§ 12.18 p.m.
§ Captain Cobb (Preston)
I beg to move, at the end of the Question, to add:But humbly regret that the Gracious Speech contains no proposals for dealing with housing either with regard to the speedy repair of bomb damage or the formulation of an adequate long-term housing programme.In moving this Amendment, which stands in the name of my hon. Friends and myself, may I say that I am very glad, Mr. Speaker, that it has had the good fortune to catch your eye, because I believe there is a very general desire among hon. Members to discuss this extremely important matter of housing. The concern which is felt over housing conditions is not by any means confined to hon. Members of this House. Probably more interest and more concern are felt throughout the country about housing conditions than ever before in our history, and I believe that is largely due to the knowledge of housing conditions in our great towns and cities which so many people acquired when children and their parents were evacuated from the towns five years ago. That knowledge came as a very great shock to them, and I have no doubt that there is a very real desire that those shocking conditions should be improved, and, also a very real determination not to tolerate them for longer than is absolutely possible. Five years have elapsed since then, five years during which there has been virtually no building of new houses and the maintenance work of existing houses has been on a very 777 small scale, and in those five years, also, a great deal of damage and destruction have resulted from air raids. It is for these reasons that I regret that the passage referring to housing in the Gracious Speech is of so extremely cursory a character. I would like to remind the House of what the Gracious Speech said:Progress will be made in fulfilling the urgent tasks of providing additional housing accommodation and of increasing supplies of civilian goods.I cannot help feeling that this somewhat off-hand way of referring to housing rather implies that a shortage of houses is just one of those rather tiresome things, like a shortage of rubber teats, and I think a more effective reference to housing should have been made in the Gracious Speech.
This Amendment is in two parts, intended to cover the two aspects of housing with which we are most concerned, the immediate and most pressing problem of the repair of bomb damage and the long-term post-war housing programme. I am most strongly of the opinion that the only thing which the Government deserves on account of its action in respect of the repair of bomb damage is criticism of the most unfriendly kind. When I come up to London every week to attend to my Parliamentary duties I pass through a part of southern England which was probably more hardly hit by the flying bomb than any other part of the country. It is virtually three months since the flying bomb attacks stopped, and from what I can see far too little has been done to repair the damage caused by those bombs. We still see street after street of houses with windows broken and roofs damaged. For all these months the weather has been getting into those houses, and one is really horrified at the thought that through what appears to be the neglect and the mismanagement of the Government Departments concerned thousands of people are being obliged to live in overcrowded conditions with other families, or in damp corners of their own damaged houses, or, what is far worse, eke out a wretched existence in surface shelters.
On every side one hears from the owners or occupiers of damaged property the same story of men who arrive late in the morning to work, who knock off work long before the end of the day, and spend the greater part of the day idling and playing cards. On the other hand one is told—I have had conversations with one person 778 concerned—of men who at considerable self-sacrifice and inconvenience to themselves answered the Government's call to come to London to help in the repair of bomb damage and who will return to their homes in the provinces disgusted because they have found that it was impossible to do any work. There was no supervision, no materials and no instructions. I have been told, too, of contractors who brought their staff up to London but have received no help or co-operation whatsoever from the Ministry of Works. One hears these stories so frequently that however much one discounts them there is a feeling that there must be a large measure of truth in them.
I think the Prime Minister made a wise decision a few weeks ago in appointing a Minister of Works who is a Member of this House. There are so many individuals who are affected by bomb damage that it is essential that hon. Members who represent them should be in close and daily contact with the Minister concerned. I think that was a wise decision; whether the choice of the Minister is equally wise is a question which time will answer. I am sure that the new Minister of Works is fully aware of the immense responsibility which rests upon him and will use every endeavour to improve the shocking conditions which exist in these bomb-damaged areas to-day. I should like, if I may, to offer him one word of advice. No doubt he is carrying out investigations into his Department, and I should be glad to know that he is going to satisfy himself about the capabilities and the number of temporary officials who have found their way into the Ministry of Works during the war. I have a very shrewd suspicion that they are not by any means up to the standard which we expect and get from our permanent Civil Service.
Although one is bound to condemn the action of the Ministry of Works so far as this particular work is concerned, it is only fair, I think, to pay a tribute to the work done by Lord Portal during the time he was at the Ministry in respect of the demonstration houses. No doubt a great many hon. Members have been to Northolt and seen them, and while some are better than others, and while there may be some about which we do not care very much, there is no doubt that the work of the Minister in respect of those 779 demonstration houses has been really valuable, and it is only right that full appreciation of it should be expressed. If everything were equal and one had nothing else to think about probably the great majority of us would favour house No. 9, the wide-fronted brick-and-tile house, which in my judgment is pretty well everything that a house ought to be. But there are other considerations to be borne in mind.
Most of us are tremendously impressed with the need for building houses quickly and in large numbers after the war, and it is for that reason that I for one, and I am sure many others who have seen the houses, were so deeply impressed with the prefabricated steel-framed house No. 7. To my mind it compares so favourably with the Portal prefabricated bungalow that I should like to urge the Ministry to reconsider their decision about the Portal bungalow. Let me compare the two. The Portal bungalow costs about £600 and the No. 7 house costs about £730—estimated—but whereas the Portal bungalow will house on one site only one family, this No. 7 will house two families, thus providing double the amount of accommodation on the sites which are occupied. Further, only 900 man-hours are needed to erect one of these dwellings, as compared with an estimate of 500 or 600 man-hours for the Portal bungalow, and a very large amount of unskilled labour can be used. To my mind the comparison between the two is so immensely in favour of the house, which, moreover, looks like a house, and not like a chicken house, that I think it would be wise of the Government to reconsider their programme in respect of these temporary dwellings to see whether they cannot produce these prefabricated No. 7 houses on a far larger scale.
Most of us, I think, were very much impressed with the various labour-saving devices in these houses, including the built-in furniture, which makes such good use of the space available and, incidentally, does not collect the dust in the way that ordinary furniture does. With all due respect to hon. Ladies, I consider that a man to-day is every bit as well qualified to express an opinion about the inside and the working of a house as any woman.
§ Captain Cobb
The Noble Lady probably does not realise it, but most men in the country have been doing a great deal of house-maiding and washing.
§ Viscountess Astor
The men have been doing that for five years; the women have been doing it for 5,000 years.
§ Captain Cobb
I compliment the Noble Lady; she does not look her age. I think that all the labour-saving devices, and the infinitely better interior design of those houses, are going to bring a great deal of additional comfort and happiness to the working-class housewife, which is all to the good. I hope that preparations are being made with the industries concerned, to have these fittings and equipment produced on a mass scale, which must reduce the price very considerably and, as a result, lower the cost to the consumer. The same, of course, applies to gas and electricity. If these things are to be used by the poorer-paid members of the working class, it is essential that gas and electricity should be reduced to a price which is within the compass of the average working-class purse.
I must say that I was disappointed with those houses in one respect. Not one of them was capable of holding a family of more than five persons. I hope that that does not mean that the Government's view is that there is something indecent about having more than three children. After all, we want a substantial increase in the birth rate. Some of the more enthusiastic protagonists of family allowances appear to think that such allowances will alone lead to an improvement in the birth rate. I do not believe that to be so at all. I should be very sorry to be asked what is the cause of the declining birth rate. I was asked that question eight or nine years ago at my by-election, and the only answer I could give was that it was due to the fact that women were producing babies less frequently than they used to do. I was not satisfied with that answer, and I do not think my questioner was either, but I certainly think that one contributing factor, at least, to the declining birth rate is the lack of suitable houses for parents of large families to store them in, and I hope that the Government do, in fact, propose to prepare for such houses as the size of our families justifies.
781 The Minister of Health has recently been in touch with local authorities on the question of the preparation of sites. I understand he is to wind up the Debate to-day. I hope he will give us some information on what sites are available and whether he is satisfied that every local authority which will be obliged to operate a housing programme immediately after the war has, at least, enough sites available now, and is preparing them to ensure that building can commence as soon as possible. I want to ask him, too, about those sites which are held for private development. Are labour and raw materials to be made available to those private developers? They deserve consideration for the part they have played between the two wars, and I should like to know whether they too are going to have facilities for getting their sites ready.
On the subject of subsidies, the Minister of Health told local authorities a few days ago, that he hoped to communicate with them on the subject quite shortly. I hope that it really is going to be "quite shortly," in the sense in which we mean it on the back benches here, and not in that of the Front Bench. After all, it is only fair to local authorities to let them know where they stand financially before they start elaborating a housing programme. We, in this House, have been accustomed during the last few months to involving ourselves in very heavy financial post-war commitments without being quite sure where the money is to come from. I think we must expect local authorities to show a greater measure of responsibility in that respect. I think there will be a strong protest from the local authorities at being expected to produce a post-war housing programme before the Government have told them how they will stand in respect to subsidies.
It was about three years ago that I first started making inquiries about what was being done to extend the production of building materials in this country. I have not yet been able to get an answer. We are fortunate, now, in having two Ministers, one of whom must be concerned in this, and I hope that one of them is going to give me the answer I want. We all know what an immense amount of money was spent in the years between the wars, in building houses with materials bought from foreign producers. There is nothing except timber which we 782 cannot produce here. I want to make sure that consultations and discussions are taking place with the owners of plants which produce building materials, to ensure that there shall be no shortage of any kind when we are ready to start our building programme. This applies to the ordinary house-building materials, but it applies also to the new types, and especially steel. I think that, probably, a great deal could be done now to produce those steel frames which are going to be used very largely in house building after the war. We constantly hear of aircraft workers who are complaining either that they have been stood down, or that they have not enough work to do. Surely, some use could be made of those men? They are accustomed to working in steel, and, if they only had the opportunity, I am sure they could do a great deal towards producing the material we shall need after the war. I would like to make the suggestion that however much building material we can produce surplus to requirements, that surplus might very well be carried to the sites on which houses are going to be built, so that as soon as the war is over, there will be no possible excuse for delay. Everything should be ready to ensure that the houses go up immediately.
When the Minister of Health was a back bench Member—not very long ago—he addressed the House on housing, and expressed a most decided preference for houses as compared with flats. I have no doubt that everybody agrees with him. The ideal is for every family to have a house and garden, but we have to be practical. I am tremendously impressed, when I walk round my own constituency, to see what immense areas of what should be open space, are cluttered up with small buildings, each housing only one family. I know there is a prejudice against flats, and I believe that is largely due to the lack of imagination which has been shown by the people who have built flats. The greatest complaint one hears in connection with flats is the noise of the family overhead. Surely, it should be possible to design, not flats in blocks, but houses in blocks. It is a psychological truth that the noise one's own children make overhead in a bedroom is sweet music, but that the noise made by other people's children is made purposely to annoy. I am quite sure that if a little vision, a little imagination, were shown about the designing of flats a 783 great deal of that prejudice would disappear.
