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Housing, Manchester (Immigrants)

Volume 642: debated on Thursday 22 June 1961

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[ Mr. Whitelaw.]

10.12 p.m.

Mr. Speaker, my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Moss Side (Mr. Watts), who was to have spoken to this Adjournment has, unfortunately, broken his ankle and is now in Guy's Hospital. He sends his apology to the House for his inability to be here, but he has written the speech which he would have liked to have made and has asked me to make his points for him. As all hon. Members will know, my hon. Friend weighs nearly 20 stones and could not possibly make a speech standing on one leg lest he lose the use of the other ankle. Therefore, with the indulgence of the House, I shall try on his behalf to speak on the subject of bad housing and immigration in Manchester.

In the first place, my hon. Friend says, and I think that we can all agree with him, that it cannot be right further to overcrowd already overcrowded slums. That is an obvious and humane consideration. It has nothing to do with colour; whether the extra overcrowding affects whites, browns, pinks or blacks, makes no difference. Further to overcrowd an already overcrowded slum area must be criminal folly, and it is against that background that my hon. Friend makes his appeal to the Minister.

In the second place, my hon. Friend points out that in England and Wales—excluding London, and the great cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh—about 450,000 houses are unfit for human habitation. To replace those slum dwellings will present the building industry with a great problem, and we should not forget that those slum houses are at present occupied by white English people. This extra burden on the building industry is in addition to that presented by the houses that have to be built to meet the natural increase in population. Today the Chancellor issued a serious warning at the Association of British Chambers of Commerce when he said that the nation was obviously living so far beyond its means that he would have to cut back non-productive capital expenditure. This is a very serious announcement, probably the most serious we have had since my right hon. and learned Friend became Chancellor, and he mentioned that he would probably have to look again even at the schools and hospitals schemes.

It seems obvious that the amount of capital and building materials available for the replacement of slums is going to be cut. From that, it is fair to say that to create still further slums—whether created by people with black, brown, white or pink skins—is stupid folly.

The third point my hon. Friend asks me to make are figures of houses that are unfit for human habitation, for example, 88,000 in Liverpool, 62,000 in Manchester and 57,000 in Birmingham. These are the great centres, London apart, to which the immigrants seem to be attracted. I wish to point out, on my hon. Friend's behalf, that if the immigrants were attracted to areas like Scotland or Southern Ireland, where there is plenty of room for them to live, the housing problem would not be so great and urgent.

The fourth point my hon. Friend asks me to make is that most immigrants come to the United Kingdom because they are poor and are looking for a better way of life with higher standards. It is because they are poor that they are driven, to begin with, at any rate, to the lowest rented districts, the slum areas. They cannot help that because it is all they can afford. It is in just these areas that are already overcrowded that the sanitation is usually lower than in other parts of the country. To send people to these overcrowded areas—normally containing old houses where the sanitation is not the best—seems to me to be an almost criminal act.

The fifth point my hon. Friend wishes me to bring to the attention of the House is the very fact that overcrowding—and I think my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will appreciate this—increases the danger of things like dysentery and tuberculosis—T.B. especially, because people who come from hot climates to this cold and clammy climate have been found to be subject to T.B. and that danger is increased because of the already high incidence of overcrowding.

My hon. Friend therefore urges me to try to argue that no more immigrants should be allowed into this country unless we have proper accommodation and proper sanitation for them, especially in view of the danger to health.

Is his hon. Friend basing the whole of the subject of the housing position in Manchester on the question of immigration and immigrants?

If the hon. Gentleman had listened to what I was saying in an unprejudiced manner, he would have heard me clearly say that whatever the colour of one's skin, whether it be white, green, black, pink or brown, to put more people into already overcrowded slums is criminal folly. If hon. Gentlemen opposite are going to deny that, I do not know what they will accept.

I hope I shall not be interrupted further at this point because I am trying to make another hon. Member's speech, and that is difficult enough, and my hon. Friend asks me to ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether some pressure could be exercised through the Cabinet so that during the next two years there should be no more immigration into this country, irrespective of colour, until the housing and health problems have been solved. I wonder whether, in this connection, the Parliamentary Secretary has any figures concerning tuberculosis and other diseases in these overcrowded places and how they are affecting immigrants.

