§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The Minister of Health (Mr. Willink)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This Bill, to which I am asking the House to give a Second Reading today, is one which will, if it gains the approval of Parliament, form a temporary part of our housing legislation. It is a short, and, I hope, an uncontroversial Bill, but it is an important Bill for the period which is to follow the end of hostilities in Europe. I need hardly remind the House, that we must expect, for a substantial part of this period, still to be engaged in a major war. It is, none the less, a period in which we must do our utmost to repair the damages, the losses and the arrears of war in our own country, so far as we possibly can consistently with complete participation in the war against Japan. The difficulties of the situation make it all the more necessary that we should all apply our minds to dealing with it with the utmost efficiency, so as to make our maximum contribution towards meeting the very serious situation in which, as we all realise, our housing will inevitably be after these five years. I should like to assure the House, for my own part at any rate, that I am fully alive to the need for drive and energy in this housing field—a field, I believe, in which speedy action and efficiency of national government and local government will be as essential as, and perhaps more essential than, in any other sphere, once hostilities in Europe are over.
205 Before I sit down—and I will not delay the House long with this short Bill, —I hope to be able to satisfy the House that the proposals in the Bill form a logical and appropriate part in a series of measures, legislative and administrative, which are in hand and which, together, provide the best temporary programme for this period that we can plan at this stage. But before I do so, I am in duty bound to say a few words about each of the two amendments of the law which are proposed by the Bill. Of both the House has had long notice, for it was on 8th March last that I informed the House:The Government have decided to introduce temporary legislation extending the present scope of housing subsidies so as to include dwellings built to meet general needs" …and—this is the matter covered by Clause 2 of the Bill—that:Parliament will be asked to empower the responsible Ministers, as after the last war, to confirm compulsory purchase orders for the acquisition of land for housing purposes without holding an inquiry."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1944; Vol. 397, c. 2060.]I do not recollect that any criticism of either of those announcements was made in the Debate that followed shortly afterwards.
I come straight to the proposal in Clause I of the Bill. It deals with the first of those points—the extension of the scope and range, though not the amount at present, of Exchequer subsidy. May I first make clear the position of the law as it stands? The Act which deals with the position at the moment is the Housing (Financial Provisions) Act, 1938, and under that Act, which was passed after great development in housing, both by private enterprise and local authorities, during the 1930's in particular, Exchequer subsidy is limited to special and quite narrow classes of houses built by local authorities. These classes are houses built to provide for slum clearance, for the abatement of overcrowding, and for agricultural workers. Under Clause 1 of the Bill the limitation to these three classes is removed, and Exchequer subsidy will be available in respect of any new house built by a local authority, between the date when this Bill becomes law and 1st October, 1947. I cannot, of course, refer to this as a two-year programme or a three-year programme. The House will observe that we are now three years and three months from that date, but we 206 cannot tell how much of that three years and three months will, in fact, be available for house-building. We may hope that it will be substantially more, at any rate, than two years.
This is a proposal for a general subsidy and I think I am right in saying that the House, between the wars, has not been in favour of general subsidy in principle. I am certainly not one of those who are attracted by a general subsidy but, in my submission to the House, we are, in present circumstances, driven, as a temporary measure, strictly limited by date, to provide for a subsidy of this kind in the period with which we are dealing, and that for two reasons. In the first place, we are bound to face the fact that we must anticipate that during this period—it may be a longer period—the level of building costs will be above the general price level, and while that is so—may it not continue long—it is obviously impossible to build houses of the character and type which we mean to build, at a cost which could be met by a rent within the means of those for whom these houses are intended. That is a situation which is inevitable at the present level of building costs, which are not only costs of labour but costs of materials, both home-produced and those which will come from abroad.
The second reason is equally valid. The subsidy was available under the Act of 1938 for houses built for special classes of persons and in relation to special classes of buildings. But in building in this short period after the end of the war in Europe, I feel that the House, as a whole, will think it right to have in mind a far wider range of tenancies for houses assisted by Exchequer subsidy than was contemplated in 1938. At that time, the House thought it right to concentrate subsidy on certain categories, but to-day it is a general house-shortage for which we have to provide. I need hardly remind the House that for almost five years practically no houses have been built and a large number of houses have been destroyed and, although the population may not have been increasing as rapidly as once it did, the number of family units has been increasing more rapidly in proportion to the population. The best estimate is that between 1939 and 1944 there has been in fact the addition of 250,000 families for whom we have to provide separate homes as early as possible. During the war families have 207 been living apart, broken up for one reason or another, often both husband and wife in different forms of National Service; hundreds of thousands of married couples have never yet had a home of their own; and many others have had to give up their homes or have lost them through force of circumstances or through enemy action. These classes, and particularly returning ex-Service men who cannot find separate homes of their own, must have first call on the houses to be built. Those two main features, the difference between the level of building costs and the general price level, and our duty—and I think the House will accept that it is our duty—to provide for that enormous range of our fellow-citizens to whom I have referred, are my justification for suggesting this temporary general subsidy.
But on Clause 1 there is one other point I ought to mention, because I feel that it may not leap to the eye. On the drafting of Clause 1, it may appear that the Exchequer subsidy is to remain exactly at the same level as that at which it has been since 1938, namely, £5 10s. per annum for 40 years. That, of course, is not the intention of the Government. This Bill is to extend the range and the scope of the subsidy but does not attempt to increase its amount to an appropriate figure. In fact, the Clause indicates the intention of the Government to propose a further amendment of the Housing law, because it provides that the Act of 1938 shall, as amended by any subsequent enactment, apply without the limitation to special classes of houses. It is, in fact, our intention to introduce legislation dealing with the appropriate amount of subsidy as soon as we feel that it is possible to form a reasonable view of what building costs will be during the period which I have described, running to 1st October, 1947, and when we can also form an opinion of what will be an appropriate level of rent. This is a matter on which I have had discussions with the associations of local authorities, and I was glad to find that they were in entire agreement with the view which I put before them, that this was not the time to attempt to fix a figure for subsidy. However, the fact that, as the law will stand if this Bill is accepted, there will be provision for a subsidy of £5 10s. 0d., need not alarm anybody. I should like to go further and make this quite clear. It is 208 our intention that, when the figure is fixed, it will apply retrospectively to all houses built under schemes submitted and approved by my Department after the passing of this Bill.
§ Sir Irving Albery (Gravesend)
Am I right in understanding that the subsidy to which my right hon. and learned Friend refers, applies only to houses built by local authorities, and that no subsidy is available to those built by private enterprise?
§ Mr. Willink
My hon. Friend is quite right. This Bill deals with houses to be built by local authorities but I shall refer later on to the point raised by my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. McEntee (Walthamstow, West)
Would the Minister say what the position will be in the event of the local authorities building some houses when the subsidy is £5 10s. 0d. if, at a later date, the subsidy is raised to, say, £7 10s. 0d. and a payment has to be made for houses built under this Bill? Will it date from when the Act comes into operation or from the date fixed for the new subsidy, which may be much later?
§ Mr. Willink
It will be paid in respect of all houses built under schemes approved after the passing of this Bill. It will be retrospective in respect of all houses so built. It will not apply to one odd house or two, which may have been built during the war but not under this Bill; with respect to those, the subsidy will continue as it stands. There must be very few such cases, but I hope I have made it clear that the local authorities and I, myself, think that this is not the time to fix a figure either in this connection or in connection with other legislation which some hon. Members, I believe, desire, and which I have promised will be introduced.
§ Mr. Molson (The High Peak)
May I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman to clarify this matter? Is it not the case that under the Financial Provisions Act of 1938 the annual amount of the subsidy is fixed by order of the Minister each year?
§ Mr. Willink
I will see that my hon. Friend has an answer on that point because I should like to be absolutely accurate. I have the Act here, but I have 209 not examined that particular point. He shall have an answer when the Parliamentary Secretary replies to the Debate.
I think I can pass now to Clause 2, which formulates the second amendment of our housing law. The proposal of this Clause is for a similar period, though not exactly the same period. It proposes that for a period of two years from the passing of the Bill, the Minister shall be entitled, after considering any objection, to confirm a Compulsory Purchase Order submitted to him by a housing authority without a public local inquiry. So far as the amount of compensation—the financial side—is concerned, the Clause has no effect at all. The normal procedure for fixing compensation remains exactly as it is—the question will go, as the law stands at present, to an official arbitrator if it cannot be settled by negotiation. There have been discussions, I know, in the House recently with regard to public local inquiries, but I should like to make it clear that, in this particular case, I am proposing to act exactly in accordance with preceaent—with this one exception, that in this year we are proposing to act rather more in time than on the last occasion, because it was not until 1919 that a similar liberty was given, in that case to the Local Government Board, to confirm Compulsory Purchase Orders without a public inquiry. That provision was made in the Housing and Town Planning Act of 1919, and it was a power, as here, to dispense at discretion with a public local inquiry during a period of two years.
I need not emphasise the vital importance of seeing that there is no hold-up by reason of delays in the acquisition of land. I prefer the holding of public local inquiries in such matters as this, but I am satisfied that what was necessary in 1919 is necessary again to-day. We cannot tell with what urgency this may come upon us. The acquisition of land is a very complicated matter. It will, of course, arise on proposals made by local authorities and investigated by my officers. If objections are raised to the acquisition of the land, apart from the question of the price—which, as I have said, does not come into the matter at all—the question in every case will be whether the public interest requires that this land shall be available as desired by the local authority. This relaxation of the procedure will, I 210 am advised, save as much as three to four months in disputed cases. That is a moderate statement. Although I want any increase in powers of this kind to be as limited as possible, I feel that we cannot do without further emergency powers with regard to land, and I would ask the House to accept the view that what was right after the last war will be right again to-day, when, probably, our need for speedy action—particularly as we shall be embarking on this work during a period of active war—are even greater than they were on that occasion.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, Eastern)
May I ask a question? I take it then that the rights of private owners whose property is acquired will remain the same in the eyes of the law, in other words that the small property owner will have every right to present his case to the courts and have that case examined?
§ Mr. Willink
This is a matter of dealing with objections to Compulsory Purchase Orders which come before the Ministry, and the procedure for the acquisition of land is exactly as it was before. The only question is whether the House will agree that, as in 1919, so in 1944 or 1945, it should not be necessary for a public local inquiry to be held. It will be necessary for the Minister to consider any objection of principle that any individual may raise—the Clause does not deal with questions of amount-whether the public interest, in the particular case, outweighs his private interest with regard to the particular piece of land.
§ Sir Joseph Lamb (Stone)
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman anticipate that there will be much land required? I understood that many of the local authorities already have land which will be adequate for this short period.
§ Mr. Willink
The difficuty is that, over the country as a whole, it is uneven. I shall tell the House the amount of land the local authorities have in hand at present. There are certain areas where there will be quite a substantial amount necessary when the allocation of housing programmes is made. It is not on a vast scale.
