§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works and Buildings (Mr. Hicks)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
I should be less than human if I did not appreciate the position that I am occupying here to-day, making a statement on behalf of my Ministry. I am aware of its importance: this is the giddiest height I have yet reached; and I am very grateful for the opportunity of making this statement. When my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal made a statement in this House on the setting-up of the Ministry of Works and Buildings on 24th October last, he gave a detailed account of the work which the Ministry would undertake. I should like to give the House, first of all, some account of the extent to which we have taken over the functions of the Office of Works, as then described, and to give some information about some new services for which we have been made responsible during the intervening months.
First of all, we took over all the functions which belonged to the Office of Works, including their responsibilities for the erection of buildings for other Civil and Service Departments. A great deal of the work for Civil Departments which the Office of Works used to do in days of peace has, of course, been suspended now that we are faced with the necessity of limiting building operations to those which are not only urgent, but also vitally necessary for the prosecution of the war. But we have continued to press on with those works which satisfy this condition, and we have in hand a large programme of hospitals, food stores and general storage accommodation in various parts of the country. We shall also shortly be building hostels for workers in war factories; and we, of course, retain responsibility for the maintenance and adaptation, not only of all Government 172 buildings throughout the country, but for all those which it has been necessary to requisition or hire for war purposes. This work, which amounts collectively to a very large annual sum, includes the provision of air-raid shelters for Civil Service staffs and other Civil Defence measures.
The work of providing office accommodation for the staff of all Civil Departments, although it is not a spectactular one, involves an enormous amount of detailed arrangement. Before the war, headquarter staffs of Departments were concentrated in London, except that the Scottish Department had headquarters in Edinburgh and the Welsh Board of Health in Cardiff. The war has brought great expansion in staffs, and a number of new Ministries have been created, such as Food, Home Security, Shipping, Information and Economic Warfare. A good deal of work has been regionalised, and the removal from London of headquarter staffs whose work can be performed outside it has lead to a greatly increased demand for accommodation in the Provinces. The headquarter staffs which we removed from London were removed from London in accordance with plans carefully prepared before the war and, should it be necessary, other staffs could be removed also, but we are not keeping buildings empty for this purpose. They are lent to the Services for temporary housing of personnel. Wherever practicable, new centres of work have been set up in the Provinces instead of London. Steps have been taken both in London and the Provinces to create a reserve of office accommodation with the object of ensuring that the machine of Government shall be able to function in all circumstances. At present the staff for which we are responsible for providing offices, numbers about 400,000 in London and the Provinces.
Besides office accommodation, the Government have considerable demands for storage space which it is the duty of the Ministry of Works and Buildings to provide. Food depots, training centres, A.R.P. schools, coastguard staffs and requirements for refugees are other demands which we have to be prepared to meet at a moment's notice. The number of premises which we have under our charge at present is about 15,000, though by no means all of these are complete buildings. 173 We are paying some £4,000,000 a year in rent.
Allied to this job of providing accommodation to meet the needs of the Government is the task of acting as a clearing house for the demands of Government Departments as a whole, including the Service Departments. This is a work which we have carried on since the outbreak of war and which, I think, deserves rather more publicity than it has had. In the last war there were frequent complaints that inefficiency and waste of time were caused by overlapping between Departments in their search for accommodation, so that two Departments might mature plans to a considerable extent on the assumption that both of them were going to make use of the same building, until they discovered that two into one would not go. The Central Register of Accommodation, which we are keeping in my Ministry, has proved an essential method in this war of ensuring co-ordination between Departments requiring accommodation. In the event of a clash of interests, Departments are brought together at a very early stage before loss of time has been incurred. Some idea of the smoothness with which the system has worked is given by the fact that the Ministerial Sub-Committee, which exists as a court of appeal, has had to be called on one occasion only. At present the Central Register receives requests for earmarking of premises from Departments at the rate of about 4,500 a week, and the total number of requests we have received since it was set up is in excess of 300,000. At present the number of live entries is nearly 150,000.
The Ministry of Works and Buildings has also inherited from the Office of Works very considerable responsibilities in the way of providing supplies to cover Government needs. We have to design, supply and maintain furniture and office equipment for all Civil Departments, official residences, embassies, legations and certain consular buildings overseas. Equipment required for special purposes, for example, post offices, Ministry of Pensions hospitals, Ministry of Labour training centres, is also provided. In addition to this, we undertake the purchase and distribution of a wide range of general stores, including fittings and accessories for the engineering and building work of the Department and also the purchase 174 and delivery of fuel to all Government buildings in Great Britain.
Besides this, we have for many years undertaken the supply on an agency basis for certain Civil and Service Departments, of furniture, equipment, household articles and fuel, and this centralised purchase has enabled us to secure uniformity and economy. More recently, the nature and extent of these services have been considerably increased, and among the more important additional services carried out are the provision of furniture and operational equipment for Royal Ordnance Factories on behalf of the Ministry of Supply and the supply of furniture, floor covering and certain domestic equipment to military and Air Force Commands. We also supply all equipment, except medical stores, for emergency hospitals on behalf of the Ministry of Health, and bedding, furniture and domestic equipment for evacuees and homeless civilians. Recently, we have been asked to provide bunks for Anderson shelters. Perhaps the most vital and urgent of our supply services is the central purchase of all fire-fighting equipment required by Government Departments, vital factories and the emergency fire brigade organisation of the Home Office. The expenditure on these agency services was £800,000 a year before the war; it was £10,000,000 in 1940 and will probably exceed £16,000,000 in the current year.
As regards Ordnance Factories, it was stated that we would also be responsible for the work formerly dealt with by the Ministry of Supply, which dealt with the building of new Ordnance Factories and the approval of plans for new private factories or extensions to existing private factories. With the exception of a few cases where the swapping of horses in mid-stream would have been unjustifiable, we have taken over the construction of new factories, and we have also assumed responsibility for examining and approving in advance proposals from munition firms to extend their works to meet expanding Government requirements as we have a large programme in hand. I know that the House will forgive me if, for obvious reasons, I do not give any figures with regard to this service.
Another important feature is the licensing of private building and the determination of priority of proposals for re- 175 building buildings damaged by air raids. First of all, I will say a word about the licensing of civil building, since this is a service which naturally exposes us to a good deal of unpopularity. Building materials, and more especially building labour, in the country, are only sufficient for a limited programme, and it became quite clear during last summer that they were being used to quite a considerable extent for private building which might not be making any contribution towards the war. It was therefore decided that a system of licensing for private building should be established under the auspices of the Works and Buildings Priority Committee. This was then an Interdepartmental Committee presided over by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour to whose excellent work I can testify. This Committee dealt with building priority questions and other general questions which arose out of the Government building programme. On the formation of the Ministry of Works and Buildings, the secretariat of the Committee became part of the Ministry, and I took over the chairmanship from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour. The Office of Works, and subsequently the Ministry of Works and Buildings, was entrusted with the task of bringing the system of licensing into operation and a Defence Regulation was made.
The system came into operation on 7th October. Wide publicity was given at the start both in the Press and by circulars sent to architects, builders, local authorities and other interested parties. All building operations costing more than £500—which will shortly be reduced to £100—except for those paid for by a Government Department, or which consist merely of roofing repairs or first-aid repairs, require a licence from the Ministry of Works and Buildings, or in the case of local authorities and public undertakings, an authorisation from the appropriate Government Department. The Ministry of Works and Buildings has licensing offices in each of the 12 Civil Defence Regions. Our local licensing officers have fairly wide delegated powers which they are encouraged to use. Their duty is to ensure, in consultation with interested Departments, that only work which contri- 176 butes something specific to the war effort should be allowed to continue or to be started. As I said, the operation of this Regulation—making buildings subject to licence—has not increased our popularity. Actually, the applications which we have granted exceed by many times those which we have been compelled to refuse. I would ask those who have been disappointed to remember that supplies of building materials and labour are limited and that we should not be doing our job if we did not make every effort to see that they are used in the best possible way.
I would like to say a word or two about factories and stores for Service Departments. In his statement the Lord Privy Seal accounced that we might arrange, by agreement with the Service Departments or the Ministry of Aircraft Production, to erect on their behalf new works and buildings not of a highly specialised character, such as storage or depots, or houses and buildings of an architectural nature and for the supervision of contracts for the erection of private factories or the extension of private factories required for war production. We are at present doing a number of camps for the War Office and supervising a very large aircraft factory scheme on behalf of the Ministry of Aircraft Production. Work is also under construction for the Ministry of Supply, Air Ministry and Admiralty. On the basis of the work that we have already undertaken, we shall be carrying out new works at the rate of over £1,000,000 a week.
With regard to building priorities, it was next stated that the Minister of Works and Buildings would determine the application of the directions of the Production Council to the appropriating of particular buildings subject to appeal, if necessary, to the Council. As hon. Members are aware, the Production Council has been superseded by the Production Executive. Although my Noble Friend is not a member of the Production Executive, he has access to it and receives from it instructions as to priorities to be accorded to various component parts of the Government's building programme and the methods by which these priorities are to be applied.
The Priority Department of the Ministry of Works and Buildings was creates at the end of October with sections to deal with the examination of proposals. 177 estimates, designs and labour statistics Since my Ministry has taken over this question of buildings priorities, we have made a radical change in the system which will, I hope, make for better results all round. Previously a priority system in the strict sense of the term had been operated, by which I mean that certain classes of work were given specially favoured treatment as regards labour and materials as compared with others. The danger of this system, as we found to our cost, is that it is almost impossible to prevent such a large number of works getting priority that the whole system defeats its object. In other words, the number of jobs that had priority labour attached to them was so great that there was hardly any priority in labour or materials. By the end of last year we found that we were trying to build considerably more than the capacity of the building industry could carry. It has been estimated that we were putting upon the market at least 30 per cent. to 40 per cent. more than the resources of the industry would be able to execute in any one year.
We have, therefore, instituted a new system which is just coming into operation, whereby we first estimate the total quantity of building of which the resources of the country is capable in each given period. We measure this by value and, in accordance with the instructions of the Production Executive, we allocate it between Departments so that each Department knows what share of the building capacity of the country it will have at its disposal for a given period—three, four, or six months, whatever the period may be. It is the job of the Departments to arrange within their own allocation which jobs are to be speeded up, which to be stopped, and so on. We are limiting the programme so that the amount of construction work to be undertaken will be as closely as possible related to the labour and materials available, and, as far as possible, only those works which will be effective before or by the end of the summer are being proceeded with. Works requiring a longer period for their completion or new works, are only being permitted if they are of great strategic importance. Let me say here that the more efficiently Departments use their labour, the more of their programme can be completed.
178 I should like now to say a few words with regard to the control of building materials generally. Bound up with this task of arranging building priorities is the job of controlling building materials to which the Lord Privy Seal referred in his original announcement. When my Ministry was formed, timber and steel were already rationed, the control being vested in the Ministry of Supply, and this position has remained unaltered. The Ministry of Supply still control steel and timber. The Materials Committee, which is presided over by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Aircraft Production, gives us a block allocation of these materials for distribution among the various building Departments. As regards the remaining building materials, the basis of control is at present the willing co-operation of each industry. For the purpose, each industry is being in turn invited to turn itself into a unit for war purposes under the direction of the Controller of Building Materials. No statutory control has been established, but all are aware that it would be at once if found necessary. We have appointed Directors to deal specifically with cement, bricks, roofing and other building materials.
The question of cement supplies has aroused considerable public interest and I hope the House will forgive me if I give them a few facts about this all-important commodity. After the shortage last summer, which was due to a number of factors of which I have already informed the House, we have taken all possible steps to see that no such thing can ever occur again. Very large stocks have been built up and we have seen to it that these are distributed in such a way that in the event of difficulties with transport, we hope cement would be available all over the country. I am aware that allegations have been made in various quarters that the output of cement is being restricted by a ring of fat, top-hatted and frock-coated gentlemen who watch their own bank balances swell while the man in the street suffers the full rigours of enemy bombing which he could have escaped had cement been available to build him an air-raid shelter. I can assure the House that there is very little truth in this grisly picture. What we need from the cement manufacturers is 179 an output of cement as great as, or possibly a little greater than, the total which the building and civil engineering industry of this country can possibly use; and that we have got. None the less, my Noble Friend is well aware that when the war ends, the capacity of the building industry will be largely increased and that when this time comes the output of cement might not be equal to the demand made upon it. He has, therefore, appointed an independent committee under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. G. Balfour), which has already held many sittings and from which we hope to get a report next month. As soon as a report is available the results of that examination can be announced either by Question and Answer or by a statement in the House.
Bricks, too, were giving trouble last autumn. There was a serious shortage in many districts, mainly due to maldistribution and transport difficulties. This shortage has now been largely cured. The Director of Bricks is organising the industry on a national basis. Reports and statistics are becoming available for the first time, and it is hoped that the future allocation of orders and the rational control of brick works will prevent any shortage recurring. We are accumulating stocks in zones or regions at the present time, so that if transport difficulties should arise as the result of some circumstances at present unforeseen, these stocks will be available in the various regions to supply building jobs not only with bricks but with other materials as well.
Then, on the question of roofing materials, the weight of enemy air attack on various parts of the country has been such as to produce a considerable shortage in this respect. We have, therefore, appointed a director to deal with these commodities, and arrangements have been made for a control of specialist roofing contractors so as to avoid shortage of labour which has impeded air-raid damage repair. We are also developing methods of emergency roofing repair. We have built up an organisation of specialists, both employers and operatives, to deal with this problem. In passing I ought to say with regard to the Service Departments that they have been most helpful. They have assisted us to get the necessary personnel, although it meant that a number of men had to be released from the 180 Services. This has helped us considerably in building up the organisation which is necessary to meet the demand, particularly as far as roofing materials are concerned.
Another feature to which I am sure the House would like me to refer is the efforts which are being made to bring about standardisation in the building industry and thus to help towards greater efficiency. As an essential part in the control of materials, the Standardisation Department has been created, the object of which is to secure the maximum and most economical use of the raw materials and building materials available. The standardisation of roofing felts has, for instance, at once increased output by 25 per cent. with an actual reduction in the raw materials required. We shall follow this policy through every field of work and type of material. A good deal has been done, but there is plenty more to do, and this section of the Ministry, like every other section, is hard at work.
In passing, I can assure the House that every one at the Ministry of Works and Buildings is engaged full time on his job. Among other major steps, we are hoping drastically to reduce the number of sizes of bricks manufactured in the country. At present there are 16 or 17 different sizes. We hope to be able to standardise bricks so as to make bricks available equally for the North and the South. Some of my hon. Friends are probably aware of the many different sizes of bricks now manufactured. My hon. Friend the Member for Plaistow (Mr. Thorne) worked at brick-making in his early boyhood—so I understand from his life-story. I do not know what size bricks he was engaged in making, but he would appreciate the fact that there are variations in size. We think that is all wrong and ought to be rectified at the earliest possible moment. Extensive consultations on this subject have already taken place and a great measure of agreement has been arrived at, and my Noble Friend expects shortly to be able to make a statement on the subject.
§ Mr. Hicks
I do not know what name will be applied to them. I have had some experience in connection with this 181 matter and as an illustration of the existing state of affairs I would mention one actual case. One particular type of bricks was being used on a job in a certain part of the country. The job was brought to a standstill because there was not a sufficient supply of bricks of a particular type, yet in an adjacent neighbourhood there were at least 500,000 bricks available which could have been put into that Job. But, because the sizes did not properly interlock, the work had to be interrupted.
With the exception of the large question of reconstruction, I have, I think, now covered all the points which arise out of the Lord Privy Seal's statement, and I would like to go on to give the House some account of the further steps which we have taken to meet the changing situation. One of the difficulties which faces us in getting through the vast programme of building with which we are dealing at present is the extent, scope and complexity of the building industry. I have been in the building industry for nearly 50 years and can claim to know something about it. It is one of the, most important industries in the country and yet until the appointment of my Noble Friend as Minister of Works and Buildings there was no Minister specifically charged with the duty of seeing to its efficiency and welfare. Before then a number of building departments on the Works and Buildings Priority Committee did this job jointly. I would be the last to underrate the value of what they did, but I think it is, as far as practicable and possible, a job for one Minister to have charge of and one Department to deal with.
