House Of Commons
Tuesday, 21st December, 1965
The House met at half-past Two o'clock
[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]
Oral Answers To Questions
Derelict Land (Colliery Spoil Heaps)
asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government what plans he now has for dealing with derelict land and, in particular, colliery spoil heaps.
I am anxious to see much quicker progress on this and I hope to be able to make grant available to local authorities for this purpose in the context of the present review of local government finance.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Will he bear in mind that the existence of the spoil heaps in the coalfields is due to the exploitation of one of our greatest national assets and that it is strongly felt by the local authorities concerned that the removal or landscaping of the spoil heaps ought now to be accepted as a national charge?
Yes, I am aware of that. In our survey we discovered that no less than 51,000 acres are suitable for treatment and I hope that I shall be able to give a specific grant, but I am afraid that my hon. Friend must wait for the announcement of that until we come to the second Rating Bill.
Sub-Standard Property, Wellington
asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government if he has decided to give loan sanction to Wellington Urban District Council in order that it may bring up to date its sub-standard property in Regent Street and Urban Gardens, Wellington.
The council asked my right hon. Friend on 2nd December to approve a scheme in principle.It may be necessary to consult it on one or two aspects but he hopes to write soon to say that a formal application for loan sanction will be approved.
I take this opportunity to say that that news will be received by these people as one of the best bits of news which they have heard this Christmas time.
asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government whether he is aware of the severe rise in rates likely to arise next year in counties with an expanding population; and whether the remedies that he proposes will be in time to take effect in 1966–67.
I cannot forecast next year's rates. Although there will be no changes in the grant system until the following year, there will be relief in 1966–67 for ratepayers with small incomes.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that all ratepayers in counties with an expanding population are going to suffer very severely in the coming year, as year by year they have to pay more of the rateborne expenditure and less and less falls on the Exchequer?
That would not be strictly true. I am not going to underrate the burden of rates—I have often repeated that it is very heavy—but the assistance we can give to the general ratepayer will come in our second Bill. Our first Bill was only an interim relief for the 2 million worst-off families.
Although the right hon. Gentleman says that he cannot forecast next year's rates, did he not forecast an average increase in rates throughout the country of 10 per cent. next year when he spoke at Plymouth on 20th November?
I said at Plymouth, and I think it was a reasonable thing, that I thought that 10 per cent. was the kind of increase likely. It might be more in some areas and less in others. I cannot make a very precise prediction on that.
Local Authorities (Rateable Values)
asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government what proposals he has to give financial assistance to local authorities similar to those in West Durham where there has been a decline in rateable value because of the run down in the mining industry.
Where, as is the case in West Durham, the local authorities get rate-deficiency grant, it automatically compensates for a loss of rateable value.
Is my hon. Friend aware that in this area additional burdens are now being placed upon local authorities because of the tremendous scars left by the mining industry, which has declined so rapidly? Will he continue to look at this question so that local authorities, which are already doing all that they can to rehabilitate the area, may have extra help?
As my hon. Friend knows, I visited the area during the Recess and was very much seized of its problems. We will certainly keep them in mind.
Woolwich Arsenal Site (Redevelopment)
asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government what discussions his Department has had with the Greater London Council and the borough of Greenwich on the redevelopment of the Woolwich Arsenal site.
Both authorities are represented on a liaison group with officers of the Government Departments concerned and of the public transport undertakings. This group meets from time to time to review progress and to consult on major problems.
Industrial Plants, Birmingham (Noxious Fumes)
asked the Minister of Housing and Local Govern- ment what steps he will take to protect the people of Cranemore Street and other adjacent streets in Nechells, Birmingham, from the emission of noxious fumes and gases by nearby industrial plants.
The industrial plants in the area are under the regular supervision of either the Alkali Inspectorate or the public health inspectors of the Birmingham City Council. At the sulphuric acid works, alterations now being carried out should improve the quality of the chimney gases and methods of improving their dispersal are under consideration.
Is the Minister aware that so far there have been no substantial improvements and that the emission of gas results in the aggravation of bronchial complaints suffered by people in the area? Is he further aware that there is a nasty smell in the neighbourhood, that vegetation dies because of the emission of these fumes and that local authorities are completely dissatisfied with what is being done? I hope that the Alkali Inspectorate will look at the situation again.
It is true that any industrial area with heavy chemical industries suffers from these problems, which create a nuisance to residents in the area. The firm has made various experiments to try to improve the position and my right hon. Friend will keep an eye on the situation.
Noxious Fumes (Emission)
asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government if he will now introduce legislation to amend and strengthen the Alkali Act, in order to protect the health of people menaced by the emission of noxious fumes and gases.
No, Sir. I have no reason to believe that the levels of emission permitted from processes registered under the Alkali Act are dangerous to health.
Does the Minister realise that that is contrary to the experience of people, not only in this area but in many other areas? Will he consider whether the power to deal with industrial emissions could be dealt with by local authorities, perhaps by an extension of the Clean Air Act, 1956?
I will consider that, but I must say that I have doubts, because these fumes, although extremely unpleasant, according to a special inquiry which I have had made, show no evidence of danger to health. This is similar to sea pollution where unpleasantness and violation of amenity is not necessarily bad for health.
New Local Tax
asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government upon what basis his new local tax will be assessed.
I would refer the hon. Member to my reply to her Question on 14th December.
In that reply, the right hon. Gentleman said that the future structure of the local tax would depend on the future structure of local government. When will he bring forward his proposals for that?
I have nothing more to add. We want a thorough investigation into the tax and local government question. All that I said was that the two hang together. In my view, we are unlikely to get a new tax without a radical reform of local government.
