§ 4.23 p.m.
§ The Chairman
Before I call the first speaker, may I remind the Committee that I have a quite long list of would-be speakers, on both sides. I will be able to call more if right hon. and hon. Members keep their speeches as brief as possible.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
Although you have necessarily read out a number of subjects as a prelude to this debate, Dr. King, I shall concentrate my remarks upon housing in England. I take it that I may cover in that Wales as well, even though this is the Vote for England. In doing so, I shall necessarily have to be critical of the handling of this subject by the Minister of Housing and Local Government.
No one can doubt the sincerity of the right hon. Gentleman in his desire to be a successful Minister of Housing. I am sure that he is second to none in the House of Commons in wanting to ensure 845 that houses are provided for the living needs of the people. He is, however, being thwarted and frustrated by four things, three successes and one failure. They are, first, the success of the policy of his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in driving money out of bricks and mortar by high interest rates and new forms of taxation; secondly, the success of the policy of his right hon. Friend the Minister of Public Building and Works—who, I understand, will reply to my opening of this debate—in throwing the building industry into a state of uncertainty by telling it that all its anxieties and worries are mere fairy tales; and, thirdly, the success of the policy of his right hon. Friend the Minister of Land and Natural Resources in obstructing development by maintaining a monastic silence concerning the Land Commission.
Those are the three successes which have frustrated the Minister of Housing and Local Government. The one failure is his own failure to produce any policy at all concerning land prices, mortgage rates, a housing target, leasehold reform and all the rest of the duties which fall to him as Housing Minister, in which he has produced no policy at all except merely a title, "My National Housing Plan".
The Report issued by the Minister's Department proclaims the strong position taken over by the right hon. Gentleman from the previous Conservative Government. Hon. Members opposite who chant about the so-called mess left by the Tories can scarcely use it in connection with housing if they take the trouble to read the facts. The facts are set out in the Report of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government in these words:More houses were built in 1964 than in any other year since the war. By the end of the year over 336,000 houses were completed in England and Wales—66,000 more than in 1963. The number of completions by local authorities and new town corporations rose by 22,000. … Output in the private section went up by 42,000 … The total of houses under construction at the end of the year—390,000—was again a post war record. The number being built by local authorities and new town corporations rose by 21,000 … while the private enterprise figure was 29,000 higher … the number under construction at the end of the year went up by … 54,000.846 Those figures are for England and Wales. The more familiar totals are those for Great Britain: over 373,000 houses completed in 1964 and 426,000 under construction at the end of that year. That is the so-called Tory mess inherited by the right hon. Gentleman—426,000 houses under construction at the end of the year.
Incidentally, I am surprised that the leader writer in The Times today did not do his arithmetic very well. He got the figures wrong, as the right hon. Gentleman has done, too. This is what he says:'Targets' of 350,000, 375,000 and 400,000 houses a year have been mentioned from time to time. At no point in the past four years have completions come near even to the lowest of these figures.If he is talking about England and Wales, he is, of course, correct, but that is not the usual target that is quoted. The number of houses completed in Great Britain last year was 373,676—although in this debate we are dealing with figures for England and Wales and at the end of 1964 390,000 houses were under construction in England and Wales.
At the end of the first quarter of 1965, the number of houses under construction in England and Wales was 395,000, an increase, it is true, of 4,500 in the number of houses under construction. This increase in the number of houses under construction was at the rate of about 18,000 a year. In 1964, the increase in the number under construction was at the rate of 54,000 a year, or exactly three times the rate which the Government have currently achieved this year. However one looks at it, therefore, there is a slowing down in the rate of increase in the production of houses to one-third of the rate which was achieved during 1964.
The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Public Building and Works is renowned for his disregard of the injunction in the Library that conversation should not be too loud or too prolonged, so I am not left in very much doubt as to the figures which he will produce in answer to my accusation that the rate of increase in the production of homes is very much less than it was last year.
I daresay that in answer to that he will deploy the total value of orders placed 847 during the first quarter of this year. He may have later figures than mine, which are for the first quarter of this year for orders received by the construction industry. There is a figure of £816 million, which is said to be the highest figure ever recorded of orders obtained in one quarter by the contractors. That, of course, is for orders for all construction work.
It is an increase of £45 million on the figure for the last quarter of 1964. That is one-tenth of the increase during 1964. To keep pace with the 1964 increase in construction work, that figure should have been at least one-quarter of the 1964 total. Instead, it is one-tenth, and this is a further measure of the slowing up of building work under the present Government.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)
The hon. Gentleman is showing that in 1964 there was a rapid increase in the number of houses that were built. That is admitted, but surely he knows that 1964 was an election year, and that in the preceding years there had not been that increase in the rate of house building?
§ Mr. Graham Page
In that election year the party opposite gave a promise to get up to 400,000 houses a year. To achieve that, the Government would have had to increase, or at least keep pace with, the rate of progress during 1964.
I was quoting the construction figures as a whole. Let us look specifically at the housing figures.
§ Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)
The hon. Gentleman is using 1963 as a base figure to show the rate of increase in house-building under the previous administration. Does he appreciate that in 1963 the number of houses built represented only 88 per cent. of those built in 1954 for England and only 89 per cent. of the houses built in Wales in that year, and that that was the reason why in one year they were trying to make up the deficit incurred over 10 years?
§ Mr. Graham Page
If the hon. Gentleman goes back a dozen years or so, he can find all sorts of figures to support any argument. I am dealing with the present time, and I shall illustrate the Government's failure to keep up a proper rate of house-building.
848 I propose to deal now with the figures relating to houses alone. I shall take the adjusted price index figures issued by the Ministry of Public Building and Works. In 1964, the figures went in this order: in the first quarter it was £182 million. It rose to £190 million in the second quarter, to £210 million in the third quarter, and to £212 million in the fourth quarter. There was a continual rise, until the first quarter of 1965 when there was a drop to £208 million.
That was the first drop over that period, and even in the case of what one might call the darling of the present Government, public authority housing, the index figure for the last quarter of 1964 was £205 million, whereas for the first quarter of 1965 it was £186 million. That means that there was a drop of 20 per cent. in the provision of public housing in the first quarter of this year compared with the last quarter of 1964.
The Minister of Housing and Local Government has to laugh that off when the figures are put before him by the Minister of Public Building and Works, and the latter Minister tried to laugh them off at the conference of the National Federation of Building Trades Operatives, when he said that the Government's policy was not at all to blame. He said:The Government's financial policy has been wrongly blamed in certain quarters for the decrease in the target of new housing starts this year.I am glad he admits that there has been a decrease in the target of new housing starts.
The right hon. Gentleman also said that in December, 1964, his Ministry took a survey from about 6,000 firms who said that they would produce 464,000 houses during 1965. He added:… there were second thoughts. There was a retreat and leading figures in the building world were all making political speeches based on each other's efforts indicating that, owing to a high bank-rate, housebuilding had to be cut back. They were cutting back from their own inflated estimates, for housebuilding is still maintaining its momentum.There is no sign of a falling off in orders …That is not true, as one sees when one looks at the figures which the right hon. Gentleman has issued from his Department. There has been a falling off in orders, certainly during the first quarter 849 compared with the last quarter of 1964, and certainly compared with the whole of 1964.
This is not the way to treat responsible businessmen in the building trade who know their job a lot better than the right hon. Gentleman does. For example, Mr. Feather, the President of the Yorkshire Federation of Building Trades Employers said on 18th June:… it is inevitable that the credit squeeze will slow down the wonderful progress made during recent years.He went on to say that they had hoped to complete 218,000 houses for 1965, and he added:The shortfall on housing targets is no fault of the industry.The President of the National Federation of Builders' and Plumbers' Merchants, Mr. Richard Wragg, who ought to know about supplying materials for building, said:… the building industry managed to provide the people of this country with more new homes last year than ever before in our history …Of course, there were shortages of some materials in some places. But the shortages that did exist were a consequence of the rapid expansion of the building programme.He went on to say:This year we were all set to create a new building record. The producers of materials have made fresh efforts not only to reach the new target, but to beat it as well … But now a new factor has arisen. The credit squeeze has deprived would-be purchasers of the funds they need.What is the Minister of Public Building and Works, who has an overall responsibility for the supply of building materials, doing to help his right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government to reach even last year's target in house building? The men to whom I have referred based their statements not on some survey made in December last, but on a survey made in May of this year. The Minister of Public Building and Works appears to be disagreeing with me. I have here the figures if the right hon. Gentleman wants to see them, but I believe that they have been sent to him.
§ The Minister of Public Building and Works (Mr. Charles Pannell)
The hon. Gentleman should make his own speech.
§ Mr. Graham Page
I shall do. I am trying to put the facts before the right hon. Gentleman. He may or may not know them. These figures were produced as a result of an inquiry in May of this year by the National Federation of Registered House-Builders. The figures, the Federation said, proved the worsening of the prospects for home ownership. Mortgage difficulties were definitely more acute than they were a few weeks previously and there was a decided decline in the number of houses building and starting to build.
More than 60 per cent. of the firms which answered the inquiry expected completions in 1965 to fall short of original plans at the beginning of the year by anything from 5 per cent. to 30 per cent., and 35 per cent. of them had already reduced their staffs of builders. These are facts found by a survey conducted by a responsible organisation which represents about 75 per cent. of the trade. It is not only the total target which gives cause for anxiety. It is the probable result of the division of that target between the construction of council houses and of private houses.
I suppose that no proper study has ever been carried out to decide people's preference as between living as council tenants and as owner-occupier mortgagors. For those who are on small incomes there is no choice. They have to seek a council house where they may perhaps have the advantage of a rent rebate, but for the vast majority of those who are setting up home council house rents do not differ very much from the mortgage repayments and, therefore, financially there is no great difference for them. The evidence from the rapid increase of owner-occupation during the last dozen years is surely that the preference is for owner-occupation.
In April this year, six months after the Minister had taken office, the right hon. Gentleman thought of asking the local authorities to review their needs. It may be that from that report from the local authorities one may be able to come to some judgment of the preference or the needs of people as between council houses and owner-occupation, but almost in the same breath the right hon. Gentleman, before receipt of that review, adopts 851 the doctrinaire attitude that he will increase that sector of house building which will provide council houses from 156,000 to 170,000 in the coming year. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary said in answer to a Question that this would be 45 per cent. of the total of housing.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Robert Mellish)
Would the hon. Gentleman like to quote from HANSARD on that?
§ Mr. Graham Page
If the hon. Gentleman cannot remember, I will endeavour to find it in HANSARD. [Interruption.]
§ The Chairman
Order. If even the Front Bench wants to interrupt, it must do so in the conventional way.
§ The Minister of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Richard Crossman)
Do I understand the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) to say that it was doctrinaire of me to believe that an increase of 20,000 in the supply of public sector houses was needed? Do those who object question the need?
§ Mr. Graham Page
I certainly used that word deliberately and I think that I was correct. Without information on the needs as between owner-occupation and council tenancy, the right hon. Gentleman is applying his own ideas rather than working on the basis of the facts of the case.
I worked out a sum with reference to the 45 per cent. which, if my mathematics are correct, means that the total target for Great Britain for 1965 would be 377,000, which is a paltry 3,500 a year up on 1964. Is that really the Government's target? They were holding out at the General Election that they could produce 400,000 houses a year. Instead we find, by applying a simple arithmetical sum, that the figure is 377,000 and that 45 per cent. of these are to be council houses.
It takes more than twice as long to build a council house as it does to build a private enterprise house. On an average a private enterprise builder will be able to complete his house in four and a half to five months. Building a council house takes on an average 10 to 12 months. Therefore, the more one increases the 852 quota of council houses the slower will be the rate of production of homes for the people. The Minister seems to consider that the right way to divide the year's production of houses is 45 per cent. to tenanted houses and 55 per cent. to owner-occupier houses, and he has cast away any idea that the private sector can produce houses to let. I assure him that without the private developer in that sphere many people will suffer the hardship of shared homes or being in old buildings, which should be abolished, for much longer than necessary.
The party opposite, in its manifesto at the General Election, said:We shall go ahead with a sustained programme to provide more houses at prices that ordinary people can afford.Every phrase in that statement has proved totally misleading. Prices have still risen and are rising. They have risen by 3½ per cent. during the last quarter and the Government seems powerless to do anything about it. They will provide not more houses than were being constructed when they took office, but fewer. Their expressed hope is now no more than about the same figure as last year. There is no sustained programme nor could there possibly be a sustained programme in the uncertainty and anxiety into which the building industry and the building societies have been thrown.
First, to cause the anxiety in the building trade there was the threat to imported building materials by the surcharge last autumn. Then there was the terrifying incomprehensibility of the Finance Bill and its effect upon investment in building development. Then there was the threat of the Rent Bill as an obstruction to legitimate development, particularly of blocks of flats. Then there was the high interest policy and the drying up of mortgage money. Then we had the mysteries of the Land Commission, a coming event casting its shadow before and making so much land stagnant in anticipation of it.
Finally, there is the right hon. Gentleman's unexplained national housing plan, poised like a monstrous "Big Brother" to grab anyone who has any initiative to try to provide housing for the people. The Government say that they will go ahead with a sustained programme. How could any programme be sustained in 853 those conditions and with that sort of uncertainty?
"We shall go ahead", they said. Since they were given charge of the responsibilities of housing, the Government certainly have not gone ahead but, whistling bravely in the dark, they have retreated from the strong, prepared, advance position left them by the previous Conservative Government in their successful housing drive.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ The Minister of Public Building and Works (Mr. Charles Pannell)
We have just had a remarkable speech from the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page). One would almost imagine from his speech that houses were built by moneylenders, by building societies, or, perhaps, by lawyers, at a pedestrian pace—the hon. Gentleman is a notable pedestrian. He never said a word about builders, the people who do the building. He does not seem to understand that we are talking about an industry with 2 million men. He does not understand the facts of life. I shall not attempt to meet his figures. [Laughter.] The hon. Gentleman, like his right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), reminds me of the quip which Aneurin Bevan once made against Winston Churchill, that the reason he moved so airily across the scene was that he always carried such a light weight of facts. I shall remind the Committee that houses are built by builders, with bricks, cement, plaster and all the other materials which go to make a house. Many hon. Members, I have no doubt, particularly on the benches opposite, could finance building operations, but I doubt whether half a dozen could construct them.
Building is something more than subsidies, mortgages, and all that sort of thing. It is an industrial process, and we had better talk about that today. This is why I am opening for the Government. I want to show what the building industry is doing to achieve the housing target, what its problems are, and what the Government are doing to help. I shall make no criticism of the building industry. I applaud its efforts. It has increased output significantly. But the industry must expand, and the building materials industry must grow with it.
§ Mr. Pannell
No. I waited all through the speech of the hon. Member for Crosby. I have listened to a lot of figures which confused me and everyone else, so I think that I had better give a few of my own and put the record straight. The hon. Member for Peterborough must not be so indoctrinated by his own Front Bench that he is led away from the path of cool and considered utterance which we usaully have from him.
Pessimism seems to spring eternal in the breasts of certain builders, and a great deal of nonsense has been spoken in the House and outside about the prospects for this year and the serious cut-back in building arising from the Government's economic policy. I shall give the facts.
§ The Chairman
Order. If the right hon. Gentleman does not give way, the hon. Gentleman must resume his seat.
§ Mr. Pannell
I shall give way at the appropriate time. I have just been making a few prefatory remarks which are matters of opinion.
In April, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government gave a full and frank analysis of the house building and mortgage situation as it appeared from the figures available at the time, that is, up to the end of March. He said that the number of houses started in the public sector, that is built by the local authorities, in the first quarter of this year had been down on the first quarter of 1964. In the month of March, there had been a small but encouraging increase. My right hon. Friend developed in detail an analysis of the building societies' position. Although the building socities had been making advances at levels comparable with 1964 which was a record year, they had had to cut back provision of future loans because they were unable to attract a great enough inflow of savings.
Representatives of the building industry told my right hon. Friend and me 855 that if they could no longer be promised mortgage quotas as they had in the past they would have to cut back. The term "speculative" is relative. A speculative builder likes to know that he will be able to sell his houses on mortgage before he even lays a brick. But the spokesmen of the industry have not produced any reliable figures showing a cut-back from any proved level of performance based on a past period. They spoke of a few hundred house builders who had give not figures of starts but a percentage estimate by which their programmes might fall back from plans, highly optimistic plans, laid at the beginning of the year.
When the hon. Member for Crosby referred to a return, he was referring to a return based on about 600 inquiries with a response of 420. My figures, upon which I relied for the review, which is a quarterly review done under any Minister, were based on about 6,000 returns.
§ Mr. Graham Page
That review was made in December, 1964. I was quoting a review up to May, 1965. Even though there were only 600 people concerned instead of 6,000, I take the later date to be more in point.
§ Mr. Pannell
By taking 600 selected builders one can hardly get the same response as by getting a return from 6,000. I shall come to that specific point a little later.
§ Mr. Nicholas Ridley (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, in the speech to which he has referred, the Minister of Housing and Local Government referred to the shortage of mortgages accounting for a drop of about 60,000 houses this year? Does he agree with that estimate? What does he put the figure at as a result of the high cost of mortgages and the shortage of money? How many houses does the right hon. Gentleman think we shall lose as a, result of the Chancellor's policy?
§ Mr. Pannell
I do not know anything about the figure which has been referred to. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] No, I do not. I am not concerned with mortgages. I am concerned with the actual building of houses.
§ Mr. Richard Sharples (Sutton and Cheam)
Does the Minister agree with his hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), who said,Of course it is true that there are difficulties on mortgages, and although the building societies are doing a magnificent job and still lending vast sums of money, they have been unable to meet a phenomenal demand. Had they been able to meet all requests earlier this year, we should have had a housing programme of something in the region of 460,000".That was said by his hon. Friend last Saturday.
§ Mr. Pannell
I shall deal with those figures and my own figures in my own way and in the proper context. [Laughter.] I am not answering a Parliamentary Question; I am developing an argument. Hon. Members know well enough that no Minister speaks at this Box except he quotes official figures. I have been in opposition and had to do my own homework on these things. But the Minister is principal trustee for his Ministry and for the industry, the leader of the industry, and he quotes official figures here. So I hope that no doubt will be cast upon the figures which I give.
§ Mr. Pannell
I do not deal with mortgages in my Ministry. The hon. Gentleman knows that perfectly well. I am developing the side which concerns my own Ministry. Let us have the 460,000 in context.
§ Mr. Pannell
No, we do not want people bobbing up and down all the time. I listened to the hon. Member for Crosby throughout his speech, and I do not intend to give way every few minutes. I am developing an argument on a subject about which there seems to be a great deal of confusion.
Last November, my Ministry circulated a questionnaire to 6,000 building contractors. I hope that the hon. Member for Crosby will listen to this and will not carry on his conversation unduly, too loud or too prolonged, which he accused me of. At least I did not do it from the Front Bench, whatever I may do in the Library, which it is out of 857 order to refer to in the Chamber. The replies suggested that in the private sector alone—houses built for sale—the industry expected to start 280,000 houses in 1965. I did not believe it, nor did my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government. It was unrealistic. Together with the public sector, it would have produced 460,000 starts this year. I knew that the industry had neither the skilled manpower nor the materials to achieve such a programme.
I have already said that the builders were pessimists. That pessimism is borne of 13 years of Conservative rule, with a pathological fear of stop-go. [An HON. MEMBER: "What have we got now?"] At any rate, they got so optimistic that they thought that we would get 460,000 starts this year, which is well above anything put out by hon. Gentlemen opposite. Perhaps on this occasion the pendulum swung too far in the opposite direction, and, sick and tired of seeing their industry used as an economic regulator, they have become wildly unrealistic optimists because of a change of Government.
At any rate, the replies to a further questionnaire sent out by my Ministry in April—this brings the Opposition up to date—suggested that the number of actual new starts in the private sector was more likely to be about the same as last year. Unfortunately, the estimates made by the industry's spokesmen could not be checked against this, for their questionnaire, which was sent to 620 firms, was neither so widely spread nor so framed that it could be checked against any firm base of statistics. This is what I spoke about earlier. What we had subsequently to December was a cut back in the inflated estimates which were made by the builders in December.
That was the position when my right hon. Friend spoke at the end of April. Since then, further figures have come to hand. Figures for completions as well as starts are available, but it is the new starts which are significant, and I will give them to the Committee.
For the first quarter of the year—these are the official figures—3,000 fewer houses were started than in the first quarter of 1964. But all the loss was in the public sector, which was 5,000 down on last year. But the private sector was 2,000 up. In 858 the first four months of this year, 138,000 houses were started, compared with 137,000 in 1964, a marginal increase of 1,000, but still an increase. Again, the private sector showed an upward trend, with 4,000 more starts than in the first four months of 1964. In the first five months of this year, 174,000 houses were started, a drop of 2,000 from last year. This drop is entirely due to the slow start made by the public sector earlier in the year. The private sector starts were, within a hundred or so, the same as in 1964.
These figures show that up to the end of April private builders kept ahead of their 1964 performance; in May they dropped back. Some of these figures are not due for publication until next month, but I thought that I would give them to the Committee today, as hon. Members have a right to know them and I thought that they would assist hon. Gentlemen during the debate.
So it cannot be denied that in May there were the first belated signs of a down-turn in activity in the private sector, though over the whole of the first five months its number of starts was still consistent with its due share of about 400,000 house completions in the year; and I say "400,000 houses" at this Box advisedly.
The hon. Gentleman anticipated me today. He referred to the clanger which The Times dropped. But, of course, it will be understood that my Ministry, different from the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, has reponsibility for Scotland, and, therefore, I have to include the Scottish figures. If the figure for Scotland is added, the total figure is 374,000 houses built last year. I am, of course, as much concerned with the construction industry in Scotland as anywhere else in the United Kingdom. So that is the figure. The Times said—I am correcting The Times—that only 336,000 houses were built in 1964. That was for England and Wales. As I have said, the figure, including Scotland, is 374,000. I can only say to The Times that I thought that it was read in Scotland as well as in London, that there were some top people living over the Border. On this occasion, The Times forgot Scotland as Lord Randolph Churchill once forgot Goschen.
So far, these are no more than signs that private builders are cutting back to a more realistic level than they were 859 aiming at towards the end of 1964. If, as their associations have said, they are sensitive to variations in the available amount of mortgage money they may be able to take heart in the future, because those statistics were based on 7 per cent., but on 3rd June the Chancellor announced that he had found it possible to cut Bank Rate to 6 per cent.—though it will take some time for the overall results on the inflow of savings into building societies to emerge. But the savings tide has turned, and savings are now flowing back into the building societies.
So much for the prospects for the housing programme in 1965. I regarded, as I said, the estimates made last year as unrealistic. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman opposite will credit me with that. We made a great deal of investigation in our Department into housing trends. I will explain why I regarded last year's estimates as unrealistic. As I have said, money alone does not build houses. It is but a factor. The other factors, just as important in a housing programme, are skilled men, building materials and land. All of these are terribly short.
The building and construction industry is heavily loaded because it is too small in the context of the nation's economy. Competing and conflicting demands are made upon it, not only for houses, but for roads, for hospitals, for schools and for factories. It would be a bad thing, as I think hon. Gentlemen opposite found soon after they came in, just to concentrate on houses alone. One can get a high target for houses if one leaves out schools or hospitals and all sorts of contemporaneous things that need looking at. One can do that, but I take it that on both sides of the Committee we are for a balanced distribution of the building force, because nothing could be duller than vast housing estates without the normal amenities that go with them. Therefore, building is the core of all the plans for economic expansion.
