HC Deb 21 July 1944 vol 402 cc510-29
Mr. Silkin

I beg to move, in page 2, line 4, to leave out "two", and to insert "seven."

This is a very simple Amendment and I think the Committee will see the intention which is behind it. Clause 2 provides that for two years from the coming into operation of the Bill the Minister shall be under no obligation to hold a public inquiry, even when there is opposition, in the case of the compulsory acquisition of land for housing by local authorities. The Amendment says that that period should be seven years instead of two. In the course of his speech on Second Reading my right hon. and learned Friend gave his justification for making the period two years, and I understood him to give two reasons The first was that he was following precedent, the precedent of the Housing and Town Planning Act, 1919, under which a similar provision was made, and that he thought it was a good precedent. The second reason was that he related the period to the two years' housing programme announced by the Government, under which about 300,000 houses will have been built or be in course of construction. I submit that neither of those two reasons is valid. I think the precedent of the Act of 1919 is a very bad one. My right hon. and learned Friend himself said the sequel in the first two years after that Act became law was that in the first year 750 houses were built, and 30,000 in the second year, and that it was seven years before 200,000 houses were built in one year. Therefore, I submit that the provisions of the 1919 Act were inadequate, and that it was purely, but not wholly, because of the delay involved in acquiring land for housing that the results were so poor.

The justification for the provision making it optional on the part of the Minister to hold an inquiry is justified; I submit, by the housing emergency with which we shall be faced after the war. The emergency is the provision of a sufficient number of houses to enable every family to have shelter, and that until that has been achieved it will be wrong to limit to two years the speeding-up procedure contemplated under Clause 2. My right hon. and learned Friend has talked about 300,000 houses in the first two years. On the other hand, the Parliamentary Secretary, in the course of her remarks, made it clear that she could give no guarantee whatever that 300,000 houses, or any number at all, would be under construction in the first two years. I think she was very wise, and she quoted me as saying that I thought she would be lucky if 200,000 were in course of construction. I still maintain that view, and if two years after the war we are both here we shall be in a position to exchange notes and see if either of us was right.

But the real emergency is not the fortuitous number of houses which may be in course of construction in the first two years. The real emergency is the number of houses needed to give every family shelter, and my right hon. and learned Friend has told the House what that number is. In a speech on 15th March he talked about the size of the housing problem and said it had been calculated that something like 3,000,000 to 4,000,000 houses would be needed in the course of 10 to 12 years. He went on to say: It is not, thank goodness, the number we need immediately the war is over. It includes the needs which we believe will accumulate during that period, and it includes the replacement in that period of a large number of houses which we believe should be regarded as obsolescent if not obsolete, but the immediate need is much less than that. We cannot give an exact figure, but I think it is reasonable to put it in the neighbourhood of 1,000,000 houses. If it was reasonable to put it at 1,000,000 houses in March, it is reasonable to-day, probably, to put the figure at something higher. At any rate, let us accept the figure of 1,000,000 houses as the immediate need, and I say that until that immediate need has been satisfied Clause 2 should remain in operation. That is why I submit the Amendment making the period seven years instead of two. I do not know how long it will take to satisfy that immediate need, but it is certain it will not be done in two years and it may not be in seven. It all depends upon when the war comes to an end, because until then I visualise that very little will be done. It depends, also, upon the other commitments of local authorities, which will be heavy. As regards the acquisition of land, they will have imposed upon them the duty of dealing with areas of extensive war damage and acquiring, possibly, large areas of land in that connection. They will have the duty of acquiring land for education purposes when the Education Bill becomes law.

Possibly, also, my right hon. and learned Friend will be imposing further duties of acquiring land for hospital purposes, for medical centres, and so on. Housing must, of course, take a very high place, but in view of these other large commitments with which local authorities will be faced it may take seven years from the coming into operation of this Measure before the immediate need for 1,000,000 houses—which by that time will of course have been added to by the circumstances referred to in my right hon. and learned Friend's speech—will have been fulfilled. Therefore, I submit that my right hon. and learned Friend ought not to limit the operation of this Clause to two years.