§ Commander Agnew (Camborne)
Would it be possible, under Clause 2, for a local authority to buy up very large blocks of land that it could not possibly build on within the two years prescribed in the Clause?
§ Mr. Willink
The land would have to be acquired for housing purposes. However, it is very bad business to limit local authorities in the acquisition of land to the very narrow area required for their two-year programme alone. It might well be right to let them have a larger area in the interests of good planning.
§ Mr. McEntee
Can the Minister say whether on this Clause, as on Clause 1, he consulted the local authorities and whether they are satisfied that two years will be a reasonable period?
§ Mr. Willink
So far as I remember, the consultations with the local authorities did not deal with this particular proposal; but I desire to emphasise that this is a Bill of temporary provisions, and to make such provisions for two years will, in my view, give ample time for Parliament to consider what should be the procedure for the acquisition of land after the two years have elapsed. What I think I am right in presenting to the House is a general scheme for this emergency period, this period of two to three years, a co-ordinated and correlated scheme to enable us to do all we can during that time.
I think I can now pass to what I promised to do, that is, to put before the House a picture of how these proposals, which appear small and to have been presented in a somewhat piecemeal fashion, are related to the housing programme for this period as a whole. The Government's programme for this period can be defined in this way: It is to build as many new houses, to create as many new homes, as we possibly can. To that end we propose to use four methods, speaking broadly. In the first place I think the House will agree that a very high priority must be given to the rebuilding of houses which have been 212 destroyed by the enemy and which attract a cost-of-works payment under the War Damage Act. The number of these, before the present attacks began last month, was approximately 40,000, of which about one quarter, about 10,000, were houses belonging to local authorities. Those figures relate to the whole country, but, of course, the number is now increasing daily. That is the first heading under which we think that the building of houses in this period should begin.
In the second place come houses built by local authorities, which are the subject of to-day's Bill. I should make it clear that it is our expectation that much the greater part of permanent house-building during this time will be undertaken by local authorities. The period I refer to is up to 1st October, 1947, or two years after the passing of this Measure. It is what I may call the transition period. In this we are asking the local authorities to undertake a very heavy task and a very heavy responsibility. The average number of houses built each year by local authorities during the five years before the war was approximately 65,000, and the House will see in a moment that we are now asking the local authorities to undertake a greater task than that. Though they will have great difficulties at the outset in making their plans in advance of building, difficulties in the matter of technical and administrative staff and in the creation of an organisation to rebuild, from what I have seen of the local authorities I am quite sure that they are willing, indeed that they are anxious, to tackle this work.
In the third place come houses built by private enterprise. In that short phrase I include all houses built by anybody not a local authority—housing associations, people building houses for themselves, people building houses for their employees, and so on.
§ Mr. Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman also include the speculative builder?
§ Mr. Willink
Yes, most certainly. I promised the House last Thursday that legislation dealing with that would be introduced at a later date. That legislation should properly wait, I think the House will agree, until I have had an opportunity of discussing this project with the local authorities because, as I indicated in my 213 answer last week, they will be closely concerned with the administration of the scheme during this period.
§ Mr. Willink
Not as yet. Those are the three methods relating to permanent houses. Next I should give some indication of the numbers we have in mind. I cannot give a firm figure in the circumstances of to-day. The building industry will restart as a mere shadow of its former self and building it up will be a gradual process. The rate at which the industry builds itself up must depend upon the course of the war.
§ Mr. Speaker
I should like to hear what the right hon. and learned Gentleman is saying. His back has been towards me the whole time.
§ Mr. Willink
I apologise, Mr. Speaker. I was saying that the rate at which the building industry builds itself up must depend upon the course of the war, must depend upon the rate at which the men can return. Also, the industry will not be able to devote itself wholly to the building of new houses. There will be other fields of new building and a very large programme of deferred repairs and deferred maintenance. But the Government have looked as carefully as they can at the possibilities, and I still hold to the estimate that I made in March that the maximum output of new houses of permanent construction that we can hope to get in the first year after the end of hostilities is 100,000 built or building—that is by the three methods I have described—and including Scotland, and a further 200,000 in the second year. Of course, if our fore cast turns out to have been pessimistic we shall do our best to see that more are built, but it would be wrong of me to mislead the House or the country by putting forward large figures which, on the information we have, we do not believe could be realised. I should remind the House that the number of houses built in the first year after the last war was 715, and in the second year there were less than 30,000, and it was not until the end of the fifth year that we reached the figure of 300,000 which I hope we shall have reached in two years; and that was during a time when we were not at war.
The fourth method is by providing houses of temporary type. The House 214 has heard the Deputy Prime Minister's statement this morning and on that I hope to have discussions with the local authorities at a very early date. I shall discuss with them our proposals with regard to private enterprise building and aso the details of the arrangements for housing by means of temporary construction.
§ Mr. Willink
The Deputy Prime Minister clearly stated that such an opportunity would be available to the House when legislation is introduced dealing with the matter.
On the question of the land, a great deal of preparatory work has been done by the local authorities. They own sites for 200,000 houses in England and Wales, though the distribution of them is uneven at present. Many Members are familiar with, and have put Questions about, the policy with regard to developing these sites during the war; and with regard to the type of houses to be built and included in their plans, the most valuable report of the Dudley Committee on the Design of Dwellings has been sent to the local authorities—it has been available to hon. Members for some days. Local authorities have also been informed that a Housing Manual based on the report of the Dudley Committee will be issued to them very shortly.
This is the general picture, within which, in my submission, this Bill fills an essential place, and I ask for a Second Reading for it in order that the local authorities may go ahead stimulated by the knowledge that this House is prepared to enable them and encourage them in the work to which they are setting their hands.
§ Mr. Dobbie (Rotherham)
I have listened with a great deal of attention to the statement made by the Minister in presenting this Bill, and while, speaking generally, one can congratulate him upon the Bill, on the other hand, unless he is prepared to go a little further than he has gone, I am afraid this Bill will create a good deal of disillusionment and disappointment in the hearts of thousands upon thousands of working men and women. The Minister informed us, as is stated in the Explanatory Memorandum 215 upon the Bill, that in the first year after the cessation of hostilities we may expect to provide 100,000 houses and in the second year something like 250,000. I take it that will be when demobilisation is well in operation and building trade operatives have returned to the industry. In those circumstances the Government expect in those years to turn out the number of houses I have mentioned. All I would say in regard to that, is that it is not good enough, and that the Government must do something better.
I was rather disappointed that the Minister did not say something more in regard to the steps the Government were to take to provide the houses which are referred to in this Bill. They are already extending the subsidy to houses other than those for which the subsidy is paid now. At the moment, the subsidy applies only to houses built to deal with slum clearances and over-crowding. While we welcome that extension, and welcome the principles contained in Clause 2, we are rather disturbed and disappointed that the Government have not told us of the steps they intend to take to make sure that the houses will be built. As the Minister has said, there is a tremendous job in front of all of us. There are five years' arrears in regard to building, and we have to do repairs, as well as putting right the devastation caused by attacks from the air. The figures that the Minister has given us make one wonder why the Government have not said something more explicit on the steps they intend to take to help the local authorities to meet the difficulties confronting them. Five or six things are necessary—men, money, material, land and the determination of the local authorities to give effect to the Bill, and the desire of the Government to help them. I think four of these things we can take as accepted, including the intention of the Government and the determination of the local authorities. The land is there, and we are confident that the money will be there also. The thing that disturbs me, however, is the fact that the Minister has said nothing about men and material. Even with the land, with the money, and with the best intentions in the world both of the Government and of the local authorities, without the men and material the houses cannot be produced. At the moment there are not the men in the building industry 216 to deal with the situation on the lines laid down by the Minister.
I hope whoever replies for the Government will inform us whether the local authorities are to have priority for material and men, whether the Government are going to set out with the intention of producing more material for building houses, and whether men are to be released from other industries and transferred to the building trades. One learns that people are being released from industries here and there throughout the country, and I would be glad if the Minister would say, when he replies, whether those workers are to be transferred to the building industry or to the industries which are providing the material for building houses. I wonder whether any arrangements are being made for dilutees to be introduced into the industry and whether consultations on those lines have taken place between the building trade unions. I would like the observations of the Minister on these points when he replies and I would also like him to tell us whether it is the desire of the Government to provide the man-power. After all, the provision of man-power is the thing that is necessary. It is no use putting up grand schemes before the people. The people will read in the newspapers what is said here. They will not read HANSARD, nor will they study all the Minister's qualifications of the proposals as to the production of houses. To produce a scheme on paper and not to provide the material to give effect to that scheme is, in my opinion, playing fast and loose with the trusting people of this country.
As the Minister has said, we have to realise that there are hundreds of thousands of people in this county—many of them serving in His Majesty's Forces—who up to the moment have never had a home of their own. I would ask the Government to tackle this position from the standpoint of man-power and to examine whether it is not possible to get some men transferred from His Majesty's Forces who belong to the building trade.
§ Mr. Dobbie
If the hon. Member listens he will hear what I was going to say. Yes, right now. We have heard and read many speeches and statements from people who inform us that the war 217 is going to be over, as far as Europe is concerned, this year. I do not know whether it will or not, but some authorities are giving that indication throughout the country at the moment. If that is so, I believe the time has arrived when we could look at the situation from that standpoint and inquire whether or not men from the building trade in the Forces could be released to return to this country and start building houses for the people. Make no mistake about it, we cannot give the men in the Forces the same answer as we gave them after the last war. The people will not stand for it. I warn the Government in regard to that. There is another way whereby we might be able to get men back into the building industry. I made reference to dilutees. I would also refer to the question of general construction and building in the country and whether or not we have nearly come to the end of much of the construction work that the Army has needed, the construction of aerodromes, and similar places. Could men of the building trades be transferred from such work to the construction of houses of the kind referred to in the Bill? When the Minister replies, I would be glad if he would make some reference to that point and tell us exactly where we stand in regard to man-power. As I have said, it is no use having a Bill of this sort, which will shortly become an Act, having the land and having the money unless we have the men and material to give effect to it, It is time we told the people exactly what the Government intend to do in regard to giving real effect to the Bill.
As to Clause 2, which deals with compulsory purchase and public inquiry, I think everyone will note with satisfaction the provision in that Clause, and I hope that in any future Acts dealing with the production of houses for the people of this country that provision will go a good deal further. I hope, however, that the Minister who will be in office at the particular time, when public inquiries are refused, will give the matter his close attention. When the Minister replies I hope he will undertake to deal with cases in which money and effort have been spent in laying out and providing grounds for recreation and sport, and things like that. I hope that great care will be taken in the retention of these facilities and that special attention will be paid to their retention by the Minister when con- 218 sidering objections to compulsory purchasing power. With those remarks—I would not call them bjections—relative to the Bill, I conclude by saying that my hon. Friends and I are prepared to give it our blessing to-day.