This industry has risen to the challenge. Let no one underrate its performance. In the past few years it has expanded its output at an astonishing pace—a 50 per cent. increase in new work in six years. I have every confidence that output will continue to rise. But we cannot build 860 everything we want at the same time. In Aneurin Bevan's historic phrase, "The history of priorities is the language of Socialism"—[Laughter.] Why should one laught at that? I should have thought that that was a phrase which had become a truism. I find it rather difficult to understand why the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw) should laugh at that. He always laughs at the wrong moment. He suffers—
§ Mr. Pannell
The hon. Gentleman suffers from "Kershaw's disease"—laughing at one's own jokes.
Housing accounts for about £1,000 million a year—40 per cent. of all new building. If it is claimed that we should devote more men and materials to the housing programme, then I must ask whether it is to be done at the expense of schools or hospitals. These are projects which are needed as badly. Further growth in the housing programme must be planned growth to take account of supplies of materials and manpower. To overload the industry is to put up prices, encourage inefficiency and shoddy work.
§ Mr. Ridley
Has the right hon. Gentleman considered altering the codes of practice in the byelaws for building? That is really where the backlog of wastage is taking place. What has his Department done to bring forward the new regulations so that we shall not waste materials? These regulations were prepared by the last Government. What has happened to them?
§ Mr. Pannell
They are imminent, but they are not the subject of the debate.
The sudden rise in building output in 1963, from the first apprehension of a General Election, went far to exhaust stocks of materials and rapidly used up spare production capacity. Supplies of bricks on 16th October last were only a few days' stock. Major expansions of material production may take two years or more if new factories have to be built. Building materials, from their nature, are not easily imported, and so the consequences of exhausting the capacity of home production are serious.
It is easy, of course, to blame material producers for lack of foresight, but they 861 had got so used to the stop-go policies of the previous Government that they apparently feared to invest.
§ Mr. Corfield
Surely the right hon. Gentleman realises that one thing that puts people off investing more than anything is lack of confidence. Will he read the speech made by his Parliamentary Secretary in July last and say whether he does not think that that speech did more to undermine confidence in the building material manufacturers than anything else?
§ Mr. Pannell
I am glad the hon. Member raised that, because it highlights the state of alarm in the country about the building industry before we took office. Brick supply was a problem last year. Soon after I took office I saw the brick-makers and gave them a target of 8,400 million bricks to be produced in 1965. This was an 8 per cent. increase on the 1964 forecast. The brickmakers expect to achieve this target of 8,400 million bricks in 1965. As new capacity conies into production the shortage of bricks will ease. The complaints last year were all about bricks—we have them now—and I am grateful to the brickmakers for their response.
To illustrate how serious the problem was and the scale of the efforts to overcome it, I quote from the OFFICIAL REPORT of the debate on 31st July, 1964—almost the last debate of the last Parliament:Labour is not the only factor of production which is causing concern, for the pressure of demand on building will almost certainly create more material shortages before the year end, in addition to the current difficulties with brick and cement supplies. The Nationwide brick shortage"—remember, this is before we came to power—is the severest for almost a decade and is resulting in delays and rising costs.That passage, quoted in the debate by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Public Building and Works, came from the "Cubitt Magazine". I wonder what Cubitt's thinks now. Mr. Geoffrey Rippon, who was then Minister of Public Building and Works, is a director of Cubitt's and Chairman of Cubitt Construction System, Limited. That was the position last July. 862 If the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Corfield) has the HANSARD of that date with him, he will see further quotations from the brickmakers and others—people who were certainly not friends of ours. For instance, there is a quotation from the Daily Telegraph. The story in the newspaper was headed:Brick shortage causes orders to go abroad.The report then went on, as quoted in the OFFICIAL REPORT:Imports from Holland and Belgium are increasing. An architect employed by a building firm said yesterday that his company was being given delivery dates up to 12 months ahead by British suppliers. Deliveries from Holland were being received in four weeks."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st July, 1964; vol. 699, c. 1999–2001.]Many other quotations were given in that debate. No one doubts that we were plagued by brick shortages during the whole of last year, but fortunately the shortage is now behind us.
§ Mr. Sharples
Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that we were then in exactly the same position as he is now? All that one is able to do in these circumstances is to meet the industry, talk to it and persuade it. He was in exactly the same position when he talked to the brick suppliers. In that debate, I explained—and he has not referred to this today—the measures which we had taken 18 months before in order to meet the situation. In fairness he should reply to that part of the debate as well.
§ Mr. Pannell
Whatever the hon. Gentleman may have assured us during that debate, I know what the situation was and I know that when I took office there was very little confidence in the building industry in our Conservative predecessors. There is no question of that. But the brickmakers responded with an 8 per cent. increase under this Government, which is something they were not prepared to do before. Of course there were difficulties, but the last Government did not take a lot of notice.
§ Mr. Graham Page
Is it not the case that the building industry was given the target of 350,000 houses for 1964 but in fact produced 374,000? Of course there was a shortage in producing the bricks for such a great number of houses over the target.
§ Mr. Pannell
The hon. Gentleman shows that he only has a nodding acquaintance with the subject through his research for this debate. If he had taken an interest in this subject last year he would have known that there was a shortage of bricks all over the country and that hon. Members on both sides of the House were plaguing the Minister about it. The brickmakers did not respond then, but they have responded now and we have not the shortage that we had last year.
§ Mr. Pannell
No. The hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) has made many wild speeches in his time.
§ Mr. Corfield
On a point of order, Mr. Brewis. Is it in order for the Minister to accuse my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) of taking no interest? My hon. Friend has been present at every housing debate, I should think, in the last ten years.
§ Mr. Pannell
Surely we have not become so mealy-mouthed or thin-skinned in this place that the word "wild" is out of order. Before the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South got up to that phoney point of order, I could have told him why I used the word "wild". The hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe, speaking on the Housebuilding (Protection of Purchasers) Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge (Mr. Stainton) in April, prophesied that the whole of the mortgage funds would dry up this year. When a man uses that decree of illegitimate exaggeration in advocacy, I do not think that we can call it anything except "wild".
§ Mr. Costain
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. I am surprised that he suggests that I make wild and woolly speeches. It only shows that 864 the prophet has not any honour in his own country. If it reads the rest of that speech of mine he will see that I prophesied that the shortage would continue until later in the year and then the funds would dry up. That is the situation. Is it wrong?
§ Mr. Pannell
I suggest that the hon. Gentleman should now dry up and do a bit more home work.
A shortage of plasterboard first appeared in 1964, and there was a serious shortage when we came to office. Delivery dates 65 weeks ahead are now being quoted, but the situation has remained fairly static for the past three months. The 65-week delivery period is unrealistic, because it includes many double and treble orders. Long before 65 weeks have elapsed, new factories and expansions of existing factories will have to come into production. By 1966 there will be a 60 per cent. increase in capacity over 1964.
Cement shortages have been the headache recently. A fortnight ago, I met the leaders of the cement industry and explained the Government's concern. They told me the measures they are taking to expand production and overcome the shortage. I have their assurance that cement for housing will not be overlooked. I keep in daily contact with them, and I can assure every hon. Member who brings points to my notice that they are always passed on to the cement manufacturers. In the meantime, deficiencies will be made good by importing from Europe. There is a shortage of cement throughout Europe. I was in Sweden and Denmark over Whitsun and one finds the same sorts of complaints there.
Freight costs are high, which is why the cement manufacturers have spoken of increasing the price of cement by 6s. 6d. a ton, to offset the extra £2 or £3 a ton they must pay to import it. They have agreed, however, to defer the increase until the need for it has been examined by my Department and the Department of Economic Affairs. I welcome this move, and I am sure we are grateful for the efforts of the First Secretary. I hope that the shortage of cement will grow less acute as the year advances.
§ Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)
The right hon. Gentleman mentions that 865 cement can be imported from Europe. This also applies to plasterboard, which is in short supply. He did not deal with the import of that commodity.
§ Mr. Pannell
I do not think that imports of plasterboard come so much from Europe as from Canada. This has a marginal effect upon the import duty burden.
§ Mr. Pannell
I have noticed the great reluctance of leading figures on the hon. Gentleman's side to give way, especially at the end of the day, but let me at least make a part of my speech.
Other materials have been in short supply from time to time. One of the difficulties—and I sympathise with all industries about it—is that news of an impending shortage always precipitates it as builders tend to buy up all available stocks. A Parliamentary Question often starts this off. Once supplies are available again there is a big drop in orders and a reduction in Parliamentary Questions.
§ Mr. Ridley
Cement is a glaring example, because in this country we use between 20 and 30 per cent. too much cement in mixes for mortar and concrete. I am certain that economies could be made if the building regulations were revised. Can the right hon. Gentleman not press ahead with that?
§ Mr. Pannell
I am a technician, of a sort. At least, I trained as an engineer, which shows I am something of a technician, and that is why I am not always speaking about building mortgages. We are all hon. Members, and we take it that the hon. Gentleman is what he says he is, but I would have to test his view with the technicians in my Department. If the hon. Gentleman has a technical proposition to put before me, I do not intend to bandy it about with him in debate. If he will write to me about it, I will consider it on its merits.
I come now to the subject of industrialised building. My right hon. Friend and I are doing all we can to 866 encourage the use of industrialised building methods. They save skilled labour on the site, and they save time. The shortage of skilled labour is perhaps the most inhibiting factor in traditional production. Industrialised building uses fewer men and different skills. Nearly all industrialised house building so far has been in the public sector. In 1964 about 18 per cent. of local authority building started used industrialised methods. This year it will be nearly a quarter.
I know the problems this poses for the smaller local authority. It does not know what systems are available, nor which systems are most suitable for its needs. It may have a pride in its direct labour force. Industrialised methods require large orders to make them economic. Four-fifths of the local authorities build less than 100 houses a year.
The National Building Agency exists to help just such authorities. It was founded by my predecessor but was given teeth by the present Government. That is a fair statement: it did not have its staff together until September. The Agency is responsible to me, but we co-operate with the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. It is continually appraising new systems of industrialised building on the market and is ready to advise local authorities on the selection and use of systems to meet their requirements. It strives to reduce the number of systems—I wish that local authorities were more forthcoming. I look to the National Building Agency to accelerate the growth of its services to local authorities. I am glad that the National Building Agency intends to set up its first regional office in the North-East to meet the special needs of that area. This is but a beginning.
My right hon. Friend has appointed Mr. Lederer to organise catchment areas, to encourage local authorities to band together into consortia so that they may derive the benefits from long runs and larger orders. We want a four-year housing programme for every local authority, and due weight will be given to proposals for industrialised construction in deciding what programmes to approve.
My Ministry and the Ministry of Housing and Local Government are encouraging winter building within the 867 traditional and industrialised spheres. System building is able to defy the weather. By taking as much work as possible off the site and into the factory, we can increase output significantly. Production can go ahead unimpeded by frost and snow and rain. Construction time per operation can be halved. I see industrialised building, particularly in the housing sector, as the great hope for the future. Working in a factory, a man is not driven to seek an occupation away from the wind and the rain. The building industry is prone to lose men over 40, who seek other jobs. We must prevent this drain of skilled manpower. We must enhance the status of the building worker, give him a better place in society and more amenities on the job.
The subject of jerry-building was aired very thoroughly in April when the Bill of the hon. Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge on measures to protect the house purchaser was debated. Most builders are good builders, and they are very bitter that a few should tarnish so many. More of the deficiencies arise from slipshod work and poor finishes than really bad building.
The house buyer is protected, we hope, against really bad building by the building byelaws. The protection will be standardised and improved by the national building regulations soon to be laid before the House. It is urgent that the industry should take a major part in setting and maintaining satisfactory standards, and this it wants to do.
I have attempted to cover the physical aspects of the building industry, the strains on manpower, the people on the job, the people who stand in the front line. My Ministry is closer to the construction industry than any other industry to any other Ministry. There will be those in the debate today who will speak about its shortcomings. I hope that what I have said will dispel a good deal of that. This is a highly individualistic private enterprise industry. There can be no charges of nationalisation here. It comprises 100,000 firms and 2 million men. It is increasing its output remarkably, yet it must do even better.
To maintain a growth-rate of 4 per cent. in the economy, the construction industry must achieve an even higher 868 growth rate by better planning, better management and more power to the individual worker's elbow. It must attract skilled manpower and seek ways of employing different skills. It must attract more apprentices. It must enhance the status of its workers if it is to retain them in a time of full employment. It needs more materials. This industry must grow even if others contract. Last year it had a shortfall of £100 million worth of work which it just could not undertake.
Demands for better housing are a sign of increasing prosperity in every country throughout the world. With growing affluence our wants multiply, our ambitions expand, our imagination is enriched. We ask not only for shelter from the wind and rain, but for homes—better homes with garages on council estates.
§ Mr. Pannell
Geniuses often say the same things in different generations.
The back-to-backs of Leeds are behind us. What was tolerable yesteryear offends public opinion, and tastes today and the Parker Morris standards are by no means the final goal.
I am aware that the Government will be judged by their success in this respect perhaps more than in any other. These are great divisions between the two sides of the Committee, deep and wide, but I have no doubt that we all believe in the social aspects of good housing and the creation of homes as the best health service of them all.
Any Government deserves to be judged on what it does in housing and how if necessary it brings the economy to bear and rallies it behind an industry such as this. In the past great names have been associated with housing. Nobody would dispute that the first Labour Minister of Housing, John Wheatley, was one of the great housing Ministers and with his name is associated that of Arthur Greenwood. In the difficulties of his time, whatever is said in the heat of the political contest of the 869 time, Aneurin Bevan will go down as one of the great Housing Ministers of all time.
§ Mr. Pannell
I should not have thought that one could use the name of Neville Chamberlain in the same breath.
As I have said, the Government will be judged by their success in this respect more than in any other. I am sure that in this matter, to which we attach so much importance and about which there is so much feeling throughout the country and which is so emotive and which will be so much the talk at the next election, we shall not fail.
§ 5.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Ray Mawby (Totnes)
I should first like to welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Brewis, and hope that I shall not trespass on your generosity in making what I hope will be a short speech, following the request of Dr. King.
As the Minister of Public Building and Works, the right hon. Gentleman has given us a lot of information about the practical and physical side of building houses, but he evaded the main question of where the sinews are to come from, where the money is to be obtained. I was very disorderly at one point in his speech when I called from a sedentary position, "You cannot build houses without mortgages". That seemed to surprise the right hon. Gentleman. I made that statement only because I do not know many people who walk about with £2,000 or £3,000 readily get-at-able to purchase a house. However many houses are built, they are for sale only to prospective purchasers who can obtain a mortgage from a building society or a local authority. Therefore, while the size of the housing programme might be in line with the physical possibilities of the industry, the industry will achieve only what the availability of money will allow.
In my constituency—and I have no doubt that this is repeated throughout the country—there are builders and employees—and, as the right hon. Gentleman said, we must not forget that we are talking about people and that there are many people employed in the building industry in various ways who have to accept always that their occupation is such that 870 they cannot have permanent weekly work because of weather conditions—who are extremely concerned about the present situation. I have some quotes from my local paper of last Saturday on the subject of housing. It says:Local reaction has been mixed. Some builders who have house building as a secondary line to their businesses are not too worried.Obviously they have jobbing work which carries them along.But others fear they will be hard hit—unless things change within the next three months workmen will be made redundant.One builder made the comment:'We are fully employed at the moment—but there is no future work. Unless the situation eases we can look forward to a bleak winter'.Another said:'People simply cannot raise a mortgage, the jobbing side of our business is keeping us going at the moment, but unless something happens soon we will have to lay men off'.That state of affairs is being repeated all over the country.
It is important to consider what has happened to bring about this situation. As the right hon. Gentleman said, the Government will be judged very largely by what they achieve in housing and other social aspects of their policy. Even now, there are already signs that, apart from other promises during the election, hon. Members opposite sailed to victory under completely false colours. There are many disillusioned electors in my constituency and elsewhere who believed that houses would be more freely available and that there would be lower mortgage rates. Neither has happened. Mortgage rates are higher than ever before.
Instead of trying to seek some alleviation of this position, the First Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer have been indulging in abuse of the building societies and suggesting that their rates are too high, apparently leaving out of account the fact that money cannot be lent unless it can be borrowed.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the fact that money was flowing back into the building societies at present. Does this have anything to do with the fact that most building societies are now offering a higher rate of interest to those who lend money to them? If so, they must obviously ask for a higher rate of interest from those to whom they lend. Instead of making a great deal of noise about 871 building societies, Ministers ought to consider the effect which Government policy is having, among other things, upon local authority powers to lend money. Many people believe that if they cannot either raise a mortgage with a building society or afford to pay the rate of interest which is charged, they will be able to trot along to the town hall and obtain the equivalent of a mortgage in the form of a long-term home loan.
The Ministry of Housing and Local Government issued Circular No. 3/65 on 20th January, which laid down the rates of interest which would be charged to local authorities by the Public Works Loan Board for their non-quota loans. This has caused a certain amount of concern to a borough treasurer in my constituency who was faced with the difficulty that at the end of some years the capital expenditure of his authority has been within the quota whereas in other years that has not been the case. He asked for guidance from the right hon. Gentleman's Department on the question of the rate of interest which his authority could charge a potential borrower.
It has always been accepted that a local authority ought to charge people who want home loans about ¼ per cent. above the rate at which it borrows. The borough treasurer to whom I have referred made inquiries and found that the Ministry of Housing and Local Government had made it quite clear that if an authority knew with absolute certainty that its total borrowing requirements for all purposes would not exceed its quota at the lower set of Public Works Loan Board rates it could make advances at rates which were less than ¼ per cent. above the appropriate lower set of Public Works Loan Board rates.
This is where the difficulty arises. It is impossible to be absolutely certain that total borrowing requirements can be met from the quota, especially if the demand for Section 43 advances is likely to increase to a marked extent. A borough treasurer or any local authority treasurer who can be absolutely certain that the capital requirements of his local authority for the year will not exceed the quota which is allowed for the lower rate of interest from the Public Works Loan Board can take the risk of lending money 872 at a lower rate of interest than the 7 per cent. laid down by the Ministry to someone who wants to borrow in order to buy a house. In other words, he can charge only ¼ per cent. above the interest which his authority is being charged for the money it is borrowing.
We all know that in practice no borough treasurer would ever be certain about this. Any local authority can make estimates and say, "As far as we know our capital expenditure will not be more than £X", but at the following meeting of the public health committee it may be reported that the main sewer has been fractured and needs immediate attention, which involves the local authority going above its quota. In the view of the local authority treasurer to whom I have referred this means—whatever the Minister wants to happen—that no person who applies for a local authority loan to purchase his house can borrow money from the authority at less than 7¼ per cent. That is what the rule means in practice.
Therefore, although it is a good thing to say that we believe in housing people, as the right hon. Gentleman did in his marvellous peroration, it is right in this connection to point out that the "road to hell is paved with good intentions". What we are interested in is a policy which will continue to ensure that there is a high rate of housebuilding. That is what we should seek to achieve. If the present situation continues, in which even local authorities often have to charge a higher rate of interest than building societies, the right hon. Gentleman will not have to worry about shortages within the building industry, because there will be a continually falling demand for houses—
§ Mr. Mawby
The right hon. Gentleman, in his normal courteous manner, says "Rubbish". He has obviously not listened to a word I have said. I only hope that someone from the Ministry of Housing will be interested. I hope, that even if none of those Ministers are here they will have brought to their attention the technical difficulty of which I have been speaking—and of which the right hon. Gentleman may not be aware—which forces a local authority to charge a higher rate of interest than it feels it ought 873 to charge because, all things being equal, during the year its total expenditure will be within its quota and it could lend money at a lower interest rate.
§ Mr. Pannell
That part of the hon. Member's argument is correct. I was the chairman of a finance committee of a local corporation for many years before coming to the House. What I said was rubbish—and I said it with no more discourtesy than usual—was the suggestion that there was likely to be a falling off in the demand for building. The pressure on the building industry is terriffic. This will not happen. We have been arguing about houses this afternoon, and that is what I was referring to when I said that mortgages alone would not build them. But the pressure on the industry is such that it can look to the future with the greatest degree of confidence.
§ Mr. Mawby
The right hon. Gentleman has great confidence that the overall demand on the building industry will continue, but at the moment I am talking about housing. I could also express my doubts whether there will be such a pressing demand on the industry from many other sectors of the economy. As a result of the policy which the Government are following it is obvious that many industries will cut back on extensions to their premises, and put back the modernisation of their offices. This will snowball unless there is this availability of money not only for those who wish to purchase houses but for all who make demands on the building industry for the services which they require. I said that I would be brief and, therefore, having made the main point which I wanted to make, in the interests of brevity, I will hand over to somebody else.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Mr. T. W. Urwin (Houghton-le-Spring)
When the Opposition gave notice of their intention to discuss the subject of housing, thus using up a Supply day, I and some of my colleagues had the firm impression that this was to be a severe Motion of censure on the Government for their alleged inability to deal with the housing problem which has confronted the country and successive Governments since the end of the last war. Listening to Opposition speakers so far, including the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page), I wondered why they came here this 874 afternoon. I cannot see, from what they have said, how there can be any indictment of this Government, particularly having regard to the fact that we have been in office for only a short period of nine months. I should like the Opposition to take note of the fact that I have worked in the building industry for a long time and have been engaged in the building of homes. Looking back over the years, I feel that far too much political importance has been attached to the building of houses.
It is unfortunately true that, instead of housing being regarded as a social service, as it should be, for too long and too often it has been a plank in an election platform. I would take the memory of hon. Members on the other side of the House back to 1950 and 1951, when, in their election speeches, they said that they would "set the builders free" and would build 300,000 houses a year. I do not think that they need to be reminded of the manner in which this promise was made. It was done very haphazardly, as is most Tory planning. Someone at the Tory conference said, "We should build 200,000 houses." Somebody else said, "Why not 300,000?", and the late Sir Winston Churchill said, "Fair enough: 300,000 it will be." That was a further example of their complete neglect of the necessity to plan a very important industry in order that it should play its full part in the provision of houses which are so badly needed and which continue to be badly needed.
Of course, setting the builders free has led to a rampant race among builders to extract from the industry and the unfortunate people who want houses, either for rent or for purchase, the maximum amount of profit. The situation which has been allowed to develop over the last few years has led to this. Anxiety has been displayed on the Opposition benches to run down the number of houses which were being built for rent in preference to those for sale. This has meant increasing competition for those houses which have been built, in the public sector and the private sector. I am thinking of young people, and doubtless other hon. Members are aware of many similar instances, past, present and future—though we hope not very long in the future—remembering that most people applying for mortgages are young 875 people. Despite all the figures and the domestic economic problems which they have to face—the high price of furnishing a home and other things—they are called upon to take out mortgages which they cannot afford. Many of them literally cannot afford to meet them. The Ministry of Labour statisticians tell us that there are more married women in employment than there ever have been before.
