Housing and Land

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

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Photo of Mr William Price Mr William Price , Rugby 12:00 am, 6th November 1973

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?