§ Mrs. Tate (Frome)
I think that every one in the House will agree that the subject of housing is one which to-day, outside the immediate prosecution of the war, is of greater interest to most of us than, perhaps, any other in the country. It cannot possibly be denied that every hour we live, this question is becoming of more vital importance to the people of this country. Therefore, I very much welcome, as I am sure all hon. Members do, the introduction of this Bill to-day as an earnest of the Government's intention to deal with the problem at the earliest possible moment. I also welcome the Minister's statement that the amount of the subsidy is not to be determined at present. In spite of the immense rise in building costs, I think it will be possible to find new methods which will also reduce expense in the future. For instance, the cost of houses could be reduced by the standardisation of fittings and by the use of more modern materials and methods of construction. The Minister is, of course, aware that the subsidy was originally meant only for houses which were built to replace other houses. When we passed the Act in 1936, we all had very high hopes of it, but when, in 1938, it was applied to the country districts, many of us felt that a large number of houses were being destroyed, which could, in fact, have been repaired and made perfectly habitable.
On 31st May, 1938, I tried to bring in a Private Member's Bill—the Housing (Rural Cottages Protection) Bill—in order to safeguard some of these houses. In the county of Somerset we went further than that. We set up a committee on which were doctors, architects, builders, clergy and social workers to inquire into the houses which had been condemned in order to enable the local authorities to get the subsidy with which to build new houses and to inspect them. We did not attempt to save any houses over which we thought there could be argument as to whether or not they ought to go. We only tried to save houses which we felt sure could be made habitable and reasonably comfortable for the owner, 219 and which we really believed it was quite inexcusable to destroy. We were not successful in saving one single house. At that time it was useless to appeal to the Minister as I do not think it was possible for him to go behind his own Act. A great many of the houses condemned in 1938 and scheduled for demolition were never actually demolished because of the outbreak of hostilities and their owners are still living in them. I hear that it is improbable that they have been modernised in the interval, but I would very sincerely ask the Minister to consider extending this subsidy and granting it for the repair of houses which were condemned in 1938, but are still in existence to-day, where, after another inspection, such repairs are considered practicable.
There is urgent need for reinspection of some of those houses. I would like to tell the Minister of one case in my own constituency which I thought very tragic. I inspected one house—a pink-wash cottage on a hillside in Somerset in extraordinarily beautiful surroundings. The man and his wife who lived there were happy and had reared eight children in that cottage. It was their own home, and to them, after their own family, it mattered more than, perhaps, anything else in the world. The woman said to me: "Look at my family. My grandmother lived here till she was 84. My children are healthy, and happy and strong. This home is the thing we care for and love, and now it is to be torn away from us. If a war comes, the first thing the country will ask of me is my son, and perhaps my second son, and I now ask of the country that it should not take away from me my home which could be made perfectly sound." I inspected the cottage and agreed with her that it could be made perfectly sound. Her thoughts, her fears, unfortunately, were justified. The war did come. We have taken from her not only her eldest son and her second son, but her two daughters who came after them. That house is typical of a very considerable number of houses—where the properties could be made substantially sound, although, perhaps they are not absolutely ideal—perhaps there is not a damp course, perhaps the height of the rooms is not exactly seven feet. I ask that such houses which are reasonably habitable and in which people can be happy, 220 should not be pulled down until we have a more adequate number of houses than we have to-day.
I beg further that there should be some revision of the better houses in these districts, and that where they are repairable a subsidy should be granted for their repair as well as for the building of new houses. All this may not be within the recollection of the Minister, who was not in this House at the time, but I assure him that houses were condemned under that Act which would not have been condemned, had it not been for the fact that it was impossible to get a subsidy for a new house until an old house was condemned. I also beg the Minister to look into the question of the overhaul, revision, modernisation, and, if possible, unification of our model bylaws. I am quite certain that with the many modern methods of building which will be available to us after the war our old by-laws will not be applicable. At present, our model by-laws are in a very chaotic condition. They need overhaul, and it would be very helpful to local authorities, before they embark on the vast programme which is before them, to have more guidance and a better lead as to the best by-laws of the country.
I hope that this building will start at the earliest possible moment. I welcome the Minister's statement that he could not promise to build more than 100,000 houses after the war, for this reason: I would rather see a low number promised and see that number built, than have the promise of a vast number which could not be built. This problem of housing is causing such appalling suffering to our people at the present time that anyone who dared to make a promise on the question of housing, which could not be completely fulfilled, would be committing a crime. I know that to-day in London, houses which matter much to the people who live in them are being destroyed, but in some parts of the country, where there has not been the same physical destruction through enemy action, houses are often so overcrowded and so neglected that they have gravely deteriorated in condition, and are now far from desirable homes. When we give a subsidy for the repair of houses damaged by enemy action, would it not be possible to give a subsidy for the repair of houses which have fallen into disrepair, partly because it has been 221 impossible to repair them during the war and partly because they have deteriorated more than they would have done in a normal five-year period, owing to the way in which they have had to be used? I realise that many other Members wish to speak and I will not detain the House further, except to say that I would be grateful for an assurance that the Minister would look into these questions and see whether the subsidy could be extended to cover one or other of the classes of houses to which I have tried to draw his attention.
§ Miss Lloyd George (Anglesey)
I agree with the hon. Lady the Member for Frome (Mrs. Tate) that a great deal could be done in the way of repairing houses, in order to make up the deficiency, and that a great deal has been done in country districts under the Housing (Rural Workers) Act. But I most earnestly beg the Minister not to accept the proposal that a revision should be made of condemned houses, or houses which are considered unsuitable, and that a subsidy should be given for houses of that character, because there is great danger that by so doing the whole standard of housing would be reduced. The Minister has said that this is a non-controversial Bill. So it is, but I think it is the method of approach to the whole of this housing problem, with which this Bill seeks to deal in part, which is the matter of controversy. This Bill is only one more example of housing legislation by instalments, which a great many of us deeply deplore. We have one Bill for the blitzed areas, another Bill for new housing in the emergency period, one kind of procedure for compulsory purchase of land in one Bill and another kind of procedure in this Bill—personally, I prefer the method of compulsory purchase as outlined in this Bill. That is what the Government call planning.
The Government have an immense task even if they fulfil their programme of 100,000 houses in the first year after the war and 200,000 in the second year. How does the Minister propose to deal with this problem? Does he intend to simplify procedure? I think all hon. Members will agree that the proposal for the compulsory purchase of land is admirable. The Minister is no longer bound to hold a public inquiry. He said that things have been held up for three or four 222 months by reason of this and we all applaud the first Clause in this Bill. Now that the Minister is thinking about speeding up things, I would ask him to cut out the multiplicity of Departments which have to be consulted before the foundations of a single house can be laid. I understand that no fewer than 14 Departments, bodies and persons have to be consulted before war agricultural cottages can be built. So I hope the Minister will speed up that procedure as well as other procedure. The Minister has spoken of the great need for general housing, which has been greatly aggravated by the war. He is to extend the subsidy for new housing, and that will be welcomed by Members in all parts of the House. He also said that it would be difficult to build houses at rents which those who occupied them could afford to pay. What is to be the value of this subsidy, elastic though it is, after the war, when prices will be high unless he takes stringent measures to bring them down? I welcome the fact that the subsidy is to be elastic, and that he will be able to enlarge it, but many must remember what happened after the last war, when the whole thing broke down, because the subsidy soared too high and prices were not brought down. The rise in building costs is, in some cases, about 100 per cent. over pre-war costs, and one of the very disquieting features about the situation is that these building costs have risen very much higher, in proportion, than the cost of living. It was possible, before the war, for local authorities to build a good house for about £335, and a better type of house for £400 or £450. The agricultural cottages which have been recently built, and which are our only measure of cost comparison at the moment, cost as much as £900, I understand, or even £1,000.
What will be the economic rent of houses built at those figures after the war? What will be the subsidy that will have to be provided? Certainly, the 1938 Act subsidy will not come within miles of what is needed. This Bill will stand or fall, therefore, on whether the Government intend to take measures to control prices. The Dudley Committee say in their report:We are convinced that unless this is done—that is, bringing prices down— 223the Government programme of 3,000,000 or 4,000,000 houses will never be completed. We therefore assume that whatever action may be necessary to bring this about will be taken, and that building costs will eventually be stabilised about 30 per cent. above those prevailing before the war.Are these assumptions well founded? Do the Government intend to take any action? I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us something about it when she replies to the Debate. After all, during the war the Government have adopted measures for cheap mass production of essential commodities. Why should they not continue that policy in this all-essential matter of building houses for the people? They have warned us that it will be essential to maintain certain controls after the war. Why should there not be direction and control of essential materials for rebuilding? If any Member can assure us that industry will come forward with reasonable prices, there will be no need for control, but if we mean to have the houses we need I believe that very stringent measures will be absolutely necessary.
I agree with the hon. Lady the Member for Frome that it will be absolutely esential to have standardisation of certain parts, such as castings, in connection with which there was a bottle neck after the last war. This matter might be tackled now, because we have a great deal of experience of it. The Ministry of Works sent out to the United States a mission of experts, of which the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. Bossom) was one, to report on methods of building in that country. They came back with a very interesting Report in which they pointed out how low costs can be achieved and how efficiency and speed can be increased. Many of the most important of these things have been achieved by simplification of design and standardisation of parts. I do not wish to detain the House any longer as there are others who want to speak, except to say that if we are to have these houses after the war we must have new methods, new materials and an entirely new approach to the problem. Above all, we must have a plan, If this Bill is to be of any value at all the measures which I have outlined will have to be taken.
§ Mr. Molson (The High Peak)
I listened with great interest to the Minister's 224 statement and I think we shall all welcome the Bill as far as it goes. It is a very modest one but my right hon. and learned Friend made it plain that it is intended to deal only with one single problem, and he has promised other legislation to follow. The hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Dobbie) criticised the Minister for not being prepared to hold out any expectation that more than 100,000 houses would be built in the first year after the war, and 200,000 in the second.
§ Mr. Molson
I think the Minister said 200,000 and I thought the hon. Member was quoting the Minister.
§ Mr. Molson
The hon. Member went on to suggest that there was such a prospect of the war being brought to a successful conclusion soon, that the time might already have come when it would be permissible to bring men back from the Army to resume the building of houses. I hope the House and the country will not begin to relax in the war effort before the war has been won. It seems to me that the surest way of failing to win the war, would be to begin to assume now that it is possible to divert men and energy from the war to the problems of reconstruction. I hope also that no responsible Member of the House will hold out extravagant expectations, that it will be possible in the early days after the war, to start building houses in very large numbers. I hope that labour and material will first be made available for carrying out the long over-due repairs of existing houses. Many of those houses at present, owing to the wear and tear of the war, are deteriorating until they are almost becoming slums, and it would be folly to allow the houses that exist to fall into a bad state of disrepair while at the same time a large number of new houses are being undertaken.
§ Mr. McEntee
Is the hon. Member not aware that the Ministry is to-day bringing men out of the Services and that they are working in large numbers?
