cost of house purchase will be set which will be with us for a long time. House purchase will be put beyond the reach, not only of those on £35 a week, but also of those earning more than £3,000 a year. House purchase is almost beyond the reach of the ordinary family now, but if interest rates are increased on Friday it will be completely beyond the ordinary family's reach.

There are major problems in the construction industry. We have heard about the improvement grant problem in London. In my constituency it is impossible to get a builder to undertake housing improvements. In many areas, for some reason, the building industry is not capable of meeting the demand for house improvement. In some areas, the situation is so bad that the improvement grant is looked upon by builders as an additional profit which they take for themselves.

I ask my colleagues who are formulating policy and considering the question of the public ownership of land not to look at this question in the theological sense—I know the feeling about land ownership in some quarters—but to look at it in the practical sense and realise that a just society must care for its old and sick, must house its people, and must provide them with a means to live decently. Housing is a prime social need. We on this side, in putting across our new ideas, must never endanger our chances of coming to power because we get lost in the theology of land ownership.

We should be looking at the way in which we can assist in the construction of homes. We should not look upon land ownership in isolation. We should be examining the whole of the building industry to see how we can produce a constructive policy to provide competition in the construction industry, to make land available for those people who can build houses at a price which people can afford to pay. We must be in a position to do that as quickly as possible when we get back to power. If we put forward these policies, heaven knows there is a need for them, we shall get back into power. Housing will be the central factor in the defeat of the Government and a sensible policy to provide cheap houses quickly will be a central factor in our return to power.

8.0 p.m.

Photo of Mr Norman Tebbit Mr Norman Tebbit , Epping

At times the speech of the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. William Edwards) had a touch of sound common sense, which must have done little to endear him to many of his colleagues who verged on the theological. Indeed, it was in contrast to the speech of the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy), assuming that even he believed what he was saying—which we could all doubt from time to time. [Interruption.] Did the right hon. Gentleman wish to intervene?

Photo of Mr Edward Short Mr Edward Short , Newcastle upon Tyne Central

I said that that was a pompous, nasty thing to say, that is all.

Photo of Mr Norman Tebbit Mr Norman Tebbit , Epping

I thank the right hon. Gentleman. I will come to him again in a moment.

Not surprisingly, today's debate has not been very well attended—it is the second or third on this topic recently—even by those whose motion we are discussing.

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

We have more Members here than you, and you are in government.

Photo of Mr Norman Tebbit Mr Norman Tebbit , Epping

Indeed I make no partisan point about this. I state the facts. There was a moment when I thought that in terms of numbers, if not erudition, the Ministers' advisers could have given hon. Members a good run for their money. We started with a speech from the right hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Edward Short) which, as we would have expected of him, managed to combine in considerable measure two demerits of being unctuous and unconstructive. It would be impossible to deal with all the mischievous half-truths to which he gave vent because many of them unhappily were worse than half-truths—they were only half-understandings.

It would be best if I explained what I mean by giving one example. The right hon. Member made great play—I believe I heard him correctly—of the fact that in the London area no one had a chance of getting a mortgage unless he had an income of £2,000 a year.

Photo of Mr Norman Tebbit Mr Norman Tebbit , Epping

I believe that I heard the right hon. Gentleman correctly.

Photo of Mr Norman Tebbit Mr Norman Tebbit , Epping

The hon. Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury (Mr. Ronald Brown), of whom I am very fond, should let his right hon. Friend make his own points.

If we examine the facts we find that average industrial earnings in the London area are £37·86, and the all-industries index is £38·09, or around about £2,000 a year, and that in the past was on a trend rising just as strongly as house prices.

Photo of Mr Norman Tebbit Mr Norman Tebbit , Epping

No. The right hon. Gentleman made great play of questioning the morality of councillors who sell council houses and, indeed, condemned them. I remind hon. Members that it takes two to make a bargain. If we are to condemn those who sell council houses we must surely go the rest of the way and condemn those who buy them. In my area of Waltham Forest that would mean condemning many Labour councillors, who bought their houses under the Tory Government policy, and if that is a crime they doubled their crime when they reached power by refusing to sell to anyone else. I do not know where Labour MPs stand on the issue. Is it a crime just to sell council houses or a crime to buy them as well? If it is a crime, then it is a crime for the purchasers, particularly if they are Labour councillors who refuse to let anyone else get in on the act?

Photo of Mr Harry Lamborn Mr Harry Lamborn , Southwark

Will the hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Tebbit) agree that to dispose of an authority's pool of council houses in an area of great housing stress means that the voids which arise each year—the vacancies—are lost, particularly in an area like London, and are lost for ever. The vast number of vacancies that has accrued in London as people have moved out has made an enormous contribution to dealing with overspill from clearance areas.

Photo of Mr Norman Tebbit Mr Norman Tebbit , Epping

The hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Lamborn) makes his point, but the borough of Waltham Forest is in London and has its own housing problem. He said that he condemns all Labour councillors who participated in that activity.

Photo of Mr Norman Tebbit Mr Norman Tebbit , Epping

The hon. Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury cannot have it both ways. He cannot say that it is immoral to take these houses from the pool and yet moral to buy them. Perhaps it is a new principle of Labour councils that seeing the immorality of those who purchase houses, they are determined to save anybody from such sin in future as they have sinned themselves.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the programme of land nationalisation, but did not mention at what cost, how it would be financed, or what restrictions would be laid upon it. It was just one of those great broad sweeps: "We will nationalise building land". Did he mean potential building land or building land as it changes usage? At what cost? Who will pay? Will it be at today's valuation, or at the valuation in the future? It is easy to say it, but it is a very difficult policy to carry out.

Also, what would the purchase of all privately-rented houses do to the rates? These are also mentioned in the motion. In London alone the estimate is that it would cost £7,000 million. That is no small amount to put on London's rates. The estimates are that in terms only of valuers and staff to carry out this operation over 10 years there would be an extra cost of £25 million. Even if such valuers and staff could be found to carry out the work—which is doubtful; it is a quick and easy thing to say—I dread to think how difficult it would be to put into operation, or what it would do to the rates.

The right hon. Gentleman's speech was one of formidable power and integrity. I suppose by his own standards, so much so that I noticed that Mr. Deputy Speaker did not even notice when the right hon. Gentleman had finished and sat down. It had that sort of effect on the House.

It was the right hon. Gentleman's peroration that will live in the memory of the House. It was the one example of deflation that we have seen for a long time—the promise of 400,000 houses per year. It used to be a promise of 500,000 a year. What happened to the 500,000? We move not from a promise but a pledge, solemnly given, to just another of those quick promises thrown across the Chamber. [Interruption.] Would the right hon. Gentleman like to say something more about that target of 500,000 houses, which has now been deflated to 400,000, or does he want to speak on the subject of the difference between a promise and a pledge?

Photo of Mr Edward Short Mr Edward Short , Newcastle upon Tyne Central

During the five years of the Labour Government we had the greatest number of houses built in any five-year period of our history.

Photo of Mr Norman Tebbit Mr Norman Tebbit , Epping

Yes, indeed. That is an interesting point, but it does not relate to the question why the promise of the past has been downgraded to the current promise.

The right hon. Gentleman's most remarkable words were those that have clearly stuck in everyone's mind—that he would fight, fight and fight again. That may be where all the Opposition Members have been for the rest of the day—at their usual games, in the back rooms, of fighting, fighting and fighting again. What a fitting motto for the ever-quarrelling, ever-splitting Opposition to go to the country on!—"We shall fight, fight and fight again, and if we cannot find anyone else to fight, we shall fight each other". What a programme!

However, there are more serious matters than the right hon. Gentleman and his meanderings.

Photo of Miss Betty Harvie Anderson Miss Betty Harvie Anderson , Renfrewshire East

Order. Hon. Members must know that there are others who have been present throughout the debate, waiting for an opportunity to speak and it is reasonable for interventions to be resisted, at least to some extent.

Photo of Mr Norman Tebbit Mr Norman Tebbit , Epping

I have some questions for my right hon. Friends. How do the Government propose to deal with those local authorities that have set out on wild and extravagent spending sprees on the rates and are now trying to swing their extravagance on to the taxpayer? The Tory GLC has held its rate for the second year running, but the Labour council of the London borough of Waltham Forest has again, this year, vastly increased its spending. It is a matter not of a council with special difficulties but one whose leader of the opposition group has clearly shown that services cannot merely be maintained but can be increased with a simultaneous cut in the rates of 5p—a good old-fashioned shilling off the rate proposed by the Labour council.

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

The leader of the opposition group made a mess of it when he was leader of the majority.

Photo of Mr Norman Tebbit Mr Norman Tebbit , Epping

If the hon. Gentleman contains himself he may catch the eye of the Chair.

In the face of the sort of evidence that I have given, will my hon. Friend the Minister resist any blandishments from spendthrift councils that come sponging to his Department? Will he go further and examine the situation before some of them come—and particularly before he receives messages from the Inner London Education Authority, which stands condemned as the authority that spent thousands of pounds to purchase heaters for schools in case there were failures of the central heating system but will not use them, with the result that schools are closed in central London and the children are left to roam the streets if their parents are at work, and are therefore deprived of education. If that is helping the under-privileged, I shall be more surprised than usual by the sort of hypocrisy that comes from the ILEA.

I want to refer briefly to house prices. In recent months, with the assistance of the Library, I have dug out and considered at length a whole variety of statistics bearing on the issue. For once I shall be non-partisan, because some things impressed me about them. The first is that the rise in prices has gone on unchecked and without relation to the number of houses built for sale. Secondly, it has gone on unchecked by rises or falls in interest rates. Thirdly, as the right hon. Gentleman has discovered—I give him all credit, because not many of his colleagues have discovered it yet—land prices are a function d house prices and not vice versa. Fourthly, it is clear that if spiralling house prices have relation to anything it is to income and the resultant flow of money into the building societies and the ability of would-be purchasers to borrow.

Hon. Members should look at the figures which are instructive. The flow into the building societies last year was about 10 times as great as it was in 1960, six times as great as in 1962, and four times as great as so recent a year as 1964. Clearly, the volume of houses for sale is utterly unrelated to the position.

The right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) will be pleased to know that I have thought a great deal about two of his themes—the influence of mortgage interest tax relief and the need for a means to smooth the flow of money into and out of building societies. He will probably be amused to know that I now believe that tax relief does not benefit the borrower, and that if it did not exist no one with a logical mind would propose to introduce it. I do not think that we could or should end it, but we should understand that a borrower borrows as much as he thinks he can afford, net, and if his net interest is lower he will borrow more on principal and will thus contribute to the spiralling cost of houses. Therefore, the lower the net interest the greater the tendency to high prices. Ironically, the mortgage option scheme may have contributed to that spiral.

I ask my right hon. Friends to consider the need to smooth out the flow of building society funds, both in total quantity of money and the number of loans.

I almost hesitate to end on a nonpartisan note. I hope that hon. Members will forgive my lapse. I remedy it now only by asking my hon. Friend the Minister when he will announce measures that will ensure that in the middle ring of London, typified by suburbs like Walthamstow, the redevelopment of privately-owned pre-1914 houses will offer people of moderate means the chance to own their own homes and not result in an extension of the dreary, socially disastrous, barrack blocks of municipal housing.

8.19 p.m.

Photo of Mr Frank Marsden Mr Frank Marsden , Liverpool Scotland

I apologise to the House and the hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Tebbit) because I cannot take up any of the points he made. His speech leaves me flabbergasted. A good argument can be made that bad planning has been one of the causes of rates rising so rapidly to meet costs and of rising land and house prices.

I want to speak about Liverpool and to give some figures about the city. In making out a case for it I may be making out a case for other large cities. The estimate of the product of a 1p rate in Liverpool for 1971–72 was £262,180. In 1972–73 the product was £259,687, a fall in that short period of £2,493. That figure may not seem significant, but it is significant in relation to a 1p rate.

The population of Liverpool on 30th June 1971 was 603,210. On 23rd April 1961 it was 745,715. In 10 years Liverpool has lost over 100,000 people. Keeping rates down has been almost impossible, even without inflation.