What is the value of the Clause? My right hon. and learned Friend said the time taken by a public inquiry would be about four months, and the Secretary of State for Scotland talked of six months. In my Second Reading speech I put it at eight months. Since then I have had 240 public inquiries looked up, and the average time taken was over eight months; that is to say, if there had been no public inquiry the saving of time in all those cases would have been over eight months. What that means in terms of human happiness is this, that in so far as one can curtail the period for the acquisition of land for housing by eight months one speeds up by that period the provision of homes for families who are in need of them. To that extent we should be making human beings happier and giving them an earlier realisation of the ambitions and aims of most of them. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will see his way to extend the period from two to seven years. I am not wedded to seven years and if he likes to "do a deal" and make it six years I shall agree.

In conclusion, I am not raising here the general question of the rightness or otherwise of holding public inquiries. That is a separate question on which the Committee know my views. Nor does this Amendment mean that never will the Minister hold a public inquiry. There are bound to be cases where, from the point of view of my right hon. and learned Friend, a public inquiry would be right and proper. The purpose of Clause 2 is not to abolish public inquiries, nor am I asking that that should be done. My right hon. and learned Friend agrees that public inquiries may be necessary in some cases, and what I am asking is that the period during which a public inquiry shall be optional shall be seven years and not two years. I hope my right hon. and learned Friend will see his way to do something in this matter.

Colonel Clarke (East Grinstead)

I hope that the Minister will resist this Amendment. On Second Reading I said something about Clause 2, and I do not want to repeat myself and thereby tire the Committee, but the position, to my mind, is that while under the very exceptional circumstances to-day the need for more houses is so overwhelming that we can accept certain conditions that arise from that need we should not tie ourselves to continue to accept them for a longer period than we can help. I believe that if public inquiries are to be given up for a longer period than is absolutely essential it will be a great hardship to owners. We all know that questions connected with the provision of land for houses arouse much local controversy and very often much local bitterness. It is generally agreed that the land must be provided, but everybody thinks how very much better it would be if somebody else's land were taken, and these local inquiries do give an opportunity for views to be aired and much after-bitterness avoided. I understand that the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) is not asking for inquiries to be entirely suspended for seven years, only that they should be optional during that period. I think it will be an extraordinarily difficult thing, and also an invidious thing, to have to decide where inquiries are to be allowed and where not. There should be a rule one way or the other.

If during the two years it should be found that we are not getting on as fast as we should like with the building of these houses the matter could be reconsidered and the Minister could come to Parliament to ask for an extension of the powers of suspension. It is not necessary for the period to be settled permanently to-day; it could be dealt with as circumstances dictate. While I appreciate what the hon. Member for Peckham said about eight months being saved if there had been no inquiries in the cases which he had examined, I presume that those would be cases in the London area. Is that so?

Mr. Silkin

They related to areas outside London as well as inside.

Colonel Clarke

I suggest that in London it may take longer to hear these cases than it will in provincial areas, because there are a great number of owners and cases, and probably one case will have to wait for another. I hope that the Amendment will be resisted. I feel that doing away with public inquiries is an infringement of the liberty of the subject. The provision may be necessary, in the urgent need for houses after the war, but it should not be continued any longer than is essential.

Mr. Henry Brooke (Lewisham, West)

Like the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin), I am a member of a local housing committee, so that he and I have just the same interest in enabling housing to go forward quickly when hostilities with Germany are over. He is, perhaps, in a more fortunate position than I am, because his authority already owns a large acreage of housing land, whereas mine does not. I am in support of the principle of this Clause, that for a temporary period the Minister should have discretion to dispense with local inquiries. But the Amendment strikes at the root of the Bill, which is offered as a Temporary Provisions Bill. If we were really planning our housing policy for seven years ahead, I trust we should have a fuller Committee here to-day considering it. This is a temporary Bill and a great deal is, necessarily, somewhat indeterminate. We are accepting it as such because we know that we can keep an eye on what is happening, and we want to help the Minister from time to time when Parliament is called upon to take further decisions.

It is right that we should keep the question of the Minister's discretion as to the holding of local inquiries under review. If the Bill passes in its present form he will have to come to the House again two years hence, should he wish to propose that it should be continued. We do not yet know how he will use the discretion. I am glad my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke) made that point. It was also made by the hon. and gallant Member for Camborne (Commander Agnew) on Second Reading. The Committee is entitled to a definite pronouncement from the Minister. Will he use this discretion exclusively to help local authorities to proceed quickly with building, which might be held up badly if a public inquiry had to take place? Or will he use it much more widely, in a way that might enable less scrupulous local authorities to avoid the possible odium of a local inquiry, if they were trying to slip through a compulsory purchase order and buy land on which everybody knew they were not going to be able to build for a considerable number of years? It is in order to get houses quickly, and for no other purpose, that we are passing this Clause, and I hope it will be passed in its present form.

