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Volume 720: debated on Tuesday 16 November 1965

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Leigh Park Tenants' Association


asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government why the letter written to him on 11th October, 1965 by the hon. Member for Portsmouth, Langstone, asking him to receive a delegation from the Leigh Park Tenants' Association, remains unanswered.

Does the Minister not consider that a period of three weeks is a rather long time to wait for a reply when a large number of my constituents have asked for an interview with him? Does he not consider it most inappropriate that the main answer to questions which I have put to him in a letter were con- veyed to a Parliamentary candidate in an adjoining constituency?

I think the hon. Member has put the second part of his supplementary question as a separate question, although I do not know. I do not think it was unreasonable to wait for three weeks since finally the city council decided to ask for an independent inquiry and asked me to appoint a district auditor to carry it out. To wait for three weeks seems not unreasonable.

Building Societies (Proposals For Restraining Lending)


asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government if he will now make a statement on his discussions with the building societies and representatives of the building industry about his proposals for restraining building society lending.

I would refer the right hon. Gentleman to the speech which I made on 11th November in the course of the debate on the Address.

Will the Minister answer the question he rather pointedly did not answer in that speech, as to whether or not—aye or no—the building societies have agreed with him to ration or restrict advances where not to do so would take the total of privately built houses above whatever figure the Government desire to fix?

The building societies, as I announced in the communiqué which I published, have now agreed and are working on a working party with me on the financial arrangements we are to make for the joint control of the programme. This is something we shall consult on together. It is true that there is great reluctance on the part of the builders and also, naturally, of the building societies to see any restriction on private building. We are now discussing in a working party the method by which the regulation of the private sector can be achieved without the kind of restriction which they would resent and also with the kind of balance and flexibility which is required.

Does not that answer to my supplementary question simply boil down to "No"?

No, it does not, and it would be very misleading to say so because the building societies and the builders are completely agreed with me on the need to work out a method of cooperation which will achieve a continuous expansion of the industry. It is not unreasonable in the economy, when other people put themselves targets and decide on the general advance which they would need to complete, that we should decide how much we want to do.

Order. I hope that Ministers will make their answers to supplementary questions shorter.

Rent Act, 1965 (Tenants' Rights)


asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government what action has been taken to inform tenants of their rights under the Rent Ac: 1965.

I have already drawn attention to the Act in a television broadcast, and it has also received wide publicity in the Press. Later this week there will be available a million free leaflets for distribution by local authorities and citizens advice bureaux, and half-a-million copies of a ninepenny booklet published by the Stationery Office. In due course, a team of mobile cinemas will publicise the opening of the new rent assessment machinery in the various registration areas.

I thank my right hon. Friend for the action he is taking. Is he considering bringing out a publication in a simple question and answer style because it is important that the information on rights in respect of the Act restored to tenants should be widely known? Will he consider sending this publication to local authorities, advice bureaux and tenants' associations?

The ninepenny booklet to which I referred is exactly a question and answer booklet for tenants and landlords.

Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that supplies of the ninepenny booklet are available for hon. Members for use in their advice bureaux?

Elderly People (Hearing Installations)


asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government whether he will introduce legislation to include heating and thermal installations in dwellings for elderly people as qualifying for standard grants by local authorities.

Legislation on improvement grants is under review, and the point will be borne in mind. Discretionary grants can already be given for this purpose for property owned by local authorities, housing associations or other responsible bodies.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for the hopeful tone of his reply. Would he agree that heating installations are absolutely essential in homes for the elderly and that it is wrong to exclude them from grants as of right which are given to other communities under the Housing Act?

Interest Rates


asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government what priority Her Majesty's Government now gives to the introduction of a policy of lower interest rates for housing.

I shall be announcing shortly details of a new subsidy scheme related to the interest rates housing authorities have to pay. During this Session we shall also make known our plans to broaden the basis of owner-occupation.

Would not the Minister agree that it is disgraceful, the Government having canvassed for votes at the last General Election on the basis of lower interest rates, that owner occupiers a year later are in fact paying higher interest rates?

No. I would not think that in a five-year programme the decision to postpone one important element in the programme and not have it so far is anything like a broken pledge. I repeat the Prime Minister's assurance that we shall announce our intentions and legislate as soon as possible.

Does that reference to the Prime Minister's assurance mean that it is the Government's intention to introduce the necessary legislation this Session?

No.I merely referred to the Prime Minister's statement that we should announce it in this Session and legislate as soon as possible.

Local Authority And Private Housing (Building Ratio)


asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government upon what criteria he based his decision to impose a 50:50 ratio between local authorities and private enterprise in the building of houses.

The criterion upon which I adjudged it necessary to achieve an annual output of 250,000 rented houses by 1970 was acute social need. There is no question of imposing a 50:50 ratio. The balance between building for letting and building for owner-occupation will be kept under regular review in the discussions in which representatives of the builders and building societies have agreed to join.

