Orders of the Day — Land and Housing

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

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Photo of Mr Peter Fry Mr Peter Fry , Wellingborough 12:00 am, 14th March 1973

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.