[9TH ALLOTTED DAY]— considered
I beg to move,
Since I shall in the course of my speech be mentioning housing associations, I should like to declare an interest in that I am the totally unpaid chairman of a voluntary housing association. There are several ways whereby the Opposition can make clear, on the Order Paper, their criticism of Government policy but the way we have chosen today is particularly appropriate in this case, not only because the Secretary of State for the Environment has not thought it right to be present today for this debate, and not only because we on this side of the House have been increasingly impatient at the flippant and irresponsible answers he has given to supplementary questions when he has been at the top of the list, but because of the typical way in which he handled the long-awaited statement on private house building. It had been trailed by his hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and by himself for many months and was eventually sneaked in as a Written Answer on 27th January, so that the Secretary of State could not be questioned about the adequacy or otherwise of the measures he was putting forward, and he was able quickly to disappear from the House and the country. I believe that that shows a contempt for this House and for the right hon. Gentleman's responsibilities to this House and that this motion today is, therefore, particularly appropriate. The right hon. Gentleman is fond of describing himself as a democratic Socialist. As every week goes by he seems to be more Socialist and less democratic. But, above all, we are moving this motion today because of what we see as his ill-founded complacency and optimism in face of the current housing crisis in this country. As I said on Second Reading of the Housing Rents and Subsidies Bill, no party can really be satisfied with its housing record since the end of the Second World War. It was the Patronage Secretary who said at the end of the last Labour Government that he was thoroughly ashamed of their housing record. Although the first three years of Conservative Government compared with the last three years of that Labour Government showed that we had provided no fewer than 30 per cent. more new and modernised homes in those three years than did the Labour Party in their last three years, still we were not satisfied with that record, and we believed that more needed to be done. Nevertheless, that period of Conservative Government was one of real and substantial achievement in the housing field, a great deal of which is now a permanent feature of the housing scene in this country. It was a Conservative Government who introduced the long-overdue system of national rent rebates and allowances which has brought benefit to many tens of thousands of our less-well-off citizens so that no person should now be in fear of losing his home because of his inability to pay the rent for that property. It was a Conservative Government who produced the idea of the housing action areas, which I believe has a tremendously important rôle to play in the future development of housing in our inner cities. I hope that this idea can be developed as time goes on, for there is a danger that—just as when any development area was created there grew up alongside it an area which eventually became known as a "grey" area, so that on the one side powers and resources were available while on the other side none was available—we may need flexible intermediate powers to go arm-in-arm with housing action areas if eventually they are to be fully effective. Again, it was in a period of Conservative Government that we saw improvement grants increase from 124,000 in 1969 until they were running at the level of 453,000 per annum in 1973. It is sad that it is the collapse in the improvement grant scheme as much as the collapse in house building which has featured in the 12 months of the Government's record. The Conservative period of Government also saw a tremendous boost to the voluntary housing movement, which I hope will be continued. It was in October 1973 that the announcement was made about a low-start mortgage scheme, which would have been introduced rapidly had we been returned to power last February. It has taken almost 12 months for the Government to take action. They attacked the idea when it was introduced. Now, belatedly, they have been converted to it. We hope that it will not be too long before they are converted to other aspects of our housing policy as well.That the salary of the Secretary of State for the Environment should be reduced by the sum of £1,000.
Under the Conservative Government there was a continuing scandal of the speculative builders obtaining improvement grants and then selling the houses at very large profits. Surely it was up to the Conservative Government to ensure that such builders were subjected to means-testing, in the same way as they subjected council tenants to means-testing under the Housing Finance Act 1972.
First, the improvement grants were introduced under Labour and not Conservative legislation. Secondly, so far as profits were made they were taxed. Thirdly, there was an important and lasting improvement to the housing stock as a result of the expenditure of the money.
It is neglectful of my hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott) not to point out something else. These grants were, in general, made available under discretionary powers of local authorities. The local authorities were perfectly free to blacklist people who behaved badly.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing that out.The Conservative Government had real and substantial achievements in housing. Yet I admit that last winter the figures for house building were disappointing. Had we been returned to office, we would have taken early action to change the situation and get the house building drive going again. One can but condemn the present Government for their inaction and for the continuing bland assertions, which we had from the Minister for Housing and Construction throughout last summer, that an up-turn was coming. Indeed, the latest figures show that the total starts are no less than 25 per cent. down on last year. Perhaps the Minister can give us new figures today. If he can, I doubt whether they will be any more encouraging. Moreover, improvement grants were nearly 50 per cent. down in 1974 over 1973. There is, indeed, a sad tale both for new housing and for modernised homes. Is the Minister satisfied that the present rateable value limitations are not too inhibitive of the most effective use of improvement grants, particularly in central London? I am getting a number of letters suggesting that they are. It would be interesting to hear the hon. Gentleman's reaction or whether he has any plan to revise the limits. Not only is there a bleak picture at present. The prospects look worse and not better. At Question Time today my hon. Friend the Member for Melton (Mr. Latham) referred to the shocking report of the "little Neddy", but not only that body but also the National Federation of Building Trades Employers, the Federation of Builders and Plumbers Merchants, and every other reputable forecaster about the future of the building industry are united in saying that the best that we can hope for is to maintain the present abysmal level of house building. The fact is that house building and modernisation are in the doldrums, the queue of the homeless is getting longer, the brick stockpile is now 900 million bricks and getting bigger, brickworks are closing, builders are going bankrupt and the dole queues of the building workers are growing longer. The reaction of the Secretary of State to the situation is set out in Hansard of 15th January, when he said:
In other words, the problem has nothing to do with him and he will pass the buck on. But even if one accepts the right hon. Gentleman's remark that it is economic pressures rather than anything else which are responsible, what do the Government do but pile more economic woe on what already exists? For example, there is the capital transfer tax. I welcome the concession announced for small businesses, entirely as a result of pressure from the Opposition. But Ministers must understand that even the announcement of that monstrous tax added uncertainty on top of all the other measures and pressures facing small businesses, causing dismay and the postponement of future plans. In addition to all that, small builders are faced with the worst effects of the war on self-employed people which is being conducted by the Secretary of State for Social Services. Then again, there is the tremendous increase in the rates burden which is taking place this year under the present Government. But at last we got the Secretary of State's statement—if one could presume to call it that—in his Written Answer of 27th January. I am not surprised that it was done as a Written Answer, because I remember the Prime Minister saying, on 19th December, that whether or not a Minister made a statement orally or by Written Answer depended on the importance which he placed on the measures he was announcing. In view of the measures the right hon. Gentleman was announcing, it is not surprising that the Secretary of State announced them by Written Answer. They are totally inadequate to deal with the house building situation. We welcome the belated conversion to low start mortgages. A whole year has been wasted but better late than never. We welcome the move to stabilise special mortgage funds. Is that part of the Written Answer intended to be a commitment to keep the mortgage rate at 11 per cent? If the building societies find it difficult to hold the rate at 11 per cent., will a loan from the Government automatically be made? When we promised 9½ per cent., we were attacked as being guilty of a pack of lies. The right hon. Gentleman's statement on this issue, if it means anything, means that the Government are committing themselves to an 11 per cent. mortgage rate. If they are, let them make it clear so that home buyers and builders can plan on the assumption that the rate will be no higher than that. If not, let the Government not wrap it all up in the way they have done in the Written Answer. We welcome the increase in the value of the option mortgage scheme. But we regret that nothing was said positively about the removal of the limit on special advances by the building societies. A large number of higher-priced houses, many of them newly built, are sticking in the market. The loan charges are a burden on the builders and are inhibiting them from starting many of the low-priced houses that we need now. Since we have a £25,000 tax limit on mortgage relief, the Government could have abolished the limit on special advances and thereby made a significant contribution to getting some of these more highly-priced houses moving. The Minister says that consultations will continue. We should like to see action. The overall impact of the statement is that it is unlikely to be sufficient to get the industry moving and does little to lift the gloom which faces us on the housing building front. I want to look at the record of the Government during almost a year's responsibility for housing policy. My main complaint is that, at every turn of policy, politics have been put before the needs of the people. The one jewel, of which we shall no doubt hear a great deal, has been the increase in council house building. But that is not enough to compensate for the collapse of the house building programme overall, and, what is more, it is not what people want. We know from every survey which has been made that people want to be able to own their own homes, and a national housing policy which concentrates on the expansion of the public sector and not the private sector is not meeting the wishes and needs of our people. Yet, in area after area it is this dogma which triumphs at the expense of the needs of our people, and they suffer. Let us take the example of the Rent Act 1974. It has dried up the supply of rented accommodation. I know that the Minister gets irate every time that is mentioned. But the evidence is piling up. We see it in New Society and Time Out. In the columns of the Evening Standard advertisements for furnished accommodation are down by no less than 75 per cent. on the number when the Rent Act 1974 was introduced. In Earls Court, in my constituency, which had a high level of rented accommodation, particularly for single people, it is now virtually impossible for someone who is British to obtain furnished accommodation. The accommodation is being reserved for holiday lets and for foreigners coming for short stays. Our own people, particularly young, single people, have been driven out of the accommodation by the effects of the Act. It is the Government's legislation. They should be monitoring it. They should be able to give us evidence on how it is working."… having studied the question of what are the real limitations on the lower end of the market, I have become more and more convinced that it is not the lack of 100 per cent. mortgages, it is not the 11 per cent. interest rate or the size of the deposit, but is the general state of uncertainty created by the world economic situation. If people cannot see in what sort of job or position they are likely to be a year from now, they are reluctant to take on the risk of buying a house.—[Official Report, 15th January 1975; Vol. 884, c. 442.]
As the hon. Gentleman referred to the columns of the Evening Standard, perhaps he will cast his mind back to the columns of that paper last July, when it criticised his party for its tactics in Committee in preventing the passing of the Act. The situation had then become so difficult that people were being evicted because it was known that the legislation was coming.
I was not in the House at the time, but my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) co-operated with the Government so that the Bill could get on to the statute book before the Summer Recess. Therefore, that allegation is untrue.There is a prima facie case of overwhelming compulsion that the Act has dried up the supply of furnished, rented accommodation. It is up to the Government to answer that case if they wish to persuade the House that it is working as they thought it would. Secondly, I come to the question of municipalisation and acquisition. Hundreds of millions of pounds are being spent on buying up property in the rented sector, often at inflated prices, without producing a single extra home and, instead, increasing the stock of empty properties which will be held by local authorities. Perhaps the Minister will develop the interesting remark made at Question Time yesterday that only 1 per cent. of local authority housing was empty. That is a long way from the evidence we have seen in, say, the GLC's strategic plan for London, which talks of levels of 4 per cent. If the Minister has firm evidence that it is only 1 per cent., we should very much like to hear it. The programme of municipalisation and acquisition is adding considerably to the expense of management of local authority properties. We have already seen in Circular 171/74 how this has been acknowledged by the Department. It has written to local authorities saying that in view of the extra cost of managing the scattered properties which are being bought up under the programmes of municipalisation and acquisition it may be necessary for local authorities to reduce their expenditure on the repair and maintenance of their other properties. What a recipe for disaster! Anyone who owns property knows that if he puts off repairs and maintenance he is building up extra expense and extra problems for the future. It is to contribute to the slum problems of the future if the policy of acquisition by local authorities is carried out on a large scale. If present plans go ahead, much sound housing will be put under the bulldozer, and that will be a reckless waste of the nation's resources. This is nowhere seen more clearly than in London, where the GLC is talking of putting up its mortgage rate from 11 per cent. to 13¼ per cent. It would cost the GLC £3 million in a year to hold the rate down to 11 per cent. It is not prepared to find that money, but next year it will find no less than £69 million for municipalisation and acquisition. What a set of priorities! What a way to put politics before people! We see doctrinaire considerations winning against common sense, economic sense and housing sense. We see the same dogmatic attitude in the consultative paper on the new towns, where the emphasis is on a return to rented property rather than ownership. Although surveys show that people in the new towns want to be able to own their own homes, and although many people are attracted to the new towns by the idea that they can rent now and buy later, this paper, with its new emphasis on renting at the expense of ownership, is yet another example of the Government's worthless lip-service to owner-occupation. Then we have the Housing Rents and Subsidies Bill, with the ending of fair rents for council tenants and a return to a haphazard system of rents, under which the rent paid by a family or household depends not on its means but on the state of the housing revenue account of the area in which it lives. With the return to a haphazard system of rents, we see the continuation of the Labour Party's vendetta against the private landlord, and a resultant decline in the quality of our housing stock—yet another contribution to the slums of the future. Again, dogma triumphs over the housing needs of the country. Finally, land nationalisation is hanging over the whole housing future of the country like a great thunder cloud, threatening the drying up of the supply of building land and inhibiting builders from getting on with the job of housing the people. One of the best contributions the Government could make to confidence in the house building industry would be to drop any idea of continuing with their proposal for the nationalisation of development land. So, in every area we see the dreary, dogmatic Socialist approach, which is wasteful and is oversimplified in its answers to our problems, every time reinforcing failure with fresh policies designed to achieve further failure—control bringing about shortage, shortage being the excuse for municipalisation, and then more shortage. Now there are ideas from below the Gangway for requisition, mercifully so far resisted by Ministers. But who knows how long it will be before they listen to those siren voices? Instead, can we not agree between the parties on a national housing policy to meet the needs of the people? Can we not forget dogma for a time and remember the people whose homes are at stake? Finance is the key. The Government have announced that they are having a departmental review of housing finance. We understand that it covers not only the pattern of subsidies but the rôle of building societies. Could we not drop the departmental review and have a wider review of the whole question of housing finance? The Lord President of the Council talked this afternoon about the need to involve back benchers in the drafting of legislation. This would be an admirable area in which back benchers on both sides of the House could co-operate with Ministers. They could hear independent evidence on the way in which particular patterns of subsidies work and on the rôle of the building societies. We might be able to develop, perhaps through a Select Committee, a cross-party approach to the whole question of housing finance. That would certainly be a great step forward. The development of a national housing policy could bring great benefits to all our people. Ownership should be its cornerstone. Even the Labour Party pays lip-service to this. Already 52 per cent. of our people own their own homes. We should try to raise that figure. We should be aiming at a target of not less than 70 per cent. We welcome the belated move in the direction of low start mortgages, but could we not hear from the Government that they are seriously considering a scheme to help young people with their deposits when they are buying their homes for the first time? Could we have from them a specific commitment to peg the mortgage rate—if not going the whole way to our 9½ per cent., at least to 11 per cent.? In that way we should give young people the incentive to buy their own homes and give builders the confidence that the houses they should be setting out to build will have a ready market when they are built in a number of months' time.
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the proud record of the Conservative Party in Government, will he enlighten us as to how the more than doubling of house prices in three years, and the rise in mortgage rates from 8½ per cent. to 11 per cent., assisted first-time buyers?
I prefer to stick with the speech I have here. If the hon. Gentleman imagines that the recipe that is presently being put forward by his right hon. and hon. Friends will not lead to a renewed increase in house prices he is much mistaken. Unless we can get house building going again at a much higher rate than we show any signs of achieving at the moment we shall return to a situation in which mortgage money will be available, housing will not be available and prices will rise. Do not let the hon. Gentleman imagine that those problems will not occur again. They will reappear unless we take urgent action now.First, there must be a package with the object of encouraging owner-occupation which will enable the builders to build and young people to buy the houses when they have been built. Secondly, there should be a new deal for those who live in council property. I agree with the Secretary of State for the Environment that we do not want council tenants to be treated as, or to regard themselves as, second-class citizens. There is a danger that that will happen. I welcome the announcement that the Minister for Housing and Construction made recently and the clause that was added to the Housing Rents and Subsidies Bill to provide for co-operatives on council estates. We should go further than that. The time is coming for a new charter for council tenants. The first principle should be the right for council tenants to buy the flat or house in which they live. Although I do not notice that in the Government's proposals, that should be the first right that council tenants should have in their charter. There should also be a much more relaxed attitude so that council tenants will be able to take in lodgers. Indeed, there should be encouragement for them to do so. There should be greater facilities to encourage mobility. At the moment, the rate of mobility in the public sector of housing is less than half that in the housing stock as a whole. It would be possible—perhaps through the use of the Department of Employment's computer services—to have a flat-matching exchange system on a national basis, just as there already exists a job-matching system in the Department of Employment. Every council estate or block of flats should have an association of tenants who should be consulted by the local authority on certain matters and should have an increasing say in the management of the estate or the block of flats in which they live.
On the one hand, the hon. Gentleman is saying that we should encourage the sale of council houses to the tenants who occupy them. He then goes on to the unexceptionable remark about the desirability of greater mobility. How can he reconcile those two suggestions? In reducing the housing stock how can he enable tenants to exchange homes?
The fact is that mobility in the owner-occupied sector is more than twice as high as in the council sector. The more owner-occupation there is the greater the mobility. First, we must encourage owner-occupation. Secondly, there should be a new deal for council tenants.Thirdly, there should be more emphasis on the work of housing associations. I welcome what has already been done but there is still immense scope. In London we should pay particular attention to the development of housing associations that will provide for single people. They have suffered as a result of the Rent Act 1974. I will not go over that ground again, save to say that single people are in a difficult situation. We should cater for single people through the housing association movement. We could take a much more imaginative attitude towards encouraging housing associations to take part in mixed development, which includes a commercial element. As we redevelop the centres of some of our cities we should encourage housing associations to use the commercial element to help to subsidise the housing element. In such developments housing associations could make an important contribution. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us when the associations are to hear about the development grants to which they are entitled. Many associations want to go ahead with planning the expansion of their work which will be possible under the Act. At present they are held up by lack of knowledge about the level of the development grants that they will be able to obtain. I now turn to the homeless. What reaction will the Government eventually show to the suggestion made by Shelter on the one hand and Booker and Gray on the other? There should be some sort of housing special emergency office to cope with the problems of the homeless. It could use short-life property both in the private sector and in the public sector to help to cope with the problem. Why will not the Government take a less doctrinaire attitude towards the ideas put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir B. Rhys Williams) and others who suggest that we should move towards a system of short lets or terminable leases so as to make the maximum use of our housing stock? It is nonsense that we have so many empty houses in the hands of local authorities and private landlords. We should be finding every possible way of using the stock of empty houses to the maximum degree. Lack of energy in the public sector and lack of encouragement in the private sector are preventing the Government from taking the right steps. One result is that we are seeing an increase in squatting in many of our cities, and particularly in London. That is a growing and serious situation. There are two types of squatting. First, there is the self-help housing group, which is behaving perfectly responsibly and coming to an arrangement with the local authorities. It is maintaining the property effectively and efficiently, and when the property is required by the local authority it gives it up in good order. On the other hand, there is the growing habit of squatters to move into property which has been prepared for people on the housing list. They move in ahead of the people on the list and jump the queue in the worst possible way. They damage the property in the process and behave totally irresponsibly. That must be dealt with. The Government should be considering the law of trespass as it now stands so as to decide whether any legislative action is necessary. The first form of squatting to which I have referred is working well and could work still better. It could be given some encouragement. The second form of squatting needs to be stopped as quickly as possible because it is unfair to those on housing lists who are having to wait for the homes to which they are entitled. If we could put together a housing package along those lines on a non-doctrinaire basis I believe that we could best meet the wishes and the needs of the people. I appreciate that the Minister for Housing and Construction is not in the Cabinet and cannot make any announcements of changes of policy along the lines of the suggestions that I have made, but perhaps when his right hon. Friend returns he will persuade him to read the proceedings of the debate. I hope that he will then turn his mind to the real crisis that we face in British housing and to ways of meeting it. I hope that they will not be decided by pressures from Labour Members below the Gangway but will be based on the needs of the people.
We listened to a rather ragged and sad speech from the hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott). I shall sum up his contribution to the present housing situation. His package includes the introduction of some kind of licensed squatting system, the introduction of short-term leases, the encouragement of a greater number of lodgers in local authority housing, an 11 per cent. fixed rate mortgage, the increased or automatic sale of local authority rented housing and a computorised tenancy exchange system. That is the sum total of the positive suggestions that the hon. Gentleman listed in addition to anything that may be going on now.Some of the observations that the hon. Gentleman made that were based on that little package I shall deal with on a future occasion not very distant from now. I shall deal with some other matters during the course of my remarks. I will not bother to deal with some of the hon. Gentleman's points because they do not amount—the hon. Gentleman knows this—to anything like a fresh contribution to resolving the housing problems now facing us. By the time the Conservatives lost office last February, the country faced an alarming prospect. In 1973 103,000 houses had been approved for starts by public authorities—the lowest figure for over 20 years—while the White Paper on Public Expenditure published in December 1973 envisaged 95,000 approvals in 1974 with a further drop in ensuing years. Early in 1973 a steep decline set in for private housing starts. By February 1974 the forecast hovered uncertainly around 120.000 starts and was still sharply in decline. In summary, the new Government inherited the prospect of a little over 200,000 housing starts in 1974 as compared With 350,000 started in 1969. During the previous administration's period of office, rented properties went off the market at an annual rate of 120,000—400,000 properties lost in 3½ years. Simultaneously, local authority building to rent slumped by 50 per cent. while rented council dwellings were sold off indiscriminately. House prices doubled, land prices trebled. We had the highest-ever mortgage interest rate-11 per cent. with an almost inevitable further increase to 12 per cent. or even 13 per cent. It was known that it was coming as far back as the autumn of 1973. We had all this and a mortgage famine, too. By early 1974 new mortgage commitments by building societies had fallen by over one-third in a year. Sales had slumped and builders had stopped building. The normal level of unsold new houses is about 10,000 to 15,000. But when the Labour Government came into office there were about 50,000 newly built private houses standing unsold. The one bright spot in the record was house improvement carried out under the last Labour Government's Housing Act 1969. The annual number of improvement grants issued increased by 250,000 from 1970–73, largely inflated by the temporary anti-recession measures in the 1971 Housing Act, which ended last June. Even this policy was in part wrongly handled. So concerned was the then Minister to get good statistics to offset the poor house building figures that little effort was made to concentrate resources on the areas where housing stress was greatest. Only about 10 per cent. of the total public expenditure of £1,400 million during that period was devoted to properties in the gravest need. My answer about the rateable value limits we have imposed as part of a concerted strategy to get resources shifted to the bottom end of the market is that I do not believe that it is right to change those limits on improvement grants at the moment. I shall watch the situation carefully. I believe that the policy is right. Frankly, I do not wish to spend more of my time dealing negatively with the record of the previous Government. Instead I wish to discuss some of the main problems facing us in housing. These I put into four headings—higher and stable production, greater variety of types and tenure of housing, urban renewal and community development and better use of resources. There are major implications under each of these headings for the future structure of the house building industry, for social policy, the organisation of local government, for financial policy and institutions and for the analysis of need and projection in the housing market. The Government's first concern when I was appointed Minister last March was to tackle an unprecedented collapse in housing. Quick measures were needed to deal with the immediate crisis and to point the way to longer-term measures. In effect we produced an emergency strategy. We averted higher mortgage interest rates and ensured a better flow of mortgage funds for new home buyers by the £500 million loan facilities for the building societies. That was the first step on the road to the stabilisation of mortgage finance, since consolidated in the measures announced by the Secretary of State on 27th January. We brought in a much strengthened Housing Act 1974 to deal with areas of housing stress and the areas rippling out to grey areas, for which the hon. Gentleman asked us to legislate. We have already done that. We did it in that Act which provided for improvement grants to be made more effective and expanded the work of the Housing Corporation and of housing associations. We brought in the Rent Act to give security to most furnished tenants. Let me make this point: for every tenant who is maintained by security under this Act in his own home and is not evicted there is one less vacancy advertised on the newsagents' boards. It is about time that this obvious fact was absorbed by Conservative Members. We introduced the Housing Rents and Subsidies Bill to return to local authorities the responsibility for fixing rents, further to regulate private rents, to redirect subsidies to new building, to redirect them to buying and modernising old properties and sponsoring tenants' co-operatives. An extra £350 million was made available for public sector housing in 1974–75 bringing the total additional provision up to £850 million. In a special policy circular to local authorities last April, followed up by our regional offices, we outlined ways in which local authorities could expand their housing activity quickly. We revised the cost yardstick to ease the blockage in the pipeline of local authority housing schemes, speeded up administrative processes and enabled local authorities to buy new unsold houses from developers. The same circular made a start with our programme of social ownership—the most effective way to hold the rented sector in future. Local authorities were asked to concentrate their purchases within housing stress areas and to relate this policy to programmes of housing and environmental improvement.
If all these measures have been so effective, why is it that both private housing starts and council housing starts are declining in the third quarter?
If the hon. Gentleman will contain himself he will find that I am about to refer to these matters. What has been achieved so far by these initiatives? Nothing dramatic. I am not, of course, here to make debating points. I am here to discuss housing problems and I hope that Conservative Members are here to do the same, unlike the hon. Member for Chelsea. There have been no smart solutions as a result of these initiatives. There has been nothing which would lead me to be the least bit smug. I will not come down to this House month after month, as Ministers in the previous administration did, saying that statistics showed that the situation was improving when at the end of the day there was a collapse in the housing market.We have a long haul ahead. The housing programme had gone through the floor when we took office. Its economic base may never be quite the same again. We shall all have to do some fundamental thinking about structure and the use of resources in this area for the future. Nevertheless, the results have started to show. In 1974 public authorities in Great Britain started 146,000 new dwellings—a 30 per cent. increase over 1973. New dwellings contracted by public authorities in 1974 totalled nearly 151,000—the highest annual total since 1969. Up to 15th January local authorities and new town corporations in England and Wales had acquired over 10,000 unsold houses from private developers at a cost of nearly £100 million, a useful addition to the stock of rented accommodation and of much help to the builders concerned. During the first half of the present financial year English and Welsh local authorities bought over 9,000 existing dwellings, most of which were purchased by agreement. The Housing Corporation is now approving 28,000 new dwellings a year together with another 5,000 housing association dwellings approved by local authorities. These are new dwellings and not improvement schemes. These figures compare with only about 20,000 approvals in 1973.
The Minister referred to there being 50,000 unsold houses when the Government came into office. Will he confirm that there are now 56,000 unsold houses?
That is a fair question. About 50,000 houses were unsold compared with the normal 15,000. We have a completion rate of 11 thousand per month of houses under construction, so there is an addition to that stock as well as a depletion as houses are bought. Had it not been for the sale of some of those unsold properties into local authority hands and the stepping up of the sale of new houses in the private market, that figure of 56,900 would have been enormously greater. The total would have been about 80,000 to 90,000 by now, but I will come to the figures laterIn the private sector the steep decline in starts has been halted. They have been level for about six months, taking one period with another, while there is just a hint that completions may have begun to creep up in the last quarter. There is a long way to go, but we have provided a basis for recovery, and there are signs that demand is picking up. The mortgage famine is over. Building societies' new mortgage commitments are now running at £355 million a month compared with £140 million last March. Local authority lending is £440 million this year, as opposed to about £292 million in 1973. About 15,000 new house sales per month were being financed in the last quarter of 1974 instead of 10,000 to 11,000 last spring. This, coupled with the buying of unsold houses by local autho- rities has reduced the over-large overhang of new private houses under construction by 35,000. Further, the important measures announced 10 days ago reiterated our commitment to stabilisation and to include further short-term loans if appropriate. Our measures, founded on stabilisation, aim at restoring the house building industry's confidence and capacity to provide a much higher level of new building, at ensuring that demand is steady and strong, and helping people who wish to own their own homes for the first time. The package was announced after full consultation with the house building industry and building societies, and they have welcomed it. I regret that such a niggly and negative attitude was adopted by the hon. Member for Chelsea.
Are the Government committed to 11 per cent. mortgages?
No, they are not. The hon. Gentleman is irresponsible in asking that question. The previous Conservative Government and a Conservative Government if returned in the future could not carry out such a commitment. The main purpose of our action is to get a stable flow of mortgage funds. I make no political point about this. The time may come when interest rates could be delicately balanced one way or the other. They might come down.The package that was announced following consultation with building societies and builders will provide what the market needs now, and the builders' representatives have agreed that.
My hon. Friend is right to acknowledge that the Opposition cannot give a clear and unmistakable commitment on interest rates as they believe in the free market forces, and one assumes that high interest rates world-wide result in high interest rates in this country, which affect building society interest rates. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Labour Government, if they had the will, in co-operation with building societies and local authorities, could subsidise interest rates in the knowledge that the money that would accrue from lower interest rates would not go to building society investors but to the community in the name of the local authority? That can be done and, what is more, it should be done by a Labour Government.
That is certainly not a policy to which the Labour Party is committed. I agree with my hon. Friend that it is possible for any Government to commit themselves to the subsidisation of interest rates for house purchase and there may be situations in which it would be right to do that. It was done for a short time by the previous Tory administration, just before the local elections of 1973. We have to judge how best to deploy resources in housing, and at this stage that would not be the right way to deploy them.Underlying the action we have taken to revive owner-occupation is the fundamental need to provide more houses which first-time purchasers can afford and a greater variety of dwelling sizes. Local planning authorities must help in this, including many local authorities who are represented by Opposition Members. They must deal more speedily with planning applications and allow higher densities. Insistence on low densities does a great disservice to those who want to own their first house, it wastes land and pushes up builders' and community costs. We shall make this clear to local authorities in a forthcoming circular. The circular will provide a further series of initiatives for increasing the housing provision. I should mention two aspects. There is clear evidence of substantial need for larger numbers of dwellings for small households in the private sector as well as the public sector. What is also clear is the great scope for speeding and improving the procedures on house building programmes, for adopting new ideas to increase new building and the better use of existing stock. I am keenly aware of the difficulties facing the industry, particularly the small and medium-sized firms which normally provide about two-thirds of the new houses which are built for owner-occupation. Many of the difficulties relate to the structure of the industry, which is under-capitalised. I look to the industry itself—both management and trade unions—to join us in examining these problems for the future. Meanwhile, although the Government have removed doubts about mortgage finance, other obstacles remain. I am sure that the banks, which are now well placed for more lending, will recognise the growing evidence of demand in this sector and the Government's firm commitment on mortgage finance and will lend more support to the house building programme. I am in touch with the building societies on the scope for them to help with working capital. Yet further initiatives will follow. I am examining the housing cost yardstick system to see how it might be reformed, and also the tendering and contract procedures, project planning and management methods. I do not intend simply to issue exhortatory circulars. There will be direct and continuing dialogue with local authority members and house builders. I shall visit the major metropolitan centres, with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, to discuss problems, initiatives and opportunities which Government action offers to both. I will examine with them, too, the scope for corporate action to deal not only with new house building programmes but with the multiple problems of housing and urban stress and the best methods for adopting a total approach to them.
Before he sets off on his grand tour will the hon. Gentleman have words with his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the priority programme, so that house building can be considered a priority lending factor alongside exports and manufacturing industry?
There are Bank of England restraints on lending for commercial property purchase and investment. There are no restrictions on lending for the building of houses. I was about to discuss further aspects of the housing scene beyond house building on which we shall make the follow-ups to which I have referred.I place this question of urban renewal and urban stress at the centre of housing policy. The hearts of many of our major towns and cities are threatened with physical decay. In them are concentrated most of the three million dwellings which are either slum or sub-standard. There, too, are millions of people suffering from poverty and other social disadvantages. Common to these areas are poor job opportunities and an exodus of skilled younger people, outworn schools, poor community services, high population densities and a gross lack of open space and other amenities. Far too often, narrowly-conceived and badly-integrated policies have been adopted in the past to tackle these problems. They have not cured fundamental urban problems but have shifted them around. The biggest obstacle to effective urban renewal, apart from the ever-present need for more resources, is fragmentation of policies and organisation. This is also true of the suburbs, and much of the building activity that goes on there on which the private house builders depend for their success also suffers in this way. It is not enough to build houses. There needs to be much more sensitive understanding of needs—for example, the needs of the homeless, the disabled and the old—and also of community values. Perhaps I should digress for one moment to refer to an appalling figure that I discovered when I came into office last March. Three-and-a-half years after the passage of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act only 200 dwellings for the disabled had been completed. It is not our responsibility. There had been absolutely no follow-up by the Tory administration with local authorities in pursuance of that Act—none whatever. We have taken several initiatives this year and we shall be pursuing them. That inaction is an absolute scandal and I feel very strongly about it.
