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 Ernest Perry Mr Ernest Perry , Battersea South 12:00 am, 14th March 1973

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.