§ 11.43 a.m.
Mr. Robertson (Streatham)
I make no apology for veering the Debate now to the 500 subject on the Order Paper to-day—the repair of London's war damage and particularly the steps taken to deal with after-effects of the flying bomb. I would like to utter words of grateful thanks to the doctors and the nurses, the wardens, the National Fire Service, the police, the Home Guard, the women of the W.V.S., and all the other London men and women who came to the help of suffering humanity during the heat of the flying bomb attacks on London. I find it difficult to select words to pay tribute to these people who rendered such very great service to the community. I think our grateful thanks are due also to the Ack-ack Command and to Fighter Command for the speedy way in which they adapted themselves to the very difficult and novel situation brought about by the flying bomb. I also think a special word of praise is due to the committee presided over by the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Sandys) which carried out great exploratory work in getting to the bottom of the problem and devising ways and means of overcoming the menace.
I went down, on two occasions, to the South-east coast, the first being within ten days of the appearance of the flying bomb, and I inspected the defences we then had. They were obviously never designed to meet the situation which had arisen. Other Members of the House and I went down a week or two later, with General Pile, and we then saw an entirely transformed scene. We saw well-defined defence zones controlled by the Air Forces, and equally well-defined defence zones controlled by Ack-ack Command, and the men of all the Services were putting up a very great show indeed. I think on one notable day they shot down 97 out of 101 flying bombs—an achievement of which Britain can be proud. We must not, however, lose sight of the fact that Field Marshal Montgomery and his men rendered the greatest service of all by clearing the Pas de Calais of all the sites from which these fiendish missiles were fired.
This is, I think, the first occasion—I think it is about 4½ months since the attacks commenced—that we have had an opportunity of discussing this problem on the Floor of the House. It is true that we had two private meetings—private because of the need for security at that time.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)
No, it was because the Government were frightened to tell the truth.
At these meetings there was a good deal of criticism, but I do not want to dwell on the matters discussed then—I expressed my views forcibly at that time—beyond saying that the conditions which prevailed for the first few weeks after the flying bomb attacks began, were most unsatisfactory. I say that having due regard to the magnitude of the problem. Further I would say that it is rather a good thing, possibly for the Government as well as for the nation, that these discussions did not take place in public. There is a lesson to be learned, and I hope the Government have learned it, because people in London suffered greatly at that time.
§ Earl Winterton
As one who took a prominent part in asking for a public Debate on this matter at that time, may I ask whether the hon. Gentleman thinks that a matter of grave public importance should be discussed upstairs at a meeting which is not known to the Constitution, and not on the Floor of the House? Is that his general principle?
I regard security as of paramount importance. If the Noble Lord or I had arisen in our places in this House at that time, and said anything which focussed the attention of the enemy on the fact that bombs were dropping in Horsham or Streatham, it would have been playing the enemy's game, and, therefore, would have been wrong. I did not like having to face my constituents, who were in almost the worst affected area in South London, and who had to live under conditions which one can only describe as chaotic. However, those days are long behind us. A week ago to-day London Members were called to a meeting upstairs, where the Minister of Reconstruction, Lord Woolton, addressed us, with Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve, on the repair of houses in the London area. They told us—
§ Earl Winterton
On a point of Order. I desire to ask you, Mr. Speaker, for a general Ruling on a matter which has become of great importance during recent months. The hon. Gentleman was about to tell us what a Minister and another eminent gentleman told a private meeting of Members upstairs, and in view of 502 the Ruling which you gave some time ago in reply to myself and my right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris), when the question of flying bombs was under discussion on the Floor of the House, may I ask if it is in accordance with the usual practice of the House for an hon. Member to give a report to the House of what took place at a private meeting between Ministers and Members upstairs?
§ Mr. Speaker
I am merely guided by the Rules of Order, and so far as I am concerned, if the hon. Member is in Order I cannot stop him. But I do think that when we have meetings upstairs, which are private, Members ought not to repeat on the Floor of the House what has been said at those meetings.
§ Sir Percy Harris (Bethnal Green, South West)
The whole idea of having that meeting in private was that the proceedings should be secret and confidential.
I think the Noble Lord might let me make my statement without jumping to premature conclusions. I want to say, of course, that I was not sent here to do my public duty in private. I was about to refer only to the information which Members were given at that time. It was not a private meeting in the sense that the two earlier meetings were private. They were private for security reasons. This meeting was called by an all-party group, of which I know little, and London Members received a circular asking them to hear something from Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve. As one whose constituency was much affected, I was very anxious to go. This Debate, I agree, was largely inspired by what we were told, and what we learned at the meeting. I assure hon. Members that I have no desire at all to betray anything which was private—very much the reverse. We were told that 800,000 houses in London had been severely damaged. I am inclined to think that that figure is somewhat exaggerated. When the Prime Minister gave the first figures, and said that 1,000,000 houses were damaged, I felt that his advisers were giving him figures which, for some reason—I know not what—were greatly exaggerated. I felt that of that number, 75 per cent. or less had only tiles off or windows out, and 503 that the actual figure of houses which require a lot of work is much smaller.
I know my own constituency intimately, and have seen the results of every one of the many incidents. The great majority of the houses there are lightly damaged but a number are severely damaged, and do call for attention. I think it is a mistake, however, for the House to feel that there are so many houses that the problem will take years to put right. If it were tackled right away, it would not take anything like the time that has been suggested. We were told that 97,000 building operatives are now at work, and that probably another 20,000 will be required. We were told that there is a shortage of some materials, but that there are splendid substitutes available, and that there is no idleness on account of lack of materials. We were told that the man in charge is going around all the Ministries concerned—and there appear to be far too many—getting to know the Ministers, being well received by them, getting to know senior officials and being well received by them, and even getting known at lower levels. I think we were told that a similar policy is being carried out in regard to borough councils.
My submission is that we have not the time for that kind of thing. This is a problem of intense urgency. We were also told that the completion date would be 1st April, 1945. You might as well say 1st April, 1950. This is a race between vital repairs and disease. Time is not on our side; it is on the side of disease. Tuberculosis is on the increase in my division. The chemists there can hardly deal with the prescriptions that are pouring in. You cannot wonder at it if you have seen the houses in which people are living under dreadful conditions and with continual draughts going through the rooms. The typical suburban London house has three top rooms, a bathroom, two living rooms downstairs and a scullery. Frequently, the top rooms are out of use, and also the bathroom, and the furniture from those top rooms is brought downstairs and stored in one living room, leaving the other for the whole of the family to live and sleep in, with the scullery for cooking. Often, above the gas stove, there is no ceiling. The grit and rubble are dropping on to the food. Those are the conditions 504 under which many of my constituents are living to-day and, if disease wins this race, it will be because we have been far too long in getting on with the repair job.
We have a very eminent lawyer in charge, a distinguished public servant for whom I have the highest regard, but a lawyer is not the man for this job. It is a job for a Beaverbrook, a restless, dynamic driver. If this lawyer succeeded in the job, he would be a freak lawyer. But you can get the man who is needed for the job. The Lord Privy Seal will be too busy, but there are plenty of other people who have to get their living by doing things quickly, men who have not been trained to write minutes and always cover up their tracks. You can go to Covent Garden Market any day and find very able salesmen who have consignments of fruit worth £5,000 at five o'clock in the morning which, if unsold at seven, are worth only half that and, if they are still on hand at three o'clock in the afternoon, are fit only for the garbage tins. Take the newspaper trade. There, men go up to the City every day and with a linotype plant and a staff, they have to put the newspapers on the streets, all over the country, by the following morning. Do hon. Members think those men have time to write minutes and interview people and create good will? Let Sir Malcolm Eve go back to his big job at the War Damage Commission. It is getting bigger every day. We want a real "go-getter" with a sense of urgency on this task of repairing London's war damage. Let us cut out all these Ministries. There is one Ministry that is designed for this job—the Ministry of Works and Buildings. It is their responsibility, and their right, and they should be given full power, and asked to assume the responsibility and get on with the job. How ridiculous to bring in the Ministries of Health, Reconstruction, and Labour and the whole gamut. They are slowing up the job, which could be done in a very short time.
I have a word to say about idleness and bad work. I am not talking now of what I have been told, but of what I have seen. During the summer months we worked the building operatives far too long. Fortunately that has been cured by the shortening days. The same men should not work every Sunday. Every alternate Sunday would be quite adequate. Many of the men themselves are at fault. I grant 505 that there are any amount of first-class tradesmen among them who are only anxious to do a full day's work, but there are many who are not working and I ask the Government to call upon the building trade union leaders to address themselves to this problem. I have seen workmen leaving their jobs before 10 o'clock in the morning, and going to have their breakfast. They have been carted in a luxury coach from Kensington to Streatham, and they should have had their breakfast before they left the hostel. They have lain in bed too long to get their breakfast there; they get to the job hungry and they knock off and go to a nearby café for breakfast. I went to the hostel at Kensington yesterday and saw the manager, and he told me that only half the men staying there were having their breakfast at the hostel.
That is an unsatisfactory state of affairs. The working day is not a long one, and they should have their breakfast before they start on the job, and I call on the Government to see that that is done without any further delay. It is a crime against the community and the taxpayer and it has to be dealt with firmly. We do not want any kid-gloves for this job. If the younger men will not toe the line, do not trouble to prosecute. It is not worth while. Put them in the infantry and give the older ones a spell of unemployment. I do not like saying these things but I do not like my constituents living under the conditions that they are to-day. I have kept two secretaries going dealing with letters of complaint. I find fault with the builders, too, for allowing it. I have spoken to some of them and they tell me they have not got control of the men. I invite the Ministry of Labour to address themselves to the problem. Great tributes have fallen from the lips of the Prime Minister and other Ministers to the people of London, and they deserve them all. These people, who are clinging on to their little homes in such acute discomfort, with many of their men away at the war, want me to advocate that the Government shall get on with the job and banish this ridiculous target of 1st April. Make it Christmas; if the job is tackled with organisation, labour and materials, it can be done by then.
§ 11.59 a.m.
§ Mr. W. H. Green (Deptford)
I am convinced that London is listening to this Debate with keener interest and greater anxiety than it has shown with regard to 506 any Debate of recent times. London has emerged with the greatest credit from the greatest ordeal which it has so far been called upon to face and, in emerging from this trial, is face to face with a problem greater in extent and more severe in intensity and more difficult of solution than probably any problem which has yet faced the Metropolis. I am in agreement with much that the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Robertson) said although with some points he raised I should find myself, as I imagine my hon, friends would, in violent opposition. I do not approach this problem in an unnecessarily critical frame of mind. I desire to be helpful in my contribution, realising the task that the Government and local authorities are facing. But I think Members generally will agree that, so far, the Government's efforts have not been good enough or quick enough. Great progress has been made, and it would be unfair to the Government and to our borough councils if we did not immediately admit that that is the case.
This progress has been particularly marked since the Government were wise enough to appoint Sir Trustram Eve as the chief of staff for the operations. I differ profoundly from my hon. Friend in his description of Sir Trustram Eve. I regard him, and I believe the officials and local authorities, who have contacted him, also regard him as one of the livest wires the Government have yet succeeded in getting. The fact that he made such an immense and admirable contribution to the solution of the war damage problem marks him as the man for this job. I know that there are critics who say that the man appointed ought to have been a great builder, or a well-known trade unionist. It would have been fatal to appoint either to this position. He would have started out with a bias which he would never overcome. A man of supreme organising ability who can quickly see his way through difficulties is the sort of man we want to co-ordinate the various activities involved in this problem. The Minister of Reconstruction is deserving of a word of praise and credit for what he has done in this connection, and also the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works and Buildings. Some of us know that they have spent days and nights, weekdays and Sundays, on this job and have been indefatigable in their efforts to overtake the problem. 507 We ought in justice to say a word for our local authorities. I have been a member of mine for 35 years and still am, and I have been amazed at the way in which the bulk of the authorities—I will not say all—have risen to this great emergency. When we remember that local authorities had been seriously depleted of their technical staffs and that they are tackling a job which is completely new and foreign to them, we in this House should recognise that they have done something worth while.
§ Mr. Green
I said some of them—some of those with whom I am more intimately acquainted. Our first problem is to get hon. Members, especially London Members, to be seized of the greatness and urgency of the problem. It is not only a statistical problem; it is a human problem, and there are tragedies untold underlying this question of London's homeless and bombed-out people.
It must not be thought for a moment that in anything that we may say in this Debate we are indicating that the people of London are squealing. They are not. I know that great orators have spoken in suitable language of the way in which London and other cities have stood up to these attacks. While all that may be true, Londoners are not asking the Government to do anything that would lengthen the war by one hour, in order to remedy their heart-breaking difficulties. They are not asking that one man, or one ounce of material, should be diverted from the essential war effort, in order to repair their homes. But after all they have done, the grim and stoical determination they have shown, and their willingness to sacrifice during the last four indescribable years, they have, at least, the right to ask the Government to do everything that is humanly possible at the earliest moment to take them out of the unspeakable conditions in which many of them are living to-day. They have a right to demand—and I am sure the House will be behind them in this—that no interest—I will not use the hackneyed phrase "vested interest"—of any kind, except the national interest, shall stand in the way of men and material being immediately diverted to this job.
508 During the war we have learned under our wonderful Prime Minister to expunge the word "cannot" from our vocabulary, and that is why we are standing where we are to-day militarily. I appeal to the Government to follow that example and to take "cannot be done" out of their vocabulary, as far as it is humanly possible to do so. It has been said before, and it is worth repeating, that nothing less than treating this problem as a major military operation will meet the case. It is so urgent, so dire, so widespread, and has such immense implications that nothing less than that will do. We ask the Government to remove every hindrance that stands in their way. If material or labour are necessary and cannot easily be had, they should approach the Ministers who were responsible during the past years for getting aerodromes and war factories built quickly, and for getting the huge quantities of cement that were needed for the invasion barricades in our streets. They learned how to get the men and material the moment it was required, and I ask the Ministers concerned in this matter to have a word with them if they are ever obsessed with the difficulties of getting material or labour.
I am not sure that the Government have reached the position of seeing this problem as the victims see it. Until we can put ourselves in the places of those honest, self-respecting families who have known what a measure of decency and comfort is like in normal times, who are now sleeping in shelters and living in one or two basement rooms with no conveniences, and spending shillings a day that they can ill afford on lighting—until we put ourselves in their place, we shall adequately realise the immensity and the tragic nature of the problem. The resources of labour and material so far as London is concerned should be pooled. I am inclined to think that a borough council is not always a unit of sufficient size to be the basis for this work. I know that this may cause some of our smaller councils to stand on their dignity, but those who stand on their dignity do not as a rule increase their stature very greatly. I can well believe that others may worship local autonomy and that pooling may interfere with that worship. I would sweep both aside, if it were necessary in this emergency.
If London were divided into four or six areas and supplies were proportionately allocated to them, I think that something 509 more efficient might result. I believe that some boroughs are getting a surfeit of labour and an over-supply of material for some reason or other, and that other boroughs are short of both. That ought not to be possible. Let us remember the words of the Prime Minister in the early stages of the war when our houses first began to be bombed, that this is a national calamity, that we are all in it, and that we are not going to stand back. We are all in this business, and I cannot understand local authorities protesting if three or four are linked together as a basis for this work. I would appeal—"compulsion" is a word that does not often please the House—to every builder, large or small, to come into the pool. It is not fair to see some builders being able for various reasons to do all sorts of repairs, while other people cannot get repairs done because the rest of the builders are in the pool. I do not think we shall get where we want to in dealing with this problem until all builders, large and small, are in a pool. If a builder will not join the pool we should direct his labour to those employers who are in the pool.