What have the Government done since?
I should be glad to digress to answer that comment. Although we have been back for only a few months since the last election, we have already been in touch, through our regional offices, with local authorities to find out what has happened to all the undeveloped schemes which have been in the pipeline for the past three years. It is clear that the number is far from adequate—only 1,600 or so during a period of three-and-a-half years of Tory Government. We want to ensure, if we can, that we achieve one housing scheme of some kind or another in this area from every housing authority in the course of the next year.Both in the suburbs and in the inner cities there is, as part of our housing policy, a need to pursue community values in the planning and development of areas, a closer link between builders and authorities to obtain better land use, and a better mix of housing types and premises, instead of ever-widening areas of three-bedroomed suburban housing.
As a matter of information, in pursuing the Minister's policy of increasing planning for these purposes how much extra resources are the Government making available to local authorities in this respect?
There is no limit on local authority house building and we have shown by our efforts in the past year what can be done to increase building by public authorities. There will be an increased effort in future in provision for the disabled and in due course I hope that other special groups who have received scant attention in recent years will be examined. There has been an increase in output in the public sector of 30 per cent. or more—output on which the activity which I have been discussing is so dependent.
The Minister has outlined the problems of the inner cities and the interplay of the various urban considerations. Will he tell the House what he intends to do about the situation and how he will resolve any overlap? Does the matter still rest with the Home Office Unit on Urban Deprivation, or is there some new initiative in the pipeline?
If the hon. Gentleman wants me to discuss that subject, it would take me much longer than a 25-minute speech. The hon. Gentleman will know that there are a number of initiatives which are being pursued by the Government in our total approach to urban renewal and other social questions. Twelve months is quite a short time in which to reorganise initiatives which should have been pursued over a number of years. I shall come in a moment to the fresh initiatives which we in the Department of the Environment are taking. There certainly needs to be much greater activity on this point.The Housing Act 1974 adopts some of the new thinking that has gone into urban problems in recent years, although not by any means as radically as I would have wished. The need to get that measure on the Statute Book quickly to meet immediate housing needs meant that major reforms in the direction of a total approach—the neighbourhood or community approach to urban renewal—have had to be deferred. But we are following up the Act with administrative action to push policy in this direction—on housing survey techniques, comparative costing of rehabilitation and redevelopment, urban management, neighbourhood councils, integrated programme budgeting, co-operative housing and a number of other initiatives.
My hon. Friend implied that there were no financial restrictions on local authorities in respect of new house building. What restrictions are placed on local authorities in carrying out improvement work—and in terms of the Housing Act to what extent are local authorities restricted by loan sanction in carrying out improvement programmes?
My hon. Friend has raised a number of points. If he is referring to existing council housing, there is a budgeting arrangement which is being set up under Section 105 of the Housing Act to try to concentrate lump sum allocations on priority improvements and to try to get resources lower down the market rather than in respect of better quality property. If he is referring to house purchase then, unlike house building, there are restraints, and they will have to continue within the general overall public expenditure limits with which we are all having to comply at the moment. But in respect of old houses which are purchased and which then become subject to improvement, those properties will receive the same financial treatment without any specific restraints. I hope that that answers my hon. Friend's points.The Inner Area Studies and Urban Guideline Reports of recent years will no longer be treated simply as research projects, but as the basis of action. In conjunction with other Government initiatives in this field—the comprehend- sive community programmes, urban aid programmes, education priority areas, community development programmes and the Housing Acts' priority neighbourhoods, general improvement, housing action areas, and metropolitan conferences—we are soon to embark on a programme of Government-initiated area management trials in a number of local authority districts. If we are to tackle these complex problems effectively, it means that we must increasingly go for a far more integrated aproach, based on the needs of neighbourhoods. We must no longer allow our older areas to decline to the point at which there is no other answer but the bulldozer. We must get in early and use a gradual and sensitive mix of rehabilitation, redevelopment and new building, and clearance where needed, along with other use of housing powers and social action. It is in these areas that social ownership has a major part to play in furtherance of the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mr. Douglas-Mann). Social ownership and control does not mean a future consisting of a choice only between conventional owner-occupation or municipal renting. It means a variety of public initiatives sponsored by Government and local government; municipal lettings, housing associations, tenants' co-operatives; and licensing, and joint management arrangements between private owners and local authorities, all of which are being examined and pursued. I see a future for a wide variety of social tenure. In the end, much of the job comes down to seeking ways of ensuring that resources of manpower and money are used more efficiently. I am convinced that there are many other aspects of this which need to be explored and studied. Stabilisation of mortgage finance, speedier procedures connected with housebuilding, an adequate level of public sector housing, better use of the existing stock, new forms of tenure and tenants' involvement—all come into the picture. But there are many other aspects of the use of resources which need to be followed up. For example, are our methods of housing investment the best that can be devised? Are there ways of harnessing other financial resources institutionally geared to the implementation of public policies and administered accordingly, perhaps through the Housing Corporation or some other body? How do we find effective means of finding out how communities are affected by interaction in the housing market? Shall the scope of Housing Aid Centres be extended? Have we produced the right relationship between central and local government? There are many such questions to be probed. But at least we have embarked on a good deal of this work and have fed back much of what we already know of local authority and Government action. What I have described is but a beginning. We have a lot of work to do and many problems to tackle. Underlying them all will be the question of how best to organise and use our social and economic resources. The biggest single task in the coming year will be the housing finance review which has been announced.
Yesterday this House carried a clause in the Housing Rents and Subsidies (Scotland) Bill which provided a ceiling of El·50 a week for rent increases in the private sector. A number of Labour MPs have continually pressed my hon. Friend to do something similar for England and Wales. Does this mean that we are to get such a ceiling for England and Wales? If it seems high, it is better than nothing. Surely it would be a serious anomaly if in Scotland there was a ceiling of £1·50 for rent increases in the private sector and we in England, particularly in London which is suffering even worse rent increases than the rest of the country, did not have this protection. I should be grateful for a reply to what I am sure my hon. Friend will agree is an important question.
I am aware of the proposal in the Scottish Bill. The short answer is that the Housing Finance Act, from which the Scots are moving to their new system, was different from that in England and Wales. [An HON. MEMBER: "Not much."] I will not pursue that matter in detail. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman who said "Not much" that he should go to the Vote Office, get a copy of the Act, and compare it with the English Act. It is a different piece of legislation. The system being introduced for Scotland is for a special situation which is not applicable elsewhere. No doubt my hon. Friend will wish to deal with that matter later in the debate.What I have described is but a beginning. We have a lot of work to do and many problems to tackle. Underlying them all will be the question how best to organise and use our social and economic resources. The most important work in the coming year will concern the housing finance review to which the hon. Member for Chelsea referred. While we do not accept the idea of a Select Committee procedure, at which the hon. Gentleman seemed to be hinting, any representations and submissions from people or organisations with material proposals or offering analyses which will be helpful in this sphere will be analysed and fed into the review if they have anything fresh to contribute to what is being prepared for study.
If the Minister will not accept a Select Committee approach, may I ask whether he will undertake that, when the review is complete, it will be published in a consultative document so that others can take part in the debate on the final shape of any legislation which may be required?
It is not for me to decide what will be presented in the form of a consultative document or Green Paper. That must be a collective Government decision. However, the idea of preparing consultative documents in the wake of the review as a basis for discussion before legislation is introduced is excellent. I will certainly put it forward at the appropriate time. The review will go well beyond questions of rents and subsidies which, until now, have been the main burden of housing finance reviews. It will aim to cover investment in housing, housing needs and demands and how they are calculated, and an analysis of the ratio and efficacy of total subsidy expenditure in relation to total capital investment in achieving housing objectives. It will cover various systems of help to people in all kinds of housing tenure, the relationship of rebates and allowances to the social security system, and a number of other fundamental questions.This objective and factual approach is essential to a comprehensive strategy for housing. Another essential is co-operation and adaptation by all—the Government, local government, private owners, builders and building societies—to solve our housing and urban problems. If we can learn to base our action ultimately on social objectives, we can end contention and work together to renew our cities and other suburbs and make them worth while. We have a long haul ahead of us, but that is the Government's objective. I hope that everyone will join in it.
I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in a debate on this important and human subject. It is the latest of a great many debates on housing which I have been privileged either to listen to or participate in since I made my first speech on housing in this House nearly 30 years ago.I speak as the representative of a large constituency with acute housing problems in a congested part of the country. I am also the chairman of the National House-builders' Council, itself something of a misnomer because it does not build houses. This body exists to promote and enforce high standards of construction in the private sector. It is a representative body consisting of builders, building societies—
Yes, the trade unions concerned—very respected and statesmanlike gentlemen they are, from whom the hon. Gentleman has much to learn—local authorities, architects, surveyors and consumer organisations. As chairman of this representative body I pursue a non-political path, though in this House I speak as a committed Conservative from these benches.I can best seek to reconcile my different rôles by adopting as objective and statesmanlike an approach as possible in the hope that the House will not find that too difficult a concept to absorb. Housing raises divers problems in many areas. There are the industrial and technical problems of construction, economic and financial problems in terms of both resources and public expenditure, the social implications of having not only enough houses, but houses of the right standard at the right price and, from the point of view of the distribution of industry and a balanced labour force, in the right places. Looking at the situation on the basis of the relationship of dwellings to households, as shown by the last census, the supply position, prima facie, is not wholly unsatisfactory. The April 1971 census showed that we had about 750,000 more dwellings than households. However, that conclusion has to be looked at in the light of various factors. The total number of houses masks wide differences in their quality and expectation of life. At the time of the census, of our 19 million houses 1¼ million were statutorily condemned as unfit for habitation and 1¾ million required improvement. We must allow a contingency item for voids, for people in transit, and so on. If we deduct 5 per cent. for voids, we change the balance and leave the figure for dwellings marginally less than for households. The locational balance of existing houses is wrong. It does not wholly or precisely conform to the pattern of demand, which in turn should reflect the distribution of industry. That factor is aggravated by the decreasing flexibility in housing provision and occupation. The greatest flexibility was achieved in the pattern of an earlier age when the largest proportion of dwelling houses was in the private rented sector. The pattern now is very different. Of our 19 million dwellings, over 10 million are owner-occupied, nearly 6 million are council rented, and over 3 million in the private rented sector, which has not only dwindled, but ossified. The result is that it is virtually impossible now to get private rented accommodation on a rack rent basis, and the position is aggravated by the effects of the 1974 Rent Act, as my hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott) said.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that that figure of 3 million privately rented, under the new statistics, includes 1 million tied service houses which cannot be considered part of the private rented stock and previously were identified separately from it?
I am obliged for that timely assistance from the inexhaustible quarry of expert knowledge which my hon. Friend has about this subject. I must, as an advocate, get over this habit of understating my case. That is certainly so, and I am obliged to my hon. Friend.The decline of this alternative source of accommodation—the private rented sector—puts the average citizen in quest of accommodation in a difficult and unenviable position. Frequently, as my talks at constituency surgeries and my post bag confirm, his position is that he cannot get a local authority house because he has insufficient residential qualification to achieve the necessary priority on the housing list, he cannot afford to purchase an owner-occupier house because he cannot meet the existing level of mortgage interest rates, and he cannot get private rented accommodation because there is none on offer on the market. That is the unenviable position which forms the background to any debate on housing today. Therefore, in the absence of private rented accommodation, we have to rely for new provision on the public sector and on building for owner-occupancy in the private sector, both of which have formidable problems to encounter. With regard to local authority housing, the stark truth is that in present circumstances there is no prospect of supply ever matching demand, and the smaller dwindling contribution from the private sector the more remote the prospect becomes. I have in East Hertfordshire two housing authorities, one predominantly urban and the other a mixture of small towns and villages. Taken together, therefore, their housing position, prospects and problems should not be atypical of the generality, though admittedly their propinquity to London no doubt aggravates the problems. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew) will confirm this because he is very much in consimili casu. Over the next year or two, these two authorities expect a housing contribution of 750 to 900 houses between them. That new provision has to cater for a waiting list of, at present, 4,500 between the two authorities, with a current increment of 15 each week, which is 1,500 a year between the two. Obviously even with the voids occurring by death or removal, the supply can neither match the demand nor effectively erode the waiting list. So these authorities are in the unenviable position of Sisyphus, with unending and unrewarded labours. The waiting lists remain, and, with them, all the human misery which they represent—the cramped accommodation, the making do and the sadness and sickness of hope deferred. The situation can be improved only both by greater provision from the public sector and by the reinforcement of a greater contribution from the private sector. Basically, an improvement in housing provision, both public and private, depends like so much else today on a reduction of interest rates. That of course requires a change in the economic climate both nationally and internationally, which takes us beyond the subject-matter of this debate, but which is an inescapable ingredient of this problem. Meanwhile, the building societies have done their best to contain the problem—and it has been a very good best. But there is also the problem of local authority mortgage interest rates. Great hardship is involved in local authorities raising their rates, as I know from the many approaches I get from my constituents. In the Broxbourne district, one of the two to which I have just referred, it has been found necessary to increase the mortgage interest rate in April from 11½ per cent. to 12¾ per cent. Mortgagors naturally are puzzled and dismayed at having to pay more than they would have to pay to building societies. But the local authority, on the prescribed basis of charging, can do no other. The council has made representations to the Government and awaits their response. I urge a speedy and sympathetic consideration of its approaches by Ministers. Apart from interest, there are further measures which can be taken in the public sector. One is a review and possibly a temporary relaxation of the Parker Morris standards. Another is a rationalisation of the yardstick of housing approvals. I was glad to hear the Minister refer to that, even though cursorily. Another is a realistic approach to local authority rents, as my hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea suggested. Measures should be designed to accelerate the snail's progress of so much contemporary council housing. Prominent among those must be the simplification and expedition of planning procedures. In that connection, we await the report—I understand that it is now imminent—of my good friend and eminent colleague in Chambers, Mr. George Dobry, QC, whose light and learning we shall have on the subject shortly. What he proposes will have to be examined carefully and critically. But the country will expect strong and effective action by the Government to institute any changes and improvements which are both helpful and viable. The Department should take a close look at its own procedures to see whether it cannot expedite and streamline the system of consultation and approval which often adds to the delays of local authority housing. Whatever is done to improve local authority procedures and the efficient, speedy and economical provision of housing, whether by contract building in the public sector or building for sale by the private sector, it is possible only on the basis and through the instrumentality of a strong and confident building industry. We have not got that today. The building industry is at a low ebb. It is beset by present difficulties and fears for the future. Activity in the building industry was reduced substantially in 1974. Taking the output of the construction industry from the Department's figures, at 1970 constant prices, seasonally adjusted, we see a sharp fall comparing quarter with quarter. For the first quarter of 1973, the figure was £333 million. For the first quarter of last year, it was only £206 million—a drop of about 30 per cent. There was a similar drop of about 30 per cent. in the second quarter, a lesser drop in the third quarter, and for the fourth quarter we still await the figure, and we have considerable trepidation about what we shall see. It is true that these totals include industrial building, as well as public and private house building. Nevertheless, there is a clear inference of need to restore activity in the building industry. If the trend continues, such figures could have serious implications also for unemployment and for a possible permanent recession of the building labour force, so that the necessary labour would not be available when we have the expansion for which we hope in time to come. Unfortunately some of the Governments measures, far from assisting the industry, are injuring it, notably in the case of the projected capital transfer tax. There, the effect may be to squeeze out the medium-sized concerns and leave in the building and construction industry only some 50 or so leading contractors at one end and the small firms at the other. I welcome the concession made the other day in the Finance Bill, in answer to the force and logic of Conservative criticism. But more needs to be done. The Government should also examine the formula basis for tendering, at present mandatory, which in some cases has the effect of raising tender prices. They should review, too, the insistence on a firm price contract, without a fluctuation clause, for the short jobs. In an uncertain and inflationary situation, that can inhibit participation in such work. I conclude with some very brief observations on the suggested measures for the private sector. I can be much shorter in regard to these than I would have been if the debate had been taking place 10 days ago. That is because of the package of measures presented by the Secretary of State. I indeed welcome those. It would be churlish of me not to welcome them, as my council, the National House-builders' Council, was a contributor of the ideas incorporated in the package. I am obliged for the reference by the Secretary of State in his statement to the co-operation of the Council in the discussions leading up to these measures and for his expressed intention of maintaining close contact with us. I particularly welcome the institution of the deferred payment scheme for first-time buyers, though I wish that it had been done earlier. I have long been an advocate of this and similar measures. I hope that the Government can now give consideration to those further proposals for assisting house purchase which I and my council have from time to time put forward, thereby relieving the housing pressures which exist at present. Finally, what we need, and need urgently, is improved and expedited procedures for local authority housing; a continuing stimulus for greater house ownership, with a revival—at any rate in the long term—of provision of rented accommodation in the private sector as well; a reduction in interest rates for both public and private sectors alike; and restored confidence and stability in the building industry. If the Government can initiate a prompt and purposeful advance on all those fronts, we can confidently hope that our next housing debate will be held against a less gloomy background.
The right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) has a long experience and much expertise in these matters. While we all respect those qualities very few of us are able to match them. I thought at one stage that he was, perhaps, wearing his neutral hat when he advocated as much council house building as private building. I am sure he appreciates that it is necessary in the present situation.Housing seems to be the problem which just will not go away. The hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott) reminded us that it had been with us a long time. I rather suspect that it will be with us for a long time still to come. It is still our greatest social problem, and is responsible for many of the ills of society which beset us today. It is a complex problem, as we have heard this afternoon, but we seem to be making it even more difficult to understand. We used to talk in terms of unfit houses and new building schemes. Nowadays, we are talking of PNs, HAAs, CDAs, GIAs and clearance areas and bringing them to fruition through public participation, housing associations and co-operative enterprises. You name it, and there is some organisation to tackle the problem. The overriding need in this situation is clearly for new houses. While housing action areas and general improvement areas are admirable in themselves they rarely produce the new housing which the country desperately needs. I appreciate that these are the only hope of many people of having an improvement to their homes and getting a good environment in which to live, but there is a delicate balance which must be struck in our resources of money, men and materials. How much of them should be diverted into that field from new construction? I welcome the fact that the Secretary of State is urging local authorities to complete their housing action areas within five years. What seems to happen so often, unfortunately, is that many schemes get started but never seem to get finished. I suspect that one of the problems is that so many of the people involved cannot find the difference between the Government grant and the total cost of the improvement. In a below-average wage area such as Stoke-on-Trent, or in areas in which there are high concentrations of pensioners—and these are common in potential housing action areas and general improvement areas—great stress and embarrassment are caused because of the shortage of cash. Old folk do not want to be bothered by having their houses torn apart about them whilst they are still living in them. We ought to face that problem. With all the criteria which seem to be laid down in the recent circulars, strange as it may seem, in Stoke-on-Trent we shall find great difficulty in designating many areas as housing action areas. I wonder whether the Secretary of State can allow the concessions for alternative accommodation, for compensation and for hardship payments which may be payable in housing action areas, to be made payable to pensioners, and, perhaps, others in great need in the general improvement areas as well. The Secretary of State is urging planning authorities to look at applications much more quickly and to look imaginatively at lower-priced conventional or non-conventional housing at higher densities. It is true that many people do not want gardens, and that smaller houses are better than no houses at all. There is obviously great scope for good economic housing, especially where land is scarce and expensive, but I hope that we shall guard against the prefabricated boxes which sprang up after the war and which deteriorated so rapidly. They were, perhaps, more expensive in the long run than good housing would have been. We must also guard against builders thinking that they can get away with inferior designs or layouts, or even jerrybuilding. While local authority officers and planning committees must, obviously, cut out unnecessary delays, they must not be pressurised into approving schemes which have neither merit nor imagination. The need for housing is obviously desperate and urgent. The homeless of today will not forgive us if we are tied down by red tape, incompetence or vacillation. Future generations will judge us very harshly if we forsake standards and quality in moments of panic and desperation and build for the future generation the slums and ghettos of perhaps 40 years' time. Without—in order to save time—making the case for it, may I appeal to my hon. Friend the Minister to have a look at the clause in the Local Authority Goods and Services Act which prevents direct works departments from tendering for new construction work outside their parent area? This is a restrictive clause which is quite unfair. Many people have probably taken this matter up with my hon. Friend. I hope that we shall soon get a change in the law to put the matter right. I welcome the statement of the Secretary of State that he would be taking measures to stabilise, whenever necessary, building society funds. Given the need for building societies to pay interest to their depositors, it may well be that it would be easier and cheaper in the years of famine to stabilised the funds than it would be in prosperous times. Our experience of the last housing boom taught us that it is essential to control funds when they are overflowing into the building societies in order to prevent excessive rises in house prices. In those years builders asked not what was a fair price plus a fair profit for a house, but what the market would stand. Even in Stoke-on-Trent and in areas such as that of my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding), houses then marketed at £16,000 or more are now selling for something over £12,000, and houses then sold for £9,000 or £10,000 can now be sold for only £7,000 or £7,500. I wonder how much of the profit was made on those houses in the first instance. I cannot help feeling that the greed of many speculative builders at that time was responsible for their own downfall and contributed to the collapse of the private market. The fall in interest rates and the slump in the stock market has proved a boon to the building societies. However, the admirable plan of the Chancellor for an inflation-proof savings scheme, if it does not apply to building societies, may lead to another mini-disaster. Many retired people have their funds in building societies. They will be sorely tempted to withdraw those funds and to join an inflation-proof scheme, especially if inflation continues at the present rate. Whilst the £500 million stabilisation fund may work well now, I hope the Chancellor does not throw the Minister into rougher water in the months ahead. No one can be complacent about the housing situation, for which there are no easy and quick solutions. The number of starts is depressingly low to anyone with this subject at heart. The number of starts fell quarter by quarter during 1973 and unfortunately continued to fall during 1974. Many builders just accepted the attitude that there was no point in starting new houses when they had tens of thousands of houses on the stocks waiting for completion. There is now more confidence in the industry. Sales are moving along faster. I think that builders are tending to complete the houses which they started many moons ago. We hope that this means that there will be an improvement in the new starts in the not too distant future. The £500 million loan to the building societies was a helpful factor, and the deferred payments scheme has obviously helped. I was one of those who did not like the deferred payments scheme. I still have some reservations about paying for 10 years with virtually nothing paid off the capital, but it is a scheme which my right hon. Friend has been wise to introduce. Rent rebate schemes are here to stay until the economic situation changes drastically—when, we cannot forsee. Why cannot there be a mortgage tax relief scheme based on income? I am inclined to introduce a motion to the effect that mortgages of over £20,000 should not be eligible for tax relief. I prefer a scheme granting 80 per cent. tax relief for those who, at the lower end of the income bracket, are paying a little above the standard rate of tax, on the average national wage, reducing, according to income, to 25 per cent. That will spread the money to those in need.
Has my hon. Friend ever considered the fact that there are two kinds of mortgage? A policy holder buying a house through an insurance scheme receives income tax relief on the premium he pays and on the interest. The purchaser of a house through a building society receives income tax relief only on the interest he pays. Does my hon. Friend think that the person buying a house through an insurance policy should enjoy the same tax relief as someone buying a house through a mortgage scheme?
I am sure my hon. Friend has already made that point. I know that he is an expert in insurance. Some insurance peddlers tried to convince me of that doctrine some time in the past. That is, perhaps, a more far-reaching improvement than the one I now suggest. I do not necessarily rule it out, but we should move step by step. Having reached this stage, I think that a mortgage for any amount over £20,000 should not qualify for any further tax relief. With subsidies as they are in the public sector, and the state of the private housing market, we must look at any other schemes put forward to encourage home ownership. Whilst I do not think we can justify a 1½ per cent. or a 2 per cent. reduction in the interest rate across the board, at least we can justify a reduction for those at the lower end of the income bracket.I suspect that no one knows the complete answer to the intractable housing problem which has been with us for so long. We need to look at new ideas all the time. Many of us need to rethink our former positions. In the meantime we need houses. We cannot afford to spend time debating when we need the houses. I am convinced that, in the short term, only local authorities can make any significant contribution by building houses quickly. Whether those houses are kept in local authority hands or sold off in the future to tenants or others is immaterial. Only the local authorities in the past few years have kept alive the hopes of tens of thousands of homeless people when the private market failed. I think those people should continue to have priority. If there is some way of penalising those authorities who do not play their part in solving this national dilemma, so much the better.
In many ways it is paradoxical that in an age of developed technology and advanced communications we stand by apparently helpless and witness the on-going damage and trauma suffered by tens of thousands of our people living in a new kind of artificial environment. I refer to the twilight council estates on the fringes of our great cities. Hitherto, artificially enclosed environments have been involuntary ones, for example prisons to protect the public from the individual, and voluntary ones, such as monasteries to protect the individual from the public.The new kind of artificially enclosed environment is the permanent community where people live in council estates built as a result of urban renewal—that euphemistic term for slum clearance and subsequent development. Presumably these estates were designed not to isolate those living in them but to receive a balanced population of all ages coming primarily from the slum clearance areas, and aimed at redressing poor housing and obviating health hazards flowing from inadequate accommodation. I am afraid that that has not happened. The reasons can be found in the collapse of technocratic planning which reflects the values of a fast-changing and vanishing era. Technocratic planning reflects bureaucratic organisation based on hierarchy—planners and those planned for, the decisions by the one for the other. The system breaks down because it is essentially undemocratic. Planners are too remote, too ignorant of local conditions and too slow to respond to change. On the perimeters of our great cities there are many such examples of estates in which thousands of people live, some in mid-or high-rise blocks, some in deck access flats and maisonettes and a few in houses. All share one thing in common—the totally inadequate supporting services for those people who live there. The failure to provide any basic amenities at the earliest stage of occupation starts a downward spiral of dissatisfaction and discontent and causes isolation and depair. Often new houses are occupied by families with young children, yet no schools operate on such estates for some years, no play schemes are organised, there are no adventure playgrounds and there are few playgroups. Often months go by before a bus service is introduced and the bus stops are invariably in the most awkward places. Nor are there any shops, and when they appear they do nothing to help build a sense of community. Inevitably there is a large supermarket sited across some main road so that children cannot go there safely unaccompanied. In one estate in Liverpool, four years after the first family moved in, there was still no post office, no launderette, no butcher and no fishmonger. The distance to the nearest shops and cost of public transport have resulted in mobile shops occupying unadopted land not subject to local authority byelaws and often a health hazard. In one general practitioner's area over a six-month period, as a result of these mobile shops, 199 cases of proven food poisoning were recorded—nearly 21 per thousand of the population, compared with a national average of only 1 per thousand of the population. Isolation from shops is one problem but separation from family, friends and neighbours whom they knew in the old area is another and more important one. There are no relatives to help out when children return from school and there is difficulty in finding baby-sitters. For a young mother new relationships are not easy to build up, and if she has a young child she will find herself alone for long periods. The husband has further to travel to and from work, so he leaves earlier and gets back later. They cannot go out in the evenings together, so the husband goes to the local pub on his own. This inevitably starts a syndrome often referred to as "the captive wife", and this affects her stability and, in turn, that of the whole family unit. Old people are an even more tragic group. They become so used to familiar surroundings in which they may have lived all their lives. As younger families move out of slum clearance areas, they become victims of vandalism. They fear so much for their homes that they are compelled to follow the young families. They arrive dislocated on these estates, where they often fall prey to both mental and physical illnesses resulting directly from loneliness, depression and neglect. Young people need special help and social provision, and skilled supervision is necessary, but few estates provide facilities for them. The total absence of detached youth workers, arts and community centres, youth clubs and community service and job opportunities helps to create within this most vulnerable age group a mixture of despair and exasperation which in turn results in their turning on to the community rather than into the community. Boredom and isolation result in vandalism. Underground and unattended car parks are especially vulnerable on these new council estates. That these estates are often soulless and the people in them apathetic has been a proverbial excuse for the failure of Government and local authorities to make a real effort to put right that for which they were responsible. A number of things could be done which the present Government could advise planners to consider in building future estates. First, light industry should be built on nearby sites and sold to companies. This would provide more income for the local authorities. They could provide facilities out of the new source of rates and it would give employment on the doorstep for the family—both full-time employment for the husband and part-time for the wife. American post-war cities have been particularly successful with this approach. Second, the Government could insist on mixed developments. One often wonders whether the poverty syndrome is not subconsciously carried by the planners from the inner city to the outskirts of the cities by moving a complete population from one area to another. To change this, the Government should insist on mixed developments, different neighbourhoods, with owner-occupation and council occupation. I say "different neighbourhoods" because all the experiments have shown that if owner-occupied housing is placed next to council housing on one street it is not a success. Those who own their own houses look after them far better than those who live in council housing, and as a result the owner-occupied houses cannot be sold at the same price as they would fetch if they were in different neighbourhoods. A good example of a good mixed development is the Fairview Estate in Ruyston, and there are others in Peterborough and in Cwmbran in Wales. Another development could be an incentive scheme to maintain. In a nation which is getting poorer, we need to maintain and preserve plant and machinery. How quickly do we find new estates becoming the outer city slums, the ghettos of the future? We could give cash incentives to those who maintained their council houses to an agreed standard. The Government could also encourage supporting services for those families about to move. This is a major life change for them, a transitional crisis which calls for help and advice. We could arrange for films to be shown about the new area and provide relevant information about essential services—for example, where to find doctors and solicitors. The best person to help those moving into new estates may be someone already there. The local authority should be charged with the responsibility of caring for the individual family. Arrangements could be made so that there was not an abrupt change in life style but a change in controlled stages. The Government could see that planners carried out balanced developments with well-spaced accommodation. In one estate in Liverpool the planners envisaged a balanced population in which old people would be accommodated in one-bedroom flats in the mid-rise blocks adjacent to the middle-aged families in the maisonettes. That is the theory, but in practice things have not worked out. These mid-rise blocks in cross-section resemble a Neapolitan sandwich with access at three levels. The flats are all situated below access level. There are 16 stairs from the front door down to the flats. That is one illustration of how little thought has been given to the needs of the elderly, especially those with arthritis and chronic bronchitis. The blame must be laid fairly and squarely on the planners, the housing architects and the medical officers of health, all of whom are involved in urban renewal. Apart from the intrinsic difficulties of the flats, there are other problems. These mid-rise blocks are long—often 250 yards long—and the lift is at one end only and often out of order. It requires a fairly healthy person to walk from the nearest place at which a vehicle can park to his front door. Even those who have been placed in the maisonettes complain of difficulties with the stairs leading to the lavatory. It is ironic that one reason for representing a house as unfit is that it has an outside lavatory, although that is often more accessible than the indoor lavatories in new developments. A few couples also have flats or maisonettes in cluster blocks, but as they have no lifts similar problems occur. Perhaps the Minister might also investigate some estates where no longer are the even numbers on the right and the odd on the left but numbering runs consecutively anti-clockwise with the first house on the left as one enters and the last one opposite that on the right. Then the street runs a tortuous course so that No. 106 can be next to No. 110. Furthermore, no two streets have identical patterns, and to make life more difficult in some streets houses are mixed with cluster blocks and medium-rise blocks of flats. Many of these difficulties could be overcome by a more practical and realistic approach to identification of both streets and houses. New estates were built to redress the poor housing which exists in the central areas of our great cities and to obviate the health hazards of inadequate accommodation. The absence of basic social amenities, the lack of thought put into the details of the design of these dwellings, the absence of any form of sheltered accommodation and the impossibility of rapidly transferring unsuitable cases to more suitable accommodation have led to the development of a hard core of dissatisfied people. The prime purpose of the slum clearance programme designated in the 1957 Housing Act, which put the responsibility of replacing unfit houses on medical officers of health, was to improve the health of the nation and to improve chronic ill health where it existed. This has not been achieved, and for this reason, and with respect, the Minister should take a drop in salary.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Steen) will forgive me if I do not take up his points one by one, but I would point out to him, and I am sure he will agree, that the defects in estates of which he has spoken are not peculiar to council estates. I could take him to some very soulless, soul-destroying private estates. I sympathise with his problems in the numbering of streets while he is canvassing.I should like to return to the theme of the debate as it was set by the hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott) in opening. I welcome the opportunity to debate housing. This is the first time since I became a Member of the House 11 months ago that the Opposition have chosen to debate the subject of housing. I can understand their reluctance. In a sector where a party has such a dismal record, one would have thought that common decency demanded a period of silence. Presumably they now believe that we have forgotten their appalling failures and that they can afford the opportunity of sniping opportunist attacks on the Government's efforts to grapple with this problem. Any motion of censure concerning the housing situation can be directed only in one direction, to right hon. and hon. Members on the Conservative side for the situation they created, because we are today reaping the harvest they sowed and suffering the legacy of policies they pursued in office. Housing has rightly been called the great British failure, rightly because all Governments share some degree of blame. Failure, however, like all other human activities, is relative and we have to recall that the Government inherited in housing, particularly in the public sector, probably the worst chaos that had existed since the war. Council house building was down to the same level as in 1947 and starts in the public sector were down by over one-quarter compared with 1970. I well recall fighting the 1970 election as a Labour candidate in a Conservative-held constituency when great play was made of the fact that housing completions had fallen since the peak of 1968. The Conservative Party attempted to make great political capital of that fact. It is interesting to note that even if the 1970 level had been maintained throughout the following four years there would now be 200,000 more public sector dwellings than actually exist, and 200,000 families still languishing on council waiting lists would have been decently housed. We have not yet had any answers from the Opposition during this debate about this state of affairs. The 1970 figure in public sector building was far from adequate, and we never claimed that it was. But it is worth recalling one of the main reasons why the 1970 figure was lower than that of 1968, for instance. One of the main factors involved was the encouragement given by Conservative Members to Conservative councils to cut back housing programmes. For these reasons it must be the No. 1 priority of the present Government to get public sector starts back at least to the 1970 level as soon as possible. They are making real progress. The 1974 figures already show a considerable improvement on those of 1973. One factor we have to bear in mind, however, is that the stock of council houses has been further depleted by the short-sighted policy of selling council houses. I was appalled to hear a spokesman for the Opposition this afternoon still putting forward the idea of selling council houses as a contribution to the solution of the country's housing problem. How can we offer the hope of decent housing to people on the housing waiting list if we reduce the total stock of housing available? By doing so we reduce the number of voids which become available each year to house people on the list. That argument has still not been answered by Conservative spokesmen despite the fact that they go through election after election putting forward that solution to our housing problem.
