Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £44,137,531, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the charges for the following Departments connected with the Ministry of Works, and with
Building Costs for the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1944, namely:
|Class VII., Ministry of Works||3,580,890|
|Class X., Ministry of Works (War Services)||90|
|Class V., Ministry of Health||17,976,551|
|Class V., Ministry of Labour and National Service||22,580,000|
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works (Mr. Hicks)
The last occasion on which I had the opportunity of addressing the Committee on the functions and activities of the Ministry of Works was in March, 1941. At that date the Ministry was in large measure engaged in formulating policy in regard to the functions which it had recently been created to undertake. During the intervening two years a great deal of ground has been covered, and I am glad to have an opportunity to-day, before dealing with the problem of building costs, in which I know so many Members are keenly interested, of rendering some account of the stewardship of the functions and activities which I foreshadowed on that occasion. The Estimates under discussion make provision for all Departmental charges connected with the administration of the building and the supply services for which the Department is responsible, and with the direction and control of building and the building industry and the Goverment's building programme in so far as these matters fall within the province of the Ministry of Works.
I should like to begin by drawing attention to one or two major extensions of the Ministry's activities which have taken place during the past year. The Committee will no doubt recollect that when the Ministry was created in 1940 it was contemplated that it should, by agreement with the Service and Supply Departments, erect on their behalf new works and buildings not of a highly specialised character and undertake the supervision of contracts for the erection or extension of private factories required for war production. That was contemplated when we were set up. Implementing this policy, the Ministry of Works has by agreement carried out an increasing amount of work for the Service Departments, and, in the case of the Supply Departments, has taken over the whole of the work services of the 1234 Ministry of Aircraft Production, including responsibility for the supervision of the assisted or agency schemes carried out by private firms engaged on aircraft production work, and in regard to the Ministry of Supply all such services except the supervision of agency schemes carried out by private firms.
Another increase of the Department's activities of major importance is concerned with the production of opencast coal, the responsibility for which was taken over from the Ministry of Fuel and Power in December, 1942. The responsibility of the Ministry is restricted to the survey of the sites and the excavation and transport of coal to the railhead. The Ministry of Fuel and Power retain responsibility for the final selection of sites, for coal recovery and for the distribution and sale of the coal produced. This service is expanding rapidly, and weekly production during the past six months has risen until to-day and for several weeks past upwards of 100,000 tons weekly have been produced, and every effort is being made to increase production very substantially above that figure.
§ Mr. Tinker
I want to know when the hon. Gentleman's powers end. Does he give them up in restoring the site?
§ Mr. Hicks
I am coming to that part, if the hon. Member will give me permission. In the selection of sites for excavation, every effort is made to avoid interference with agricultural land, and no site is requisitioned without the consent of the Ministry of Agriculture and without their approval. The total site areas so far involved are comparatively limited, covering about 1,500 acres. Where agricultural sites have to be taken they will be reinstated when mining operations are completed in order that the land may again be used for agricultural purposes.
Turning now to a general review of the activities of the Ministry, I should like to group those in the following order, dealing in some detail with each of the groups in turn: (1) Construction and maintenance of buildings, (2) Provision of accommodation other than new construction, (3) Provision of stores, furniture and other equipment, and (4) Direction and 1235 control of building and of the building industry, in relation to the Government building programme; building and civil engineering contractors; building and civil engineering operatives; building materials, and civil building. The building and civil engineering construction programme of the Ministry has during the past year been maintained at a high level. That part of the Royal ordnance factory programme of the Ministry of Supply for which my Ministry is responsible is, in a large measure, complete, and the same remark applies to the programme for the Ministry of Health hospitals, the grain and general stores for the Ministry of Food, the hostel programme for the Ministries of Aircraft Production and of Supply, the Women's Land Army, and temporary accommodation hostels in vulnerable areas for the Ministry of Health. We have still in course of progress programmes of considerable magnitude for camps and hostels and prisoners of war camps. I take it that the Committee would be very happy if we were building a lot more prisoners of war camps. These are for the War Office. There are also refrigerated food stores and grain silos for the Ministry of Food and married quarters and depots for the Admiralty, inland sorting depots for the Ministry of War Transport, Civil Defence camps for the Ministry of Home Security and key farmworkers' cottages for the Ministry of Agriculture. In addition, there is the large number of new schemes for the Service and Supply Departments generally.
In addition to these Services, the Ministry expect to embark at an early date on a new programme of school kitchens to provide for the needs of upwards of 1,000,000 school children. In parenthesis, I might say that we have already equipment available to feed more than 3,000,000 children in schools with one hot meal per day off the ration. A further responsibility of the Ministry in constructional fields falls under the heading of emergency works and salvage recovery. We have built up a regional organisation with a specially recruited labour corps to assist local authorities in the organisation of labour and the provision of materials, to deal with first-aid repairs arising from air attacks. In this service the Ministry has the valued assistance of the 1236 Builders' Emergency Organisation, consisting of groups of small builders and building contractors, organised locally throughout the country, to provide immediate assistance to local authorities and other bodies when the need arises.
The Labour Corps, popularly known as the Special Repair Service Flying Squad and numbering some 3,500 building trade operatives, is primarily available to supplement local resources to deal with the more severe cases of air attack. They are also used to a considerable extent for the construction of preliminary camps to house building trade constructional workers on the inception of large-scale camp and hostel schemes, etc. Hon. Members are aware that many contractors when they go on to a site to engage in big building operations, frequently far removed from a town or perhaps from a number of villages, find that the question of billeting accommodation is a severe one. Men might have been directed to the job, but accommodation is not available for them. Where it is desirable, my Ministry undertake to build preliminary camps, and my flying squad go down to help their construction. They have mobile vans with sleeping accommodation and canteen facilities so that when the men come on to the job canteens are available and not only feeding facilities but sleeping accommodation also. The flying squad are mobile volunteers ready to go anywhere and live rough, if need be. They all come under that organisation and are willing to serve. Where necessary they are housed and fed in travelling caravans with kitchens. In addition, they have been and are being employed to carry out extensive repairs to bomb-damaged houses, and they have already dealt with more than 160,000 cases. Work of this kind is a vital contribution to the war effort. There are still vacancies for building trade operatives who are willing to join the flying squad. I have indicated that we have about 3,50o; I would be willing to make the squad up to approximately 5,000.
On maintenance, repairs and adaptation, we have 28,000 separate holdings or premises to maintain during the year.
Turning to the provision of accommodation, I would say that my Ministry is responsible for housing all civil Departments and the headquarters of the Service Departments. The number of premises on charge now exceeds 28,000 holdings. I say "holdings" instead of 1237 "buildings" because in some instances we have the whole building and in other instances may only have part of the building. We have 28,000 of them, with a total area of some 80,000,000 feet, of which roughly half is storage. During 1942 some 5,500 buildings have been taken, mainly on requisition. Compensation claims have been settled in respect of 92 per cent. of the premises requisitioned, and only about a dozen claims have had to be referred to the General Claims Tribunal for settlement.
Again, as my noble Friend has said in another place, the Ministry has played a great part in the provision and erection of huts. The number of Nissen huts erected since the beginning of the war is over 250,000. Those huts use a great deal of timber and steel. When those materials became short in supply it was necessary to change over to some form of hutting which did not use so much timber and steel, so six or seven types were chosen and proceeded with. Of these, 53,000 have been produced by my Ministry, and they are equivalent in accommodation to about 100,000 Nissen huts. Our standard hut is one that has been evolved by my Ministry and has now been found to be the most efficient and adaptable and enables a variety of building materials to be used—brick, concrete, asbestos cement sheets, plaster board or whatever may be necessary—for filling the sides.
§ Wing-Commander James (Wellingborough)
I should like to put a question on one point that has just been mentioned. The hon. Gentleman has spoken of 53,000 huts produced by his Ministry. Does he mean produced directly by the Department or by means of other firms?
§ Mr. Hicks
I mean produced for the Department. We employ a number of contractors. We have an ample stock of standard huts to meet all foreseeable requirements.
On the question of stores and supplies, the work of the Ministry as a supply agent has expanded greatly in both range and volume since the outbreak of war. In addition to being the supply agent for practically all civil Departments, the Ministry has taken over a wide range of supplies for the Service and Supply Departments, particularly in regard to things like fire-fighting equipment, canteen equipment for factories, 1238 hostels, hospitals and communal feeding centres, and the supply of welfare equipment for constructional camps on building sites. The Ministry is also responsible, as I have said, for a large supply of prefabricated huts to meet the needs of all the building Departments.
I turn now to the wider functions of the Ministry in relation to the direction and control of building and the building industry, in many aspects of which it is necessary to maintain close and continuous touch, not only with the industry, but with other Departments, especially the Ministry of Labour. Here I may say that the desirability of establishing a close connection with the various branches of the building and civil engineering industries, led my Minister to appoint an Advisory Council. The Council consists of representatives of employers' and operatives' organisations in England and Wales and Scotland, together with representatives from professional bodies comprising architects, civil engineers and quantity surveyors. This was done for the express purpose of mutual examination and consideration of problems and policies affecting the present and future position of those industries in relation to the demands of the national building and civil engineering programmes. This Council has already done most valuable work and will, I am confident, play an even greater part in the future.
The Government building programme is co-ordinated and controlled by the Minister of Works, acting under the authority of the Minister of Production. The basis of the control rests upon a system of labour allocation, balancing Departmental demands on the one hand with the available labour resources on the other. Departmental demands are investigated on merits, and allocations of labour are made quarterly to the Departments by the Minister of Production. Thereafter responsibility for the administration of the scheme rests with the Minister of Works. New works may not be started unless they satisfy the following conditions: (a) that the work is essential to the war effort; (b) that war-time economy standards of design have been embodied in the scheme; and (c) that the labour requirements can be met from the Departmental labour allocation. In practice all Departmental labour requirements are progress-checked systematically and the 1239 commencement of new works controlled to keep in balance with the labour supply position, in all of which operations the Ministry of Works keeps in close contact with the Ministry of Labour and the contracting Departments.
Another interesting aspect of the control of building is the control of heavy building and civil engineering plant. The demand for such plant is generally in excess of supply, and it is essential that no plant remains idle. In effect, all plant has been pooled under our direction, and arrangements have been made with the Federations of Contractors and Plant Hirers for operating a clearing-house system, including a permit system for any plant available for civilian use. Regional Plant Advisers have been appointed by my Minister to supervise the use of plant and to assist plant owners on maintenance and other problems.
In the matter of control and direction of the building industry, I should like to deal first with two aspects of the relationship of the Ministry to the building and civil engineering contracting firms. Under a Defence Regulation made in October, 1941, the Minister was empowered to call for the registration of all building and civil engineering firms, and the rendering of returns of labour employed by all such firms. It was made a condition of registration that they should observe terms and conditions of employment neither more nor less favourable than those fixed by joint agreement in the industry or by arbitration. It also provided for the control of hours of employment, including Sunday work, by the Minister, which for the time being has with certain defined exceptions been fixed at a maximum of 60 hours per working week. It may be of interest for hon. Members to note that, of the 82,000 undertakings registered at the end of 1942, some 32,000 firms returned no employees and only some 1,400 firms employed upwards of 100 operatives.
To advise him in regard to registered firms which do not observe the statutory conditions of employment, the Minister has appointed an Advisory Panel consisting of representatives of the national organisation of building and civil engineering contractors. Questions of the interpretation of trade agreements are referred to the appropriate joint negotiating body in the industry.
1240 The second point relates to the measures taken by the Minister to secure as equitable a spread as possible of Government contracts over the contracting field. These measures include, for example, restrictions on the total load which individual firms may at any time carry. This entails the maintenance of a contractors' record for all firms employing 100 men or more at the end of July, 1941. Firms on this list may be invited to tender for any work estimated to cost more than £25,000, but when their recorded load exceeds 60 per cent. of an assessed average turnover over the three years 1940, 1941, 1942, the average of which is taken, they are placed on a suspension list, and their load then of incompleted work has to fall below 40 per cent. of their assessed turnover before they are allowed to contract again. That is with a view to spreading work over as large a field as is practicable and possible. In June, 1943, out of some 900 undertakings on the central record, 49 were on the suspension list. Then there are regional records of all other firms which are similarly maintained to deal with contracts under £25,000 estimated value. Finally, my Minister has taken steps to stimulate the industry to form groups of small contractors for the purpose of tendering for building works which individually they would neither have the organisation, experience nor resource to undertake independently.
Arising out of the recent decision of the Government to accelerate the repair of houses severely damaged by enemy action, the Minister of Health, the Minister of Labour and my noble Friend decided on an extension of the grouping system to operate in areas where there were still large numbers of houses which could be made habitable of an average cost of, say, £200 per house. This was considered by the three Ministers to be the best way of ensuring that the work was carried out efficiently and economically and with the minimum of interference with the Government building programme by organising the work on the basis of large-scale operations rather than as isolated units. For this purpose, the Minister of Labour made special arrangements for the provision and direction of the necessary labour. It was accordingly decided to introduce where required a system of voluntary grouping, based on general principles already ap- 1241 proved by the Minister's Advisory Council. Firms are invited to group themselves under an approved leading contractor and to pool their labour resources, generally to an extent not exceeding half, to provide a balanced labour force for the work. Provision is made for the grouped firms to receive a share of the profits earned by the group out of a proportion of 12½ per cent. on labour and materials, and their profits will be based on man-hours worked, after a deduction of 2½ per cent. for the leading contractor for his administration of the contracts. This scheme is operating in 14 provincial centres and 15 London boroughs. Some 90 groups employing over 6,500 men are already at work and the number of groups will shortly exceed 100.
§ Mr. Hopkinson
Are we to understand that these people are remunerated on the basis of a fixed percentage on the labour and materials?
§ Major Petherick (Penryn and Falmouth)
Would the Minister read his last sentence again as some of us could not hear it?
§ Mr. Hicks
The principle is that, instead of tenders being invited for first-aid repairs to small houses, my Ministry decided that in regard to blitz damage they would invite contractors to go in and do the work on a cost-plus basis. It was thought that if contractors were invited to tender they might, in sheer desperation, being unable to tell the extent of the damage, quote an unsuitable price. Therefore, the Ministry of Home Security's figure of 12½ per cent. was accepted as the basis upon which the contractors should be asked to do the work. One contractor, accustomed to large-scale organisation, bulk purchasing and organisation and distribution of men, will be invited to take on a large number of houses, and he will invite small contractors to help him in doing the work. He will usually call for only about 50 per cent. of his personnel to assist him in doing this particular job. It was thought that for organising the job and the men and materials available in this way, the leading contractor should receive as his reward 2½ per cent. over the whole of the job. The other contractors would bring their men in and, according to the number of man-hours 1242 they put into the pool, they would receive their share of the remaining 10 per cent.
§ Mr. Hicks
I said that this scheme was introduced to make more houses habitable by first-aid repairs. It was definitely approached on the basis of large-scale operations. The Minister of Labour decided that if it was done on such a basis he would assist in providing labour, and would direct men to that end. My Ministry thought that it would be better to get one man to act as our agent, and to get others to assist him. I have mentioned the number of groups formed. In 14 provincial centres and 15 London boroughs 90 groups have now been formed, and we expect shortly to have over 100 groups.
§ Mr. Key (Bow and Bromley)
Could my hon. Friend assure us that in carrying out this work there will be no interference with the ordinary programme of the local authority in doing its first-aid repairs and that men will not be directed away from those operations merely to make a success of another scheme, which will not give us any more repairs to the houses in the locality? Many local authorities feel that there is a danger of men being taken away from programmes which they have already arranged, to carry on this work.
§ Mr. Hicks
In a blitzed area, when the local authority start to do their first-aid repairs, that will be continued, and will not be interfered with. Whatever arrangements the Ministry of Health have with local authorities will not be interfered with. This is definitely an effort to repair a certain number of houses, which ordinarily would be left outside, and to bring them back into commission. It is not intended to take labour from anyone. It is intended for this specific purpose: to bring this number of houses back into repair.
§ Mr. Hicks
One of the prime necessities is to get as many houses as we can back into commission. This scheme was devised to bring houses back on a large scale. The Minister and the War Damage Commission will appoint representatives to examine the houses. They will report to the local authority, and the local authority will report to my Ministry. As soon as they are completed, this scheme, as far as I am aware, is finished, and the men may return to their normal work.
§ Mr. Austin Hopkinson (Mossley)
I understand that the contractors are to be paid on a time-and-line system. I think the Committee is entitled to hear from the hon. Gentleman a justification of that system.
§ Mr. Hicks
The reason why the system of time and line was decided upon was that it is extremely difficult to estimate the amount of damage done by shock or vibration. If the work were submitted to individual tender, extraordinary care would have to be taken by the contractor to justify his price. Either he might, out of sheer desperation, put in a price upon which he would lose, or, in order to insure himself against contingencies which are not immediately apparent, he would have to cover himself by charging an extraordinarily high price. It is not like contracting for a new building.
§ Mr. Hicks
That is so. There has not been universal acceptance of this pro- 1244 posal, because some contractors felt they were not getting adequate compensation.
Turning now to the Ministry's responsibilities in relation to the production and control of labour, the first point with which I would like to deal is the Essential Work Order applicable to building and civil engineering labour, made by the Ministry of Labour, after consultation with my Ministry, in June, 1941. Under this Order some 8,500 sites have been scheduled, and, at the present time there are 2,600 sites, employing approximately 235,000 operatives. One of the conditions of scheduling under the Order is that a system of payment by results must be applied where practicable and desirable. A scheme covering some of the most general building and civil engineering operations was introduced in July, 1941, and this has been gradually extended at intervals, and now covers approximately 500 building and civil engineering operations and roughly 80 per cent. of the total operations in the building and civil engineering industries. The bonus schedules are fixed by my Ministry, and in the administration of the scheme the Minister has had, throughout, the assistance of a Joint Advisory Panel composed of the representatives of the employers' and operatives' organisations in the industries. The basic output rates for all operations have been fixed with due regard to the fact that the great majority of the younger men have been called to the Forces and to the conditions generally under which work has now to be carried on.
Hon. Members will know that the building industry agreements are based on plain time rates. The bonus scheme had to be grafted on to this, and the schedules have been so framed as in general to afford the maximum inducements to increased output by the average worker of to-day. Payment-by-results Advisers have been appointed to advise contractors as to the operation of the system and to supervise its operation, with power to advise on any necessary adjustments to meet particular local conditions.
Another point related to the application of the Essential Work Order is the obligation upon contractors to provide reasonable living and feeding facilities for the operatives. The special conditions attaching to many of the large-scale constructional schemes in the 1245 Government building programme have entailed great numbers of men, including the older men, working away from home, often in remote places—and very remote, some of them—and under rough conditions, and this' in turn has entailed the application of special measures to provide reasonable living and canteen accommodation, and emergency medical services and recreational and transport facilities on many sites. It has also entailed the provision, in many cases, of protective clothing and rubber boots, and in the provision of these amenities the Ministry of Works has worked in close co-operation with the Ministry of Labour and its Factory and Welfare Inspectors, and with the Board of Trade.
Another aspect of industrial relations is the special consideration which has been given by the Ministry to the promotion of good industrial relations on the sites themselves. With the encouragement of both sides of the industry operatives and employers, a scheme has been promoted whereby trade-union representatives are appointed to large constructional sites or groups of sites to assist in preserving industrial good will, resolving grievances and acting as the mouthpiece of the workers' or operatives' point of view to the employer. All reports combine to show that this system has been most beneficial to good will and site production. So far, 52 such representatives have been appointed, covering the major sites in the Government building programme. The Department has also watched and studied with great interest the development of joint committees of operatives and employers of building and civil engineering works. This war-time development has also been most helpful in increasing production.
§ Mr. Colegate
Are these 52 representatives employed by the Department of Works or are they paid by the contractors?
§ Mr. Hicks
No. One activity of the Department which is being pursued very actively at the present time is the introduction of measures to secure better organisation of sites to deal with difficulties and delays arising out of winter working and wet weather. I am sure that many hon. Members understand some of the difficulties of working outside under wet and wintry conditions, and generally in the past work was suspended owing to bad weather conditions. With a view to getting some protection for the workers, there has been a very definite effort made by my Ministry to deal with the question of winter working and wet weather. It has been a very definite contribution to the totality of output.
Finally, under this head, I would like to refer to the measures which are at the present time in their initial stages, to deal with the problem of the training of adults and apprentices to meet post-war building requirements. This matter was brought to the notice of the House in the White Paper on Training and Education in the industry, which the Minister of Labour and my noble Friend were able jointly to present to the House last February. Following the admirable report of the Education Committee of the Central Council which was appointed by Lord Reith when he was the Minister, the Minister of Labour is taking steps with regard to the training of adults, while my Minister is responsible for the training of apprentices. My noble Friend has accordingly set up a Building Apprenticeship and Training Council, with Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve as chairman. This Council, on which are represented educational, as well as industrial and professional interests, will have the vital task of ensuring that the right number and the right quality of young craftsmen are trained to meet all requirements of the post-war building industry including management.