One of our troubles—and I am not sure that it can be easily dealt with—is that the equation of labour leaves very much to be desired. In some places there are too many labourers and not enough skilled men; in others too many skilled men, and not enough labourers; too many glaziers, and not enough slaters to repair the roofs; and there are those who can do plastering but perhaps cannot get on with roofs. There is something else of which there is too much—although it may sound somewhat ironical to talk of our having too much of anything in connection with this problem. There is too much intervention by Government Departments. As the hon. Member for Streatham said, there are too many fingers in this pie, and that does not help in the efficient carrying out of the job. This Ministry and that Ministry are concerned, and I imagine memoranda are passing from one Ministry to another until the original purpose of some request is almost lost sight of. When the Portal house was on view a friend of mine was informed: "If you want to visit the house between 10 and 12 you write to a certain Ministry; if you want to go between 12 and 2 you write to another Ministry; and if you want to go from 2 to 5 you write to a third." Whether that 510 was actually so I cannot say, but some people feel that it would be typical of what is happening in regard to more important matters.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works (Mr. Hicks)
I think that statement was quite fantastic.
§ Mr. Green
I am pleased to hear it. Then there is the all-important question of supervision. Complaints are made that the present, method of price fixing—cost plus 12½ or 17 per cent., whichever it is—lends itself to prolonging a job. The hon Member for Streatham has gone out of his way to criticise unduly the workers. I know that it is usual when anything goes wrong to hit the first head that appears, and it is generally the worker's. I have had it put to me that there are not a few employers working under this cost-plus system who find that it pays them to hang out a job rather than to encounter the difficulties that arise in taking on further jobs; that may be so, but, frankly, I cannot see my way out of this plus-cost system. The operations are so various that it would puzzle even a Philadelphian lawyer, let alone Sir Trustram Eve, to devise a scheme under which all these jobs could be done on contract prices. I do not believe it possible.
Further, I do not believe that malingering among the workers is typical of the great majority of them, and I think we do harm if we try to brand the lot, or even the bulk of workers, as men not pulling their weight. So often the amateur who is looking on, cannot know why a certain section of men are not working for a short time. There are glaziers who have done their job on the windows, but the roof is leaking, and the amateur says: "Why are those lazy fellows not on the roof?" I am given to understand that they would make the leak worse if they were put on the roof. There are all sorts of cases of that type. I put this point to a Minister who knows as much about the workers' side as anybody, and he said: "I think you would be safe in saying that this charge of not pulling their weight does not concern more than 10 per cent. of the men, and they are not the regular workers in the industry but those who have been brought in."
In my opinion we ought to bend all our efforts towards increasing the provision made for skilled supervision. I 511 believe that to be the solution of the malingering problem and also of the cost-plus question. If possible, technical assistants from local authorities outside London who are not troubled with this problem ought to be brought to London. There should be charge hands over 10, 12 or 14 men and clerks of works or other technical supervisers put over groups of gangs. If that practice were developed early I think we should stop a great deal of the trouble. I understand, also, that there is a serious shortage of material. I understood that it was in material and not labour that the bottle-necks occur, and if that is not so I am pleased to hear it, but I am told that slates, tiles, plaster boards and plaster are all exceedingly scarce in the London area, and I beg of the Ministers to use every effort to increase the supply of materials.
There is another point which suggests itself to those who have given attention to this problem. In my view the repairing of property goes on in far too haphazard a fashion The tenant who has the biggest pull somewhere gets the first chance of repairs being done, and from my experience in areas that have been badly bombed nothing causes more resentment—particularly among the women, because they are about during the day and see things—than to see one house left unrepaired while Mrs. Jones next door and Mrs. Brown on the other side of the street are getting their houses put into fairly good repair. Something must be done to ensure fair and orderly progression in dealing with repairs. Then there is the £10 limit. There are critics who seriously urge that that limit is not operating as strictly as was intended. Is it possible for one firm to come in and do £10 worth of work and for another firm to be brought in next week to do another £10 worth of work? That has been alleged; but one knows that these rumours get round, even though there is often little foundation for them.
§ Mr. Willink
May I make this point a little clearer? The sum of £10 only can be spent upon a property in a year without a licence. A local authority can grant a licence for work up to a figure of £100. If the figure is above £100, the Ministry of Works must give a licence, but they do so only on a certificate from the local authority that the work is essential. Of course, there are many cases in which work up to £100 and, indeed, over, is right and proper.
§ Vice-Admiral Taylor (Paddington, South)
Is that in a year, irrespective of the fact that during the year further damage may be done to the house?
§ Mr. Green
I must further urge, if urging is necessary, that the use of labour and material should be rigidly banned, at least temporarily, for all work other than repair work. Here, again, I am not sure that that is being done. I read in a London daily newspaper that a number of workers' cottages in Wandsworth had been severely damaged, and that for three and a half months no repairs of any substantial character were put in hand. The same bomb which damaged them, took the roof off the premises of a firm who were making parts used in pre-fabricated houses, and machinery worth thousands of pounds was left open to the weather, yet a licence was refused to put a roof over the machinery. The same bomb took the roof off Wandsworth Stadium, and the cottage people were a little amazed to find a very efficient gang of workers repairing the roof of the Stadium while their cottages were left with the rain pouring in and destroying their furniture. They were told that it was necessary to protect the tote machinery. They were amazed at the wonderful progress that was made with the repair of the stadium, and asked someone in charge about it and his reply was: "The reason is that we have got some very superior workmen and there is fine supervision." The moral is pretty obvious.
One has heard of the same sort of thing happening elsewhere. In one case men were directed from Glasgow to a village in Kent to repair cottages that had been blasted. When they got to the village they were astonished to find that they were put on to rebuilding the squire's 513 grocery stores. They were so incensed that they actually "downed tools" and refused to carry on unless put on to the cottages. If such things are happening, they will create a very bad impression among the public. The main problem is to get our people reasonably and decently housed, because otherwise the rigours of winter will make their lot appallingly and unspeakably tragic. When the Minister and his associates have reached perfection, when all the machinery is working without a creak, thousands of families will still be homeless. I understand that two types of temporary huts have been built and are open to inspection. The two types are the uni-seco and the Nissen hut. I understand that these huts will be available in the proportion of 120 Nissen huts to 20—is it?—of the other type. Technical friends of mine who have carefully examined these huts assure me that it takes three times as many man-hours to erect the Nissen hut as to erect the other type, and yet the vast proportion of huts which will be available to local authorities will be Nissen buts. In addition I am assured that in the Nissen hut, by reason of its semi-circular construction, the effective floor space is much less than in the other type. Why should there be this overwhelming proportion of Nissen huts, with all their disabilities, in comparison with the other type? I think that point needs an answer.
Are the workers being given an opportunity of collaboration and are they being taken into consultation? I have heard stories which put an entirely different aspect on the matter. Very often workmen can point out things that even the boss does not see, and nothing is lost by taking the workers into consultation. I was advised to go to a rest centre where a large number of these workers are quartered and see them. I was told that I should be snowed under with complaints from them. They said that ever since the Essential Work Order came into operation—of which we approve and say that it was a very commendable advance by the Ministry—this sort of thing has taken place: A worker on a job has said to a foreman: "Those men ought not to do those ceilings. They do not know anything about it and will make a mess of it." The foreman's retaliation was: "You get on with your job and I will get on with mine. If you don't prison is waiting for you as a result of the 514 Essential Work Order." I, therefore, advocate the closest collaboration between all sections.
To sum up, I think we should have more complete mobilisation of labour and acquisition of materials at all costs; more effective equation between various classes of labour; adequate, skilled supervision; rigid banning of other than essential repair work; close and continuous consultation and co-operation with the workers and their trade union organisations; more complete centralisation of authority, control and direction, and the relinquishing at the earliest possible moment, notwithstanding any protest, of houses in London, that are at present held but not being used, by the Air Force and other Government Departments.
§ Mr. Speaker
I know of over 20 hon. Members who want to speak this afternoon. If all the speeches are to be 35 minutes in duration, we shall not be able to hear many of them.
§ 12.33 p.m.
§ Sir Percy Harris (Bethnal Green, South-West)
I will respond to your appeal, Mr. Speaker, because I am one of a number of London Members who wish to put the point of view of their constituencies. I speak as a representative of a much damaged district and also as a resident of another badly damaged district, and I know there is a general feeling throughout London that it is not enough that we should meet upstairs and talk about these matters but that they should be ventilated on the floor of this House. There is much distress and suffering. It is not pleasant to have to face the kind of weather we have at this moment with no glass in the windows and no roof on one's house, and it is a very serious matter that the Government should have to tell Londoners that it will be April before they can expect their repairs to be done. It is a terrible problem, and to deal with it we want organisation, materials and labour. It is the task of the Minister responsible to co-ordinate together those factors.
I am a great admirer of the Minister of Health. For a new Minister he has handled all problems entrusted to him with skill and understanding, but I entirely agree with the last speaker. I would like to see one Minister only responsible for handling this problem, and he should be the Minister of Works. The Minister of Health should stand aside, 515 and also the Minister of Labour. I would make the Noble Lord and his Parliamentary Secretary entirely responsible. I have no quarrel with lawyers. Indeed, I might claim to be a learned Member myself. Training in the law does no harm. The Minister of Health has shown initiative, independence and power to take big decisions in every job he has tackled, but is he to be completely under the Ministry of Works? Put upon him the complete responsibility. Let the local authorities look to him for guidance, direction and initiative, and that drive which is so necessary.
I appreciate that we have too many people involved in this problem, too many cooks spoiling the broth. I agree that there are too many local authorities handling the matter, and I am sure that some of them would be willing to have their efforts co-ordinated in, say, four areas, North, South, East and West. At present their efforts tend to overlap. Some districts are short of labour and have plenty of material while other districts have labour and are short of material. Why could they not be co-ordinated to get the best results from the big efforts which are being made by the Government?
I would like to pay tribute to the way in which men have been brought to London from all parts of the country to lend a hand in repairing this city. I am also grateful for the decision of the Government to limit other repair and building work to £10. It is a bold decision, but it is no use telling people that everything is right when the rain and the wind are blowing into their bedrooms and they will face this Christmas amid the greatest discomfort. I am not going to attack our working men. The hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Robertson) spoke of indignation, and I have no doubt there are cases of slackness and inefficiency; but on the whole there is nothing much wrong with the British working man. He is quite willing to do his job if he is properly organised and directed, but as long as human nature is human nature, if you have a large army of working men with no proper organisation you will not be able to make the proper use of their energies. I want to see not merely more foremen and more skilled direction, but architects and surveyors. I am told that many of them are still avail- 516 able and that they are not yet being fully employed. If architects and surveyors were brought into this job I believe they could be of the very greatest assistance.
I have used my ration of time, but I am now going to make one suggestion. If hon. Members go upstairs they will see in a Committee room the plans and details of "Mulberry." It is one of the most remarkable achievements of the war. They may be surprised to find a lot of military gentlemen in red tabs and uniforms, from generals down to lieutenants, but they are civil enginers. They are trained engineers brought into the Army for this job. I suggest to the Parliamentary Secretary that he should borrow some of these very competent, efficient and skilled men, and draft them into the work of repair so that they can bring into this big job of repairing London houses, the skill that they put into building "Mulberry."
§ 12.37 p.m.
§ Mrs. Tate (Frome)
I know that some hon. Members may feel that I should not intervene in this Debate, because I am not a London Member. I wish therefore to be exceedingly brief. I want only to speak on behalf of the men who have come from the country districts to help in repairing the bomb damage of Landon. I represent an enormous constituency, from which men have come here to help, often at very great sacrifice to themselves, because of the appalling suffering which they knew the London people were enduring. From every district in which they are working however, I have had precisely the same type of complaint. Some of the men are almost heartbroken at the delays to which they are subject in effecting repairs, and they suffer from an appalling sense of frustration. I heard the hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. W. H. Green) say that there should be a pooling of supplies. That is what every one of the men who have written to me from different districts has said to me. They have not been in touch with each other on the matter. They have said that if only there were a pooling of supplies, allocated to districts in proportion to the need, and rapid distribution of supplies, half the delay could be done away with.
I do not think the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Robertson) was fair, either to the workmen, to the Ministry of Works, or to Sir Trustram Eve. Some of my people have told me that since 517 the appointment of Sir Trustram Eve they have felt very great encouragement, that no matter how busy he has been he has always been ready to hear all their difficulties, and to go into them. Nevertheless I feel we are still allowing these matters to be too much in the hands of individual local authorities. I believe it to be absolutely essential, if we are to have the job done in the time, that we should wipe away all petty barriers to efficiency. If a local authority, perhaps through difficulties which many of us cannot altogether appreciate, is unable to deal with the situation in its area, the matter should be taken out of its hands. That is why I agree with the right hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) that it would be a very good thing if fewer Ministries had to deal with the problem.
There is just one further point. When some of the men first came up to Onslow Gardens, they came to me one evening with grievous complaints as to the feeding conditions. I went down there—I have visited several places where my people are billeted—and afterwards I went to the Ministry of Works. Within three weeks conditions were changed and those men were saying that their feeding conditions were admirable, and many of them have paid very great tribute to the excellence of their billeting when it is good. With regard to supplies, I assure the hon. Member for Deptford that I do not think the difficulties arise so much from lack of supplies as from lack of effective distribution. I have in my hand a letter which arrived this morning from a master builder in charge of a group of war damage repairs in Beckenham. Among other things he says:No permit to purchase new timber has yet been granted to the group but secondhand has been supplied and used, which is costly and a labour-wasting method. Materials for repair of window frames and sashes are not available, although repeated applications have been made for Supplies. Only a few hundred feet have been received where thousands of feet are required. This not only delays repairs but prevents them being carried out.The next point is very important, because it shows how men whose one wish is to work hard may not be able to do so. The wilier says:A weekly permit to purchase plaster-board is made, but the allocation is only Sufficient to keep 14 men working for four working days.518 What are those men to do for the other working days? If they appear to be not working it is no fault of the men—and except perhaps for a tiny proportion of them I am sure that most of them would be willing to work and even to work very long hours. The writer of the letter added:These are but a few cases. There are many others. A typical instance occurred yesterday. I could have purchased 10,000 feet of millboard, which is urgently needed for bedroom ceilings, and was sufficient for 50 rooms, but the Ministry of Works' clerk of the works could not issue a release which the merchants have to have before any release is made.It is those things which are holding up the work. We cannot allow that condition of affairs to continue. I beg the Minister, if any local authority has proved itself unequal to the difficulties in its area, that he will take the matter out of its hands. I urge also that there should be immediately a general pooling of materials, which should then be allocated to the different districts in accordance with need.
§ 12.44 p.m.
§ Mr. C. A. G. Manning (Camberwell, North)
After six months' self-imposed silence in this House, observing and listening to right hon. Gentlemen and hon. Gentlemen, I think it is my turn to intervene, and I think I am entitled to speak this morning for one of the most heavily blitzed boroughs of London, and for a council that I think none of the Ministries concerned with this problem would like to see out of the business. I think that the Council of Camberwell, London, is doing its job; at any rate, it is struggling with it, but struggling to the satisfaction of all the Departments with which it has to deal. I believe it is unusual in a maiden speech to attempt to cross swords with an hon. Member who has already spoken, but I must say that I disagree with a great deal of what has fallen from the lips of the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Robertson). I do not think that the chief of staff on this job, Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve, has exaggerated the measure of this job at all. In fact, my impression is that he has lopped off from the figures a goodly number of slightly damaged houses, and that from the top he has lopped off a number of very large houses that would take a lot of money to convert into flats, and I think that the figure of 800,000 is one which this House 519 should accept, particularly in view of the quarter from which it came.
In my borough alone we have over 20,000 seriously damaged houses which need, to use the current phrase, extended repairs. That is in one borough. On top of that we have some 7,300 even more seriously damaged houses, and we calculate that with the best will in the world, taking the scheme as we have it to-day, if we complete in the winter programme what we are expected to complete by 1st April next there will be some 4,000 of those more seriously damaged houses which we will not even have been touched. That is the measure of our task.