In Liverpool compulsory purchase order areas have been far too big and have been vacant for far too long. With the benefit of hindsight, we see that many of the properties that have been demolished could have been improved.

There is the problem of the land take for motorways. Anyone may name it, in Liverpool we have it—six-lane highways, overshoots, undershoots, fast slip roads, the lot. The land take has been immense. People cannot live on a motorway. It is very difficult for them to live beside one, but that is another problem.

The planners underestimated the land take for the second crossing of the Mersey. The last analysis was that it was much larger than had been envisaged. A third crossing is now planned, and it will also involve a large land take.

More and more people are forced to the outskirts because prices and rents have risen so alarmingly over the past 10 years. It has little to do with inflation but a great deal to do with the scarcity of land and houses to buy or rent in the city centre. Bad planning has been one of the major causes of prices being forced up in city centres.

The Tory record in Liverpool during the past three years was miserable, and the Tories must take their share of the blame for the housing misery that still exists in my city. It is 28 years since the end of the war, yet Liverpool still has a slum problem, and many people still live in appalling conditions. There is and has been a great deal of bad planning in cutting back on municipal housing, for the sake of cutting back. We have a large housing waiting list and a problem of homelessness.

It is a question of trying to evaluate the scale of new building, slum clearance and housing improvements in relation to other social needs. We should plan for them as firmly as we do for education and defence. The Government cannot allow local authorities to go their own sweet way. There is need for firm central Government direction to local authorities on housing matters and on general planning for the future.

My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heifer) mentioned the rate problem of large cities. The leader of Liverpool City Council, Alderman Sefton, said that the aid to the major cities should be brought forward from September next year to September this year. The Government have asked local authorities to get their accounts into a healthy state for next year's local government reorganisation, and therefore it makes sense to bring the aid forward to 1973 instead of 1974.

In all sectors of government we have adopted, by and large, the grant system, and I am in agreement with it. But one has to ask for grant—one does not have to apply for it. Therefore, in some sectors I favour a levy system. I would like the Government to set annual housing targets for all our major cities and large towns—reasonable figures that they should be able to attain. If they did not attain them they would be levied. Perhaps that is not such a good idea, but certainly something drastic must he done to reduce the human misery caused by the housing problem in cities like my home town of Liverpool.

8.25 p.m.

Photo of Mr Arthur Jones Mr Arthur Jones , Northamptonshire South

I followed with great interest the points made by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Scotland (Mr. Marsden). He referred to the loss of 100,000 population from Liverpool in recent years. I can see the problems which stem from that in terms of the rate support grant calculations, and so on.

One of my most vivid recollections is going to Liverpool with the Select Committee on Immigration and Race Relations and seeing there the problems which have been created by these vast schemes of clearance areas. I am thinking particularly of district 8, where large areas have been cleared. In many parts there were still houses, some of them lived in and some boarded up with corrugated iron. It was the outcome of a tremendous amount of misassessment by successive administrations in Liverpool.

Although this is in no way a party political point, I thought that the hon. Gentleman was a little unfair in referring to three years of Tory administration in Liverpool in the context of a far longer period of responsibility which lay with the Socialist administration in that great city. I think also that it is not a criticism of the elected representatives but of the professional expertise and the wrong decisions made in the context of the redevelopment of vast areas in these great cities.

Photo of Mr Frank Marsden Mr Frank Marsden , Liverpool Scotland

I in no way intended to criticise the local councillors. I was criticising the professional planners.

Photo of Mr Arthur Jones Mr Arthur Jones , Northamptonshire South

I agree with the hon. Gentleman in that respect. I think that the mistakes made in the post-war years should have been appreciated earlier, because there is the great problem now of the adequacy of the resources to deal with the sort of problems I saw for myself in Liverpool two or three years ago.

I want essentially to refer to the release of land for residential development. The limited availability of land produces a two-headed monster—the escalation of land values due to shortage of land, and the frustration of the housing programme as the result. There are two important constituent parts—first, planning procedures both local and central, and, secondly, the holding of land by Government Departments, by local authorities for their own purposes of one sort or another, and by British Rail and other public utilities.

The application of our planning procedures does not reflect the sense of urgency needed if adequate progress on the release of land is to be achieved. One frequently hears of appeal procedures leading to almost interminable delays, adjudications by Ministers taking up to a year from the time of an appeal hearing, and six months even to get a date for that hearing. I know that my right hon. and learned Friend has taken all the steps he can to enlarge the staff of his Department dealing with planning appeals and so on, and I think that this is an essential ingredient in a very difficult problem. I cannot understand why, having got an inspector's report, it then takes a Minister months very often either to agree with the inspector's recommendation or to adjudicate against it. Again, if a planning appeal is successful the local planning authority may take a further inordinate length of time to agree a detailed application. There is clearly no urgency in terms of the speed of processing planning appeals and applications and recognising the time scale involved and the economic use of resources. I spend a great deal of time trying to persuade Government Departments to release land.

I quote a constituency example of the Weedon depôt in Northants, an old-established Ministry of Defence depôt. A decision to close the depot was announced in April 1963. Part of it was offered by auction six years later, on 25th June 1969. The Daventry Weekly Express on 17th September 1971 referred to the sale of some 60 acres of the Weedon depôt for a private estate of some 240 houses. Reference was made to the fact that since 1965, when the depôt was closed, most of the land had remained derelict.

The closure of the depôt was announced in 1963 and a substantial area was allocated for residential development, but I am told by the local authority that so far no houses have been erected there. That is a ten-year period, and if this is not an outstanding example of the neglect of the release of land by a Government Department, I challenge anyone to justify circumstances of that description. What successive Governments have been able to achieve by all this is quite beyond my comprehension. I remember that the Labour Government tried to get land released by Government Departments and the present Government have tried as well, yet we still have cases of that description.

On 14th January last year, a committee under the chairmanship of Lord Nugent of Guildford was set up to review the holding of land by the Armed Forces. I appreciate that perhaps two years is not a long time to wait for that report, but surely there must be overwhelming evidence of the neglect of resources. Perhaps we can be told when we are likely to receive the report, and when we do receive it I hope that we shall see positive, purposeful and immediate action by the Government.

I turn now to the question of the release of land by British Rail. The old Great Central line passed through the western area of my constituency. It was closed in 1966. The village of Woodford Halse was developed as a junction and was entirely dependent upon work on the Great Central line for most of the residents. Some 100 acres of land within the ownership of British Rail lie in the centre of the village, cutting it in half. All this area has been lying vacant for many years. The line discontinued operations on 20th April 1966 and the consent for the withdrawal was confirmed on 3rd June that year.

The county planning authority has for years been saying that it would like to see residential development taking place but still no progress has been made. The circumstances, with which I am familiar, are that British Rail is considering making a planning application, but there is some conflict of opinion between British Rail and the county planning authority. The situation has existed for seven or eight years. This land should and could have been developed years ago had there been a willingness on the part of British Rail to sell and a readiness on the part of the planning authority to see that development took place.

I have no doubt that there are hundreds of similar cases throughout the country. Both Socialist and Conservative administrations have failed to face the problem that our present planning procedures involve.

When Lord Greenwood was Minister of Housing and Local Government he pressed the outer metropolitan counties to release land for residential development purposes. I recall that he made inquiries with the numerous county planning authorities involved, as I did, and my private inquiries in eight counties produced figures which showed land to be released during the seven years from 1968 to 1975 to total 21,268 acres, providing for some 206,860 houses. That was the response from the local planning authorities to an appeal by the then Minister for Housing and Local Government, in addition to the Minister for Planning and Land, to build 35,000 houses a year for seven years.

The figures which I have produced show a shortfall of no fewer than 182,000 houses during that period. I have looked up a small Press release which I issued at the time, in which I said: This illustrates the total failure of the Government's policy to ensure an adequate supply of land for private house building I regret to say that my then criticism applies equally to present-day circumstances.

I know that the Government have taken steps to try to bring forward land. I listened with care to what my right hon. Friend said earlier. I have looked up Circular 102/72, which was issued on 17th October last year, to which my right hon. Friend referred. In the circular the Government asked local authorities to publish details about land availability for house building in their area. My right hon. Friend gave us some details of the response to that circular. It called the attention of local authorities to the fact that the Secretary of States wants— …local planning authorities to make generally known as soon as possible details of the undeveloped sites in their areas and the whole or part of which residential development, including both public and private sector housing, can start within a five-year period estimated from 1st October of this year. That is 1972. The circular continues: This information should be placed on deposit in Council offices, and both the Secretary of State and the local Press should be notified when this happens. The information should be accompanied by maps on which the allocation of sites of three acres or more is shown. My right hon. Friend drew a distinction between the local planning authorities in the South-East and the West Midlands and those outside those areas. In respect of the South-East and the West Midlands he said: …in these two regions local authorities should send to me within three months of the date of this Circular copies of information and maps. My final quotation from the circular is as follows: Positive action should be taken by acquisition and disposal of land to make some land available in real terms for private house-building in areas selected for growth. None of us has seen any positive results or announcements apart from the limited comments which my right hon. Friend made this afternoon. It would be interesting to know to what extent the Government are informed on a countrywide basis following the content and the requests in the circular. Such a return will not, however, give the information which is required to fulfil the realistic release of land for housing. It was Professor D. R. Denman, professor of land economy at Cambridge University who, in the Daily Telegraph, on 19th February last year, said: Two surveys are vital and urgent—one to show how many planning permissions in all the planning areas have been refused and why; and the other to show how many have been given and where and why they have not been taken up. On such cognisance the Government should base its land availability programme and could do so with some chance of success. In my experience local authorities have all sorts of justifiable and parochial considerations for being land hoarders. No one would contest that. I do not deny that they can give good reasons for holding land. I know Northamptonshire and Bedfordshire best and I could quote damning examples in addition to those I have already quoted regarding Weedon depot and the British Rail land at Woodford Halse. I understand that in terms of a local authority's planning policy and its responsibilities to the local community such hoarding may be right. But the conflict of interest must lie here between local and central Government objectives.

My view is that that lies at the root of the difficulty over the availability of land for residential development. No Government have yet faced up to this and moves so far made by the Government will not achieve the necessary progress. I know that my right hon. and learned Friend is concerned essentially and urgently about the adequate supply of land. He dealt with this at length in his speech.

I recognise that the Chancellor announced in the Budget a special land hoarding charge to be levied in circumstances which revealed any unjustifiable delay in developing land which is the subject of planning permission for houses."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th March 1973; Vol 852, c. 268.] I addressed a Question to my right hon. and learned Friend on 7th March, asking whether the announcement about the hoarding levy charge was to include Government and British Rail land. He said that in 1972 about 7,400 acres of surplus land were disposed of by Government Departments and 7,500 by British Rail. The telling factor is in the next sentence when he said: information is not available on the amounts used for house building."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th March 1973; Vol. 852, c. 409.] That is what the Question was all about and it reveals that there is inadequate recording of availability of land which is required if central Government planning for a sensible housing programme stands any chance of success. If the charge on hoarding land is levied against local and central Government Departments, what sanctions are proposed? Our planning procedures are inadequate to cope with the problem.

That is fundamental to the conflict between the objectives of central Government and the purposes of local planning authorities, which either allow central Government programmes to be realised or frustrate central Government policy through the planning powers of county councils. This is done not deliberately, in isolation, but in aggregate. The inadequate housing programme under the Socialist administration and the present Government is clear for everyone to see. It begs the question why we are in this position.

Photo of Mr Eric Ogden Mr Eric Ogden , Liverpool, West Derby

The answer is on the Government Front Bench.

Photo of Mr Arthur Jones Mr Arthur Jones , Northamptonshire South

It is unnecessary for the hon. Gentleman to point to the Government Front Bench. His party was equally to blame. I do not know whether he was here earlier when I was trying to demonstrate that I do not seek to allocate blame. I am trying to show how our present planning procedures frustrate the purposes of central Government which must of necessity rely upon effective county council planning policies.

Photo of Mr Eric Ogden Mr Eric Ogden , Liverpool, West Derby

I intervene briefly because others wish to speak, but surely the hon. Member is not suggesting that the shortage of land is primarily the responsibility of local authorities or nationalised industries? Private land is being hoarded. I would agree with him entirely about the need to have a Domesday Book.