Can the hon. Gentleman say how many council tenants he knows to have been dispossessed of their houses once they have been housed? If they have a council house and keep it for life, why should they not be given an opportunity to buy it?
The simple answer is that tenancies are as limited as life itself, and houses become available as a result of natural factors if they are retained in the ownership of the local authority. Many council tenants choose to take houses in the private sector. Every local authority that has gone through the process of selling council houses is finding that fewer houses now become available as voids than in the past. We lost 100,000 houses to the public sector by this process alone in two years, 1972 and 1973. We lost them by the efforts of local authority asset strippers.I am pleased that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has not only tried to put a brake on this process but has to some extent turned the tables. He is now allowing local authorities to buy houses from the private sector, and in many areas that is not only improving the housing prospects of people on housing lists but it is doing something to rescue the building industry from the disaster inflicted upon it by the policy of the last Conservative Government. If that Government can claim credit for any achievement above all others, it is that they managed to build more houses at a price at which nobody could afford to buy them than any previous Government in Britain's history. The present Government are on the right road. I was glad to hear that my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction is not complacent about the situation, as none of us can afford to be complacent. He and his right hon. Friend have made a major contribution to tackling this problem, mainly because they have been prepared to make available the financial resources that are needed, and because they are committed to an increase in public sector housing expenditure, in contrast to Conservative Members, who are always committed to a reduction in such expenditure. I believe that the Housing (Rents and Subsidies) Bill provides a framework for an extension of public sector housing but it is by no means the last word. I am glad that we are to have a comprehensive review of housing finance. We need to examine housing finance to find out how we can encourage local authorities to expand their house-building programmes. We need to ensure that a penalty is not placed on authorities which face up to their housing problems and have to force up rents year by year while at the same time other authorities which simply ignore the housing problems staring them in the face can court popularity by keeping rents and rates low. We need to find a system that will overcome that appalling position. Many ideas have recently been put forward on how to increase our housing stock and how to speed up the provision of housing. I wish to deal particularly with one of them. I was interested to see that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, speaking to the National Housing and Town Planning Council, asked whether people would not greatly prefer quicker, cheaper homes to the hopeless, endless wait for bigger, more expensive houses. Without wanting to suggest for one moment that that was a loaded question, it can, of course, have only one answer. We need to consider whether those are real alternatives and whether it is necessary to lower our standards to tackle our housing problems. There is very little evidence to support that point of view. Between 1951 and 1961 the average floor area of a three-bedroom council house was reduced by about 10 ft., but in that same period the total number of houses produced by local authorities was just about halved. At the same time the Labour Government, in the year in which it achieved its record building figure—1968—ensured that 90 per cent. of those houses were built to improved Parker Morris standards. I do not accept, and a great number of people on this side of the House do not accept, that the maintenance of standards is incompatible with increased building provided we are prepared to make the resources available and to spend a more adequate proportion of our gross national product on housing than we have done up to now. If the intention of my hon. Friend the Minister in that suggestion was that housing could be speeded up by the adoption of different measures, I fully support him. If we can achieve a speedier provision of housing by industrialised or prefabricated building methods, I go fully along with him. But while the time taken to build a council house has lengthened appallingly, I do not believe that we should tackle our housing problem at the cost of potential slums. We must not be obsessed with a search for the cheapest methods available. There is much that is good in the products of industrialised building and we should use them to encourage local authorities to use them, particularly where conventional building is not appropriate or where there is difficulty over supplies and building labour. We must, however, make it clear that our interest in new building techniques is motivated by our concern to tackle the housing problem and not by an obsession to cut back the amount of money spent ou housing. There are other areas in which we could improve the provision of housing. The most immediate step the Government could take to improve the building industry would be to bring before the House as soon as possible the Bill to eliminate lump labour. There is much that we could do in the pre-contract and design stages to speed up the process. We need to look closely—I am glad we are to receive a report soon—at planning procedures. They need a radical overhaul. No one wants to take away from the individual his democratic right to object to planned developments, but we can at times face serious delays caused by objections from usually well-housed people to any further residential development, in particular council house development. We must find ways to ensure that the right to object to development is not abused to the detriment of those in housing need and that the scales are not loaded against the homeless in this process. I believe that the Government have been right to concentrate activity on the public sector. It is widely accepted by many people involved in housing that only the public sector can make a genuine contribution towards housing those in greatest need. The hon. Member for Chelsea seems to be keen on quoting Shelter. He may be interested to know that the Government's view is shared by Shelter. It, too, believes that it is the local authorities which must play the primary rôle in solving our housing problem. But that does not mean, of course, that we can ignore the private sector. In the private sector 50,000 houses are empty, completed and not bought. Estate agents have an average of 124 unsold houses on their books, 61 of which have been there for over three months. The key to giving a boost to the private sector lies in assisting the first-time home buyer. Although low-start mortgages as envisaged by building societies and the Department are useful, they do not provide an adequate substitute for more direct help aimed at reducing rather than forestalling the costs. The Opposition brought out a policy promising 9½ per cent. mortgages, but the only effect of that would have been to force house prices still higher and to make it even more difficult for the first-time buyer. We must give priority in this Parliament to the establishment of the national housing finance agency envisaged in the Labour Party manifesto so that we can be in a position to give more direct aid to the young home-buyer and to tackle the overriding problem of regulating the flow of mortgage funds. I know that my right hon. Friend wishes to do this in co-operation with the building societies. I remain far from convinced that the problem can be tackled by a voluntary agreement with them. I think that in the coming years we have to see much closer Government control and involvement in the supply of mortgage funds. I therefore welcome the statement that the Government are giving priority to the establishment of a housing finance agency and direct help for young house buyers.
I shall confine myself to one issue. It is an important issue affecting the Isle of Thanet and the whole South-East of England. It turns upon the fact that the London authorities are anxious to spread their tentacles into the South-East. They want to move out of London a large part of its elderly population.The Isle of Thanet—the same is true of many other South Coast towns—has a large elderly population, totalling about 40 per cent. The result is, of course, that our social services are highly taxed and there is great demand for geriatric services. Our hospitals, understaffed, are in a grave situation. We have a great many homes for the elderly, and in addition there is the provision of accommodation for the elderly in the shape of flats, maisonettes and so on. It is quite natural for people to want to retire to Thanet and other towns along the coast, like Eastbourne and Bournemouth. As a result of this process, however, a grave imbalance of population is developing. The London authorities understandably want to move their old people away in order to make room for those still in work. On top of that, of course, there is the recognition that if they can move them out they can escape the obligations of having to deal with the problems of the elderly through the provision of geriatric facilities and ensuring that other social services are provided. The process has reached dramatic proportions. We have to put a stop to it, and the Government at national level must recognise that there has to be a better balance. But when I wrote to the Minister I was told that the Government were not prepared to limit or control the exodus from this great City of London. We are, of course, willing to take people, provided that they are self-reliant and able to be dependent upon themselves, particularly in the ability to buy their own property. But, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) said in his able speech, the problem is that people cannot afford to buy a house. They cannot afford the high interest rates. Unless they are engaged in swapping a house, many of them are in difficulties. Ten million houses are affected. Thanet is quite willing to build more council houses and is doing so. It is also buying certain groups of houses and also individual houses—in some cases unsatisfactorily, because they are badly mined in areas where there are private housing estates. We are in difficulty. What is needed is building for rent. Only 2 million houses are available for rent throughout the country, a low figure which shows the nature of the problem. Yet it is only in the rented sector that we can meet our problems locally. If we are to look after our own population and also the exodus from London, that exodus must be spread throughout the country and not concentrated in the seaside towns. But if people are to move at all, it is rented accommodation that is wanted. The Socialists object to private rented accommodation, but we do not object to public rented accommodation and housing associations. We feel that everyone, including the private sector, has a part to play. My appeal tonight to the Under-Secretary, who wrote to me on this subject, is to recognise that there is a grave danger of crippling the South Coast towns. There is a danger of turning them into resorts purely for old people, of having nothing but homes for the elderly, if we continue to accept a large influx of such people. Financially the situation is most unfortunate. We cannot afford to pay what the Greater London Council can afford to pay. We cannot afford to pay what some of the housing societies, the Lewisham Borough Council or the other big councils can afford to pay. The Greater London Council has borrowed £100 million from the Arabs at enormous interest rates which we the London ratepayers have to pay. We in Thanet have no Arab friends, and we cannot pay for the Arabs to give us loans at those rates. Big Brother is tending to loom only too large over us. The problem affects not merely Thanet but the South Coast. It is a very human problem, and I do not believe that the Londoners would want it solved in the way I have described. Nor do I believe that the situation is attractive when there are too many old people, with not enough mix of the younger and middle generations. We are happy to have a great many retired people and for them to enjoy themselves. We want to give the services. To give a tuppenny concession on the bus cost Thanet £125,000, but up the road at Dartford a concession of half the fare cost only £75,000. Because of the small amount of ratepayers' money which we receive in places such as Thanet and various other places along the South Coast, we cannot give those advantages without soaking the ratepayers. Some hon. Members may have seen the excellently-produced programme on "Midweek" the other night by the man who was our financial adviser in Thanet. He pointed out how we have had to work and scrape to make sure that the rates burden does not rise by more than 25 per cent. in the coming year so far as the local authorities are concerned. That has meant cutting back to a degree in a way that London would not dream of. Let us recognise that there has to be a balance in the areas and the regions, between London and the South Coast, and between Birmingham and its perimeter. If we do that and if we realise that we have got to use the whole field for a real drive on a policy for both council and private rented property, we may be able to get somewhere. We shall not be able to do it by owner-occupation with the high interest rates today.
The hon. and learned Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies) has made a most reasonable plea not to be overburdened with the elderly from the centre of London. I only wish that his attitude was shared by the many local authorities much nearer to the source of the problem. If only the Conservative-controlled councils on the perimeter of London took that attitude, many of the problems of central London would have been relieved by now. It is tragic for the many people in central London who are elderly or disabled or who have great social problems to be held back in central London because of the lack of co-operation by some of the outer boroughs.I want to remind the House of the problem in London. The Greater London Council pointed out in its recent memorandum to the Layfield Committee that:
In a small way this indicates how serious the problem is for London, which is the major area of housing shortage and housing problem in the whole nation. Much that has been said, particularly by the mover of this rather strange motion, the hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott). I have found completely irrelevant. I am in a position to feel this more than some hon. Members, because during the whole of the term of the Conservative Government I was a member of the London Boroughs Association and of its housing and works committee. I was also a member of the Association of Municipal Corporations and its general purposes committee. I was also a member of the London borough of Camden. I see in the Chamber at least three past or present members of that authority. The borough rates very high in social and housing problems. I was fascinated by the description of the Tory administration's housing record. I remember, as a member of all the three bodies I have described, which were not all the time Labour-dominated, that the other frustration was the complete lack of co-operation between the Government of the day and local authorities at all levels. There was the further impossibility of working out any kind of constructive housing policies in the light of their intransigence. The hon. Member for Chelsea spoke of a reduction in the amount of rented property in the Earls Court district of London. I remember vividly how 18 months ago, long before there was a Labour Government, I was called to a conference of tenants of privately-owned property from that very area, pleading for Labour Members in central London to try to rescue them from being thrown out on their necks by speculative purchasers of their rented properties who were trying, in the jargon of the time, to break up estates and sell the flats separately. A year ago and more at least 1,800 flat-dwellers in large blocks of flats were pleading with Camden Borough Council to purchase their estates so that they would be safe from the depredations of that same group of speculators. There is not time for me to go over the ills that housing suffered under the previous administration. There is so much to be done. I am astounded at the cynical way in which the motion has been put forward. When we are debating the most serious social problem of today, I should like to move a counter motion to surcharge Conservative Members many thousands of pounds for their neglect in this sector, which has brought untold misery to many people in the London area and in urban areas throughout the country. I am concerned that we should look for ways in which we can start—it can only be a start—to solve the housing problem after years of neglect. I do not absolve previous Labour administrations either. In local government I fought many battles with earlier Housing Ministers on some of these issues. Today we must think of how we can overcome these problems. The only way is by co-operation with generosity or willingness to understand the problem. There must be co-operation starting with the Government. In the London area the Greater London Council has a vital part to play, especially with its strategic housing rôle, as have the local authorities, By that I mean all local authorities, not merely those which wish to solve the housing problem. We know from the London scene that there are nearly 2,000 acres of land which could be used for housing and which for various reasons have not yet become available to the local authorities. As my hon. Friend the Minister will know, the Greater London Council is very concerned about the part it wishes to play. The first area in which its concern is expressed is housing loans. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have spoken about the problems of those who wish to buy their own homes and we have heard, particularly from the Labour benches, of the urgent need for local authority building for rent. There is still anxiety expressed especially by young people who will perhaps not become eligible for council property until their children have grown up and who want to purchase a home if they can. It is an anomaly that, whereas the Government have given so much to building societies to stabilise the mortgage interest rates, councils are reaching a stage where they will be forced to increase their mortgage interest rates far above what the building societies are now charging. The GLC is trying to help people to build new homes—people who are homeless, people who want to move out to take employment outside the London area, young people and even older people wanting to buy older properties. It would be a pity if they were deprived of the opportunity of a GLC mortgage to buy property when they may well not be eligible for a building society mortgage. Of some 500 loan applications received by the GLC recently, 75 per cent. were for pre-1939 properties, including 60 per cent. for pre-1919 properties. About 80 per cent. of all applicants were under the age of 30, and all were first-time home buyers. But I want to utter a word of warning about concentrating entirely on first-time home buyers. The Building Societies Association has rightly said in the past few days that if help goes only to first-time buyers, those who want to move on to larger accommodation and thus free their homes for first-time buyers will be precluded from obtaining mortgages. We may put a halt to the mobility of which Conservative Members have spoken if we say that mortgages will be available only to people buying for the first time. The other area of great concern—it is the concern of the GLC and the boroughs—relates to the indication from the Government about possible restrictions on the work of modernisation and improvement. The Opposition's statement that they had a wonderful record on home improvement is a fallacy, because they omitted to mention that the bulk of the money spent on improvements was spent by local authorities modernising and improving their estates. But much more remains to be done to them. Many earlier estates have been completely modernised and converted. The more recent ones, not only the pre-war ones but the immediate post-war ones, are beginning to need attention. I fear that it will not be long before the housing built in the past few years subject to the stringencies of the housing cost yardstick will start to need vast sums spent on it. We dare not let the present local authority housing stock deteriorate so that future generations in the House and in the local authorities in the London area are faced with ever-expanding bills for conversion, modernisation and even structural work because of the skimping in recent years on construction. The Government's recent circular expressed the wish that local authority action would help people living in substandard homes, and said that difficult areas should be given priority even at the expense of other areas and of conservation. It is essential that the Government do not restrict this area of local authorities' work. The GLC and the London boroughs have been doing a great deal in the matter of housing development. It is encouraging to see that local authority development is beginning to build up again. A vast amount of the GLC's stock is old property, and the GLC needs the Government's support all the way. The housing subsidies introduced by the Government will help considerably in making sure that rent rises in the public sector are restricted. But I should like to take up a point made by one of my hon. Friends about the restriction of private sector rents. It is unfair to argue, as did a Conservative Member in in reply to my hon. Friend, that because the Housing (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Act was less stringent in its pressure on Scottish council tenants there should be less stringency in the increase in Scottish private sector rents as well. In fact, because London and areas in the rest of the country suffered the most serious effects from the Housing Finance Act, they should have the greatest protection. There is tremendous worry for people still living in the private sector in London—there are many of them—about what will happen when the lid is taken off private rents. The problem of housing in London has worried the House for a long time. It has certainly worried those who have been trying to cope with it. By co-operation we may be able to make inroads into the housing waiting lists. But those lists are not the only criteria by which to judge the needs of London or any of our cities, many of which artificially hold down their housing waiting lists while they house what they call social cases ahead of all the people who wait patiently for many years. For the sake of those who wait, of those who are not even eligible to get on housing lists and of the elderly who are often stuck in city centres while their young families are moved many miles away for rehous- ing, I beg the Government to treat the subject with the seriousness it deserves. Labour Members campaigned on the housing issue above all others. I believe that many of us were elected on our pledges to do something about housing. I and many of my hon. Friends will not be satisfied until all the figures we have seen today have been increased in value, until there is more house building, especially in the council sector, until the private sector can get itself properly organised, as it has not been able to do so far, and until the construction industry is once more ticking over properly. We shall not be satisfied until we see the end of the problem, and not merely the beginning of the end."In London, the number of people living in areas of multiple deprivation amounts to the entire population of the former county borough of Newcastle or of the former city of Manchester."
I congratulate the hon. Member for Ilford North (Mrs. Miller), who obviously spoke with considerable knowledge of her subject and with great compassion. I share that compassion. It is likely that it helped me considerably in my election to the House—although other people may have other ideas. I have been very much concerned with the subject, but have been involved on the other side of the fence.I may, perhaps, be looked upon with some suspicion by Labour Members because for the best part of 22 years I was a partner in a firm of auctioneers and estate agents, a firm which has been going for nearly 200 years. I believe that the Opposition, Chief Whip was horrified when he put his house on the market to find that my name was still on the notepaper. But I wish to declare that I have no financial interest whatsoever today. My only interest is that I am a member of a charitable housing association. Therefore I speak with some knowledge of the housing situation, although I have never served on a housing authority. I was on a county council, which does not generally deal with housing matters. We have before us a motion to reduce the salary of the Secretary of State by £1,000. It comes oddly from a party which left office only one year ago and which bequeathed its successors with problems of unprecedented proportions. Perhaps the motion would have been better worded if it had suggested that Ministers concerned with housing—from both parties since the war—should be surcharged £1,000. It now seems that both major parties agree that they have made rather a mess of housing policy. I do not say that this Government have carried out all that they could or should have done or that they have achieved what they have done as quickly as they might have done, but I see signs of improvement. It seems that sales to the private occupier are improving. If one talks to an honest estate agent it is clear that the property market had rather a good January. Sales have started to pick up. The figures suggest that housing association starts are on the increase. I am glad to say that the housing association with which I am concerned is at long last getting off the ground. It has made its first purchase and it now has a scheme for some 60 units. It is annoyed that a further scheme which was thought to be highly desirable has been turned down. I shall be writing to the Secretary of State about that matter. I hope that the Housing Corporation will help us. I think that we all agree that housing and rent legislation is in a mess. In our present economic situation we should try to get two basic priorities right. I should like to see Ministers and Prime Ministers appearing on television and putting over to the general public that we must ensure that we have enough food with which to survive and that everybody is entitled to have a decent roof over his head. I want to be constructive and to suggest some ways in which the Secretary of State could be more helpful in the present situation. In this context I believe that his announcement of a complete reappraisal of our housing legislation is to be greatly welcomed. The real problem, as we all know, is the escalation of house and land prices and the increased cost of construction over the past three or four years. So many properties are way beyond any person's means. Unfortunately, some people are still taking on commitments which they should never have been encouraged to accept. I remember some three years ago an unemployed man being given a building society mortgage to buy a £10,000 house. At that time they were virtually throwing the money around. In the short term I suggest that there is a dire need for new ideas on low-cost structures built with traditional materials. In the past two or three days I have sent some details to the Minister. This matter was drawn to my attention because in my constituency the redevelopment is taking place of one or two holiday camps. One of the camps is in a residential area. The chalets are built in terraced form with traditional materials and sold purely for holiday occupation. They have an 11-week gap when they have to be empty. I believe that that is a nonsense. That is the sort of structure that we should be considering because they could be sold freehold. There are similar properties in Wales on a similar site which have only a one-day gap and which cost in the region of £5,000. They are properly built two-bedroomed properties. If they can be built within the price range that I have mentioned it seems that the housing lists could be halved almost overnight. I believe that it would be agreed that the people who should first take advantage of such a scheme should be those who are on the waiting lists. I ask the Minister to look seriously at that suggestion. I am sure that many marvellous ideas appear at the Department of the Environment from many sources, but I hope that he will seriously study the papers that I have sent him. I have been advocating mobile homes for some time. It seems that local authorities do not look upon them favourably because they are costly. I am pleased to say that one local authority in my constituency has agreed to purchase a fair number. I believe that they are worth while because they provide an immediate solution. I am sure that all right hon. and hon. Members who hold what are called "surgeries" will have had the experience of people queueing up to tell them about their housing problems. When I ask people with housing problems whether they would live in a caravan they invariably say "Anything to get out of the place I am in." For people to live in a front room with two kids and elderly in-laws leads only to nervous breakdowns and all sorts of distress. In certain circumstances the provision of mobile homes is a move in the right direction. I hope that the Minister for Housing and Construction or the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, the hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) will give a welcome to the Bill of the hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) when it comes before the House on 28th February. I know that it does not relate to the purchase of mobile homes, but it seeks to give some security to those who occupy them. We also need more flexibility on the part of the building societies. They still do not look favourably on flats and elderly type properties, yet that is very often the sort of area in which help is most needed. I had a letter only the other day from one of my constituents, and it reads:
he is referring to the position in the town in which he lives—"The majority of the housing that is available"—
Unfortunately the mortgage rate offered by the council to which my constituent refers will from 1st March be 14¼ per cent. Presumably that is a rate that is fixed for all time. That is quite beyond comprehension. Another ridiculous anomaly is that another district council with which the Isle of Wight is lumbered is lending money at 11 per cent. Executives and the others in the 14¼ per cent. area are buying their houses on loans from the district authority which is offering 11 per cent. mortgages. We hear of mortgages being offered by local authorities at even higher rates. Further, the cost of buying and selling is too high. That is a pretty bright remark from someone who has been in the business, but I have made that statement publicly on many occasions. The whole process is too intricate. There is on the Notice Paper a motion concerned with this matter, and which I have signed, although I do not agree entirely with the wording. Why on earth can it not be possible for someone to go into an estate agent's office and to sign a conditional contract? He could be interviewed by a legal clerk and a mortgage broker. If he disclosed accurate information and gave proper details of his earnings a 'phone call could be made to the local authority to check whether there were any diabolical ideas such as putting roads or sewers through the house. The conditional contract could then be signed. A further check could be made afterwards and if the information was correct the deal could be made permanent. Such a system would be much cheaper. We all know that this business of searches is a nonsense. Why cannot a local authority have around one of its rooms a map so that an immediate answer can be given instead of there having to be a delay of two or three weeks?"is low-cost Victorian requiring modernisation with bathrooms, and there are … a very considerable number of these houses which are vacant and for sale. The building societies are not prepared in virtually all cases to grant mortgages even to investors for houses without bathrooms and consequently the young couples who would like to purchase have been unable to do so through their inability to raise finance through their building society. They have, therefore, applied in most cases to the local authority whose object in making mortgages available is to assist the lower paid in purchasing smaller houses which could be improved with the aid of the Government grants."
I do not know whether the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) sees the grin which spreads from ear to ear of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee). If we have that sort of conveyancing there will be a barristers' bonanza.
If it will help the house purchaser I do not mind if it produces a barristers' bonanza. The Chairman of the Law Society some two or three years ago was advocating such a system. He said that estate agents, lawyers and mortgage brokers should get together. It is a disgrace that it takes up to two months to complete a transaction.If we have registration books for cars, why can we not have the same thing for property? The whole process of registering title has gone too slowly. We have got nowhere at the moment on this. Most solicitors tell me that it is not very helpful to them.
If all Crown land were publicly owned there would be no difficulty with searches for title.
I cannot go that far. There will be another debate shortly on that question.The situation at present is that a person may think that he has sold a property, but it is subject to contract. Five or six weeks later he is contacted and told that the buyer has backed out. The situation which prevailed two or three years ago with the terrible practice of gazumping would never have arisen if we had this sort of practice I have suggested. The present situation literally drives some people to suicide. The whole process of buying and selling is far too complicated and many people would like to see it made far simpler. I welcome the Dobry Report which deals with planning rigidity. I would like to see some advice sent to planning officers because I think their approach is too rigid. They must be more flexible in their outlook. They are still referring to plans which are 10 or 12 years old.
They are out of date.
They are out of date.In my own housing association I have grave doubts about one of the developments we are carrying out. We are building between 50 and 60 units for low-cost occupation out in the country, eight miles from the nearest town. What are we really doing? We are creating the worst possible situation, because it will cost the occupiers £1 or more in bus fares to get in and out of town. I believe this is wrong, but this is land which has been zoned for housing. In our main county town there are 50 acres which could be used for housing. This is very low-cost agricultural land, but it cannot be used because the planning officer is using a plan 10 or 12 years out of date. He does not want to change it and will not advise his committee to change it. I was present when he was appointed, and I asked him to be more flexible. Some land which has been scheduled as industrial should be looked at again. There is a case in Kingston, which is not my constituency, which is causing concern. There is another in Dagenham, where I was the other day, which is also causing concern. We know what happened at Flixborough. Some of this land should be re-scheduled. Dealing with the renovation of existing properties, why have the proposals which came forward from Shelter, which were mentioned by the hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott) earlier, had such a cool reception from the Government? I hope that this is not the case, and that the hon. Gentleman is seriously considering them, because I think that its booklet on bed and breakfast and its other suggestions have a great deal to commend them. We should like to see more encouragement given to self-build groups. I should like to assure the Opposition Front Bench that most members of housing associations give their time completely freely. They are excellent people, and include architects who are not looking for a quick way to make money. I know that there is a suspicion that some housing associations are an easy way for architects to get substantial fees. I regret that in some cases that has proved to be so. However, in many cases they are professional people who, like most of us here, feel desperate about the housing situation. They are anxious to do something about it. Therefore, I hope that this suspicion does not lie too much within the Department of the Environment.
Order. I dislike interrupting the hon. Gentleman, but there are another 16 hon. Members who would like to speak. The hon. Gentleman has been speaking for 16 minutes.
My apologies, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for having gone on so long. If I may have two more minutes, I promise to sit down. This is a subject on which I feel very strongly.I welcome the encouragement of tenant co-operatives. I welcome the Government's conversion to the low-start mortgage scheme. It is good Liberal policy. I have the booklet if hon. Members want it. I believe that far more urgent attention should be given to the renovation of properties many of which are owned by local authorities, some, incidentally, by the Minister's own Department, some by the National Coal Board, and others by private developers. Many of them are good, sturdy buildings, and it is criminal not to make greater use of our existing resources. I had intended to comment about the NHBC, but I realise that the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) has unfortunately left the Chamber. I will not now refer to it. He has promised to see me about it. The council could be more helpful in some cases, when some of the jerry-builders we have had over the last three years have gone bankrupt and left poor people in dire straits. I will send the Minister a good scheme for the purchase of option leases. I hope he will study it. It offers some protection for people about to move into properties, with the right to purchase over a five-year period. If the Chancellor were to be generous and give tax concessions on the rent, I think it would be a scheme that could work very well. Finally, I draw attention to the housing policy document produced by the Royal Institute of British Architects. It is a very good paper on housing. The reason why I shall not be supporting the Opposition in the Division Lobby tonight can be summed up in paragraph 53, which states:
I pray that this may be the case."The Royal Institute believes that the Secretary of State's readiness under the pressures of the present social and economic difficulties to seek new answers to the housing problem could give the nation an overall housing policy it has so far lacked; and the opportunity for the architectural profession to be more fully used and its work more sensitively adjusted to the real needs of the people."
The need for extra housing is overwhelming. It is sad that, over the years, all the words that have been spoken on this subject have not produced better results. I can only hope that the Government's proposals will in fact produce results. I certainly do not want to support a motion to reduce the Minister's salary, but I should like to press him and his colleagues concerned with housing to take on board a little extra work.One can argue the merits of private ownership or of renting housing. One can argue about renting housing from councils or from housing associations. One can discuss the merits or lack of merits of rent increases. It is, however, a fact that the number of council tenants rises each year and that the number of would-be council tenants is rising even faster. Most council house tenants and would-be tenants may not like rent increases, but from my experience what upsets and frustrates them are other problems of housing management. What they demand more than anything else from a council is that it deals efficiently with repairs, maintenance, requests for transfers, the letting of property and other problems of housing estate management. I should like to quote one or two of the letters which I have received over the past fortnight from constituents, which set out the sort of problems which exist in Stockport and which I believe are typical of most of a large authority's housing problems. In the first letter a girl writes:
Another letter reads:"I am an unmarried mother with one eight-week old baby. My parents will only have me home if I agree to have my child adopted. I want to keep him, but Stockport council say I have to wait six months before I can even go on their housing list."
