Housing and Land

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

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

I have selected the Amendment in the names of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and his right hon. Friends relating to housing and land.

3.40 p.m.

Photo of Mr Anthony Crosland Mr Anthony Crosland , Grimsby

I beg to move, at the end of the Question, to add: But humbly regret that, as a result of the Government's policies and contrary to the Government's promises, rents are soaring, mortgage rates are at a record level, and speculation in land and property continues unabated, while fewer houses are being built than at any time since the Conservatives were last in office. I hope and assume that the Government Front Bench will be in a more penitent mood in this debate than they have been in housing debates in the last three years. For three years we have suffered a constant surfeit of optimistic statements. For three years we have had flannel, flannel and still more flannel.

In October 1971 the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry said: The conditions are now ripe for a major expansion in our housebuilding programme. In December 1972 the Minister for Housing and Construction said: There has never been a time when the house building industry could have such good grounds for confidence. In February 1973 the present Secretary of State said: The housebuilding industry need not worry about the availability of mortgage finance. In April 1973 the Secretary of State said: Our policy is coherent, vigorous and calculated to achieve better conditions over the whole spectrum of housing. Finally, in September this year the Secretary of State said: The record is a good one and speaks for itself. For three years the explosion of house prices, the spiralling rents, the slump in house building, the crisis in the building industry, the upheavals in the private rented sector—all these were simply so many "little local difficulties", and successive ministers have come to the House time and again determined to bluff and brazen it out.

It is true that at Blackpool, faced with a rebellious Tory rank and file, Ministers experienced a sudden access of modesty. They decided to own up to the situation and confess their guilt, for all the world like defendants in a Stalinist show-piece trial. The Minister for Housing and Construction, with all the humility he was able to summon, mounted the rostrum and asked his conference to accept a resolution which said: the steps the Government is taking and proposes to take are insufficient to achieve the aims of housing policy. I hope that will be the tone of ministerial speeches today and that we shall have no more of the false, glib optimism of the last three years.

Let me remind Ministers and the House of some of the facts of the housing situation. Let me outline the Government's record which, in the Secretary of State's immortal words, "speaks for itself". We are shortly to have housing action areas. I want to deal with six housing disaster areas. I shall let the record speak for itself.

Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman , Manchester Ardwick

My right hon. Friend said that we are shortly to have housing action areas. Since the Queen's Speech does not promise any legislation on this subject, would it be possible to elucidate from the Government whether we are to have such a Bill?

Photo of Mr Anthony Crosland Mr Anthony Crosland , Grimsby

No doubt the Secretary of State when he comes to speak will tell us the answer to that question.

The first of the disaster areas is the cost of buying a house. It seems a long, long time ago since Conservatives used to fight General Elections as champions of home ownership. In the 1970 General Election the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, who was then in charge of these matters, enjoyed storming round the country proclaiming: 'The manner in which the Labour Government has forced up the price of homes will not be forgotten by the thousands of young couples searching for a home of their own. "A Better Tomorrow", the Tory manifesto, made a central point of the fact that today, mortgage repayments on the average-priced new house are £3 a week more than when Labour came to power. So, after the famous Conservative victory, people expected cheaper homes and homes more freely available. Have they got them? Have they, hell! Instead, the new home buyer has been hit by a vicious one-two combination punch. First, he has been hit by the crazy rise in house prices. When Labour left office the average price of a new house was £5,000. Now, after three years of Tory Government, the average price of a new house is over £10,000. As if this were not enough, there has been the ballooning mortgage rate—8 per cent.—then 8½ per cent., then 9½ per cent., or, more accurately, 10 per cent. less the famous local election subsidy—then 10 per cent., and now an incredible 11 per cent. rate, an all-time record high.

What now—and I hope the Secretary of State will tell us his views—of those famous mortgage repayments that rose by £3 a week in six years of Labour Government? After three years—not six years—of Tory Government they are not £3 a week more but £10·60 a week more than they were in June 1970. In an average year of the present Government, the increase in mortgage repayments has been greater than it was in the entire period of the Labour Government.

It is now almost impossible for the wage earner on average earnings to buy a home of his own. In 1970, if he spent just under 30 per cent.—or, to be exact, 29·8 per cent.—of his income on mortgage, he could buy an average new house. After tax relief this was just possible, although clearly a strain. But it would now cost a worker on average earnings half his income, so that it is clearly out of the question. That is the Government's contribution to a property-owning democracy.

The causes of this problem are now fairly well understood. I refer to the disastrous slump in new house building; the demand for housing as an investment in a time of inflation, superimposed on the demand for homes; a demand fed by irresponsible building society lending policies in 1971–1972; and a Government unwilling to take the necessary steps to protect finance for housing from the short-term vagaries of the money market. We still have absurd fluctuations in building society finance. The next inflow to the building societies in July was £225 million, in August it was £73 million, in September it went down to £22 million, and it is now beginning to rise again quite rapidly.

I thought that the Government had at least learned this lesson. In March the Secretary of State announced his conversion to the principle of stabilisation. In April the White Paper "Widening the choice" said that the Government had begun consultations with the building societies about means of securing a greater stability in the flow of mortgage funds. They have pursued these consultations with all the urgency of an engineer designing stabilisers for a ship that has already gone down.

So far, after all these months, all we have had is an announcement of a joint advisory committee between the Government and the building societies. One obviously welcomes that so far as it goes, but it is not clear whether this is all we are going to get. The aims and the terms of reference of the joint advisory committee are exceedingly vague. Building societies are still apparently to be left totally independent as to both borrowing and lending policies. There is no hint that the Government will take final responsibility for a steady flow of mortgage funds, as ultimately I have not the slightest doubt they must do.

It is true that during these months the Government have not been totally in-active. Far from it. They have been exceptionally busy dropping hints to every journalist who would listen that dramatic new help for the young home buyer was on the way. This was so important that the announcement was reserved for the great Gaullist occasion of the Prime Minister's stage 3 Press conference. It was so important that the building societies, which were supposed to operate the scheme, could not be consulted in advance, and, indeed, reacted with startled surprise—hardly a good augury for future planned co-operation between Government and building societies.

What did we get at the end of all this? We got the five-year "Save-now-pay-later" deferred-interest scheme. The essence of this is simple—namely, that the new home buyer is to pay less until after the next General Election is safely over. The effect could be extremely serious. Many couples, if they adopted it, would face a rising burden just at the time when the wife stops working and they have all the expense of a new family. For them the only hope would be continuing inflation to erode the real value of their repayments. Indeed the scheme relies on inflation to offset the additional debt owed to the building society in later years. The Government are simply giving an extra twist to the inflationary spiral.

This is not a party political reaction by the Opposition. I will quote some of the views expressed by building society chiefs when the new scheme was launched with such a fanfare of trumpets The Woolwich Building Society—one of Britain's biggest—yesterday refused to operate the Government's 'low start' mortgage scheme. And it began a campaign to persuade other societies to follow suit…the society's chairman described the proposals as a political gimmick… He said the scheme…was 'without a doubt' inflationary.…Abbey National: 'There will be very few people who would be suited by this scheme'.Hasting and Thanet: 'it will not be a panacea to all the problems'.Bristol and West: 'We have serious reservations about it, as it is based on inflation'. The Government's great new scheme can hardly be said to be a major contribution to the solution of the problem of mortgages.

The second disaster area concerns council rents. I do not want to repeat all that has been said in previous debates on the Housing Finance Act. There is a simple basic fact. When the Labour Government left office the average un- rebated council rent was £2·27. It is now £3·65.

Photo of Mr Anthony Crosland Mr Anthony Crosland , Grimsby

We have all seen the early reports of the rent scrutiny boards. These show that I—this is also true of my hon. Friends—was utterly justified—indeed, over-optimistic—when on Third Reading of the Housing Finance Bill I said: I am not prepared to withdraw the estimate that we on this side of the House have made that unrebated rents will on average double by 1976–77."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th May 1972; Vol. 836, c. 613.] Indeed, in many parts of the country they will double a great deal earlier than that.

The then Minister for Housing and Construction later in that debate quoted the provisional fair rents for Birmingham and talked of our indulging in a totally irresponsible campaign of scaremongering. He also said to my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun): I hope that the hon. Member for Salford, East will withdraw the charges he often makes about rents being doubled under our system."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th May 1972; Vol. 836, c. 663.] When the right hon. Gentleman made these remarks he was either deceiving himself or grossly misleading the House. We want to know which it was. Before the end of the debate we must have from the Government a clear estimate of the level that unrebated council rents will reach when fair rents are finally achieved. If, as I believe, it will mean a doubling of rents, then we should have a clear and candid apology for previous Government statements.

Heaven only knows what to make of the early judgments made by the rent scrutiny boards. Many hon. Members will have read them. They have certain things in common. They reject the provisional assessments put forward by local authorities, they appear to ignore completely the opinions of rent officers in the areas concerned, they make a totally capricious allowance for inflation, and they appear to be utterly haphazard.

I was interested to see the comments made by Miss Della Nevitt in her remarkable report on fair rents at Thamesmead. She said: The concept of 'fair' rent is at best a very subjective one —we all knew that— and perhaps it is best to regard it as a 'will-o'-the-wisp'…when I felt most confident that I had caught the 'fairness' for which I sought, it vanished". It certainly seems to have vanished from the minds of members of rent scrutiny boards. All that is certain is that they are acting in a totally non-accountable way, as we said in Committee; that they are acting in a totally non-judicial way, as we also said; that they are sitting in private, and that they are handing down large increases in rents.

The Government will argue that this is irrelevant and that when we take the rebates into account we need not worry about the level of unrebaied rents. This depends on the take-up, and there is a great deal of confusion about the size of the take-up and what it is likely to be in future.

In a very confusing answer on 18th October the Under-Secretary claimed that in the public sector the take-up was 85 per cent. But this bears little relation to reports that I have received from different authorities which suggest that the take-up is slumping dramatically as the effects of the initial publicity campaign wear off. The GLC has informed me that the present take-up is only 25,000, which is one in eight. At present levels of GLC rents, this means more hardship for very large numbers of people.

Photo of Mr Frank Allaun Mr Frank Allaun , Salford East

Is not the explanation for these figures, which I agree must be phoney, that the Government are including pensioners on supplementary benefit who were getting the allowance previously? Therefore, it is nothing like this figure at all.

Photo of Mr Anthony Crosland Mr Anthony Crosland , Grimsby

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Any high take-up figures—I find this in my constituency, too—include people already receiving a rebate because they were receiving supplementary benefit payments.

The third disaster area is that of new building. In the corresponding debate on the Queen's Speech a year ago—it is significant that in two successive years housing has figured so prominently in the debate on the Address—it was already obvious that 1972 would be the worst year for housebuilding since the Tories were last in office, and it was. It is now clear that 1973 will be worse still. I hope, incidentally, that the Minister will not use the marginal improvement in September of this year over September of last year as a basis for yet another of his optimistic statements. Last year's September figures were depressed by the builders' strike, as the Government never tired of telling us at the time as an excuse. The House-Builders Federation does not attach much importance to the marginal change in September. I note that the President of the House-Builders Federation made a speech yesterday—I will not quote it in order to save time—in which he treated September as almost a freak month.

The third quarter's figures for this year, despite last year's strike in the building industry, are almost all down on the third quarter of last year. Private starts are down 7 per cent. and private completions down 6 per cent. Public starts are down 3 per cent. and public completions, happily, are marginally up. However, total starts are 6 per cent. down and total completions are 3 per cent. down. And that is in comparison with one of the worst quarters we have had since the end of the war. We have to go back to the last time that the Tories were in office to find comparably low figures.

The Secretary of State gives the impression to this House that he always sleeps well, untroubled by doubts or nightmares. I assume that, if he does, it is because he never re-reads his past speeches, for surely he would wake up in the night with an occasional pang of conscience if he recalled himself saying, as he did at Hexham during the days of the Labour Government: Nowhere is the incompetence of the Wilson Government more starkly revealed than in the housing sphere. They promised us cheaper mortgages—and mortgages have shot up… They promised us more houses—and we have a faltering housing rate. That was said in a year when the mortgage rate was 7⅛ per cent. and house completions were 66,000 more than they were last year.

The most serious consequence of this slump in house-building seems to have escaped the Government and, I concede, some local authorities as well. While we are building fewer new houses, we are continuing to demolish the same number of existing houses. If we knock down a slum or destroy a house to make way for a motorway, we must re-house the tenant or he will add to the list of homeless. But while demolition goes on at the same rate, and while in addition the number of new households wanting a home of their own continues to grow every year, the supply of rented accommodation in particular gets worse. Public completions are now 50 per cent. lower than in the worst year of the Labour Government. Relets—this is happening all over the country—are falling off partly because of the sale of council houses, so strongly encouraged by the Government, but mainly because the fantastic price of houses, the cost of a mortgage or the non-availability of a mortgage have almost stopped any outflow from council estates into owner-occupation. So relets are down, new building is down and rented housing is simply not available, either for young couples wanting to set up home or for people whose houses have been demolished for slum clearance or to make room for a motorway.

Perhaps I may illustrate from one or two of the conurbations which are typically areas of housing stress. I give the figures for 1972–73, which are the last figures available. In South-East Lancashire, for every 100 new public sector houses erected, 186 houses were demolished; in the West Midlands for every 100 new public sector houses erected, 155 existing houses were demolished; and on Merseyside for every 100 new public sector houses erected, 146 existing houses were demolished. In other words, the housing situation is getting steadily and conspicuously worse, and, of course, the problem is exacerbated when many council houses, naturally enough—I do not criticise councils for this—are being emptied for improvement. The result is a deteriorating housing situation, lengthening waiting lists in almost every part of the country, young couples more and more forced to share with their parents, and growing homelessness.

I welcome the Government's decision, following the example of the Labour London boroughs, to make homelessness the responsibility of housing departments, but it is not a blind bit of use if the housing departments do not have any homes to put the homeless in. This deteriorating situation is not the fault of local government—in Friday's debate the Home Secretary rather implied that it was—and I say that even though I have consistently criticised local government in the past few years for demolishing too much. But the fact is that today most local authorities would like to build more, but it is no good their putting forward schemes if they cannot get the houses built, and at the moment they cannot get them built—least of all in the stress areas. Incidentally, the idea put forward in hours of debate during the Committee stage of the Housing Finance Bill, that that Act would encourage more building in the areas of greatest need, has been totally exploded by now. With every year that passes, new building becomes less attractive, because the proportion of the rising cost subsidy paid by the Exchequer goes down, while the proportion falling on the ratepayers goes up.

Why cannot authorities build today as they would wish to build? They cannot do so, first, because of the yardstick control. The yardstick has now become a sick joke in the whole of the local authority world. Average London tenders in the first three months of 1973 were 58·3 per cent. above the yardstick. I accept that the Ministry usually allows a scheme to go ahead under a special market allowance, though, as the magazine Building said earlier this year, Only the Department of the Environment knows what criteria are being used for deciding whether particular schemes should go ahead. But even if they do get the go ahead, costs have risen, so that the public gets lower quality housing at a higher cost and, more important, we have continuous delays in building crucial housing.

I should like to give one example. Haringey Borough Council was turned down 18 months ago on a scheme for 219 units costing £1·2 million. It now expects to get approval for a less good scheme, for the same number of houses oil the same site, at a cost of £2·1 million.

But, of course, the other problem, apart from the yardstick, is the reluctance of builders to tender at all in many parts of the country. They are reluctant, because they can make far more profits with their scarce building resources on other forms of building—and I shall revert to that in a moment.

The fourth housing disaster area is the state of the building industry, and, unless we tackle this, all our hopes for better housing will come to nothing. The cancer that is threatening to destroy this industry is, of course, "the lump" and everybody knows it. It already involves one-quarter of our work force, and the situation has deteriorated with frightening rapidity. There is an air of unreality in the whole approach of the Minister for Housing and Construction to "the lump". When my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) introduced his Bill on this subject, the Minister suggested that the tax exemption certificate system was working all right and there was not too much to worry about. But anybody talking to people with knowledge of the industry—for the moment, I am speaking only of London—can be told the name of any number of London pubs to go to, and be offered a choice of either a forged or a second-hand tax exemption certificate, each of them costing about £150 but a very good buy under the present system. The fact is that voluntary agreements will not settle this problem. At the end of the day, only legislation will do that.

Photo of Mr Arthur Jones Mr Arthur Jones , Northamptonshire South

Will the right hon. Gentleman agree with me that the introduction of SET had a great deal to do with the development of "the lump" in the building industry?

Photo of Mr Anthony Crosland Mr Anthony Crosland , Grimsby

No.

At a time of crisis in the building industry, why are the Government not doing more to encourage local authority direct labour departments? There is no "lump", there are proper industrial relations, decent pension and sick pay provisions, they actually train apprentices—50 per cent. of all the apprentices being trained at the moment are being trained in direct labour departments—and they can build cheaper. One would think that any Government faced with a house-building crisis would want to exploit these advantages to the hilt, and would urge direct labour departments to build and build and build again; but not this Government. Even after all the U-turns, they are still doctrinaire and are ideologically committed against municipal enterprise. So we had earlier this year the notorious Circular 16/73, decreeing that local authorities wishing to build for sale could do so but could not use their own direct labour departments. It is a deplorable circular in terms of interference in local government autonomy, in terms of restricting competition, in terms of dashing hopes—in famous cases such as, for example, the Sunderland one—of cheaper houses, all in the interests of doctrinaire ideology. One of the first actions of a Labour Government will be to withdraw that circular.

The fifth disaster area is the privately rented sector, which, again, we have debated again and again in this House. Every now and again, when the lid is lifted off, we can all see, not only the London Members, the jungle warfare that is going on—and "jungle warfare" is the only phrase for it—with the winklers and the harassment and the deliberate neglect of repairs. All of my hon. Friends who represent inner London constituencies can tell horrifying stories of what goes on. If anything, the situation is getting worse, not better. The recent Shelter report on furnished tenants showed—I dare say to the surprise of no one who is familiar with London's housing—that more and more of the landlords are now property companies, that they are making ever-increasing attempts to evict, that once they succeed in evicting they convert the property with the aid of an improvement grant for sale for owner-occupation, so that desperately needed rented accommodation disappears.

The irony is that over one-quarter of the tenants studied in the Shelter report were London Transport employees, teachers, local authority employees, hotel workers and the rest—exactly the groups whose shortage in London was being so desperately bemoaned in Friday's debate. We must, and at once, provide security of tenure for furnished tenants. The Government simply cannot go on arguing that this would dry up the supply of rented housing. The supply of rented housing is already drying up, as landlords cash in on the inflation in house prices.

But, in the longer run, there is surely by now a growing consensus that the problem of the private rented sector can be tackled only by taking large parts of it into responsible public management.

But, typically, the Minister has again set his face against this. Camden, wanting a compulsory purchase order to rescue Lissenden Mansions from Messrs. Chalk and Gwynne-Jones, was turned down. Fortunately, it bought by agreement in that case. But the Government are now moving, as I understand the position, to cut off that escape route as well. I do not know how generally realised this is. They are proposing to make the acquisition of miscellaneous properties subject to the key sector loan sanction provisions. So any local authority wanting to buy—I am not talking of a local authority wanting a compulsory purchase order—will also need ministerial approval. At best this will mean delay, and by the time the delay is over somebody else will have bought the property; at worst it enables the Government to bring the whole process of public acquisition to a halt. I implore the Secretary of State, for the sake of the wretched private tenants, to announce today a more sympathetic policy.

I come now to the last disaster area. All this is taking place against a back-ground of squalid speculation in land and property which daily contradicts all the Government's endless protestations about the fairness of their counter-inflation policy. Soaring land prices—they are up yet again in 1973. It seems incredible. The Estates Gazette reports that an acre which cost £25,500 in 1972 would fetch £28,000 to £31,000 today. Property speculation continues as merrily as ever it did.

I want to say something about offices. Unless we make building offices less profitable and building houses more profitable, we shall never solve the housing problem. Nor will we ever solve the problems of inflation and of a fair distribution of wealth. I thought for a time, as many did, that the Government had seen this problem. They promised us a long-term policy on office rents in phase 3. Now we know what the policy is. It is to phase out controls altogether by May 1975. A grateful Estates Gazette of 13th October reacted to the news by saying: the Government's proposals are unexpectedly favourable to the property market. Property shares put on a marked celebratory spurt.

What will be the effects of this sellout to the property developers? Rents of offices, shops, cinemas and restaurants will rise, and, of course, prices will rise with them. Profits from property investment will reach still more fantastic levels. Local authorities will find it still harder to compete for the services of an overheated construction industry. Indeed, the Government themselves have announced a slow-down on hospitals and schools, while office building can go merrily ahead. What a sense of priorities!

I want the property world to understand that a Labour Government would not be so accommodating, and when we are returned we shall ensure that property investment does not remain the Eldorado of the investment world. First we shall consider, as an interim measure, the reimposition of a freeze on office rents. Secondly, we shall make sure that when a local authority gives planning permission for commercial redevelopment it gets more than the odd titbit of open space, or a few council houses, or a car park or a bit of road widening. These are trivial gains in relation to the value of town centre redevelopments. They are gains, moreover, which are heavily restricted by DoE circulars. Local authorities must participate always in the equity, as in occasional cases they can now, and so get a proper share of the capital profits.

Thirdly, we shall give local authorities, and nationalised industries, positive encouragement to undertake developments themselves if they cannot get a fair deal out of the private developers. In this way they will be able to ensure that the bulk of the profits from development are returned to the community and are used for community purposes. This policy will be underpinned by the public ownership of all land needed for development or re-development.

Fourthly, we shall end the present scandalous situation in which the property industry pays virtually no tax on the wealth it creates. The Prime Minister entirely fails to understand this point. I do not know why the Minister for Housing and Construction cannot brief him rather better. He is reported as saying in the phase 3 Press conference, in reply to a question about the astronomical profits being made by property companies, that: 'they were already heavily taxed. I think the best comment I can make on that is to quote from the same article by two very well-known amateurs, and, indeed, professional, property developers, Booker and Gray, who tried to get the Tolmer development in Camden recently. They said that the Prime Minister's comment betrays a complete misconception of the nature of property development, which unlike any other form of commercial enterprise, makes its money not by selling, but by holding on to its products. As a result, the amount of tax paid by property companies in relation to the scale of their operations is almost non-existent in comparison with any other form of commercial activity. They gave a well-known example. Indeed, this company is up to some funny tricks reported in to-day's papers: In the last seven years, for example, Land Securities, the biggest property company in the world, made by way of capital appreciation and rent more than £500 million.… On the whole of this, Land Securities have paid tax of less than £15 million (or three per cent.). We believe that the community is entitled to its proper share of those values. We shall therefore insist that property companies carry out a regular revaluation of the properties which they own, and we shall impose a heavy annual tax on the increase in property values. If the business of a property company is to create capital profits, those profits should be taxed and by reducing the amount of money poured into commercial property we shall increase the amount of resources and money available for housing.

Housing is our priority. The Government's housing record speaks for itself. It speaks of endless promises, of optimistic forecasts, of streams of Press releases, of sound and fury—but of actual progress, almost none. The record is one of soaring house prices and rents, a falling building programme, chaos in the private rented sector, growing homelessness, all combined with continued huge profits in land and commercial building. I did not expect much of the Tory Government when they came in, but even I never thought that they could worsen the country's housing situation so quickly and so dramatically.

I say to the Secretary of State: above all, be a Minister. Act like a Minister. Realise that the country needs a housing policy which is both coherent and expansionist, rather than fragmented and restrictionist. If you cannot do this, resign and let us have a Government who can.

Those words were addressed by the Secretary of State to the Labour Government when he led for the Tory Opposition on these matters. In the light of his own record, let him now practise what he then preached.

4.18 p.m.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rippon Mr Geoffrey Rippon , Hexham

I was not wholly surprised when the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) said that when he left office he did not appreciate how anybody could worsen his record. He went on to say that no progress had since been made. I will deal as faithfully as I can in due course with the record. Although I have said repeatedly that the Government's record is good, I hope that neither in this speech nor in previous speeches have I been in any way complacent about the fundamental and continuous human need that housing represents.

I often think that the right hon. Member for Grimsby is never very happy in these housing debates, not only because he remembers his own record when he himself had to face difficulties but because, although he says we should not have recourse to doctrinaire policies, he ended his speech with a long list of doctrinaire supposed solutions which had nothing to do with the realities of the housing situation which we face.

The right hon. Gentleman had nothing very constructive to say except to drag out the old argument which we have had for 18 or 20 years about the respective merits or demerits of direct labour. We on this side of the House have always felt that direct labour should be used basically for repairs and maintenance. Nobody has any objection to that.

It is no good the right hon. Gentleman thinking that he offers any hope to young or old people or anybody else by trotting out stale, old, ideological Socialist claptrap about nationalisation of all the land suddenly making it cheaper and more available, about some swingeing new taxation encouraging further development, about local authorities developing land, about municipalisation, and about freezing office rents.

There was a time when the right hon. Gentleman and hon. Gentlemen opposite used to talk about improved working conditions. To say that no office building should take place is absurd. All of us try to get a reasonable balance between various parts of the construction programme, whether road, engineering or building construction; there must be a proper balance between the private and public sectors in housing and all the other requirements of a modern society.

When the right hon. Gentleman attacked the Government's housing record he failed to make a proper comparison between what has been achieved under this Government and what was achieved under the last Labour Government—what I so rightly criticised when I was responsible in Opposition for commenting upon his administration's policies.

Naturally, the right hon. Gentleman did not refer to the decline in new house building from 1967 onwards over which his Government presided. In the last year of the Labour administration to June 1970, the year when the right hon. Gentleman was himself responsible for housing, there were 319,000 housing starts. The average for the following three years of the present administration was 345,000 housing starts. I will not make a comparison between one month and another. I know well how unrealistic that would be. But for the first nine months of this year the starts were 260,000—not so very far out of line, although manifestly we should like a higher rate. The number of houses under construction in September was 464,000—206,800 in the public sector and 258,000 in the private sector. Bearing in mind that over the country as a whole the demand for council housing is falling, and was falling under the Labour Government, and that the demand for home ownership has been rising, that, I would suggest, is not an unfair balance between the public and private sectors.