Sir Percy Harris (Bethnal Green, South-West)

I want to support the eloquent plea made by the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) as to the vital urgency of this problem and the difficulty of suggesting that it can be solved in two years. On the other hand, I rather agree with the hon. Member for West Lewisham (Mr. Brooke) that we cannot too much emphasise that this is a temporary Measure. We do not want the Government to get away with this Bill and to avoid the responsibility at the earliest date of producing a comprehensive, bold and satisfactory Measure to deal with the larger problems. My only difficulty in supporting the Amendment is that it would suggest to the country and to London, with its burning need for houses, that we can be "fobbed off" with a temporary Bill for a long period. I hope that we shall have something on a much larger scale, substituting new legislation for existing legislation, to deal with the housing problem, and we ought to regard this Bill merely as a temporary Bill to deal with the emergency.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

This topic seems to be to be one of great importance. I oppose this Amendment. Unlike the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) and the hon. Member for West Lewisham (Mr. Brooke) I am not a member of a local authority or housing authority, but I and others on this side appreciate the necessity for a vast housing programme at the earliest possible moment. It has been said by the Minister and by the hon. Member for Peckham that one thing which holds up the housing programme is the holding of a public inquiry. I find that difficult to follow, and I hope that the Minister will give a further explanation of why it has that effect. The hon. Member for Peckham stated that it caused over eight months' delay, but he gave no reason for that. The Minister said that it caused three to four months' delay. We ought to go into it a little more before we accept such delay as a necessary result of holding a public inquiry. We must bear in mind that under this Bill the objections will be in before the Minister decides whether an inquiry is to be held. It is to be held for the purpose of letting the objector put forward his objections, and I can see no reason why an efficient local authority, which is convinced that it has a good case for the acquisition of the land, should not arrange for the holding of the inquiry in a week or a fortnight after the abjection comes in.

I do not understand the argument of delay. There might well be delay where a local authority is desirous of acquiring land and is not sure that it can put forward good grounds for getting it. I accept with some reluctance the Minister's statement that this discretion is necessary for the first two years, and I hope that it will not be carried any further. It is not so much the big vested interests that are affected by this provision as the small man who suddenly finds that an order is about to be made against him taking away his property and giving him compensation on the level provided under the Town and Country Planning Bill, leaving him to face the difficulty of getting alternative accommodation in a free market. We want to be careful about how far we go in depriving the private individual and the small man of the opportunity of putting forward a case to one of the Minister's' inspectors.

Although I agree with the hon. Member for Peckham that in the majority of cases the public inquiry may not appear to serve a useful purpose, and that in a large number of cases no change appears to be made in consequence of the inquiry, I think that can be remedied easily by slightly altering the form of the inquiry. The one thing we have to be careful about is that local authorities, out of an excess of enthusiasm, do not try to get land when they are not sure what they want it for. I would like the Minister to give an assurance, or to put a provision in the Bill to the effect, that this Clause will not be used for compulsory land acquisition and land hoarding by some grasping local authorities.

The Minister of Health (Mr. Willink)

I am genuinely grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) for having moved this Amendment, in spite of the fact that I doubt whether he seriously expected the Government to accept it. It has given the opportunity for a short, interesting and useful Debate, from which, I believe, one can gather the general feeling of the Committee with regard to the Amendment. It also gives me the opportunity of making rather more clear what is the intention as regards the exercise of the power which is given to the Minister by the Bill of dispensing with a local inquiry, which is obligatory upon him at present if objections are made and not withdrawn. I differ from the bon. Member for Peckham when he says that to alter the general law for a period of seven years is not raising the general question. It would be a major matter, and not a temporary matter, if the Minister were to be free to dispense with local inquiries in respect of all acquisition of land for housing purposes which will take place during the period of seven out of the 10 to 12 years in the course of which we hope to build such a vast and increasing number of houses, and when we should see, probably, in the first five or six years, a greater acquisition of land than in the later stages. Therefore, it would be a serious proposal, and one which I should not have felt justified in putting before the Committee at the present stage.