Will the Minister's Answer apply to the new proposals for the Tyneside area in view of the fact that the whole place is being blown up and that there will be nothing left of anything?
Great as I believe the effects of boundary reorganisation to be, I do not think that a fair description of what will happen is to call it a total explosion if the Tyneside accepts the proposals which I have tentatively put forward.
I hope that it will not.
There is still some time before what the hon. Lady describes as an explosion will happen. I have made it clear that what we are doing under the existing Boundary Commission must go on.
Does not the Minister's earlier reply mean that, like the Prime Minister, he has not the faintest idea of any alternative tax to rates?
In replying seriously to the right hon. Gentleman, what it means is this. We should face the fact that if we continue, as we must do, to try to make the rates less regressive and remain content with rates as a tax, more and more of the cost will have to be moved to the central Government, and that means a decline in local democracy.
asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government whether his proposals for a new local tax to replace rating will extend to water rates.
I would refer the hon. Member to my reply to the Question by the hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) on 14th December.
Will the relief for ratepayers with small fixed incomes apply to the increase in water rates particularly caused by the last Budget which will fall very heavily on those least able to bear it?
I will not enter into a semantic debate with the hon. Gentleman, but, in my view, water rates are not technically rates but a charge for a commodity.
Rating System (Comprehensive Review)
asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government on what date he will announce his proposals for a comprehensive review of the rating system; and from what dates these proposals will take effect.
The Rating Bill embodies the first instalment of the Government's proposals. I expect to announce the remainder early next year.
As it seems so easy for the Minister to make a general criticism of the rating system without giving detailed proposals, may I ask him to assure the House that it is his intention to bring these detailed proposals to the House before the next General Election?
We shall bring them before the House. I hope that the Bill will be before the House in the spring. We are now having discussions with the treasurers before finalising our proposals on the reorganisation of the grant system.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that his sentiments against such regressive taxes as rates have been widely welcomed in the country and by people of all persuasions?
Has the Minister given serious consideration to proposals for a system based upon rating and taxation of site values? Further, will he at least consider a survey in an industrial area similar to the one which took place at Whitstable?
We are certainly willing to consider the possibility, although I doubt whether another survey would be valuable. The hon. Member should study the proposals for the Land Commission and, perhaps, the Committee stage of the Bill before he makes up his mind whether site value taxation has been replaced by betterment tax as a desirable method.
Oxford Development Plan
asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government when he will announce his decision on the Oxford development plan.
I am still not in a position to announce a decision, but it should not be much longer.
Is the Minister aware of the impatience and indignation which are universally felt in Oxford at the interminable delay in his decision? Can he give any good reason for the delay? In particular, can he say whether he is having second thoughts about a road across Christchurch Meadow?
I have had no sign of the feelings that the hon. Member describes in Oxford. Oxford quite rightly is frustrated by over 10 years of delay in the decisions about its development plan. This is an extremely difficult decision and I make no apology whatever for delaying it to try to get the best possible solution for Oxford City.
asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government if he will use his powers under the National Parks Act to expedite the preparation of maps and statements relating to the footpath survey.
My right hon. Friend is ready to consider using his power of direction if it is in fact likely to secure faster progress. This may not be the case where a large number of rights of way are in dispute.
In welcoming that reply, may I ask my hon. Friend to follow up his inquiries to see whether something cannot be done, particularly in the case of those counties which show no interest in getting on with the job and which are over 10 years behindhand?
My right hon. Friend is aware of the delays and is actively considering the best way of speeding things up.
asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government if he will appoint staff that could be seconded to assist county councils in completing their footpath surveys.
This is the county councils' responsibility, and my right hon. Friend thinks the work is best done by their own staffs.
Is not my hon. Friend aware that in some instances counties make the excuse that they do not have staff to carry out this work? In that case, cannot something be done to help them?
I appreciate that. On the other hand, this is essentially work in which local knowledge is important, because it depends upon the assessment of footpaths which are very much a local matter. It is, therefore, difficult to see how help from the centre would speed things up.
Swynnerton Site (Development)
asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government whether, to avoid further delays in the use of the abandoned Royal Ordnance factory site at Swynnerton, he will now permit its limited development for industry and for afforestation, without major prejudice to wider schemes which may or may not develop over the next decade.
I can well understand the impatience of the right hon. Gentleman, but I am still waiting for the views of the West Midlands Regional Economic Planning Council and local authorities concerned. When they are received, it will be possible to decide whether there should be any big new expansion project in North Staffordshire, and, if so, whether the Swynnerton site should play a part in it.
Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that in view of the unlikelihood of anything decisive emerging from these three local authorities—if one includes the City of Stoke-on-Trent—which are at daggers drawn on this issue, it would be better in the national interest to declare that we should go ahead with a modest scheme?
No, I do not think that would be right. I would much rather wait not so much for the local authorities as for the West Midland Regional Council, which can give a much more independent view. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that when that happens, my feeling also is that we much decide about the site, which is looking loathsome and neglected after years of Government delay.
House Building (Statistics)
asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government in which years since 1959 the total number of houses completed was greater than the number of those under construction in the public sector; and whether he will give similar comparative figures for the private sector.
Since 1959, the number of dwellings under construction at the end of the year in Great Britain in the public sector has always exceeded the number completed in the year. In the private sector completions in the year have always exceeded the number under construction at the end of the year. With permission, I will circulate the figures in the OFFICIAL REPORT.
Does not this prove that private enterprise houses are built quicker than public enterprise houses? Will not the Minister admit that his policy of restricting private enterprise housing is not helping to solve the housing short- age? Will not he adopt a different approach?