I am depressed when I hear the hon. Gentlemen opposite talking of council house building as the solution for all our housing problems, because that is not in accord with the facts. Under the Labour Government starts in the public sector fell by 28 per cent. from 1967 to 1970, partly because the needs had changed, and hon. Gentlemen opposite ought to recognise that. The point about the public sector housing programme is that it consists in the main of the programmes of the individual authorities. It is not the Government's programme but the sum of the total programmes of the local authorities.

Of course I appreciate that many local authorities have been experiencing considerable difficulties with their housing schemes, partly because the building industry is heavily overloaded and partly because of the difficulties of tendering. That is why we abandoned the rigid yardstick system, which the Labour Government introduced, and replaced it by the more flexible and, I think, more sensible system of having regard to market forces.

Photo of Mr Don Concannon Mr Don Concannon , Mansfield

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has made some remarkable statements. I should like to know where he lives and what people he meets. Most hon. Members hold clinics regularly. I can tell him that on Saturday morning my clinic was full of people complaining of nothing but housing problems, people who are demented and come in crying and sobbing all over the place about housing. How can the Minister make statements like that? Where does he go at weekends?

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rippon Mr Geoffrey Rippon , Hexham

I think that the hon. Gentleman was not listening to what I said. I agree entirely with him: housing is, and in successive administrations has been, a continuing human need. It is no good the right hon. Member for Grimsby saying how much better the Labour Government's record was than that of the Conservative Government, and how much worse the present figures are. I gave the figures. I then went on to say that it must be right to try to strike a balance between the public and private sector, between the needs of one part of the country and another. That is one of the reasons why we have said that each local authority must determine its own programme in accordance with its own needs. To meet the needs of the hon. Gentleman's constituents is the responsibility of his local authority.

I have to accept that they have had great difficulties because of the burdens on the construction industry which is why we have been reallocating the priorities, and because of the difficulties of the yardstick system which the Labour Government introduced, which is why we have made it more flexible. There are still problems, no doubt, but they are practical problems which we must face in a practical way and not suggest that a municipalisation, taxation or land nationalisation programme will make the difficulties disappear.

In spite of the difficulties of tendering, local authorities in England and Wales were able to accept tenders for 16 per cent. more dwellings in the first nine months of 1973 than in the same period the year before. It may be said that the increase should be higher than 16 per cent. I accept that, but the movement is in the right direction.

We should not consider new house building alone. It is the totality of housing performance that matters. In the last three years of the Labour administration, to June 1970, there were 1,096,000 housing starts and 392,000 improvement grants approved—a total of 1,488,000 new or better homes provided, which is, after all, the aim of us all. In the following three years, to June 1973, the total was 1,953,000—nearly 2 million—in other words, another half million new or better homes. It may be said that the record should have been better, but it is still a distinct improvement on the Labour Government's record.

The right hon. Gentleman says, quite fairly, that there is another factor to be taken into account, and that is how far a programme of demolitions reduces the total stock. He picked up the point made last Thursday by the hon. Member for Hitchin (Mrs. Shirley Williams). Some of the figures that she gave were not entirely correct. Her point, and that of her right hon. Friend today, I understand, is that more houses had been cleared in all the five major conurbations outside London than had been built in the year ending June 1973—that there had been a net decline of 14,000 houses in the ownership of councils in those conurbations in that year.

In fact, I am told that, taking into account all the houses completed in the public and private sectors in those conurbations, there was a gain of 6,000 in the total stock and that, if London is included, there was a gain of 24,000. But what is important is that an improvement took place in the total housing stock in all those areas. At the same time, in the advice that my hon. Friend and I have given to local authorities, we have stressed that houses should not be demolished to make way for new houses if, by sensible improvement grants, the existing stock can be maintained.

Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman , Manchester Ardwick

I acknowledge that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has a great interest in housing improvements as a way of solving the housing problem. Will he tell us what he will do to implement his White Paper on house improvements which was issued earlier this year, since the Queen's Speech does not say whether there will be legislation this Session?

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rippon Mr Geoffrey Rippon , Hexham

I am glad to tell the hon. Gentleman that there will be a Bill this Session and that we shall bring it forward as soon as we can.

In so far as our aim is the provision of a decent home for everyone, the improvement grant must continue to play an important part. Although, in the White Paper, we say that it is important to ensure that it does not go to second homes—

Photo of Mr Charles Loughlin Mr Charles Loughlin , Gloucestershire West

The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows where it is going—to speculators.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rippon Mr Geoffrey Rippon , Hexham

I happen to agree with the hon. Gentleman. The White Paper, which he might find it worth while to read, says that we shall stop the giving of improvement grants on second homes. So far as it is in the discretion of the local authorities—many of whom, I believe, are now Socialist-controlled—I have said that I do not think that they should give an improvement grant in those circumstances. I have also said that I will lower the rateable value limits so that grants go to those who really need them and not those who can afford to pay the cost themselves. What is more, we have said that we do not think that local authorities should give grants where they think that there will be a big speculative element.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rippon Mr Geoffrey Rippon , Hexham

No, I will not give way—[Interruption.] On the contrary, I have agreed with the hon. Gentleman—

Photo of Mr Charles Loughlin Mr Charles Loughlin , Gloucestershire West

You directed your remarks at me.

Photo of Mr Oscar Murton Mr Oscar Murton , Poole

Order. That remark was directed at the Chair and was not very well received.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rippon Mr Geoffrey Rippon , Hexham

I am not being discourteous to the hon. Gentleman. All that I am trying to say to him and to the House is that we recognise that there are problems about this, and we are setting about trying to deal with them. We have not brought forward the Bill yet, but local authorities already have a wide discretion in what they can do.

Last year, no fewer than 368,000 improvement grants were approved—little short of three times the number being approved in the late 1960s. In the first nine months of this year, 342,000 more have been approved, an increase of 30 per cent. on the number approved in the same period last year. That is an increase in the number of decent homes available throughout the whole community.

I believe—here I agree with the right hon. Member for Grimsby and the hon. Member for Hitchin—that, time and time again, that is a better solution than widespread clearance and demolition. That is why the whole purpose of our White Papers is to provide a more humane, sympathetic and flexible approach than we inherited from a Labour Government bound by doctrinaire considerations.

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

Could the right hon. and learned Gentleman clear up a very important point for people in stress areas? The grant of 75 per cent. will end in June of next year, I think, and a grant of 50 per cent. will take its place. I have written to his hon. Friend about this. He wrote back and said that the matter was being looked at and that there was a possibility of an increase on 50 per cent. but that nothing had been definitely agreed. Could the Secretary of State explain whether the Government have made up their minds on this, whether we can hope for a continuation of the 75 per cent. grant or at least something like it? This is a matter of the greatest importance to areas of great housing stress, such as Merseyside and the other great conurbations.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rippon Mr Geoffrey Rippon , Hexham

As I said, I think that the housing improvement scheme has been a great success. Given that the Labour Government left behind a building industry in which employment was declining, which was very serious in, say, the North of England, it helped to give a new impetus to the provision of decent homes. On the other hand, it is fair to say, as I was saying just now, that it has been somewhat too indiscriminate and that therefore it is right to determine priorities in improvement grants.

I have made a general suggestion and we shall also make a specific arrangement which will deal with the housing stress areas—although I will not say anything about the precise percentages. However, I think that the high percentage is required in the areas of greatest need. We shall be able to discuss this when the detailed proposals are put forward.

What the whole House is agreed about is that we must increasingly look after our stock of older, sounder houses—

Photo of Mr Frank Allaun Mr Frank Allaun , Salford East

On a point of order. The Secretary of State said, in reply to my hon. Friend, that he is considering this matter. I have a letter from him turning this proposal down, in reply to a request from myself and four other Members.

Photo of Mr Oscar Murton Mr Oscar Murton , Poole

That is not a matter for the Chair.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rippon Mr Geoffrey Rippon , Hexham

The housing action areas will have the 75 per cent. It is necessary to reflect the priorities. Over the country as a whole, we shall have to revert to the normal rate of grant. Given only a limited number of resources, we must use them where the need is greatest. I accept that many of the criticisms made of the indiscriminate use of improvement grants are perhaps justified, although I think that we were right at the time, because of the need to pick up the slack in the building industry which we inherited.

Photo of Mrs Barbara Castle Mrs Barbara Castle , Blackburn

When shall we have information about the housing action areas? As my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) said, we have had a final rejection of the continuation of the 75 per cent. grant, not indiscriminately applied in a constituency such as mine but applied as an absolute lifeline in a housing stress area. Doubt is hanging over us. The definition of the housing action areas in the White Paper will be of no use to my constituency, so our people are left in this no man's land of doubt. They have a right to know soon what will happen to the rate of grant.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rippon Mr Geoffrey Rippon , Hexham

The right hon. Lady is absolutely right. I have made the position clear. Although the general grant of 75 per cent. will end, we recognise that in housing action areas there are high priorities, and local authorities are already defining them. That is clear enough. The details must be discussed in the Bill. All that we can set out in the White Paper is the Government's proposals, which we have made perfectly clear. The Bill will be introduced as quickly as possible.

Meanwhile, local authorities have been encouraged, and are making plans, to deal with the situation in the way we have suggested. They have not complained about the principle behind the policy, which is that we concentrate the resources of the country to the maximum extent in the areas of greatest need, the stress areas in the city centres. [Interruption.] If the right hon. Lady wishes to criticise that principle of policy, she can take it up with her own local authority, or she can deal with the matter when the Bill is introduced.

Photo of Mr Anthony Crosland Mr Anthony Crosland , Grimsby

The Opposition are genuinely trying to clear up a difficulty. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is confusing two separate questions—the definition of housing action areas, in the centre of London and elsewhere, and the question of the higher rates of improvement grant in, for example, the intermediate areas. The second point is that which has been raised by my right hon. and hon. Friends. The 75 per cent. improvement grant in those areas is due to end next June. That is greatly worrying local authorities in those areas, because they have not been able to complete their improvement grant policy because of the shortage of building labour. We are not concerned with the definition of action areas, which will be different, but with the higher rate of grant in the intermediate and development areas.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rippon Mr Geoffrey Rippon , Hexham

Everyone has known for a long time the date when that scheme was to end. In the future, the test will be whether an area is an action area or a general improvement area, no matter whether it is in an intermediate area or elsewhere; we shall concentrate the new improvement grant where it is needed.

We are moving towards the next stage of the policy and will introduce arrangements which will bring even higher rates of grant in those areas of stress where housing problems are increasingly concentrated.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rippon Mr Geoffrey Rippon , Hexham

Hon. Members have opportunities to make their own speeches.

I have tried to indicate ways in which the Government are seeking to assist in the areas of greatest stress, as the Opposition have urged time and again that we should do.

Photo of Mr Alex Lyon Mr Alex Lyon , City of York

What about the personal injustices?

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rippon Mr Geoffrey Rippon , Hexham

We are dealing with the problem of the speculators who use the improvement grants, the question of the second home, and the higher rateable values.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned another cause of anxiety, winkling and harassment. In a circular issued earlier this year we urged local authorities to take action to stamp out harassment. They have the powers. The maximum penalties have been greatly increased under Section 30 of the Criminal Justice Act 1972. Now an offender is liable, on conviction on indictment, to an unlimited fine, or imprisonment not exceeding two years, or both. It is now up to local authorities to ensure that the powers which have been given are exercised. We are concerned that these abuses should end.

Another problem which is raised from time to time is some tenants' difficulty in discovering the identity of their landlord. Concern has been expressed about that by hon. Members on both sides. In all tenancies in which rent is payable weekly the landlord's name and address must appear in the rent book. It is an offence not to provide a rent book containing the information.

It is pointed out that that does not go far enough, and perhaps this is so. We therefore propose to include in legislation, which will be introduced as soon as possible, a provision which will give residential tenants the right to know who their landlord is. I hope that that will help to deal with some of the abuses to which reference has been made.

But we must understand that we cannot lay down a simple national standard that can be met uniformly over the country as a whole. We now have a complex of very differing housing problems in different areas. As Mr. Cullingworth said in the RIBA Journal this month: It is nonsense to think any longer in terms of national problems and policies. The objective of national legislation ought to be to provide the framework within which different areas can solve their different housing problems in different ways. It is not just a question of decanting the overspill from the conurbations. We must look at the problem in human terms.

Mr. Cullingworth then put an interesting series of questions: Would Britain really have had the human filing cabinets of the big cities, the housing deserts of the peripheral estates, the social disaster of massive clearance programmes, or the social polarisation of the conurbations, if regional and local programmes had been introduced and developed within a broad and flexible system that channelled resources to areas which needed them and could use them in ways which met their problems? The Government's purpose is to achieve a housing policy that is much more flexible, human and sensitive.

Perhaps Mr. Cullingworth was a little unfair to successive Governments, who have tried their best to deal with the problems. We intend, as we have already indicated in the two White Papers, to redirect the priorities within the housing programme.

The right hon. Gentleman said a great deal about rents. Although the Opposition do not like it, we have provided through the Housing Finance Act for the first time a comprehensive means of helping people who most need help with their rent, irrespective of whether they are council or private tenants. It may be difficult to define the concept of fair rents, about which one can make many technical points. But what is wrong with the concept of fair rents, with the concept that those who can afford to pay a fair rent should pay it? That is the question the Opposition will not face up to.

The right hon. Gentleman attacks the rent scrutiny boards, and asks whether they are taking proper account of inflation. They have the right and the duty to make a detailed independent assessement, taking account of the circumstances of their area. They have to try to do that in a field in which, we must admit, there is no absolute, scientific standard. But the principle of fair rents must be right, and it is time the Opposition acknowledged it.

It is also time the Opposition acknowledged that we have recently considerably improved the rent rebate and allowance scheme, as a result of which many tenants will pay less rent, not more, from 1st October. That is something the Opposition tend not to tell them, although if they really wanted to look after the interests of council tenants in their areas and to help the people who come to their surgeries they would point out their entitlement to a lower rent.

It is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman to say that the take-up is too low. One of the reasons is that Socialist authorities will not tell tenants what their rights are. In so far as they do tell them, and use all the propaganda methods they can, they might bear in mind that we shall also be introducing a new rate rebate scheme very shortly, which will bring into the rate rebate about 3 million people instead of the present 800,000. Those two factors can be considered together. The combination of the rent rebate and the rate rebate will mean that the lower paid, about whom the Opposition always claim to be concerned, will be paying much less under the new system than they ever paid under Labour's system. There are many examples.

Photo of Mr Reginald Freeson Mr Reginald Freeson , Willesden East

The Secretary of State said that Socialist authorities throughout the country were not giving information to tenants entitled to rebates. Will he give us evidence of that or withdraw his scandalous allegation?

What is the rate of take-up of private rent allowances, not rent rebates, in the private sector? I have it on good authority that of 900,000 private tenants in London only 33,000 are receiving rent allowances this year.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rippon Mr Geoffrey Rippon , Hexham

The hon. Gentleman and his colleagues will have an opportunity to make their speeches. If I was unfair to local authorities, I certainly withdraw the remark.

I am not being unfair to Labour Members, who are not going out of their way to explain that many hundreds of thousands of people—[Interruption.]—One Labour Member appears to be saying that he is writing letters every week telling people that under Conservative legislation they are entitled to rent rebates of an order they have never had in their lives. That is the truth. It is a very good deal for the lower paid.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rippon Mr Geoffrey Rippon , Hexham

I cannot give way any more. The right hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to reply in due course.

Photo of Captain Walter Elliot Captain Walter Elliot , Carshalton

Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way to me?

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rippon Mr Geoffrey Rippon , Hexham

I should not give way any more.

I have tried as fairly as I can to say what we are trying to do, over the whole range of housing, to help people in real need to meet their special housing problems.

We are also trying to strengthen as best we can the range and choice of rented accommodation, by expanding the voluntary housing movement. We hope that the strengthened powers we shall give the Housing Corporation and the housing associations will go some way to meet the gap that undoubtedly exists between those who already own their houses, those in council accommodation and people living in unsatisfactory sub-standard accommodation, mostly in the inner areas of our cities, who are the great problem. If the Housing Corporation and the housing associations can mitigate that prob- lem, I hope that their work will receive the support of the Opposition. It is no answer simply to municipalise all rented accommodation.

The problem is of particular concern in London. The Leader of the Opposition spoke earlier in the debate about the difficulty of finding housing in London, and the effect on various essential public services. I have therefore invited the co-operation of the Chairmen of British Rail, London Transport and other bodies to consider, in conjunction with the Chairman of the Housing Corporation, ways in which redundant or under-utilised land they own in the capital can be used to the advantage of their employees and the wider interests of London housing.

There is also a problem not just of under-utilised nationalised land but of under-utilised houses. If we are to provide more rented accommodation for those who need and want it, especially single people and young married couples, we should be encouraging those with spare rooms to make them available. Although there is some fine print in their policy statements, the Opposition's threat to municipalise all rented accommodation has frightened many people who would make accommodation available. The Opposition say that their threat will not apply to people who are just letting part of their own home. It would be helpful if the Opposition gave a solemn pledge today that they will not penalise people, who make available rooms in under-occupied houses, possibly for fixed periods, by introducing legislation which would pre-judge the situation.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rippon Mr Geoffrey Rippon , Hexham

I know that the hon. Member for Willesden, East thinks that that is silly. However, it is said in the fine print. I have read it and I have referred to it. I give the Opposition credit for that. I know that it is true that many people who have accommodation to let are afraid to do so because of Socialist threats against the landlord. That is a fact. If the Opposition want to help people who need housing accommodation, they must not leave their assurance in the small print. They must make it clear that they will not prejudice people who can help.

The right hon. Member for Grimsby had a lot to say about mortgages. We have gone over the figures many times which indicate the extent to which, within the lifetime of the present Government, more mortgages have been taken up and more people have been able to take them up who are on average earnings. The figures indicate that more mortgages have been granted to first-time purchasers. Over 1 million mortgages were granted to first-time purchasers in the past three years. Only half a million mortgages were granted during the last two years of the Labour Government. Those are the facts.

Of course, we face grave difficulties when world interest rates are high. That is why the Government have announced proposals to assist the first-time mortgagor. The Government worked out those proposals in association with the Building Societies Assocation.

The right hon. Gentleman was good enough to welcome the progress which has been made, so far as it goes. He acknowledged from the outset that I accepted much of what he had to say about the stabilisation scheme. I wish that he had been able to introduce such a scheme when he was in office. He could have done so. He knows that such a scheme cannot be introduced overnight. However, progress is being made. We shall pursue progress under the agreement which we have reached with the Building Societies Association. We must accept, given high world rates of interest, that all we can do in this sector as in other sectors is to mitigate the situation.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to land. In the last two years we have heard a lot in the House about the shortage of land for house building. We are now having fewer complaints about land shortages. We must recognise that stable land prices resulting from a thoroughly adequate supply of housing land are the best possible weapons against land speculation.

The steps which we have taken and which we are taking to increase the supply of land should bear fruit in the main pressure areas—namely the South-East, and the West Midlands. Local planning authorities are now generally releasing for development sufficient land to meet the needs of house builders for the next five years. Planning permissions for private dwellings in 1972 in the South-East were about 60 per cent. higher than in 1970. We are determined that that trend should continue. We have issued new planning guide lines of a far-reaching character.

I know that there are anxieties about planning appeals and procedures. That is why I have asked Mr. George Dobry, who will be assisted by a powerful advisory group, to report. I hope that an interim report will be available in the new year and that a full report will be forthcoming within six months. The reports will deal with the ways in which we can improve our system of development control. They will advise on ways in which we might speed up the planning process without undermining the fundamentals which we wish to support.

Photo of Mrs Lena Jeger Mrs Lena Jeger , Holborn and St Pancras South

How does it help a borough in central London—for example, Camden—when the Government are conniving in a system of speculation which forces land prices up so high that when the council asks permission to build the Government then tell the council that the cost of the land has risen too high for homes to be built on it?

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rippon Mr Geoffrey Rippon , Hexham

Clearly every case must be considered on its merits. Undoubtedly there are cases, given limits on public expenditure, where local authorities are putting a lot of money into one scheme which they would be better advised to employ in other ways so as to provide housing for those who need it.

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

What are they to do? Are they to live in caravans, tents or what?

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rippon Mr Geoffrey Rippon , Hexham

We must consider the situation in the country as a whole. The Economist on 15th September said: The really big builders are now able to pick and choose sites at what now seem fairly stable prices in a way which they have not been able to do for at least two years. That is a fair statement of the improvement in the position.

We must accept that, unless we achieve much more progress, as I hope we shall, on projects such as Maplin New Town and the development of the docklands, there is a limit to the amount of housing which can be provided in the inner areas of London. I often receive representations from local authorities which say, "Will you support us in obtaining building land in the outer suburbs?" I think that that may well be necessary from time to time. The local authorities have the right to do so, and I shall consider compulsory purchase orders on their merits.

It must be accepted that we must find for each area of the country a solution to meet its own problems. In debates of this kind we range over the country as a whole. However, in so far as London is a special problem, we have indicated ways in which we are determined to help. I am glad to say that co-operation between the Department, the Greater London Council and the London boroughs is very good. Our aim is to provide decent homes for the whole nation. It is not just a question of new building but of trying to meet every form of housing need.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Rippon Mr Geoffrey Rippon , Hexham

It has been made clear in this debate that the Opposition are not concerned about the people. They are not concerned about the individual. They are concerned with creating a political situation in which they can promote their Socialist doctrines.

At the end of his speech, the right hon. Member for Grimsby put himself alongside the extremists in his party. He put forward a list of the doctrinaire measures which have come forward in the past—namely, direct labour, municipalisation, local authorities carrying out development, higher taxation and the freezing of office rents.

All those matters were put forward as the answer to the housing problem. That was his constructive policy. The Conservative approach, however, has regard for the varying housing needs. It is much more humane and sensitive in its approach. I believe that it is the right approach and I ask the House to endorse it.

4.58 p.m.

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

The right hon. and learned Gentleman made a tragic speech. I use the word "tragic" in its strict classical sense. Aristotle said that tragedy was that which aroused pity and terror. The right hon. and learned Gentleman succeeded in arousing pity amongst Opposition hon. Members and, to judge from expressions voiced from the Government benches, he aroused terror among his own supporters. That was due to the appallingly unrealistic nature of his speech.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman described how representatives of inner London had come to see him. By virtue of their persuasion he went so far as to say that there might well be a case for building in some of the outer suburbs. I suppose that that at least is progress. But does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman know that for a long time one of the desperate problems in London has been that while there has been sufficient land in the whole of Greater London to meet the housing needs of Greater London, the outer boroughs will not help to meet the needs of the inner boroughs?

When the Conservative Government were passing the London Government Act, 1963 they might at least have given that mammoth body, the GLC, the power to ensure that land on the outside is used for the needs of those in the middle. Having failed to do that, they might at least now help the inner London boroughs.

Another example of how the right hon. and learned Gentleman is out of touch with what is happening is when he spoke of the penalties under the present law for the crime of harassment. I wonder whether he has noticed that one of the special features of the crime of harassment is that a large number of people want to commit it only once, and that a small fortune can be made out of committing it only once. The courts will certainly not impose the maximum fine for a first offence, nor will they impose imprisonment for a first offence. Everyone knows that perfectly well. Indeed, I would not urge that they should impose imprisonment for a first offence. But the obvious remedy in this case is that the penalty should be the confiscation of the property in question. That is not vindictive. It is entirely relevant to the offence and is far more likely to deter people from committing that offence than the present state of the law.

This is not the first time that I have urged this in the House or that my hon. Friends have done so. But we could never get the Government to listen, because, to use the Minister's favourite word, the Government are too doctrinaire. To do this would be too objectionable to the sacred concept of private property and private landlordism. The Government had better understand that although many landlords do their job decently and honourably, there is still a depressingly large number who practise the crime of harassment, and the present law is not adequate to deal with them.

Another example of the Minister absenting himself from reality was when he talked about the declining demand for council housing. I know how one can look at the matter, and I quite well see that someone who is already moderately well housed may be in the market to get himself a larger house and that there is a demand for home ownership. But let us look at it the other way round, from the point of view of people. The Minister urged us to do that. What we ought to be asking is what kind of housing is needed to deal with the problems of those who are really worst housed. The answer to that, overwhelmingly, is a greater proportion of council house building, and the need cannot be met in any other way.

I do not know whether economists call this a demand. From what I remember of textbooks, to have a demand one has to have not only a need for something but a substantial sum of money as well. It then becomes what economists call effective demand. I agree with that in that sense. The people about whom we are talking may not have what the economists call an effective demand for housing. But they have a most bitter need, and it cannot be met by home ownership because that is beyond their reach. It cannot be met by private landlordism, which we all know is, in any case, on the way out and the only problem is how to secure it a decent burial. The only way in which the most pressing housing needs can be met is by an increased proportion of council house building, and that is exactly the opposite of the effect that the Government's policies produce.

Parts of the Minister's speech may have been quite persuasive to someone who has no idea what this country's housing problem is like. Let me put it this way. Let us suppose that three and a half years ago at the General Election someone had said that by 1973 mortgage rates would be what they are now and that the figures for housing construction would be what they are now. Such a person would have been bitterly attacked as a most untruthful anti-Tory propagandist. But we all know what has happened. There was nothing in the Minister's speech to suggest that the Government will prevent it from happening in the future.

At present, whether we build council houses or homes for owner-occupiers or, for that matter, schools, hospitals or anything else in the competing uses for land, we have to have the land on which to build. This is not really a problem of not enough land being made available by the planning authorities. The point is that even when it is made available its cost is fantastic. It gives a totally unearned benefit to certain private persons at a time when we are all talking about an incomes policy, and it adds enormously to the cost to the municipality and the nation of providing houses, schools or hospitals. That is the plain fact of this matter.

I ask right hon. and hon. Members on the Government side of the House to realise that on the question of bringing into public ownership land needed for development, it is they and not we who are being doctrinaire. By now, the case for public ownership in this instance is in a quite distinct category from the arguments about public ownership anywhere else. It is such that an intelligent Conservative would be driven to accept it.

Even a Liberal—if there were such a person in the Chamber at present—might return to the old Liberal policy of the public ownership of land—and for this reason. For many articles and commodities it is argued that if at present the price is dear, this performs a function; it calls forward more supply, and market forces work. But we know that this does not apply to land because, as a result of planning legislation, there is no such thing now as a market for land. It is a public authority, by saying for what purposes land can be used, that determines the supply of land.