I have had experience, in my own family, of the compulsion applied on young people to take out these mortgages and a similar compulsion imposed on the wife either to remain at work or to seek a job in order to eke out the family income to meet the excessive costs imposed on them for the mortgage which they have to have. We should do what is necessary in any society, establish and maintain a steady flow of rented accommodation, if only to meet the demands of the lower-paid workers. People below certain levels of income have neither the right nor the opportunity, because they have not the wherewithal, to take out mortgages. In their interests, rented accommodation is essential in large numbers. This is surely the social concept of housing.
One cannot participate in a debate of this sort without drawing attention to the influence which is wielded in housing by outside interests. I refer particularly to the influence of the building societies. I would remind the House that, in August last year, a statement was made on behalf of the building societies to the effect that the mortgage interest rate should be increased. However, out of deference to the Government—at that time, a Tory Government—and bearing in mind the necessity to assist the Government of the day to resolve the housing problem by helping in the housing drive which has been going on for so long, they decided to maintain the interest rate at 5¾ per cent.—
§ Mr. Graham Page
I think that it is most unfair of the hon. Member to accuse the Building Societies Association of any political bias in that way. I am sure that there was no political bias at that time at all.
§ Mr. Urwin
I did not intend to convey that inference. Though the hon. 876 Member chooses to think that way, all I said was that in August last year a Tory Government were in office. I am quoting the Chairman of the Building Societies Association, who said, in these words, that, in order to assist the Government in their housing drive, the rate of interest would be retained at 5¾ per cent. If that sounds like a political bias that is not my fault. However, it is significant that, three or four months later, the rate of 6¾ per cent. was introduced, thus making it much more difficult for the people who are already struggling to raise money for mortgages.
§ Mr. Patrick McNair-Wilson (Lewisham, West)
Would the hon. Member also bear in mind that, because the Government put the Bank Rate up to 7 per cent., the building societies had no alternative?
§ Mr. Urwin
At that time, the chairman of the Association was careful to emphasise the fact that the increase had no relation to the increase in Bank Rate. That was specific in the statement he made on behalf of the Association.
One wonders why it should be possible for such outside interests—either politically-minded or otherwise—to exercise such an influence over the vital question of the provision of homes. We ought now to have a completely new appraisal of the whole system of housing finance, not just the question of lower interest rates for local authority public building or the reintroduction of some kind of subsidy for general need, which I am sure the Minister of Housing has under consideration. In the provision of private houses, why cannot we have a pooling of financial resources and a national mortgage pool, with the available money being used in the best interests of the community at large and in the best interests of those people who need to take out mortgages for house purchase?
Reference has been made to the fact that mortgage money is drying up. There are terrible stories about the diminution in the demands on the building industry and the reduction in the supply of homes. But responsible people are making different kinds of statement. I will quote from people who are working in the industry and whose livelihood depends on a ready flow of money in the private sector as well as in the public sector— 877 indeed, particularly in the private sector. A few weeks ago building workers were asked about the situation on the building sites. We know that they talk together both on and off site about what is happening in the industry. Only one example was quoted of any effect at all upon the building industry of the alleged drying up of mortgage money, and in that case only three men had to be dismissed because of this fact.
In an intervention during my right hon. Friend's speech, an hon. Member opposite said that we cannot build without mortgages. That is absolute poppycock. We can do without mortgages. Why cannot we build all houses without mortgages? If we cannot do it in the way in which I suggested, making available a supply of money, let us build them all in the public sector. We should not need to take out mortgages.
My right hon. Friend the Minister for Public Building and Works has properly drawn attention to the fact that, whatever our ambitions may be, we must co-ordinate them with the construction industry. The first post-war Tory Government fixed a target of 300,000 houses per annum with a completely unplanned industry, and so they progressed throughout their period of office until October, 1964. The hon. Member for Crosby claimed that last year the Tory Government completed a record number of houses for a post-war period. This is undoubtedly true. But it took them 13 years to reach a figure of 370,000. Why did they not build 400,000 or 450,000 in each year from 1951 to 1964? I suggest that the only reason why the target was stepped up to reach this figure last year was political expediency. It was nothing more.
§ Mr. Costain
Would not the hon. Member agree that over the last six years an average of 300,000 houses were built each year?
§ Mr. F. V. Corfield (Gloucestershire, South)
The hon. Member will recall that when we announced our determination to reach 300,000 houses the Labour Party said that we should not get 300,000, we should not get 100,000, but we should get housing riots. That was said by Mr. Aneurin Bevan. Mr Attlee said during that election, "We cannot at the moment go beyond 200,000 houses". Does not the hon. Member understand that if the Labour Party had delayed the target of 300,000 houses all that time they would not have done half as well as we did?
§ Mr. Corfield
I was referring to a forecast by him about what would happen in the first of the 13 years. That forecast was proved utterly wrong. Had he been proved right, there would have been no houses.
§ Mr. Urwin
I am grateful for the second intervention. I was referring to the indecent haste of the announcement of the target of 300,000 houses and the fact that the Government: proceeded with an unplanned building industry. During the whole of that period they concentrated on traditional houses. Throughout that time we had various reports and White Papers issued by the Tory Government demanding that local authorities should utilise these resources to the best possible advantage and that they should reduce building standards. Ceiling heights were reduced from 8 ft. 6 in. to 8 ft. and in some cases to 7 ft. 9 in. Floor areas were substantially reduced. My local authority was building three-bedroomed houses of 1,200 ft. super, but as a result of the demands of the Tory Government, the three-bedroomed house has been reduced to 900 ft. super or even less. I do not think that the Opposition can be very proud of their housing record over these years.
879 As I was saying when I was interrupted, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Public Building and Works has properly drawn attention to the unplanned state of the industry when we took office. In 1964, the Tory Government claimed that they had built a record number of houses. In my part of the world, the northern region of England, in September, when housing production was at its peak, 811 craftsmen were on the unemployment register, as were 901 ancillary, semiskilled craftsmen and more than 4,000 unskilled men, making a total of over 5,000 building operatives who were unemployed in September last year when, for political reasons, the housing drive was almost at its peak. This unemployment existed throughout 1964. It was a little less in September than in the earlier part of the year.
The legacy which has been left is one of a completely unplanned industry. One of the reasons why so much emphasis has been laid on industrial building in recent years is to be found in this fact. The Tory Government failed in their responsibility to the nation and the building industry in not having taken steps to ensure that a sufficient number of skilled craftsmen were trained, that a sufficient number of apprentices were brought into the industry, that sufficient technicians were trained and that there was sufficient opportunity provided for the training of technicians, such as architects. The result is that, as a new Government, we are faced with the stupendous task of reorganising the building industry. A complete reorganisation is needed.
In recent weeks we have been very pleased to hear about new capital investment in cement and bricks. It is another indictment of Tory Governments throughout this period that they have not paid sufficient attention to their responsibility. Undoubtedly this is largely due to the indecent haste to which I have referred—their haste to build as many boxes as they could to create a false impression on the electorate at election time. Thanks to the co-ordination taking place now between the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and the Ministry of Public Building and Works, we shall soon see our way out of the wilderness into which we were led by the inadequacy of Tory administration in the last 13 years.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Reginald Eyre (Birmingham, Hall Green)
I have the honour to represent the constituency of Hall Green in the City of Birmingham. In this capacity I succeed Mr. Aubrey Jones who, as hon. Members know, has taken up an office of great national importance as Chairman of the National Board for Prices and Incomes. I hope that the House will extend to me its customary indulgence if, in my maiden speech, I seek to speak in praise of home ownership.
Over-emphasis on uniformity in the provision of housing limits what could be an expanding area of freedom in the exercise of personal choice and taste. As a result, the scope for development of personality is lessened. On the other hand, one of the most effective ways in a modern society of uplifting personality is by spreading wider the ownership of homes and progress in this direction increases the total fund of personal responsibility.
A man who owns nothing but the power to labour has been described as a member of the proletariat. I do not find that word and its underlying meaning attractive and I believe that housing polices, in particular directed towards the encouragement and assistance of would-be home buyers, have a significant part to play in the development of mature and responsible attitudes in our society.
One of the outstanding characteristics of my constituency is the strong belief in the qualities of home ownership. Out of 26,000 houses, no less than 20,000 are owner-occupied. Almost without exception the owners have bought, or are in the course of buying, their properties out of their personal earnings. In many cases this has not been easy and has required long years of self-discipline in the allocation of income and a denial of the transient pleasure of consumption. Nevertheless, there is a considerable evidence of the satisfaction, security and dignity which has been gained by those undertaking responsibility of this kind.
The standard of maintenance of properties is of a very high order, often achieved by devotion to do-it-yourself principles. The result of all this effort is attractive districts made up of roads having an appearance which is enhanced by well-tended gardens and grass verges. 881 Fortunately, good standards of this kind tend to spread and the beneficial effect on the whole sector of a great industrial city can be clearly seen.
Three years ago a survey was conducted in Birmingham and district which established a significant fact relating to the housing aspirations of the young married people there. No less than 84 per cent. of young couples—they came from all ranges of occupation—were emphatically in favour of home ownership. It was not only a matter of aspiration on their part. They were taking determined and practical steps by way of saving to achieve their ambitions. Such efforts deserve every encouragement and assistance. It is a sad fact that the reduced allocation of mortgages now makes very much more difficult the housing problems of these young couples.
Last week building society managers in the Midlands described to me their lending situation. Compared with advances made at this time last year, the most fortunate manager could now lend only half his previous mortgage amounts. Other managers were in even more difficult situations, being able to lend only one-third or one-quarter of last year's figures. To give a specific example, one manager who last year was advancing mortgages at the rate of £200,000 a month is now lending only £50,000 a month. It is true that increased interest rates for depositors and a lessening in withdrawals promises to bring about a welcome, though slight, easing in these drastic reductions.
The present problem, however, has long-term implications. The considerable growth in the number of home owners in recent years has taken place because the funds of the building societies have grown at a pace sufficient to service the expanding demand for loans. Almost 220,000 new houses were added to the stock of privately-owned properties in Great Britain last year. Financing the purchase of those new houses alone required an additional accumulation of assets totalling at least £500 million. Clearly, an addition to the total of loans of this order cannot be hoped for this year. Indeed, unless some drastic change is forthcoming there will be if not a set-back at least a state of stagnation in the growth of building society funds 882 this year. Thus, the total funds available will be well below those required to meet demands and to sustain satisfactory building production.
The great cost of new estate development requires a flow of effective sales and they must slightly precede, or at the very least accompany, the erection of the houses. Queues of frustrated would-be purchasers, qualified in all respects for loans and having saved substantial deposits, but nevertheless lacking mortgages, cannot enable the industry to maintain its necessary rate of turnover.
We have heard reports of large developers having to cut back their programmes, but the position of the smaller builder who is responsible for a considerable part of the housing development in Birmingham and neighbouring districts is much more precarious. He relies completely on a quick turnover if his production rate of houses is to be kept up. A squeeze on bank credit further limits the small builder's ability to continue without effective sales. Those supplying building materials to him expect prompt cash payment as they are themselves being squeezed in their credit arrangements.
Already house building firms, small and medium-sized, are cutting back heavily on their production. A Midlands builder told me last week that his firm had been compelled to reduce its rate of output by one-third. He told me that the official return which he had recently made to the Ministry of Public Building and Works confirmed this position and that a reduction in expected output of this kind was typical of the returns being made by other comparable building firms in the Midlands. The builder went on to explain one of the urgently worrying aspects of the matter; that unless an effective rate of sales of the present reduced output of houses is achieved within the next two months a further substantial reduction in starts for the second part of the year must be made. A consequent drastic reduction in private house numbers would then be apparent early next year, he pointed out. Once a cut down in programme begins to operate, a full year is necessary to restore the pace of advance. Even now, preparatory work on road making and sewer 883 laying is being postponed. Most important of all, the business confidence of builders can be undermined by continuing uncertainty.
The generation born in the birth-rate bulge following 1945 will soon be coming to maturity, and the numbers of young couples setting up homes will be increasing rapidly. If this increased demand is not satisfied by building production, there will be greater competition, especially in cities like Birmingham, for the limited stock of existing houses. Inflationary pressure on prices could soon be generated in that way.
Not only those seeking to buy new houses will be adversely affected by a continuing shortage of mortgage funds. The mobility of labour will not be encouraged. In a number of cases within my knowledge, the process of transferring a home from the Birmingham district to another part of the country in order to take up a new job has given rise to geat anxiety, due to the unusual difficulty in financing what have been normal property transactions.
The same consideration applies to many people who now each year reach retirement age and contemplate moving from the industrial areas of the Midlands to a seaside resort or a country area. Their potential mobility in this respect has been won by years of thrift. It seems a hard stroke of fortune that their plans should have become more uncertain because the property market is not functioning normally, due to the limitation of credit.
References was made in this Chamber on Tuesday to the reserves of the building societies. Building societies have to be cautious in the maintenance of their reserves, as befits a movement which has to borrow short and lend long. Here there is a possibility of the Minister taking urgent action to ease the worst of the present tightness of credit. Here the Minister could save the housing output figures for this year, and assist in the restoration of a fully normal property market. An immediate under-pinning by guarantee by the Bank of England would release a substantial part of the building societies' reserves, which exceed £500 million. A proportion of that sum could be released for advances during the next 884 few critical months. I appeal to the Minister to consider taking urgent action of this kind, which would be a substantial help in reducing the disappointment on the part of would-be home purchasers.
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ Mr. J. T. Price (Westhoughton)
It now falls to me to carry out one of the pleasant traditions of the House by offering on behalf of all hon. Members present sincere congratulations to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Eyre). He has given us a most thoughtful, well-reasoned and attractive speech. I try to avoid personal references, but as this is the first time in many years in the House that I have followed a maiden speaker, I recall that when I made my maiden speech I was followed by the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), whom I see sitting on the Front Bench opposite. I was interrupted quite a number of times, because nobody knew that it was a maiden speech except the right hon. Gentleman, who quickly put things right in his usual genial fashion.
The hon. Member for Hall Green follows a most distinguished former Member who is now carrying out a most important social function for the nation, in which he has all our good wishes. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that in following Mr. Aubrey Jones, he comes to his Parliamentary duties with a lot of inherited good will in many parts of the House. This will be the last occasion in his Parliamentary life on which he will wear an immunity badge against interruption or challenge, but if he continues to address the House in the tone and manner he has just used he will always get a good hearing.
The House is a tolerant place, as we all admit in saner moods. It tends on occasion to erupt into violent storms of passsion when there is good cause—it would be a spineless Parliament if it could not show emotion on great public issues. Housing is an issue of great public importance, and one that arouses emotion in the breast of many people, but as far as I can I want to avoid the emotional approach.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Public Building and Works and the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) were bound to devote a good deal of their 885 remarks to statistical matters and to the products of research, but the back-room boys put down figures that are not always agreed. I do not wish to enter into that aspect of polemical discourse, because if the facts are not known they can easily be ascertained.
The overall fact of housing is that a great many people who want a decent modern home to live in still cannot get one. The statisticians can argue the figures as they will, but that is the position, although eight years ago there was a major revolution in our rent legislation when the Rent Bill was tenaciously debated in this Chamber.
It was then claimed by the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell)—whom I am unhappy to note is not now present, because he had very dogmatic views on the subject—and it was seriously put forward from the then Conservative Government side, that if only house rents were freed from these archaic restrictions, the signal would be given to the building industry, the financiers and the businessmen to build all the houses that were needed, and there would soon be no housing shortage whatever.
Indeed, the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, said in my hearing in 1957—and it was also said by the right hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Brooke), who also is not present—that the housing situation was effectively solved; that the shortage was only marginal. Yet, ever since, Governments which have come and gone—and although I do not want to make too much of the point, they have been Conservative Governments, with changed personalities in them—have been wrestling all the time with the situation that we are not able to keep abreast of housing needs.
From my personal observations in Western Europe and elsewhere, I believe that we are the only industrial nation that is still pestered by vast numbers of slum, worn-out houses in which human beings exist in a very sorry state. On these occasions I try to refrain from making constituency points, but there are parts of my own constituency where this applies. Lancashire has small industrial towns—and some of the most beautiful countryside within a few miles of them—where people are still living in houses which are 886 a hundred years old and completely worn out.
We are frustrated by all sorts of factors that are the subject of proper Parliamentary debate, but I want to concentrate for a moment on one of the major factors that seem to delay and obstruct the proper construction of houses in the quantities required.
At his peril let no one forget—least of all statesmen and politicians who are trying to provide the atmosphere and climate in which proper building can take place—that land is the basis of wealth in this country. I rarely make dogmatic statements in the House. I am usually too sceptical to do that, but that if there is one such statement I make it is that, as Henry George said long ago, land is the basis of all real wealth. Never let us forget that. It has been one of the most disturbing and distorting factors of the building programme that land speculation has so often bedevilled the construction of houses in the proper place and at the right time.
I shall deal with what has been happening in my part of Lancashire. Figures have been bandied about and there have been disputes about figures. I submit for consideration in this debate, which is highlighting the housing situation, figures relating to my part of Lancashire. I do not represent Wigan, but the sector around Wigan constitutes my constituency. There, marginal land on the perimeter of Wigan which 10 or 15 years ago could have been bought at the most for £35 to £40 an acre, has been sold in the last two or three years for £3,500 an acre on development certificates. Professional people who have no political axe to grind have written to me drawing attention to what is taking place, and to the fact that the price of land in 10 or 15 years has increased by no less than 100 times.
Evil consequences flow from this. The hon. Member for Hall Green rightly drew attention to the needs of young people who wish to own their own houses through the aid of building societies and so on. Young couples are paying outrageous prices for small bungalows and houses. Those prices are inflated, not only through the high cost of building materials, but by the inordinate cost of the land on which they are built. Anyone building houses in urban areas does 887 not need to build skyscrapers. Such a person will agree that eight houses to the acre would be sufficient. Then a nice garden could be provided, but we find that these houses are being provided with "pocket handkerchief gardens" in which there is hardly room for a clothes-line to be hung. That is because far too many have to be built on a site.
I do not want to encourage the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) to interrupt because he interrupted my right hon. Friend the Minister of Public Building and Works. The hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe is an expert in the building industry. He knows that reputable builders are being compelled because of the ridiculous prices to which land has soared to build at far too great a density to the acre and that as a result some of the houses lack amenities.
§ Mr. Costain
I thank the hon. Member, not only for giving way but for inviting me to interrupt. I wonder if he knows how much the price of land has dropped since the Labour Government came to power. Can he give the figures?
§ Mr. Price
I am not going to be drawn into that sort of flat-footed argument. I have been here a little too long to fall for that sort of thing. I expect a great deal more progress to be made by my right hon. Friends in some ways than they have shown up to now, but I do not expect miracles. That is my answer to the hon. Member and he will have to be satisfied with it.
I have dealt with cost inflation, undesirable densities of building and the often poor standards of construction which are the indirect consequences of the high price of land. Many purchasers of new properties in the £2,000 to £3,000 range of small houses and bungalows in the provinces—they are much dearer, of course, in the London area—find that there is a limit to what young couples can pay even with the aid of mortgages. When the cost of land is as much as £300 or £400 per site, when pocket handkerchief gardens have to be provided and the buildings themselves are poor there is an attraction to people to buy that 888 type of land. There is pressure on local authorities to grant development certificates.
Here I come to a very delicate situation. I should like the Minister of Housing and Local Government to pay attention to what I am about to say. If the price of land rockets to this remarkable extent when a development certificate is granted by a local planning authority which has charge of the operation, I say advisedly—not wishing to exaggerate—that this vast increase in land values is a standing temptation to the grossest forms of bribery and corruption. I carry it further than that. Surely the country must be crazy to allow land values to soar in this way.
I have recently refreshed my mind by reading—not for the purpose of this debate—Henry George's "Progress and Poverty". That is a classical work on these matters. It was written in 1879, which is getting on for 80 years ago. I find it most refreshing and I wish it was better known to some of my hon. Friends and even to my right hon. Friends who have to make policy decisions. Better than anyone else who has written on this subject, Henry George knew that the value of land lay at the basis of most economic considerations with which politicians have to deal. He said:A consideration of the effects of the continuous increase in land values which springs from material progress reveals in the speculative advance inevitably begotten when land is private property.My party has never in a formal sense advocated nationalisation of the land. I am not a crude nationaliser nor a party hack in the sense that I speak claptrap on every conceivable occasion. I try to avoid that, but I often think that if the last Labour Government, who were beset by great problems after the war—and I do not blame them for what they did—had tackled the land question with the determination of which they showed themselves capable in other ways, many of our problems would have been smaller.
§ Mr. Ioan L. Evans (Birmingham, Yardley)
Would not my hon. Friend say, in fairness, that in 1947 we passed the Town and Country Planning Act and if the party opposite had not repealed it we would not have had the racketeering there has been in the years that followed?
§ Mr. Price
That is so, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend, but I am not entirely satisfied about the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act. It has been amended twice, in 1954 and 1962, but one of the things which still stands is the liability placed on a local authority which refuses a development certificate to a landowner to pay compensation in respect of the betterment which otherwise would have taken place. I know that this is a highly controversial issue. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government need not look agitated or apprehensive that I might attack him. [Interruption.] Perhaps he is not listening; I do not know. This I know is an inflammatory matter, but I sometimes doubt whether the liability placed on local authorities to make good to speculative land operators from public funds what they otherwise would gain by commercial activity is a good principle in social matters. Perhaps I can debate that privately with my right hon. Friend on another occasion.
§ Mr. Price
I am glad that I mentioned the point. I thought that I would get the truth by an oblique approach rather than by a frontal attack. This is sometimes the case in the House of Commons. That is a most interesting discovery.
I promised to be brief. I must keep my promise. This is an occasion when I might be sorely tempted to deal with other matters. I will merely refer to them in passing and wind up what I have to say in a general way. I wish to refer to one aspect which must be seriously considered by the present Administration. I refer to the way in which all kinds of ineffective, inefficient people can pester the building industry by setting themselves up under present company law with a nominal capital of £100 and start to build houses on a vast scale. I could give details to the Committee. [Interruption.] I have no reason to withdraw anything. Anything I say is legitimate, because the House of Commons is a privileged place in which I can say anything.
I will refer to the details in a moment, but the only reason why I do not give the name of a speculative builder in 890 my constituency who has carried out large schemes in my part of Lancashire is that I think that it might embarrass some of those who are living in the houses which have been erected by this company. This company is one of many which hon. Members opposite will tell me may be in a minority. There are many honourable builders. I am not saying that all builders are a bad lot, but the demand for houses is so intense that all kinds of manipulators and slick operators have knuckled in on the market and done all sorts of diabolical things which should be condemned in the House of Commons.
This company which has operated in my constituency was registered in 1958 or 1959 with a nominal capital of £100. I suppose that some solicitor drew up the articles of association and gave the company legal validity under the Companies Act, as it stands. This is all being investigated now by the Jenkins Committee. We are still waiting for a report. [Interruption.] I have said nothing out of order. Clothed in this flimsy garment of a capital of £100, with articles of association provided at the usual modest terms by some local solicitor, this company set to work and bought a piece of land in Westhoughton, which is one of the places I happen to represent in the House of Commons. The company embarked upon a scheme of building 500 small houses. I am told that it is a poor standard of construction which has given an awful lot of trouble to people since. A very conservative estimate of the value of the scheme is £750,000. It was carried out on a capital basis of £100 to satisfy company law. The rest of the money was borrowed from all sorts of places, wherever it might be available.