I would like now to refer to the responsibility of the Ministry in regard to building materials. The control of timber and steel is, as hon. Members are aware, under the general direction of the Ministry of Supply, and my Department's concern with building materials is generally confined to bricks, cement, roofing and a number of other very necessary materials. Up to the present time there has not been serious shortage under any of these heads. In fact, as far as bricks are concerned, 1247 the problem has mainly been one of falling demand, due in large measure to the temporary forms of construction adopted for buildings erected for war purposes only, and in particular of the widespread use of prefabricated hutting. Generally the system of control over production and distribution of these materials is voluntary and is exercised through the medium of various associations connected with the industry and not under compulsory powers. It may interest the Committee to know that a National Brick Advisory Council set up in August, 1942, to advise the Minister on questions connected with the brick industry, including care and maintenance, closed works, haulage rates, prices, technical questions affecting manufacture and the post-war organisation of the industry. Owing to the steadily reducing demand for bricks, production has fallen to some 2,000,000,000 per annum. Under the care and maintenance scheme which has been put into force by the Ministry 318 works have been closed. Under this scheme a levy of 3s. per 1,000 bricks is raised for care and maintenance purposes. Out of this amount the industry bears 1s. and the purchaser the other 2s. The money is put into a common pool and used to maintain boilers, plant and other things which are necessary in the brickyards, so that when we are ready to say "Go" we shall be able to go right ahead and not have derelict brickyards on our hands. The contributions are in respect of care and maintenance of the works closed under this scheme and are made on the basis of the average production of these works for a fixed period. The existing stocks of bricks amount at the present time to just over 930,000,000, showing that we have reserves to meet all ordinary demands.
§ Mr. Hicks
I will try to come to that later, although I could not accept the statement that they are twice the amount they used to be. Prices vary as I have been trying to indicate in Questions which have been put to me in this House.
The production of cement has been maintained in adequate supply at more or less the pre-war level. One interest- 1248 ing innovation during the past year has been the delivery of cement in bulk by means of specially designed lorries, which have been largely used to take cement to airfields for runways. This has affected a substantial saving in paper bags and jute sacks. There are about 200 vehicles carrying cement in this way, and about 6,000,000 paper bags have been saved, equal to 1,500 tons of paper. It is estimated that during 1943 deliveries in bulk will amount to over 250,000 tons, showing the development which has taken place in the distribution of this very important commodity to the building and civil engineering industries.
Prior to October, 1940, there was no control over civil building, although permits had to be obtained for the purchase of certain building materials such as steel, timber and non-ferrous metals. To meet the growing demands of the Government's building programme it became necessary to limit the use of building labour and material to essential war requirements, and a Defence Regulation was introduced to control civil building operations. Originally, the control applied to new works of construction exceeding £500 in value, but since that date this figure has been reduced to £100 and the control extended to include works of repair, decoration, maintenance and the like. Approximately two-thirds of the applications for constructional licences are granted on the grounds that the work to be done is essential to the war effort. Under the licensing system building plans are submitted for scrutiny and are examined from the point of view of economy in design and the use of scarce materials. Savings effected have been 10,000 standards of timber, 64,000 tons of steel and 10,000 tons of cast iron.
It is the Ministry's duty to devise measures which will secure economy in methods of construction and the use of materials, in particular materials which are in short supply in war-time. It is the policy of the Ministry, as regards building construction, to operate through Codes of Practice which lay down the methods by which various buildings or civil engineering elements can be assembled so as to produce an efficient structure with the minimum expenditure of material and effort. Hitherto no single authority has been responsible for producing such codes, and there has been no centralised body to see that the whole 1249 field is covered. After considerable discussion with the various professional institutions and bodies that have in the past produced Codes of Practice the Minister has, with their general agreement, established a Central Codes of Practice Committee to handle such matters. This Committee has already laid down a framework to secure that the whole ground is adequately covered, and is at present engaged in the production of the necesary Codes applicable to house building.
The Minister has also established a Post-war Building Directorate to study standards and standardisation, with particular regard to the standardisation of materials and standard specifications for different types of buildings and building structures. The Directorate works through a series of Study Committees consisting of experts in their particular branches. In some cases these Committees may indicate whether experiments or standards would be useful as leading to mass production. In other cases, they may provide the information that would enable the different industries to start their own investigations of mass production possibilities and standardised articles.
The Minister has recently made two important appointments, one to deal with experimental building development, with the object of ensuring that any promising suggestions may be submitted to practical tests, and the other in the form of a Building Costs Research Officer to undertake a systematic analysis into building costs with the object of breaking up into constituent parts the cost of different classes of building work. From the data obtained it will be possible to concentrate on the most economic forms of construction, having regard to the material and labour resources likely to be available in the post-war period.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)
The Parliamentary Secretary has said that his Department are looking scientifically into costs. Can he say whether he has definitely turned down the suggestion, made in the House some time ago, for the appointment of a special committee to look into costs, an independent committee?
§ Mr. Hicks
I cannot answer that without notice, but on my part there is no objection to any investigation into anything I say or do at any time.
Hon. Members are aware that my noble Friend also decided to send to the United States a small mission whose object it will be to see that whatever is to be learnt from their experience and practice will be applied to the solution of the post-war problems. My Ministry has been fortunate in having secured for this purpose the assistance of my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. Bossom), Sir George Burt, of the firm of Mowlem & Co., Mr. Wolstencroft, General Secretary of the Amalgamated Society of Woodworkers and Vice-President of the Trades Union Congress, and Sir James West, a practising architect in my Ministry.
The necessity for economy in the use of materials in war-time led to the establishment of a Directorate of Constructional Design. This Directorate collects and collates information regarding economical designs and methods from all sources, scrutinises plans for both Government and civil buildings and circulates information both inter-departmentally and to the public on a variety of points on which economies have been found practicable. Recently the Directorate published for the benefit of designers generally a booklet called "The Standard of War-time Building," which contains a summary of all the useful information collated and collected during the past two and a half years. This publication has been very well received by the trade and technical Press, and 20,000 copies have already been sold. In addition, bulletins have been prepared on timber economy, canteen design and equipment and prefabricated huts.
Finally, as a purely war-time measure, there exists an inter-departmental Wartime Building Materials Standardisation Committee responsible for the preparation, distribution and enforcement of reduced war-time standards in building materials and equipment.
As I have already mentioned, the effect of the Government's decision in the White Paper of the Minister of Labour and my noble Friend is to lay down a total of 1,250,000 operatives in the building industry as the basis on which the planned post-war programme 1251 of building is to be formulated. The programme is being divided into two major parts—the first two years of peace, which must be an interim period largely of repairs of overdue and postponed work, and the long-term period of the subsequent ten years. Certain vital decisions have yet to be taken, but, irrespective of these decisions, my Ministry, with the assistance of other Government Departments, has gone sufficiently far in the study of the work which will have to be carried out immediately after the war to enable me to say that enough projects, whether postponed or deferred work, essential rebuilding and replacing, repairs and maintenance and the like, are in sight to occupy such labour as will in the immediate postwar period be available.
§ Mr. Selley (Battersea, South)
Of the 1,250,000, I assume that 500,000 will be mechanics, that they will be bricklayers, joiners, plasterers and so on?
§ Mr. Hicks
I thank the hon. Member for raising the point. It is essential for the efficient running of an industry that they shall have a balanced labour organisation, and the number of craftsmen who will be required is receiving attention by my Ministry, the Ministry of Labour and by the industry itself. We have the valuable assistance of the industry, both employers and operatives, with technical and professional men. All this has been subjected to the most complete examination by these people. Out of 1,250,000, there will be roughly 500,000 who would be craftsmen in the ordinary sense and the others would be supplementary. That is the correct way of balancing the labour force.
My noble Friend is proposing to check with the various Departments and authorities that there have been or will be the necessary decisions, plans and sanctions to enable work to go ahead as soon as the labour can be made available. I can assure the Committee of that. The Minister has devoted a lot of time and industry to it, and anyone who knows him will readily testify that the matter is not being allowed to drift. He is making the necessary inquiries and seeing that the necessary decisions, plans and sanctions are available to allow the work to go ahead. This preliminary programme is now sufficiently defined to allow general decisions as to priorities and allocations, 1252 supply of materials, import of timber, etc., to be taken, and we are confident that the way will be cleared for work to be put in hand immediately the war ends.
It must be emphasised also that after the preliminary period an increasingly large part of the national building programme will be initiated by private enterprise. If the programme as a whole is to be properly balanced and diversified and spread regionally over the whole country, and with assurance of adequate labour and materials, both private works and Government and local government works must be combined in one whole, and the machinery to enable this to be done with the least difficulty and friction is being studied.
Turning now to the question of building costs, it is in the first place necessary to emphasise that there is no single figure that can be quoted for the level of building costs. The classes of work and the conditions of work vary so greatly that both output and value of work may differ by a very large percentage. Generally speaking, the conditions of war are inimical to cheap building, and I must invite the Committee's attention to some of the circumstances which exist now but will not exist in post-war building—increased labour costs due to overtime and emergency Sunday working, the cost of fares and travelling time and lodging allowances, high wages payable in low rated districts to workmen compulsorily transferred to those districts, and carrying with them their home rate of wages, the use of designated craftsmen as labourers at craftsmen's rates, the increased cost of materials on the site owing to abnormal transport costs, such as compulsory use of rail transport in lieu of road transport for other than short haulage, involving double handling, breakage and delay; the use of substitutes for materials in short supply; unascertainable costs of lessened output due to the call-up for military service of the younger workers, the use of men on unfamiliar work, reduced output per hour on the longer working week and the lower output of designated craftsmen employed on labourers' work.
My noble Friend has given in another place the figure of 105 per cent. as the estimated increase in cost of building houses (in the particular case of the 3,000 agricultural houses built, or to be 1253 built, in twos and fours in rural areas all over the country) over the normal cost of similar houses built in pre-war conditions, and this figure has been borne out by the tenders received. Where construction is on a large scale and in different conditions, the rise in costs of typical building such as is carried out nowadays would, undoubtedly, be less, but the factors to which I have referred are so variable in their incidence, not only between different types of work but also between different jobs of the same type, that any generalisations would inevitably be open to criticism. I have been asked on a number of occasions how many bricks a bricklayer would lay per day. Hon. Members very genuinely seek that information, and if I were able to give it to them I would. But I may say that they are not the first to discover this question. Their fathers were asking the same question, and I think it very likely that their children will be asking it also. Any statement about the number of bricks laid by a bricklayer per day would have to be in relation to a particular job, and if an hon. Member were to make a statement about the number of bricks that were being laid to-day, I should probably be in a position to contradict him next week, even in relation to the same job. It is impossible to give the number unless the particular job is specified, also the nature and class of the work and the conditions in which it is being carried out, as well as other factors.
§ Mr. Craven-Ellis (Southampton)
At the time when the hon. Gentleman was serving in the building trade how many bricks did he lay on a 9-inch wall, unpointed on both sides, in a day of ten hours—because those were the hours which were worked in his time?
§ Mr. Hicks
I did not have time to count them up. In addition to the factors to which I have referred, which will not exist in post-war building, there has been an increase in building trade labour rates and also in the cost of materials ex works and in transport charges. These factors are common to all industries. They are not peculiar to the building industry. They may apply with greater severity in certain instances, but they are common to all. Actually the rise in rates of wages in the building industry is not out of step with those in other industries. In case I am challenged on that point, I may say that I have examined the hourly basic 1254 rates in the building industry, and they are between 21 and 29 per cent. up on the pre-war rates. Even allowing for the effect of bonusing, longer hours and overtime, the same is true of the rise of total earnings of building operatives as compared with other industries. A very large part of the building programme has depended on temporarily transferred men, living in hostels or billets away from their homes and working day after day in all sorts of weather. A considerable portion, too, of the labour in the building industry was not engaged in that industry before the war. Nevertheless, in spite of these difficulties a vast programme of work has been carried through.
As regards the future, when the special war-time factors to which I have referred disappear, improved organisation new methods and management should, in our opinion, more than pay the cost of such reforms as the guaranteed week and holidays with pay which we hope to see as a permanent part of the structure of the industry. We at the Ministry are engaged in an intensive study of the individual items which make up the cost of building. We are developing experimental work in all suitable directions, and I see no reason why, by a joint effort of all concerned, costs should not be brought down to a reasonable figure.
I must ask the Committee to forgive me for sticking closely to the notes which I have prepared on these matters. I have not had an opportunity, since March, 1941, to address hon. Members upon the work of the Ministry. Many times I have had to deal with matters within the limits of a Parliamentary reply on which I would have liked to have given a fuller statement. I felt that in this case, without going into all of the many ramifications for which the Ministry is responsible, I would try to concentrate on giving a general statement to the Committee upon the work of the Ministry and the steps that have been taken, particularly in regard to building. I hope that I have not failed in that. Our energies and our thoughts are attuned to this task; we are working assiduously, with the co-operation of employers, operatives and manufacturers, to make the building industry as efficient as possible, in order that it may be able to carry out not only its war-time work but also the great responsibility of re- 1255 building Britain which will be placed upon it after the war.
§ Mr. Hopkinson
We understood that this Debate was to be on building costs, but the Minister has spent only two or three minutes in dealing with that subject and has given us only one or two figures. Could we not have more information from him upon it?
§ Mr. Hopkinson
We were told that this was to be the occasion for a discussion on the cost of building.
§ Mr. Colegate
Would the Minister clear up a point in connection with one figure given by him? He said that there were 82,000 building undertakings registered, to which forms had been sent, and that 32,000 of these building trade employers made nil returns. Does that mean that 32,000 of them have gone out of business during the war?
§ Mr. Selley
May I say that I do not think that is quite correct? My own son, now a serving soldier, had a staff of 300 men, and his return now would be nil or minus. That is a case of a firm which has been in existence for 5o years. Because of the war both he and his staff have been taken away, and I am rather anxious to know how he is to be brought back into the picture when the war is over.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke)
In order that we may get this Debate into correct perspective, may I draw the attention of hon. Members to the Order Paper, from which they will see that the Votes for the Ministry of Works, the Ministry of Health, and the Ministry of Labour and National Service are being taken to-day? The country, and the building industry in particular, will welcome these proceedings and a statement of the facts that should assist in dispersing the clouds of suspicion that have hung round this Ministry for far too long. The Parlia- 1256 mentary Secretary has given a most informative account of two years' work of his Department and has brought out many new facts. I hope that whoever is to reply will give more facts in answer to certain questions which are bound to be raised in the course of the Debate.
The building industry and civil engineering in this country have made a great contribution to our four-year national effort. Let me remind hon. Members and certain hon. Members in particular of some part of that contribution. A £10,000,000 factory was erected in the North of England in nine months, and an 8,000,000 factory was erected in the North West area in 10 months. The country appreciates the magnificent work that is being carried out by the Royal Air Force nightly over Germany and Italy, but it could never have been carried out had it not been for the contribution made by the building industry in the construction of aerodromes in a short time. Aerodromes have been completed long before the estimated time —
§ Mr. Hopkinson
The hon. Member said, what is quite correct, that many aerodromes have been completed before the time. I merely reminded him for his own information that a very large number had been completed many months after the time.
§ Mr. Smith
The hon. Member knows, or ought to know, that there is an answer to that point. If he will go to the Vote Office and look up the Reports of the Select Committee on National Expenditure, he will see that in nearly every case, a satisfactory explanation can be given of any job which has not been completed within the estimated time. Aerodromes have 'been built more quickly in this country than in any country in the world, more quickly than they have been built in Germany, where so many—
§ Mr. Pickthorn (Cambridge University)
Does the hon. Member think it easier to compare the time expended in building aerodromes than the energy expended on laying bricks in this part of the world?
§ Mr. Smith
I want us to be fair to one another. All I was doing was, to give credit where credit is due. This country has made a great contribution to the effect of the United Nations, and seeing that this is the first opportunity we have had for two years to give credit in this matter, I think the House of Commons should place on record some of the concrete facts in order that the country may know what has been achieved. Therefore, I ask hon. Members to let me put the true facts on record, and later, when we come to costs or other aspects of the industry, I do not mind how many interruptions there are. Interruptions will suit me then, because the workers have such a great case that there is no need to fear interruptions. I was saying that aerodromes have been built more quickly in this country than in any other country in the world, including Germany. I emphasise Germany, because it used to come very hard when I heard the hon. Member and others before the war holding up Germany as an example of what we should achieve in this country.
The conditions under which men worked at Scapa Flow were terrible. Mr. Richard Coppock, the Secretary of the National Federation of Building Trade Operatives, with the support of the trade unions, went there to stress the urgency of the work, and the men worked in the depth of winter and completed the work in record time. I know one large factory, one of the largest in the country, which was severely bombed, and I shall never forget how the men worked to rebuild that factory. It was rebuilt in record time, and Lancaster bombers were being turned out much more quickly than was expected as the result. In the policy of site control —I wish the hon. Member was present to hear me on this—all interests have cooperated to get the best results. In the North of England the shop stewards organised competitions to speed up construction.
During last winter the men worked all night under artificial light, in rain and in snow, with no carpets on the floor—it is necessary to remind some hon. Members of that—with no rubber boots, no drying sheds for their clothes when they got wet. All the time they went on working. They worked under those conditions in order to prepare for this year's offensive. I stress that, because our people have been great 1258 in this war. In all circles and in all walks of life, with the exception of a small minority, we have a mighty contribution in the world battle for freedom. We belong to a great people. It is our people who have made this country great, and because of that the stock of the British people throughout the world is higher now than it ever was in our history. Our task is to be worthy of that greatness in the future.
My hon. Friends on this side of the Committee, and it is for them I am speaking, are rightly concerned with the Government policy in regard to the repair of houses in the bombed areas. I hope this matter is going to be treated more as a question of urgency than it has been in the past. Too many of our people are living in rooms, in conditions they ought not to be living in, and where houses have been bombed they should be repaired as soon as possible and as good a job as possible made of the work, because people may have to live in those houses for years after the war. These people have already suffered terribly, and the least we can do is to make them as comfortable as possible. I understand that the industry is not now working to capacity, and therefore I think it reasonable to suggest that more men should be put on to repair work and that paper, glass and other materials should be made available as soon as possible. When our men come home from the Services they should not be expected to live in rooms. They are entitled to expect to be fitted up in decent houses as soon as possible. I suggest that —250, which I understand is the maximum amount which can be spent on repairs, is too low, especially when we compare that amount with the cost of the new cottages for agricultural workers.
Yesterday the Minister of Health made a statement on this aspect of our problem. I have not had the opportunity of examining it to enable me to speak in a competent way about it. It may be that a change has been made. I hope that every hon. Member who has regard for the welfare of the people will stress this matter, so that the House may bring as much pressure as possible on the Government to see that people who have been bombed out are rehoused as soon as possible. The Minister said that he was engaged in a scheme for providing kitchens to feed over 1,000,000 children.
1259 We welcome that. It is a big step in the right direction. It reminds me of the film "World of Plenty." It was good to see that film, because running through it is the philosophy that we are working for. I understood the Minister to say that 90 per cent. of compensation claims had been settled, and I should like to ask whether that means that compensation has been applied for in regard to all requisitioned buildings. If so, the position is much better than I have been led to believe, and I think that that statement will eliminate a good deal of misunderstanding in the country with regard to requisitioned buildings.
§ Mr. Smith
In regard to the mobile emergency repair organisation, we wish to express gratitude for the very good work which has been done in the industrial areas where there has been bombing, but I want to ask the Minister whether, in view of the changed strategical position, we can now have a revision of the priorities. For example, we all expected that the attack on our shipping would be much greater. We know that as a result of the application of science and engineering and all the work being carried out by our coastal command, we are now getting on top of the U-boat. In addition, as a result of our record of the past six months, many more ships have arrived here than were expected, and food and an enormous amount of materials have been received. The Mediterranean is now completely controlled by the United Nations and by Britain in particular. This saves thousands of miles in journeys and, therefore, much shipping. Seeing that there is such an acute shortage of timber in the country can we now have some of this shipping turned on to bringing timber here from the Soviet Union or countries who are sympathetic to the United Nations?
I received this letter to-day, and it has given me some concern. It is from a Co-operative Society and reads as follows:I am instructed to send you a copy of a circular received from the C.W.S. re the introduction of a war-time emergency paint and to request you to notice that co-operative societies have been completely ignored, although they have been distributors of paint, varnish, etc., for many years. My Committee feel strongly on this matter as it seems a deliberate boycott and typical of what the co-operative movement has to put up with.1260 Let me give an extract from a letter of the Co-operative Wholesale Society, dated 20th July:You are probably aware of the intention of the Government to place on the market war-time emergency paint … The whole arrangements in this connection have been outlined by the Ministry of Works and it has been ascertained that in selecting the favoured retailers a number of trade organisations were approached. From the names submitted by these bodies a selection was made by an official of the Ministry of Works, sufficient to cover most of the towns … Some 2,000 distributors have been selected but not a single Co-operative Society has been included in the list.We are bound to take a very serious view of that, and I hope the Minister will have it looked into.