Incidentally, I believe it is essential that there should be lifts in blocks of flats, and I believe, too, it would overcome a great deal of the prejudice if it were possible to arrange a system of central heating. It may be that people have to be taught to understand flats. My hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin), who has been chairman of the London County Council Housing Committee for many years, knows well that the prejudice felt against flats is less in London than elsewhere. That is because people have been obliged to get accustomed to them. I do not believe that the average flat-dweller is a member of an unhappy family. I am sure we could make more use of available space in our large towns throughout the country if we were to build upwards more than we do.
I want to ask a question which may possibly arouse some opposition from my hon. Friends opposite. What is to be the position of free enterprise after the war? Free enterprise, whether one approves of it or not—I do approve of it—played a great part in housing in the years between the wars. The figures show that something like three-quarters of the houses erected in that period were built by free enterprise, and less than 500,000 of such houses required a subsidy. I am not going to suggest that private enterprise is perfect. In some respects I am prepared to admit that it compares unfavourably with building done by public authorities. Hon. Members who have driven down to Northolt may remember that on one side of the L.C.C. North Hammersmith Estate there is private property, and on the other side L.C.C. property. That estate had the advantage, of course, of being built in the days when the L.C.C. was controlled by a Conservative majority, but I think, and I believe most hon. Members will agree, that the work of the public authority there is better, in every way, than the work of private enterprise on the other side of the road.
The best representatives of private enterprise are perfectly aware of the fact that in some respects their colleagues fall short of what we consider is in conformity with modern standards, and they are as anxious as anybody to ensure that 784 those standards should be improved. The National Housebuilders' Registration Council, which has been set up by them, more or less on an advisory basis, is something which I believe should be given a great deal more authority than it has to-day. I am inclined to suggest that there should be by-laws, or legislation, to ensure that it will be illegal to sell a house which is not really up to what is considered the model standard. There must be some sort of compulsion about this, because there is no doubt that large numbers of people were badly swindled in the years between the wars. I am sure that anybody who has had contact with those unfortunate people will recognise the truth of that, but the fact that private enterprise has failed in some cases is no argument for trying to make it disappear.
In the early stages after the war, there is going to be a great shortage of labour and material. I should like to have an assurance that all the labour and all the material will not be made available to the local authorities only, but that there will be a fair share-out between local authorities and private enterprise. I am not asking for special favour for one or the other, but I think that both should have a fair deal. We must remember, of course, that there is going to be a great demand for the work of the private builder, especially from those people who have accumulated savings during the war. To my mind the best way for most people to invest their savings would be in a house of their own. That is a need that private enterprise alone will be able to fill.
I come to a question which I have discussed before, namely, the question of a Minister for Housing. It has been raised on many occasions during the last few months, and none of the answers given to us from time to time have satisfied me. I must say I was oppressed by the Prime Minister's description of what he has set up, and what he described as "a housing squad". I listened to this unwieldy list of Ministers who share the responsibility for this business, and I could not help feeling that "awkward squad" would be a far more suitable term than "housing squad". Five or six Ministers are concerned with a job which ought to be the responsibility of one man only, and that man should be armed with all the authority which is necessary to get 785 an effective programme put through. He should have authority over his colleagues in the Cabinet, authority over industry, over everybody, to ensure that some real drive is put into this housing business at the earliest possible moment and until the work is finished.
The Prime Minister told us that one of the difficulties about appointing another Minister as Minister for Housing who was not the Minister of Health, was the fact that the Minister of Health is accepted as the ambassador between the Government and the local authorities. With very great respect to the Prime Minister may I say that is just nonsense. It is not true at all, that the Minister of Health is the only person who approaches local authorities. The Minister of Education is in constant touch with 355 local authorities every day and every hour. During the last five or six years the Home Secretary has been in constant touch with local authorities over matters affecting Civil Defence. I cannot believe that the virtue of the local authorities is likely to be outraged at the suggestion of yet another Minister being brought in. I am quite serious about this. I feel that the arguments in favour of one responsible Minister who shall have no other responsibility apart from housing is so overwhelming as to be unanswerable.
The Prime Minister, in his famous broadcast about nine months ago, spoke of the three most urgent needs after the war as the provision of food, work and home. I entirely agree with him, but I think he got them in the wrong order. I believe that the deepest concern of all, in the minds of most people in this country, is whether or not they are to have decent homes after the war. All our efforts should be directed to ensuring that their simple and natural desire should be brought to a fulfilment. If I were a working man, suffering from time to time from poverty, unemployment or sickness I hope I would have enough philosophy to be able to stand up to it until things improved if I had a decent home in which to live. But if, on top of all those other misfortunes, I was obliged to live, and keep my wife, and try to bring up my family, in a verminous, insanitary, overcrowded dwelling, I should really feel that life was not worth living. In this matter of housing, to paraphrase the Prime Minister, too much is being endured by too many, for far too long. I 786 hope we shall have an assurance from the Government to-day to lead us to believe that they are in real earnest about this business.
I feel that in spite of the effort and all the money that was put into housing in the years between the two wars—and no one can deny that a great deal was done—results on the whole have been terribly disappointing. I hope we have learned a great deal from our past mistakes, and that we intend to do a great deal better in future than we did before. One essential, I am convinced, is complete harmony and co-operation between everybody engaged in this work—the Government, local authorities and capital and labour in the building and allied industries. If we have that, and a real determination to get on with the job, I believe we shall achieve some remarkably satisfactory developments. I am convinced that the credit of this Government, and the credit of whatever Government may succeed them, is largely bound up with their achievements in housing. Our people have borne a great deal during the last five years. On the whole, I think they have shown extraordinary patience and forbearance. I am convinced that that patience will wear very thin if they think the Government are not in real earnest about this matter. They are not likely to forgive or forget any short-comings in this respect. I hope, therefore, that both my right hon. Friends will make it clear that in respect of both these aspects of housing, they really mean business, and that it is the real intention of the Government to achieve the aim which we all have—the provision for every family of a home which will be worthy of a great people.
§ 12.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Donald Scott (Wansbeck)
I beg to second the Amendment.
I do not think I need apologise to the House if, in seconding the Amendment so ably proposed by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Preston (Captain Cobb), I deal largely with rural housing. I am aware we are to have a Debate on that special subject on Tuesday next, but this Amendment has been very widely framed, and quite candidly I feel we cannot divorce the two aspects of the problem in to-day's Debate. I have said in this House before, and a great many times outside it, that we in the country- 787 side have a housing problem which is as acute, but perhaps not so obvious, as that in the towns and cities. I shall go on saying that until, please God, the day will come when there will no longer be any need to repeat it. There is no necessity to overpaint the picture. The simple fact is that decades of agricultural depression have resulted in a large number of agricultural cottages, and indeed farm-houses, being a menace to those who live in them, and undoubtedly a deterrent to those who are thinking of entering the agricultural industry after the war.
This nation to-day looks forward to a reasonable level of agricultural prosperity, and conditions in that industry which will, at least, be comparable with those of any in the towns. The industry itself looks forward to attracting ex-Service people into it. We have, indeed, heard of the Government's scheme. I believe the success or failure of that scheme will depend not only on selection and training, but, finally, on the availability of suitable accommodation for the trainees when their training is finished. After all, one of the greatest factors in land settlement is the prospective settler's wife, and many a would-be countryman has hesitated to migrate to the country, because he knew he would be asking his wife to put up with housing conditions and amenities far below those in the towns and cities.
This problem which faces the countryside has to be dealt with in two ways; we have to build new houses, and we have to see what can be done in the way of renovation. Let me deal with each in turn. As to the first, the need is so obvious that I need not waste the time of the House by dealing with it in detail. I would rather try to make my few points in the form of questions, some of which my right hon. and learned Friend may care to answer later. Has the Minister of Health definite knowledge of the number of rural houses which will be required in England and Wales immediately after the war? Have the rural district councils sufficient land either purchased or ready, or ear-marked for purchase, in order to carry out their individual schemes? Are the rural district councils really aware of the gigantic task that lies ahead of them? Are they fully awake to it? Are they making plans and specifications for materials, labour, water supply and electricity in 788 order that they can "get cracking" the moment the word "Go" is given? Will labour and materials be made available to the small contractor?
That is very important, because in almost every country town, and one might say in almost every large village, there is a small builder, a man with immense local experience of local conditions and types of buildings and materials and everything else. It is only right and proper he should have a chance of getting in too. In the same way, will it be possible to have material and direct estate labour made available for the estate owner or owner-occupier who wants to build agricultural cottages or repair existing cottages. I have seen a very large number of the agricultural cottages that have been built during the war. I say nothing about their interiors, but I must confess that in only one village, that of Thropton, in Northumberland, have my aesthetic susceptibilities not been hurt. It must be possible to build houses which match up with the local buildings, and at the same time tone in with the countryside. We do not want the same drabness of type from Land's End to John o' Groats. We are still individualists. In spite of a great deal of what has been said in this Chamber, we are not so much planning fodder.
There is a final question which is being asked by a good many people. What proportion, if any, of the temporary houses will be allocated to rural needs? That again is important, because we shall want accommodation for trainees when their course is finished. If we do not give it to them, they will leave the land, and we shall not see them again. Quite obviously, too, we do not want too much competition between the old hands and the new entrants into the industry. I am not myself convinced that the steel house is the answer to the country problem. I would rather see wooden structures. That of course is a matter of opinion and a matter for expert advice. There is another point when dealing with these agricultural cottages, which affects my constituency and a number of important agricultural counties in the North of England. In that part of the world we have a social custom which is unknown in the South, that is to say, we like to live where our work is, on the farm. The agricultural worker tends to live in little clusters or communities on the farm where he works. I need not trouble the 789 House with the reasons for that. They are partly historic, partly climatic, but that is the way we want to live. The houses which have been put up during the war have been erected in the villages, and in some cases have been difficult to let. I suggest that, in future schemes, it should be permissible for the local authority to build those houses, on or near the farms where they are required, always provided that a good case is made for such action.