At the end of the day, the company has become threatened with bankruptcy and insolvency and gets out of the way. This is because the main objective of speculative builders in the north of England is not to make a profit on the building. It is to make a profit on the land. If a man can build 500 houses on a piece of land for which he has paid the market value and charge a ground rent of £10 per house, he then has an income of £5,000 a year from that one plot of land which he has developed. He does not keep the ground rents. He is 891 not that sort of man. He does not want to collect them. He takes his capital value for the ground rents of £5,000, which might be 20 to 25 years' purchase. If it is only 20 years' purchase, he has netted £100,000 on one development. This is going on all over the north of England. I do not know about the rest of the country. I cannot speak with equal authority for the rest of the country.
I fervently hope that my right hon. Friends the Ministers who are in charge of the debate do not need to be persuaded that more money needs to be released for building houses, either to local authorities or through building societies. I hope that, if in the near future money is provided, as I expect it to be, they will provide adequate safeguards to ensure that public money does not get into the hands of these slick operators and the wrong people who have misused the trust. This is a non-party point which I think I ought to make tonight as strongly as I can, because this problem will never be solved in the way in which we would like it to be solved, unless the building trade is better organised than it is now.
I do not want to be too critical of the building industry, but it is not perfect. The bonus systems now being operated by too many speculative builders are a constant threat to the carrying out of proper work by those builders. The extravagant bonuses paid for the completion of certain stages of construction are a special risk which operates against building of a proper standard being carried out.
I assure my right hon. Friends the Minister of Public Building and Works, who opened this debate, and the Minister of Housing and Local Government who is to wind it up, that many of us on this side of the Committee, in trying to discharge our constitutional duty to our constituents by drawing the attention of Ministers to many matters, such as those to which I have only alluded tonight, do so in the feeling, the hope and the knowledge that my right hon. Friends will satisfy us on the outstanding pledges we gave at the last election. One is that we shall make mortgages cheaper. Another is that we shall deal with the land racketeers who have obstructed the proper development of land in the past 892 It is in that belief that I make these short observations, in the hope that we can have a rational policy for housing which will give people decent homes in greater numbers and ensure that young couples enter upon their married life in better conditions than those enjoyed by their parents and their grandparents.
§ 6.47 p.m.
§ Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)
As the first Member on this side of the Committee to speak since my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Eyre) spoke, may I add my congratulations on his very carefully prepared, thoughtful and well-delivered speech. We on this side of the Committee have seen how much work my hon. Friend has done in Committees and we know how much thought he has put into Committee work. We expected a good maiden speech from him. We were not disappointed. He did his homework very well.
I am afraid that I cannot say quite the same for the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price). The hon. Gentleman would not expect me to say it. He spoke as if this was the only country in Europe with a housing shortage.
§ Mr. J. T. Price
I know that the hon. Gentleman tries to be fair. I did not say that this was the only country in Europe with a housing shortage. I said that this was the only major country in Europe with a slum problem, with vast numbers of worn-out houses.
§ Mr. Costain
I accept the correction. We have had our own problems. As we were the first nation to start the industrial revolution, that has presented us with a special slum clearance problem. I agree with what the hon. Gentleman said about land prices, because I have made many speeches in the Chamber on this subject. What builder would not want to defend the supply of raw materials? However, there has not been the dramatic reduction in the price of land under the Labour Government which we were led to believe would take place.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Urwin) is not here. He made some very inaccurate statements. I hope that he will take the trouble to read the OFFICIAL REPORT tomorrow. He said that under the Conservative Government houses were becoming 893 more and more like boxes. He alleged that they were getting smaller and smaller. He said that the Conservative Government had asked for a reduction in the size of houses in his own constituency. I refer the hon. Gentleman to a document which the Minister knows very well, namely, the Report of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, 1964, page 47—Housing. He will see that in 1960 the average floor area per house was 879 sq. ft., in 1961 898, in 1962 907, in 1963 917 and in 1964 920. He cannot claim that under a Conservative Government the size of houses was getting smaller. The facts produced by his Ministry disprove any such assertion.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees (Leeds, South)
Is it not a fact that between 1951 and 1952, over a short period, there was a sudden cut-down in order that the target of 300,000 houses could be achieved relatively quickly?
§ Mr. Costain
I have come across no evidence of that, and I cannot recall any cut-down. The only reduction that I can remember, speaking from practical experience, is that when the temporary housing programme—the Portal houses, the steel and aluminium houses—was stopped we reduced the standard for the kitchen because the kitchen unit was provided. I do not, however, remember the size of the houses being reduced.
§ Mr. Alan Williams
Is it not a fact that houses should be considered three-dimensionally when referring to space? Would the hon. Gentleman deny that under his Government the headroom in houses was reduced substantially?
§ Mr. Costain
I would not have thought it was reduced substantially. It was reduced in some cases by 6 inches, from 8 ft. to 7 ft. 6 in. If the hon. Gentleman calls that a substantial reduction, so be it, but I can see no objection to rooms with 7 ft. 6 in. headroom with modern furniture. In fact, some housewives prefer it because the walls are easier to clean. In addition, a room with 7 ft. 6 in. headroom is easier to heat.
§ Mr. Ted Leadbitter (The Hartlepools)
May I remind the hon. Gentleman that in reply to a Question in the House on 21st December, 1962, the Minister of Housing and Local Government said that 894 the average size of a three-bedroomed house in 1951 was 1,031 sq. ft. and that the size diminished each year till 1961 when the average size was 898 sq. ft.? In that sense my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Urwin) is correct.
§ Mr. Costain
The hon. Member's figure of 898 sq. ft. is the same as mine, so we agree on that.
I should now like to make special reference to the Minister's opening speech. First, I thought he was grossly unfair to my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) when he suggested that my hon. Friend had not got much knowledge of the building industry. I ask the Minister to take it from me that I have some knowledge of the building industry and that my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby, to my knowledge, has attended every party housing committee meeting since I have been a Member of the House. [Interruption.] If the Minister wants to interrupt me, I will give way, but I cannot hear him if he sits below the Box and burbles over it. I thought the right hon. Gentleman made a very good comedy speech, after two days and one night on the Rent Bill. He brought a good bit of humour into the debate, though sometimes I feel that his sense of humour is a little "tarty" and that he likes to score by criticising people. However, that is all part of life in the House.
I thought the parts of the right hon. Gentleman's speech when he was reading from his brief were very good. He has changed quite a bit in the last nine months since he has been a Minister. He was right to praise the industry. The previous Minister was able to do that after two weeks in office, but the present Minister has taken a longer period to appreciate the situation. An industry which increases production deserves praise. However, the right hon. Gentleman did not give much fundamental information about his own Ministry's activities to overcome the problems from which the industry has suffered. His predecessor made great strides in two years. [...]n the first debate in which I took part—it was on the Gracious Speech—I pointed out to the Minister that he had not had time in which to assimilate the situation; the right hon. Gentleman did 895 not give credit to the industry for carrying out research and development. The industry is undergoing a change-over, and we must all accept that. The pattern of housing will have to alter if we are to fulfil the demands.
§ Mr. Pannell
The hon. Gentleman is on a very weak point when he refers to research and development. I do not think he had better explore it any further because the matter is sub judice in the industry. The industry can either have a levy by legislation or it can make a voluntary effort. We are relying on the latter, It put up proposals to me which we thought should go further. It is now putting up to me even more ambitious proposals. But let us make no mistakes; the industry spends less on research than any other major industry in the country. The best people in the industry know that it should go further than it is doing at present. With regard to the rest of the hon. Gentleman's remarks, I suggest that he should not assume a degree of superiority which is as impertinent as it is unwarranted. His position in the House does not justify it.
§ Mr. Costain
I am so sorry when the Minister gets on to points of that nature. However, if it is a question of the kettle calling the pot black I accept it.
On the question of research and development in the industry, I know that a certain amount of this is sub judice, but it is reported on page 1395 of this week's Builder from a speech made by the Yorkshire President, so that I do not think there is anything secret about it. The industry has been trying to increase its research and development. There is nothing secret in the fact that the industry is divided, because the client, the clerk, the engineer and so on are all different units. As the Minister knows, his own Department produced a book entitled "How to be a good client" before the previous Minister left. It was produced in order to help local authorities, private individuals and industrial firms to be good clients. That is one way in which the industry can be helped.
The Minister made only a fleeting reference to what is being done to improve the efficiency and use of materials, particularly through the building regulations. One of my hon. Friends drew attention 896 to the question of cement. I suggest that much of the shortages, particularly the temporary ones, could be overcome if there were a more modern set of building regulations. I remember talking to Professor Magnal from one of the European universities, Brussels—he is now unfortunately dead—and taking him round the Board of Trade buildings in the course of their construction soon after the war when Mr. Key was Minister of Works. The Professor looked at the concrete and steel work. He said, "I do not believe that you in this country are short of cement or steel. If you were you could not build in that way. You would not waste it to that degree." In fact, the building regulations have not changed and the quicker they change the less will be the shortage. I am certain that both Ministries concerned could do a great deal to overcome this shortage by permitting some relaxation. We need a specification of performance. Concrete should be designed on the basis of the performance of the finished product. An aeroplane is designed on performance. The safety factor is based on performance, and surely in this jet age building industry production regulation should be related to performance.
In the last few days we have been debating a Bill which will virtually be the death knell of the large private landlord. The Socialist Government have decided that they do not want the private landlord in their scheme of things, or that if they must have him they will make things so difficult for him that he will not have a sporting chance. They are entitled to their view, but if they abolish the large property firms they will put a greater burden on local authority housing.
There are only three methods now left for dealing with the housing problem. They are owner-occupier housing, local authority housing, and the housing associations. Where the private investor or private builder who builds to sell has an advantage over the local authority is that he can build very much quicker. The average time of building in the private sector is 4½ months to 5 months, whereas in local authority housing it is over 12 months.
There are two reasons for this. The first is that the ordinary private builder, building for himself, has one object in view, which is to get a good house 897 finished quickly, and if certain materials run out of supply he can use others. If cement is scarce he can turn from cement paths to macadam paths, probably saving half-a-ton per house. But there is always the suspicion between the local authority architect and the builder of local authority houses that when the builder wants to alter the specifications he wants to do so for profit. It may not be so. It may be because he wants to get on with the job. If copper piping is in short supply he wants to substitute other material—
§ Mr. J. T. Price
There is a good deal in what the hon. Member says with which I agree, but he has not mentioned one factor. If there is a big disparity between the time taken by local authorities to build council houses and the time taken by private builders to build private houses for sale, then, according to my observations, one of the factors is that local authorities always start by building the roads and sewers and doing all the groundwork. Private builders, on the other hand, build the houses and then people have to wait four or five years for the roads to be made up. This accounts for some of the difference.
§ Mr. Costain
That may happen on certain estates, but I think that people would prefer to have a house quickly with unmade roads than have to wait and live in the meantime with the mother-in-law.
On the question of land, the hon. Member for Westhoughton said that building density was getting too high and that gardens were becoming mere pocket-handkerchiefs. He said that a density of 8 to the acre was probably the highest we should go. But if we are to build 400,000 houses a year that means 50,000 acres of land for the houses alone, and when one thinks of that figure one has also to bear in mind that there must be schools, churches and all the other facilities. I do not think that in a small island like ours we can afford the large garden any more. Many people no longer want it. Many of them go in their cars to the seaside and their recreation is more away from the home than in it. As a nation we are not keen on living in flats. The only possibility of having a density of 8 to the acre is to have high flats, and we have not yet found a solution for the housewife's problem if she has to live 898 with children on the 25th storey. Mothers are always worried about their children in buildings of that kind.
Let us quietly consider the situation as I see it from the builder's point of view. The first problem is land. Since the Socialist Government came into power the builder has been completely perplexed. He does not know whether he should buy land for the future or absorb his present stock, because during the election we heard that there would be a Land Commission, that land would be taken over, and that any planning consent might bring with it a development charge. The large number of starts which the Minister has secured in recent months are the result of builders getting under way because they believe, and I hope that they are right, that once they start building a house there will be no question of a levy being imposed. If the Minister can clear this up tonight he will do a great deal of good to the industry. If there is likely to be a development charge—
§ Mr. Crossman
The hon. Member tells me, and I am glad to hear it, that the presence of a Labour Government with a Land Commission policy is encouraging builders to acquire land now as fast as possible and to have as many starts as possible.
§ Mr. Crossman
I think the hon. Member said that starts had been encouraged by awareness of our Government in Whitehall.
§ Mr. Costain
No. I could not have made myself clear. The point which I was making was that builders had started on land which they owned for fear of a levy and they have not purchased any more land because they do not know what the future holds.
§ Mr. Crossman
The point is that under a Tory Government they would have made fewer starts this spring than they have made under the present Government.
§ Mr. Costain
The right hon. Gentleman puts that rather well, but he must remember that it is the completion of houses that really matters. We all accept that housing should not be a party issue. [Laughter.] Hon. Members laugh. I hope 899 that their constituents who are waiting for houses hear them laugh about that.
§ Mr. Leadbitter
I take it that the hon. Member is serious in what he says but is probably misinformed. Housing is important, but hon. Members opposite belong to a party which since 1954 succeeded in reducing the number of provisional council houses by half. They supported a circular issued by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government in November 1957, when the Minister sent an instruction and directive to every local authority that expenditure on this account had to be reduced by 80 per cent. The effect, unfortunately, with the change in the purchasing power of the £, was that materials—
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Sir Samuel Storey)
Order. This is becoming a speech, not an intervention for the purposes of clarification.
§ Mr. Costain
Thank you, Sir Samuel, but I was enjoying that speech as it went on.
If we reduced the number of council houses for a short period it was because we realised that private enterprise was building houses more quickly and, as a result, we increased the total number of houses. I made the point early on Monday morning that what hon. Members opposite failed to appreciate was that if there are private enterprise houses and houses available for retired people this releases houses somewhere in the log-jam, and it is the log-jam which must be broken. If the hon. Member studies the Milner Holland Report and the Fifth Study published by the universities and sent to hon. Members recently, he will find it stated that there is not a shortage of accommodation but a maldistribution of accommodation. It is there pointed out that, even in London where there is so much shortage, if all the spare bedrooms could be redistributed and made into individual homes the solution would be there.
§ Mr. Costain
I see the Parliamentary Secretary nods his assent. That is what is disclosed.
900 What we must do, through the local authorities and through the Government, is to ensure that flats are designed like offices. There should be the same flexible approach in both. There are no office blocks over-occupied or under-occupied because the partitions can be altered to fit the office accommodation required. The byelaws and building regulations should be changed so that the same could be done in blocks of flats.
§ Mr. Mellish
The hon. Gentleman refers quite properly to the under-occupation of property in London, for example, but 80 or 85 per cent. of it is in privately-owned property. Does he suggest that some Government should take measures to alter that situation?
§ Mr. Costain
I do not think the Parliamentary Secretary understood what I said. I was saying that the regulations should be altered to make it possible. The private owner cannot do it now because of restrictive legislation applying to his buildings.
Next, we must take very much more interest in industrialised building. I am sorry that the Minister of Public Building and Works has now left because this is a matter specifically within his responsibility. We must take a greater interest in the mobility of industrialised building. The building industry today is rather like the coach building industry as it was before the advent of the mass-produced motor car, working rather as Hoopers were building motor car bodies, doing hand-made jobs still. We should never have got the price of motor cars down and the supply up if we had not had a revolution on that front. I believe that, regardless of which Government is in power because the development will come internationally, in the next ten years people will be prepared to accept a more standardised house as they now accept a standardised car. In all these things, the pattern ought to be set by the biggest clients of the industry, Ministers themselves.
§ 7.13 p.m.
§ Mrs. Renée Short (Wolverhampton, North-East)
I shall begin by putting the record straight. We have had so many different sets of figures bandied across the Floor today. I took the trouble to look up the figures from 1945 up to the 901 first quarter of this year. It is time everyone understood how deplorable the record of the party opposite was during its 13 years of office. We have heard a great deal about the target of 300,000 houses. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Public Building and Works was quite right to say that the Opposition always believe their own propaganda, they are always taken in by it, and they imagine that everyone else is taken in. But we are not.
For only six of the 13 years following 1951 when the Conservative Government came in, did the total housing output exceed 300,000 houses. Let that be clearly understood by hon. Members opposite. For less than half their period of office, six out of the 13 years, did they exceed the 300,000 mark.
§ Mr. Graham Page
If the hon. Lady will take an average, she will find that it exceeded 300,000 a year. It was over it one year and a little under it the next.
§ Mrs. Short
I think that, if an average is worked out, the figure is reduced considerably. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I shall give the figures for local authority housing development now. For nine of the 13 years when the Opposition were in Government the local authority housing figure was lower than the highest figure of the Labour Government in 1948. The local authority figure was then 193,548, and for nine of the years of Tory Government there was a lower figure for local authority housing, falling as low in 1961, for example, as 116,000 and in 1962 as 128,000. A deplorable, depressing and dismal record. This is why we need 8 million to 10 million houses in this country today if we are to achieve the target which we have set and which we said during the election campaign we should achieve—to see that every family in this country has a decent home in which to live. But this is the legacy which hon. Members left us.
Besides leaving an enormous housing problem, the physical problem of building the houses which must be built if we are to achieve our objective, the Conservative Government left us a grave shortage of money—I shall not belabour that tonight—and a serious material shortage. I have spoken in the House on two occasions already about the brick shortage. I shall not discuss bricks further today 902 because I am very pleased to see that the National Coal Board, for example, has made a very valuable contribution to our brick stocks since the last election.
I wish to direct attention to the supply of cement and aggregates, which presents us with a most serious problem. It can be clearly demonstrated that, in about 10 years, the predictable needs of the block-making industry alone—I am not talking about roads or anything else—will be at least three times as great as our present production of lightweight aggregates. We shall face a serious shortage unless urgent action is taken by the Government to make it good.
We shall need about 5 million cubic yards of high-grade lightweight aggregate. Compared with a total aggregate output of about 80 million cubic yards this may seem small, but to produce this amount of high-grade lightweight aggregate a good deal of capital investment and machinery will be needed, but we are not at present able to produce the machinery because the industry is not geared to the high level of production which we need. We are well ahead of most European countries and we are well ahead of America in some respects in the "know-how" of lightweight aggregate production. In fact, many Americans come to this country to consult our progressive firms. But, unless the Government intervene to give support, there will be grave danger that our aggregate production will be insufficient for future demands. Some aggregates will go out of production altogether—we have this problem in Scotland now—and some new types of aggregate will not even be produced, so that the shortage will become even more serious.
If lightweight aggregate production is increased, this will take care of only the block-making side of the industry. It will not take care of the needs of industrialised building or of the needs of precast concrete systems. Therefore, we shall not be able to develop output and reach the housing target to which we are committed. The West Germans have developed their production very well, and many other European countries have done so. We must both produce our materials and use them in a more imaginative way. I understand that the West Germans have developed a very 903 good system of glueing together with synthetic resin glue large storey-high panels which can be made to cover an 18 ft. span of wall. It would be a good idea if some of our building firms were to go and look at this system developed in West Germany. It has been bought by the East Germans, and I understand that the Swedes are interested in the method, too.
I turn to the problem of cement shortage. This has been predicted for a considerable time. It has not come upon us overnight. It has not developed since the last election. The figures of cement production over the last 10 years indicate the low productive output of the industry. In the 10 years 1953–63 the increase in cement production was only 1½ per cent. per annum. That is a very low increase. If we go on at this rate a very grievous shortage will face us.
It is not only a question of getting the building regulations altered. It is something much more fundamental and much more serious than that. We must face the fact that our cement industry is a monopoly. I think that that is where a good deal of the difficulty lies. Production, as well as the price, of cement is controlled by the Cement Makers' Federation which, as a result of its restrictive agreements, very effectively prevents anyone else from producing cement with any other material.
Germany and France have also faced a shortage of cement, but they have been able to use other material, such as blast furnace slag. This is a very good material for making cement, but it is not allowed in this country. It is a by-product of iron manufacture, a waste material. It is like the pulverised fly ash from the Central Electricity Generating Board, with which bricks can be made. But blast furnace slag cannot be used here because of the restrictive agreements of the Cement Makers' Federation. I understand that I.C.I. is making a certain amount of slag cement, but it is not allowed to sell it to the public. It can use it only for its own requirements. It cannot sell it because of the restrictive agreements. This is a very serious problem.
During the war one of Germany's greatest experts in the production of slag 904 cement, a Jew, came here as a refugee from the Nazis. He was Dr. Guttman. Some hon. Members may have heard of him. He was a very brilliant chemist. When he came here he could not get the sort of job that he ought to have had. So he took a second-rate job. All his efforts to encourage the production of slag cement here during the war were frustrated by those restrictive agreements. He was a very great loss to this country. He could have made a very great contribution.
It is time we looked at the cement industry. It is a matter of only 17 firms which control the major part of our output. I should have thought this was an industry which was ripe to be taken over in the interests of the nation. We ought to look at the possibilities of taking it over and ensuring that it produces the amount of material that we need to support our building industry.
My right hon. Friend mentioned that the additional charge of 6s. 6d. per ton is being waived for the time being. I hope very much that it will be absorbed in the costs and profits of the industry, because if the price goes up it will mean that the cost of local authority and private building will be affected. Besides the shortage of materials, this is bound to affect our housing output. We have a completely wasteful use of resources, particularly manpower, in the industry, with the casual labour, bad site organisation and general inefficiency of the building industry, particularly in many of the very small fragmented firms, which holds back our building programme.
The Government support and encourage the use and development of industrialised building by local authorities. I think we have to accept that tall flats and high density development are inevitable if we are to achieve our housing target. It is not realistic to talk about eight housing units to the acre. That is out. I agree with what the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) said about housing densities. I also agree with what he said about gardens. I am sure that very many people would rather have a house or flat and less garden or no garden if that had to be the choice. Therefore, if we are to get the maximum value out of the building land available we must accept high density 905 development and the fact that it will include some building of tall flats.
It is very difficult to persuade many local authority housing committees that flat building and industrialised building, in particular, are really with us and something that we must have if we are to make the break-through. I suppose that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government and my hon. Friends have in their visits to local author ties come across many different kinds of housing committees and housing committee chairmen. It is an odd thing that many housing committee chairmen tend to be builders, and not big builders at that, but the small and middling-sized builders. One often finds that estate agents are members or vice-chairmen of housing committees, and one often finds that the small jobbing builder who does a great deal for the housing committee chairman is also a member of the housing committee. One finds conservatism, with both a small "c" and a large "C", very rife among local authority housing committees.
I tabled a Question to my right hon. Friend some time ago about the ways in which we could offer incentives and encouragement to local authority housing committees to adopt industrialised building. He thought then—I do not know whether he still thinks the same—that to see the housing lists being reduced by the rapid building of industrialised housing was satisfaction and reward enough. Time will show whether that is so, whether industrialised building is having the desired effect. My own feeling for some time has been that we ought to offer financial incentives to local authorities which are prepared to build with industrialised systems. I know that this involves the Chancellor; it brings us back to the difficult and thorny problem of money. I believe that it ought seriously to be considered. I feel that many housing committees will resist the introduction of industrialised building and will, therefore, hold back the nation's housing effort.