The hon. Member is talking a lot of nonsense, because 91 per cent. of all public authority building is built by private enterprise. One has, therefore, to ask why, when working for public authorities, private enterprise does not work as fast as when it works for itself.
Since it is clear that for one reason or another builders are taking longer on local authority contracts than they take on private building, will the hon. Gentleman ask local authorities to include a penalty clause in all their contracts and to enforce it rigidly?
I should not like to commit my right hon. Friend to that one. I was trying to answer the rather stupid point made by the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain).
Is not the Minister aware that on any building site different decisions have to be taken almost every hour of the day and that to have to refer to somebody else for a decision is bound to take longer than making the decision oneself?
That is not my experience—and I have had quite a lot of experience—of public authority building which private enterprise has built.
Following are the figures:
Under construction at end of year
Under construction at end of year
NOTE: The figures are for all dwellings i.e. flats as well as houses. A much larger proportion of flats are built in the public sector than in the private sector.
Roads (Dumping Of Rubbish)
asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government what progress has been made by local authorities towards agreement on a scheme to prevent roadside dumping of large articles such as baths, motor cars, cisterns and furniture; and if he will make a statement.
Many councils have acted on the advice given them in Circular No. 8/65 about derelict motor cars, or are considering how best to do so. As regards other bulky articles, my right hon. Friend will get into touch with local authorities again when he has the report of the Working Party on Refuse Collection. This report is now expected to reach him in the spring.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that this nuisance is increasing almost daily in the south of England and will not be ended until all local authorites arrange to collect these articles from householders? Will he ask his right hon. Friend to use all his influence to see that this is done as soon as possible?
The response of local authorities to the circular has been encouraging and my right hon. Friend feels that it is desirable to wait for final advice from the working party before taking final steps.
Is the Minister aware that many of my constituents are horrified at the prospect of people dumping baths on the highway? Is he aware that there are many villages which want to have running water installed, so that baths can therefore become of greater use? Will he see not only that baths are not dumped on highways, but that electricity, water and drainage are provided so that all the baths can be used?
This is a matter which was relevant to our discussions on the Rural Water Supplies and Sewerage Bill, which the House has already passed.
Will my right hon. Friend get in touch with the Northern Ireland Government and find what rigid set of controls they have to make certain that there is no dumping on roadways in Northern Ireland——
Very much better over there.
—or is the poverty over there such that they have nothing to dump?
Cattle Market, Braintree
asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government whether he will now approve the purchase of the cattle market in Braintree by the Braintree and Bocking Urban District Council.
Will the Minister reconsider this? Here is an opportunity that will be lost for ever unless loan sanction is granted.
I do not think that the opportunity will be lost for ever, because the local authority can get powers to acquire later if necessary. I agree that the scheme is a good one, but a necessary part of the cutting down of capital commitments is that some degree of priority should be exerted.
In view of the unsatisfactory nature of that reply, I give notice that I will raise the matter on the Adjournment at the earliest possible opportunity.
Howards Road, Birkenhead
asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government if he will cause an inquiry to be held under Section 279 of the Highways Act, 1959, and for the purposes of his functions under that Act, into the reasons why no highway has yet been constructed or effectively made up along the line of Howards Road, Thingwall, Birkenhead.
No, Sir. The hon. and learned Member has sent my right hon. Friend copies of correspondence from which it appears that there is a dispute about the liability for making up this road. My right hon. Friend is investigating the facts of the matter and will get in touch with him when these investigations are complete.
I am grateful to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary for that reply, but may I ask whether he is aware that the dispute has been going on for many months now and that new and old residents in the road are very anxious to know when something will finally be decided about it? Will he hold his hon. Friend's formidable powers in reserve and be ready to hold an inquiry if it should be necessary to resolve this deadlock?
I do not think that an inquiry would help necessarily, but I quite agree with the hon. and learned Member for Bebington (Mr. Howe) that these problems are very difficult ones to solve in a way which satisfies everyone.
Birkenhead (New Streets)
asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government if he will now require the Birkenhead County Borough Council, under Section 157 of the Highways Act, 1959, to make bye-laws regulating the construction of new streets in their area that will ensure the proper construction by a building contractor of a new street in front of any houses built by such contractor.
No, Sir. The Birkenhead Council already has in force a set of byelaws regulating the construction of new streets.
New Towns Commission, Crawley (Chairman)
asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government whether, in view of the concern over the circumstances of General Sir Neville Brown-john's resignation as Chairman of the New Towns Commission for Crawley, he will publish the correspondence between himself and General Brownjohn.
No. But General Brownjohn can of course do so if he wishes.
Does the Minister realise that by his refusal to publish the correspondence between himself and General Sir Neville Brownjohn, although I am sure that the General will be very grateful to hear what the right hon. Gentleman has to say, he has cast a slur upon the reputation of a very distinguished officer and public servant? Does he appreciate that an appointment as Chairman of the New Towns Commission has never been considered previously as a party political appointment, and does he not realise that his new appointment smacks of political jobbery of the worst and most odious kind?
It seems to me that the slur is going to be cast on the Minister, and not on the General. Of course there is no slur on the General by not publishing the correspondence between him and me. I said that he could publish if he wished. As for the members of the Commission, it seems to me that those should be appointed who have the confidence of the local council irrespective of the party to which they belong, and that was the principle on which I decided.
In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the Ministers' reply, I shall seek an early opportunity to raise the matter on the Adjournment.
asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government whether he intends to confirm the order submitted by the National Parks Commission to designate the Chilterns as an area of outstanding natural beauty; and why his decision has been delayed.