I do not know whether it would be possible for me to bring a local authority atmosphere into this Chamber this morning. If I could, I do not think it would do any harm. We have, in our local councils, very serious difficulties and very grievous trials, as I am sure is appreciated on that front bench, and we are helped by the hon. and right hon. Gentlemen I see opposite, and their staffs, and for that I am grateful. I do not speak in any greatly critical spirit this morning. I say that the job is immense; I think that the job is being tackled. It would not surprise me if we were already ahead of schedule in the work that has to be done. I hope that slight lead will be kept up. If anybody can do it by methods of coordination I think Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve can. I do not object to a lawyer being on this job. I do not care who he is so long as he is a vital person and an organiser, and I think the gentleman who has been selected has those qualifications. I was very glad to hear him say the other day that he can see not only Ministers but can go into the Ministries and see the officers who write the letters and sometimes speak for the Ministers and on whom we all have to rely. He says he gets there and gets co-operative help.
I wish to put some points which I hope will be considered of a constructive kind. There is the question of supervision. I put supervision first, absolutely first. Whilst I put that first in order of importance of things I do not intend to convey that I regard the worker on the job as a slacker. There have been a lot of stories to the effect that the loss of effort has been in the region of 10 per cent. Some people have gone further in, shall 520 I say, vilifying the men who are doing a very arduous job in rotten weather, vilifying them even more than they have attacked the miners of this country. To put it vulgarly, they ought, as we say in the Old Kent Road, to "pack it up." But the problem of supervision remains. I see there is a representative of the Minister of Labour and National Service present. I would ask him, with regard to technical officers of the clerk of works type, Cannot we have such people directed to us, as workmen have been directed?
I am not sure that at the present time this job could be put under one Minister. I am glad that the Minister of Health is in it. I know his enthusiasm. He used to come down and see me when he was a Special Commissioner—I think that is what he was called—and I was called an Air Raid Precautions Controller. He used to come to see me and show great enthusiasm, asking that red tape be cut out, and that the job be done. We got on very well. We want red tape cut out, and that can be done without upsetting the machinery of to-day by insisting on one Minister and one Minister only. I ask again, Cannot we have technical people, whoever they are, directed? As a matter of fact we in Camberwell are engaging firms of quantity surveyors. We are short of technical staffs. Workmen have been directed, the Essential Work Order has been applied to them. That is not an unmixed blessing sometimes, but it is done. There are people we know who ought to have come to us and who have not done so. The £10 limit has released a lot of people from other work and made them available. I would ask the Minister of Labour and National Service whether he will not help us by getting a move on, and getting speed, by directing some of these technical people, who would be a very great help.
I do not want to get out of Order in my first speech in the House, but I would like a little help from the Minister of Health if it can be obtained. We in Camberwell have got to the end of our resources in requisitioning. In the London region there are boroughs which are not in that position. Cannot some step be taken to requisition all property capable of being lived in by bombed-out people, property over the whole wide London area, so that those boroughs which have reached the limit can be helped by the more fortunate boroughs, 521 which have not suffered as we have and have not got the same problems? We all ought to be in this war together. I understand hon. Members here have all been together during the last four years. That feeling seems to have been less pronounced since I have been here, though I am sure that is not my fault. I have been thinking that Members who have been together, may now wish to part company. No doubt some day we shall part company, but as we were told this morning, the war is not yet over. For the moment, even if we do not like each other's faces, we have to work together on this job. Can we not have directed labour; can we not have requisitioning of all the property in the area that still remains available to us?
In this work the borough council have their contractors in one part, and the Ministry of Works have their people in another part. I do not wish to be unduly critical, but I get an increasing number of complaints that in certain streets where the Ministry of Works' organisation is at work some houses are repaired and others are left untouched. Then all the workmen go away and a month later the organisation comes back. Can we not get the whole job done at once? I understand that the whole of the Ministry of Works' organisation is under the authority of the local council so far as the job is concerned. If that is so, if we are responsible for the Ministry's men, cannot the Ministry see that they do a complete job and not leave certain houses, so that there will not be, as my hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. W. Green) said, some people able to get attention and others not able to get attention? I believe that the boroughs arc tackling this job well. What is required is a fair amount of decentralisation on this job rather than more centralisation. In my borough, for the purposes of this work, we have had to carve the area up into smaller areas, and then into still smaller areas, because the quantity surveyors we are getting cannot tackle the whole or half the borough. They want to deal with a very small area; they can manage that. Can we get some help? I repeat that the blaming of the workmen for time lost does not help us in the boroughs. I am not sure that we could not get some more people from the provinces. I am one of the constituents, I believe, of the hon. Member for Frome 522 (Mrs. Tate) since being bombed out. I do not believe that a soul has come up from Glastonbury, which is in her area, but from my own town of Shepton Mallet every builder has been taken, except one old chap who is a bricklayer, and it was even contemplated taking him. Some parts of the country have been called upon heavily, others have not. I would invite the attention of hon. Members to Glastonbury.
I have spoken probably as long as I ought to. I hope that no one on the Government Front Bench will be offended at anything I have said. In the boroughs we are with the Government in this effort, and with Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve too. I believe that, all pulling together, we shall get a good job done, but do not let us mistake the immensity of the job. When this winter programme is over there will still be more to be done. When that part of the work is done, there comes the question of the Ministry of Health and its housing programme. I believe that this country is in for the most serious trouble if we do not tackle housing speedily. This winter will test the work that has been done in repairing war damage. The men are away. A good many people are sleeping in the shelters, because they are the only places they have. Let us fight against a London with no roofs. I believe that, given good will, we can finish this part of the programme by the end of March; and then let us go forward for a larger programme of real houses, please, next year. Let us put all we have into that. One final word about the huts—I do not mean the temporary bungalows, I mean the emergency temporary houses. I think they are an awful waste, and that we can use our man-power to better advantage on repairing houses than on those huts. I wonder whether this matter will be looked at from the point of view of using the labour we have in London to the best advantage, instead of wasting it on building huts which, in the end, will have to go.
§ 1.3 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir Assheton Pownall (Lewisham, East)
I hope that I may, on behalf of everybody, address our warm congratulations to the hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Manning), who has just addresed the House for the first time. We older Members know the difficulty of that task. I have very rarely 523 listened to a maiden speech with which, although it came from a Member of slightly different political views from my own, I was more warmly in sympathy and accord. We shall look forward with interest to the hon. Member's future contributions to our Debates. He has spoken about damage in Camberwell. I do not want to weary the House with large numbers of figures, and my hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. Green) has said that it is more a human problem than a statistical problem, but we cannot get away from some figures if we are to appreciate the magnitude of the task that has devolved on local authorities, as well as on the central authority. I. have here the final figures for Lewisham. They show that there were 1,100 houses demolished, a further 5,200 rendered uninhabitable, and 5,300 seriously damaged, while 55,000 sustained minor damage. That makes a total of between 11,000 and 12,000 seriously damaged or worse, and another 55,000 requiring first-aid repairs.
We lost heavily in the 194–41 blitz, and it is safe to say that at least two-thirds or three-quarters of our houses have been damaged once, and a good many more than once, in the weeks of the flying-bomb campaign. At present there are 2,800 families homeless in that one borough of London. That gives some idea of the magnitude of the problem. From the middle of June onwards the borough councils, with relatively small staffs, from both the administrative and technical points of view, have been inundated with claims. They have had an extraordinarily difficult job to do. I am not saying that in each case the job has been thoroughly done, but it has been done to the best of the ability of these small staffs in boroughs such as Lewisham. They deserve great credit for the way they have stood up to heavy strain.
We have been asked by Mr. Speaker to be brief, and I am going to be very brief but I have two or three criticisms to make. One is with regard to the shortage of material. I have a letter which is being sent to the Ministry of Health about various shortages. It mentions plaster, plasterboard, cast-iron, large-size slates, glass, and timber—timber especially. It is pointed out that the Ministry of Works insist on the address of every house where 524 timber is used, and even when a licence is obtained, there is often a delay of two or three weeks before the timber can be delivered by the merchants. That order seems to have a little red tape about it. I suggest that once the timber is authorised it should be handed out more quickly. It seems a little pedantic for the Ministry of Works to have to be consulted about every house. I understand that an appreciable number of soldiers is being temporarily used to help with this work. We know of other national services from which people might possibly be spared. The National Fire Service is in process of having its numbers diminished. Would it be possible for suitable members of that Service to be used in this work when their service comes to an end, in the near future? I know that the Home Guard are being made use of. Whether air-raid wardens, who are not so much wanted now for air-raid work, should be approached I cannot say, but there must be a large latent field of people who at this stage of the war are not wanted for Civil Defence, and who might be enrolled in the army of 100,000 or so which is required. They would have the extra advantage that they are living in London, so that the difficult problems of providing food and shelter for workers would not arise.
Up and down the country, I find, it is not realised in the least how much London suffered in those 10 weeks. To many people figures mean nothing, and the people who have not been blitzed, especially in those areas which did not suffer the weight of the 1940-41 campaign, as Plymouth, Coventry, and other towns did, cannot realise what it means. Especially may I say to my Scottish friends that I was in Scotland for a short time in September, and I found that the people there hardly realised that there was a war going on at all. I wonder whether it would be worth while to get some films made, showing the damage which has been caused by flying bombs. Anyone who travels up to London in main-line trains will see, at Waterloo and elsewhere, the damage that is done, but those who do not travel do not know. My hon. Friend the Member for Frome (Mrs. Tate) told me that large numbers of people from her constituency had come up to London voluntarily. I think the voluntary response would be much larger 525 if the conditions were brought home to people through their eyes, by means of news reels of 10 minutes or so, shown in some of the bigger towns outside London. That would make them realise what London's need is. It would make them more sympathetic, and it might lead to a greater response of people in coming to London and helping in the work that lies ahead. The next months are going to be pretty grim ones in regard to human suffering, after what we have been through already. If we could only get this brought home to people up and down the country, we might get further volunteers, of whom thousands are wanted. We want another 1,000 or 1,500 in Lewisham alone.
I must, in fairness to my own borough, say a word about the gallant way they have stood up to this attack. After D-day many people thought that the war was almost won, and that by now it might be over. Considering the appalling damage which was done in those 10 weeks, added to their previous sufferings, the inhabitants of London, and notably of South London, have stood up to their troubles admirably. An M.P.'s postbag is not an unfair guide to what his constituents are thinking, and the number of grouses that I get is extraordinarily small. I want to say how well the Londoner has stood up to this last outbreak of damage, which we hope can be remedied sooner than 31st March.
§ 1.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Walter Edwards (Whitechapel)
One would imagine that the problem of housing in London had only come about since the flying bomb arrived. There is one thing—and one thing only—for which we have to be thankful to the flying bomb. Because of the heavy damage caused by the flying bomb the Government have given to London Members a privilege which is given sometimes to Members for Scottish constituencies, and to Members from Wales—the opportunity to discuss an issue particularly affecting their own constituencies. All that has been said this morning—and I have heard every speech up to now—has been concentrated more or less on what we have to do to repair damaged houses by next April. I maintain that the problem is much greater than that. So far as the East End boroughs are concerned, our problem commenced in September, 1940, and has 526 remained with us ever since. From 1940 till the introduction of the flying bomb we had 5,000 houses put totally out of action. Nothing could be done during that time to provide new houses for the people. We had approximately 35,000 dwellings when the war began, and even before the introduction of the flying bomb, with the seriously damaged and the slightly damaged, 21 out of every 35 were affected. That was a big problem. More might have been done about that problem if we had been given the opportunity of a London Members' Debate on the question. But I suppose we have to be thankful for what we can get in these busy days for Parliament.
I want to divide the issue into two parts. We have to do all we possibly can to expedite repairs. But if the whole of the repairs in the borough of Stepney are completed by next April, and if the war is then over—and we all hope that it will be—possibly about 6,000 families will be flocking back to Stepney. In addition to that, it is perfectly natural and understandable that thousands of lads in the Forces have got married and have no homes to go into, and many of them are now living with their parents in Stepney. So we will probably be faced, should the war end by April next year and repairs be completed, with a demand for about 7,000 houses. How are we to get over that? We could not put up 700 Portal dwellings. We probably might be able to manage one or two thousand temporary dwellings. This is a very serious issue. It is something we can be lackadaisical about to-day, but, when the war is over and the boys are demobilised, we shall be in for a lot of trouble.
How are the Government facing that situation? They are not facing it at all. No action which is being taken is going to provide accommodation for any discharged man who wants a house in Stepney, nor will it provide accommodation for any family which has been forced to evacuate after being bombed out and now wants to return. The result is that we shall have a period of overcrowding in the East End boroughs such as they have never known. No Ministry of Health Order will stop this overcrowding, and woe betide any individual who attempts to stop the soldier from living with his family even when he cannot find a place of his own. 527 The trouble at the end of hostilities, in my view, is going to be, not so much a question of unemployment as the question of finding houses for the people who have done the fighting at the time they return—not four or five years after—and also houses for those poor devils who suffered the worst of the bombing by being bombed out of their homes. I happen to be a little fortunate. I am not bombed out, but I am going to be a lucky man if I remain in that condition when the war is over. People who are much worse off than I am have nothing to look forward to. I maintain that the policy of the Government should change. We have to consider the housing of the people in London in particular, because, after all, though some of the provincial cities had bombing, they have not had the flying bombs, as we have had. They had their share of the other bombing, but not of the flying bombs.
I maintain that the Government have got to reverse their policy and make the task of housing London as much a priority as are the Armed Forces to-day. Something has to be done, or we shall be in the position which I have just described when men discharged from the Forces come back to find they have no homes. It may be easy for me to say it, but I contend that, where circumstances have changed, as they have, as a result of the war situation, it is not too much to ask the Government to give consideration to what is to happen immediately the armistice comes along. If the Government have plans for training in building for the erection of permanent constructions next April or when the war is over, I cannot see any reason why they could not bring those plans forward five or six months, because every month of delay will mean a terrible tragedy. I realise that we should do nothing that would interfere with the war, but I maintain, so far as the London problem is concerned, that it is the duty of the Government to comb out of the Forces now every available man who could play a part either in temporary or permanent construction before the end of the war. It has got to be done.
I appreciate the difficulties of permanent construction, but there should not be the difficulties with temporary construction. In this field, I am not 528 satisfied at the moment. My own borough could, perhaps, take 1,000 or 2,000 temporary houses. We do not want the Portal houses. They are going to interfere with our permanent development, and we are much more concerned with permanent development than with having Portal houses. We have applied for 500 uni-seco houses, which can be erected quickly. We are offered 200. We are told that that is our percentage of those available for London. That, to me, is not good enough. If we are to work on such low percentages as that, then, quite obviously, we shall not meet the situation, and the answer is going to be a Nissen hut. It is true that anything is better than the shelters, but the Nissen hut is only the next best to the shelters, and we must have some improvement on that, such as the uni-seco hut. We should get on with production. There is no drive in the production of huts. We are told that there are 2,000 for London, but what is to stop the provision of 12,000? If they were wanted for the war effort, they would be obtained in some way or another, but, when it comes to housing bombed out people, we cannot think of it.
I want to know what line the Government are going to take to increase production. Are we asking for too much, when we have 7,000 bombed-out families, when we ask for 500 uni-seco houses as an instalment and get cut down to 200? There is not much work involved—not as much as there is with the Portal house. If we continue in this way, I repeat that I am sorry for this Government. As the hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Manning) said in his very fine maiden speech, this Government is going either to rise or fall on housing. [HON. MEMBERS: "Any Government"]. This Government in particular, because our present plans will fail within three months of the end of the war if no exceptional powers are taken now.
§ 1.24 p.m.