I do not think enough has been said about the work which building trade operatives are doing for their country at the present time. We have all read of and admired what has been done by munition workers, police, Civil Defence and the Fighting Services. I do not mention Members of Parliament—they can speak for themselves. None of these could get on without bricklayers, carpenters, masons and the rest, to put up buildings for them to work in, or factories where their weapons are to be made. The building industry has a fine tradition dating back over centuries, and it is my belief that the British craftsman of to-day is capable of work every bit as 182 good as his predecessors who built our great cathedrals and public buildings. The building or civil engineering worker of to-day is faced with sterner tasks than his predecessors, particularly at the present time. They built churches and cathedrals; he must build munition factories. They laid out parks and squares; he must lay out runways in aerodromes.
It is to the problem of how to guide and assist the building industry in performing this great task which the country expects of them, that my Noble Friend and I have given our close attention— not casual attention, but deep and concentrated thought. At this stage I should like to pay tribute to the organisation, both of employers and workers, and to the professional bodies for the great assistance they have given us. I am not sure that the House realises what a great value it is to the country at the present time to have labour organised and helpful. But our load is becoming heavier, and we have fewer men to bear it; this means that every man's work must be organised with the maximum of efficiency if he is to do what is expected of him. My Ministry will work in understanding and co-operation with the great industry. Therefore, my Noble Friend and I, with my Right Hon. Friend the Minister of Labour, are at present in close consultation with the industry, discussing proposals which I hope it may be possible to announce in the House before very long. As the basis of these proposals, we are trying to get a complete census of building capacity, and the aim of the proposals will be to increase efficiency, particularly by avoiding senseless competition between firms for work and for labour. We hope also to bring in the smaller builders for work which they can handle. I should like to give the House fuller details of what we are planning, but I think it will be agreed that we should not bring the dish out of the oven until it has been cooked or bad digestion might follow.
Next I should like to give some account of what we have done by way of first-aid repairs, both to houses and factories. When the Government were making their plans for dealing with air raids in the days before the war, it was decided that local authorities, under the direction of the Ministry of Health, should be responsible for what came to be known as 183 "first-aid repairs" to houses. The coming of the "blitz" proved that insufficient account had been taken of the fact that modern aerial bombardment makes temporarily uninhabitable a vastly greater number of houses than it actually destroys. The result was, after a few weeks of '' blitz '' that a number of local authorities in the Metropolitan area found themselves overwhelmed with repair work. My Noble Friend, therefore, made arrangements, with the active and willing co-operation of the War Office and Ministry of Labour, for the withdrawal from the Army of a number of building trade operatives, who would be formed into a mobile corps of house repairers, working directly under the Ministry of Works and Buildings. While I am speaking a squad is on its way to Scotland to give assistance in temporary first-aid repairs to houses which have been bombed there. If a local authority wants help, it applies to the Ministry of Health, which in turn asks us to take over part of the field of work. We have at present about 3,000 men working in London and upwards of 1,000 in provincial towns. These men are employed strictly in accordance with the rules of the building trade, with the exception that they are guaranteed a 44-hour week and paid fares home once every six months during their period of work. They are also paid subsistence allowance where they are compelled to maintain two homes. We do not discharge these men, except for misconduct, but, if we no longer require their services, they are recalled to the Army. The men started arriving early in December, and tools and equipment were provided for them. A number of depots were set up for the London area, and during the last three months we have been hard at it. We have thus a select corps of shock troops which can be rushed in at any point where the enemy attack becomes too much for the first-aid repair organisation of the local authority.
So much for houses. For the repair of factories, there has been in existence for some time an excellent organisation which was worked out at the Ministry of Aircraft Production by the hon. Member for Edgbaston (Sir P. Bennett). With a view to helping this organisation, we have set up a Department of Emergency Repairs. We are establishing a nation- 184 wide organisation with emergency works officers in all important target towns and areas which are controlled by several assistant directors covering one or more Civil Defence Regions. These officers are highly qualified men whose duties are to give technical advice to the local reconstruction panels of the Emergency Services Organisation, and to war factories and others whose work is of national importance. They have also studied all available sources of supply of materials in large demand after air attack, and my Ministry will arrange, in conjunction with the Ministry if Labour, for an adequate supply of labour for first-aid repairs. They direct the use of any military units which may be brought in to assist and organise the supply and release of materials from outside sources, and ensure the most economical use in both materials and man-power.
The organisation, if required, is at the disposal of local authorities and other Departments. In connection with this organisation, we are making use of an arrangement which was made at the outbreak of war, whereby what was then the Office of Works set up dumps of building materials in target towns for air-raid repair. These are being extended, and arrangements are being made for the creation of strategic dumps, located so as to be able to serve more than one of the great industrial areas of the country. Materials will be released and labour allocated in accordance with priorities decided by the Regional Commissioners as between civil and war factory requirements, and by the local reconstruction panels and area officers of the Supply Ministries as between one war factory and another. As part of this scheme, lists of architects, surveyors and engineers are being prepared, who will be instantly available to the emergency works officers of my Ministry, to assist in giving technical advice and watching repair work through to completion with a view to ensuring that it is done in the most rapid and economical way.
§ Mr. Hicks
It depends whether the men will be able to continue their important Government work unless the emergency repairs are put in hand. Where men 185 have been taken away from other work for a temporary period to give assistance in repairs they will be returned. This section of the Ministry has only been in existence a short time, but a number of appointments have been made, and the organisation is rapidly taking shape. It has already been in operation in certain areas and is proving to be of considerable assistance. We have undertaken to be responsible for selecting, sorting and disposing of all salvaged building material.
§ Mr. Silkin (Peckham)
Will the hon. Gentleman explain this? Does he mean that his Ministry will take over from the debris disposal authorities the waste and salvaged material which they collect?
§ Mr. Hicks
Yes. We have established a statistical department, which in the first instance collects facts, figures and data of this great, widely ramified industry. The industry can do with detailed examination, and everyone will be the better for it.
I have left the subject of reconstruction until the end because I feel that we should deal with immediate issues first before turning our thoughts towards the time after the war to which we are all looking forward, but which we must not allow to distract our gaze from the more immediate and urgent problems. As hon. Members may be aware, my Noble Friend recently gave an account, in another place, of the progress which we have so far achieved, and I will not go over again in detail ground which he then covered. Broadly, the functions which the Minister of Works and Buildings will undertake in connection with reconstruction have emerged as part of a general framework of post-war planning, which will be under the general control of my right hon. Friend the Minister without Portfolio, and we have labelled this group "The Physical Reconstruction of Town and Country." We have to remember all the time when we are dealing with this vast and complicated subject, that the results of our deliberations have to emerge some time in the future in the shape of bricks and mortar, streets and terraces, towns and cities. But as we are, or try to be, first and foremost a practical Department, we have to think of the practical details and difficulties first. All 186 of us must have thought, when looking upon the results of the brutal and savage attack to which our towns have been subjected and to which for some time to come may continue to be subjected, that here in the midst of destruction is an opportunity such as never occurred before of making a bold and challenging start. So far, well and good; but as soon as we begin to examine the problem more closely difficulties begin to show their heads and the best way of dealing with the problem is to hunt out these difficulties and run them down. It is with this end in view that my Noble Friend has appointed a special expert committee, under the chairmanship of Mr. Justice Uthwatt, to investigate compensation and betterment problems and the difficulties which may arise from speculation in land values. I informed the House of the appointment of this committee on 29th January.
The problems to which we hope this Committee will offer some solution are ones which go right to the root of our economic life, and I know that some quarters of the House hold strong views about them. These I would ask not to press me too closely at present. We cannot solve these difficulties in a few weeks, and for that reason any answers which we are able to give to-day are likely to be uninformative or premature. As a further step in the direction of finding out the difficulties which lie before us and in order to surmount them, my Noble Friend has had test surveys made in co-operation with the local authorities in certain heavily damaged areas. We have the first reports now; and when they are fully examined we shall be in a better position to see exactly what legislative and administrative changes may be necessary to enable redevelopment to be undertaken. In this work we are receiving the full and active co-operation of the other Departments concerned. A wise man once remarked that genius was an infinite capacity for picking other people's brains, and this is at present what we are trying to do. In particular we have invited to assist us a Consultative Panel, consisting of some of the best-known experts on the subjects with which we have to deal, and we are steadily recruiting a small nucleus staff inside the Ministry.
I have tried to give the House some picture of how the Ministry is tackling its problems, present and future. Naturally, 187 it is the present to which we must devote our full energies, but I do not think on that account that there should be any criticism if we spend a little of our time thinking ahead. I think it would be one of the greatest incentives we could have to put our best foot foremost in the march to victory if we could have before us an ever-clarifying picture of the Britain which we want to build up after this struggle and the time when we shall have a great and victorious people worthily housed. If we can achieve this ideal it will be our proud boast that after beating the most powerful enemy from without which has ever come against us, we have gone on to win an ever greater victory at home.
§ Mr. Denman (Leeds, Central)
The hon. Gentleman asserted that his function was the physical reconstruction of damaged areas. Will he make it clear that that includes planning?
§ Mr. Lawson (Chester-le-Street)
The House very much appreciates the thorough review which the Parliamentary Secretary has given it, particularly the detailed explanation of the functions of his Department, and it appreciates that the business of the Minister, of himself and of the Department is to deal with immediate things. But, as he himself appreciated before he closed his remarks, what the Department does to-day and during the war will to a great extent affect what happens after the war. I gather that the functions of the Department cover practically the whole range of building, some of it to be done directly on behalf of Departments, but even private buildings to be under the control of the Ministry of Works. But there is one outstanding exception to that arrangement, and that is that the Defence Departments, as far as specialised work is concerned, are outside the control of the Ministry of Works. I know that there has to be some discussion between the Ministry of Works and the Defence Departments as to what are specialised works. One quite understands that, if the War Office, for instance, is building fortifications, generally speaking that would be specialised work, for which they have specialised knowledge. Then there are the Air Ministry and stores for the Navy. But I 188 suggest that even these Defence Departments ought not to be allowed to go where they like, building where they like, even with their specialised work, unless there has been very close collaboration and all the social implications of their action have been taken into consideration. I realised this at once when the Lord Privy Seal made his statement, for the simple reason that the Defence Departments have been the biggest sinners in the lack of planning and in placing works where they ought not to be. Those of us who have been in the Special Areas for years and have looked at this thing have seen it more pointedly than a good many other people. We saw it, for instance, before the agricultural element began to feel the weight of it. We had an instance in White Waltham, where the Air Ministry proposed to build a shadow factory in an area of the best agricultural land in the country. They were going to do it without any regard to the fact that there were no houses in that area, no schools, and practically no services.
§ Mr. Lawson
I agree, but I am pointing the moral by this particular case. There was to be a population at this place of about 20,000, school buildings and all kinds of services would have had to be provided, and it was only because the agricultural elements in the House joined with the representatives of the industrial areas in the North that we were able to stop that outrage upon the social life of the country. It has been going on on a wide scale, and it is going on still. That is why I say that the Ministry of Works ought not to accept, merely because the Defence Services are doing a great work which we all appreciate, the mandate laid down by these Departments that they are specialised works and must be placed in certain parts of the country. What the Ministry of Supply, the Ministry of Works and the Defence Departments decide in this matter to some extent decides the trend of the population in the future. Communities grow up and have to be looked after, and I say that this is not merely a matter of building immediately but a matter of deciding what is to be the future shape of this country.
I want to make another point, which I think is important. It looks as though the 189 contracting side of the Ministry's work is getting into a few hands and into the hands of monopolists. It also looks as though those monopolists are financiers. I would ask the Ministry to have a proper look at that matter. There is a good deal of ill-feeling and, I think, righteous indignation among highly experienced contractors about the fact that financial companies can be formed and, by using the names of certain contracting companies, get tenders and great orders. In the long run the financiers have to go to the actual men who are capable of doing the work and ask for their material, plant and equipment. One case is that of the Bernard Sunley Company. They were in financial difficulties before the war, and financiers took them over. They had an aerodrome to build, but they had not sufficient equipment. They tried to use the powers at their disposal to get lorries and excavators from certain people who, when they knew the work was in the national interest, were willing to lend the equipment, but then they found who the company were, and it was a horse of another colour. Then there is Earth Movers, Limited, which has now become Bowmakers.
I want to warn the Ministry that if they are not careful, they will find themselves in the hands of monopolists who are not familiar with the contracting business. I will not say anything about material except that my hon. Friend was right when he said that it was not a question in the cement world of fat gentlemen in top hats finding great satisfaction that they were getting profits by taking no notice of the people above. As a rule some of these people are rather slim than fat, but there they are, and you cannot with regard to the immediate needs of the nation, and particularly with regard to the work that has to be done in the future, allow equipment and material to get into the hands of monopolists so that they can use them in order to get their full price and perhaps hinder development.
The right hon. Gentleman the Minister without Portfolio is to speak at the end of this Debate, because his Department is closely interwoven with the Ministry of Works. In the two years before the war there sat a great Royal Commission which was a kind of inquest upon the state of the nation socially and economically. That was the Royal Commission on the Distribution of Population, and its business was 190 to inquire into the geographical distribution of the population, its probable direction in future, the social, economic or strategical disadvantages arising from the concentration of industries or of the industrial population in large towns. The evidence given before that Commission covered a wide range. If the war had not broken out before they reported, their findings would have been among the most important matters of discussion and controversy in this nation. As a matter of fact, their Report was a Domesday Book of social and economic conditions in this country. Every Department gave valuable evidence before the Commission.
I will not go into the findings of the Commission except to say that every member of it agreed that there ought to be a central planning authority in the country. The majority, I believe, suggested that the authority should be an advisory body, but a minority proposed that it should have executive functions. Is there anybody now who has any doubt, in the light of our experience, that we need that authority and that it should have power to act? Local authorities have been doing a good deal of planning themselves, and under the Town Planning Act a few of them have done extremely well, but a good many have simply passed resolutions without implementing them. All of them, or at least most of them, had their eye on the fact that they not only wanted to provide congenial living conditions for their people but wanted to attract industry to their areas.
I do not know whether the Commission meant to be humorous in their Report, but they pointed out that, totalling up the number of people for which the local authorities were planning, they found that they had planned for a population of no fewer than 291,000,000. Each area was looking to its immediate interests. There were differences between the Ministry of Agriculture and some of the planning authorities as to whether we should have what is called fringe building or distribute the population through the country. One thing did stand out, that whatever virtue there was in whatever town planning authorities had done, they had not had the slightest regard to the national interests as regards planning the nation as a whole, for example, saving agricultural land or directing certain industries to places where they should be located, 191 so far as it is possible to regulate them. In some cases their work had been actually adverse to the general principle of planning. For one thing, there was no control.
I was pleased to hear my hon. Friend make a statement about the appointment of the Uthwatt Committee. The report of the Royal Commission had something to say upon the exploitation of land values, and suggested what was pretty much a development commission. Although it is finished for the moment, I hope that both Ministers will make up their minds that there is to be no more ribbon-building in this country. I have spent a great part of my life in colliery villages and, in fact, spent half my life in a colliery house. Critical things have been said about some of these colliery villages and rightly so, and bitter things have been said about them by colliers, but I tell the House that I would rather live in a colliery area than in one of these ribbon-built areas. One can at least get away from a colliery area, get into the fields, get among the woods and forget it for a short time; but who can forget the Great West Road, that monstrosity of our present-day social life? I hope there will be an end of that business once and for all. What hypocrisy there was when this House put through the ribbon-building Act. Everybody knew that the local authorities, the county councils, could not give the necessary compensation. The Act was meant to be a kind of moral gesture. I think the only effect of it was to expedite the race along the roads, and if it had not been for the war, we should hardly have been able to see a field by now.
It may be the business of the Minister without Portfolio, but I hope that some Ministry is keeping a register of the woods which are being destroyed as a result of the demand for timber. In some industrial areas, sometimes through the wisdom of the local authority, sometimes because landlords had good sense, woods have been left here and there, and they break the harshness of those areas. I spent a great part of my life in an area in which there were no woods. Then it happened that I moved into another mining area where there were fringes of woods. They broke the harsh effect of the long lines of dull houses, sometimes 192 they hid the pit-head gear. Boys and girls and men and women could go into the woods in the Spring, see a few flowers, and watch for the blue-bells coming. I saw a wood destroyed in my immediate neighbourhood. I remember a little boy of 10 years of age watching, as beech trees were being cut down. Why they should cut down beech trees I do not know, because the wood is not hard. The boy was almost in tears, and he said: "They are destroying our woods, Mr. Lawson."