My hon. Friend mentioned my reference to precedents. The reason I referred to precedents was this. There are many cases in which there is some anxiety about the gradual increase of centralised powers uncontrolled by such means as public inquiry, and it is, I think, only within the emergency period that such an added provision should be made. It is true that there will be a serious housing shortage for considerably longer than the two years with which we are dealing, but the position is not governed solely by that fact. The reason why we have asked for this exemption from the obligatory local inquiry is the particular urgency there will be during the two years. In the course of those two years plans will be made, and they can be made when the local authorities and my own Department are becoming more strongly manned than they are at present; and I do not see why we should conclude that in the third, fourth and subsequent years there will be any need for this accelerated procedure.

With regard to the time that public local inquiries involve, I was interested by my hon. Friend's researches and their results. I can assure him that it was after inquiry into the general experience within my Department that I gave the figure of three to four months. My hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller) has made a suggestion with which I am glad to concur. My hon. Friend, being a member of the same profession as myself, is aware that, wherever there is any form of inquiry, the convenience of the parties and of the tribunal has to be considered, notices have to be given, and convenient dates arranged. The number of skilled officers is not unlimited, a report has to be drawn up and considered, and I am told that the average time taken is in the region of three to four months. I shall be very happy to look into the question whether, in the interests of what I conceive to be the general principle of public advantage, there are any ways in which the procedure of local inquiry could be accelerated, so that we might combine the advantages of speed with those of a local inquiry.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Colonel Clarke)' was, I think, under a slight misconception with regard to the function of the Clause as it stands. There will not be a rule, as I think he suggested, that there should not be a local inquiry, because I shall have a discretion as to whether or not there is to be an inquiry. That discretion must be there, because there will be cases in which it will be most desirable that there should be an inquiry. I must accept that responsibility, and I want to make it clear that the position is not as he has indicated.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Lewisham (Mr. Brooke) raised an important point. It is often desirable, as I said in the course of the Second Reading Debate, that land for housing purposes should not be acquired in small parcels, irrespective of the interests of good planning, and it may have been that observation that led him to seek an assurance that planning considerations should not give rise to wholesale acquisitions of land not based on any principle of urgency, but based on the fact that part of the land is urgently needed while other large areas are wanted in the interests of planning. I should like to give him an assurance that this dispensation from the obligatory inquiry will not be used except to enable local authorities to proceed quickly with building. It will not be used in respect of land which is not required for early action or where there are large areas which the local authority seeks, on planning grounds, to acquire, but which, it can be seen, will not be used within the short programme. I shall not allow such large acquisitions to go forward without a public local inquiry.

Captain Cobb (Preston)

My right hon. and learned Friend has made a most important statement, that he proposes to look into the present procedure for inquiries, which has been responsible in the past for an immense amount of delay. I think every Member of the Committee is with the Minister in trying to reduce that delay as much as possible, especially in the first two years after the war, when building will be of such immense importance. I want to ask him whether it is possible now to insert words in the Bill in order that his successor, if any, may be bound by the terms of this Measure. The undertaking which he has given is of value so long as he is Minister of Health, but Ministers come and go, and it would be good if he could see his way, before the Third Reading, to insert words in the Bill to make it sure, beyond any doubt at all, that means have been effected for enabling inquiries to be held without causing unnecessary delay.

Mr. Willink

The Bill could not, at this stage, be so amended, and would not properly be so amended, as to alter the general procedural provisions with regard to local inquiries of this or any other kind. Probably my hon. and gallant Friend has not entirely followed the drafting of the Bill. The Clause has been carefully drafted so that the existing procedural provisions are preserved, subject to any subsequent amendment by Parliament, in regard to this matter of public local inquiries. Local authorities submit to the Minister of Health compulsory purchase Orders, for his confirmation or otherwise. The Clause provides only that with regard to such compulsory purchase Orders as are made before the expiration of two years from the passing of this Measure, I, or my successors, can dispense with the necessity of holding a public local inquiry.

Mr. Silkin

I should like to ask two questions. Is the right hon. Gentleman giving the Committee a promise that he will really look into the whole question of procedure of local inquiries, with a view to curtailing the time as far as possible, and that be will take any action that is necessary, such as the appointment of more inspectors for that purpose, and will report to the House what he has done? Secondly, does he give an assurance that before the end of the two years, if it is still necessary that this power not to have an inquiry should be continued, he will come back to the House of Commons and say so?