§ Mr. Mellish
My hon. Friend is making an important point, and there is something that I should like to get on the record at this moment with regard to industrialised building methods. London has already had an all-day conference on 906 the subject at which all the various systems weer shown by means of films and so on. There was a whole day's discussion on the subject. I think it is now generally accepted that some of the old prejudices have gone. We propose to extend this throughout the country, because we accept my hon. Friend's point of view that the one way to sell the system is to let people see the results compared with those of the methods of yesteryear. With regard to the financial side, we have not yet got down to a firm position on this, but we have not ignored it.
§ Mrs. Short
I am most grateful for that intervention. I know that the London authorities are generally more progressive in many ways than many authorities in other parts of the country. I am delighted to know that my hon. Friend has had success with authorities in London and that the other point I mentioned is under consideration.
The right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) set up the National Building Agency. It somewhat lacked powers. As my right hon. Friend has said, it was without teeth. Now, however, it is being given an important and vital job—that of pruning and examining the several hundred different kinds of industralised building systems that have been produced in this country. This is an important task. It is co-operating with local authorities in advising on the different kinds of system to use and on suitable design and lay-out. It has made proposals for the production of uniform components, such as plumbing units, doors and windows. This will be an effective contribution to the solution of the housing problem.
If we are to make the sort of progress that we want, and if housing is not to become the Achilles Heel of this Government as it was of the last, we must make progress on our election pledge of low rates of interest. It is essential if we are to do what we want to.
I believe that about 22 per cent. of local authority houses are being built by industrialised methods but this is too slow. We must get housing output increased and we can do so only by the adoption of industrialised methods on a large scale. Practically every other country which does better than us per head of the population in housing output 907 does so by industrialised methods. For instance, the Soviet Union has an output of twice our own per head of population and most of its housing target is achieved by industrialised methods.
§ Mr. Arthur Jones (Northants, South)
But the standards in the Soviet Union are very much lower than those in this country and elsewhere in Western Europe.
§ Mrs. Short
I could not agree altogether. I have been in the Soviet Union twice to look at its housing. Two years ago I was in Siberia, where I visited some of the new towns that have been built. I saw some very good eight-storey blocks of flats built by industrialised prefabricated methods in about eight months. I saw single-storey family houses that had been erected on site in a matter of four hours. That speed is quite fantastic. I saw some of the most exciting recent developments of factory-made box units by which rooms are equipped with fittings and components in the factory. Kitchen equipment, plumbing, bathroom equipment, sanitary fittings and even internal wall finishings are completed in the factory and the units are then transported to the site, lifted by enormous cranes and locked or glued or keyed into position. I was much impressed by the standards. They are not as high as the Scandinavian standards which are the best, but they compared with some of the output in this country.
§ Mr. Arthur Jones
I have been to the Soviet Union and I agree that it has a splendid programme, but I do not agree entirely with the hon. Lady about the highest standards there being equally comparable with ours.
§ Mrs. Short
There is always room for improvement, but the point I am trying to make is that standards of finish are not as bad now as we have often been given to understand and that, in the last five years, there has been considerable improvement. One finds this everywhere in Eastern Europe. These methods are being adopted in Hungary and East Germany with very considerable success.
Often when one goes abroad and sees enormous new towns being built and a tremendous growth in practically every 908 country in Western and Eastern Europe since the war, one feels rather depressed about our own housing output, which has seemed to lag behind and, indeed, the figures show that our performance in the last 13 years has been rather sorry.
We have not had any encouragement of the industry to increase output, to become more effective and efficient, to invest in new machinery in order to save labour and expensive time on the site and to use new materials and methods of construction. We have never told the industry that it really should put its house in order and improve its management methods.
It is interesting to study the types of persons who become directors of the large construction companies—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—I am not referring to any hon. Member who may have spoken in this debate. [Laughter.] I see that the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe has moved his seat. I repeat that I am not referring to any hon. Member who may have spoken recently.
I did a little interesting research recently into the composition of boards of directors of about 10 of the largest construction companies. I was surprised to note how many members of the families are on the boards and how many accountants as well. But I was also surprised to see how few scientifically and technically trained persons are members. That is something that, again, one hardly ever finds abroad. In Germany and France and, obviously, in Russia, the managers who are in control are highly-trained technical people.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
Order. I hope that hon. Members will refrain from making so many interventions. The speeches today are very long and there are still a large number of hon. Members who want to speak.
§ Mrs. Short
I am aware of that achievement and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding the Committee of it.
I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government is anxious to encourage the development of housing consortia among local authorities and this is very germane to the problem of industrialised building by the local authorities. The secret of getting successful development of industrialisecl building is the ability to give large orders and large runs to the manufacturers. Penny number building is uneconomic and unsatisfactory.
If we could persuade local authorities to join these consortia, or if, ideally, we could carry out reform of local government so that we had regional authorities responsible for housing and roads and everything that can be planned on a broad scale to fit in with the national plan, then that would certainly help the development of industrialised building. Housing resources could be pooled over a large area. Today, each small authority has its individual architect, either private or full-time, who tries to make small variations on plans and designs sent from the Ministry—in many cases simply for the sake of making an alteration. If we had housing planned on a far larger scale, we could really design with force and imagination and turn out the sort of houses we could all be proud of.
The figures for this first quarter of both local authority and private building show that the Government have made an excellent start—and they have not had very long—in getting ahead with a forceful, energetic and imaginative housing programme.
In the first quarter of 1965, the housing figures show that 40,000 local authority houses were built, which makes 160,000 over the year, and that 51,000 private enterprise houses were built, or about 205,000 in the year—a total of 366,000 or so for the year, which is just slightly lower than the figure for 1964.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Oscar Murton (Poole)
I would like to congratulate the hon. Lady the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short) on her very interesting exposition on the building industry. I 910 thought all she had to say on the technical points was extremely good, even if I do not agree with her political outlook in this matter. I draw attention to one point where she went astray. The building industry increased its rate of efficiency on new building by 21 per cent. last year, and that is no mean achievement.
I much enjoyed the oratory of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Public Building and Works, and. I am sorry that he is not here now. I am sure he would not mind my saying that, although he pointed out with some pleasure that some of my hon. Friends had no practical experience in the building industry and had not practised at the trade, in answer to his accusations at least some of them could claim they had practised the very old trade of "Pannell" beating. I am certain he would not mind my saying that, because he likes to take as good as he gives.
Before I came into the Chamber this afternoon, I rang up my local council to find out something which I consider to be a sure indicator of local property transactions, and I refer to what are known as the rating voids. In the part of England which I have the honour to represent, and in the southern and southwestern coastal resorts particularly, one always finds a more frequent occurrence of rating voids than in other parts of the country. That is caused naturally because those areas attract people who move into them to retire. Therefore, voids in this part of the country are always higher than the national average. However, I was extremely alarmed today when I rang up my local borough treasurer and asked him what the position was. He told me that the rating voids for the past few months had risen "to a tremendous number". I am assured that at the present time they are at an all-time high in my constituency. This is a sure and certain sign that what one might call the chain reaction of buying and then selling by owner-occupiers has broken down. This is symptomatic of our present state.
There are many frustrated home buyers. There are others who are possibly even more anxious. They have bought houses and have been quite unable to sell those they already occupy. This goes right down the scale, from large to very small 911 houses, and our anxiety is naturally with all of them, but particularly those who are venturing for the first time into owner-occupation, which is something for which my party has pressed for many years—to help those people to become part of a property-owning democracy. I know that is a cliché, but it is a good one.
What can one expect with a mortgage rate standing at between 6¾ and 7 per cent.? It is hard to get a mortgage even at that price. What have the Government done about mortgages? What have they done about the need to keep the supply of finance for building generally flowing? For many weeks, I am sorry to say, they appear to have done precisely nothing.
The Deputy Chairman
Order. The hon. Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. Leadbitter) must not persist if the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Murton) does not give way.
§ Mr. Murton
You gave a hint, Sir Samuel, that speeches should be kept short, and I would like to continue to make my case.
Latterly, there has been a 1 per cent. reduction in Bank Rate. Granted that that is a good thing and that it will help building to some degree, something more is needed. I am sorry that the Minister of Housing and Local Government is not in his place, but perhaps his Parliamentary Secretary will take the point. I ask him categorically whether he will give us tonight his ideas for the national housing plan. Will he tell us his policy for lower interest rates for housing? The country has been promised both, and it is high time something was done.
The Government have been almost hypnotised by their by no means easy feat of having achieved a shortage of funds for building, very high rates of interest and fast-rising prices at a time when demand is slackening because of the lack of mortgage facilities. I am not surprised, because by their own acts they have created a crisis of confidence not only in the building industry but, I am sorry to say, in the country at large.
Having been critical, I would now like to be constructive. House ownership, building, and owner-occupying are vital, but building to rent both by private 912 enterprise and local authorities is the only way in which the housing crisis will be solved. It will take a long time, but it is the key to the whole problem. Naturally, this can only be done by building both houses and flats. But how can private enterprise be expected to play its part when we have a Housing Minister who has turned his back on private enterprise and removed all incentive by introducing a Rent Bill which freezes and ultimately regulates virtually all rents?
§ Mr. Murton
I intend to go through with my speech, and as quickly as possible. We know Socialism of old, and we know that control for control's sake is a sacred doctrine. But now that regulation is applied, will the Minister of Housing and Local Government give an assurance that, having put regulation on the whole country against the wishes of my right hon. and hon. Friends, he will not let it go on indefinitely thereby stultifying the efforts of private enterprise building of houses to rent?
The Minister's hon. Friends, presumably, hope as a substitute to encourage increases in local authority housing, but I remind them that the funds for that purpose come originally from private enterprise through taxation and through rates, and the Government are rapidly strangling the private sector of the economy from which this bounty flows.
High interest rates and increasing costs of building materials have great influence on local authorities with a responsibility for the forward planning of council building programmes. It is a heavy responsibility, and who would dare to judge them if, in the darkening clouds of Britain's economic climes, they decided to defer a decision on new building out of consideration for the ratepayers they represent who have to bear the burden of the payment of increased interest charges when the money is borrowed?
Meanwhile, those who were duped by the Labour Party at the election by the promise of lower interest rates to owner-occupiers and of council houses to let continue to go without their homes and will continue to do so into the foreseeable future The Labour Party won many votes from young married couples with 913 its empty promises. Disillusionment has now set in and when the time comes those couples will show their anger and disgust in the one way open to them, the ballot box.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees (Leeds, South)
I am one of those Tea Room advocates of Parliamentary procedural reform and I have stated on many occasions that if I could not say what I had to say in less than 10 minutes, I would give up. I would not like to take that last phrase too far, but I should like to resist all temptation to deal with many of the issues of building societies and industrialised housing which have been raised this afternon, and other matters, especially those raised by the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Murton), who spoke about the Rent Bill in a way which showed that he could not possibly have read it or comprehended it. I would rather deal with a constituency matter of great interest in my part of Yorkshire—the general question of amenities in the older areas of our old industrial cities and the procedures which have to be followed to deal with them.
My part of Leeds, south of the river, has many social problems, especially housing. I do not want to overdo this argument because there are many people in the south of this country who believe that the whole of the North suffers from social problems in housing. This is not true and I do not want to suggest that it is, but there are social problems and that of the old back-to-back houses, many of which were condemned 50 years ago and which are a disgrace in the middle 1960s. is the one which I want to air.
In Leeds we have a proud record of housing, not just over the last 10 or 20 years, but going back into the difficult days of before the war. There are parts of my constituency where owner-occupiership is the correct way to deal with the problem, but in most of my constituency corporation housing is the only solution. One can see that private landlordism in parts of the older industrial areas of our northern cities has failed. I am not arguing from that that it has failed in all parts of the country, but it is no use hon. Members opposite suggesting that owner-occupiership is the answer in these areas where there are 914 many properties which local authorities have designated slums.
In Leeds we lead in the improvement of older dwellings. This is the aspect of the problem with which I should like to deal, because nevertheless in our view all is not well with the procedures which have to be followed. I have had brought to my notice a problem which arises in improvement areas. In most areas of this type there are odd cases of neglected occupied houses, generally occupied by owner-occupiers, which may surprise hon. Members opposite. As part of the city is planned for improvement, those owner-occupiers who do not wish to be disturbed are left out of the scheme. At some time or other when occupancy ceases, those houses will be dealt with.
However, it has been brought to my notice—and I have seen cases—that the total appearance of an area is spoiled when there is an odd house which is falling into decay. That affects the whole area and the effect begins to spread. This is not just an amenity matter for there is also a technical side. These are mainly terraced houses and if the roof of one leaks, there is a leak into the other houses—it rains on the just and the unjust.
I am given to understand that this problem arises not only in improvement areas, but in other parts of the city. These houses are mostly occupied by very old people, usually single elderly folk with whom contact is very difficult. They are not the sort of people who respond to the usual appeals which one can make to younger people. In these cases, the housing committee is prepared to improve the property and to allow the owner or tenant to remain as a tenant. This also raises the problem of cost in improvement areas and non-improvement areas.
If only there were procedures by which these houses could be improved, to use the technical term, the area could be saved from becoming dilapidated and becoming known as an area where houses are run down. I have no statistics and I am given to understand that none is available, but I am told by the housing department that there is a significant number of houses of this kind and it is asserted that the machinery for dealing with them is not good enough. As I understand it, the repairs procedure for 915 raising houses to a certain standard under Section 9 of the Housing Act, 1957, requires a house to be brought to a certain fitness standard. There is a list of criteria, such as freedom from damp, natural light and so on. But there is nothing in the list concerned with such things as external decoration and nothing in the list referring to structural dilapidation, because the legislation—and I gather that this is also true of the 1964 measure—is not concerned with those things. It is therefore very difficult for the local authority to deal with such cases. Must we await new legislation to deal with these matters, or is it possible to deal with them administratively?
On the subject of amenity and improvement to achieve amenity; it has also been brought to my notice that there is a general need to deal with the subject of criteria. Should it not be possible not just to have a list of criteria from the fitness point of view, but another list of criteria dealing with amenities? Searching around, I have found that the manual issued by the old Ministry of Health in 1919 for unfit houses would seem to have certain merits in its approach to this problem. There needs to be a standard of good repair and not just a standard of fitness in the local authority sense of the word.
This aspect of decorative repair and dilapidation is part of a wider question of amenity. This issue arises in my constituency to some degree and I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister who represents the neighbouring constituency of Leeds, West and who has been a Member for longer than I, will know the problems of these older areas. With all the building programmes on earth, these older areas will exist for a long time to come, but far more can be done to improve them.
I should like to go on to an adjacent subject—that of amenity in the sense of derelict areas. I understand that in 1964 the Ministry sent out Circular No. 55 asking for the latest information about derelict land—derelict industrial land. It is all very well for hon. Members to talk about the need for regional planning and the need to bring new industry to the North and the North-East, but the lack of amenity is a factor which, if only marginally, drives people away 916 from the older areas and into the South. This is a matter which needs attention.
I was very pleasantly surprised, when I had the opportunity to hear Lord Robens on this subject, to find that the National Coal Board takes the view that much can be done to deal with the coal tips of the past. In my constituency there is one of the oldest collieries in Yorkshire, also a colliery which has now been shut down. There is a large area of coal tippings in the middle of the district. Is it not possible to do something about it, given earth moving machinery such as is used today and given what last year's Civic Trust booklet on derelict areas said about "grass establishment"?
The Leeds City Council is well aware of this problem, which is a local authority responsibility, but could not the regional councils also deal with it, because they would be aware of the wider problem and could play some part in dealing with these problems through the national Ministries of my right hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government. Much can be done in this wider sense, but I intended to raise the particular problem of housing amenity in improvement areas in our older industrial cities. The only question that I want to ask is: must it wait for legislation? Cannot something be done through administrative action to help local authorities such as the Leeds City Council, which has a very proud record, to do more about this problem?
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees). It is so refreshing to have such an intelligent and non-partisan approach to the many problems. I agree with much of what he said, and in particular with his argument that in his area private enterprise owner-occupation is no answer to some of the problems. I am a great believer in owner-occupation and in private enterprise, but the sooner we realise that public enterprise corporations and development corporations, as well as private enterprise, need to be brought into greater play if we are to tackle the huge housing problem as a whole, the easier it will be for the country.
917 The Minister was right in saying that the Government will be judged more upon the results of their housing programme than upon anything else when they eventually go to the electorate. There is no doubt that housing is the most formidable and urgent social problem. At this stage it is idle to have an inquest on the failure of the previous Government during the last 13 years. Judgment is a matter of opinion. I hold no brief for the previous Government, save to say that after this period of time the excuse that the Government have not had time to clear up the Tory mess wears thinner and thinner. When I say "excuse", I am not using the word in an offensive way. The Minister will agree that the Government will be judged on the results of their housing policy and not on what they wanted to achieve, or what the electorate believed that they wanted to achieve; on what they have achieved not in theory but in practice. They must produce the houses.
So far, if the people have been rather impatient in judging the Government, it is largely their own fault. They created an atmosphere in which it was thought that miracles would be achieved in 100 days. Now we have had two-and-a-half times 100 days and we have had no miracles. No sensible people expect miracles, but they do expect sound and steady progress in housing. So far they have been disappointed at the achievements of the Government in that respect. It may be that in future months this impression will be changed. I hope so. I am not so partisan that I do not wish any Government success in tackling the very urgent housing problem.
§ Mr. Pannell
I am sure that the hon. and learned Member wants to be fair. If he is comparing thirteen years with 250 days he should bear in mind the fact that, in spite of the terrific propaganda that has been carried on against this Government, the figures that I gave today show that there is no falling back in the building industry; there is higher productivity than ever before, and there is no reason—in spite of the former 7 per cent. Bank Rate and the present 6 per cent. rate—why we should not build 400,000 houses in the year.
§ Mr. Hooson
The right hon. Gentleman must fact the fact that in housing matters the people expected far greater dynamism from this Government than from the last Government. We have only to look at the Labour Party propaganda in the last election. More than anything else, it is clear that it sought to achieve—and they thought it would achieve—far greater progress in housing than had been dreamt of by the previous Administration. But in the matter of building materials we still have the same shortage of bricks, and I have raised the question of the same shortage of plasterboard. Both shortages belonged to the previous Administration's era, but now we have a shortage of cement. We also have the highest rate of mortgage interest in our experience. I know that this is part of the general economic problem, and that the Minister of Housing cannot clear it up by himself—it depends upon the economic situation of the whole country—but in the promotion of industrialised building we were led to expect a great dramatic break-through. Instead, we have the same unsatisfactory rate of progress.
It is not very profitable to compare our achievements in this year with the achievements 50, 20 or 10 years ago; a more valid basis is a comparison of the achievements of this country with those of comparable industrial societies in Western Europe. Western Germany has been mentioned. In the last few years she has achieved an average of over half a million new dwellings per annum. I realise that there are certain differences in standards between this country and West Germany. Nevertheless, if we compare West German achievements in other spheres—road building and school building, for instance—we discover that there they are by no means neglected, either. We therefore have a standard of comparison by which we can judge the Government in the future.
Far greater research is needed into the development of industrialised building. We have a good deal to learn from the Scandinavian countries, particularly Sweden, and also from the United States of America. Many countries have been referred to today, but the country which, more than any other, can teach us how to 919 improve our building techniques is the United States.
§ Mr. Hooson
In a moment. I now want to deal with the question of the availability of land, which is a pressing problem. We have a very small land surface. This undoubtedly hampers our development. Nevertheless, the Labour Party raised great hopes that the land problem could be easily solved. It cannot; it is one of the most complicated problems facing us. It is clear that whatever ideas the Labour Party had before the election have proved unworkable. At the very least they have been found to be so complicated that the Government have had to reconsider them and start all over again.
Rates have increased by as much as 47 per cent. and still nothing has been done about reforming the rating system. I grant the Minister that the Government have been in office for only eight months, but it is clear that the time for an inquest on the Conservatives has now passed and that it is the present Government's record which is under examination. I am sure that hon. Members opposite will agree that this is right.
In the long term, what we need is a permanent plan for the development of housing, and by now there should be signs of a national survey of housing needs—a kind of Domesday Book of housing. If we had a long-term housing programme we should require to know the extent of our need—how many dwellings were required, where they were needed, and what type were needed. The hon. Member for Leeds, South referred to slums. During the debate mention has been made of the fact that there are more slum houses in this country than in any comparable country in Western Europe. There may be historical reasons for this, including the early onset of the Industrial Revolution, but all parties must take some share of responsibility for this situation. It is clear that the problem will have to be tackled much more dynamically than it is at present.
We need to tackle more urgently the problem of the twilight areas in the big cities. Why should we not have development corporations for some slum areas in the large cities, and not leave it entirely 920 to local authorities or private enterprise? Why not have development corporations, on the lines of the new town corporations, for developing certain jaded areas of our older cities? With a very much more positive approach of this kind, we could then decide how to dispose of the new houses. For example, in Sweden, which I had the pleasure of visiting some years ago with the Town and Country Planning Association, I saw housing development of some detached houses and blocks of flats all built into a neighbourhood scheme. The development corporation then sold them off to whoever wanted to buy, and they graded rents for those who wanted to rent according to means. The result was a composite development.
I am glad to see the Secretary of State for Wales present. A Minister of his Department has been here all day. The right hon. Gentleman knows that in Wales in the past there was very little division—certainly in the country areas—into classes as there is in England. It is regrettable that there are now great blocks of council houses in one part of cities and blocks of private development in other parts. There ought to be neighbourhood development, without dividing people into income groups. We are far behind the Scandinavian countries in this. I hope that now that the right hon. Gentleman has responsibilities for housing in Wales he will do much to ensure that we in Wales do not entirely revert to the English pattern.
§ Mr. Pannell
Talking about neighbouring countries, of which the hon. Gentleman's experience is far past, I did an investigation over Whitsun. In spite of all he says—I think that he is not comparing like with like—one still cannot get a flat under ten years in Stockholm.
§ Mr. Hooson
The right hon. Gentleman has been to Stockholm more recently than I have. I remember that, in parts of Sweden certainly, there was nothing like a ten-year wait. In Norway, I visited a house which a man had built himself to a very attractive plan. It could be built by a private builder or by a local architectural authority, or one could do it oneself, with a very good architectural plan already prepared and approved and freely available.
921 In new towns and development areas where the work is done mostly by private enterprise development corporations, houses ought, where possible, to be offered for purchase by the occupiers. The burden ought to be removed from the local authority as far as possible. I believe in avoiding creeping urbanisation by extending home ownership. Even though the actual development is carried out by the local authority or a development corporation, young couples particularly ought to be encouraged to buy their own homes.
A matter of great and general concern is the time taken to produce and approve local authority schemes. This is a matter in which the Ministry could really help. If one costs the office time taken at local authority level, at the Ministry and in the planning departments and adds this to the cost of housing, it must be a fair proportion of the total national cost of housing. A great deal of time is wasted in planning procedures. These could be greatly streamlined. All this is necessary. All these are things which the Ministry of Housing can quickly do to improve the general situation. There is a continuous need for revsion of housing programmes, as one understands that there is an increase in size of family in this country. It is necessary to change our overall building plans to meet this development.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the shortage of materials. I suggest that there should be regional conferences on this between all sides of industry and local authorities—
§ Mr. Hooson
—to ensure that the demand is met and that we do not have shortages, as there are in my own area. There are houses in my town which have been completed except for plasterboard, and the time given for delivery is about 60 weeks. Surely these houses ought not to remain empty for lack of plasterboard. A good deal of work can be done by the Ministry in that respect.