The sixth point my hon. Friend asks me to make is that experience shows that immigrants tend to club together when they come here and with their club money they buy old properties. Often they buy houses at excessive prices, but any place is better than no place. What is important, however, is that the old, poor white people who often have lived in the district for generations are, for one reason or another, driven out. I have received hundreds of letters to support what my hon. Friend asks me to say about that. Among the poor, old white people in these districts where immigrants have settled a feeling of injustice is growing. They say, "This is our country, not theirs. Why should we be driven out of our own district where we and our family have lived for generations?".

The hon. Member is speaking about a city about which he does not know a thing.

I am doing my best to make a speech for my hon. Friend who is in hospital.

There is a good deal of resentment engendered in the areas to which I refer, because white people are driven from what have been their old homes and districts.

My hon. Friend makes this plea to the House. Because of the housing and health problems, he would like there to be for the time being no more immigrants of any kind unless five conditions are fulfilled: that there is an adequate house available, that there is a good health certificate—the two go together and a bad standard in one can aggravate the problem in the other; that there is no criminal record; that an immigrant has a job guaranteed; and that there is money deposited for the return fare if an immigrant proves unsuitable.

My hon. Friend asks me to pay a special tribute—I hope this will please hon. Members opposite—to the excellent work done by coloured Commonwealth people especially in hospitals, on the buses, on the railways and on the roads. He suggests to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary that there should be no retrospective action of any kind. He asks that there should be a great housing drive on a national scale. From Accrington to the Potteries, from Liverpool to Leeds, and in the vast Birmingham area, he says, the task is so great that it is beyond the capacity of the local housing authority. He suggests that there ought to be a national policy with national drive behind it because the money and the vast quantities of building materials required could not be found by the local or regional authorities. How far is such a thing possible?

In support of my hon. Friend's plea, I make this point. Housing and immigration are linked; the problem in the one aggravates the problem in the other. That cannot be denied. Two days ago, the Home Secretary, in reply to a Question from my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. N. Pannell), gave certain comparative figures. In the first five months of last year, the number of immigrants from the West Indies was 14,800. For the same period this year, the number was 26,000. Again, for the same period last year, the number of immigrants from India was 2,000. This year, it was 6,700. In all, taking other countries also, there was an intake of 17,000 in the first five months of last year. The comparative figure this year was 40,000. This is aggravating an already difficult situation in Manchester, Birmingham and London. That is undeniable. In the Smethwick Telephone of Friday, 16th June—I ask hon. Members opposite to note this; it is typical of what is happening all over the country—there was the report that
"The wife of an Indian landlord last night denied that there are 34 people living in her husband's ten-roomed house in South Road, Smethwick".
Thirty-four people—what a number for a house of that size! The woman said that she thought the correct figure was only 24, and then she said this—a most extraordinary comment—
"I do not think this is too many for a house of this size."
—ten rooms and 34 people.

I am not bothered with that. I am trying to deal with the housing problem. An Englishman, a disabled veteran from the Korean War, was paying 50s. a week rent to the Indian owner for one room.

I should like my hon. Friend to do two things. First, will he push forward as hard as he can with slum clearance and get all the financial assistance and material he possibly can from the central Government in order to help the local authorities in their problem? Secondly, will he put to his right hon. Friend the need to restrain this extra pressure on the slum areas and thereby help at least those people who are already there?

10.25 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government
(Sir Keith Joseph)

I am sure that the whole House sends its best wishes to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Moss Side (Mr. Watts), who feels passionately about housing conditions and desperately desires to improve the housing conditions of people who live in slums. My hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Sir C. Osborne) has done him a service in making a speech on his behalf, and I sympathise with his difficulties.

As my hon. Friend has made plain, the heart of this matter is the provision of more houses. I shall have a few words to say about immigration in relation to housing in Manchester at the end of my reply, but I wish principally to address myself to the problem of increasing the number of houses in this country and the rate of slum clearance, particularly in Manchester. The Government and the local authorities, especially in the big cities, still have a very big housing problem to tackle. There are still many houses which are either downright slums, or are inconvenient, unsuitable, out of date, badly managed, or over-crowded, or a combination of these things.