After the destruction of timber all round this country during the last war, very few of the places affected were re-planted. We reafforested on a very limited scale. I remember the Comission suggesting that we should plant 100,000 acres a year. Then came the axe, and it was decided to plant only 10,000 acres a year. In 1935 we were told by the right hon. and gallant Member for Rye (Sir G Courthope), who sits here as head of the Forestry Commission, that we had to grow the proper seed. In 1931 no fewer than 50,000,000 saplings were destroyed. I want the Departments responsible for rebuilding to take stock of the places where timber has been destroyed. In whatever way we plan to rebuild in future, let us give the youngsters some trees. Let us give them some of the amenities. Let us get away from the idea that trees are only for some gentlemen's parks; let us have regard to the deeper spiritual needs of our people.
There is the question of drainage. It was discovered that there is no central drainage system in this country, and no central water authority. I was present at a discussion some months ago, I will not give details of it, but it was of great importance to the area concerned and to the nation. Representatives of the electricity authority were asked what reserves they had in hand for use if destruction came to certain land. They said they were all right because the Central Electricity Board had promised to arrange to supply what was needed. We turned to those responsible for water supply in the area, and asked, "What is the position with regard to your reserves?" They said, "I am sorry, but there is no central water board." The reserves were there, but it was clear that centralisation in this respect would be of very great value indeed in the hour of the nation's need. There certainly needs to be consideration of a central authority for drainage.
193 A great deal of discussion has taken place about the aesthetic side of building in the future. No one undervalues that matter, and I sometimes think it is a very cynical comment upon modern civilisation that we have to go back to the buildings of 1,000 years ago for anything of real grace and beauty. [Interruption.] I am not ignoring the fact that attempts have recently been made to alter this position, but the results are prominent by their exceptional character.
§ Mr. Henry Strauss (Norwich)
Does the hon. Gentleman, with a great deal of whose speech I agree, entirely ignore the glories of the 18th century? Does he wipe out Bath?
§ Mr. Lawson
I was well on in my teens before I saw a beautiful building. Then I emerged, like one from a far journey, to see Durham Cathedral. I remember, too, when I had the privilege of a little education, how overwhelmed I was by the High in Oxford. The beauties of 18th century architecture are limited to certain areas. The great bulk of the working-class population of this country are utterly poverty-stricken in respect of architecture of any beauty at all. They set: endless miles of squalid streets. There are whole towns without a building of which we might be proud. I agree with those who talk about the need to build beautiful and gracious buildings, but I hope they will bear in mind that such rebuilding should not be limited to certain parts of the country, such as older areas that have hitherto had the privilege of possessing great architecture. Regard must be paid to the people who do the rough and ready work of the country and who have hitherto been starved of good architecture.
In this age of wealth, which is so great that we have had to destroy great masses of it, it is remarkable that we have produced hardly anything worth while in the realm of architecture. I hope that landlords will not be allowed to make profit out of the coming times. If you are to prevent exploitation in this respect, I do not see any way out of it but by frankly and simply nationalising the land. Whatever the Government do, I hope no profit-making will be allowed to take place out of the nation's need in the days to come. We have heard a lot from Germany about wanting more room, but no one wants 194 more room than do the people of England. The report of the Royal Commission on the Distribution of Population pointed out the comparison of the population of Europe per square mile. Belgium had a population of 702 people per square mile, France 197, Germany 353, Italy 360, and Great Britain 518. I believe that the population per square mile in England alone was 766, as a matter of fact.
The right hon. Gentleman has a very difficult task in trying to shape the community of the future and spreading it out over the country. There may have to be some fringe building and also some dispersal, with due regard to the needs of agriculture. I do not want to see Britain all straight lines. I want to see the rural areas preserved, as far as possible, on the lines of those old lanes in England, Scot-land and Wales. The personality of a country is as important as the personality of its people. We need playgrounds, preserved areas of mountain and fell, in order that the industrial population may find recuperation.
I do not wish to take up too much time, but here is the economic side of the matter. I do not envy the right Hon. Gentleman nor the Government their jobs, but I would like to point out that after the last war this country did some stupid things. Take my own industry. After bitter struggles and much suffering in the mining industry, right up to 1939, the Government of the country have been driven back stage by stage to do the very things that they were asked to do after the last war. It has been my lot recently to go very closely into the history of this matter. It is a remarkable fact that personal and capitalist interests resisted not only what they have had to accept but what they asked for as the result of their own doings. I do not see any way of avoiding the situation in which the nation owns—let it be in what form it likes—the land and the great industries and takes some very strong control over finance. This is the first of our Debates, and I think it is a tribute to the House and to the country that when we are fighting for our lives we should try to look into the future and make our contribution towards deciding what things are to going to be.
To-day we live in a very exalted frame of mind. We are not a people who wear our hearts upon our sleeves, but I think 195 that if the hearts of the people in this country—rich and poor, in cottage and palace—could be read, there would be found there a sense of faith and duty, and a capacity for sacrifice almost unparalleled in the world's history. But some of us in some areas in the years since the last war have gone through woe and bitterness. We have seen neighbours, workmates, friends and old schoolmates go to pieces before our eyes. We have felt neglected and bitter at times. There is all the danger in this war of the development of more Special Areas. The experience which we have had during the last 20 years ought to be of service to us in teaching us to avoid the sufferings and bitterness of those years. I sometimes think that it is a marvellous thing that in those very areas, somehow or other, by a veritable miracle, the sense' of faith and loyalty to the nation and a belief in things that matter have survived. If we can maintain our present mood and prosecute peace in the same spirit of adventure and determination as we are prosecuting this war, there is no problem over which we cannot triumph, and we can give the world in the future as we are giving it today a story of achievement which will be worthy of these days of our testing. If we have the same courage, vision and capacity for sacrifice in the days to come as we have now, I think that we can give the world a lesson and something to wonder at for centuries to come.
§ Sir Percy Harris (Bethnal Green, South-West)
I would like to congratulate my hon. Friend, whom I have now known for a good many years, on his most interesting survey of the activities of his Department. If he would allow me to say so, his is a case of poacher turned gamekeeper. I remember on one occasion going with him in critical attitude as an independent Member to see certain Ministers and to press their Departments into greater activity. Now he has the opportunity to carry out the work himself. No one is more qualified. During his half-century's experience in the building industry he has always taken a wide view of the industry, and has stood up not only for the operatives but the architects and engineers. The Noble Lord who presides over his Department is lucky to have a practical man with a wide knowledge to represent him in this House of Commons.
196 I was interested in many of the details he told us of the activities of his Department. I was particularly pleased by his reference to the shock salvage workers who are to go down to the destroyed areas and help the local authorities. He has many difficult tasks which want tact and wise handling, particularly the difficult task of deciding on priorities. I am satisfied that as an old politician and an old trade union leader he will show impartiality and wisdom in discharging that part of his work. I would like to see his Department even more glorified, and to see the new Ministry of Works and Buildings working for all the Service Departments. In doing contract work, the Admiralty, the War Office, the Air Ministry and the Ministry of Supply, instead of starting their own sections and engaging emergency staffs, would be much wiser to employ the Ministry of Works and Buildings to carry out all their building work. The old Office of Works—if I may be allowed to call it by its former name—has accumulated knowledge and experience; it has competent experts, and I believe that many of the scandals connected with some of the building work which has been improvised under the most difficult circumstances would have been' avoided if it had been allowed to carry out the work. I have myself seen excellent work done by the Ministry for the Admiralty in the design and construction of camps, and this shows that it would be wiser to make this the building Department for all Services except under exceptional conditions. I am speaking now as a member of the Select Committee which has issued voluminous reports on all kinds of contract work. My hon. Friend, in his excellent speech, made some reference to the big contractors who are carrying out some of the jobs, but if we had one Department coordinating the whole of the building effort, I believe that not only would these scandals be prevented, but there would be greater efficiency, and competition for labour and material would be avoided. Further, there would be more planning in the location of camps and in the creation of new factories.
I know that a great number of hon. Members are anxious to speak, and I believe that almost every Member present is capable of making a contribution if he has the opportunity, and so for a few moments I wish to concentrate on the very difficult problem of reconstruction which we shall have to face when those 197 happy days come—I am afraid we shall have to wait some time for them—when peace is declared. We can learn from the experience of the last post-war years. I was a Member of this House during the last war, and directly afterwards I was a member of a great local authority. We had great expectations. We were going to make this a land fit for heroes, and those were not merely empty words; we really believed it. But what disappointments. My hon. Friend painted a very lurid picture of some of the tragedies of ribbon development and so on. I remember the tremendous difficulties we had. There was a terriffic housing shortage. For four years during the last war building had stopped, and from the ordinary wastage, and various other causes, there was a house famine. The whole country was determined to build a new and pleasant land, but when we began to get to work we found a shortage of everything—of skilled labour and of material, as my right hon. Friend will remember, because he was then very active in the building industry. We could not get bricklayers, joiners or plasterers; in the same way, there was a shortage of bricks and tiles. We even had to import tiles from abroad. There was a shortage of light castings and inevitably of timber as well.
All these things will recur, unless very great foresight is shown when we begin reconstruction after this war. The prices of houses soared up, and you can still see to-day working-class houses which cost £1,250 or £1,300 each, and not too well built at that. We tried all sorts of substitutes; we tried building timber houses, concrete houses, steel houses—all kinds of fantastic houses—but when it came down to bedrock we found that on the whole, except in certain areas like the Cotswolds, where stone is available, no real, comfortable substitute for British brick houses could be found.
I am glad the hon. Gentleman is in his present position, because he is no idle dreamer, but a realist of practical experience. I hope he will work out his plans now for the supply of material and the necessary skilled labour. Perhaps in some ways he is more fortunate, because to-day more building is going on, and there is not likely to be the same diversion of skilled labour to other industries 198 during this war as there was before. But undoubtedly connected with the problem is the question of local government and the purchase of land. We in London had big ideas. I remember that we bought some 3,000 acres, now entirely built over, at that delectable spot called Becontree. We had large views, and we wanted to create there a new town with all the amenities of local government and variety of development, but we found ourselves up against a brick wall. We were not allowed to have a local authority; we had to divide responsibility for all our services between three local authorities—Ilford, Barking and Dagenham. We had all sorts of difficulties which held up our development, difficulties of water supply, drainage and education. We had vision and understanding of the problem, and if Parliament had authorised the setting-up of a brand new local authority for the area, we should have had proper provision for industries and factories on garden-city lines. As it was, when the first few houses were built, there were the homes, but there was nothing for the people living in them to do. There was no employment, and people had to pay very high fares to go into the City of London to get work. In many cases they were unable to get employment at all. It was only an accident that Ford brought his works down to that particular area, thus providing the necessary employment. It was almost a miracle when that happened, and if it had not, we might have had Becontree as a distressed area.
I want to plead with my hon. Friend to learn from experience and to try to avoid some of the mistakes made after the last war. The problem after this war will be considerably greater and perhaps more difficult, because, in addition to the stop-page of house building, we have colossal air-raid damage done by the enemy. I do not think we can yet visualise all that destruction. Whole streets have been destroyed, and in addition to providing the normal number of additional houses, we shall have to rehouse the people whose homes have been razed to the ground. A solution may be found for all this appalling suffering caused by the "Blitz," for it may compel us to make bolder plans for reconstruction. Also, it has been a revelation, to many people who have visited these areas, of the conditions under which people live. We 199 have talked a lot ever since the last war about slum clearance. Nothing has so much emphasised the necessity for reconstruction of a large part of the towns as the visits which the Prime Minister and other Ministers have paid to these desolated areas after air raids. It is a serious thing to say, but we have almost felt in connection with those areas that it was a blessing in disguise that buildings that were not worth preserving should have been demolished, and that Hitler had done a useful piece of work in destroying such buildings.
§ Sir P. Harris
No—I assume that the hon. Gentleman has some intelligence—I was referring to buildings that were not worth preserving. Coventry Cathedral was worth preserving. I am not defending the brutal acts of the arch-enemy of mankind, Herr Hitler; but I was making the point that some of that destruction was useful if it brought home to the country—as I hope it does to the hon. Gentleman—the necessity for rebuilding on bold lines. The hon. Gentleman who spoke before me showed great wisdom and understanding of the need for town planning. A tremendous opportunity was missed in the seventeenth century, after the Great Fire. Wren saw the need for bold planning, but the City fathers and private interests made it impossible for him to carry out his schemes. You will have those vested interests at work again. Let us not under-estimate the difficulties. It is not always a matter of selfishness or of desire for personal gain. It may surprise hon. Members to know that people are attached to their own boroughs, and even to their own streets, When I have come forward with schemes to reconstruct my own constituency, people have said, "Why pull down my house? I have lived in it all my life; my father lived there before me, and my grandfather. Why pull down our streets? "It is not going to be easy, with the best will in the world, and even with the best system of land taxation, to make people see why their streets should be swept away, and nice, well-planned streets put in their place. Then there is the question of finance. I am glad that the Minister has had the vision to appoint this committee, under a very capable 200 judge. I hope that their terms of reference will not be narrow, and that it will include such matters as rating.
If you are to have replanning, there must be no limit to the size and scope of your conception. It must not be limited by either borough or county boundaries. That applies particularly to London. We have to consider not merely the housing problem, but the industrial question. I was glad that my hon. Friend referred to the Royal Commission on the Location of Industry. There is a danger of their report being pigeon-holed. I hope that the Ministry will keep that most inspiring volume constantly before them. Housing must be considered not as an isolated question, but as part of the industrial and social life of the country, and linked up with the question of transport. It is as much a part of industry now as are the wages paid. In Greater London a large number of people have always worked in and lived out, but in recent years we have seen the reverse, with a great number working out and living in. Transport makes a tremendous addition to the cost of living, and then there is the question of traffic congestion and delay. Workers have to strap-hang every morning on their way to work, and, after an exhausting day, they have to strap-hang again going home at night. I sometimes marvel at the patience of the people.
In any new conception of town planning, we have to consider all these problems—where the industry ought to be, and how the people engaged in it may go to and from their employment. If we were starting to envisage a new land we might have new conceptions of our industrial and economic life. However, we can improve our conditions. We can endeavour to reduce the congestion in the centre. In my view the only way to do that is to reduce the number of people per acre. I hope that my hon. Friend will not be persuaded by the arguments of some architects in favour of skyscraper building-up instead of spreading-out. That is one of the dangers we have to be very careful about. I am a land taxer myself, but we want to be careful to avoid putting up these 60 or 70-storey buildings, which will create congestion around them.
§ Sir P. Harris
I hope that is so. But I hope that we shall not be too much attracted by American standards and American ideals.
§ Mr. Stokes
The method of taxation in New York is to impose a tax on the improvement, as well as on the land; and that is why they have skyscrapers in the centre.
§ Sir P. Harris
I hope that the Committee will allow my hon. Friend to come before them, and to discuss those points. I have, for a great number of years, been in favour of the satellite town and the garden suburb. I should like to see my borough, with which I have been associated for many years, have a colony 30 miles out, with a new social life. Just as Greek cities had their colonies in ancient days, so, under the aegis of the hon. Gentleman's Department, there should be a town-planning department, arranging for the creation of these garden suburbs. We have towns like Port Sunlight and Letchworth, which, on the whole, we can say after 30 years, have justified their existence. But if we are to do these things it will be no light task. We must have not only experts, but bold and wise leadership. The hon. Gentleman very rightly inferred that the test of statesmanship is to pick other people's brains. He has plenty of experts ready to give their advice, but there must be one directing genius at the head. There must be a supreme town-planning authority, with adequate powers.
I hesitate to recommend the creation of another Government Department. We have too many Departments and too many Ministers, and sometimes, if you have a multiplicity of counsel, it leads to confusion. I would be content for the new building Department to become the town-planning authority. It is not a town-planning authority now; the Minister of Health is really the authority. But whoever it is, let it be one authority. Let there be a Minister with adequate powers to override local authorities and to take a national view of this problem, so that when peace comes we can really make this attempt a success instead of a failure as was the case after the last war, and then, with the interesting combination of a distinguished engineer and a practical builder, we should be able to show some very fine results after the war is over.
§ Mr. Hutchinson (Ilford)
That part of the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary to which I think the House probably listened with the greatest interest was the final passage, in which he gave us some indication of the steps which his Department is taking to deal with the problems of reconstruction which are likely to arise after the war. Although, as my hon. Friend very rightly said, a wise cook does not bring the dish out of the oven before it is cooked, still I think the House would wish that my hon. Friend's oven should be that type of oven which has a little window in it, so that we can peep through from time to time and see how the cooking is going on.