§ Captain Gammans (Hornsey)
The object of this Debate is that the House generally, and London Members particularly, should be able to satisfy themselves that everything possible is being done to rehouse the bombed people of London. I, like most hon. Members who have spoken, represent a London constituency, and have done my best to see what 529 has been happening in the last few days. In fact, only this morning I spent two hours going round the worst bombed district in my own constituency, and I need not tell the House what is the condition of London to-day. Old people of 70 or 80 years of age are living in Anderson shelters because they have nowhere else. Young married women whose husbands are in the Forces are having babies or looking after babies in houses without any glass, and other people are living in Tubes because they have nowhere else to go. The hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Robertson) said it was going to be a race between the repair of bomb damage in London and pneumonia. I am not sure which is going to win that race.
In the last few days I met my own local authority and local builders, and there are two points in particular which they put to me, with which I hope the Minister will be able to deal in his reply. The first point is in regard to materials. I am told that to-day in London there are reserve stocks of material that were prepared, when the war started, for the sort of emergency with which we are faced to-day, and that these stocks still cannot be used. If they cannot be used now, when, in heaven's name, can they be used? If it is necessary to keep reserve stocks, surely they should be kept in the provinces? The second point is with regard to the small builder. He is a man who, in peace time, is accustomed to doing repair jobs, and who understands his locality. Each of these builders has a certain optimum output, according to the size of his yard. What my builders tell me is that not one of them is working up to that optimum capacity.
What happened was this. When the big aerodrome jobs were undertaken for the American Air Force, and when we were making preparations for D-day, their men were taken away and sent to the big contractors, and the point is that they have not come back from the big contractors to the small builders. Some of them, they tell me, are working on the South coast or in other parts of the country, which means, straightaway, a problem of billeting. What the small builder is asking is this: "You give me back my men again, and work me to the maximum number my yard can accommodate, and I can produce a very much better job than I am doing now."
530 I do not want to say anything about scandals, because all of us could probably supply an odd instance, but I must confess I ran into one which, I think, raises a matter of principle. If my right hon. Friend can find the time to go to the top of Archway Road, Highgate, he will find an area of devastation. A flying bomb fell there two months ago, and windows were blown out, with all the things that happen in one of these incidents. But what he will also find is that, during the last two weeks, a gang of eight or nine carpenters have been spending their time putting up an advertisement hoarding 40 ft. long to advertise aspirin. My local authority have protested in the strongest possible terms, and have been told by the Ministry of Works that it has no power whatever to stop this enormous hoarding being put up right in front of people whose window-frames are hanging out. I do not know if the Minister has any power, but I can tell him that that is what has happened and he can go to see it for himself. He can imagine what these people said to me this morning.
My last point is this. I am not so much worried about the administration of repairs to bomb damage but, rather on a higher level, concerned with what degree of priority has been given by the War Cabinet to this job. Is it D-day priority, or just what happens to be left over in the way of labour and materials? We have seen upstairs that wonderful model of the harbour erected on the other side of the Channel, which was a triumph of British engineering and organisation. To my mind, the repair of bombed London comes in that category, and not in the category of what happens to be left over in the way of labour and materials.
Security considerations prevent me from saying what I would like to say, but I know, and I imagine that many hon. Members know, of aerodromes that are still being built in this country. I can think of an aerodrome not too many miles away from London, which, to-day, is absorbing an enormous amount of labour, materials, transport and so on. That aerodrome cannot possibly be finished under a year. We have all the French and Belgian aerodromes, and now Dutch aerodromes, at our disposal and I would want an awful lot of convincing that that particular aerodrome needs to be built now. The other night going 531 along in the train I saw another aerodrome still being built, hangars going up and concrete runways being put down. Let that labour be made available in London; we certainly can do with it.
I hope that whoever is to reply to the Debate will not imitate the Home Secretary and make another famous slogan like "London can take it." We know that London can take it, but they have now got to the frame of mind of asking, Why the dickens should they go on taking it? It is sounding a little hollow. Let us realise that there are no civilians in this war. Some of us happen to wear civilian clothes, because it suits the convenience of the State that we should do so, but there are no civilians in the sense that there were in the last war. It has been said truly, that London is in the front line. It has been in the front line for the whole of the war, and the repair of London is a front-line job, and it must not be thought that we are going to be satisfied with a lesser standard.
§ 1.32 p.m.
§ Mr. R. C. Morrison (Tottenham, North)
What is urgently needed is a drastic change in the set-up of the whole of this problem. This has been indicated in all the speeches up to now, and I do not propose to spend any time in talking about the seriousness of the problem except to say that, after a fairly long public life in the closest touch with the people, I consider this to be the most menacing problem we have ever had to tackle. I would address my remarks to the Minister of Health because I want to make some constructive suggestions. The time has now come when there should be a squeeze-up applied to London. During the time of the blitz, both the flying bomb blitz and the earlier one, the Provinces were squeezed up in order to make room for evacuees. That can be applied in London and in Greater London. There are still empty houses in London which are not war-damaged houses. There are many vacant houses which are furnished or partly furnished, and there are houses with only one occupant. These things should be attended to. We are living in an age of slogans. Here is a slogan that the Minister might adopt. "Nobody can have two houses, until everybody else has one."
At the present time, as the Minister knows and we all know, there is a tre- 532 mendous demand for any house vacancy. No local authority, if they had an empty house on any of their housing estates, would dare to let a house to a tenant unless he was a deserving tenant. When local authorities are able to let houses and have vacancies, we shall, rightly, be tied down by the Minister to Service people and bombed-out people. But the present property owner and the agent for the owner have no restrictions placed upon them, as to whom they shall let houses. I heard of an instance only the other day. A small cottage became empty. It was suitable for occupation by a man, his wife and three children. The man made desperate attempts to obtain it, but the agent decided in his wisdom to let it to a retired schoolmistress who was going to live by herself. No local authority could do that. I submit to the Minister that the time has come when orders should be issued to property owners and agents, that, when a vacancy arises, it should be notified to the local authority. I am not proposing to take away the liberty of the owner of the house to select his own tenant. But the seriousness of the problem has now reached a stage at which at least his liberty might be limited and he should be compelled to notify all vacancies to the local authority, who could then supply their lists, and let the owner select his tenant from that list of people urgently in need of housing accommodation.
The Minister of Health, with his experience, will understand the kind of feeling that is aroused among people who are desperately hard-up for homes when they hear of a vacant house—and the news goes round the place like wildfire—and then find that the new tenant is a single lady living on her own. Obviously, it is to the interest of the property-owner to let his house to a single lady, rather than to a man, his wife and three children. There is not the same wear and tear on the house as there would be in the case of a family. It is not quite fair that the local authority should be so closely tied while the property-owner and the person with rooms to let are left with a free hand to do as they like. I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman to give attention to the point whether it is possible to make it compulsory on local agents of property and people who have the letting of houses, 533 to notify the local authority when there are vacancies, and that they should be compelled to accept tenants from the lists submitted to them by the local authority.
The Minister will probably reply that the local authorities already possess certain powers of requisitioning empty property. I hope that that will not be the answer. If it is, then all the right hon. and learned Gentleman will have to do to refute his own statement, is to look at the figures he has already given in answer to a Parliamentary Question in which he will find that the number so requisitioned is infinitesimally small. The reason they are so few is because of the complicated procedure put upon the local authorities by the Ministry of Health which is almost too cumbersome to operate. It will be found that in every district in London, immediately there is any sign of a vacancy, the landlord approaches the tenant who is to move out, to make arrangements to keep the curtains up in order that the local authority may not discover that the house is about to become empty. That is being done; everybody knows that it is being done. Why should not the Government in these days, when drastic things need to be done, do such a simple thing as to make it compulsory for people who own property that is empty or about to become empty, to notify the local authority, instead of dealing with it in the way they are allowed to do to-day? The staffs of local authorities are so depleted that they cannot have a multitude of people going round the streets to see where furniture vans are going, and whether any places are likely to become empty.
I do not know whether Lord Woolton or Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve, who have taken such an active part in the trouble through which we are going, have any powers in the direction I have mentioned, or whether it rests entirely with the Minister of Health. If they have not any such powers, it is high time that either they or somebody else had such powers; believe me, this problem is not only going to get the Government down, but also every political party and every organisation, unless someone does something—and does it a lot more strenuously and energetically than anything attempted so far.
§ 1.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Astor (Fulham, East)
The trials which the people of London are suffering are so great, and the part which London plays as the very centre and arsenal on which all our war effort is based is so vital, that it is a great pity there is no War Cabinet Minister here to supervise a Debate which concerns too many different Departments. Every speaker has agreed that we are dealing with too many Ministers and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works will convey to the War Cabinet the universal feeling that we want, on this matter, to deal with one Minister, and no longer have Ministers using the excuse—traditional in Malta—"Not me, but my brother in Gozo." The other point on which we all agree is that, if there has been idling, it is usually not the men's fault but the lack of proper supervision and organisation. Supervision is divided into two parts—the preliminary survey before the men arrive and the supervision while they are actually on the job. For the preliminary survey there are not enough surveyors in London. The week before last my hon. Friend told me that the Ministry of Works were having negotiations with the Surveyors Institute, and we would like to hear to-day whether those negotiations have reached a conclusion. And councils are also at fault because they do not allow builders expenses in order to have a surveyor for all the jobs which are necessary. On all jobs, however small, it is always better to have a surveyor to go round first and estimate the number of men of each different craft and the right amount of materials required.
Again, they are short of foremen on these jobs. One of the faults is that some of the borough councils are not prepared to pay the wages necessary to get a really first-class foreman. Some of the big building contractors pay as much as £12, £15 and £20 a week because they consider the foremen are worth it. I know of a man who is paid a retaining fee of £9 a week, whether he is on the job or not, because he is so good at organising the work, but the borough council concerned refuse to pay the same as his employers consider he is worth to them. Unless you get the best foremen, you are not going to get the best results. It will pay every time to get really good supervision. 535 As regards materials there arc these points to be considered. There are too many forms to be filled up before you get materials. The materials need to be decentralised within the London area. When you are going to allow new forms of work to be started, you should see that you have the necessary material available before you give permission for the builders to go ahead. On the question of the allocation of labour between different builders, granted that supervision and organisation is the key of efficiency, you must relate the number of men to the supervision available. Some small builders have more men than they can properly organise and supervise now; and many larger builders could usefully use more men than they have. Then supervising staff is not fully used. Why not a re-allocation according to the capacity of the organisation which the former has got?
So far I have spoken about the conventional methods. On the more unconventional ones, there is the question of metal roofs. I would like to hear a little more from the Parliamentary Secretary as to what is being done. Light metal industries have made models of light alloy roofs. It may be expensive, but it is not so expensive as will be the treating, during the next 50 years, of rheumatism the people may get this winter. Why not use that expensive metal for temporary sheet roofing this winter and then in a year or two you can take it off and use it for building aeroplanes or anything else.
All the builders to whom I have talked agree that working hours have been too long. We want shorter working hours and only a six-clay week but, with that, a tight discipline. The National Service Officers could play their parts in seeing that the very tiny minority who slack are dealt with. It is only a tiny minority.
What is happening about huts? We were told that a lot of huts were to be made available by the Ministry of Supply, but I have not seen any. Where will they be put? Some reputable firms have suggested to the Government that very temporary huts which they have used for men engaged in some of the big Government construction jobs should be used in London. I understand that one small-scale experiment is now being tried. I hope that the Government will give that suggestion very friendly consideration because, although these huts may be very 536 inadequate as permanent buildings, they are better than what thousands of people are living in now. One cannot exaggerate the discomfort in which our constituents are living at this moment.
Another point is that of using Italian prisoners. I asked a question about that before, and was told that it was a matter of accommodation. Since then, I understand the trouble is not one of accommodation but of public opinion. We have to make up our minds whether it is worth having Italians on this job. If they can do the job, I think we should use them; and if so we must tell the general public that they have to be properly housed, otherwise they will not volunteer for the work. If they can do decent work to help in rehousing, let us use them. This is one of the cases in which we have to lead and educate public opinion, and not bow to some temporary clamour in the popular Press.
With regard to the future and new materials, foam slag will be very important. Are we satisfied that the potential foam slag capacity of the British steel industry is being properly organised for the future? There is no material which will be more useful in London, especially in the building of working-class flats where you want sound-proofing between the walls to make them acceptable to families. With regard to mechanical equipment, we have plenty of big bull-dozers, what about baby bulldozers, which will be much more useful in a crowded area. A small number have been built but could we not increase the production of those baby bull-dozers? I hope also that the War Cabinet will consider seriously the use of duplex housing. I think Portals are an uneconomic use of London's space, but at Northolt the Ministry of Works have built a remarkably good two-storey house in which you can put one family in the bottom storey and one in the top. The house is erected as two small flats, each of which has as good accommodation as that provided by the Portal house, and later when the housing shortage is relieved they can be converted into one big house to take one family. It is a perfectly practical proposition and, I think, the most useful permanent thing we can have for London.
As the Minister of Labour is here I will repeat what I said at the beginning, that every speaker has agreed that we are deal- 537 ing with too many Ministries on this job. We hope he will direct the attention of the War Cabinet to this problem to see if we can have greater centralisation.
Finally, there is a psychological angle to the whole question—the psychology of the public. I think the Government and Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve have started extremely well. I am not a party to any criticism of Sir Malcolm because I think he is doing a good job. I hope that Lord Woolton will use the powers of propaganda and of public education which he used at the Ministry of Food to keep the London public informed of exactly what is being done, how many men are coming in, and the number of houses being tackled. Let them see this in graphic form—the target, the rising curve, the plan we are working on—and people will not feel that they are left to a rather haphazard descent of builders on one place and another. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary earlier in the war did very good work, as many contractors have told me, in speaking to the men on the job and explaining the importance of the work they were doing and showing that what they were doing was appreciated as nationally important work. That is the best way to get good work, not telling a man that he is slacking but by showing that he is as much part of the war effort as anyone else. We hope that my hon. Friend will exercise his oratorical powers in this direction. In conclusion, may I say what a great pleasure it was to hear a new London Member to-day, especially one who is associated with my old Service.
§ 1.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Viant (Willesden, West)
The general attitude of the House in this Debate has been one of considerable dissatisfaction with the speed at which this work is being carried out. I have been associated with the building industry for a great number of years. Prior to coming to this House I earned my livelihood in the industry and when I was out of the House from 1931 to 1935 I returned to it. The task we have before us is gigantic. A considerable amount of work has been done but I hope the House will not underestimate the uneasiness felt among the people who are subjected to the almost intolerable conditions of to-day. To visit some of the homes and see the conditions under which people are living is really heart-rending. While this reinforces the 538 keenness of our people to see this thing through to the end, it does not mean that we should in any way encourage a spirit of complacency.
I have endeavoured to look at this problem from all angles, and I am persuaded that the one thing necessary is organisation. I fail to see how we shall get that with four or five Departments concerned. No one, apparently, is responsible for this, that, or the other thing. You cannot write to a given Department and feel that it is responsible for the matter with which you are concerned. We were led to believe that this problem would be approached in the way in which we have approached our military problems. If we had approached our military problems as we have approached this one, we would have lost this war long ago. There is no doubt about that. Therefore, I suggest, first, that there must be one Department responsible for this job. I see no other way out.
I hear the workmen abused—in some cases rightly so—but in the main, what the building trade has accomplished in the way of aerodromes and military works, it is capable of accomplishing in dealing with this housing problem. But it will never be able to do that until we have organisation taking the place of the anarchy which exists at the present time. You can talk to the workmen on the job and you find that at rock-bottom they are, themselves, keenly disappointed by the lack of organisation and responsibility. I know of nothing that has sapped the morale of the operatives in the building industry more than having to hang about for days on end, with nothing to do. They have never had explained the reasons why they have had to hang about. If they understood the reasons, they would then be able to appreciate the difficulties with which the so-called organisers are confronted and they would then be prepared to endeavour to make up the next day, for the time they have lost the previous day. But nothing of that kind is done, and until we approach this problem with an organising mind, no progress will be made. I still believe that we have in Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve, a keen, capable organiser. He may know little or nothing of the building industry, but if he is an organiser that is all that matters.