What right has the Minister to set himself up as a judge in these matters? Will he bear in mind that the great majority of the people do not want to remain council tenants all their lives? They want the sense of independence and security which home ownership brings and which is being actively discouraged by the Government at present.

I appreciate the demand for home ownership. However, it is not the right but the duty of a Minister of Housing to decide what amount of our housing resources should be allocated to houses to be let by councils. I have decided that a very modest requirement to make up for the backlog is 250,000 a year by 1970.

Does my right hon. Friend realise that the Government's policy is welcomed in the country generally, especially in large conurbations like Birmingham where there are 40,000 or more on the waiting list whose only hope is to have a house to rent from the council? Although we support the Government's efforts to increase the num- ber of houses for sale, we also welcome the Government's policy to make up the backlog.


asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government what were the total numbers of houses built in the United Kingdom between 1952 and 1964 inclusive, for private owners, and the public sector, respectively.

One million, seven hundred and seventy thousand for private owners and 2,260,000 for public authorities. I will, with permission, circulate in the OFFICIAL REPORT a table showing the figures for each year.

As these figures, on a quick mental calculation, work out at five council houses for every four private houses built during the 13 years of Tory rule, will the Minister explain why he is so dissatisfied with that ratio and how he intends to change it in the future?

Yes. My dissatisfaction is due to the fact that for the first seven years of Conservative Government public sector building exceeded private sector building. Since then, private sector building has overwhelmingly exceeded public sector building, and I need to redress the balance.

Would my right hon. Friend show in the table he intends to publish separate figures for Scotland as against the English position, because the Scottish trend has been quite different from the English trend?

I am afraid my hon. Friend must ask our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland to deal with the Scottish picture. I deal with the collective picture.

Following is the Table:



Public sector

Private Sector





asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government whether it is his intention to introduce legislation for cheaper mortgages for house purchasers this session.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in the debate on the Address on 9th November that the Government's plans will be made known during this Session and legislation will be introduced at the earliest possible date; but we have to get the country's accounts into balance first. I have nothing to add to his statement.

First, do I understand from what the right hon. Gentleman has said that it is only the money factor which is preventing the legislation from being introduced now? Secondly, would he end some of the uncertainty which is being created, by saying whether the legislation will apply to existing mortgages?

I have nothing to add. We are preparing our plans. We shall announce them. Meanwhile, I would only add that our immediate plans for rate rebates will benefit owner-occupiers as well as everybody else.

Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm whether the First Secretary was right when he said at Erith that the plans would be made available this year?

My right hon. Friend was obviously referring to this Parliamentary year.

Untenanted Houses


asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government if he is aware of the large number of houses which have been untenanted for long periods; and if he will make these more readily available to those in need of them either by speeding up the present compulsory purchase procedure or by seeking to permit rates to be levied on them.

If my hon. Friend has any evidence to suggest that this is a serious problem in particular areas I should be glad if he would send it to me. My right hon. Friend has recently taken measures to reduce the time spent by the Department in dealing with compulsory purchase orders, but interested parties must, of course, have the opportunity to put their views. The levying of rates on empty property is being considered by the Government as part of its examination of the rating system.

Is the Parliamentary Secretary aware how galling it is for people to see desperately needed houses being kept empty often for a long period? There were, for example, 498 in Salford alone on 31st March and, according to the Lord Mayor of Birmingham, £1 million worth of property in that city. Would my hon. Friend, therefore, give these two suggestions further consideration?

As I said to my hon. Friend, we are considering this. It is not a question of dismissing it, but in looking at the figures one must have some regard to the percentages because some degree of vacancy is necessary if we are to have some mobility in rented properties.

Will not the delay in the appointment of rent committees and rent officers add to these difficulties?

Old Houses (Improvement Grant)


asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government if he will make a statement on his review of old houses lacking baths, hot water and inside lavatories; what is his policy with regard to such houses; and if he will reduce the period of 15 years minimum existence a house must have before an improvement grant can be made.

My right hon. Friend's review is continuing. Its aim is to see what changes would best further his policy of making improvement play its full part in the renewal of our cities. I shall bear my hon. Friend's suggestion in mind.

Is my hon. Friend aware that that Answer will be very pleasing to many families, particularly as most landlords are dragging their feet? Will he also bear in mind that even 10 years is far too long a period in which to have to bring up a family in such houses without improvements and that most councils do not know which houses they will be demolishing 15 years hence?

The 15 years' minimum is certainly one of the things which we are looking at. It is a perfectly fair point to say that all these facilities must be put in some houses which may perhaps have a shorter life.

Private House Building (1965 And 1966)


asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government what details he has received about the number of private houses for sale likely to be started in Great Britain in 1965, and the number likely to be started in 1966.


asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government what information he has about the number of private houses for sale likely to be started in Great Britain in 1965, and the number likely to be started in 1966.