I listened to the excellent account which my hon. Friend gave to the House of all the things that he is doing, of the committees that are being set up, the consultative and the advisory panels of experts who have been brought in from all sorts of places to express their views, but I could not help feeling that there is a danger that my hon. Friend's Department will suffer the same fate that has overcome similar Departments in the past, and, in the end, lose itself in a complete morass of committees and experts. It is a real danger—one has seen it happen in the past—and I cannot help feeling that it is a danger against which my hon. Friend must be very careful to safeguard himself. Indeed, he stands, at the very outset of his task, in the difficulty that there is at present, as I understand the position—the House will forgive me as I have been a little out of touch with these matters recently—a great danger that the functions of his Ministry may become confused with those of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister without Portfolio. When one comes to explore his tasks one finds that the Minister of Health is also concerned, and the more one looks into it the more one carries away the impression that, in all the mass of overlapping which looks like taking place, there is a very great danger that the main function of my hon. Friend's Department is going to be lost.
The Parliamentary Secretary rightly said that this was not a time when energies which ought to be devoted to the prosecution of the war should be devoted to the consideration of problems which will arise when the war is over. Up to a point, we shall all agree with that; but 203 only up to a point, because my hon. Friend has a very good opportunity now of considering, without the need for immediate action, these problems of reconstruction which the country will have to face when the war is over. I would remind him that it is a very great advantage to have an opportunity of considering these matters free from the necessity for immediate action which has so often intervened and promoted ill-considered and hasty action in matters of this nature in the past. He can sit back in comparative comfort and consider at his leisure many of these problems, which, in past time, have had to be considered under the pressure of urgent necessity.
Let me say a word about the question of land speculation. In all these questions of town planning, of building, of reconstruction and matters of that sort, questions of land speculation and the activities of the undesirable type of speculator loom very large. I am very glad that my hon. Friend's Department has set up a committee with a very learned and experienced judge as chairman to consider what steps we ought to take about this important question. Nevertheless, at the back of my mind, I cannot help thinking that the result of this committee will be that some scheme may be formulated for intercepting the profits of the speculator and diverting them into better channels; that this House will set it up, full of confidence that it will provide a solution to the difficulty of the speculator; but after all is said and done, only a very small mouse will emerge from a very large mountain. I think the House sometimes forgets, in discussing these matters, that this country has been town-planned, and in recent years very elaborately town-planned, and we have a considerable volume of experience of the working of these town-planning schemes.
§ Mr. Wedgwood (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
How many of them have been made compulsory and are authorised at the present time?
§ Mr. Silkin
The hon. Gentleman has referred to approved schemes, but very few final schemes have been passed.
§ Mr. Hutchinson
My right hon. Friend knows that the development of the County of London is controlled by the draft schemes, and it has been for some years. What I was about to say was that my experience of the working of these schemes has been to a very large extent that, if the provisions of the scheme, or of the draft scheme, are made effective, that is to say, if they are made effective by the local authority insisting upon them, then to a very large extent the speculator is eliminated. The local authority says in its draft scheme, "We will allow you to develop a certain area in a certain way." That excludes the speculator, who desires to develop it in another way. What the speculator is always concerned to do is to persuade the local authority to relax its town-planning requirements, and his speculation is successful in so far as he is successful in persuading the local authority to do that. If he cannot persuade the local authority, then very often he goes out of business. I myself have seen it done many times in the County of London. The difficulty in London was to get the local authority to have the courage of its convictions about its draft scheme, and insist upon its provisions. I suggest, therefore, that when my hon. Friend comes 'to consider this question, he should attach the importance which it deserves to effective town-planning restrictions upon the development of land. If that is done, it will go very much further to eliminate the activities of the speculator than any ad hoc scheme that we are likely to formulate.
Let me say a word or two about what seems to me to be the major problem 205 which really lies at the root of these questions of reconstruction. That is the problem of the distribution of population. 1 was glad to hear my right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) dealing with that question in a very practical way. What has been happening in recent years has been that the centre of industrial and commercial direction has gradually moved away from the provincial cities, where it was once located, to a central position in London, with the result that a great population has spread itself in the outer suburbs of London until to-day London has reached dimensions which some of us thought alinose unmanageable in the days before the war. That is the major problem of reconstruction which we have to face. The conditions which existed in the outer parts of London were that there were progressive increases in the rates, due partly to the improvement and development which were going on in the suburbs and partly to the progressive concentration of population on the outer edges. The increases in travelling expenses to which the right hon. Baronet referred were contributing to a progressively increasing cost of living for those classes who are dependent upon the daily journey into London for their livelihood. One question which my hon. Friend's Department has to consider is whether this process should be allowed to continue after the war or whether some measures should be taken to check it and return in some form, at least, to the system which existed 20 to 25years ago, when the direction of major industries was not concentrated in London but was dispersed throughout the great urban centres of the provinces.
Another matter to which the right hon. Baronet referred was the question of the future form and area of local authorities. There again, this is a matter which really lies outside the scope of my hon. Friend's Department. But it is a matter which is most intimately linked up with what he has to do, and I notice that the Minister himself, in his speech in another place recently, drew attention to this point. He said that we would have to consider whether the functions of local authorities ought not to be exercised over a. wider area than at present. Before the war it was extremely difficult to obtain any indication from the Departments concerned with this matter as to what the 206 future policy was to be with regard to the development of local Government areas. There are some towns which are growing up, with populations of 200,000 or 250,000, which are not county boroughs, and other towns, a quarter or a fifth of that size, which have been county boroughs for over half-a-century. Before the war nobody could find out what the future policy was to be. Now it is necessary that there should be some outline of this policy before we can undertake effectively proper consideration of the major questions of reconstruction. It is essential that we should know whether we are to expect local government areas to be on a wider and more populous basis than they used to be or whether there will be a redistribution of their functions so that certain functions will be exercised over broader areas, and certain functions over a more restricted area.
Before I sit down I should like to say a few words about the form of the new buildings which we hope to see rising to replace those which have been destroyed. I would remind my hon. Friend that the successes of British planning and architecture in the past have not been accomplished by consultative committees or advisory bodies, or even by special panels of experts. Invariably they have been associated with one name; there were Sir Christopher Wren and Nash, and, perhaps, Decimus Burton. It has always been the genius of one man which has produced the result. However distinguished the members of these committees may be, somebody must take the decision about the form which the new areas to which we look forward are to take. I think my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) paid scant justice to modern building when he said that good architecture had not so far penetrated to the working classes of this country. Yesterday I had occasion to ride long distances in some of the Northern and Midland counties, and again and again in the course of my journey the housing estates which have been developed by the local authorities stood out for the merits of their building and planning in contrast to those estates which have been developed by private speculators. That is something which is most noticeable throughout the country. I hope that full justice will be done to the local authorities, which in many cases 207 have produced buildings the design and planning of which are admirable.
Another matter to which I wish to refer in this connection concerns the reconstruction of London. I want to remind the Parliamentary Secretary that one good building does not make a good city or a good street, or even a good terrace. When one comes to plan or replan urban areas, it is essential that they should be re-planned over fairly wide areas and that there should be somebody whose duty it is to ensure that there is some uniformity of style and material within that area. The policy of piecemeal construction that went on before the war was not a policy which will give us a city worthy of being the centre of a great Empire. Some of us who were very much concerned about the reconstruction of London in the days before the war feel very strongly that grave mistakes were made: some of them, I am afraid, being attributable to the failure of the town-planning authorities to stand up to the merits of their schemes. I am sure the House looks forward to the time when those mistakes will be corrected and we shall see London grow from its present misfortunes into a city worthy to be the capital city of this great Empire.
§ Sir Jonah Walker-Smith (Barrow-in-Furness)
I will not say that I was entirely disappointed by the statement of policy made by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works and Buildings—a statement that we had awaited with interest—but I must confess I was disappointed that it was not delivered in that cheerful and breezy manner which we have become accustomed to associate with the speeches of the hon. Gentleman. His statement left me unsatisfied. I thought he adhered too slavishly to the ministerial brief with which he had been furnished, because he had to reflect the policy of the Ministry. He was most interesting whenever, and to the extent that, he departed from that brief.
References have been made by the hon. Gentleman and by other hon. Members to certain statements, made by the Minister in another place. I have read those statements, and frankly, I was disappointed with them. They dealt with many matters, but not with those matters which I consider to be of the utmost im- 208 portance to the Ministry of Works and Buildings during the immediate period of the war and the post-war activities of the Ministry. The Minister seemed to be a little obsessed with other matters which were somewhat extraneous to, or at any rate secondary to, the specific duties of the Ministry. He was concerned with the matter to which the hon. Member for Ilford (Mr. Hutchinson) referred, the re-organisation of local government; he was concerned with such matters as the place of agriculture in national planning, the location of industry, the nationalisation and utilisation of land—all of them matters of importance, all of them debatable, and some of them highly controversial, but not, it seems to me, matters which should firstly concern the Ministry of Works and Buildings. They seem to me to be far remote from the work which should naturally fall to such a Ministry. The Parliamentary Secretary has told us of certain activities of the Ministry, the appointment of committees, the appointment of controllers, the appointment of officials of all kinds and descriptions. I am sure those facts were given to impress us, and I have no doubt that they have impressed us, but whether favourably or not is a matter for the consideration of each one of us. All these functions of priorities, licensing and controlling tend to restrict output and slow down the wheels of production. I believe that policy to be fundamentally wrong. Instead of encouraging and fostering means of restricting output, the reverse policy should be adopted, and everything possible should be done to increase and improve output, thereby saving the man-power of the country.
I do not propose to comment upon those matters which I do not think primarily concern the Ministry of Works and Buildings. I will comment only upon two phases of the Ministry's work which I think are eminently and primarily the duty of the Ministry. I refer to the manner in which they will deal with Government requirements for building for national purposes during the period of the war, and the manner in which they will prepare for the immediate post-war problems that we shall have to face. I think that all the other matters which I have mentioned more properly fall to be dealt with by the Minister without Portfolio, who will perhaps wind up this Debate.
209 He has been charged with the duty of considering national replanning as a whole, and I have no doubt that in doing so he will allocate to the various Departments certain duties which accord with their proper and appropriate functions— to the Board of Trade questions concerning production and export trade, to the Ministry of Health matters concerning town-planning and the direction and supervision of local government activities, to the Ministry of Transport questions concerning transport, roads, and so on; and to the Ministry of Works and Buildings things concerning works and buildings. It is to those matters that I am anxious the Ministry should devote their attention and cut themselves clear from those extraneous matters which are not their primary duties and responsibilities.
Dealing with the two points to which I want to refer, I presume that the Parliamentary Secretary has read some of the Reports of the Select Committee on National Expenditure, particularly the 18th Report of the series which the Select Committee have issued. That report is something which greatly concerns the Ministry of Works and Buildings. It is a very disturbing report, for it indicates that there has been indifference, incompetence, extravagance, and it may be something worse. I have no doubt that in the fullness of time—I understand not just now—there will be a searching inquiry into the matters that have been raised by the Select Committee. I have no doubt that, having considered all that the Select Committee have reported, the Parliamentary Secretary will consider that certain changes are necessary. I have no doubt that certain changes are necessary, but I am hopeful that the changes will be practical and for the purpose of improving and avoiding all those conditions to which the Select Committee have adversely referred.
I know that the Minister is in no way responsible for Press comments or for what are termed in the Press "intelligent anticipations" of his intentions and policy; but there is one comment which sufficiently disturbs me to cause me to submit it to the Parliamentary Secretary. I hope he will assure the House that there is no real foundation for the suggestion that he is proposing to make this radical 210 if not revolutionary change. The change to which I refer is the suggestion that he is proposing to rake out of the industry and take away from existing employers and organisations, and existing managements and foremen, a vast number of building operatives, and put them into a sort of pool, under the control of some improvised Department of temporary Government officials, for the purpose of sending them to various places and to various works, irrespective of the chaos and confusion it may create. It is so serious and disturbing that I should be glad if the Parliamentary Secretary would assure us that there is no real foundation for a suggestion of that kind, because bad as the arrangements up to the present have been, as revealed by the Select Committee on National Expenditure, they will be comparatively small compared with the serious and disastrous results which will accrue from such a policy. That the Minister will need to make changes I am well assured. Although perhaps the Minister will not take it from me, I should like to suggest three or four specific respects in which he could make changes for the better.
For the purpose of securing better output and securing more rapid production of these particular buildings, which are so essentially necessary for this critical stage in our national affairs, I suggest that he should give serious consideration to these points. The Minister of Works and Buildings has had a very long experience over many decades, and has had 18 months experience in reconstruction work under war-time conditions. Therefore there is no particularly valid excuse for saying that it is not now possible to have changes which would make for greater and better output and efficiency. In the first place, I would ask the Minister to secure that more care, thought and attention are given to the proposals of the Government before the work is actually started. I know that it has been said that it is much better to get on with the job,"but what is not wanted is a policy of more haste and less speed. If that policy had been adopted by General Wavell, the results in Libya would have been far less satisfactory. There is no excuse whatever for proposals not being thought out reasonably clearly before contracts are adopted.
211 Secondly, I ask the Minister to consider the methods and the conditions of contracting. I ask him to avoid in every way possible the particular method of contracting known as "payment of costs," because the costs of contracting are quite pernicious. I do not think that circumstances will enable us to have one particular method of contracting applicable in all cases. Whether we are able to have lump-sum contracts, which is devoutly to be desired, or whether we are to have target contracts, or contracts upon schedule rates, or whatever the method may be, let this be the fundamental and basic feature of the contracting conditions, that there must be in the contract itself community of interests between the contracting Department and the contractor, to see that there is the utmost efficiency, output and economy. If that is established, it will promote the whole of the work down to the actual operatives themselves, and there will be greater expedition, greater efficiency and better costs.
I ask the Minister to consider also the question of allocation of contracts, which was referred to by the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) earlier in this Debate. We should depart from the practice, which was so prevalent at the beginning of the war, of piling on certain selected contractors vast quantities of work greatly in excess of their organisation, plant and supervising capacity, and leaving the remainder practically starved of work. Let the principle be to allocate to each particular contractor that amount of work which corresponds to his maximum and optimum productive capacity, measured in terms of plant, machinery, management, supervision, foremen and so forth. If one does that, not only shall we have the maximum output but the optimum of output, and output will be vastly increased. Let it be assured, inasmuch as many of these works are carried out in remote parts of the country, that the amenities for labour—the men sent out into the wilds—are adequate, and that there is provision for their housing, lodging and welfare. Again, that will lead to an increase in output. Those are all the observations I wish to make on my first point. I consider they are matters to which the Minister of Works and Buildings should apply his mind.
My second point relates to the work which will fall to the Ministry in regard 212 to immediate post-war problems. As I have said before, let not the Minister of Works and Buildings worry about such matters as planning, local governing bodies and so on, which rightly rest and can safely be left in the hands of the Ministry of Health. Let the Minister of Works and Buildings concentrate upon works and buildings. Here is the particular problem in respect of which the Minister can do so much. After the war is over we shall have several millions of men demobilised from the Forces, and there will also be several millions of workers transferred from war-time production to peace-time industry. There will be an enormous dearth in housing accommodation. On the one hand the local authorities will have their five-year programme arranged under the aegis of the Ministry of Health, for the improvement of essential buildings which may be announced at any time, and on the other there will be an enormous amount of reconstruction work, which I fear may be greatly increased, due to enemy action. The duty of the Minister should be to bring these two factors together and to see that a programme is prepared in order that immediately after the war it may be started and we can absorb rapidly a large amount of this demobilised labour.
After the last war we were not ready. Steel, labour, plant and material were not available, neither were our productive resources. The whole thing was chaos, muddle and confusion. There can be no excuse for that happening again. The Ministry of Works and Buildings should co-operate with the Ministry of Health to see that these plans are prepared in order that the constructional industry may continue its traditional role of acting as a spearhead of general industrial activity. Let it start the ball rolling, and all the other industries will be stimulated and encouraged by it. We are concerned not only with the number of houses we shall erect but with the standard of construction of those houses. Let us see that ways and means are in existence to ensure that every house that is built is built to at least a minimum standard. If we do that, we shall avoid a great deal of the bitter disappointment felt by many owner-occupiers, who, instead of taking a pride and a delight in the house they are gradually purchasing, feel nothing but resentment and 213 disappointment. If the Minister would bear that in mind in connection with his programme of post-war activities, he would be doing a very great national service.