I want to turn to the existing rural cottages and their renovation. Any observant visitor to this country will be struck, I think, by the wide variety of types, the beauty, and the quaintness of many of our rural cottages. It is not too much to say that our domestic rural architecture, both of cottages and of farm houses, is one of the assets we have for attracting overseas visitors. It may be the thatched roofs, the black and white fronts, or the grey stone walls—each has its characteristic appeal. They tone in so well with the countryside as to seem to be a happy blending of the work of God and of man. I say "seem," because too often close close inspection shows them to be an unhappy blending of the work of man and the devil, with low ceilings, damp rooms, lack of water and sanitation and often inadequate windows. I am not suggesting that all, or even a large number, of the total cottages are in that state, nor am I suggesting that a house simply because it is picturesque or beautiful should be allowed to stand. What I mean is that there must be a good many thousand of houses which are now derelict or partly derelict, and are not fit for human occupation, but a substantial number of them, by a little commonsense application of labour and material and some thought, could be made into reasonable habitations. That would save a great deal of labour and material which would otherwise have to be devoted to building new houses, and would protect the beauty of the countryside. It is high time that we had another survey of the agricultural housing problem. Far too many dwellings were condemned before on very hasty judgment, and there was a complete lack of uniformity as between county and county, and indeed as between district and district.
The machinery for such renovation has existed since 1926. The House will 790 remember the Housing (Rural Workers) Act that year. That Act was meant to be administered by the county councils, but a good many county councils delegated their powers to the rural district councils, and progress was very slow indeed. Between 1926 and 1937 the average number of houses repaired each year was only 1,253 and in the last year before the war the figure had reached only 3,842. There must be something fundamentally wrong with that Act, although the idea behind it is perfectly good. It is much too permissive, and the financial arrangements are not sufficiently elastic. I hope that before long we shall have Acts on the Statute Book which will allow for a very thorough renovation of agricultural cottages throughout the country.
I know it is true that the 17 per cent. of the people in this country who live in rural houses have not been subject to enemy bombing to any degree; but their war-time life has been a very busy one, and one of sacrifice. They have made a very substantial contribution towards the solution of our difficulties. Therefore, I do not hesitate to do some special pleading for those who have worked so nobly. The three partners in the industry: the farm-worker, the farmer, and the land-owner—not forgetting that dual purpose animal the owner-occupier, with whom I rank myself—all look forward to better times; but we realise that one of the essentials for better times must be better houses for those who do most of the work. Too often farm-workers have had to live with relatives when their days of work are over. I hope that the local authorities are going to take the utmost pains to see that in all their schemes small houses are provided, for the independent agricultural workers to have little homes of their own in the eventide of their lives. That applies equally to other parts of the country, where small flats or small houses, as the case may be, should be provided for aged people.
I want to deal with the subject of temporary houses. Recently I have noticed that people are beginning to be a little worried about the supply of temporary houses, and I have come to the conclusion that their fears have some definite foundation, as the following story will show. A firm on the North-East coast are willing and anxious to go in for mass production to make Tarran houses, 791 which have been approved by the Ministry of Works. That firm, one of integrity and experience, is under contract with the Ministry of Works to go into production in April, 1945, and to produce something like 2,000 houses in the first 12 months. There is only one thing hanging up that very excellent scheme: there is no suitable factory available. The Board of Trade have been very politely helpful, in a negative sort of way. That firm has put its name down on a list of firms who want factory space. The firm is asking for 85,000 square feet. There the matter remains for the time being. Surely, if houses are wanted, if that type of house is approved, and if 40 houses a week is not to be sneezed at, my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Works should get together and see that suitable factory space is provided at once for that firm. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Works will give me, at least, a promise that he will go into the matter. I shall feel that if, by my remarks to-day, I have helped to house 40 families a week, I have not wasted my time and I have not bored the House in vain.
§ 1.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Silkin (Peckham)
The House will be very largely in agreement with the terms in which the Amendment has been moved and seconded. I am particularly interested in housing in the towns. I would like to say to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Preston (Captain Cobb), if he will not think me impertinent, that I thought he had made a most valuable contribution by his speech to the solution of the housing problem. The one thing that I regretted—and it formed a very small part of what he said—was his indictment against the workers for idleness. While I do not deny the facts that he mentioned, it may have been due to no fault of their own.
§ Mr. Silkin
If that is so, I did not understand my hon. and gallant Friend. I am very glad of that. I am glad that this day is being devoted to consideration of the housing problem. The whole House will recognise that housing is the most important of our domestic problems, and 792 the one calling for the highest priority. Many speakers in the Debate on the Address have confirmed that. I would mention, in particular, the mover of the Address and the Prime Minister himself. But, even though there may be complete agreement, I doubt if the Government entirely appreciate the urgency and the magnitude of the task in front of us and the drastic steps which will have to be taken if we are to provide speedily the homes that are necessaary. One sometimes tends to forget that this is a human problem, which affects millions of men, women and children, who are living in intolerable conditions, unhealthy, uncomfortable, congested, inconvenient, ugly, dirty, and dreary. I think every one of those adjectives is justified. Very often perhaps four or five families may be sharing a house which was built for occupation by one family, without the most elementary needs, without water supply, without w.c., without facilities for storage of food or for cooking. I have seen gas stoves on landings, without any accommodation for cooking arrangements. These are the conditions in which a large proportion of the coming generation are being brought up. That is the generation upon which the future of these islands depends. It is difficult to appreciate these conditions unless one has actually lived in them or has had very close and extensive contact with them. Perhaps it is only those who have experienced these conditions, either actually or vicariously, who can be really imbued with a wholehearted determination to sweep them away without delay. We can be sure that they will not be tolerated so patiently after the war as they were before; and it is right that they should not be so tolerated.
Our tasks can be divided into the immediate tasks and the long-term tasks. The Amendment differentiates between those categories. What are our immediate tasks? First, the repair of houses which have been damaged by enemy action, and the provision of temporary houses for those and for other categories of persons. I do not think it is necessary to go into the problem of the damaged house in detail, because there was a full Debate on the subject on 27th October. The Government have placed the responsibility for dealing with these repairs on the Minister of Works—origin- 793 ally on Lord Portal. In that Debate we were informed that the number of wardamaged houses that required secondstage repairs on 22nd September was 800,000. We were promised that the second-stage repairs would be completed by the beginning of April—that is, in a period of about 28 weeks from 22nd September. To carry out that task would have meant dealing with an average of about 28,000 a week.
We were informed by the Minister of Health in that Debate that, in fact, during the first four weeks, 120,000 houses had been dealt with, that is an average of 30,000 per week. The Minister of Health went on to say that it was hoped that that rate of progress would be increased as the supply and distribution of materials and the general organisation improved. Although my right hon. Friend, very wisely, would not commit himself to the exact rate at which improvement would take place, I think the general tenor of his statement was that he had every reason to hope that this 30,000 a week would be improved upon. On the whole, London hon. Members regarded the statement of the Minister of Health with reasonable satisfaction, and we were looking forward to second stage repairs being completed, roughly, by the beginning of the Spring.
What has happened since? Why was it found necessary to dismiss Lord Portal, who had served at the Ministry of Works for over three years and had gained considerable experience, on the whole, without a great deal of criticism? Why was it necessary—speaking with the greatest respect in the world—to appoint an untried and inexperienced hon. Member in his place? Why this swapping of horses in mid-stream, especially as, in the field of repairs to war damaged houses, the House had been reasonably well satisfied with the assurances given to it on the 27th October? It is, of course, gratifying to hon. Members of the House of Commons to have the Minister of Works in this House able to speak about the problems of his Department to hon. Members from day to day, but we have had the advantage of that position for over four years, because we have had the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works, who has always been available and has dealt quite satisfactorily and adequately with the problems 794 of the Ministry of Works. So far as I know, there has been not a single complaint at the way in which the affairs of the Ministry of Works were dealt with in this House by the Parliamentary Secretary.
It is not as if the new Minister has been altogether free from criticism. It has been said that, by encouraging the return of evacuees to London, he has himself partly contributed to the difficulties of the housing situation, and, in some ways, perhaps, it is poetic justice that he should now risk his reputation in trying to put right the problem which he has partly created. Therefore, I do not propose to probe further into the mysteries of the appointment of the new Minister of Works. I am more interested in results. Will the right hon. Gentleman deliver the goods? I am prepared to wait until the beginning of April—the date mentioned—and if, by then, the 800,000 war damaged houses will have received their second stage repairs—and on what I have already said, this is not an impossible task—then I should be the first to congratulate my right hon. Friend on his success and so will the people of Greater London. But, if he fails, then I prophesy that this House will not be interested in the reasons for his failure, and I shall then expect my right hon. Friend to follow the course into the darkness into which Lord Portal has descended, though, perhaps, only temporarily.
But that is not all. There is a second task confronting my right hon. Friend. Even if the war damaged houses are all repaired, he has still another hurdle to jump. He has to begin the delivery of temporary houses at the rate of about 2,000 a week from next June. That is the promise which Lord Portal made and which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health has given, no doubt on the assurance given by the Minister of Works. My right hon. Friend ought, perhaps, even to improve upon this, because, as I understand it, he has been appointed to improve upon the work of the previous Minister of Works, and he will have many advantages. He has been promised that, whatever special powers may be necessary, he will have them, and he has direct approach to the Prime Minister, which is a not inconsiderable advantage. So we shall expect at least 2,000 temporary houses a week from next June. Other- 795 wise, I will consider that my right hon. Friend will have failed.
In saying this, I hope he will not regard the existing type of temporary house as entirely satisfactory. They are all wasteful in the use of land and they are expensive. Their siting is difficult, and I have been informed that, on a number of occasions, care has not been taken to ensure that the necessary services are available on the sites which have been selected. For instance, there is an inadequate amount of sewerage and drainage, and there will not be a sufficient water supply. I hope that great care will be taken there.
I would have preferred a prefabricated type of temporary house which could have been easily converted into a permanent house, even if the life of the subsequent permanent house was somewhat less than the life of the traditional house. Indeed, I think that, perhaps, there would be great advantages in designing a type of house which would have rather a shorter life than the ordinary house, so that we should not be encumbered with out-of-date houses for the greater part of their life. I hope we shall continue the search to devise something more satisfactory than the type at present in use. In that connection, I agree very much with the views of the hon. and gallant Member for Preston. The No. 7 type is a very satisfactory type, and might very well be employed. At this stage, I do not propose to canvass the particular type of house which I was instrumental in having built.
Before I leave my right hon. Friend—I hope I have not been unkind to him, because I certainly did not intend to be—may I say I would he very glad if, when he speaks, he will state what special powers he proposes to ask for, and whether any changes in his functions, or in his relationship with Lord Woolton, are contemplated, and what is to be the position of Sir Malcolm Eve. Is he to continue, because he has impressed many of us with his energy and efficiency? Finally, does the Minister accept the challenge which I have put to him, and does he think that the terms of the challenge are fair and reasonable?