I should like to deal with mortgages. Stable financial conditions are absolutely essential for steady progress in the building industry. There is no industry on which the price of money has a more immediate effect than the building industry. 922 The effect is more immediately felt, probably, in the building industry when mortgage rates go up and money gets tight, than in any other section of the economy. The Minister of Housing cannot solve this problem in isolation, but this shows the necessity for this country to get out of the "stop-go" economy. Whatever the reasons for the credit squeeze and the rise in mortgage rates, the sooner we get out of this cycle the better for the country.
I should like to advert again to a very practical point raised by the hon. Member for Leeds, South. That is the use of derelict land. I am amazed that more railway land which is derelict has not been used for housing. Even in the London area—in Marylebone and other parts of Northern London—I have seen what appear to be vast derelict railway areas which ought to be developed. In other parts of the country, it is difficult to persuade the railway executive to speed up their procedures for disposing of land. When we suffer from such an acute land shortage as we do, we cannot afford these derelict areas.
I would also support everything which the hon. Member for Leeds, South said about the necessity to improve amenities wherever there is derelict land. This applies particularly in parts of Wales. I have not particularly dealt with the acute housing problems which we have in rural and urban Wales, as the proper forum, and the most effective, for discussing these problems is the Welsh Grand Committee. I hope that there will be an early opportunity of debating these matters there.
We on this bench hope that this Government will be able to achieve their housing objectives. We hope to see greater dynamism in their policy. So far, on the evidence of eight and a half months, we are disappointed with the progress. If there is no sign of greater progress being achieved, the results by which the right hon. Gentleman says his Government will be judged may be very adverse to his cause.
§ 8.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Ioan L. Evans (Birmingham, Yardley)
The speech of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) was interesting and informative. He is one of the nine or ten hon. Members who have the right to criticise 923 what the Government have done. No Member of the Tory Party can criticise the Government for what they have done in the last eight and a half months in view of what they failed to achieve in 13 years. What is surprising about the debate is that it is supposed to be a censure debate, yet there has been very little censure of this Government.
In the opening speech from the Opposition, the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) used a great deal of statistical information. I am reminded of the story which tells how statistics can sometimes be used as a drunken man uses a lamp post—for support rather than illumination. The hon. Member for Crosby spent his speech supporting the action of the last Government and giving no illumination about any criticism of the present Government. I suppose that we must expect the passion to come when the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) winds up. There has been very little passion or criticism so far from the party opposite.
We are aware of the serious problems of housing. Those of us who attend our advice bureaux week by week cannot fail to be disturbed by the futility of trying to deal with people's housing problems. We have to deal with the homeless, the overcrowded, the sick, people in desperate circumstances, the newly-wed, people looking for larger or smaller accommodation. We know their problems. In recent years all that we have been able to do is to sympathise with them. I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery that people expect the Government to do something about this problem; they want more than sympathy, they want action, and they look to the Labour Government to deal with the situation positively and to take dynamic action.
In a maiden speech the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Eyre) spoke of housing in Birmingham. He lives in a more affluent part of Birmingham. I should like to quote a letter which I received from another part of Birmingham. Indeed, the housing situation in Birmingham is similar to that in other large cities such as London, Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow. This is a letter from a father who wrote as follows: 924I have three children, ages nine, six and three and have lived in this house for eight years. It may not seem long to you, but it seems like a life-time of hell to my family and me. I have decorated the house thorough-out and within three months the paper is falling off the walls, and now I am unable to decorate at all as, with the damp, the plaster is falling, leaving just the brickwork. You can put your hand in the hole that goes round the window frame. In the children's bedroom you can see the rain running down the walls. In fact, the works inspector has said we need a complete new wall in this room".Here is chapter and verse, and it is just the opening to a grim letter describing the housing conditions of some of the people in this country.
Fortunately there is a happy ending to this story. I have a letter expressing thanks for help with housing and stating that the local authority has enabled him and his family to have a much better life. He writes:We are all very happy in our new home. When we first moved I had the silly feeling that I was on my holiday and that I would have to go back to where I lived before, but I am happy to say that I have lost the feeling and I can stay in my new home for ever.Many people are living in terrible conditions today. Later we are to have criticisms of the Government by the Tory Opposition. We have had little so far. Is it fair for them to be critical of our actions? Is it fair for them to expect us to do in eight-and-a-half months what they have so miserably failed to do in 13 years? Their main contributions to the solution of the housing problem was the notorious 1957 Rent Act. If any issue put the last Government on the Opposition side of the House, it was the notorious Rent Act.
My hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price) referred to what the then Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing said during the Second Reading of that Rent Bill, but he did not quote it, and I should like to do so. In 1956 the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) said:… we are now within sight of, and should in 12 months' time or so be level with, an equation of the overall supply and demand for homes."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st November, 1956, Vol 560, c. 1760.]That is a quotation from HANSARD.
The right hon. Gentleman said that the housing problem would be settled. I remind the Committee of the letter which 925 I have just read. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman is an expert in Greek. What he said is Greek to me and to many people in this country who still have a housing problem. He certainly had his equations mixed up. Even today we are far from getting a supply of sufficient houses to meet the demand. It will take some years before the problem even looks like being solved. In fact, I doubt whether we shall get near to solving it during the life-time of this Parliament.
What do we expect from the Labour Government? The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery said that the country had great expectations. We on this side of the Committee have great expectations—but in five years, not in nine months. We believe that much will be done to meet the housing requirements of the people. In spite of the Government's small majority and the fact that they inherited serious financial difficulties, much can be done and much must be done.
Under the Tory Government—and I will mention this briefly because of its history—the relentless pressure of decontrolled rents, high interest rates, which we still have today, and soaring land prices pushed the price of houses and flats beyond the reach of many families.
What is to be done? My hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton referred to Henry George and a book which many of us have read. We realise that before we begin to tackle the housing problem we must tackle the question of land. We have to end this competitive scramble for building land. One of the great scandals of recent years has been the almost astronomical rise in land prices which has seriously affected development in our large cities. Birmingham is an example of this, and other hon. Members could give other examples. Unless something is done about land prices, the cost of an adequate housing programme will be intolerably inflated by a totally unnecessary and unjust subsidy to land owners and property speculators. Hon. Members opposite talk about subsidising municipal tenants. Let us look at the way in which, by their actions in the last 13 years, they have subsidised property speculators and landowners.
926 There must be a great increase in the building of new houses. Whatever we do about administration, we shall meet the problem only by increasing the number of houses available. We must see that houses are made available for rent as well as for sale—and particularly for rent, because this sector has been most seriously neglected since the Tory Government came into power. In fact, as the years have gone by the number of houses built by local authorities has diminished year by year under the Tory Party. In some years they were building fewer local authority houses than the Labour Government were building in the difficult years following the war and in 1951, during the Korean War.
There are many ways in which we can deal with the nation's housing problem but the real solution will be by providing more new houses. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery pointed out that in West Germany they were building half-a-million houses a year. I hope that my right hon. Friends the Ministers of Housing and Public Building and Works will regard half-a-million houses a year as a target at which Britain should aim in the near future. If West Germany could do it, why could not we do it? Was it because we could not afford to build houses in view of the cost of defending West Germany? We should spend more on housing and less on military expenditure. I am pleased that the Government have taken action in this connection today; I realise the difficulties there.
We expect the Government to have an all-out drive to extend and modernise the building and building supply industries. Much has been said about the cement industry. I will not go into it in great detail. We know that there is a problem in the cement industry. There is a cement shortage and there appears to have been a bit of a mix-up. I hope that the Government will bring forward concrete proposals to see to this matter in the near future. It is regrettable that although the local authority in Birmingham is with the Government in the desire for a national housing drive, it has been delayed recently because of a shortage of cement. This is regrettable, because during the summer months the building industry is most active. I indeed agree that it is on housing that the 927 Government will be judged. I am sure that their house-building targets will be reached.
Much has been said about obtaining the co-operation of the building industry and its workers in a great housing drive. My hon. Friend the Member for Houghton-le-Spring dealt with this issue, having been connected with the industry. We must make the industry realise that we mean business, that we intend to provide the houses the country urgently requires and that we intend to get away from the situation described by Robert Tressell in "The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists", in which he spoke of the building worker who, seeing the pile of bricks becoming smaller and smaller, worked slower and slower because he knew that when he used the last brick he would be out of a job. The workers in the industry must be made to feel that there will be a demand for their services for many years to come and that the Government intend to reach the house-building targets they set.
Much has been said about the need for modernisation and I agree that in this age of television, automation, Early Bird and journeys into space we must really consider whether the only way to create living space is to place one brick upon another in an age-old fashion. Prefabrication and industrialisation must become widely used and we must seek the co-operation of the workers in the industry to do that.
We must deal with interest rates for owner-occupiers and local authorities. In this connection, we must increase the number of houses built to let. The nation realises the economic difficulties faced by the Government, but I suggest that there is good reason to have a differential system of interest rates. The normal supply and demand arrangements which have operated up till now have not worked to provide the required finance for the socially worth-while task of house building. The profit motive has resulted in houses for those in the greatest need not being built, in the same way as private landlordism has failed to provide accommodation at reasonable rents. It is no good hon. Gentlemen opposite saying that the present Government are discouraging private landlordism when, because of the 928 high rents, tenants could not afford to occupy their premises if they did build more property to let.
It is important that the nation provides adequate finance for housing in the same way as it has provided money for luxury office building, betting shops, bingo halls and bowling alleys. It is regrettable to think that in this so-called affluent society so many thousands of people are having to live in bad accommodation.
Birmingham City Council has in recent years, despite great difficulties, done a tremendous job in providing facilities like toilets and bathrooms in old houses which will have to remain occupied for another 10 or 15 years. It is a serious reflection on society that people can view 21 inch television screens but must live in not much more than 16 square yards of living space. By all means let us have television sets, but let us also have decent homes in which people can view them.
It is strange that the Opposition should have chosen today for a censure Motion on housing because in the last two days we have begun to repeal their Rent Act. We are now getting the new Government's rent legislation which will take us a stage further in the removal of the Tory's notoriously bad Rent Act. It will end the long sorry story of evictions of recent years and will restore security of tenure to those living in decontrolled property.
If we are to assist those who desire to own their own homes, we must tackle the question of conveyancing and land registration charges. We must also provide larger percentage mortgages through local authorities. I was pleased to hear that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government is having consultations with the National House-Builders' Registration Council to see if standards can be improved. We must ensure that people who commit themselves for life to buying their homes are not buying jerry-built houses.
I have said much in criticism of hon. Gentlemen opposite. One thing can be said in their favour. Co-operative house building is extremely important and they did set up machinery to finance housing association. We should look to the development of co-operative housing. This movement has been greatly encouraged in Scandinavia, America, and many European countries, but has so far received 929 little encouragement here. More than a quarter of the new homes being built in Sweden are co-operative homes. In Norway, the Oslo Council was so impressed by the results of its first co-operative housing scheme that it decided to turn all its housing estates into co-operatives, and gave up direct administration altogether.
Housing co-operatives can offer their members substantially the same advantages as those enjoyed by individual owner-occupiers. Members own their own homes. They can do as they like, and feel independent of commercial landlords and councils alike. The work can be done so cheaply that these homes are within the means of almost everyone. There are also social advantages. In a co-operative, each man's home is his castle, but he is unlikely to be indifferent to those outside it. All these people work together to solve their own problems, and the co-operative becomes more than a block of offices or a row of houses but a group of people who are, in a real sense, members one of another in a community.
I want to end by telling a true story. Two young brothers who had recently moved into a new flat in one of the 12-storey or 16-storey blocks in Birmingham were asked by the teacher, "What impresses you most about your new home?" The older boy replied, "I can go on to the balcony and see the stars above and the lights flickering below. That is what impresses me." His little brother, asked the same question, answered, "Well, when I go into the toilet there is no one to push the door in on me." It should be remembered that many people still have to share toilets, and live in such evil conditions.
Perhaps in those two answers we have idealism and realism, and I hope that the Minister, with his idealism and realism, will see that this Government, in the years we will be in power, will do what the last Government failed to do. I hope that he will be a Minister in the tradition of Wheatley, of Arthur Greenwood and of Aneurin Bevan. I hope that he will become a great Minister of Housing, and will make a real contribution to our housing problem.
§ 8.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Jones (Northants, South)
I have followed with great interest the 930 speech of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Mr. Joan Evans) and the analogies and word pictures that he has drawn, but I would counsel him not to carry too much sentiment and rhetoric into housing problems. I have been chairman of a housing committee for many years, and I know that one has to bring ideals to the work. I subscribe as much as he does to the practical application, and I find myself in very great sympathy with him on the subject of co-operative housing and housing associations.
It is regretted by many hon. Members on both sides that we have not achieved any substantial success in this sphere. We do not seem to be able to get like-minded people to join in co-operative housing associations. Local people of goodwill may form a housing association to provide for the elderly but we do not seem to have made any progress at all towards places for occupation by members of co-operative housing associations. I am sure that the Minister will be in sympathy with this development, and will do whatever he can to encourage it.
The hon. Member for Yardley and other hon. Members have complained that there has been no great censure from this side, and have asked why the business of the House has been arranged in this way for today. I can assure them that there is censure in the country on many aspects of housing and the housing problem. The hon. Member mentioned some himself when he dealt with interest rates and the lack of real punch behind many local authority schemes.
I was interested to hear the comments of the hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees). I served for many years on the Association of Municipal Corporations' Housing Committee, whose chairman is the chairman of Leeds City Council Housing Committee. I learned a great deal about what a positive programme there is in that great city, and I was made aware of the tremendous problems there.
The purpose of any successful Housing Minister must lie in the production of houses. This is the key. No juggling with the existing numbers of units will solve the problem. This is why I recognise that in spending so much time on the Rent Bill this week we have made by no means a substantial contribution to 931 solving the housing problem. It may be a start to deal perhaps more justly, as I think the Minister will accept, with accommodation available at the moment, but I am sure that it is only a hesitating first step. We have to see much more positive action taken by the Government if any substantial progress is to be made.
Of that Bill the Minister said in the debate on the Milner Holland Report on 22nd March, 1965:This is only our first assault on the insecurity of tenure, our first step towards urban renewal …Which is relevant to the remarks about Leeds—our first step in disposing of the housing shortage …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd March, 1965; Vol. 709, c. 88.]It is only a first step. There are many other steps to be taken. I hope that we shall hear from the Minister in his remarks closing this debate some of the measures that he proposes. When are the Government to get into step and march forward to the objectives they set themselves in their election manifesto—lower interest rates for housing, the Land Commission, leasehold reform? We have marched through the Lobbies many times in debates on the Rent Bill, but we have served no great purpose in the production of new housing. The Government enjoyed the support of Members of the Liberal Party. I hope they will not lead them closer to that gunfire we heard about so much earlier, or they will be in serious trouble.
The Government are embarking on a programme of discouragement to private building. This is borne out by the remarks made by the Minister in the April debate on mortgage interest rates. On 29th April the Minister said:it is essential to achieve … a proper balance between houses to let, houses for sale, and improvements".He went on to say:a private sector, 60 per cent. of the total, regulated only by the interaction of consumer demand, the whim of the investor and the availability of capital …This he was applying to the private sector. I find it difficult to see how he proposes to adjust the balance between council development and private development without a strict measure of control. 932 That is an essential of his proposals. For this reason I make the allegation that I think he is going to restrict private house development. He also referred to the:unregulated drive for home ownership."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th April, 1965; Vol. 711, cc. 666, 670.]To criticise the drive for home ownership must infer that regulation will be introduced in the Government's policy on housing. What will replace consumer demand? What other motives are to be exchanged for the urge to own one's house and live in it and to have the personal pride of possession and ownership? Is this motive to be frustrated by rationing and allocation? We may well see that. Couples may be forced by direct government policy into council properties on a rental basis, although they would much prefer to purchase houses for their own occupation. The Minister referred to the whim of the investor, but to whom was he referring? It is recognised that there is very little private investment in rented property these days. Who are the investors? What evidence is there of their whims, which the Minister says aggravate this problem?
The Minister may be referring to the contractors and developers. We have relied very substantially, in fact entirely, on contractors and developers for both local authority and private housing schemes. One cannot, on the one hand, decry them and accuse them of having whims and, on the other hand, recognise the degree to which we rely on them and also recognise their ingenuity and drive, which have contributed to the success of our housing policies, in both the public and private sectors. Not only do contractors and developers bring their skills to bear in constructional matters. They also need to assess the demand that there may be for houses which are built for sale. They need to find suitable land for which planning consent can be obtained for development.
Finance and the availability of capital will either make or mar the Government's success in housing. There is no escape, whatever ideals we may hold, from the cold and hard facts of finance. This applies to both the public and the private sectors. Local authorities must borrow money through the Public Works Loan 933 Board at high rates of interest. They borrow money on mortgage at between 6 per cent. and 7 per cent. so as to attract money for their housing schemes. They borrow money on the open market, much of it on a short-term basis, and in recent months the interest rate has been as high as 9 per cent. and 10 per cent. As much of this borrowing is on a short-term basis, local authorities are in a very vulnerable position. The Government's measures, essentially, have put money in short supply at penal interest rates. This is one of the great difficulties which all housing authorities have to face at present. It applies equally to the construction industries. They are faced with a high Bank Rate. They are faced also with the high cost of borrowing money for their operations. It is difficult to find capital of any permanent nature. Bank overdrafts are limited.
Would-be purchasers find it impossible to arrange bridging finance to cover them from the time that they sell their existing house to the time that they complete the purchase of the new one. They have to pay the high interest rates required, not only by building societies, which have a variable rate of interest, but by local authorities, most of which charge a fixed interest for the full term of the mortgage. The fact that the London County Council is granting mortgages at 7¼ per cent. for 35 years or 40 years points most clearly to the responsibility of the Government in the sphere of finance. I know that this is not directly the responsibility of the Minister of Housing. It is a difficulty with which he must contend. I am sure that he would have wished long ago to have introduced concessionary interest rates for housing, had he had his way. The fact is that he cannot have his way in circumstances such as the present, in view of the difficulties about finance.
We have yet to hear the Government's proposals. We may hear them in the debate this evening. One can clearly see their difficulty. It is recognised clearly by those who are buying their own houses. It is also clearly recognised by local authorities. I am sure there are quite a number of local authorities which are deferring schemes of development at this moment. They would apply for loan consent to schemes in the ordinary way, perhaps, but if the Minister, as he has promised, is going to introduce concessional rates the local authorities will, if 934 they can, defer their development schemes and wait and see if they can get the advantage of these concessional rates. This is understandable and it is leading to a lessening of demand in the building industry to which the Minister of Public Building and Works referred.
There is no doubt that in the housing revenue accounts the high cost of borrowing is playing havoc with the credit balances which most housing authorities have built up. Many authorities, in fact, try to phase their rent policy over a period of years. They will build up a credit in the account and, as the higher costs of maintenance gradually eat into it, they will perhaps lose their balance and will have to impose a rent increase every five years.
Housing authorities today, with the incidence of high interest rates, are finding the credit balances on their housing revenue accounts dissipating within a matter of months. I have details of a number of cases where local authorities have already increased or will increase the rents of their housing properties due to the financial policy of the Government. In Bristol there is a 10s. increase; in Weston-super-Mare, with effect from 1st April, 1966 a 4s. increase; Newton Abbot Urban District Council from 1st August, 1965, increases from 5s. 6d. to 10s. 6d. a week.
The level of rent for local authority housing is an equally important aspect of housing policy, and the financial implications are beginning to show most clearly. In the current financial year Birmingham starts with a substantial credit balance in its housing revenue account. It will have to impose rent increases next year if interest rates remain at their present level. It is in the financial aspect of the situation that the great danger for the Government lies. I think this is where the censure will arise in the country, when all the tenants of council properties find their rents put up or, if it is not done that way, all ratepayers will have to meet the increased interest charges against the housing revenue accounts.
There is no escape for the Minister unless he can find a way of introducing concessional interest rates. This situation is leading to uncertainty among many local authorities. It is leading to 935 uncertainty throughout the building industry. I am confident that this financial uncertainty is an important factor in the private sector as well. Unless something can be done to get a substantial measure of relief from high interest rates in housing, all the other proposals of the Minister will be dragged down by the difficulties of higher prices and higher rents.
§ 8.54 p.m.
§ Mr. W. T. Williams (Warrington)
This debate has been remarkable for the lack of censure that has characterised most of the speeches, although I am sure that if the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), who is to wind up for the Opposition, runs true to form he will do his best to redress the balance.
The situation reached its nadir in the speech to which we have just listened, for the hon. Member for Northants, South (Mr. Arthur Jones) was obliged to draw attention to the lack of censure against the Government that has been registered in most of the speeches, and he was really depending for the substance of his speech upon the assertion that if there has been no censure here, certainly there has been censure in the country.
The hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) said that housing should be taken out of politics. This is always the final demand of Conservatives when they have been driven into a corner. If the country has ground for censure it has been a good thing to have this debate at this time because, unless the country is deceived by Conservative headlines, it will know where the censure should lie. Far from being out of politics, housing in recent years has been riddled by politics and become its plaything. It would be to underline the obvious to say that one of the gravest domestic problems facing the Government is housing, and this and any Government must stand or fall on the housing record.
Despite their claims and their pride in their housing efforts over the years I am confident that nothing contributed more to the failure of Conservatives at the last election than the realisation by the people that in housing the then Government had fallen down badly.
936 There are two problems which create an impasse which any Government must face in an attempt to deal with the housing problem. The first is the actual physical shortage of housing. The second, although not immediately related, is the cost of housing for those who can get a house, and part of the trouble with both these things has been the interplay of politics.
The Conservative Government were vulnerable on the issue of the shortage of housing because although it is true that during the latter part of their period of office they succeeded in reaching their target and in building more than 300,000 houses a year, the price paid by that Government is to be seen in this, that between 1951 and 1961 the standard of housing fell from 1,200 sq. ft. super to 890 to 900 sq. ft. super. Another of the prices paid has been the one revealed today by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Public Building and Works, namely, that when the present Government came into power in October last year there was no more than a four days' supply of building materials in reserve. Clearly the pressure on an industry which was incompetent to do the job laid upon it was such that it could have brought the housing programme to a standstill.
As the Minister of Housing knows, I am no tremendous enthusiast for building societies. They appear to me like a two-stroke engine trying to drive round a roundabout—it is not fit for the job it has to do and is getting nowhere. Building societies, particularly in respect of the cost of housing, bear a heavy burden of responsibility. They have, in recent months, brought considerable anxiety and disturbance into the house-building programme. There have been suggestions in this debate that the building societies' refusal, or threat to refuse, to continue mortgages at a previous level has resulted in a breakdown to the tune of about 60,000 houses. Had the Minister not kept his nerve on this, the disaster which might easily have been created for the building industry and the house-building programme of this country can well be imagined.
In my view, the time has come for the Minister, among other matters, to take responsibility for dealing with the building societies. He has said that it is not for him to put pressure on the building 937 societies to compel them to come down to trustee levels of reserve capital. Nevertheless, it seems to me that, in a situation like the present, it is evident that the building societies, by continuing to maintain reserves at their present level at a time of emergency and refusing to make loans when mortgages are so difficult, are failing the nation.