The Government have set slum clearance as their top housing priority for some years, and they continue to do so. Of course, bad housing is an evil in itself and, as my hon. Friend indicated, it is a source of many other evils as well. The worst housing problem still remains in some of the big cities. In Manchester, in particular, the problem is made more difficult by a shortage of some degree of available sites. Even with high building, about which Manchester is thinking more and more, and even with the redevelopment of slum sites, there will be a need for substantial overspill—an overspill not only for publicly-provided housing, but for private enterprise housing. Manchester has made and is making further arrangements for the overspill of its local authority housing under a number of town development schemes, which are co-ordinated, encouraged and helped by my right hon. Friend.

In fairness to the Manchester authorities, will the Parliamentary Secretary point out for the sake of the record that they have been trying for many years to get the Government to move on the question of getting sites outside Manchester?

I am coming to that.

In this matter of overspill sites, there is full co-operation between my right hon. Friend and his right hon. Friends, such as the President of the Board of Trade, who is concerned with the provision of work, and those concerned with transport, agriculture, labour and the other necessary services.

Since the war, Manchester has provided over 24,000 local authority houses inside and outside its boundaries and nearly 5,000 private enterprise dwellings have been built inside the city and thousands more outside the city for Manchester people. Since 1951, the population of Manchester has fallen by 42,000, but because of the smaller size of households today, despite that fall in population, there are only 3,000 fewer households than in 1951; yet this lower population has, inside the city boundaries, 6,000 more dwellings. Thus, the rate of occupancy inside Manchester's city boundaries has fallen since 1951 from 3·5 to 3·2 per dwelling. Not for one moment do I wish to suggest that this does much to diminish the real problem in Manchester of slums and overcrowding, but it is a trend in the right direction.

During the last five years, Manchester has cleared 7,750 slum houses, a figure higher than for any other county borough. Everyone will, however, agree that over the last few years, the pace in Manchester of clearing slum houses has flagged. The task ahead in Manchester is formidable. There are 60,000 slums still to clear. In addition, there is a very large number of old houses, many of which are overcrowded. Manchester has far too few dwellings suitable for the elderly.

The House will, however, be glad to hear the news which I have to announce tonight. My right hon. Friend has recently been in close touch with the Manchester City Council and only a short time ago had a full and useful exchange of views with the council's representatives on problems connected with the city's slum clearance and overspill housing. I am glad to be able to tell the House that the council has decided to raise the rate of slum clearance substantially over the next two to three years. The aim is to achieve 4,000 slum clearances a year and, having got to this level, to maintain it, with, of course, a corresponding increase in new building, until the back of Manchester's slum problem is broken. The council proposes to give slum clearance an absolute priority, but, of course, it will have the benefit of relets of its existing stock of houses to try to keep pace with other needs.

As I have said, Manchester has a formidable task. To raise the pace of slum clearance to that level and to keep it at that level involves a complex programme and keeping that complex programme moving. Houses have to be represented as unfit, the occupants have to be rehoused, the sites have to be cleared and the rebuilding and redevelopment has to take place. All this has to be phased in which the multitude of other services that go with redevelopment. As, I am sure, the House will agree, there can be no more exciting and satisfying work than the redevelopment of an ancient and historic city like Manchester. If suitable publicity is given, I am sure that the council will be able to attract the vital staff and building resources; but it will need a great effort. With the sites likely to be at its disposal, inside the city and out, Manchester will have enough land to build at this greatly increased rate for several years ahead.

My right hon. Friend agrees, however, that, in view of the difficulties of finding suitable sites and the time required to bring schemes to the point of providing houses, it is not too early now to be thinking of the additional sites that the city will be needing after that. That is why my right hon. Friend has set in train a review of the total housing needs of the Manchester conurbation, so that adequate arrangements for overspill can be made in good time.

It goes without saying that my right hon. Friend welcomes warmly Manchester's resolve. The Government and my right hon. Friend are firmly behind the council. The Government have already pledged themselves that local authorities with housing needs shall not find their programmes interrupted for lack of land.