The United Nations are fighting against a lowering of the standards of life. I understood that that was one of our war aims. Yet we are lowering the standards in the cottages which are being built for agricultural workers. The pre-war standards were already too low. Therefore, we protest against this policy of lowering the standards. Here are the facts according to my understanding. The Ministry of Works in their plans show a height of 7 feet. 6 inches in the ground floor rooms as against 8 feet in the Ministry of Health plans. Even in the Ministry of Health plans the height is too low, and those of us who have noticed the increase in tuberculosis are bound to be concerned about this. Although we make any reasonable allowances because we are at war, we say these standards ought not to have been lowered as they have been. The larder accommodation is not as it should be. The Ministry of Works show a wash boiler in the bathroom on the ground floor, whereas the Ministry of Health plans show the wash boiler in a seperate wash house in the outbuilding. The Ministry of Works has no provision for a wash basin in the bathroom. The Ministry of Health indicate a cylinder cupboard on the bedroom floor, while in the Ministry of Works plan the cylinder appears to be exposed in the kitchen. The Ministry of Health show built-in wardrobes in all bedrooms, as against the Ministry of Works screened recess. The living room in the Ministry of Works plan is too small. The W.C. window vent on the Ministry of Works plan is inadequate and does not even comply with most by-laws. These are the main facts with regard to the plans, and we protest against the lowering of the 1261 standards which they show even in wartime.
The delay and the statements made in regard to agricultural houses have created a great deal of concern which would have been unnecessary had the question been tackled in a different way. I hope that we shall have some of this concern cleared up to-day by a statement of the facts. In the first place, who was responsible for suggesting the lowering of the standards? In the second place who suggested the specifications? Finally, who endorsed the plans? The reduction in standards is regrettable and dangerous and is a great step backwards to which the country ought never to have been a party. There was a serious housing shortage after the last war. People were forced to live in caravans as a result. Many of these have been condemned for years and yet in some cases people are still living in them. That is an indication of the danger of agreeing to a reduction in standards of this character, and we are bound to place on record our view with regard to it.
I will next turn to building costs. I was employed at the bench for 25 years on piece work, which was administered by one of the most efficient firms in the country and some of the biggest men engaged in industry, who, therefore, knew what that meant. I always thought that our work in relation to others was always too cheap. I hope the status of the manual worker will never be lowered again and that, within reason, in proportion to our increase in output, it will be steadily improved. People who are managing big-scale business have a big outlook, but we get also the old Elizabethan, narrow outlook, without any vision, exhibiting itself in certain quarters, and it has been largely responsible for holding this country back during the past 20 years. Costs can be reduced by efficient organisation and efficient management, and production can be obtained if a policy of that character is carried out providing there is at the same time a maximum turnover. For far too long we have kept costs down in this country, particularly in the mining, engineering and building industries, by treating the workpeople in a manner in which they ought never to have been treated.
§ Mr. Craven-Ellis
Does the hon. Gentleman intend to convey that we have kept costs down, particularly in the industry 1262 with which he has been associated, engineering, and in building and other directions, by forcing the wages of labour down?
§ Mr. Smith
I unhesitatingly say that costs have been kept down in the mining industry in particular, and in the building and engineering industries, by treating the workpeople as they ought never to have been treated and by reducing wages to the extent they should not have been. If the hon. Member likes to pursue that point, we will produce evidence to prove it.
§ Mr. Smith
I know certain firms in the engineering industry which have not fulfilled their obligations under national agreements. Let us admit that we are living in an abnormal period. Therefore, there are bound to be costs that will not recur after the war, such as costs due to the Essential Work Orders, the effect of the call-up for military service, men living away from home, transport difficulties, the uniformity agreement, welfare work, zoning of transport, urgency of contract and craftsmen doing labourers' work. All these have added to costs. But they all had to be carried out, they were all essential in organising this country in order to win the war. If hon. Members have followed developments in this country during the war, I cannot understand their quibbling over this matter as they have been doing in the last 12 months. In industry we want the maximum of production in the minimum of time, and we are also concerned about costs. We want efficiency, planning, processing, checking of costs and modern accountancy, and I understand from the statement made by the Parliamentary Secretary that that is the policy of the Ministry of Works. If anyone thinks that the workpeople in this industry are not in the main giving the output they should, let him go to the Vote Office and get a copy of the White Paper on payment by results. Some of us have had experience of working under the system of payment by results and know what it means. In factories that are run on a scientific basis, they now take films of the operations performed, and those films are studied by specialists who cut out individual operations which are unnecessary. Therefore, those who are 1263 critical of our industries are being critical of managements, and if some of them had had more responsibility in management, they would not indulge in those criticisms.
Many of our houses are now becoming dilapidated. Can something be done to carry out more repairs to housing, or is that asking too much at the present time? Can we have an undertaking that attention will be given to the repair of houses immediately on the termination of hostilities? In the last war, when in France and Germany, I used to think that the speeches made by the statesmen of that day were really meant, that their promises would be carried out, but during the last 20 years I have been slowly disillusioned. I waited 10 years for a house after the last war. That must not happen to anyone after this war. Our people have shown themselves too great in this war to be treated as my generation were treated. Is the Ministry doing all it can to see that houses are provided as soon as possible after the war? We welcome the statement made by the Parliamentary Secretary, but is there the sense of urgency behind it that there ought to be? I am asking for an investigation and for the necessary preparations to be made. The Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, the Ministry of Works and the Ministry of Labour are all involved. We want to avoid a repetition of our experiences over planning for agricultural houses. There were too much delay, too much vacillation, too much quibbling between the Departments over agricultural housing. Can steps be taken to reconcile the various interests and to speed up decisions and the execution of them?
Necessity is the mother of invention. Our war needs have produced new ideas and new materials. The production of aluminium, duralumin and other light metals has been perfected. Could not we use more of them in the building industry, for tons will be available immediately hostilities cease. There are great possibilities there, and I hope that point will be considered. I understood from the Parliamentary Secretary that the Government have appointed an expert or a department to go into the question of how science can be applied to this industry. Many of our war needs have been supplied, and the production of many things of which supplies were short 1264 has been increased, by science, research and experimentation. Are we experimenting with research in the building industry to the same extent? Are we preparing to equip our post-war houses with labour-saving appliances like washing machines and refrigerators? When they were bombing us the Axis Powers did not spare our public buildings, schools and churches, and that needs to be underlined. We shall have to rebuild many of our towns and cities and many of our public buildings. We did not receive any warning before the bombing of London, Coventry, Manchester, Glasgow and other places was carried out.
§ Mr. Smith
The result is that those areas suffered to a greater extent than people living elsewhere who have not gone through that experience realise. I understand that as soon as possible after the war 4,000,000 houses will be required. Manchester alone will require 70,000 and Stoke-on-Trent 30,000. The Ministry of Works have a great responsibility. This House has a great responsibility for the lack of preparations to meet the worsening international situation, and now the Ministry of Works in particular and the Government in general have a great responsibility to prepare for the post-war situation.
Most of us welcome the plans prepared for the future London. I understand it was the Minister of Works who asked the London County Council to prepare those plans. If so, I want to protest. During the past two years there has been too great a tendency to concentrate on London. London is not England. Lancashire and North Staffordshire have poured out wealth for years and years, and yet in those areas we still have the legacy of the dark old days and the conditions they produced. If it was right to ask London to plan on bold lines, it was right to ask the whole country to plan on bold lines, and in particular the industrial parts—Lancashire, North Staffordshire, the North East coast and elsewhere. We need more life, energy and drive in our post-war preparations. A well-known figure in this country has stated that we are giving too much attention to post-war questions. Let me make it clear that we on this side put 1265 the winning of the war before everything else, that we say that nothing must stand in the way of the successful prosecution of the war, but just as we stood for four of five years advocating preparations to enable us to stand up to the worsening international situation—
§ Mr. Smith
I am sorry. I should have welcomed an opportunity to pursue the point, but, of course, I bow to your Ruling, Major Milner. This House of Commons is an example of how debate should be conducted, and therefore one must take notice of a Ruling of that character and I must restrain myself, although I am very much tempted to deal with a provocative interruption of that kind. A friend of mine did me a good turn by sending me a copy of a book called "Close-up of our Towns", and I think everyone who has not read it should certainly do so. It is in the Library. I thought I knew our country. What is written there is a condemnation of every one of us who is prepared to acquiesce in conditions in this country as they exist. The book is not of a political character, though it has political lessons, and all I ask is that everyone should read it. At the time when we were being bombed night after night I walked round London, Coventry, Manchester, Salford, and Liverpool whenever I happened to be in those areas. I thought I knew British conditions, but for a condemnation of how we have acquiesced in allowing our people to live under such conditions one cannot do better than walk round those areas. It has taken a war to clear away many houses which ought to have been cleared away long ago. Lancaster bombers are being built now in record time, and they are the finest in the world. We want houses built in record time after this war, and they must be as good as any in the world. We want preparations made by the Ministry to deal with our post-war problems. Our people have fought and worked, and we must be worthy of them.
1266 It has been said that Liberalism is going to inspire reconstruction after this war. You might as well go to the seaside and try to hold back the tide as follow a philosophy of that kind.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)
I am sorry that I provoked the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith), but he offered a provocative remark himself. It is a subject to which we may be able to return on another occasion. There was apparently a little misunderstanding at the outset as to the subject of this Debate. My hon. Friends and I took it to be the subject that was announced by the Deputy Prime Minister some days ago, when he said it would be building costs, and I am proposing to address myself precisely to that question. That is why I would rather not follow my hon. Friend in his most interesting discussion upon the general housing problem. So far as he appealed for more repairs to be undertaken now and immediately the war ends, and for more adequate houses of a higher standard, I am entirely on his side and warmly join in the appeal he made. The only direction in which I might find myself somewhat at variance with him is that I thought his appeal should properly have been addressed, not to the Ministry of Works, but to the Ministry of Health, which has been in the past, and will undoubtedly be in the future, the Ministry principally concerned with housing.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
If the hon. Member looks at the Order Paper, he will see that the Votes include the Ministry of Works, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Labour, and all three Departments have representatives here.
I do not say that my hon. Friend was wrong, but only that my hon. Friends and I are proposing to act on the suggestion of the Deputy Prime Minister and confine our remarks to the question of building costs. With regard to that problem, let me say for myself and my hon. Friends here that we are not on a heresy hunt to-day. Although there will be criticism, we are not after anybody's scalp, neither that of the Minister nor that 1267 of the poor old bricklayer. This is rather an inquest—an inquest of the highest importance to the future welfare of our nation. We are concerned to-day with nothing less than the Englishman's home —using the word "English" in its broadest sense—and there is no more vital matter ever likely to engage the attention —nay more, the unflagging zeal—of this House—both now and in the days to come. It is not too much to say that whatever Government may be in power when the war ends and whatever else they may have succeeded in doing, if they fail to provide people with the houses they deserve, that Government will fall and ought to fall. Let us therefore recognise the solemnity of this occasion, when for the first time we address ourselves to the core of the problem.
For building costs, with all that that phrase implies, are the heart and centre of the housing problem. If they remain at anything with measurable range of the present level—let us face the facts squarely—the housing programmes, which Ministers have dangled before the country, will become impossible, and Ministers' pledges will become frauds. I do not care at what carefully considered figure you put National income when the war is over. In 1936 it was something like —5,000,000,000. Make it —6,000,000,000 or 7,000,000,000 in 1944 if you like; even that vast revenue will be insufficient to carry the cost of national security, social security, new education, agriculture and the rest, as well as the building of 4,000,000 houses, if housing costs are not drastically and permanently reduced from their present level. That major operation must be performed, and we ought to be starting the preparations for it now.
The Parliamentary Secretary spoke hopefully about the prospective reduction in costs when the war ends. I very much trust that those hopes will be justified. Certainly, I would not like to be in his place, say, this time next year, if the questions the country is putting to him now are not answered. What are those questions? I will try to put some of them. The first question is: What are the actual costs of building now? My hon. Friend said that it was a very difficult question to answer. Of course it is. Fortunately, both the Ministry of 1268 Works and the Ministry of Health have recently accepted tenders for agricultural cottages, and it appears from the respective figures for non-parlour cottages, averaging the highest and the lowest tenders, that the cost of the Ministry of Health house is £757 and of the Ministry of Works house £721. But the Ministry of Works cottage is substantially smaller than the cottage of the Ministry of Health, which has 1036 square feet, while the Ministry of Works cottage has only 870 square feet. Dividing size and cost, it seems that the Ministry of Health cottage costs 14.6s. per square foot compared with the Ministry of Works cottage at 16.6s. per square foot. And as the Ministry of Health figures are based on 2,668 cottages, and the Ministry of Works on only 88, it may be assumed that the Ministry of Health figure is more representative, as well as lower, though providing a higher standard of housing.
Yes. Incidenally, I cannot help reflecting that it seems somewhat foolish for two Government Departments to be building the same type of house at the same time in the middle of a war. I fail to understand the point of that duplication. I see the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the distance; I have the greatest difficulty in understanding how he was able to approve the action of those two Departments, unless it was the deliberate intention to increase housing costs. Perhaps if the Ministry of Works were to revert to their pre-war function we could cut those costs a great deal, but that is by the way. The figures I have quoted show that the non-parlour house costs about —750, but I ask the Committee to note that these are non-parlour houses, and that is not a very satisfactory answer to public demand. Most people want a parlour and that type of house apparently costs in the region of £807.
I will put another question: By how much have building costs increased? There has been a variety of statements. Lord Portal said, in April, that they had increased by 80 per cent. I seem to recollect a statement a little later to the effect that the increase was 92 per cent., while in June, the Minister gave the figure as 105 per cent. Is that a final estimate? I am afraid we have little 1269 ground for making such an assumption. In this week's "Builder," a skilled surveyor, after making an exhaustive examination of the question, gives the figure of increased costs as 114 per cent. Judging by figures which have been given to me by builders now heavily engaged in the trade, I think even that figure is conservative. A more accurate figure of the increase in building costs is, I verily believe, 120 per cent. above pre-war costs. That is a staggering increase, and what is more perturbing is that, to our certain knowledge, those costs are growing. By this time next year, unless resolute action is taken by the Government, the 114 per cent. may become 150 per cent. I am talking on the advice of the most skilled man I have been able to discover in the industry. In that case, the cost of the country cottage will leap to something in the nature of £1,200. It is all very well the hon. Member for Stoke talking about the unimportance of costs; it was the excessive cost of the Addison scheme that very nearly destroyed re-housing after the last war.
Well, that did destroy it. I would not like to have the Minister of Works' responsibility for announcing that a country cottage is costing £1,200 when the war ends.
I would ask another question, and it is the most important question of all. How are increased costs accounted for? What makes up increased costs? That is the point. The article to which I have referred is most authoritative and sets out some of the facts. I am not going to take up time by reading through the article, but I fancy the Minister of Works has seen it and has examined it with the care it deserves. I should be very glad if my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary could give me an indication afterwards whether he accepts its conclusions. If not, I should be very glad to have his own diagnosis and his view as to the elements which make up the increase in cost. It is essential for my hon. Friend to do so, because here we touch the very root of the problem of cost.
Unless we can determine accurately the various elements that make up the growing increase, we completely fail of our purpose. There are, of course, many elements, the relative importance of 1270 which, for want of reliable facts, varies according to one's point of view. If you are a bloated capitalist, of whom, unfortunately, there are still a few, you blame labour; if you are a dyed-in-the-wool Socialist, of whom there seem to be a few more, one blames the management and the rising cost of materials. It depends on which end of the see-saw you are sitting. My hon. Friend and I find ourselves gathered somewhere about the middle, and to us it seems that neither the element of labour nor that of materials is wholly responsible, nor even the two put together. Labour and materials have, of course, risen, in some cases to an extent that cannot be justified, and that applies to both, but we should commit a fundamental error if we regarded either of these factors as the prime cause of the increase. I believe the principal cause to lie in a different direction altogether.
In the view of my colleagues here and of myself, and of the whole building industry outside, the prime factor in the rising costs of building and repair lies neither with masters nor with men, but with the inexperienced and uninstructed bossing that comes from Lambeth Bridge House at the present time. And I make bold to say that unless the whole machinery of control exercised from that source is swept away when the war ends, we shall offer nothing but disappointment and disillusionment to our trusting people. I am not going to be a party to that action. We all recognise that controls are necessary in war. You must control scarcity. I am not making a plea for the wholesale withdrawal of those controls now. That is not my purpose. But I wish the Ministry of Works would recognise with equal readiness that controls needed by war are not necessary suited for peace, and still more that controls suited to large-scale building operations, like those for aerodromes or vast new war factories, are not in the least adaptable to the building of tens of thousands, yea hundreds of thousands, of small separate buildings for human habitation. The two cannot be compared, and the attempt to treat them as one has already been proved demonstrably unsound.
I heard some criticism from the hon. Member for Stoke respecting the delay in the building of the agricultural cottages. I wonder if the hon. Member, when he was touring the country, looked into the 1271 causes of that delay. If he had, he would have found that the cause lay not with the Ministry of Health. No Department is more anxious—or able—to see progress than the Ministry of Health. To find the reason for the delay we must go down to the provinces and consult the building industries there. Here was a task eminently suited to the smaller private builder in the countryside. Nobody knows that work better, and nobody could do it as well as he. It was absolutely right that he should have been offered the job first of all. We shall depend upon the small private builder for the bulk of our postwar reconstruction, and he must be kept going. We cannot have thousands of cases like the one that was recounted to the Committee a few minutes ago by my hon. Friend who gave the example of his son, now in the Forces but previously with a staff of 300, the whole of which is now swept away and the firm itself out of commission. We cannot afford to allow that to go on. The private builder must be kept going. But what did he find?
The men concerned in building the cottages were dumbfounded by the spate of schedules, orders, directions and Regulations that fell upon them when they were invited to make their tenders. They had no experience of mass production work controlled from Whitehall, and they could not assess it. Was it surprising that they took time to consider their estimates, longer than usual, or that their tenders were unusually high? They had no guarantee that either labour or material would reach them, no certainty that either would reach them at the right time, no knowledge of the quality of the labour that would come, whether it would be good or not so good, expensive or not; but they knew that whatever the quality of the labour, all of them must come under the uniformity agreement, the guaranteed week, the forced overtime and all the rest of it. Was it surprising, with so many uncertain conditions and costs confronting them, that they hesitated and in their tenders added more than usual for possibilities? That is the answer. It is not surprising; it is natural and inevitable. Here lies the key of the problem which we are discussing to-day. Here is the answer. It is the very control itself which accounts for a large part of the costs and it will continue to do so as long as it is maintained. Some part of it 1272 ought to be relaxed now if these and further cottages are to be built while the war lasts, but the whole control must go if the private trader is to play his proper part when peace comes.
Let there be no misunderstanding—that there is no escape from it, whatever be our political views—however great a part may be played by local authorities after the war—and it will be a very great part; I do not wish to interfere with it—it will be upon the initiative, the enterprise and the skill of the small individual private builder that the nation will rely for the bulk of its re-housing programme. My hon. Friends here, and I believe every hon. Member on this side of the Committee, is pledged to the maintenance of this particular kind of housing enterprise, and it is well that it should be said. The record of these small builders before the war was magnificent. They had achieved the hitherto unprecedented record of 350,000 houses a year. If indeed we reach anything like that figure after the war, then our To-year programme will be within measurable distance of completion; otherwise it will not. They have served us equally well in the war. My house was blitzed a week or two ago. The attack took place at 2 o'clock in the morning; by 8 a.m. the borough council had its operatives on the spot, and they worked straight on until it was put in some kind of habitable repair. I wish to pay my tribute to the council and to the local builder who acted for it. That repair work was done under the scheme initiated, thought-out, planned and prepared by the Ministry of Health at the beginning of the war. I pay it my unhesitating tribute at this time.
Let the Government take steps now to ensure that before the war ends there will be, first, ample supplies of timber ready when we begin our re-housing programme; secondly, that young building tradesmen will be among the first to be demobilised from the Army. I would ask my hon. Friend for a reply to that. Let these things be done and all the present wartime controls may well vanish, and we shall then get the houses in the numbers, at the speed and of the kind which our people ask for now, and which, when this war is over, they will so greatly have deserved.
§ Mr. Hicks
I had anticipated that the hon. Member would refer to costs, and I 1273 intended to take the opportunity of explaining to him that when he interrupted me in my speech on the question of an independent committee of accountants for the purpose of inquiring into costs my reply was of an entirely personal nature and did not represent my Department. I could not in any way say officially that I agreed to the appointment of such a committee, as the matter had been considered by the Prime Minister, who had given a reply that he thought there was no need to implement a suggestion for a special committee to inquire into costs. I think I should make that clear.
Did I understand the hon. Gentleman to say that the question of the appointment of an independent committee into the cost of housing had been put to the Prime Minister and that his view was that it was not needed?
§ Mr. Hicks
The Prime Minister replied to a question as to whether he was in favour of the setting-up of a special committee into costs. The answer given by the Prime Minister was that he did not agree. I merely wish to make clear that my statement was a personal statement and not a statement on behalf of my Ministry.
§ Mr. Bossom (Maidstone)
The Debate, I think, is very opportune. Like my predecessor, I shall not attempt to follow on the lines taken by the Minister. But I would like to pay my respect and admiration for the great work that has been done by his Department. I have been a member of each building sub-committee of the Select Committee on National Expenditure, and consequently visited a very great number of operations for which they have been responsible. I believe that the success which is now attending our Armed Forces has been largely dependent on the achievements that have attended the efforts of the building industry. I agree that we have to get all the speed possible, the best accommodation possible, all the labour-saving devices possible and as many drudgery-removing aids as possible, into our post-war homes. I stand second to none in this Committee in affirming that we must make every effort to see that the homes we get after this war are of a much higher standard than in the past.