§ Mr. Molson
That is an entirely different matter. The same thing happened in 1940. We sent plasterers and tilers to deal with the problem of repairs. That is one thing. It is a different matter to begin calling men back from the Army to 225 start the construction of new houses, which the Government have said they are only prepared to undertake when the war has been won.
I think there will be very little opposition to the proposal to suspend for the time being the local public inquiry. I am sure we can rely upon the Minister to give fair and impartial consideration to representations made to him by those affected by these compulsory Orders, but I should like to utter one word of warning. While I think the House will be prepared to abandon one of the safeguards to the rights of the individual, in view of the overpowering national emergency at the end of the war, I think the House will some day want to resume the old procedure and that people whose property is taken from them may be assured that their representations will be fairly and impartially met in a public inquiry.
Clause I provides for the continuance of the existing subsidy and I agree with the hon. Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George) that the pre-war subsidy obviously will not be sufficient to deal with the problem in the coming months. That was emphasised in the report to which both she and I were signatories—the report of the Rural Housing Sub-Committee. I am very glad that she emphasised the vital importance of bringing down the cost of housing. She quoted from the Dudley Committee's Report. I should like to quote from our report upon this same subject, because I think it is a good thing that two of the Sub-Committee of the Central Housing Advisory Committee should have put this thought in very plain and emphatic words. We said:It is obvious to anyone conscious of the limitations of the national resources that it is not possible to carry out a long term housing programme of 4,000,000 houses, as announced by the Minister of Health, at the present level of building costs.We did not say that it was because it was going to cost too much money. We said it would involve too great an expenditure of the national resources. I hope we may hear something from the Parliamentary Secretary of what is being done by her Department, and I hope also that she is in consultation with the Ministry of Works on the subject, in order that the cost of building may be brought down to a level at which it will be possible to hope for the 226 building programme announced by the Government to be effectively undertaken.
I was interested in the argument put forward by the hon. Member for Frome (Mrs. Tate) with regard to the reconditioning of houses that had been condemned. I see some difficulty about reconsidering the condemnation of old houses which has once gone through to its final legal conclusion, but I am sure she was on a very important practical point when she emphasised how important it will be, in the difficult years immediately ahead, when we are going to be short of houses whatever is done, that the reconditioning of houses which may be made high and healthy should enjoy a very high priority. A comparatively small percentage of materials might result in houses being made perfectly healthy and satisfactory. That is why I am rather surprised that no steps have been taken to give effect to the recommendation of the Rural Housing Sub-Committee on this whole matter of the reconditioning of houses. The limit of financial expenditure upon these houses is still that which applied before the war— before the increase in the cost of building—and it is one of the most important recommendations of the Committee, that the provisions of the Rural Workers Housing Acts should be brought into line with the new level of costs.
On the matter of the general subsidy, I interrupted the Minister to suggest that, he had power, by Order, to vary the subsidy paid under existing housing legislation. I found that I was partly right and partly wrong. He has power under the existing legislation to reduce a subsidy but he has no power to increase it. Obviously, in the conditions as they are at present what will be needed is an increase, and not a decrease, in the subsidy. So I welcome the Bill for what it is worth. I think Clause 2 will go some distance to expedite the procedure, and Clause 1 will, at any rate, enable the existing pre-war subsidy to be continued. But I am sorry that the Minister should be dealing with this urgent problem in such a piecemeal manner. The Rural Housing Sub-Committee only attempted to deal with housing in the country. The Report was published same months ago and I should have thought that, by this stage of the Session, we might have expected a small Bill dealing with the very modest recommendations that we made in order that rural authorities might get on with the work. 227 Similarly in the case of housing in the towns. I welcome the Bill for what it is, an instalment upon the road, but I hope my right hon. Friend will see to it that before very long, we have legislation which is more likely to show some concrete result than this very slender Bill.
§ Mr. Silkin (Peckham)
The Bill has not, so far, been received with tremendous enthusiasm but I should like to associate myself straight away with the remarks of the hon. Members for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) and for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd-George) that it lacks comprehensiveness. The Minister said it was a temporary Bill and an emergency Measure. That is the best we can say for it. That it is temporary there can be no doubt. That it deals with an emergency I would not for a moment admit. It depends on what one regards as the emergency. Apparently the Minister regarded the emergency as the provision of 300,000 houses, but in an earlier Debate, he, himself, said that to provide every family with a home, good or bad—not to replace existing bad ones but merely to provide a roof for every family in the country—you would need 1,000,000 houses, and that figure was not challenged here or elsewhere. I should have said it was too small, but for the purpose of this discussion I accept the figure of 1,000,000 as being the minimum needed to provide a home for every family in the country. The emergency that we have to deal with is the provision of those 1,000,000 houses.
I should like to examine the Bill from that standpoint. Clause 1 deals with the matter of the subsidy. The hon. Member for Anglesey has referred to the fact that the cost of building will be admittedly higher than it should be after the war. She said 100 per cent., but I want to assume that the cost of building will be 60 per cent above pre-war. I have taken the trouble to go into the figures. If one takes the normal type of house provided by the London County Council, and assumes that the cost of land will be —250 an acre, the total cost of the house after the war, on the basis of a 60 per cent increase, will be £920. Assuming a net rent of 10s. a week plus rates, the annual deficiency will be £34 12s. The contribution from, the Exchequer under this Bill will be —5 10s., leaving the local 228 authorities to bear a deficiency of £29 2s. a year per dwelling for 40 years. I take one more example of what the high cost of building will mean. In London, and I believe in most of the large towns, it will be necessary to build flats to a certain extent. Assuming that we build flats of three, four and five storeys—in the case of five storeys with lifts—and assuming the cost of land at £12,000 an acre, which is high outside London, but within the average figure for London, the annual deficiency, assuming a rent of 10s. plus rates, will be £56 17s. The Exchequer contribution, which is a graduated one in the case of expensive land, will be £56 17s. leaving an annual deficiency to be borne by the local authorities of £39 17s. per flat.
That is a tremendous figure. At some time Housing Bill No. 2 will be introduced to put right the question of subsidy. The Minister did not say that, but I realise his difficuty if he wants to be meticulous about the cost of building under the exact subsidy to be provided. In the meantime, the local authorities have to bear this burden themselves. They have to carry the baby. I submit that to ask local authorities to bear this enormous subsidy, leaving the Exchequer to pay relatively small sums, is hampering the building of houses purely on financial grounds. I recognise that the Minister has had conversations with local authorities, and that, apparently, they are not taking this point, but it was clearly demonstrated as the feeling of the House a week ago, when there was complaint that discussions had not taken place with the local authorities, that this House reserves the right to have the last word. I am not speaking here for the local authorities. I feel that it is an unjust arrangement that the local authorities should bear the whole burden for an indefinite period, leaving the Exchequer to bear a fixed burden. I would have liked to have put down an Amendment so that this matter could have been thrashed out in the House. Unfortunately, the Financial Resolution will prevent such an Amendment being discussed. There is an unfortunate tendency growing up in the House to put down Financial Resolutions in such a way as to make even the discussion of Amendments impossible. If I were to put down an Amendment, say, that the Exchequer should contribute £15 a year 229 per dwelling on account generally and have a settlement later on, it would be out of Order. I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to see whether she cannot put down a revised and more elastic Financial Resolution so that this matter can be thrashed out when the Committee stage is taken.
Having talked about these enormous Subsidies, I fully agree that it ought not to be necessary that the cost of building should be as high as it apparently will be after the war. On the best information I can get, the view is expressed that, possibly five years after the war, the 60 per cent. increase on pre-war costs will have gone down to 50 per cent. That is not good enough, and I feel that drastic measures will have to be taken to deal with the question of the high cost of building. It is a fundamental question which will affect the number of dwellings which we can erect in the post-war years. For once I find myself in agreement with the hon. Member for The High Peak. We shall have a great many financial burdens to bear, and if experience after the last war is any guide, I am satisfied that if the public has to face subsidies of the order that I have set out, which are authenticated figures, the result will be that we shall not get houses. I want to beg the Parliamentary' Secretary to give the House an assurance that this question of the high cost of building is regarded in the Ministry as of urgent priority and that steps are being taken and will be taken to deal with it.
I feel that the existing method of providing the subsidy is an unsound one. It encourages local authorities to do things which they ought not to do in order to get a higher subsidy. Take the case of flats which are built on expensive land. The subsidy is based on the number of flats built, and the more flats that are built on a site the higher the subsidy which the local authority gets. These expensive sites are generally in congested areas, and the method of providing subsidy is a direct inducement to local authorities to congest an area still further. The subsidy of £5 10s. per house, irrespective of the size of the house, is again a direct inducement to the local authorities —which, in the main, they have not fallen for—to build smaller houses than are required. It pays them better to put up two houses of two bedrooms each than one house of four bedrooms. I recognise 230 that that is not a matter which could have been worked out in this Bill, which is of a temporary nature, but in the time during which the Minister is to consider the whole question of subsidy I hope he will consider the general method of giving subsidies and see whether some better method can be devised.
Since several of the sub-committees of the Central Housing Advisory Committee are now functus officii, the Minister might consider asking them to consider this question. The Minister stated that when the new Bill was introduced the higher subsidy would be retrospective and would, therefore, take care of houses that will be built under this Bill. I am informed that in the discussions the Minister went rather further and gave an assurance that houses which were commenced before the war and which were completed after the war would fall in the same category. I would like the Parliamentary Secretary to say whether I am right in my assumption that that assurance was given and, if so, whether she can confirm it.
Clause 2 permits the Minister for two years from the passing of the Bill—which will not leave the authorities a very long time—to confirm orders for compulsory purchase of land for housing purposes to which objection is made, without holding a public inquiry. That is optional on the Minister. The Clause does not abolish the public inquiry, but leaves it within the discretion of the Minister. I would be glad if the Minister would have a word with the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, because in his speech a week ago the latter objected to this discretion being given to the Minister of Town and Country Planning to hold an inquiry. He said that if the discretion were given the Minister would hold an inquiry every time. I would like to know whether the Minister of Health is going to adopt that attitude. I would be glad of an assurance on that point. The Minister said that the avoidance of a public inquiry would save about four months. He was understating his case considerably. I have had a large number of cases where public inquiries were not held in recent years and on the average the saving of time was eight months.