I do not think that anyone suggests that we should scrap all planning legislation. Therefore, we must accept that, because of town and country planning, a local authority can, by its own act, say, "This land will be land that is built on", and the moment that it does that, up goes the price. If the local authority needs the land itself, for houses, a road, a school or a hospital, it has priced itself almost out of the market.

This is the difficulty and it is unique. It applies to no other commodity. It is an extraordinary fact that the public authority doing its public duty is obliged to hand over a large chunk of public money to the previous owner of the land in return for no conceivable service to the community. One could alter this if, as we suggest, it were open to the public authority—whether national or local is a matter for argument—to acquire land needed for development at a price reflecting its present use value. One could not say that anyone would be robbed by that. One would not be taking from a person anything that he possessed. One may be taking from him something that he hoped to possess at the expense of his fellow citizens, but nothing to which he could say that he had either a moral or a legal right.

We must also notice the breakdown of other ideas that have been canvassed in the past about how to deal with the land problem, such as the idea that the rating of site values would somehow bring in useful revenue to the public and cause the best use of land. The object of the rating of site values was to encourage the owner not to leave land idle but to put it to the use that would bring in most money. There may have been sense in that long ago, but that is incompatible with present ideas and planning legislation. We do not necessarily want an owner to put his land to the most financially profitable use for himself. We have increasingly taken out of the hands of the owner the right to decide what his land can or cannot be used for. Consequently, the rating of site values, whatever may have been said for it in the past, has no relationship to our present problems.

The other remedy, in which, quaintly enough, the Prime Minister still seems to believe, was that somehow it is all right to allow land profiteering because the Government get their whack in taxation. My right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) shot that one down quite decisively. Even if the taxation of capital gains, and so on, were more effective than it is, this would mean only that the community was getting back part of something the whole of which ought to have been the community's as of right from the start. It is also true that an attempt to deal with this problem merely by taxation of profits from sales of land does not deal with the question of bringing the land into use where it is needed.

We shall not be able to solve this problem until a public authority, with power over the nation as a whole, but probably working through local or regional authorities, has the authority to say, "Between now and the end of this century, here is the land that will be needed for public purposes. It is going to come into public ownership now at a fair estimate of its present value."

That does two useful things. It enables the community to make proper plans for the future use of that land, and it ensures that the undoubted increase in its value goes into the public purse, where it properly belongs. I would urge again that this has a close relationship to anything the Government say about incomes policy. It is quite useless to try to persuade people who actually work for their income to exercise restraint if, all the time, they are aware of the large incomes and gains that can be achieved by not working at all.

I implore the Government to remember that, after years and years, it was a Tory Government who nationalised coal-mining royalties because, in the last resort, it was realised that it was plain nonsense and against the public interest to leave them in private hands. Sooner or later, the Government will have to take such action with land needed for development. Each time they delay doing so, the solution to the housing problem is made more difficult, and more unearned wealth is put into the hands of private persons.

I should like to correct the Secretary of State on one point. The Opposition have never urged that the public ownership of land needed for development would either cause there to be more land or necessarily cause it to be cheaper. The real point is that the value of land will rise any way because this country has a growing population and a rising standard of living. Into whose pocket will that increase go?

A public authority receiving the revenue from the rising value of land can make its own judgment as to what price it will exact. If any of the land is used for commercial purposes, there is no reason why the person who so uses it should not pay a market price. If the land is to be used for social purposes, there is no reason why there should not be a favoured price for the local authority.

No one pretends that the laws of supply and demand are altered by bringing the land into public ownership. What happens is that a substantial reservoir of wealth is put into public hands. We live in a community where the public continually demands greater expenditure on public services—everything from roads to mental hospitals. The public is quite right to ask for these services to be improved, and all political parties say that they will do their best to meet the claims. That must mean greater public expenditure. If the burden of taxation being too large is frightening, the State must look for an additional source of revenue, and it is lying to hand in the increased value of land.

I shall say no more on that topic, but it is time that hon. Members opposite tried to look at this matter without their doctrinaire prejudices against public ownership. For the really old-fashioned among them, of course, it should have the attraction that it is only going back a short distance in our history to where it was assumed that land, by nature, belonged to the Crown, and if one wanted any, military service had to be endured in return for it.

My next comments have been made before but I have been unsuccessful in getting the Government to listen. They concern the price of houses as distinct from land. At present, in the market for houses, not only are there people who want to buy a home to live in, but there are those who want to buy a house in order to keep it empty for a while, selling it later when it is worth more. It is surely common sense to get such people out of the market, and to leave it free for those people who simply want to buy a home. It would not solve the whole problem but it would help. How could that be done?

If anyone buys a house and proposes to sell it during the next, say, five years, it must be offered first to the local authority at the district valuer's price, or possibly something stricter than that. That would reduce the mere buying and selling and the infamy of leaving houses empty, month after month and even year after year because in the long run it will be a profitable transaction. The Minister may be looking through his notes for his memorandum about what he thought the last time I said that. I make no apology for saying it again as it seems to make just as much sense now as it did then. It says in the Book of Proverbs that much water wears away a stone. If I continue with my assertion often enough, one day the Government will listen.

5.15 p.m.

Photo of Mr Arthur Jones Mr Arthur Jones , Northamptonshire South

I listened with considerable interest to the right hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Michael Stewart), who was a Minister in the Labour Government and who had a great deal to do with housing policy. I have listened to him on many occasions on this subject. But to talk as he does now about the future policy of a Socialist Government concerning land and to inform us that it is proposed to take into public ownership urban land required up to the end of this century begs the question of who is to decide which land will be required for urban development. There are also all those indeterminate problems of planning, town development, and so on.

If there is to be an almost complete aggregation of land into public ownership—the right hon. Gentleman referred to increased values of land—how, without a free market in land is it possible to ensure public revenue? I cannot see even the beginning of wisdom in some of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks this afternoon. I how to the right hon. Gentleman's historical knowledge, but I can hardly believe that we are going as far back as he proposed with ownership of all land by the Crown.

My remarks will be addressed to those words in the Gracious Speech which read: to improving living conditions in the worst housing areas… I know that successive Governments have addressed themselves to the problem of house building and improvement of our existing housing stock. Under both types of administration our successes have been with new house construction for owner-occupation and council accommodation.

The success of these policies can be seen everywhere. At the same time, for many reasons, nobody has yet found an adequate solution for the improvement and conversion of our housing stock. Although many endeavours have been made in the public and private sectors to expand that part of the housing programme, there has not been the success that could have been expected.

One of the early shortcomings was that initially we were thinking of grandiose schemes of clearance and redevelopment, and in many of our towns and cities there are still substantial areas of cleared land where it was hoped that new development would take place. But for a variety of reasons, some of them financial, there has not been the necessary motivation for those schemes to come to fruition. Some of the root causes lie in the lack of proper institutions to cover this work. Local authorities have tried it, the private sector has tried it, but there has been no omnibus approach to conversions and improvement.

Local authorities have been too heavily committed to the public sector, and I regret that in the main that is still the case. The housing authorities, through their local administration, could and should have done a great deal more to encourage private sector housing by making land available for private development, supporting the private sector generally by making finance available and building for sale.

This is an aspect of the present Government's policy which has disappointed me. There has been an easing in some respects recently, but, generally, there are great demands from those on housing waiting lists who would buy houses if they were made available by local authority development. I do not mean that direct labour departments should necessarily be employed. The private sector of building can be engaged perfectly well in this work and we all know examples of where it has been done.

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

Is the hon. Gentleman, by saying that there are large num- bers of people on local authority waiting lists who would buy if the local authority were to build, propagating the myth that large numbers of local authority tenants have incomes of £150 a week, a figure bandied about by some of his hon. Friends? Are these the people he has in mind?

Photo of Mr Arthur Jones Mr Arthur Jones , Northamptonshire South

I know from experience that houses built for sale in recent months have been readily taken up by people on housing waiting lists.

Photo of Mr Arthur Jones Mr Arthur Jones , Northamptonshire South

I am not suggesting that this applies throughout the country as a whole, but I know examples where this is the case.

We should be seeking intermediate arrangements between the public and private sectors in housing. We should be looking for new institutions by which we can ensure improved housing conditions on a broad front. I therefore welcome the linking together of the Housing Corporation and the National Building Agency under Lord Goodman, and I note the partnership proposed between the Housing Corporation and the Greater London Council, involving an initial offer of funding for approximately £5 million.

That will further Government policies in London, enabling progress to be made in general improvement areas and in the housing action areas, about which so much comment has been made this afternoon. It will extend the responsibility of local housing authorities which will be involved in responsibilities now with the Home Office and to which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary referred during the debate on the Loyal Address on Thursday last.

My right hon. Friend told the House of a special unit that he had set up—the urban deprivation unit—emphasising the all-systems approach which was necessary if an adequate partnership were to be effected between central and local government and the many voluntary bodies engaged in dealing with urban deprivation and the problems which arise in physical and personal terms.

I fail to see the principle that lies behind the movement of these responsibilities from the Department of the Environment to the Home Office. All avenues of inquiry as to the circumstances of people within the community and the effective use of remedial measures lie with the local authorities or the voluntary bodies upon which we rely so much in this work. There is no practical assistance that the Home Office can bring.

Conservative and Socialist administrations have endeavoured to deal with the great urban problems lying in the centres of our great cities, which in many cases have been allowed to fall into serious decay. An essential part of our housing policy should have been directed in the past, and must in the future be directed, towards the rehabilitation of those areas. When I was a member of the Select Committee on Race Relations and Immigration, we saw some of the deprived areas in various cities up and down the country, great areas of dereliction and clearance, where no measures appeared to have made any progress. Surely it is towards this problem that a substantial proportion of our effort should be directed.

Local authorities have, in the main, found it easier to take land on the perimeter of towns and cities, supply roads and services, and build new estates. In planning terms, it is easier to acquire land for the professional planners and architects. But that is not the direction in which we should be making our efforts. Adequate housing is the foundation of a soundly based society but we have yet to see in city centres a yielding to 25 years of endeavour.

Is it proposed that Lord Goodman, the Housing Corporation and the National Building Agency shall address themselves to this aspect of the problem? Many of us have supported housing agencies and societies. Are we here looking for greater aggregations of potential and effectiveness from the housing societies and associations, which have been so badly fragmented hitherto? Ought we not to consider other institutions?

We see the tremendous successes of the new town development corporations, for both new and expanded towns. Two examples are Milton Keynes under the guidance of Lord Campbell of Eskan, and the expansion of Northampton under Sir William Hart. For a specific pur- pose the capabilities of these organisations are far beyond those found in the general housing domain. They have defined objectives, a time scale in which to achieve the work, professional enthusiasts with ambition drawn from outside central and local government, and a multi-discipline staff with a unity of purpose over a short period of time.

I wonder whether this type of institution could be used for substantial city centre rehabilitation. With the co-operation and support of the new and more powerful local authorities, which have great commitments in housing, it ought to be possible to engage professional and organisational capacities to deal with the problem and to bring power and purposefulness which clearly are essential if progress is to be made. I hope that the Government will show themselves willing to consider new institutions of this character, which could play a valuable part.

5.29 p.m.

Photo of Mr Arthur Blenkinsop Mr Arthur Blenkinsop , South Shields

We all know that the hon. Member for Northants, South (Mr. Arthur Jones) has a wide experience of local government work, but I find it a little surprising that he has not extended his comments into the other area of land and land ownership about which he knows something as well. I find it not surprising that he and other Government supporters should reject proposals for the public ownership of land. I only regret that the proposal is coming so late in our history and that so much time has been allowed to elapse before carrying it out.

The Secretary of State's apparent belief that the proposal for the public ownership of development land is some sort of narrow party political proposal is very wide of the mark today because proposals of this kind are being put forward by a wide variety of well-established bodies whose view and expertise in the area of planning is well known. The Town and Country Planning Association and other bodies have urged proposals of this sort for some time.

What worried me about the Secretary of State's speech was not only the appallingly unhopeful approach that he made to our problems, but that he appeared to be utterly out of touch with the issues that concern us today. It is quite extraordinary that he could make a statement of that sort about land ownership at this time.

Photo of Mr James Allason Mr James Allason , Hemel Hempstead

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the Town and Country Planning Association's recent statement on land assembly suggested that it was in favour of land nationalisation?

Photo of Mr Arthur Blenkinsop Mr Arthur Blenkinsop , South Shields

It was in favour of proposals—this has been widely publicised—for a revolving fund over a 10-year period for public land acquisition and land holding, precisely along the lines that we are discussing today. That is significant and I mention it as an indication of the wide range of opinion with similar points of view, and also the danger of having a Secretary of State who seems to be so wildly out of touch with opinion in the country.

Furthermore, the right hon. and learned Gentleman's remarks about the need for council house building were also wide of the mark. There are, of course, areas where council house building may not be so urgent as in others, but in constituencies such as my own one is faced continuously with the inescapable problem of the immediate need for council house building and also with the effect of previous Conservative local authorities in the places of power in local government.

This has meant both that council houses have been sold against our will and that large sections of land which had been held by the local authority for council house building have been disposed of for private building. The problem is common to all our major towns and it is worrying to find a Minister—whatever his political complexion—who seems not to recognise it.

I want to refer particularly to the finance of house building for sale because the whole operation of housing finance needs complete reinvestigation—and not only the housing finance for local government, badly damaged by the Housing Finance Act, which has taken powers out of the hands of the local authorities, but also private building for sale and the role of the building societies.

I am a vice-president of the Building Societies Association, but I have no more financial interest than anyone else who has bought a house over a period of years through a building society. Interestingly enough, and fortunately for me and others, when I bought my home a Labour Government were in office, and interest rates were phenomenally low. It was a subject of bitter attack on Hugh Dalton, the Minister at the time, that interest rates were so low, but many people gained great advantage from it. If anyone had then said that we should have to face a position with interest rates running at present levels, we would have thought him quite mad. The Government had to accept the responsibility for physical controls to back up their policy at a time of extreme scarcity, and furthermore had to ensure that the great social needs and priorities were carried through by effective, physical Government controls.

That brought a great deal of criticism, but it was right, and it meant that we gave priority to council house building, and the low rates of interest which we managed to protect during those years unquestionably benefited a large number of people.

I mention this only because today the Conservative Government refuse to accept the responsibility which must be theirs and wish to pass on the buck, or criticism, to a host of different bodies; on the one hand on to the building societies, saying that they have to accept responsibility for the present situation or, on the other hand, and when it suits them, on to local authorities. Yet when local authorities want to exert their responsibility and carry out sensible housing policies they are denied the opportunity to do so, and it is not the local authority which determines what rents shall be; that decision is taken out of its hands. Yet it is the most obvious, direct issue, and one which should be the local authority's responsibility.

The Government have taken the tragic line of trying to escape responsibility for the present high cost of money facing us and building societies. I agree with some of the criticisms levelled at building societies for their actions. I do not pretend to speak for them. But they have been at the receiving end of a number of Government policies which have put them in the tragic position of having difficulty in raising funds that they require, and of not being able to lend at rates within the income capability of large numbers of ordinary people. That responsibility rests with the Government and not with building societies.

Now we are told that everything will be different and that at long last there have been discussions with building societies. My right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby urged ideas on stabilisation funds, which at the time were regarded by the Government as foolish and unlikely to be of value. However, the Government now tell us that they have discussed this possibility for some time. Agreements have been reached and the Government have an understanding on some of the points being dealt with in these agreements with the building societies. We are told that they have agreed certain objectives. They work for the objective no doubt to encourage owner-occupation. We can all say "Amen" to that, but what kind of contribution to owner-occupation on any wide scale can conceivably come from the actions of this Government that have largely been responsible for forcing house purchase out of the range of the great bulk of ordinary people and made it infinitely more difficult for others?

We are told that the Government's objective is to achieve a high and stable level of house building for sale, but again the aim is being wrecked by their own actions. Nothing is more uncertain than the level of house building, whether for sale or to rent. We are told that it is an objective to secure some stabilisation of house prices. The Housing Finance Bill has added its further contribution towards unsettling house prices. It has attempted to force a new group of people out of local authority housing at the very moment when it was difficult to provide houses for sale for the existing demand and has encouraged an upward movement in prices.

All the time speculation has been encouraged in every area, in land and in houses. My right hon. Friend gave evidence some time ago, when he spoke in the Chamber, that the amount of housing which has been passing for resale without the intention of occupation has been considerable. This has been the way in which those with money can afford to make money talk.

The whole objectives set out in the discussions with the building societies are being denied any hope of realisation by the broad line of policy of this Government. We must accept a broader national responsibility for housing finance. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has made his proposals about how that might be accomplished.

We need to examine the possibility of a housing finance corporation of some form that might have the responsibility for ensuring the availability of finance for the main housing needs, both for local authorities and for private building. There is a real need for this in this community. Housing cannot be left to the working of the money market, as it is today, which attracts money into the most profitable ends which, as my right hon. Friend pointed out, are clearly into the area of office building and other commercial development. At present, such building offers greater financial rewards even though it may be of much less social value and importance.

I was astonished that the Secretary of State quoted Professor Cullingworth, who had been pointing out the different nature of the problem of housing in one area against another. What has the Minister done in face of this? The Minister has passed a block busting Act in the Housing Finance Act that enforces single treatment all over the country. Local authorities are denied the right to take action that they think proper for their own areas. They are denied the right to fix rents and denied the opportunity for development. The words the Secretary of State uses seem to bear no relation to the acts that he performs. I share with my right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby the eager, optimistic hope that soon there will be another Government that will act in a very different way to confront the housing problems and that the disgrace of a speech we heard from the Secretary of State tonight will at last be blotted out.

5.45 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Wells Mr John Wells , Maidstone

The hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) put forward a good deal of platitudinous rubbish. Apart from anything else, he seemed to imply that the Institute of Town Planners wanted land nationalisation: it wants no such thing.

Photo of Mr Arthur Blenkinsop Mr Arthur Blenkinsop , South Shields

Not the Institute of Town Planners. I never said that. I meant the Town Planning Association.

Photo of Mr John Wells Mr John Wells , Maidstone

Whoever the hon. Gentleman meant, he seemed to imply that it wanted land nationalisation. Nobody in his right senses wants land nationalisation. I understand that the organisation to which the hon. Gentleman referred wants some sort of land bank—that is, of land freed for building to enable builders to develop it.

Secondly, the hon. Gentleman implied that the Government were to blame for the comparatively painfully high price of building land. The real nigger in the woodpile—if one may use such a British phrase today without Mr. Bonham Carter getting on one's back—is that if the roll-over provisions of capital gains tax which were introduced and maintained by the Labour Party had been abolished at an early date, the price of land, especially land purchased by speculators, would have dropped radically. There is no doubt that if my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer were to stop the roll-over provisions in his next Budget, there would be a dramatic change.

Today is only one of several days for debating the Gracious Speech, and it is the only day on which a Minister from the Department of the Environment is taking a major part. I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Lord President is to wind up the debate, in view of his interest in and knowledge of agriculture. I believe that the Department of the Environment is gravely to blame for many of our problems. That is partly because we now have a monolithic Department with a lot of subsidiary Ministers under the umbrella, and a great deal of nonsense is being perpetrated by the Civil Service in the name of my hon. and right hon. Friends who are junior and senior Ministers there.

I do not wish to weary the House, but I should like to touch briefly on a monstrous bit of nonsense being perpetrated by the Department in my constituency. On a four-lane motorway, the Department is planning the building of a service station far too near an intersection. It is paying no attention whatever to the planning requirements of the county council and it is riding roughshod over my constituents. It is behaving in an entirely irresponsible and foolish manner. My hon. Friend the junior Minister concerned is aware of my feelings on this topic, and I hope that the entire project of Honey Hill Wood in my constituency will be smartly re-thought in view of its absurdity.

I turn to the specific housing topic about which we have heard some comments today. My hon. Friend the Member for Northants, South (Mr. Arthur Jones) briefly touched upon the housing association movement. This was one of the great new concepts brought forward by my right hon. Friend the present Secretary of State for Social Services. However, we have not heard nearly enough about this matter from the Conservative Government who have taken this nation screaming into Europe where that sort of movement is extremely well known. If the Prime Minister believes in Europe, and if my hon. Friend the Member for Northants, South, who is knowledgeable on this topic, believes in the housing association concept, let us hear more about this great European idea which was brought forward by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services.

Listening attentively to him last night it seemed to me that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry thought that the only good thing about the Conservative Party was my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services. He seemed to think that in defending the Government's economic record all he had to do was to put forward the fact that pensions had been increased. If that is so, why do we not make the Secretary of State for Social Services Prime Minister and dispense with the present incumbent? Apparently that might accord with the wishes of many people in the country and on both sides of the House.

I apologise for apparently misquoting once already the hon. Member for South Shields. I think he said he was a vice-president of the Building Societies Association. I hope I am right this time. Let us look bluntly at what the Prime Minister has tried to do with the building societies already. He has had two rounds of negotiation, in the first of which the building societies were unwilling. Will the present round achieve very much in the long term for the young borrower? The real requirement for the young borrower is for world interest rates to come down.

The hon. Member for South Shields reminisced in his usual amiable way back to Dalton's, 2½ per cent. and suchlike rubbish which we remember when we were young. Would it not be nice if world interest rates returned to the level that we remember?

This has nothing to do with the building societies and little to do with the Government. It is my firm belief that if the Government, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer in particular, played their full part in seeking to reduce world interest rates, especially as the rates affect this country, the young couple trying to borrow might be in a much stronger position.

The right hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Michael Stewart) made the rash but respectable remark that private landlordism was on the way out. It may be on the way out in the eyes of the Labour Party.

Photo of Mr William Price Mr William Price , Rugby

The hon. Gentleman will defend it.

Photo of Mr John Wells Mr John Wells , Maidstone

I do not defend it. I merely state a fact. Private landlordism is here and there are vast numbers of extremely good, sensible and fair private landlords. As long as the Labour Party weakens the position of those landlords, the housing position for young couples will get steadily worse. The more that people of the seniority of the right hon. Gentleman come with this line of talk, the more anxiety there will be for young couples. He did a grave disservice to the young people throughout the country, who wish to live in some sort of house, by putting fear into the heart of the private landlord. The private landlord is the person who is housing the majority of our people, except in Scotland where the landlord is the local authority.

The land that we are talking about that becomes housing land was originally agricultural land. This small island is being steadily over-populated by a variety of immigrants, whether from Scotland or the West Indies.

Photo of Mr Robert Hughes Mr Robert Hughes , Aberdeen North

Scotland is part of this country.

Photo of Mr John Wells Mr John Wells , Maidstone

I am reminded by the hon. Member for Aberdeen. North (Mr. Robert Hughes) that Scotland is part of this country. Ever since I have been a Member of the House, I have regretted that night by night. Before I came here, I used to be extremely proud of being a half-Scot, but since I have listened to the blather of the Scottish Members opposite I have regretted it night by night.

I will return to my subject. The land was originally agricultural land and today the developers, one way and another, are swallowing it up. It is essential that both the Government and the Labour Party make plain to the agricultural community where they stand on the price of land and what is their policy. The false pressure of planning is making it almost impossible for many young people who want to go into farming to know what are their prospects and where they will stand in the future.

5.56 p.m.

Photo of Mr David Austick Mr David Austick , Ripon

I am grateful, Mr. Speaker, for your indulgence in allowing me to speak now.

I count it an honour to be allowed on this occasion, which is for me unique, to pay a short but sincere tribute to my predecessor, Sir Malcolm Stoddart-Scott, who was a Member of the House from 1945 until this year. Twenty-eight years in a long period over which to give faithful service not only to a constituency but also to the House, and I know that I voice the feelings of many hon. Members when I remember Sir Malcolm as a man of many virtues and of great courtesy, a man who did not seek high office but who was as assiduous in his parliamentary work as he was in his work in the Ripon division. It was fitting that he should have been the first Member of Parliament for this great division and I salute his memory.

I must not fail to mention Sir Malcolm's great sense of humour which, while never raucous, was ever present. I am sure that he must be chuckling still to think that my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) and I both started our parliamentary careers with a two-and-a-half months paid holiday by courtesy of a Conservative Government. I am pleased that the electors of Berwick-upon-Tweed can look forward to parliamentary representation at last—and I think that it will be Liberal representation at that.

Several right hon. and hon. Members from both sides of the House made a pilgrimage to the Ripon division on the occasion of the by-election in July. They will know that I represent one of the most beautiful constituencies in the United Kingdom and that my constituents are among the warmest hearted in the land. We in Ripon are a proud people. We are proud of our heritage as Dales-men, where the old values of honesty, sincerity, integrity and hard work are counted of greater importance than is either material advancement or economic growth.

We are proud of our history and of those who years ago built our cathedral in Ripon, our abbey at Fountains, our churches and chapels in the villages and towns and our cottages up the dales and on the moors. We are proud of our industry, our hill farming, our lowland agriculture, our factories and mills. It was from our factories that Wharfedale printing machines were once despatched all over the world. Our paper mills have survived savage competition because all who work there respect the ability and worth of their fellow men and women.

The towns of Ripon, Otley, Ilkley and Pateley Bridge are pleasant places in which to live and Ripon is a wonderful constituency to represent, but the people of Ripon have not sent me here to paint pretty pictures. I come with a message from the people of Ripon and the Yorkshire Dales; we are disturbed by the attitudes of recent Governments, are worried about promises which have been cast aside and are awaiting a lead from this House. We look for a new sincerity and determination to bring this House and the people closer together.

Unlike the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight), who spoke in this debate on a previous day, I find the Gracious Speech most unimaginative and lacking in vigour, particularly on the subject of housing. If the high priority shown by Ministers in previous years is anything to go by, we are in for a lean time for many years to come because, despite the inevitability of a change of Government, housing policies cannot be changed with the same speed.

We have heard from previous speakers about the crisis in our cities and the monstrous situation of houses being demolished faster than they are being built. The bulldozer mentality of the Government seems to have spread into housing as well. Does this indicate that Ministers are giving high priority to housing matters? Like Nero, they are fiddling whilst houses fall around them.

The housing crisis is not restricted to the cities. It is perhaps more obvious there because more people are gathered together in cities, but the rural areas are suffering in different ways and it is upon this subject that I wish to comment.