But the object of this Debate is to consider costs, and in this I think the main 1274 consideration is that we should get the right costs for our buildings after the war. We are all worried about the costs that have occurred lately, they are seriously high and for that reason are a very important consideration. If the rise in costs is not checked, it may well jeopardise or even wreck our entire post-war housing and building programme. I believe that matter is being carefully considered by the Ministry of Works, and I hope they succeed. In a few minutes in which I shall speak I should like to make one or two practical suggestions that will help to remove what I believe have been the causes of a lot of our needlessly high costs in the past. I believe we can remedy the situation if we go about it in the right way. It is understandable that in the war many anomalies have developed. These must be straightened out before peace comes. I think that most of us will agree that the operatives in the building trade are entitled to get good pay, a full year's work, holidays with pay and all the other amenities that apply to every other industry. The building trade operatives are doing and can do a fine job, and they are entitled to have all the industrial amenities. Equally, we must agree that the operatives ought to give a fair working output for this fair pay. The two things go together. I think a good week's pay ought to produce a good week's work, or it would be better to put it that a year's good pay merits a year's good work.
But though operatives' wages form the major cost of construction, they are by no means the only consideration. I think output is largely influenced by many other considerations. I would like to touch upon these, because I think that ever since the construction of the militia camps, which were produced irrespective of costs in a great many instances when these were emphasised the situation has generally worsened. Possibly in the anxiety to get work done, certain trade agreements were made which were not as reasonable as they might have been. Payments by result were introduced without sufficient regard, I think, to what was normal output, and bonus levels were often fixed far too low, without real consideration of pre-war standards. That basis need not last after the war, but these unfortunate decisions have resulted either in reducing output or causing too high a 1275 price to be paid for a given amount of work. In negotiating these terms the building trade operatives spoke with one voice only, for they had their own one organisation, whereas they were talking to employers who, I believe, have 67 different employing associations, many of them entirely disagreeing with one another. The result has proved very unfortunate. I think there is now no doubt that it is important that building trade employers should endeavour to get together and be able to speak with one voice to the Ministry as well as the country.
We all regard our British operatives as good craftsmen, and I am certain that if they are satisfied that they are to get good wages, they will give good production. But the operatives are by no means the only people who should be the subject of criticism at the present time. The building industry is an entirely sheltered one and has not moved forward with the times. It has not taken advantage of the possibilities that modern science has offered, or of the inventions and advances which have been made elsewhere. Let us look, for instance, at the owner, who is looked upon as the initiator of most building operations. The owner may be the Government, a local authority, a business concern, or a private individual. They all need to have their houses put in order if we are to be ready to produce buildings at the proper cost when the war is over. They have all developed bad habits. They do not make up their minds quickly enough. We have had many examples of that during the war as well as before it. They are slow, they make too many changes, they decide on a thing and then alter it again later. All delays and changes cost money. Sometimes they do not pay their bills properly. That is another cause of additional expense in building operations. Many resent a prepared questionnaire being submitted to them with the request that it be filled in as soon as possible. The attitude is that as they are paying the bills they can fill it in in their own good time. That is very impractical, and it adds materially to the cost of the job. In the end all this has to be paid for by the nation; it all piles up the national waste.
How about our architects? I am not going around trying to knock heads together everywhere, but I shall call atten- 1276 tion to facts which I think would benefit by attention.
§ Mr. Bossom
I think architects should be registered in the same way that doctors are registered. They have a great deal to do with the health of the nation. They should all be properly trained, properly qualified and State registered. Further, I do not think that any work above a certain value should be done unless it is in the charge of a responsible and registered architect. I wish to add, and to emphasise it, that if architects are registered in this way there should be a system of architectural education introduced so that no person who has the proper qualifications would be precluded from joining that learned profession. Having that condition, we should find that we should get on more quickly and it would improve the general architectural situation. Architects should be required to make very complete drawings and specifications, complete in all the details, showing every feature, pipe and push button on their drawings before giving them to the contractor. One of the biggest builders in this country gave testimony before a Committee of this House that the average additional cost to the brickwork on the average contract was 12 per cent., due entirely to the absence of information which should have been shown on the contract drawings. I think architects should be required to provide these completed and finished drawings and specifications before any start is made on the work, and they should hesitate about making alterations later, because all such alterations add to the cost. The fact of having complete drawings and specifications would enable competitive estimates to be obtained for all the work of all buildings. At present, possibly half the work on a great many of our larger buildings is given out to specialist contractors without any competition at all, with the result that the price is naturally higher than need be. That practice does not prevail in other countries, so why should it here? I know of cases where contracts are given out even for the steel work, the stone work, even the flooring, without any competition. In fact, in certain cases the sub-contractor makes the drawings for his own work, and is it fair to 1277 expect to get the best estimates in that way?
Better supervision should be given than has often been the case in the past. It has not been customary in this country to insist upon such good supervision as has been demanded in certain other parts of the world. I do not agree with my hon. Friend who said that everything good came from Germany; we have had some very bad things from Germany lately; but they did supervise their building work better than we used to do. Again, the building materials should be brought to the job in the right order. That is not always the case at present, and this means delays which in turn add to the cost of the work. By having good supervision, materials brought in the right order and on time and proper drawings the contractor would be able materially to cut down his costs. All the mechanical devices that are available should be applied to every building operation, in order to make the work easier, move more quickly. The operatives should be trained in the latest processes, and should have the latest tools available for their use. Very often, I have looked into the toolbags of the mechanics and at the tools which they are using and often they are not by any means the latest types.
I have no fear whatever of higher wages. I would be very pleased to see payment by results, carried out logically, and the highest wages paid, provided that the nation gets results for them. I have personally seen wages paid which were three, four and even five times as great as those paid in this country, and yet the total cost of the building in question was almost exactly the same as it would be for a parallel job here. Weather seriously affects our building operations. Why not start our buildings in the proper season, and so avoid doing exterior work in the bad weather? Other countries do that, so that work is proceeding under cover when the bad weather comes. At the same time as much as 70 or even So per cent. of the building work may be done in well-lit, well-ventilated, comfortable factories, equipped with the best tools and machinery, and when complete brought to the job and assembled there without any difficulty and at marked saving in cost and unpleasantness for the operatives.
§ Mr. Bossom
I said that the work should be started at the right season, so that you get your exterior work done in the good weather. In recent months ingenious men have invented many valuable new things. Only this month I was shown the drawing of a wall on one side of which was a bath, a wash-basin and a W.C., while fixed to the other side were a stove, a refrigerator and a sink, etc., so that you can install all the fixtures nearly for both the bathroom and kitchen in one operation in an hour or so. Those things will be available, no doubt, when we come to our post-war housing schemes, and they should be seriously considered for they will save time and cost, and will help production materially and give benefits to the users. The staircases can be made by the hundred in the factory, and then brought to the site and installed individually. Doors, windows and cupboards too can easily be mass-produced, but exteriors should not be mass-produced.
As to the Government's part, I think that our building laws need much examination. They are not uniform; they are inconsistent in many instances. We ought to have a general code of practice. If it should become the law that architects must be so trained and registered that their knowledge ensured good procedure and practice, as is the case with doctors, then the building laws could easily be simplified as proposed. The Ministry of Health's model bye-laws and regulations do not take into account the strength of the building materials that we use. They specify the size of timbers which may be employed, but this does not compel it to be of first-class quality. The greater part of the fabric of a well-built structure is of heavier construction than is necessary if the best materials be employed. If we are to have building regulations, let them apply to the good quality. This applies to wood, and it equally applies to steel, for often the steel required is too heavy. No other country uses such heavy sections or such factors of safety. There is no just recognition of the strength of the modern brickwork; when the laws were made bricks and cement were not so strong or scientifically prepared as they are to-day. The Government should take advantage of all the scientific knowledge possessed. That 1279 would be of a considerable help in reducing cost. Then there is the question of permits. It is intolerable that we should have half-a-dozen Departments of different kinds to settle what shall or what shall not be permitted in the structure, etc., of a building. Each of these bodies has the right to say that this shall or shall not be done and, having done so, they have the authority to compel changes all of which add materially to the cost. Such work could all be done by one Department. The present method is really antiquated.
We have a funny British idea somehow of secrecy about all our building works. Only the foreman sees the latest contract drawings in many instances when they are sent to the building. The men on the job are kept in ignorance. The contract drawings should be fixed on the wall, and so that even the boys who take round the tea to the men may know what is to be done after the present part of the work is finished. When a man has completed one operation, in many instances he has to wait for the foreman to come around and tell him what his next job is to be. These matters are not great, but collectively they add much to expense. Overtime should be cut down to a minimum, but the material for the men to use on the following day should be placed ready for them after they have finished their day's work, It should not be carried around while they are working. They should not be unduly interrupted but should be allowed to get on with the jobs they have in hand. If we take advantage of the latest knowledge of materials and processes, reconsider our laws, not make changes after the work is started—in fact all changes should be made on the drawing before the building starts—and if good wages are paid I sincerely believe we should get better work; and be able to reduce the costs again down to pre-war level.
§ Captain Gammans (Hornsey)
This Debate is important, for several reasons. We have had an opportunity of hearing an account of the work of the Ministry of Works during the past three years. I would be among the first to express appreciation of much of what has been done, of the difficulties the Ministry has overcome and of the patriotism and keenness which the men of the building industry have shown, in very difficult times and 1280 often under very dangerous conditions. But I was under the impression that the main object of the Debate was to discuss building costs, and, in particular, to give the Committee an opportunity of hearing why these 3,000 cottages which have been put up in war-time—the only house building we have done in war-time—are likely to cost so much. There is more to it even than that. If a house is going to cost over £1,000 after the war, when it cost only half that sum before the war, the whole basis of our economic life and the whole programme of reconstruction to which we are looking forward must be affected, since the cost of putting a roof over one's head is the largest single item in the budget of the vast majority of the people of this country.
I do not think there is any necessity to waste time saying that we want to build better houses after the war or that we want to build more houses after the war. We want to know what those houses will cost, and whether the people who have to live in them will be able to afford to do so. I agree with the Parliamentary Secretary about the abnormal costs which arise under this war-time programme. These houses are being built in penny packets, as it were, in twos and threes in different parts of the country. There are difficulties of transport and of men and materials, and many of our younger men are not in the industry to-day. Some materials, like timber, are in short supply. We must make allowances for all these factors; but when we have done that, I have the impression that building costs have gone up for other reasons, and are likely to remain up when the war is over.
We have to ask ourselves to what extent the rise in building costs is due to war conditions which we hope will not exist when the war is over, and to what extent the policy of the Ministry has affected them, particularly this system of payment by results, to which the Parliamentary Secretary has referred. I was one of those who a few weeks ago asked the Parliamentary Secretary Questions with regard to bricklaying. I did not get a reply then which I really understood, and I am afraid that I have not got the answer now. He said just now that in the case of bricklaying it was impossible to specify a reasonable output per day for a particular man, because work varied. That may seem quite a sensible thing to say; but, if so, why has he in 1281 fact done it? Here we have a very detailed schedule showing what, in very different types of brick work, a man should do in an eight-hour day. If what the Parliamentary Secretary said is correct—and in one sense I think it is so—why attempt to make such a calculation? It gives a completely false picture either of what the Ministry is doing or of this scheme of payment by results.
Let us take one item with regard to bricklaying. On page 12 of this schedule, we find that with 9 in. brickwork, pointed one side, the basic output per bricklayer per hour is 45 bricks for an 8-hour day —that is, 36o bricks per day. Beyond that figure he gets a bonus of 3s. 9d. per 100 bricks. This is the simple question that I would like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary. Can he convince me and the Committee that that is a reasonable output for an eight-hour day on the basis he himself has set out? If he can, then I have nothing more to say, but I must confess that he did not convince me when he answered questions on the subject, and he has not taken very much trouble to convince me or anyone else to-day. I would go further and ask this question. Taking this 9 in. brick wall, pointed on one side and all the rest of it, supposing I said that before the last war a comparable figure of output was 900 for a ten-hour day, would I or would I not be right? Or in saying that a comparable figure for 1938 was 700 for an eight-and-a-half-hour day, that is comparing like with like as far as one can in this matter, am I or am I not correct? If I am right in this statement and that what was 700 before the war has now come down to 360 in his schedule, surely it must mean that as far as laying bricks are concerned, the cost has gone up double. I make every allowance for older men and all the rest of it, but in other trades we have not been prepared to accept an output cut down by half. Before the war, on the assumption that the bricklayer made Is. 9d. per hour, to lay 700 bricks would cost, according to my computations, nearly 13s. The present figure, on the assumption that the basic rate is 2s. I½d. for the first 360 and then 3s. 9d. for the balance, shows a total cost of not about 13s. but somewhere near 3os. We have a rise in costs of just about double. It is this factor which worries me.
§ Mr. Montague (Islington, West)
May I point out to the hon. and gallant Member the uncertainty and difficulty of dealing with figures of this character, from this point of view? You are not dealing with a bricklayer who is laying a certain number of bricks a day as an individual person. If you are building a wall, or whatever you may be building, you have a team of men, and they have to work according to the rest who are laying bricks in conjunction with each other. If you have a lowering of standard because the young men have been taken away for the war and you have a number of people in the industry who are not as efficient or as quick as they normally would be, that must have an effect on all the work that is done in bricklaying. Questions of that character have to be taken into account, and it is not fair to take bare figures of that character and condemn the industry.
§ Captain Gammans
I am not condemning the industry. I am aware of that fact, and I know that before the war, as now, laying bricks was not a matter for one man but for a gang. I also realise the difficulty of trying to compare figures, as the Parliamentary Secretary himself said, but my point is that he has done it in the schedule. He has tried to prepare figures, and therefore he must not complain if, as far as one is able, one tries to make a comparison between prewar figures and present-day figures. If he can convince me that I am chasing a hare, I shall be very pleased, because I am worried about it, and everybody else is, too. On these figures, as they now stand—and perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will clear it up when he replies—it looks as if we have the daily output per man in this industry reduced approximately by one half. What I do not understand is this: He says that we have older men and difficulties and all the rest of it, but we have not that reduction of output in other industries, and yet the same call-up regulations apply. The output per miner has not gone down 50 per cent., and the bus drivers do not drive for half the number of shifts. If this factor continues and if it is to extend to other industries, it will upset the whole basis of post-war life, and we had better tell the people of the country that, far from being able to increase their standard of living, it will have to be reduced.
1283 The Minister of Health has been going round telling the country that we need millions of houses quickly. I certainly do not envy him his position as Minister of Health to-day. If the country do not get the houses, they will blame him for it, but it does not seem wholly within his power to get the houses. That is the responsibility of another Department. If he is going to be honest with the country, he had better go around and say to the people, "You want your millions of houses, but my colleague the Minister of Works and Buildings has reduced the output for an eight-hour day by one half, and I warn you that, if you ever get a house at all, it will cost you double either to buy it or to rent it."
I would like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to elucidate this schedule of brickwork and all the rest of it. Can he tell the Committee how it has worked in practice, if it has worked at all? All my friends in the building industry tell me that the amount of work and labour required to compute this complicated rigmarole is almost unbelievable. If it was a case of a bricklayer laying bricks in a 9-inch wall straight along, there would be no difficulty about it, but houses are not built in that way at all. In the course of a day—certainly in the course of a week—a man goes from one type of work to another, and each type of work is at a different basic rate and a different rate of bonus. What in his experience does he find is required in office staff to keep tally of all these diverse operations? We have heard in another connection, that of agriculture, that forms are becoming so complicated and numerous that each cow will soon need its own typist. I wonder whether, in the case of bricklayers, each bricklayer will soon need his own chartered accountant. Can the Parliamentary Secretary tell us whether this scheme can be worked when it comes down to actual operations?
The next point I want to raise is something entirely different. The Parliamentary Secretary told us, and the Minister of Health has told the country on more than one occasion, that, when it comes to building houses after the war, both private enterprise and local authorities will have to play their part. He has reminded us that of 4,000,000 houses built between the two wars, 3,000,000 1284 approximately were put up by private enterprise. Therefore, I suppose it is fair to assume that after the war private enterprise is expected to provide roughly the same proportion.
What is wanted very much at the present time is some indication to the building industry and to all those who are interested in house building generally of the lines upon which the Government expect private enterprise to work. The Parliamentary Secretary said that the idea is that after the war there shall be an emergency programmee for two years. I was hoping that he would have said a little more about it, but perhaps he will do so before this Debate is over. We all realise that it will take time to transfer operatives back into the industry. It will be some months, maybe even years, before materials like timber are in adequate supply. There is a very strong case for dividing that post-war programme into two stages. Can he give the Committee any idea of what are to be the main priorities in the emergency period? Are we going to say definitely that during that time no one is to be allowed to build a cinema, a church or a hall and that the builder must concentrate on the ordinary dwelling-house? There is an overwhelming case for saying something like that, and, therefore, why not say it? Is absolute priority to be given to the repair and the reconditioning of existing houses? There are good arguments for saying that. We are not going to rebuild the whole of the British Isles, and not all of us want to live in new houses.
When it comes to the permanent programme which will come into operation after these two years, is it not possible even now to give some indication of the lines upon which private enterprise is expected to operate? I have always felt that in Debates in this House and also sometimes at Question time there is a certain unreal flavour in quibbles in regard to the virtues of private enterprise versus municipal housing. It is all very well in a political discussion to suggest that private enterprise consists of a small number of large firms who are drawing fat profits by a strangle-hold monopoly over building. That sort of expression sounds all right when one is trying to rally one's supporters on the public platform, but it does not normally bear any 1285 relation to the facts. As we heard to-day what we understand by private enterprise in most cases means the existence of tens of thousands of little builders or contractors who started themselves off by hard work, thrift and initiative, and many of them are men who started life as operatives themselves in the building trade. Under the head of private enterprise there are many thousands of men in the Forces who hope to start themselves up in business after the war and, I am sorry to say, thousands of little men who have been closed down as the result of the war, because either they themselves have been called up or because the industry has been concentrated. Some of my hon. Friends opposite may feel that men of that sort are neither worthy nor necessary citizens, but I regard the small builder or the small contractor as not only a very worthy citizen but, what is more, as someone who is absolutely essential to the future of the whole of industry.
There are many other questions to which private enterprise generally could do with an answer. Are we to be strangled by red-tape and bureaucracy? Can somebody unravel the unholy trinity of the three Government Departments which to-day are concerned largely with rehousing? I am one who would agree that we must have very much more control over many sides of our public life than we had before the war. I hope that we shall never repeat, for example, the horrors of Peacehaven or the death traps of the Great West Road. I hope that we shall exercise direct control over standards of building and that every decent builder and contractor after this war will not have to face the unfair competition of the jerry-builder. I am prepared to accept greater control than in the past over standardisation of many things, used for the building industry—windows, electric fittings and so on. But where I beg to differ from some of my hon. Friends opposite is, that I do not say that State control means necessarily either State ownership or State management. Where the State can play its part in rebuilding after the war is to lay down the rules under which reconstruction shall take place and leave private enterprise to carry on within those rules.
Now there are other questions which I hope someone will be able to answer 1286 before very much longer, and one of them concerns the finance of post-war housing. Under what conditions will it be possible to borrow money for housing? After all, there is no mystery about finance. No industry can borrow capital and pay adequate wages to its operatives unless it gets a fair remuneration on the money which is invested in it. I do not want to enter into an argument about property as such, but in the past few years there has been very definite restrictive legislation against the property owner, and when I say "property owner" I am talking not only of the big companies but of the 5,000,000 people in this country who have saved their money and put it into houses. They are citizens we used to say we wanted to encourage. Do we want to encourage them after this war, or do we want to get rid of them in the brave new world? There are many directions in which restrictive legislation has taken place. To-day, many small property owners are so taxed in addition to the ordinary taxation that when the war is over they will not have enough money with which to repair their property or improve it, and the great danger will be that many millions of houses will deteriorate into slums on that account.
I do not know whether, in this rebuilding programme, any logical division can be found between the role of private enterprise and the role of building by local authorities. If there were a logical division, if one could say, "That is the sphere of the local authority, and that is the sphere of the private builder," it would be a great advantage. But in one direction, namely, subsidies, I hope some thought is being given; if subsidies are to be granted, can we devise a scheme which does not repeat what happened after the last war, when we found that the cost of houses went up automatically with the size of the subsidy? For instance, in the building of houses for renting the interest on capital is a prime factor. Have the Government any plans for providing cheap money?
If this Debate is to be of any value, it must not only concern itself, as it has in the Parliamentary Secretary's report, with a general review of his own Department. It must go further than that and tell us something about the rise of costs of the houses which we are building today. It must tell us why the costs have 1287 gone up. I should very much like more information than we have had so far about the meaning of this rise in costs—whether it is due to the factors mentioned by the Parliamentary Secretary, that is, arising out of the war, or due to the administration of his own Department and the way in which scales of remuneration have been fixed. I am especially interested in the welfare of the small trader. As I have said, tens of thousands of these people have had to close their businesses. Do the Government, in their present frame of mind, wish these men to restart after the war or not? If not, let us say so, so that we all know where we are and what to do about it. But if they wish these small people to restart, could not some encouragement be given to them? Could they not be told? Very few of them have capital of their own; to-day most of them have lost all they had. I am all for the better planning of our countryside and better standards of housing, but we must realise that in the long run it is no use ignoring the cost of an operation of this sort. Our task is not merely to provide more and better houses; it is also to provide houses at prices which people can afford.