Another letter says:"Three of my children are in the care of the local authority. I would love to have them home with us but in a one-bedroom flat it is impossible—can you help us get a larger home? We do want them with us. We know of lots of council houses which have been empty for months."
An elderly lady writes:"It is my brother. He is very ill. He is driving my sister to distraction trying to look after him. Could he be transferred to another council house nearer to us so that we could help to look after him? We have not got a lot of time and most of it is spent travelling backwards and forwards trying to help. It is a terrible worry if anything happens and we cannot get down to help."
Another letter says:"It is a five-roomed house but I cannot get upstairs. I am just living in one room. I would love a little flat. I am sure I could manage to look after myself then."
Another correspondent says:"It is the repairs. We have been waiting months for a new window. The present one just lets the water pour in. They keep coming up to our estate with new window frames about every three or four months but they never come to our house."
One of the sad things that seems to crop up in far too many of the letters I receive is something which can be expressed like this, "Oh yes, I have been up to the housing. They do not want to know. They treat me like dirt." It is pretty frustrating for a tenant or a would-be tenant in an authority that has a housing problem. It is even more frustrating for housing officials who, day after day, have to deal with housing tragedies. It is no wonder that even the most sympathetic housing official loses his cool sometimes in trying to explain to some angry applicant or tenant that his is only one of many similar problems and deserving cases. Housing management within local authorities has just grown. I was going to say "like Topsy" but perhaps it would be more appropriate to say "like Jack's beanstalk". It has shot up. At one time housing managers in almost every local authority could know every tenant and interview every applicant. Today that is impossible. Most local authorities are trying to bring some modern management approaches to their housing problems. But each local authority seems to be working out its own scheme, often involving designing its own computer programme. This is expensive. Each authority has to work through its own teething problems with the programmes. Each authority has its own particular approach and problem. Surely the Government could do more to advise local authorities on the most satisfactory way to overcome the many problems facing large authorities in managing housing. Surely they could do more to spotlight those authorities which have first-class schemes of housing management so that one authority could learn from another. Surely, too, the Government could look at a national scheme of co-ordinating housing transfers. We might even go further and take into account the problem of under-occupation of many council houses and perhaps consider making grants to local authorities so that they can build on expensive sites—expensive not because of the land but because of the problems of working on that particular site. On such sites there could be built accommodation for single persons which would greatly reduce much of the under-occupation. It would be useful if, in doing this, there was not such a rigid adherence to the cost yardstick. Might not the Government encourage better housing management by making grants to cover the cost of design and putting into practice new schemes of housing management? Are the Government satisfied with the opportunities available for people who wish to train in housing management? How many refresher or training courses are there dealing with this subject? So far I have dealt with problems of management of local authority housing from the point of view of the tenant or would-be tenant. I also ask whether the Government are giving local authorities enough technical advice. They seem to be prepared to pour out advice about how to undertake housing schemes but the advice seems to be much slower when it comes to dealing with the problems which have occurred with schemes designed to that original advice. Can the Government now tell a local authority how to solve the problem of vermin or other infestations which occur in the heating ducts of many flats which were pressed on local authorities by the Ministry in the past? Or do they still pass the buck on to the Ministry of Agriculture? What is the Government's advice on debt control? Nothing seems to cause more anger than the size of a town's arrears. Yet such rent arrears appear to vary fantastically from one local authority to another. It does not seem to correspond to the harshness with which an authority reacts to rent arrears. Rather it relates to other items of policy. Could the Government not give much more advice on this subject? I know that many of the problems of housing management can be dealt with only by solving the housing shortage. I beg the Government to take a major initiative to improve housing management while at the same time leaving housing management in the control of the local authorities."My son always used to call in on his way home from work just to see I was all right. But he had to move with his job down South. Is there any way in which I can get a council house down there?"
Without wishing to sound in any way superior, may I say how much I enjoyed what was said by the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett). He showed a grasp of the problems facing the tenants of council estates. He reechoed a good deal of what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Steen). Although this is a censure debate, it is obvious that there are matters on which both sides of the House can agree. Housing has always been a subject which has raised the passions of all hon. Members.I was disappointed in the Minister's speech because although he was replying to what is virtually a censure debate and one would have expected some political hard-hitting, his speech seemed to be informed with a certain amount of bitterness. Apparently the hon. Gentleman disagrees. This is the impact the hon. Gentleman has upon my hon. Friends and myself.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not pursue this line. If he cares to look at the text of my speech afterwards—I will show it to him—he will find that my references to the record of the previous administration took up about three pages out of 39. The rest consisted of a discussion of the housing problems facing us.
The hon. Gentleman indulged in some political knock-about. It was not the major part of his speech. In his speech he asked for a serious discussion on housing. What I say is, whether he likes it or not—and he obviously does not—his approach to this side of the House makes it difficult to achieve the kind of discussion he wanted.We on the Conservative side of the House feel that we have something to contribute. We feel that compassion is not one-sided. Labour Members have something to learn from us. Perhaps I can illustrate this by referring to the speech of the hon. Member for Stockport, North. Throughout the debate there has been concern for council house tenants. This is nothing new. My maiden speech eight years ago argued for a charter for council house tenants. Never before have the two sides of the House been so close on this matter. If we are not careful we shall build two societies, two nations—and that is hackneyed enough. It worries me when I go around the country, not only in my own constituency but in others, too, to see on the one hand, the owner-occupied estates, and, on the other hand, the council estates, knowing that the people who live and die in those estates often never meet one another. They may, of course, meet at work or in the shopping centre. This is wrong and it is where I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott). It would be no bad thing in certain areas for council tenants to live next door to houses that are owner-occupied. Equally I disagree with Labour Members who would not sell council houses to tenants. We want a mixed society. Not all the comprehensive schools in the world will bridge this gap if, when the children leave school, they go their separate ways. In the last century one could say that what one saw was the result of laissez-faire policies, but that has been planned. When I see what council tenants have had planned for them, and when I listen to the hon. Member for Stockport, North and my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree, I get very angry. Some of our cities that have been planned and redeveloped are just arid wastes Politicians and others condemn people to live in these arid wastes. That is not done from wicked motives—far from it. It is done by well-meaning committees advised by well-meaning officials. It hurts the heart to go round these areas and to realise that people have had to live in them for so long. What can we do to help council tenants? It has been said from my side of the House "Why should a council tenant have a garage, why should he have a car?" That is a wrong approach. Why should not a council tenant have a car and a garage? Why should he not have a colour television set if he wants one? The price he has to pay for that is a fair rent, and the Conservative Government did some work on that. In many ways council tenants suffer from subsidised rents. For example, the tenant of a private landlord is told by the Government that he is fully protected, not only for his lifetime but for the lifetime of his wife, his son and any member of his family who is living with him. Does the council tenant have that right? Not on your life. He is a "grace-and-favour" tenant. If the council gives him 28 days' notice and he takes the matter to the court, the court cannot prevent his eviction. It is time that council tenants were given legal rights. The hon. Member for Stockport, North spoke of the difficulties of moving within council estates. That problem will not be solved by computers because we live in a bureaucracy. Although it is under democratic control supervised by the Press—and thank God it is supervised by the Press—it is a bureaucracy. Tenants should be given the right to move. That system worked well in the private sector. A tenant with a lease was able to transfer it to someone who was respectable and responsible. Such a right should be considered for council tenants. They should be given the ability to move without reference to a council official. A tenant may go to an official and say "May I move? I have agreed it with Mrs. So-and-So who has a bigger house. It would suit her to move to mine because she wants a smaller one". Imagine how he feels when he is told "No, it cannot be done. Your name must go on a list". There is too much bureaucracy in this sector. The wife of a council tenant never has a say in the sort of house in which she wants to live. In that matter the housewife does much better in the private sector. On private estates there are three or four kinds of houses from which she can choose. She also has a choice in the decorations. She has a choice in the kind of radiator system she wants. How many of all the millions of council tenants get such a choice? It is time that they had a choice. It is time they did not have their lives decided by committees. I have gone on much longer than I meant to do about this problem, but I have felt strongly about it for a long time. May I move to some practical suggestions to the Minister which arise from my profession as a solicitor? I declare an interest in that I act for tenants, landlords, builders and people who buy from builders—"You name it, we do it". That is not advertising. The Minister referred to the time that was taken in deciding planning appeals. When I take a case to the High Court there may be a three-day appeal on the most complex matters but at the end of the hearing the judge adjourns for half a day and comes back the following day with his judgment. On comparatively simple matters involved in some planning appeals I cannot understand why it takes the Minister four or five months to make a decision. He could do the job in 48 hours. One reason for the big rise in the price of houses is the planning system and the delays which occur. The planning system limited the supply of land, and there were many people who had an interest in preventing land coming on to the market—often to protect their own views. So pressure groups arose. There was a crying need for land. The planners knew that the population would increase, but did the planning system give us land? No, it did not. It is a restrictive planning system. At least within the narrow confines of the planning system, for Heaven's sake let us get people who can do what the judges do and give good decisions on simple matters within weeks rather than months. Another worrying problem which will affect the future rather than the present is the Government's proposal for the nationalisation of building land on a 10-year rolling programme. On 27th January the Minister made a statement to reassure builders who were getting worried. They wanted some definitions in the White Paper and the legislation was taking time to bring forward. If we are to have that legislation, the Minister must instil into local authorities the need for employing personnel who can develop the land. Under the new system the entrepreneur who used to provide most of the private housing will have to go to the local authority. Local authorities do not have trained staff. They have some valuers and estate managers, but they have no one who can say "This is the type of house to build here. This is the house that will sell". Local authorities have no staff to provide the initiative that the profit motive gave to the entrepreneurs who previously built houses. If we are to have this system, let us build into it some new initiatives. Some local authorities have no more idea how to set about it than they have about flying to the moon. Through interplay across the Floor of the House we can come close to an agreed policy. The Minister, for better or worse, accepts owner-occupied housing. We have new and better ideas about municipal housing. If we can get together many thousands of people in the country will be grateful.
The hon. Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg) said so many things with which I disagree that I hope he will forgive me if I do not take up each of his points, otherwise I should probably use the whole of my 10 minutes in meeting them. I should like, however, to refer to two points made by the hon. Gentleman.The hon. Gentleman and other Opposition Members make continual references to the condition of council estates, as though it was of a somewhat lower order of magnitude than that thrown up by the social conditions of private estates. I myself—and no doubt this applies to many of my right hon. and hon. Friends—live in what might be defined as a lower-middle-class, privately-developed housing estate. I assure the hon. Member for North Fylde that many of the social problems which are to be found on council estates certainly exist on private estates, perhaps sometimes to an even greater extent. The social mix in private estates is not perhaps representative of the population as a whole. By far the largest number of people in private estates, particularly the newer estates, tends to be young. Those people certainly face the problems to which the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Steen) drew attention. Often young people who live on private estates have nobody to look after their children, and there is sometimes a cycle of social deprivation. I mention this to emphasise that the type of problems to which the hon. Member for North Fylde referred are exhibited on private estates as well as on council estates. The hon. Member for North Fylde also referred to the need to speed up planning procedures. I agree with him on that point, but we must not forget that over the years we have tried to democratise our planning procedures. We must ensure that the public still have sufficient rights of investigating and that members of the public are able to make known their point of view before final decisions are taken. The motion which is now before the House seeks to reduce the salary of the Secretary of State for the Envoronment by £1,000 a year. It is a motion that appeals to me to some extent, but certainly the arguments which have been put forward by the Opposition in support of the motion have no appeal to me whatever. Therefore, I shall oppose the motion. I feel that it is impertinent for the Opposition to use one of their Supply Days, less than a year after the Conservatives lost office, to criticise the Labour Government's housing policy. I should like to take a brief look at the Conservative record in the public sector from 1970 to 1974. That record is a story of a continuing decline—namely, from 180,000 houses completed in 1970 to just over 107,000 houses completed in 1973. The Tories' record in the private sector was little better in its social results. First, the Conservatives managed to double the price of the average house. Secondly, their policy brought about a soaring interest rate which meant that the ordinary man or woman saw the dream of owner-occupation disappearing into the distant future, if not into the realm of the never-never land. But what did the right hon. Lady for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) say towards the end of the October election campaign? She donned the garb of Father Christmas and said that come Christmas she would reduce the mortgage interest rate from 11 to 9½ per cent. Hon. Members now know what was in that sack. It was certaintly not a 9½ mortgage rate, but it was action which had serious consequences elsewhere. We must look at this Opposition censure motion in the light of the Tory housing record. The consequences of their policies when in government meant that those seeking homes were caught in a vicious, cruel pincer movement. Home-seekers could not find homes to rent and those who sought to buy their own homes could not afford to do so. That was the legacy which the Tories left to the Labour Government in February 1974. I would not seek to pretend that within the space of 11 or so months the Labour Government have radically altered the housing situation, but there are definite signs that improvement is on the way. In the public sector, starts are now at the highest level since 1970 and that is to be commended. The Government have rightly made housing the first social priority. In the short term the emphasis is going into public sector housing. I should like to urge caution in some degree on my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction. Local authorities are being urged to build, build, build more public sector housing. I agree with that view, but we must also ensure that the desperately needed social infrastructure in respect of welfare centres and community centres is built into estates at the same time, otherwise we are likely to create the kind of housing conditions which local authorities built up in the middle 'thirties and late 'forties and which have led to some of the problems to which reference has been made in the debate. It is difficult for local authorities at present to plan for the required social infrastructure because of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's curb on public expenditure. I hope my hon. Friend will bear that factor in mind when he looks at future council housing schemes. In the private sector the Government have agreed to assist the first-time home buyer and to seek to prevent violent fluctuations in house prices. I should like to make a plea on behalf of those who are buying homes on mortgages from local authorities. I have received information in respect of the city of Leicester that local authorities are required to balance their books one year with another. It is a municipal requirement in approved schemes in Leicester and in other authorities that the minimum rate of interest which should be charged is ¼ a per cent. above the average Consolidated Fund rate for the coming year. Leicester's City Treasurer told me that the Consolidated Fund rate this year amounts to 12 per cent. Therefore, unless the Secretary of State takes immediate action the city of Leicester is likely to increase the mortgage interest rate from the present figure of 11 per cent. to 121 per cent. We must remember that this will adversely affect the less affluent members of our community who are seeking to buy their own homes. It is that section of the community above all which we as a Labour Government should be seeking to help. I turn to ways in which I believe the housing situation could be improved at the margins. I accept that we shall only solve the housing problem in the long term by building more homes. But there are ways and means which are now available to us in which we can use the present housing stock far more effectively and use the present resources in financial and manpower terms far more effectively than they are used at present. I should like to refer to two instances. The first concerns the practice which is still being pursued in some local authorities where residential properties are being converted into offices. This has happened in Leicester in the past few years and is a practice which should be deplored, if not stopped, by the Minister. Planning permissions are being granted to turn hostels and hotels which have ceased to be used as such into office accommodation. Again, in view of the desperate shortage of hostel accommodation in many local authority areas, this practice should be deplored, if not stopped. A second way in which we could use available resources more efficiently relates to houses in clearance areas which are fit for occupation but are boarded up alongside unfit houses. I understand the natural reluctance of local authorities to become involved in putting short-term tenants into fit houses in clearance areas. However, there is no reason why those local authorities should not co-operate with voluntary associations to ensure that some of the fit houses in clearance areas are used. I understand that Leicester has recently decided to co-operate with the Catholic Housing Association to ensure that within the next few weeks or months five or six families without homes will have short-stay accommodation in a fit house in a clearance area. In order to make this system work successfully, the voluntary associations require not only the co-operation of the local authorities—that is obvious—but the passive acceptance by the rest of the population, particularly those on housing waiting lists, that it will not lead to queue-jumping. I hope that my hon. Friend will encourage local authorities more than he has done hitherto to adopt this practice. I have one final point. I hope, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you will tell me if I run over my time a great deal.
Order. I remind hon. Members that it is not the prerogative of the Chair to limit speeches. It lies within the scope of hon. Members if they wish to show consideration for others who may want to take part in the debate.
I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It was your predecessor who reminded another hon. Member of the need to curtail his remarks in view of the numbers of hon. Members still wishing to speak.
I fully share the views expressed by my predecessor in the Chair.
Local authorities and other public authorities own many properties which remain empty for substantial periods. From the local authority point of view, this usually arises from insufficient manpower on the housing side, but more particularly on the legal side which is concerned with the conveyancing. That leads to many houses remaining empty. I suggest with some diffidence that local authorities should be encouraged to put more of their legal work out to private practice if they find it impossible to cope with their work loads. This is done in other sectors of local authority work. Many architects' departments are at present putting out work to private practice. The legal profession should be treated no differently.The situation regarding other publicly-owned houses is somewhat different. In my constituency police authority houses have remained empty for 18 months to two years. Chief constables are reluctant to pass the ownership of houses to the local authority because they want them for new recruits who will require rented accommodation. If that happens, the chief constables will have to sort out the problem two or three years hence. However, that should not be an excuse for keeping empty houses which could help in some small way to solve the housing problem. I have outlined three ways in which we could alleviate our housing difficulties. I appreciate that they will not solve the problem. Only a massive building programme will solve the housing problem in the long term. If we are to ameliorate our difficulties in the ways I have indicated, within the coming months—that is the time scale about which we are talking—we can ensure that people without homes or in bad housing conditions will have some semi-permanent accommodation to call their own.
The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mr. Forrester) made a thoughtful and perspicacious speech in which he remarked on the dangers that indexation on Government borrowing might have for the building societies and, as a result, for the whole of the house building industry. Those thoughtful and helpful remarks illustrated what I believe all in this House ought to bear in mind—that we cannot isolate the housing market from the economy and market forces generally.It was with great regret that I heard the hitter and contemptuous way in which the Minister for Housing and Construction referred to the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott). The hon. Gentleman spoke in a derisory way about the Tory housing record and gave the impression that the Labour Party had a monopoly of kindness, compassion and care for the underprivileged. The impression given was that we on this side of the House did not care about the great human indignities that arise from the housing problem. The fact is that the Tory administration got into difficulties on their housing programme towards the end of their period in office not because they cared too little but because previously they had cared too much. Paradoxically, because of our great human concern for the problem of unemployment, in 1971 we started to increase the money supply and to fuel that easy credit which unhappily confounded all our hopes in the housing sphere. Paradoxically, the same mistake could be made by the present administration. I do not suggest that they lack care or compassion. Indeed, looking at the Government's White Paper on public expenditure, published last Friday, it is clear that they propose vastly to increase public expenditure on housing from £2·3 billion to £3·6 billion. The same paradoxical situation will arise. By throwing money at the problem they will unhappily move a little nearer towards a hyper-inflation in which the economy will founder, and the human problems of unemployment and deprivation consequent upon difficulties in the housing market, will again defeat them. So let them, for once, allow their heads to rule their hearts. Let them not think that they alone care, but let them be careful about what they do with public expenditure. So it is that I take up two points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea when he suggested small ways in which the problem might be mitigated. If I put them forward in a non-partisan and co-operative way, I hope that they will not be dismissed in quite the contemptuous and offensive manner in which the Minister dismissed them when they were advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea. I accept immediately that, from my own point of view, though perhaps not that of my hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea, there is a great philosophical divide between me and Government supporters. But let us look at small ways in which we can mitigate our terrible housing problems. My hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea made the sensible and moderate suggestion that it might be possible to allow landlords to let housing for short periods on terminable leases. The Minister laughed that suggestion to scorn. Was that a very sensible approach? I know the argument. It is that these poor tenants cannot stand up to the vicious landlords and that, unless there is rent restriction, rent control and legislation from which the parties cannot contract out, tenants will always come off worst. Let us compare that sort of philosophy with the Government's philosophy on industrial relations. We are told when workers are in a wigwam, on a picket line or at a sit-in, that they have far more managerial ability than the managers and that they are capable of dealing at arm's length with merchant bankers, international companies, multi-national companies, Governments and all individuals. But when it comes to dealing with a landlord, they cannot do so on the basis of equality, even though we all know that the normal landlord is an old widow who has a couple of houses in a back street in an industrial city. I suggest that the extraordinary inconsistency in those two attitudes springs from the patronising and paternal attitude that the present Government have towards ordinary people. If ordinary people as tenants were allowed to contract on a basis of equality with landlords, many of the empty houses about which the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) spoke so movingly a few days ago would be filled for short periods by those who at present are on the expanding lists of people wishing to have council accommodation.
Do not we find a perfect example of the sort of accommodation that my hon. Friend has in mind in the empty police cottages about which the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) was complaining just now? Would not terminable leases help in such a case?
Of course, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. He has far more knowledge on the subject than I have, and what he said illustrates my point exactly.The second point which I make in a co-operative and non-partisan way relates to the need to encourage more lodgers in large council houses which are at present under-occupied. Let us consider the problem. It is clear that by indiscriminate rent subsidies it will be the case that over-large council accommodation will remain unduly attractive to those who have such houses. What is more, if we increase the rate support grant, the financial pressures of the property tax will again be taken off those who live in over-large council accommodation.
Why does the hon. Gentleman specify only council accommodation in this context? Does he not agree that there is a strong case for his suggestion being applied across the board, and to owner-occupied property as well?
I am discussing council accommodation at the moment because I believe that in private accommodation, on the whole, market forces work. A widow in private accommodation may feel that it is to her advantage to sell her over-large house, to invest a proportion of the sum she receives and to live in a smaller and cheaper house. At present, those financial pressures do not operate in the public sector of housing.The present administration wish to subsidise the council tenant further by holding down rents. I accept that that will be done. I accept, too, that the property tax will be mitigated by increased rate support grant. This has the support of my party. So, as a very moderate suggestion, perhaps we might try to work with human nature. The typical situation is the widow who lives alone in a three-bedroom council house. If no sort of financial pressure is put on her to persuade her to move out voluntarily, she is likely to remain. It is the house in which she brought up her children, to which she feels a great sense of attachment and in which she has all her memories. Probably she enjoys the garden. I accept that the present administration are not likely to put pressure on her to make use of the extra two bedrooms. Local authorities should be encouraged to persuade such ladies with under-occupied houses to take in lodgers.
By not charging them more rent if they take in lodgers, so that it is in their interests to do so. In this tiny way, a Socialist administration would be working with the fallibility of human nature, recognising that on the whole ordinary people do things for a mixture of motives and sometimes even for profit.If ordinary people are allowed to do that, it may be that the stock of public housing will be better used.
I understand that the wind-up speeches are due to begin at about 9 o'clock. There are still 10 hon. Members who wish to contribute to the debate. I bring those facts to the attention of hon. Members in the hope that they will evoke an intelligent response.
I shall endeavour, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to make what you describe as an intelligent response, though sometimes, as earlier speakers have found, what an hon. Member has written in his brief tends to run away with him. However, I shall try to restrain myself.I found that I was unable to agree with very much of what the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) said. His concluding remarks were devoted to the problem of lodger charges. Some councils charge them and some do not. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is wrong to make the charges as a matter of principle. But these lodger charges are embraced in the rebate scheme of the Housing Finance Act, and that scheme has been adopted by the Government. None the less, it is a provision which ought to go. I agree entirely that every inducement should be given to people to take in lodgers, although there might be some supervision to see that lodgers are not charged extortionate rents. But otherwise, the rebate scheme which the hon. Member's Government introduced—although he was not there at the time—tends to go in precisely the opposite direction to the suggestion which he has put forward tonight. I am afraid that I shall have to take up the other points in his speech with him in my chambers. One point has been mentioned to some extent but must be emphasised tonight. That is, that while it is true that some people prefer owner-occupation and some people prefer rented accommodation, it is a fact of life in the situation today that the nub of the problem, and its solution, must lie in the public sector. It must lie with that sector because the vast majority of people in this country, whatever they may prefer in theory, in practice cannot possibly conceive it within their means to buy a newly built house in the economic situation of today. Therefore, I welcome entirely the suggestion that the Government have begun to encourage local authority house building, and the fact that the building of council houses has increased by 50 per cent. It is inevitable that as the private rented sector shrinks, as it has done for years and obviously will continue to do it must be taken over, if it is to be preserved as a rented sector, by the local authorities. I come to the owner-occupied sector. Other hon. Members have referred to the escalation of prices in that sector. What has happened in the owner-occupied sector is an example of what I call the shambles and lunacy of a free market economy. If we examine what has happened over the past few years we see that it is incredible. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West said that the last Government introduced the measure with good intentions, and they had precisely the opposite effect to what was intended. What the would-be owner-occupier wants is a mortgage, but there are not enough mortgages. One therefore provides credit for mortgages, but because of the economic situation—the depression—money flows into the building societies and there are then plenty of mortgages. What is the consequence? The consequence is that in a short time up go the prices of houses, up go the prices of land. Land prices increased two and a half times and house prices by twice within a matter of two to two and a half years.
The hon. Gentleman is confusing the situation in that he is suggestitng that a free market economy must always be a market economy with a high rate of inflation. It is sound money which ought to be the condition precedent to the market economy.
Totally apart from the general rate of inflation there was a particular and specific rate of inflation in the housing sector. This was due simply to the supply of money into the building societies, partly due to the late departed Chancellor of the Exchequer and partly due to the economic forces, as the hon. Gentleman said. One cannot isolate houses from the general economic situation. The Conservatives produced an extraordinary result. To my mind, it is a piece of economic lunacy, but this is precisely what happened. The prices of houses have again risen to such an extent, together with the rate of interest, that the purchaser still cannot buy them. The plain fact is that private owner-occupied houses have been priced out of the market. They have been priced out of it not only because of the policies of the Conservative Government, but because of the chaotic conditions of an uncontrolled economy.What do we do about it? There are some hopeful signs. I welcome the package introduced by the Secretary of State, and the provision of mortgages for young couples. I am bound to say, however, that I have certain doubts about this provision, whether the young couples might not be incurring burdens which perhaps in a few years' time they may find very difficult to meet. Nevertheless, by and large, at present, it is an advance. I welcome still more the intervention of local authorities in buying many thousands of the houses on the market—Birmingham has been one of those authorities—and selling them on 100 per cent. mortgages. In order to stabilise the housing market and to provide a stable demand for the houses produced by private builders for owner-occupation as well as for the local authority, considerably more public intervention is indispensable, either by local authorities or by some public agency, to ensure that we have a stable labour force. That is what we have not had in the last few years. We have had a fluctuating labour force and fluctuating demand. A few years ago there was a depressison in the building industry. Building workers left the industry. Two years ago we had an industry that had contracted and was incapable of meeting the demands made upon it. Now, again, we have a depression in which the demand has fallen. No doubt that will again have an effect upon the building industry. The only way in which we can retain a stable demand and a stable force is by some form of public intervention of the sort which is happening now and which will have to be expanded. I am in favour of urban renewal. It seems strange—perhaps not so strange—that it was not until the price of house building rose to the present extent that the Government and local authorities began to think in terms of urban renewal and the community advantages which it brought about. They had not previously thought about the preservation of a community and the life of the community together, and the preservation of links between people and people which it is very difficult to re-establish once a community has been destroyed and another built. Planners and councillors are still not united at all upon this issue. Many planners much prefer that an area should be demolished and built again, because that is much neater. One or two areas in my constituency are involved. It is essential that the planners and councils should be of one mind in determining to develop an improved urban community—that is, to provide confidence for the people in the area that it will be an area in which it is worth while to live in the future. Otherwise, people will say "I shall not wait to see what happens. I shall clear out." That is the sort of thing that is tending to happen in the urban renewal areas. There must be some long-term planning—and not only long term—about the provision of amenities. There must be a radical approach to the question of improvement, which must be tackled upon as quick a basis as possible, above all to establish confidence. That is what I sometimes find lacking in people who live in a particular community. I hope that the Government will bring home this point to local authorities because much can be done about urban renewal not only to preserve communities but also to preserve resources and finance. In that respect I want to refer particularly to Circular 171/74, about which I have no doubt that the Minister has already had correspondence from some local authorities. The hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott) referred to that in his speech. It was the only point of his speech with which I agreed. This provides for the limitation by rateable value of the houses on which improvement grants can be given. The City of Birmingham is rather worried about this matter because in a mixed development of urban renewal, some are smaller houses and some are larger houses, and we want an improvement throughout all of these houses. Therefore, any such limitation prevents the fulfilment of the objective of an urban renewal area. I know that the Minister has in mind that these improvement grants should not be used for speculation or for people who do not need them. Nevertheless, I hope that he will look at this matter again. If it is necessary to safeguard against speculation, there are other ways of doing that. This is something which concerns Birmingham and many other local authorities. It is a small point, but it matters in relation to the programme. I should have liked to raise one or two other points but, bearing in mind your request, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall cut short my speech.