I come to our local authorities, taking my own constituency as an illustration. I 539 happen to be one who was bombed out. In order to try to keep out of public controversy, I did not ask the local authority to do anything but got a private builder to put the roof on and keep the water out. About a week later, I went back to my house and found that the council contractor's men had got in, and a four and a half inch brick partition had been interfered with and all the plaster had been taken off. I thought there had been an earthquake. When I tried to find out who had given orders for this, I found that no one was responsible. I sent for the clerk of the works and asked if he had given orders for this to be done. He said, "I know nothing about it." I said, "Do you go round to each house before the workmen come in, and map out what work is to be done?" He said, "I have no time." That is the weak link. Unless the organisation is such that before any house is interfered with, someone makes a survey of the work to be done, we shall find houses suffering from no end of destruction and the real work being left as I fear has happened in the past and as has occurred in my own case.
The local authorities must be provided with the essential technicians by way of supervisors and technical assistants. Unless they have these, it will be utterly impossible for them to see the work carried out effectively and, what is more important, to see that wholesale destruction does not take place because, under the "cost plus" system, it is to the interest of those who are doing the work, to make as much work as possible. So I make an appeal this afternoon, first that there shall be something like organisation between the Departments—and I would prefer one Department to do the work—and secondly, that local authorities shall be given the power to mobilise the whole of the builders in their area. Then, having done that, let them map out the area and put people in charge with responsibility for giving the best possible results. Morale has been undermined by frustration, lack of supplies and workers, and nothing but organisation can make good these defects.
As the Minister of Labour is here, I would suggest to him that as he has taken powers for the purpose of directing workers, he should use powers of direction to see that technical assistants are 540 brought into local authority areas. Without them, we shall not have the supervision that is necessary. Last week I was talking to a friend who, like myself, has done a considerable amount of work in the building industry. He told me for over three months he had not done any work, but had received his wages. His firm could afford to pay him, because they contemplated receiving further contracts in the near future. That man ought to be roped in, and put in charge of some of the work that is being done by the local authority. Every builder and operative must be brought in, organisation must take the place of to-day's chaos. Above all, we must get operatives engaged in the industry to appreciate the importance of the work they are being asked to do.
§ 2.3 p.m.
§ Sir Robert Tasker (Holborn)
I will not detain the House longer than is necessary, but as one who has been engaged as a surveyor in the building industry for many years, perhaps I may offer one or two observations. Do not let us disregard the very great difficulties which exist between one Department and another. Three things are necessary—labour, material and transport. Here are three Government Departments governing the work of operatives engaged in restoring to habitable condition many of the houses which have been partially destroyed. I would ask the Minister of Labour: cannot he give instructions to his employment exchanges to direct men to their own districts, instead of taking them out of one district and sending them to another, thus causing dissatisfaction and delay?
§ The Minister of Labour (Mr. Ernest Bevin)
The Ministry of Labour do not allocate men to districts. They get the labour, and hand it to the using Department, which is the Ministry of Works.
§ Sir R. Tasker
The Ministry direct men where they are to go. I am urging that men should not be taken from one place and sent to another. They ought not to be directed from Leeds or Liverpool, to London. It is no use blinking the fact that there are tens of thousands of houses in London in a state of disrepair which, under proper supervision, could be made habitable. I am not advocating that they should be put back as they were before the war, but to-day they are derelict and 541 empty. In many constituencies there are an enormous number of buildings capable of being rendered habitable with comparatively small outlay. It is no use the Government saying that more than £10 shall not be expended on house repairs without a licence. To carry out a building operation in London to-day means filling up innumerable forms, and the case being passed on from one Department to another. It is the old story of "Passed to you please." The matter goes from one Department to another, until one despairs of ever being able to do anything at all, however urgent the job may be.
How the amalgamation of Departments is to be brought about I do not know, because the first commandment of all Departments is, "Thou shalt not accept responsibility." If one Department would accept responsibility, those who had the time and technical knowledge to help would be only too willing to give it, so that their fellow men and women could have some kind of habitation. I wonder if it is realised that more than 27,000 small building firms have been put out of business since the war began. These are the very type of firms that are wanted for this kind of work. You do not want the big builder and contractor; you want the little men to effect these repairs, which are classified in the trade as "jobbing builders." Can anything be done in that direction? If these firms were revived, you would get many thousands of houses made habitable quickly. I cannot see how the Ministry of Health will do it. To create another Department to perform such a function is like asking someone to act as a dictator who can and will dictate to other Departments. I do not know that that is a practicable proposition, but I do urge the Government to make up their minds to do something.
A reference has been made to organisation, but organisation of the job is done by the builder and his foreman, not by the surveyor or clerk of works. Entrust these men with the duties they have performed so satisfactorily for generations. Let the Minister of Supply see that there is available material which the small firms could buy in the market; with labour they will get the job done. At the moment the scheme appears to be to try to give everything to the large firms. That is a mistake. No firm can employ hundreds of thousands, or even 50,000, men, with 542 great advantage and economy. This task must be distributed to firms all over the country. No firm in London, Liverpool, Glasgow, or any other place, can control effectively building operations which are being carried out scores of miles away. It is decentralisation that is wanted; it is centralisation that is being practised. As there are others who want to speak, I will conclude with this further suggestion: There are Members in this House with technical knowledge and understanding who have no desire to accept a fee, and who are perfectly willing to place their services at the disposal of the Government. They would feel more justified in doing that without remuneration than they are in accepting £600 a year as Members of Parliament.
§ 2.12 p.m.
§ Dr. Edith Summerskill (Fulham, West)
I do not propose to keep the House many minutes, because other Members representing London constituencies have put the case very well. I think we are all agreed on one thing, and that is that there are too many cooks dealing with this problem. The hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Robertson) said that we needed a "go-getter." I can think of one or two "go-getters" on the Treasury Bench. I believe my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works would be quite a "go-getter," if he were not hampered by having to appeal to other Departments. As I have sat here, I have watched him exchange notes with representatives of other Departments. We shall not expedite the work that is required to be done, if that sort of thing continues. I ask the Ministers concerned to take very seriously what we are saying to-day. I believe the Government have been dilatory. It is no good making excuses to us. In the borough of Fulham we have 16,000 houses completely demolished and partially damaged. Families are returning rapidly to my constituency because of the unfortunate speech—that unforgettable speech—which was made by a representative of the Government, telling people in London that everything was over bar the last few shots. That has intensified our difficulties. No member of the Government has gone to the microphone and told the people that they should stay away. I cannot understand why that has not been done. 543 The Government have regarded the whole matter too lightly. We are accustomed to the Prime Minister telling us to remember that domestic matters should be postponed, because it is essential to prosecute the war. I wonder how soldiers overseas feel—especially those who have been away for some years—when they receive letters from their wives and families who have been blitzed out of their houses. Is that calculated to improve morale? In our constituencies we have been proud of our buildings and people; who are already seeing what will happen in the winter. There are children playing in the streets because there is no room for them in their one-roomed homes. We are seeing difficulties arising between husband and wife because of frayed nerves, and the friction which arises through having to live with "in-laws." We see fathers going to the local public house, because they cannot endure the discomfort of their blitzed houses. We are seeing all the social evils which we associate with slumdom. This is what we are asking the Government to cure. In my borough we have been given a labour force of 1,100 men, and we have been told that we may get our essential repairs completed by April, that is, of course, if there are no more bombs. That means that thousands of people in my constituency have to live in draughty, uncomfortable houses all through the winter, and, if we have more bombs, it may be the winter after this before we have completed our repairs.
There are experts on both sides of the House who say they have spent the whole of their lives in the building industry. I know very little about building, and I would not dare to advise experts. I have heard people on these benches telling the experts what to do. It seems quite absurd. We have in our Department fully qualified surveyors, builders and technicians of every kind in the building industry. They know what to do. Are the Government going to give them the power to do it? Are they going to stop this competition between the Departments? Are not the Departments going to be bigger and give up some of their powers? Is not that what is at the root of the whole thing—each Department holding on to its little bit of power? We see this devastation and misery, we see hundreds of thousands who have endured [...]orror for five years, and Ministers will 544 allow that to continue rather than give up their power. We write to one Department and are told that our letter has been forwarded to another.
§ Mr. G. Strauss (Lambeth, North)
What power does my hon. Friend suggest should be given up? No Department has the powers that the Minister of Labour has, but I cannot understand any suggestion that his Department should give up its powers over labour.
§ Dr. Summerskill
I am suggesting that there should be one Minister to whom we can apply for everything concerning the repair of bomb-damaged houses, and he should be given full power. I do not think there is any question of the House being divided on the matter. We have not come here to-day because we have no case. We have been very patient. Every day we receive letters from people who need repairs to their houses. What is going to happen in the future? Can I be promised that repairs in my constituency will be completed by next Spring, so that I can offer my people some measure of comfort? In view of this time lag—we must all admit that there has been a time lag—what is the Ministry doing regarding the manufacture of plasters and distempers and the things that we shall need in the future? Are they now making preparations for the repairs which will be needed after the essential repairs, or are they once more going to wait until events overtake them? I hope the Minister will take this as it is meant. I do not come here just to criticise where criticism is not needed. We all have the problem in our constituencies, and the time has come when we must be given some assurance that our people will be speedily rehoused.
§ 2.20 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works (Mr. Hicks)
I am sure we all have very profound sympathy with the story that has been told us in regard to the repair of bomb-damaged houses. London Members particularly have been very vocal in the claims of their localities. They have also been very restrained, and I compliment them upon their approach to this very severe and difficult problem. It must be understood in the first instance that local authorities are the responsible bodies for the repair of bomb-damaged houses in their localities and, whilst there are some very lively 545 Members of Parliament for each of those boroughs, I do not know that I can say that there is 100 per cent. activity among the local authorities. I should like to give the House some figures to provide the necessary background, so that a balanced outlook can be maintained. When the flying bomb attacks commenced there were about 24,000 men in the London Civil Defence Region employed on war damage repairs for local authorities. That is what was left over from the ordinary bomb attacks in 1940–41.
I should like to state some things done by my Ministry to augment and supplement the labour force to deal with the fresh attacks delivered against London in particular by the flying bombs. The Works and Buildings Emergency Organisation was established. They were seized of the importance of any urgent work that was to be done and we asked them to agree to supply labour, material and organisation to help the local authorities and ourselves over any difficulties that might arise and, through that organisation, we transferred 10,000 men in the London area to first aid repairs, so we immediately had 34,000. Arrangements were made with the Service and Supply and Civil Departments for the closing down or postponement of a large number of their priority contracts unless they were absolutely indispensable. The Service and Supply Departments cooperated and agreed to close down or postpone a number of these contracts and the men affected were transferred to do first aid repairs in London. That brought in quite a number. We also brought in 179 provincial contractors and 90 groups, comprising 789 co-operating firms, with over 11,000 men, to work either for local authorities or direct for the Ministry of Works. Sometimes local authorities wanted to have direct control over contractors and their labour, and sometimes they asked us to come in and help them and arrange to bring in contractors because the task was larger than they themselves were able to undertake.
We made arrangements in agreement with the industries concerned for bringing in specialist firms of slaters and tilers from the provinces. We got into touch with them through their organisation and we brought in 34 firms, or groups of firms, with 1,000 men. Similar arrangements were made 546 with glaziers to assist in putting glass back into the windows. The Government reduced the licence limit from £100 to £10 in the London Civil Defence Region. The effect of this was to bring about in a fortnight a transference of 14,500 men to first-aid repairs for local contractors, from other less essential work. A large building force was maintained by the contractors. As soon as the limit was reduced to £10 the Minister of Labour said "We will get that labour transferred to first-aid repairs," and we got it transferred. What was of greater advantage to the Ministry and to the country was that they did not require lodging accommodation or travelling time, because they were already in the London area. I think that was a very useful bit of work. We arranged for the formation of working parties consisting of the small employers, some of whom had not enough labour, to come in and supervise. We asked them to go to work and we grouped them and put them into working parties, and they are doing very well. It is a change for them and I hope their health has not been adversely affected. There are 26 such working parties, with 5,700 men already employed or allocated to first-aid repairs. Then we provided 2,500 men for first-aid repairs from the Special Repair Service which the Ministry of Works has run for a long time. In addition 2,300 are employed on ancillary work in connection with first-aid repairs—transport and loading up materials. The total effect of this action was to transfer about 38,000 men from work in the provinces and London on to first-aid repair work in London. Simultaneously my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour directed 20,000 men from the provinces and 12,000 in London to work on first-aid repairs.
The Services were approached, the Army, Navy and Air Force—and they agreed to lend men to help us. They provided us with 5,800 men, who are under the direction of the Ministry of Works. There are 983 London National Fire Service men who are employed part-time and the release of 1,400 from the National Fire Service in the provinces has also been authorised, but all have not yet arrived in London. By these releases the labour force has been built up from 24,000 to 100,000. To reach this total 32,000 have been brought in from the provinces and 38,000 transferred from other work in London, exclusive of the 547 Services and the National Fire Service. The estimated labour force in London today is 132,000, which represents 40 per cent. of the total in the building industry in the whole country. I want to compliment my hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. Green) and my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Robertson) on their vigorous approach to this problem. It has been said that there are more labourers than craftsmen, but the position is the very reverse. There are practically two craftsmen employed for every labourer in the London area. The estimated number of craftsmen in London is 85,000, which represents just under one-half of the total craftsmen in the country. In the great blitz of 1940–41 there were never more than 40,000 men employed in London. Now we have over 100,000. Throughout the country, including Coventry, Southampton, Plymouth, Manchester and other places that were bombed, there were never more than 80,000 men employed.
I am not saying that we have been able to pull up with the arrears, but I am trying to convey the effort that has been made by the Government in recognition of the severity of the problem and in the hope that we shall be able to overtake it at the earliest possible date. At the time when 80,000 were working on bomb damage repairs throughout the country we had a labour force of over 500,000 in the building industry. We have fewer than 400,000 to-day, so that the proportion is much greater. Other work has to be carried on as well, and I would, therefore, ask for a tolerant perspective to be taken on this matter.
Complaints have been made about slacking. I am glad that the hon. Member for Streatham did not imply that it amounted to 100 per cent. In a labour force of over 100,000 men there must be 8 or 9 per cent. of them who would not be seized of the urgency and importance of the job to the same extent as the others. I am grateful to hon. Members for the fine compliment they have paid to those men who have appreciated the significance and importance of the work and who are doing their best. It is time this was said, because the criticism about slackening is breaking the hearts of a number of them who have done their best the whole of the time in difficult 548 circumstances. Our friends of the Press, who are generally so generous, have in this matter seemed to take the particular to illustrate the general instead of taking the general to illustrate the particular. If a man has had a grievance he has been able to get in the front line news, where truth is often handled with considerable economy. I thank the House for their compliment to the building workers generally. It will help them when they read it to-morrow. Suggestions have been made that there should be visits and talks to the men, but I think that most of them are seized of the importance and urgency of the work and will render the greatest service they can. I ask those who have not done that to reconsider their attitude, and to remember those of their fellow citizens who are being exposed to the extremities of the weather. It is not right for them to wait for instructions when there are plenty of jobs they can do. They must be answerable to their consciences if they are avoiding the responsibility which the country asks them to discharge.
We approached the Minister of Labour and asked whether he was willing to apply the Essential Work Order to the Civil Defence area of London. That Order has never been applied to so large an area and has been applied only to limited sites. My right hon. Friend said that if it would help he would apply the Essential Work Order throughout the Civil Defence area of London, and he did so. The result is that those who are directed to work there are not able to leave without consent, and we are able to handle the job with greater authority and a bigger sense of its significance and importance than had obtained previously. I would add a word to the local authorities to ask them to try to plan out their work ahead. I hesitate to mention Woolwich, which has taken such excellent steps in planning and organisation that remarkable progress has been made, so much so that every house has received first-aid repairs and over 25 per cent. have received second-stage repairs. My right hon. Friend has never denied us any technical staff for which we have asked. If we can get these things properly planned and properly organised, and if we can have the materials two or three weeks in advance, it will greatly help in this task.