§ Mr. Quibell (Brigg)
We have had a very interesting Debate to-day, one that has ranged fairly wide, but there has been no mention so far of the poor old bricklayer. I happen to be a bricklayer, and I am proud of it. In 1931 when I left this House of Commons I went back to laying bricks. As regards the new scale of remuneration, it seems to me that a chartered accountant is required to work it out, although the old bricklayer, who usually knows when he has been underpaid by a halfpenny or a penny per hour, will no doubt be able to put himself right with this complicated scale in the long run. Neither myself nor the Parliamentary Secretary likes this principle of bonuses for piece work, because in most cases they encourage bad workmanship. From my point of view, as an employer and as a former operative, it not only leads to bad workmanship, but it leads to a waste of material. If only building trade employers realised it, they would find that there is nothing to gain by instituting the principle of piece work or payment by results in the industry. Only once in the last three months—and then 1288 very reluctantly—have I agreed to this system, and then I introduced it in a very simple way.
What is the cause of the low output per man? My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary knows as well as I do that in many cases it has been unsatisfactory. But there are reasons for it, and they are good reasons. For instance, many of our airfields are over-manned with bricklayers, and material cannot be obtained. I visited an aerodrome a few days ago where the works manager wanted to get rid of some of his men. If it is a question of profit on cost, what is he to do? The bricklayers worked faster than the following tradesmen, and consequently the manager wanted to palm them off on to somebody else. I could have had 12, but I did not want them. I do not want to say too much about this, but the men came from Ireland, and I thought they would upset my other men, which would not do for me. The consequence, in cases of this kind, is that surplus bricklayers have to be kept on airfields, with the result that there is a loss of output, for which the bricklayer is not responsible. There is something to be said for the old bricklayer in that respect. As I have said, I disagree with the principle of piece work. My first experience in the industry over 30 years ago was fighting this kind of thing in Middlesbrough and in the North of England. It is a pernicious system, which leads to a low standard of craftsmanship. It is a higher standard we want, not a lower standard.
I have heard people talk in this House about the kind of houses built between the last war and this war. A state of affairs which never should have existed has been disclosed. I have drawn the attention of this House many times to the fact that what we should have is a new code of building by-laws. In a certain town recently where I have had some men helping to clear up bomb damage, I found that not a single tile had been nailed. By-laws should have been in existence to prevent that; there should have been nailing. The result was that bomb blast lifted the tiles and stripped every roof. People have talked about the jerrybuilder. But who is the jerrybuilder? He is the man who has come into the trade to speculate when he knows nothing about the business. Such people came in between the last war and this war 1289 to employ bricklayers, plumbers and joiners. When the work was not being done properly the speculator did not know, because he had no practical experience of the building trade. We are reaping what we have sown. I can tell of jewellers and men in the furniture trade who have entered the building trade because they thought there was more money in it. The result has been that there have been a lower standard and a lower quality of workmanship. Bad workmanship has resulted in damp houses. One of the most important things in building a house—and it is neglected wherever you go—is the provision of a damp course. I have seen damp three feet high on the walls of houses because no proper damp course had been put in. In some instances, a piece of brown paper has satisfied the conditions, in some areas. There should be a standard code of bylaws applicable from one end of the Kingdom to the other, and they should be enforced.
Building inspections are not being carried out by local authorities as they should be. The good builder has nothing to fear from a building inspector. He welcomes him, because he knows that where there is efficient inspection it stops the man who comes into the trade to exploit it from doing as he likes. A friend of mine and I went into a house recently, he into one room and I into the other, and we shook hands through the wall where the two fireplaces had been joined. That sort of thing ought not to be. By a thorough building inspection and an up-to-date code of by-laws we could eliminate it. In my view, the building trade as we know it will not solve the building trade problem of this country in the next 30 years. The Department should look for alternative methods. There are houses that I would advise the Department to inspect, in the construction, of which a new material has been employed. The Department seems to look askance at it but houses can be built in this way for the class of people for whom, after the war, we shall want to provide work. Neither Beveridge nor any other social service will be able to stand up to it, unless we find employment for the people, and for that reason we must have some semi-skilled men. Here is a material which is fireproof and completely damp-proof. It is an insulating material. It has got past the experimental stage, and 1290 it is infinitely better than bricks. Some houses have been built of it in Scotland, in particular in Glasgow. It can be fixed by a couple of skilled men. We must go faster than we are doing in providing schemes for labour. I hope the Government will look into this matter, because there is the danger of a ring being formed, which will again result in high costs. The process is taking place now, and that is why no propaganda work is being done to induce the Departments to use the material, which is essential for erecting these houses, especially in rural areas.
Details have been given of the cost of building houses. The Government control the price of timber, which is anything up to £60 a standard. It was £16 to £20. In a small house there will be 1½ to two standards of timber. That is £80 to start with. There may be 20,000 bricks, that is £34 10s., because bricks cost 34s. 6d. a thousand more than prewar. So I could go on with the list. Houses are not expensive, considering the price of materials which are uncontrolled. In 1938 cement was two guineas a ton; to-day it is three. I cannot understand why it should be three guineas a ton. I can remember when it was 23s. The great combines manufacture it. We are told that it is all to the advantage of the building industry to have big combines because the middleman is eliminated and you get cheaper material. But it has been a lesson to me. It does not matter who calls on you, the cement is still the same price. Slag was 7s. 9d. and is now 14s. 7d. a ton. I cannot see for the life of me where the increased cost of bricks comes in. I used to buy them at 22S. per thousand. The increase during the war has been as I say 34s. 6d. I know that there is an increase in the price of coal and in wages but the clay in the ground does not cost more.
As to who should build the houses, I am not in favour of too much interference. In my town most of the builders have gone to aerodromes and other places and I suppose they will never be able to come back and start in business again. But they built the bigger part of the town and built it fairly well. I do not believe that the town council could build all the best houses. I should like to steam-roller many of them. When you go inside, they are as mean as you like. They should be of a higher standard. [Interruption.] They are let by tender. 1291 It is the local authority's business, if they give a contract, to see that the man who gets the contract does the job. The local authority should be held responsible. After the last war, hundreds of houses with concrete floors were built by local authorities. Such houses kill the women who have to live in them week after week. I got them to put asphalt on top of the concrete. Those who advocate concrete houses for workmen ought to leave their boots on the floor on a summer night and put them on the first thing in the morning and then they would have sympathy with the woman who has to stand and work all day on those floors. I am thankful that they have done away with concrete floors and put timber in the new houses. They ought to be given full credit for benefiting from the experience of the past.
Some of the houses in colliery districts look as if they were built for a lower class of human being. We should aim at having good material, good workmanship and all the modern improvements that you can get, and we ought to have a modern code of by-laws and adequate supervision so that the defects which have manifested themselves since we built the last houses will be obviated in any future housing scheme.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour and National Service (Mr. McCorquodale)
I have been asked to intervene at some time in the Debate in case there were questions referring to the Ministry of Labour which needed answering and to say one or two words about the probable availability of building labour in the immediate postwar period. The hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart), interrupting my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works, asked about wage-rates and weekly earnings in the industry. I have some rather detailed figures, which will perhaps interest the Committee, in regard to weekly rates and earnings. The general increases in wage rates in the building and civil engineering industries during the war have been 4½d. per hour for craftsmen and 4¼d. and 4d. an hour for labourers. This compares with other important industries in this way. In engineering and shipbuilding the increase is nearly 5d. per hour, on the railways 1292 5d. per hour, in road haulage 3½d. to 3¾d. per hour, and in the boot and shoe trade 3d. an hour. If you take the percentage increases in recognised time rates, in the building trade the increase for craftsmen is 23 per cent., for labourers 28 to 29 per cent., and the figure for all industries combined 36 per cent. If we leave out coal mines, agriculture and shipping, the combined figure is 28 to 29 per cent. Therefore, if you take wage rates, the average rise in the building industry does not appear to be out of step in any way with the average rise in other industries.
§ Mr. McCorquodale
I was coming to that in a moment. The hon. Member is so impatient. I said I was going on to compare average weekly earnings, and that includes the guaranteed week. We recently made an inquiry into manufacturing industries generally and into some of the principal non-manufacturing industries, and this is the result of the inquiry. The average earnings of men, calculated on the basis of total numbers employed in industry on the last pay day in October, 1938, were 60s. per week in the building and contracting industry, and in all industries covered by the inquiry 69s. In July, 1942, that is at Midsummer, when the building and contracting industry is at its peak and working the full maximum 60 hours a week, the weekly earnings were 102s. in the building industry and in all industries covered by the inquiry 111s. In January, 1943, in the depth of winter, when the working week is shorter, the building and contracting industry average was 94s. and all industries covered by the inquiry 113s. Reducing the matter to percentages, which makes it, I think, easier to understand, and taking the average for the six months between January and July, including both summer and winter months, in the building and contracting trade the average weekly earnings appear to have gone up by 48 per cent., and in all industries covered by the inquiry the latest figure was 64 per cent. in January, 1943. The building industry average earnings therefore have not increased as much as other earnings. I am not arguing the rights and wrongs of the case but just providing facts which my hon. Friend 1293 asked for and these figures, I think, have some bearing on the Debate.
§ Captain Gammans
Before my hon. Friend leaves the figures, is it possible to put the matter in terms, not of money spent, but of production? It seems to me we are getting into the habit of measuring the war effort in money spent. Surely it should be measured by production. Can my hon. Friend say whether output now is the same as it was before? There is no virtue in saying that building wages have only gone up 48 per cent. if in fact we are not getting the same amount of work.
§ Mr. McCorquodale
I appreciate the point of my hon. and gallant Friend's remarks, but I am afraid I could not possibly answer that question now. I was asked a specific question by my hon. Friend the Member for East Fife, and that was the answer I wished to give him. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith) in the course of his interesting remarks referred to the question of priority and urged that priorities for building labour should be reconsidered in the light of some changes which he endeavoured to describe. I find considerable difficulty, as he will understand, in dealing with that matter in public discussion, but I can say that it is a matter which is constantly under consideration by the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Works, as well as the Ministry of Health. I think, however, that he was a little on the sanguine side. Demands for labour are constantly increasing, and the pressure of demands for labour is certainly not less than before.
I think it might interest the Committee if I made a few remarks on the shortage of labour at the moment and on the prospect of labour supplies in the immediate post-war years, and how it seems likely that the labour supply may develop. The main factor in building labour is the craftsman, because on the number of craftsmen depends the total amount of labour that can be employed. Everyone in the country, I think, is conscious at this time of the shortage of labour for building. The reason for that shortage is twofold. In the first place, I would like to emphasise that the building industry has made as notable a contribution to the numbers in the Armed Forces as any large industry in the country. Then, at the beginning of the war, a substantial 1294 number of craftsmen from the building industry went into munition works. In this way the labour force left in the industry was reduced to what it is now—something between one-third and one-half of pre-war strength. I am talking of craftsmen. It has been emphasised in the Debate that those who have gone out of the industry have been mainly the younger men, the most vigorous men.
The second reason for the shortage of labour in the general building trade is that about half the labour which was left in the industry has been diverted to urgent Government work on airfields, camps, hospitals, and the like. And so, the labour supply having been first reduced more than half, about one-half of the men left have been transferred to urgent Government work. As time goes on the Government building programme will, we assume, contract until when the armistice comes we hope it will practically be at an end. I have been able to make a fairly reliable estimate of the volume of maintenance work, including arrears of maintenance, and of the restoration of war damage which will need to be done immediately. It is clear that the building-labour force left in the industry, including that which will come back from urgent Government priority work, will be very far below what is necessary to tackle the maintenance work and the repair and restoration of war damage during the first two years after the war, let alone to tackle any new building. There are, of course, two automatic sources of reinforcement, first, demobilisation from the Armed Forces, and, secondly, the return of men from munitions. We estimate that between 80,000 and 90,000 craftsmen will be returned from the munitions industry and that something over 200,000 will be demobilised from the Forces, although it must be remembered that we cannot possibly forecast precisely how long the process of demobilisation may take. That will depend upon strategy, upon the war in the Far East and other considerations. On any likely estimate of the rate at which building craftsmen previously employed in the industry can be returned, it is clear, having regard to Government plans for post-war building programmes, including new housing and the restoration and repair of bombed houses, there will not be enough craftsmen in the industry 1295 to carry out the work for many years to come.
§ Mr. Hopkinson
Are these calculations based on the amount of work craftsmen are doing now or on the amount done before the war? That has a very important bearing on the number required.
§ Mr. McCorquodale
These estimates are made by the men most experienced and best able to forecast what the yardstick applied to the craftsmen should be.
§ Mr. McCorquodale
The shortage of craftsmen, if it is not overcome, will obviously carry with it the result that the industry will not be in a position to take on the numbers we need to employ if unemployment is not to grow after the war. Therefore we are faced with the necessity for making available a larger number of craftsmen than could be provided by normal means. My hon. Friend has referred to the Apprenticeship Committee, and I am not going to say anything more about that except that we all hope that, if permanence of employment can be confidently expected in the industry, and the industry is made sufficiently attractive, then in the long run a sufficient number of young men will come forward to offer themselves as apprentices. Apprenticeship, however, extends over a long time, and we cannot rely on that in the immediate post-war years when men will be most needed. Therefore, other means must be found. Our plan is to start training men demobilised from the Forces and industry. The White Paper issued some months ago forecast that it would be necessary to train up to 200,000 men as craftsmen during the first three or four years; we hope to do that, and we are proceeding on the basis that the bulk of them should be trained in the first two years. I emphasise that this figure is provisional, because recruitment must be regulated so as to correspond as closely as possible with the public demand for reconstruction. It is no use training thousands of men and putting them into the industry on work which might last only two or three years. We endorse the view taken by both sides of the industry that it will not do to take large numbers from training centres unless there will be 1296 work for them for many years to come. I do not know of any other comment which the Committee would like me to make on this important subject.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
When the White Paper was published it was very much appreciated throughout the industry, but it is now six months since it was published, and I should like to ask whether anything more has been done.
§ Mr. McCorquodale
Yes, certainly there has been. We have set up a strong advisory panel for the building and civil engineering industry to advice the Minister of Labour especially on the scheme. Steps have already been taken to initiate discussions, and the details of the training scheme are being actively worked out now. Of one thing we are quite sure, and that is that this scheme of special training for adults demobilised from the Forces will be doomed to failure unless from the start the industry has confidence in it. Therefore we are working most closely with the two sides of industry over this scheme, and I am grateful to them for the active co-operation they have given us.
§ Mr. Martin (Southwark, Central)
Does the hon. Gentleman mean that at the end of two years after the cessation of hostilities the personnel of the building industry will be sufficient to meet all demands on it for new building, subject to other conditions and the supply of materials?
§ Mr. McCorquodale
I would not say that because we cannot say at this stage what the rate of demobilisation from the Armed Forces will be, but we are going to do the best we can. We shall train as many of the 200,000 as possible—it will take three or four years to train them all—and we hope to get as many people as possible demobilised. I cannot promise that there will be as many craftsmen as will be required at the end of two years.
§ Mrs. Hardie (Glasgow, Springburn)
Will the Government consider taking women into the training scheme for same of the lighter work, such as woodwork, painting and so on?
§ Mr. Austin Hopkinson (Mossley)
We were informed last week that this Debate 1297 would take place to-day on the cost of building, and I venture to call attention to the fact that the Minister in his opening speech devoted only a few minutes to this subject and all the rest of his speech to boasting of the extraordinary deeds his Ministry has done and the large number of committees of various kinds he has managed to set up. We have had no real discussion on building costs in to-day's Debate and I would presume to bring the attention of the Committee back to the subject of that Debate. First, I would refer to the remarks of the hon. Member who represents the Labour Ministry and call attention to the fact that, in common with his colleagues in the Government, he has adopted the method of the false comparison, that is to say, of giving the public comparisons which mean absolutely nothing when you come to analyse them. The Supply Ministries have made themselves conspicuous for the past two years by making comparisons of the production of munitions now with the production in corresponding periods in the past, but not one of them has ever given any reason to suppose from their calculations that the comparisons were related to any facts of any value. They say that the amount of the production of munitions has risen. How is the amount calculated? Is it on the weight of munitions, or on the numbers of the various sorts of munitions, or, as I very largely suspect, on the amounts of money that have been disbursed by the Treasury to pay for them?
Such calculations are utterly worthless, and it is a disgraceful thing that Ministers of the Crown should humbug the people with comparisons which the people themselves may be unable to check. The hon Member gave comparisons of wages in the building and other industries which mean nothing. He told us that the average rise over the period under review in the building industry is 48 per cent. and in other industries 64 per cent. The other industries include my own where everybody knows that the wages paid in many instances are perfectly preposterous.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
I would like to ask the hon. Member whether he objects to the wages that are being paid because you employers of labour may be required to pay these decent wages after the war?
§ Mr. Hopkinson
I think that I may plead innocence, because I do not take one 1298 penny out of the engineering industry, directly or indirectly.
§ Mr. McCorquodale
I endeavoured to give as accurate a picture as I could, and my hon. Friend says that it is worthless. I not only gave percentages, but the actual pounds, shilling and pence. I gave the percentage received and also said that the wages on building contracts averaged £4 14s. a week and in other industries 115s. There is nothing more that I can give.
§ Mr. Hopkinson
I have told my hon. Friend that these comparisons are utterly worthless and do not mean anything, because there is no criterion to judge by. He speaks presumably as if the number of unskilled labourers in every industry proportionately to skilled men is the same as in the building industry, that the number of women is the same and that the number of apprentices and boys is the same. The figures, therefore, mean absolutely nothing, and they ought not to be put to the public. I am not blaming the hon. Member, because he is following the example of other Ministers. It has become part of the techniques of government to make false comparisons and deceive people into believing that their affairs are being conducted well when they are being conducted in the most disgraceful fashion.
Let us come to the actual question of building costs. We did not come here to listen to a long rigmarole from the Minister about the wonderful things the Ministry is going to do some day after the war. There is not a Member in the House who does not regard the Ministry as one that needs urgent and immediate investigation in regard to every one of its activities. It is a Ministry which more than any other has come under the gravest suspicion of everybody connected with the building trade and with trades connected with building. The Parliamentary Secretary himself is largely responsible by his method of answering Questions in this House. Anybody who has gone through Hansard as carefully as I have and seen his answers to supplementaries and to original Questions will agree with me that there is a disingenuousness about many 1299 of those answers which gives every reason to suppose that he is hiding a good deal which ought to be brought out for the benefit of the House. May I take one example? Quite recently we endeavoured to get a straight answer to a perfectly straight question as to how many bricks on 9-inch work in ordinary circumstances would be a reasonable day's work, and the Parliamentary Secretary has refused to give an answer at all. The reason is obvious. It is because he has based the whole of his so-called payment-by-result scheme on an output which anybody who has built a house knows is a ridiculous output to expect. Everybody knows that 360 bricks a day is a ridiculous number for plain 9-inch work. I have done quite a lot of building myself, and I know it. The hon. Member knows it, and why he cannot give a straight answer to a straight question in the House of Commons, heaven only knows. I can only explain it by saying that he knows perfectly well that he is robbing this country right and left for the benefit of the trade unions by fixing piece-work rates of that kind.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
Is it permissible for an hon. Member to accuse a Minister of the Crown of robbing the country for the benefit of the trade unions?
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Mr. Charles Williams)
I was beginning to wonder just how far this allegation was going, but remembering that in this House we often hear accusations thrown from one side to the other, and remembering that the Minister can answer in due course, I did not think the hon. Member was really out of Order, although I think that it might have been put rather more gently.
§ Mr. Hopkinson
I will give an example of what I am saying from the Ministry's document dealing with the payment-by-results scheme. From the figures given it apears that a man working 30 hours and drawing 117s. laid 1,870 bricks. We can get at the number of bricks he laid, because the bonus is known, and from that we can calculate the number in excess of the number allowed. With his wages and the wages of the labourer the cost works out at 1.32d. per brick. If the wages paid were the highest prevailing before the war in the London area, that is, 2s. for the bricklayer and 1s. 6d. for the labourer, the cost would work out at only.42d. per brick.
1300 That is the sort of thing that worries us. We get suspicious that there is something very much wrong. Any Member like myself who has been confined to Westminster during the last three years has only to go out any day and see men working on Government contracts within half a mile of this House, and he will see what is happening. There is no attempt to put in anything like an honest day's work. I am not criticising or blaming the men in the industry. That is not my business or the business of the Committee. But I am blaming—and this is the business of the Committee—the Depart-which has absolute autocratic control of that industry and has produced a state of affairs like we see on every building contract in the country. It is the Ministry's fault from beginning to end if these men are not doing their duty but are slacking, as they are slacking, and going off in the middle of the working shift to get a cup of tea in a shop down the street, or, as I have seen them, going across the street every morning in order to make their bets with a street bookie. I have seen it repeatedly. I say that these men are not to blame. They have not had opportunities like Members of this House have had of learning what their duty to the country in time of war is. The Ministry that allows that sort of thing to happen is unworthy of the confidence of this House.