The Bill contemplates the erection of 300,000 houses in two years, but I doubt very much whether the Minister will find 231 that his hope of 300,000 houses started in the first two years after the war with Germany will be borne out by the facts. I should say that if he gets 200,000 he will have done very well. That would still leave, on my assumption that the real emergency need is 1,000,000 houses, about 800,000 houses to deal with. If he is right about his 300,000, it will leave 700,000. If the local authorities will have to go through the ordinary procedure the delay of eight months will continue. I submit that the provision of the 700,000 or 800,000 houses will be just as urgent as the provision of the first 300,000. I would ask, therefore, without prejudice to my view, which I agree is not shared by the majority of Members, that the public inquiry really serves no useful purpose, that this period of two years should be extended to the period of the emergency, whatever it may be—it may well be seven or eight years—until we have the 1,000,000 houses which we need in order to give every one a shelter. There ought not to be a let-down of a speeding up of the machinery. I am told by the Minister that the two years' period is based on the precedent of the Housing and Town Planning Act of 1912. It was not a happy precedent, for the Minister told us that following that Act 750,000 houses were built in the first year and fewer than 30,000 in the second year. Surely we can learn from that unfortunate precedent that the powers-given by the Housing and Town Planning Act were not adequate. I hope, therefore, that we can do a little better than we did 25 years ago.
If the Minister wants to speed up the machinery, why has he not directed his attention to two other matters which cause a good deal of delay? One is the need for serving individual notices on owners and persons interested. The Minister of Town and Country Planning realised that this was holding up the acquisition of land in areas of extensive war damage. I submit that it is just as urgent to provide land for housing as it will be to acquire land in areas of extensive war damage. The Minister of Town and Country Planning has for the time being done away with the need to serve individual notices on all owners. There is a case where the delay was two years. It may not be as long as that in smaller areas, but the serving of notices may well 232 involve as much delay as the delay caused by the public inquiry. I hope that between now and the Committee stage it will be possible for the Minister to introduce an Amendment to abolish the need for serving individual notices, and to base himself on 'the provisions of the First Schedule to the Town and Country Planning Bill. The other matter is, that after the date when the order to acquire land is obtained there is still a possibility of delay while entering into possession and while negotiations are taking place about price. The Bill does give an expedited procedure for entering into possession, pending settlement of the price, but the procedure should be assimilated to that of the Town and Country Planning Bill, which provides 14 days' notice. If that were done, it would cause a further speeding up of the procedure.
§ Mr. Molson
The hon. Member seems to have become a great admirer of the Town and Country Planning Bill since last week.
§ Mr. Silkin
I have never disguised from the House that there were some good points in it. What guidance is the Minister going to give to local authorities on the type of houses to be built? We have the Dudley Report, and I gather that something is to be said about it to local authorities. There is a vast improvement in the Dudley house upon the prewar house. For one thing, it is at least 900 square feet in area as compared with 750 or 850 before the war. That is a vital matter. I would like to know whether the local authorities will be permitted, or directed, to build houses of the standard laid down by the Dudley Report. That is very important, because many local authorities are making plans now, and they will have to decide what type of house to erect.
The Bill is a half-hearted measure at building houses, and it does not face the whole problem. It recognises that local authorities will need greater freedom and financial assistance, but it does not provide them, substantially, with that freedom, and certainly does not provide them with the financial assistance. The Bill seems to pay more attention to the susceptibilities of property owners, particularly in connection with the public inquiry, than to the reed for speedy building. As it stands, the Bill is, I 233 submit, not of the stuff that will substantially contribute to the speedy provision of homes. I do not propose to vote against it, but I think it will give little comfort to those who are homeless, and who have been looking forward, in the light of promises given from time to time by the Government, to securing homes quickly after the war. I hope that between now and the Committee Stage, the Minister will see his way to improve the Bill drastically, so that the procedure can be substantially expedited.
§ Colonel Clarke (East Grinstead)
I hope that the hon. Member who has just spoken will not think me discourteous if I do not follow him in all the details of his speech. I have listened to him with great interest, but that does not mean that I agree with him in every point, particularly on the question of individual notices. I feel that, to-day, when people are so widely scattered on their war work and many of them are abroad and are likely to be abroad for some time after the war, something in the nature of individual notices is only fair.
I heartily welcome the Bill. I believe that the provision of houses is really the paramount need of our civilisation in England to-day, and that the provision of more and better houses would not only solve the problem of shelter, but a good many other social problems as well. For that reason, in order to get a good start, I believe we should do right to accept Clause 2, under which the local authorities' inquiry is done away with for the two years after the war, and the Minister will not be bound to hold a local inquiry. In normal times and conditions, that provision should be strongly resisted, but these are not normal times. However, the Minister should bear in mind three points in this connection. The first is that, for some years after the war, individuals will continue to give up some of their rights. They have had to give them up in the war, and most people hoped that as soon as the war was over they would be allowed to have them back, but some owners will have to continue to give them up under the Bill. That should be put on record to their credit. Secondly, whatever happens, this must not be allowed to become a precedent. Thirdly, advantage should not be taken of it to acquire more land than will be required in these two or 234 three years after the war. We have been told that local authorities already hold sites for some 200,000 houses. Of course, they are not all in suitable places. I hope that the Minister will watch very carefully that the Clause is not made the machinery for acquiring more land than is required to start the building off, or more land than is required for building on, in the first two or three years.
With regard to the location of houses, I had an opportunity last March of finding out a little of what some of the soldiers abroad are thinking on these questions. They are taught to think about civics, and things of that sort, and I was able to ascertain some of their views on housing. Some 600 soldiers, brought from all parts of England, made a very representative section of the type of Englishman who will require a house after the war. The first point was that they were absolutely dead against flats or tenements. They all wanted houses. Secondly, the point that struck me was how very suburban-minded they were. What most of them wanted was a little house on the edge of an existing town, where they would have a certain amount of privacy, if possible, with a small garden, where they would be within ten minutes' reach or so of a shopping centre. They wanted a situation not too far from some biggish city or town as well, where they could go from time to time and find a better class of shop and entertainment. I do not know whether it is to be regretted that the greater portion of Englishmen to-day are suburbanminded men.
§ Mr. Silkin
Would the hon. and gallant Member apply that to London? Did they all want to live on the extreme edge of London?
§ Colonel Clarke
I did not get the actual proportion, but many wanted to live in toe suburbs of rather smaller towns than London, say a town of the nature of Reading or Guildford. About 30 per cent. said straight out that they wanted to live in a city like London, Manchester or Birmingham. Others would have been content to get to a city of that sort from time to time. Being a countryman, I regret to say that there was an undoubted prejudice against the country village. Very few wanted to live in a village; practically only those who had lived in a village before the war wanted to go back. 235 I hope there will not be too much of a drive to get people into the villages who do not want to go there. That will only result in people not staying there and the houses going to others for whom they were not intended.
§ Mr. Loftus (Lowestoft)
Did my hon. and gallant Friend meet anyone who had it in mind to start a small farm or smallholding, or who had any desire for country life?
§ Colonel Clarke
I did not specifically ask the question about smallholdings or individual agricultural training, but quite a big proportion said they would like to start a small business on their own, as a cobbler, for example, or chimney cleaner, rather than work for an employer. I cannot say anything about the small agricultural worker.
I want for a moment to refer to some remarks that were made by my hon. Friend the Member for Frome (Mrs. Tate) with regard to the reconditioning of old houses. I agree that it is, aesthetically, very desirable, and that after the war it may be economically necessary, but my experience leads me to utter a word of warning about it. It is not quite satisfactory. It is difficult to make a really good house out of them, suitable for modern young couples. The old oak Elizabethan boards are very nice to look at, provided you have somebody else to keep them clean. For the housewife who has to do all those things for herself, the big cracks are homes for spiders and other insects, and it is very difficult for her to keep the place really clean. Altogether, it is not a frightfully satisfactory thing from the point of view of people who live in them, unless they are able to employ servants. That has been my experience, and it may be rather regrettable.
Lastly, I want to ask the simple question, as a county councillor: What will be the certain cases in which a contribution of £1 will be asked for from the county council? It is possible that the Minister in introducing the Bill mentioned this point, and if he did so, I must apologise to him and hope that later on he will tell us what those cases are. With those few remarks I will close. I hope it will not be thought that my speech, being very brief, does not show adequate appreciation of what I think is a very necessary 236 and, by and large, a very useful measure.
§ Mr. Jewson (Great Yarmouth)
I take it that we may regard this Bill as the first of a series of Measures designed to produce what we all want, the rapid building of houses. In itself, there is much that I dislike about it. I take it that all of us would agree in disliking subsidies, if only because they introduce one more complication into what is already a sufficiently complicated matter; but abnormal conditions call for abnormal remedies. I think we can all agree that a subsidy is the only way to bridge the gulf between prices which will be in force at the immediate conclusion of the war, and what we hope will be the stabilised prices of a year or two later. In the meantime, there is much to be done if we are to get houses built, and the Bill takes the right way to get it done.
The Bill deals only with subsidies for local authorities. It is obvious that we need houses built by every available means, and if we are not to get them all by subsidising local authorities, we shall have to introduce another Bill to arrange for subsidies to the private enterprise builder also. We have already had a very admirable report from one of the Committees set up by the Minister's predecessor in office, on the subject of private enterprise building. The report is based on fact rather than on theory, and is just the sort of report we want. It recognises the necessity for extending the subsidy. I take it there is no dispute about it and that the Minister does intend to deal with the matter in the very near future. It is agreed that we want houses for letting, which means that we should remind ourselves that we want landlords. Perhaps those who have taken a very poor view of landlords in the past may now change their ideas in that direction.
Landlords should be regarded as people who are performing a reputable public service in providing houses for other people to live in, not as those who are trying to exploit the needs of their fellow creatures. [An HON. MEMBER: "It depends on the landlord."] Landlords are not archangels; tenants are not archangels. Both landlords and tenants are human beings, and should be so regarded. We must surely recognise that if we want houses built to let we must make the 237 building of them at least a reasonably attractive proposition; at any rate we must not take measures to prevent it from being an attractive proposition.
The provisions of this Bill, which I am glad to say are temporary, relate, I take it, only to permanent houses, and that we have not to consider to-day the question of temporary hutments, however attractively fitted. There are two things I want to say about the permanent houses. The first is that they can have just as attractive fittings as the temporary houses, and temporary houses should not be accepted in greater, number than they have to be just on the ground that they are well fitted, because we must and should have these attractive fittings in our permanent houses as well. The second thing I want to say is that I hope there will be a great variety of types in the permanent houses we build. We usually think, when we talk of a permanent house, of a house built with bricks and timber. I hope that no one is still under the delusion that there will not be sufficient timber available after the war, because all those who really know are now agreed there will be a plentiful supply. In Norfolk we have houses built of flint and pantiles; in Suffolk of plaster with thatched roofs, which I am assured are pleasant things to live in. In the Cotswolds we have houses which are entirely of stone. Last, but not least, in Essex and Hertfordshire there are a great many houses built of wood which have stood the test of one, two, or even more centuries. Incidentally, the current number of the "Field" has a page of very good photographs of some of these wooden houses, mostly, I think, in Hertfordshire, but some in Kent, so they are scattered pretty widely and are very satisfactory places in which to live. I hope they will not be excluded from our plans in the future. We have only to go as far as Hampstead to see some others of that nature. I hope we shall insist on a high standard in our new houses. There should be no difficulty in that. Where architects supervise a building, of course, that will settle itself, but we also have now the Council of Registered Builders and that should be a great help to us.