I should like, first, to declare a prospective interest, in the sense that I have been asked to join the board, as a non-executive director, of a house building company. I have not yet done so, but as I have accepted in principle I ought to declare that prospective interest now.It is a great pleasure to follow the speech of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Silverman), as I have on previous occasions in the House in housing debates. He always speaks with great knowledge of the problem. I did not agree with very much of what he said, particularly when he talked of public intervention and the need for more of it—for reasons which will become apparent as my speech progresses. It is difficult to overestimate the seriousness of the crisis which the construction industry faces at present. In a debate about housing and about reducing the salary of the Secretary of State, such as we are now having, the House ought to consider the whole construction industry and not merely the private housing or, indeed, council housing sectors, important though they are. I want to talk briefly about the problem in the contracting sphere. The evidence is there for all to see. First, a recent survey in January by the National Federation of Building Trades Employers found that two-thirds of contractors were working at three-quarters capacity or less, and that this figure was expected to rise to 75 per cent. by June, with as many as one-third of the firms only half employed or less. Of the firms involved, 66 per cent. expect 1975 to be a worse year than 1974, and about 62 per cent. contemplate reducing their labour force. Next, there is the Economic Development Committee for Building. Last year that body predicted a 6 per cent. decline in new construction output in 1974 and a further 2 per cent. decline in 1975. That was last year. Now it is talking about a 6 per cent. decline in 1975 and possibly a further 3 per cent. decline in 1976. Indeed, that body thinks—not me, but that body—that these figures may be too favourable, because the council housing recovery may be hampered by local authority financial and staffing problems. Next there is the National Council of Building Material Producers, which has an extremely sophisticated forecasting system. On 14th November it predicted that the fall in construction output in 1975 would be 6 per cent. But on 17th January this year its director was quoted publicly as saying
Then there is the survey of commissions from the Royal Institute of British Architects. As my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) has often said in the House, the Institute's survey represents the most sensitive predictor of future work load in the construction industry that is available to us. In the third quarter of 1974 there was an 11 per cent. fall, as compared with the second quarter of 1974—under the present Government—and a 17·4 per cent. decline as compared with the same quarter of 1973. After allowing for increases in the cost of building, the level of commissions has now—not under the wicked Tories—fallen to the lowest level in the past eleven years. As long ago as 25th October the magazine Building Design reported that four out of every ten architectural practices had cut back on their staffs. The situation has certainly become worse since then. There is plenty of other bad news. There are already 130,000 building workers laid off and, according to the Financial Times survey, the figure could reach 300,000. As long ago as November 1974 the London Brick Company announced cutbacks in production amounting to an annual fall of 10 per cent. Brick production in December was at an atrociously low figure of 337 million, there is a nine weeks stock of bricks currently lying around in store, and production was 27 per cent. below December 1973 levels. Now for the point which I made in an intervention during the Minister's speech this afternoon. The latest survey of the Department of the Environment shows that new orders for construction work—this related to November 1974—also paints a gloomy picture. There was a 7 per cent. decline in the period September to November 1974 over the previous three months and there was a 22 per cent. decline over the same period of 1973. The slight improvement which took place in October has not been sustained. Even council housing showed a 6 per cent. decline in new orders over the previous quarter. That confirms what I have long thought to be the case. We see a tailing off of the increase in council housing building which was first set in motion by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) early in 1973, which was reflected in the sharp rise in council housing starts in the first quarter of 1974 to the same level as in the first quarter of 1971, a figure which completely demolishes the argument that the Housing Finance Act 1972 cut council housing any more than did the Housing Subsidies Act 1967. Incidently in the first quarter of 1974 the figure of starts for council housing was the same as that achieved by this Government in the third quarter of 1974. I am not optimistic of further progress in that regard. Despite the slump in orders, materials prices continued to rise. There is a proposed price increase of 10 per cent. for plaster currently before the Price Commission. The Department of Industry construction materials index, which began 1974 at 156·5, stood at 185·0 by November 1974. In conjunction with the recent wages settlement promulgated by the National Joint Council for the Building Industry, this can only mean a further sharp rise in construction costs, which presumably will be reflected in contractors' tender prices, and thereby increase the level of public expenditure, or else by a reduction in the real value of the work load. There are no redeeming features at present. All trends at present are downwards, and nothing which the Chancellor of the Exchequer did, in his statement on 11th September 1974, by increasing construction output by 1 per cent., has yet made any difference in the construction industry. The industry is in the worst recession since the 1930s and we are not yet over the worst. What are we to do? If we are to get the contracting industry going again, we require a further degree of work load in the public sector. However, since there is no money available, I do not advocate that course. It will be a long hard slog for the industry, at a much lower level of work load than can be coped with, more unemployment, fewer apprentices and less training, wasted resources, and an uneconomical use of plant. I now wish to suggest a few points involving no public expense but which will do something to restore confidence in the industry. First, the Property Services Agency of the Department of the Environment, the local authorities, and other public sector clients should be required to publish within 12 months full details of their projected construction programmes over the next five years. The generalised figures in the public expenditure blue book are useless. The industry needs specific information to gear its resources properly. The Minister's national consultative council has been looking at this problem for some time and the matter should soon be settled. Secondly, the whole of the industry's consultation procedure is absolutely hopeless. The Ministry's national consultative council is a total waste of time. I know because I once served on that council. I do not agree with the liaison committee which the Minister has proposed. I should like to see five consultative panels, each headed by a junior Minister, dealing separately with resources, private housing finance, public sector housing, public sector non-housing and building land. There is an urgent need for much more practical experience of the industry in Marsham Street, and a revised consultative procedure would be a good start. The productivity deduction for firm price tendering, which is inflationary in fact if not in intention, should be scrapped. The Property Services Agency should be instructed to let more of its contracts on a fixed-fee negotiated basis with proper provision for a claw-back of excess profits. The regional offices of the Department of the Environment should be active in checking that all local authorities adopt the Banwell selective tendering procedure in their standing orders. The cost yardstick, which has long since ceased to have any useful purpose, should be abolished forthwith. Finally, I believe that the construction industry training board should be replaced by a manpower board for the construction industry, which will be responsible for the supervision of the training and indenturing of apprentices, liaison with skill centres and manpower forecasting. There should also be powers, by means of a registration scheme, to require all firms undertaking public sector contracts to have a specified percentage of their workforce under training as apprentices. Agreement should be reached with the National House-Builders' Council to administer a similar scheme for private housing. The board should also have powers to recover training grants from firms which "poach" newly trained apprentices from other firms. Those seven points could possibly deal with the crisis in the construction industry. The crisis is one of confidence. The Department of the Environment, the Minister and Parliament have failed to understand the practical problems of one of our largest industries. We need to show that we do understand those problems. And the time to start is now."Since well over half the work which can be done in 1975 will come from orders received before the end of the past year, a further serious fall in output—and therefore overall demand for our products—is unfortunately inevitable."
It is difficult to imagine an issue of more direct concern to many millions of people than that which we are debating tonight. I can think of no political action that would effect a greater improvement in the everyday lives of those millions than Government policies which would make a real impact upon the housing problem.The solution to the problem on one level is simple. All we need to do is to provide more houses. The difficulties arise when we ask what Government policies will produce that much-desired result. The last Conservative Government believed that they had found the answer. They believed that the answer lay in policies which would allow market forces to operate freely. To that end they passed the Housing Finance Act, the purpose of which was to introduce the profit principle into what had previously been regarded as a sector in which social service was the principle. As a result of that, they reduced subsidies to council tenants. An undeclared object of the Act was to force those affluent council tenants, so beloved of the Tory mythology, out into the private market. To reinforce that the Tory-controlled councils cut back on their council building programmes. Taking Southampton as an example, the yearly rate of building dropped from about 1,400 per year to 200 per year during that period. Even more seriously, Tory-controlled councils sold off to private developers the building land which had been so carefully accumulated by Labour councils over the years. On that land now stand unsold houses built by private developers, which local authorities are having to buy back. All of this took place at the same time as a free-for-all for the speculators, fuelled by another disastrous Tory experiment in free market forces—competition and credit control.
May I mention that not only did they sell off land acquired by Labour local authorities but that in the city of Birmingham they managed to sell off land which had been in the possession of the city ever since that dreadful socialist Joseph Chamberlain had acquired it for the city years before?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing my attention to that further and powerful example.The building societies of course also played their part. They profligately dissipated the funds which had flowed into their coffers over this period—quite wildly and without responsibility. As a result house prices soared, but the whole thing contained the seeds of its own destruction. Inevitably prices soared well beyond the reach of the ordinary family, the building societies were eventually hit by rising interest rates and the whole Tory housing policy came shudering to a halt, with the building programme in both public and private sectors virtually non-existent and housing lists swollen. I said that the Tories had applied an ideological principle—the free market principle—in this area, but of course they are not a party to apply political principle if other interests get in the way. I recall that a few days ago an hon. Member, whose constituency I cannot remember but perhaps I can best identify him by saying that as far as I know he is not standing for the leadership, described the party—I hope I do not paraphrase him too unkindly—as a shifting coalition of whatever interests happened to be vested at any given moment. The coalition shifted in one respect, and in at least one aspect of their policy they abandoned political principle. I refer to the now notorious proposal to reduce mortgage rates to 9½ per cent. I shudder to think what situation we should be in now if by some mischance the electorate had returned a Conservative Government in October and if that Government were trying to spend our scarce resources in meeting that commitment. It is amazing to me that the authorship of that shockingly irresponsible proposal should now be regarded, it seems, as a qualification for the leadership of the Conservative Party. We hear a good deal from the Tory Party about the iniquities of indiscriminate subsidy and the great advantages of selectivity. It may be that in this matter we get a glimpse of what the Tories really mean by selectivity. We in the Labour Party take a different view. We do not believe that market forces alone can be allowed to regulate housing. The laws of supply and demand are all very well, but they can only create and establish an equitable market if at a time of increasing demand the supply can also be increased to meet it. That has clearly become increasingly difficult when we are dealing with a scarce resource like building land. The only other alternative offered by a free market to that problem is to suppress demand through the operation of the price mechanism. To say that is to define the problem that we inherited when we took over the Government in February and to give the reason for the abject failure of Tory housing policies. In contrast to Tory Members we believe that, like education and health, housing is in the last resort a matter of social and community responsibility. When it comes to allocating scarce resources, the overriding principle must be that everyone is guaranteed a decent minimum standard of housing and that only when that guarantee has been met should the power of the purse be allowed free play. That philosophy and that approach to the housing problem mean that a Labour Government should follow through resolutely policies of frank intervention in at least three areas—land, finance and the construction industry itself. On the question of land, it is clear that the Government's proposals for the public ownership of development land met a warm response in two elections last year from the many people who had been sickened by the profits made by speculators at the expense of the community. No one pretends that those proposals will be free from difficulty. The machinery will obviously require careful consideration. In particular we must be careful that, in the short term at any rate, the supply of building land does not dry up because local Tory-controlled councils and land owners who are prepared to sit it out may try to frustrate the Government's objectives. I believe this means that adequate powers of compulsory purchase must be given to agencies which in the last resort should be subject to direction from central Government rather than open to frustration from local Tory-controlled councils.
Will the hon. Gentleman say in what way compulsory purchase powers are not adequate at the present time, or is he suggesting that it is objectionable to provide a public inquiry?
If I may go on with my speech I can demonstrate to the hon. Gentleman exactly why it is difficult at present for local authorities in the position of my own to acquire the land they need for building programmes. If the Government are in any doubt as to the urgency and desirability of their proposals on the public ownership of land, I would ask them to look at the example of Southampton, where we have over 4,000 families on the housing list, which has rapidly increased over the last four years. By 1978 the building programme in Southampton will simply come to an end because there is no more building land within the city. May I add that by that time the housing list will have increased to 6,000 families.The only hope for those 6,000 families is that the city should be able to acquire and assemble land outside the city. That is why I urge my hon. Friend, despite the proper attention that he will no doubt pay to the short-term problem, to pursue with energy and resolution the proposals in the Government's White Paper. Turning to finance, here is a field where the Government have not yet received adequate credit for what they have been able to do. The money which was made available to local authorities for house building and house purchase has made a considerable impact on the problem. The Government's measures, the £500 million loan to the building societies and other action on interest rates, have given greater stability to house purchase prices. But the Government must do a good deal more to follow up this very good start. I was delighted to hear the Minister reaffirm that there was no financial restriction on local authority house building programmes but I urge him to consider seriously and urgently the possibility of increasing block grants to local authorities for the purchase of existing houses. My own council is being offered many times the number of houses that it is able to buy, and the restriction in this respect is purely financial. I also suggest that the building societies must be brought much more to a sense of their own responsibility in these matters. I believe they are much more open to criticism than they realise, if only for the fact that they duplicate quite unnecessarily their facilities and offices. A point made earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Ovenden) may well be right, that in the last resort the Government themselves must take some responsibility for the provision of finance for house purchase. While on the subject of mortgage rates I should draw attention to a point made earlier concerning the problem of local government mortgage interest rates. My hon. Friend has been looking long and hard at this problem, but surely it cannot be right for local authority borrowers to be paying considerably more than many building society borrowers, particularly bearing in mind that they are generally less well off than building society borrowers and that the houses made available to them are often not those on which building society mortgages are available. This is a matter being discussed by the departmental review of housing finance. While that may be a long-term solution, I hope that attention is being paid to the possibility of a short-term solution to this problem. Finally, it is recognised on all sides that the construction industry is fragmented, low in morale, under-capitalised and unwilling to adopt new techniques. There is a powerful case for the establishment of a national construction corporation which could utilise, for example, resources in labour and materials earmarked for the Channel Tunnel project. That would be an enormous fillip to employment in the country and to economic activity. It would guarantee that the houses we need were built. Furthermore, it would enable the pioneering and standardisation of new techniques in industrial building. While clearly we do not want to be building the slums of the future, if the Minster would care to ask the 4,000 families on the waiting list in my constituency whether they would be prepared to move to a new prefabricated house built to modern standards of suitable design they would jump at the chance, particularly if the house had something in the nature of a garden attached to it. While I agree with the remarks of one of my hon. Friends that density should not stand in the way of a building programme, I can give the assurance that if I were to ask many mothers with young families in high-rise blocks in my constituency whether they would like such a house and garden they would also jump at the chance. Many measures have been mentioned which would help with the housing problem. We must use every weapon in the armoury available to us. In passing, I would mention the problem of modernisation and reinforce a point already made. I hope the Minister will pay particular attention to raising the rateable value limit for improvement grants. I believe that if the present Government pursue their policies with enough resolution they can break the back of the housing problem within their term of office—and what an achievement that would be for any Government.
I shall not pursue the points made by the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Gould), at any rate not at the beginning of my speech. I begin by declaring an interest, to the extent that the company for which I work has an association with a construction company. I must also say that I suport the motion to reduce the Secretary of State's salary by £1,000 if only to teach him and the Government a lesson about inflation.One cannot take an entirely national view about the housing situation. For instance the January bulletin of the Building Societies Association states:
I assume that the bulletin is an authoritative document and if what it says is true, it seems to follow that we are not really being inhibited from beating the housing problem by lack of cash in mortgage terms or, at this moment, by lack of land availability. It is a question of lack of houses for the people on the waiting lists. In Newbury we have 2,000 people on the housing waiting list and by the year 2000, with a population increase of 1,500 annually, we shall have 37,500 more people in the area. Yet we have a waiting list now that we cannot satisfy and, per thousand of the population, Newbury is worse off than the East London constituency I used to represent so let no one imagine that housing is merely an urban problem. It applies patchily throughout the country, and in some areas it is just as bad as it is in the conurbations. So first we must look for the reasons for the failure to meet need, and then I want to suggest one or two methods which might be considered to overcome the problem. In the West Berkshire structure plan we define the problem as the failure of local authorities to keep pace with need, the insufficiency of housing for owner-occupation and the gradual reduction of the stock of private rented accommodation, which has been made unprofitable mainly by the actions of Government and by improvement grants, which have made it possible for owners, with vacant possession, to improve and then sell the property with resultant loss to future tenants. In the circumstances it is hardly surprising that local councils which have failed to meet their housing need have now turned to the private market to satisfy it and are buying large numbers of houses on private estates. I shall not go into the question of whether it is the Department's job to provide money for local councils to buy private housing, but it is surprising to me to find that while private building developers are able to build a three-bedroom house for between £9,000 and £10,000 the same type of house built by a local authority usually costs about £15,000. This discrepancy deserves careful attention from the Department, since it is the ratepayers' money but why it exists I find more difficult to pinpoint. It may be that the present method of many local authorities to seek tenders from a mass of different firms has something to do with it. The authorities may imagine that the more companies who tender, the more likely they are to get a bargain price for their housing. But this method denies them the simplest and most proven way of getting what they want—that is, going to companies which have a good track record and can show that they can build the sort of houses which are needed. I suggest that the Department should set up an inquiry into the cost of housing to local authorities and to private developers and work out why the discrepancy exists. I also ask whether it is reasonable, in the Government's view, that a local authority should be negotiating to buy houses on a private estate—indeed, that it should have bought them—although no information about this is given to private purchasers who are likely to buy houses on the estate. If I am told that it does not matter whether it is a mixed estate, I would argue "Why not tell people?" If it matters, some people are being misled in their purchase. Very often people put their life savings into their first house, and it is only reasonable that the private developer and possibly even the councils should have the duty of making clear their intentions with regard to the buying of houses on private estates. I also ask whether the Minister is concerned that some of the property being bought by local authorities does not come up to Parker Morris standards? To let them slip there means that one is no longer adhering to the standard which has so far been considered sacrosanct in the housing market. Having touched on the question of why housing is cheaper in the private market than in the council market, I come on to the question of confidence, which we all think the building industry needs if we are to get the houses that are required. The hon. Member for Test referred to prefabrication and industrialisation. I am told that by and large the building industry looks on this as a gimmick. We have tried prefabrication. There is in my constituency an estate of prefabricated houses dating back to 1948. To regard the mass-production of houses as worth while, one must assume that there is a flow of material to keep fabrication going and that it will be possible to create not only a home for people to live in but a house which adds something to the quality of their lives. I do not think that that is possible, or that industrialisation and the modular brick are the right solution. We must give proven companies the opportunity to build the houses we need. This takes me to another point which was put to me strongly by companies in the industry and which I commend to the Minister. Once a company has shown that it can produce the houses and it is building an estate, it is necessary to allow it to go in for serial tendering so that when it has built up its team and is building the houses it is also allowed to tender for the next contract. It then moves from one complete estate to the next keeping its building team together, rather than waiting until the end of the contract. That prevents the gap in the planning permission, the break-up of the team and the pause that most of us have condemned. When we consider the quality of the housing which we wish to see in both council and private estates, we see that the whole question of planning consent must be looked at with greater care. Some councils still seem to believe that once planning permission is given for an estate of houses their responsibility has ended. But in fact their responsibility at that moment becomes much greater. In Berkshire we have seen estates started and planning consents trodden into the ground by the contractors and property developers. When protests have been made by local residents, they have been passed over on the grounds that they were too late. Or protesters have been told "You should have said something about it before" or "We have not got enough enforcement officers." That will not do. Another thing that will not do is to suppose that one can put into a rural area the same sort of houses as can be put into the suburbs of a city and maintain the environmental quality of the countryside. It is incredible that in an area like West Berkshire the ancient towns and villages enjoyed by so many people, let alone the inhabitants, are every day beginning to look more and more like the suburbs of outer London. Yet I am told that, when planning permission is given, the local authority has no power to enforce upon the builder a particular design in keeping with the environment in which the houses are to be constructed. If that is so it is high time that the Department considered whether it should take that power to itself and whether we should insist on something more like an English country house. I do not mean something with large, rolling acres. I mean something that fits into the rural scene. If we are building homes for people to live in, we must hope also to enrich the amenity of the area and to maintain the character of the neighbourhood. That will not be done by putting up suburban houses in the English countryside. We seem too anxious to build housing estates around our towns like layers of skin. That is one reason they become soulless in terms of community to the people living there. When we cannot go any further with our existing towns, we build new towns. Why do we never build new villages? Why do we not take the nucleus of a hamlet and turn it into a village of 2,000 or 3,000 people? We could do that and make the new village every bit as beautiful as the older villages. There is need for a change of mind by the Department and the planners. If I succeed in nothing else tonight, I hope I shall succeed in putting into the Minister's mind the thought that he must insist that the quality of housing put up in the countryside has something to do with the countryside, and that when we build houses for people on housing waiting lists we do not simply give them isolated units to live in but help them to have a house in a community to which they can belong and to which they can add something."1975 should be a brighter year for the housing market. There is a strong demand for cheaper dwellings and those builders who are in a position to meet this demand will probably be encouraged to do so by the continuing high level of mortgage commitments,"
Four hon. Members still wish to take part in the debate. If each takes five minutes, we can accommodate them all.
I shall respond to your appeal by being as brief as possible, Mr. Deputy Speaker.I compliment my hon. Friend the Minister on the measures taken so far in both sectors of housing in an attempt to deal with the present serious situation in the provision of houses. I want to deal mostly with the public sector. First, I take to task the hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott), who again referred to what appears to be one of the main planks in the Opposition's housing programme, the selling of council houses. This is not the first time I have said that that would have a detrimental effect on rehousing people. I gather that the hon. Member assumes that once a person gets a council house he is always buried from it. That assumption is nonsense. If the hon. Gentleman examines the figures for the national movement of people migrating from council houses for one reason or another, he will find that in the major conurbations 50 per cent. of the housing need resulting from slum clearance and the demands of those on the waiting list is met by re-lets annually. Selling off the houses would mean local authorities finding themselves with depleted stocks. We are already starting to see the racket in the resale of council houses sold by authorities. I should not say "sold", because the houses were public assets given away for less than £2,000. They are now being sold on the open market for £10,000. Some authorities which were almost forced into selling the houses, or which came under the control of Tories who indulged in this give-away policy, are having to buy back the houses, now that they have become Labour-controlled again, at £9,000–£10,000. If that is not taking the council tenant or the ratepayer for a ride, I do not know what is. I want now to deal quickly with how the construction industry can best help. I do not want to deal with improvements, because they constitute a subject of their own. I would put the whole of the resources of the building industry into the construction of new houses, even if necessary at the expense of improvements. I would opt for the construction of new houses. For the council house building programme we are now predicting about 150,000 starts and completions. I have been making some inquiries and my information is that the construction industry with its existing resources could commence and provide another 100,000 houses a year by conventional means. Those houses could go towards increasing our council housing stock. We must consider how we can harness that resource so that the houses can be built as quickly as possible. We cannot build houses without acquiring land. I hope that the Land Bill will be altered so as to allow local authorities quicker intervention in the purchase or acquisition of land. Current housing legislation includes a 66 per cent. capital subsidy. Although that appears to be generous I believe that it will prove inadequate very quickly. Only today I was looking at the tape. It indicated that over the past 18 months inflation in the building industry will escalate to 34 per cent., one of the factors being the new wage settlement. I have never believed that people who have lived in squalor or in bad housing all their lives through no fault of their own should have to pay astronomical sums to get into new houses. At present they are bearing an unfair share of the redevelopment of the community in which they live. I think that my hon. Friend will accept that 34 per cent, is a dramatic figure. Will my right hon. and hon. Friends consider using the denominator of 66 per cent. as a base and raising it as quickly as possible? If not, I foresee disproportionate increases in council rents that will be quite unfair to the council house tenant. I urge the harnessing of our building resources so that the fullest possible impact can be made on the housing shortage. People are playing about once again with industrialised housing. That may answer some problems but it will create others. Industrialised systems lead to the provision of unsocial amenities and in the end they are dearer and harder to maintain. The average industrialised house is 20 per cent. dearer than the traditional house. I believe that there is no logic in putting forward an argument in favour of that system of building unless the argument is confined to a geographic location where no building force is available. There is no logic in asking local authorities to spend ever-increasing sums on industrialised building. I believe that the facts that have been given to me are correct. If we are now building 150,000 houses in the public sector by normal means—and it is estimated that we can provide another 100,000 by the same means—I can see no reason for wasting time at local or national level by paying attention to gimmicky industrialised buildings. We have the potential to build houses in the traditional style. That is a style that offers the best value for money. The people of this country do not want any of the gimmicks in which we have been indulging, but a modern English-type home built by traditional means.
By some means we must get through to the Government the grimness of the situation now facing us and the need for action and not gimmicks. I agree wholeheartedly with the suggestion of the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Dean) that we should cut out the frills. There are sufficient bricks throughout the country to provide 40,000 homes. I hope that when the Under-Secretary of State gets out and about, as I understand he is to do, he will ensure that those 40,000 homes are built.The present situation is the most serious that we have faced since the 1930s. Beside the unused bricks that are lying about there are 50,000 unsold houses and 200,000 partially built houses. There are also the empty properties that are owned by the local authorities. As hon. Members know, the figure is not 1 per cent. but nearer 4 per cent. I hope that the Minister will ask for a review from local authorities so that we know exactly how many houses are now lying empty. I hope—and I urged this previously—that we shall have a review of homelessness. The Minister must have become increasingly aware of the fact that the homeless figures have increased dramatically. I do not want to go back over the reasons for that. He knows, as well as I do, that he made a mistake last summer. Be that as it may, we look to him to provide proposals to deal with the problem. It cannot be left to continue. These families are suffering seriously. Local authorities cannot be asked to put their hands in their pockets to provide finance to help these people. It is incumbent upon the Government to provide a special grant to help out with this interim problem. Admittedly, the Government have produced some proposals recently which go some way along the road, and they are to be congratulated on tabling those proposals. I do not believe that the low-start mortgage is the key part of the problem at the moment. Even in that area there is a need for a long-term assurance from the building societies that when times get tougher, the low-start scheme will continue. At the moment they say that when funds become short that scheme will be stopped. It is incumbent upon the Government to give a reassurance on that. There is also a need for action at the medium and expensive end of the market. If both sides of the Chamber accept the £25,000 limit, I see no reason why that should not be indexed over a time. At least we can remove that problem from the area of politics. Although the Minister said this afternoon that there was no problem on bank finance, the information I have is that there is a problem, and I believe that he ought to look at that area. He should go back to the building societies and tell them that there is a need to lend for development purposes, because builders are being frustrated. He needs to instruct building societies to look at some of the adventurous schemes that are being produced by the Housing Research Foundation and by a group that happens, by chance, to be in Northampton—the Housing from Income Committee—both of which have done extensive work on schemes, which have been worked out in depth, to demonstrate how people on lower incomes can purchase their own homes, without using methods of indexing. I hope very much that he will give encouragement to this. My hon. Friend the Member for Melton (Mr. Latham) put forward several proposals. I have listed another six. The prospects in this industry are grim. We need positive proposals that will rejuvenate this industry and move it forward. We have waited too long for the funds we have had so far. I speak for many hon. Members on the Conservative side of the House when I say there are many areas in housing about which we can agree. We can agree on owner-occupation, on the need for council housing, and improvement grants. It there are these common areas of agreement, surely now, of all times, is the time to pick up those areas of agreement, to put forward proposals and to formulate a common policy that will remain for 10 years. What has bedevilled this market since time immemorial is that when a new Government take office, they change the policies of the previous Government. If the Minister can gear this housing finance review up to a six-month timetable so that we can get some action going, he will have my support and the support of a great many other hon. Members. If this is to be another 18-month review, let him be warned, because we on the Tory side will justifiably criticise the Government. We crititcise the Government today because it has taken them 12 months to implement two or three proposals that we put forward.
I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to speak for a few minutes at the end of this debate. The brickfields of my constituency are overflowing. I endorse what was said by the hon. Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Morris) and my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Dean) about the need for traditional building. I know that both hon. Members speak from a deep knowledge of local authority building, in one case with the London Borough of Islington and in the other with the City of Manchester, which has been a pioneer in the use of building materials.I sympathise with the Minister in that when I came into office in local government in 1971 I had a bare cupboard and, with my colleagues, I had to generate the housing programme in the London Borough of Havering where I was then the leader of the Labour Party. I know the great problems that this creates. In the London Borough of Havering we inherited a housing programme which had only five starts in it for the year in which we came into office. At that time we had a waiting list of 3,000 to 4,000. In our area, as in many areas mentioned by hon. Members, the majority of the heads of households depend on rented accommodation. They are ineligible for mortgages. Too often in the past Conservative Members have tried to thrust mortgages and home ownership down the throats of young people who in many cases did not want it and would have preferred rented accommodation. The problem of mortgages is one with which I do not have time to deal in detail. Hon. Members have referred to local authority mortgages. The City of Peterborough council, has' approached me on this question. It is as concerned as are hon. Members about the high mortgage rates charged as a result of the requirements of the Public Works Loan Board. The figure of 14½ per cent. quoted by the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) and the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) and others is typical. I have an interest here in that I have a council mortgage of this kind. For many years it has been running at 7 per cent. I have often said to my borough treasurer, "It is most unfair. We ought to vary the rate so that the older mortgagors who have these preferential rates help to moderate the high rates required of the new applicants." I hope that the Minister will examine this question because I am sure that there are many authorities who could do more to moderate the level of the mortgage rate currently being charged if they adopted the sort of policy the London Borough of Havering is now adopting of increasing the rate charged to, older borrowers from 6 per cent. or 7 per cent. to 9 per cent. or 10 per cent. to help the youngsters. The right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East spoke of the ossification of the private rented sector. There is certainly a great deal of ossification throughout housing, whether local authority or private. The generation of movement in these sectors is important. That is why the encouragement given to local authorities to purchase homes—whether those of pensioners in the private sector who might move into council accommodation and release family houses, or those of people who wish to purchase properties in the general market—is welcome. I hope that the Minister will encourage local authorities to use those resources. The provision of £200 million announced by the Chancellor in March is welcomed by all in local government. It will help create this mobility. Despite the attack upon it by the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Neubert), who is not here today, the provision of houses by local authorities on the open market in the last two years has been most valuable in creating the movement, for example, of families from multi-storey blocks to family homes with gardens. It has created a general movement which is most important. I had hoped to deal with aspects of the private rented sector in the London Borough of Havering, but as the Minister and the Opposition spokesmen have already lost part of their time I shall reserve that for another occasion.
I wish briefly to deal with three matters. The first concerns the effect of the Rent Act 1974. The Minister acknowledged that there has been a reduction in the number of advertisements for furnished lettings. He attributed that to tenants taking advantage of the security of tenure provisions of the 1974 Act. I put to him that there is another explanation which may have equal validity. Indeed, it is one given by many estate agents and housing managers. It is that furnished lettings are still becoming avail- able and vacant possession is still being obtained but the lettings are not being re-let on account of the provisions of the 1974 Act. That is a matter of fact, not of opinion.I ask the Minister to establish an independent working party to monitor the effects of the 1974 Act and to report by the end of this year so that the facts may be established. If the facts are as I have suggested they may be, I hope that the Minister will consider introducing amending legislation. If the Rent Act 1974 operates in this way it contributes to the constriction of the furnished letting market and accentuates the problem of homelessness. My second subject is the Government's low-start mortgage scheme which in principle I welcome. I wonder how many hon. Members realise the length of time it takes a person who takes advantage of the low-start mortgage scheme to owe an amount of principal less than he actually borrows? I did not realise it until I spoke to an official in the Minister's Department this morning. The answer is that a person who takes out a mortgage of £5,000 under the low-start mortgage scheme will owe more than £5,000 for up to the end of year nine and only in year 10 and beyond will he owe less. That is one effect of the scheme. I make that point to emphasise that the low-start mortgage scheme may be of marginal help but is not a fundamental solution to our housing problem. Thirdly, I believe that successive Governments have been tackling our housing problem painfully slowly because they have been tackling it in the most expensive way. We provide only two routes to meet the housing need, the route of a council house, which is very expensive on the public purse, and the conventional route to owner-occupation, which is very expensive on the private purse. Because we have been offering those two expensive routes we have been proceeding painfully slowly in meeting the housing need. I suggest to the Minister that there is a mid-course. There are millions of people who, although they cannot afford 100 per cent. of the cost of the cheapest house in their area, are willing and able to afford 60 per cent., 70 per cent., or 80 per cent. of the cost of the cheapest house in their area. That has been illustrated in my own constituency where the local authority has had no problem with its building for sale scheme, and has sold more than 200 houses exclusively to council tenants and those on the waiting list at about 70 per cent. of the cost of the cheapest house in the area. There is a way of doing that nationally by providing a scheme under which a person can buy a 60 per cent., 70 per cent. or 80 per cent. interest in the house, with the public sector, the taxpayer, effectively providing the balance of the purchase price. The scheme is outlined in a pamphlet which I produced last year called "Shared Purchase" which was adopted by the Liberals in their election manifesto in October. I will send it to the Minister, and I ask him to look at it dispassionately, objectively and in a nonpartisan way, because I am convinced that it provides the route for bringing together the maximum amount of owner-occupation with the minimum amount of public subsidy. It provides the means for a massively expanding owner-occupation. I say this to the Minister with some reluctance because I believe that the Government and the political party with the ability to implement a scheme such as this will be well-rewarded by the electorate. I had hoped that it would be implemented by a Government composed of members of my party but, in their temporary absence, I hope that it will be implemented by the Labour Government.