§ Mr. Silkin (Peckham)
With many of the remarks of the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken I am sure the House will agree, but when he discussed the question of post-war planning I think he did less than justice to the need for giving consideration to it now. He gave us all the reasons why consideration should be given to it now, but he seemed to come to the wrong conclusion. I feel that all the factors which will arise immediately after the war, the large number of men who will be demobilised and released from munitions and Civil Defence, and the great need for providing housing and for rebuilding damaged property, will have the effect of putting very great pressure on local authorities and others concerned to get something done at once, and, if our plans are not ready, and we proceed without plan, we shall make the same mistakes that we made in the past and all our brave talk about a great new world will go by the board. Therefore, I feel that, while the day-to-day tasks of the Ministry are of urgent importance, the planning section of their work is of equal, if not greater, importance. During the past year I have had, in my capacity as Chairman of the Town Planning Committee of the London County Council, to give some consideration to post-war planning problems. I believe, broadly speaking, there is very little difference among people who have thought about planning as to what we should do, and the more broadly we speak, of course, the more agreement there is.
I read the Debate on planning in another place, and I was struck by the remarkable unanimity that existed among Noble Lords of all political complexions as to the broad principles upon which post-war planning should take place. Everyone would be agreed as to the kind of housing that we want, though there may be difference of opinion as to the height that should be permitted for building houses. We are all agreed about open spaces, about the need for wide roads, for social service and for transport and so on. But I am sure there will be considerable differences of opinion as to the machinery that will be necessary 214 for bringing those things about. I should like to say a few words about the machinery which I think is necessary for securing adequate and efficient post-war planning. First of all, I do not agree that this work should be done partly by the Ministry of Health and partly by the Ministry of Transport. I think the work of planning our country after the war is of such importance as to deserve a new Ministry, a Ministry of Planning and Building. At present any new construction has to be approved by the local authority on behalf of the Ministry of Health, and at the same time any building on the main roads also has to be approved by the Ministry of Transport. I feel that this new Ministry should take over those functions of the Ministries of Health and Transport and should concern itself with the planning of all new construction. The Minister of Health has a very large and ever-increasing number of things to think about. He has to think of drainage, mental hospitals, and a variety of things, and, heavily burdened as he is, it is impossible for him to give that detailed consideration to the problems of planning which will be necessary if we are going to plan successfully.
§ The Minister of Health (Mr. Ernest Brown)
There are no vested interests. There are duties which the law has put on the Minister of Health which he must perform. With reference to what the Government may decide to do and what the nation wants to do, the only interest that the Minister of Health has in the matter is that he has to see, whatever machine is decided upon, that the health of the people is a primary and vital interest in the planning that is done.
§ Mr. Silkin
Of course, I never for a moment imagined that the right hon. Gentleman would stand in the way of any scheme of organisation which would be in the national interest, and I am sure that, if he was satisfied that it would be better that this part of his functions should be handed over to the new Ministry, he would agree. I would agree also that the Ministries of Health and Transport would have to be consulted. They have a wealth of experience and knowledge on these matters, and it would be foolish not to take the fullest advantage of it. Secondly, planning must be national. We cannot leave it to the large numbers of separate local authori- 215 ties to carry out their own separate planning for their own separate areas. Such matters as the control of the location of industry cannot and must not be left to the vested interests of local authorities. It is all very well to say, for instance, to London, "Get rid of your industries," for a local authority has a vested interest in its own area, and London is not out to lose rateable value and will naturally be selfish about it. If I were given, as Chairman of the Town Planning Committee, a free hand in the matter, I should be tempted to vote for industry remaining inside the county in order that we should have rateable value in the county. Therefore, it is a matter that must be settled nationally.
Anyone who has read the report of the Royal Commission on the Location of Industry must realise that there are national problems and questions involved in the situation of industry. There are strategic and social questions and all sorts of other questions which the Royal. Commission considered and which can only be settled on a national basis. Therefore, this is a matter which must be dealt with by the new Ministry—as I hope there will be—and not by the separate areas. In my view and in the view of the Royal Commission there are a large number of areas throughout the country which have been allowed to grow too big and which, if possible, must be reduced in size. These questions of decentralisation and of the dispersal of industries and population cannot be left to the areas themselves. They must be dealt with nationally. I hope that any Ministry which will undertake this matter will give these questions its serious and continued consideration. The question of garden cities and satellite towns will arise. There again no single local authority, however large, is itself capable of creating a satellite town. That, too, must be a national question. The London County Council did at a certain time consider the possibility of solving their housing problems partly by means of creating one or more satellite towns, but they soon found that this came within the sphere of national policy. There was the problem of providing industry for the satellite towns and of whether they should move the population before they provided the industry or whether they should provide the industry first. If they moved a large number of people into the satellite 216 towns before they provided the industry the people would have to live and would have to go on unemployment pay, and soon. There were a variety of questions which no local authority could of itself solve. There was the question that inevitably any satellite town would have to be outside this area of the local authority which created it. Thus again the creation of satellite towns must be a matter for the Ministry and not for the local authorities.
Another question which will have to be considered by the Ministry is the important one of the trend of future population. We are faced with a serious question, if the birth-rate continues to decline, as it has declined in recent years, of forecasting what will be the future population, not only of the country as a whole, but of particular parts of it, and of ensuring that we do not provide for a larger population than will in fact exist. The study of this question is again a study which can only be carried out by a Ministry and not by a local authority. I hope that I have indicated a sufficient number of reasons-for convincing the House that planning must be carried out on a national scale and by a Ministry, and not left to the local authorities. One instance of the effect of small local authorities being permitted to carry out their own planning is set out in the report of the Royal Commission, which says that in 1931 it was estimated that the amount of land zoned in draft schemes for residential development was sufficient to provide for a population of 291,000,000. Yet only one-half of the country was the subject of draft schemes, so that on that basis the separate local authorities could provide for a residential population of nearly 600,000,000 people. That shows the absurdity of allowing small planning authorities each to carry out its own plan. We must have large planning areas. I believe that that is generally accepted to-day, and I hope that consideration is being given to the question of what are suitable areas to be entrusted with the task of planning.
A good deal of consideration should also be given to the question of who is to carry out the planning. Suggestions are being made of joint boards, of ad hoc planning boards, of commissions, of regional commissioners, and so on. In my view, planning cannot be dissociated from the life of the people in the areas. It is no use entrusting planning 217 to a board of experts who understand architecture or of engineers who understand the construction of roads. Planning must be the function of the people themselves and of those who know the needs of the people. I feel that the only body which can be entrusted with the planning of an area is the local authority itself. Joint boards, as we know from experience, will inevitably fail, because they have divided responsibilities and loyalties. They have their responsibility and loyalty to ther own authority and responsibility and loyalty to the joint board itself, and between the two there will be failure. I hope that it will be regarded as the democratic function of local authorities to be responsible for the planning of their own areas. I would say two things on that: first, that I hope that they will seek and receive the best possible technical advice, which is essential if planning is to be a success; and, second, that the Ministry will co-ordinate the planning of the different local authorities and make certain that they do not repeat the mistakes that have been made in the past of each area being a self-contained and independent planning authority planning without reference to what is going on outside its own area. If that is done and the local authorities are extended, I feel that it is essential that they should be given wider powers for town-planning purposes.
The existing Town and Country Planning Act is inadequate for the purpose of carrying out any positive town planning. The existing powers enable the local authorities merely to regulate and control, but they do not enable the authorities themselves to carry out plans. The local authority merely has to wait until it pays a developer to come along and seek approval for his particular scheme, and the authority is only in a position of being able to say "Yes" or "No" to the proposed development. It cannot influence that development in any way, and if the powers are not extended we shall get no town planning within any measurable distance of time, but have, very largely, a repetition of what exists today. Local authorities need enlarged powers to acquire land for the purpose of themselves carrying out redevelopment. They have certain powers under the Housing Acts, but those powers should be very much widened, so that when a local 218 authority feels that an area ought to be redeveloped it should not be compelled to wait until a number of developers come along.
Let me quote an example in connection with the work of the London County Council. Some years ago the council obtained powers to acquire a portion of the south bank of the Thames, and has since acquired a considerable part of that land, but it has no power to develop it. It has to wait until developers come along who are prepared to build in accordance with the council's conception of town planning, and until it can make a bargain with them. A county council should have power in a case like that to undertake the development itself—not necessarily the development of the whole of the area. I am certain that if the London County Council could make a start by putting up suitable office buildings or public buildings and letting them on commercial terms, other developers would come along who would be prepared to fit in with that plan. Therefore, I appeal to the Minister without Portfolio to consider the advisability of giving local authorities much wider powers to carry out positive re-planning.
In that connection it will be necessary to simplify considerably the present methods for the acquisition of land. They are complicated, and the proceedings are protracted. Under the existing machinery it is frequently very difficult for a local authority to acquire the land which it needs. It is helpless to prevent a considerable amount of exploitation on the part of landowners where it seeks to acquire the land compulsorily. The moment there is any question of the land being acquired compulsorily, it is open to the landowner to employ architects and others to prepare a scheme for the redevelopment of that land—very often an entirely fictitious scheme, which he has no intention of carrying out, and which only occurred to him when he learned that the land was about to be taken compulsorily. He submits that scheme to the local authority, who are bound by the provisions of the Town and Country Planning Act to give it approval in many cases and thereupon the owner is able to submit that it is land of immense value, basing his claim on its hypothetical value if the scheme is carried into effect. In that 219 way local authorities are exploited. I hope it may be possible in considering the acquisition of land to ensure that local authorities are not exploited and do not have to pay more than the actual value of the land at the time they seek to acquire it.
I began by stressing the need for expedition in this matter, so that we shall not be taken unawares when the war comes to an end. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether anything can be done now, in anticipation. I believe that certain local authorities are being asked to prepare tentative plans. I realise that these cannot be final plans, because conditions change very much, but in broad outline the plans can probably be denned even to-day. Local authorities should be encouraged to draw up plans, getting the best technical advice in so doing, and submitting them to the Ministry, so that they can be coordinated and made to fit in with one another. Local authorities could be given powers, and encouraged to use them, to acquire land which has been rendered unusable by enemy action, in anticipation of their future needs. In that way the public will be saved money and a good deal of administrative work will also be saved. There are in London a good many districts in which it is known that street widening must inevitably take place after the war. If it is possible to acquire the sites of buildings demolished by enemy action on the route of such proposed street widenings, then local authorities should be encouraged to do it in anticipation of their requirements.
I suggest, also, that the right hon. Gentleman should consider the question of the pooling of ownership. After the war the administrative difficulties of acquiring a large number of properties from separate owners will be so great as to hold up and hamper the work of local authorities. An area of 30 acres may belong to several hundred separate owners. You have to negotiate with each one; you have to carry out conveyancing in respect of each piece of land separately. There is a tremendous amount of work involved and I am advised that there will be an insufficient number of technical men available to undertake it. In some countries they have adopted the policy of acquiring the area of land wholesale, at a fixed price 220 and leaving it to the individual owners to settle among themselves what their respective shares should be. If that plan could be carried out here, and I see no reason why it should not be, it would save an enormous amount of work for local authorities.
I feel that I have submitted to the right hon. Gentleman a number of proposals to which, probably, he will not be able to say either "Yes" or "No" when he replies. I believe however they are practical proposals which will have to be seriously considered, and if they are adopted, I feel they will facilitate the work which all of us desire to carry out —that is to turn what is happening in this country at the moment to the advantage of the people of this country. I believe that we are all united in desiring to build for ourselves the best possible kind of community and are all prepared to make the best contribution to that end.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lindsay (Kilmarnock)
I will try to make my speech as brief as possible, and to comply with the oft-quoted request of Mr. Speaker with regard to the "cut-and-thrust of debate." This Debate however has been very wide in its scope, and it is rather difficult to follow all the points that have been made. I thought that the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken contradicted, in the middle of his speech, what he said in the first part of it. It seemed as though he were coming down solidly in favour of a national planning authority. He gave very good reason for it, but then he said he wished to give local authorities very considerable powers to plan—I thought he meant for development. I will come back to that point in a minute or two.
I wish to congratulate my hon. Friend who opened the Debate upon the genial and knowledgeable speech which he gave us. It was an important speech. I took notes for my own purposes, but I cannot possibly go into all the very important matters which he disclosed to us. I rather share the view expressed in an interjection regarding the vast staff that is being formed. I do not believe in criticising a staff if it is really doing its job, but this staff seems to be getting very big. I hope that the controllers of bricks and other materials will justify their existence. I would record only one example in this connection. The other day a friend of mine wanted 3,000.000 bricks. An 221 application was made to the local controller, who named three firms. Of those three, one did not reply, another offered 500,000 and the third offered from 20,000 to 30,000 a week. Subsequent inquiry brought all the bricks that were necessary and a good many more besides, and one wondered in that case what particular value the control had. Knowing my hon. Friend's experience in the building of school camps, we have all the more confidence in his ability, which is well-recognised in this House. Those camps are not only well and, on the whole, economically built, but they are the best-sited camps in this country. That is the result of this House insisting upon having on the board not only men who know something about certain aspects of the building industry but men who know something of the aesthetic side as well.
My hon. Friend said he had been in the building industry for 50 years. That rather makes me think I ought not to say anything at all on the subject; but 1 am told that the industry is not to a sufficient extent a unity. There are the points of view of the architect, the surveyor and the contractor. Very often, I understand, that of the architect tends to become remote and almost academic. There will be great need in the future for a more united training in this industry. May I suggest to my hon. Friend in all humility that he should get into touch with the President of the Board of Education and examine the arrangements which are being made in regard to this matter? Many young friends of mine have gone into the architectural profession. It involves a very difficult apprenticeship of five years, and my friends are not quite sure whether that time is well-spent. There is a case for re-examining the whole question from this point of view.
I do not think that we ought to apologise to-day. The Earl of Cork, speaking in another place, made the remark that it was just as important to plan for peace when you were at war as it was to plan for war when you were at peace, and that it was a good deal easier. The Minister of Works and Buildings, speaking on the same occasion, said he was sure that the idea of a planned and ordered reconstruction was an incentive and encouragement to the war effort and, in fact, a high and worthy war purpose itself. Therefore, we do not need to apologise for asking the Minister with- 222 out Portfolio to define his position. I do not think it is sufficiently defined at the moment. I do not think it is a case of producing blue-prints. It is a question of analysing trends and doing the preliminary research and planning now, because it is much easier to do it now. It is not necessary to cease thinking because we are at war. In fact, my excursions into lecturing to the troops have convinced me that, among the men themselves, there is a very deep interest in these questions. Usually these lectures are followed up by a large amount of discussion. I have been staggered at the interest shown in these subjects, especially by the Air Force.
I would like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) on his speech, although I did not agree with everything he said. He said that we should carry forward into the post-war years something of the unity which exists now. I believe that unless we do so we shall be in a bad state. The best way to do it is to concentrate on the maximum area of agreement and not to anticipate a number of controversies which could be raised to-day with little profit to any of us. I would recall what happened in the last war. During the years 1916–1918—I remember them very vividly in France in an organisation which we called the "Blighty League"—in this country there was a ferment of talk very much as there is at the present time. In 1916 the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) set up a Reconstruction Committee under Mr. Edwin Montagu. They had no administrative duties. They were asked to anticipate urgent difficulties and to prepare in advance an adjustment of Government machinery. I believe that this question of Government machinery is more important than anything else, since many of the excellent reforms which were advocated during those years had been frustrated because the machinery was in-capable of producing them, quite apart from the exhaustion of the people after the war. On that committee to which I refer there were 14 Members of Parliament and a number of specialists. Dr. Addison, as he then was, referring to reconstruction—which appears at present to consist of a medley of committees without any plan of campaign—said, before 223 he was appointed, that his first job was to arrange that the first six or 12 months of peace did not land us in a mess at home. A Department was set up and devoted to research into the whole field, and its basic function was to plan and co-ordinate rather than to execute and administer.
We are just about in that phase at the present time. An advisory council was then formed; the Ministry was reorganised and machinery was created for focussing the results of the investigation into definite proposals. In other words, there was a regular leading-up to the final Acts of Parliament through two years of constant group thinking and hard research. I should like to feel that the same sort of work was going on today. No doubt, the Minister without Portfolio will tell us something about it. It does not matter how it is divided up— into economics, social development, rural development and the rest.