I must briefly remind the House of some of the other things which the Government have done or are doing to help. As the House will realise, the new Housing Bill provides that a subsidy shall be available for all new houses shown to be needed by local authorities and on a scale according to financial need. The subsidy for overspill housing will go up once the Bill becomes law. The patching grant remains for places where the sheer size of the problem does not permit all the houses to come down for a considerable time.

The Government have put great stress on the improvement and conversion grants that are available from the taxpayer and the Housing Bill makes some improvement in that direction. More particularly, as my hon. Friend the Member for Louth will recognise, Part II of the Housing Bill gives local authorities much-needed new and strong powers to enable them to stop the overcrowding and the bad management which make domestic life such a misery for so many of the families in our overcrowded cities.

These new powers, sanctioned by considerable penalties and with default powers for the local authorities in reserve, will enable local authorities to put an end to bad management, to require increased amenities in suitable cases, to match the number of households in a dwelling and to limit the number of occupants in any dwelling so as to stop overcrowding in its tracks and prevent it growing in the future.

Therefore, the picture at the moment is one of increased Government aid and of increased local authority powers, and between these two local authorities will be better armed than they have been before. At the same time, it is right to remind the House that in some parts of the country slum clearance is approaching its fulfilment, so that it should be possible for some of the vital key staff to transfer themselves to the areas where slum clearance still remains a tragic and vital problem. The census already shows us that the number of dwellings has grown far larger than has the number of households in the country, though, of course, the gap still remains, particularly in the large cities, a very serious one indeed.

Against this background, it is really disproportionate, as well, I suggest, as undesirable, to single out as a single issue any particular housing difficulties arising from immigration. In Manchester itself the immigrants about whom my hon. Friend was speaking total, I believe—it is an approximate figure—1½ per cent. of the population.

I am informed that it is about 11,000. I hope that my hon. Friend will not hold me to a precise figure. There are no statistics that control these things.

The wisest course, it seems to my right hon. Friend, is to regard this as a small part of the much larger housing problem, and especially so in Manchester, where the housing problem is, in any case, particularly severe. Authorities which, like Manchester, do not give any special or preferential treatment to immigrants should be able to avoid causing ill-feeling. Once again, this seems to be the case particularly in Manchester, where, I understand, the relations between the immigrants and the population are good. [Interruption.] I hope that no one will criticise my hon. Friend the Member for Moss Side for raising this matter. In constant speeches in the House since he has been a Member he has shown a genuine interest in improving housing conditions.

The important thing is to make a broad frontal attack on bad housing throughout the city with the predominant emphasis on slum clearance and keeping up the rate of building so that the people of Manchester can have decent houses to live in. The new drive of the council holds out the prospect of clearing 30,000 to 40,000 of Manchester's slums within the next ten years or so, and I think that this is good news for all concerned with housing conditions in Manchester and in the country as a whole.

10.38 p.m.

To solve the housing problem we need resolute administration and, in the view of many of us, drastic measures affecting local government finance and the use and price of land. We have to apply ourselves to those tasks if we are to get the job done. It is mischievous and dangerous to hold out before the people the illusion that they can make a serious contribution to the solution of the housing problem by restricting Commonwealth immigration. Not only is it undesirable in itself, but it tends to turn attention away from the real nature of the housing problem.

To restrict Commonwealth immigration would be a very grave measure, fraught with the most serious consequences to the Commonwealth and to mankind. It would be deplorable if a renowned country like our own were to be panicked into such a measure because we had not the wit or the will to apply ourselves to a solution of our problems. We saw, not many years ago, the great German people dragged into the sordid illusion of trying to blame the Jewish people because the Germans would not apply themselves to a solution of their own economic problems. I trust that we shall not repeat that error in this country.

10.40 p.m.

While I agree with very much of what the Parliamentary Secretary has said, I strongly object to the fact that under the new Housing Bill Manchester's rate of subsidy is to go down from £22 a year to £8 a year, in view of the very conditions of which the hon. Gentleman has been speaking. That is surely wrong and will not help to cure the housing problem of Manchester.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at nineteen minutes to Eleven o'clock.