Photo of Mr Arthur Jones Mr Arthur Jones , Northamptonshire South

Yes, I quite agree. I have been trying to develop my ideas that there are a number of questions here, and that planning procedures should apply to local authority land, to land held in private ownership, and to land held by public utilities and by Government Departments. It is an omnibus picture. Our planning procedures are quite inadequate to deal with this situation, and a fundamental review of planning procedures and land release must be a priority. It would involve a review of planning responsibilities both of local and central government, but if we are to make any progress the Government must take an essential and immediate look at the planning circumstances, which are fundamental to the difficulties of the situation I have tried to describe.

8.46 p.m.

Photo of Mr Ernest Perry Mr Ernest Perry , Battersea South

It is always a pleasure to speak after the hon. Member for Northants, South (Mr. Arthur Jones). I go along with most of what he said, and on one point in particular I agree with him to an especial degree, namely, the question of railway land and railway land idle at the present time. There we are dealing with an area such as there is in Wandsworth, in my constituency of Battersea, South. Stretching from Vauxhall to Mortlake is an area of railway land of literally hundreds of acres. Some has already been given for the erection of the new Covent Garden Market, but, to my knowledge, not one single acre has been given to municipal housing or other housing. In my opinion there are dozens of acres which could be used for that purpose.

I would say to the Secretary of State, with his long knowledge of local government, having been the first citizen in a London borough, that he must know the problems of the inner London boroughs, and know that they are very important, severe and paramount, and that he should try to help the inner London boroughs with the question of the railway land.

I want to take up a point made by the hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Tebbit). I am sorry that he is not present at the moment. He is rather a will-o'-the-wisp; he flits in and flits out of the Chamber. He is not here at present, but that is not my fault. I want to deal for a few moments with the question of the housing record of the last Labour Government. The hon. Member made great play with the fact that we did not reach our target of 500,000 houses in one particular year. It is true that we Id not reach our target of 500,000 houses in one year, but there was a reason for that. In 1968 a large number of councils returned a Tory majority, and the predecessor of the present Secretary of State, when he was leading for the Opposition on housing, actually implored Tory councils throughout the country to curtail the numbers of municipal houses they built. If it had not been for that I am quite sure that we would have achieved our target of 500,000. That is all I want to say about what the hon. Member for Epping said.

I want now to bring up three specific points, on which I ask the Minister for information and help. First there is the question of grants. We hear a lot about improvement grants. Some owner-occupiers are making practical use of them. Others are buying up property through estate agents and taking advantage of improvement grants by selling the properties afterwards at excess prices.

I want particularly to bring to the Minister's notice what is happening in my own constituency, in a road which I will name. It is Gayville Road, in which most of the houses are owner-occupied. I shall mention three houses where there are three sets of retired persons living. In two of them there are pensioners, a husband and his wife in each. In the third there is a single lady, retired and receiving a pension. In all these cases the people occupy the ground floor and have let, in single rooms, the top floors. They are doing a social service by charging people reasonable rents of £3 or £3·50 for a single room. Therefore, they are not exploiters. They are doing a fine job, and they should be helped.

Under Section 16 of the Housing Act 1961 regulations are now being put into force in Wandsworth whereby these old-age pensioners, who to some extent rely upon income from their houses to keep them going—they are not relying on supplementary benefit or social security—are faced with bills for the implementation of fire regulations. In one house I went into two old-age pensioners had just paid £321 for the house to be made fireproof. The other families are faced with the same problem, and the prospect of paying similar sums.

It is all right to pay millions of pounds in improvement grants, which I welcome, but surely some means can be found to give people who are rendering a public service a 50 per cent. grant, or something like that. I implore the Minister to look into this and see what help can be given to people who are helping to solve our housing problem in London.

We have heard today quite a lot about the prices of houses and the average percentage increases throughout the country. In my constituency of Battersea, South—I do not exaggerate here—three years ago one could buy a house near Clapham Common for between £6,000 and £7,000. Only this week one of the houses was sold for £20,000.

Photo of Mr Ernest Perry Mr Ernest Perry , Battersea South

That is an increase of over 200 per cent.

If we believe in a house-owning democracy we must find some means of trying to ensure that people with average earnings—and the average earnings figure was quoted this afternoon by the Government as being £37·86 a week—are able to buy their own houses. If the prices of houses are in excess of £6,000 or £7,000 not even the council or a building society will advance them any money, let alone an insurance company, which usually wants 60 per cent. extra income before it will lend money to buy a house.

I ask the Government to take very seriously this question of inflationary house prices in London. This is a great problem in my constituency, and we must find a way of solving it.

The problem applies to the price of freeholds. We passed the Leasehold Reform Act, in which we gave the right to leaseholders to buy their freeholds. In the past three years in my constituency the price of freeholds has gone up from £1,200 to £2,625—another sign of inflationary tendencies since the Government came to power. Each time the applicant tries to buy the freehold he finds that it has gone up another £200 or £250. I served on the Standing Committee which considered the Leasehold Reform Bill and I regret that we did not lay down a table based upon rateable value and ground rent. If we had done that we might have solved the problem. That is where we made the mistake.

We have heard much talk about the cost of land. I want to mention one example involving half-an-acre of land in Hampstead. This case was drawn attention to in the Evening News yesterday. The correspondent is Mr. Kenneth Allen, writing under the heading "Property, Places and People". Five years ago that land was sold for £37,000. Within a few months it had been sold for £107,000, and three months later it went for £215,000. On top of that the Camden council has allowed plans to go forward for the development of the site. There are to be 13 flats erected on the site, and the cost, before a brick is laid, will be £17,500 for each flat. That is the situation in London today.

I turn to another problem in my constituency, relating to private landlordism in blocks of flats. There are a large number of blocks of flats in my constituency, some of which are occupied by tenants and others by leaseholders. In many cases people in these blocks are being held to ransom. I refer to High Trees House, Ducane Court and Westbury Court, the last of which is owned by the Berger Company. The facts were set out in the Evening News in an article last January. It is all very well for the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) to laugh; perhaps this sort of situation does not apply in Folkestone, but it is certainly happening in London.

The Berger Company has about 350 off-shoots, in the form of investment companies, property companies and finance companies. As soon as one company is served a notice for repairs by the council, another company in the chain takes the property over. This is what is happening in the Berger empire. The same applies to the Freshwater group of companies, which also owns large blocks of flats in my constituency. It it regrettable that I have so little time, because I have with me a large file setting out all the details of what is going on in London, and I should like the House to be aware of it.

Under the Housing Finance Act rents will be increased by the Berger empire by as much as 400 per cent. in the privately tenanted flats in Westbury Court. I regret that this does not appear to be a serious subject for the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe, but it is certainly no laughing matter to old-age pensioners who may have saved a little money in their working lives and who are now faced with these large rent increases.

8.58 p.m.

Photo of Mr Harry Lamborn Mr Harry Lamborn , Southwark

I should like to deal with the housing situation in the Greater London area. I have been actively engaged in local government in the London area for the past 20 years and I find the present housing situation in Greater London perhaps more difficult than it has ever been in my experience.

The situation is particularly difficult for young married couples who inevitably have never had a very high priority on borough council or Greater London Council housing lists. In the past a young married couple could turn to house purchase as a means of solving their difficulties. For the majority of young couples, this is quite impossible in the present situation. House purchase is ruled out and they are condemned to continue living with in-laws or in furnished accommodation except for a small minority with special skills such as teachers and local government officers who seek the only avenue open to them and move out of the London area, with the disastrous effects that that has on education as well as on semi-professional jobs in London. We need to make a special effort for young couples.

In London's dockland 5,000 acres is to become available. I hope that the Secretary of State will take special powers to see that it is purchased at a price which means that local authorities can develop it for municipal housing and for houses for sale to assist people in urgent need in the London area. London's docks, with its 5,000 acres, can make a tremendous difference to the housing situation in London if it is used properly.

The escalation in property prices is no accident. In my view it was triggered off deliberately five years ago by the Conservative Greater London Council when it launched its fair rents policy—a band wagon on which the present Government jumped with their Housing Finance Act. It was that which started the escalation in the London area of land and property prices and rents generally, and it has resulted in the present situation which affects young couples especially.

The hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Tebbit) attempted to justify the sale of council houses. I have no objection to any local authority building houses for sale provided that it has met the stress needs in its area. But if we are looking at London's housing situation, it is absolute lunacy to suggest selling council houses. The vacancies which occur annually in the pool of Greater London council housing play a tremendous part in dealing with the overspill of the inner London boroughs. In many cases that pool of housing has made the situation tolerable. The present action of the Greater London Council in dissipating its pool of housing is criminal in the light of the existing housing situation in London.

9.3 p.m.

Photo of Mr Anthony Crosland Mr Anthony Crosland , Grimsby

We have had a very interesting debate with surprisingly little repetition of previous debates considering the number of housing debates that we have had in the past two-and-a-half years. The only exception, I regret to say, was the Secretary of State who made an especially thin and unconstructive speech virtually devoid of any positive contribution.

The right hon and learned Gentleman made two astonishing remarks, however. The first was when he said that the figures for house building went up and down from year to year and that we should not pay too much attention to their behaviour—as though this were an act of providence and had nothing to do with Government policy. Even more astonishing was his nerve in chiding the Opposition for not giving the Government more support in their prices and incomes policy. Shades of the years 1964 to 1970, when we, in Government, trying a prices and incomes policy, had such loyal, consistent and patriotic support from the present Prime Minister and his colleagues on the Tory Front Bench.

But what was really terrifying about the Secretary of State's speech was his complacency in the face of what has now been, over two-and-a-half years, an abysmal Government record. We are discussing the housing situation tonight in the context of a counter-inflation policy. Clearly, whether such a policy is likely to be successful will depend in considerable degree on whether housing costs are relatively stable, since they are a particularly central and sensitive part of the household budget, and whether people have a reasonable prospect of obtaining a decent home, because this is central to the family standard of living.

So I want to go through the different housing sectors and ask: have Government policies stabilised the cost of housing and are these policies contribut- ing to providing a decent home for a larger and larger proportion of our population? The answer in almost every case is a dismal and depressing "No".

First, in the private rented sector, we all know that, from the top to the bottom, rents are going through the roof. The explosion in house prices has created an irresistible incentive for landlords to sell rather than continue to let. The only rents that are possible from the landlords' point of view are impossibly high from the tenants' point of view. I am more and more convinced, as are my hon. Friends, that the only way of maintaining an adequate stock of decent rented accommodation at reasonable rents is by a policy of municipalisation.

Ministers and Conservative councillors still purport to find this idea profoundly shocking. In our last housing debate on 6th February the Secretary of State talked about "silly threats of nationalisation or municipalisation". The previous Minister for Housing and Construction, accustomed, it is true, to making rather wild statements on this subject, proclaimed what he, if no one else, took to be an obvious truth when he said that most landlords "are doing a very good job".

I warn Ministers that they and Tory councillors are in danger of getting left far behind in their 19th century dug-out on this subject, because report after report, official and unofficial, underlines the case that we are making.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kensington, North (Mr. Douglas-Mann) mentioned Milner Holland in support of his case and also referred to the evidence given by the London Boroughs Association on the same subject. I should like to add some quotations to his. The Notting Hill Housing Trust report on Colfield-Tavistock, an area which he and I know very well, says that, if the problems of that area are to be solved, Approximately a further 60 per cent. of the residential properties in Colfield-Tavistock should be transferred from private into public ownership… The Association of Public Health Inspectors, a group of citizens not usually given to extreme left-wing dogmatism, said in a recent memorandum, There is a continuing need for more houses to let, and it is clear that they must be provided mainly by the Local Authorities. It went on to recommend that …compulsory powers be available for improvement, or acquisition and subsequent improvement, by the local authority where necessary. Most weighty and recent of all, the Layfield Report makes it clear that the panel accepted the need for municipalisation on a wide scale. On page 213, the report says, Much rehabilitation…will only take place if local authorities themselves do the work. We received evidence that you —that is, the Secretary of State— were not necessarily willing to approve compulsory purchase orders for such a purpose. We consider that where such work can only be done through the use of CPOs then your policy should be to approve. —which it is not at the moment.

hope that, when a Labour GLC is returned in April—committed, I am pleased to say, to a policy of municipalisation—the Secretary of State will heed the words of the Layfield Report and duly approve the necessary CPOs. Otherwise the whole of the private rented sector will continue to decline, taking with it desperately needed low-income rented accommodation, while those who remain in the sector can expect to pay ever-increasing rents for worse accommodation for many years ahead.