Mr. Willink

The second question of my hon. Friend is, of course, hypothetical, but when two years have run, during which there have been no inquiries for this purpose, there will be experience throughout the country as to whether such an absence of inquiry, in any cases where the discretion is exercised in that way, has been thought satisfactory by all those concerned, or not. There will have been ample time to consider that matter within the period of two years which is provided in the Bill. With regard to procedure, I certainty intend to ensure that any modifications which would reduce this period, which I believe is usually from three to four months on the average, will be considered. We are moving, we hope, from war to peace, and I cannot say when that consideration will be complete. So far as the Bill is concerned, I am getting power to dispense with the local inquiry, but it is a matter to which I shall see that attention is given.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

I would like to thank the Minister for the concession he has made, and to ask him to consider putting words into the Bill in another place to carry into effect in statutory form what he has just said. I suggest that he might add words to Clause 1 to the effect that he can confirm an Order without causing a public inquiry to be held if he is satisfied (a) that the objections are frivolous, or (b) that it is a matter which can be dealt with by the arbitrator or in the assessment of compensation, or (c) that it would involve undue delay. If he could interpolate those ideas into the Bill, they would carry out his expressed intention without in any way limiting his power in the next two years to proceed without an inquiry or in any way impeding the acquisition of land which is so urgently needed. I would also ask him to consider whether he could introduce into the Bill words to give effect to the statement which he made in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for West Lewisham (Mr. Brooke) that this power to confirm without a local inquiry would not be used save where the land is needed immediately for the erection of houses.

Mr. Silkin

If those things are put into the Bill, why limit them to two years? They seem perfectly reasonable provisions for any or for all time. Why hold an inquiry if the objection is purely frivolous, or if it is going to hold up housing? The three provisions suggested can apply generally for all time.

Mr. Willink

There are large areas of housing legislation in which hon. Members would, no doubt, like, if the legislation were before the House, to make suggestions for amendment of one kind or another, I am satisfied, and I hope that the Committee will agree with me, that a temporary provisions Bill of this kind needs to be short and simple. We do not desire at this stage to go into minutiae of procedure, and I hope that the Committee will be content to rest on my assurance that this power will be used in the way that I have described.

Amendment negatived.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

Mr. Dobbie

Before we approve the Clause I should like to ask the Minister to reply to a question which I put during the Second Reading Debate, when the Parliamentary Secretary made a most comprehensive statement, but, unintentionally I am certain, forgot to mention it. It was that the Minister should undertake, in cases in which money has been spent in providing ground for recreation and sports, to give a guarantee that it should not be taken for housing purposes.

Mr. Willink

I cannot conceive circumstances in which existing public recreation grounds would be taken for this purpose and I am not quite sure what are the grounds for my hon. Friend's apprehension. If he is thinking of public recreation grounds owned by local authorities, I can hardly imagine the local authorities suggesting that they should be taken for housing purposes.

Mr. Dobbie

Sports grounds.

Mr. Willink

If my hon. Friend is suggesting that no land which is used for a healthy purpose, such as for a golf club or as a sports ground, will in any circumstances be used for housing, he recalls to my mind a matter which has given rise to considerable interest in part of the borough which I represent, where there was a difference of opinion as to whether part of a golf course should be used for housing. Such matters must be decided on the merits of each case, and I could not give an undertaking that no such land should in any circumstances be used for housing.

Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.

Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill reported, without Amendment.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

Mr. Bossom (Maidstone)

I should like to congratulate the Minister on having brought in this Temporary Provisions Bill, to aid in meeting the demand that there will obviously be for a tremendous number of houses immediately the war ends. I heartily agree with him in resisting the endeavours made to induce him to promise to increase the number of houses which can be provided in the first period after the war. I suppose everyone will agree that the Government and the Minister know much better than anybody else how many operatives and what quantity of material will be available by that time. I have attempted to make an independent and, I hope, unbiased investigation into the conditions that will face the building industry when the war is over, and I cannot see how the industry is likely to be able to produce any more houses than those that have already been promised; in fact, I feel considerable anxiety whether it will be possible to get even all those that have been promised in the time specified. I believe that to get them will require the very best possible organisation and also the best arrangement if the building effort is to achieve success, and I am convinced it will require a certain Number of progressive steps to be taken at once if we are to give the nation the benefit which this Bill contemplates and get the needed houses in time.