So much for the first part of the immediate task. Next, I want to say that it will be our duty to provide accommoda- 796 tion for those in the Forces who have married during the war and who will need a home on demobilisation. There will be a certain number of men in the Forces who gave up their homes on mobilisation—many of them left them—and who will not be able to get them back again when they come back. We will have to provide for them. In the words of my right hon. Friend, in the Debate on 15th March there will have to be provided immediately homes for families living in slum houses scheduled for demolition, but which, owing to the war, have remained standing for five years, and homes for those living in overcrowded conditions, as defined by the Housing Act of 1936. That is the immediate task which confronts us, and the Minister of Health, in his speech in March last, referred to these classes of families. His estimate was that a million houses would be required.
In my view, that is a hopeless understatement of the task, and I think I can satisfy the House that our immediate needs, as I have defined them, will be considerably more than the million houses suggested. First of all, let us take the number of marriages that have taken place since the outbreak of the war. I have made some inquiries, and I find that about 2,500,000 marriages have taken place since the war. I would suggest to the House that about half the families married will require a home after the war. I have personal knowledge of 20 families married since the war began, and 18 of these will require a home. Perhaps that is not a good way of arriving at a conclusion, but I am prepared to put forward the suggestion that about half of them, or 1,2500,000, will want a home, and, if we add the slums actually scheduled for demolition and the increasing amount of overcrowding that exists at the present time, then I suggest that the immediate requirements will be 2,000,000 houses and not 1,000,000.
That is the measure of the immediate task. What is the Government policy? We are to begin the erection of 300,000 houses in the first two years after the war with Germany, and we are to provide about 250,000 temporary houses, which are going to be provided, as far as possible, during the war, and for which there is a certain amount of advance preparation of sites. Therefore, I would like to ask the Minister if he will tell the House 797 what progress has been made. The temporary houses which are being provided now will be occupied as fast as they are being built. I think that is the intention. Local authorities have long waiting lists and it would be quite impossible to keep the temporary houses vacant while there are hundreds of thousands of families in immediate need of housing. Although the Minister of Health and the Minister of Works have stated that the temporary houses are for occupation by families with not more than two young children, one thing is quite certain—that it will be impossible for local authorities to refuse to accept families of any size in these temporary houses while they are rendered homeless, and, therefore, we are at once providing a problem for ourselves, and I do not envy the Minister of Health, because his position is that, while he is providing these temporary houses, he is creating overcrowding, which, at the same time, he is undertaking to get rid of.
May I say in passing, in dealing with these large families, that I very much agree with the hon and gallant Member for Preston? When I became chairman of the Housing Committee of the L.C.C., I found that provision for large families had not been made by my predecessors, and, whenever we got a large family, we had to provide them with two flats, which is not a very economic method of providing for the future of the nation. That is still the position, and I hope that will be taken into account and that we shall ensure that large families will be provided for under proper conditions and not in a casual way.
The temporary houses will be fully let as fast as they are built, and hardly any—I should say practically none—will be available for the men who have married while in the Services. How many permanent houses will be available under the present policy? How many will actually be completed within two years from the end of the war with Germany? May I point out that, according to the forecast of the Prime Minister, it is hoped that the war with Japan will come to an end in about 18 months after the war with Germany? Therefore, by the end of the period with which the Minister of Health is dealing, the men in the Forces will be demobilised on a very large scale. That will be the period when he or his successor will be having the problem of providing 798 homes for men in the Forces who have married during the war. What will be available to them?
I have already indicated that there will be practically no temporary houses available. As regards permanent houses, 300,000, if the right hon. and learned Gentleman is lucky, will have been started in the first two years. How many will be available? Half of them? Let us say that 200,000 will actually be built and that the other 100,000 will be in process of building. But by that time the number of marriages will have still further increased. Probably we shall be needing about 2,000,000 homes at that time and there will be about 200,000 available. One ex-Service family in 10 will be housed and nine ex-Service families out of 10 will be disappointed. That is not a fanciful position but the position in which we shall find ourselves at the expiration of two years after the war unless something more is done.
It is for that reason that I have suggested to the House that the Government are not entirely appreciative of the seriousness of the situation. Nothing will cause greater disillusionment and distress than that large numbers of ex-Service men should once more, after this war as after the last, find themselves without homes and without any reasonable prospect of getting homes in the near future. Speed is essential and steps should be taken at once to ensure that as many homes as possible are available at the expiration of two years after the war. I know that in previous Debates I said that I doubted whether even the number that the Minister of Health is proposing to provide will actually be available, and I still retain that doubt as long as we proceed in the manner in which it is proposed to proceed. I want to appeal to the House to regard this as a most exceptional and urgent problem and some further steps will have to be taken than are proposed at the present time.
Now I come to the long-term programme. In the speech to which I have referred, the Minister of Health estimated that there would be need of about 3,000,000 to 4,000,000 houses and that these would be provided in about 10 to 12 years. Even on my right hon. and learned Friend's estimate, this is an admission that something like 12,000,000 to 15,000,000 people are to-day living in 799 conditions which are most unsatisfactory. I believe that my right hon. and learned Friend's estimate is again a gross underestimate of the situation. I want to ask the House to bear in mind the following facts. First of all, it is known that about one-third of the existing houses or about 4,000,000 of them are now over 100 years old. [An HON. MEMBER: "No."] Oh, yes, I have taken the trouble to check that particular fact, as indeed, I have endeavoured to check every figure I propose quoting to the House. My hon. Friend can say "No" as much as he likes. I am prepared to stand by that figure. The majority of these houses which were built over 100 years ago are now obsolete and unsatisfactory and in the course of the next few years after the end of the war ought to be demolished, if we are to carry out the policy which the mover of the Amendment put forward to this House.
While we have still a long way to go before we abate the overcrowding under the existing standard, it will be recognised that the existing standard itself is most unsatisfactory. It is far too low. It contemplates that every room in the house, including the living room, will be used for sleeping purposes. I have again made a calculation and it is possible for something like 10 human beings to sleep in four rooms, one of which is the living room, under the existing standard, provided some of them are children. Before very long, public opinion will demand the raising of the overcrowding standard.
There are a very large number of families sharing houses who, if they are going to have a home of their own, will have to be taken from the houses which they are at present occupying, and those houses will once again be used for the occupation of one family, as was originally intended. In London alone two families out of every three are sharing a house, and I believe that the same conditions obtain in practically every other large town in the country. Finally, we have still to make provision for a section of the community who have been sadly neglected in the past—I mean single women and aged couples. In the past, when we have provided perhaps five hundred houses, we might have provided five for the aged couples and perhaps none for the single women. But they are a sec- 800 tion of the community who are as important as any other, and as regards the aged couples, they are an increasing proportion of the population, and a very large amount of housing will have to be provided for these categories of persons. Therefore, as against the 1,000,000 houses that are needed as our immediate problem, 2,000,000 will be a more accurate figure. I believe that in the policy on housing we are making the same mistake as we did in early part of the war. We are under-estimating our task and there is a danger of our meeting the same fate.
Our programme of housing will have to comprise the re-housing of the greater part of the population of this country. It is important that that should be borne in mind. If I am right, there are three conditions which will obtain. The first is, that we shall be able to give to the building worker a guarantee of permanent employment. If the problem is going to be confined to a relatively short period of 10 to 12 years we shall not be in a position to give that guarantee, but if, as I believe, the problem is far greater, then we can safely give a guarantee of permanent employment to the building operative. Secondly, re-housing on a vast scale like this will have to be accompanied by the replanning and redevelopment of most of the large towns of this country, and the two tasks—housing and planning—will have to go hand-in-hand. And thirdly, if the task is as big as I think it is, then we must proceed at far greater speed than is proposed at the present time. The period of providing 3,000,000 to 4,000,000 houses in 10 to 12 years will have to be very much curtailed, but, so far, the Government have shown no evidence that they have a long-term policy at all. Local authorities have not been permitted to buy land for a period of more than two years in respect of their housing plans.
Apparently, the vision of the Government is limited to two years. There is no policy on the location of industry, a vital question. It is no use re-housing your people unless you are locating your industry suitably for the people that you are re-housing. There is no policy on the vital problem of the high cost of land in urban areas, which was one of the purposes for which a White Paper on the control of land and leases was issued in order to deal with the vital problem of compensation and betterment As far back as October, 801 1943, the Minister of Town and Country Planning said that the Government took the view that the solution of the compensation and betterment problem was a necessary precedent to successful planning. They will go on doing so. We had a White Paper in June on the subject, but that White Paper has apparently been still-born. There has been no discussion of it and there is no reference to it in the King's Speech. There is no evidence that the Government are attacking the problem with the speed and efficiency of a military operation. "The Times", in a leading article recently, said that:A military operation without an underlying strategy may win a battle but will never win a war.I cordially agree with "The Times" that we shall not win the war against housing unless we have an underlying strategy on the subject.
So far I have been critic and perhaps it will be appropriate if for the rest of my speech I endeavour to be more constructive. Our first task is to treat the provision of homes as a crusade. If we can only get the Dunkirk spirit into the provision of homes, I think we shall make a great deal of progress. We have to prepare a long-term programme—we must not be satisfied by merely looking forward to two years—which will link up housing with the replanning of our towns and cities and with the location of industry. We have to have a Minister of Cabinet rank who will be ultimately responsible for the provision of houses. We have one at the present time. We have Lord Woolton but the difficulty about Lord Woolton is that he is not able to give his full time, energy and thought to the problem. It is vitally necessary that, whatever Minister is in charge of housing, he should give the whole of his time, thoughts and energy to the problem.
I believe that if the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Minister of Health had nothing else to do—had no worries about the future Medical Service and no anxieties about the B.M.A., had not to reorganise local government, and had not to deal with Civil Defence—but to confine all his thoughts to housing we would make substantial progress. That is not the position. The Minister of Works has many other offices. He has to look after the Royal Parks and Royal Palaces and buildings, he has to issue licences; in fact, 802 he has a tremendous amount to do apart from dealing with the problem of housing and there ought to be at least one Minister in the Government who should be thinking of nothing else but housing. Probably the right solution would be that one of the Ministers without departmental duties should be given this particular task of having complete oversight over the work of housing.