§ Mr. Hicks
I think this is very gratuitous—what the hon. Member is saying without any evidence. Who is it that is superintending the men? The contractors who have tendered for the job. We have put the work out to contract at a price, and they employ the men, and it is they who superintend them. It is not my Ministry that is looking after them.
§ Mr. Hopkinson
Do I understand the hon. Member to deny what he told me in answer to a Question, that in very many instances they are on time and line, and therefore it does not matter a tinker's curse to the employer how much wages he offers? The more he pays, the better off he is.
§ Mr. Hopkinson
The hon. Member in his speech had to admit that these repairs to blitzed buildings are on time and line—
§ Mr. Hopkinson
—and we are perfectly agreed that a large number of other contracts, though not on direct time and line, are on a contract basis which in effect is roughly equivalent to time and line, inasmuch as it is not of any particular importance to the employer that he pays wages for work whether it is done or not. It is exactly the same in my own industry. We have elaborate agreements in the aircraft industry, and the Ministry of Aircraft Production is thus supposed to avoid this time and line, but in actual fact those agreements produce as many evils as direct time and line produces, inasmuch as it does not injure the employer to employ more labour and to pay more in wages than the job really calls for.
§ Mr. Hicks
I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend so many times, but I can assure him that in the case of all jobs over £25,000 contractors are invited to tender for them. I am not able to show him the results of the figures—at least, I do not think so, though I may be able to—but if he were able to look at the figures of the varying prices put in by the large contractors—ten or a dozen of them for every job—and the standards of scheduled prices which my Ministry has established as the result of our experience in the industry, and see how far they come below those, he would be amazed to find that there is no conception in the minds of contractors that they can put in for a job at any price they like and get the job and that everything will go rosily with them. It is very much the reverse.
§ Mr. Hopkinson
The hon. Member is again dodging the issue. It is not a question of large contracts above £25,000. I was referring to contracts in the City of Westminster, round about here, which are practically all small contracts for urgent air-raid protection work in the bricklaying trade. As far as I know, there has been no contract for £25,000 anywhere within a good radius of this House.
§ Mr. Hicks
Again I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, because I feel he is being put off the vindictive observations he wants to make towards my Ministry. Contracts under £25,000 are also put out to contractors, and the fierceness and keenness of the competition to secure them are as great as in the case of the larger ones.
§ Mr. Hopkinson
It happened that, when I was working in the Admiralty, bricklaying operations were going on under my window, and I had the opportunity for a whole series of weeks of actually counting the number of bricks which were laid.
§ Mr. Hopkinson
It was not. Part of the time my work happened to be concerned with the invention and design of certain new types of aircraft engines, which did call for my doing a little thinking now and then.
§ Mr. Hopkinson
I will give some particulars, to show what I mean, from actual figures which have been given by the Ministry. Those figures seem to indicate, as far as I can calculate it, that the actual cost of laying bricks now is something like three times what it was in 1939. I do not know whether my figures can be challenged, but I have worked them out carefully several times, and the result seems to be what I have stated. What I object to is this talk about having introduced piece work into the industry and saying that as a result more bricks are being laid in a given time. That may be so, but we are discussing the cost of building, and what I say—and I challenge the hon. Member to dispute this—is that the introduction of piece work has led to immense rises in the cost of building. It may have meant in certain instances more bricks being laid, but only at such an excessive cost that I think the Ministry are very properly put on the carpet to-day on the subject of the cost of building.
All these problems ultimately come down to a psychological basis. Why is it that certain men in certain industries —because the building industry is not 1303 the only one; in my industry it is the same—no longer think it wrong to put forward a poor effort? Why is it that although more men are sent into the pits less coal is produced? Why is it that the building trade operative, who as far as my experience goes has a sense of his duty to his country at least as high as that of other workers, is apparently, or rather obviously, not doing his duty at the present time? It behoves this Committee and the whole of the industry, and particularly the Ministry, to consider what it is that is making men act in this unusual way, a way in which they are not accustomed to act. We all know the reason why the miners—
§ Mr. Hopkinson
I beg your pardon, Mr. Williams, but I thought what I was going to say would link up with the question of the rise in costs in the building trade. There is no question that the trade to get into at present is the building trade. You get more money for less work than in any other trade, as far as I know, except that of the politician. I challenge Members of the Committee who have experience in industry to deny that. The building trade is the trade in which to get easy money at the present time. It even beats aircraft manufacture, and that is saying a good deal. [Interruption.] Shipbuilding is not an easy trade. You have to work very hard, and you do not get a great deal. Coalmining is not an easy trade. You have to work hard and do not get a great deal. But if you are lucky enough to get out of the mines and the shipyards into the building industry all your neighbours envy you. They say, "Here's a lucky fellow." Surely the reason for this deterioration of spirit is this: As was the case in the last war, we are giving to the men at the bench or in the pits the excuse for thinking, "Evidently a lot of loot is being got away with, and if loot is going spare, well, I am in it along with the rest," and that seems to me a very rational point of view. If a man thinks his employer is making a huge fortune from the agony of his country at war, that man is not going to put his full efforts into his work. If a man knows his employer is not getting a penny and that an employer who was well-to-do before the war 1304 is now a very poor man, he is likely to put his neck to the collar and do his level best. That is what I mean by the psychological aspect of this matter; and it is notorious that there are men in the building and contracting industries to-day who have immensely enriched themselves during the present war.
Furthermore, there is a very grave suspicion that they have been deliberately allowed to enrich themselves by very slack conduct on the part of the Ministry of Works. I know of one case in particular where a Department of State refused to have anything further to do with a firm owing to their experience of that firm. It was a firm of contractors on a large scale. A certain Department, having had experience of them, struck them off their list and said, "We are having nothing further to do with those people." The Ministry of Works thought otherwise. They are safe now under their protecting umbrella and remain on their list to this day. I maintain that every Ministry of the Crown ought to be compelled to strike off its list any contractor who has been struck off the list of any other Department. That is what I mean when I say that the Minister is on the carpet. He has not come here to tell us what a fine Ministry his is, but to defend the Ministry, and I am going to make him do it if possible. If he can explain why a firm which for apparent misconduct has been struck off by one Ministry should be taken on by his, then he will have answered one of the counts in the indictment.
There is another count. I drew the attention of the Minister to the fact that a very high official of his Department was a member of a firm in contractual relations with the Department. From time immemorial in this country it has been one of our chief safeguards against things going rotten here as they went rotten in France that no official of any Ministry should be in any way concerned with any firm in contractual relations with his own Ministry. By some form of whitewashing the Ministry got out of that, but I say the blot on their escutcheon is still there and ought to be wiped off.
May I give another example to show why, rightly or wrongly, this Ministry is on the carpet, and why, rightly or wrongly, it is under suspicion among a large number of people both in this House 1305 and outside? A high official of the Minister's Department was prosecuted, along with a firm of contractors with whom the Ministry is in contractual relations. They were convicted, and they were fined. Within a very short time that official was promoted. Is that justified? There may be circumstances, I am willing to admit, which make it very desirable that that should happen, just as there may be circumstances which make it a very desirable thing that the canon of decent conduct which has been observed in this country in regard to not being in contractual relations with your own firm when an official of a Department should be observed. There may be a good and valid reason, but we have to have that good and weighty reason or we cannot acquit the Minister and his Ministry.
Those, if the Minister will answer them, are a few of the counts in the indictment. There are others, but these are the ones which occur to me now, and I do not wish to weary the Committee with others. What I do wish the Minister to understand, and to understand thoroughly, is that his method of answering Questions in this House does not satisfy this House, that it is his constant endeavour to wriggle out of difficult corners by not giving the information which he obviously could give if only he chose to get it. His replies, I say, have been disingenuous in the extreme. Here is an example. In connection with the question of a certain official being in contractual relations with his own firm, there was a whole series of replies to Questions and Supplementary Questions about the position of that gentleman, and whether or not he was a partner in that firm at any given time. The hon. Member will perhaps remember some of the replies he gave, how he said that the man was not an active partner but only a sleeping partner, and how, when I challenged him as to whether being a sleeping partner meant drawing his share of the profits, he was unable to give me an answer. That is what I call being disingenuous. It is putting on an innocent sort of expression and giving a totally wrong impression to the House of Commons as to what the facts of the case are.
That is the indictment we have against the hon. Member, and I say that if he can bring forward a defence, I shall be only too glad to hear it and to apologise to him if I have held any unworthy sus- 1306 picions of his Department. There are certain firms of contractors who have really bad reputations in business. Those of us who have been engaged in business, as I have been since I was a boy, are always very grateful to the old and experienced men in business who, seeing a young man trying to make his way on his own account, give him good advice regarding whom to deal with and whom to avoid. Everybody who has had similar experiences to my own has a sort of mental black list of people to avoid at any cost. That is what I mean when I say there are certain firms with whom we must deal with the utmost possible care. This firm was the subject of a criminal prosecution which went wrong only because of stupidity on the part of the police, and when we saw that, the name of that firm went on our black list in the ordinary way. Unhappily, with the Ministry it does not seem to count. The mere fact that the firm has been prosecuted and that the evidence showed that it escaped conviction probably because the police made a mistake in presenting the case, does not seem to worry that Department at all. Any man, we know too well, can be put in a responsible position in a Government Department provided that he has not actually been convicted. We started this war with people saying that it is a crusade, which may be so. But it is a new form of crusade. I have ascertained from more than one Minister that if a man has not actually been convicted of fraud, ipso facto he is regarded as suitable to be put into positions of the highest responsibility.
§ Flight-Lieutenant Raikes (Essex, South-East)
The hon. Member has raised a number of points relating to individuals and firms. I should like to ask whether he would put the Committee into possession of the names of certain of these firms, in regard to the allegations he has made. It will be very difficult for the Minister to reply unless he has got the actual instances before him.
§ Mr. Hopkinson
No. I have no real evidence with me on these matters, and it would not be fair to give the names, but I have made the cases obvious to the Minister. There is little risk of error. I have referred to a firm that has been struck off the list of another Government Department, and which has been the subject of a criminal prosecution, being 1307 prosecuted in company with one of the high officials, and I think it is pretty obvious to the Minister which firm I mean. It is not for the Minister to defend the firm, as I am not attacking the firm. It is for the Minister to defend that which is attacked, and that is the Ministry of Works. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will set to work and do it. I will tell him this: If he will give me any reason to believe that the Ministry has looked after the public interest in the way that the Ministry should and has guarded against excessive costs in building, I shall he only too glad to apologise, if I find that things are not nearly as bad as a large number of people imagine to be the case.
§ Wing-Commander James (Wellingborough)
I hope I shall not engender as much heat in my remarks as did the hon. Member who has just sat down, but for a long time this Ministry has carried on in the absence of healthy criticism, and that is not good in a democracy. If I should appear to be somewhat controversial, I hope hon. Members will consider I am justified. The speech made by the Minister was certainly the weakest I have heard from that bench since the war began. Although the Minister was well supported by his friends opposite, and although he spoke on a Friday, when we have not a very full Committee, and therefore everything was in his favour, he made a very weak case for the Department. The essence of this matter is the extraordinary rise in building costs which we think was brought about by and through the Ministry itself, but the hon. Gentleman deliberately addressed himself to that matter for a minimum amount of time at the end of a very long and carefully prepared defensive statement.
It seems to me that far too much suggestion underlay the arguments so far used that this is simply a question of new building. Building costs are of much wider application than that. They affect the lives of every man, woman and child in the country. It is not merely the cost of erection of new houses which is involved, but the cost of current repairs and essential decoration, plumbing, painting, plastering and slating. All those items come into the question of building costs, and they affect the pockets and the lives of everybody in this country. We are reaching a stage in building costs where the 1308 post-war building programme is doubly threatened. It is threatened in the first place because so high are present costs that people hesitate, even if they can get the job done, to undertake current repairs. Secondly, there is a threat that post-war prices will be so high that the whole postwar housing programme is in jeopardy.
I do not pretend to be an expert on building but I have had a certain amount of building and repairs done in recent years. During last week-end I looked up my papers to see what my recent experience had been in the building of houses. Luckily, I have the papers complete, and I can make an accurate statement. I find that in the summer of 1935 I built two pairs of rural houses. They were excellent in quality and good in design, and very superior to the contemporary council houses then being built. The houses, and I give it as a basis of comparison, were three-bedroom houses, with a kitchen and parlour, really good quality. The total cost of the four houses, which were not identical pairs, was £412 10s. each, all in. They were done by a good firm of local builders. The figure does not include land or fencing, or outside water and ligh connections, but includes paths. I can stand up to the accuracy of that figure.
§ Wing-Commander James
It included the connections to the house but, of course, not the public road. I also observe that these houses took 20 weeks and 2 days to build. I shall compare these figures with the figures given in this House on 18th July by the Minister of Health, in reply to the hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths), about building costs. The Minister said that tenders had been received for rural houses and that the highest per house was £966, with the addition of £33 for certain extras, most of which were included in the figure I have given for my houses. The lowest was £644, with an extra of £53 per house. These houses were of lower quality than the ones to which I have referred. The Minister added in the same reply that the approximate proportion of labour and materials was as 60 to 40. Another figure was given on 8th July in a Parliamentary answer, when we were told that the cost of 826 houses and bungalows, built for the Ministry of Aircraft Production, and not intended to be permanent structures, 1309 was £708. The shortest time to complete was eight months. Of course, one makes allowance for war-time difficulties, but this is a pretty marked difference, and we are justified in asking the Minister to examine the position critically. What a comment this is on Government building and Government planning. This sort of thing puts in jeopardy the whole of our post-war housing programme.
Let us examine for a moment the reasons. I am not going to exaggerate, I hope, and I am sure I shall be checked by hon. Members opposite if I do. I am not going to suggest that all the reasons are avoidable and that there are not exceptional reasons in war-time. I want to be fair, but I must say that these costs should be critically examined and that the Ministry should, much more frankly and honestly than before, explain the position to the country. My contention is that the main reason for these extraordinary rises in cost is the interference, in collaboration, by the Minister of Labour and the Minister of Works, with the ordinary laws of supply and demand, an interference which is carried far beyond the needs of the abnormal conditions of the time. It is a deliberately collusive plan by those two Socialist Ministers. Let us not forget that this is a sheltered industry which can get away with costs now which they could not when there was some competition. It is because this is a sheltered industry that the Committee should examine the figures with such care.
§ Mr. Craven-Ellis
I would point out that the industry is sheltered only so far as labour is concerned.
§ Wing-Commander James
That is a point to which I shall address myself when I come to deal with the Minister of Labour in collusion with the Minister of Works. I will quote as little as possible during my speech, but I should very much like to read one paragraph from a letter on the centre page of "The Times" on 6th July this year. I would ask the Minister to make a direct reply to this letter, because he has not answered this point at all in his opening speech. This is a letter from the President of the South Western Federation of Building Trades Employers, and in it are these words: 1310Building costs are made up of labour, materials, on-costs and a profit of small proportion. Labour cost is much higher, due to increase in basic wage rate, site conditions, and Government legislation. Everyone concerned desires to maintain improved labour conditions, but it is absolutely essential that the serious loss in output be restored without further delay. Employers and employees know that the scheduled output figures for the bonus on output system are generally far too low and the cost is thereby increased to an unwarranted extent. The cost of the Government uniformity agreement and Essential Work Order adds about one-fifth to the labour cost.Will the Minister notice particularly in his reply this last point?—This expense is largely met by the Ministry of Labour and therefore does not appear in the builders' estimates.Then in the same column on the same day appeared a letter from the executive officer, Committee for Industrial and Scientific Provision of Housing, and he gives figures which I shall quote. I shall be glad if the Minister will comment upon them. This officer says that 340 man-hours per house is the practice in the United States and that 2,000 to 2,200 man-hours per house is the prevailing rate in this country. I am not warranting the figures, but this is a letter from an expert body. It is a great pity that the hon. Gentleman did not refer in his speech to the charges which had been made against his Ministry, which I therefore repeat for his benefit and in the hope that he will give a reply. What has been the attitude of the Parliamentary Secretary in speaking for his Ministry in this House? My hon. Friend who preceded me made some pointed references to his evasive tactics. I am going to give one or two examples of his recent evasions.
On 7th July I asked him what appeared to be a very simple, straightforward Question as to precisely what had caused the 25 per cent. rise in building costs which occurred between i8th March, 1943, and 2nd June, 1943. The Parliamentary Secretary knows the source of my figures. He answered in about 14 lines, saying:I regret that it is not possible to state precisely the items that have contributed to the rise. …[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th July, 1943; col. 2088. Vol. 390.]and so on. If his own Minister is able to give the figure, surely the Parliamentary Secretary can explain it in this Committee? He went on to evade three 1311 more Supplementary Questions, when I then gave notice to raise the matter on the Adjournment. But the after-effect did appear to me to be some use in this. House, because later on his replies became a little clearer. I will not weary the Committee with many quotations, but prior to this improvement he was asked by the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. Bossom) an equally simple question about bricklaying. Again he simply dodged the answer completely. After the previous instance I have given there was, as I say, some improvement. I have quotations with me illustrating that slight improvement, but that improvement did not last as long as this Debate. What were the reasons for his reluctance to give us the facts? Could it be connected with the fact that this rise in cost is primarily due to the direct collusion of three Ministers, all of them Socialists, all of them convinced planners running their own pet hobby horse and going in for a little bit of planning in a sheltered industry at other people's expense? Are they planning a post-war stranglehold on the industry? On that I want a very straight answer.
I shall go back a little, because anybody watching the situation could see this coming. In parenthesis, note the sequence of the creation of this Ministry. The Ministry of Works and Buildings was set up by Order in Council dated 11th October, 1940. I have no doubt that at the time it appeared to be, and probably was, necessary to have some central direction over building during the war. Then there was a slight metamorphosis, and by the Act of 1942, operating from 1st July, it became the Ministry of Works and Planning. Note Planning. Finally, on 10th February this year, the title of "Minister of Works" comes into use. He has built himself nicely into this dictatorial position. As I say, anybody could see this rise in costs coming. It started, of course, in such a way that it looked for a time as being, in a way, inevitable and perhaps necessary. It started when the Minister took charge of the surfacing and construction of aerodromes.
When I came back from abroad in the summer of 1941 I was at once inundated with complaints about the wages being paid, and the work being done, on aerodromes. Being of a curious and dis- 1312 believing nature, I took the trouble to investigate the matter very carefully myself on a number of sites. Having collected figures, I quoted them at two meetings—not in this Chamber—to the Minister. Then I got the first inkling of what the Minister's attitude wag to be. He said such things were absurd and nonexistent, and he invited me to submit my figures to experts at his Ministry. I am speaking of the Ministry of Labour. I did take my figures to the Ministry. I would add that the Minister's invitation was not supplemented by his informing me as to whom to take them, but when I finally got to the right person and showed him the figures he said, "Those figures certainly cannot be challenged." Those were figures which the Minister himself had pooh-poohed. From that day to this the Minister has never expressed any surprise that the figures which he denied were proved to be right.
I will give just one of those figures to show the position in the summer of 1941. It shows that on aerodromes then under construction the earnings of builders' labourers—not craftsmen, not tradesmen —had gone up, the earnings, not wages, from a comparable figure of £2 16s. a week before the war to £6 10s. a week then, plus very substantial benefits, one of which was in many cases 24s. a week lodging allowance, and benefits like free travel home, cheap meals on the site, regular leave and so on. What did the Minister do about it?
§ Wing-Commander James
One factor in this high rate of earnings was that grossly excessive hours were being worked, in many cases over 60. I did not intend to leave that factor out, but I had intended to refer to it later. In this connection also at the present time one of the reasons for excessive building costs is the 60 hours per week mentioned by the Minister himself being worked in many cases. What does that mean? Everybody knows it means that no man can keep up output for any length of time in a heavy job. Another reason—and this is a matter which the Minister must attend to—is that if you have high rates of overtime as now men will go easy in working time to get overtime and nobody can blame them.
§ Wing-Commander James
I never interrupt the hon. Member, and I shall be obliged if he will allow me to make my point without interruption. Another reason why it was desirable that on this aerodrome surface work these hours should not have been worked—this is a defensive point for the Minister—is that the quality of labour was so much less good, that much of it was unskilled. Surely that was all the more reason not to let those people work those excessive hours. What was the net result of those hours and those earnings on the Chancellor's pronouncement in the White Paper on the need for the stabilising of the cost of living and wages and avoiding inflation? The Minister set up a disequilibrium between unskilled labour and skilled labour and started this scramble. As a subsidiary to this situation, there was that scandal which so annoyed the countryside of a boy straight from school, the son of a skilled agricultural labourer who was earning £3 a week, going to an aerodrome and earning £3 10s. a week carrying tea about. That went on for months, and nothing was done about it at all. It did not do the boy any good, nor did it do the families any good. It merely upset the general trend and made bad feeling.
In fairness to the Minister, so far as aerodrome surface work is concerned there were two or three extenuating circumstances which he could plead. He could say that output per man was high. He was able to say that because, owing to the great development of mechanical appliances, there was a very high output in relation to the labour, but it was the mechanical appliances that did it, not the labour. He dodged that issue. He could also say that there was a labour force of an unusual character. For example, in the early stages on at least one of the sites I examined, a number of dockers had been directed there. They did not like the job. That was another reason why abnormally high wages might be justified, but in that case it did not work; none of them stayed. What a comment this situation which the Ministry of Works are seeking to perpetuate is on the old slogan we heard before the war about taking the profit out of war. The Chancellor quite rightly, and I believe with some considerable success, 1314 has prevented industry and capital from profiteering.