With this objective in view I feel that the Minister is entirely justified in asking for the compulsory powers called for in the Bill so as to save time, because it is essential that time should not be wasted in this operation, and also in the granting of the subsidies to overcome the problems inseparable from high cost. But most of these benefits may well be lost during the actual period of building. To avoid such a misfortune I would suggest that the Minister of Health should consult with the Minister of Supply and the Minister of Aircraft Production and find the great advantages they have gained during the war when production was needed very urgently and time was very limited. "Time-studying" the processes of manufacture of all their products—guns, planes, fabric and engines—the Minister of Supply endeavoured to produce the objects needed in the least possible time. This time-studying also resulted in finished materials being turned out in better quality; it also enabled manufacturers to pay higher wages; and it gave the workers the opportunity of doing their work under less arduous conditions. I think if the Minister inquires he will find that these results were obtained in hundreds of cases.

Time-studying is already being experimented with on a small scale at the Building Research Station at Watford, and I believe this is the first time the building industry has ever been so investigated; but this procedure needs to be taken hold of on a very much larger scale and with much greater speed. The Minister of Supply could tell the Minister of Health that by this time-studying process he was getting work done——

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)

That question does not appear to arise in the Bill, which deals with two subjects, the question of subsidy and the question of the variation of the period of public inquiry.

Mr. Bossom

With respect, I am endeavouring to show that in my judgment this form of investigation will be essential if the Minister is to get the benefit of the time he is trying to save and of the money which he will be expending by way of subsidy. Without it I fear the Bill may be ineffective, and that he will not get the housing so vitally needed in time or gain the advantage from the subsidy here proposed.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Member is not entitled to go into any detail on that matter, but only to refer to it in passing; nothing more than that.

Mr. Bossom

I naturally accept your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I would in consequence ask the Minister to confer with the Minister of Supply and see if he can benefit by following the practice which the Minister of Supply has found so useful.

There is another point which I think will equally apply and I will be equally brief in referring to it. Will the Minister at once look into his by-laws that will direct how this housing work is to be controlled? I will not go into detail on this point, but I do hope he will not require the House to push him on this particular matter, because here again the advantages that this temporary provisions Bill can give to the country may quite easily be lost unless his advisory by-laws are looked into, simplified, modified, and to a certain extent, unified. I will say no more about this as I believe the benefits to be obtained are obvious. Again, I want to congratulate the Minister on having brought in this Bill at this time and I would like him if he feels it is within his power to consult specially with the Minister of Works on the subject of post-war building and see if the Department (of Works) which was established by this House to handle emergency construction could not take over this emergency housing for the first two post-war years which this Bill substantially covers and see if there cannot be a rearrangement of the administrative control of this programme so as to enable the nation to get the homes so urgently needed by the time they are required. I will conclude by congratulating the Minister on having brought this Measure forward, and I hope he will bring in any further housing legislation he has in mind as quickly as possible so that the utmost care can be given its consideration and hon. Members may in consequence be able to make every contribution they can towards this programme that is possible in the circumstances.

Lady Apsley (Bristol, Central)

I should like to associate myself with all that the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. Bossom) has said in congratulating my right hon. and learned Friend in regard to this Bill. I feel that this will give a chance to the local authorities and to private enterprise to put some vitality and vision into their housing schemes for the immediate future. I particularly welcome this Bill because I think it gives a chance to provide permanent homes for the people rather than the temporary buildings about which we have heard and read so much. I believe we cannot too greatly stress the need for providing the young men and women, when they come out of the Forces, with permanent homes rather than a temporary building. We have heard far too much of the difficulties which are likely to confront us immediately after the war in providing buildings and homes. These difficulties seem to boil down to lack of skilled building labourers and lack of building materials. But I would suggest that the new technique which the Americans have shown us in building aerodromes and aerodrome buildings could provide these houses within the time specified in this Bill. We have in my part of the world seen aerodromes grow up in three weeks which would in pre-war days have taken three years.

Also, I believe we could make plans now to train young men and women in the Services to undertake a great deal of the technical work in house building under the new technique such as we can visualise to replace a great many of the old, worn-out, pre-war ideas about house building and home provision. I notice the Russians have been confronted with the same type of problems that we have, and they have found many substitutes. I see I am straying a little from the matter in hand. My point is that we could, and should, provide these homes by substituting a new technique, new methods and new materials in a very large way, and this Bill, I believe, provides us with the beginnings of how to carry them into effect. Briefly, as I see it, we could provide standard houses built by the metal industry——

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I am sorry to interrupt the Noble Lady, but I am afraid she must confine her remarks to what is in the Bill.