Why does the Gracious Speech contain no mention of the withdrawal of mortgage relief on second homes in rural areas? I am pleased to note that the Minister intends to withdraw improvement grants on second homes, which is something we have been wanting for a long time. I hope that this will be done soon. I know of one village in Nidderdale where 20 per cent. of the property is occupied only during the summer and at weekends. although newly married teachers in the area are unable to find a home near their village school and have to travel up to 20 miles a day each way. Why should the taxpayer subsidise the wealthy to the detriment of rural communities?

Why is there no indication in the Gracious Speech that the Government are determined to tackle the abuses of the so-called voluntary housing movement? True, there is a welcome suggestion that additional help will be given to housing associations, but when and how will it be given? Will the Minister assure us today that his Department will ruthlessly root out parasites in the housing movement who are using that movement to cloak their own gain? This matter should be investigated as a matter of urgency.

What does the Minister mean to do about improving living conditions in rural areas? Does he know, for example, that in my constituency there are 30 properties owned by the Leeds City Council which have no proper sanitation? The people living in them are still using pail closets, despite the high priority to improving living conditions to which the Gracious Speech refers.

Why is there no reference in the Gracious Speech to the bureaucratic nightmare caused by the Government's insistence on the outdated and ridiculous method of fixing what are so unfairly called fair rents?

Is the Minister aware that elected representatives, local government officers and members of the public are being put to quite unnecessary work and expense in an attempt to comply with the terms of the Housing Finance Act, and are then being told that they do not know what they are talking about. This is what it amounts to when a report comes back from the rent scrutiny board overturning a carefully prepared assessment. In my constituency there are three urban district councils each of which has spent considerable time in preparing a considered assessment of properties as required by the Act. In each case the rent assessment board has changed the assessments in quite incomprehensible ways and the whole procedure has to be gone through again.

For example, out of a total of 76 sample rents of council-owned properties in Otley, the fair rent of 25 of those properties, or 30 per cent., was increased by the rent assessment board to a figure higher than had been suggested by a local estate agent employed to advise the council. This is incomprehensible. The Minister refuses to intervene and says that the only recourse for an aggrieved local council is through the courts. Just imagine the frustration behind this passage written by the Treasurer of the Otley Urban District Council: The work involved in assessing fair rents is substantial, and in Otley's case involved the engagement of a professional valuer, the assistance of myself and my staff and much councillors' time. That the rents should be virtually reassessed seems to be a complete waste of manpower and expense, and the task undertaken by this authority in assessing provisional fair rents would appear to be a waste of time. That local government official believes that it is all a waste of time, and that is the feeling of many local authorities.

A further example of exasperation is contained in this extract from a letter from the Ilkley Treasurer: It is therefore most surprising that at a time when price increases are required to be strictly justified and when the Government itself is actively concerned to contain infla- tion, rents in the public sector are increased beyond what is necessary or reasonable at present. As mentioned in the council's representations, pay and pension increases are based on actual rises in the cost of living, and the council cannot see why rents should be fixed on the basis of anticipated rises in the cost of living. These are not comments by emotionally disturbed politicians, but from hardworking non-political servants of the public.

I make one last reference to the application of the Housing Finance Act. It has already been said that there is an element of inflation to be included in the rents suggested by the rent assessment boards. I wonder how many people were aware that this was to be the case. Is the private sector of industry expected to take that line? Are the nationalised industries allowed to adopt that attitude, because it must be said that local authorities have never done this in the past. Why should they be forced to do this now? I feel that this is being undertaken to satisfy bureaucratic fancy, and it certainly seems to me to be a bit of bureaucratic nonsense. Therefore, I ask the Minister to re-examine, as a matter of urgency, the terms of reference of the rent assessment boards.

I feel certain that this decade will go down in the history books as the blackest period in local government history because the present Government have forced on the nation the implementation at one and the same time of two complicated pieces of legislation. They have insisted on their implementation within the expected life of this Government, and we can only assume that they have done so for political reasons. I shudder to think what future generations will say.

It might be thought that I have spoken with a greater degree of feeling than is expected of a new Member, but I make no apology, for this is how I am. If at any time I am unable to speak with feeling for the ordinary man and woman, and to ask that their views shall be respected, I shall count it to my shame.

In closing I wish to refer to a report of the Commissioners issued in 1835 concerning the City of Ripon. The report in four foolscap pages covers such wide subjects as police and paving stones, navigation shares and charity property. Among these subjects there is one short paragraph I should like to read and it is headed "Lighting": A sum of £25 a year was left for the purposes of lighting the town. It was customary for each of the two Members who represented the borough in Parliament to subscribe £25 more and this sum, with the aid of voluntary subscriptions, served to light the town. The subscriptions are now withdrawn, and the town is not lighted. I can assure the House that that situation no longer exists and that the electors of Ripon are no longer lost in darkness. They are now happily enlightened.

6.16 p.m.

Photo of Sir George Sinclair Sir George Sinclair , Dorking

I am delighted to have the opportunity to congratulate the hon. Member lot Ripon (Mr. Austick) on a felicitous maiden speech. He has shown, in words that I am sure were acceptable to the House, a warm and generous appreciation of his predecessor, Sir Malcolm Stoddart-Scott. He has spoken with love of the country-side in his constituency and he has shown concern for the needs, especially the housing needs, of the people in his constituency. This appeal was based on personal experience and was heard with sympathy by the House.

I wish now to speak about the pressure on land, especially for housing. This pressure is nowhere more intense than in the south-east of England. In the last few years it has become noticeably sharper. I have personal experience of this not only in my constituency but also in some of the most overcrowded areas of London which I have visited as a member of a Select Committee looking into deprived urban areas, in company with my hon. Friend the Member for Northants, South (Mr. Arthur Jones), who has spoken in this debate.

For the last 25 years the main protection of the environment of the inner areas of the South East has been the metropolitan green belt. Without it, this inner area would look very different today. It would be entirely built over and London would have none of the relief of a surrounding green area. The original Abercrombie concept was to divert housing pressures from the green belt to a ring of new towns. These two policies—the green belt and the new towns—were meant to go together: they are still interdependent today. If we wish to retain the green belt, we shall have to relieve this tension by a more active programme for the development of new towns.

There are now clear indications of increasing pressures on the South East for land for all kinds of development. We must expect them to get stronger still as our new relationship with Europe develops and such great projects as Maplin and the Channel Tunnel get under way. If, against such pressures, we want to keep the green belt in a county like Surrey, we must provide outlets for growth, especially for the social need of housing. This was done after the 1939–45 war by the creation of new towns. Today the strategic plan for the South East has proposed a number of new growth areas, and the wisdom of this suggestion is now generally accepted in the country and on both sides of the House.

What seems lacking is a sense of urgency. I do not believe that the Government are yet doing enough, quickly enough, to promote growth in these areas recommended by the South East strategic study. That study suggested that the growth areas should begin after 1981. But surely the need, especially for housing, requires earlier action than that. These growth areas are, according to this study, to be left to local authorities without financial help from the central Government. But there is surely now a case for special help for such areas from the central Government to meet the need for growth and housing and at the same time to protect the environment of the South East as a whole.

Faced with this situation, the Government have decided to take 2,000 acres of the green belt for housing and, at the same time, by Circular 122—just published and already regarded as infamous in my area—to loosen the planning controls throughout the South East. There is a real danger that these two emergency measures will be taken too far. If we do not take steps to prevent this, we shall destroy the green belt.

In the Dorking constituency we have seen recently wild pressures to buy land for development of all kinds regardless of the fact that much of the land is specified as green belt area or treated as such by the county council and that much of it is also good agricultural land with a history of being well and productively farmed.

The Government's difficulties in finding land in the South East have driven them to taking these two emergency measures. These in turn have unleashed new pressures for land and have led to a situation which spells real danger to a valuable legacy. These factors are undermining the confidence of my constituents in the maintenance of the green belt. They are creating a free-for-all among speculative builders and developers who are trying to buy land at any cost in any place. Already this is causing discouragement among planning authorities. They are afraid that their planning decisions, taken within the proper guidelines for preserving the green belt, will, under the influence of Circular 122, be overturned on appeal. Yet these experienced authorities have for the last 25 years done a valuable service to Surrey and even more valuable service to London, and, I believe, a service to the country as a whole, in maintaining a proper environment for what I still regard as the greatest city in the world. I hope that the Government will not allow their two recent emergency decisions to destroy this heritage and will take steps to reassert control.

The Government need, in my view, to take three steps immediately: first, to get back to a firm policy of defending the green belt; second, to re-establish a firm basis for local planning, now jeopardised by Circular 122; and third, to accelerate the development of the growth areas recommended by the strategic plan for the South East and to direct housing pressures to them. I hope that in summing up the Minister will deal with these three points.

Several Hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Mr Selwyn Lloyd Mr Selwyn Lloyd , Wirral

Order. There are 17 or 18 hon. Members who wish to speak in the debate. If hon. Members who catch my eye will try to confine their speeches to about 10 minutes, I shall be able to call most of them.

6.21 p.m.

Photo of Mr Charles Loughlin Mr Charles Loughlin , Gloucestershire West

I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Ripon (Mr. Austick) on his excellent maiden speech. It was not quite as controversial as the one I made many years ago, but it was acceptable to this House because it was within the confines of the conventions and was made very nicely.

The Minister's speech, following that made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland), was appalling. It appeared to be made by a Minister who had no idea of the housing problems facing the people of this country. I do not intend to spend one second longer on the content of that speech.

Recently the Prime Minister referred to the "unacceptable face of capitalism". He was talking about Lonrho and the activities of certain gentlemen, including a right hon. Member of this House, who were evading taxation through the device of using the Cayman Islands.

Today we are debating housing and land. Apparently this is the acceptable face of capitalism, because the operation of housing and land during the three years of the Tory Government has been on the basis of the two principles of capitalism—supply and demand and market forces. If that is true, the effect is equally unacceptable to me.

We must think of housing largely on the basis of how far the Government, in co-operation with local authorities and others, can contribute to the happiness of our people. Far too often we tend to think in terms of statistics rather than the effect of housing, or the lack of it, on the individual. Frankly, society is not worth while unless we can solve this problem. Every man and woman has a right to decent shelter in a civilised society.

The Tories talk about what they have accomplished in the past three years. They jibed at the Labour Government's target of 400,000 completions and not achieving 300,000. Last year there were 319,000 completions and this year there are likely to be less than 300,000. This is the situation. The builders and land speculators, some of whom sit on the Government benches—indeed, one has made a contribution to this debate and another is the Parliamentary Private Secretary—have made fortunes in the last three years. The average house price today—I take the last complete period to December last year—in London is £13,000. In the United Kingdom as a whole it is £8,700. There is a mortgage interest rate of 11 per cent.

The Government are very fond of saying that the trade unions have held the country to ransom and that world prices have caused the increase in the cost of living. Let me ask the Minister who is to reply to the debate to explain why, if one uses Nationwide Building Society figures and takes their base as 100 in December 1965, by December 1972 the cost of materials and labour had increased from 100 to 167. Taking the same base in the same period, one finds that the cost of new houses increased from 100 to 237. A substantial amount of money is involved and it means that that difference can be accounted for only on the basis of profits to the builders. Costains and the land speculators have had a bonanza because of the Government's policy. That is what capitalism is about. If there were any possibility of easement, it might be different.

Today's Sun has Mr. D. H. Brookes, manager of Algrey Builders Ltd., saying that house buyers in the South East will need to earn £5,000 a year to afford even the smallest house or flat. Mr. Brookes said that it would be impossible for a developer to offer property at less than £15,000 next year.

There is no let-up. The Government have produced in the Queen's Speech no hope and no ideas. They have not told the local authorities "In the circumstances, we will try to assist by giving additional money." We know that they have talked of greater flexibility in the cost yardstick. I have submitted cases to the Minister to try to get flexibility in the cost yardstick. The Minister knows that one local authority after another has been unable to get houses built because the cost yardstick will not enable them to get sufficient builders to tender. The Government ought to be telling the people that they have not been able to solve the housing problem. They should be proposing something tangible.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Grismby was criticised for saying that one of the policies of the Labour Party was land nationalisation. I wonder what difference it would make—I hazard the guess that it would make a substantial difference—to the projections of builders like Mr. Brookes, to whom I have just referred, if we could purchase land at present use values, as our nationalisation programme would provide. It would mean that we should be able to get land at present use values to build houses. The Government can be doctrinaire, but I see no earthly reason why they should not have come forward with tangible pro-proposals. All they do is say that they will try to help the housing associations. With all due respect to the housing associations, the impact that they will have upon our housing problem is infinitesimal.

There are plenty of rogues among builders in my constituency and throughout the country. On the Lydney Estate in my constituency, I am now doing an investigation of the way in which builders, estate agents and other people are conspiring almost to defraud people and see that they pay far higher prices for houses than they should.

As for the cost of land in rural areas, in my village derelict cottages without a bath or hot water are fetching £8,000 and £9,000. How can youngsters in my village who want to get married afford such cottages? They cannot afford the deposit or the repayments. The Government know of the tragedy which takes place on every residential caravan site, because the situation has been brought to their attention many times, but they do nothing about it.

The Government have an appalling housing record. It is not incompetence but a deliberate manifestation of capitalism. Housing should now be considered a social service. Civilisation is not worth while unless it can give people a decent home and shelter.

6.32 p.m.

Photo of Sir Ian Percival Sir Ian Percival , Southport

I am sure that the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin) was not suggesting that either he or his party has a monopoly of desiring to bring happiness to other people. The objectives in housing, as in so many other areas in this House, are common to most hon. Members on whichever side they sit. It is the methods that differ. The methods and the results have been discussed and I do not propose to go into that argument again. As the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) said, the results for both sides speak for themselves and the electorate will decide.

I want to speak in purely practical terms about two matters. First, I echo what my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. John Wells) said when he drew attention to the fact that the private landlord, whether we like it or not, plays a significant part in providing houses. I will not go into the question of whether the private sector provides this or that percentage, but it is surely not controversial to say that the number of dwellings provided by the private sector is significant and that without such provision many people would be worse off. Whether or not this sector will be nationalised at any time remains to be seen, but I beg all hon. Members to think in practical terms of the effect of threats upon those providing this accommodation.

There are many private landlords in my constituency who are no more Rachmans than anyone here. They are people of modest means who own a few houses. [Interruption.] It is no good the hon. Member wagging his head. If he comes with me to Southport, I will introduce him to them; I know them. These are people who have worked hard and who have saved a bob or two—or their fathers and grandfathers did—and bought a few houses. For too long they have been clobbered from all sides. They have enjoyed a smaller return than anyone else on their savings. It is not right to suppose that they are all extortionists.

But if we clobber them long enough, we shall drive those people out and let in others who might be up to every kind of wriggle to get a little more. I do not ask for any favours for these people, simply that they should not be clobbered. If hon. Members want to be fair, they should be fair to these people as much as to anyone else and should remember that the only effect of constantly clobbering them is to drive more accommodation off the market or into the hands of real extortionists.

In this field I have one anxiety about the second White Paper, the majority of which I support to the hilt. Paragraph 27(c) and (d) deals with giving local authorities power to require landlords to sell either to a housing authority or to the local authority and to nominate tenants of private property. I do not want to go into the philosophy of this but only to mention two aspects of it. First, if one wanted to put the breeze up private landlords and drive them out even more, this might be the way to do it. Second, I ask my right hon. Friends to be careful to ensure that what is proposed can be translated into clear terms.

I have sent my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction a document prepared by my chairman, who has had a long and distinguished career in local government, who is a lawyer and who knows the practice of these things—I think, three or four sheet of foolscap, full of queries on what these paragraphs mean. We must not create more legal tangles in a sphere in which there are enough already, again discouraging the small provider of useful accommodation.

As regards the land hoarding charge, I have no more sympathy than the right hon. Member for Grimsby for the person who makes £500 million profit and pays only £15 million tax. I have no sympathy with anyone who evades his tax. If the kind of roguery about which the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West spoke goes on, I have no sympathy with that either. Let it be rooted out, but let us not be carried away into thinking that every builder carries on in that way, because he does not. Many builders in small and medium firms are as honest and industrious as anyone.

My concern about the land hoarding charge is that it might give the building industry another difficulty which could only make it less productive. I should declare an interest in the building industry, but it is not what hon. Members might think. I do not own a share—at least, I do not think I do; I certainly do not own a part of any business.

My interest in the building industry is that last year I worked for several weeks first as a brickie's labourer and then as a chippie's labourer. I made some progress, too, and, by the end of the five weeks, when the chippie told me to go and "cut some noggins and side spike them with 2½ in. lostheads", I not only knew what he meant but I could do it. Again this year I mixed a nice drop of pug and more concrete than I care to think about. I even became semiskilled, and in all this I learned some practical things about the industry. [An HON. MEMBER: "It must have been a case of do-it-yourself."] In fact, I was acting as a labourer to skilled men who were doing the work.

Photo of Mr Jock Stallard Mr Jock Stallard , St Pancras North

Was the hon. and learned Gentleman on the lump?

Photo of Sir Ian Percival Sir Ian Percival , Southport

No, I was not on the lump.

I realise that I started this digression, but I do not intend to follow it up now. What I learned while I was doing that work was something about the shortage of skilled labour in the building industry and the difficulties for a builder in ensuring a steady supply of skilled labour. I learned, too, about the lumpiness of the supplies of material and about other similar matters.

I also became aware that if a builder plans to build, say, 50 houses a year—which is the sort of figure at which many developing builders aim—he has to plan all the ingredients of that building programme well ahead to ensure that he has labour, supplies of materials and plant available. But most importantly he must have a land bank. If he is planning for a period of five years, as is reasonable, he must have a land bank to meet a building programme of 50 or 25 houses a year, or whatever the figure may be, for five years. The builder must know that he has planning permissions sufficient to cover his building programme for years ahead.

A land hoarding charge of the sort envisaged in the White Paper would create yet another difficulty for the ordinary, honest builder who is doing a good job but who is already having a difficult enough time.

If there must be a charge, these further difficulties for builders could be avoided either by exempting builders entirely from the hoarding charge or making special provision to extend the period in which they will be allowed to develop the land. However, if it is considered that such a charge must be introduced and that builders cannot be exempt from it entirely, the task of dealing with the extensions of time in which to develop should not be given to the local authorities, which already have enough to do. There are other reasons why I suggest this, and my hon. Friend the Minister knows of them. But I suggest that it would serve no purpose to introduce what would undoubtedly be another headache for the building trade. Such a move might be useful politically, but I do not think that anyone here would want to do it just for that reason.

I am told that even the South East Regional Planning Board has recently said that there is now no evidence of the hoarding of land. If this is so, the need for such a charge has now disappeared, even if there was a need a year ago. Even if this is not correct, the answer to the problem against which the charge is directed is to make more land available for building, and this is not the way. Perhaps I am pushing at an open door, because the Secretary of State in his speech this afternoon said that in the South East planning permissions were now being given for five years ahead. If this is correct, there is no room for a land hoarding charge which would become effective after four years.

I put these matters forward as purely practical considerations and I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will take note of the anxieties which I have tried, albeit, so hastily, to express.

6.44 p.m.

Photo of Miss Joan Lestor Miss Joan Lestor , Eton and Slough

The Secretary of State this afternoon amended a somewhat extreme comment about Labour-controlled local authorities not informing people of what was available to them, as a result of Tory legislation. He changed it to what was perhaps a less extreme statement to the effect that they were not going out of their way to inform people of what was available to them through that legislation. On behalf of my own Socialist-controlled authority, I deny that.

We have had to make clear not just what is available, which my party has done very well, but what we are compelled by the Government's legislation to do, which is to increase rents. We have also had to make clear the many things we cannot do because of that legislation. I only wish that in the Government's recent measures there were a few crumbs that I could offer my constituents and others. Their position is becoming worse all the time.

The Secretary of State for Social Services told us at Question Time today that a circular would shortly go out about single persons' accommodation. He also made a comment about the number of children in care as a result of homelessness, as I had raised the matter. The problem of children in care as a result of homelessness is one that the Government have totally ignored in all the legislation and discussion in the House recently.

I await with interest the circular on single persons' accommodation, because it is a subject which seems to have been passed over. Single people come in no category as defined in any Act and therefore tend to be forgotten or to be regarded as people who can look after themselves.

A working people's hostel was recently closed in an area called Colnbrook, in the constituency of the hon. and learned Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell). As many of the people living in the hostel worked in my constituency, he and I co-operated on the matter, for the first time in our careers and possibly the last. The hostel, which was closed for a variety of reasons that I cannot go into now, housed 300 men and women—not many of them women—who had come to work in Slough and the surrounding area. The area is prosperous, and is usually short of labour. That is why we attract to my constituency many immigrants from Scotland, Ireland, Wales, the West Indies or Pakistan.

Unhappily, despite many good intentions, although the Labour-controlled local authority has gone to great lengths to try to meet the demands for housing which any influx of people will bring, it has never been able to meet the need. It has never received enough help. There have been other reasons; I do not blame the Government entirely.

The hostel was home, a permanent residence, for many people. When it was abandoned they had to find somewhere else to live. The local authority in the constituency of the hon. and learned Gentleman was not concerned, because the people did not come within any rehousing category. My own local authority could not help, because it was short of housing. The then Minister, the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery), received a deputation to discuss the matter but had no solution to suggest other than that, if local authorities could not help them, the people concerned should find work somewhere else where they might obtain accommodation.

If the needs of such people are not recognised in the circular as being just as great as those of others, if it is not recognised that they have just as much right to stay in an area in which they work, live and have their friends, if they are deprived of the same rights as other people because they are single, we shall continue to see the creation of groups of single homeless people, who are continually having to move on and who will never have any home and rights of their own. I raised the matter in Adjournment debates in 1970 and 1971, and it has been raised since by many other hon. Members on both sides of the House.

I regard my second point as even more serious. When "Kathy Come Home" was first shown on television many people, including hon. Members, raised their hands in horror. They were not aware of the situation of homeless families and young children. Since then we have become hardened to the plight of the Kathys in our community, because people are meeting many more of them.

At any one time in the past few years there have been between 2,500 and 3,000 children in the care of the local authorities as the result of homelessness. That is a disgusting and degrading figure for any country. Most of those children are in accommodation without their parents. A high proportion of such children are from families with more than one child—often two, three or four children. The children are often accommodated not in one or two establishments but in three or four, which may be miles apart. In my area one has to travel many miles between some of the accommodation in which such children are housed. The situation has continued for years. Some of the children grow up in the care of local authorities.

Sometimes it is recognised that the families have a housing need. Unfortunately the parents have often moved out of the area because they cannot find accommodation. Therefore, they have lost the housing qualification and the local authority is not interested in them. There is a lack of co-ordination and co-operation between the Department of Health and Social Security and the housing authority, whatever co-ordinating committees may exist.

There is an urgent need for all local authorities to be forced, and helped, to increase the housing available for homeless families and to take out of care those children in care as a result of homelessness. I know that for many children in care homelessness is allied to many other factors, but if their parents or parent were given support in a home even they would be able to sustain themselves as a family unit.

Although I make my plea almost entirely on social grounds, there are also financial arguments in its support. How do we justify begrudging a council house rent compared with the cost of £25–£30 a week for a child in care?

There is the consideration of the great social damage to the children. Their situation is part of the cycle of deprivation that the Secretary of State for Social Services talks about. It is not always the result of the parents' inadequacy, but sometimes it is, and it is often a repeat of their parents' situation. We never seem to break the cycle.

Year in and year out we go on with the same policies and attitudes. Whether we mean to or not, we tend to say things showing that we look upon such people as what used to be called the undeserving poor. Until we break that attitude to homeless families, and to children in care in particular, we shall never get to grips with some of the long-standing problems of deprivation.

I promised to be brief, so I shall not speak about my third category—old people and their accommodation. There was a very good article on the problem in New Society last week. I commend it to the Secretary of State, who said that he did not have time to read all the documents that came his way. Nobody blames him for that.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman said something which he may regret in the months to come. He said that the Opposition were much more concerned with politics than with people. What has happened since the Government came to power, and what has shaken those who are concerned with various categories of people, is that the local authorities which have wanted to make provision for special categories have been prevented from doing so. That is because special categories of people, and particularly the homeless who are single and the home- less generally, have become pawns in a game of making money out of housing. That game has become part and parcel of a system which exploits the misery of groups of people who largely cannot fight for themselves. It has pushed them often to the bottom of the league table.

If the Secretary of State examines his statement, he will find that it is his politics and the politics of his Front Bench which has submerged various groups of people into a situation in which housing conditions are nothing short of degrading.

6.56 p.m.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Finsberg Mr Geoffrey Finsberg , Hampstead

The hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor) said that she looked in vain in the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend for crumbs of comfort for her and her constituents. Clearly, she was not looking very hard. Those constituents, for example, in the numerous authorities controlled by the Labour Party which have now been forced to give rebates, which they were not doing until the Housing Finance Act, are seeing something more than crumbs of comfort—[Interruption.] Perhaps the hon. Lady for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renée Short) will make her speech, if she catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and will not make comments whilst remaining seated. Constituents in Labour-controlled authorities will be getting a mass of help which will be of great benefit.

A mass of private tenants are getting rent allowances for the first time. Those allowances are rising to as high as £10 a week in my constituency. Those tenants do not have to look for the crumbs of comfort. They have the practical help which the Government have introduced. All of us would welcome sensible proposals for dealing with the housing problems.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Finsberg Mr Geoffrey Finsberg , Hampstead

If we consider the problems of inner London, it must be remembered that the housing problem has been with us for a long time. We have only to read Herbert Morrison's excellent biography to learn that in spite of 33 years of Labour rule at County Hall and six years of Conservative rule the problem is still with us. I am sick and tired of Opposition hon. Members who cry because during the six years of Conservative rule London's housing problem has not been solved. I am sick and tired of that hypocrisy. Opposition hon. Members are noticeably silent about the 33 years during which their party has been in power at County Hall.

We must try to solve the problem by the means which we know. If local government has failed—I am now talking of local government as a system, irrespective of which party controls it—we must look for new methods. People do not want to find the problem bedevilled by politics. If we cannot get local government to do its job properly, we must find new methods of doing it. We must not permit political dogma to leave people on housing lists who should now be in homes. There are at least 500 people in my constituency who would now be living in homes had the Labour Party, when it won control in 1971, not changed all the plans which had then been prepared.