As to Clause 2 of the Bill, I do not like that either, but again I think it is one we must accept as a temporary measure. We have been told by the 238 Minister that it will save three or four months in getting to work. If so, I feel it is fully justified. Assuming that this Bill will be followed in due course by what I regard as the consequential other Bill dealing with private enterprise building, it seems to me that this is a necessary Bill, and I hope that the House will give it a unanimous Second Reading.
§ Sir Irving Albery (Gravesend)
I have listened to most of this Debate so far and the matter I particularly wish to refer to is in the first paragraph of the Explanatory Memorandum of the Bill:This Bill is a temporary measure dealing with houses to be provided by local authorities before 1st October, 1947.I understand that the Minister has already indicated that there will be some further provision which will enable private enterprise, or which is intended to enable private enterprise, to take its part in dealing with this very acute problem. I want to emphasise—I do not think any Member of this House can really doubt it, though I sometimes wonder whether it is fully realised by His Majesty's Government—that when this war ends the most acute, even the most dangerous, problem which will face us among all our post-war difficulties is undoubtedly the housing problem. This Bill touches but the fringe of it. With reference to the Minister's intentions that something shall be done to enable private enterprise to play its part in dealing with that problem in the early days after the war—[Interruption.] Perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong. I understood that he implied that private enterprise would have a share in the first years after the war in providing for the housing requirements.
§ Sir I. Albery
What I wanted to point out is that I personally regard the matter as of so much importance that I would not be influenced for one moment by any preconceived prejudice as to who is to supply houses. If the local authorities alone can overcome our housing difficulties I would not for a moment endeavour in any way to interfere with any scheme of that kind, but I do hot believe that the local authorities alone can achieve as much as they could in combination with private enterprise. This Bill is intended to provide for the construction of £100,000 239 houses in the first year after the war, which number, I understand, includes 20,000 or 40,000—nobody can know precisely to-day—houses that will have been destroyed and have to be replaced, and then 200,000 in the next year. Taking into account figures which were quoted for house construction after the last war one is forced to the conclusion that if the local authorities do manage to construct the houses for which this Bill provides there will be neither material nor labour available for private enterprise. That is a matter to which I hope the Minister and the Government will pay some attention.
Another point is that those with small houses which have been destroyed by enemy action get a cost-of-works payment and presumably will have every facility for having their houses reconstructed within the numbers mentioned in the Bill. Another property owner with a rather larger house who has had his house destroyed by enemy action gets a value payment. If the whole of the building materials and building labour are to be taken up by this scheme, what are the prospects for the person whose house has been destroyed?
§ Mr. Willink
I think my hon. Friend is under a slight misconception. The question whether a cost of works or a value payment is made does not depend on size but on the date, and on the category by date and quality, of the house, which are decided by the War Damage Commission and the Treasury.
§ Sir I. Albery
I have always understood that the smaller houses were all treated as cost-of-work houses provided they were not dilapidated, that any reasonably efficiently maintained small house automatically got a cost of work payment. That is what I have always understood. On the other hand, I know of a great many cases where houses——
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Charles Williams)
I am not quite sure how cost of work comes in under this Bill. It seems to me that an illustration is all right, but I do not think we can debate it.
§ Sir I. Albery
I abide by your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and I will not attempt to debate it any further. I mentioned it for this reason. I was endeav- 240 ouring to show that proposals under this Bill will so occupy the labour which is available, and from the calculations given by the Minister, the materials available, that there will be very little prospect of other people who have urgent need of houses or the reconstruction of houses which they have lost through enemy action, getting the work done. That is the point I wanted to make.
Generally speaking, subject to these criticisms, I have no objection to the Bill, but I wanted to take the opportunity of expressing the keenest anxiety about the Government's planning for post-war housing. It seems to me that the task with which they are faced should have been entrusted, I think, to a Minister of Health, a Minister of exceptional ability, which I am sure my right hon. and learned Friend is, and that the other Ministers who would be concerned should be giving him the same kind of assistance, that is, subsidiary assistance, as various Ministers have been called upon to give to the present Prime Minister as Minister of Defence in his conduct of the war. I believe it is only if the problem is tackled in that way, and if the Minister responsible for post-war housing has not only ordinary powers but quite exceptional powers, and exceptional priority, and occupies a prominent position in the Cabinet, that he can possibly deal adequately with the extremely serious situation which is likely to arise. I have an uncomfortable feeling that in the past there have been differences of opinion and, one does not like to use the word "intrigue," but it almost comes to that, between some of the Ministries which should be concerned with this difficult problem after the war.
I wish my right hon. and learned Friend every success. I would do everything in my power, and I am sure that every Member of this House would do everything in his power, to assist him in the difficult task on which he is going forward. But I would like him to bear this in mind. In 1941, the Government knew, and announced, that there was a coal crisis; and we had a Minister of Mines whom I am quite certain would have done everything in his power to solve that crisis. In 1944 we still have a coal crisis. I am more than afraid that if the present machinery for providing us with houses after the war is not 241 strengthened, and if the hands of the Minister of Health are not substantially strengthened, the Minister may well find himself, one, two, or three years after this date, very much in the position in which the Minister responsible for coal finds himself to-day. I do not believe that the Minister who is responsible for the mines, whoever he has been or is, has ever had adequate powers or backing to enable him to deal with the situation. I fear that my right hon. and learned Friend may find himself in the same position. If I may give him some advice, without being disrespectful, it is this. He is going to be held responsible for the success, or otherwise, of our housing programme after the war. If he cannot get all those powers which he believes to be necessary, or if he is being interfered with by any other Minister or Ministers in such a way as to put those powers in jeopardy, he had better resign, and tell the House why he has done so, rather than go on trying to perform a function the failure of which would be a calamity to the country.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards (Caerphilly)
We have had an interesting Debate, the outstanding feature of which has been that everyone who has spoken has emphasised the gravity of this problem and has talked about its being a great human problem, the solution of which is long overdue. It has been suggested that something like 1,000,000 homes are required for the people of this country at this moment. The Minister makes his statement. He stresses the importance and the size of the problem, the drive that the Government are going to put into it, and the faith that they have to keep with the men who are fighting, and he brings forward a pettifogging little Bill, to make provision for 100,000 houses in the first 12 months after the cessation of hostilities. Is that drive? Is that an attempt to keep faith with those whom we now praise?
§ Major Thorneycroft (Stafford)
What the hon. Member says reminds one very much of what was said after the last war. Does he suggest that he or anyone else could produce more than 100,000 houses in the first year after the war? If so, how would he do it?
§ Mr. Edwards
Perhaps the hon. and gallant Member will let me explain in my own way. He is rather premature. I will come to that in my own time.
§ Mr. Edwards
The answer will come in due time; and it will be in my time, and not in the hon. and gallant Gentleman's time. It will be given in my own way; it will be my own answer. I do not object to the interruption, but the hon. and gallant Gentleman might let me make my statement. The Minister says that, under this Bill, he proposes to provide, in one year after the war, 100,000 houses, and, in three years after the war, 200,000. When my hon. and gallant Friend was speaking about the 600 soldiers to whom he was talking, in France or somewhere else, he said that they stressed the fact that the greatest need they had was a home of their own. I thought that the answer to that was that only one-tenth of them would get a home in two years after the cessation of hostilities.
§ Mr. Willink
My hon. Friend has several times used the phrase "after the cessation of hostilities." I personally think it of the greatest importance that the phrase "after the termination of hostilities in Europe" should be used. That is not the end of the war, because this is all one war; but when the war is over in Europe, we propose to get on with this programme.
§ Mr. Edwards
The financial memorandum made it very clear that it was after the termination of European hostilities, and I thought that that was understood. I did not intend to misrepresent my right hon. and learned Friend. Why has my right hon. and learned Friend fixed upon the figure of 100,000? That brings us to the interjection of the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite. In introducing this Bill, my right hon. and learned Friend has given no indication of why he has taken the figure of 100,000. Is it because there are no materials? My hon. Friend opposite has said that there is plenty of timber. [An HON. MEMBER: "He did not prove it."] But he has said so, and I understand that he is an authority. He says that the timber will be there. Will the bricks be there? What is the governing factor in deciding that, in the first year's programme, only 100,000 houses can be built? The right hon. and learned Gentleman made out no case on that point. He did not seek to justify the figure. He did not contend that it 243 was determined by the available supply of materials. He did not say that it was determined by the available supply of labour. He did not indicate what was the productivity of a building trade worker prior to the war, and what, with modern methods, is the productivity now. There is no reference at all to the effect of all this prefabrication that can be done on internal fitments. In the presentation of his case he has not done justice to the importance of the problem.
He did not indicate that he had any great plan for dealing with this problem or that there was to be any great mobilisation of materials and labour. Apparently, he is going to rest himself upon the residue of labour that will be available after the war, without any attempt at a gigantic mobilisation of labour to provide our people with homes. We have had no indication of any standardisation of materials. We have had no indication that prices in future are not to be determined by "rings." I can understand why the subsidy is to be elastic. I warn my right hon. and learned Friend that it will not be in the interests of this country to have high subsidies in order to allow high profits for "rings" in the building industry, either for cement, bricks, light castings, hollow-ware, timber, sand, or any of those things that are necessary for building a house. We have had no indication that my right hon. "and learned Friend is bringing into review the organisation and the availability of materials, or the standardisation of them, so as to make the houses more easily assembled and at lower prices than otherwise would be necessary. That is the part of the case that was completely absent from his statement. If this Bill is an indication of the steps that the Government propose to take in this matter, I think that it is too little and too slow.
§ Mr. McEntee (Walthamstow, West)
It is not often that I defend the Minister, but I think that the Bill, as far as it goes, is good. That is all that can be said about it. It undertakes to do only two things, and I do not think that anyone will deny that each of those two things is a progressive and a good step. It enables the local authorities, for the first time, to know what the Government policy is in regard to the subsidy. Up to 244 now they have been quite unable to make any reasonable preparation for the housing programme, because they have had no idea of the Government's intention regarding subsidy or the acquisition of land. Those two points are all that the Bill deals with, and on both points, in my view, the Government take a progressive step, which will enable local authorities, for the first time, to make real progress in preparing for building at the earliest possible moment.
Having said that, I would like to offer a good deal of criticism, not of what is in the Bill but of what might have been in it. Time will not permit me to do that. Reference has been made to the possibility of subsidies for private enterprise. There is a body of people, or organisations, between private enterprise and public authorities, which it might be possible to consider in connection with this Bill. They might help, both in regard to the possibility of building a larger number of houses and in regard to the time which it would take to build them. Public authorities, like the Port of London Authority, the Metropolitan Water Board, and others, have, in the past, built houses, for their own employees mainly, and if they could be encouraged to build houses, by the extension of the subsidy, it would be of material advantage. Another body which has done a great deal in the building of houses is the Housing Association. That association always used to get subsidies, and I presume that it will get them again if the subsidy is extended to private enterprise. Because this association and public utility concerns are non-profit making, I think they could be brought in, with local authorities, to get the subsidy now. In regard to the acquisition of land, everybody will be glad to hear that the time is being shortened. I suggest that it must be still further shortened, and that it can be if regard is paid to the advertisements which are put into the public Press, notifying that the local authorities mean to take possession of land and in the time that is taken, very often, in trying to find out who the actual owner is. In many cases, a number of people are interested in the ownership of a piece of land, and it may take months to find out who they are. I hope some consideration will be given to that point.