I rather agree that it is not possible to concentrate all the work into one Department. That would not be possible. There are a number of Ministers, one of whom is sitting on the Front Bench now, without any departmental duties who could be given the task of complete oversight and control and responsibility with all necessary powers for the provision of houses. We have to control the price of building material and its use. There has been a great deal of agitation in this House recently to remove all control. I would like to put to hon. Members who take that view whether they would wish to end the control over the use of building materials so that they might be used for any purpose other than housing and be available to the highest bidder.
Then we shall have to deal with the problem of land. My right hon. Friend has made some attempt to deal with it for two years but that is not good enough. In a long-term programme you have to look further ahead than two years. We must speed up the process of the acquisition of land. I do not put it higher than that because I do not believe that that will be entirely satisfactory; I believe that the only real solution is the nationalisation of the land. I have arrived at that not because I am necessarily predisposed to that view but because I feel that only by the complete nationalisation of the land can we really have the land readily available when we want it. That, however, is perhaps too much to hope for in a Coalition Government, but if we are not to have the nationalisation of land, let us at least first deal with this vital question of compensation betterment because it affects the prices which have to be paid for urban land. Unless we deal with this problem, it means that every public improvement brings up the cost of the land against the local authority.
We have also to go in very much for research into alternative methods and materials. So long as we are confined 803 to traditional methods and traditional materials we shall not make very good progress. Then I ask that there shall be an immediate release of certain categories of men from the Forces. In particular, I ask that technicians should be released at once, because without technicians you can make very little progress. They are the foundation, the starting point of all housing work. I hope that both my right hon. Friends will exercise the fullest pressure to get technicians released from the Forces. In particular, I would suggest that they might apply for the release of a large number of civil engineers who will be of increasing importance in housing work. Let them carry out intensive training at once. We shall need all the building operatives we can possibly get, we shall need all the foremen and all the managers we can get, and there ought to be intensive training of all categories of men for all classes of work.
Then I ask that there shall also be control over the building industry. For many years to come the building industry will be a public service, and I do not think it will be entirely satisfactory if they are left to follow their own resources and their own course. In this Debate I do not propose to embark on the argument as between private and public enterprise; I think the position is far too grave to deal with the matter on the basis of one's political predilections. I think there is room for both. I agree that private enterprise made a contribution to housing in the years before the war, although it has not made the contribution which it thinks it has. I agree that it provided 3,000,000 houses out of 4,000,000 between the wars, but it did not provide the right type of houses—it provided mostly houses for sale, which meant that those who were fortunate enough to have the money to buy a house, or those who were forced by their needs to tighten their belts and put themselves in financial difficulties to get a house, got one, but the vast majority of the people who really needed houses and could not afford to buy one, were not in a position to get one.
I say that in the years after the war there will have to be considerable control over the building industry. First we shall have to control the type of house that will be built, we shall have to control the building industry to ensure that they work with efficiency, that they use up-to- 804 date methods, that they use the plant and equipment which will lighten their task. How is it that the Americans can build houses as cheaply as we do although they give their building operatives twice our rate of pay? I submit that it is almost entirely due to the fact that the building industry in America uses up-to-date methods and modern plant and equipment. I think this matter is so important that the Government should, if necessary, insist that the building industry in this country uses up-to-date and modern methods. We shall have to go in for a great deal of standardisation.
I remember, about a year ago, Lord Portal stated in another place that he was proposing to embark upon a considerable measure of standardisation. I should be very glad if, in replying, the right hon. and learned Gentleman could tell us something about the achievements in this respect and, if there are no achievements, perhaps he can tell us what he proposes doing about standardisation. That is one of the vital secrets of efficiency in the building industry. Perhaps he can tell us something about what is proposed as regards the use of Government factories. There are large numbers of Government factories, which have been most lavishly and efficiently equipped, and which could be turned over to the provision of building material on a large and efficient scale. It is most important that my right hon. and learned Friend should have his eye on those Government factories for I can foresee that some of these factories which may not be required after the war, if he is not careful, may be turned over to some other use.
I think that if we provide the building operative with a guarantee of full and permanent employment, if we provide him with a regular and a satisfactory wage, then we are entitled to ask him to give us a reasonable output of work without any restriction, and I am quite convinced that if we do this we shall not ask in vain. The building operative is as human as anybody else, and he is as much the victim of bad housing as any other section of the community. I am quite sure that we need not ask the building operative twice to give us the fullest possible output if we give him the conditions that are vital. However, do not let us make the mistake of putting it to the building operative that he is the only 805 factor in the speedy provision of houses, or in the cheap provision of houses. He is not. A house consists of land, building material, management and labour. I would rule out nobody who can be of assistance nor, as I have already said, would I allow any political preconceptions to dominate the task, but I would ask my right hon. Friends to do the same. If they should become satisfied as they go on—to take a hypothetical case—that in order to proceed with this task it is necessary to set up a public building service because they become convinced that the building industry has failed in the past, I would expect them not to hesitate to do that just as I would not hesitate to use private enterprise if it is capable of doing the task.
It must cut both ways. Houses will have to be provided for all who need them. We, on this side, are not claiming that people of no incomes should have a monopoly of houses—flying bombs and things like that have not discriminated as between one section of the community and another, although one tends sometimes to think that they have when one goes round London and finds that the poorer quarters have suffered most. All sections of the community are suffering to-day from the housing shortage, and in our task we have to provide for all sections of the community. Preference must not be given to those who can afford to buy. My right hon. Friend must not proceed on the line of allowing private enterprise to build houses for sale. Let them build houses to let. Let them build houses for those who need them. Our prime need is of houses to let, and need must be the only criterion. We are successfully fighting this war so that we may preserve our way of life and our democratic institutions, but it may well be that democracy may be in danger and our struggle will have been in vain if we do not solve speedily the problem of housing in decency and convenience for our people, and a very heavy responsibility for the future of democracy rests upon the shoulders of both my right hon. Friends. Let us, therefore, spare no efforts and allow no interests to stand in the way of its solution.
§ 1.56 p.m.
§ Sir Irving Albery (Gravesend)
I think every speaker in this Debate has laid stress upon the importance of having one Minister over-ridingly responsible for 806 dealing with this acute problem of post-war housing, both for the planning and carrying out, and also to be responsible to this House. That is a view which I have held myself for a long time and expressed last year in the Debate on the King's Speech. Also, from time to time, I have put down Questions to try to elucidate the present form of responsibility, and I must say anybody who reads the answers to those Questions will still find himself in some doubt. The Prime Minister has answered Questions on the subject but even his answers in this particular case have not been blessed with his usual lucidity. I hold the view, which I believe is shared by a good many others, that the appropriate Minister to be responsible for housing is the Minister of Health——
§ Sir I. Albery
I am not talking for the moment about personalities but about an office. One must bear in mind that the Minister of Health is being relieved, by the creation of a Ministry of National Insurance, of a great many of his past duties. The whole history of housing, the expert staff to deal with it, past experience, were all to be found in the Ministry of Health. It would seem from happenings during the past 12 months that one is forced to the conclusion that in the development of our housing policy there have been difficulties of a serious nature. I need only refer to the fact that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Leith (Mr. E. Brown), who is now sitting in his place, left the Ministry of Health some time ago and at that time people in this House were asking themselves why that change was being made. I do not think we were ever given any definite information on the subject. We had to go more or less by report and rumour, and report and rumour were mainly to the effect that the Ministry of Works was encroaching upon the responsibilities of the Ministry of Health, and we arrived, rightly or wrongly, at the conclusion that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Leith had tendered his resignation because he found he was not getting adequate facilities to carry out the necessary plans, or was being interfered with by some other Department. That was common rumour. How much of it is true, I do not know. The right hon. Gentleman, with his well- 807 known anxiety to render public service in any capacity during the present emergency, accepted another office from the Prime Minister, and I am quite sure he was actuated by noble motives and a completely disinterested desire to serve his country.
There is, however, something still to be said, even in war-time, for the old custom by which a Minister who occupies office and cannot obtain either the necessary co-operation from the rest of the Cabinet, or the Government of the day, or the Prime Minister of the day, and who becomes satisfied that he cannot satisfactorily carry out his functions—resigns his office, taking his place on the back-benches in front of me to resume his independence, and informing the House and the country of the circumstances which necessitated his resignation. Only in that way can the House and the country maintain that control which is desirable and necessary, and to which they are entitled.
The next thing that happened which showed that matters were not altogether satisfactory with relation to the war-time building emergency, was the departure, if I may so call it, of the Noble Lord who, until recently, has been Minister of Works. There, again, we are very much in the dark as to why he went. Two letters were exchanged, and no doubt gave complete satisfaction both to the writer and receiver. No information was forthcoming to the House or the country as to the real reason and there, again, one had to fall back on rumour and report. It is possible that the Noble Lord had not been able to provide certain things which he said he could provide and that that led ultimately to his resignation. I do not know, and I am sorry if I am putting forward suggestions which may not be accurate, but we are not left in a position to do otherwise. I say all this mainly in the hope that the Government will to-day seize the opportunity to give some explanation to the House of these past happenings, an explanation to which we are entitled and which have a considerable bearing on what should be done in the future.
To go back to my first suggestion—with which some may not agree—I am still of the opinion that the proper authority for housing in this country is the Ministry of Health. Allowing for the fact 808 that the duties will be more onerous than before, I think there might be a good deal to be said for the Minister of Health being a member of the War Cabinet, with direct access, therefore, to that Cabinet on this very important matter. My right hon. and learned Friend has a very able Parliamentary Secretary to take over a lot of his work, and if another Parliamentary Secretary was needed to assist him I see no reason why one should not be provided. Do Members of the House realise how many Ministers are involved in housing? I have divided them into two groups. The first I call the planning Ministers, for instance, those who have responsibility and interest in directing the nature of our housing. Under that heading there is, first, the Minister of Reconstruction, then there are the Minister of Town and Country Planning, the Minister of Health, the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister of Agriculture. That is a total of five who are interested in planning. The second group, whom I put under the heading of the Supply Ministers, consists of the Minister of Works, the Minister of Labour, the President of the Board of Trade, and I think that to those there should be added the Minister of Transport, whose assistance will be needed in many directions. Altogether, therefore, there are nine Ministers who have an important share in the production of houses, and I defy any Member of this House to say that he can nominate any one Minister who is really carrying definite responsibility at the moment for tackling this problem.