A clear division was made then between the immediate period after the war and the succeeding period of peace. What happened in those two years? In those two years the Committee produced the Acquisition of Land Act, the Electricity Commission, the Central Electricity Board, Joint Industrial and Whitley Councils, the Fisher Act, the Foresty Commission, and the Haldane Report on the machinery of Government, which has never been implemented. One of the reasons why we cannot get on with speed in this House to-day is that we have not done anything about devolution. Remember that that Committee was an advocate of the feasibility of separate legislatures in Scotland and Wales; it talked of giving great powers to regional bodies, and also laid the foundations of work in scientific and industrial research. There is a great wealth of Acts of Parliament which had their origin in the years 1916 and 1918. They were the result of hard work, and it was grouped work, carefully coordinated as between different Departments.
This period 1916–18 showed that a central planning organisation of government can achieve results, provided it is well staffed and vigorously supported, even though there are many rival bodies. What about to-day? The same ferment is going on; the same publishers are pro- 224 ducing their series of pamphlets and booklets on schemes for after the war. Some of us can remember this from the previous occasion, but it is not a question of being disillusioned about it. Rather are we very anxious that the work should be thorough and that we shall not raise false hopes. In the very moving speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street he asked us to keep our present mood, when many old habits are being uprooted and when we can see things in a clearer perspective. I plead with him to remember that all industrial areas are not like his. I have seen where he lives, and there are woods and forests round about it. But there is much work to be done in other areas.
I think the speech made by the Minister the other day was a very great advance. I believe that the positive things which he said about a planning authority, and about the acceptance of the principles of planning to be undertaken within the framework of a study of post-war problems, are a beginning. But they are only a beginning, because, as every one who has spoken in this House to-day knows, the kernel of the problem is land. It is no use for some of us to have ideas about village colleges, or about trying to make the most of this amazing experience of the evacuation and dispersal of children if we are to come back to the problem of land as we did before the war. I am not going to talk about specific machinery to-day; all we want at present is a definition of principle. We want to see ahead a little bit more clearly. In fact, I am not sure that we do not want to hear from the Minister without Portfolio a speech comparable to that made by the Minister of Works and Buildings in another place, stating carefully his position, because he has the wider field to tackle.
With regard to the Barlow Report I am a minority report man, and I do not believe that you can work on the lines of the majority report. You have to go pretty well the whole hog, and take the powers from the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Transport, and ally them to that central authority. If you have not these allied and directly-related organs of government together, the whole thing seems to me sheer nonsense. People want decisions. We have had certain very definite statements from Lord Reith, but we 225 could go further. I would like to feel, as soon as the Uthwatt Committee has made its recommendations, that there was some real research being made, on behalf of the Ministry, on the question of land. I do not believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) was advocating pooled ownership of land. It is a very complicated question. I believe that Huddersfield owns its own land. I believe that if Huddersfield was bombed to-morrow, it could deal with a new Huddersfield, in a perfectly straightforward way. That makes one think. It may be that some careful analysis would have to be made of the present crazy-pavement type of ownership of land that exists in large cities. I do not know the answer: all I know is that 500,000 acres of good agricultural land have been transferred, on no principle at all, in the last few years. If we are to make any sense of this location of industry question, we must take into account what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street and the hon. Member for Peckham.
I remember that, as an undergraduate, I first became interested in garden cities through the hon. Member for St. Albans (Sir F. Fremantle), and that I joined his organisation. What has happened since? After Ebenezer Howard's great scheme, very little. Those two schemes were organised by private persons. But, apart from the beginnings of satellite towns, which the London County Council have tried to build, we have had no pattern. We have had dormitory places set up outside the big cities, with no communal life. People go out of them to work, and they go out of them as quickly as possible at week-ends. I do not know what my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street, who is a Deputy-Regional Commissioner, thinks about this, but I have come to the conclusion that we must make more use of the region in future. I know that it is easy to talk, but, with the exception of the Board of Education and one other Ministry, every Government Department is now represented at regional headquarters. What is coming out of all this? We have to decide whether we are going to build down from the top, or to build up from below. I hope my right hon. Friend is examining that particular question. For town planning and drainage and such questions, there is no doubt that something like a regional authority is the 226 appropriate one. Hospitals, voluntary and statutory, are already working together on a regional basis. I only mention this matter in rather a superficial way because I know that the right hon. Gentleman is thinking about it, and I hope he is going to say something to-day.
There is one further question. There was a very remarkable article in the "Times" on the two scourges some months ago in which it was pointed out that unemployment and war have focused the attention of the people upon this question of areas. It is very queer that it takes these two very great emergencies in human affairs to make people think about the question. I hope we shall not lose the best results of practical experience during the war. I am not talking about some new Heaven or new earth after the war, but about the experience we are getting of children in the country now. There is a whole heap of things that I would like to be done now. These children are to be the adults of to-morrow, and youth work must be done now. It is no use waiting.
The Minister without Portfolio is concerned not only with works and buildings, but with all the Government Departments that are thinking about after the war, and, fortunately, he has had great experience in these questions and shown great enthusiasm, and we want to-day to see a bit of the vision as well. If the 1932 Act will not work, it is no good blaming the Minister of Health, because no Minister of Health could work that Act. The Special Areas Act made little impression upon unemployment, which was a legacy of the last war and which we had only just begun to tackle. We have to anticipate the causes of unemployment. We have to face completely the implications and not have a patchwork policy. The more I look at these questions, the more I am convinced that the Department under the Minister without Portfolio cannot work without envisaging anew pattern of living. It is not just a question of building. You cannot look at the question of the provision of education, which I think is essential in every village, without looking at building construction and land. However you look at it there are some five Departments involved. Planning for two-thirds of this country exists on paper. We have to throw off the old Local 227 Government Board mentality of just vetting work which local authorities do.
I remember Lord Haldane coming to Oxford in the post-war years and saying that labour had captured the heights. He may have been right or he may have been wrong. Mr. Asquith came the next week and said that that might be true but all the work was done down in the valley. Now, when our existence is at stake and our habits are uprooted, is the time to envisage our own conception of what we mean by a better order. I think such a picture will not unsteady the eyes of the airman and will not upset the soldier or sailor or munition worker, and make him any less efficient, but will hearten them all if they know that the Government are thinking as vigorously about these questions as they are about prosecuting the war. Therefore, I hope my right hon. Friend the Minister without Portfolio, who was in this very business in the last war and has seen with his own eyes the mistakes that were made, will rise to this occasion and will give to us to-day some perhaps clearer picture of where he stands in relation both to he Ministry of Works and Buildings and to general reconstruction.
§ Mr. Wedgwood (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
The speech of the Parliamentary Secretary to-day was, I thought, admirable. It was divided into two sections. The first dealt with the management of the building industry during the war, on which question there has been little discussion here to-day, and the second, to which most of the discussion has been devoted, dealt with the question of whether and how we should plan for the general rebuilding and reconstruction of this country. I would remind the House that it is not merely a question of building working-class houses. It is a far wider question, involving the re-allocation of industry, transportation, electric power and a great deal else. The report we have to go on is the report which Lord Reith submitted to the Cabinet, and I gather that that report deals principally with the general planning of the country. It suggests taking over from local authorities the whole question of planning and making it a centralised issue under a centralised executive. I think that that is inevitable. It is inevitable that the 228 question of roads, railways and canals should be a national and not a local matter, and it is becoming equally important that factories should be national and not local and that new garden cities should be national and not local.
I think we are all agreed that planning should be a centralised subject. (An hon. Member: "No.") Well, I personally would object to centralisation for as long as possible, but I think that in this case it is inevitable. I would like the parish council to settle everything, but that is impossible when you are dealing with a question of such magnitude and ramifications as this. If we are to take over this question of town and country planning, it is necessary that we should realise that we have had this matter before the country and this House for 31 years. The first Bill was introduced in 1909, and, of course, I opposed it. It was a completely futile Measure which was never acted upon. Other Bills have been brought in regularly ever since, but in spite of this series of Town Planning Acts, I believe that only two-thirds of England is now draft-planned and that there is hardly a single place where a plan has compulsory and statutory powers. Why? For the simple reason that if we say to the owners of real estate how their property is to be used according to our ideas, it must involve the horrible question of compensation.
Town planning means that you say to an owner of a large estate, say, outside Middlesbrough, that his property will not be laid out as he wishes, to his best financial advantage, but that so much will be laid out for factories, for roads, for open spaces and that the town, with the approval of the Minister, will decide exactly how his property must be used. In every case, of course, the owner is bound to say that such planning will injure the value of his property, and therefore, he is entitled to compensation. In every one of these Acts that compensation was arranged for. There was to be compensation for people, not when their land was taken, but when it was planned so that it could not be used for any other purpose. It is because of those compensation sections that all the town-planning Acts have failed. In my own borough we have to a large extent got round the difficulty, as I gather has been 229 done in London. My borough, being intelligent, has bought up all the vacant land within the area so that it can layout its own property according to a very good town-planning scheme drawn up by the highest authorities. That is all very well when it is a question of extending a borough, but it does not meet the problem with which we are concerned at the present time, the reconstruction of existing developed property, which is becoming more important than the development of future suburban areas. It is more important because we cannot expect the population to go on increasing quite as it has done during the last few years, and indeed, we may find that there is a decreasing population after the war. Therefore, the reconstruction of existing property must take a larger place in our provisions for the reconstruction of England.
As I have said, all the town-planning schemes have broken down because of the indefinite question of compensation. It there were some definiteness, if one knew what would be the liability of the Government or of the local authorities the matter would be very much easier, but the liability is an indefinite one, and one which does not, as some hon. Members have said, fall upon the local authorities. It falls upon the consumers, it falls upon the people who live in the houses on the land which has been bought at an exorbitant price. It is the public which pays the compensation to the landowners for laying out their land in a different manner. It is for this reason that towns have not been planned and our new arterial roads, our by-passes, have cost us an enormous amount of money, and it is for this reason that, when new by-pass roads are made, the whole cost is charged to the public and goes almost directly to the benefit of the owners of adjoining land. One hon. Member from this side of the House referred to the system that was followed in Frankfort-on-Main, where the local authority bought up, without paying for it, the land in large blocks, and then when it laid out the roads and arranged for buildings and open spaces, compensated each landowner, giving him a share for his area in proportion to the total amount. That was a very good way of getting round the difficulty and it was fair in operation, but it was on a 230 small scale in connection with a suburb of Frankfort-on-Main.
Everybody who has studied this problem from 1909 onwards realises that the whole problem would be possible of solution if we had made a general valuation of land all over the county and the buildings on the land, so that we would know what compensation was payable and exactly what was the value of the land, without having to go through the cumbrous procedure of having a board of arbitration at which all sorts of subsidiary claims in connection with the destruction of amenities are brought up.
If there is to be any reconstruction on sane lines after this war, it is essential that we should have this valuation as soon as possible. It is so simple if you say that the valuation shall be the basis for either purchase or taxation. If that principle is laid down, it can safely be left to the landlords themselves, and those who have an interest in the land. You can leave it to them to fix their own valuation. They will not fix it too high because of their taxes, and they will not fix it too low because of the selling price. I am perfectly certain, if the right hon. Gentleman who is to reply to this Debate will envisage afresh the question of valuation, that he will obtain results of times of peace which will be invaluable, not only for the purposes of reconstruction, but for all time, as the State gradually acquires more and more of the land of this country, as inevitably it must. At the present time the valuation of land, particularly undeveloped land around our towns, is unduly inflated. Speculation is not a new thing. It has not sprung up since the "blitz." It has been going on for years. Everyone who owns land says to himself, "It is quite true that I cannot get a better price for this land now, but that will not be the case in 10 years' time." Everyone knows that land which was bought at £50 an acre 10 years ago is in many cases worth £1,000 an acre at the present time. That is shoving up the price of land to the purchaser all over the country, and by pushing up the price it means that the man who wishes to use it, whether for building, agriculture or whatever it may be is refused the opportunity and is put out of work.
Indeed, unemployment is created when nature's storehouse of the goods which we can manufacture is locked up. Therefore, 231 when you make your valuation, bear in mind that it is an inflated value and not an economic value. The real reason why the taxation of land values has never been accepted in this country is that it has the effect of reducing the selling value of land. Ultimately it reduces the amount of rent which the owner can receive. Everyone who owns land is against the procedure, but it is inevitable that we should reduce this burden of private taxation which falls on people at the present time. Among other speakers the right hon. Baronet the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris), who ought to know better, suggested that if a tax was levied on land values, we should get skyscrapers. It would have exactly the reverse effect. The cheaper land is, the less necessary it is to put up enormous buildings. If land all round London was half the price it is, people would be tempted to go out. Anything that reduces the value of land enables you either to have a larger area for your own house or to put up more houses further out and thereby relieve congestion. The obvious case in point is Sydney; which for 30 years or more has had all local taxes levied upon land values and nothing on buildings, with the result that Sydney, a town of about 1,500,000 population, is spread over an area nearly as large as London. Instead of being congested, the houses all have gardens round them. The drawback is that everyone has to have a motor car in order to get about the town. But it has made land in the suburbs cheap. People can get a very fine site for a house at a reasonable price.
§ Mr. Selley (Battersea, South)
If that was applied to London, would not London cover the whole of the Home Counties?
§ Mr. Wedgwood
If my hon. Friend went to Sydney, he would see these lovely suburbs all round the harbour; at Washington he would see the houses with their gardens without fences. It is a very pleasant thing when people are able to make their gardens a decent size, and when they can get the amenities of the country combined with the conveniences of the town. There you have cases where, far from leading to congestion and skyscrapers, it has opened up the country. Johannesburg is sometimes thought of as being a second edition of Wigan. It is 232 nothing of the sort. It is like a gigantic sea of trees from end to end. All these places have the enormous advantage of starting with this principle, and they have not had vested interests to fight. They have an intelligent scheme, and they have the revenue. But do not let us think it is impossible to get it here too. Let us have the valuation now.
§ Mr. Bossom (Maidstone)
I am particularly interested to hear the right hon. Gentleman talk of skyscrapers. As a matter of fact, land values in New York, where the highest skyscrapers are built, are nothing like as great as in London, where we have smaller buildings.
§ Mr. Bossom
I should say that the corner of Broadway and Wall Street, one of the highest values in the world from the American point of view, is about two-thirds to three-quarters of the value of the best land around the Bank in London.
§ Mr. Wedgwood
That is exactly my point. In New York the tax is levied on the value of the land, plus the value of the building, but you have to pay the tax, whether there is a building on the site or not. The price of land in the centre is therefore less than in the perimeter of the town.
§ Mr. Bossom
I could go on with this subject, but we are here to discuss our own situation. I would like to talk to my right hon. Friend on this point afterwards. As to the question of the land, we have to face the fact that ultimately the Government will have to purchase and be the owners of large areas of land. When they do that I hope they will do a rather novel thing. I hope that they will lay it out and then turn it back to private ownership, taking the profit that will thereby accrue when it goes back into private ownership, and when that land is resold again, if that should occur, the Government will then take any further profit that accrues in the form of a tax. Do not let us take away entirely individual interest in property. I live on a piece of Crown property, and I cannot even put a bush in my garden without some bureaucrat saying whether I shall or shall not. The hon. Gentleman who spoke before the right hon. Gentleman asked me 233 what I thought about the building industry. I think that that industry ought to be thoroughly overhauled. The day has long passed when we can continue as we are to-day with 55,000 general contractors and a great number of architects all fighting for jobs. The industry is not on an economic basis, and that is not good for the country. We see the steel industry, the cotton industry and the chemical industry revived and improved, by such thorough reconsideration, and the building industry requires the same treatment. I hope that Lord Reith will give this matter some practical consideration before the end of the war, because it certainly needs it.
I intended to speak only of one simple, practical problem which has been brought about entirely by the war. It is not a question of law, but of practical building which is very important. Before doing so, I want to congratulate my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary on the way in which he has handled this subject to-day. He gave an account of a vast range of activities which he has undertaken and which, I am sure, will be handled very well. I am entirely in agreement with those who believe in planning. We must have it on the biggest scale possible, but there is a lot to be done before we put planning into practical application. Planning is a most difficult science. We know the theory of it but not the practice of it. It is a thing that has to be studied and a lot of research has yet to be made before we can get the best from it on the biggest scale. We have heard of post-war work and of work that is to be done during the war by the Ministry, but what I have heard has given me the impression that much of this work is in prospect and is not being undertaken yet. The Minister has been in office for about four months, and I would like to know something about the present situation. I would like to know that it is being considered in all its different phases, because there is one phase of it which was not mentioned by my hon. Friend or by Lord Reith when he spoke in the other place a short time ago.