Lady Apsley

I am hoping that this is what the Minister visualises we are going to be able to do in the future.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I am sure the Noble Lady will see that her remarks relate to the general housing question rather than to the particular housing question which is dealt with in this Bill, to which she must confine herself.

Lady Apsley

I feel that this is definitely at the back of the mind of the Minister, to go as far as we possibly can to provide permanent homes for people rather than temporary buildings. I should like to pass on quickly, in view of your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and say that I feel that standard houses can be provided. What I have in mind are buildings of steel to eliminate the great difficulties——

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The Noble Lady cannot continue on those lines. The Bill, as I have previously stated, deals with only two questions, the question of subsidy and the question of speeding up the process in relation to public inquiries, and on Third Reading it is competent for the House to deal only with what is in the Bill.

Lady Apsley

I will conclude by congratulating the Minister on this Bill which, I think, is full of potentialties for us all in the future. I will merely say I think it will help to eliminate the jerry-builders who have so disgraced our countryside and towns in the inter-war years. Many of these houses are being scattered to the four winds at the present time, recalling the fable of the little pig and the wolf who "huffed and puffed and blew the house down." That is what I hope this Bill will help to eliminate. I trust that the Minister will provide good sound homes for the people, and that we shall, in return, have the advantages of a contented well-housed people after the war.

Mr. Dobbie

In supporting the Third Reading of the Bill I, along with everybody in the House, hope that machinery will be created here which will be used to the full by the local authorities, with the good will of the Government, in promoting the building of houses to the maximum extent during the period in which the Bill operates. I would like once again also, in spite of the opposition which it aroused in the Second Reading Debate, and with due deference to the Parliamentary Secretary and the trenchant case she put up against it, to make an appeal to the Minister to take into consideration the possibility of using men, after consultation with the War Office, who are in the Forces now but are in the building trade in their normal life; at the first opportunity these men should be transferred, and preference given to their release from the Forces so that they can assist in the building work. I would also ask the Minister to look very seriously into the position in regard to building trade materials and see if it is not possible to, have——

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Member is straying from the narrow path which I tried to indicate. I am afraid that neither of the matters to which he has so far referred comes within the Third Reading of the Bill.

Mr. Dobbie

Like previous speakers who have been called to Order by you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I shall endeavour to keep within the straight lines of the Bill, difficult as it may be, with your keen and legal eye and mind always operating. I hope that your reminder that I was straying from the straight line, will impress still more upon the Minister the things that I have said, and the things which I believe he knows I was going to say. In connection with what he said about preference being given to ex-Service men, I am second to none in my desire to meet the claims of ex-Service men, but I think that what they want is equality on a basis of citizenship in the matter of housing. There is a danger that, if such preference is pursued too far, civilians and Service men will be set against each other. There are hundreds of thousands of civilians in the London area who have been in the front line of the bombardment, and I hope that houses will be given on a basis of equality of opportunity and on a basis of citizenship, rather than on a basis of Service men against civilians. Remembering the advice given by your predecessor in the Chair just now, Sir, I have endeavoured to keep within the straight line of Order, and I hope that the Minister will take note of what I have said.

Mr. Willink

The Rulings given from the Chair during the last half-hour, not only absolve me, but preclude me, from dealing with most of the points which have been raised in the Debate, but I am grateful to my hon. Friends who have congratulated the Government upon this Bill. I gather that the House is reasonably satisfied that this Bill will take its place, when it becomes an Act, as a logical and appropriate part of our housing plans.

With regard to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Central Bristol (Lady Apsley) I find it satisfactory that the houses which will be best, and which will last longest, have come before the House in advance of the legislation for temporary houses. The opportunity to discuss those houses will arise very shortly. This Bill will be the signal, I hope, for energy and initiative on the part of the local authorities, in which I shall give them every assistance I possibly can. With regard to the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. Bossom) and by other hon. Members, I am not in a position to say more, in view of the Rulings of the Chair, than that I will take note of them. Some of them are not strictly within my province, but those will be brought to the attention of the Departments whose immediate concern they are. On the point raised by the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Dobbie), I have always been careful not to name any absolute priority classes in regard to housing. Houses must be allocated on the basis of urgency of need. But I am sure the Committee will be with me in feeling that a very great need, with a very high grade of priority, will be found among those who have been serving with the Armed Forces of the Crown.

Question, "That the Bill be now read the Third time," put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.