245 In regard to materials, it is said, quite rightly, that the things you want for building houses—apart from money, and the Government have plenty of money, so we need not worry about that—are men and materials. The hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) in an interesting speech suggested that we should bring men out of the Services for the purpose of building houses for the men in the Services. I do not think we should make a slogan that everybody must remain in the Services, just for the sake of keeping them there. I could give examples of hundreds of people brought out of the Services because they had nothing to do in the Services. If any proof is needed, I could centainly give it, and so could many other hon. Members. What is the good of keeping mechanics in the Army, for work far below their standard of ability, when they might be building or repairing houses for the people in the Services, of whom we talk such a great deal? Did we not bring men out of the Services for the purpose of building barracks and camps? We took them from the Services to build the housing accommodation for other men in the Services; why cannot we bring men out to enable them to build houses for the personnel, now in the Services, who will need houses when they come out? It is no use telling them that, two years after they have come out of the Services, one in ten of them may have a chance of getting a house. That is not good enough for them and it will not satisfy them. I think the Minister should engage in consultations with other Ministers, who have so many people on their staffs whom they are unable to use. Many of these people are skilled in the building industry and have not done a stroke of work worth considering as work, during the last year or two.
§ Mr. Molson
I did not say that men in the Services were all being engaged usefully. But I understand that there is still an acute shortage of men for the Army, and I was opposed to any reduction of the Army for the purpose of house building if the men are required in the Army for fighting.
§ Mr. McEntee
I am not saying that if the men are needed by the Army, they should be taken out. I do say there are men in the Army who would be very much better engaged in building houses for themselves and for other men in the 246 Services. I think a good deal of speeding up might be done in that direction.
I beg the Minister not to be too conservative in regard to the building of houses. New materials are coming on to the market and are under consideration. Some of them I know, and the Minister knows, and some of them have been tested and it has been proved that they could be used to speed up the provision of houses I hope we are not going to talk about the possibility of getting timber. The Timber Trades' Association told me there was plenty—in Africa and India. But in the first place, it is quite unsuitable for building houses; in the second place, it is not easily available, and, in the third place, the transport is not likely to be available for some considerable time after the war. Whether that particular material is available or not, it would be well to pay attention to the stage at which we are going to use timber. Of all building materials, the one that has gone up most in price is timber, and, if it is not reduced in price, it would probably be uneconomic to use it in house-building at all. Unless timber is very much reduced in price, these other materials will be used as substitutes for timber, and, in my view, equally good houses can be built without timber. The timber interests will have to look after themselves, and if they do not, they may find themselves entirely shut out of the building industry because newer, cheaper and equally good materials are being found.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Miss Horsbrugh)
I think I have listened to practically all the speeches in this Debate, and I think that practically every speaker has said, as the hon. Member for West Walthamstow (Mr. McEntee) has just said, that this Bill has two good points, and that the House agrees with those two points. I think that is one thing for which the Minister may be thankful. Though the two points in this Bill are agreed by everybody, the Debate has turned on other points concerning wider aspects of housing for the future, and I will do my best to answer the questions which have been addressed to us. The hon. Member for West Walthamstow and others who spoke before him, realising the difficulty, which we all realise, of providing houses for people returning from the war, have said "Why not bring back men from the Services now? "Hon. Members have said that 247 people in the Services who are skilled in particular branches of building are not now being fully used.
§ Mr. McEntee
I did not mean to say that they should be brought back now—immediately. It is no use bringing them back until the plans are ready and the materials are ready for them to use. I meant bringing them back at the earliest opportunity.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
Some hon. Members have said "Bring them out now," and I think the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Dobbie) was one of them. I want hon. Members, if they will, to realise what the position is. If we are to do this work which the Minister has suggested at the end of the hostilities in Europe, we shall be bringing people back from the Services to do this work while we are still engaged in fighting a war—and fighting a war that may need great efforts on the part of this country and of the Services. The Government have made it clear that, so far as we can sec, that will be the earliest opportunity of being able to release men from the Services; that is, when the first part of the war is concluded. I know that hon. Gentlemen will say that people will be coming home from the war and that there will not be houses for them, and will ask, "What is the use of waiting until then?" Surely we must face the fact that the enemy has yet to be beaten, and that we have still got to defend this country against the destruction of houses, and have to use all the powers we can to defend ourselves against such destruction. Not until the enemy is beaten in Europe, and a certain number of men from the Forces can be released from their work to build houses, can we begin even the smallest building programme.
This has been stated over and over again, but I think, after what has been said to-day, it would be well to state it again. The Minister of Labour has assured me that the number of men required for the Forces still is a large number, and I can assure hon. Members that it is not at this moment a case of being able to withdraw people from the Forces. We are thankful that the casualties have been as light as they have been in Normandy, but do not let us shut our eyes to the big job which we have still 248 got to do, and to the fact that many people, who have not yet had an opportunity of doing very much at home, may be called upon to do a very big job overseas before the real end of this war comes about. It is against that background that I ask hon. Members to consider the housing suggestions made in connection with this Bill, and the two points which are agreed by everybody.
The two agreed points are that the housing subsidy should be made general, because local authorities will want to know now what the policy is to be, and, secondly, that it would not be desirable or necessary to have the delay of a public inquiry on the acquisition of land. Some hon. Members, particularly the hon. Member for West Walthamstow, and the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards)—whose speech I did not think was very constructive—asked how we had arrived at this building programme, while the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin), far from thinking that the Government might be able to do more than build 300,000 houses in two years, thought the figure would only be in the neighbourhood of 200,000. The hon. Lady the Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George) wanted to see a bigger housing plan and asked "Why bring in Bills like this in little instalments?"
I would like to suggest to the House that there has been a good deal of comparison with what was done after the last war. We are all agreed, I think, from the speeches I have heard, that the promises were too big, the subsidy was too big and the result was too few houses. Looking back—it is no use blaming people now. It is easy to see that the scheme was a big scheme, the subsidies were big subsidies, but they did not, as the hon. Member for Rotherham pointed out, take account of many other essential matters, such as men and materials. Therefore, you got a scheme which was out of proportion to the amount of men and materials available to produce the houses, and the result was disastrous, apart from the disappointment and disillusionment which it caused. The hon. Member for Rotherham said that the speech of the Minister would cause disillusionment to the people of this country, but if the facts are that, with the men and materials available at the end of hostilities in Europe, we could not produce more—and 249 the hon. Member for Peckham thinks we shall produce less—are we not right in saying so to the people of the country? If we can do better, it will be a pleasurable surprise, but if, in this House, we said now that we would be able to produce more houses than we can, we would be asking the people of this country to deceive themselves and this would cause disappointment and disillusionment.
Hon. Members have asked how this number is arrived at, and whether we have just made a guess at 200,000 or 300,000. That number has been thought out as the likely amount, after consultations with the Minister of Labour on the subject of man-power and with the Ministry of Supply and the Ministry of Works on the subject of materials.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
If the hon. Member will look in HANSARD, he will find a lot of Questions and answers about it. If he wants any more reading matter, he can ask in the Vote Office for the White Paper on the building industry which was published by my right hon. Friend some months ago. If he reads these, he will have some information on the facts that have been given during the last half year.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
If the hon. Member will read the White Paper, he will see what is the scheme which has been laid down. Hon. Members will agree with us in taking the advice of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour, who, in his White Paper, has set out how he thinks that the building industry can again be built up; and we have taken the advice of the Minister of Supply and the Minister of Works on the subject of materials. Having taken that advice we came to the conclusion, as stated, that 300,000 houses could be built in the first two years. The hon. Member for Peckham says that he thinks we have gone rather too far, and that may be so.
The hon. Lady spoke about instalments, but I believe that, because of the difficulties of the present situation, it is better to work by instalments. That is the reason why it has been decided that the subsidy and the new arrangement about public inquiries should be of a temporary 250 nature. We cannot say when the war, even in Europe, is going to end. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour has made as near an estimate as he can of the building labour that might be available at the time, but we have still to go through a very difficult time before we can be certain that these men for whom hon. Members are asking can be brought out of the Forces. One does not know whether these men will be there to come out of the Forces, as we have a big and difficult part of this war still to fight. We are not able to face the housing situation with complete knowledge, and, therefore, I think that it is better to proceed by the instalment principle. It is a more reasonable principle than that adopted at the end of the last war when a grand plan was made, and we had a grand failure. We want to see whether we cannot do better.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Rotherham asked, "Cannot you use any of the building labour now? You have now built your aerodromes and barracks, and what about that labour?" It has been arranged that a certain amount of that labour shall be put on to the preparation of housing sites. That scheme, as I think the hon. Member for Caerphilly will have heard, has been discussed in this House two or three times. I would like the hon. Gentleman to recall what is happening, and what has been happening for some time. Any building labour, I can assure the House, that is available is being fully used. While the destruction of houses is continuing, I can assure hon. Members that the need for building labour is not being overlooked. There is more work for builders in this country to-day than they are able to tackle and we are getting assistance from the Services in this emergency. Hon. Members will understand that it is impossible to think of starting to make use of building labour in this country now for the building of new houses.
Most hon. Members said that it was a good thing that public local inquiry is not to take place, at all events during the transition period of two years. The hon. Lady the Member for Anglesey said she would like this to be extended beyond two years, and other hon. Members said that we ought to watch the position carefully. Again, by means of the instalment plan, we shall be able to test the scheme and see how it works. My own feeling is that, although they sometimes cause de- 251 lay, public inquiries are democratic institutions. Sometimes democratic methods may work more slowly than dictatorial schemes, but they may be a great deal better. We are asking for this power of compulsory purchase without a public inquiry for this particular length of time, and we shall see then how it works. I think that the House will be in agreement to that extent.
The hon. Lady the Member for Frome (Mrs. Tate) who, I know, cannot be in her place at the moment, as she has explained to me, spoke of the difficulty in some areas where there are houses which have been condemned but which it has not yet been possible to repair. We know that much repair and maintenance work will need to be done at the end of the war, and that this has been mounting up; there will be not merely repair work due to war damage but also the ordinary repairs which have not been carried out. Therefore, it will be necessary to deal with this question of maintenance and repairs. Many houses, quite repairable at the beginning of the war, may now have become completely unfit because of lack of repair. The hon. Lady said that it would be a pity to pull down houses when, during the first few years after the war, there would be actual shortage of shelter. Without going further into the schemes she suggested, I would say that we are all agreed that, in the first few years after the war, even shelter will be difficult to obtain and I can assure the hon. Lady that it will not be the policy to pull down and demolish such houses before other houses have been built.