§ Wing-Commander James
Legislation finds it difficult to do that, but I was considering honest people at the moment, and what would be said if we had profiteering by capital comparable to that which you now have in sheltered trades by labour? Do not forget that the cost of living to which those earnings are supposed to be related as set out in the Government's White Paper policy for avoiding inflation of 1940 was given in this House on 8th July as 48 per cent. Since then I think there has been a rise of two points. Still the rise bears no relation to those rates. There was an intervention opposite during one of the speeches, I think that of my hon. Friend beside me. The hon. Member who intervened said that, after all, there were abnormal circumstances and that industry would have no difficulty in paying those wages. That was the gist of it. The point is that all this expenditure is coming on our heads after the war, it is all piling up the National' Debt. The man who gets a high wage now is not getting away with something which other people have not got to pay for. His own family, his own friends, will bear the burden after the war. There should be no disbursement of public money as from a bottomless purse. Are we to expect this sort of thing constantly after the war? Does the Parliamentary Secretary expect that this Ministry is going to continue after the war? I would very much like to know his views on that subject. There have been some rather disquieting statements lately, which might make one suppose that the Ministry, at least, think that they will go on. I asked a Question on 13th July. The answer I was given was that during the previous 10 weeks a costing section had been established at the Ministry of Works—after all this time—which had concentrated on the cost of post-war building. Might I suggest that it should direct its attention to present building, and leave post-war building to the Ministry of Health?
§ Mr. A. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
Does the hon. and gallant Member suggest that it should direct its attention to speculation in land values?
§ Wing-Commander James
I would be very pleased if anyone would do that. But it does not come under this Vote.
§ Wing-Commander James
I should be delighted if something were done about it. If the hon. Member is suggesting that I benefit from the increase in land values—
§ Wing-Commander James
I am much obliged to the hon. Member. At any rate, it is not germane to the argument, but it would be very helpful if the hon. Member or his party would put down that matter for discussion on a Supply Day. The Parliamentary Secretary referred to a post-war building committee. I do not like the sound of that. Will he tell us, when he replies, what that sentence meant? Like a great deal of his speech, it was so carefully prepared that it left me quite unable to disentangle its real meaning. Will he tell us exactly the function, the policy, and the ambitions of the post-war committee to which he referred? There is another point on which I should like an answer—and I am sure that the gentlemen who can prepare so careful a statement for the Parliamentary Secretary must have every fact at their finger tips. In reply to a Parliamentary Question, put by myself—I I apologise for asking the meaning of answers, but this was not very clear—the Parliamentary Secretary said, on 14th July, that there were 9,537 building operatives in the direct employment of the Ministry of Works on 1st June. What was the total number of employed before the war by the Office of Works? By how many has that number been increased? Does the Minister appreciate the need for giving the House, at a later stage, some more precise information—a written answer might do—as to the categories and 1316 wages of these employees? How have these men been recruited? Have they been drawn from other firms, or trained under the Ministry of Labour training scheme? Could we, at a later date perhaps, have some more definite explanation as to who these persons are? It becomes clear that if you want to cripple an industry, you must appoint a Ministry to look after it.
I have left to the end a remark that might, perhaps, be regarded' as contentious, but I am sure that the Minister will take it in good part. It is, of course, no more than a coincidence, and one, no doubt, that the Minister deplores heartily, and to which he will refer in his concluding remarks, that the principal beneficiaries of these extraordinary increases in wage rates are the very persons who, before the war, were the clients of the two Ministers most concerned. That is most unfortunate. But it was surprising to learn to-day that, in addition, some £500 a week is now being paid out to trade union officials on the sites. How are those officials, who are no doubt employed on very useful tasks, recruited? Who pays them? Are they included in the overheads of the Ministry? Can we have a full explanation of the position, employment and emoluments of those 53 officials. I hope sincerely that when this war ends all the Ministries created during the war will be abolished; but to-day's Debate has convinced me that first priority for abolition goes to the Ministry of Works.
§ Mr. Leslie (Sedgfield)
I listened with considerable interest to what I considered a very instructive speech by the Parliamentary Secretary. I want to congratulate the Ministry on the grouping system. This is a matter which I brought to the notice of the Ministry over two years ago. It will give small builders a chance of obtaining contracts. Complaints were rife at the beginning of the war that only a few favoured large contractors were able to secure contracts for aerodromes and Government factories. I am glad to know that since the Ministry of Works took on the job, builders, in general, have been treated fairly, and it is also good to know that building operators are to be treated more decently than formerly. This may be the means not only of attracting but of retaining young men in the industry. Never in the history of the 1317 country were more building operatives necessary.
The hon. and gallant Member for Hornsey (Captain Gammans) was very concerned about building costs, as was the hon. and gallant Member for Welling-borough (Wing-Commander James). This matter worried local authorities after the last war. I propose to refer to it later. The hon. and gallant Member also said that the Minister of Health had informed the House that private enterprise had been responsible for building 3,000,000 houses between the two wars. But were those houses built to let? I suggest that private enterprise has never built houses to let, but only for sale. Therefore, they have not met the needs of the community. The hon. and gallant Member said that Members on this side regarded small builders as undesirable and worthless citizens. That is not true. The only builders whom we regard as undesirable and worthless citizens are those who have been guilty of stamping work. There have been far too many them in the building trade. The last two speakers seemed to assert that the rise in the cost of building was due to high wages and slackness on the part of the workers, and that it had nothing to do with the cost of materials. If they had been in the House when the hon. Member for Brigg (Mr. Quibell), who is a practical builder, was speaking, they would have learned about the high cost of materials.
§ Wing-Commander James
I never used the word "slackness" in the whole of my speech, nor was it in my mind.
§ Mr. Leslie
The hon. and gallant Member spoke of the long time it took to erect a house, compared with the time it took in 1935. What else could that mean?
§ Wing-Commander James
I never said, or ever. suggested, such a thing. The hon. Member cannot possibly translate what I said into an accusation of slackness on the part of the workers. It was not in my mind.
§ Mr. Leslie
I do not suggest that the hon. and gallant Member used the word "slackness," but the insinuation was there. In every community there are two schools of thought respecting communal enterprise. We have seen that recently in this House. One school of thought would confine local authorities to the most elementary things necessary 1318 to the community. In principle, that school is against local authorities doing anything which private enterprise might do with good profit to itself. So we see a constant fight over communal gas, electricity and so on. The other school, to which I belong, believes in communal ownership and control, the profits to go to the community either to be used to reduce the rates or passed on to the consumers in lower prices or better service. Take this question of housing. It is well to remember what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) said just after the last war: that the Government had played with housing for 40 years, and that that had resulted in a C3 population. That was true, as far as slum conditions were concerned. Overcrowding, we know only too well, leads to bad health and disease. In the train of overcrowding, come physical, mental and moral deterioration and degradation. The last war accentuated the problem of housing, as the present war is likely to do unless drastic action is taken by the Government. Landowners and private enterprise took advantage of the nation's housing needs.
Take, for instance, the cost of land, which was referred to by one hon. Member. Here is what happened in the London area. At Camberwell, for land rateable at £42, the local authority had to pay for housing purposes £8,000, which was equivalent to 190 years' purchase price. In Wandsworth, for land that was rated at £14, they had to pay £9,450, equivalent to 675 years' purchase, and in Woolwich, for land of a rateable value of £9, they had to pay £5,563, equivalent to 618 years' purchase. All that goes into the cost of houses. An industrial community enhances the value of land. The landowner does nothing. He sits tight and scoops the pool. After the last war the housing shortage was certainly acute and it is likely to be even more acute after the present war. Private enterprise is not concerned with building houses to let but only with houses to sell, and the Government of the day had to offer subsidies to encourage house building. Building costs went up enormously. This was not due to high wages because the operatives at that period were not paid for time lost in bad weather and there was no guaranteed weekly wage. All things that went into the construction of houses— 1319 and, worst of all, light castings—were controlled by trusts. We know how rings were formed in the building trade.
It so happened that I was chairman of a housing committee at that time. Fortunately, we had embarked upon a scheme of housing prior to the war and had built most of the houses which were required, but there were still 200 houses required to finish the scheme after the war. We advertised for tenders and when these were submitted we found that for the whole of the 200 houses there was less than £50 difference between the tenders. The tenders were so high that the committee approached the Office of Works who said that, if it was possible for us to undertake the building of those houses by direct labour, the Office of Works would be agreeable. We undertook to build by direct labour and on those 200 houses we saved no less than £22,000, as against the tenders put forward by private enterprise contractors. Other towns had a similar experience. Glasgow saved no less than £154 a house, Derby £50, and Lincoln £60, and all the local authorities in the county of Durham, with two exceptions, had a similar experience with similar results. The advantage of direct labour was that it helped to force down private contract prices and at the same time—and this was very essential—it ensured that all the materials used in the construction of the houses were sound.
During that boom period interlopers entered the building trades and honest builders had to compete with unscrupulous competitors. Evidence was seen all over the country of the stamping of work, of green wood used for doors and windows that warped in dry weather, and bricks that crumbled away at the least touch of frost, flooring that gave way because of defective posts. Many a man was ruined by speculative builders after having invested his life's savings. Then estate companies suddenly came into existence, and to the handicap of honest builders, jerrybuilders were engaged by these estate companies to build houses, again not to let but for sale. The utmost possible care will have to be exercised to prevent a repetition of this ramp in providing houses after the war. Evidence of what I have said must be in possession both of the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Works and Buildings. Local authorities all over the 1320 country know only too well what happened after the last war. Therefore, I warn the Minister of Health to be wary, lest the same shameful ramp occurs after the present war.
§ Sir Jonah Walker-Smith (Barrow-in-Furness)
There are various points raised by the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Leslie) to which I too want to make reference. I hope I shall not detain the Committee for more than five minutes and I promise that I shall not be more than ten. The hon. Member tendered his congratulations to the Minister of Works upon the grouping system and the method the Ministry of Works has adopted for the purpose of securing the restoration of damaged houses. I do not support those congratulations in the very least. The scheme is a bad one, undesirable and unnecessary and I think it will fail; and I do not think that the scheme does at all a good turn to the small builder with whom my hon. Friend is so concerned—a concern which I, equally, share. The right people to entrust with the restoration of these houses are the Ministry of Health supervising the activities of the local authorities. It is their duty to give the authorities ample opportunity to discharge their statutory duty, which they wish to do.
I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary, in making his reply and in dealing with the point, will remember a question, put to him by an hon. Member by way of interruption of his original speech—a pertinent question to which there was no reply. The question was whether, in connection with the local authorities' activity in restoring and repairing these damaged houses, it is the fact, as was reported to him, that there is a tendency to denude the local authorities' squads and works staffs in order to transfer the labour from that particular agency to this new C (b) group system, which is done from the Ministry of Works? I should like a reply to that question. It may well be that it is true, and, if it is true, it is regrettable and ought to be stopped. The Ministry of Works should not be encouraged to rob an efficient Paul in order to pay an inefficient Peter. That is a point that I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will note.
If I have sensed the feeling of this Committee rightly, while they are interested in the very wide range of subjects 1321 to which the Parliamentary Secretary has referred, they are particularly interested in that aspect of the subject dealing with the increased cost of houses. Their interest in that is that if these costs should at the present time be anything like 105 per cent. above the pre-war level it is likely seriously to militate against the solution of our housing problem at the end of the war. If that is not their particular concern and particular interest, it is my particular concern and my particular interest. It is to that point that I wish to address myself for a few minutes, but there is one other reference I wish to make and I will get it out of the way at once.
In the speech that was made by the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. A. Hopkinson) he put three specific questions to the Parliamentary Secretary. They were in the nature of accusations. Two of them I did not properly understand, but the third I did very well understand and it should not be allowed to rest where it is. As I understood the accusation, it was that there was a very large contractor, whose previous conduct in carrying out Government contracts had been of such a nefarious nature that the Department had felt justified in striking him off the list of contractors. Subsequently, it is suggested, without proper care and attention and investigation he was taken back by the Ministry of Works, and entrusted with very large contracts, which gave him the opportunity of pursuing this same nefarious practice. It was further said that the Minister—that anyone—would be able to identify this particular contractor. Familiar as I am with contractors, I cannot identify him and I do not want to identify him, but that accusation must not be disregarded and I certainly hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will deal with it. I doubt whether, on the spur of the moment, he will have sufficient information to give us to-day, but it must not be forgotten and must be dealt with.
On the question of costs the Parliamentary Secretary explained to us that the rates of wages paid since the beginning of the war have risen to an extent varying between 21 and 30 per cent. That is in accordance with my own view. Let us say that they have risen about 26 or 27 per cent., which I believe to be right. But here the costs are up 105 per cent. Would the Parliamentary Secretary apply his mind, in general terms, to explaining 1322 the bridge between 27 per cent., which we so clearly understand, and 105 per cent., which is not so clearly understood? In submitting the various factors which tended to bridge that gap, he seemed to have in his mind the idea that they could be divided into two distinct parts, those which would be ephemeral and likely to disappear at the end of the war, and those which will remain fixed. I want further information from him in regard to that.
It would be serious if we should have to start the solution of the housing problem from a datum line 105 per cent. above pre-war level and we shall have to consider, if these costs go up thus in the green wood of war-time conditions, what will they be in the dry wood of peace? The fixed post-war increase may be not more than 50 per cent. and I hope it will be rather less than that. Then it is not so extravagant and the circumstances could be fixed with greater equanimity. There is for consideration the factors which go to make that increase. The hon. Gentleman said that one was the long hours required to be worked upon these agricultural cottages of 60 hours a week. That increase involves overtime rates. That is unfortunate in raising the price, but it is unfortunate in another way, in that it decreases production and does so not only proportionately to the number of hours in excess of the normal. As is well understood by those who have made research into building operations, there is an optimum and a maximum output. The optimum is obtained by men when working 45 or 46 hours a week. It is different for mechanised production, I know, but speaking of the building industry that is the case. There is a maximum for continuous work and that maximum is 50 hours. If you go beyond 60 hours continuously, not only do you not get any proportional increase of output for your increased hours per week, but the positive figure is absolutely less than that obtained by working only 50 hours.
Further, the hon. Gentleman said that one of these features, which I regard as ephemeral, is the fact that there is insufficient labour in the country at the present time and this necessitates labour being transferred from places where there are higher rates. There is, of course, travelling time, subsistence allowance and charges which are all right and proper but they need not concern 1323 us in estimating the post-war increase. There are certain things that will be definite in the post-war increase and should be so. There are holidays with pay, which must remain, and there is the cost of the provision of amenities for the workers, which also must remain. But there is one which I wish to be removed and which is -tending to raise these costs, namely, the Essential Work Order. This, and other Regulations, tend to raise unduly the cost of building. If time permitted, I would like to make some comments about the fantastic arrangements which have been made under the Essential Work Order. It has resulted in people getting the worst of both worlds and the best of neither. Payment by results under the aegis of the Ministry of Works is entirely fantastic. To know how to bridge the gulf between 27 per cent., which we well understand, and 105 per cent. we should know how much to regard as purely ephemeral, to be wiped away, and how much will be the fixed increase in considering the housing problem of the future?
§ Mr. Spearman (Scarborough and Whitby)
I would like to refer to the interesting speech we had at the beginning of the Debate from my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith). I was glad to hear his moving appeal for better housing after the war but, with respect, I suggest that he was, in one instance, rather confusing. He seemed to suggest that the quantity and quality of houses after the war were limited only by finance, by what he thought would be the niggardliness of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I believe that the real limitation is something which is something much less controllable than that and much less elastic; it is the limitation of men and materials. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour said that such is the shortage of craftsmen that there will not be enough men for many years to come. That being so, if immense hardship in this country after the war is to be avoided, it is of the utmost importance that the greatest possible output per man should be achieved. Do the plans proposed in this White Paper assist in that direction? I must admit that I have not succeeded in quite mastering all its points, but after listening to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hornsey (Captain 1324 Gammans) and others, I have some doubts as to whether the proposals of the White Paper will lead to the maximum output per man. The hon. Member for Brigg (Mr. Quibell), who made such an interesting speech and whose experience in the matters is so great that I would hesitate to disagree with him, did not seem to like the system of payment by results. But I suggest that after the war there will be a greater need for that system than before, and for this reason. Before the war, when we had a huge number of unemployed, there was the most undesirable and unhealthy stimulus towards efficiency of a man being frightened of losing his job because of the number of people out of work. If we can bring the numbers of our unemployed down to a reasonable proportion—as I think it is in our power to do—we shall get rid of that most undesirable state of affairs. Then it may well be necessary to replace that by some system of bonuses on work, which would encourage efficiency.
The hon. Member for Stoke also expressed dissatisfaction with the houses now being proposed, especially as regards their size, equipment and quality. We all want to see far better houses after the war than we had before, and to see them equipped in an altogether different and better way. But can we achieve that in the immediate post-war period? That may be all very well for the vast majority of people who have now fairly decent houses but if it is to reduce the number we can produce, then it is rather hard on the 1,000,000 people who have no houses at all, including many who will come back from the war. It might be difficult to have a standard as high as we should like because the creation of such a standard might thereby reduce the quantity. It is, of course, very wasteful to build inadequate houses which can only be temporary. But it is a choice of evils. I should like to remind my hon. Friend that peace, like war, can force us into all manner of follies that may in the emergency have become necessary.
§ Mr. Butcher (Holland-with-Boston)
I think this has been an extremely interesting Debate and that the Committee has been well advised to take it on this Supply Day but in all my experience here, I do not remember any Department having received a bigger clouting than the Ministry of Works has had to-day. I think it 1325 is a little unfair because, after all, we all like the Parliamentary Secretary. When he sat on the benches opposite he displayed great charm and amiability; now he is on the Government Front Bench responding for his Department as if it were one of the great Departments of State. He does not deceive himself or us. His Department is only the old Office of Works, which has grown fat in wartime and which will be subject to a slimming process after the war. I hope that when my hon. Friend replies to the Debate he will not pretend that he is answering for one of the giant Departments, such as the Home Office. Let him say with all humility, "We are sorry. We realise that all sorts of things have gone wrong; you know how we started and how long we are likely to last, but we will try to do our best while we are here." The real point is that the Ministry has never been official from the time it started. There is a widespread feeling that the Ministry is on the side of the big firms. The hon. Member for Brigg (Mr. Quibell), who speaks with such great authority on these matters, shares that view, I am sure. He complained about the cost of cement and bricks, which I thought hardly friendly to the Parliamentary Secretary who explained at the opening of the Debate that his Department was controlling cement and bricks. Further, I feel that this Ministry is too inefficient to be permitted to last after the war. I also think that it is lacking in knowledge of the conduct that should be observed between one Ministry and another.
Nothing has been funnier than this question of the 3,000 rural cottages. We are to have 2,600 built by the Ministry of Health and there are 88, of inferior design and accommodation, costing more money, to be built by a rival Government Department. I hope we shall not have that sort of mess and muddle in our postwar housing campaign. We cannot solve the housing problem if we have two Departments in direct competition with one another and six Departments messing and muddling about over a three-roomed cottage. As regards the question of payment by results, I listened carefully to the Parliamentary Secretary's speech and thought I should have heard much more about it. Is it fair to ask any industry to try to work a thing like this in war- 1326 time? The Ministry of Labour are taking people away from firms and offices, rightly, so that they can make a contribution towards the war, but if you look at this scheme you find that only a skilled quantity surveyor could work it out with any accuracy at all. I am not able to say whether the scheduled number of bricks to be laid per hour is right or not. That is a task for somebody with far greater skill and experience, but if you turn to page 12 of the White Paper, you will see there a very complicated schedule relating to brickwork of varying kinds, the basic rate in one case being 40 bricks and in others 34, 30 and so on. It is either right or it is wrong; the Minister must know. He ought to be able to say—and I am sure the information is available—whether this is a suitable rate of bricks to be laid per hour or not. An unskilled layman has no opportunity of testing these things but he is suspicious when he looks at schedule 12A and finds this:The basic output per man per hour of shelf brackets, not exceeding 12 inch projection into soft wood is six per man per hourThere are a good many carpenters who would think themselves poor workmen if they took ten minutes to fix a shelf like that. I do not think this thing is workable, because there is not the clerical staff in existence to work it out accurately nowadays. I do not believe it is desirable to mix payment by results with time payments, as we are doing at the present time. But I do not think it matters very much because this is a war-time Ministry and it must go when the black-out goes.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works (Mr. Hicks)
I would like first of all in reply to the Debate to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith), who really tried to understand the message I attempted to put over earlier in the day about the stewardship of my Ministry since I last spoke about it in March, 1941. Hon. Members have complained that I did not devote more time to building costs, but that has not prevented them from putting their own points of view. The hon. Member for Stoke made an appeal on the question of lower standards. I can assure him that there is no intention on our part to lower standards. I have made public statements in regard to the standard of the houses we were asked to design. They are purely war-time houses, and they are 1327 not intended to prejudice any type or standard that may be set up after the war. They are a purely war-time emergency design. He asked whether housing repair is going to be a matter of high priority. I am certain that that is the Government's intention. Housing repair and housing must in any case be a matter of high priority whenever conditions make it possible to apply it. The hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) quoted an article from the "Builder" and made great play with the figures that were displayed there He is right in assuming that I read it, but it did no, state 114 per cent. as the increase over pre-war costs. If he had looked at it carefully, he would have found that labour only had increased by 114 per cent., and labour is only a part of the complete costs. The proportion varies according to conditions and time. Before the war it was 40 to 45 per cent., and materials would be correspondingly 60 to 55 per cent. With war conditions coming in, it has changed, and I think it would be safer to say now that it is nearer 60 per cent. labour and 40 per cent. materials, practically reversing it from what it was before the war. The article clearly stated that the increase of 105 per cent. used by my Noble Friend was "tenable and explicable," and I am glad to have the confirmation of one who has devoted his time to it.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
The Noble Lord said that doubt had been expressed whether the figure of 105 per cent. could be taken as a satisfactory index in present conditions, and I think he rather shared the doubt.