The time has come for a general inquiry into the building societies. There are too many of them. There are eight in my constituency, with the best buildings in the area. Building societies have recently shown themselves too repressive in their activities and too unconcerned about the general welfare of the community. I am sorry to have to put it in this way, but, although I know that I am detaining the Committee at this hour, I felt it necessary to underline a matter of great importance which has not so far been mentioned.
I would also take this opportunity to emphasise one of the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Mr. Ioan L. Evans). It seems to me that, on this side of the problem, there is here a way of doing a great deal to assist in the advancement of the housing programme and the development of new techniques. The building societies should be replaced by a national mortgage institution or by co-operative building societies which could build houses, use new techniques, and avoid the necessity for building loans of the kind which come from the building societies at present, and in this way ensure cheaper building than has hitherto been possible.
I leave the matter there, apologising to the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames for having delayed him for two minutes.
§ 9.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-on-Thames)
I beg to move,That Item Class VI, Vote 1 (Ministry of Housing and Local Government) be reduced by the sum of £100.In my view, housing is the most important of all the social services, and it is in many ways, perhaps, the most difficult. The Committee will agree that we were right to use one of our Supply days in order to have a discussion on this vital problem about which many people in all 938 parties, as the debate has shown, feel great concern. We have had a debate of great interest, with, if I may say so, speeches of great knowledge and cogency from my hon. Friends the Members for Poole (Mr. Murton), for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) and for Northants, South (Mr. Arthur Jones), a very interesting speech with some fascinating reminiscences from the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price), and—I hope I do not embarrass him—a most excellent speech from the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson).
Above all, the debate was graced by a singularly effective maiden speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Eyre). My hon. Friend came to the House with a considerable reputation which he has more than lived up to. I was particularly glad that he chose as his subject home ownership, because it is a topic about which he evidently cares a great deal, and so do I. I thought that my hon. Friend succeeded in making his maiden speech on a subject about which he has strong feelings with remarkable skill, managing to express his strong feelings without violating the rule as to non-controversiality which hedges the maiden speaker. I am sure that the Committee will hope that we shall hear my hon. Friend on this topic and other topics on many future occasions.
I felt some sympathy, having myself been in the same position, with the hon. and learned Member for Warrington (Mr. W. T. Williams), who, after waiting here all day, had his remarks cut short. I was sorry about two things in his speech. I was very sorry that he obviously was misled, by the courtesy with which we have from this side of the Committee attempted to put our criticisms, into believing that there was no element of censure in them. I hope that I shall be able, in spite of any infirmities of temperament, to continue the process. We have put our criticisms with courtesy, but the hon. and learned Member and the Committee would make a great mistake if they thought that indicated any lack of feeling and concern about the state of affairs which has been allowed to develop.
I was sorry, too, that the hon. and learned Member saw fit to launch his attack on the building societies. These bodies have served, and are serving, the 939 country extremely well. They lend in normal years about £1,000 million for house purchase. They are the major instrument by which millions of our fellow countrymen have obtained ownership of the homes in which they live. They command, I think, great confidence throughout the country. They have done a good job which nobody but they could have done. It was a great pity that the hon. and learned Gentleman saw fit to launch an attack on them.
I come now to the speech of the Minister of Public Building and Works, who opened the debate for the Government. I observed that when he rose his right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government left the Chamber. I was rather surprised at that to begin with, but as the Minister of Public Building and Works went on I began to understand his right hon. Friend's view, because it really was a most remarkable speech in every way. It contained the observation "I am not concerned about mortagages", repeated on two or three occasions.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The right hon. Gentleman said several times "I am not concerned about mortgages." If the right hon. Gentleman is not, then he ought to be. As we have seen very vividly in the last few months, effective demand in the building industry for which he has certain responsibilities is tied up with the adequate supply of funds for mortgage, and if the supply of mortgage money is not available the building industry as well as the public suffers. It is also the way in which the vast majority of our fellow-countrymen, with the exception of a minority of rich people, are able to buy their homes. If the right hon. Gentleman is not concerned about mortgages, most of the rest of us are. I must in all fairness say that it is clear that that view is not shared by his colleagues, as is very clear from the speech last Saturday by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, who showed very proper concern about the difficulties occasioned by the falling-off of the availability of mortgage funds. I would recommend the right hon. Gentleman to 940 read the Parliamentary Secretary's speech.
§ Mr. Pannell
In the context, the right hon. Gentleman is misrepresenting me in a way which in a Parliamentary sense is thoroughly dishonest. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I was dealing particularly with building and the building industry, references to which were notably absent from the speech of the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page). It was when I was interrupted about mortgages in the middle of a disertation on the physical aspects of the building industry that I said "I am not concerned with mortgages", and I was not at that moment. To suggest anything beyond that does an injustice to the right hon. Gentleman's Parliamentary skill.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to indicate that he now has concern about mortgages then, of course, I accept that, but when he reads the OFFICIAL REPORT of his speech tomorrow—and I am not sure that I would recommend him to do so—he will see that on several occasions he used this expression. It was not just once in a moment of irritation. He used it several times, and it is a remark which it is in his own interests that he should have taken the opportunity to clear up, if that is what he has now done.
The interesting thing in his speech were the figures which he gave in respect of building starts and completions in the early part of this year. I suppose that these were the figures of which the Prime Minister ran a trailer on Tuesday. If so, I am afraid that they do not come up to the expectations that the Prime Minister appeared to have of them. They show that starts held up fairly well during the first quarter of the year but were a little behind the corresponding quarter of last year. However, the deficit, though sad, was not unduly substantial.
But then the Minister came to the most significant moment of the speech and to an issue which is the core of the debate when he said that in May the first signs of a down turn in the building industry appeared. I am not surprised at the relatively good figures for completions for the first three or four months of the year, though it is perhaps a pity that the improvements in train last year have not materialised.
941 Of course, houses completed in the first four months of the year are houses to the credit of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph). They are the consequence of the surge of building activity and house building which he left behind him. A mortgage, for example, negotiated last summer would be reflected in a completion in the first quarter of this year despite the relative speed of private enterprise building. It is not surprising, therefore, that the figures were good during the first quarter of this year.
But it is very significant and disturbing that there was a down-turn in May following the collapse of the availability of mortgage funds at the end of the first quarter. Here again, the first quarter was a good period relatively for building society advances, but it was after the first quarter that funds ran short. That falling off, on the timetable on which these things operate, will undoubtedly reflect itself, unless very rapid action is taken, in a falling off in building starts in the latter part of this year and in completions next year. That is the kind of timetable and that is what is really concerning people outside.
It is clear now that, as a result of these events, some houses that would have been built will not be built. Some will be lost for ever. We want to know what steps the Minister is taking to stop that situation, to check the loss and restore the output of the industry. It must be accepted that the upward surge which my right hon. Friend left behind has been checked despite the pledges of the Government. I rely for that on a Written Reply which the Minister of Housing and Local Government was good enough to give me yesterday. I asked for his forecast of housing starts in the calendar year 1965 and he replied:426,000 houses were started in Britain last year and I expect about the same number this year."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 29th June, 1965; Vol. 715, c. 38.]In other words, the increase has stopped.
Evidence is accumulating of a falling off as from May in the prospect of house building and in the possibility of the overall figure for house building even being maintained. It is partciularly marked in the private sector, which is the very sector that the Minister of Public Building and 942 Works told us in the early part of this year was the better of the two.
Since April, there has been a collapse of mortgage funds, and I would like to read to the Committee the very serious words spoken during the review of the President's speech at the National Federation of Building Trades Employers' annual conference a few weeks ago by Mr. Athelstan Whaley. This summarises the problem as we see it. He said:During the first four months of this year, compared with the same period last year, Building Societies received from investors £29 million less and at the same time £83 million more was withdrawn. In effect they had £112 million less cash than in the same period last year. The Building Societies Association indicated a ceiling level of advances for 1965 of £800 million which is £287 million less than last year—a reduction of 25 per cent.Ironic, as you say, Mr. President, when we were looking for an increase of about 7 per cent.-10 per cent. for extra output and 7 per cent. for increased costs. This reduction is bound to have similar effect on completions of houses for sale—not only a reduction on our anticipated higher output, but a reduction on last year's figures.However the matter is even more serious than many realise for this reduction in advances will all fall in the last eight months of this year (for the advances for the first four months were similar to last year). The effect of this concentration could mean, in some months, a fall of 50 per cent. in advances compared with the same period last year.To those serious words he added:My colleagues and I are therefore most concerned that unless ways are found immediately to alleviate the position not only will our modestly increased target be impossible, but our 1964 total will not be reached. In addition considerable damage will be done to house-building firms throughout the country who have slowly built up good teams of operatives to carry out the work. If these men are lost to other parts of the construction industry recovery will be slow.That is backed up by statements of the heads of many building firms. Sir Godfrey Mitchell of Wimpeys announced that although they had expected to build 10,500 houses, they had been obliged to cut that figure back by 30 per cent. The McManus group is cutting back 15 per cent. The Wates group have cut back 20 per cent. and 10 per cent. of their labour force.
I am sure the Minister will not try to give it as an answer that this cut-back in the private sector can be balanced by stepping up local authority building. The local authorities have neither the resources nor 943 the means for a quick increase to counterbalance this. The Minister wants all the agencies if he is to check the sagging back of house building and restore the momentum which my right hon. Friend left.
Let me remind the Committee, too, of the survey of the Federation of Registered Housebuilders, to which reference has already been made in this debate. It has the merit of being a recent survey. In another place, the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, who speaks for the Government on these matters, sought to suggest the Minister's survey was the better one, but he did not bring out the fact that the survey took place at the beginning of the year, at a time when the situation was not at all bad. The Registered House-builders' survey took place in April and May, when the new tendencies were beginning to show themselves.
Let me give the effect of it to the Committee. It is that more than 60 per cent. of the firms which replied expected that their completions in 1965 would fall short of their original plans. The estimated shortfalls ranged from five to 30 per cent. By mid-May, 55 per cent. of builders had already reduced their numbers of starts, primarily among the larger builders, which makes the effect worse, and the higher number of replies suggested that the 1965 completions would be 30 per cent. behind.
Finally, to make this case, I quote Mr. Laing, President of the National Federation of Building Trades Employers, reported in the Daily Telegraph as recently as 2nd June:The private house-building situation was still deteriorating. Mortgage advances in the first three months of this year arose from commitments made by Building Societies well before Christmas. The full extent of this shortage would not be known until the Societies announced their lending figures for June, July and August. They are bound to be well down.Those are serious matters, and we want to hear from the Minister about them.
The issue of fact which lies between us seems to be whether the Government are right in saying that the figures will be about the same as last year, or whether we are right in saying that they look like being substantially less if remedial measures are not taken. Even if the Government are right and they do no more than repeat last year's level, that 944 would be very unhappy and unfortunate, because when we left office we were on an upward curve and knew that we could build 400,000 houses in the year and perhaps more. My right hon. Friend was confident of that. Therefore, even to stop at the position which the Government now apparently accept would be unhappy, for it would mean that some 30,000 families who should have had houses if previous policies had continued will not now be housed this year. This is wholly inconsistent with the expectations which were aroused by the pledges and assertions and election addresses of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite.
What are the main causes of this situation? First, there is undoubtedly the creation of uncertainty. If ever there was an industry requiring certainty if it is to get on with the job it is the building industry. It takes some time—there is quite a time between plans and the obtaining of the land until completion. It is necessary to maintain the confidence of the industry so that both the building teams can be kept together and, equally important, that the suppliers of materials shall have sufficient confidence in the market to be willing to expand their capacity. If uncertainty is created and confidence is undermined, output is inevitably reduced, and that is what the Government are doing.
Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman seems almost to pride himself on this. On Tuesday I asked him a question crucial to this issue—whether in connection with his proposals for cheaper mortgages he could at least give an assurance that whatever proposals he ultimately produced would operate to favour mortgages taken out now. The point is that that would give people the inducement not to hold back lest they lost by taking out a mortgage now, if they could get one, instead of waiting. All the right hon. Gentleman said was that he was not prepared to discuss the Government's intentions while they were under consideration. That is all very well, but the right hon. Gentleman is committed not only by his election manifesto, but by his statements to action in this connection and to refuse even to discuss the Government's intentions on a matter as basic as this to individual decisions taken now is necessarily to create uncertainty.
945 There is the same uncertainty about the Government's policy on land. In the Queen's Speech we were told that they were setting up a Land Commission. In the election literature a highly detailed and quite outrageous scheme was propounded to the public. What have we heard about it since? [HON. MEMBERS: "Nothing."] My hon. Friends must not wrong the Government. We must be fair. We have had a promise undated of a White Paper at some time! Then there are the confusion and uncertainty about leasehold reform and leasehold enfranchisement. Not only were they mentioned in the Queen's Speech, but, the right hon. Gentleman will recall, on 8th December he made a statement in which he asked people to regulate their conduct on the assumption that legislation was coming and would relate back to 8th December. In reply to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Barry (Mr. Gower), the right hon. Gentleman said that he expected legislation this Session. We have not seen it yet.
The object of the debate is to ascertain what the Government propose to do in this situation.
In other debates the right hon. Gentleman has outlined to us—and it has been very interesting—his national plans and thought on national plans in different directions. They have all been long-term. They are none the worse for that, but in this situation, apart from any long-term thoughts of the right hon. Gentleman, short-term and immediate action is needed, because houses are being lost now. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman of Disraeli's statement thatIn the long run we are all dead.That is particularly true of Governments!
I want to put to the Minister four positive questions. Is he considering reactivating the procedure, under the 1959 Act of making funds available to the building societies for relending, as was done in 1959 by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Brooke)? Has he seen and considered the Merett-Sykes proposals, which have been published, to enable home occupiers who are not entitled to the full advantages of the mortgage interest concessions— 946 because they are not up to the standard rate of Income Tax—to enjoy comparable concessions which would have the effect of giving them an effectively much lower rate of interest to pay on their mortgages?
Has he considered following the German example in respect of housing for immigrants—providing that where an employer introduces immigrant labour into this country he is responsible for housing it and so relieving housing authorities of a very considerable difficulty? Will he end the uncertainty about the Land Commission and about leasehold reform?
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
Those are four. Is the Minister concerned at the falling off in the provision of houses for sale for owner-occupation and the check to a great social development which this involves? We know that he has written off the provision of privately provided accommodation to let, which seems to leave everything as the responsibility of local authorities.
This leads to the question—which arises in dealing with local authority accommodation—by those local authorities who have not yet introduced rent rebate or differential rent schemes. Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that if he relies more on local authorities he makes more urgent the problems of those people—owner-occupiers themselves, or tenants of private landlords—who find themselves subsidising, through taxation and rates, people who are better-off than themselves, who have had the good fortune to be in a council flat? It is the function of local authorities to house, at rents they can afford, people of limited means, and I suggest that there is a rising tide of indignation at the failure to charge proper rents to local authority tenants who can afford them—and it is conspicuous that it is among Labour-controlled local authorities that these schemes are not introduced, and instead, the housing accounts are subsidised from rate funds.
So far, what was happened—whether it is a fall, as we suggest, or a mere check, as the Government suggest—is inconsistent with the Government's pledge but consistent with the pattern of their behaviour on those pledges. I remind the 947 right hon. Gentleman of the Prime Minister's own pledge, when he said:I would mobilise the country's resources to provide homes without regard to private interest or private profit. The housing problem must be tackled like a war-time operation.That was rather appropriately at the Empire Pool, Wembley, on 12th September. In his Election address he said:We have pledged ourselves to tackle this housing problem like a war-time operation.He is fond of these military metaphors, but it is fortunate that those who had charge of our wartime military operations handled them with a great deal more skill.
If we add this pledge to that of cheaper mortgages, particularly in the light of the excursion of the First Secretary into what Disraeli, in Endymion, calledThe sweet simplicity of the three per centswe can look at all these broken pledges together.
It was said at the time of Lloyd George:Count not his broken pledges for a crime, He meant them, how he meant them, at the time.I do not know whether that is the right hon. Gentleman's apology, but the pattern is consistent. It was the last Labour Government which failed on housing—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—they reached their peak of 227,000 houses a year in 1948 and never afterwards got past 200,000 houses. They did so for the same reason as this Government show signs of failing in their housing policy—their hostility to the owner occupier and the private landlord, a hostility most bitterly expressed by the late Mr. Bevan.
Unless the right hon. Gentleman will swallow his prejudices and use all the instruments which can help him with in housing—the local authorities, the housing associations, the owner occupiers and the private landlords—he will fail in the great task entrusted to him and, in his failure, cause harsh and unnecessary misery to a great many people.
§ 9.31 p.m.
§ The Minister of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Richard Crossman)
Before I reply to the debate as a whole, which I thought was wide ranging and 948 extremely interesting, I had better polish off the long list of questions which the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) asked me, which I can answer as concisely as he asked them. The first question was, have I decided to reactivate the 1959 Bill? As I said in the last debate, the answer is "No". The second question was, have I thought of the Merrett Sykes scheme. As I said on Tuesday, "Yes". To the third question, are we proposing to introduce the German method of providing company houses for immigrants, the answer is, thank God, no. The fourth question was, are we going to legislate on the Land Commission and leasehold enfranchisement? The answer is "Yes".
§ Mr. Crossman
The other thing which he asked me about—I want to give these facts as fast as I can—was for the facts about housing up to now. As he does not like starts, I will give him completions. In the first five months of the year—[Interruption.] These are completions—I was told in our last debate that private enterprise can build houses in under nine months. The number of completions in the public sector was 66,000 as against 59,000 in 1964, an increase of 7,000, and, in the private sector, 86,000 against 83,000—overall, 153,000 against 142,000. These are the facts. I thought that we were arguing about facts.
The right hon. Gentleman asked me to hazard a guess as to what will happen after these facts. He foresees catastrophe, but will not be surprised if I do not. I think that we shall do better than last year, but certainly not all that the private industry predicted that it would do in this year, because these predictions are unattainable with a building industry of our size.
I thought that the debate was a better one than we had last time, because it dealt more with the problem of housing. We are now at the end of a three-day marathon on housing. Some of us, the survivors of that gallant band of warriors who have been here all through the three days know its value, not only in exhausting us and making the right hon. Gentleman, in his exhaustion, a little 949 milder—perhaps I shall be milder too—but in helping us to see housing in relation to rent control. As a result, we can link the two and see the gulf which divides the two parties.
I have noted that the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames—and I have seen a lot of him in the last three days—is in a dilemma about the Rent Bill because for electoral reasons he must appear to be very keen on rent regulation being restored. Every Tory has to pretend that he did not pass the Rent Act.
§ Mr. Crossman
I was discussing the relation of rents and rent control to housing, and I am pointing out that we see clearly in the attitude of the Conservative Party to rent control their attitude to house building. Throughout their attitude to the Rent Bill the Conservatives have shown themselves convinced that the only responsible attitude to take is to conceive of rent regulation in such terms that it will provide an incentive to private landlords to build new houses. That was their main argument—that we have done wrong in our proposals for rent regulation because we have protected the tenants whereas, in their view, the job of rent regulation is to provide what Aneurin Bevan described as Macmillan's "mouldy turnip" in yet another form.
We all remember that for 13 years the Conservative Party has been trying to find incentives tempting enough to persuade private enterprise to build new houses to rent and to make them pay. I said from the start, when we came into office, "That is a waste of time." In the modern world, though private enterprise can provide luxury houses to rent, though it can provide houses for sale to home owners, there is one kind of housing which it cannot provide, and that is the housing which is most desperately needed today, housing at rents which people well below the national average wage can afford if they have a large family.
This was granted to me very early in the debate by the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page). He said, "There is one class of person who cannot afford to buy a house, and these people must live in a council house". Very well. 950 There are all those people, and there are quite a lot of them. One has to remember that it costs quite a lot in mortgage repayments to buy a house. One has to have a sustained, regular income. There are many millions of people who are unable to buy a house. That group of people needs houses which private landlords will never build and maintain.
It may be that one of the basic differences between the two sides of the Committee is that hon. Members opposite still believe that rent regulation must be designed for the landlord whereas I believe that it must be designed primarily to protect the tenant and to enable the good landlord to maintain and improve his property. But it is ludicrous to expect that we shall find any inducement except straight subsidies which will revive the interest of private enterprise in houses to rent.
What does that mean in terms of practical politics? It means that the entire responsibility for building houses to rent below the luxury level must fall on the public sector, on housing societies and on housing associations. It is illusory to think anything else. If I look at the record of the Conservative Party in the last 13 years, it seems to me that their main failure was in putting all their energy into building houses for owner-occupiers and in failing to impart the necessary drive to get the houses built by the public sector.
§ Captain Walter Elliot (Carshalton)
Is the Minister prepared to tell the Committee the income below which a man could not afford to pay the rent and what proportion of the income he feels should go in housing?
§ Mr. Crossman
Broadly speaking, I would say that building societies have a pretty shrewd idea about people to whom they will give mortgages. Some people sometimes have to go to local authorities for mortgages because building societies will not provide them. If a man is earning £16 a week, and that is coming in steadily, even then it is difficult for him to repay the mortgage on a £2,500 house. The hon. Member asked me for a rough test. I would say that, broadly speaking, families relying on £16 a week or under would probably be wiser, if rented houses were available in sufficient quantities, to choose a rented house.
951 This is the first division between the two sides. We say, and I say this openly, that our job is, first, to protect the tenant of the privately-owned house from the evils of scarcity by a quite elaborate system of rent regulation. We must, secondly, help the landlord, if he is a good landlord and does the repairs and improvements, by giving him a chance—and I repeat, if he does these things—to get a fair rent in return. The third thing we must do is to face the real situation which hon. Gentlemen opposite never faced. Despite all the incentives which they poured out to landlords, the pool of rented accommodation was reduced by 1 million houses in the last seven years. It fell under them by about 200,000 houses each year, partly owing to slum clearance but largely owing to demolition—that is, perfectly good rented houses all replaced by offices and luxury flats. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Hon. Gentlemen opposite who jeer praise the Milner Holland Report but they do not read it.
What I say is what Milner Holland taught them; that the demolitions in London were a major factor in reducing the pool of rented houses. We must fill that pool again. I think that I hear the hon. Member for Crosby saying "In London", but I assure him that it applies in Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool, Glasgow, and Coventry because in every great conurbation we need rented houses at rents which people can afford. We also need accommodation for old people and we need these houses in great quantities.
The hon. Member for Crosby said that I was being doctrinaire because I had increased the target for the public sector by 20,000 houses this year. We are, in my view, going to build 170,000 this year compared with 150,000 last year. We are increasing the number of public sector houses considerably this year, yet the hon. Member for Crosby says "What a doctrinaire thing to do". Did I have to have another social survey to discover that we need 20,000 more rented houses? Must I study what is happening in a slum in Liverpool, Manchester, Glasgow or Leeds to know that 20,000 is a drop in the bucket? In a difficult financial situation I am proud of my 20,000. I am not content, however, but I was amazed that the hon. Member for Crosby should 952 have said that I had been doctrinaire in saying that we needed 20,000 more.
§ Mr. Graham Page
I said that in the context of the fact that the right hon. Gentleman had, in April, asked the local authorities for a review. I asked why he did not wait until he got their reports.
§ Mr. Crossman
I suppose that the real reason is that I have a prejudice in favour of building houses without waiting when I know that the need is there.