I would like to know what arrangements are to be made in those places where factories that have been partially "blitzed" but where houses and homes have been entirely "blitzed". I am 234 sure that the Minister will be aware of many towns where there is crying need for homes for munition workers. There is not time available to rebuild such houses properly in all details, and I would ask whether he has given that situation any consideration. We cannot wait for all town-planning arrangements. We must go in for temporary building. We cannot concentrate factories as we might like to; we have to disperse them, and that means providing housing accommodation for the workers for those factories in many unusual places. Has the Minister thought how he is going to accommodate the people there? Without the workers those factories will be of no use. There is one town in particular which I know of where they need urgently 30,000 more workers to-day but have not the houses in which to accommodate them, and that is seriously holding up production. This situation has to be met by some temporary expedient in construction which can be wiped out, if necessary, after the war. We cannot wait for town planning schemes.
I should also very much like to know whether the Minister has given consideration to the materials that will be needed for this work. Has he a practical plan worked out? I was one of the members that produced the Fifth Report of the National Economy Committee dealing with the militia camps. We know that it was estimated that the camps would cost £21,000,000 and that the actual expenditure exceeded £80,000,000—and we have not heard the end of it yet. That was brought about by lack of foresight, and lack of the provision of plans and appropriate people to do the work. I hope we shall not have the same thing happening again in this case through lack of earlier preparations. The plans must be made now, the people must be arranged for now. We cannot wait longer. I do hope that the Minister will be able to tell us that these things have been considered and are already provided for. I hope he has worked out his plans whereby it will be possible to put up these temporary buildings without using materials which come from abroad. He has told us we have plenty of cement. There are many materials, like gypsum, for instance, which could be used for building that are not to be permanent. The buildings will not need heavy foundations; the walls can be treated 235 with rough cast, and they will stand for three to five years quite satisfactorily. It is important to give this matter thorough consideration right away. The Minister should take matters up with the architects, so that they may make the necessary provision for the work to be done with speed, and he should arrange for contractors in the different regional areas to be ready and so not have to disturb other vital work. I hope that he will have pools of labour, so that we shall not have to disturb progress on other buildings such as munition factories which are equally vitally necessary. Such buildings have got to be built. We have to face it. We might as well undertake the preparation now before greater difficulties come upon us, as they are so liable to do any day.
§ Mr. Hicks
I should like to intervene to reply to the point which my hon. Friend has just raised, because it is possible that the Minister without Portfolio may not be so intimately acquainted with all that has been done as is the Ministry of Works and Buildings and may not be able to reply to it fully. I should like to say, first, that my Noble Friend the Minister of Works and Buildings has had an examination made into this problem. He is very much concerned not to provide accommodation of a permanent character but something of a temporary nature, in order that his ideas and plans for physical reconstruction shall not be hindered. The question of providing accommodation for workers in towns where factories may be partially "blitzed" and houses completely demolished has been taken up seriously. Architects have been consulted, experts have been consulted, all the Departments have been consulted, including the Admiralty, the War Office and the Ministry of Health. Provision is to be made, not only for single men, but for married men, and the plans have been drawn up. I am certain that by the end of this week we shall have final approval for the plans and elevations, materials will be used which it will not be necessary to bring from abroad, and speedy reconstruction will take place. We have planned to cover accommodation, not only for the 30,000 people mentioned by the hon. Member, but possible for 200,000.
§ Mr. Bossom
I thank the Minister very much for all he has said. It is cheering to know that the matter has already been considered. But we must build this work so that it can be wiped away at the finish of the war. We shall not want to hamper ourselves later and we can avoid this if we make it of strictly temporary construction. The Minister mentioned 30,000; I referred only to one particular town. He knows as well as I do that the situation is causing difficulty there at the present time. We do not want, if this trouble suddenly comes, to have men drawn away at the last moment from aerodromes or essentially needed factories in order to do this housing work, which should be and can be planned ahead. What the Minister said was gratifying and I thank him for interrupting me. Otherwise, because as he said I am afraid I might not have had an answer and it might have gone out that the Minister had not looked after the matter. The Ministry have a terribly difficult job, but they are trying to do it in a very fine way.
In my opinion the workers at a lot of these places are very poorly looked after. They are trying to do a good job—there are one or two places where they are bad and where poor work is being done—but on the whole the great mass of the work is being well and promptly handled. It must be rather discouraging to them, when visitors come along in big cars, to know that the visitors have come from comfortable beds and homes and will go back to them later, while the building workers have to carry on under most uncomfortable housing conditions. I hope that the Ministry of Works and Buildings will see to it that the workers' accommodation is as good as possible in the circumstances, possibly by letting them occupy the first of the temporary buildings which they construct. It would allow them to live at least in a comparatively decent manner.
I hope that the Ministry will concentrate upon speedy construction in this part of its work and not concentrate so much upon appearance. We do not need to worry about the aesthetic aspect of temporary buildings, which are only for a very short life. We have to win the war. I hope the buildings will be warm and comfortable, so to speak, satisfactory for lounging and dining, but we must re- 237 member that the one issue before us at the present time is winning the war. Nothing counts if we do not do that. I again thank my hon. Friend for interrupting me in order to show that this work is under consideration. The men who are doing the work are fine fellows. They are working hard, and I want to see them with the best opportunities for doing the best they can for the country, in this serious national crisis.
§ Mr. Hubert Beaumont (Batley and Morley)
The hon. Member who has just spoken has truly said that there is only one issue that matters, that of winning the war, but it has been a relief to turn from acts and policies of destruction to acts and policies of construction. I think it is admirable that we should have had an opportunity of considering the work of the Ministry of Works and Buildings and of its future operations. I would pay my tribute to my hon. Friend for the brilliant execution of his brief. He interested the House tremendously. In one respect he was somewhat disappointing. He gave us a very full account of the work of the departments in respect of what I might call the removals, replacement and repairs services, and demonstrated the magnitude of the provision for Government staffs in the requisitioning of hotels and boarding houses. I am sure that no one is better able than he is to act as the genial host in such circumstances.
§ Mr. Beaumont
Thank you very much. Without detracting from the value of the work that has been done by the Department, we should have liked the Parliamentary Secretary to lift the curtain and give us something of a vision of the future, as visualised by the Department. We thought at one moment that he was about to do so, but then he said, "I am not going to bring the dish out of the oven, because if it is badly cooked it might be indigestible." Although we are concerned with the cooking of the dish, we are even more concerned with its ingredients, and we should have liked to have known what the dish contained. It may be admirably cooked, but even then it may prove indigestible. I hope that on some early occasion we may know something of the contents of this wonderful dish. What I feel this Ministry—I say it in all kindness and helpfulness—is 238 labouring under a great disadvantage. There seems to be something very nebulous about its powers. We do not know whether it is to function in a purely advisory department or a director authority. We desire to know its powers. We want this Ministry to state its functions and duties so that at some later stage we can definitely assess its success or failure, and to be able either to approve or to condemn what the Ministry does. We are in somewhat of a difficulty at the present time, because we cannot place our fingers upon any definite powers that the Ministry possesses. In fact, their powers seem to be "wrapt in mystery." The Parliamentary Secretary said that the one thing which the Ministry has is a genius for picking other people's brains. I hope the Ministry will develop a genius for stopping other people from picking the nation's pockets. The powers of the Ministry should be such that they can prevent the further exploitation of the people. I believe that it was Edison who once said that genius was 10 per cent, inspiration and go per cent, perspiration, and we believe that it is that kind of genius that the Ministry must exercise if they are to carry out their tasks.
There are two aspects of planning. One aspect is of planning during the war, and the other is of planning after the war. We want to be sure that the planning which is done during the war shall have some relationship to that which will follow after the war. We do not want the plans of the future to be spoilt by the plans of the present, and we do not want to have to scrap those plans which we put into effect during the progress of the war. Therefore, it would be interesting if at some early date we could be informed of certain definite principles of planning upon which this Department is to work. One beneficial result of the "Blitz" is the destruction of some of the hideousness of some of our cities which would have been difficult to get rid of in ordinary circumstances, and we hope that that hideousness will not be carried on in future planning. We do not want a congestion of buildings, but wide, open spaces with dignity of design and grandeur of aspect.
The Parliamentary Secretary said—I lope I am not misquoting him—that certain ugly heads were rearing themselves,.n these circumstances I want to know 239 whether the Department is going in for a process of strangulation or decapitation? These obstructions, whatever they are— obstructions of bricks and mortar or of private interests—must be swept away in the common interest of the people. It may be that the Ministry will come up against certain vested interests. This House and the country have determined, have expressed themselves in no uncertain way and will insist, that no vested interest shall stand in the way of the successful prosecution of the war, and that all interests should be subordinated to the general interest of the whole community. We hope that the principle which is essential during war-time will be translated into peace-time terms, and that during the reorganisation that will come after the war no vested interest will be allowed to stand in the way of the interests of the people. There may be vested interests in land, in local government authorities, or even in Government Departments. None of these must stand in the way. I am not one of those who suggest for one moment, as has been suggested, that the Ministry of Health not only has a vested interest but is jealous to guard that interest. I believe that the Ministry of Health is a Department which is trying to apply to the best of its ability the powers which have been given to it, and that it will be ready to co-operate in any way with the other Departments concerned. But we have to demonstrate, even if it is necessary for the functions of Government Departments to be curtailed so as to secure unity of plan, that those functions must be curtailed.
I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary, or the Minister without Portfolio, whoever is going to reply, what danger there is at the present time, under the powers possessed by the Minister, of overlapping and of gaps? I trust that the suggestion made by one hon. Member that it is the function of the Works and Buildings Department to look after works and buildings while it is that of the Ministry of Health to look after housing, will not be accepted. It is of fundamental importance that housing should go with works and buildings. If there must be separate Departments dealing with these matters, there must be close co-ordination and co-operation between them. In rebuilding in future we have to consider the lessons of the past as well as the lessons 240 of the present. There has been too much spoliation of the countryside. It may well be that the evacuation of people, and particularly children, from the towns will have given them a new vision of life in the country and a love for the countryside which they would never have acquired in any other way. It will have given them an appreciation of health and of beauty, and it is possible that in future it will be more easy to transfer industries to country districts because of the willingness of the workers to live in the country districts themselves. But in that connection we have to make sure that we do not indulge in any of the foolishness that has been tolerated in the past. Too little note has been taken—or rather there has been too little understanding and appreciation—of the uses of land. We ought not to build houses and other buildings upon fertile soil which is necessary to agriculture, and in planning for the future it will be necessary to take into account the needs and opportunities of agriculture itself.
In the last war it was said that this country should be made a country fit for heroes to live in. The terrible onslaught of the enemy upon this country has demonstrated to the world that this is a country in which heroes and heroines are living and dying. It is surely the duty of the House, and of the Departments concerned, to plan so wisely that the cities, towns and villages of the future shall be worthy of the inhabitants of the land itself. Let us remember, in the words of Ruskin, that the greatest cities of the world are not the cities which contain the greatest numbers of men and women, but the cities which contain the greatest men and the greatest women.
§ Mr. Henry Strauss (Norwich)
May I, at the outset of my speech, convey my heartiest congratulations and good wishes to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works and Buildings. Before he occupied that post, he addressed this House, I thought, too seldom; but when he did so he gave us that combination of commonsense and vigour in which many of us in all quarters learned to delight. The problems which have been pointed out by many speakers in this Debate separate themselves into the immediate problems of the war and certain planning problems which will have to be carried out after the war but which have to be considered to-day. It is very 241 important that those of us who are strongly in favour of a central department of government engaged continuously in town and country planning should make it clear that we are not idealists who ignore the requirements of the present situation in which we find ourselves. It is quite true, as my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. Bossom) has said, that there are immediate problems of rehousing for war purposes, which cannot possibly wait for long-distance planning. But it is also true that we are not, in discussing planning to-day, merely discussing some academic question that may not be of immediate importance at an early date which it is impossible to-day to determine.
My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary referred to a speech by my Noble Friend Lord Reith in another place, in which he said that he had been instructed to proceed with his work on the assumption that the principle of planning would be accepted as national policy and that some central planning authority would be required. I welcome those words. My purpose is to express the hope that that planning authority will be set up as soon as possible, and also the conviction that our knowledge of certain failures in the planning legislation of the past makes quite clear some of the dangers that we have to avoid and some of the principles that must be observed. Let me remind the House that this problem would have been urgent even if there had been no war. On the Ministry of Health Votes in 1937 and in 1938, on many occasions inside the House and outside it I advocated stopping the scandal of the destruction of the beauty of both rural and urban England. I am delighted that to-day there has been more general support for those views than I got on earlier occasions in this House.
What happened in the 21 years between the Armistice and the outbreak of the present war? I do not think that any thoughtful person will deny that in this country we suffered greater destruction of the beauty of town and country, at a quicker rate, than had ever been experienced in any country in time of peace. My second point is that that destruction was unnecessary. It is true that we did tremendous work in the clearance of slums and the building of new houses, and a great deal of the effect of that development is good; but I do not 242 believe that any experienced town-planner will dispute that ten times the amount of development need not have caused one-tenth of the destruction. What were some of the faults that were brought to light? One was the absence of a central Government authority with powers of planning; another was the utter unsuitability for their task of many of the local authorities, which were made the statutory planning authorities. I agree with some hon. Members in what has been said on the importance of the question of compensation and betterment. I am not going to deal with that to-day, because I think that that will be more profitably discussed in this House when we have the report of the Uthwatt Committee before us. I am not denying the importance of that subject, but I emphatically deny that that was the only cause why things went wrong.
The local authorities for the purposes of planning are often not such influential or comparatively well-off bodies as county councils. They are such small bodies as rural district councils. In many cases the rural district councils, apart altogether from being too poor to pay the compensation which might be involved if they had adequate planning, could not afford, or would not afford, to pay the planning officer an adequate wage to prepare an adequate plan. The only hope, of course, was that small local authorities would have the sense to come together and form a joint advisory planning committee. What happened if they did? Let me remind the House of a point that is too often forgotten. When the first step has been taken in town planning by the preliminary resolution, you get soon afterwards the interim development order. Thereafter, when a builder or speculator wishes to build a house and desires to be sure that in the future he will not have to pull the house down without compensation, he must come to the local planning authority for permission to build that house. I ask the House to assume a case in which the permission to put a house in that place would, if granted, absolutely ruin any rational plan for that neighbourhood. If permission is refused, he has a right of appeal to the Ministry of Health; but if, on the other hand, the rural district council grants the permission for which he asks, then, although the thing he 243 desires to do is ruinous in the opinion of the county council and of every amenity society and of the joint advisory planning committee on which his own local authority is represented—though it is a ridiculous and horrible outrage in the opinion of the Minister himself, there is no body which has any power to stop that outrage being committed. It is a fantastic state of affairs.
After all, the beauty of England is not the concern only of the little authorities into which the country has been divided. It concerns the interest and reputation of the nation and the happiness of all its people, and the thing for which I plead—and I know that the Minister without Portfolio, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary and my Noble Friend the Minister of Works and Buildings, will agree—is a conception of Government which says that, if outrages are taking place either in city or country, it is the business of the Government of this country to stop them, and not to say, "Oh, it is the fault of some local authority." It is necessary for any rational planning that the local planning authorities should be different from the existing planning authorities. I do not know whether "regional" will be the final description, or what word will be used, but there must be more rational divisions and larger divisions than at present exist. Not only the areas of local planning authorities but also their powers need revision. Their powers must be advisory. The last word must rest with the Government Department which can be questioned in this House. It is nonsense to say that, if one of the greatest assets in this country is treated with contempt by the authority in whose area it is situated, that is no concern of the Government or this House.
Several hon. Members have mentioned the question of population and, of course, this is vital in planning. But local authorities, with the best intentions in the world, as long as they are acting for themselves alone cannot give proper consideration to this question. If I may quote from some 1937 figures I would point out that in some three-fifths of the country the first steps had been taken in town planning and in that area alone enough land had been zoned to accommodate seven times the existing population of the whole country. Yet we know that 244 the population is about to decline. To zone land for such an excess means a wasteful use of land. To illustrate another point in what was wrong in our pre-war planning—and this will have the sympathy of those Members who represent country constituencies—contempt was shown in the whole machinery of planning for the glorious industry of agriculture. Agriculture was not considered as a development for which town and country planning could provide. So urban-minded were our drafters— although I do not like that expression, especially as I see my hon Friend the senior burgess for Oxford University (Mr. Herbert) here—that if we decided to devote a piece of country in the neighbourhood of a city to the most productive of all human uses, namely, growing wheat, how did we describe the process? We said we were "sterilising" the land. We built up a fantastic vocabulary to accompany our fantastic neglect. In this ridiculous language the only thing that did not sterilise the land was to hand it over for complete ruin to speculative builders.