I turn now to the council house sector. I shall not say a great deal about rents, because we have debated them again and again over the last two years. I only remind the House that the Government's contribution in this sector to their counter-inflationary policy has been to produce in the year ending April 1972 an 11 per cent. rise in average council rents, and in the year ending April 1973 a 24 per cent. rise in unrebated rents, and a 14 per cent. rise in rebated rents if everybody takes up their rebate, which, in my opinion, is highly unlikely. On top of that we now have a 50p increase over much of the country on 28th April and over the rest of the country some further increase in October. This is the background against which Ministers deliver their regular homilies to the gas and hospital workers.

But it is not simply a matter of rents; it is also the fact that badly needed council housing is not being built at all. In this way we increase the continual upward pressure on house prices as a whole.

Council house starts last year were the lowest in a decade—they were lower than in any year of the Labour Government—and there is no prospect that they will be substantially higher this year.

Why are they so low? The Minister for Housing and Construction is constantly telling us that there is no financial restriction or inhibition on local authority building. Regarding finance, he repeatedly states that they can build all they want and that if they do not build it is their choice and their fault. The hon. Gentleman repeated this as recently as 14th February when he said, I know of hardly any case in the country where schemes are being held up by the yardstick."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th February 1973; Vol. 850, c. 1268.] Recently the Secretary of State said, As a result of taking this action, those authorities which need to build are finding their programmes —these are masterly words— running much more smoothly."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th February 1973; Vol. 850; c. 248] What is the reality? The reality is that many local authorities are finding it impossible to build in current financial circumstances because the contractors will not take the jobs. They are out looking for much more lucrative private business.

In our last debate on this subject I quoted three specific cases—Norwich, Hammersmith and Southampton. I should like to add to that today by quoting an astonishing letter, of which some hon. Members are aware, from the Director of the London Region of the National Federation of Building Trades Employers to the London boroughs on 2nd February. He said, Nearly all the leading contracting organisations have been forced to adopt a policy of opting out of public authority work, particularly housing, in the London area. What an astonishing situation! How can the Minister, in the light of that situation, conceivably go on to say that there is no restriction on local authorities and that they can go ahead and build just as much as they like?

The AMC, in a recent memorandum, said, Most authorities have serious problems in keeping to yardstick plus 10 per cent. tolerance". It has a long memorandum on the extent of the financial limitation imposed by the yardstick. Indeed, some existing contracts are not being completed and do not look as though they will be completed. I am sorry that we did not hear in the debate from the hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Worsley). I should have been most interested to hear what he said about the progress of the World's End development. It has come to a virtual standstill and all the indications are that it will never be completed. So, for the Minister to say that there are no restrictions on local authority building and that authorities can build what they want, is to give a wholly misleading impression of the situation. The Government must come to grips with this problem or the supply of new local authority building will gradually dry up, thus creating still more pressure on private sector rents and house prices.

I turn now to the question of private sector house prices. I shall not repeat all the figures which I have given previously, and which my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Edward Short) gave this afternoon, of the fantastic rise in house prices over the last two years, figures which belie every single pledge that the Conservative Party made at the 1970 General Election, figures far greater than the rise in prices that occurred under the Labour Government, and figures which show how totally hollow is the Tory claim to help the owner-occupier and young married couple trying to find a house.

The Government treat this rise in house prices as some sort of act of God over which they have no control of any kind. But I want to trace this rise directly to Government policies, or to the lack of Government policies, and especially—reverting to a subject I have mentioned previously—the total lack of any control over building society lending.

What happened last year? Building society lending, the amounts advanced, increased by 32 per cent., from about £2,700 million to £3,600 million. But that was not because the number of houses increased by 32 per cent. On the contrary, the number of available houses increased by only 2½ per cent. The 32 per cent. rise in lending had nothing to do with the housing situation. It was entirely due to the fact that the building societies were flush with money last year and followed their usual blind policy of automatically lending all that they had. It does not require a mathematical genius to predict the result. If there is an increase of 32 per cent. in the demand for houses and an increase of only 2½ per cent. in the supply of houses, all that happens is an extravagant rise in the price of houses. That is what happened last year and it was directly due to the Government's monetary policy or the lack of it.

There still seems to be a complete mental blockage on this subject on the part of the Government. The Secretary of State was again this afternoon quoting the amount of mortgage lending last year and the increase over the year previously as though that meant that more people were buying more houses. It did not. It simply meant that more people were paying more money for their houses. The result is a fantastic rise in prices. Every hon. Member has made the point that this means extreme hardship for the young couples looking for a house. But also has an insidious effect on young couples once they have bought the house.

Photo of Mr Arthur Jones Mr Arthur Jones , Northamptonshire South

How would the right hon. Gentleman control the building societies? Would he do it by the amount of mortgage funds available or the alternative of controlling the interest rates?

Photo of Mr Anthony Crosland Mr Anthony Crosland , Grimsby

I shall come to that matter shortly.

The insidious effect upon people once they have bought a house is that they then find the burden of mortgage repayments almost intolerable and the only way that it will become tolerable is by a continuation of wage and salary inflation. In other words, we are giving an entire class of people a vested interest in continued inflation as the only way of reducing a mortgage to reasonable proportions.

That was the year that was—1972. What about 1973? It looks as though in 1973 we shall find the opposite situation—not a 32 per cent. increase in mortgage lending but a mortgage famine and mortgage rationing. Again, this will not be because of any change in the housing situation. The number of completions will probably be about the same this year as it was last year, and there is nothing much in that. It will be because of a change in the monetary situation.

The basic cause of the change this year will be that the Government have a public sector borrowing requirement of enormous dimension—£4,400 million. I am not as critical as some of my hon. Friends of the fact of that borrowing requirement, but at any rate it exists. Therefore, there is a general rise in interest rates, bank deposit rates are at a record level and the yield on gilt-edged has risen dramatically. Then in the Budget—what the building societies called "the last straw"—the Chancellor introduced his more generous terms on national savings, the building societies' nearest competitor. This will mean a consequential rise in building society withdrawals and less money coming in. Therefore, as a result, they have to raise their interest rates from 8½ per cent. to 9 per cent. or 9½ per cent.

The Secretary of State has clearly been trying hard indeed to twist the building societies' arms. We have heard that he has had two meetings with them. We hear of deteriorating relations, the worst ever, between the Government and the building societies. But the right hon. and learned Gentleman has clearly failed to twist their arms. Had he succeeded he would have told us this afternoon with a great flourish from the Dispatch Box. Therefore, we can take it as certain as night follows day that within the course of a few days building society rates will be up certainly to 9 per cent. and probably to 9½ per cent.—another notable Government contribution to the counter-inflation policy.

This volatility in mortgage lending, for reasons which have nothing to do with the housing situation, is ridiculous. One year a surfeit of funds pushes house prices through the roof. The next year a shortage of funds pushes up building society lending rates. It is also thoroughly bad for the building industry and the supply of houses. What builders want is not a surfeit of buyers one year and unsold houses the next, but a steady increase in demand in line with the extra houses they can produce.

I therefore return—here I answer the question posed by the hon. Member for Northants, South (Mr. Arthur Jones)—to my proposal for a building society stabilisation fund. It would work in this way. Over the past two years mortgage lending would have been allowed to grow at a steady rate of, let us say, 10 per cent. or 15 per cent. each year. The surplus funds which the societies were attracting would have been put into a stabilisation fund where they would earn a reasonable rate of interest. Now this year, when the net inflow of money is drying up, the societies could draw on the stabilisation fund to maintain the flow of lending without excessive increases in interest rates. In this way the fund would protect the house buyer from the full short-term vagaries of the money market.

The establishment of such a fund would make a good next step for the Government away from lame duckery and laissez-faire. Alas, this afternoon there was no sign of anything so positive from the Secretary of State.

A good deal has been said today about the land-hoarding charge. I do not propose to go into this in any detail. In his opening speech my right hon. Friend covered the point adequately. It is clearly a purely political gesture which all commentators agree will have virtually no effect on the supply of land or the number of houses.

I turn from that to say a few words about rates. After all the huffing and puffing and the Prime Minister's Guildhall speech and the desperate pleas of the six big cities, all we get at the end of the day is the munificent sum of £10 million, and the bountiful sum of £1 million for Scotland, to meet some of the anomalies created by revaluation.

However, revaluation is not the crucial problem. This does not begin to touch the real core of the big city problem—this was referred to by my hon. Friends the Members for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Robert C. Brown) and Liverpool, Scotland (Mr. Marsden)—which is one of falling population and falling revenue but rising expenditure.

I will quote one or two reactions from the local Government world to this trivial concession of £10 million. According to the City Treasurer of Leeds, the aid promised did not in any way deal with the case presented by the big cities. It was nothing to do with revaluation but concerned rising expenditure and falling population. The Assistant City Treasurer of Liverpool said that his authority also was primarily concerned with expenditure increases and falling population. Although revaluation had caused concern to some of the cities, it was of no special significance at Liverpool". The Assistant Secretary of the Association of Municipal Corporations said the Government was giving very little help, and the association was not surprised that the cost would be as low as £10 million. At Liverpool, only 12½ per cent. of domestic ratepayers would get any help. At Leeds individuals would need increases of 38·6 per cent. in their rate bills before qualifying. The real problem is not one created by revaluation. It is the problem of the cities, of cities squeezed between ever-increasing needs and inadequate resources; the need to spend more to cope with the inner urban problems, and, partly, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West, said, the problems created by their being regional centres; problems created by the fact that the inner cities contain a high percentage of social welfare cases, the fact that they have educational deficiencies of long standing costing a great deal to put right. They have suffered typically from the worst environment. They have suffered increasingly from a transport crisis, especially a crisis in public transport. All these things inexorably push up their expenditure at the same time as the outflow of population means that they have a less buoyant rate base.

The only way to bridge the gap is greater Government help. The Government's formula designed to deal with the extreme effects of revaluation is totally irrelevant from this point of view.

When will the Government deal with this major underlying problem of local government finance? In the spring of 1970, before the General Election, a great deal of intensive work had already started on the subject. The Green Paper on the reform of local government finance was published as long as ago as July 1971. Yet, incredibly, last Tuesday the Secretary of State said in a written answer: The Government will be entering urgently into further discussions with the local authority associations on this subject".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th March 1973; Vol. 852, c. 95.] My God, what a sense of urgency! It is two and a half years since they came into office, more than a year and a half since the Green Paper on local government finance. If that is the Secretary of State acting urgently I should like to see what he looks like when he is acting un-urgently. He is making his predecessor "What-can-I-do" Walker look like a fiend for rapid progress—a positive tiger in his restless activity. But it is becoming extremely urgent that the House should have some information as to exactly what the Government are proposing because the problem, big as it is, seems to be getting even worse as the days pass.

In private rents, in council rents, in house prices, in land prices and in rates, Government policies, or the lack of them, have created the greatest inflation the country has ever known. In the last two-and-a-half years we have had the astonishing combination of record inflation in the cost of housing and the worst house-building figures for a decade. It has been an utterly deplorable performance and what is most tragic is the Secretary of State's ineffable complacency in the face of it, which is beginning to match that of his complacent predecessor.

The fact is that the country will not forget or forgive the Government's abject failure in housing, and we censure them for it tonight.

9.28 p.m.

Photo of Mr Paul Channon Mr Paul Channon , Southend West

The debate this evening has largely covered the same ground as that covered in the debate on 6th February, which dealt with the same issue. However, it has not been repetitious. Both sides of the House are always pleased to hear a speech from the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland), who, apart from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State—to whom we also enjoy listening—is the only person to have taken part in both debates. No doubt it is convenient for the Opposition to have a debate at this stage on this topic, especially as the Government cannot go into great detail tonight about the land hoarding charge. We have announced that further statements will be made, and, as my right hon. Friend pointed out, it is typical of the Opposition to say that the whole thing is totally inadequate when we have not announced any details about it.