This has been an interesting debate, though much of it has been somewhat predictable. Each side has given its own assessment of the position and has put forward remedies. No Government since the war have found the answer. The Government who came nearest to finding a solution were the Government with Mr. Macmillan and Mr. Marples who succeeded in reaching the target of 300,000 houses annually. That will go down in history.The speech made by the Minister for Housing and Construction—if one can be charitable and call it a speech—constantly harked back to the housing record of the Conservative Government, attacked it and said nothing else, in order to conceal Labour's inability to work out a coherent practical strategy. He said that Labour's strategy contained no slick solution, which is also right. He should have added that it contained no solutions and no hope. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) made an exceptionally valuable point about the imbalance of the pattern in the housing supply. Far too many Government Departments seem to think that what is good for London, Birmingham and Manchester is good for the rest of the country. That is not so. My hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) returned to that point later. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mr. Forrester) spoke in rather disparaging terms about the possibility of more prefabs. I advise the hon. Gentleman not to come to my constituency, because I live opposite a row of prefabs which were built 25 years ago and their tenants are battling to keep those prefabs because they prefer to live in those dwellings rather than in soulless blocks of flats. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Steen) spoke about the failure of planners to think of the needs of the community as opposed to the needs of tidy plans. All those concerned in local government have suffered in this way. As local government units have grown larger and larger, it has become more and more difficult for councillors to exercise that sort of authority and control over the planners. The planners have so much expertise—expertise which no councillor, however long-serving or able, can ever hope to match. The hon. Member for Gravesend (Mr. Ovenden) made great play of the matter of discouraging the sale of council houses. I hope that tenants will note his remarks. I am glad to reassure him that I shall be quoting from Shelter a little later in my remarks.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies) touched on the real and human problem of the strain placed on the social services by increasing numbers of elderly people who retire and move from London to the coastal towns. This is an important point on which both sides of the House would agree. Some sort of solution is needed to this problem. London wants its elderly population to move out to the country and to the seaside towns, but it is wrong that those areas should bear an unfair burden because of the age of the population. Somebody needs to look further at this point.The hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mrs. Miller) spoke about local authority housing. I very much agree with her that we cannot let the local authority housing stock deteriorate. If that is the case, why are the Government allowing acquisition to take priority over repairs and maintenance? The hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross), as the sole Liberal representative in the debate, made a rather discursive speech, which I did not hear but of which I have had lengthy reports. He apparently said that the major problem with housing was the need to speed up and cheapen the process of buying and selling. The hon. Gentleman was impatient with the present planning procedure. We all share that impatience, and I shall deal with that a little more extensively later in my remarks. The hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) spoke of the need to minimise the under-occupation of council dwellings. I remember a survey which was carried out in about 1969 by the Greater London Council which showed that there were at that time some 150,000 under-used rooms. Nobody can suggest that people should be moved out, yet somebody must bring home to tenants who are under-occupying valuable space that this is anti-social. We need a campaign of education. I hope that the Minister will pay some attention to that point. My hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg) has, since he made his maiden speech, pursued the question of the rights of tenants. I agree with him that an experiment which was contemplated in the London borough of Lambeth of giving council tenants a short lease rather than living, as it were, from month to month might be expanded, because they are as entitled as private tenants to know that they have security for a number of years if they so wish. My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) gave us a sombre monetary warning on public expenditure. I hope he will forgive me if I do not follow him along that trail tonight. I am sure he would lose me very early. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Silverman) emphasised the need to maintain the community and that the community is helped by urban renewal. We all know about the problems which have caused the disappearance of the small corner shop to which people can go late at night. We know about the problems of the elderly who live in old property but where, if a pint of milk is left on a doorstep, someone knows within a couple of days that Mrs. Buggins is unwell and will go in to look after her. In a tall, soulless block of flats she may have been dead for a month before being found. That is no exaggeration. I think we must look anew at this question. I welcome much of what has appeared in recent Government circulars putting emphasis on rehabilitation rather than redevelopment. My hon. Friend the Member for Melton (Mr. Latham) put forward seven practical ideas which deserve careful thought by the Department. I hope that the Minister will give them the attention they rightly deserve. They were practical suggestions. The House will expect considered reasons why the Department does not feel able to carry them out or, better still, to be told that it will carry them out. I assure the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Gould) that the Conservative Party still believes that the 9½ per cent. mortgage pledge was right, though it can hardly apply now in view of the appalling economic situation that has been compounded by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I agree with the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Dean) about the need to continue traditional building methods as opposed to industrialised building. The hon. Gentleman speaks with a wealth of experience in local government. My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Morris) rightly drew attention to the growing problem of homelessness. The need for policy and action falls into two main areas—construction, which was ably dealt with by my hon. Friend the Member for Melton, and management and maintenance. Before examining these areas I want to look at one of the basic problems in the public sector which ought to be non-controversial. I saw some interesting figures on housing problems in the city of Oxford recently. In 1958 Oxford's waiting list comprised 2,000 people. Land was bought on which to build an estate of 2,000 houses. By 1964 about 3,000 homes had been completed. The waiting list was still 2,000. A further 1,000 houses have been built since, but the list now stands at over 2,500. What are we to do about waiting lists? We need to re-examine homelessness, and the criteria of housing need require fresh examination. All of us, irrespective of party, must be shocked at the totals of waiting lists. I do not believe that they can be accepted purely at face value. We need to reassess waiting lists. We should divide them into three categories: category A, urgent priority cases; category B, those with some housing need; and category C, those with no need for local authority rehousing in the foreseeable future. [An HON. MEMBER: "Then why are they on waiting lists?"] Because, unfortunately, local authorities put them on lists—Labour-controlled local authorities especially, but others do so as well. We must concentrate all our efforts on the category A persons instead of carrying huge administrative burdens, instead of planning for unrealistic figures and instead of buoying up hopes that one day perhaps the local authority will offer rehousing when no prospect exists for a very long time. It would be of value if the Central Housing Advisory Committee were asked to examine this as a matter of urgency and if the Minister subsequently issued a circular of guidance. I want to touch upon two other aspects—the sale of council houses, and improvement grants. It is estimated that local authorities have a small average turnover of re-lets, and the opportunity to use those re-lets is the basic reason given by the Labour Party for stopping the sale of council houses. Why should the remaining council house tenants be deprived of the opportunity and the right to become owner-occupiers and to have something to pass on to their children? Surely that is the desire of everyone. I am not prepared, nor is my party, to see council tenants treated as second-class citizens. The Labour Party has no freehold on the votes of council tenants, as Government supporters well know. I repeat my party's pledge to encourage the sale of council houses and flats—because the sooner the tall flats are broken up, the better—by reductions in price to sitting tenants and favourable mortgage rates to council tenants as well as to others. In saying that, I take the point made by the hon. Member for Leeds, West. I should be happy to put in a resale clause to ensure that the first option up to a certain number of years for reselling was given to the local authority. From the Government's Circulars Nos. 13 and 14/75 I am glad to see that they are encouraging the use of improvement grants, although on 5th February the Minister said in a reply to me that the number of grant approvals declined during the second and third quarters of 1974. We have heard pleas from Birmingham, Manchester and central London. Many local authorities believe that the present rateable value limit of £300 is too small and that it should be raised to £400. Apart from what has been said by Government supporters, I make this entirely bipartisan approach for the London borough of Camden. Both sides of the House believe that the Minister should act quickly on this. No one will be impressed by the way he brushed it off earlier. I welcome the strong encouragement in the same circulars which is given to housing associations. I welcome the Government's view in the face of the equivocal and sometimes hostile attitude of some Labour-controlled councils. Paragraph 26 of Circular No. 14/75 is vital in this, and I hope that it is drawn to the attention of some of the more theoretical leaders of Labour-controlled councils. Ministers have made it clear, both in Parliament during the passage of the Act and elsewhere, that registered housing associations can and should play an important rôle in supporting authorities, especially in attacking areas of housing stress and in meeting the housing needs of special groups of people. These words should not be merely an exhortation in a circular. They need to be translated into action. One of the greatest curses in redevelopment or rehabilitation—I welcome the emphasis now on the latter—is the slowness of planning procedures. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have drawn attention to it, and it occurs both locally and at ministerial level. Somehow we have to get the procedures better organised, and I ask the Minister why it is not possible in a routine case for the inspector's report to be on the Minister's desk within two months—[HON. MEMBERS: "Two weeks."] I am trying to be practical—and for the Minister to give his answer one month later. The trouble is that before the inspector's report reaches the Minister's desk myriads of civil servants toss it from desk to desk, week after week and month after month. I acquit Ministers of the delay. The trouble is that they do not get the documents quickly enough. I hope that they will do something about this. When massive schemes take place it is vital to safeguard those still left on the site. Again, I am delighted to see this emphasised in Circular 13/75. I hope all local authorities will endorse the point that they must do everything possible to counteract blight by intensifying the provision of housekeeping services, the maintenance of the surroundings, adequate rodent control and better refuse collection. All too often local authorities, of both political persuasions, allow the place to deteriorate and encourage vandalism. The policy of municipalisation on an indiscriminate basis must end. I am delighted to see that that is the gravamen of what appears in the Government's circulars. Indiscriminately purchased municipal homes can be expensive to manage. They require more staff. They certainly are not value for money. Many are bought at auction without a survey, and subsequent costs are extensive. Let me cite the Greater London Council which next year is providing £70 million for acquiring private dwellings. The debt charges for this will be approximately £10 million a year, with £1·5 million coming out of the rates and the balance of £8·5 million coming from taxes. Of the 3,823 already acquired, 1,452 or 38 per cent. are vacant. Assuming occupation by an average family of a man, his wife and two children, the number who can be accommodated will be 6,389. At a cost of £70 million, this is £10,969 per head. For the same amount of money, 17,000 people could be rehoused in new dwellings. Local authorities already have too much property which they manage badly. I do not believe that any hon. Member, on either side of the House, can say that in his postbag each week, irrespective of party, he does not get letters about repairs not carried out, broken windows, requests to pay more attention to complaints and the fact that nothing is done about transfer applications. All of us know that this happens. [Interruption.] Hon. Members who think otherwise should have spoken in the debate. I am short of time and they must sit silent. We have all had letters concerning the inability of council tenants to get answers from local authority management. Yet the Government want more of that management. In the rate support grant documents and again in their recent circulars they made the point that even less money will be available to spend on maintenance. Yet their policy is to drive blindly and blithely on, encouraging the acquisition of more and more dwellings, which will be worse and worse maintained. That is a cloud-cuckoo land situation. On construction, as my hon. Friend the Member for Melton said, the figures are dismal. I do not propose to reiterate them. I hope that the Under-Secretary will not treat us to some of his usual flippant, selective and often inaccurate quotations. On 23rd January he said:
The fact is that he forgot to tell the House that many outer London boroughs had not had their offer of quotas to the GLC taken up. So the need could not have been as urgent as he made out. I now come to the question of Shelter. At the end of October, the GLC owned or had resolved to buy land sufficient for 58,000 homes. Of these, 15,000 were under construction. Land for the remainder is waiting on the bureaucratic process, which, on the basis of 4,300 homes a year—GLC production has been running below this in the last couple of years—is now taking 13.6 years from the decision to acquire land to the completion of the homes as planned. Even at an output of 5,000 houses a year, which is approaching current targets, the process stretches out for 11¾ years, or 1¼ years longer than the 10-year forward acquisition programme suggested by the Government in the White Paper on land. Yet the Government want councils to buy even more land, which they will hoard like misers. The Under-Secretary also said:"The report of the London Housing Action Group, which was published last autumn, and which was a report by that admirable all-party group whose members include a number of distinguished Conservative Members on housing, made it absolutely clear that the behaviour of many outer London boroughs in respect of house-building was an absolute scandal, that some of their housing totals were disgraceful by any possible criteria."—[Official Report, 23rd January 1975; Vol. 884, c. 2085.]
it seems longer than that—"In the 10 months during which I have been a Minister"—
"any occasion"—"I have sat through what have appeared to be countless housing debates, here in the Chamber and in Committee. I have yet to hear, on any occasion"—
To give the facts, I cite the Committee on the Housing Act 1974 and the legislation on leasehold enfranchisement, which helps tenants and which came from our side. The hon. Gentleman said nothing about that or about the service charge legislation, for which even the absent Welsh nationalists voted in Committee. The hon. Gentleman voted against that in spite of advice given to him by—putting it bluntly—two people who know more about housing than the Minister and who are sitting on the third row of the benches behind him. In spite of that, the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues voted against the tenants. Therefore, let us have no more humbug from the Minister about that. The Under-Secretary ought to be a little more practical. He also said:"an Opposition Member speak on behalf of tenants."
I hope that the two facts I have given the hon. Gentleman from Hansard will show him that he ought to stick to facts and not to conjecture or imagination. The Secretary of State unveiled a package of fresh help for the homeless, for people who wanted some sort of aid. He unveiled it just before he flitted out of the country. The Minister in his opening speech today said that this package was supported by the building societies and the National House Builders' Federation. I am bound to say that I am glad. At least, I hope that "fair shares for all" is still the policy of the Labour Party. When the House reduces the Secretary of State's salary, I hope that a proportionate cut will come from the Minister for Housing and Construction, because he certainly deserves to have a cut. However, let me again quote Shelter, because why should I waste my time in thinking up a description of the Government's help for housing when Shelter has given me a very useful quotation? I quote:"In addition, the Conservative Party operates far too much on the basis of conjecture and imagination rather than fact."—[Official Report, 23rd January 1975; Vol. 884, c. 2085, 1907–08.]
I suppose that the Secretary of State can be described as one of those mythological people who produced nice things out of cornucopias. Certainly many of his ideas are myths. But we wait to see what practical results will come from them. In the end, any housing policy must rest upon four legs—local authorities, housing associations, owner-occupiers and the private rented sector. If any one of those is artificially hampered or restricted, an undue strain is thrown on the others and the situation gets out of control. We have seen this time and again since the war, under Governments of both major parties. The trouble is that the present Government, who ought to have learned by now, have learned even less than they appeared to have learned when they came to power in 1964. They still believe that by killing the private rented sector and by telling local authorities to overburden themselves they will be able to solve this problem. Prejudice is a great time-saver. It enables Governments to form opinions without having to get the facts. We charge the present Government with failing to get facts, with ploughing on, as my hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott) said, with blind prejudice, with no policies. It is precisely because we charge the Secretary of State with doing this, with being motivated by theory and not by practice, with being motivated by prejudice and not reason—with making a major contribution to the failure of his Government's housing policies—that we believe that the House will be acting in the public's interest if it reduces his salary."Anyone expecting a Midas-touched package on housing help will be at least disappointed or at most incensed at the first dry bone to roll out of the cornucopia."
A year ago tonight precisely the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) obtained the unnecessary Dissolution of Parliament, which led inexorably to the unedifying events of the past few days. Since they lost office last year the Tory Opposition have had 22 Supply Day debates. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Ovenden) has pointed out, this is the first that they have had the effrontery to devote to housing. That is scarcely surprising. In their four years of government their housing record was one of unparalleled failure. They broke every pledge that they made in order to gain power.I will quote just some of their pledges, from the manifesto that won them office. Chastened by the rebukes of the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) I shall be as unflippant as possible in quoting from the Conservative manifesto. The manifesto said:
That was the better tomorrow that they promised on housing. But it was a very different legacy that was left to this Government by the combined and dedicated efforts of the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) and the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon). They promised a "vigorous new housing drive". They armed themselves to make that drive successful by planning vast reductions in Government expenditure on housing. They planned an 18 per cent. cut in housing expenditure in the four years up to 1978. Their vigorous new housing drive produced a slump in housing starts. The three full years of their government produced 163,000 fewer housing starts than in the last three years of the Labour Government. In 1973, their last year in office, fewer council houses were started than in any year for 28 years, ever since 1945."Our vigorous new housing drive for the 1970s will … house the homeless … bring about a great increase in home ownership … see that the tenant, whether of a private property or of a council house, receives a fair deal. Our policies … will help keep down house prices."
One of the achievements of the last Conservative Government was to switch emphasis from the bulldozer to renovation and the modernisation of existing houses. The first three years of the Conservative Government produced 30 per cent. more new and modernised homes than the last three years of the Labour Government.
I have no doubt that if the Conservatives added also the doors and hinges put on they could make their total look even better. But that would not alter the fact that the Conservative Government housed 163,000 fewer people than the Labour Government.The Conservative Party promised "a fair deal for tenants". But it remorselessly forced up rents by means of the Housing Finance Act. The Tory Government promised "to keep down house prices". But in their period of office house prices rose by 114 per cent. and the mortgage rate went up from 8½ per cent. to 11 per cent. They promised a great increase in home ownership. Instead they produced a mortgage famine and left the building industry and the building materials industry in the state of utter demoralization—
What is it like now?
—described by the hon. Member for Melton (Mr. Latham), for which they were totally responsible.They promised—they really did—to "house the homeless". But in their period of office the number of homeless, measured in terms of those placed in temporary accommodation, increased by one-third. As far as housing was concerned, that was the quiet revolution brought about by the Tory Party. That was their housing achievement in government. In opposition, their stance has been even more negative and cynical. On the Housing Bill, they forced amendments here and in another place which turned the provisions to deal with service charges and to help leaseholders into a legislative balderdash. On the Rent Bill—our measure which gives security of tenure to furnished tenants—they were scared to vote against Second Reading on the Floor of the House. Instead they tried to smother the Bill by a squalid filibuster in Committee and they were frightened off only by a weekend of adverse publicity. During the passage of both the Rent Bill and the Housing Rents and Subsidies Bill they mounted a campaign—heart-rending it was—for higher rents and for reduced protection for private tenants. Their attitude was summed up in a letter published in The Times last week from the hon. Member for Kensington (Sir B. Rhys Williams)—I am sorry that we did not have a contribution from him today: we always enjoy them—in which he denounced what he called the "obsession" of the Labour Party with security of tenure. We plead guilty to that obsession. We are of course well aware of the Tory Party's indifference, if not hostility, towards tenants, but they have even opposed what this Government have done to try to help home ownership. They bitterly criticised the £500 million bridging loan introduced by this Government last spring to help the building societies.
Since the hon. Member has given so many figures, will he now give the figures that he did not give earlier—the figures for output in the private housing market in 1970–73, which showed a very sharp increase over his Government's figures?
I shall come to the private housing market, the hon. Gentleman need have no fear.As I was saying, they bitterly criticised our £500 million bridging loan. The hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins), speaking from the Front Bench, was most high-minded about it in the debate last May:
This, from the party which in government had vainly tried to stem an increase in the mortgage rate by a £15 million gift—not a loan—to the building societies just before the 1973 local elections. They had regard to the longer term all right. This, from a party which, in opposition, was to pull out of the hat—one of the capacious hats of the right hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher)—its even more blatant bribe to reduce the mortgage rate to 9½ per cent. by Christmas, an open cheque committing the taxpayer to unlimited subsidies. This evening, the hon. Member for Hampstead spoke of that pledge very much in the past tense—it "was" right, he said. Clearly, the 9½ per cent. mortgage was a special offer for a very limited period—the three weeks of the last election campaign. Now, the right hon. Lady has popped it back in her cupboard together with the rest of her collection of cheap, shop-soiled goods. No wonder the right hon. Lady admitted last weekend in her letter to her constituents:"… the Government are seeking to achieve short-term popularity by giving hand-outs to all and sundry without regard to the longer term".—[Official Report, 13th May 1974; Vol. 873, c. 1021–2.]
If the right hon. Lady is successful in the ballot next week, her party slogan will have to be changed from "At a Stroke" to "I Confess". It is this party, with this record, which has the nerve to attack this Government for our housing record. I do not claim that the housing situation today is anything but utterly serious. Millions are living in intolerable conditions. Many more are starved of their rightful aspiration to own a home of their own. Much, much more needs to be done before the problems are even in sight of a solution. More effort needs to be put in, more resources need to be injected. But in the past 11 months, much has already been done. This Government have a proud record in housing and have already gone a long way to fulfilling our manifesto pledges. Four days after we took office, we froze rents. Most council tenants have had no rent increase for 16 months, some for nearly two years. The new Housing Rents and Subsidies Bill now almost through Parliament ends rent decontrol in the private sector—the decontrol imposed by the Housing Finance Act—and instead imposes stringent phasing provisions on increases in regulated rents. My hon. Friends the Members for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) and Ilford, North (Mrs. Miller) pointed out that in the Scottish Bill there is a ceiling. I know that my hon. Friend has often asked in this House and elsewhere for such a ceiling. I would point out to him that although in our Bill we do not have a ceiling on annual rent increases, as the Scots have, we do, thanks to him and other of my hon. Friends, have a reserve power which the Scots do not have. For 750,000 furnished tenants we have ended an indefensible scandal at long last by giving them security of tenure. Within a few weeks from now the repeal of the most obnoxious provisions of the Housing Finance Act will receive the Royal Assent. The whole bogus edifice of fair rents in the public sector will be swept away. The monstrous paraphernalia of rent scrutiny boards will be consigned to the dustbin where they belong. It is significant that this change—the abolition of the rent scrutiny boards—went through the Standing Committee on the Housing Rents and Subsidies Bill on the nod. Not a single Member of the Tory Party was ready to say a word in favour of the reprieve of the rent scrutiny boards or even to offer thanks to the worthy public servants who devoted much time and effort to their labours on these now happily moribund institutions. Soon the rent scrutiny boards will lie at rest, unmourned in an unmarked grave. Soon responsibility for rents will be returned to democratically-elected local authorities. A special subsidy is being brought in to help local authorities keep down rent increases, and already the beneficial effects of this special element are being seen in some of the first rent determinations. I am sorry that Mr. Speaker is not in his Chair. The Wirral has announced a 41p a week increase, Oldham a rise of only 23p a week. That is the help we have brought so far to tenants. But we have also acted on behalf of owner-occupiers and would-be owner-occupiers. We recognise the difficulty of local authority mortgage rates, referred to by my hon. Friends the Members for Ilford, North, and Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) and Southampton, Test (Mr. Gould) and we are looking at the problem to see whether there is a way of helping. Our £500 million bridging loan to the building societies froze mortgage rates for the great majority of owner-occupiers and ended the mortgage famine. We saw in the Press only last week-end an assurance from Mr. Leonard Boyle, Chairman of the Building Societies Association, that mortgage rates would not be increased during the next few months. Certainly that makes a change from what we used to get under the Conservative Party—three increases in the mortgage interest rate in 1973 alone. The inflow to the building societies in the last six months of 1974 was £904 million compared with £579 million in the last six months of 1973. The number of new mortgage commitments in the second half of last year, compared with the second half of 1973, was up by 26 per cent., and that was before the package of measures announced by my right hon. Friend last week to help builders and building societies. As was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mr. Forrester) and the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross), there is hope that in the owner-occupation sector the worst that was inflicted by the Conservative Party in the stop-go, boom-bust and slump which they inflicted on the owner-occupier section is over. Completions are now beginning, but only beginning, cautiously to reflect the recovery in building society advances. But in the public sector there has been a much sharper improvement. That is due to the massive increase by this Government on planned expenditure by the Tory Government, expenditure which, as I have pointed out, was due to be reduced by 18 per cent. over the coming years. This year, if the Conservatives had remained in office, they had planned to spend £2,322 million on housing. We are in this year spending £3,466 million on housing—a 50 per cent. increase."How well I remember in the last election, when I put forward our policies to help more families to own their own homes, people were saying to me, 'If only you'd done this earlier, when you were in government.'"
In real terms?
Yes, in real terms. I am delighted to see the hon. Lady here. We always welcome her encouragement. Out of this increase in real terms, we have been able to help local authorities and new towns to buy 10,000 new houses from developers. This is a very useful addition to the rented housing sector.It also helps to bring about the mixed development advocated by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Steen). He advocated mixed development in terms of council houses being sold to owner-occupiers. We seek to achieve it by local authorities buying private houses for occupation by council house tenants. It is different, but it is mixed development, and it also means more houses available for council tenants. It is also a valuable aid to the building industry. What is more, we have asked the local authorities to draw up five-year municipalisation programmes. Municipalisation is a very important part of our policy. We look forward next month to the programmes of municipalisation which the local authorities are to send us. Meanwhile, in this financial year, there has been by far the greatest advance ever in municipalisation, a policy which is essential in view of the failure of private landlordism to meet its responsibilities.
The hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott) raised a point about the three-year lease guarantee by local authorities. Will the hon. Gentleman deal with that? It is a valid point in relation to the private landlord sector.
That is a matter for the local authorities. There is nothing to stop them from doing it now if they wish.We have removed the restrictions on the direct works departments of local authorities building for sale—something they were prohibited from doing by the Conservative Government, who claimed nevertheless to believe in building for sale. I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North that we are carefully examining the problems caused to many direct works departments, my own in Manchester included, by restrictions imposed by Conservative legislation. Tender approvals in Great Britain in the private sector last year rose proportionately more than in any year since 1946. This is part of the great advance in local authority house building, because we have picked council house building programmes off the floor. Public sector starts in Great Britain last year rose for the first time since 1967. They rose by 30 per cent. The increase in starts was the biggest since 1953, and the increase in tender approvals was proportionately more than in any year since 1946. Compared with the tangled wreckage which the Conservatives left behind, this is a record of outstanding achievement. But we have higher standards than they. To us, all this is only a start—a useful start certainly, but simply a base on which we can build our lasting solution to this nation's daunting housing problems, and in this Parliament we shall take steps to deal with other blemishes which have long bedevilled the housing scene. We shall soon bring in legislation to tackle the abuses of the lump, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend, will be interested to hear. We shall bring in comprehensive legislation to assist caravan and mobile home dwellers, and we have mounted a major review to discover the facts about their plight and their problems. We shall at last, in the next Session of this Parliament, legislate to abolish the agricultural tied cottage system. These measures will help hundreds of thousands of householders. But we are only too well aware that the basic housing problem of this country affects millions more. While holding down rents is vitally important—and while we have done a lot towards this—a genuine housing policy is no more about rents alone than a genuine education policy is about the cost of school meals or a genuine health policy is about prescription charges, a point validly made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) in his highly relevant remarks about housing management. A genuine housing policy is about mobilising effort and resources to meet the needs of the young couples desperately anxious for a home of their own—to buy or to rent. A genuine housing policy is about helping the millions living in substandard accommodation whose children will never stand a chance. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education can bring in the most far-reaching educational reforms. But these reforms will be of no avail to the child who goes home to over-crowding, to bickering parents whose marriage is endangered by living conditions which remove all chance of human dignity. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services can bring in massive and expensive improvements in the National Health Service, but these improvements will be powerless against the asthma, the bronchitis, the chronic ills which will never leave a child brought up in a damp ill-heated slum. It is the children of the ill-housed, who lack gardens to play in, or even playgrounds in their neighbourhood, who go off in search of their own adventure playgrounds, who too often meet a pitifully early end, killed exploring city railway lines or drowned in claypits. These are the casualties of the inner cities, the wastelands of urban civilisation defaced by abominable housing conditions. Conservative Members make fleeting visits to this alien terrain. The right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) once went to Lambeth, and was shocked. The right hon. Member for Carshalton (Mr. Carr) passed swiftly through Hulme, expressed brief horror, and was gone again. They were like visitors to a strange planet. No wonder the Conservatives have been driven out of the great cities, whose problems they fail to understand.
As the hon. Gentleman referred to me, will he tell the House and the country what his enormous programme of municipalisation will do to increase the number of house-owners?
The programme of municipalisation will make sure that the houses of my constituents which are not repaired by private landlords are dealt with by local authorities.We hear many windy clichés from advocates of a certain version of national unity about the desperate battle we must fight for Britain's survival. But the true battle for the future of Britain is being fought in the dingy streets of Camden and Islington, in the rotting council flats of old Ardwick. This housing battle is a battle whose nature we on the Labour side understand. It will be won only by the regeneration of our cities, by refur- bishing the old houses that can still be saved, and above all by building the new houses that will give our people not simply new homes but new hope. In Government the Conservatives lost that battle because they never saw the need to fight it. That is why their censure tonight is a bogus and empty exercise. We know that victory in the housing
Division No. 87]
|Adley, Robert||Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||McCrindle, Robert|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Fookes, Miss Janet||Macfariane, Neil|
|Alison, Michael||Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd)||MacGregor, John|
|Amery, Rt Hon Julian||Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St)||Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham)|
|Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)||Fry, Peter||McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)|
|Awdry, Daniel||Galbraith, Hon. T. G. D.||McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)|
|Baker, Kenneth||Gardiner, George (Reigate)||Madel, David|
|Banks, Robert||Gardner, Edward (S Fylde)||Marshall, Michael (Arundel)|
|Bell, Ronald||Gilmour, Rt Hon Ian (Chesham)||Marten, Neil|
|Benyon, W.||Glyn, Dr Alan||Mates, Michael|
|Berry, Hon Anthony||Godber, Rt Hon Joseph||Mather, Carol|
|Biffen, John||Goodhart, Philip||Maude, Angus|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Goodhew, Victor||Maudling, Rt Hon Reginald|
|Blaker, Peter||Goodlad, Alastair||Mawby, Ray|
|Body, Richard||Gorst, John||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Gow, Ian (Eastbourne)||Mayhew, Patrick|
|Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown)||Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry)||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent)||Grant, Anthony (Harrow C)||Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove)|
|Braine, Sir Bernard||Gray, Hamish||Mills, Peter|
|Brittan, Leon||Grieve, Percy||Miscampbell, Norman|
|Brotherton, Michael||Griffiths, Eldon||Moate, Roger|
|Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)||Grist, Ian||Monro, Hector|
|Bryan, Sir Paul||Grylls, Michael||Moore, John (Croydon C)|
|Buchanan-Smith, Alick||Hall-Davis, A. G. F.||More, Jasper (Ludlow)|
|Buck, Antony||Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Morgan, Geraint|
|Budgen, Nick||Hampson, Dr Keith||Morris, Michael (Northampton S)|
|Bulmer, Esmond||Hannam, John||Morrison, Charles (Devizes)|
|Burden, F. A.||Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss||Morrison, Peter (Chester)|
|Butler, Adam (Bosworth)||Hastings, Stephen||Mudd, David|
|Carlisle, Mark||Havers, Sir Michael||Neave, Airey|
|Carr, Rt Hon Robert||Hawkins, Paul||Nelson, Anthony|
|Chalker, Mrs Lynda||Hayhoe, Barney||Neubert, Michael|
|Channon, Paul||Hicks, Robert||Newton, Tony|
|Churchill, W. S.||Higgins, Terence L.||Onslow, Cranley|
|Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)||Holland, Philip||Oppenheim, Mrs Sally|
|Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Hordern, Peter||Page, John (Harrow West)|
|Clegg, Walter||Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)|
|Cockcroft, John||Howell, David (Guildford)||Parkinson, Cecil|
|Cooke, Robert (Bristol W)||Hunt, John||Pattie, Geoffrey|
|Cope, John||Hurd, Douglas||Percival, Ian|
|Cordle, John H.||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Peyton, Rt Hon John|
|Cormack, Patrick||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Pink, R. Bonner|
|Corrie, John||Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)||Price, David (Eastleigh)|
|Costain, A. P.||James, David||Prior, Rt Hon James|
|Critchley, Julian||Jenkin, Rt Hon P. (Wanst'd & W'df'd)||Pym, Rt Hon Francis|
|Crouch, David||Jessel, Toby||Raison, Timothy|
|Crowder, F. P.||Jones, Arthur (Daventry)||Rathbone, Tim|
|Dean, Paul (N Somerset)||Jopling, Michael||Rawlinson, Rt Hon Sir Peter|
|Dodsworth, Geoffrey||Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith||Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal)|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Kaberry, Sir Donald||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Drayson, Burnaby||Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine||Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)|
|du Cann, Rt Hon Edward||King, Evelyn (South Dorset)||Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex)|
|Durant, Tony||King, Tom (Bridgwater)||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|Dykes, Hugh||Kitson, Sir Timothy||Ridley, Hon Nicholas|
|Eden, Rt Hon Sir John||Knox, David||Ridsdale, Julian|
|Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Lane, David||Rifkind, Malcolm|
|Elliott, Sir William||Langford-Holt, Sir John||Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey|
|Emery, Peter||Latham, Michael (Melton)||Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)|
|Eyre, Reginald||Lawrence, Ivan||Roberts, Wyn (Conway)|
|Fairbairn, Nicholas||Lawson, Nigel||Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)|
|Fairgrieve, Russell||Le Marchant, Spencer||Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)|
|Farr, John||Lester, Jim (Beeston)||Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire)|
|Fell, Anthony||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Sainsbury, Tim|
|Finsberg, Geoffrey||Lloyd, Ian||St. John-Stevas, Norman|
|Fisher, Sir Nigel||Loveridge, John||Scott, Nicholas|
|Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N)||McAdden, Sir Stephen||Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)|
battle will take a long haul and painful effort. But we know what the fight is about, and we are determined to win.