I had to consider suggestions that certain parts of the area were not up to the normal A.O.N.B. standard and should therefore be excluded. But having regard to the high quality of the area, taken as a whole, I have now decided to confirm the order without modification for the whole Chilterns area.
In regard 10 the matter of delay, does the Minister realise that in this case the end excuses all? His decision will be welcomed by all who value the beauty of the Chiltern Hills. We shall be happy to welcome the Minister to the stewardship of the local hundreds. [Laughter.]
Order. I think that we were all waiting for that.
House Purchasers (Protection)
asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government if he will introduce legislation to regulate the contractual terms imposed by builders upon private buyers of new dwelling-houses or houses to be erected.
Purchasers of new houses from builders registered with the National House-Builders' Registration Council are protected against the most onerous conditions and are given remedies against bad workmanship. My right hon. Friend would prefer first to see how far this form of protection can be developed; he is using his best endeavours to encourage it.
I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Has the Ministry received any representations about this matter from the Consumer Council?
The Consumer Council knows of our activities in this connection and there have been consultations between it and the House-Builders' Registration Council. My right hon. Friend is most anxious to try to get the voluntary system going and we are doing everything we can to achieve that.
Would not the hon. Gentleman go a little further than that and introduce legislation to provide a warranty in these contracts, in the same way as a warranty is provided in the Sale of Goods Act?
If we were to introduce legislation, the question of compulsory registration would arise. All I can say now is that my right hon. Friend will make a statement on the matter as soon as these discussions are completed.
asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government what steps he proposes to take to ease the difficulties facing housing associations and to encourage local authorities to help them in any campaign for the repair, improvement and conversion of old houses with many years' life ahead of them.
Local authorities have wide powers to help housing associations with loans and grants for the improvement and conversion of existing houses. This is a field in which there is great scope for housing associations, particularly in the big cities, and many authorities welcome their efforts.I am doing all I can to encourage them to help.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that sympathetic reply. Know- ing his general interest in this matter, may I ask him whether it is intended in the not-too-distant future to issue a circular of advice to local authorities? Will he bear in mind that while some are sympathtic, many are unsympathetic and that serious financial problems face housing associations which require a good deal of work?
Yes, I am aware of the great difference between far-sighted local authorities who see the invaluable help which housing associations can give and the reactionary few who do not. However, the loans by local authorities have doubled since 1963 to a rate of £4 million a year, although that could be greatly increased.
Will the right hon. Gentleman also consider the possibility of relaxing some of the fiscal and legal restrictions which inhibit the growth of housing associations?
Yes, I am considering this and I have already had talks with a number of them and we are considering what action we can take to help them.
Council Houses (Rent Increases)
asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government if he will take steps to revise the procedure under which council rent increases must be accompanied by a notice to quit and a renewed offer of tenancy.
My right hon. Friend proposes to refer this matter to the Law Commission with a request that it should take it into consideration in its current examination of the law of landlord and tenant.
May I thank my hon. Friend for that Answer and say that I hope that the proposals which come from the Law Commission will avoid the uncertainty and distress caused by this procedure? May I further ask the Minister to apply his fertile mind to putting forward some suggestion to the Royal Commission to deal with this?
Since my hon. Friend used the phrase "fertile mind", I assume that he was referring to my right hon. Friend. My right hon. Friend will no doubt give any information and help to the Law Commission for which it asks.
Is the Parliamentary Secretary aware of the needless and additional shock that this causes to many tenants? Is he further aware that in 1961 the then Housing Minister looked at this and agreed that it was a bad regulation and said that he was going to alter it but he did nothing?
My right hon. Friend is very much aware of this problem and that is why he wants to refer it at an early stage to the Law Commission. He feels that it is a matter which should be looked at in the context of the general law of landlord and tenant.
asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government what proposals there are for providing new houses in the London borough of Wandsworth by redevelopment of existing residential areas; and how many houses he expects can be provided by these means in the next four years.
Under the four-year housing programme for Greater London which my right hon. Friend approved last September, schemes for about 4,750 new local authority dwellings will be started in Wandsworth, 3,550 by the borough council and 1,200 by the Greater London Council. Practically all these will involve redevelopment. His approval to the programme is, of course, without prejudice to any decisions he may have to make on compulsory purchase orders submitted to him by either of these authorities. It is not possible to give comparable figures for private enterprise housebuilding.
Is the Minister aware of the chronic shortage of housing land for rebuilding in Clapham? Would the Minister encourage local authorities to demolish deteriorating properties of which there are so many in Clapham, in order to provide land for new and better housing?
Wandsworth Council is a very progressive council and I have reason to believe that it will not only reach these targets but exceed them. With regard to the point made about deteriorating property, I hope that Wandsworth, like other authorities, will first of all look to see whether some improvements can be made to properties rather than demolishing them.
Municipal Housing (Planning Procedure)
asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government whether he proposes that the planning procedure concerning municipal housing should be speeded up; and if he will make a statement.
My right hon. Friend will certainly deal as quickly as he can with any applications or appeals that come to him. But the important thing is that the Housing authorities should look well forward in assessing their land needs; and the Department will be in touch with all those with big programmes ahead to make sure that this is being done.
Will my right hon. Friend make it quite clear that this question of procedure must be speeded up, because one of the great difficulties of local authorities has been the delay in Ministry decisions? Is he also aware that sometimes there are difficulties between the planning and housing committees? Could he look into this and indicate some way of speeding up the procedure at local level?