I regret the passing of the major segments of the rented property market. I have said in the past and I say again that companies such as Key Flats—that is the old Key Flats and not the disreputable organisation which is now putting up signs outside blocks and trying to get people to believe that it is the same respectable Key Flats as used to exist—Prudential, Plus Flats and many other companies provided a first-class service for the rented market. Their demise dates from the Rent Act 1965. That was the beginning of fair rents.

From the Rent Act 1965 stemmed the evils of Freshwater, Stern, Berger and other companies. I accept what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. Percival) said about the vast numbers of small landlords who offer a constructive service to the community. We are in danger, as my hon. and learned Friend said, of scaring those landlords out of existence.

What can we do to try to arrest the decline of the rented market? There are many people who do not want to be owner-occupiers or the serfs of local authorities. There are people who want to be in between. We must try to find a method of at least arresting the decline of the rented market.

The last Labour Government produced a scheme to encourage the building of hotels. It would have been better had that Government said that the hoteliers should at the same time provide some accommodation for the staff who would man the hotels. However, it is easy to say that with hindsight. That Government encouraged the building of hotels by giving a capital grant for the construction of new hotels of £1,000 or £2,000 per bedroom. Would it not be possible to consider giving a capital grant, where builders were prepared to put up blocks of flats for renting, to accommodation which would be offered as rented and unfurnished for a minimum of 25 years, and which would be subject to the provisions of fair rent along with allowances? That is one way in which we might expand the private rented market.

Another issue, which was referred to in the last Session by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke), is the room in somebody's home. There is no doubt that young single people could have the benefit of occupying 200,000 or 300,000 single rooms in owner-occupied houses if there were not the fear on the part of the owner-occupiers that they could not get them out at the end of the contract.

I urge my right hon. and learned Friend to include a provision in the housing legislation which we are promised that if owner-occupiers wish to let unfurnished rooms in their homes they should be enabled to do so on term contracts. At the end of the term—the contract which would be entered into willingly and freely by both sides, in exactly the same way as if a person paid threepence to go on a London Transport bus—both parties should be free to go their own ways.

If the Opposition were to say that, if they were returned they would automatically give security of tenure to such tenants, I hope that when the rooms are left empty, as they will be, as a result of that threat, young people throughout London and in the major conurbations will know that they are tramping the streets, or paying high furnished rents, because the Labour Party is not prepared to permit an addition to the housing stock.

I now turn to the present policy of the Greater London Council and many of the London boroughs which are buying up houses indiscriminately. They are not adding one house to the total housing stock.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Finsberg Mr Geoffrey Finsberg , Hampstead

If the hon. Member for Wandsworth, Central (Mr. Cox) catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, he will probably want to talk about refuse collecting rather than housing.

The GLC and the London boroughs are not, by indiscriminate buying, adding one new house to the housing stock. That is the purpose of housing authorities. They should be adding to the total stock and not merely removing homes from the private market which young married couples could have bought.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Finsberg Mr Geoffrey Finsberg , Hampstead

This is the effect when the local authority is bidding irrespective of price. I have case upon case in my constituency in which young married people and housing associations have been negotiating for a house and have been beaten to it by the local authority. Those two sections of the community have been deprived.

Threats of compulsory purchase orders have been placed upon large blocks of flats and other property, and owners have to decide whether to fight those orders and to have an asset tied up for 15 months or so or to give in to blackmail, in which many local authorities in Greater London are indulging.

This is a monstrous state of affairs. I hope that my hon. Friend will look at this matter and tell the people who are resisting these blackmail threats that if the Secretary of State does not confirm a compulsory purchase order, the local authority will have to pay not only the legal costs of those who resisted but also a fee to make up for the loss of assets, which the people have had to forgo while their property was blighted by a Labour-controlled council interested not in people but in philosophies.

We ought also to look carefully at what will happen to the remaining large blocks of flats in private ownership which are in danger of being acquired by local authorities. The Minister ought to say that if these properties are for sale they should first be offered to the tenants' association, with a loan from the local authority, or that they should be acquired by the Housing Corporation. If the Corporation does not have sufficient powers, those powers ought to be given to it.

I do not want to see vast stocks of property added to those of the local authorities, which cannot now maintain their own properties in a satisfactory condition or renovate them sufficiently quickly. We all know about this. On both sides of the Chamber we have criticised the Greater London Council, under both political controls, for failing properly to maintain its properties. Local authorities do not have the manpower to do it, but they are seeking now to add thousands of extra properties to their stocks. The Minister should say that this is enough and that it should be the prerogative of the Housing Corporation.

I come now to the service industries which require homes for people in inner London if we are to continue to have satisfactory services in London, in hospitals, railways, hotels, buses or the underground—the iniquitous Bakerloo or Northern Line—or whatever it may be. We must find a quick method of finding some homes.

I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will act quickly on dockland. At present a vast area of dockland is ripe for redevelopment. A plan was produced by the previous GLC. Whether it was a good or a bad plan is arguable. In a fit of pique, when control of the GLC changed, the plan was put in cold storage. There is now an argument between the GLC and the London boroughs particularly concerned. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will say to my right hon. and learned Friend that by the end of December he should set up a corporation to run dockland and to produce houses in that area for those who man the service industries. My right hon. and learned Friend should override the views both of the GLC and of the inner London boroughs in order quickly to provide homes at prices and rents which people can afford. That is one way in which we could man the service industries in that part of the world.

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

We have been hearing this since the war.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Finsberg Mr Geoffrey Finsberg , Hampstead

The hon. Lady seems unable to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I feel sorry for her.

A Bill was promised at the end of the last Session to deal with the right of private tenants to challenge service charges in their rented accommodation. When will that Bill be introduced? I am assuming that this matter is covered in the Gracious Speech by the sentence which states: Other measures will be laid before you. I welcome the point made by my right hon. and learned Friend about the need to give names and addresses of landlords to tenants, both to weekly tenants and to those who pay their rent at longer intervals. In the proposed legislation I should like to see something slightly stronger. I should like to see the requirement for the name and actual address of the landlord to be given, and not just "care of" the agent. Secondly, I should like to see a requirement that a change of landlord has to be notified to the tenant within four weeks.

Thirdly, I should like to see a requirement that where a statutory notice is issued to company A, the local authority does not have to start all over again if company A sells to company B. I have cases in my constituency, in Fairhazel Gardens and elsewhere in which company A has sold to company B, which has been sold to company C. The legislation ought to provide that once the statutory notice is issued it lies with that company, and that if the company sells out, the responsibility goes with it, and that the local authority can proceed within the requisite seven, 14 or 21 days, whoever is the then owner. I have a case in King's Gardens where a lift has been out of order for two and a half years. The landlords of the property have changed repeatedly and have done nothing about it. I should be extremely grateful if my hon. Friend will arrange for the points that I have made to be answered.

7.12 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Forrester Mr John Forrester , Stoke-on-Trent North

I hope that the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg) will forgive me for not following him in his arguments. I am certain that those of my hon. Friends who represent London con- stituencies will have a sufficient number of answers for him. I hope that the Minister does not spend the whole of his time answering the hon. Gentleman's points. If he does, he will not have time to answer points made by anyone else.

The Government's housing policy seems to fall into two parts. The first part is that which is paved with good intentions. The other part is that which seems to create the greatest misery for the greatest number of people. On the credit side there are some of the proposals in the White Paper "Better Homes", but the Minister would not expect me to agree that they go far enough.

I welcome the Government's intention—if it is their intention—to concentrate some of their renovation efforts on the general improvement areas and housing action areas. With modern materials and designs many terraced houses have been converted into little palaces: the interiors have been improved beyond all recognition; but on stepping outside the front door one is confronted with the same old drab appearance.

It may be that neighbours' houses have not been improved. Perhaps they are houses of landlords who have no intention of improving them or selling them at a reasonable price. It may be that in the vincinity are factories and warehouses belching forth dirt, fumes and noise, or perhaps juggernaut lorries travel to and from the factories, destroying the environment and damaging the property. When people leave these humble cottages by the back way, heaven preserve them. Money spent on individual houses is of great value to the people who live in them, but the community may not be getting the greatest benefit from money spent in this way, especially if properties adjoining those which have been improved are not treated similarly, so improving the general environment.

I hope that the new grants which are mentioned in "Better Homes" will enable people who improve their properties to decorate and to repair the exteriors. One may have a luxurious bathroom, but it is the exterior of the house that is seen by the world. If we want to start a keep-up-with-the-Jones's snowball response we should pay far more attention to the immediate environment of these houses.

In Stoke-on-Trent we are spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on the reclamation of derelict land, but step out of some front doors and one steps out on to a road which has not been made up for 50 years, and the rear passageways defy description.

I should like to know what help the Government can give to local authorities to clear up these eyesores within a reasonable time. The Government should encourage local authorities to tackle whole areas with determination, because scarce resources and materials may be used to less advantage than they could otherwise be, and the community have no long-lasting benefit, unless we deal in areas and not individual houses.

More money is required from the Government to achieve this better environmental effect. Also, assistance will be needed to help local authorities to remove some of the non-conforming industries from these housing action areas and general improvement areas if we are to restore to them full residential status, especially in city centres. That should be the aim of the plans before us.

There is nothing in the Gracious Speech to suggest that legislation will be introduced in the near future to deal with estate agents. Most estate agents belong to reputable professional organisations and are honourable and responsible people, but some of them, alas, are not. Many are using their positions to acquire property at a 'price less than its value. I know of one old lady who was robbed of £1,500 in this way. Some estate agents are going into the improvement grant arena in a big way, buying cheap, obtaining a loan from the local authority and selling dear.

I welcome the proposals contained in the White Paper to give local authorities discretionary powers to apply conditions to the loans granted by them. I know that Stoke-on-Trent council will act swiftly to stop these unscrupulous speculators who have created a national scandal. Indeed, the council intends to use the powers it has at present. The Minister should act nationally to close any loopholes and ensure that anyone obtaining a loan either keeps the property for rent or repays the whole or at least a portion of the grant to the local authority, with a time of stipulation of at least seven years.

The Government's major housing policies have made the situation worse than it was when they came to power. They seem to be the victims of their self-inflicted wounds. Whatever merits the Government may claim for the Housing Finance Act, they cannot deny at this stage that it was responsible for stoking the wage and price inflationary spiral and creating a panic housing market which has had disastrous results for the home buyer.

Even if the money lending market has been affected by world factors, the Government would have to agree that the home market has been largely influenced by the Government's own borrowing requirements. The result of the 11 per cent. mortgage rate has meant heartbreak for many owner-occupiers and even more heartbreak for those trying desperately to obtain a mortgage. Some mortgages have been extended for such lengthly periods that family honour will be redeemed only by the children paying the last instalments owed by their long-departed parents.

It seems that the Government have made us into a property-owning democracy. The 8½per cent. put forward by the Prime Minister is accepted as a sick joke in the building society world. It is Micawberism rather than sound economics. When people realise that, if they borrow £10,000 under this scheme, under current interest rate, at the end of five years they will owe £11,000, a rather polite "No thank you" may be expressed more colourfully to those who try to sell a mortgage to them.

The scare market, which has been encouraged by some of the Government's policy has put up prices beyond all reason. The price now is what the market will stand, not, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin) mentioned, what will yield a reasonable and fair profit to the builder.

It is not long ago that the Minister for Housing and Construction raised some comment about the unacceptable face of the builder. I recently heard of an executive of a building firm who declared to his board of directors that with a fair profit a house would sell at £12,000. One director said, "Well, sell it for £13,000." They placed it on the market at £14,000. Is this business ethics these days? We are all aware of the national firm able to offer 8½ per cent. mortgages to some buyers out of its profits. There is some merit in the scheme. There are builders able to knock £1,000 off a £10,000 house in this present difficult time for sales. It is a scandal that the market price should be sought and accepted by these people at the expense of so much human misery. The Government should seriously consider asking the Price Commission to investigate the profits of the building industry in an endeavour to bring the prices down, as I am sure could be done.

In Stoke-on-Trent the situation is worse than it has been for a long while. The Housing Finance Act was designed to raise rents so high that people would flock to buy a house, but one of the effects was to push up the price of new houses so high that very few people can afford to buy them. In addition, it has made it uneconomic for local authorities to continue with their building programmes. Who can blame them, when a £6,000 house will cost nearly £40,000 over 60 years?

In June 1972 the Stoke-on-Trent waiting list was 2,794. That is not large compared with that of some local authorities. In September this year it was 3,517, an increase in 15 months of 723—people who have been driven on to the housing list because they cannot buy a home of their own. In addition, there are 1,330 slum clearance householders awaiting an allocation.

Thank heaven, we did not stop building in Stoke, or I do not know what the situation would have been. At the moment, there are 813 houses under construction and there are 800 relets every year. Despite that, the position is worsening month by month.

In spite of, or because of, the Government's policy there is obviously a greater need for rented accommodation than when the Government came to power. In the White Paper "Better Homes" they recognise that an increase must somehow be maintained in rented accommodation all over the country.

I am convinced that the local authorities are the only bodies which can make any significant contribution to solving the needs of those who cannot afford to buy a house. It is up to the Government to ensure that local authorities have all the necessary assistance and encouragement that the Government can give. Otherwise we shall still be talking about the homeless at the end of the century.

7.24 p.m.

Photo of Hon. Robert Boscawen Hon. Robert Boscawen , Wells

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mr. Forrester) spoke favourably about improvement grants and their effect on some of the houses in his constituency. I welcome that small crumb of comfort from the Opposition. It is the first favourable crumb we have had from them on any housing matter this afternoon.

Much of the debate has turned upon urban stress and deprivation, and it is unquestionably right that it has done so. The frustrations and disadvantages of life for some people in the inner cities is a challenge to all, including those who come from the more favoured areas, where the problems may be less intractable and less acute then they are in the urban areas. None of us can ignore the need to maintain a decent standard and quality of life, which means that the provision of a decent home must have the lion's share of the vigour and the intelligence and resources of the whole country. I make that clear because I want to deal with the special difficulties of some of the rural areas, realising that we do not have the prior claims of those living in the inner cities.

Many of my constituents come from the inner cities when they retire. Others dream of the possibility of moving out of the inner cities to the benefits to which they believe they are entitled in a more pleasant, less pressurised and less costly environment.

Photo of Hon. Robert Boscawen Hon. Robert Boscawen , Wells

The first big problem is the conflict between the local needs of housing by people who have always belonged to an area and those who have come in from outside. There is urgent need for some discrimination by local planning authorities for local needs. This is over and above the problem of mortgage interest rates. The question of local people being able to obtain planning permission locally is most acute in my area, where there is a high-pressure demand for houses in rural areas and small towns. It is due partly to the necessity to keep the strictest control on building in order to prevent the urban sprawl, even the village sprawl, that could ruin the countryside. In this situation an outsider will generally come off best. He can bid up the price of the humblest dwelling far above the price that a local boy and girl who want to get married can afford. That it is virtually impossible for local people to get planning permission to build, very often on land they or their families have owned for generations, is all too frequently the case of those who come to see me at my "surgeries".

I should like to quote a typical example. For 30 years an elderly person had looked after a small piece of land on the edge of a not specially beautiful small village. She was turned down for planning permission, perhaps for good reason, because it was the policy of the local council that there should be no further development of the village. One of my constituents wrote as follows: I can't help feeling that the rules have been rather inflexibly interpreted with perhaps undue regard for 'long-term considerations' and not quite enough understanding of the here-and-now human predicament. Here is an elderly, simple, hard-working woman suddenly faced with the destruction of hopes and plans which she has cherished for nearly half a lifetime; she is not one who ever complained of hardship or discomfort, but this refusal to allow her to make her home on property which she has owned and tended for so long is quite incomprehensible to her. These are the situations in which, time and again, local authority planning is refused in an area because if it were to be given to one it would have to be given to everyone coming in from outside who wanted to build in such a place.

It is high time that a more humanised planning system was devised and that we gave more consideration to social needs and local needs of people in areas such as mine. It cannot be right to drive perforce capable and valuable citizens of local origin out of their neighbourhood in order to fossilise landscapes and stop all change while at the same time the better-off urban commuters or retired persons are able to come in and buy the properties because of the very policy of restriction which pushes up prices beyond the resources of local persons.

I want it to be established that local needs should be given a priority by local planning authorities. Of course, it is understood that safeguards must be written into such planning permissions giving priority to local needs—conditions such as no sale, or no exemption from capital gains tax on sale, or whatever method might be devised. People would accept that. But it is high time that consideration for local needs was written into legislation.

The existing rigid, inflexible interpretation gives the feeling to ordinary people that they are being oppressed by a planning bureaucracy. I sympathise with that feeling. My right hon. and learned Friend said earlier that he would set up an advisory committee to look into the method of planning arrangements, and I hope that it will look at this issue.

One more manifestation of the problem in rural areas is the persistent refusal to lift agricultural tying conditions from houses long after the need for the agricultural worker to reside there has disappeared. This is absurd. The result is that the house cannot be used, remains empty and decays. It is ridiculous that a good house that could become a home cannot do so because of an agricultural tying condition laid on it a long time ago. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will instruct local planning authorities to take a sensible view towards some of these old tying conditions.

Thirdly, I want to draw attention to the nasty habit of some planning authorities of delaying, by administrative means of one sort or another, the implementation of a successful appeal against their earlier refusal of a planning application. The Secretary of State should stop that. His decisions are being flouted. A particularly blatant example of this has occurred in my constituency. My constituent, Mr. Beacon, has been driven into debt and desperation due to lengthy consideration of a revocation of planning consent given by a former Secretary of State against the wishes of the local council. The revocation was finally refused, after my constituent had been driven into such desperation and his wife's health broken.

If those who have had to deal with local authorities for one reason or another were asked what they thought of them, they would reply that they were extremely uneasy about the inconsistency and sometimes unfairness and lack of consideration of local authorities for the human factors involved. This may sound an unfair criticism, particularly of those professional planning officers who try to fulfil a difficult task with the greatest care and scrutiny, but I am afraid that it is an opinion which is held by large numbers of people, particularly in the rural areas.

It is time that the Secretary of State set about trying to restore the confidence of ordinary people in the planning authorities. He could do so by setting up a small independent body of commissioners, similar to the special commissioners of income tax or the inspectors of constabulary, not to look into the individual merits of planning proposals but to try to bring about a better, more consistent operation of the planning laws by local authorities to improve on the practices of some authorities by telling them about the best practices of others, to try to report to the authorities where they think that delays and frustration can be avoided and, above all, to report to the public when they feel that planning policies are infringing too much and too unfairly upon individual freedom. A completely impartial, independent body is needed which would go to local planning authorities—as do the inspectors of constabulary—and give them advice.

I appreciate that the planning authorities are responsible bodies which do not like being told what to do by the central Government, but they could be advised what to do and their shortcomings could be shown up if they did not carry out that advice. I ask my right hon. and learned Friend to consider this suggestion seriously and draw it to the attention of the special committee which he is setting up to advise him on the workings of planning authorities to try to bring back public confidence in them.

Photo of Sir Ian Percival Sir Ian Percival , Southport

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have just been checking the transcript of my speech and find that it contains one sentence which would undoubtedly be read as meaning that I do not own any shares in any building company. That is not correct. I have no active interest or share in any building business, but I do have a small holding of shares in a public company in the industry. I regret this error and tender my apologies to the House.

7.35 p.m.

Photo of Mr Ernest Perry Mr Ernest Perry , Battersea South

I am sure, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that we accept that apology. I know that the hon. and learned Member for Southport (Mr. Percival) has always been very modest. He said that he had some experience in the building industry because he did some part-time labouring for a chippie during the Summer Recess. He was again being modest, and again being inaccurate, because I remember that at the Old Bailey about 20 years ago, when he was appearing for a friend of mine who was accused of transferring a number of Kango hammers from one place to another, in his defence of my friend—who was a member of the same council as myself—he showed a wonderful knowledge of the action of a Kango hammer and how it was used in the building trade. I therefore say to the hon. and learned Member for Southport "Do not be so modest. There are some of us who know something about you."

I am sure that the House agrees with what the hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Boscawen) said about housing deprivation in the rural areas and the pressure on them from large towns. I suppose it is the ambition of everybody in inner London to move into a rural area and buy a place to which to retire. We can understand the pressure that that puts upon local houses and local demand, increasing the price all the time. It is easy for anyone who lives in inner London and owns an ordinary semi-detached or terraced house to sell it for anything between £15,000 and £25,000. He can then move to a place such as Wells, pay £8,000 or £10,000 for a house, and put the balance in his pocket. I can well imagine that that is taking place, and it is because of the pressures in London that people are moving out and putting pressure on places like those mentioned by the hon. Gentleman.

The hon. Gentleman dealt with town planning. I should like to deal with another aspect of it, namely, that of dealing with applications to a local authority to alter property. I was surprised when the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg), who has great knowledge of the matter, referred to the large blocks of flats in London. In my constituency there are two such blocks. One is Du Cane Court and the other is High Trees House, and both are regarded as high-quality residential flats.

There are both leaseholders and tenants in those flats, and the new firms which have acquired them applied to put another storey on the top without telling the people living nearby or those in the flats what they were doing. In one case, it is planned to add a story on to an existing five-storey block, and in the other to add to a 10-storey block. Under an Act of Parliament, if a council does not agree to an extension it has to compensate the owners of the property for not giving them power to develop it. That is happening at Du Cane Court and High Trees House in Wandsworth.

Residents' associations in those two blocks can boast of comprising both tenants and leaseholders. Many people bought flats on the top floor, on the floor next to the top or with a piece of garden attached. If an extension is made, they will receive no recompense. They have to tolerate noise, dirt and inconvenience, and they can do nothing about it. Moreover, they were not told about it until the builders moved in. That is happening under a 1971 Act and the people affected are either renting or buying their high-quality flats.

The situation in London with regard to such flats is becoming so onerous that rear-admirals, generals, bank managers and solicitors are forming residents' associations to obtain justice from owners of blocks of flats. In one block ownership has changed hands four times in the past two years. Even if residents' associations apply to get recognition from the new owners they are not able to get it. If they write, their letters remain unanswered.

Service charges are frequently increased, and no explanation is given for what they cover. Whilst disagreeing with what the hon. Member for Hampstead said about the Labour Party—I suppose he blames the Labour Party for everything that has gone wrong in the world since Adam—I none the less welcome what he said about service charges and his assurance that after the matter had been considered legislation would be drafted to protect people from exorbitant charges.

In inner London, particularly in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, associations are being formed, one of which is called the Conference of Private Residents' Associations. At the end of September it held a meeting to discuss what was taking place in London with regard to blocks of flats. The report of the First Conference of Private Residents' Associations states: Mr. Ferman of Wroxham Mansions said that their 112 flats had changed hands four times in two years. No repairs were being carried out and fifty of the flats were empty. In Camden private tenants could expect up to 20 per cent. rent increases after 3 years but Fairhazel rent officer decisions recently gave an average of 38 per cent. increases. Some were 85 per cent. more. Rent officers were no longer conciliators and decisions differed widely within the Borough itself. 'There's a plot to get us out—but there's nowhere else in our area of London we can move to.' These occupiers of semi-luxury blocks of flats in London are so incensed that they are forming associations and a combination of associations to fight this sort of practice.

When flats change hands three or four times, it is sometimes a deliberate policy of the owners to harass occupiers and to get them out. If the owners can get 50 flats empty out of 112, they are well on the way to establishing a new hotel in the centre of London. This is their objective. The Secretary of State should seriously consider these matters with regard to huge blocks of flats in London.

I am in favour of the redevelopment and improvement of older flats and houses in London in preference to demolishing them and building anew. I am in favour of that, and let us not make any bones about it. I am almost in dispute with my own council because I believe that a certain block of flats should be retained and improved and not demolished. When old houses are redeveloped the developer can get a large improvement and investment grant, as much as 75 per cent. Included in this grant is an allowance to provide for fire regulations, if the building is three storeys high. The developer gets part of the cost of the fire regulations included in the grant.

In my constituency an Act is now being implemented which means that owner-occupiers, if they sublet, have to observe the new fire regulations. Many of my constituents who are owner-occupiers have saved hard and bought a house. They rely on the little income they get from letting out a room or two to students, thereby providing very good accommodation. The local authority, bound by the Act of Parliament, points out that the owner has to meet fire precaution regulations if the accommodation is not in the owners' or his family's occupation. I have raised this matter before and I will raise it again until these people get the same grant as developers.

One retired elderly couple in Gayville Road in my constituency had to pay £321 to have fire precautions installed because they let three rooms to three separate students at a reasonable rent. A case can be made for owners in this position receiving a grant towards the cost of meeting the requirements of fire regulations, retrospectively if necessary. I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will be prepared to help owner-occupiers who render this service to the community. It is a scandal when one buys a house with a lifetime's savings, lets a few rooms, but does not benefit from social security and then has to pay £321 for complying with fire precautions regulations.

There are owner-occupiers who have rendered a public service by the letting of rooms but who require help in the same way as tenants. In London, many of the tenants of semi-luxury blocks of flats are seething with discontent because of the actions of the new owners who have acquired the property. They are forming associations, and I hope that when the Minister introduces legislation he will bear these people in mind and do something about them.

7.50 p.m.

Photo of Mr Norman Tebbit Mr Norman Tebbit , Epping

It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Ernest G. Perry), although I shall not follow his remarks. It is a pleasure to hear him after the long hours we spent in Committee on the Housing Finance Bill when he as a Whip was silent, though by no means dumb.

Part of the theme of speech of the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) was "Where have all the houses gone?" That resolves itself into the question also—where have all the building workers gone? It is possible to blame the "lump". Some of us have views one way and some another. One sometimes hears builders saying, "Do not abolish the lump. It is the only way we can get the work done, even if we have to pay through the nose for it." This is not an easy question, whether we blame the "lump", factory and office building or improvement grants.

I use the word "blame" in an odd sense, perhaps, because improvement grant work is undoubtedly work which is labour-intensive and does not show at the end of the day in the statistics of houses built. If those who have been engaged on improvement work over the last three years had been launched into such matters as green field site building on new towns, the housing statistics would look different.

However, I am not sure that we would, as a community, be any better off. I say "I am not sure" because I do not believe that anybody can be sure, and a question about which we have to think deeply is how we get the best value in terms of production out of our building industry. Whatever gifts, gimmicks or assistance are given to help people to afford to pay more for houses, unless the supply is increased at the same time we shall finish by paying more for our houses and shall have achieved nothing.