That the salary of the Secretary of State for the Environment should be reduced by the sum of £1,000:—
The House divided: Ayes 242, Noes 295.
|Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)||Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)||Walker, Rt Hon P. (Worcester)|
|Shelton, William (Streatham)||Stokes, John||Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek|
|Shepherd, Colin||Tapsell, Peter||Walters, Dennis|
|Shersby, Michael||Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)||Warren, Kenneth|
|Silvester, Fred||Tebbit, Norman||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Sims, Roger||Temple-Morris, Peter||Wells, John|
|Sinclair, Sir George||Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret||Whitelaw, Rt Hon William|
|Skeet, T. H. H.||Thomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S)||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Smith, Dudley (Warwick)||Townsend, Cyril D.||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Speed, Keith||Trotter, Neville||Wood, Rt Hon Richard|
|Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)||Tugendhat, Christopher||Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)|
|Sproat, Iain||van Straubenzee, W. R.||Younger, Hon George|
|Stainton, Keith||Viggers, Peter||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Stanbrook, Ivor||Wakeham, John||Mr. Richard Luce and|
|Stanley, John||Walder, David (Clitheroe)||Dr. Gerard Vaughan.|
|Steen, Anthony (Wavertree)|
|Abse, Leo||Dormand, J. D.||Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)|
|Allaun, Frank||Douglas-Mann, Bruce||Jay, Rt Hon Douglas|
|Anderson, Donald||Duffy, A. E. P.||Jeger, Mrs Lena|
|Archer, Peter||Dunn, James A.||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Dunnett, Jack||Jenkins, Rt Hon Roy (Stechford)|
|Ashley, Jack||Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth||John, Brynmor|
|Ashton, Joe||Eadie, Alex||Johnson, James (Hull West)|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston N)||Edelman, Maurice||Johnson, Walter (Derby S)|
|Atkinson, Norman||Edge, Geoff||Jones, Alec (Rhondda)|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)||Jones, Barry (East Flint)|
|Barnett, Rt Hon Joel||Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)||Jones, Dan (Burnley)|
|Bates, Alf||Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)||Judd, Frank|
|Bean, R. E.||English, Michael||Kaufman, Gerald|
|Beith, A. J.||Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)||Kelley, Richard|
|Bennett, Andrew(Stockport N)||Evans, John (Newton)||Kerr, Russell|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Ewing, Harry (Stirling)||Kilroy-Silk, Robert|
|Bishop, E. S.||Faulds, Andrew||Kinnock, Neil|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.||Lambie, David|
|Boardman, H.||Fitch, Alan (Wigan)||Lamond, James|
|Booth, Albert||Flannery, Martin||Latham, Arthur (Paddington)|
|Boothroyd, Miss Betty||Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)||Leadbitter, Ted|
|Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur||Fletcher, Ted (Darlingon)||Lee, John|
|Boyden, James (Bish Auck)||Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)|
|Bradley, Tom||Ford, Ben||Lever, Rt Hon Harold|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Forrester, John||Lewis, Arthur (Newham N)|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)|
|Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)||Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd)||Lipton, Marcus|
|Brown, Ronald (Hackney S)||Freeson, Reginald||Litterick, Tom|
|Buchan, Norman||Freud, Clement||Loyden, Eddie|
|Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green)||Garrett, John (Norwich S)||Lyon, Alexander (York)|
|Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)||Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)||Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)|
|Campbell, Ian||George, Bruce||Mabon, Dr J. Dickson|
|Canavan, Dennis||Gilbert, Dr John||McElhone, Frank|
|Cant, R. B.||Ginsburg, David||MacFarquhar, Roderick|
|Carmichael, Neil||Golding, John||McGuire, Michael (Ince)|
|Carter, Ray||Gould, Bryan||Mackenzie, Gregor|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||Gourlay, Harry||Mackintosh, John P.|
|Cartwright, John||Graham, Ted||Maclennan, Robert|
|Castle, Rt Hon Barbara||Grant, John (Islington C)||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)|
|Clemitson, Ivor||Grocott, Bruce||McNamara, Kevin|
|Cocks, Michael (Bristol S)||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Madden, Max|
|Cohen, Stanley||Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)||Magee, Bryan|
|Coleman, Donald||Hamling, William||Mahon, Simon|
|Colquhoun, Mrs Maureen||Hardy, Peter||Marks, Kenneth|
|Concannon, J. D||Harper, Joseph||Marquand, David|
|Conlan, Bernard||Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)|
|Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)||Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)|
|Corbett, Robin||Hatton, Frank||Mason, Rt Hon Roy|
|Craigen, J. M. (Maryhill)||Hayman, Mrs Helene||Meacher, Michael|
|Crawshaw, Richard||Healey, Rt Hon Denis||Mendelson, John|
|Cronin, John||Heffer, Eric S.||Mikardo, Ian|
|Cryer, Bob||Hooley, Frank||Millan, Bruce|
|Cunningham, G. (Islington S)||Hooson, Emlyn||Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)|
|Dalyell, Tam||Horam, John||Miller, Mrs Millie (Ilford N)|
|Davidson, Arthur||Howells, Geraint (Cardigan)||Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen)|
|Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)||Hoyle, Douglas (Nelson)||Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)|
|Davies, Denzil (Llanelli)||Huckfield, Les||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)|
|Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey)||Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)|
|Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)||Hughes, Mark (Durham)||Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick|
|Deakins, Eric||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, N)||Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King|
|Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||Hughes, Roy (Newport)||Newens, Stanley|
|Delargy, Hugh||Hunter, Adam||Noble, Mike|
|Dell, Rt Hon Edmund||Irvine, Rt Hon Sir A. (Edge Hill)||Oakes, Gordon|
|Dempsey, James||Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford)||Ogden, Eric|
|Doig, Peter||Jackson, Colin (Brighouse)||O'Halloran, Michael|
|O'Malley, Brian||Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-u-Lyne)||Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.|
|Ovenden, John||Shore, Rt Hon Peter||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)|
|Padley, Walter||Short, Rt Hon E. (Newcastle C)||Wainwright, Richard (Colne V)|
|Palmer, Arthur||Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE)||Walden, Brian (B'ham, L'dyw'd)|
|Pardoe, John||Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Park, George||Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)||Walker, Terry (Kingswood)|
|Parker, John||Sillars, James||Ward, Michael|
|Parry, Robert||Silverman, Julius||Watkins, David|
|Peart, Rt Hon Fred||Skinner, Dennis||Watkinson, John|
|Pendry, Tom||Small, William||Weetch, Ken|
|Penhaligon, David||Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)||Weitzman, David|
|Perry, Ernest||Snape, Peter||Wellbeloved, James|
|Phipps, Dr Colin||Spearing, Nigel||Welsh, Andrew|
|Prescott, John||Spriggs, Leslie||White, Frank R. (Bury)|
|Price C. (Lewisham W)||Stallard, A. W.||White, James (Pollok)|
|Price, William (Rugby)||Steel, David (Roxburgh)||Whitehead, Phillip|
|Radice, Giles||Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)||Whitlock, William|
|Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S)||Stoddart, David||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Richardson, Miss Jo||Stott, Roger||Willey, Rt Hon Frederick|
|Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)||Strang, Gavin||Williams, Alan (Swansea W)|
|Robertson, John (Paisley)||Strauss, Rt Hon G. R.||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)|
|Roderick, Caerwyn||Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley||Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)|
|Rodgers, George (Chorley)||Swain, Thomas||Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)|
|Rodgers, William (Stockton)||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)||Wilson, Rt Hon H. (Huyton)|
|Rooker, J. W.||Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)||Wilson, William (Coventry SE)|
|Roper, John||Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Rose, Paul B.||Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)||Woodall, Alec|
|Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)||Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)||Woof, Robert|
|Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilm'nock)||Thorne, Stan (Preston South)||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Rowlands, Ted||Tierney, Sydney||Young, David (Bolton E)|
|Ryman, John||Tinn, James|
|Sandelson, Neville||Tomlinson, John||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Sedgemore, Brian||Tomney, Frank||Mr. Laurie Pavitt and|
|Selby, Harry||Torney, Tom||Mr. Thomas Cox.|
|Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)||Urwin, T. W.|
Question accordingly negatived.
Business Of The House
That the Motion relating to Doctors and Dentists may be proceeded with at this day's Sitting, though opposed, until half-past Eleven o'clock or one and a half hours after it has been entered upon whichever is the later.—[Mr. Pendry.]
Eec (Doctors And Dentists)
I beg to move,
That this House takes note of the draft EEC Directives on doctors and dentists contained in COM(69) 127 and R/2610/74 and in particular observes that:
(i) the Directives raise important questions of principle which relate to the special circumstances of medical practice in the United Kingdom; (ii) the effect of the Directives on the movement of doctors into and out of the National Health Service is not clear.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Irrespective of the propriety of tabling take-note motions with riders attached, I should like your advice on the difficulty which is caused to hon. Members on both sides of the House when a motion of this sort is tabled on the day of the debate, making it extremely difficult for hon. Members to table amendments.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I support my hon. Friend on this matter. I think that the rights of back benchers who hold different opinions have a place in these matters. You will recall that before the Summer Recess in the last Parliament Mr. Speaker heard a point of order concerning amendments from backbenchers to take-note motions. As a result of representations made by the Scrutiny Committee to Mr. Speaker, he changed the procedure and such motions were not only tabled but were selected by him—and indeed some have even been accepted by the Government. Therefore, it would be contrary to Mr. Speaker's ruling, and indeed to the request made by the Scrutiny Committee, if it were not made possible for back benchers to table amend- ments to motions on the day in question. There are more of these provisions to come before the House next week, and I hope that the Government will pursue past practice.
There are two separate points which have been raised, the first of which is wrongly addressed to me. The timing of a motion on the Order Paper is not my business. My rule is to follow the Order Paper. But on the question of amendments I understand that the hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper) submitted an amendment but that Mr. Speaker did not select it. I must remind the House that the time spent on points of order comes out of the 1½ hours of debate.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I seek an understanding of the situation? Was the manuscript amendment submitted to the Table out of order on grounds of principle or of substance?
Mr. Speaker did not select the amendment. Mr. Speaker is not obliged to give his reasons, and if he is not so obliged, certainly I am not.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Could we know what sort of criteria Mr. Speaker uses—
Order. The hon. Gentleman may raise a point of order, but it is not for hon. Members to question Mr. Speaker's selection of amendments. The House has entrusted Mr. Speaker with that responsibility, which he has exercised.
Further to that point of order. I am not questioning Mr. Speaker's desire to make a selection, nor his right to do so. I seek an understanding as to what protection Mr. Speaker can afford to back benchers so that the proper democratic procedures can be followed. Clearly, if Mr. Speaker is generally to reject all amendments tabled simply as a matter of principle and will not take back bench amendments, that will not permit back benchers to have a proper and full democratic debate on EEC orders. I appreciate that after the referendum we shall be pulling out of the Common Market and that this problem will not then arise, but until that point is reached. I should appreciate your guidance.
To my knowledge, Mr. Speaker has on two occasions selected amendments on the Order Paper and therefore the question of principle does not arise. I must again remind the House that this discussion is eating into the debate.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I, too, seek your guidance? It seems to me that some hon. Members appear to have the opportunity of tabling amendments before motions reach the Order Paper, whereas others are not in that situation. Would you rule whether my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) is or is not part of the usual channels and whether you have any responsibility for those usual channels.
I have been here too long to know much about the usual channels. What little I do know warns me not to make a ruling of any sort in that direction.
At the outset I should like to indicate that the points of order regarding the nature of the motion will certainly be conveyed to my right hon. Friend as soon as the debate is concluded.One of the basic principles of the Treaty of Rome is that within the European Economic Community there should be freedom of movement for people and freedom to provide services. There are proposals for a series of directives to be issued by the Council of Ministers which will define the necessary arrangements. Tonight we are debating directives concerning doctors and a related proposal for an advisory committee on medical training. These will be considered by the Council in Brussels next week. They raise important issues in relation to medical education in this country. It must be said that their effect upon movement in and out of the National Health Service certainly is not clear. Because of this, I know that some hon. Members are uneasy. Tonight I hope to explain just how far regard has been paid to our special circumstances and what more we think is needed. It is, of course, already possible in many cases for doctors to move from one country to another to practise their profession. The proposed directives would, as required by the Treaty, remove a number of obstacles to free movement of both employed and self-employed doctors. Tonight we are considering only doctors, but the pattern which is developing for the medical profession will have implications for dentists and, indeed, for a number of other professions. The Government have recognised throughout this wider interest which again emphasises the importance of the issues raised. The doctors' directives, as now drafted, are the result of considerable detailed discussion by officials of the member States, and many amendments have been made since they were first proposed. As a result, the 1969 document considered by the Scrutiny Committee, and by another place, has undergone many changes. To bring the House up to date, explanatory memoranda were made available on 30th May 1974 and 3rd December 1974. In addition, in October a memorandum was provided on the proposal to set up an advisory committee on medical training. Since the accession of this country two years ago my Department has joined in these discussions, most of which have taken place at Council working group level. The Department has been particularly concerned to ensure that account was taken of the special circumstances in this country and that proper regard was had to the need to safeguard the interests of the patient and to ensure a very high professional standard of medicine. There have been frequent consultations between my Department and the General Medical Council, the EEC Committee of the BMA, the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals and the Council for Postgraduate Medical Education. I should now draw the attention of the House to a few of the more important provisions. We felt that it was an essential prerequisite that the standards of medical training were satisfactory and comparable between member countries. We therefore pressed and obtained the agreement of other member countries to the inclusion in the directives of basic quality criteria. Originally the criteria were merely quantitative, setting out years and hours of training required. The new quality criteria are intended to be sufficiently flexible to take account of future development in medical training while safeguarding the final standard. Here I should like to draw the attention of the House to the part played by the European Standing Committee of doctors in convincing our partners in the Community of the importance of defining the minimum standards of training by reference to quality as well as quantity. Last year Mr. Walpole Lewin, the chairman of the Council of the BMA, was appointed as chairman of the committee and Dr. Derek Stevenson became the secretary general. To help to ensure comparability of standards, agreement has been reached on the setting up of an advisory committee on medical training. This committee will exchange information on medical courses, discuss the objectives and review developments in medical training. It will have as members three experts and three alternates from each member State. The three members would be nominated by the Government on proposals made by the practising profession, the universities and the competent authority for registration—in all probability the General Medical Council. Their initial concern will be under graduate education, but the provision of alternates will allow for the inclusion of members with expert knowledge of particular subjects—for example, in postgraduate education. There is also provision for the co-option of other expert opinion. We also think it very important that doctors seeking to establish themselves in another country should know something of the practices of that country and should demonstrate their command of the language before setting up practice—a point which is not always appreciated. At this point, I should like to remind the House of the existing arrangements for doctors from overseas. Many, generally those from Commonwealth countries, can apply for full registration as medical practitioners. Such a fully registered doctor could set up in private practice or apply to set up in general practice in the NHS. However, if he wanted to work in hospital, he might be required to undergo a three or four week attachment during which, amongst other things, his ability to communicate would be assessed. Other overseas doctors, including those from EEC countries, may be granted temporary registration which permits them to take up specific hospital posts. But they cannot enter general practice. These temporarily registered doctors may also be required to take an attachment. There has for some time been considerable criticism of these arrangements. The House may recall that on 27th November my hon. Friend announced that the GMC was to introduce later this year a new test of linguistic ability and professional competence for all doctors seeking temporary registration. The GMC's powers do not permit it to apply this test to doctors applying for full registration. However, we are expecting the report of the Merrison Committee soon, and this will touch on many aspects relating to the registration of doctors. The EEC directives would in effect put EEC doctors on a par with the fully registered. I think it fair to say that one of the concepts underlying the present system of full registration was that it was reasonable to assume—some may doubt this—that English would be a language familiar to the Commonwealth doctor. With all respect to the profession, I do not think it reasonable to assume that all EEC doctors have a good working knowledge of English, nor, indeed, that our doctors are fluent in French, Italian, German or other EEC languages, and certainly not Welsh at this juncture. We would have thought that all countries would want to be sure that a doctor, before practising, could communicate with his patient. There are some limits on how far down this road we can go without appearing to discriminate and creating a further barrier, when the removal of barriers is the essential objective of the Treaty and the directives. At present there is a provision in the directives which permits member States to set up information centres where the EEC doctor can be given advice on health and social security laws and professional ethics. Following points made by my Department at Brussels, we were able to have this extended. The doctor can now also be advised on how to acquire an adequate knowledge of the language of the country in which he wishes to establish himself. So far as doctors seeking employment in, say, an NHS hospital are concerned, the existing regulations on the freedom of movement of workers within the Community allow language proficiency to be assessed. As regards the self-employed doctor, for NHS general practice there are selection procedures for all established practices where no doubt language proficiency will continue to be taken into account. Nevertheless, there is at present no provision which would permit us to assess the language ability of a doctor wanting to enter NHS general practice in an under-doctored area or to engage in private practice. It is considered unlikely that many doctors without an adequate knowledge of English would wish to establish themselves or would attract patients if they did—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am pleased that on this issue at least, I command the support of my hon. Friends. There are of course here, as elsewhere, pockets of other nationals, and one or two doctors may wish to come to minister to their own nationals. In general, doctors who establish themselves in another country will no doubt face many difficulties initially and can be expected to make use of any facilities which are provided to help them. However, I am sure that we ought to pursue this further in Brussels and see what more can be achieved to ensure, if we can, that proper language tests could be universally applied. This seems to us consistent, not only with current trends in this country but also with the EEC system, which permits such tests for the employed doctor. Particularly where sickness is concerned, it seems only logical to try to bring the self-employed within the same bounds. I make no apologies for spending some time on this matter. We think it important. But there are other matters to which I should draw attention. I notice again that because of some of the interruptions time is passing far too rapidly. The original proposals were firmly against the possibility of part-time post- graduate training. This was understandable because of concern about the possible abuse of such a system. In this country, however, part-time training under proper safeguards is an established part of our system of medical education. It is particularly relevant in the case of married women doctors with domestic commitments. This is vitally important to us because of our large and growing population of women medical students and doctors. Not only would it be a loss to them personally; it would deprive society of a good deal of medical skill. I am glad to be able to tell the House that when my Department raised this, other member countries recognised the problem. Approved part-time training will be acceptable so long as the standard is in no way impaired. These arrangements will be reviewed within four years of the adoption of the directives. The mutual recognition of qualifications is based on mutual trust and on the assumption that a doctor carries out broadly comparable functions and is trained to an approximately equivalent standard in each member State of the Community. The intention is that in general a doctor who is suitably qualified and allowed to practise in one member country will be accepted and permitted to practise in other member States. The General Medical Council—the competent authority in the United Kingdom—would satisfy itself that a doctor wishing to practise here genuinely holds the qualifications which he claims and will then admit him to the register. Normally there would be no reason to interrupt this process. Conceivably, at some time a situation might arise when the competent authority had justifiable reason to doubt whether the medical graduates of a particular teaching establishment had been trained to the required standard. We do not really expect such an event to occur, but if it did arise here the directives provide that the GMC could require of the overseas competent authority confirmation that all the training requirements laid down in the directives had been fulfilled. It is also proposed that the Council of Ministers should issue a separate statement which will provide that where a member State has serious doubts that the medical qualifications are based on training which does comply with the minimum standards laid down, they shall inform the European Commission. The Commission will examine the matter as quickly as possible and confirm to the member State concerned that the training standards have been complied with—if that is the case. In such a situation the Commission would be expected to avail itself of the services of the advisory committee. In the meantime we expect that the GMC would defer registration.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would welcome a short rest in his speech. What is the exact status of these documents? It seems to me that the Minister has made very sensible suggestions about these documents. Obviously this matter will be discussed in Brussels. Will the Minister give an assurance, however, that when things have been discussed and the documents finalised, they will come back to this House so that we can look at the legislation as it is and so that the House can move amendments to that legislation, when we see it in its finalised form, before the Council of Ministers agrees to it?
The hon. Gentleman will realise that I cannot give that sort of assurance. The assurances I may be able to give on any points raised in the debate will be considered when the meeting is held.
Supposing a doctor from one of the other member States wishes to practise here, yet the General Medical Council is of the opinion that he does not satisfy these conditions—and the Commission in Brussels believes that he speaks perfect English, although the GMC thinks he does not—what is the situation? Is he qualified to practise here?
We are talking not only of language qualifications, but also of medical qualifications. We expect that, in this situation, the GMC will defer registration until such time as the conditions may be complied with.
I would say that "defer" means such period of time until those conditions can be complied with. That is the answer which I gave earlier.The directives provide for the situation where a specialist resident in another country is called in to assist in the treatment of a patient where his knowledge and skill would be particularly valuable, and in a frontier region—we do not seem to have many of them in this country, thank goodness—a doctor may wish to cross the border in the course of his normal work. Clearly there needs to be adequate safeguards. The activities of doctors providing services in this way will be subject to the normal disciplinary rules governing the practice of the profession in the country which they are visiting. Hon. Members may well ask what is likely to be the result of adopting these directives. As I have already said, the effect on movement of doctors into and out of the NHS is not clear. It would be a very brave man who suggested that with the adoption of directives such as this there could be absolute clarity. The directives do not, of course, affect in any way our existing arrangements for registering and employing doctors from non-member States. As regards the EEC there is already movement between member countries, for the GMC can temporarily register an EEC doctor for practice here, and similar arrangements operate abroad. I make this point because when I suggested that we could not give an absolute guarantee of what would be the likely consequences of implementing this directive, if it were implemented—that is not in my hands—obviously nor can anyone give an absolute guarantee of what is happening to numbers of doctors practising in this country now. This country has for a very long time provided postgraduate training for overseas doctors and has as a result quite substantial flows of doctors into and out of the country. With the directives, movement could gradually increase, though there are of course factors which will tend to limit movement. The language barrier alone will, I am sure, be a problem for some time. Clearly we shall need to keep a close watch on trends in this direction. I have sought to explain how the United Kingdom objectives in the negotiations were set, given the obligations under the Treaty of Rome. We have already made considerable progress and I have described the ways in which the directives have been modified to take account of our special circumstances. I have suggested what more we should seek. The House will see that steps have been taken to safeguard the public health and maintain proper standards of medicine. The co-operation and efforts of the profession have been of value in helping us to meet these objectives. One final point I must make. The directives if agreed would not come into effect for some 18 months so that no action will have been taken pre-empting the outcome of any eventual decision reached on the question of whether this country should remain a member of the Community. Whatever the final outcome of that decision these proposed directives for doctors take proper account of medicine in this country.
I am sure that the House would like me to congratulate the Minister on having so well read out the explanatory memorandum. He made it a little longer by adding one or two points, primarily about the language difficulty, and that was welcome. Whatever one's global views about the EEC, this whole procedure is getting increasingly unsatisfactory. This is perhaps the most difficult example so far, and that is why I sympathise with the Minister's difficulties. But that does not get around the point that the House has to face, irrespective of any negotiation about membership. In an hour and a half, under this special and esoteric procedure, we are debating a momentous decision, the first of the potential harmonisation decisions—"decisions" in the general sense—which I personally support.This is a major step. We have had points of order, right or wrong, which took several minutes, and the Minister spoke for some time on the Government's position. There is little time left for other hon. Members to put forward their views on this important matter. Presumably because all this is being examined in the Procedure Committee some of the minutes of evidence of which we shall in due course have, which will show how unsatisfactory these proceedings are, we must make do and mend for now. That is why I do not press the point too much. But hon. Members, whether medical experts or not, are in a great difficulty. We have before us a mix of documents. There are the directives, the most out-of-date documents ever presented to the House under this procedure. They are not even based on any English text officially. They are based on the other foreign language text which has been completely overtaken by events. One understands the validity of EEC documents going to and fro in all the agencies of the Community as proposals are worked out—that is acceptable to many hon. Members—but when a basic document like this is presented on such a complicated matter the House is in great difficulty. That is one part of the mix of documents that we are considering. The other is not even a draft directive, as we have seen; it is what is called a Council decision. I think that I am correct in saying that one of its essential elements is that it does not have to be examined by the European Parliament. What we are considering in one composite motion, which has some, to say the least, unusual riders and which was presented at the eleventh hour by the administration, is something which will not be examined by the European Parliament, whether other hon. Members consider that relevant or not, nor by the United Kingdom delegation. There is also another document which, according to the Minister, will be discussed in the Council of Ministers next week. But, again, we are not sure whether there should be scope for some follow-up by the House. I suggest that tentatively.
Since my hon. Friend represents the Conservative Front Bench,—I think that is what he represents—does he agree that this matter, when it is finalised and before it goes actually to be approved by the Council of Ministers, should come back to this House?
I was not suggesting that I was giving a definite answer one way or the other. It is not for me to answer. It is for the Government to give guidance. My hon. Friend must bear in mind that this is now being considered by the Procedure Committee.In the time available, I want to fill out some points made by the Under-Secretary of State by asking some questions as well as making brief observations, which, however, will not do justice to the importance of the matter. Bearing in mind that the directive document is out of date, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be able to say more about the up-to-date text. We need more information. If he has time, I hope he will deal quickly with what might be needed and the manner in which we can make amendments. My reading is that any amendments would be routine and textually of a minor nature. For example, when will the further proposals on dentists be worked out in detail and brought before the House? This point has not been gone into sufficiently so far. All this emanates directly from Articles 52 and 57 of the Treaty of Rome. These govern the future development of professional workers in the Community. Is there not also relevance in the proposals not only to Article 49 as well but to Community Regulation 1612/68 of 15th October 1968, concerning the movement of workers? I am thinking mainly of the general principle in that regulation, but particularly of Article 1, which is largely relevant to the general conditions for, for example, the qualifications of people coming here, based on professional capacity, not least if those qualifications are to be assessed by other than statutory bodies. I am anxious to see just how the standards set out so far—apparently in the latest draft directive—which have been described as close to those which our medical profession has wanted all along, are to be developed further once the Council of Ministers has promulgated its decision, presumably next week or shortly afterwards. This is important. I add my tribute to the work done by United Kingdom doctors on this document in all the relevant committees. It was an immensely complex task. As a result of their intervention at the appropriate moment—they showed better timing than many politicians—the advisory committee was created. It was almost exclusively due to their work although in saying so I mean no discourtesy to the many other doctors in the Community involved. Then there is the question of the anxieties people here would feel about our doctors going to work in the rest of the Community under these proposals, quite aside from the question of salaries. I think the conventional wisdom of the Department would agree that Belgian doctors earn more pro rata than doctors anywhere else in the Community. That is why they are proving difficult about these proposals. They fear an influx of Italian and British doctors, for example. Apart from the salary aspect, the hon. Gentleman should say more about the vital question of doctors in under-doctored and over-doctored areas—again in the context of the sad fact that we have fewer doctors per thousand of population than almost any other of the major Community countries. We would also wish to know when the Government last had a formal meeting with the United Kingdom doctors on the standing committee of doctors in the Community. Insofar as the details of that meeting can be made known to the House and the public, what points have come up at the eleventh hour before the Council of Ministers' meeting? All this seems to have taken place originally some years before we joined the Community, but it seems to have gone with a tremendous rush in the last few weeks and we shall wish to be satisfied that the rush is justified in view of the underlying importance of this first major exercise in professional harmonisation. I refer quickly to Article 48 of the Treaty of Rome referring to public service, to the public sector posts. In the medical context there are some who believe that certain NHS posts come in here. That might be the relevance of the second rider to the Government motion, but we require more explanation of that from the Minister if he can provide it. I am puzzled, and perhaps others on both sides are, too, at the registration of qualifications. In the debate in the Upper House on 9th December, the Minister referred to the obvious fact that we have no statutory system of registration. There is no statutory system of registration for medical specialists. That is an important part of the overall picture. In the treatment of registration for visiting doctors or of doctors coming from other countries to settle here we have to have more careful examination than was indicated by the Minister. I personally would appreciate a more definitive date for the promulgation of directives, bearing in mind the 18 months' gap. I conclude by expressing a broad welcome on behalf of most hon. Members on this side, but not necessarily all. This will undoubtedly pave the way for other major steps in the harmonisation of professional qualifications and standardised procedure for admission and stay in many other professions. Lawyers will be interested to see how things go, bearing in mind how they tend to control these matters. There is a lawyers' impingement on this subject of medical harmonisation. It is not sufficient merely to express a general welcome for this momentous step in this country and the EEC. It is much more important to have more information from the Government.
I listened with great attention to the Minister's speech but I am still trying to ascertain the precise meaning of the riders in this take-note motion. It is true of all legislation that there is great doubt and uncertainty, but I still fail to see the necessity for the riders.The problems raised by this legislation are two. Either we should worry about a possible Gadarene rush of British doctors to the fleshpots of Brussels or we should worry about a flood of linguistically and medically incompetent doctors from the Continent attracted by our climate and customs, and of course, our high salaries. I shall discuss first the problem of our doctors flooding to the Continent. Anyone who has had dealings with constituents who decide to emigrate realises that it is traumatic for a family to reach that decision, and that the decision is made only in extreme conditions. It will certainly not be made, except under grave provocation, where there is an enormous linguistic problem. But the most important indication that the likelihood of a flood of our doctors to the Continent is small is the fact that it is already possible for them to go to the linguistically safer areas of the United States, Canada and Australia, as many have, to get the better salaries and facilities enjoyed there. Therefore, we should be more concerned about those who go to English-speaking countries. As for the possible influx of medically or linguistically incompetent doctors into this country, it seems to me from what my hon. Friend said, and from EEC Regulation 1612 of 1968, that the linguistic problem is relatively small. We can apply tests, and where there are loopholes this country can ensure that the linguistic qualifications are all right. Our Department of Health and Social Security has done a great deal of work with regard to medical incompetence in the past couple of years. Whereas there might have been a danger in that regard a few years ago, the proposed creation of the advisory committee, coupled with the further safeguards in the directive, indicate that it is highly unlikely. Furthermore, there is the question of salaries. It is highly unlikely that French doctors, for instance, would accept salary cuts of 20 per cent. to 30 per cent. to come to Britain, quite apart from the Belgian doctors, who, we have already heard, enjoy a still better standard of living. When we are implicitly making a judgment on foreign doctors, we must take into account the kind of statistics which indicate their competence. On the whole, infant mortality rates in the Common Market countries are about the same as ours. We are certainly not among the top countries. Life expectancy, which we may presume bears some relationship to medical care, if not a total relationship, is also about the same in all the countries. Therefore, we see that any fear that we shall be flooded with medical incompetents is extremely ill-based. However, those are negative arguments. If the result of the directives is immigration into this country, it is probably to be welcomed as a net benefit. We are far worse off for doctors per head of population than any other EEC country, with the possible exceptions of Ireland and Luxembourg. We are in no position to scorn foreign doctors. Our National Health Service is totally dependent upon them. In a statement last December the Department gave startling figures. The percentage of doctors in practice in England and Wales born outside Britain or Eire was 11·3 per cent. in 1965. By October 1973 it had risen to 16·5 per cent., and by last October it was 17·4 per cent. In the hospital service the 1965 figure was 29·1 per cent., and in October 1973 it was 34·7 per cent. Furthermore, when making that statement the Chief Medical Officer of the Department of Health stated that in the previous year the number of National Health Service doctors rose by 3 per cent. and that half had been born abroad.
For a long time, and particularly in psychiatry, it has been almost impossible to find young British doctors. Does my hon. Friend agree that those who come from overseas, and sometimes from the Commonwealth, often practise a branch of medicine in which language is all important and that they have an imperfect command of English?