I wish first to refer to some of the points raised by hon. Members in the debate. I would have liked to have said something to the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Tope) but he has not done us the courtesy of being here at this moment—[Interruption.] Judging from hon. Members' comments it seems that the whole House agrees that we can get on without him quite satisfactorily. Nevertheless, in fairness, those who heard his speech will probably agree that he raised one important matter that I want to deal with—it was also raised by other hon. Members—namely, the most appalling situation of family homelessness and, to some extent, single person homelessness in our major cities. Any of us with a responsibility for housing, either because we are in Government or because we speak about it in Opposition and look forward to responsibilities—in the long distant future perhaps—must think of homelessness as the greatest single social evil that we have to face.

I want to start by saying something about rates, and some of the problems involved. [Interruption.] I see that the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam has arrived. I hope that he will forgive me if I do not repeat what I said about him.

The Opposition lump rates and prices together in their motion. That is wrong, because rates are a tax and local authorities have to raise enough revenue in rates to cover their expenditure. After talking account of Government grants, that expenditure has risen for a variety of reasons, partly because of rising prices and partly because local services are being improved and developed, sometimes with the direct encouragement of the Government but sometimes purely on local initiative.

For 1973–74 the Government will meet 60 per cent. of the increased total expenditure, compared with 58 per cent. of the lower total last year. It is a record percentage, representing a large increase over the help given last year. [Interruption.] I am sorry that Opposition Members think that it is not good. It is a record figure. It is very easy to say, in opposition, that record figures are no good, but the Government are providing more help than ever before. In fairness, the Opposition should admit that.

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

I am sure the hon. Gentleman would not deliberately seek to mislead the House. He insists on repeating the figure of 60 per cent. of the expenditure. I said earlier, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) has just repeated, that it is 34 per cent. of the expenditure for Newcastle-upon-Tyne. That is fairly typical for regional capitals.

Photo of Mr Paul Channon Mr Paul Channon , Southend West

My right hon. and learned Friend gave a number of figures. No one has ever said that 60 per cent. was uniform, nor has it ever been uniform. I am saying that the Government will meet 60 per cent. of the increased total expenditure, compared with 58 per cent. of a lower total last year. That is not to be despised by the Opposition.

Rating revaluation, which the Opposition ran away from when in Government, has led to substantial changes for individuals during a 10-year period. Many domestic ratepayers will now receive the overdue benefit denied them by the last Government.

For those who have enjoyed the advantage of a lower assessment than was justified, we have taken two measures to cushion the impact of revaluation. First, there is the 50 per cent. increase to the domestic rate adjustment. Secondly, there are the measures announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget Statement for those domestic ratepayers who are particularly hard hit by revaluation. [An HON. MEMBER: "Derisory."] The hon. Gentleman says that, but other hon. Members have pointed out that revaluation is not the real problem. The right hon. Member for Grimsby said that it was the general increase in local authority costs that mattered, and not the revaluation, which was a very small feature of the whole situation.

Changes in rates happen every year. Some go up and some go down. This year is no exception. We have heard a great deal about authorities whose rates will go up, but less about authorities where they will go down. [An HON. MEMBER: "There are fewer of them."] Where is the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Ginsburg)? We have not heard much from him about the matter. The rates there are going down, as they are at West Bromwich and Burton-on-Trent. In a number of authorities they are going down, just as there are authorities where they are going up.

I quite understand the reasons why Opposition Members wish to complain, but I am entitled to point out the record level of Government assistance and the extra help given by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. Given all those things, it is a bit much for us to be criticised now especially if the right hon. Member for Grimsby was correctly reported, as I hope he was, in his speech to a Labour Party local government conference in Newcastle, when he said: At a time of high taxation—and taxation should be higher under a Labour Government if we are to carry out our social programmes—we shall never find another source of as much money as accrues through the rating system. If that is not an indication that the rates will be higher under a Labour Government, I should like to know what is.

So much for the rates. [Interruption.] The Government provide record help to the ratepayer, but the Opposition's official spokesman on local government matters admits that taxation will be high under a Labour Government and we shall never find another source of as much money as accrues through the rating system". That seems to me a perfectly fair statement. If Opposition Members think that is an unsatisfactory answer, they had better ask their right hon. Friend what he thinks.

Photo of Mr Anthony Crosland Mr Anthony Crosland , Grimsby

My views on general taxation and public expenditure under a Labour Government have been consistent for many years, but the hon. Gentleman must not and cannot read into that statement the view that rates would be higher under a Labour Government than under a Conservative Government. I believe that rates, particularly in their present form, are a very regressive tax, and certainly not one of the taxes that should bear under a Labour Government a higher proportion of the total tax burden.

Photo of Mr Paul Channon Mr Paul Channon , Southend West

I accept that that is the right hon. Gentleman's view, because he said so, but it is curious that he said in that speech: we shall never find another source of as much money as accrues through the rating system. The House must draw its own conclusion.

I turn to the question of the release of land, because the problem has run through many of the speeches today. Of course, as every hon. Member has pointed out in the debate, the Government have been acutely disturbed by the high prices of land and houses. My hon. Friend the Member for Northants, South, (Mr. Arthur Jones) is right to chastise us and to say that more land should be released. I accept that it should. I shall look at once into the cases to which he drew my attention. I cannot answer about them without notice. My hon. Friend asked about the Nugent Committee. I hope that it will report next month and that fairly speedy decisions can then be taken about defence land. But there has been considerable release of British Rail land, particularly in the London area. I note my hon. Friend's views and I hope to visit all the local authorities in the pressure areas of the South-East and the West Midlands to discuss their problems with them.

I also note the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. Brian Harrison) about the release of land, and will bear them in mind. I shall visit Essex soon and I shall pray his influence in aid for a substantial release of building land in Essex, in the near future.

Photo of Mr Clinton Davis Mr Clinton Davis , Hackney Central

It is a little hypocritical of the hon. Gentleman to display his displeasure at land not being released when we have the scandal, referred to time and again, of the situation in Barnet, where the local council has refused to allow a neighbouring Labour local authority to develop land. There is a similar situation in Bromley, which will allow only 90 transfers from the GLC into its area. Is not this a scandalous state of affairs?

Photo of Mr Paul Channon Mr Paul Channon , Southend West

The London Action Group under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State is looking not only at these but at other cases brought to its attention. No doubt the hon. Gentleman will continue to put Questions down about those cases.

My hon. Friend the Member for Maldon raised a number of interesting points, including limiting the benefit of the roll-over provision of capital gains tax in relation to agricultural land. That is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and I will draw his attention to what my hon. Friend has said.

I also note what my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. MaxwellHyslop) said about the difficulties of developing land with planning permission because certain services are not available. I job I will consider what more can be done, although the £80 million extra special loan sanction allocation will help, particularly in pressure areas. We have stressed our willingness to grant loan sanction for sewerage in advance of need. I will study what my hon. Friend said.

We all recognise that the release of building land is the most crucial thing if we are to make sufficient houses available and to provide sufficient land for the houses to be built upon. However, not all hon. Members have given the Government credit for the substantial measures already taken to make more land available for housing, including the special loan sanction allocation of £80 million to cover the acquisition of land by local authorities for disposal for private house building, the promise of support for compulsory purchase in appropriate cases, the capitalising of interest for five years when servicing works are carried out, the grant of loan sanction for sewerage, making provision for housing in up to 5,000 acres in new towns in the South-East, and the circular asking for details of land on which housing could start in the next five years and of sites for release in the longer term.

Photo of Mr Reginald Freeson Mr Reginald Freeson , Willesden East

The hon. Gentleman has referred to the back-up of compulsory purchase powers and the urgency of getting land available to start house building in the next five years. Could he contact the GLC immediately in order to give it the compulsory purchase back-up powers and press it to start buying up the many acres of land available within the GLC area which have planning approvals for up to 46,000 dwellings, most of them outstanding for over three years, and where the land is already serviced and available for development. Will he take such action now?

Photo of Mr Paul Channon Mr Paul Channon , Southend West

The GLC already has statutory powers to make compulsory purchase orders if it wishes. Any compulsory purchase order it makes will naturally be considered on its merits by my right hon. and learned Friend and I could not, in advance of any specific case, give an opinion on any hypothetical case which might arise. The GLC already has the statutory powers for which the hon. Gentleman asks.

In the South-East, for example, in the first three quarters of 1972 planning permissions were granted for 25 per cent. more private dwellings than in the same period of 1971, and 57 per cent. more than in the first three quarters of 1970. The proportion of dwellings allowed on appeal has nearly trebled in the past 18 months. Land acquisition schemes to the value of nearly £40 million and covering 2,450 acres of land have been provisionally approved, and further schemes to a total of £20 million are being considered by local authorities. A number of compulsory purchase orders are also before my right hon. and learned Friend at the moment.

Photo of Mr Paul Channon Mr Paul Channon , Southend West

I have given way a number of times. I must get on. In justice to the debate, I cannot give way.

The right hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne Central (Mr. Edward Short) referred to the £80 million additional allocation and charged my right hon. and learned Friend with misleading him. He quoted figures from the White Paper on Public Expenditure which purported to show a cut, but the White Paper shows clearly an allocation of £80 million for 1972–73 and 1973–74. The idea is that the land should be resold quickly to get it developed. Therefore, the proceeds of the resale come back as offsetting reductions in 1974–75. If the right hon. Gentleman would care to look at the White Paper, and in particular at paragraph 7, page 58, he will see that set out fairly clearly.

The £80 million scheme is a real help to home owners. It is not a false hope, as hon. Members have suggested. The right hon. Member for Grimsby did not deal with this matter at great length. However, it deals not only with land prices but with rents. I know that hon. Members have not been anxious to deal with that. It is curious that throughout all the debates on this issue, and on the whole of the housing debates, it has been rare to hear from the Opposition about rent rebates and allowances. On 29th April there will be an increase of £3·50 on £10·50 for a single person on rent rebate and allowance and £3·50 to £14·75 for a married couple.

I shall give some examples of the effect of the increase. A pensioner couple whose total weekly income is £15, and who are paying a rent of £3 at present, will get a rebate of £1·76. At the moment they pay £1·24 in rent. From the end of April, they will be getting a rebate of £2·61 [Interruption.] I know that hon. Members do not like rebates. From the end of April they will be getting a rebate of £2·61, so that they will pay only 39p in rent. Even if they are council tenants and the rent of their home is increased—[Interruption.] It is a curious fact, but when I start talking about help to the lower paid hon. Members try to shout me down. So much for their concern for those of our poorer citizens.

Photo of Mr Eric Ogden Mr Eric Ogden , Liverpool, West Derby

On a point of order. The hon. Gentleman says that we will not listen. However, the hon. Gentleman has referred to many points made by his hon. Friends and has yet to answer any of the points made by my right hon. and hon. Friends.

Photo of Mr Selwyn Lloyd Mr Selwyn Lloyd , Wirral

That is not a point of order. This has been a fairly orderly debate so far and I hope that it will continue so.

Photo of Mr Paul Channon Mr Paul Channon , Southend West

The hon. Gentleman's point of order was not valid. I have dealt with matters raised by the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne and the right hon. Member for Grimsby. If hon. Members allow me to get on, I will deal with a great many more.

Even if they are council tenants and the rent of their home is increased, for example, by 75p a week, they will still be paying after April only 69p in rent, which is 55p less than they are paying now. We estimate that approximately three-quarters of a million council tenants are getting a rebate, excluding those who are also getting supplementary benefit towards their rent. All of those tenants will be better off as a result of the increase in the needs allowances even after the rent increase which is due in 1973–74.

Even if their income goes up during the coming months by the amount envisaged under the stage 2 policy, scarcely any of them will be paying any more in rent than they are now paying—[Interruption.] All private tenants get-ting a rent allowance now will be better gift off from the end of April. That applies to all rents and ranges up to 88p a week. [Interruption.] My remarks about what the Opposition were doing a few minutes ago are borne out. A significant number of tenants will qualify for rent rebate or allowance for the first time. This will not be for a derisory amount, but could well be for 50p or 60p a week, which will cancel out any increase in the rent of their home.