I ask Members to ask themselves how one can possibly hope that a difficult problem of this kind can be grappled with on those lines. The problem is similar to the one which the Prime Minister had to grapple with in waging this war. He knew quite well that the only way to grapple with it was to take over-riding control himself, which he has done with such great success, and I am convinced that this housing problem must be tackled in the same manner by a Minister in the War Cabinet who has over-riding control and responsibility, and who will be responsible both to that Cabinet and to this House for results. Further, if he is not provided with those things which are necessary to carry out his task I hope he will resign and take his place on the back benches as an independent Member and tell the House of Commons and the coun- 809 try why he has resigned. Although I said that the Minister should have this over-riding responsibility there is, of course, a good deal of difference between the solving of the temporary emergency housing problem and the long-term problem. I believe that in collaboration with the Minister of Health, and under his over-riding supervision, the Minister of Works is the right person to tackle the emergency problem which, as I have said, is quite different from the long-term problem, and that every facility should be given to him to enable him to do his job. But temporary houses should not be allowed in any way to interfere with, or delay, permanent houses. In my view, temporary houses should not be put upon sites which are intended for permanent houses.
As regards priorities, there should not be any great degree of competition. If permanent housing is to go along more or less on the old established lines, employing skilled building workers, temporary housing is something on which materials and workers not ordinarily in the building industry must be employed. Therefore, the question of priority should not arise, and so far as possible hindrance and interference between the two should be avoided.
On the question of the shortage of workers in the building industry, there is one point to which I want to draw attention. Members of this House are constantly pleading for men to be brought back from the Forces to reinforce the building industry. That ought to be done, in so far as it can be done, but I have reason to believe that there is another source which, to a large extent, has been overlooked, although not, perhaps, by people like the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works. I am informed that there is a large number of building operatives who, during the war, have gone into other trades and forms of work to which, admittedly, they have been attracted, very often, by high wages, and it is probable that these men could be put back into their original trades in the building industry. The other day the Minister of Health made a speech, in which he said:The Government's programme consists of three parts—the repair of war damage, the provision of temporary bungalows of various types and the building of permanent houses.810 There is another form of action, a very important one, which I think, ought to have been added. We are going to be acutely short of houses, and it will be a desperately serious matter if the war ends at an early date. I believe that a great deal of housing accommodation can be provided purely as a temporary measure, by the careful investigation of all unoccupied housing properties in London with a view to different forms of conversion. There ought to be economical conversion on a temporary basis. There are buildings in London—I know streets of them—which, within a short period, will be pulled down and rebuilt. We cannot afford to-day to pull down anything which is reasonably habitable, or can be made so by the expenditure of a moderate amount of money. Arrangements ought to be made to make these places into temporary flats, or even groups of rooms. It would be better than nothing, and private enterprise should be encouraged to convert the better classes of property into flats and small dwellings for the better situated part of our population. I attach considerable importance to that because in housing everybody has been downgraded.
§ Sir Alfred Beit (St. Pancras, South-Eastern)
Does my hon. Friend realise that the Commissioners of Crown Lands are the biggest offenders in this respect, in view of the fact that their leases do not permit of any such conversion of houses into flats?
§ Sir I. Albery
There may be many difficulties of that kind but this is an acute emergency, as has been mentioned by nearly every speaker. I am not at all satisfied that, if it is properly tackled, we cannot do it a great deal better than has been suggested. The situation is not very dissimilar from that which arose in the shipping industry. Ships were torpedoed and we had to have new ones. If we had tried to provide new ships on the same basis that we are now proposing to supply houses, we should have been starved out long ago. We have to tackle the problem on the same basis as the liberty ships were tackled. We have to say what is needed and steps have to be taken to provide it. We have not got to sit down and be satisfied with someone who says, "I can provide 100,000 houses this year and 200,000 the next." If it is not enough 811 it will not do. We have to get down to it and get a larger number. We have done more difficult things than that. There is no comparison between the difficulties that existed after the last war and the acute crisis which will exist after this. Last time it was not handled too well in the early stages but this time it has to be dealt with.
§ 2.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Quibell (Brigg)
I think this problem resolves itself into the consideration of two items, namely, men and material. The hon. Member for Gravesend (Sir I. Albery) has put his finger on one of the weakest spots, as far as the provision of men is concerned. What he has said is perfectly true to my knowledge. There are people whose ordinary businesses were brought to a standstill at the outbreak of the war, and there are many joiners and bricklayers and others who are capable of performing any task in the building trade. I know some works which have nearly a third more bricklayers to-day than they had previous to the war and, if E.P.T. was not helping them to pay the wages, a large number of them would not be there much longer. If the Ministry is serious about it it can easily get the figures of the skilled men who were employed previous to the war, and the number now employed, and you will find that there is an enormous number of skilled men doing unskilled work. For that reason I cannot see the tremendous difficulty that is said to exist. I am forced to the conclusion that the problem of the temporary and the permanent house is only the casing—the outside fabric. You are going to have the same standard fittings in the one as in the other. The more one thinks about the problem, the less there seems to be in the case for the temporary as against the permanent house, and the more heavily I come down on the side of the permanent house.
In my borough the number of houses that we require to catch up to the present demand is something less than 1,000. In the five years onwards from 1934 the Council built about 12 and private enterprise 605. In 1935 the Council built 42 and builders 917, in 1936 Council 82, builders 607, in 1937 Council 68, builders 690, in 1938, the Council 50, and private builders 722 and in 1939, Council 22, and 812 builders 587. That proves conclusively that, if the whole of the building operatives in the town were released from the Army or from other occupations, the problem could easily be solved by building permanent instead of temporary houses. The building trade, if it was properly and thoroughly organised, could solve the difficulty without us having some of these abortions called temporary houses. I do not know what steps the Government have taken to ascertain the number of men but in my borough we could solve it if they would let us have the men and the material.
If it was possible to obtain bricks and labour, the best house we could build is the old fashioned brick house, but I do not think the Government are encouraging the manufacture of bricks. I understand that there are huge stocks in various parts of the country but in the district that I know very well half the brick yards are derelict and no attempt has been made to open them. I do not think some of them are very keen on doing it. While they can get 3s. per thousand for doing nothing they seem to be quite content to rest on their laurels. One of the first steps the Government should take is to see that we begin the manufacture of the raw materials and that the brick yards are in the districts where houses are required. I am in favour of the traditional type of house. What is the difficulty about building it? Is it shortage of material? [HON. MEMBERS: "Labour."] Every one says that but no one attempts to give any real facts about it. I have heard speech after speech by people who make that bald statement without giving the facts.
§ Mr. Lipson
Has the hon. Member made any estimate as to the number of permanent houses of the traditional type that could be built by the industry in a year and the number of temporary houses?
§ Mr. Quibell
No, I have not, and I doubt very much if there is any Member of the House who could. If you want to put in concrete floors, whether up or down, you will meet with determined opposition from those who will have to inhabit the houses. For that reason the traditional type of floor and the traditional roof should be used. I do not think there would be the slightest difficulty in regard to timber. I have heard it said that there will be an abundance of 813 shipping, and there is an abundance of timber. There is as much timber to-day, except for what is being used during the war, as there was five years ago. We have tremendous resources in Canada. For five years previous to the war we imported 350,000 standards a year. It is only a question of getting it here. Nothing looks better than a timber roof with good slates or tiles. There is any amount of timber in the world and any amount of slates in North Wales. There is nothing better to put on a roof than good Penryn slates. We have tiles, clay, every raw material except timber, and the timber can be imported if only we have the shipping available. The Government should think in terms of the traditional type of house as well as the temporary house. I went with the mover of the Amendment to Northolt, and I agree with him that there are some very good houses, both temporary and permanent, and both the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary deserve credit for getting a move on and doing something more than talking. Those who do nothing make no mistakes. If some of us had been in their position we might not have done quite so well as they did.
One of the greatest weaknesses that have experienced in the building trade is that it is the important things which are least attended to. I know places where a bit of felt has been used as a damp course. You might as well have put in a bit of brown paper. There should be a standard type of damp course. You can see the damp three feet up the wall. That is due to the fact that the by-laws in respect of damp courses are not sufficiently strong. They should provide that efficient damp courses should be put in. I have seen houses where tar and sand have been mixed together and spread over a wall and called a damp course. The by-laws allowed that to be done. The result is that the owner has a damp house. Nothing is done about it. I urged in the House To years ago that something should be done to put in a damp course of bitumen, slate, or pluvex, or something of that kind. That would mean substantial and permanent damp courses and it would stop damp, unhealthy houses being erected.
I would like to make another practical suggestion. I know of a fairly big 814 town where the building inspection is looked upon merely as a side-line to be carried out when there is nothing else to be done. I know of a case where one man went into a house and another went into the house next door—that one was me—and they put their hands up the chimneys and shook hands with each other. They were able to do that because the wall between the chimneys was left out so as to save a few bricks. If there was proper supervision that kind of thing could not happen. The officials in that district looked upon building inspection as a thing of no importance. It is very important to the man who buys a house, and we can imagine the kind of houses built by a council if their officials have such a mentality. It is small wonder that there is a great deal of criticism rightly levelled at the type of houses built under such men. I hope the Government will insist that in towns of a certain size an official is appointed whose duty will be to act as building inspector, so that there will be adequate inspection.
The question of subsidies also ought to he considered. I do not know whether it is in the minds of the Government to subsidise private enterprise. I remember when they last did it and gave a subsidy of £150, a fellow put in a little bit of canvas on the floor and some curtains at the window and sold a subsidised house for twice the amount of money it cost. The men I have mentioned, some of whom have small estates provided with roads, sewers, gas and water mains, or councils which have such estates, should be given facilities to build so that they can help solve this problem. There is no problem which is more likely to cause social unrest.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Dower (Penrith)
Would the hon. Gentleman be in favour of giving subsidies both to private enterprise and local authorities?
§ Mr. Quibell
I do not mind in the least. We want houses, and both local authorities and private enterprise ought to be given the chance to provide them. It is the provision of houses that matters. My own council lent as much as £90,000 under the Small Dwellings Acquisition Act to help soldiers purchase their own houses. I cannot see any evil in a man owning his own house. It is desirable that he should, and there are not many Members who do not carry that out in practice themselves. Cheap money should be pu[...] 815 at the disposal of the local authorities, or the Small Dwellings Acquisition Act should be revived, or arrangements should be made with the building societies, or assistance should be given direct to purchasers. What matters with me it that we should get houses. As far as the soldier is concerned, he has fought for the Empire and for England, and it is our duty to harness all the resources of the building trade in order to see that he has a home when he returns.
§ 2.36 p.m.