My right hon. Friend is never afraid of work, but I do not think that he can take it upon himself to sort out the difficulties of two committees of the same local authority. With regard to our end of the problem, it is true that there are delays, and we are constantly aware of them and doing our best to speed things up.
asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government what is the policy of his Department in relation to in-filling and building on open spaces in boroughs on the outskirts of London.
My right hon. Friend's general policy is to maintain as open space land zoned for that purpose in the development plan. But he considers on their merits proposals to use land which has relatively little value for open space and which can properly be developed for housing.
Is my hon. Friend aware that in the Borough of Greenwich there is a good deal of open land, private sports fields and other land of that sort, which is very valuable not only to our borough but to many other parts of south-east London? Is he further aware that there have been recent cases of in-filling there, and will he make sure that this situation is watched most carefully?
We are doing so, and each case which comes before my right hon. Friend is considered generally on its merits.
Council Houses (Tenancy Rules)
asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government if he will introduce legislation to enable him to prepare model rules for the allocation of corporation tenancies and to recommend each local housing authority to revise its lettings regulations to correspond with them.
Since circumstances vary widely in different areas I doubt whether model rules would be appropriate. But I am making inquiries into the extent to which local authorities require residential qualifications before applicants are admitted to their waiting lists.
While thanking my right hon. Friend for that Answer, particularly what he said about residential qualifications, may I ask him whether he agrees that many other anomalies in housing need codifying? Will he consider what additional advice and assistance can be given to local authorities in this respect?
I will consider it, but I am thinking mainly about the problems of multi-occupation. My hon. Friend may like to know that I have invited the 50 local authorities which have the main multi-occupation problem to discuss with me their qualifications for allocation.
Will not the right hon. Gentleman at least draft a model rule for local authorities saying that where houses are available those who can afford to buy should not be offered a council house?
I would not consider that a model rule. I would consider that an expression of a dogmatic Conservative attitude.
Would the Minister agree that, in the main, local authorities exercise their powers in this matter in a most humane and human way? Therefore, would he disregard this Question?
It is fair to say that this varies a great deal among local authorities. I would not say that all local authorities have residential qualifications which are humane. A great improvement could be achieved, but better by persuasion than by abuse.
Local Authorities (Direct Labour)
asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government why he issued Circular No. 50/65; and, in the light of the withdrawal by that circular of the requirement of one competitive tender in three, how he proposes to ensure that an adequate check is kept on the costs of local authorities' direct labour organisations.
I want all agencies which can contribute to a rising housing programme to give their maximum help. This circular frees local authority direct labour organisations from conditions which stood in the way of continuity of work, and therefore of efficiency. Direct labour estimates of cost will be checked by my Department.
But does it make for efficiency to treat any organisation of this kind as being in the position that it may never have its costs checked against competitive bids by other people? In view of what the Minister has said about an increasing programme, is not the need for this valuable check the greater and the need for such a provision to secure continuity of work the less?
I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman remembers what we discussed in the previous debate. What was needed was to enable direct labour organisations to contribute to industrialised building. This cannot be done without negotiated contracts. Therefore, this one-in-three rule was the problem. I have not said that there should be no tendering. Indeed, it is essential to have tendering and genuine competition.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that his Measure has been widely welcomed throughout the country and that it will expedite the building of municipal houses which are so essential? Would he take all measures to extend the policy of direct building which brings these results?
What I shall do is to try to enable direct building organisations to contribute as much as they can. They do only 9 per cent. of house building now. In my view, they can do more, and a high proportion of it can be done on industrialised building.
If the right hon. Gentleman is so satisfied that this system will not cause costs to rise, why does he put in the circular itself an appeal to local authorities to devise a new method of keeping a check on them?
It was because I was convinced that the innovation of the one-in-three rule was easy for the inefficient to evade and merely an obstacle to the efficient that I removed it. I want to insist on efficiency in these organisations and ensure that they do things properly and test their efficiency.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that this does not give direct labour an advantage over private enterprise? All that it does is to bring it into line with private enterprise procedure which we have had in the past.
That is a perfectly fair comment. It is brought into line in negotiating for industrialised building contracts.
Houses (Building Standards)
asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government ii he will make a statement on the progress of the discussions between the National House-Builders' Registration Council and the Council of the Building Societies Association aimed at ensuring that houses for owner-occupation are built to acceptable standards.
My right hon. Friend is keeping in touch with these discussions, but he is not yet ready to make a statement.
Can my hon. Friend indicate how long he is prepared to wait for voluntary action to solve the problem of jerry-building? Would he agree that there should be legislation early in the New Year to protect home buyers if voluntary action cannot be taken?
If there were to be legislation, it would take some time to have effect. We are hoping for a voluntary scheme. These discussions may well prove fruitful. I hope that my right hon. Friend will be in a position to make a statement early in the New Year.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the reformation which has been going on in the structure of the N.H.B.R.C. is a great improvement? What is needed is for the building societies to play a more important part in these organisations.
The hon. Gentleman is quite right. The key to this is that the building societies should say that no mortgage shall be issued unless a certificate is issued by the N H.B.R.C. If we can get that from the building societies, we shall have achieved what almost every hon. Member wants.
asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government what action he is taking to deal with the special housing problems facing the London borough of Lambeth.
My right hon. Friend is aware that the London borough of Lambeth has difficult problems, but he does not think they are worse than those of other Inner London boroughs. As my hon. Friend knows, my right hon. Friend has taken a variety of steps to help all the Greater London housing authorities.
In view of the fact that this special difficulty is caused by the movement of population, cannot my hon. Friend give some indication here and now that, for instance, the Borough of Lambeth can have accommodation for 3,000 or 4,000 people in the Woolwich new town when it comes into being?