Altogether about a million tenants—and I exclude those on supplementary benefit—will immediately benefit from the higher needs allowances. Those who need help with their rent—and surely they are the lower paid—are the people about whom the House is most concerned at present. They will get some help and in almost every case they will be better off during the coming year than they are. They are some hon. Members who are concerned about the rate of take up of rent rebates. All the figures show that this rate among council tenants is high. In Manchester 4,000 tenants were getting a rebate under the council's earlier discretionary scheme. Now, 12,000 are receiving a rebate. In Havering the figure is good too and in Warrington, which ran no discretionary scheme 3,000 tenants are now receiving rebates.

A high proportion of the council tenants whom we estimated would qualify for a rebate have claimed one. Hon. Members have rightly spoken about house prices. The right hon. Member for Grimsby I think misheard my right hon. and learned Friend. My right hon. and learned Friend pointed out that there were 371,000 mortgages for first-time purchasers last year as against 301,000 in 1970. It was an increase in mortgages, not just the amount of money in each mortgage.

There were 144,000 borrowers under 25 who received mortgages last year as against 117,000 in 1970. There were 192,000 mortgages for borrowers whose incomes were up to the average industrial earnings as against 158,000 in 1970. To hear hon. Members opposite one would imagine that there had been some golden halcyon age for owner-occupiers when the Labour Party was in power. The proportion of mortgages granted in London by building societies to first-time purchasers remains fairly constant at 58 per cent. to 60 per cent. Even in London in the last quarter of 1972 no fewer than 1 in 7 of all mortgages went to borrowers under 25.

Since we last debated this, just over five weeks ago, we have had a statement of the Opposition's housing policy, which the right hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central elaborated today. In consultation with the TUC they have produced a document which calls for "a new approach to housing and rents". The first measure it advocates, as I understand it, is the repeal of the Housing Finance Act. This is no new approach; it is a step backwards to the old jungle of unfairness and absurdities. The repeal of that Act would mean the repeal of the national scheme of rent rebates and allowances, the repeal of new subsidies for slum clearance, and the construction, maintenance and improvement of council houses, and the repeal of the new subsidies for housing associations. The repeal of the Act would be to condemn over 1 million private dwellings to early decay into slumdom and to subject their tenants to the consequences. It would be to abandon the principle that subsidies are for people and not for houses.

This document promises a better deal for council house tenants on rents. They can hardly get a better deal than we have given to those with low incomes or with family commitments. The party opposite wants to go back to indiscriminate subsidies for council tenants, to be provided by taxpayers and ratepayers, many of who are worse off than council house tenants. This document also calls for subsidies to public sector housing at least equal to the tax relief enjoyed by owner-occupiers. The Opposition may not be aware that subsidies from taxpayers and ratepayers, to council tenants are about the same as the amount of tax relief granted on mortgage interest plus option mortgage subsidy. [Interruption.] There is no reason why this proportion should be immutably fixed. There are 9 million owner-occupiers and 5,500,000 council tenants.

Photo of Mr William Molloy Mr William Molloy , Ealing North

When are you coming to the homeless?

Mr. Chanson:

The document also proposes that council tenants should have more say in the management of council estates. The hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Leonard) raised this point. I agree with it. There is nothing to stop councils from doing this now. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary recently recommended them to do so in a speech in this House. [Interruption.] The document also calls for a target of over 400,000 houses a year. I must say that if I were the Opposition I would not place my faith in their national housing targets. [Interruption.]

Photo of Mr Selwyn Lloyd Mr Selwyn Lloyd , Wirral

Order. The hon. Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury (Mr. Ronald Brown) must contain himself.

Photo of Mr Paul Channon Mr Paul Channon , Southend West

We all know what happened to the Opposition's last housing target and we know what will happen if they get into power again. They talk of 400,000 houses now. What did they do?

The document also contains two other proposals—a proposal for the municipalisation of all private rented property and a proposal for the nationalisation of all building land. No wonder the Opposition admit that there will be higher taxes. There could well be higher rates, too, in spite of what the right hon. Gentleman said. Together these two proposals would put on public resources a strain which would make nonsense of any attempt to control inflation. Hon. Members opposite know that to be a fact. They would cost millions of pounds extra public expenditure, to put the lowest possible estimate on it. They bristle with practical difficulties. Neither would provide a single additional house, or help to reduce house prices. I would have been more impressed by the Opposition's wish to help owner-occupation if they had been prepared to allow councils to sell council houses to existing tenants.

The right answer to the problem of house and land prices is to develop the existing arrangements for bringing forward land for building and to achieve a higher stable output of new houses to buy. The Government have made considerable progress in this field. [Interruption.] The Opposition are anxious that I should talk about figures? I will give them the figures. When we came into office we inherited a slump in private house building. In 1969 only 167,000 private houses were started in Great Britain; in 1970, only 165,000—the lowest for 12 years. Are they proud of that? By 1971 the figure had risen to 207,000, and in 1972 to 227,000. In the three months ending January 1973 it was running at an annual rate of about 250,000. It is a story of considerable success. We propose to reinforce it by the land hoarding charge and measures which my right hon. and learned Friend will shortly announce for promoting house building and achieving stability in prices. If we succeed—and I believe we have a good

chance to do so—we shall have won a major victory in the fight against inflation.

We have had from the Opposition, not only today but also on 6th February, a wholly misconceived motion of censure —scarcely backed up by Members opposite being present on their own benches for most of the debates—a motion marked by humbug and scant regard for the facts. This Government have taken action in the housing field to increase private house building, to help the owner-occupier, to set council rents at a fair level, and to introduce a national rent rebate and allowance scheme to help people who have not had it before. I ask hon. Members to reject with contempt this motion.

Question put, That the amendment be made:

The House divided: Ayes 291, Noes 266.