§ The Minister of Works (Mr. Sandys)
I do not think anybody will try and minimise the seriousness or the gravity of the housing situation. All over the country to-day friends, relations and, in many cases, strangers are being obliged to share homes. Almost everywhere there is a really acute shortage of accommodation of every kind. That is the situation to-day when great numbers of our people in the Fighting Services are still overseas and many others are living in camps and barracks in this country. Some time during the course of the next 12 months we hope and expect that many of these Service men and women will be returning home, and it is clear that, unless we take vigorous, drastic and, if need be, unorthodox action, many of those returning troops will for a long time to come have to go on facing the bleak prospect of a homeless homecoming. It seems to me that our duty, the duty of all of us, for we are all in this together, stands out perfectly clear. We have got to produce the largest number of dwellings of a reasonable standard, if not in time at any rate in the shortest possible time; because in the face of this situation, I do not think we can "kid ourselves" that we can solve this problem, with all the arrears we have to make up, in time.
In this gigantic enterprise all our resources of energy and ingenuity will have to be harnessed to the task. Above all, it is imperative that the Government, on the one hand, and the building and civil engineering industries, on the other, should work together in close, intimate and effective partnership. In this the Ministry of Works has a very special responsibility. Here I am particularly fortunate in being able to turn for advice and help to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, who for many long 816 years has played so large a part in this great industry. The Government are planning to provide homes for our people by three methods: first, by the immediate repair of existing houses which have been damaged by the enemy; secondly, by a long-term building programme extending over many years; and, thirdly, by the rapid construction of temporary dwellings to help bridge the gap until the long-term programme gets under way.
The most immediate and pressing task is certainly the repair of the vast number of London homes which have been damaged by bombs during the last few months. Practically every speaker has addressed himself to that problem, and it is evident that there is still widespread criticism—at any rate, among those who have spoken. Criticism is not always well-informed, but I am not proposing to do more to-day than to try and set before the House the problem as I see it, the magnitude of the task, and the extent of progress which has already been attained. An unfortunate passage in a speech which I made a few months ago has been referred to. In reply to the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin), who asks me to prophesy exactly when these repairs will be completed, I would say that I have learnt my lesson.
In a Debate at the end of October, my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Health explained the responsibilities of the various Government Departments in relation to the repair of bomb damage in London, and I do not propose to repeat again what he said then. I should have thought that it was perfectly obvious that in a complicated matter of this kind, with a highly developed Government machine, it is inevitable that a considerable number of Departments must be concerned. The idea that you can set up a dictator to deal with every new subject that comes along is an attractive one. If we had a dictator to deal with bomb damage in London, obviously we could get the job done very much quicker, but other jobs would suffer. The first thing a dictator would do would be to get a lot of builders out of the Army, and pull others out of the munition industries. He would get the job done, but many other things would be severely interfered with. That is why there must be some sense of proportion when considering the idea of a dictator. The mover of the 817 Amendment said that we should have a dictator who could override his colleagues in the Cabinet in this matter.
§ Captain Cobb
What I said was that he should have authority over certain of his colleagues. Obviously, he would have to be subject to the Prime Minister.
§ Mr. Sandys
That is a more modest request. In order to make sure that this task of dealing with bomb-damage repair in London is undertaken as a unified operation, it has been decided to place upon a single Minister, namely, the Minister of Works, responsibility for concerting the action of all Government Departments concerned, and of answering to this House for the whole question. I hope that that will go some little way towards assuring the House that Government Departments are not all fighting one another all the time.
§ Mr. Sandys
I said specifically for bomb-damage repair and for the problems which are connected with it, such as the provision of emergency winter accommodation. The repair of bomb damage is being tackled in four stages. The first is to provide rough-and-ready protection from the weather as quickly as possible. This stage is, I am advised, completed within about three days of the incident occurring. The second stage is to restore a tolerable standard of comfort to those large numbers of houses which, though damaged, are for the most part still habitable and in fact inhabited. The third stage is to repair the more seriously damaged houses which, though now unfit to live in, are none the less worth while mending. The fourth and last stage is to finish off the repairs, to carry out inside decorations and to replace any inferior substitute materials which may have been used during the emergency.
§ Mr. Sandys
If the hon. Member will allow me to continue, I was going to say that this final stage cannot, of course, be completed until after the end of the 818 German war. It is these second stage repairs in London which are now engaging our main attention. At the end of September, when the winter programme of repairs was started, there were more than 700,000 damaged houses in this category. On grounds of security it would be unwise to publish particulars of bomb damage which has occurred in recent weeks, but that figure has, of course, increased. The total cost of all repairs which are now being undertaken is likely to be over £35,000,000. I mention this figure not because we are concerned so much with the cost as because it will give a very fair indication of the magnitude of the problem.
The first necessity is, of course, to make the roofs watertight. This essential work is going ahead well. In 53 boroughs out of 95, more than nine-tenths of the roofs of all inhabited houses have now been made fully watertight. I am assured that, apart from fresh damage, there should by Christmas be relatively few occupied dwellings whose roofs have not been repaired. As regards other repairs, we aim at mending or replacing partitions, doors and ceilings in essential rooms and at replacing a proportion of the windows. That is the sort of standard at which we are aiming. Until all houses have been brought up to this minimum standard, there can, of course, be no question of carrying out internal decorations. I think that answers the hon. Member's point. However, we have been examining the possibility of issuing to all householders paint or distemper and brushes, so that they can themselves, if they wish, make their homes a little more cheerful. It is not much, but it may help in a small way.
The extent and nature of the work to be done varies very much from house to house and from borough to borough so that it is really very difficult to measure precisely the progress which has been made. I think my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham will appreciate the difficulty of measuring up a job like this, particularly while it is still under way. More than 200,000 of the houses in this category have by now received complete "Stage 2 repairs," as we call it. In addition, a very considerable number, for which figures are not available, are in varying stages of repair. During the last six weeks there has undoubtedly been a marked improvement in the rhythm and 819 speed of this work. This improvement is, in my view, due in very large measure to the unflagging exertions of officers of the local authorities and of the Ministries of Health, Labour and Works, under the able and energetic leadership—I am glad his work was commended in the course of the Debate—of Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve. I have been closely examining with him and others the various possible ways of further speeding up the progress of these repairs.
I must say that my first conclusion is that there is no short cut. There is no easy way out. We are not likely to achieve results by sweeping changes in organisation. The repair of London is not, as it at first may appear to be, single task. It is made up of countless thousands of small jobs, each slightly different from the others. Progress can be made only by tackling one by one the detailed difficulties which, in a variety of small ways, may give rise to delays, overlapping, misunderstanding or waste. In itself, the cure of any one of these troubles may not have a very appreciable result, but taken together, the cumulative effect may turn out to be quite considerable.
The hon. Member for Peckham asked about the machinery at the centre for handling and planning this work. It has seemed to us desirable that there should be some kind of central clearing house which could deal expeditiously with all or any of these minor or major problems, as they arise. For this purpose, we have set up an inter-departmental committee, of which I am the Chairman, and which is known as the London Repairs Executive. Its members include Sir Malcolm Eve, who is acting as my deputy over the whole of this sphere, together with senior officials of all the Government Departments principally concerned. This Committee is being provided with a statistical branch and will maintain direct contact with the local authorities through a number of experienced liaison officers who have been specially trained now for this work. This should prove a most valuable piece of machinery.
This repair work is of course consuming vast quantities of building materials. While there may sometimes be shortages of certain materials there are in all cases, I am glad to say, sufficient supplies of at any rate serviceable substitutes. There- 820 fore there is no reason why the work should be held up on account of materials. The question of distribution is a more difficult one and I am at the moment looking into it to see whether we cannot distribute the materials more efficiently in certain ways There have of course been serious shortages of some types of materials, the outstanding case having been plaster-board. London and Bomb-Alley repairs have been consuming, or would have consumed if they had been able to, more than the total output of that material for the whole country. The output of plaster-board was stepped up but unfortunately we have had a very serious set-back in that unhappy bomb-dump explosion near Burton-on-Trent, which destroyed one of the principal sources of supply, so that we are rather back where we were a few weeks ago. However, strenuous efforts are being made to find alternative sources of production. In the same way, glass has been a difficulty, but we are now in a position to put about 50 per cent. clear glass and 50 per cent. opaque glass in a proportion of windows in essential rooms. With the assistance of the new mobile glazing organisation I think that that side of the matter is going much better.
There has been mention of the labour on this jab. The labour force engaged on London repairs was 59,000 at the beginning of September. Since then, it has been progressively increased and now stands at nearly 130,000. That is more than one-third of the building labour of the whole country, a formidable force. About 45,000 of those men have been brought from all parts of the country, including Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. I would say to hon. Members that it is no good slanging the workmen who are on this job. There is always a small proportion of men slacking on any job. I am satisfied that there is not more slacking here than you would expect on a job of this kind. Very often when the workmen appear to be slacking there is some good reason. It is a thoroughly awkward job. It is inevitable that there should at times be hold-ups of one kind or another. We have hold-ups even in our great factories where the whole process moves along a conveyor belt. Imagine all these little odd jobs all over the place; it is inevitable that there must be a considerable amount of delays and wasted effort.
821 I have very great pleasure indeed in informing the House that a few days ago General Eisenhower placed at our disposal some 3,000 American sappers to help us on repairs in London. I am sure that hon. Members will wish to express their warm thanks for this very welcome aid and for the feelings of friendship and sympathy which have inspired it. As a result of the Acts of 1939 and 1941 the heavy burden of bomb-damage repairs has fallen very largely on local authorities. I rather doubt whether many, if any, of us, when we passed those Acts, realised what a terrific burden was going to be placed on a comparatively few local authorities, as a result of the concentrated attack of the enemy upon the Metropolitan area. Many boroughs have risen wonderfully to the occasion and have successfully adapted their organisation to meet this new and difficult situation.
I would like the House to know that among the most successful local authorities are some whose areas were most severely bombed. Taking all the difficulties into account, I think it is fair to say that the average rate of progress, of local authorities as a whole, has been satisfactory. The work of many has been quite splendid. There are, however—and I must say it—a small number who are lagging behind the others, and I do not feel, in a matter of this importance, that this can be allowed to continue indefinitely. It is a responsibility that has been placed upon the local authorities, but, none the less, I do not think the central Government, or this House, can wash their hands of the matter. Naturally, we do not wish to interfere with the responsibilities of local authorities. However, in a borough where the limited resources of labour and material are being uneconomically used, and where satisfactory progress is not being made, the Government may, in the last resort, feel obliged to insist that that local authority shall employ either the Ministry of Works, or some other approved organisation, to carry out the whole, or part, of the repairs in that area. We should be most reluctant to take that course, and I hope it will not be necessary. However, in view of the pressure that has been put upon us in this House to get on with these repairs, I trust that, if it does prove unavoidable, the Government will be able to count on the approval and support of hon. Members for any reasonable action 822 that may be necessary to get the job done fairly and quickly.