The Greater London Council is the overspill authority. It is in close touch with the Greater London Borough of Lambeth. There is a good understanding between both of them. My hon. Friend need not be unhappy about the future.
Tenants (Rent Increases)
asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government if he is aware that some landlords and their agents, in sending notice of rent increases to tenants, advise them to apply to the National Assistance Board for a grant to cover the increase or the whole rent, and that, because of this advice, some tenants are being persuaded to pay increases which might not be payable if referred to a rent officer or rent assessment committee under the Rent Act, 1965; and whether he will take steps to deal with this practice by landlords and their agents.
My hon. Friend has sent my right hon. Friend details of a case of this kind which occurred prior to the commencement of the new Rent Act. With some limited exceptions the Act in effect freezes the rents of unfurnished lettings until a fair rent is registered. A tenant who is asked to pay a higher rent should therefore make sure of his position before he agrees. I would also refer my hon. Friend to the reply given him yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance.
Would my hon. Friend agree that while it is important that those who are eligible should be encouraged to apply for National Assistance, this is, at the same time, a sharp practice which is being used by some landlords and agents and that it is important to warn tenants as fully as possible about this?
Yes, but we are doing what we can to give publicity to the Rent Act. Information vans will tour a number of areas, and town halls have been asked to give as much publicity as possible to rent-payers so that they will know their rights under the Act.
asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government what was the average annual per- centage rate of increase in housebuilding from 1960 to 1964; and what is the average annual percentage rate of increase from 1965 to 1969 contemplated in Command Paper No. 2838.
Completions in the United Kingdom increased between 1960 and 1964 by an average of 6½ per cent. a year. Between 1965 and 1969 the Government aim is to increase completions by 1 per cent. less, an average of 5½ per cent. a year.Of course, while the percentage increase is smaller the actual numbers are much greater—we are going to have an extra 90,000 houses in the next four years compared with the extra 79,000 achieved between 1960 and 1964.
Does not that admission that the rate of increase in house building is planned for the next four years at a rate lower than that for the last four years make a nonsense of all the right hon. Gentleman's ballyhoo about a housing programme?
I do not think that it does. What we have done is to get a balanced programme between the public and the private sector in a form which was not even attempted in the previous four years.
But is the price of that balanced programme a reduction in the rate of growth?
It is a balanced programme which the country can afford and which in the National Plan we have decided that we can allocate to housing. If I can say this to the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), his side never envisaged 500,000 houses a year. Indeed, they said that it was impossible to achieve it.
Prime Minister (Visit To United States)
asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on his visit to the United States of America.
asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on his recent discussions with leading members of the United States administration.
asked the Prime Minister what discussions he had with the President of the United States of America and other members of the United States administration, during his recent visit to Washington, regarding plans for the sharing of control over nuclear weapons within the Western Alliance.
asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on his meeting will the President of the United States of America.
asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement about his recent discussions in Washington on the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's nuclear rôle.
asked the Prime Minister what discussions he had with President Johnson about the existence of the British independent nuclear deterrent.
asked the Prime Minister what discussions he had with President Johnson about the co-ordination of British and United States nuclear strategy in the areas East of Suez.
asked the Prime Minister what discussions he had with President Johnson on the Government's policy towards giving up the independent British nuclear deterrent, on a continued nuclear rôle for the Royal Air Force and on the purchase of F.111 aircraft from the United States of America and their possible use with nuclear bombs.
asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on his recent discussions with United Nations representatives at the United Nations Organisation.
I would ask hon. Members to await the account I hope to give later today during the course of the debate on foreign affairs, if I catch your eye, Mr. Speaker.
Can the Prime Minister now or later in his speech in the debate say whether he made any progress in composing the differences between the United States and this coun- try on a treaty for the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons?
I shall be dealing with that question. I think perhaps it had better wait until speak later.
Regarding Question No. 20, if the British Government are to have nuclear weapons, which many of us oppose, can the Prime Minister say in what circumstances those weapons would be used?
I shall have something to say about that as well. I have made it clear that we intend to internationalise the British nuclear deterrent. It was never independent. But certainly I can tell my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) that at no point did I discuss weapons or weapons systems with the President of the United States during my visit.
Can the Prime Minister say whether British responsibility in the Indian Ocean was discussed and whether agreement was reached about joint island staging and tracking posts?
We had a general review of the defence position, with an exchange of views on it, but we did not get into details about island bases.
In the light of the Prime Minister's statement to the United Nations that we are in favour of the creation of nuclear-free zones in Asia and other parts of the world, may I ask whether he could give an assurance that it is not part of our policy or American policy to initiate or promote the dissemination of nuclear weapons in the Far East?
It is certainly not part of our policy to initiate or promote nuclear weapons in the Far East, or indeed anywhere else, and my right hon. Friend and my noble Friend are hard at work trying to get world agreement to a non-dissemination treaty.
Could the Prime Minister tell us whether he made it clear to the President that, as we were assured by the Minister of Defence the other day, the Government will have no truck with the suggestion that we might sell or resell the Polaris fleet to the United States?
I think that my right hon. Friend's words have been noted in Washington, and the proposition was not put to me. If it had been, it would have had the same answer that my right hon. Friend gave.
As all the efforts to get rid of British nuclear weapons by internationalisation have not yet met with success, may I ask whether my right hon. Friend would agree that the best way would be to give them back to the United States—especially the Polaris submarine, which is specifically mentioned?