Division No. 81.]AYES[10.0 p.m.
Adley, RobertCoombs, DerekGreen, Alan
Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash)Cooper, A. E.Grieve, Percy
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead)Cordle, JohnGriffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds)
Amery, Rt. Hn. JulianCorfield, Rt. Hn. Sir FrederickGrylls, Michael
Archer, Jeffrey (Louth)Cormack, PatrickGummer, J. Selwyn
Astor, JohnCostain, A. P.Gurden, Harold
Atkins, HumphreyCritchley, JulianHall, Miss Joan (Keighley)
Awdry, DanielCrouch, DavidHall, John (Wycombe)
Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone)Crowder, F. P.Hall-Davis, A. G. F.
Baker, W. H. K. (Banff)d'Avigdor-Goldsmid. Sir HenryHamilton, Michael (Salisbury)
Barber, Rt. Hn. AnthonyDean, PaulHannam, John (Exeter)
Batsford, BrianDeedes, Rt. Hn. W. F.Harrison, Brian (Maldon)
Bell, RonaldDigby, Simon WingfieldHaselhurst, Alan
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay)Dixon, PiersHastings, Stephen
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport)Douglas-Homo, Rt. Hn. Sir AlecHavers, Sir Michael
Benyon, W.Drayson, G. B.Hawkins, Paul
Berry, Hn. Anthonydu Cann, Rt. Hn. EdwardHay, fJohn
Biffen, JohnDykes, HughHayhoe, Barney
Biggs-Davison, JohnEden, Rt. Hn. Sir JohnHeseltine, Michael
Blaker, PeterEdwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)Hicks, Robert
Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S.W.)Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)Higgins, Terence L.
Body, RichardElliott, R. W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne,N.)Hiley, Joseph
Emery, PeterHolland, Philip
Boscawen, Hn. RobertEyre, ReginaldHolt, Miss Mary
Bowden, AndrewFarr, JohnHordern, Peter
Braine, Sir BernardFell, AnthonyHornby, Richard
Bray, RonaldFenner, Mrs. PeggyHornsby-Smith, Rt. Hn. Dame Patricia
Brinton, Sir TattonFidler, MichaelHowe, Hn. Sir Geoffrey (Reigate)
Brocklebank-Fowler, ChristopherFisher, Nigel (Surbiton)Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N.)
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)Fletcher-Cooke, CharlesHunt, John
Bruce-Gardyne, J.Fookes, Miss JanetHutchison, Michael Clark
Bryan, Sir PaulFortescue, TimIremonger, T. L.
Buchanan-Smith, Alick(Angus,N&M)Foster, Sir JohnIrvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)
Bullus, Sir EricFowler, NormanJames, David
Burden, F. A.Fox, MarcusJenkin, Patrick (Woodford)
Butler, Adam (Bosworth)Fraser,Rt.Hn.Hugh (St'fford & Stone)Jennings, J. C. (Burton)
Campbell, Rt. Hn. G.(Moray & Nairn)Fry, PeterJessel, Toby
Carlisle, MarkGalbraith, Hn. T. G. D.Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead)
Carr, Rt. Hn. RobertGardner, EdwardJones, Arthur (Northants, S.)
Cary, Sir RobertGilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.)Jopling, Michael
Channon, PaulGilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.)Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir Keith
Chapman, SydneyGlyn, Dr. AlanKaberry, Sir Donald
Chataway, Rt. Hn. ChristopherGodber, Rt. Hn. J. B.Kellett-Bowman, Mrs. Elaine
Chichester-Clark, R.Goodhart, PhilipKershaw, Anthony
Churchill, W. S.Goodhew, VictorKilfedder, James
Clark, William (Surrey, E.)Gorst, JohnKimball, Marcus
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)Gower, RaymondKing, Evelyn (Dorset, S.)
Cockeram, EricGrant, Anthony (Harrow, C.)King, Tom (Bridgwater)
Cooke, Robert:Gray, HamishKinsey, J. R.
Kitson, TimothyNabarro, Sir GeraldSpence, John
Knight, Mrs. JillNeave, AireySproat, Iain
Knox, DavidNicholls, Sir HarmarStainton, Keith
Lambton, LordNoble. Rt. Hn. MichaelStanbrook, Ivor
Lamont, NormanNott, JohnStewart-Smith, Geoffrey (Belper)
Lane, DavidOnslow, CranleyStodart, Anthony (Edinburgh, W.)
Langford-Holt, Sir JohnOppenheim, Mrs. SallyStoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M.
Le Marchant, SpencerOrr, Capt. L. P. S.Stokes, John
Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)Owen, Idris (Stockport, N.)Stuttaford, Dr. Tom
Lloyd,Rt.Hn.Geoffrey (Sut'nC'field)Page, Rt. Hn. Graham (Crosby)Sutcliffe, John
Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone)Page, John (Harrow, W.)Tapsell, Peter
Longden, Sir GilbertParkinson, CecilTaylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
Loveridge, JohnPercival, IanTaylor,Edward M.(G'gow,Cathcart)
Luce, R. N.Peyton, Rt. Hn. JohnTaylor, Frank (Moss Side)
McAdden, Sir StephenPike, Miss MervynTaylor, Robert (Croydon, N.W.)
MacArthur, IanPink, R. BonnerTebbit, Norman
McCrindle, R. A.Powell, Rt. Hn. J. EnochTemple, John M.
McLaren, MartinPrice, David (Eastlelgh)Thomas, John Stradling (Monmouth)
Maclean, Sir FitzroyPrior, Rt. Hn. J. M. L.Thomas, Rt. Hn. Peter (Hendon, S.)
McMaster, StanleyProudfoot, WilfredThompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)
Macmillan, Rt.Hn. Maurice(Farnham)Pym, Rt. Hn. FrancisTrafford, Dr. Anthony
McNair-Wilson, MichaelQuennell, Miss J. M.Trew, Peter
McNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest)Raison, TimothyTugendhat, Christopher
Maddan, MartinRamsden, Rt. Hn. JamesTurton, Rt. Hn. Sir Robin
Madel, DavidRawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir PeterVaughan, Dr. Gerard
Marples, Rt. Hn. ErnestRedmond, RobertVickers, Dame Joan
Marten, NeilReed, Laurance (Bolton, E.)Waddington, David
Mather, CarolRees, Peter (Dover)Walder, David (Clltheroe)
Maude, AngusRees-Davies, W. R.Walker, Rt. Hn. Peter (Worcester)
Maudling, Rt. Hn. ReginaldRenton, Rt. Hn. Sir DavidWall, Patrick
Mawby, RayRidsdale, JulianWalters, Dennis
Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.Rippon, Rt. Hn. GeoffreyWard, Dame Irene
Meyer, Sir AnthonyRoberts, Michael (Cardiff, N.)Warren, Kenneth
Mills, Peter (Torrington)Roberts, Wyn (Conway)Wells, John (Maidstone)
Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.)Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)White, Roger (Gravesend)
Miscampbell, NormanRossi, Hugh (Hornsey)Wiggin, Jerry
Mitchell,Lt.-Col.C. (Aberdeenshire,W)Rost, PeterWilkinson, John
Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)Russell, Sir RonaldWinterton, Nicholas
Moate, RogerSt. John-Stevas, NormanWolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Molyneaux, JamesSandys, Rt. Hn. D.Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard
Money, ErnleScott, NicholasWoodhouse, Hn. Christopher
Monks, Mrs. ConnieShaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)Woodnutt, Mark
Monro, HectorShelton, William (Clapham)Worsley, Marcus
Montgomery, FergusShersby, MichaelWylie, Rt. Hn. N. R.
More, JasperSimeons, CharlesYounger, Hn. George
Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh)Sinclair, Sir George
Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm.Skeet, T. H. H.TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Morrison, CharlesSmith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington)Mr. Walter Clegg and
Mudd, DavidSoref, HaroldMr. Bernard Weatherill.
Murton, OscarSpeed, Keith
NOES
Abse, LeoCarter, Ray (Birmingh'm, Northfield)Dunnett, Jack
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)Carter-Jones, Lewis (Eccles)Eadie, Alex
Archer, Peter (Rowley Regis)Clark, David (Colne Valley)Edelman, Maurice
Ashley, JackCocks, Michael (Bristol, S.)Edwards, Robert (Bilston)
Ashton, JoeCohen, StanleyEdwards, William (Merioneth)
Atkinson, NormanColeman, DonaldEllis, Tom
Bagier, Gordon A. T.Concannon, J. D.English, Michael
Barnes, MichaelCorbet, Mrs. FredaEvans, Fred
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)Cox, Thomas (Wandsworth, C.)Ewing, Harry
Barnett, Joel (Heywood and Royton)Crawshaw, RichardFaulds, Andrew
Baxter, WilliamCronin, JohnFernyhough, Rt. Hn. E.
Beaney, AlanCrosland, Rt. Hn. AnthonyFisher, Mrs. Doris (B' ham, Ladywood)
Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony WedgwoodCunningham, G. (Islington, S.W.)Fitch, Alan (Wigan)
Bennett, James(Glasgow, Bridgeton)Cunningham, Dr. J. A. (Whitehaven)Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)
Bidwell, SydneyDalyell, TamFletcher, Ted (Darlington)
Bishop, E. S.Darling, Rt. Hn. GeorgeFoot, Michael
Blenkinsop, ArthurDavidson, ArthurFord, Ben
Boardman, H. (Leigh)Davies, Denzil (Llanelly)Forrester, John
Booth, AlbertDavis, Clinton (Hackney, C.)Fraser, John (Norwood)
Bottomley, Rt. Hn. ArthurDavis, Terry (Bromsgrove)Freeson, Reginald
Bradley, TomDeakins, EricGalpern, Sir Myer
Broughton, Sir Alfredde Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir GeoffreyGarrett, W. E.
Brown, Robert C. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne,W.)Delargy, HughGinsburg, David (Dewsbury)
Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan)Dell, Rt. Hn. EdmundGolding, John
Brown, Ronald(Shoreditch & F'bury)Doig, PeterGourlay, Harry
Buchan, NormanDormand, J. D.Grant, George (Morpeth)
Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn)Douglas, Dick (Stirlingshire, E.)Grant, John D. (Islington, E.)
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)Douglas-Mann, BruceGriffiths, Eddie (Brightside)
Campbell, I. (Dunbartonshire, W.)Driberg, TomGriffiths, Will (Exchange)
Cant, R. B.Duffy, A. E. P.Grlmond, Rt. Hn. J.
Carmichael, NeilDunn, James A.Hamilton, James (Bothwell)
Hamilton, William (Fife, W.)Machin, GeorgeRoderick, Caerwyn E.(Brc'n&R'dnor)
Hamling, WilliamMackenzie, GregorRodgers, William (Stockton-on-Tees)
Hannan, William (G'gow, Maryhill)Mackie, JohnRoper, John
Hardy, PeterMackintosh, John P.Rose, Paul B.
Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)Maclennan, RobertRoss, Rt. Hn. William (Kilmarnock)
Hart, Rt. Hn. JudithMcMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)Rowlands, Ted
Hattersley, RoyMcNamara, J. KevinSandelson, Neville
Hefter, Eric S.Mahon, Simon (Bootle)Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-under-Lyne)
Hilton, W. S.Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfleld.E.)Shore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney)
Hooson, EmlynMarks, KennethShort, Rt. Hn. Edward (N'c'tle-u-Tyme)
Horam, JohnMarquand, DavidShort, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton,N.E.)
Houghton, Rt. Hn. DouglasMarsden, F.Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)
Howell, Denis (Small Heath)Marshall, Dr. EdmundSilkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)
Huckfield, LeslieMason, Rt. Hn. RoySillars, James
Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey)Mayhew, ChristopherSilverman, Julius
Hughes, Mark (Durham)Meacher, MichaelSkinner, Dennis
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, N.)Mellish. Rt. Hn. RobertSmith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Hughes, Roy (Newport)Mendelson, JohnSmith, John (Lanarkshire, N.)
Hunter, AdamMillan, BruceSpearing, Nigel
Irvine, Rt. Hn. Sir Arthur (Edge Hill)Miller, Dr. M. S.Spriggs, Leslie
Janner, GrevilleMilne, EdwardStallard, A. W.
Jay, Rt. Hn. DouglasMitchell, R. C. (S'hampton, Itchen)Steel, David
Jeger, Mrs. LenaMolioy, WilliamStewart, Rt. Hn. Michael (Fulham)
Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)Stoddart, David (Swindon)
Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford)Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)Stonehouse, Rt. Hn. John
John, BrynmorMorris, Rt. Hn. John (Aberavon)Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.
Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)Moyle, RolandSummerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley
Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)Mulley, Rt. Hn. FrederickThomas,Rt.Hn.George (Cardiff,W.)
Johnson, Walter (Derby, S.)Murray, Ronald KingThomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Jones, Barry (Flint, E.)Oakes, GordonTinn, James
Jones, Dan (Burnley)Ogden, EricTomney, Frank
Jones,Rt.Hn.Sir Elwyn (W.Ham,S.)O'Halloran, MichaelTope, Graham
Jones, Gwynoro (Carmarthen)O'Malley, BrianTorney, Tom
Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, W.)Oram, BertTuck, Raphael
Judd, FrankOrbach, MauriceUrwln, T. W.
Kaufman, GeraldOrme, StanleyVarley, Eric G.
Kelley, RichardOswald, ThomasWainwright, Edwin
Kerr, RussellPadley, WalterWalden, Brian (B'm'ham, All Saints)
Kinnock, NeilPaget, R. T.Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Lambie, DavidPalmer, ArthurWallace, George
Lamborn, HarryPannell, Rt. Hn. CharlesWatkins, David
Lamond, JamesParker, John (Dagenham)Weitzman, David
Latham, ArthurParry, Robert (Liverpool, Exchange)Wellbeloved, James
Lawson, GeorgePavitt, LaurieWells, William (Walsall, N.)
Leadbitter, TedPeart, Rt. Hn. FredWhite, James (Glasgow, Pollok)
Lee, Rt. Hn. FrederickPendry, TomWhitehead, Phillip
Leonard, DickPerry, Ernest G.Whitlock, William
Lestor, Miss JoanPrentice, Rt. Hn. Reg.Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.)Prescott, JohnWilliams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)Price, William (Rugby)Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)
Lipton, MarcusProbert, ArthurWilliams, W. T. (Warrington)
Lomas, KennethRadice, GilesWilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Wilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton)
Loughlin, CharlesRankin, JohnWilson, William (Coventry, S.)
Lyon, Alexander W. (York)Reed, D. (Sedgefleld)Woof, Robert
Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.)Rees, Merlyn (Leeds, S.)
Mabon, Dr. J. DicksonRhodes, GeoffreyTELLERS FOR THE NOES:
McBride, NeilRichard, IvorMr. Ernest Armstrong and
McCartney, HughRoberts, Albert (Normanton)Mr. Joseph Harper.
McElhone, FrankRoberts, Rt. Hn.Goronwy (Caernarvon)

Question accordingly agreed to.

Main Question, as amended, put:

The House divided: Ayes 291, Noes 264.