§ Mr. Hicks
In reply to a Question which my hon. Friend asked last week, I said that we were having full consultations with the Surveyors' Institute with a view to getting their help. I have been informed to-day that those consultations have gone on particularly well. A number of surveyors are already in, and we are hoping to be able to get others.
§ Captain Gammans
Has the hon. Gentleman adequate powers to prevent materials being used for non-essential work, as in the instance I gave just now of material being used to put up advertisement hoardings?
§ 2.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Driberg (Maldon)
Inevitably, and quite properly, by far the greatest part of this Debate is devoted to London; but before I say something about London I want to make a point on behalf of some of the country districts in south-eastern and Eastern England, about which we were told this Debate was also to be. Obviously—quantitatively—the situation in London is far more desperate and more overwhelmingly important than anywhere else, but there are special difficulties in the country where the small local authorities have also been drastically cut down on their technical staffs, and have in a way felt that even more than the London authorities. This lack of technical officers is what is felt most in the country as well as in London. To give one instance, a flying bomb, which fell some little time ago in a smallish town in Essex, damaged between 400 and 500 houses. The only officer still in the employment of the local council who was technically qualified to handle the results of that incident was the borough surveyor; who single-handed had to cope with the organisation of the repair of all those houses. That is obviously far too much for one man—with the result that there have been a great many delays, owing to the misunderstandings and overlapping which inevitably occur between the different contractors when their 550 work is not properly organised as it should be by the local authority.
So I want to ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman whether what has been said about the direction of technical staff will apply, where necessary, to the rural districts and not only to London—although we in the country are perfectly prepared, as we must be, to grant priority to London in this matter. I should also like to ask the Minister of Health whether he is making representations to the Service Departments for the release of local authority staffs, technical officers, and so on, for post-war housing schemes, and if so, whether that process can be antedated in order to cover this immediate, urgent problem.
I think that any hon. Member is entitled to speak about London, whether he represents a London constituency or not, because, after all, London and the repair of London's houses is a first-class national problem, and we all spend a good deal of our working lives in London. I had the privilege two evenings ago of spending some hours in the company of 300 or 400 of the building trade operatives who have come to London from the provincial districts. I went there at their invitation and heard their various grievances and suggestions. I can assure the hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. W. H. Green) that he was correct in thinking that, if he had gone there he would have been snowed under with various comments and complaints from these men. The first of their complaints, and the one about which they were really seething with indignation, is the one which, I am glad to say, has been dealt with thoroughly to-day. It is the quite unfair slander that any substantial number of these men are slacking or scrounging.
I was glad to hear what the Parliamentary Secretary himself said, and what the hon. Member for Deptford, the hon. Member for Frome (Mrs. Tate) and many others have said in refutation of that slander. I hope that what is said in the Debate to-day will be quoted outside and will reach these men, in order to encourage them, because they are really feeling rather depressed about this campaign against them. There are some people, and I am sorry to say some newspapers, who seem to be never happy unless, in the most mischievous, misleading and demagogic way, they are stirring up a 551 campaign of hatred against some group of strangers in our midst. If it is not refugees from Europe it is Italian ex-prisoners. If it is not Italian ex-prisoners, it is building trade operatives from the provinces. It is very wrong, and should be stopped.
I wonder whether the Parliamentary Secretary and the Minister of Health would consider sending one or two high officials from their Departments to talk to some of these men at the central hotels and hostels where they are living, to hear the practical suggestions they can make. As several hon. Members have said, it is the workman himself who very often sees much more of what is going on than his boss does. Ministers might get some very fruitful suggestions indeed from the men's spokesmen—shop stewards, elected trade union representatives and others—if they went to talk to them personally. At any rate, these men insist, as one of them put it to me, that they are here to serve London and not to make a good thing out of it, as has been suggested. Indeed, what with maintaining their own homes at the places where they come from, they are not by any means making a good thing out of it.
All their comments, criticisms and suggestions boil down to what we have heard in this Debate, that there is maldistribution of labour and of material. Materials have been emphasised rather more than labour, but there is also maldistribution of labour. That is true both as between areas and as between individual contractors. Let me give a single instance, relating to a single item of material. I know of one contractor who is desperately short of ladders. He has tried for weeks and months to get enough ladders. The Ministry of Works assure him that several hundred ladders have been on their way from Aberdeen for three weeks, but he still has not got his ladders. He wonders, and I wonder, and perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary can answer this question offhand, whether the ladders and other items of equipment which were issued to the Services when first they started doing first-aid repairs to London after the fly-bomb damage—soldiers, airmen and marines—and which were all Ministry of Works equipment, have been called in.
§ Mr. Hicks
Ladders of appropriate heights for two-storey buildings have been 552 in very short supply. All the Service Departments have been asked to surrender ladders of that length. A national appeal was broadcast, and circulars were sent out from my Ministry, and a large number of ladders were brought in as a consequence. There is still a shortage, and it has not yet been overcome. Every effort has been made to get ladders, because we recognise the importance of getting ladders to approach the roof.
§ Mr. Driberg
I am very glad to hear what my hon. Friend says, and I hope that the Service Departments will return all the ladders that they are no longer using. It would be a pity if ladders which are urgently needed for London were being chopped up for firewood in some remote Army mess or kitchen.
Nobody can deny that the figures given by the Parliamentary Secretary were extremely impressive, and it would be quite wrong to say that the Government have not been trying energetically to cope with the situation. The number of men working in London is, as he said, an enormous increase on any number we have had working here before. Still, it is no good quoting the total figures, impressive though they are, unless we are sure that the men who make up that total are being properly distributed and allocated. I am afraid that the difficulty occurs at some level between the Ministry and the local authorities, and it means that men are not, in every case, being properly spread out over the areas where they are most needed.
I know of one contractor who has in his employment at present 60 slaters. I know of another contractor, not very far away from him and of comparable size, who cannot get any slaters at all. The contractor who has 60 slaters can certainly use them all. There is plenty of work for them, and the houses in the streets where they are working will have proper slate roofs fairly quickly; but the houses in the streets where the other contractor is working will still be covered with tarpaulins in an extempore way. That is what I mean when I say that labour, although there is much more of it in toto, is not properly distributed. Here is another instance from a London borough. When a bomb fell there early one Sunday morning, large numbers of men were rushed to the spot, quite properly, but 70 men who were taken there by one 553 contractor found, after hanging about for hours, that they were not needed at all, because the Clerk of Works had already allocated all the work on that particular incident. They wasted practically the whole day.
There are many other such instances of wastage of man-power, either because labour is not properly allocated or because the material is not there when the men arrive to do the job. In the latter case, I am assured by the men themselves, who do want to do the work, you may have the scandal of charge-hands being told by the contractors to keep the men out of sight inside the houses. It does not matter what they do or do not do, so long as they keep out of sight, so that the public and the Ministry's inspectors will not notice that they are not actually doing anything. That is not in any way the fault of the men themselves, who are as disturbed by it as we are in this House.
I would conclude with two constructive suggestions based on what these 300 or 400 men themselves told me, through their spokesman. The first is that in each local authority area, or other area of suitable size, conferences should be held between Ministry representatives, contractors, trade union representatives and, last but not least, residents' representatives. There are such conferences already planned or taking place in some boroughs, I believe, for instance in the borough of Leyton, but there should be one in every area. The second suggestion is the one which, I believe, was made by the hon. Member for Deptford earlier in the Debate. So far as possible, labour and materials should he pooled, so that they will be more fluid and can be allocated quickly wherever they are needed most urgently. That step will be opposed, of course, by some contractors, whose costing system is based on the number of men whom they employ. It may be also that the Essential Work Order will have to be adjusted in some way to meet the new situation that would arise if we did pool labour and material. The contractors are not quite sure how they would stand under it. I am sure, and these men—who are practical, good, sound, British working men—are quite sure, that that is the only radical way of dealing immediately with this problem.
There is common agreement on all sides that housing in general is the most pressing of all the purely physical problems 554 which confront us. I believe that the Government will be judged and tested by the people of this country according to the efficiency and the speed with which they handle this particularly urgent aspect of that general problem.
§ 2.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Henry Brooke (Lewisham, West)
The borough of Lewisham will be grateful to you, Sir, for having given both its Parliamentary representatives the opportunity of taking part in this Debate. I doubt whether such a thing has ever happened before since Lewisham first returned two Members. The fact is that the boroughs of South-East London such as Lewisham have been, and are, going through an experience unparalleled in their history. It is easy to make this or that specific complaint, and I have heaps of them in my mind, but we must view them all against the background that this flying-bomb attack on London was not just a sporadic effort by the enemy—it was a major operation of war. If the enemy had had the chance to start it when no doubt he wished to do so, I do not care to think what effect on the course of the war it might have had.
I want to join with those other hon. Members who have paid unqualified tribute to the people of London and to the manner in which they have stood up to their continued sufferings. I liked the suggestion which the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) threw out that there might be more in the way of conferences between all those who are affected, residents included. While I doubt whether, in a borough as large as mine, much result would be gained by single conferences, I would urge on all concerned the value of giving more attention to publicity about what is being done, as well as about what is not being done. All of us are more willing to endure hardships and difficulties if we understand the reasons why things which we think ought to be done cannot, in fact, be done. Both Government Departments and local authorities have up to the present not been as energetic in that direction as they might have been. Another aspect of public relations is tact, the tact of officials of alt grades in dealing with the ordinary householder, the ordinary inquirer. I know that all officials are over-worked. I also know that all these bombed-out people have under- 555 gone great nervous strain, and they deserve the most considerate treatment that can possibly be meted out to them. This Debate will, I hope, do good in spreading accurate information, for few people in London realise the immensity of the total task that lies before the authorities, taking the London Civil Defence Region as a whole, and equally few people realise how much, in fact, has already been accomplished. All these facts and figures ought to be brought out.
It needs to be much more clearly explained than has been done hitherto that comparison between heavily damaged and little damaged boroughs will always be unfair, because it is easy for a borough which has suffered one-tenth of the damage that mine has suffered to handle its bomb damage problems more quickly and expeditiously. All these things deserve explanation. People ought to be enabled to understand more clearly, if a local council cannot handle some of its problems as swiftly as it did in the 1940 blitz, that that may very well be because all local authorities have been stripped of their administrative and technical staffs for the Armed Forces in the interval, and so have the building and contracting firms. I think the Ministry of Works allowed us to get too near the margin in the reserves of building labour which they maintained in the years 1943–44, when it must surely have been realised that a major attack of this kind on some part of England was a probability before the war was over. If particular materials are short, that should be made publicly known. It should be explained to people, if the labour force in an area is not well enough balanced to do the obvious thing and ensure that roofs go on first, why it is happening that roofs are not going on first. Then people will be more willing to tolerate it, when they see men working inside buildings if water is still coming in at the top.
Another question which causes widespread misunderstanding is whether houses which are unoccupied ought to be attended to at all. Different boroughs have proceeded on different principles. Some of them have picked out the worst damaged houses in which people are still trying to hang on, and have dealt with them, and have left unoccupied houses entirely. Others have instructed contrac- 556 tors to go right down a street, doing whichever house they next came to, whether it was occupied or unoccupied. There are arguments in favour of both these courses, but there is no argument in favour of adopting one or other of the courses and failing to explain to the people who may be adversely affected by it why that course is being adopted. One may say that the physical suffering of the people of London cannot be diminished by means like this, but the mental strain on them could be considerably reduced. They see houses which are still requisitioned by Government Departments. I sincerely trust that we shall hear from the Minister of Health that he is unceasing in his pressure on other Government Departments to give up such houses, but if they cannot be given up a real effort should be made to explain why that is so. I am not prepared to accept the argument that security reasons are so paramount that not a word of explanation can be offered.
Similarly, in connection with the limitations on bringing more men into London, we have had an explanation of some of the factors from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works today. That also must be got through to the ordinary man. It must be got through to Members of Parliament also, in this respect: what course can a Member of Parliament most effectively follow if he finds a case of a skilled building trade worker who is either in the Services or some other occupation, and whose return to his own trade in the place where he lives has been refused? Is it the case that the Government Department which is retaining him will pay no attention to a request for his release, unless such request is backed by the Ministry of Works? Is it to the Ministry of Works or to some other authority that Members of Parliament should refer such cases? I am not prepared to accept letters from the War Office telling me that such and such a man, who is a skilled building trade worker and is a constituent of mine, who I happen to know has a low medical category in the Army, just cannot be released from the Army, and there is no further question about it. What authority can I get to back up my efforts to bring further pressure on the Service Departments?
Perhaps I have been committing the fault which I see committed so often in 557 London just now among all those concerned, that of putting the blame on others. Wherever I go in my constituency or elsewhere I find builders telling me that it is the council's fault, and councils telling me it is the men's fault, householders telling me it is somebody else's fault, and foremen telling me it is the Government's fault for not giving them more men. If all these people would, in fact, look into their own consciences and methods of organisation and see first if improvements could be made there, we would be much more likely to make speedy progress towards our goal than if everybody is going to be swept away by a grousing spirit, simply finding fault with others concerned. I have noticed—and it would be interesting to know whether it is the experience of other hon. Members—that complaints come to me from particular areas in my constituency, while in other areas, where I know that equally heavy damage has been done, the work seems to be going on quite smoothly, without serious complaint at all. I infer from that that difficulties occur in relation to the work of certain contractors. I do not mean necessarily that it is the contractor's fault, but there is not the same co-operative working between the local authority and certain contractors as with other contractors. I hope that where-ever Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve finds a case like that, where it is quite clear that a particular contractor and a particular borough council are not getting on well together, and are not going to get on well together, he will interest himself in the matter, and will take positive action, either with the council or with the contractor, to bring that state of things to an end. It can become infinitely harmful.
My conviction is that the hon. Lady the Member for Frome (Mrs. Tate) is wrong when she says "Do this by getting rid of so many local authorities, by putting it all under one Ministry." There is no short cut of that kind. What we have to do is to study those areas and those sections of the field where things are working well, and make sure that all the other people concerned in areas or in sections which are not working so well are supplied with clear information as to how the job can be done, so that there is no excuse for them saying, "This is altogether too difficult; it is a job beyond our powers; the Government are not giving sufficient help 558 with it." That strikes me as being one of the most important tasks which Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve can perform—doing the kind of work which His Majesty's inspectors do in the educational field—letting everybody know clearly what is the practice of the best authorities and the best contractors.
Perhaps I may give an example of the local differences I have found by the procedure which I think is the only one of ultimate value in this matter—that is to say, going into people's houses, finding out what is actually being said and what is actually happening, and then following up any specific complaints right to the top. It is totally untrue that all contractors have no control over their men, and it is totally untrue that all the workmen employed on this job are slacking. The other day I went into one road where the people in the houses said. "The men here are working splendidly, but there are not enough of them." I went to another road, not very far away, and there the people in the houses said, "There seem to be plenty of men about, but half of them are doing no work." I made further inquiries, and both those expressions of opinion proved to be perfectly true. I am sure that in the latter case the contractor did not have proper control over his men, and a situation existed which made it desirable that there should be close examination into the working of that particular firm and its relations with the local authority, rather than Press headlines about gross mismanagement or gross laziness throughout the London area. It must come to light which firms or their men are not able to do this job properly, and I want to see all small builders used and sufficient extra building workers brought into London to make it possible to kick those other firms right out. There are certain firms and certain sets of men who are going to be quite useless on this job unless their manner of working is completely changed by a new form of control being put over them.