Having refused to sell them, we are certainly not going to give them. Our position is to internationalise them on the most effective basis possible, as we said in our election manifesto.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his brilliant address to the United Nations. Did he follow up his discussions on the question of nuclear weapons when he met President Johnson, and if in future he meets Prime Minister Kosygin, will he follow up the initiative there so that we can get a treaty to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons?
That was one of the important questions discussed, and I agree that it will be important to follow up in Moscow the very constructive discussions that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary had with Mr. Kosygin and Mr. Gromyko on the question.
The Prime Minister has referred more than once to internationalising the British nuclear deterrent. Does this refer to the position east of Suez?
I have said many times that there must be some solution to the anxiety of non-nuclear nations in Asia who are now fearful because of the detonation of the Chinese nuclear device. They need reassurance, and I think it is important to us and to the world that these countries do not feel impelled to become nuclear Powers themselves.
With regard to Polaris, will the Prime Minister say whether he told any of the American leaders that the Government would be prepared at a later stage to discuss with their allies the joint ownership of Britain's Polaris submarines?
On this question we did not go beyond in any sense what has been discussed in our proposals for an Atlantic Nuclear Force, which are now before N.A.T.O.
asked the Prime Minister what is the Government's policy towards a British space programme; and what steps are being taken to implement it.
We participate in space activities, including those of international space organisations, as fully as our resources permit.
In view of the complexity of this subject, will the Prime Minister agree to setting out in a White Paper exactly what are the objectives of Her Majesty's Government's policy, and stating the resources which have been earmarked over the next few years to achieve it?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the complexity and about the difficulty of dealing with this by Question and Answer. I shall consider, however, whether there is any way in which we can make a fuller statement. One of our objectives must be to deal with the problem of escalating, even rocketing, costs in this field which is causing great anxiety in some of these international organisations.
Would not the Prime Minister agree that if we are to play our full part in the European space programme, we must have a very strong national space and technological programme? To this end will he consider appointing one Minister to be in charge of space?
To the extent that we overspend in our own national programme, we have less resources for spending overseas. Both the previous Government and ourselves found it difficult to deal with the question of the allocation of Ministerial responsibility. Post Office satellites must be a question for the Post Office. I think that the right rule is that Ministers in their celestial capacities should pretty well correspond to their terrestrial responsibilities.
Will the Prime Minister bear in mind the tremendous importance to our modern industry of being on the ground floor in developing science and micro engineering? This is an entirely new development in engineering, and we should be lost if we missed the boat in this connection?
I am bound to say that as the greatest master of mixed metaphors in the House I could not have done better myself. We will certainly keep our feet on the ground in these matters, and this means keeping a sharp control over costs where this is possible, but I agree with what my right hon. Friend said about micro engineering, which i3 vital not only in space matters, but in many other fields of technological advance.
In view of the immense importance to modern technology of the aerospace industry, and also the possible commercial advantage of a communications space satellite, will the Prime Minister bear in mind the absolute necessity of having these really advanced technologies on this side of the Atlantic as well as on the other side of it?Will he also give us news, if he can, of the progress of the two European organisations, E.L.D.O. and E.S.R.O., of which we are members?
I think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has a very strong point there. We are doing all that can be done in the matter of space satellites, particularly for telecommunication purposes, but we have to consider the cost, and the latest news that I have to give about the two European organisations to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred is that costs are escalating fast.
asked the Prime Minister what consultations Her Majesty's Ambassador in Pretoria has had with the South African Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary on the application of economic sanctions against Rhodesia.
I have nothing to add to the Answer given by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs on 13th December to similar Questions by hon. Members.
As the ultimate success of any policy of sanctions against Rhodesia has always depended, and will continue to depend, on the policy of the South African Government, is it not wholly irresponsible of Her Majesty's Government to embark on a stiffening of sanctions without finding out and informing the country what that policy is likely to be?
No, Sir. I cannot understand whether some hon. Gentlemen want these sanctions to be effective or not. There is no reason to believe that South Africa is likely to frustrate what is now the law of Rhodesia in relation to oil sanctions. We are in close touch with them. I do not think that in every case we ought to go round every country which could frustrate sanctions before deciding to introduce them.
asked the Prime Minister what consultations Her Majesty's Ambassador in Pretoria has had with the South African Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary on the likely reaction of that country towards the intervention of British troops in Rhodesia.
In view of the fact that the stiffening of sanctions against Rhodesia is bound to mean that country stiffening its measures against Zambia to the point where, as the Prime Minister will recognise, there will be pressure for the involvement of British troops, again is it not irresponsible to lead the country in this direction without finding out what the consequences are likely to be?
The country is not being led in this direction. I am not certain that pressures for deploying troops in Rhodesia could be any stronger than the pressures we have already had in these last few weeks, but since we have no policy at all—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—I think we have a policy on Rhodesia, and we hope this afternoon to hear what policy hon. Gentlemen opposite have. I am prepared to state what ours is. As I was saying, since we have no policy at all of intervening with military forces in Rhodesia, since that is our position, it would have been highly irresponsible to have asked South Africa what her attitude would have been if we had.
asked the Prime Minister what discussions he has had with the British Broadcasting Corporation concerning the content of programmes beamed to Rhodesia.
None, Sir. The British Broadcasting Corporation will have full responsibility for programme content.
As these broadcasts are now presumably an instrument of official policy, is the Prime Minister really content that they should not be under any form of Government control?
I think that the B.B.C. has a very high reputation in its overseas broadcasts. That reputation stems from its independence and from its ability to present news bulletins as it thinks fit. We all remember the terribly unhappy incident at the time of the Suez collusion when there was interference with the B.B.C., and we are leaving to the B.B.C. the preparation of its normal African news bulletins.