Division No. 82.]AYES[10.13 p.m.
Adley, RobertBiffen, JohnButler, Adam (Bosworth)
Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash)Biggs-Davison. JohnCampbell, Rt.Hn.G.(Moray & Nairn)
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead)Blaker, PeterCarlisle, Mark
Amery, Rt. Hn. JulianBoardman, Tom (Leicester, S.W.)Carr, Rt. Hn. Robert
Archer, Jeffrey (Louth)Body, RichardCary, Sir Robert
Astor, JohnBoscawen, Hn. RobertChannon, Paul
Atkins, HumphreyBowden, AndrewChapman, Sydney
Awdry, DanielPrairie, Sir BernardChataway, Rt. Hn. Christopher
Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone)Bray, RonaldChichester-Clark, R.
Baker, W. H. K. (Banff)Brlnton, Sir TattonChurchill, W. S.
Barber, Rt. Hn. AnthonyBrocklebank-Fowler, ChristopherClark, William (Surrey, E.)
Batsford, BrianBrown, Sir Edward (Bath)Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)
Bell, RonaldBruce-Gardyne,[...]Cockeram, Eric
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay)Bryan, Sir PaulCooke, Robert
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport)Buchanan-Smith, Allck(Angus,N&M)Coombs, Derek
Benyon, W.Bullus, Sir EricCooper, A. E.
Berry, Hn. AnthonyBurden, F. A.Cordle, John
Corlield, Rt. Hn. Sir FrederickJessel, TobyPrior, Rt. Hn. J. M. L.
Cormack, PatrickJohnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead)Proudfoot, Wilfred
Coslain, A. P.Jones, Arthur (Northants, S.)Pym, Rt. Hn. Francis
Critchley, JulianJopling, MichaelQuennell, Miss J. M.
Crouch, DavidJoseph, Rt. Hn. Sir KeithRaison, Timothy
Crowder, F. P.Kaberry, Sir DonaldRamsden, Rt. Hn. James
d'Avlgdor-Goldsmid, Sir HenryKellett-Bowman, Mrs. ElaineRawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter
Dean, PaulKershaw, AnthonyRedmond, Robert
Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F.Kilfedder, JamesReed, Laurance (Bolton, E.)
Oigby, Simon WingfieldKimball, MarcusRees, Peter (Dover)
Dixon, PiersKing, Evelyn (Dorset, S.)Rees-Davies, W. R.
Douglas-Home, Rt. Hn. Sir AlecKing, Tom (Bridgwater)Ronton, Rt. Hn. Sir David
Drayson, G. B.Kinsey, J. R.Ridsdale, Julian
du Cann, Rt. Hn. EdwardKitson, TimothyRippon, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey
Dykes, HughKnight, Mrs. JillRoberts, Michael (Cardiff, N.)
Eden, Rt. Hn. Sir JohnKnox, DavidRoberts, Wyn (Conway)
Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)Lambton, LordRodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)
Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)Lamont, NormanRossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Elliott, R. w. (N'ctle-upon-Tyne.N.)Lane, DavidRost, Peter
Emery, PeterLangford-Holt, Sir JohnRussell, Sir Ronald
Eyre, ReginaldLe Marchant, SpencerSt. John-Stevas, Norman
Farr, JohnLewis, Kenneth (Rutland)Sandys, Rt. Hn. D.
Fell, AnthonyLloyd,Rt.Hn.Geoffrey (Sut'nC'field)Scott, Nicholas
Fenner, Mrs. PeggyLloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone)Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)
Fidler, MichaelLongden, Sir GilbertShelton, William (Clapham)
Fisher, Nigel (Surbiton)Loveridge, JohnShersby, Michael
Fletcher-Cooke, CharlesLuce, R. N.Simeons, Charles
Fookes, Miss JanetMcAdden, Sir StephenSinclair, Sir George
Fortescue, TimMacArthur, IanSkeet, T. H. H.
Foster, Sir JohnMcCrlndle, R. A.Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington)
Fowler, NormanMcLaren, MartinSoref, Harold
Fox, MarcusMaclean, Sir FifzroySpeed, Keith
Fraser.Rt.Hn.Hugh (St'fford & Stone)McMaster, StanleySpence, John
Fry, PeterMacmillan, Rt. Hn. Maurice (FarnhamSproat, Iain
Galbraith, Hn. T. G. D.McNair-Wllson, MichaelStainton, Keith
Gardner, EdwardMcNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest)Stanbrook, Ivor
Gitmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.)Maddan, MartinStewart-Smith, Geoffrey (Belper)
Gilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.)Madel, DavidStodart, Anthony (Edinburgh, W.)
Glyn, Dr. AlanMarples, Rt. Hn. ErnestStoddart-Scott. Col. Sir M.
Godber, Rt. Hn. J. B.Marten, NeilStokes, John
Goodhart, PhilipMather, CarolStuttaford, Dr. Tom
Goodhew, VictorMaude, AngusSutclifte, John
Gorst, JohnMaudling, Rt. Hn. ReginaldTapsell, Peter
Gower, RaymondMawby, RayTaylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
Grant, Anthony (Harrow, C.)Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.Taylor,Edward M.(G'gow,Cathcart)
Gray, HamishMeyer, Sir AnthonyTaylor, Frank (Moss Side)
Green, AlanMills. Peter (Torrington)Taylor, Robert (Croydon, N.W.)
Grieve, PercyMills, Stratton (Belfast, N.)Tebbit, Norman
Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds)Miscampbell, NormanTemple, John M.
Grylls, MichaelThomas, John Stradling (Monmouth)
Gummer, J. SelwynMitchell,Lt.-Col.C. (Aberdeenshire,W)Thomas, Rt. Hn. Peter (Hendon, S.)
Gurden, HaroldMitchell, David (Basingstoke)Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)
Hall, Miss Joan (Keighley)Moate, RogerTrafford, Dr. Anthony
Hall, John (Wycombe)Molyneaux, JamesTrew, Peter
Hall-Davis, A. G. F.Money, ErnieTugendhat, Christopher
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)Monks, Mrs. ConnieTurton, Rt. Hn. Sir Robin
Hannam, John (Exeter)Monro, HectorVaughan, Dr. Gerard
Harrison, Brian (Maldon)Montgomery, FergusVickers, Dame Joan
Haselhurst, AlanMore, JasperWaddington, David
Hastings, StephenMorgan, Geraint (Denbigh)Walder, David (Clitheroe)
Havers, Sir MichaelMorgan-Giles, Rear-Adm.Walker, Rt. Hn. Peter (Worcester)
Hawkins, PaulMorrison, CharlesWall, Patrick
Hay, JohnMudd, DavidWalters, Dennis
Hayhoe, BarneyMurton, OscarWard, Dame Irene
Heseltine, MichaelNabarro, Sir GeraldWarren, Kenneth
Hicks, RobertNeave, AlreyWells, John (Maidstone)
Higgins, Terence L.Nicholls, Sir HarmarWhite, Roger (Gravesend)
Hiley, JosephNoble, Rt. Hn. MichaelWiggin, Jerry
Holland, PhilipNott, JohnWilkinson, John
Holt, Miss MaryOnslow, CranleyWinterton, Nicholas
Hordern, PeterOppenhelm, Mrs. SallyWolrlge-Gordon, Patrick
Hornby, RichardOrr, Capt. L. P. S.Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard
Hornsby-Smith.Rt.Hn.Dame PatriciaOwen, Idris (Stockport, N.)Woodhouse, Hn. Christopher
Howe, Rt. Hn. Sir GeoffreyPage, Rt. Hn. Graham (Crosby)Woodnutt, Mark
Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N.)Page, John (Harrow, W.)Worsley, Marcus
Hunt, JohnParkinson, CecilWylie, Rt. Hn. N. R.
Hutchison, Michael ClarkPerclval, IanYounger, Hn. George
Iremonger, T. L.Peyton, Rt. Hn. John
Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)Pike, Miss MervynTELLERS FOR THE AYES
James, DavidPink, R. BonnerMr Walter Clegg and
Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford)Powell, Rt. Hn. J. EnochMr. Bernard Weatherill
Jennings, J. C. (Burton)Price, David (Eastleigh)
NOES
Abse, LeoGinsburg, David (Dewsbury)Meacher, Michael
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)Golding, JohnMellish, Rt. Hn. Robert
Archer, Peter (Rowley Regis)Gourlay, HarryMendelson, John
Ashley, JackGrant, George (Morpeth)Millan, Bruce
Ashton, JoeGrant, John D. (Islington, E.)Miller, Dr. M. S
Atkinson, NormanGriffiths, Eddie (Brightside)Milne, Edward
Barnes, MichaelGriffiths, Will (Exchange)Mitchell, R. C. (S'hampton, Itchen)
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)Grimond, Rt. Hn. J.Molloy, William
Barnett, Joel (Heywood and Royton)Hamilton, James (Bothwell)Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)
Baxter, WilliamHamilton, William (Fife, W.)Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)
Beaney, AlanHamling, WilliamMorris, Rt. Hn. John (Aberavon)
Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony WedgwoodHannan, William (G'gow, Maryhill)Moyle, Roland
Bennett, James(Glasgow, Bridgeton)Hardy, PeterMulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Bidwell, SydneyHarrison, Walter (Wakefield)Murray, Ronald King
Bishop, E. S.Hart, Rt. Hn. JudithOakes, Gordon
Blenkinsop, ArthurHattersley, RoyOgden, Eric
Boardman, H. (Leigh)Heffer, Eric S.O'Halloran, Michael
Booth, AlbertHilton, W. S.O'Malley, Brian
Bottomley, Rt. Hn. ArthurHooson, EmlynOram, Bert
Bradley, TomHoram, JohnOrbach, Maurice
Broughton, Sir AlfredHoughton, Rt. Hn. DouglasOrme, Stanley
Brown, Robert C. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne,W.)Howell, Denis (Small Heath)Oswald, Thomas
Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan)Huckfield, LesliePadley, Walter
Brown, Ronald(Shoreditch & F'bury)Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey)Paget, R. T.
Buchan, NormanHughes, Mark (Durham)Palmer, Arthur
Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn)Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, N.)Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)Hughes, Roy (Newport)Parker, John (Dagenham)
Campbell, I. (Dunbartonshire, W.)Hunter, AdamParry, Robert (Liverpool, Exchange)
Cant, R. B.Irvine, Rt. Hn. Sir Arthur (Edge Hill)Pavitt, Laurie
Carmichael, NeilJanner, GrevillePeart, Rt. Hn. Fred
Carter, Ray (Birmingh'm, Northfield)Jay, Rt. Hn. DouglasPendry, Tom
Carter-Jones, Lewis (Eccles)Jeger, Mrs. LenaPerry, Ernest G.
Clark, David (Colne Valley)Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)Prentice, Rt. Hn. Reg.
Cocks, Michael (Bristol, S.)Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford)Prescott, John
Cohen, StanleyJohn, BrynmorPrice, William (Rugby)
Coleman, DonaldJohnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)Probert, Arthur
Concannon, J. D.Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)Radice, Giles
Corbet, Mrs. FredaJohnson, Walter (Derby, S.)Rankin, John
Cox, Thomas (Wandsworth, C.)Jones, Barry (Flint, E.)Reed, D. (Sedgefield)
Crawshaw, RichardJones, Dan (Burnley)Rees, Merlyn (Leeds, S.)
Cronin, JohnJones,Rt.Hn.Sir Elwyn (W.Ham,S.)Rhodes, Geoffrey
Crosland, Rt. Hn. AnthonyJones, Gwynoro (Carmarthen)Richard, Ivor
Cunningham, G. (Islington, S.W.)Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, W.)Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Cunningham, Dr. J. A. (Whitehaven)Judd, FrankRoberts, Rt.Hn.Goronwy (Caernarvon)
Dalyell, TarnKaufman, GeraldRoderick, Caerwyn E.(Brc'n&R'dnor)
Darling, Rt. Hn. GeorgeKelley, RichardRodgers, William (Stockton-on-Tees)
Davidson, ArthurKerr, RussellRoper, John
Davies, Denzil (Llanelly)Kinnock, NeilRose, Paul B.
Davis, Clinton (Hackney, C.)Lambie, DavidRoss, Rt. Hn. William (Kilmarnock)
Davis, Terry (Bromsgrove)Lamborn, HarryRowlands, Ted
Deakins, EricLamond, JamesSandelson, Neville
de Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir GeoffreyLatham, ArthurSheldon, Robert (Ashton-under-Lyne)
Delargy, HughLawson, GeorgeShore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney)
Dell, Rt. Hn. EdmundLeadbitter, TedShort, Rt.Hn.Edward(N'c'tle-u-Tyne)
Doig, PeterLee, Rt. Hn. FrederickShort, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton.N.E.)
Dormand, J. D.Leonard, DickSilkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)
Douglas, Dick (Stirlingshire, E.)Lestor, Miss JoanSilkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)
Douglas-Mann, BruceLewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.)Sillars, James
Driberg, TomLewis, Ron (Carlisle)Silverman, Julius
Duffy, A. E. P.Lipton, MarcusSkinner, Dennis
Dunn, James A.Lomas, KennethSmith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Dunnett, JackLoughlin, CharlesSmith, John (Lanarkshire, N.)
Eadie, AlexLyon, Alexander W. (York)Spearing, Nigel
Edelman, MauriceLyons, Edward (Bradford, E.)Spriggs, Leslie
Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)Mabon, Dr. J. DicksonStallard, A. W.
Edwards, William (Merioneth)McBride, NeilSteel, David
Ellis, TomMcCartney, HughStewart, Rt. Hn. Michael (Fulham)
English, MichaelMcElhone, FrankStoddart, David (Swindon)
Evans, FredMachin, GeorgeStonehouse, Rt. Hn. John
Ewing, HarryMackenzie, GregorStrauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.
Faulds, AndrewMackie, JohnSummerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley
Fernyhough, Rt. Hn. E.Mackintosh, John P.Thomas,Rt.Hn.George (Cardiff,W.)
Fisher, Mrs. Doris (B' ham, Ladywood)Maclennan, RobertThomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Fitch, Alan (Wigan)McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)Tinn, James
Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)McNamara, J. KevinTomney, Frank
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)Mahon, Simon (Bootle)Tope, Graham
Foot, MichaelMallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield,E.)Torney, Tom
Ford, BenMarks, KennethTuck, Raphael
Forrester, JohnMarquand, DavidUrwin, T. W.
Fraser, John (Norwood)Marsden, F.Varley, Eric G.
Freeson, ReginaldMarshall, Dr. EdmundWainwright, Edwin
Galpern, Sir MyerMason, Rt. Hn. RoyWalden, Brian (B'm'ham, All Saints)
Garrett, W. E.Mayhew, ChristopherWalker, Harold (Doncaster)
Wallace, GeorgeWhitlock, WilliamWilson, William (Coventry, S.)
Watkins, DavidWilley, Rt. Hn. FrederickWoof, Robert
Weitzman, DavidWilliams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
Wellbeloved, JamesWilliams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)TELLERS FOR THE NOES
Wells, William (Walsall, N.)Williams, W. T. (Warrington)Mr. Ernest Armstrong and
White, James (Glasgow, Pollok)Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)Mr. Joseph Harper.
Whitehead, PhillipWilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton)

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved,That this House approves Her Majesty's Government's policies of fair rents accompanied by a generous national scheme of rebates and allowances, of increasing the supply of houses for owner occupation, and of mea- sures to make more building land available including the proposed land hoarding charge and welcomes Her Majesty's Government's measures to provide rate support grant at a record level and also additional relief to mitigate the effects of rating revaluation on domestic ratepayers.