I expect private builders in Great Britain to start about 210,000 houses by the end of 1965 and about 230,000 to 240,000 in 1966, almost all of them for sale.

Is the Minister aware that that is not a very satisfactory answer? Does not he think that when there is a growing desire by people to own their own houses and a growing ability to be able to own them, it is most disturbing that his policy is working in the reverse direction?

I am not at all aware of it and I do not think that the hon. and gallant Gentleman will find that to be true. We are determined to increase the number of houses started and completed for owner-occupation and have a steady improvement throughout the next four-year period.

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the figures given for 1965 are about 10 per cent. below those for 1964? Does not that mean that we are going backwards?

There were 37,000 fewer starts this year than last year. According to the builders, and I accept their analysis, one difficulty was the problem of land. The other was the shortage of mortgage finance caused by difficulties which we had last spring—difficulties now overcome and with record investments now available.

Is not it the plain fact that in their period of office the last Government said that they were going to put first priority on slum clearance but that they cut public housing by 50 per cent.? Is not it a fact that the only way to give a clear priority to the clearing of the rotten parts of cities is by stepping up massively public sector housing in this way?

What steps is the Minister taking to make up for the backlog, to use his own phrase, resulting from houses lost this year?

We have already made up in terms of mortgage advances, and after consultation with the building societies and the builders I see no reason for difficulties on that side in pushing forward and increasing starts next year.

Industrialised Building


asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government what discussions he has had in order to ensure an increase in the number of dwellings built by industrialised methods.

My right hon. Friend's adviser on industrialised building and regional and headquarters officers of the Ministry and of the National Building Agency acting in concert with the Ministry have had many discussions with the main housebuilding local authorities, with groups of local authorities who are working in consortia and with the sponsors of building systems. The purpose is to help authorities to make good use of the productive capacity of industrialised building methods and my right hon. Friend will be sending a circular to authorities about this shortly.

Will the Parliamentary Secretary ask his right hon. Friend not to yield to the pressure coming from the brick makers at the moment to cut down industrialised building which is so vitally important to the housing drive? Will he add his weight to that of his right hon. Friend the Minister of Public Building and Works and resist this pressure, however justified the brick makers may be in thinking that they were misled by his right hon. Friend last year?

We are very enthusiastic about the use of industrialised building and we are doing all we can. Let me give some figures to the House. Let us have credit for something. In the first half of 1964 the amount of industrialised building done in this country for local authorises and new towns was 15·3 per cent. of building. I am happy and proud to say that in the first half of this year this has gone up to 25·5 per cent. and it is going up all the time.

Programmes Approved


asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government how many of the figures described as Programmes Approved have the approval neither of their councils nor of his Department; and how many of them include schemes whose phasing will stretch beyond 1968.

I assume the Question refers to Greater London. Each local authority's programme was officially submitted by the council. The submitted programmes were modified in the light of the Department's assessment of their feasibility. The revised programmes were then approved by me on behalf of my right hon. Friend, announced by me on 20th September, and confirmed officially in writing to each local authority.

The answer to the first part of the Question is therefore "None". The answer to the second part is that since programme approval is in terms of tenders to be let, all the programmes contain schemes whose construction period will run on beyond 1968.

Is not it true that some discussions are going on still between the London boroughs and the Ministry on this subject? If that is so, how can the Parliamentary Secretary describe this scheme as approved, particularly when tenders have not been let in any event?

The programmes have been approved in conjunction with the local authorities. They are minimum programmes and when they apply for loan sanctions they will be given those sanctions. What more can we do than give approval to programmes of this kind?

Population Density, Inner London


asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government whether it is his intention to issue a circular recommending higher density of population in Inner London.

No, Sir. Any development proposed at a density higher than in the development plan must continue to be looked at on its individual merits.

Will my hon. Friend resist any temptation or pressure to try to squeeze a quart into a pint pot, and will he, therefore, encourage the dispersal of population to the new towns outside London, as this would make the biggest possible contribution to solving the housing problem in London?

I do not know about putting a quart into a pint pot, but it is a fact that the local authority programmes in London, which we have announced, can be achieved within the broad policy of the county development plan. We look at each case on its merits.

Houses Under Construction (Increase)


asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government by how much the number of houses under construction increased between 30th September, 1963 and 30th September, 1964; and by how much it increased between 30th September, 1964 and 30th September, 1965.

The increases in Great Britain were about 56,000 and 24,000, respectively.

Do not those figures show that the rate of increase in the year 1963–64 was over twice as great as it has been in the 12 months just ended? How does the right hon. Gentleman reconcile the figures with Labour's promises about a great expansion in house building?

The hon. Gentleman has asked me for figures of. houses under construction. I am much more concerned with the figures of houses completed, and if I take these in the same period, the 12 months from 1st October, 1964, I find that we have 24,200 more houses completed than in the previous 12 months. I should have thought that that was quite a good result.