One word about the £10 licence. The question arises in my mind whether local authorities yet understand the principles on which they should issue licences for work over £10 to private builders. Some local authorities seem to be refusing all applications on principle; others are granting some; and the private builder is at a loss to know how he stands. If a £10 559 limit is imposed, as I think it should be, the conditions under which licences for work above £10 are granted should be made as uniform as possible throughout London. Similarly, the standards which local authorities should apply in deciding which houses are fit to requisition and which are not fit to requisition for bombed-out families should be uniform throughout London, so that everybody will know where he stands.
I wonder whether it would be worth considering—although it may seem a wild suggestion—if we could give publicity, from week to week or from month to month, to the relative progress that is being achieved in war damage repairs in different boroughs and different parts of London. Some boroughs are doing extremely well. They deserve credit for it. Some boroughs are not doing nearly so well, but they have often a far harder task. They deserve credit, too, if in relation to the undertaking which they have to face they are really handling their problem with maximum energy. I fancy that it might give a new vitality to all this work if everybody concerned were conscious that the full light of publicity was going to play on the progress made in that particular part of London, just as we Members of Parliament know that we can be kept up to the mark by the fact that we constantly have the light of publicity on all our doings and all our failings. That is the way to bring home to all concerned that the secret of quick progress is, as the Parliamentary Secretary said, the planning of work ahead. In the first weeks of the flying bomb it was necessary for everybody to proceed on a hand-to-mouth basis. We have now had four months to settle down to it. If there is any part of the London region where the forward planning is still not being properly done, say, three weeks from now, there is a case for Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve and his organisation to step in, and for the Ministers concerned to expect the support of the House of Commons in any action which they may take from outside to bring about a new system of control or supervision in that area. Local authorities have by now had time to get off the hand-to-mouth basis and on to a proper system of planning.
Finally, may I urge that Members of the Government in every one of their 560 speeches, should tell evacuees and others that they must not return to London and must not aggravate London's problems, and may we all, for the sake of London, show that we here in this House are going to leave nothing undone to get the maximum quantities of men and materials on to repairs, and, even now, the maximum planning ahead for the erection of permanent houses as soon as that can possibly be done?
§ 3.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Guy (Poplar, South)
I do not intend to quote the number of damaged and demolished houses in the borough to which I belong, because, only three weeks ago, my hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Key), in a well-informed speech, gave the House all the figures concerning the area we represent. Those of us who have listened to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works to-day must, I feel sure, be grateful for the statement he has given us, and I trust it will receive the widest possible publicity. On 3rd August, when the House rose for the Summer Recess, I had a Question on the Order Paper to the Minister of Health asking him whether, as a result of the distress to a number of people in my area who were homeless, he would consider providing us with Nissen or Army huts, or some other temporary houses, in which to accommodate our people. My right hon. Friend replied that it was impracticable to consider my suggestion because of the priority of the claim for workers engaged in first-aid repairs. I then put a supplementary question, asking the Minister whether he was aware that large numbers of our people were cooking their meals outside the street shelters. I asked the Minister also whether he realised the seriousness of the position and what was likely to occur if trouble started. My right hon. Friend—I really think he felt annoyed—replied that he was aware of the position just as much as I was, and, therefore, I was a little annoyed, and said "Well, for goodness' sake, do something, then."
As the result of the publicity arising from that Question, I received very many letters from people all over London, and, in connection with my own borough, I also discovered, through the local borough surveyor and his deputy—two very capable gentlemen, who know their work and are to be given every credit for what 561 they have done to assist the people in our borough—that they were prepared for this eventuality and that they have plans ready to rehouse our people if they could get the necessary supplies. A number of my local friends approached me and said to me "Here is a Minister of Health, who, in the dark days and serious times of the blitz, did a good job of work in rehousing people all over London, and, if you approach him again in the same spirit and ask him if he could possibly do something, we are confident he would give the matter his serious attention."
I did so, and made a personal appeal, as the Minister knows, that he should understand our problem and realise the seriousness of what we were going through in our locality. Within 24 hours, the Minister had made up his mind what to do and he visited our borough and saw the mayor, the borough surveyor and his assistant. As a result, I believe my right hon. Friend was impressed by what he saw and was told, and, since then, we have had built what is known as the Poplar bungalow type of temporary residence. I am confident that if only the Minister will do all he possibly can to push forward this idea as quickly as possible, many hundreds of our families can be rehoused within a very short space of time. This type of house is known as the uni-seco type of temporary building. It may not appeal to many hon. Members, but at least it satisfies us. It satisfies us that we can, by this method, rehouse many families who are badly in need of accommodation.
Going round the borough day after day—we are not there just one or two days, but live there seven days a week and know what is going on around us—we know that there are sites all ready to receive these huts. There are concrete bases already in preparation and laid out for the Portal huts. I want to say to the Minister "For goodness' sake let us have them delivered as soon as possible. What is stopping delivery?" I hope the Minister when he replies will be able to tell us what is holding up the delivery of these buildings.
There is, in my view, another factor which can go a long way towards helping us to solve this problem. The hon. Member for North Tottenham (Mr. R. C. Morrison) mentioned something which I 562 think well worthy of consideration—the question of doing something in regard to the large number of houses that are in house agents' hands and which are being held up for sale only. I will give the Minister some examples. Here is a journal which I purchase every week in the hope that, one day, I shall be able to see in it a house to let. It is a journal which contains, not one or two, but hundreds of houses for sale. Why cannot the Government do something to take over or requisition these houses and compel the house agents to let them? The Government put a man into the Army, Navy or Air Force and do not worry about what is going to happen to him except to provide his wife and children with an allowance. Here is a step the Government could take. If they took over the houses, they would get the rents for them. I hope the Government will give very serious consideration to the suggestion.
With regard to co-operation between the Departments, the Government have appointed a gentleman by the name of Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve to organise the whole of the service in the London area. That may be all right from an organising point of view, but the Government should consider setting up one Department, with a responsible Minister, having under his direction the representatives of the building trade, the builders, and the local authorities and having full power to get on with the work. Then, I am confident we would see better results. If one of us here should happen to be ill, the wife does not send for the bricklayer. She sends for the only person who matters—the doctor. That is how we should face this problem in order to get over the winter and help many thousands of distressed families. I beg of the Minister to pay some attention to what has been said in this Debate, and I feel confident that, if this problem is treated in the right spirit and in the same way as the winning of the war, a satisfactory solution will be found.
§ 3.29 p.m.
§ Captain Duncan (Kensington, North)
I think that the Government, on the whole, have been fortunate to-day. Although all the speeches have been moderately critical, I, personally, feel that they are lucky in not having had far heavier criticism to meet than we have heard up to now. I have taken part in all those private meetings upstairs ever since the flying bomb attacks started, and I have come away from every one of them extremely critical of what the Government have been doing. I am glad that this opportunity has been given for public debate in this House, so that at last we may be informed in public, and for the benefit of the public of what the Government are doing and have been doing.
The first criticism is of the timing of the work, of which we have heard something to-day from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works. The flying bomb attack started seven days after D-day. By the end of July it must have been obvious to everyone concerned that an immense amount of damage had been done in London, and that this damage was chiefly to roofs, windows, doors, and so on, and that it ought to be put right before the winter. The last meeting I attended was not so secret as the others, and we were informed at that meeting by Lord Woolton that he did not start operations until 22nd September. Why on earth did not the work—and I am not blaming the Minister of Health—start at the end of July, when it must have been realised that the problem was going to be a great one. Why did not the Government prepare a plan for bringing in the labour, getting the materials available, and organising the service, as they are doing now?
I attended the meeting in August. We were not given the privilege of the attendance of a Minister. Goodness knows where the Ministers were. We had a Parliamentary Private Secretary and Sir Ernest Gowers, and we left extremely dissatisfied. Members of Parliament had taken the trouble to come to meet Ministers, and this was the way we were fobbed off. And, worst of all, at that meeting, when criticisms were made, the only thing that could be said was that it was beyond the competence of either the Parliamentary Private Secretary or Sir Ernest Gowers to answer. It is only quite 564 recently that we have been made aware that the Government are doing anything.
Lord Woolton said that he was appointed by the War Cabinet on 22nd September and Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve was appointed at some date since then. Before that most of the criticisms which have been levelled in this Debate were entirely justified, but since that date I think that Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve has got down to business and is acting as chief of staff. Suggestions have been made to-day that one Government Department should be responsible. Provided that that one Government Department is Lord Woolton in the War Cabinet, I agree, but I am against a new Government Department. In these days you must have labour, supplies, and help in this business. What is wanted is a chief of staff. The hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. W. H. Green) said that it ought to be treated as a war operation. In a war operation you have your chief of staff, and branches of your staff under him. What we want is an integration of staff—as we had in North Africa between the Services — between the Government Departments, so that there will be no delay, laxity or lack of coordination between the branches of the staff. Provided that that is done, I do not object to the present system, on the assumption that Lord Wootton is responsible, and that Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve acts as his chief of staff.
There are all sorts of detailed points through which I will run very briefly, There is, first and most important—and it has been raised before—a grave shortage of technical and administrative staff on local authorities. Local authorities have lost more staff proportionately than the Civil Service, and if the Civil Service wants somebody to be released for some particular job, they have a better chance of getting him than the local authorities. Local authorities are absolutely starved of administrative and technical staff.
That is most important if we are to get this thing done. You cannot do it without decentralising, and I do not agree with the hon. Member for Frome (Mrs. Tate) who said that you should centralise and pool. I think it has to he decentralised, not only to boroughs but within boroughs into districts. The same thing applies to the clerks of works and foremen, who are very short. Another point 565 is bad organisation which is chiefly bad supervision. Things like this have happened; glass has been put in the windows when the window frames have not been mended, the flues of fireplaces have gone, and even when the room is done, it seems to be nobody's job to put the flues right, so that even when the house has been put right, a fire cannot be lit in the room. I do not want to go into these things in detail at this late hour but they are, I think, in the main, due to the lack of staff and the lack of supervision. I have a letter here from a surveyor who says:I have been in houses where the roofs have been repaired but the glass in the skylight was not repaired. … Whilst some streets are held up for material, there is surplus in other streets. … The way ladders are put up, causes unnecessary damage to the gutters. … Gutters are not properly repaired, with the effect that the rain runs down the walls and the rooms are often uninhabitable. …I will not weary the House with any more of these details, but these things can be tidied up provided the supervisory labour is available. I think it is absolutely vital, to increase the administrative and technical staff of local government and to increase the supervisory staff.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works said that they increased their labour force from 24,000 to 100,000 but I believe that could be increased by the use of Italians. My hon. Friend the Member for East Fulham (Mr. Astor) has mentioned that. When I was in the Army quite recently I had something to do with using Italian labour. I happen to know from my own experience that there is Italian labour which can build. In Italy, apparently, a man is not a carpenter, or a joiner, or a bricklayer, but a builder. They may not be very skilled, therefore, but they could be used to assist the other labour. I am sorry there was a public outcry in certain parts about the Italians, because I believe we could increase the labour force in London by their employment, and I hope that steps will be taken to make the people of London understand that these Italians—who did not fight very well against us— are at any rate good workmen, and are anxious to co-operate and that they will not be treated as outcasts but are employed in the national interest.
Criticisms have been made about the idleness and laziness of both the London men and those imported for this work. 566 Probably some of that criticism is true, but there are explanations. First, these men were offered 60 hours' work a week. They volunteered for this but, when they arrived here, they were told they must work something less than 60 hours. The imported workers in London have no homes to go to and nothing to do on a Sunday. They wanted to work as hard as they could, not to make big money out of it but to help the people of London. Then, worst of all, the Essential Work Order prevented them from going home. That is the way the Government have treated them, apart from anything else. I was talking to one of these volunteers from Edinburgh the other day who had a tremendous feeling of grievance and frustration because he could not get on and make a decent living. Here is one small suggestion to try to put this right. These people are doing a good job of work on the whole, and they are giving good national service. Can we not recognise it in some way? The suggestion has been made to me that they might be given an arm-band, or a badge, to show that they are on essential work, and they ought to be welcomed by the people for whom they are working.
Lastly, may I emphasise that this problem is one of great urgency? It gave me a tremendous shock when I heard that this work would not be done before 1st April. We should aim at finishing it by Christmas. If it is not done until 1st April, these people will be living in darkened rooms and appalling conditions, Perhaps in one room instead of the three or four to which they have been used. Not only will they be depressed, but they will suffer in health. There will be an increase in tuberculosis, there may be an influenza epidemic, there may be all sorts of trouble in the spring when the natural resistance of people is lowest. For health reasons, therefore, it is absolutely essential to get this work finished much sooner than the target date of 1st April which was mentioned by Lord Woolton the other day. For another reason we must get on with it. Assuming the war is over in the spring, we want to get Portal houses up, and also get on with our permanent housing, and this is the labour we must use, not only in London but in all other parts of the country. This labour can, of course, be supplemented by the soldiers when they come back, and in regard to that, I would like to 567 support the hon. Member for North Tottenham (Mr. R. C. Morrison), who said that unless this is tackled, there will be real trouble for any Government that is in office at the time of disarmament.
§ 3.43 P.m.
§ Mrs. Adamson (Dartford)
We are grateful for this opportunity to debate this matter, and I would like to congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works on his statement. However, I would respectfully point out that it is only experts who can decide whether the labour available is sufficient to cope with the magnitude of the problem that is involved. Therefore, possibly, to the man and woman in the street it will not mean a great deal, but if this Debate helps to ginger up the Government to the necessity of the urgency of this problem, then the time will not have been spent in vain.
Speaking of my own constituency which, of course, is in "Flying-bomb alley" 1 have not received very many complaints in regard to this problem. Possibly it was because, with the experience of the early bombing in 1940, they planned for emergencies, and they have been able, to a very large extent, to cope with the situation up to the present. Although, I am informed, they are short of certain kinds of labour and of certain materials, they are getting on with the work. I do not suppose they will please everybody, but they are doing their best, and I have no complaint at all. One local authority informed me that we shall take two years at the present rate to clear up the existing war damage and, of course, they are inundated with requests, particularly after severe bombing, for the rehousing of the bombed-out families.
They are also inundated with requests for houses from people who, for various reasons, are homeless and are desirous of setting up homes in their locality. They are tired of giving negative replies to heart-breaking appeals from people and deserving cases. I suppose we shall not be able to deal with that question in its entirety, until we are able to get on to the construction of permanent houses. I do not know how many Members of the House have been victims of flying bomb attacks, but I can speak from personal experience. I live in what has been one of the most bombed localities of London 568 or Southern England, where the motto has been, "Every man for himself." If we had waited for the local authority to take action we should be still waiting today. People in my district are feeling very sore about the matter, and have asked me to say here that if the local authority cannot rise to the occasion, the Government should see that every pressure is brought to bear upon them to make them realise the position of bombed-out people, and the problem which has to be faced. I do not like to have to say these things, but I should be lacking in my duty towards my neighbours, if I did not tell the responsible Minister, quite clearly, that there is great dissatisfaction with the present situation in that part of South-east London.
The only people who have been able to get anything done are those who could make nuisances of themselves, and had the time to do so, at the town hall. Some of the local authorities in my constituency have done a very good job in very difficult circumstances. I remember some years ago the Government of that time displacing a certain local authority, when that authority had not carried out its duties in what the Government thought was the proper manner. We feel that, in this case, pressure ought to be brought to bear on the local authority to get rid of muddle and chaos. Only those who have been victims of the flying bomb can speak with feeling of what hardship and discomfort mean. When we see people with influence, and people with no useful occupations, spending time going to the town hall to make complaints it is high time that the Government stepped in, in the general interests of urban people, to see that there is fair play and justice. Londoners have often been told that they can "take it," but some of us are rather tired of "taking it." We feel that if the Government pursued this question with the same vigour as they are pursuing the effort to bring the war to an early conclusion, Londoners would see that deeds and not words counted. The problem is urgent. People are living in great discomfort. While there is not much audible grumbling there is a good deal of quiet grumbling, because people feel that they ought not to have to put up with unjustifiable hardship. Something ought to be done to get rid of chaos, and get on with the job in the interests of the decent citizens of London.