It may be that houses which are not as fit as they ought to be, will still have to be occupied until the building programme is advanced, and we have been able to produce more houses by the different means, of which my right hon. and learned Friend made mention to-day. Whether these houses should be repaired, I cannot say at this time, but I can say—and I think hon. Members will agree with me—that there is great waste in repairing houses which will not make really suitable and good dwellings for the future. There is all the difference between saying that people might still have to live for some years after the war in a house not fully up to standard and one which ought to have improvements, and saying "Im- 252 prove and repair the house so that you may bring it up to the required standard."
§ Miss Horsbrugh
I was trying to make it clear that people may still have to live for a time in such houses before new houses are built. It is a very different story to say that you should repair those houses. It will be impossible for everybody now living in condemned houses to get new houses immediately after the war, because there will be many families with no houses at all after the war. I was interested to note that three hon. Members who spoke are all members of the Central Housing Advisory Committee, and I think the House would agree that we should congratulate them on their reports, which have just been produced. The three members of that Committee put different points and asked whether their recommendations were to be carried out. The hon. Gentleman thė Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) asked particularly whether the recommendation concerning the reconditioning of rural houses would be accepted. It was on 13th. July that the Minister, in reply to a Question, said that he was accepting that recommendation. He is not dealing with it in this Bill as this is to extend the range of subsidy for general purposes. Future legislation will be brought forward dealing with the amount of subsidy and of the increase of grant for the reconditioning of rural workers' houses. I think that that answers that particular point.
The hon. Lady the Member for Anglesey put building costs at the end of the war at 100 per cent. above the prewar costs, and the hon. Member for Peckham thought that they would be 60 per cent. above the pre-war costs, and that later on they might be reduced to 50 per cent. The hon. Member for Peckham pointed out that, if the cost of building the house remained as high as it was to-day, the subsidy would have to be a higher subsidy if such a house was to be let at 10s. a week plus rates. That demonstrates the impossibility at the moment of saying what the costs will be. There is one thing with regard to which we are all in agreement, and certainly my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health realises it, and that is, that it is absolutely necessary to bring 253 down the cost of producing houses in this country if the people are to be housed. It has been pointed out by some hon. Members including the hon. Member for Peckham that you must give a subsidy, or a bigger subsidy if prices increased. We have learned in the past that that is no use. It was believed that you had only to produce more money and you would have more houses simply because you increased the subsidy. We have learned better than that. As I have said, I agree with hon. Members who have spoken, that is is a prime necessity to reduce the price of producing houses.
Hon. Members may ask how we are going to do it. I would be very pleased if I could tell hon. Gentlemen. I would remind hon. Members that the Bill we are discussing concerns two points; it is an instalment; its intention is that we shall be able to get the local authorities to make plans; but it is not the full answer in any way to how we are to deal with the housing problem. My Noble Friend the Minister of Works is examining the question of materials, including the price of the materials, and is making inquiries as to building costs and the reasons for the high cost of building at this time. We must await from him an explanation of the high cost of building to-day and any suggestions that he—and it is his Department and not ours that is concerned—has to make for bringing down those costs. As the Housing Department we in the Ministry of Health, thoroughly agree that the cost of building houses must come down if the people of this country are to be properly housed; adding on an increasing subsidy is not going to do it.
§ Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)
May I ask if we shall be given, later, a figure to which, in the opinion of the Ministry, price costs ought to be reduced?
§ Miss Horsbrugh
But I would point out to the hon. Gentleman that it is my Noble Friend the Minister of Works who has to deal with costs of building. My Noble Friend is examining the cost of materials and the cost of building, and questions 254 on these matters must be addressed to him. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Health has brought forward this Bill in order to allow the local authorities to make plans. Hon. Gentlemen have said that the local authorities for some time have wanted to know what the general scheme was, and whether there would be a subsidy. In consultation with us they have agreed that at the present time it would not be possible to state what that subsidy is to be. What they did want to know, and if the House passes this Bill they will know it, was that they are to have a subsidy for general housing as well as for slum clearance and overcrowding. The other difficulty was whether they would have the land quickly enough. It will be the law of the land, if this Bill is passed, that it will not be necessary to hold a public inquiry.
I know that many hon. Members would like to be able to look further into the housing programme of the future but I would ask them to consider whether, with the facts that are before us at this time, we could do so with any finality. We can see a first stage. We know we cannot build new houses at present. We have a vast amount of repair work to do and we cannot get more men from the Forces to do it. The next stage we see is the end of hostilities in Europe—some people being released from the Forces while the war with Japan continues—and a start being made in our housing scheme. In this transition period of two years or so every house that can be built will be built, and my right hon. Friend and I will be only too glad if we can go beyond the estimated 300,000. During that period the subsidy, whatever it may be, will be for general housing as well as for slum clearance and overcrowding, and we shall have this quicker method of acquiring the land.
Some hon. Members have suggested that there are other ways still in which we could get that land more quickly, and they referred to various points in the Town and Country Planning Bill. I think, on the whole, we are satisfied that we shall get it quickly. We think, on the whole, that what we have asked the House to agree to for this period is sufficient. If it is not, we will certainly come back to the House. That covers this next difficult period. My right hon. Friend made it perfectly clear that, in addition, there will be emergency houses and houses damaged 255 through enemy action which we have been repairing for some time, but which will have to be built up. We have got to bring in everything we can—private enterprise, local authorities, emergency houses, and repaired war-damaged houses. Everything possible must be used for the shelter of our people. In future we want to build better than we have built in the past. We hope now to profit by the mistakes that were made after the last war—when we thought out a grand programme, provided plenty of money, and did not look to the amount of men and material we had.
We hope to do better, but any hon. Member who in this House or in the country states to the people of this country that they can all be housed at the end of this war, and that they can all be better housed, is doing a very great disservice. There has been no building for five years, or practically no building: there has been very little repair and maintenance for five years; there have been five years of damage by the enemy. We were just getting on before the war. Our schemes had been good, we were getting on with slum clearance and with overcrowding. We could see at last that we were about to meet the needs of the people of this country, and then the war came. Everything has all been put back. Some people talk as if housing after the war were going to be easier because of the war. The whole thing has been put back, but I believe that, if we work together, even on an instalment scheme, hammering out the best bit by bit, we shall be able to do the job. We shall tell the people frankly of the difficulties, and they will put up with the post-war difficulties in the same spirit as they have put up with the difficulties of wartime.
§ Mr. G. Griffiths
I would like to ask the hon. Lady a question. We are going to give a subsidy of £5 10s. now, and the local authority has to give no more than £2 15s. subsidy. The houses are to be built inside two years. Who is to pay the difference in the rent of the house that is going to be built for £450? The hon. Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George) gave a figure of £450 for a three-roomed—[HON. MEMBERS: "Prewar."] Keep quiet and let me finish what I have to say. That was pre-war. 256 A similar type of house will cost now, not less than £750, and I am putting it at the lowest figure. If it takes £750, and the Minister is to give £5 10d. 0d. and the local authorities £2 15s. 0d., is the local authority to bear the difference out of the rates in future or will the Government bear the difference? I do not want to prolong this. There were a good few other things I wanted to say. but I will say no more.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
I am sorry my hon. Friend was not quite clear on what my right hon. and learned Friend said in his opening remarks. The amount of the subsidy has not yet been fixed. The local authorities have agreed that it is as well not to fix the amount at this time. The reason for mentioning a subsidy in this Bill is to bring the subsidy for general housing on to the same level as we have at present for overcrowding and slum clearance. At a later date, after consultation with the local authorities and after reviewing the situation, we shall bring legislation on the subsidy. My right hon. and learned Friend made it quite clear that this is not a subsidy under which the building in the two years will be done, and that further legislation will be brought to the House. We are all agreed that we cannot, at this time, say what the subsidy ought to be. I hope I have made it clear that the amount of the subsidy under which these houses will be built in two years has not yet been decided.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
I can assure my hon. Friend that new house-building cannot go on at this moment. I have tried to make that clear. When new houses are built in the future under this Bill, when it becomes law, if the subsidy is increased, it will be made retrospective to the time when the houses were built. However, I can assure my hon. Friend that he can disillusion himself of any thought that there will be house-building and houses put up in six months because I am afraid that there will not——
§ Mr. McEntee rose——257
§ Mr. Austin Hopkinson (Mossley)
May I put this point to the hon. Lady? She did not make it quite clear in the course of her speech, admirable as it undoubtedly was. She was arguing with great cogency towards the latter part of her speech that, if we go on raising the subsidy we automatically raise the cost of the house for which the subsidy is given. Surely that argument applies to the orginal subsidy with just as great validity as to any subsequent raising of the subsidy? That is exactly in accordance with our experience when we raised the subsidy before. Year by year, when Mr. Neville Chamberlain occupied the position now occupied by my right hon. Friend, he brought that forward in debate that the only result of giving the subsidy was to increase the average cost of the houses subsidised by the exact amount of the subsidy. At that time I was building a large number of houses myself and I have watched the effect. It worked out in practice exactly as I have said. The hon. Lady herself went a very long way towards agreeing with that, when she said most specifically in her speech that raising the subsidy raised the cost of the house. Can any logical argument be adduced to show that that argument does not apply with equal validity to the original subsidy? It is the point I put time after time to the late Mr. Neville Chamberlain, when he was Minister of Health, and eventually he used exactly the argument I am going to use now. If the hon. Lady were selling oranges from a barrow in the street for a penny each and found that she could sell 100 oranges per diem, and then the Government came along and said that, to every purchaser of one of her oranges, they would give a subsidy of a halfpenny, undoubtedly the hon. Lady would raise the price to 1½d. each and would sell identically the same number of oranges. Now can the hon. Lady refute that argument or show any fallacy contained in it?
§ Miss Horsbrugh rose——
§ Mr. McEntee
On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in Order to put to the hon. Lady now the fact that she did not answer a specific question I put to her? May I ask her if she will be good enough to answer it?
§ Mr. McEntee
Would the hon. Lady make some reference to a specific question I asked with regard to public utility societies and housing associations, in reference to the subsidy?
§ Miss Horsbrugh
I apologise to the hon. Gentleman if I did not answer his question. He will find that my right hon. and learned Friend made the statement in his opening speech, that public utilities will come under the scheme for private enterprise. If the hon. Gentleman looks in HANSARD to-morrow he will see that my right hon. and learned Friend included the very words "public utilities and housing associations" in his speech.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
I must not be drawn into another speech. My right hon. and learned Friend has said that he will introduce legislation on the subject of subsidies for private enterprise. My hon. Friend will see that under that come public utilities and housing associations, as stated by my right hon. Friend in his opening speech.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House.—[Mr. Drewe.] Committee upon Friday.