I accept my hon. Friend's point. I suggest that the fears that might be aroused by this directive—namely, either a massive outflow of doctors or a massive inflow of the wrong kind of doctors—are ill-founded. If we are so lucky as to get some competent foreign doctors from the Continent the National Health Service will benefit, as it has already benefited from other foreign doctors.I close with a different point. I return to the way in which the directive has been presented. As I have already suggested, there was no point in the riders which my hon. Friend added. They were vague and anyone would take them for granted in discussing this legislation. They add nothing to our debate. Why were the riders inserted? They have been inserted after consultation with whom? I suggest that the proper course to take in these debates—they will be regular debates and there will be late night sittings—is to put forward the directives unamended and without internal riders. If the Government or Members have reservations they should be mentioned in debate. The Government will then be able to go forward with their negotiating position, taking into account the points of view of Members.
Before the hon. Gentleman sits down—
Order. The hon. Member for Belper (Mr. MacFarquhar) had sat down. Sir Derek Walker-Smith.
One thing that emerges from the fasciculus of directives which has prompted these agreeable exchanges this evening is something to which I drew attention in an earlier debate before Christmas—namely, the slow pace of Community legislation. That is not necessarily in itself a bad thing, but it is certainly a slow pace judged even by our legislative pace. It also shows the difficulty of adhering to set programmes.I understand that these directives date from March 1969 and derive from the general programme adopted by the Council of Ministers as long ago as December 1961. That programme was designed to achieve freedom of establishment in the liberal professions by the end of the transitional period which was reached as long ago as 31st December 1969. Under the programme approximately 40 proposals for directives were received by the Council from 1967 onwards. They covered doctors, dentists, pharmacists, veterinary surgeons, midwives, nurses, opticians, architects, engineers, tax consultants and lawyers. I need hardly say that I catalogue them in no order of priority in putting the lawyers at the end of the list. It is my understanding that none of the 40 or so proposed directives has as yet come into operation. The consequence of that is that the directives which are mandatorily required for the transitional period in Article 54 of the treaty on freedom of establishment and Article 57 on mutual recognition of qualifications were not achieved during the transitional period. Nevertheless, Article 52 of the treaty, which requires in principle the abolition of restrictions on the freedom of establishment, is now operative in nine member States. That was held to be so by the European Court of Justice in the case of Reyners and the Belgian State. For the benefit of our admirable and conscientious Reporters, that is transcribed as Reyners v. Belgian State. In that case it was held to be directly applicable, despite the absence of the necessary directives. The result of that is that the first directive which we are considering is no longer operative, is redundant, and we are, therefore, saved the necessity of considering it. The freedom of establishment for these professions is already established in our law under the terms of Article 52 of the treaty as applied by the European Communities Act. If the freedom of establishment for professions is to be good in principle there must be a satisfactory common basis of qualification and training. As to this, the second and third directives with which we are dealing here, and which deal with this aspect, are out of date. They are out of date not only because they were made before the enlargement of the Community to nine Member States but also because they have been overtaken by events. They have been overtaken by the recommendations of the Commission's working party, which was assisted by a four-day public hearing of the representatives of the medical profession in October 1973, which was attended by, among others, representatives of the British Medical Association and the General Medical Council as well as representatives from United Kingdom universities. The provisions of the third directive as they stand are unsatisfactory, as the Minister has said, because they specify criteria which are quantitative instead of qualitative; that is, they insist on minimum periods of study and training irrespective of the content of the instruction or the results achieved. This point was taken up by the working party, which recommended making the methods as flexible as possible. It said in its report:
That must be so and I understand that the Minister already accepts that point. There are two points which I raised in the European Parliament when this matter was debated on 23rd April last, on the resolutions of the working party. The first point concerned disciplinary procedures. I refer to such procedures because the basic ingredients of professional life are, first, a proper qualification to enter, second, an accepted and prescribed code of conduct; and, third, a procedure to enforce that code of conduct. I ask now the question I asked in the European Parliament: is it clear that disciplinary procedures, including the procedures for elimination from the register of those not conforming to prescribed standards, will apply to all Community practitioners in the host country? Will those practitioners simply be subject to the indigenous procedures of the host State or will there be special procedures, and, if so, what procedures, and how much further has that got since the days when the directive was promulgated? My second point arises from a matter to which reference has already been made, and that is to the inhibitions of language. Language and other considerations give rise to difficulties of adaptation, particularly with regard to medicine. They are not insuperable difficulties. Those of us with any knowledge of the health service know how many people from overseas are practising here. I well remember in the rather distant days when I was Minister of Health—even more distant than the days of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell)—that there were many Spanish nurses in the psychiatric hospitals, all doing the job to the best of their ability. Nevertheless, language is an obvious difficulty in medicine, and it follows that some period of adaptation is desirable even for doctors who have recognised qualifications in their own country and the right of establishment. But will any period of adaptation be legally possible and admissible? That question was also discussed by the working party which, in paragraph 28 of its report, said this:"This increased flexibility might consist in (a) reducing, as much as possible the evocation of quantitative criteria. It would be very advisable in particular that present and future proposals should not include indications on minimum hours of training to be devoted to each subject of the programme. When quantitative criteria are mentioned the total time devoted to training could, for example, be taken into consideration; (b) referring wherever possible to qualitative criteria".
The report continues:"There was a widespread expression of view in favour of a period of adaptation for migrant doctors so as to secure a sufficient familiarity with the language of the host country and the legal and social context in which they would be practising."
The report suggested that further consideration should be given to this important matter. A little time has gone by since then. I ask whether that consideration has been given, and, if so, to what effect. Has the matter been reexamined in the legal context from the point of view of the relevance of Articles 56(1) and 66 of the treaty, which, taken together, seem to contemplate the possibility of a dispensation from the right of establishment provisions where considerations of public policy or public health so suggest. Clearly, if freedom of establishment is to succeed in any profession, particularly in the sensitive sector of medicine, adaptation periods may be required before immigrant doctors from the Community are entitled to practise in this country."In the opinion of the legal services of the Commission, this would be discriminatory against migrant doctors and thus incompatible with the provisions of the Treaty."
I am just about to finish, but I will give way.
I am delighted to hear that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is finishing his speech. Does he agree that all these qualifications apply to the thousands of doctors who are already practising in this country, including the Scots?
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that the Scots speak a language different from our own. It may sometimes sound different but it is the same language. I fail to follow the point of the intervention, and I am sorry I gave way. Courtesy led me astray. I shall not allow it to do so another time.There are these further points which require consideration, and on which I hope we shall receive guidance from the Minister.
I remind hon. and right hon. Members that the debate must be concluded at 11.44 p.m. Hon. Members may draw their own conclusions on the length of the speeches they make.
I should first like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State on the funniest piece of "Eurobureaucratese" that the House has ever heard.It is important to remember that the inclusion of self-employed professionals in the Treaty of Rome was a last-minute afterthought. The workers having been freedom of movement, the élite realised that they would be left out.
It started in 1961.
The élite "lump" labour of Europe was included to enable it to move across boundaries. I do not give much account to the scare stories about foreign doctors flooding this country or about us losing all our doctors to other countries. There is already a good deal of movement of professionals in Europe. My objection to the provision in the treaty is that it was unnecessary. Europe would have developed quite sufficiently without such legislation.The explanatory memorandum mentions, under the heading of ministerial responsibility, the Secretary of State for Social Services and the Secretary of State for Education and Science. But it is difficult to find anyone in the Department of Education and Science, which has important responsibilities here, who knows anything about this legislation. These various negotiations have been left very much to the professionals and their sponsoring Ministries. The greatest danger in this lies in the attempt to make statutory what was in any case a developing movement of professionals. It is in danger of strengthening a number of élite professional monopolies which were in any case going through a period of development, and it will prevent any further sensible development in the health service professions—and, indeed, in the other professions as we come to them. Countries all over the world are taking completely different attitudes these days to how they deal with their health service professions. China, for example, is going in for what it calls "barefoot doctors". It is using medical auxiliaries, far more widely than we would think of, as doctors. Russia has a far greater percentage of women doctors—in other words, it promotes its nurses to be doctors far more than we do. In this country, it is almost impossible. Without such legislation, that sort of development can go on. What the legislation is doing for the medical profession is establishing it as an extremely dangerous élite within Europe. Presumably, the same will be the case with the other professions later. This thing started in 1961 and has been argued over ever since. It started with the absurd business of adding up the hours spent in the lecture room, and so on, and has gradually evolved. It is one of the most nonsensical ideas ever to emerge from the Treaty of Rome. It typifies the complete waste of time which much of the legislation of the EEC represents.
One thing that has become clear as a result of the debate is that, before these directives attain their final form and are ready to be approved, they will need to come back in that final form for the consideration of this House. I understand why the Under-Secretary is not in a position to give that assurance, but I hope that after the debate he will ensure that in the quarters where these matters are decided that is firmly recorded.It was worth while that considerable time should have been spent, even in this brief debate, upon the form of the motion, because almost on each occasion we are in an experimental area. I think that it would be agreed that this form of motion is decidely unsuccessful. Even if the matter were to be done in a more timely fashion than this has been done, a motion should assist hon. Members to prepare themselves to take part in the debate by concentrating upon what, at any rate, the Government consider to be the relevant point. No one with this motion before him, even after the most diligent reading of the explanatory memoranda, could have added flesh to the bones or given any substance to these entirely vague propositions (i) and (ii). I mean no disrespect to the Minister when I say that, even after his speech, it was not clear whether they recorded matters on which the Government still required amendment of the directives before they would assent to them or whether they drew attention to subjects of interest which would not be affected one way or the other by the final form of the directive. The situation is unsatisfactory, and I hope that notice will be taken of it for the future. If this were our own legislation being passed in the proper legislative form, no doubt many of these matters would be dealt with by a White Paper preceding or accompanying the presentation of the Bill. Then such matters as the possible effect upon the volume of migration of doctors, the details of plans for improving linguistic standards, and so on, could be set out before the House, studied, and brought into the debate in the proper way. This evening, granted the brevity of time, it has been impossible to do that. Therefore, when draft directives come before the House, although I would say nothing to discourage the Government—indeed, I wish to encourage them to pinpoint specific matters which in their view require to be resolved for strengthening their hand—they should not repeat this experiment and put upon the Order Paper observations which are so general that they can be of no assistance to hon. Members and can invoke no expression of concrete opinion from the House which would be of value to the Government.
I agree with the sentiments expressed by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). If there had been added to the motion an item (iii) and an item (iv) saying "God is Love" and "Please adjust your dress before leaving" I should still vote for it, because it would be just as helpful as the two declarations (i) and (ii) that we have here qualifying the motion.We are taking note of a Council directive which will become effective next week or a month or two from now because, if the Council of Ministers decides that this is formalised, there shall be set up for the first time in the history of Europe—even medieval Europe—what is in effect a European General Medical Council. I need not remind the House of the formation of the General Medical Council 100 years ago—to be precise in 1858—and what it meant to Scottish doctors who were denied the right to practise in London, to London doctors who were denied the right to practise in other parts of England, to Irish doctors who were denied the right to practise in England and Wales, and so on. We are discussing a document which proposes to set up an advisory committee on medical training and to assist the practice of medicine with its various specialisations. I accept that there are defects in it, including the one relating to disciplinary matters. I concede that to the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith). It is not a perfect document, but it represents a substantial stage forward in harmonising European medical practice. The idea that language is a barrier to medicine, of all professions, is absurd. All the great, and indeed lesser, physicians—I declare my interest as a practising physician—have moved about from country to country from time immemorial practising in different areas and giving of their best to humanity. Language was a minor barrier. I ask right hon. and hon. Members to reflect on the number of doctors today in this country who come from many territories and whose mother language is not English, despite their connections with the Commonwealth, and to realise what they do in this country, not only in general practice but in hospital practice and in research. This argument about the language barrier is about as mean as the pusillanimous motion which we are discussing. There are difficulties about these matters, I agree, and we shall have to sort them out. But we have to recognise that, despite the history of past events beginning in 1961, this document is dated 10th October 1974. It represents a great deal of hard work by the entire medical profession in this country, representative members of which took an active part in the standing committee. No Government Department invented the document. It was prepared by the medical profession of the nine countries of Europe, but principally by the British medical profession. Give credit where it is due. We have sought to create, for the first time, attached to the Commission and the Community, an advisory com- mittee on medical training, and I imagine that advisory committees on other forms of professional training will follow in this form. This has to work. It is not perfect. It will be improved in time. I remind right hon. and hon. Members that in this House 100 years ago the radicals of medicine pioneered the statutory registration of their profession. From the General Medical Council flowed the pattern of regulation of all the other professions thereafter, and it is right that, in the continuing flow of history, we should have this draft directive in European terms. I welcome it. I realise that there are defects. But we are making a very big step forward tonight, not only for Europe but for medicine.
I have no intention of disagreeing with a word that was said by the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Mabon). He put the nub of the matter succinctly, and I hope that the Minister took note of it; his comments on the motion, like those of the hon. Member for Belper (Mr. MacFarquhar) and the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) were also very much to the point.It seems that the Government have such difficulty in getting their supporters into the Division Lobby—or keeping them out of it—on any given occasion that they are having a dummy run for the question on the referendum. They have tabled a motion saying "We have an important matter to discuss, but we cannot tell you what it is about." I hope that they will do better in future when they put important matters of this kind before the House, and not devalue their importance by tabling trivial motions of this kind. I wish to ask the Minister two questions and to make one suggestion. First, does he agree that more credit should have been given in his brief to those representatives of the BMA who did the spade work? Dr. Rowe and Dr. Grey-Turner put in an enormous amount of work, and I confess that I was a little taken aback by the self-congratulatory note of the officials in the Minister's brief. Secondly, can the Minister say what is meant by paragraph 5(i) in the supplementary explanatory memorandum? I do not think it means what it says. If it means what it says, I am disturbed by it. I believe that the intention is that there is, or may be, an obligation on member countries not to put barriers in the way of the employment of other nationals in their hospitals. It is not a matter of laying an obligation on them to employ the nationals of other countries, but that is what it says. In future, I hope that we shall have explanatory memoranda which explain. I come, finally, to my one proposal. This advisory body will be an important body of some standing in Europe and, I dare say, internationally. When it is set up, it will need a home. I hope that it will not gravitate to Brussels. I do not make a special plea that it should come to London instead. I should like to see it go to Edinburgh, and I can think of many good reasons why it should go there, apart from the fact that I am half Scots myself. When the Minister goes to talk over these important matters in Brussels, I hope he will bear my suggestion in mind, together with the other matters raised in the debate.
I naturally expected criticism of the procedure and of the type of motion which is before the House. Not being an expert on procedure in this place, I shall do as the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) mentioned and make sure that the points which have been raised by a number of hon. Members about what they regard as the unsatisfactory nature of the motion are referred to the appropriate quarters. I seem to remember, however, that there have on occasion been other motions to approve or to disapprove something, and they have equally met with the disapproval of hon. Members on both sides. But I do not want to develop that aspect now.It seems to me that what we are talking about is acceptance by all hon. Members who have spoken—and, I believe, by all Members in the House—that there is at present a considerable movement of doctors both into and out of this country. By and large, I suppose that as customers of the doctors we dislike the movement out more than the movement in. What we have to concern ourselves with this evening, however, is whether the directive which we are discussing has an effect upon that movement in or out which harms the people who are served by the doctors who practise here. At least, we must ensure as far as lies in our power that the directive effectively protects the interests of doctors but, above all, protects the interests of patients in this country. That has certainly been the aim of the Government and of all who have taken part in the discussions. I join the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow), in paying my tribute to the doctors who played a part in this. If the hon. Member felt that my tributes were not sufficiently lavish. I apologise to him for that failure. I would, however, say that, not only tonight but on many occasions, we have indicated to the doctors concerned—indeed, to the whole medical profession—our gratitude for the part they have played in this direction. It is because of their activities and advice and the guidance they have given, aided by members who happened to be in my Department, that the directives have been amended and improved considerably from the first draft document. That was what we set out to do. We set out to take the first draft document, take the expert advice available to us and see whether we could improve the directive in such a way as to guarantee that the interests of would-be patients in this country were protected. That is why we believe that even next week it will be necessary for us to go somewhat further, because I do not necessarily agree with everything that has been said tonight concerning language. I believe that the aspect of language is of some importance in this matter. Obviously, the major concern of all of us must be with the standards which the directive contains. I think it was the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire. East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) who spoke about a slow pace of movement and suggested that the documents originated in 1969, if indeed he did not go back to 1961. It is true, as I said in opening, that we are talking of a document which saw the light of day in 1969. At that time, however, the qualifications were based on length of training, and it was the considered advice given by the experts, by the members of the medical profession, that mere length of training was not a sufficient guarantee as to the nature of the qualification which these doctors might possess. We felt that it was absolutely essential to ensure that the qualifications should be based on the quality of the training and not only on the quantity. Initially there was reference only to the duration of training and the suggestion of a period of either six years or 5,500 hours. But now, as a result of the discussions and the aid we have received, the medical qualification will guarantee that the doctor has acquired adequate knowledge of the basic sciences and scientific methods, of the structure, functions and behaviour of healthy and sick people, and of clinical disciplines and practices, and that he must also have had suitable clinical experience in hospitals under appropriate supervision. Many of us might well have taken that for granted. But those criteria were not in the original directive. It is because the directive has been improved that we are moving the motion this evening. I was asked how the medical standards would be promulgated. We envisage that the particular qualifications will be set out in a new schedule to the Medical Acts, when these could be varied from time to time by Order in Council. The detailed requirements as to training will be brought to the attention of universities in much the same way as the GMC makes recommendations today. The hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) talked of registration. In this respect, I mentioned in my opening speech the Merrison Committee. We are expecting a report from that committee very shortly, and the committee will be dealing not only with the qualifications and discipline matters but with the question of registration, and the whole picture of registration of specialists will then be brought forward. I was also asked whether the amendments to the Medical Acts would be minor amendments. It will certainly be necessary to amend the Medical Acts, but until the directive is settled I could not anticipate the extent of any such amendments. The Government will have the opportunity of considering also the Merrison Report, as I have mentioned, and it is quite possible that on overseas doctors there will be constructive amendments to be made as a consequence of that report. I was also asked by the hon. Member for Harrow, East about dentists. Other hon. Members mentioned the fact that this directive was the forerunner of others. But as far as I am concerned, this evening we are talking about doctors. Although the draft directive as originally published in the Official Journal of the European Communities related to the freedom of establishment and the freedom to practise of dental surgeons as well as medical practitioners, the directives deal now only with the medical profession. Once the directives on doctors have been finally approved, it is expected that work will commence in Brussels on draft directives for other professions. I understand that some preliminary discussions have taken place on the pharmaceutical industry, and that exploratory talks are about to take place concerning the nursing profession. My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Mabon) suggested that language was not a barrier. I am not suggesting that language is a complete barrier. I can well take the point he made that the great physicians of old time never found language a particular barrier. But those great physicians seldom went into many of the under-doctored areas of this country.
Seldom. We could argue about it. However, without being disrespectful to the doctors in my locality, for whom I have the highest regard, I do not recall those world-famous physicians visiting Rhondda on many occasions.
Rhondda is one of the best examples.
I am not suggesting that there is any great conflict. My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow spoke of the great physicians. He said that such people would have no difficulty over language. However, that is not the only difficulty with regard to doctors. We must have some regard to the patient. I do not suggest that language is an insurmountable barrier, but it would be folly to suggest that it was no handicap. The majority of people expect, and have the right to expect, when they consult a doctor, whether in general practice or at a hospital, to be able to communicate on a reasonable level. The directive sets out the minimum standards to ensure that that kind of difficulty does not arise.Reference was made to paragraph 5.i. of the supplementary explanatory memorandum. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the proposition he suggested is not valid. According to Article 48 of the treaty, the provisions in it relating to the freedom of movement do not apply to employment in the public service. When a doctor from a member State practises in the medical profession in a public hospital, the post carries the status of a public servant. Within three years at the latest after the adoption of the directives, it will be possible for nationals of the other member States to be so employed. No attempt is made to erect a barrier. This will remove the barrier which has been suggested. Many points were raised in the debate. Many of them will be referred to at the meeting in Brussels next week. In the meantime, I commend the motion to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House takes note of the draft EEC Directives on doctors and dentists contained in COM(69) 127 and R/2610/74 and in particular observes that:
(i) the Directives raise important questions of principle which relate to the special circumstances of medical practice in the United Kingdom; (ii) the effect of the Directives on the movement of doctors into and out of the National Health Service is not clear.
Statutory Instruments (Joint Committee)
That Mr. Reginald Eyre be discharged from the Select Committee appointed to join with a Committee of the House of Lords on Statutory Instruments and that Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn be added to the Committee.—[Mr. Walter Harrison.]
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. [ Mr. Coleman.]
Three months ago I had the opportunity of raising in the House the question of public transport facilities in South-West Hertfordshire. I am glad to have this opportunity of raising the wider question of public transport.I very much regret the fact that the occasion is celebrated by another 24-hour unofficial strike on British Rail, which is a source of great concern, inconvenience and considerable irritation to members of the public. However, it might be helpful if I address myself to the changes or events since the last debate and in particular refer to some of the comments of the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment at that time. A shift from private cars to public transport is taking place. I referred to that in the original debate. If we refer to page 10 of the First Report of the Expenditure Committee, which dealt with public expenditure on transport, we see it stated that 80 per cent. of all passenger travel is by car, 12 per cent. is by bus and 8 per cent. is by rail. Using the same proportions, the effect of a 10 per cent. reduction in passenger travel by car would be that 18 per cent. will travel by bus and 12 per cent. by rail. That means that on the original proportions a 10 per cent. reduction in the car travelling public represents a 50 per cent. increase in bus and rail travel. This indicates a very serious change indeed, and all the signs we have concerning the increasing costs of fuel suggest that such a transfer is likely. This is happening at a time when our transport services are very much under question. It is time that we had a fundamental review of the system. For example, the means of control and operation of the National Bus Company must now be open to question in the light of its achievements in the public interest. As I said, I also believe that the licensing system should be reviewed. We are living in times when the most stringent economies are required and it would be wrong to press for further expenditures, but the operations of the NBC are already in a critical state. Losses of between £10 million and £15 million are anticipated for 1974, and the only way that this can be rectified is by a substantial increase in fares. Operating costs appear to be running at a level which would require a 30 to 35 per cent. increase. In the group there are 54 operating companies, employing over 68,000 people and operating over 20,000 vehicles. The theory was that the establishment of the group would provide more rational and co-ordinated bus services. We have had the schedules but not the buses. We have not had the economies of scale. I understand that the NBC needs an injection of £20 million and is likely to increase fares by 30 per cent. in order to meet its day-to-day operating costs. I can find no provision in the Public Expenditure White Paper for the period up to 1978–79, Cmnd. 5879, for Government subsidies for the NBC. The amount recorded for 1975–76 is nil and it does not seem from the comments on page 57 that there is any provision in that regard at all. So where is that £20 million to come from? Where is it provided for in the Estimates? Another suggestion is that we should rely on the benevolence of local authorities to contribute to the operations of the National Bus Company. All the evidence in my constituency and the reports from other constituencies suggest that local authorities cannot be benevolent or make a substantial contribution. I understand it has been said that the increased costs, which may be 30 to 35 per cent., will mean increased wages and salaries in particular and that as a result we can rely on having an improved service. Indeed, I have seen reports emanating from the National Bus Company suggesting that there had been such an improvement. I therefore undertook a test to see what improvement there had been. I am very grateful to St. Joan of Arc School in my constituency in Rickmansworth, which has carried out an informative travel survey, based on the detailed journeys of 301 pupils by bus, covering 13 different departure points. I shall not give all the details at this late hour, but I should like to quote briefly from the survey:
"If the 15.50 bus is not caught due to connection difficulties, pupil does not arrive home until 18.00 hours.
All pupils complain of considerable delays, especially in the morning. Waits of 50 minutes are not uncommon.
Double-decker buses taken out of service have been replaced by single-deckers, resulting in overcrowding.
Timetable says one bus every 10 minutes. In reality there is one every half-hour.
Complaints that 100 girls board buses to Watford causing great overcrowding and complaints because the girls are boarding the buses at all,
90 per cent. of the girls complain about the bus services.
On another service, there is only one bus an hour and sometimes it does not turn up at all.
On another bus service there is only one service an hour. A disrupted bus service means that passengers are left waiting without the chance of a bus. I could go on, but I shall not do so. Some of these matters have been reported to London Country Bus Services. I must put on record the extreme courtesy with which I have been treated by the managing director, the general manager and the area manager, but what my constituents require is not simply courtesy from the management but an improved bus service. I have also had the opportunity to raise some of these matters with the chairman of the transport committee of the Greater London Council. Indeed, I was urged to refer complaints to the London Transport Passenger Committee. I can only regard it as a most elegant cul-de-sac for my complaints, but it does not help to solve the problems of my constituents since it means that complaints take even longer to be answered. I could go a stage further and say that the chairman of the GLC's transport committee even suggested that a survey showed that because the services were so inadequate they were not being used, and that if they were not required they might be withdrawn altogether. Surely that would merely compound incompetence. I fully understand the GLC's problems and I appreciate that there is a deficit of over £2 million on the bus operations of London Transport provided outside the GLC area. I sympathise with that aspect of the matter, but in the present economic climate we can understand the lack of desire on the part of the people of London to support, through the local authorities, the work of the National Bus Company. However, we must appreciate that there is a more fundamental consideration, namely, that we should have a full review of the system. I believe that the House should have an opportunity to have a full debate on public transport in all its aspects. Surely we have had enough evidence to tell us that we need to have an overall, full-scale review. One of the best ways for the House to apply itself to this problem is to have not a short debate, such as a half-hour debate, but a full day's debate on this subject. This surely must happen in a situation in which the Government are forcing people to use a public transport service which is inadequate and in some cases non-existent. The criteria for issuing licences—the present system is based on the Road Traffic Act 1930—were, first, the desirability of the service, secondly suitability of route, thirdly the existing provisions for the public, and fourthly the needs of the area as a whole in relation to traffic, including appropriate co-ordination of all forms of passenger transport. I believe that it is the policy of the National Bus Company, and certainly of London Country Bus Services, to oppose applications for new licences on the ground that they already are providing service in the area or, alternatively, that there is no need. The evidence on that point can be clearly demonstrated. Therefore, it would be helpful if the Minister were to advise or direct that licences should be granted without opposition from nationalised concerns in order to make the fullest possible use of private enterprise concerns. It would still be open to local authorities to represent the public and social view, but the automatic objection should be removed. What concerns me at present is that with the development of new road systems, and in view of the London outer orbital route expenditure, we need to have an improved public transport ser- vice Therefore, I am most grateful for this opportunity to air this important subject.Another disrupted bus service; buses often drive past with passengers waiting."
I must first apologise to the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Dodsworth) for missing the first few moments of his speech. I was available in the House but was taken slightly by surprise by the sudden change of subject. I probably knocked down a few of our policemen in trying to get here in time. This is the fourth Adjournment debate I have had in the last five days, and, as they say in another place, we really cannot go on meeting like this.The hon. Member has raised a very large subject and has suggested a full day's debate. That can be arranged only through the usual channels and the hon. Member has as much influence on them as I have, particularly in view of the pressure on the parliamentary timetable. We have heard a great deal about transport in the last few months in connection not only with my Department but with the Department of Energy, and debates involving the Treasury have also touched the edges of the subject. The hon. Member must be congratulated on his great persistence over the past few months in airing the difficulties which beset public transport. Indeed, faced with the catalogue of misfortunes which have been produced at this and earlier debates I sometimes marvel that public transport operators still keep going at all and doing the best they can against considerable odds. But of course we never hear about the millions of journeys which are made every day by public transport which are perfectly satisfactory. I think we should pay tribute to the people in the industry, at all levels, in what is only too often a thankless task. The hon. Member is right to highlight the importance which is attached to reliability both by the travelling public and by the transport operators. The factors affecting the choice between using public transport or the private car are complex. Price, convenience, comfort, reliability and speed are all-important ingredients. But reliability certainly scores highly in studies which have been made of passenger attitudes, and bus operators for their part have found that they have suffered worse passenger loss after a period of unreliable and irregular service. There can be no doubt that a bus service has a very short shelf life. If buses do not arrive, they are quickly forgotten about and alternative means of transport are found. Nothing is more frustrating for a prospective passenger than to wait in the cold and rain without any immediate alternative means of transport, uncertain whether the next bus will come in five minutes or in an hour. This sometimes happens, and if it has happened once, the prospective passenger thinks twice about risking it again if there is any other possible choice. Unfortunately reliability is also the factor in bus services which is least under the direct control of the bus company. The situation is all too familiar—shortage of spare parts and late deliveries of new vehicles from the manufacturers and suppliers. On that, the Departments of the Environment and of Industry are in close touch with operators and manufacturers to ensure that particular bottlenecks and trouble spots are identified; and the operators and manufacturers by their nature have a close working relationship—which is not to deny that things clearly go wrong in particular cases. Again, staff shortages mean that vehicles cannot always be maintained properly or, if fit for the road, that they lack drivers and crews. The position here is patchy and varies a lot over the country as a whole and from time to time. On top of that, traffic congestion can disrupt schedules and leave huge gaps in the timetable. The key here lies in the response of local authorities and the extent to which they are ready to adopt policies that would transfer more passengers from private transport. There is a lot of scope for more vigorous bus priority traffic management and for spreading the peak. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows the figures well enough. In 1950 there were 16,000 million passenger bus journeys, and the number of cars licensed was 2 million. By 1960 the number of passenger bus journeys had dropped to 13,000 million and the number of cars licensed had risen to 5·6 million. By 1970 the picture was serious—9,000 million passenger bus journeys and 11·6 million cars licensed. The number of journeys was down by nearly half in 20 years, and the number of cars on the road was up fivefold. All operators have been hit, but rural operators and operators on the periphery of the big cities have been hit worst of all. Bus operators have shown a readiness to experiment, and the Government have sponsored a number of bus demonstration projects illustrating ways in which bus operators and local authorities can help each other to improve bus services. There are all sorts of possibilities—bus lanes in comprehensive traffic management schemes, such as that at Reading; the use of minibuses in pedestrianised shopping areas, as in Leeds, Norwich and one or two other places; experiments with radio and television control, as in Leicester; the super-bus experiment in Stevenage, in which I have taken part; and, in my opinion the most exciting, the dial-a-ride service in Harlow. That is a two-year experiment being conducted by the local authority and the county council with help from the Department and from the Transport and Road Research Laboratory. I know that Hertfordshire County Council has been forward-looking in encouraging experiments. Overall, I must stress that responsibility for co-ordinating public transport provision to meet the needs of the area rests with the county councils under Section 203 of the Local Government Act 1972. This reinforces the point that transport cannot be looked at in isolation. The planning of transport must be intimately linked with plans for the provision of housing, jobs, schools, shops and recreation. These are not topics that can be dealt with by a single enormous blueprint. The problems and their solutions and the pattern of demand vary from place to place, and can be dealt with only in the context of each place and in response to the needs of the community as a whole. That is why the Government attach such importance to the preparation of transport policies and programmes prepared by the new county authorities. This gives an opportunity for local choice, unbiased by such considerations as whether particular activities attract high or lower rates of grant, on the strategy for the whole range of local transport activities —roads, buses and traffic. The new system should set the right framework for decisions about the proper level of public transport in any particular area. It would be rash, however, to assume that within this framework it is possible to press a switch and achieve a magical transformation scene. There is a tremendous uphill battle ahead if public transport is to play its full and proper rôle. We must carefully consider the lessons we have already learnt. I agree with what my right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport told the hon. Gentleman in reply to a Question. I would welcome a full day's debate on transport—if nothing else, it might clear up some of the problems we are tending to get in Adjournment debates—but there is no doubt that we know enough about transport, apart from the problems of the sudden fivefold increase in the price of crude oil. The difficulty is to get the machinery and the resources to get rid of some of the problems that we know about. One point that the hon. Gentleman raised—