§ Mr. Hicks
I think not, if the hon. Member will read it again. The hon. Member also referred to agricultural cottages. I should like to make this point very clear. Hon. Members think that my Ministry wants to butt in where it is not welcome, but we did not butt in at all. At the end of May, it appeared clear that tenders for agricultural cottages were coming in very slowly, and great anxiety was expressed. Many questions were asked, and the Minister of Health gave replies according to the information available. On 4th June the Government requested my Ministry—they were instructed; they were not butting in or asking for the job—to prepare a cheaper 1328 design based upon the experience of building to war-time standards, definitely accepting the point of view that these were intended to be war-time agricultural cottages to meet a particular and specific need, and not to prejudice the question of building after the war. On 11th June we supplied the Ministry of Health, for circulation to all local authorities concerned, the lay-out and the plan. We had consulted the greatest institution in the country, the Royal Institute of British Architects, and appointed one of their number, who is recognised as a great planner, to design these war-time emergency cottages. He did so, and we supplied the Ministry of Health with the lay-out and plans. On 19th June, to show how slow we were, specifications were issued to enable local authorities forthwith to invite tenders. At the same time the Ministry—it was not asking for the job—undertook to arrange that in the event of any local authority being unable to obtain a satisfactory tender to introduce to the local authority a builder who would carry out the work at approved prices and complete it before the winter. On 8th July, it was expected that tenders would be in for the houses. That is the extent to which my Ministry has gone in on the question of agricultural housing. Hon. Members think that we were anxious to get in to build them, but we were invited to prepare plans, and we appointed a competent man to do so, and, as speedily as possible, we submitted them. That is the contribution that we made. There was no anxiety on our part to interfere with the work the Ministry of Health was doing but only to give it supplementary aid. The only thing that we are doing for the Ministry of Health now is to supply standard doors and windows and certain other things by bulk purchase and, therefore, at reduced costs.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Hornsey (Captain Gammans) asked for building costs to be examined. I said earlier to-day that, in addition to the surveyors and costing experts that we have in the Ministry, my Noble Friend had decided to introduce additional help from outside and that we are analysing every item of cost. We regret the rise; we do not think we have contributed to it. We think our action in calling attention to it ought to be applauded. The Committee and the coun- 1329 try ought to be grateful to us for doing that, rather than waiting until it got into a bad state later on, when it would be too late to repair it. We are discussing it at this stage, and letting the world know that we are concerned about it with a view to analysing it and taking steps to economise.
§ Captain Gammans
Will the hon. Gentleman answer the specific question I put to him about a 9-inch brick wall pointed on one side? Is it fair to say that before the last war, for a 10-hour day, about 900 bricks a day were regarded as being a good output? Before this war it had fallen to 700 bricks for an 8½-hour day, and, by the hon. Gentleman's own schedule, that has now fallen to 360. If I make those three statements, am I not saying what is true?
§ Mr. Hicks
I honestly attempt to answer all questions that are put to me, and all questions are discussed in the Ministry and with my Minister before I answer them here. I give the fullest information possible, not only in the answers but in the supplementaries. I cannot accept responsibility for the figure of 900 in a 10-hour day before 1914. I do not know. I have worked myself as a craftsman, and I know that in certain circumstances I could have laid that amount and more. In other circumstances I could have worked equally hard and done less than half that. It is improper to ask me questions of that kind. I do not know whether the wall will be broken up at the window-sill level or whether panels and piers have to be built. If you are asking for plain brickwork without panels or piers, to lay 900 in an 8-hour day is an easy job, provided all the other agencies are available to assist the man to do it, that is to say, that it is not awkward of approach and if he has not to wait for scaffolding to be lifted to a higher level. It depends on so many other circumstances.
§ Captain Gammans
If the hon. Gentleman feels that it is impossible to lay down a standard amount of bricks for an 8-hour day because of these factors, why does he attempt to do it in the schedule? That is the whole basis upon which these costs are worked out. He says he can specify what is a fair day's work. When I ask for comparable figures before the war, he says he cannot say, because of windows 1330 and doors. He must either be able to specify or not. If he cannot, let him cut out the schedule, because it is meaningless.
§ Mr. Hicks
I do not think the hon. and gallant Gentleman is quite right or quite fair in that. I have said that, when the basic rate was fixed, the industry was entirely opposed to any system of payment by results and that the conditions of remuneration were based on plain time rates. When payment by results became an Order, and therefore legal and compulsory, employers and operatives jointly agreed to advise the Ministry how best to give effect to it, and they fixed that figure themselves. [Interruption.] I do not think there is anything unfair in that. We ask the people who are actually handling the thing, and we are told we are consulting private interests whom we ought not to have consulted. But due regard has to be paid to the views of both sides of the industry as the result of calling up younger men to the Forces. Very many have been taken, and the older ones have been left behind. It was on that basis that the amount was fixed. I have given figures to show that it was not the output of the day but the basis on which the bonus started.
§ Captain Gammans
The figures I gave were that according to the rates in force before the war a man laid 700 bricks at 1s. 9d. an hour in an 82 working day, which came to about 13s. Now the output is 360 for an 8-hour day, and that plus bonus is somewhere about 301. Is that right or not, or have I read the figures wrongly?
§ Mr. Hicks
The answer is that there is no bonus payable until after that number 360 has been laid. My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg (Mr. Quibell) was also concerned in the rising cost of the chief materials. I can give him some figures, but I cannot give all. Fletton bricks ex-works cost 25s. 6d. per Loa) pre-war. They are now 39s., an increase of 13s. 6d. per 1,000, or 53 per cent. Cement delivered before the war cost 41s. per ton, and the price is now 58s., an increase of 41 per cent. For timber the average price of all classes, ex-works, was Lao per standard; it is now £48, an increase of 140 per cent. These are necessarily contributing factors to increased costs. Steel before the war cost 10 guineas per ton and is now £15 10s. per ton, an increase of 47½ per 1331 cent. Metal windows used to cost ex-works £14 10s., and are now 19 guineas. For a set of windows for a small house that means an increase of 31 per cent.
I have told the House before—I gave these figures in reply to a Question recently—the position in regard to bricklaying, taking 9-inch plain rough brickwork. The present-day output is 78 bricks per hour with a bonus. The pre-war average was 64 per hour. The present day target over which bonus is payable is 50 per hour. Those figures were arrived at by inspection of a large number of actual cases. I think, speaking from memory, something like 370 cases were checked up over many months in order to get those figures. I am not attempting to say whether it is cheaper or not. I am only trying to show how payment by results as an incentive was brought about. The hon. Member for Brigg also referred to foam slag. That matter has not been neglected. A special committee appointed to examine alternative methods of building has had the matter under serious consideration for a long time. It is well known that it is a commodity which may form a suitable substitute on a number of occasions. We have not been idle because we have not been talking about it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) asked a question about a building firm, and he appeared to get the Committee in a state of consternation at the idea that when one Department decided to blacklist a firm the Ministry of Works put the firm on their list. I know the firm to which he is referring, and I can assure him that during the period they were suspended—they were never put on a blacklist—there was never an opportunity given the firm to tender for any work on behalf of the Ministry of Works—never an opportunity during the whole period that the firm was under suspension. There was a temporary suspension, but, as I say, the firm was never put on the blacklist, and the temporary suspension was later withdrawn by the first Department.
§ Mr. Hopkinson
I never said they were put on the blacklist. Did any Department give any such contract?
§ Mr. Hopkinson
I did not say they were. I said the Department refused to have further dealings with them.
§ Mr. Hicks
I am sorry, but I thought the hon. Member said they were put on a blacklist. We will be able to check that to-morrow. I am not arguing the merits or demerits now. They were never put on the blacklist. There was only a suspension, and the first Department withdrew it. There was another point raised about a personal officer of the Ministry. That was also the subject of a Question which was answered by me. I was doing my best, not to shield any Department, but to tell the truth. You cannot always do that in question and answer. Sometimes you can only tell part of the truth, unless there is an opportunity to amplify the answer. It is true as far as it goes, but it is not the whole truth. In this matter of a personal officer not only was a Question answered by me in the House but later the matter was discussed in the Public Accounts Committee. That Committee agreed that the arrangements made by the Ministry of Works conformed with their views and with those of the Treasury. I suggest that these innuendoes are not very worthy, and I regret being called upon again to give an answer.
§ Mr. Hopkinson
The accusation has been made that I have been guilty of an innuendo. That is absolutely false. I gave facts and asked the Minister to reveal the facts or apologise.
§ Mr. Hicks
The hon. Member promised me that if I gave an answer and it was satisfactory to him, he would apologise to me. Then the hon. Member asked another question in regard to trade union site representatives. Their salary is £6 15s. per week. On all jobs over £100,000 a levy of.01 per cent. is paid by the contractors to the Ministry to provide a fund out of which the salaries are paid. The trade unions nominate the men, and the Ministry approve them.
§ Sir Jonah Walker-Smith (Barrow-in-Furness)
Should it not be explained that these trade union representatives on the site are really trade union officials being paid out of Treasury funds?
§ Wing-Commander James
I also raised this point. If a Question is put down, can the Minister say that he will give a 1333 full account of the status and emoluments of these commissars?
§ Mr. Hicks
I will give a statement and an account of the conditions of employment, the amount of salary they receive and any expenses, as I have done on previous occasions. They are representatives of the industry, and it is considered by employers as well as by the Ministry that they have been of enormous value in helping smooth working on the site. We hope they will have an opportunity to continue. My hon. Friend the Member for Mossley gave some figures in regard to building and drew his own deductions from them. I would be very grateful if he would let me have the figures he quoted, so that I can examine them and give a reply to any question he may submit later. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Wing-Commander James) asked me about direct employment by the Ministry. I am sorry I have not got the figures now, but if he puts down a Question, I will see that he is given the figures in such a form that he can see the class of labour. I thank the Committee for the courtesy they have shown me in listening to me unfolding this story for my Ministry, and I hope that unless there is a prejudice which it is impossible to remove, Members will agree that there is every justification for my Ministry, not only now, but after the war.
It being the hour appointed under Paragraph (6) of Standing Order No. 14, The CHAIRMAN proceeded, pursuant to that Standing Order, to put forthwith the Question, necessary to dispose of the Vote under consideration.
Question agreed to.
Resolved,That a sum, not exceeding £44,137,531, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the charges for the following Departments connected with the Ministry of Works, and with Building Costs for the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1944, namely:
|Class VII, Ministry of Works||£3,580,890|
|Class X, Ministry of Works (War Services)||£90|
|Class V, Ministry of Health||£17,976,551|
|Class V, Ministry of Labour and National Service||£22,580,000|
§ The CHAIRMAN then proceeded to put severally the Question, "That the total amounts of the Votes outstanding in the several Classes of the Civil Estimates, including a Supplementary Estimate, and in the Estimates for the Revenue Departments, be granted for the Services defined in those Classes and Estimates"; the Question, "That the amounts specified in the Statement relative to Civil Estimates (Excess 1941) be granted for the Service defined in that Statement"; and the Question, "That the total amounts of the Votes outstanding in the Estimates for the Navy, Army and Air Services be granted for the Services defined in those Estimates."
|"That a sum, not exceeding £2,154,112, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1944, for Expenditure in respect of the Services included in Class I of the Civil Estimates, namely:—|
|1.||House of Lords Offices||40,128|
|2.||House of Commons||329,560|
|3.||Registration of Electors||16,000|
|4.||Treasury and Subordinate Departments||626,108|
|5.||Privy Council Office||12,873|
|6.||Privy Seal Office||4,481|
|8.||Civil Service Commission||14,890|
|9.||Exchequer and Audit Department||165,860|
|10.||Friendly Societies Deficiency||1,815|
|15.||National Debt Office||5,049|
|16.||National Savings Committee||362,742|
|17.||Public Record Office||31,327|
|18.||Public Works Loan Commission||12,962|
|19.||Repayments to the Local Loans Fund||23,000|
|20.||Royal Commissions, &c.||27,000|
|23.||Treasury Chest Fund||77,624|
|24.||Tithe Redemption Commission||90|
|25.||Ministry of Town and Country Planning||107,430|
|26.||Scottish Home Department||138,340|
|27.||Repayment to the Civil Contingencies Fund||7,379|
§ Question put, and agreed to.1335
|"That a sum, not exceeding £12,629,752, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1944, for Expenditure in respect of the Services included in Class If of the Civil Estimates, namely:—|
|2.||Diplomatic and Consular Services (including a Supplementary sum of £2,630,000)||5,342,926|
|3.||League of Nations||86,510|
|8.||Colonial and Middle Eastern Services||2,830,657|
|9.||Development and Welfare (Colonies, &c.)||1,360,000|
|10.||Development and Welfare (South African High Commission Territories)||48,200|
|11.||India and Burma Services||1,505, 167|
|12.||Imperial War Graves Commission||21,770|
§ Question put, and agreed to.
|"That a sum not exceeding £10,526,384, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1944, for Expenditure in respect of the Services included in Class III of the Civil Estimates, namely:—|
|2.||Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum||79,600|
|3.||Police, England and Wales||5,462,505|
|4.||Prisons, England and Wales||1,149,664|
|5.||Approved Schools, &c., England and Wales||410,900|
|6.||Supreme Court of Judicature, &c.||90|
|11.||Miscellaneous Legal Expenses||17,643|
|14.||Approved Schools, &c., Scotland||70,750|
|15.||Scottish Land Court||4,175|
|16.||Law Charges and Courts of Law, Scotland||54,422|
|17.||Register House, Edinburgh||17,156|
§ Question put, and agreed to.
|"That a sum, not exceeding £52,541,290, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1944, for Expenditure in respect of the Services included in Class IV of the Civil Estimates, namely:—|
|1.||Board of Education||39,575,795|
|3.||British Museum (Natural History)||63,137|
|4.||Imperial War Museum||8,423|
|7.||National Maritime Museum||8,045|
|8.||National Portrait Gallery||6,832|
|11.||Universities and Colleges, Great Britain||149,000|
|13.||Public Education, Scotland||5,371,790|
|14.||National Galleries, Scotland||10,049|
|15.||National Library, Scotland||1,980|
§ Question put, and agreed to.
|"That a sum, not exceeding £90,097,935, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1944, for Expenditure in respect of the Services included in Class V of the Civil Estimate, namely:—|
|2. Board of Control||140,607|
|3. Registrar - General's Office||186,159|
|4. National Insurance Audit Department||99,180|
|5. Friendly Societies Registry||28,080|
|6. Old Age Pensions||34,750,000|
|7. Widows', Orphans' and Old Age Contributory Pensions||16,525,000|
|9. Grants in respect of Employment Schemes||1,300,000|
§ Question put, and agreed to.
|"That a sum, not exceeding £9,912,033, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1944, for Expenditure in respect of the Services included in Class VI of the Civil Estimates, namely:—|
|2.||Mercantile Marine Services||941,107|
|5.||Office of Commissioners of Crown Lands||28,341|
|6.||Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries||2,527,401|
|7.||Surveys of Great Britain||466,130|
|10.||Miscellaneous Transport Services||25,828|
|13.||Department of Scientific end Industrial Research||548,581|
|14.||State Management Districts||90|
|16.||Department of Agriculture for Scotland||449,129|
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ CLASS VII
§ "That a sum, not exceeding £5,136,349, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1944, for Expenditure in respect of the Services included in Class VII of the Civil Estimates, namely:— 1338
|1.||Houses of Parliament Buildings||31,375|
|2.||Miscellaneous Legal Buildings, Great Britain||62,550|
|5.||Miscellaneous Works Services||78,090|
|6.||Public Buildings Overseas||58,000|
|8.||Royal Parks and Pleasure Gardens||145,130|
|9.||Rates on Government Property||2,348,366|
|10.||Stationery and Printing||2,267,738|
|12.||Works and Buildings in Ireland||48,900|
§ Question put, and agreed to.
|" That a sum, not exceeding £23,719,023, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1944, for Expenditure in respect of the Services included in Class VIII of the Civil Estimates, namely:—|
|1. Merchant Seamen's War Pensions||147,023|
|2. Ministry of Pensions||21,327,000|
|3. Royal Irish Constabulary Pensions, &c.||745,000|
|4. Superannuation and Retired Allowances||1,500,000|
§ Question put, and agreed to.
|"That a sum, not exceeding £32,521,431, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1944, for Expenditure in respect of the services included in Class IX of the Civil Estimates, namely:—|
|1. Exchequer Contributions to Local Revenues, England and Wales||28,018,000|
|2. Exchequer Contributions to Local Revenues, Scotland||4,503,431|
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ CLASS X
|ending on the 31st day of March, 1944, for Expenditure in respect of the Services included in Class X of the Civil Estimates, namely:—|
|1.||Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (War Services||90|
|2.||Ministry of Aircraft Production||90|
|3.||Ministry of Economic Warfare||90|
|4.||Ministry of Food||90|
|5.||Ministry of Fuel and Power||90|
|6.||Ministry of Health (War Services)||90|
|7.||Ministry of Home Security||90|
|8.||Ministry of Information||90|
|9.||Ministry of Labour and National Service (War Services)||90|
|10.||Postal and Telegraph Censorship Department||90|
|11.||Ministry of Production||90|
|12.||Ministry of Supply||90|
|13.||War Damage (Business and Private Chattels)||90|
|14.||War Damage Commission||90|
|15.||Ministry of War Transport||90|
|17.||Department of Agriculture for Scotland (War Services)||90|
|18.||Department of Health for Scotland (War Services)||90|
|19.||Scottish Home Department (War Services)||90|
§ Question put, and agreed to.
|REVENUE DEPARTMENTS ESTIMATES, 1943|
|"That a sum, not exceeding £83,559,900, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1944, for Expenditure in respect of the Services included in the Estimates for Revenue Departments, namely:—|
|1. Customs and Excise||4,113,800|
|2. Inland Revenue||8,814,100|
|3. Post Office||70,632,000|
§ Question put, and agreed to.
|CIVIL (EXCESS), 1941|
|"That a sum, not exceeding £10, be granted to His Majesty, to make good an excess on the grant for the Ministry of Supply for the year ended the 31st day of March, 1942.|
|Class and Vote||Amount to be voted|
|Vote 14. Ministry of Supply||10"|
§ Question put, and agreed to1340
|NAVY ESTIMATES, 1943|
|"That a sum, not exceeding £1,700, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1944, for Expenditure in respect of the Navy Services, namely:—|
|2.||Victualling and Clothing for the Navy||100|
|3.||Medical Establishments and Services||100|
|4.||Civilians employed on Fleet Services||100|
|7.||Royal Naval Reserves||100|
|8.||Shipbuilding, Repairs, Maintenance, &c.:—|
|Section III.—Contract Work||100|
|10.||Works, Buildings and Repairs at Home and Abroad||100|
|11.||Miscellaneous Effective Services||100|
|13.||Non-Effective Services (Naval and Marine)—Officers||100|
|14.||Non-Effective Services (Naval and Marine)—Men||100|
|15.||Civil Superannuation, Allowances and Gratuities||100|
|16.||Merchant Shipbuilding, &c.||100|
§ Question put, and agreed to.
|ARMY ESTIMATES, 1943|
|"That a sum, not exceeding L1,400, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1944, for Expenditure in respect of the Army Services, namely:—|
|2.||Territorial Army and Reserve Forces||100|
|5.||Quartering and Movements||100|
|6.||Supplies, Road Transport and Remounts||100|
|10.||Works, Buildings and Lands||100|
|11.||Miscellaneous Effective Services||100|
|13.||Half-Pay, Retired Pay and other Non-Effective Charges for Officers||100|
|14.||Pensions and other Non-Effective Charges for Warrant Officers, Non-Commissioned Officers, Men and others||100|
|15.||Civil Superannuation, Compensation and Gratuities||100|
§ Question put, and agreed to.1341
|AIR ESTIMATES, 1943|
|"That a sum, not exceeding £1,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1914, for Expenditure in respect of the Air Services, namely:—|
|2.||Quartering, Non-Technical Stores, Supplies and Transportation||100|
|3.||Technical and Warlike Stores||100|
|4.||Works, Buildings and Lands||100|
|7.||Reserve and Auxiliary Forces||100|
|9.||Meteorological and Miscellaneous Effective Services||100|
|11.||Half-Pay, Pensions, and other Non-Effective Services||100|
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Resolutions to be reported upon the next Sitting Day; Committee to sit again upon the next Sitting Day.