§ Mr. Graham Page
The right hon. Gentleman says that, when the public sector building has gone down. Were we not told that there had been a drop of 3,000 in the first quarter?
§ Mr. Crossman
We must get the figures right. Public sector completions have reached a new record level in the first five months. It is true that the starts were low in the first three months, but they are higher now than ever before and they are rising still. I know that it will disturb hon. Gentlemen opposite to know that there are some public sector houses being built. I warn them not to predict the failure of the Government on this matter this year because they will look terrible fools if they do.
The hon. Member for Crosby mentioned the public authority inquiry. I will tell him about it. We have received returns but we have not yet examined them all. They tend to indicate—although they have not been analysed—that, roughly speaking, local authorities outside London would like to tender in 1965 for 50 per cent. more houses than they tendered for in 1964. That proves that they think that the need justifies having a programme half as big again as last year's.
That interesting fact indicates to me that my 20,000 was a moderate estimate. But we have to be realistic, and I have to tell them that their 50 per cent. increase is more than we can afford to give them this year. In some cases I have to be very harsh, and tell them, "Gentlemen, we must have the housing increase in the areas of greatest need. We cannot have it spread equally over the country." It is in the great conurbations, primarily, that we have the desperate need revealed by the Milner Holland Report in London. We must concentrate the drive as far as possible 953 on those areas, and that is why we are concentrating also on industrialised building.
There is a danger of industrialised building becoming a sort of magic expression, or an excuse for inaction. We have looked at it very carefully, and there are one or two things I must say about it. Industrialised building can be an extremely costly extravagance. It can, in fact, be a waste of capital resources unless it is combined with a fairly highly efficient management. Unless we get our sites ready in order we shall have the units piled up in the factory and the sites not there, and then half the advantage of industrialised building has gone.
If we had a city architect saying, "I have been moved from this city to that, so I must change the system to express my ego", again the advantage disappears. It must be a disciplined industrialised building, and I am glad to see that here the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) agrees with me. The architect particularly must see that his self-expression comes in the ingenuity with which he uses mass components and designs landscape. To express his ego he cannot do the minor modifications which destroy the efficiency of the scheme, and he must be prepared to use a scheme someone next door is using, because the whole essence of industrialised building is standardisation of parts and driving ahead.
This can be done, and it will be a great achievement. It is one of the areas in which private enterprise is no good, it is too big, but local authorities will do it. We then have the drive we are giving now, with the help from the N.B.A. referred to by my hon. Friend, and also the work being done for local authorities by Mr. Peter Lederer, for whom I must thank Costain's, from whom we have borrowed him. He is the best brain energy they have, and it is very generous of them—
§ Mr. Crossman
No, not even present company excepted. I thank Costain's, because he is doing a first-rate job for the local authorities.
The third thing is the drive in the public sector. My hon. Friend the Member 954 for Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price) mentioned land prices. I shall not go into the subject of a Land Commission again, but when we debate it I hope that the hon. Member opposite will be as generous as he was to us yesterday. It is a question not only of land prices but of the availability of land, and the availability of land is as great a problem as prices.
This is a job we have to do, and we have tried to tackle it in relation to new towns. It is a great thing to find that our notion that we can double the size of an old town and use the new town corporation for this purpose is working in practice better than I could have dreamt of.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warrington (Mr. W. T. Williams) will know that we are working very happily in co-operation with the Warrington authority, and the same thing applies in Ipswich, Peterborough and Northampton. I think that we shall work faster, because when we have the local authority of an old town, with its ability, skill and drive, we can double the size of the old town faster than we can create a new town from virgin territory. Therefore, the experiment will enable us to move even faster ahead than we otherwise could do.
I admit that this evening I cannot say anything on the subject of local government finance. My negotiations with the local authorities will be completed by the end of July, like my negotiations with the building societies, and until I have completed them I cannot say anything about the financial schemes.
I take up a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Mr. Joan L. Evans)—the question of what should be the total size of the British housing programme. That is a thought on which one might reflect. He said that it ought to be half a million a year. I agree that it ought to be half a million a year, but that is very different from being able to say that half a million a year is the target. Half a million a year would bring us into line with West Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and most progressive European countries, which are building a proportion which here would mean roughly half a million a year. In some cases our standard of size is better than theirs, or it used to be so but has ceased to be in the last 10 years.
955 Nevertheless, 500,000 would be the kind of thing which this nation ought to afford. But there is a world of difference between having the idea of building half a million and planning to build half a million, because if one plans to build half a million one has to do several things. First, one has to be in control of the total volume to be built. We can control the public sector. We know exactly how many we shall build through local authorities, but, as I said in the last debate—and it was repeated as if it were something wrong—my predecessors when they talked about targets in the private sector meant statistical guesses about what someone would do.
The number of houses built in the last 13 years by private builders and building societies was determined not by my predecessors but by the whim of the market and the flow of capital in the free market. Therefore, when Ministers took praise or credit for the number of houses built in the private sector they were merely taking credit for the general condition of the economy. When the economy got into difficulties, as it did from time to time, the building halted. When the economy boomed, building boomed. An hon. Member opposite shakes his head; he had better look back to the figures of 1961.
I say again, because I think I shall get a few converts each time I say it, that a Government who are not prepared to grasp this problem cannot plan a housing drive. I have three choices. We could have stop-go, as we had in the last 13 years and as the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) believes we should have. We could have the kind of thing we had in the war and the post-war period—all physical controls, which no one wants to go back to. Or we could seek to have agreement between the Government and the building industry and building societies.
On this the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Eyre), for whose maiden speech I thank him, said something very important. He asked, cannot the Government put the full force of Government finance behind the building societies to see that their advances continue? Of course the Government can, 956 but it would be a very irresponsible Government which in doing that job of collaborating with the building societies did not work out the implications with the building societies and say to them, "If we are to help you when things are difficult and stop the reduction of advances, you must help us to prevent a boom turning into inflation. You must look after the ceiling if we are to look after the floor".
These are the things we are discussing with the building societies today. I have been ridiculed by hon. Members opposite and told that I have no chance of reaching agreement with the societies. I am willing to take a little ridicule because I think that in the end I shall succeed. There is a great deal of interest among building societies and leading building firms in the concept of a steadily developing economy in which we in Parliament know how much there will be in the private sector and how much in the public sector and on which we have an agreement about the sort of totals we shall start each year.
I shall conclude on a note which I know will appeal to hon. Members opposite. I have talked about our plans; now I want to talk about what Conservative planners have been doing in their spare time. I have it here "Target for Homes". Now we know what Conservatives can do when they are freed from the incubus of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. This is composed by Mr. Geoffrey Rippon and the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Corfield), both of whom worked in my Ministry and know the lady who looks after us there. Let me read it aloud. This is the proposal they make on housing subsidy in the public sector:abolish the general housing subsidy altogether, and leave it to the National Assistance Board to subsidise the individual.That shows what 10 months of Toryism does, without the humanising influence of the British Civil Service.
On housing allocation the document says this:allocate a council house in the first instance only for a specified period—perhaps five years—and on the definite understanding that the position would then be reviewed in the light of the tenant's position …Insecurity of tenure—that is the essential thing—to breed Tory happiness.
§ The Chairman
Order. If the right hon. Gentleman does not give way, the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Corfield) must sit.
§ Mr. Corfield
Is it in order for the Minister at the last moment in his speech to quote without giving me notice?
§ Mr. Corfield
I only want to point out to the Minister that, if he will read on, he will see that it is not as inhuman as he suggests. There is provision for the provision of a house. As the Minister is always quoting Sweden, he might go there and see how they do it.
§ Mr. Crossman
I turn to new towns. [Interruption.] I admit to the hon. Gentleman that it is not official Tory policy yet. It is just new thinking. The proposal is that we should now allocate houses permanently in new towns only in relation to a particular industry. So we shall have company houses in new towns.
§ We have been working hard and we have been getting our public sector drive going, and we are getting results. Hon. Members opposite, too, have been working hard. They have been thinking out their policies in opposition. I am perfectly happy to retain the present situation for the next three or four years, because in those years we shall be able to achieve what is now laughed at, which is the national housing programme and, with it, the kind of steady progress we desire.
§ Question put, That a sum not exceeding £16,481,900 be granted for the said Service:—
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 279, Noes 286.961
|Division No. 228.]||AYES||[10.0 p.m.|
|Agnew, Commander Sir Peter||Buck, Antony||du Cann, Rt. Hn. Edward|
|Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash)||Bullus, Sir Eric||Eden, Sir John|
|Allan, Robert (Paddington, S.)||Burden, F. A.||Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)|
|Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead)||Butcher, Sir Herbert||Elliott, R. W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, N.)|
|Amery, Rt. Hn. Julian||Buxton, Ronald||Emery, Peter|
|Anstruther-Gray, Rt. Hn. Sir W.||Campbell, Cordon||Eyre, Reginald|
|Astor, John||Carlisle, Mark||Farr, John|
|Atkins, Humphrey||Carr, Rt. Hn. Robert||Fell, Anthony|
|Awdry, Daniel||Cary, Sir Robert||Fisher, Nigel|
|Balniel, Lord||Channon, H. P. C.||Fletcher-Cooke, Charles (Darwen)|
|Barber, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Chataway, Christopher||Fletcher-Cooke, Sir John (S'pton)|
|Barlow, Sir John||Chichester-Clark, R.||Foster, Sir John|
|Batsford, Brian||Clark, Henry (Antrim, N.)||Fraser, Rt. Hn. Hugh (St'fford & Stone)|
|Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton||Clark, William (Nottingham, S.)||Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton)|
|Bell, Ronald||Cole, Norman||Galbraith, Hn. T. G. D.|
|Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay)||Cooke, Robert||Gammans, Lady|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos & Fhm)||Cordle, John||Gardner, Edward|
|Berkeley, Humphry||Corfield, F. V.||Gibson-Watt, David|
|Berry, Hn. Anthony||Costain, A. P.||Giles, Rear-Admiral Morgan|
|Biffen, John||Courtney, Cdr. Anthony||Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, Central)|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne)||Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife)|
|Bingham, R. M.||Crawley, Aidan||Glover, Sir Douglas|
|Birch, Rt. Hn. Nigel||Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. Sir Oliver||Godber, Rt. Hn. J. B.|
|Black, Sir Cyril||Crowder, F. P.||Goodhart, Philip|
|Blaker, Peter||Cunningham, Sir Knox||Goodhew, Victor|
|Bossom, Hn. Clive||Curran, Charles||Gower, Raymond|
|Box, Donald||Currie, G. B. H.||Grant, Anthony|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. J.||Dalkeith, Earl of||Grant-Ferris, R.|
|Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir Edward||Dance, James||Gresham Cooke, R.|
|Braine, Bernard||Davies, Dr. Wyndham (Perry Barr)||Grieve, Percy|
|Brinton, Sir Tatton||d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds)|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. Sir Walter||Dean, Paul||Griffiths, Peter (Smethwick)|
|Brooke, Rt. Hn. Henry||Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F.||Grimond, Rt. Hn. J.|
|Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)||Digby, Simon Wingfield||Gurden, Harold|
|Bruce-Gardyne, J.||Dodds-Parker, Douglas||Hall, John (Wycombe)|
|Bryan, Paul||Doughty, Charles||Hall-Davis, A. G. F.|
|Buchanan-Smith, Alick||Drayson, G. B.||Hamilton, Marquess of (Fermanagh)|
|Hamilton, M. (Salisbury)||McMaster, Stanley||Royle, Anthony|
|Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N. W.)||McNair-Wilson, Patrick||St. John-Stevas, Norman|
|Harris, Reader (Helton)||Maginnis, John E.||Sandys, Rt. Hn. D.|
|Harrison, Brian (Maldon)||Maitland, Sir John||Scott-Hopkins, James|
|Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)||Marples, Rt. Hn. Ernest||Sharples, Richard|
|Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere (Macclesf'd)||Marten, Neil||Shepherd, William|
|Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)||Mathew, Robert||Sinclair, Sir George|
|Hastings, Stephen||Maude, Angus||Smith, Dudley (Br'ntf'd & Chiswick)|
|Hawkins, Paul||Mawby, Ray||Soames, Rt. Hn. Christopher|
|Hay, John||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.||Spearman, Sir Alexander|
|Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel||Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.||Speir, Sir Rupert|
|Heath, Rt. Hn. Edward||Meyer, Sir Anthony||Stainton, Keith|
|Hendry, Forbes||Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.)||Stanley, Hn. Richard|
|Higgins, Terence L.||Miscampbell, Norman||Steel, David (Roxburgh)|
|Hill, J. E. B. (S. Norfolk)||Mitchell, David||Stodart, Anthony|
|Hirst, Geoffrey||More, Jasper||Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir Malcolm|
|Hobson, Rt. Hn. Sir John||Morgan, W. G.||Studholme, Sir Henry|
|Hogg, Rt. Hn. Quintin||Morrison, Charles (Devizes)||Talbot, John E.|
|Hooson, H. E.||Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Hopkins, Alan||Munro-Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Taylor, Edward M. (G'gow, Cathcart)|
|Hordern, Peter||Murton, Oscar||Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)|
|Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hn. Dame P.||Neave, Airey||Teeling, Sir William|
|Howard, Hn. G. R. (St. Ives)||Nicholls, Sir Harmar||Temple, John M.|
|Howe, Geoffrey (Bebington)||Nicholson, Sir Godfrey||Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret|
|Hutchison, Michael Clark||Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael||Thomas, Sir Leslie (Canterbury)|
|Iremonger, T. L.||Nugent, Rt. Hn. Sir Richard||Thomas, Rt. Hn. Peter (Conway)|
|Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Onslow, Cranley||Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)|
|Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford)||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.||Thorpe, Jeremy|
|Jennings, J. C.||Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian||Tiley, Arthur (Bradford, W.)|
|Johnston, Russell (Inverness)||Osborn, John (Hallam)||Tilney, John (Wavertree)|
|Jones, Arthur (Northants, S.)||Osborne, Sir Cyril (Louth)||Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.|
|Jopling, Michael||Page, John (Harrow, W.)||Tweedsmuir, Lady|
|Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir Keith||Page, R. Graham (Crosby)||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Kaberry, Sir Donald||Pearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe)||Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hn. Sir John|
|Kerr, Sir Hamilton (Cambridge)||Peel, John||Vickers, Dame Joan|
|Kershaw, Anthony||Percival, Ian||Walder, David (High Peak)|
|Kilfedder, James A.||Peyton, John||Walker, Peter (Worcester)|
|Kimball, Marcus||Pickthorn, Rt. Hn. Sir Kenneth||Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek|
|King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.)||Pike, Miss Mervyn||Wall, Patrick|
|Kirk, Peter||Pitt, Dame Edith||Walters, Dennis|
|Kitson, Timothy||Pounder, Rafton||Ward, Dame Irene|
|Lagden, Godfrey||Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Lambton, Viscount||Price, David (Eastleigh)||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Prior, J. M. L.||Whitelaw, William|
|Langford-Holt, Sir John||Pym, Francis||Williams, Sir Rolf Dudley (Exeter)|
|Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry||Quennell, Miss J. M.||Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)|
|Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Litchfield, Capt. John||Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter||Wise, A. R.|
|Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey (Sut'n C'dfield)||Redmayne, Rt. Hn. Sir Martin||Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick|
|Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone)||Rees-Davies, W. R.||Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard|
|Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Selwyn (Wirral)||Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David||Woodhouse, Hn. Christopher|
|Longden, Gilbert||Ridley, Hn. Nicholas||Woodnutt, Mark|
|Loveys, Walter H.||Ridsdale, Julian||Wylie, N. R.|
|Lubbock, Eric||Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley)||Yates, William (The Wrekin)|
|Lucas, Sir Jocelyn||Robson Brown, Sir William|
|Maclean, Sir Fitzroy||Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain||Roots, William||Mr. McLaren and|
|Mr. C. Johnson Smith.|
|Abse, Leo||Boyden, James||Dalyell, Tam|
|Albu, Austen||Braddock, Mrs. E. M.||Darling, George|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Bradley, Tom||Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)|
|Alldritt, Walter||Bray, Dr. Jeremy||Davies, Harold (Leek)|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Davies, Ifor (Cower)|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Brown, Rt. Hn. George (Belper)||Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)|
|Atkinson, Norman||Brown, Hugh D. (Glasgow, Provan)||de Freitas, Sir Geoffrey|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Buchan, Norman (Renfrewshire, W.)||Delargy, Hugh|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Buchanan, Richard||Dell, Edmund|
|Barnett, Joel||Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Dempsey, James|
|Beaney, Alan||Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||Diamond, Rt. Hn. John|
|Bellenger, Rt. Hn. F. J.||Carmichael, Neil||Dodds, Norman|
|Bence, Cyril||Carter-Jones, Lewis||Doig, Peter|
|Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood||Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara||Donnelly, Desmond|
|Bennett, J. (Glasgow, Bridgeton)||Chapman, Donald||Driberg, Tom|
|Binns, John||Coleman, Donald||Duffy, Dr. A. E. P.|
|Bishop, E. S.||Conlan, Bernard||Dunn, James A.|
|Blackburn, F.||Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Dunnett, Jack|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Edelman, Maurice|
|Boardman, H.||Crawshaw, Richard||Edwards, Rt. Hn. Ness (Caerphilly)|
|Boston, T. G.||Cronin, John||English, Michael|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur||Crossman, Rt. Hn. R. H. S.||Ennals, David|
|Bowden, Rt. Hn. H. W. (Leics, S. W.)||Cullen, Mrs. Alice||Ensor, David|
|Evans, Albert (Islington, S. W.)||Leadbitter, Ted||Rees, Merlyn|
|Evans, Ioan (Birmingham, Yardley)||Ledger, Ron||Reynolds, G. W.|
|Fernyhough, E.||Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick (Newton)||Rhodes, Geoffrey|
|Finch, Harold (Bedwellty)||Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)||Richard, Ivor|
|Fitch, Alan (Wigan)||Lever, Harold (Cheetham)||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Fletcher, Sir Eric (Islington, E.)||Lever, L. M. (Ardwick)||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)|
|Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Lewis, Arthur (West Ham, N.)||Robertson, John (Paisley)|
|Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Robinson, Rt. Hn. K. (St. Pancras, N.|
|Floud, Bernard||Lipton, Marcus||Rodgers, William (Stockton)|
|Foley, Maurice||Lomas, Kenneth||Rose, Paul B.|
|Foot, Sir Dingle (Ipswich)||Loughlin, Charles||Rowland, Christopher|
|Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)||Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson||Sheldon, Robert|
|Ford, Ben||McBride, Neil||Shinwell, Rt. Hn. E.|
|Freeson, Reginald||McCann, J.||Shore, Peter (Stepney)|
|Galpern, Sir Myer||MacColl, James||Short, Rt. Hn. E. (N'c'tle-on-Tyne, C.)|
|Garrett, W. E.||MacDermot, Niall||Short, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton, N. E.)|
|Garrow, A.||McGuire, Michael||Silkin, John (Deptford)|
|George, Lady Megan Lloyd||McInnes, James||Silkin, S. C. (Camberwell, Dulwich)|
|Ginsburg, David||McKay, Mrs. Margaret||Silverman, Julius (Aston)|
|Gourlay, Harry||Mackenzie, Gregor (Rutherglen)||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Mackie, John (Enfield, E.)||Skeffington, Arthur|
|Gregory, Arnold||McLeavy, Frank||Slater, Mrs. Harriet (Stoke, N.)|
|Grey, Charles||Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.)||Slater, Joseph (Sedgefield)|
|Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||Mahon, Simon (Bootle)||Small, William|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hn. James (Llanelly)||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)||Snow, Julian|
|Griffiths, Will (M'chester, Exchange)||Manuel, Archie||Soskice, Rt. Hn, Sir Frank|
|Gunter, Rt. Hn. R. J.||Mapp, Charles||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Hale, Leslie||Marsh, Richard||Steele, Thomas (Dunbartonshire, W.|
|Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Mason, Roy||Stonehouse, John|
|Hamilton, William (West Fife)||Mayhew, Christopher||Stones, William|
|Hamling, William (Woolwich, W.)||Mellish, Robert||Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R. (Vauxhall)|
|Hannan, William||Mendelson, J. J.||Stross, Sir Barnett (Stoke-on-Trent, C.)|
|Harper, Joseph||Mikardo, Ian||Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley|
|Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Millan, Bruce||Swain, Thomas|
|Hart, Mrs. Judith||Miller, Dr. M. S.||Swingler, Stephen|
|Hayman, F. H.||Milne, Edward (Blyth)||Symonds, J. B.|
|Hazell, Bert||Molloy, William||Taverne, Dick|
|Healey, Rt. Hn. Denis||Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)|
|Heffer, Eric S.||Morris, Charles (Openshaw)||Thomas, George (Cardiff, W.)|
|Henderson, Rt. Hn. Arthur||Morris, John (Aberavon)||Thomas, Iorwerth (Rhondda, W.)|
|Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret||Murray, Albert||Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)|
|Hobden, Dennis (Brighton, K'town.)||Neal, Harold||Thornton, Ernest|
|Holman, Percy||Newens, Stan||Tinn, James|
|Horner, John||Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)||Tomney, Frank|
|Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hn. Philip (Derby, S.)||Tuck, Raphael|
|Howarth, Harry (wellingborough)||Norwood, Christopher||Urwin, T. W.|
|Howarth, Robert L. (Bolton, E.)||Oakes, Gordon||Varley, Eric G.|
|Howell, Denis (Small Heath)||Ogden, Eric||Wainwright, Edwin|
|Howie, W.||O'Malley, Brian||Walden, Brian (All Saints)|
|Hoy, James||Oram, Albert E. (E. Ham, S.)||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Orbach, Maurice||Wallace, George|
|Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Orme, Stanley||Warbey, William|
|Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Owen, Will||Watkins, Tudor|
|Hunter, Adam (Dunfermline)||Padley, Walter||Weitzman, David|
|Hunter, A. E. (Feltham)||Page, Derek (King's Lynn)||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Paget, R. T.||White, Mrs. Eirene|
|Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||Palmer, Arthur||Whitlock, William|
|Jackson, Colin||Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles||Wigg, Rt. Hn. George|
|Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Park, Trevor (Derbyshire, S. E.)||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Jeger, George (Goole)||Parker, John||Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick|
|Jeger, Mrs. Lena (H'b'n & St. P'cras, S.)||Parkin, B. T.||Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)|
|Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Pavitt, Laurence||Williams, Clifford (Abertillery)|
|Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford)||Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd)||Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)|
|Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)||Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred||Williams, W. T. (Warrington)|
|Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Pentland, Norman||Willis, George (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn (W. Ham, S.)||Perry, Ernest G.||Wilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton)|
|Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)||Popplewell, Ernest||Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)|
|Jones, T. W. (Merioneth)||Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)||Winterbottom, R. E.|
|Kelley, Richard||Probert, Arthur||Wyatt, Woodrow|
|Kenyon, Clifford||Pursey, Cmdr. Harry||Yates, Victor (Ladywood)|
|Kerr, Mrs. Anne (R'ter & Chatham)||Randall, Harry||Zilliacus, K.|
|Kerr, Dr. David (W'worth, Central)||Rankin, John|
|Lawson, George||Redhead, Edward||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Mr. Sydney Irving and|
|Mr. George Rogers.|
§ Original Question again proposed.963
§ It being after Ten o'clock, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report Progress and ask leave to sit again.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again Tomorrow.