The Government have accorded to London repairs a priority which is second only to urgent work of operational importance. Altogether, in the factory, in the office, and on the actual job, over 200,000 men and women are at present engaged directly, or indirectly, on this task, I need hardly tell the House that the Government fully realise the distress and discomfort which the people of London are enduring. Their patience and their fortitude is a constant spur to us in our work. There is certainly no complacency, and if the rate of progress is not as fast as we should like, I can assure the House it is not through want of trying. I cannot, in the scope of this Debate, give the House, and particularly the London Members who are so much interested in these matters, more detailed information, but if it should be desired, I shall be very pleased indeed to arrange for any meetings in the Committee rooms upstairs, such as have been arranged before.
I would like to turn to the question of temporary houses. There has been a good deal of criticism in this Debate, and also in the Press just recently, about the whole of the Government's temporary housing policy. It seems that it is still not fully understood why we have adopted this course. It all boils down to one thing, and that is the shortage of building labour. This has been the deciding factor coupled with the fact that other types of labour in the engineering industries will, at the end of the war with Germany, become available in limited quantities. It was the shortage of building labour which led to the adoption of the temporary factory-made dwelling. The strength of the building industry before the war was 1,000,000. It is now down to about one-third of that strength and, of course, a very large part of it is not available for work of this kind.
Thus the primary objective of my Noble Friend Lord Portal, whose inspiration and assiduous personal attention played so big a part, was to provide a house whose construction would make the absolute minimum demand on building labour. The other consideration was to try and bring the great engineering industries into the housing programme, and to let them play their part in meet- 823 ing the housing shortage. It was not possible to convert the men and women in munition factories into plumbers and bricklayers. The only way round the difficulty was to re-design the houses so as to make them suitable for the labour available to produce them. By the adoption of these novel methods, which represented nothing less than a revolution in British building design, we are going to be able, with the same force of building labour, to produce nearly three times as many houses as would otherwise be possible. Jigs and tools needed for the manufacture of this pressed-steel house and the internal fitments are now in course of preparation. I must, however, make it quite clear—and I would like there to be no misunderstanding about this—that the actual production cannot be proceeded with until the necessary labour and manufacturing capacity are released at the end of the war in Europe.
§ Sir Percy Harris (Bethnal Green, South-West)
Am I to understand from what the right hon. Gentleman has said that we shall not even start to produce before the end of the war in Europe?
§ Mr. Lipson
May I ask the Minister whether that means that none of the labour which is redundant, or is likely to become redundant before the end of the war, is to be used for this purpose?
§ Mr. Sandys
I say that it is not going to be possible to start this production until we get substantial releases of labour from the munition factories, and that cannot be until the end of the war in Europe. But I want to add that, in order to make use of a variety of other materials, it has been decided, as the House knows, to proceed with the production of other types of temporary houses.
§ Mr. Evelyn Walkden (Doncaster)
Will the right hon. Gentleman make it clear whether the industrial workers, who are now queueing up at the labour exchanges, will be encouraged to transfer to factories where there is a likelihood that they will be producing after the war the skeleton, or the carcass, of the factory-built house? Are they not to be transferred before the end of the war in Europe?
§ Mr. Sandys
I do not know about the particular cases the hon. Member has in mind. This production has got to be planned. We cannot collect a few people, here and there, and start making houses. It has got to be done in an orderly manner. The appropriate capacity for steel presses and all the machinery necessary have got to be available. I thought it had been made clear before to-day, but, if it has not, it is just as well that I should emphasise the fact that the pressed steel bungalow, which is essentially an engineering factory job, cannot go into production until, as far as we can see at present, the end of the war in Europe.
§ Mr. Silkin
I would like to emphasise that this is the first time that point has been made clear to the House.
§ Mr. Sandys
The last thing we want is to have any misunderstanding about it. However, I was saying that that position does not apply to all the temporary bungalows. In order to use different materials, we have gone into production with other types. These do not to the same extent as the pressed steel model, need labour and capacity in the munitions factories. It will, therefore, be possible to start deliveries of these in limited numbers during the early part of the next year.
The seconder of the Amendment spoke about the Tarran house. There was a difficulty about it. Things did not go quite as originally planned. It had been thought in the first place that sufficient factory space would have been available in the firm's own factory, but on later examination it was found that they were already fully engaged with other work, and in consequence other accommodation had to be found. That led to delay, but the necessary arrangements are now being made. The drawings and designs for the Tarran house are now just completed, and I am able to tell the hon. Member that deliveries will be considerably in excess of the figures which he himself quoted. He spoke of the production of 40 houses per week starting in April. We shall begin production of Tarran houses considerably before that date.
§ Mr. Donald Scott
I was referring only to one factory on the North East coast, which has not even started production because the factory space cannot be found. 825 I was not referring to the production of Tarran houses throughout the whole country.
§ Mr. Sandys
I am sorry if I misunderstood my hon. Friend. There have been delays. I have explained how they occurred. The House will I think share my view that having regard to our pressing needs one of these temporary houses in 1945, is probably worth two in 1946. We are, therefore, urgently examining the possibility of substantially swelling the flow of deliveries by one means or another during the first half of next year. With this object we are, at the moment, endeavouring to bring into the housing programme the big group of contractors who were responsible for producing in a few short months those marvellous artificial harbours now known the world over as "Mulberries." We are trying to see whether we cannot get a considerably increased output of temporary bungalows of a different type which will be suitable for production by the methods used by this group.
However, this is not merely a production problem. It may well be we could produce a largely increased number of temporary houses, though even that is not certain. But before these temporary houses can be delivered the local authorities have to clear the sites and put in the roads and sewers and other services. All this involves work and time. They may, therefore, find it very difficult indeed to accept increased deliveries at an earlier date. However, my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister of Health are explaining these possibilities to the local authorities, and I am sure the Government can count on their full and enthusiastic co-operation in our efforts to accelerate the programme.
Before leaving this subject of temporary housing, I should just like to emphasise that the Government have, from the outset, recognised that these temporary bungalows can never provide anything but a partial and transient alleviation of our housing shortage. It has been a case of necessity, and not of choice. The shortage of building labour has throughout been the governing factor. Measured in man-hours of building labour, these prefabricated houses are the most economical type of dwelling we have been able to devise. It is estimated that the adoption of these factory methods of construction 826 will make it possible to provide 200,000 temporary dwellings with the same number of building operatives as would otherwise have been needed to construct about 60,000 houses of standard design. The Government were thus faced with the choice either of including in its programme a proportion of temporary houses, or of foregoing during the next two critical years some 140,000 homes, each capable of accommodating a young married couple. I am sure the House will feel that in all the circumstances the right decision was made.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Health will be dealing with the permanent housing programme, which is essentially within his province. I was asked about building materials. The future programmes of building which have been announced by the Government, whether for permanent or for temporary houses, are of course not just figures in the air. They have naturally been worked out in terms of building materials of all the necessary kinds. As for the fitments, those internal built-in fittings which were admired by one hon. Member who spoke, they are being manufactured now—or rather are on order—in quantities in excess of what will be needed for the temporary housing programme, and so will be available for many of the permanent houses as well.
As for standardisation, very considerable progress has been made. I have here, though I do not propose to read it out, a long list of the standardised components which have now been approved and which will in due course be available for use in the permanent housing programme. They will undoubtedly lead to a very great saving of production effort and of expense. In order to encourage their use the granting of licences and subsidies will, at any rate to start with, be dependent on the use of those standardised components in so far as they are available. There may be an interim period in which it will not be possible for them to be universally introduced.
The target aimed at in the Government's permanent housing programme is the very utmost that can be achieved along traditional building lines. The only possible hope, as I see it, of substantially increasing the output of permanent houses in the next few years is by the more extended application of new production methods, including prefabrication, stan- 827 dardisation of components and the use of new materials and techniques. There seemed to be very widespread support for this from all Members who spoke, and I was very glad to hear it——
§ Mr. Sandys
If the hon. Member is referring to the building labour force, it is our intention to add to it as much as, and as far as, we can, but it will still be for a long while woefully short of what we need to produce homes for our people.
§ Mr. Buchanan
But the right hon. Gentleman is talking about the future, when there will not be a war on. Why not add considerably to the labour force after the war? Surely the labour force in engineering has been added to considerably?
§ Mr. Sandys
The hon. Member has misunderstood me. I was speaking of the possibility of getting some immediate increase in the construction of permanent houses. Even after the war, it will be quite a little while before the building industry gets into full swing again. I am convinced that the Ministry of Works, as the Government's advisers on building design, can make no greater single contribution to the solution of our housing problem than by stimulating research in this important field. Much far-sighted pioneering work has been carried out, under the personal inspiration and direction of Lord Portal. I think many hon. Members have already seen the first fruits of this work—the mover of the Amendment referred to it—in the recent housing demonstration at Northolt. It is my intention to see that this development is continued and extended. In particular, I have asked my technical advisers, in consultation with the industry—I believe the industry must be brought into all these matters as much as possible—to apply themselves to designing a small selection of prefabricated two-storey houses, using some of the methods which were so successfully employed at Northolt, and also using other methods which have been developed by some of the great local authorities.
These houses, with which I have asked them to press on in designing as quickly 828 as possible, must be of a permanent type, or at any rate of a type which can later be converted to permanence. They must conform fully to approved housing standards so far as size and other considerations are concerned. They must be capable of being assembled from a limited range of standardised factory-made components, and must require the minimum of building labour for their erection. If it turns out to be possible, neither I nor the Government will need any pressing to consider replacing the tail-end of the temporary bungalow programme, by some form of prefabricated permanent house. That is our hope: whether it will be realised I do not know, but those are the sort of lines on which our research will be directed in the immediate future.
The results of technical research by the Ministry of Works are, of course, made available to the industry. In this and other matters that is absolutely essential, as I have said, that the Ministry of Works and the building and civil engineering industries should work closely together. Early this week I met leading representatives of employers, operatives, architects, surveyors, and civil engineers. As a result, we decided to recast on rather different lines the form and procedure of the existing consultative machinery. I hope that this new arrangement will ensure a free and fruitful interchange of ideas between the Government and these great industries and will strengthen the basis of mutual confidence which is so essential if we are to tackle successfully the difficult problems which face us in the future. As the House may well realise, I have spoken with some diffidence about the work of a Department with which I have been associated for only a very few days. I wish to thank the House for the patience and indulgence which they have shown me.