Embassies And Missions (Scientific And Technological Staff)
asked the Prime Minister if he will transfer to the Ministry of Technology the scientific and engineering attaches and diplomatic service officers with scientific and technological qualifications in British embassies and missions abroad, who are at present attached to the Foreign Office.
No, Sir. There would be no advantage over present arrangements in doing so.
Is the Prime Minister aware that there is a great need for strengthening the scientific and technological staffs of our embassies overseas? Will he again look at the possibility of transferring this responsibility to the Minister of Technology, who is in close contact with industry, so that he can deal with training and selection?
This was dealt with in the Plowden Report, and I think the recommendation was right that the diplomatic service should be unified and everyone abroad should be under the control of an ambassador. We have the most distinguished scientists, technologists, atomic specialists, and so on in these embassies, and I met two of them in Washington last week. It is right that they should be on the foreign service staff while they are there, with the closest link with the Ministry of Technology, and where necessary with the Department of Education and Science.
While recognising the need for scientific attaches to be on the staff of an embassy, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he can tell us how the relationship between the Minister of Technology and the Secretary of State for Education and Science operates as regards those attaches who are of considerable interest to both Departments?
This is very often the case with other attaches and consuls who have specialised functions, but where it is a question of atomic energy matters, and responsibility for the A.E.A., some of those who are seconded from the A.E.A. have direct contact with the A.E.A. and with the Ministry of Technology. Where there are questions of pure science, which the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows all about, the contact in London is with the Department of Education and Science.
Mrs. Renée Short.
Is the Prime Minister aware that considerable anxiety has been expressed by——
Order. The Prime Minister has not answered the hon. Lady's Question. I called her to ask Question No. 10.
I am sorry, Mr. Speaker. I thought that you were calling me to ask a supplementary question.
West Germany And Rhodesia
asked the Prime Minister what representations he has made to the West German Government about the discussions that have been held between representatives of the illegal government in Rhodesia and West German industrialists for the supply of arms to the value of £5,000,000 for the Smith government.
Is the Prime Minister aware that this report has been given considerable publicity in the Tanzanian Press and elsewhere, and that in fact representatives of the illegal Smith régime visited West Germany to bring forward this arms deal? Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is urgently necessary to keep an eye on this, because arms are as important as oil in this context?
I must confess that I am not as regular a reader of the Tanzanian Press as is my hon. Friend, and I have not seen this suggestion. We have no evidence at all of any such suggestion. In fact, we have every reason to believe that it is not true, in view of the attitude of the West German Government, but if, either from her past Press cuttings, or from future ones, my hon. Friend has any information on this, I should be glad to look at it, and I hope to relieve her of the particular nightmare which seems to be worrying her.
What representations have been made to the Government of Ghana who are still buying Rhodesian tobacco?
We have made representations to everyone who is buying Rhodesian tobacco. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary yesterday mentioned one or two African countries who have been extremely vociferous in their call for stricter action against Rhodesia but who have not yet got round to taking the necessary measures—I have no doubt that they will do so—in support of the action that we have taken.
Saudi Arabia (Order For Air Defence System)
With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I would like to make a statement.I have to tell the House that the Government of Saudi Arabia have this morn- ing announced that a consortium of British firms has secured the major part of the order for their new complete air defence system. The remainder of the system will be provided by American firms and we have had valuable cooperation from the United States Administration in formulating the joint programme. The value of the British components in the order, including Lightning and Jet Provost aircraft, radar and data handling equipment, is over £100 million, from which over £75 million will accrue to this country as export earnings. This is a great achievement for the three British firms concerned, namely, the British Aircraft Corporation Ltd., Associated Electrical Industries, and Airwork Services Ltd. and it demonstrates that our aircraft and electronics industries have really first-class equipment to offer. The American firm of Raytheon will be supplying the Hawk surface-to-air anti-aircraft missile. During the past twelve months the British firms have acted in close cooperation with my Department and have received our active support. The success of these negotiations has demonstrated conclusively the results which can be achieved with such co-operation. A number of other countries have already expressed interest in the Lightning aircraft and the radar equipment and I have great hopes that further orders will be obtained.
May my hon. Friends and I warmly associate ourselves with the welcome given for this order and congratulate the industries concerned? It is a successful culmination of several years of hard negotiations on the part of the Government and industry, and I am sure that, among other things, it will give great pleasure to my right hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North (Mr. J. Amery). I have two questions. First, is there a link of any kind—whether formal or informal—between the United States Administration's co-operation on this order and any possible order from us for the F.111? Secondly, how can such orders be expected in the future if the Royal Air Force is equipped entirely with American-built aircraft?
There is no question of the agreement with the Americans to cooperate in giving technical and political support in this proposed deal being in any way linked with a commitment concerning the F.111. That subject did not come up in my discussions in the United States. As for the right hon. Member's second point, we are here concerned with the export of equipment that is in modern use with the Royal Air Force and we are satisfied that there are very good export prospects for aircraft with radar equipment that is currently being produced in the United Kingdom.
Can my hon. Friend indicate whether the Lightning fighters will be equipped with British-built and British-designed missiles and, if so, which ones?
This question is confidential with the customer, but I am glad to be able to confirm that they will be equipped with United Kingdom-provided equipment.
May I offer the hon. Gentleman my congratulations for the personal contribution which he has made to pulling off this deal? Having had some part in the early stages, I know some of the difficulties that he had to encounter both from the American side and, sometimes, within the British Government machine. I have heard both from industry and from Saudi quarters that he played a very important part in obtaining this order.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his generous remarks, but I ought to point out that we had very close co-operation not only from industry but from all Departments concerned.