There is no doubt that unless we do something to stop the wild fluctuations in the supply of money into and out of building societies and the rates of interest which are charged we shall remain in a cycle, so that in some years there are houses built aplenty to buy and no loans to purchase them, and in other years loans aplenty and no houses to buy. In the one case we have escalation of house prices and in the other the damage which is done to the building industry. I hope that none of us on either side of the House will be too sure that we have found the holy grail and the divine wisdom which would enable us to know exactly how to stop this. I do not believe that we have, and certainly I do not think that nationalisation of building land has any part to play in finding the answer to that problem.

However, there are some things which can be done to help the situation. I know that the Minister has been thinking for a long time, as indeed has the right hon. Member for Grimsby, about means of smoothing flows into and out of building societies, but I suggest that we ought to have some other, perhaps more radical, ideas about this matter. The building societies came into being at a time when the problems were entirely different from those of today. They came into being in a period when there were houses to purchase, when construction and price costs could not be reduced much more, but when there was a lack of finance for people to purchase them. That is not the case today. We have to look at what we can do to improve building societies and new ways in which we can lend money.

I should like to see proposals for lending money to would-be house purchasers at fixed, lower interest rates, with the borrower and the lender sharing some of the capital gain on the house. That arrangement could be helpful as a start.

We must all be familiar with articles in the newspapers demonstrating, to the satisfaction of the financial journalists, that if one borrows money at almost any rate of interest to buy a house, eventually one has had one's money for nothing. That means that it must have been a pretty bad bargain for the lender of the money. If he is waking up to that, it could be one of the reasons why we have problems about insufficient money going into the building societies.

There is another suggestion I commend to my hon. Friend for helping with house purchase. In new towns that are expanding or still being built many people will become the first tenants of new houses. Could we not devise a scheme by which the tenant could buy an option to purchase his house at a later date, perhaps within three or five years, at a price to be agreed and made known to him upon his purchase of the option? It sounds unusual, but I do not think that it would harm the development corporation or the public interest and it would allow more people to become owner-occupiers.

It is clear to me that the rôle of the tenant of a public authority is not a bed of roses. I am sure that time and time again we all find constituents—public authority, new town, or council tenants—coming to us with the same theme: "All I want to do is to swop houses with Mrs. Bloggs, or Mrs. Smith, who lives in a different town, or a different sector of the town." Time and time again we find that bureaucracy cannot cope with that kind of request. Housing managers in local authorities, beset by all sorts of problems, need the most extraordinary grounds before allowing a tenant to be moved. For them, the fact that he wants to move is not enough. I believe that if a tenant wants to move, basically he has every right to do so. It is the failure of bureaucracy, particularly in public housing, that I greatly regret. I believe that those two proposals could do something to help home ownership.

I want to say something about a proposal that does nothing to help home ownership—that by the Greater London Council and some of the London boroughs to purchase owner-occupier homes on the open market. The GLC is undoubtedly dragging its feet, whether deliberately or through incompetence, about the rebuilding of homes in dockland. It is spending a considerable part of its energies and substantial public funds on buying homes on the open market. Purchase of a home on the open market uses public money, but it does not add a single home to our total stock of housing.

It fits ill with all the concept of street-level democracy when the GLC, consulting nobody, buys a home in a quiet street and dumps in a problem family, perhaps a family not from that area, perhaps a family that arrived in London only a week or two earlier, perhaps a family that arrived in Britain only a month or two earlier. The GLC claims that in doing so it is helping to solve the housing problems.

When the GLC does this it is prepared to, and does, outbid the young married couples for whom such concern has been expressed by Labour Members.

If London boroughs abuse their access to key sector finance by purchases of this sort I hope that my right hon. Friend will remove access to key sector finance for that type of purchase. If the GLC squanders its energies in spiteful attacks on the owner-occupier market I hope that we shall also take powers to make sure that the GLC does not have access to finance to do it, or alternatively that the regulations governing what the GLC may purchase are changed.

I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to consider carefully their proposals for infrastructure levies. Most builders in the last year or so have brought forward their land for three or five years. They have paid the going price of the land and are faced with a squeeze of construction costs from rising wages and material costs. If we slap on those builders a sudden and large infrastructure levy there will be precious little resource to them to absorb it, and they will have to pass it on to the customer. On the other hand, if we imposed an infrastructure levy at a relatively low level this year and allowed it to rise to a stated fixed level in three or five years' time that would do far less harm to the industry, and far less to put up the price to the consumer. We might get another surge of land coming on to the market and an eagerness to build on it to get in while the levy is lower.

After those, I hope constructive, comments I wish to say something about the slightly bizarre idea that by nationalising land one could bring down the cost of housing over a wide area. I do not know what the Opposition have in mind on this, but if building land were nationalised and the land made available at low cost to the builder, presumably he would be prevented from taking the profit in selling the house at the market level to the owner-occupier. Who then takes the profit? Merely the first buyer, because, as the right hon. Member for Grimsby has said in the House on more than one occasion, it is not the price of land that governs the price of houses; it is the price of houses that governs the price of land. Unless we understand the way in which the cycle works there is no possibility of our getting the policies right. The right hon. Gentleman understands the way in which it works, but he has been cajoled by his hon. Friends into getting his policy wrong.

The price of the house is governed by demand and supply, and nothing else. The nationalisation of land would do nothing to help the purchaser of a home unless the policy went much further and controlled the price of every transaction between buyer and seller of every house for ever. The Opposition might do that one day. Imagine the bureaucracy and the black marketing that it would entail.

8.5 p.m.

Photo of Mr Peter Hardy Mr Peter Hardy , Rother Valley

The first part of the speech made by the hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Tebbit) led me to think that one of the more unacceptable faces of capitalism had been changed and that what appeared to be the previous pose of the hon. Gentleman as the scourge of the council-house tenant had become more mellow, until he decided to attack the GLC which has contributed so much in trying to solve the housing situation in London.

I sincerely trust that the Government are not serious in their statement that they will continue with their housing policies. I hope that the muddle we have experienced with improvement grants in the assisted areas will not be continued, and I trust that the Leader of the House in winding up will clarify the muddled impression left by the speech of the Secretary of State.

The Government's muddles have been so extensive that they may have driven from our minds the memory of the situation three or four years ago. Accordingly, I turned to the debate on the Gracious Speech in 1969, which proved fascinating. The Prime Minister, who was then Leader of the Opposition, criticised the Government strongly for what he regarded as their housing failure. He said that the cost of a monthly mortgage repayment was about £5 a week more than the average wage. At present it is about £40, or soon will be, six or eight times greater than it was then.

The gems of that debate came from the present Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. He condemned the Labour Government for inadequate building, high rents and costly mortgages and said that there was a great deal of misery about land prices. We know now what he meant. It was misery on the part of the speculators who were fed up with waiting for the killings they have enjoyed since 1970, killings which can be measured by the fact that an acre of building land during 1972 rose in price by 1p every 20 seconds—a disgraceful rate of inflation, harmful to the country.

The right hon. Gentleman, in addition to criticising the Labour Government for inadequate housing and building and high rents and mortgages which are both much higher now, went on to say that interest rates were too high and offered a hope for their reduction. In reply to an intervention asking how he proposed to reduce interest rates, the right hon. Gentleman gave the fascinating reply: With our immense influence in the sterling area, if correct action is taken under a sensible Government interest rates will come down."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th November 1969; Vol. 790, c. 851.] The Government have scarcely any influence anywhere. I ask the Minister whether he approved that statement then and whether he repudiates it now. Can he offer an explanation of the present failure? Is it the lack of sensible government or the lack of correct action? It must be one or the other, if not both.

Unfortunately, the Government insist on pursuing their present courses. Every sensible argument that has been advanced in the House has been rejected. However, in the last few weeks, the National and Local Government Officers Association has produced a document based on the recommendations of a working party, consisting of men of considerable experience and ability, which makes constructive suggestions which I hope the Minister will bear in mind. If he has not read it, I hope that he will assure the House that he will give it his attention. We have not time to consider the detailed recommendations of that body now, but I urge the Minister to acccept some of the serious major points made in that document.

The first point emphasised in the document is that there should be much more building in the public sector. This is necessary if we are to have a chance of meeting the slum clearance target by 1990, let alone by 1980, which was the Government's original promise. Secondly, there should be restrictions on sale and provisions to cope with deterioration in the private rented sector. This inevitably means a degree of municipalisation, particularly since most of the houses which have been improved of late are council houses built after 1920.

We also need not merely a comprehensive rent policy but a comprehensible one—certainly one that will be less inflationary than the policy contained in the Housing Finance Act, a measure that is a reincarnation of the Elizabethan poor law, which passes heavier burdens on to the poor areas rather than on to the rich. We also need a system in which relief of poverty should not come from the pockets of one's neighbours but from cen- tral funds. The present Secretary of State for Trade and then Industry told us that the Conservatives believed that their Government should appoint a housing advisory service and that they would arrange matters so that month by month they would be able to announce the manner in which success was being achieved. But no housing advisory service exists, and the only figures which now appear month by month are those which we extract from the Minister who mumbles them reluctantly whenever it is the Department of the Environment's turn at Question Time. We need an advisory service and we also need triennial reviews as advocated in the NALGO document.

I ask the Minister to pay heed to the fact that local government is capable of exercising a greater amount of decision-making than he allows it to do. It would be a more effective method of determining rents than the Housing Finance Act generally suggests.

I do not want to speak for very much longer, but I have one constituency case which deserves to be given attention. I have had to advise my constituents not to appeal to the rent assessment committee in Yorkshire because I have no confidence in that body. The reason for my lack of confidence I shall illustrate in the following case about which I wrote to the Minister.

Three of my constituents, Mr. Harrison and Mr. Maxfield of Brecks and Mr. Wingfield of Wickersley appealed against rents of £3·25 to £3·40 which they thought were too high since they believed that their own contribution to the condition of their houses had been ignored. Therefore, they appealed to the rent assessment committee. Incidentally I believe that their landlord was happy with the rent proposed by the rent officer, who has great experience. The rent assessment committee turned down the appeal and increased the rent still further so that the rent of those three houses is now £4·90, £5·50 and £5·75. I was so shocked that I urged the Minister to dismiss the gentlemen on the assessment committee for inflationary incompetence. The Minister may feel that that is strong action, but even stronger action is needed it housing policies in Britain are to be more just.

It is highly desirable that we should begin to rectify the awful imbalance in treatment between rich and poor. Possibly 10 major company directors or any 20 Conservative MPs receive a greater subsidy than does any council house estate of tenants in my constituency. This comes about because of the tax reliefs afforded to very wealthy people which often amount to a great deal—more per head than the sum allotted to council estates in the English provinces. This is an injustice which people are not prepared to tolerate. I do not believe the people of this country are prepared to tolerate a Government which they believe has failed so dismally in housing. Therefore, before even greater harm is done to society, the Government should say that they will not continue with their housing policy but will give greater priority to the need to establish a more just housing system in Britain.

8.15 p.m.

Photo of Mr Peter Trew Mr Peter Trew , Dartford

Since the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) and I will never agree on the Housing Finance Act, perhaps it will be better if I do not comment in detail on his remarks.

I wish to say something about mortgages, and I must declare an interest in housing development and construction. We have become accustomed to building societies being flush with funds in some years and being able to lend almost indiscriminately, and in other years being short of funds. The idea of a stabilisation fund is tempting, and I welcome the attempts of Government and building societies to establish one. However, it is a scheme which is fraught with difficulty. A stabilisation fund will often have to realise investments at a time when markets are depressed or, alternatively, will have to place funds when interest rates are low. It is difficult to operate a stabilisation fund without operating or realisation losses at one time or other. These would have to be financed either by increased mortgage rates or by Government subsidy, neither of which is satisfactory.

One solution to the whole mortgage problem lies not so much in trying to find ways of improving the present system of building society mortgages as in looking for completely new sources of funds. There is such a source readily to hand in the millions of pounds which flow every day into life and pension funds on a contractual basis regardless of the vagaries of the money market. Not much of that money has found its way into mortgages because life and pension funds require protection against inflation for their investments. They are providing insurance policies and pensions for people who have entrusted the funds with their money.

If increased use were to be made of that source of funds, particularly if we were to adopt the idea of equity-linked or index-linked mortgages, there is considerable scope for life and pension funds to enter the mortgage market—perhaps indirectly by providing funds to building societies in return for index-linked bonds. This could mean that building societies might find that mortgages would become more expensive. We might find ourselves with the situation that building societies would grant more expensive mortgages for more expensive houses and less expensive mortgages for less expensive houses. We must explore every possible new way of finding money for mortgages, and I believe that life and pension funds are among the most fruitful avenues.

The Opposition today have said a great deal about housing problems—and nobody would deny that many housing problems exist—and have advanced views about the Government's policies for tackling them. The Opposition are entitled to advance such views and indeed it is their duty as an Opposition to do so. But equally we are entitled to turn the spotlight on Labour's own plans for tackling these problems. I wish to say something about Labour's plans for public ownership, which were touched on briefly in the speech of the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland). There are a number of questions the public are entitled to ask and they should be given answers to them.

There are four questions I wish to ask about Labour's plans for public ownership. First, I wish to ask precisely what plans Labour intends to adopt? Secondly, will they result in the building of more houses? Thirdly, will they lower prices? Fourthly, how are they to be paid for?

One is entitled to ask which plan they intend to adopt since there are two rival plans floating around. First, there is the plan that appeared in Labour's "Programme for Britain" in June, which basically was to acquire at existing use value all development land—a plan which inevitably would cost many thousands of millions of pounds. Secondly, there is the plan produced by Professor Kaldor's breakaway group whose proposal was to extinguish all freeholds at a stroke and to convert those freeholds into long leases with the State—leases which would be terminated on change of use or when the land was required for public use.

We want to know which of those two plans is likely to be adopted by the Labour Party. If it is the first plan, taxpayers will be bracing themselves for the burden. If it is the second plan then owner-occupiers will be wondering what will happen to their freeholds. I shall concentrate on the first plan because it is the one set out in the semi-official document of the Labour Party, "Labour's Programme for Britain".

First, will that plan for public ownership result in the building of more houses? Let us consider the procedure whereby land will come into public ownership. First, there will have to be a survey of all development land in Britain—many thousands of parcels of land. After being surveyed they will have to be valued. Having been valued, negotiations will have to begin with the owners for their acquisition at existing use value. If and when, as will often be the case, those negotiations break down, resort will have to be had to compulsory purchase.

Two consequences flow from that. First, it will take a very long time for that land to come forward for development, and, secondly, an army of skilled valuers and surveyors will have to be employed on the work, and men of that category are already in short supply. So far from producing more houses, almost certainly such a plan would slow down the rate at which land came forward for development and fewer houses would be built.

I turn now to prices. One must differentiate between council houses and houses for owner occupation. If urban building land were to be acquired at a price below that obtaining under existing compensation codes, then, provided that it were accepted that it would have to be acquired compulsorily, land for council house building could be available more cheaply, even though it might take longer to acquire. The saving on the rates resulting from that could be applied to rebate schemes additional to the existing rebate schemes, and that may or may not be of help. The rebate schemes under the Housing Finance Act give relief to anybody in genuine hardship. Experience shows that if council house rents are depressed too low the length of waiting lists is increased. But what about houses for owner-occupation? The theory described so lucidly by my hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Tebbit) is that houses for owner-occupation should be built on this cheap land and sold at a price below the market price. But, as he rightly pointed out, unless restrictions are placed on the resale of such a house, a gift is being made to the purchaser. If restrictions on resale are imposed for five years the gift is merely deferred. But after a period all housing sold on this basis will rise to the market value.

Another consequence is that two distinct classes of tenure will come into being. There will be houses built upon Crown land with restrictions on resale and existing owner-occupied houses with no encumbrances. Clearly those houses will become increasingly sought after and will almost certainly go up in price. Therefore, public ownership will not lower the market price of housing.

Finally, who will pay? The acquiring of development land at existing use value will cost thousands of millions of pounds. Even spread over a number of years it would be an enormous burden. Considered in conjunction with the Labour Party's massive nationalisation plans for a wide sector of industry and commerce, the result would be a borrowing requirement of a size never envisaged, certainly running into 11 figures and with considerable inflationary consequences. Far from solving Britain's housing problems, Labour's plans for public ownership are half-baked, unworkable and enormously expensive. If I am wrong, the Opposition must prove it by giving chapter and verse. The public are waiting and are entitled to know.

8.24 p.m.

Photo of Mr Richard Leonard Mr Richard Leonard , Romford

I should like to follow the comments made by the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Trew), but I plan to speak on another matter concerning my constituents. Therefore, as other hon. Members wish to speak, I will not trespass too much on the time of the House by taking up any of his remarks.

I wish to speak entirely about the operation of the Housing Finance Act over the last year, and particularly its effect upon council tenants. I shall seek to demonstrate four points: first, that the Government and the Prime Minister in particular, have wilfully misled the country and the House about the effects of the Act; secondly, that real hardship is being caused to large numbers of tenants; thirdly, that the Government have acted against the spirit of their own Act, in at least one instance appearing to have broken the law; and, fourthly, that the fair rent assessment procedure has become bogged down in a bureaucratic morass.

The Prime Minister, in his speech at the Conservative Party Conference, made a rather remarkable claim, when he said: Take Mr. and Mrs. James with three children, earning just £25 a week. Now because of that Act —the Housing Finance Act— Mr. and Mrs. James get a rent rebate of £3·29 a week, so that the rent which they pay from their own pockets —for a house the actual rent of which was £3·50 a week— is now down to 21p. The Minister for Housing and Construction made a similar point in the House in reply to a supplementary question by me on 17th October.

The arithmetic behind the Prime Minister's claim is correct. I have double checked it. What is wrong about the claim is that it is totally unrealistic to imagine that a family with three children could now hope to find council accommodation for a rent as low as £3·50 a week. I asked my local authority, the London borough of Havering, what the rent would be for such a family if it were offered accommodation now. I was told that it would be £6·16 a week. The GLC average rent for a newly built three-bedroom dwelling is £7·40 in inner London and £6·90 in outer London.

It may be that London rents are untypical, so I inquired of two other autho- rities, which I selected at random, a long way from the metropolis—Sheffield and Scunthorpe. The rent for a three-bedroom dwelling on the latest estate in Sheffield is £5·74 and in Scunthorpe £5·56. Therefore, the impression that the Prime Minister has created is quite divorced from the facts.

Photo of Mr Reginald Eyre Mr Reginald Eyre , Birmingham, Hall Green

Will the hon. Gentleman define a little more clearly the type of house about which he is talking with a rent of £5·74 in Sheffield? Did he say that it was a recently built Parker Morris house?

Photo of Mr Richard Leonard Mr Richard Leonard , Romford

This is the type of house which has been built on the latest estates to be developed in both Sheffield and Scunthorpe and which would be offered to a family with three children on the waiting list to be rehoused.

The majority of people in the circumstances referred to by the Prime Minister are undoubtedly paying a rent, after rebate, of a great deal more than 21p a week. If the Minister for Housing and Construction has informed the Prime Minister otherwise, he ought to be sacked.

As a further check on the Prime Minister's and the Minister's credibility I asked my local authority how many tenants are paying a net rent, after rebate, of less than £l a week. The answer was 428—less than 4 per cent. of the total number. It is clear that only a tiny proportion of tenants are paying anything like as little as the sum that the Prime Minister and the Minister for Housing and Construction have suggested is typical.

I turn now to the hardship which I believe is being caused to council tenants by the imposition of rent increases under the Act. The cumulative increase for a large number of tenants is now £1·50 a week. They are confronted with the seemingly endless prospect of further increases of 50p a week year after year under the Act. I do not see how any Government serious about their counter-inflationary policies could deliberately exert this additional inflationary pressure, a pressure entirely of their own making and which remains entirely within their own control, on so many millions of citizens. This pressure cannot help but be reflected in the wage claims which trade unions prepare on behalf of their members.

The Government's response to this position is twofold. First, they claim that the majority of council tenants can afford to pay these increases, although the Government must be aware that the overwhelming mass of council tenants are people with average or below average incomes. Second, it is claimed that those who are hard up will receive rebates which will cushion them against the increases.

However, there is disturbing evidence that large numbers of tenants entitled to rebates are not receiving them. Again, I have made inquiries of various local authorities. The GLC informs me that about 25 per cent. of tenants are receiving rebates. In Havering the proportion is 33 per cent., in Scunthorpe 30·7 per cent., and in Sheffield just below 30 per cent.

All these percentages include people receiving supplementary benefit. Yet the former Minister for Housing and Constructuction said in Committee on the Bill on 16th December 1971 that 35 per cent. of all tenants were likely to receive rebates in 1972–73. Since the Bill became an Act the needs allowance has twice been increased, to such an extent that considerably more tenants should now be eligible to receive rebates. The conclusion is inescapable—that large numbers of tenants with low incomes who should receive rebates are not receiving them and that they have to bear the full brunt of rent increases of up to £1·50 a week. This must have caused immense hardship to a large number of families.

I come now to a matter which brings very much into question the good faith of Ministers in their administration of the Act. My local authority, the London borough of Havering, was one of 187 authorities which applied to the Secretary of State under Section 62(4) to make an average increase of less than £1 a week on 1st October last year. Its request was not fully accepted, but the Secretary of State did make a direction permitting an average increase of 90p a week.

This must have meant that the right hon. and learned Gentleman was convinced that a larger increase would have brought, to quote from the Act, the rents of 2 per cent. or more of the authority's qualifying dwellings substantially above the fair rents of those dwellings". Since the Secretary of State gave that direction a year ago nothing has hap- pened to suggest that he was wrong to take that view.

My local authority has set provisional fair rents for its dwellings which would have resulted in a reduced rent for as many as 89 per cent. of its dwellings and increases for only 11 per cent. As the rent scrutiny board has not yet made any final assessments for dwellings in my constituency, this is the only additional evidence that the Minister has received since his direction of a year ago. Under the spirit of the Act, in particular Section 62(4), it is clear that no further increase can be justified in the rents at least till the final assessments are made. Yet the Secretary of State has declined to make a direction this year, so that a further increase of 50p a week across the board was imposed from 1st October.

Nor is this an isolated episode. In October 1972 the Secretary of State made 171 directions. I inquired of his Department on 23rd October this year and was told that only 32 directions had been given this year, although that is not a final figure. It is to be hoped that the final figure will be a great deal higher than this, but it is already clear that a large number of local authorities—probably well over 100 of them—have been taken for a ride by the Secretary of State. He played politics with them in the most shameful way, agreeing in October 1972, when the political heat was on, that then rents had already reached the fair rent level, and going back on this a year later—when the local elections were out of the way.

I ask the Minister to ask his right hon. Friend who is to reply to answer a specific question. How can he possibly justify that about-turn—171 local authorities having been told a year ago that they had already reached a fair rent level, and over 100 of them now being required to make a further increase?

Photo of Mr Reginald Eyre Mr Reginald Eyre , Birmingham, Hall Green

My right hon. Friend will have to reply to the whole debate, so perhaps I may tell the hon. Gentleman now that the discretions are different in the two cases he has mentioned. I should be glad to write to him and explain the difference in detail.

Photo of Mr Richard Leonard Mr Richard Leonard , Romford

I shall be delighted to receive a letter from the hon. Gentleman, but as it applies to so many authorities the answer should be given in tonight's debate.

There has been no reference in the debate, although they have been discussed in the Press, to the councillors of Clay Cross who are alleged to have broken the law. Yet the first person to break the law was the Secretary of State himself. Section 20(3) of the Act says clearly: Where the Secretary of State proposes to make regulations under subsection (2) above"— that refers to the rebate scheme— he shall refer the proposals to the Advisory Committee on Rent Rebates and Rent Allowances constituted under section 23 below in order that that Committee may consider them and advise on them. In January it was announced in the White Paper on stage 2 that the needs allowance was to be increased. That proposal had not been submitted to the advisory committee. How could it have been? The Secretary of State did not appoint the committee until 20th March, and it did not meet until 26th March, I do not object to the needs allowance having been increased—on the contrary—but it shows a strange attitude to the rule of law when the Secretary of State is prepared to flout his own Act.

The Act received Royal Assent as long ago as July 1972. There have since been three waves of increases towards so-called fair rents under the Act—in October 1972, April this year, and last month. Yet even now only a tiny proportion of tenants have been told what their final fair rent assessment is. I inquired of the Department on 23rd October and was told that only 41 final assessments had been made before the third round of rent increases came into effect on 1st October. Apparently it will still be a long time before the majority of tenants are put out of the misery of their continuing uncertainty. The Department told me on 23rd October: There is a long delay at the moment between submission of provisional assessments and completion of RSB reports because every local authority in the country has submitted assessments at the same time. That is hardly surprising; it is exactly what they were required to do by the Act. The inordinate delay that has resulted is entirely as predicted by my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself in the Standing Committee. Tenants have now been caught up in the bureau- cratic morass that we foresaw but Ministers denied would happen.

On 1st April next year the fourth batch of automatic rent increases will become due under the Act. Can the Minister give the House an unqualified assurance that the final rent assessments will be known for all the local authorities concerned before that date?

My party is completely committed to the repeal of the Housing Finance Act. I do not expect the present Government to give a similar commitment, nor do I ask them to. They have neither the wisdom nor the belief in social justice that that would imply, but I ask them at least to suspend the automatic rent increases under the Act, if only till the final assessments of so-called fair rents have been made. If they refuse to do that they will be directly responsible for causing severe hardship to millions of tenants, undermining their own counter-inflationary policies, deceiving the electorate, and ensnaring millions of council tenants in a labyrinth of bureaucratic muddle and delay.

8.40 p.m.

Photo of Mr David Stoddart Mr David Stoddart , Swindon

I shall not comment on what my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Leonard) said. The Secretary of State's speech was dismal, depressing and irrelevant to the needs of housing. I can assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman—I hope he will be informed—that he has depressed my constituents. In my constituency, only 18 months ago and perhaps even later than that, a person could arrive, put his name on the housing list and within six weeks be rehoused by the local authority. Today, if a person goes to the Swindon local authority he will be told, if the authority holds out any hope that it can rehouse, that the rehousing will take at least two years.