That brings me to the greatest of all failures—ribbon development. I suppose that ribbon development on the outskirts of a town has been the most ingenious method yet devised for destroying the beauty of both town and country without creating the amenities of either. It was a process which might have been devised by a perverse genius who wanted to destroy as much country as possible while building as few houses as possible, and to lay waste the loveliness of England without creating the possibilities of a civilised life. The most characteristic of our failures was that this absurdity, having been universally recognised, was allowed to continue. This House solemnly passed a Ribbon Development Act, not to stop ribbon development but to put the ribbon back a little further from the road. Control was handed over to the Minister of Transport and with this one exception the evil continued as before. I think that the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) is conveying by his look that this bears out his theory of land values, but whatever may be said for that theory, this evil could have been dealt with even without tackling that problem. For instance, an elementary thing might have been realised that a subsidiary road should not be parallel to the main road. 245 but should be at right angles to it and lead to a properly planned group of buildings. I will not enlarge on that now. My main point is that it was really fantastic that the House year after year should have had these evils pointed out to it, and should have adopted an attitude of complete helplessness—"Oh, well, nothing much can be done about it" It can be stopped, but it can be stopped only if you have an efficient machine of central government. It cannot be stopped if you put your planning powers, such as they are, in the Ministry of Health and your powers for the prevention of ribbon development, such as they are, in the Ministry of Transport. Obviously, it is essential that those powers must be exercised together by the same Ministry.
§ Sir Joseph Nall (Hulme)
The greatest obstruction to making even the limited use that might have been made of that Act was the attitude of the Ministry of Transport which, time and time again, allowed appeals against decisions to effect what the hon. Member has just advocated.
§ Mr. Strauss
I would not disagree with what the hon. Member says, but I think I had better not deal further with the Ministry of Transport to-day. It is not a Ministry which a priori I should particularly expect to have rational and enlightened views on the planning of buildings. They were concerned simply with the roads. I am obliged to my hon. Friend for his intervention, because it strengthens my point.
I think now I must say a few words— because very little has been said about it in this Debate—on the subject of architecture, since it is a subject about which I care passionately. I was a little shocked by one or two wrong statements in the very delightful speech of the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson). He suggested that nothing in building was worth anything that did not go back nine centuries, and when challenged said, by way of explanation, that what he had in mind was the impression made upon him as a boy by Durham Cathedral. I agree with him on the merits of that glorious building. But do not let us forget that in the 18th century we produced perhaps the best domestic architecture that has ever been produced anywhere. I deplore it 246 when anybody speaks in this House as though the glories of the eighteenth century did not exist, as though there were nothing to lose in Bath, nothing to lose in the Bloomsbury squares, and nothing to lose in all our glorious heritage of Georgian architecture. The 19th century was certainly a horrible interruption, but to-day there is no reason whatever why our architects should not build cities as worthy of the 20th century as Bath is of the 18th century. And they are prepared to do so. When we curse the architecture—if one can call it architecture—that disfigures the Kingston bypass, do not let us forget that that is generally not the architecture of bad architects; it is architecture in which no architect at all has ever had a hand.
Now let me say one word in criticism of the Government in a matter which they may have thought rather incidental. It may not have mattered much, but I implore them not to do it again. When, on 24th October, 1940, my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal announced the functions of the Ministry of Works and Buildings, there was a passage in his announcement which referred tohouses and buildings of an architectural nature." — [OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th October, 1940; col. 1152, Vol. 365.]I was not here at the time, but I was delighted to see that an hon. Member rose and asked what on earth this meant. As a matter of fact, the draftsman of that particular phrase showed himself so ignorant of the whole nature of what architecture meant, that he cast a doubt, in advance, on the merits of the Ministry, which was being established. Fortunately, my noble Friend and the Parliamentary Secretary have done their best, subsequently, to wipe out that initial disadvantage. Do let us stop talking about houses and buildings of an "architectural nature," as if there were any houses or buildings which did not have an "architectural nature." The architecture may be good or frightful, but it is always there. That phrase is the mark of the complete Philistine who thinks that architecture is some odd bit of decoration placed on a building when it is otherwise finished. He thinks it is a bit of unnecessary ornament. An architect is a planner who should be consulted from the beginning, and, if he is given a chance, he will design buildings worthier of our 247 people and our history than those which we have allowed to be erected in the 21 years which preceded the outbreak of this war. Nor has the Ministry of Health a very good reputation for the way it treated those local authorities which took some care in regard to their architecture. The city of Winchester took the trouble to turn down some particularly obnoxious mock-Elizabethan villas which would have ruined part of that fine city set in a beautiful countryside. The builders appealed to the Ministry, and the Ministry of Health insisted on a sloppy compromise in order that they might not displease any speculative builder.
I have endeavoured to bring to the notice of the House some of the failures of our planning machinery which have been revealed in the 21 years preceding the outbreak of the war. Every one of those failures can be remedied, and I believe there is a general determination that they shall be remedied. There must be—and I believe it is an almost universal plea—a central planning authority. It must exercise far more authority and power than is exercised at present over local authorities. Local authorities which retain planning powers must be authorities for different areas from those of existing planning authorities. I do not think that a rural district council is a suitable planning authority; we must have larger units. I would much rather have a county council than a rural district council as a planning authority for an area. Whatever the Central Government authority that may be set up, it must at least exercise the existing powers of the Office of Works, the planning powers of the Ministry of Health under the existing Acts and any necessary amendment to them and the powers of the Ministry of Transport concerning ribbon development. I am not asking the Government to rush into a decision before it has weighed all the facts, as I believe it is now doing. But that is the very minimum which I desire to see. I should like to express my most emphatic disagreement with the suggestion of the hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Sir J. Walker-Smith) that the Ministry should get on with various immediate jobs during the war and plan certain post-war things, and that then the whole thing could be handed over to the Ministry of Health.
248 That is not good enough. It is impossible, among other reasons, because the Ministry of Health has no power of initiating planning. Is it sense to have in one department those who initiate plans and in another those who have knowledge of the working of existing plans? It is not a practical division. You must have ultimately in one department those who are thinking out the machinery of planning and those who have direct knowledge and experience of the working of existing plans. We know from our experience of the past that these points are vital if we are to be wiser in the future. I believe nothing will cause us more shame than the way in which we treated town and country in the 21 years after 1918. I believe there is a widespread determination that that scandal shall cease. It should have ceased long ago. It seems to me in direct defiance of the greatest principles both of the Conservative and the Socialist parties: the Conservative party, which believes above all in preserving those things which are of value—and the beauty and dignity of our native land are of great value—and the Socialist party, which at least has this admirable principle in its beliefs, that there are imponderable values more important than money and values which you cannot cast away without casting away part of the things for which you live. The principles of Socialism and Conservatism are alike outraged by what we have permitted. I beg Ministers to ensure by their endeavours that that scandal shall not be continued or repeated.
§ The Minister without Portfolio (Mr. Arthur Greenwood)
I agree with a very great deal that has fallen from my hon. Friend, who invariably shows great knowledge of this subject and a great passion for the beauty of the country, which I hope we all share. His admonitions to the Government are suitably received, and in future we will try to do better. I hope we shall not be guilty of any error of taste. The Government welcome this Debate, and especially the spirit in which it has been conducted. I should like it to have been witnessed by some Gestapo agent, to show how a civilised country with black spots upon its character is trying to eradicate its blackness in a spirit of harmony and good will. The House will not expect me to go into any detail 249 with regard to the many points which have been raised. I can assure hon. Members that all the suggestions that have been made will be matters of very earnest consideration by my Noble Friend Lord Reith, myself and the many other Ministers who, in one way or another, are involved in this great planning problem. The Debate has been of great personal value to me. My hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) said he did not envy me my job, and I think that with the overflowing sympathy which I have received to-day it is at least a job which is worth the effort. I think that we shall find that out of this time of tragedy some good may come,
I am, speaking personally, very gratified, because the House has shown that it has a keen eye for the future. It is vital, as my hon. Friend and other Members have said, that our energies should be devoted to the war effort, but that is not to say that our minds should not be turning to the fulfilment of our victory in the days of peace. Men and women fight now not merely to defend the achievements of the past, but to protect and safeguard the hopes of the future. This war is an attack upon the very foundations of our national life. We have, by toil and sweat and out of the heat of the furnace of public discussion in this House and outside, built up liberties which we mean to keep, for on them triumphant democracy can march to greater achievements in future. Therefore, we fight today so as to live for a better future. That is the attitude in which the Government are approaching this vast series of problems which we shall have to solve before the war ends. The problems of tomorrow are looming up before us now, but we cannot expect to separate the present fateful moments from the many tomorrows. Therefore, I feel that, subject to the over-mastering requirements of the war effort, we should do nothing during the struggle to prejudice the making of the future. The appointment of the Uthwatt Committee is an attempt now, while there is a possibility, to prevent evil being done to-day by speculation in bomb craters and in landed property for the advantage of individual greed, regardless of the future public good.
The establishment of the Ministry of Works and Buildings was an indication of 250 the Government's concern for post-war Britain. In a sense I was in at the birth of this Department and might almost be described as one of the midwives. I follow the work of my Noble Friend with great interest and sympathy and with full support. My hon. Friend has explained that the Ministry of Works and Buildings has war work to do. While my Noble Friend is taking and has taken the necessary steps, in collaboration with his colleagues, to begin to arrange for the physical rehabilitation and reconstruction of our land, he must at this moment bend his energies to bringing succour to the bombed areas. This is vital ambulance work and, I know, stands very high in the priorities of the duties inside the Ministry of Works and Buildings. More than that he cannot actually do at this stage.
As my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary pointed out in his very full account of the work of the Department, it is impossible to promote building to take place during the war unless that building is directly associated with the war effort; for two reasons, partly the use of materials and partly the call upon labour. I would add this further reason: I have myself always opposed any attempt at rebuilding during the war because I do not think we ought to reduplicate the lay-out of the areas which have been destroyed in so many towns without thinking it all out afresh. That he will do. We have begun to get ready for the day when we start on the very big job of obliterating the scars of the war on our country and begin the task of making the most of our physical resources.
The House has shown its great interest in this problem of planning. Planning is a word which may become a shibboleth. To utter it seems to give a deep comfort to many people who, perhaps, do not appreciate all its implications. I believe in planning, and having had to face the planned economy of Hitler—because it has been a planned economy, from top to bottom, in every direction of human effort—I do not believe that after this war we can fall back into the easy days of go-as-you-please. Nor have I seen any indication on the part of the public to desire that we should return to those rather easy, loose and slack days. By planning I mean the pooling of our knowledge and experience so as to concert 251 measures which will ensure that the limited land of our small islands is used to the best in the national interest, and that our other national resources are conserved and maintained for the public advantage. I mean by planning the preservation of those beauties which, once gone, can never be restored. I mean by planning a proper relationship between industry and agriculture. These are enormous tasks which we have now to face.
In this matter of physical planning my Noble Friend and other colleagues are in consultation. I cannot enlarge on other aspects of it at the moment, but I can say that the British Commonwealth of Nations and the Colonies, major combatants in the present struggle, must plan a common life in the future, so as to weld into an exemplary peaceful union peoples who share a common heritage and a common future. Indeed, we must plan to secure that, in the future, all freedom-loving peoples will be able, without hesitation, to rally to the help of any peoples who are threatened by aggression. They should plan on the broadest possible scale the best utilisation of the world's physical and economic resources in the interests of the peoples of the world. I say that in order to indicate that there are ranges of planning which lie outside the very valuable discussion that we have had.
On the rather narrower field, I think it is agreed—almost universally in this House, at any rate—that planning there must be. The Government accept that conclusion, and my Noble Friend has a very large and vital part to play in the task of planning, in co-operation with the other Departments concerned. We have declared—my Noble Friend made the declaration in the House of Lords—that the Government have accepted the principle of a central planning authority. Suggestions have been made as to the form which that authority should take. My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich (Mr. H. Strauss) was not inclined to press me very far. Indeed, there are so many considerations raised that I should prefer that my colleagues and I had more time to think about the nature, character, powers and constitution of the proposed new central authority. Its influence upon our national life will be so powerful in the future that we can well afford to take 252 our time in settling those matters. That is not to say that we can postpone the establishment of it until it is too late for it to be of any value. It means that we prefer to give the matter more thought until we come to the final conclusions.
Reference has been made to regional organisation. I am not anxious to raise any hornets' nest if I can avoid doing so. I may not be completely successful, but at least I am not looking for trouble. It can be said of regional organisation that it has proved to be an essential part of the structure of Government in war-time. Out of this experience, it may be that a change will take place in the outlook of people in regard to regions. I well remember the passage of the Education Act, 1918, which proposed to set up regional councils for higher education. That part of the Act was a complete dead letter. I have never known local authorities to be enthusiastic regionalists, but the common adversity of war-time has, I think, brought them more closely together. It may well be that, out of this experience of the Civil Defence Regions, we may be able to get some kind of permanent machinery to handle problems of a regional character. No doubt, if that were so, it would have its repercussions upon the State as well as upon local authorities.
How are we considering this question of national planning and all that it involves? Reference has been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street and other speakers to the Report of the Royal Commission on the distribution of the industrial population. The House must remember that that Report was not published until January, 1940. We had then been at war four months. At the time I was not a member of the Government, but I think it would be unreasonable to have expected the Government and the various Departments concerned to have given that problem much attention in those early days of the war. But the time has now arrived when we have to consider the Report and when we have to consider it in the light of the rushing, rapid industrial changes which have taken place during the pre-war years and during the war years. I therefore asked the Departments concerned if they would examine the Report—the majority and the minority Reports—from the point of view of their own particular duties and responsibilities. 253 That has been done, and we are now considering the next stage. The matter is now well launched, and a definite Government policy will, I hope, be reached without undue delay.
Another aspect which has been dealt with time and time again during fee Debate, and which was referred to by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, is the problem of the land. At this stage I do not want to raise any controversial issues, but it is clear—and it has been so expressed by every speaker—that you cannot plan unless you have some solution to the land problem. I am not pretending to put forward an answer at this stage. I am only saying that a planned economy of the land means some form of control of land use. That matter is now under active consideration by the expert Committee which was set up by my Noble Friend Lord Reith under Mr. Justice Uthwatt, to probe into the very complex questions which hitherto in our legislation we have not solved—questions of compensation and the difficulties which may arise from speculation in land values during the war. That seemed to me at the time to be a workmanlike way of beginning our consideration of this very large and difficult problem, and one hopes that the report will be received without undue delay. Indeed, I understand that the Committee has made very extensive progress with its investigations.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Lindsay) asked for a definition of my relations with my Noble Friend. Our relations, I may say, continue to be friendly; indeed, they have never been anything else, nor have I any reason to believe that they will ever deteriorate. I think that it is clear from what I have said to-day that Lord Reith's task deals with the physical aspect of all these big problems of rebuilding our towns and our countryside. It is a part of a task which is wide in its scope. That task, at any rate for the time being, falls under my guidance. The Ministry of Works and Buildings is a new Department, a Department which, in my view, and I think in the view of most Members of the House, is bound to become more rather than less important in the future. Other Departments, and there are many of them, are endeavouring, in co-operation with the Ministry of Works and Buildings, to work out the part that each 254 of them is to play in the making of the future. My partners in the great task are anxious to give of their best. They are concerned with me in mobilising all that is best in our national life, and in using what we have learned from the war so as to wring out of our present trials and tragedies a better Britain and a better world.
My hon. Friend, in very moving words towards the end of his speech, spoke about maintaining the present mood. Reconstruction after the war is only for human beings. The whole purpose of reconstruction is the enrichment of the life of our people, and it would be a sad thing if we so failed in our duties and responsibilities that the present fine temper of the people were allowed to evaporate at the end of the war. A people such as our people have proved themselves to be during these stirring months is a people worthy of a great future. If we play fair by them, if we hold out no hopes that may be illusory, if we offer to them a decent, civilised life and that measure of security to which as citizens of this powerful State they are entitled, I am sure that after victory they will march over the threshold of peace with pride of step and hearts eager to reap in a new human happiness the harvest sown in their trials and tribulations.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House, for the next Sitting Day. — [Major Dugdale.]