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Housing

Volume 722: debated on Tuesday 21 December 1965

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House Purchasers (Protection)

3.

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.

Housing Associations

5.

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)

7.

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.

Wandsworth

9.

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)

10.

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.

London Boroughs

11.

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)

15.

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)

16.

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)

17.

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.

Lambeth

18.

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)

24.

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.

Completions

34.

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.