From a good housing situation the Swindon local authority now faces a bad housing situation. That can be attributed solely to Government action. A major reason has been that the number of relet houses coming forward has fallen from 600 per annum to 15. That is a direct result of people being unable, because of the high price of houses, of land and the high price and shortage of mortgages, to buy their own houses. People are unable to leave their rented properties and to make them available for others.

Further, people who would otherwise have bought their own houses are now going on to the councils' housing lists. However, a Conservative hon. Member had the audacity and the nerve to say that there was no demand, or that there was a falling demand, for rented accommodation. Let me assure the Government that my experience, and the experience of my constituents, is that the demand for rented accommodation, far from falling, is rising fast. The sooner the Government do something about that, the better it will be for the country.

It is becoming almost impossible for local authorities to overcome the grave shortage which has hit them like a bolt from the blue as a result of the Government's policies. The Government have allowed building costs, through their inflationary policies, to escalate to a fantastic degree. The housing cost yardstick is forcing my local authority to build houses for sale rather than for rent. That is because it cannot meet the price of Parker Morris standards and because of the restriction of the housing cost yardstick.

Those people in my constituency who desperately need rented accommodation will wait even longer because the Government will not move in the right direction. The Housing Finance Act, which has already been mentioned several times, is doing no good. My local authority is unable to plan as it should be able to plan. It cannot make its own housing policies and its own housing list. The future is completely obscure. People who should be doing relevant housing social duties are tied up looking after rent rebates. The Act has done them no good.

Land speculation and gazumping is taking place in my constituency. It is a national disgrace that local authorities, including my own, which require land for building council houses for rent, should be gazumped by greedy and speculative builders. They will now be short of land for the next two or three years and, in the case of my constituency, there may well be a shortage of 1,000 or 2,000 houses. That is a situation which is occurring throughout the country.

We have been told about the shortage of building workers, but we have heard little about the shortage of building materials which are produced by private enterprise. It seems that private enterprise is not meeting the nation's needs. It takes weeks and sometimes months to get plasterboard. I understand that in my constituency there is a black market in plasterboard. An 8 ft. by 4 ft. sheet, which usually costs about 95p in the trade, fetches about £3. This also is a result of the Government's failure to understand the situation in the building materials industry, a situation which was pointed out to the Government by myself before the Recess.

Then there is the dire plight of people who wish to own their own houses. For a long period we have heard from the Conservative Party about the property-owning democracy. This is a sick joke to most of my constituents. High prices and high interest charges have priced most of my working-class constituents out of the owner-occupier scene. Existing owners, too, are caught in this vicious trap, because if they have to move to another area they must buy, but they cannot afford to sell below a certain figure, otherwise the building societies will not lend them the balance. In the meantime, they have to take a bridging loan at, perhaps, an interest rate of 15 per cent. For ordinary working families that is ruinous.

In my constituency we also face the activities of land speculators. They are coming into Swindon and buying up areas of good houses at high prices. They intend to allow the houses to get into a state of disrepair in order to force the local authority to grant planning permission for other uses, such as offices and so on, which are completely unnecessary. Unfortunately, the local authority has little confidence that the Secretary of State will give it the support necessary to deal with that sort of speculation. But support and additional powers it ought to have, so that it can deal with these greedy people who come into a town and take out of it what they can, with no sympathy, heart or feeling for its people, who merely want a good home. These speculators are greedy parasites and ought to be dealt with most harshly.

I want to suggest one or two further things that the Government could do.

Photo of Mr David Stoddart Mr David Stoddart , Swindon

They could resign—but they will wait until Thursday, at least, before talking of resignation.

The first thing that the Government could do is to give support to local authorities in dealing with land speculators, these parasites and blots on the housing landscape. Secondly, the Government should disallow tax relief on mortgage interest for second homes. That is a must. Even a Tory Government should be fair-minded enough to do that. The third thing that the Government ought to do is to restrict the amount of money which qualifies for tax relief on mortgage interest. That would save funds which the Government could then distribute to local authorities and others to assist in the building of houses.

It is useless to talk to the Government about taking land into public ownership, even though that is the obvious thing to do. The Government ought to give a lead to all local authorities and enable them to build more houses for renting. Up to the present, the Government have positively discouraged local authorities from building houses for renting. That is why the number built has fallen by 50 per cent. The Government ought to do another U-turn and encourage local authorities to build houses for renting.

The Government should also set up a commission—this is urgent—with the aim of examining the building industry and the building materials industry. Both of those industries are highly inefficient. They are not serving the nation as they should. They should be examined and reorganised in such a way that they can do the huge job of reconstruction that is needed.

Finally, there is too much profit in housing. All sorts of people are making a profit. There are land sharks; there are building merchant sharks; there are the builders themselves; there are far too many people taking a profit. The only people who lose, the only people who get nothing, are the ordinary people with families who merely want homes to live in. For God's sake let the Government give homes to them.

8.50 p.m.

Photo of Mr William Price Mr William Price , Rugby

I find myself surrounded by experts. I cannot compete with their statistics, with their starts and finishes, with their housing subsidy figures, with their land values and so on. Indeed, I am not sure that I should want to do so. But I do have about 2,000 families in my constituency in search of a decent home and with precious little chance of finding one in the tolerably near future.

I share one sentiment with most other hon. Members. Nothing distresses us more than the regular flow of people through our surgeries and clinics, young couples with no hope of obtaining a mortgage, couples who cannot keep up the mortgages they already have, those living in desperately overcrowded conditions, and old folk with nowhere to go at all. What do I tell them? Do I tell them that the Tory-controlled council in Rugby has built a grand total of 160 council houses, plus a few for the elderly, in the last six years? Should I tell them to put their names on the list and hope for providence? Should I advise them to buy one of the private houses that have almost certainly doubled in price in the last three years? They ask me about mortgages, and I tell them that there is no problem in obtaining one. All that one needs to obtain an £8,000 mortgage —there is nothing cheaper in my constituency—is a wage of £80 per week, or roughly double the national average. Those people come to me with little hope, and they leave in desperation.

I go home to a bungalow for which I paid £7,000 seven years ago and which is now worth nearer £25,000. What do Ministers, speculators, and City commentators tell me? "Well done, lad", they say. "You put your money in the right commodity. You are sitting on a profit of 300 per cent. Congratulations." What the hell sort of profit is that? That really is the greatest myth of all. I have made nothing.

I have made not a single penny, and for a reason that is so clear that it really ought not to need stating in this House. If I want my family to live in a home of that sort, I shall have to spend that £25,000 on another bungalow. All I have done is jump on the gravy train at the right time. I have seen my property multiply in value at such a rate that the average working man would need three times as much money as he gets today to be able to buy it from me.

What fascinates me about housing is the supreme optimism of successive Ministers of both parties. We are always told that we are on the brink of salvation, the slums are being replaced, there will be a home for everybody and mortgages will be no problem. I do not understand the basis of that optimism. Whatever Whitehall may argue, there are more people today faced with a housing crisis than at any previous time.

It is clear that Parliament and successive Governments have never given housing the priority that was needed. However well-intentioned we may be, do we understand what it is like to be evicted, to be out on the streets, to be told by a housing official in Birmingham that there are 25,000 families ahead in the queue and to see the end of mortgage payments disappearing well beyond pension age?

Photo of Mr William Price Mr William Price , Rugby

Yes, well beyond death.

I believe that housing is the most basic need of all. Without a home, the great new shopping centres, the fine schools, the district hospitals, the sporting facilities, the motorways, Concorde, Maplin and the Channel Tunnel are worth nothing. We need a Prime Minister who is prepared to force a massive shift of resources. We need a target of 500,000 houses a year for a long time ahead. If other projects must be delayed, so be it. Until we get those houses we shall continue to see the misery and the deprivation that is caused by slum dwellings, the growing queue of young married couples who want to buy a house but who see prices rising at such a rate that their savings daily become more pathetic.

And we shall have to put up with some of the most evil men in the land—men who have either found a way round the law or who take the view that it can be flouted without any fear of action being taken against them.

Let us consider Mr. Victor Popoff, whose activities were exposed in a fine investigative article in the News of the World on 30th September. The reporter, posing as a property speculator, obtained a taped interview with Popoff. This is what Popoff had to say: I rule by fear. I make no bones about that. This is a dirty business. Most tenants are vermin. Don't think of them as people. If you do, you are finished. You're dealing in flesh. Cattle. Herd them in and milk them. And if the milk isn't forthcoming, you have to be rough.I usually dine at the Savoy with posh people from the City when my mob are evicting a family.… I've had families with babies in arms out on the streets when they've owed no more than one week's rent. My men might start by turning off electricity and smashing windows—kindergarten stuff. Sometimes we take giant rats and hide them in a bed. A rat was once put in a cot. I didn't approve of that, but by God, it did the trick. I understand that Mr. Popoff really has popped off. The moment that article appeared, he left the country. I should dearly like to think that Mr. Popoff was at the bottom of the Thames, with a block of cement tied around his neck.

We share the blame for that man's activities. He is the creation of a sick society and the result of a desperate shortage of homes. Whatever may be argued, one basic fact stands out. No Government have been able to put thugs like Popoff out of business. One thing at least can be said for him: he understands capitalism and free enterprise.

In the same article Popoff offered some sound, paternal advice to the young reporter when he said: Float companies, cross-pollinate them and cover your tracks so no one ever really knows who owns the property. Sit back and count the money while someone else is pushing in doors for you. That is the delightful philosophy of a fat lump of humanity who, like many others, would have continued his evil way had it not been for my hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard) and the News of the World.

Someone is bound to ask why I talk at length about a London operator when I come from the Midlands. There are two answers to that. First, I have lived in a flat in Notting Hill for the past eight years—the home ground of Rachman—and I have seen what has happened to so many of the people who used to live around me. Secondly, these activities are not confined to London. The muck is spreadng out. I doubt whether there is a major city in Britain which has not attracted some of the Popoff ilk.

In my own constituency recently a London firm announced that it would be seeking an increase in rents of up to 600 per cent. I have people being exploited, just as they are in London, and this will go on as long as there is a shortage. And there will be a shortage until we understand that homelessness is the greatest social evil of all. When that happens, maybe we shall be able to force future Governments to do better than those in the past.

I wish to be helpful, as usual, to those on the Front Benches, to those who have the responsibility now and those who may have it in the near future. I say just this to them: for God's sake cut the waffle and the cackle and get on with providing a decent home for everybody at a price that people can afford.

9.0 p.m.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

My first task is to congratulate the hon. Member for Ripon (Mr. Austick) on his maiden speech. He spoke with feeling about his predecessor Sir Malcolm Stoddart-Scott, whom many of us remember with affection. I well remember his speeches in the earlier days on the subject of health—the pharmaceutical industry, and so on. We certainly miss him, as, I am sure, will many in his constituency.

The hon. Member spoke of his pride in his constituency—the people, the landscape. He need not have apologised for his final bluntness. When he has been here longer he will discover that that is a characteristic of many of us. If he ever feels the rough edge of my tongue or that of others here I hope he will remember that that is how we are, too.

There has been little reference to Scotland in the debate for fairly obvious reasons. We have to appreciate that, if the position in England is bad, the position of Scotland under this Government is even worse.

I heard more than once today the words "disastrous "and "calamitous", but they were being used in respect of the Government's handling of the situation. I can remember the start of the Government's feelings about ruling the country, the Prime Minister's determination to create one nation. I can remember the feelings on the back benches; they were expressed by the waving of papers when it was announced that there would be a saving of money on housing by 1975. The smiles of Selsdon gave way to a quiet complacency. Today we have seen undisguised concern at the Government's failure.

The figures cannot be denied. The number of houses completed last year fell in comparison with the number the year before, and they are falling again. That does not apply purely to the local authority programmes. Perhaps the Government were hopeful that they would get such a tremendous response from private building that it would overcome the deficiencies of the local government programmes, but it is applying to the private sector, too.

Where have the greatest falls occurred in the local authority sector? Not in the rural areas, though I appreciate the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin) and by the hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Boscawen), who rightly spoke feelingly about the difficulties there. The greatest falls have been in the areas of greatest need—in our cities, in the large burghs of Scotland, and in the county boroughs of England and Wales.

The private sector does not build the majority of the houses where there is the greatest shortfall in rented local authority accommodation. It builds in the more pleasant parts of the country, and so people are hit twice. The failure of the Government is in their dogmatic dedication to private ownership and private enterprise and their refusal to appreciate that the needs of the great mass of the people can be met by only massive programmes by the local authorities.

Someone said that private rented landlordism was dying. To my mind it is dead. The hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. John Wells) tried hard to defend it. He longed for days of more enlightened landlords, but he has to face the fact that the new keynotes exist. The new settlers into speculation are there. I am sure that if he had heard the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mr. William Price), he would have agreed with every word of it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. David Stoddart) referred to the suffering of London people because of speculators. The London situation is getting worse and the Prime Minister should know it. Unless one earns £3,500 a year one does not stand the remotest chance of buying a home in London, or elsewhere in the South-East, because that is the kind of salary needed under building society rules to get even the cheapest property.

The Evening News of last week quoted a gentleman doing good work in a housing association and who would be looking for the kind of property which a year or two ago would have cost him £3,800, but which now is costing anything up to £9,000. He said: It's virtually impossible to get reasonably-priced rented accommodation if you've got children. For whom are the Government catering—people without children? We cannot all be Prime Ministers? Basic to a family are children, and basic to a family is a home, but it is virtually impossible to get reasonably priced rented accommodation if one has children.

The London housing situation is getting worse with more evictions and more homelessness, and the Minister had admitted it. I continue to quote the Evening News: Local authorities are building fewer new homes, and there is more pressure from people coming into London. That was said by Mr. Anthony Fletcher, who was Private Secretary to the Prime Minister when he was Leader of the Opposition.

Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley

indicated dissent.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

The right hon. Gentleman must take it up with the Evening News, but he knows the man concerned. These are the facts of the London situation at the present time. If we have that situation in our capital, with this degree of helplessness and hopelessness, then the Government cannot successfully defend themselves in relation to their housing programmes

In Scotland, the fall in house completions is grave, especially in our towns and cities, but there is worse to come. In the first three-quarters of this year submissions by local authorities are down to under 6,000. Under a Labour Government they averaged 18,000. Approvals so far this year are 4,620 against an average of over 18,000. The conclusion is that by 1975 in Scotland the local authority housing programme will have been decimated. We were told that the Government were going to concentrate on the areas of greater stress. They were going to concentrate in Scotland on slum clearance, and we received a great new subsidy with which to do it. We have had that subsidy for one year. How much has been spent? £60,000. Fewer and fewer houses are being completed. In the first three-quarters of this year the number of houses completed in Scotland was exactly half of the figure in the first three-quarters of 1970—down from 22,000 to 10,500. No wonder the Secretary of State for Scotland has been silent today, No wonder he is not in Govan proclaiming the greatness of the programme with which the Government are meeting the needs of the people of Scotland.

Members have rightly spoken about rents today. Local authority tenants are now paying over £8 million per week more in rent—over £400 million more a year. The Secretary of State for Scotland and the Secretary of State for the Environment, who is responsible for housing in England, are members of a Government who are seeking to control inflation. Instead they are creating it. They have fanned the flames of inflation by their housing policy, by driving people into the private sector by their failure to build council houses.

The Secretary of State for Scotland will say that one has to look at the fact that there are 5,500 empty houses in Scotland. There are 800,000 local authority houses and he says that 5,500 are empty. Is this a reason for doing less? What are these 5,500 houses? They were not built by a Labour Government. They were houses built by his own Government in the 13 Tory years, and houses built during the war. Let us not have that alibi.

I turn now to the question of the private sector. What chance is there for an ordinary man, even earning the misleading average wage we were given the other week, to buy himself into a decent house at present day prices? Prices in the private sector range from the outrageous to the obscene.

The Secretary of State for Scotland will remember that we had discussions about houses opened by his Under-Secretary of State in his own constituency of Ayr. They were Georgian-style houses—and that has nothing to do with the Under-Secretary of State's Christian name. They were recently featured in the Sunday Times supplement at £20,000 each. When glancing recently at a local paper I saw: A most attractive detached Georgian style residence, built 1972…a quiet development of eight similar properties. They were the same houses. First offer at £28,000 secures. In one year, up from £20,000 to £28,000—an increase of 40 per cent. I can assure the House that the working people of Ayr are queuing up—but not for those houses: they are queuing up in the lengthening waiting lists of the local authorities.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rugby spoke about the number of houses being built in his constituency. His experience can be repeated all over the place, in towns and burghs in Scotland, where housing needs are not being met and where housing lists are lengthening. Young people have to read this kind of stuff and wonder how they will get a mortgage.

Here is an advertisement that has delighted me. Bovis is building two-bedroom flats just outside London at £13,950. It is building in Ayr, too. Its advertisement says: A Bovis home in Ayr. Should you settle for anything less. It has two advertisements because it has an agent for the same Bovis homes in Royelle Estate, Galloway, with prices from £13,750. It has a special scheme—I do not know how good it is or what it is in—to meet the rising mortgage interest rates. A purchaser pays back for the first three years so much per month to meet the increase in the rates. It goes on: a Bovis home under £15,000"— and they cost from £13,750— will receive for the first three years a monthly cash hand-back equivalent to the difference between 8½ per cent. and the current mortgage rate. At the moment, with the current mortgage rate of 10 per cent. this means that on an £8,000 mortgage you would receive back a tax free hand back…of £10·00 per month. There are two things wrong with that. It advertises a mortgage of £8,000 for a £13,750 house. What about the other £5,000? Is that the deposit? The deposit is now as much as the house would have cost two years ago. There is another thing wrong with it which the Prime Minister has noticed. The current mortgage rate is not 10 per cent. but 11 per cent. I read the other Bovis advertisement. The advertisers caught up with things on page 39 but they did not catch up with them on page 40. The public relations people in the construction industry are so confused and bemused by the rising prices and the rising mortgage interest rates that they are misleading the public by their advertisements. When a suggestion appears that for a £13,750 house all that is required is a mortgage of £8,000, there is something far wrong. Those advertisements appeared in last week's Ayrshire Post.

There is plenty of money around. I am sure that the Prime Minister will be interested in this advertisement which appeared in the Sunday Times of 4th November: Park Lane, Mayfair. Superb second floor flat with wide views over Hyde Park. Three reception rooms.…four bedrooms. 56-year lease. £225,000. Who does the Minister think is paying that money? Perhaps he should have a word with the Chancellor of the Exchequer to see exactly how tax relief will enable someone to buy that flat on that lease more readily than it will enable a young couple to get a mortgage of £8,000.

This is the sort of situation that is creating considerable unrest among young people, but it is not just young people who are looking for their first homes. Also in this category are policemen about to retire who are in tied houses, and in many of our rural villages there are teachers in tied houses. There are also in tied houses bankers who thought that they had saved enough to be able to buy houses in some pleasant place in the country. They now discover that their money in terms of property is not worth what they thought it was: it has gone. At their age they cannot face a mortgage over a period of 25 years.

I hope that the Prime Minister appreciates that he has united the nation in one respect. The people who now discover that the end of their mortgage repayments recedes with every six months of the Prime Minister's stewardship, the young people who are waiting to get a house from a local authority, the young people waiting to obtain rented accommodation or waiting for a mortgage—all are united against this Government and their housing policy. No wonder the Prime Minister is worried about a by-election. [Interruption.] Oh, he is not worried. Let me tell him that the Conservative Party will lose their deposit at Govan on Thursday—and there will be another lost deposit as well. At any rate, we shall soon find out exactly what will happen.

The people of this nation are displaying frustration and despair at the failure of the Government and the promises which they have made. They promised that they would do so much to help the people. I have the election address of the Conservative candidate in my area. It certainly did not persuade me at the time, and it now looks rather silly from his point of view.

The Government now say that they intended to provide housing for the needy. They have created a new mass of the needy. If they consider that the needy are only the people who cannot pay their rents and if they think that they have done justice to those people because they have provided rent rebates, then they had better think again. Those people were not needy until the Government put up rents. With every increase in rent they create a new body of the needy.

Do the Government take the view that people like applying for rent rebates? There are 1,750,000 people in receipt of rent rebates. a million of whom are already receiving supplementary allowances. The number of people receiving rent allowances amounts to 330,000, 300,000 of whom are already receiving supplementary allowances. Furthermore, according to the Minister's calculations only half the people eligible for rent allowances—and we have recently had a ministerial answer on this point—have applied for them.

This afternoon the Secretary of State for the Environment delivered one of the shallowest speeches I have ever heard from a Minister. I do not know whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman took too much out of himself in Brussels. He seems to have lost both energy and argument. He certainly was not master of his facts today. He now faces the chilly reality of what he negotiated in Brussels and he has not the courage to face the hard reality of what the people in this country are facing in terms of their housing. He suggested that it was the local councils who were not telling people about what allowances and rebates were due to them. Then the right hon. and learned Gentleman suddenly realised that he was the Minister responsible, that he had to co-operate with these authorities. and had to apologise to them.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman then attacked the Opposition. He said that Labour Members of Parliament were not telling the people about the allowances. I am telling the people about them now. I tell the people about them every week at every meeting I have with those who are concerned about housing. I tell them that they have to apply to the local authority for a rent allowance or a rate rebate. The reactions by people who have never applied for any kind of help before are not pleasant. In the private sector there is great hardship, and the Government know it, but that hardship does not come because people have not applied for a rate or rent rebate; it comes from the fact that the Government have forced up rents. The responsibility is theirs.

Photo of Mr Norman Tebbit Mr Norman Tebbit , Epping

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what is so awful about a rent rebate? He and his colleagues—indeed, I think all of us—would agree that there was something very good about making provision for a rate rebate.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

It was sufficiently callous to put up rents, but to have done so without making provision for rate rebates would have been even worse. The fact is that many more people are being subjected to means tests and they object to them.

I now turn to the position of local authorities' housing programmes. We have had complaints about the Government's ability to withhold approval on the cost of housing. We have heard about the yardstick. That becomes even more important when we find for local authorities from week to week and month to month leaps in prices for construction. The Secretary of State for Scotland will know that in the last year the price to a local authority in Scotland went up by well over £1,000 per house.

I am worried about this problem in view of what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said yesterday. We are again to have a tug on the reins on public expenditure. It is the easiest thing in the world for the Scottish Office to hold back public expenditure by starting an argument with a local authority about the cost of a scheme. We heard from the Under-Secretary of State on 25th October that the tendering situation is complex and erratic and that special market allowances which the Department is prepared to grant, where appropriate and necessary, are intended to enable local authority programmes to proceed in the light of local conditions. It sometimes takes six months to a year for the Department to make up its mind. During that time prices are still rising and again the tenders are outwith a contractor's willingness to carry on.

I am sorry that more hon. Members were not present during the debate to hear my hon. Friends putting forward the justified despairs of people. For example, my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor) spoke about the homeless and the contribution that failure to provide a home makes to the worsening situation of juvenile delinquency and the effects on both old and young people.

The Secretary of State said that we were concerned more with dogma than with people. It is he and his Government who are crucifying the people of this country because of their Selsdon dogma of three years ago. We should appreciate that the private landlord is dead and that we must resort to giving local authorities powers over rented accommodation. We will require also to deal with land and land speculation.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Michael Stewart) said that there was a time when the Crown owned all the land. Theoretically, in Scotland, it still does. We will have a Bill about land tenure in Scotland. I have often thought that, if we resurrected the rights of the Crown—there is not a loyal Tory Member who would object to that, surely —we would nationalise the land in Scotland in a one-clause Bill.

We will have to deal with this question if we are to solve the speculation problem. We must deal with the question of rents, and we shall do that as a Government by getting rid of the Act which created the troubles. We shall deal with the question of mortgages, I hope, with much greater success than the present Government have done.

The Secretary of State gave us another committee today. I was disappointed that we have had only two so far—one last week dealing with the structure of industry and one in which he will have discussions with the building societies. I was under the impression that we already had a central advisory committee in which the Government. the industry and the building societies could get together. Perhaps this Government have dispensed with it.

The Secretary of State will remember that the Tory Government did that with the Scottish advisory committee and then resurrected it. We continued it and brought together on it people who knew the industry and gave us good advice. The trouble with this Government is that they are not taking the advice of the people who know the industry. I hope that before long we will have another Government who will be dedicated to housing the people, and housing them decently.

9.33 p.m.

Photo of Mr James Prior Mr James Prior , Lowestoft

It is now a long-standing tradition that the Leader of the House should wind up the debate on the Address following the Gracious Speech. It is a happy tradition, even if it does not always seem so at the time. It allows the Leader to look forward over the coming Session and to speak about the prospects it holds, not simply for the Government but for the House and for individual back-benchers.

I should like to start on two non-controversial notes. First of all, I should like to thank right hon. and hon. Members on both sides for their kindness and courtesy to me during the last Session. I only hope that that will be repeated in the coming Session. Perhaps that was not as non-controversial a remark as I had hoped.

I should also like to congratulate the hon. Members for Ripon (Mr. Austick) and Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) on their maiden speeches, the former today and the latter earlier in the debate. We much appreciated their references to their predecessors, for which I am sure my right hon. and hon. Friends would like to thank them.

The hon. Member for Ripon referred to Sir Malcolm Stoddart-Scott. He used to sit on the second bench behind me and breathe down my neck, giving me plenty of good advice during debates. He was always available to give advice on agriculture or health matters. We miss him, and we are grateful to the hon. Member for what he said.

We are also grateful for what the hon. Member for Isle of Ely said about Sir Harry Legge-Bourke, whose memory we treasure very much. The hon. Member made a witty and succinct speech, packed with solid chunks—or was it meaningful morsels—of Liberal thought.

The hon. Member for Ripon spoke today with eloquence of his constituency and its problems. He even mentioned the hill farmers there. I am glad that their position is a good deal better than it was a few years ago. I hope that both hon. Members enjoy their time here, but I am pretty certain that they will not be here very long.

The right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) has an excellent voice, and sometimes even a bit of a face, for the tale of woe and misery he likes to give us. The last time he wound up a debate on the Loyal Address was in 1970, when he spoke about the present Government's regional policies, which he said were likely to cause unemployment and industrial troubles in Scotland. [An HON. MEMBER: "They did."] I am delighted to be able to tell the right hon. Gentleman, and I have no doubt that he will be pleased to hear, that unemployment in Scotland has been declining sharply, that the seasonally-adjusted rate for October is lower than at any time since February 1970 and that the number of unfilled vacancies is now higher than at any time in the past 20 years.

All areas of Scotland are sharing in the general improvement. Unemployment has fallen most rapidly in the West of Scotland. [An HON. MEMBER: "Who put it up?"] The figures show that the Government's growth policies have succeeded where the policies of the previous Government failed.

Before coming to the main topic of today's debate, I should like to refer briefly to some important matters affecting the House. The first is the inquiry into the administration of the organisation and staffing of the House which you, Mr. Speaker, announced in your statement of 22nd October. As the House will appreciate, although I was consulted about the setting up of the inquiry, it is essentially being conducted under the authority of the House, not of the Government.

I know that hon. Members are concerned to see that they have adequate opportunity to express their views on these matters. You have already announced, Mr. Speaker, that the recommendations following the review will be considered by a small committee of Members before being submitted to the House for decision. In the meantime Sir Edmund Compton will be glad to receive any evidence or proposals that individual Members may wish to put to him on the matters covered by his terms of reference. There will also be provision for the staff to represent their views to the inquiry through their staff associations and unions.

Sir Edmund's recommendations will not be implemented until the House has had a full opportunity to debate them and take decisions on them. Therefore, I do not think that there is any justification for fears by Members that changes will be made in these matters without the complete authority of the House.

The other House matter on which I should like to say a few words concerns hon. Members even more directly. I refer to the question of Members' pay and allowances. The Government are well aware of the difficulties in which many hon. Members are placed at present. There has been a substantial fall in the real value of the rates of remuneration and allowances since they were last fixed, and there has been a substantial rise in the cost of the supporting and secretarial services on which hon. Members must inevitably depend.

I shall make only two points now. First, I think there is a substantial body of opinion in the House that is glad we managed on the last occasion to get away from the position of, so to speak, making pay awards to ourselves, and would be very reluctant to revert to that position. Secondly, I am in particular sympathy with the position as regards secretaries. It is, of course, true that the secretarial allowance, albeit extended to cover research assistance, has already been doubled since it was introduced in 1969. It is also true that it was never intended to represent the total cost of secretarial help. It was intended merely as a substantial contribution towards such costs. The Government are carefully considering the position. I hope that we shall be able to make our views known before too long.

I appreciate what the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. William Price) had to say about housing. I am glad to see the hon. Gentleman in the Chamber, although he is not sitting in his usual place. All hon. Members recognise that as a constituency Member one receives more letters and inquiries and has more interviews at surgeries about housing than any other issue. That is not a new factor. It is one which has been with us for many years. A great deal remains to be done if we are to remove what practically all of us consider to be the most important social problem of the day.

Judging by the quotations which I have heard bandied around from one side of the House to the other, the problems have not been solved and remain with us. That is common to both sides of the House. We need to develop policies which will add to the total stock of housing. My criticism of past housing policies is that they have tended to concentrate on the provision of new housing and, either by default or by encouragement, old and sound houses have been allowed to go out of repair. That point was made forcibly by the hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Ernest G. Perry).

In town and country many old houses which are perfectly capable of improvement have been pulled down. We all know of whole areas of towns where old houses have been replaced by a concrete jungle, with all the attendant social problems. In other areas there still remains a desert. The hon. Member for Hitchin (Mrs. Shirley Williams) and the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) have underlined the problem. Many older houses have had such severe rent restriction that it has not paid the landlord to keep a house in a decent state of repair. One of the aims of the Housing Finance Act and its movement towards fair rents has been to remedy that situation.

The purpose of a housing policy is not only to build new houses wherever they are needed but to ensure that the improvement of dilapidated or unfit houses is such that the total housing stock and its quality grows at the fastest rate possible. That is why the Government have given high priority to the housing improvement grant scheme. That is why, in the White Paper published in June of this year, we set out our new proposals for improving the scheme still further. Those proposals will be incorporated in a Bill which is to be introduced this Session.

I can tell my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg) who asked whether the new housing Bill will include powers to enable tenants to challenge service charges if they consider them to be unreasonable, that the answer is "Yes". A statutory right will be included in the Bill.

Other hon. Members have raised various matters. The hon. Member for Battersea, South asked about fire regulations for owner-occupiers who let rooms to students. I think there was much good sense in the point he was making. I promise that it will be considered thoroughly and sympathetically. I agree very much with what he said.

I shall try to deal with many of the points which have been raised, but my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State has promised that he will write to hon. Members, particularly those who have raised constituency points, if I do not refer to some of the matters.

We all know that it is in some of the older cities that the problems of old and bad housing are most acute. New housing action areas will be provided for in the Bill this Session. Local authorities will have special additional powers available to assist and, where necessary, to compel improvements to be made. They will also have powers to prevent tenanted properties being disposed of to the disadvantage of tenants.

Photo of Mr Daniel Jones Mr Daniel Jones , Burnley

What about the allocation of finance?

Photo of Mr James Prior Mr James Prior , Lowestoft

Having said that we accept the need to build more houses, the first requirement is to get more land made available for them. That again has been the objective of every Government. However, regarding finance for the measures outlined in the housing Bill, when it comes before the House the Government will make the necessary finance available.

Only if more land is made available will the houses be built and the price of land level out or fall. I am critical of those local authorities which dilly-dally in giving planning permission and too often regard their pet planning schemes as of greater importance than releasing land, getting houses built and keeping down prices. My hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Boscawen) made that point strongly in his plea.

Of course, land of high amenity value, good agricultural quality or outstanding natural beauty should be protected. I give my hon. Friend the Member for Dorking (Sir G. Sinclair) and my hon. hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. John Wells) the assurance for which they asked in that respect. But one has only to look around to know that there are many areas which do not come into that category and which could be developed if local authorities really regarded housing and the release of land as perhaps the greatest social need of our time.

My right hon. Friends have this year taken a new initiative by issuing new planning guidelines to local planning authorities. They contain a strong presumption in favour of housing in growth areas. I cannot emphasise too strongly that by releasing more land we shall get more houses built and that this is the best way of stabilising house prices.

Having listened to speeches today from right hon. and hon. Members on the Opposition side, I am astounded that they should believe that Labour policies could improve the situation. Granted they are fairly vague about their policies. But they say that they would nationalise all building land and a lot of other land besides. They say that, once the land was acquired by a local authority, that authority could use it itself or, if it did not want it, the land could be leased to a private developer, but not sold. There would thus be no more new freeholds under a Labour scheme. It would be either council houses or leasehold.

But it would not stop there. Others of them—Professor Kaldor for example—would wish to go further. They would compulsorily dispossess all existing home owners of their freeholds and turn everyone into a leaseholder. Even without this, they say that the cost of nationalising building land would be £830 million a year. How many extra homes would be built after spending that sum? Perhaps the Land Commission can give us a clue. It took the Land Commission three years to acquire about 2,800 acres, very little of it in the areas of real housing pressure, and it sold only 300 acres. I would advise all Labour Members to read the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Trew), who outlined very well the difficulties of this policy.

Then there is the municipalisation of of rented homes, which would make every rented house a council house. No one has any time for the bad landlord, but the thought of the local council being the only landlord everywhere in the country is too appalling to contemplate. This would be a further restriction on freedom with which we on the Government side of the House will have no truck. What a vast sum this would cost—and not one extra house to show for it.

Finally I come to the Housing Finance Act. The pledge to repeal it can make sense only if the Opposition propose to abolish rent rebates, rent allowances and the slum clearance subsidy and go back to a system under which the tenant pays less than a fair rent however well off he may be. This is simply absurd. It means going back to the old system of subsidies, under which only about £1 in every £10 was devoted to poorer tenants. This system subsidised the better off council tenant who did not need help at the expense of other families in council houses who did need help and those in privately rented homes who got no help at all. There was no fairness or justice in the scheme. We rejected it in opposition and we reject it now.

The debate has underlined the Government's objective, which is summed up in a key sentence of the Gracious Speech as follows: My Government's objection throughout will be to promote the interests of the individual, whether as citizen or as consumer. We have before us a Session in which we shall be considering important legislation and making major changes in the law, in social, commercial and industrial spheres.

There is the tax credit scheme providing a major new system of unified social benefit. It will be a major milestone in the reform of social and taxation policy, to which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made so great a contribution.

There is protection of consumers by the reform and extension of the law relating to credit. That is another measure for the protection of the individual which has been widely welcomed and which will fill an important social need.

There are steps to protect the individual against pollution of the environment by tighter controls over waste disposal, dumping at sea and, not least, new measures directed towards the control of noise—sometimes not a bad thing in this place. Those are just some of the measures we shall be debating.

As Leader of the House I welcome the prospect of a less controversial programme than in previous Sessions. I look forward to week after week of good-tempered debate with a minimum of points of order. Perhaps, Mr. Speaker, you will join me in that.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner , Bolsover

He will decide that.

Photo of Mr James Prior Mr James Prior , Lowestoft

None of these is a great historic landmark but they all affect the lives, and the quality of life, of almost everyone in the country, especially those less able to look after themselves.

I stress the interests of the individual. I am doing so because that is the principal theme of the Gracious Speech and also because it is plain that it is not a principal theme of Labour Party policy. Whether it is attacking individual home ownership or the right of individual choice in education or advocating wholesale nationalisation, the interests of the individual do not interest the Labour Party.

The interests of the individual depend so much on the health of the economy. We all remember the exhortations to growth of the Opposition before 1964, and seldom have a Government failed as dismally as the Labour Government to practise what they preached in Opposition. In the entire period of the Labour Government the average annual rate of growth was about 2 per cent. while in their final year it had fallen to 1½ per cent. Unfortunately, it seems only too clear from the speech made by the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) at Blackpool that those same policies, which produced such a dire rate of growth, would be pursued again, but this time with even greater ruthlessness. The Labour Government failed to get growth last time, yet in opposition the Labour Party hangs to all the old remedies.

We all want rising standards for pensioners, the disabled and the mentally subnormal. We all have our own special priorities, but without growth none of this can be easily achieved. We all know that pensioners in Europe can enjoy higher standards than our own. The key point is that those countries have achieved a far higher rate of economic growth since the war than we could manage. They have the resources, they have created the wealth, and they have therefore been able to spend it where it is needed.

Looking back on the events of the past few months, and particularly the past few weeks, I am more certain than ever that Britain's best interests are served by membership of the European Community. The long-term benefit to Britain of being a member of a thriving and powerful European Community, as opposed to being an increasingly isolated and powerless offshore island, is enormous. Labour Members constantly demand renegotiation, but they know that renegotiation is going on the whole time.

Listening to some right hon. Members opposite one could be forgiven for thinking that the Community and our membership were about the price of butter, or qualifications for driving licences. I welcome Mr. Lardinois's efforts to bring about changes in the CAP. We shall naturally have comments about his proposals, but they show that the CAP can be changed.

The real prize is a strong, united Europe at peace with itself. I cannot believe that the Labour Party would wish to throw all that away. Its public attitude to Europe is entirely phoney. Few believe that if he ever got the chance, the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition would take Britain out of Europe. He would claim sufficient success from the continuing process of negotiation to enable him to keep Britain in. The electorate knows that. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins) knows it. Even the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) knows it. The country knows that the right hon. Gentleman's approach has lost him respect not only at home but with his fellow Socialists abroad.

I have no doubt that we shall spend much time this Session discussing the Government's European and economic policies. I should be over-optimistic to look for quiet debates on these matters, but I welcome the prospect of debating them as much as I welcome the prospect of debating the legislative programme.

The past 18 months have shown that this country can break out of its low historic growth rate, that we can achieve a higher rate of growth. They have shown that it is not a law of nature, as we had almost come to believe, that Britain must be confined to minimal growth, far behind its competitors.

The Government's policies are the right policies for the health and prosperity of

our country and of its individual citizens. I welcome, as I know my right lion. and hon. Friends do, every opportunity to lay the facts before the House and the electorate, and I ask the House decisively to reject the Opposition amendment.

9.58 p.m.

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

I have never heard—[Interruption.]—a speech—[Interruption.]—so empty and idiotic in all my life as that which I have just heard from the right hon. Gentleman—

Photo of Mr Francis Pym Mr Francis Pym , Cambridgeshire

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put, but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent and declined then to put that Question.

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

There is one more minute to go. The Government have ratted on everything they have ever promised to do. I accuse the Government and the public will accuse them this week of ratting on their promises made to the people. I hope—

Photo of Mr Walter Harrison Mr Walter Harrison , Wakefield

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

Question put accordingly, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 240, Noes. 283.

Division No. 2.]AYES[9.59 p.m.
Abse, LeoCarter-Jones, Lewis (Eccles)Driberg, Tom
Albu, AustenCastle, Rt. Hn. BarbaraDuffy, A. E. P.
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)Clark, David (Colne Valley)Dunn, James A.
Archer, Peter (Rowley Regis)Cocks, Michael (Bristol, S.)Eadie, Alex
Ashley, JackCohen, StanleyEdelman, Maurice
Ashton, JoeConcannon, J. D.Edwards, William (Merloneth)
Atkinson, NormanCorbet, Mrs. FredaEllis, Tom
Austick, DavidCox, Thomas (Wandsworth, C.)English, Michael
Barnes, MichaelCrawshaw, RichardEvans, Fred
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)Cronin, JohnFernyhough, Rt. Hn. E.
Barnett, Joel (Heywood and Royton)Crosland, Rt. Hn. AnthonyFisher, Mrs. Doris(B'ham, Ladywood)
Beaney, AlanCrossman, Rt. Hn. RichardFitch, Alan (Wigan)
Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony WedgwoodCunningham, G. (Islington, S.W.)Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)
Bennett, James (Glasgow, Bridgeton)Darling, Rt. Hn. GeorgeFoot, Michael
Bidwell, SydneyDavidson, ArthurFord, Ben
Bishop, E. S.Davies, Denzil (Llanelly)Forrester, John
Blenkinsop, ArthurDavies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)Fraser, John (Norwood)
Boardman, H. (Leigh)Davies, Ifor (Gower)Freeson, Reginald
Booth, AlbertDavis, Clinton (Hackney, C.)Gilbert, Dr. John
Boothroyd, Miss BettyDavis, Terry (Bromsgrove)Ginsburg, David (Dewsbury)
Bottomley, Rt. Hn. ArthurDeakins, EricGolding, John
Boyden, James (Bishop Auckland)de Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir GeoffreyGordon Walker, Rt. Hn. P. C.
Bradley, TomDelargy, HughGrant, John D. (Islington, E.)
Brown, Ronald (Shoreditch & F'bury)Dell, Rt. Hn. EdmundGriffiths, Eddie (Brightside)
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)Dempsey, JamesHamling, William
Callaghan, Rt. Hn. JamesDoig, PeterHardy, Peter
Cant, R. B.Douglas, Dick (Stirlingshire, E.)Harper, Joseph
Carter, Ray (Birmingh'm, Northfield)Douglas-Mann, BruceHarrison, Walter (Wakefield)
Hart, Rt. Hn. JudithMackie, JohnRoper, John
Hattersley, RoyMaclennan, RobertRose, Paul B.
Hatton, F.Mahon, Simon (Bootle)Ross, Rt. Hn. William (Kilmarnock)
Heffer, Eric S.Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)Rowlands, Ted
Hilton, W. S.Marks, KennethSandelson, Neville
Horam, JohnMarquand, DavidSheldon, Robert (Ashton-under-Lyne)
Houghton, Rt. Hn. DouglasMarsden, F.Shore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney)
Howell, David (Guildford)Marshall, Dr. EdmundShort, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton, N.E.)
Huckfield, LeslieMason, Rt. Hn. RoySilkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)
Hughes, Rt. Hn.Cledwyn (Anglesey)Mayhew, ChristopherSilkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)
Hughes, Mark (Durham)Meacher, MichaelSkinner, Dennis
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, N.)Mellish, Rt. Hn. RobertSmall, William
Hughes, Roy (Newport)Mendelson, JohnSmith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Irvine, Rt. Hn. Sir Arthur (Edge Hill)Mikardo, IanSpriggs, Leslie
Janner, GrevilleMiller, Dr. M. S.Stallard, A. W.
Jay, Rt. Hn. DouglasMilne, EdwardSteel, David
Jeger, Mrs. LenaMitchell, R. C. (S'hampton, Itchen)Stewart, Donald (Western Isles)
Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)Molloy, WilliamStewart, Rt. Hn. Michael (Fulham)
Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford)Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)Stoddart, David (Swindon)
John, BrynmorMorris. Alfred (Wythenshawe)Stonehouse, Rt. Hn. John
Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)Morris, Rt. Hn. John (Aberavon)Stott, Roger
Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)Moyle, RolandStrauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.
Johnson, Walter (Derby, S.)Mulley, Rt. Hn. FrederickSummerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley
Jones, Barry (Flint, E.)Murray, Ronald KingSwain, Thomas
Jones, Dan (Burnley)Oakes, GordonThomas, Rt. Hn. George (Cardiff, W.)
Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn (W. Ham, S.)Ogden, EricThomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Jones, Gwynoro (Carmarthen)O'Halloran, MichaelThorpe, Rt. Hn Jeremy
Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, W.)O'Malley, BrianTinn, James
Kaufman, GeraldOram, BertTomney, Frank
Kelley, RichardOrbach, MauriceTope, Graham
Kerr, RussellOrme, StanleyTorney, Tom
Kinnock, NeilOwen, Dr. David (Plymouth, Sutton)Tuck, Raphael
Lambie, DavidPadley, WalterUrwin, T. W.
Lamborn, HarryPaget, R. T.Varley, Eric G.
Lamond, JamesPalmer, ArthurWainwright, Edwin
Latham, ArthurPardoe, JohnWalden, Brian (B'm'ham, All Saints)
Lawson, GeorgeParker, John (Dagenham)Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Leadbitter, TedPavitt, LaurieWallace, George
Lee, Rt. Hn. FrederickPeart, Rt. Hn. FredWatkins, David
Leonard, DickPendry, TomWeitzman, David
Lestor, Miss JoanPerry, Ernest G.Wellbeloved, James
Lever, Rt. Hn. HaroldPrentice, Rt. Hn. Reg.Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.)Price, William (Rugby)Whitehead, Phillip
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)Probert, ArthurWhitlock, William
Lipton, MarcusRadice, GilesWilley, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Lomas, KennethRees, Merlyn (Leeds, S.)Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
Loughlin, CharlesRhodes, GeoffreyWilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Lyon, Alexander W. (York)Richard, IvorWilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton)
Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.)Roberts, Albert (Normanton)Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)
Mabon, Dr. J. DicksonRoberts, Rt. Hn. Goronwy (Caernarvon)
McBride, NeilRobertson, John (Paisley)TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
McGuire, MichaelRoderick, Caerwyn E.(Brc'n & R'dnor)Mr. Donald Coleman and
Mackenzie, GregorRodgers, William (Stockton-on-Tees)Mr. James Hamilton.
NOES
Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash)Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Maj.-Gen. Jack
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead)Bruce-Gardyne, J.Dean, Paul
Amery, Rt. Hn. JulianBryan, Sir PaulDeedes, Rt. Hn. W. F.
Archer, Jeffrey (Louth)Buchanan-Smith, Alick (Angus,N & M)Digby, Simon Wingfield
Astor, JohnBuck, AntonyDixon, Piers
Atkins, HumphreyBullus, Sir EricDodds-Parker, Sir Douglas
Awdry, DanielBurden, F. A.Douglas-Home, Rt. Hn. Sir Alec
Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone)Butler, Adam (Bosworth)Drayson, Burnaby
Balniel, Rt. Hn. LordCampbell, Rt. Hn. G. (Moray & Nairn)du Cann, Rt. Hn. Edward
Barber, Rt. Hn. AnthonyCarlisle, MarkEden, Rt. Hn. Sir John
Batsford, BrianCary, Sir RobertEdwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)
Beamish, Col. Sir TuftonChannon, PaulElliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)
Bell, RonaldChapman, SydneyEmery, Peter
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay)Chataway, Rt. Hn. ChristopherEyre, Reginald
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport)Chichester-Clark, R.Farr, John
Benyon, W.Churchill, W. S.Fell, Anthony
Berry, Hn. AnthonyClark, William (Surrey, E.)Fenner, Mrs. Peggy
Biffen, JohnClegg, WalterFidler, Michael
Biggs-Davison, JohnCockeram, EricFinsberg, Geoffrey (Hampstead)
Blaker, PeterCooke, RobertFisher, Nigel (Surbiton)
Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S.W.)Coombs, DerekFletcher-Cooke, Charles
Body, RichardCooper, A. E.Fookes, Miss Janet
Boscawen, Hn. RobertCordle, JohnFortescue, Tim
Bossom, Sir CliveCorfield, Rt. Hn. Sir FrederickFoster, Sir John
Bowden, AndrewCormack, PatrickFowler, Norman
Braine, Sir BernardCostain, A. P.Fox, Marcus
Bray, RonaldCrouch, DavidFraser, Rt. Hn. Hugh (St'fford & Stone)
Brlnton, Sir TattonCrowder, F. P.Fry, Peter
Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopherd'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir HenryGalbraith, Hn. T. G. D.
Gardner, EdwardLe Marchant, SpencerRidsdale, Julian
Gibson-Watt, DavidLewis, Kenneth (Rutland)Rippon, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey
Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.)Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th. Langstone)Roberts, Michael (Cardiff, N.)
Gilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.)Longden, Sir GilbertRodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)
Glyn, Dr. AlanLoveridge, JohnRossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Goodhart, PhilipLuce, R. N.Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Gorst, JohnMacArthur, IanRost, Peter
Gower, RaymondMcCrindle, R. A.Royle, Anthony
Grant, Anthony (Harrow, C.)McLaren, MartinRussell, Sir Ronald
Gray, HamishMaclean, Sir FitzroySt. John-Stevas, Norman
Green, AlanMacmillan, Rt. Hn. Maurice (Farnham)Sandys, Rt. Hn. D.
Grieve, PercyMcNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest)Scott, Nicholas
Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds)Madel, DavidScott-Hopkins, James
Grylls, MichaelMaginnis, John E.Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)
Gummer, J. SelwynMarten, NeilShelton, William (Clapham)
Gurden, HaroldMather, CarolShersby, Michael
Hall, Miss Joan (Keighley)Maude, AngusSimeons, Charles
Hall, Sir John (Wycombe)Maudling, Rt. Hon. ReginaldSinclair, Sir George
Hall-Davis. A. G. F.Mawby, RaySkeet, T. H. H.
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)Meyer, Sir AnthonySmith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington)
Hannam, John (Exeter)Mills, Peter (Torrington)Soref, Harold
Harrison, Brian (Maldon)Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.)Speed, Keith
Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)Miscampbell, NormanSpence, John
Harvie Anderson, MissMitchell, Lt.-Col. C. (Aberdeenshire, W.)Sproat, Iain
Haselhurst, AlanMitchell, David (Basingstoke)Stainton, Keith
Hastings, StephenMoate, RogerStanbrook, Ivor
Havers, Sir MichaelMolyneux, JamesStewart-Smith, Geoffrey (Belper)
Hay, JohnMoney, ErnieStodart, Anthony (Edinburgh, W.)
Hayhoe, BarneyMonks, Mrs. ConnieStokes, John
Heath, Rt. Hn. EdwardMonro, HectorSutcliffe, John
Heseltine, MichaelMontgomery, FergusTapsell, Peter
Hicks, RobertMorgan, Geraint (Denbigh)Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
Higgins, Terence L.Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm.Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)
Hiley, JosephMorrison, CharlesTebbit, Norman
Hill, John E. B. (Norfolk, S.)Mudd, DavidTemple, John M.
Holland, PhilipNeave, AireyThatcher, Rt. Hn. Mrs. Margaret
Holt, Miss MaryNicholls, Sir HarmarThomas, John Stradling (Monmouth)
Hordern, PeterNoble. Rt. Hn. MichaelThomas, Rt. Hn. Peter (Hendon, S.)
Hornby, RichardNormanton, TomThompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)
Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hn. Dame PatriciaNott, JohnTilney, Sir John
Howe, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey (Reigate)Onslow, CranleyTrafford, Dr. Anthony
Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N.)Oppenheim, Mrs. SallyTrew, Peter
Hutchison, Michael ClarkOsborn, JohnTugendhat, Christopher
Iremonger, T. L.Owen, Idris (Stockport, N.)Turton, Rt. Hn. Sir Robin
Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)Page, Rt. Hn. Graham (Crosby)van Straubenzee, W. R.
James, DavidParkinson, CecilVaughan, Dr. Gerard
Jenkin, Rt. Hn. Patrick (Woodford)Peel, Sir JohnWaddington, David
Jesse, TobyPercival, IanWalder, David (Clitheroe)
Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead)Peyton. Rt. Hn. JohnWall, Patrick
Jones, Arthur (Northants, S.)Pike, Miss MervynWalters, Dennis
Jopling, MichaelPink, R. BonnerWard, Dame Irene
Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir KeithPowell, Rt. Hn. J. EnochWarren, Kenneth
Kaberry, Sir DonaldPrice, David (Eastleigh)Wells, John (Maidstone)
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs. ElainePrior, Rt. Hn. M. L.White, Roger (Gravesend)
Kershaw, AnthonyProudfoot, WilfredWilkinson, John
Kilfedder, JamesPym, RI. Hn. FrancisWinterton, Nicholas
Kimball, MarcusQuennell, Miss J. M.Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick
King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.)Raison, TimothyWood, Rt. Hn. Richard
King, Tom (Bridgwater)Ramsden, Rt. Hn. JamesWoodhouse, Hn. Christopher
Kinsey, J. R.Rawlinson, Rt. He. Sir PeterWylie, Rt. Hn. N. R.
Kirk, PeterRedmond, RobertYounger, Hn. George
Kitson, TimothyReed, Laurance (Bolton, E.)
Knight, Mrs. JillRees, Peter (Dover)
Knox, DavidRees-Davies, W. R.TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Lamont, NormanRenton, Rt. Hn. Sir DavidMr. Paul Hawkins and
Lane, DavidRhys Williams, Sir BrandonMr. Bernard Weatherill.
Langford-Holt, Sir JohnRidley, Hn. Nicholas

Question put and agreed to.

Question accordingly negatived.

Main Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows:

Most Gracious Sovereign,

We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.

To be presented by Privy Councillors or Members of Her Majesty's Household.