§ 3.49 p.m
§ Mr. Goldie (Warrington)
I trust the House will forgive the indiscretion of one who has not the privilege of representing a London constituency in intervening in a Debate dealing primarily with a London subject. I want to speak only for a few minutes, and I should not have intervened had it not been for the criticism of my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Robertson), and other Members, regarding the Chairman of the War Damage Commission. I have had the honour of knowing Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve personally for many years, and I can only say that in the North of England there is no man whose name is more a household word, for the efficiency with which his duties have been carried out. This is not merely a London problem; it is one affecting the whole country, and I should be failing in my duty if I did not pay tribute to the work which Sir Malcolm is doing in peculiar and difficult circumstances. Those in the North of England who have been badly blitzed have the most intense sympathy with him.
I listened with the greatest interest to what the hon. Member for South Poplar (Mr. Guy) said with regard to the requisitioning of houses. May I respectfully say that I agree with him but, on the other hand, I warn him of the difficulty we have experienced in connection with transport. It is no good requisitioning houses, unless you can provide transport facilities. I was also particularly interested in the question of concrete foundations for houses. When I first came here, many years ago, my first duty was to obtain permission for my constituency to spend over £20 more than the ordinary standard price, on the new houses which we were laying down on one of our estates. I got that permission, and the result was that we succeeded in getting a really magnificent standard of house. I conclude, as I began, by paying my tribute to Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve. Lawyers are proverbially unpopular in the House of Commons, but one of the best things ever done by the Government was to persuade the present Minister of Health to forsake the Temple for Westminster. I only wish that my right hon. and learned Friend could, in his turn, persuade Sir Malcolm to follow his excellent example and stand for Parliament.
§ 3.53 P.m.
§ Dr. Haden Guest (Islington, North)
I am glad that the hon. and learned Member for Warrington (Mr. Goldie) has widened the issues involved in this problem by taking in the country as a whole. The Debate we are having to-day has brought forth what is, on the whole, an encouraging statement from the Front Bench opposite, especially with regard to the number of men employed on the repair of bomb damaged houses. But that is, of course, only the first instalment of what is to be done. Those of us who are living in London, and whose constituents are here, have had to keep down popular discontent about the appalling conditions in London for a long time, on the ground of national policy, and also on the ground that just before and after D-day, labour and materials were not available so that it was impossible to keep up a reasonable standard of house maintenance. I mention that because of the bigger problem we shall have to face. The repair of war damage is the first instalment; then will come the bigger problem of war deterioration, to which will be added the question of temporary and permanent housing schemes. I do not want to say more in the way of description of actual conditions inside my own constituency, because what others have said so well to-day, could be paralleled there, and it would be the same story all over again. We have stood up to conditions in my part of the world as well as others have done, but we are not concerned with that; we are concerned with getting on with the job of reconstruction.
I want to ask the Minister of Health who, I am glad to learn, is to reply to the Debate, whether the health situation as regards housing is being carefully watched. At the end of the last war there was a world-wide epidemic of influenza. Conditions during that war were better as regards housing, but were not so good as regards food. During this war conditions with regard to food are good, but the conditions of housing are in many places deplorable. What is the possibility of some unknown epidemic arising? Tuberculosis is by no means the only unfortunate thing that may happen to us. Is the Minister very carefully watching the possibility of some new plague springing upon us from the ruins of our devastated 571 homes? There is a real danger in this. I do not want to exaggerate it but I want to draw attention to it. I want to make quite sure that the Ministry is watching everything that can be done to avoid this—improvements in feeding and so on but, most of all, improvements in our houses.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works has been very encouraging, and I congratulate him on having been able to get so many men employed, but we need to double the number in order to get on with it more quickly, and, when we have done that, we still need a large labour force to get on with the necessary maintenance of housing, which has not been kept up. Then there is the rest of the country. They cannot be left out of the picture. It is a tremendous problem. We want the matter to be looked at as part of the strategy, as it were, of a D-day of peace.
§ 3.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Keeling (Twickenham)
I have never heard a higher tribute paid to the merits of private enterprise over municipal or State Socialism than that paid by the hon. Member for Dartford (Mrs. Adamson).
§ Mrs. Adamson
I think I made it quite clear that a great many local authorities are doing their job well. I happen to be unfortunate.
I hope the hon. Lady's words will be read and remembered. I represent two boroughs, one of which, Twickenham, has been hit by more flying bombs than any other in Middlesex and the other, Heston and Isleworth, has had more people killed. I want to pay a tribute to the way the people have suffered and endured grief, pain and acute discomfort. For some reason there has been more delay in carrying out repairs in Middlesex, and I have no doubt in other parts of Greater London, than in London itself. My house, not a mile from here, has been damaged six times—twice by flying bombs, and in no case have I had to wait at all for repairs. I am rather ashamed that I have been so much more highly favoured than my constituents.
I want to put two questions to my right hon. Friend. A great deal has been said about the release of men in the building 572 trade from the Services. Can he tell us exactly what the procedure is? I have had great courtesy from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works but it seems to me that the procedure is rather complicated and that there is a good deal of delay. Can my right hon. Friend give any dates as to the average period of time that elapses between a request reaching the Ministry for the release of a man, and his getting on to the job, if the application is approved? My second question is this. A large number of houses are condemned under category "C (b)" which means that, although they can be repaired at a later date, they have to be vacated because they are not fit to live in, and their repair is postponed until all less damaged houses have been attended to. The wretched tenant of one of these houses has to move out and, because his house is eventually going to be repaired, he is not offered other accommodation except a billet, and he may be many months in a billet, with all the discomfort that that entails. Can my right hon. Friend give any idea when repairs to C (b) houses generally, or C (b) houses in particular parts of Greater London, will be undertaken?
§ 4.1 p.m.
Mr. Douǵlas (Battersea, North)
The Debate will, at any rate, have made clear the concern with which London Members view the housing situation. There is no shadow of difference on this question in any part of the House. I wish I could feel convinced that Ministers viewed the situation with an equal degree of intensity, because responsibility in the matter rests ultimately with the Government. It is true that organisation must be through the local authorities, because they are on the spot; they have their offices and they have the nucleus of a staff, and it would be ridiculous and uneconomic to create a fresh organisation. There may have been failures but they have been very few and far between. The authorities need the labour, they need the materials and they need the supervisory staff, in order to be able to organise the job properly, because they have been denuded of officers and they must rely upon Ministers to provide them with staff, labour and materials in order to carry out repairs.
It appears that at the present rate of progress the Government anticipate that 573 the second stage repairs, as they are called, will be completed by about the beginning of April. I do not know on what data that calculation is made but, as far as Battersea is concerned, that is not the information that I am given. I am told that it will not be until the end of January that roofing will be completed and that, with the present supply of labour and materials, it will be 15 to 18 months before the second stage of repairs is completed. That is a deplorable situation and, if it is correct that Ministers anticipate the work will be done by the beginning of April, their allocation of labour and materials is entirely out of proportion. It is far below the average required to secure even the target at which they are aiming. Our people are placed in a ghastly situation. Their houses are leaking, the wind is blowing into them, the light is obscured, the winter is coming on. Presently there will be this problem—that the whole repair organisation will be dislocated by the fact that the medical officer will say, "Here is a family where a baby is expected," or "Here is a family where there is asthma or tuberculosis or some other disease," and you will have to give that house priority because of the state of health of the people in it." When that happens the whole organisation will be thrown out of order, for it will mean taking out a house here and a house there in order to try to protect these unfortunate people and save their lives during the winter which is fast approaching.
It is a desperate situation. If the destruction of houses which has taken place in London had, instead of taking place over a period of months by means of flying bombs, resulted from an earthquake, there would have been far more anxiety about this question and far more sense of urgency than those of us who have met from time to time at gatherings outside this House have ever been able to detect. The supply of labour, of materials and of organising staff is entirely inadequate to carry out this job with the speed at which it should be done.
§ 4.7. p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Hutchinson (Ilford)
It is impossible to exaggerate the gravity and urgency of the housing situation throughout Greater London. In the constituency which I represent there are families who have no place to live in, who are existing 574 in garden shelters and are taking their meals with friends or at rest centres or any other place where they can get them. The position is the same in every constituency in London, and no useful purpose is served at this stage of the Debate by dwelling further upon it.
The question which this House has to consider first is whether the organisation which has been set up by the Government to meet the situation is the best which in the circumstances can be devised. Some hon. Members have suggested that the responsibility for housing should be vested in a single authority. At first sight that is an attractive proposition, but I would ask hon. Members who have put it forward whether they consider that it is really a practical solution of this complex problem. We cannot remove responsibility for the different factors from those Departments to whom general responsibility is at present entrusted, and transfer it to a new Minister or a new Department. One of the chief factors in this problem is labour. Can we remove responsibility for labour altogether from the Ministry of Labour and National Service? Materials are a vital factor. Can we transfer the general control of materials from the Ministry of Works and vest it in some other Department? The organisation which the Government have set up, and the appointment of Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve, with power not only to co-ordinate but to give decisions—which is perhaps the most important feature of the appointment—is the organisation which seems most likely to achieve satisfactory results.
Labour is really the important factor in this problem. The Government are entitled to full credit for the large labour force they have succeeded in mobilizing in London in a comparatively short time. The question really is whether that labour force is working at full efficiency. That brings me to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg). While I entirely accept what he says, that the men who constitute this force have come with the full, intention of doing a good job, it would be useless to close our eyes to the fact that complaints are arising all over London of the inefficiency of the labour force which is engaged upon this repair work. It may be that the cause of that inefficiency is lack of adequate supervisory staffs, and I believe that to be the case. I hope that 575 my right hon. and learned Friend will be able to give us an assurance that the lack of technical staffs to provide adequate technical supervision both at the centre and on the sites will shortly be remedied and the present deficiencies overcome.
The other difficulty which I see in the labour situation is the shortage of certain classes of technical workers. Several hon. Members have referred to the difficulty of getting back craftsmen who arc serving in the Forces. The matter really goes further than that. Is it really necessary to call up to the Forces now skilled building trade operatives who are engaged in the urgent work of house repair? I had a case brought to my notice during the last few days of a young man—admittedly a young man—of 19 who is a carpenter employed by contractors on urgent repair work in East London. Because he is 19 years of age he is called up by the Ministry of Labour and sent into the Forces. The local employment exchange is unable to replace him. I should have thought that at this stage of the war it might have been possible to grant deferment to a young man, even one of 19 years, who is engaged on this essential work.
There is one other matter to which I would like to invite the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend. The contractors who are employed by the local authorities upon this work, are, of course, being engaged on what is known as the "cost-plus" system. I appreciate the difficulty of persuading a contractor to undertake work in war-time under any other system, but I would invite my right hon. and learned Friend to consider whether it might not be possible to place some of these contracts upon a "lump sum" basis. This work is repetition work. The supply of materials is controlled; I should have thought that in those circumstances it might have been possible to provide over a large part of this work that greater incentive which a lump sum contract does provide.
My right hon. and learned Friend is, as Members in all quarters of the House have recognised, fully aware of the nature and urgency and gravity of this difficult problem. In spite of what some hon. Members have said, I believe that the organisation which he and the Govern- 576 ment have set up to deal with it is an organisation capable of producing satisfactory results. The situation does, however, call for measures of an urgent character. That does mean that those Departments which are concerned with the supply of labour and particularly the supply of man-power for the Forces must make the concessions which the urgency of this problem requires. If as a result of this Debate we have succeeded in impressing upon them the urgency of this matter, the House will not have wasted its time.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Parker (Romford)
We have had a very long Debate and I think the ground has been fairly fully covered, but there are two or three points on which I would like to say something further. First is the important point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. W. H. Green), and supported by the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg), and with which the Parliamentary Secretary did not deal in his reply. I hope that the Minister will be able to deal with it later. It is the question of pooling all labour supplies in London and Greater London. It has been suggested by a number of hon. Members that it might be possible to divide Greater London into five or six areas, and to pool labour supplies in those different districts for the purpose of getting the job done. A view put forward was that there is too much hoarding in some boroughs. I should say, from my personal experience, that that is the case. There are boroughs which, having got hold of a certain amount of material, seem anxious to keep it as long as possible rather than to spare anything for another borough. So far as supervisory technical staffs are concerned, I think it was generally admitted that, if we can deal with the problem over rather wide areas, we can make the available supervisory technical staffs go a little further.
Another point has been raised in connection with Civil Defence personnel, as to whether more of them can be released. The release of some has already taken place. The point which is put to me is that, at the present time, there are tradesmen working at tradesmen's rates of pay in the Civil Defence Service. There are also quite a lot of skilled men who are not on tradesmen's rates of pay but who 577 are ordinary Civil Defence workers. Appeals have been made for volunteers from the Civil Defence Service to transfer themselves to full-time work in the repair of houses, but there have not been many volunteers. The explanation advanced is that, at the present time, a man who is engaged full-time in the Civil Defence Service takes on repair work during his off duty periods and gets paid for it, in addition to his ordinary wages. His total earnings are, therefore, greater than he would be getting if he were to give up the Civil Defence work altogether and pass over full-time on repair work. That is said to be the definite obstacle to volunteering. I would ask the Minister if that point could be looked into.
In some boroughs there are people who have been definitely discharged with the idea that they should be redirected to repair work. Where that has taken place, it is alleged that a certain amount of favouritism has been shown as to who shall be kept in Civil Defence and who discharged. People who are kept in Civil Defence have a chance to continue to earn rather more than the others. I suggest that this problem as a whole should be gone into, and a general policy laid down by the Government which local authorities should put into operation. Some general line would prevent accusations of favouritism, and would provide rather more labour for the repair work. Moreover, it would be labour already resident in London and we might not have to provide accommodation for it. I hope it will be possible for the Minister to reply to this point when he winds up.
In regard to the question of shortage of materials, the Parliamentary Secretary said, in reply to a question, that the Government had not the power to requisition materials and to see that they were used on essential work. The point was made by the North London Members that materials and labour had been used for the purpose of making an advertisement hoarding, at a time when adjoining houses were not being repaired.
§ Mr. Hicks
I am sure that my hon. Friend does not wish to misrepresent the position. I did not say that we had not power to direct building materials. The point raised was about a hoarding being erected somewhere in North London, and I was asked whether I was able to stop it. I said "No" because it was pri- 578 vately owned and the material was secondhand. They can do what they like with it. The hon. Member must not assume, however, that we have no power to direct building material.
§ Mr. Parker
I am glad to hear that reply. The point is that there is a strong case for requisitioning all the material in the hands of builders, merchants and contractors, if it has not been made available for repair work. Reserves which exist in some parts of Greater London should be made available to areas where there is a shortage of such supplies. If some local authorities had not managed to build up reserve supplies of materials before the flying bomb raids began, they would have been in very great difficulty by being unable to get what they have wanted in recent months. Fortunately, they had reserves, which have helped matters out very much. As far as they inform me, I understand that other people did not know they had those reserves and it was a piece of good fortune. I imagine, from what they tell me, that there must be other reserves in the hands of local authorities and private contractors in other parts of London. If the Minister of Works had an inventory of all the supplies, it might ease matters and ensure better distribution.
§ Mr. Hicks
I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend again. It is perfectly true that the Government have understood the need for building up stocks all over the country. We have our own stocks that we have built up—very extensive stocks. We have used over 100 building merchants in the country and stocked them with Government material, in order that, in the event of anything happening, we should have material available. Apart from that, when the material has not been available locally, it has been taken from our own stocks and sent to assist in speedy repair. I want my hon. Friend to be clear on the point and to appreciate that the matter has not been entirely neglected.
§ Mr. Parker
There is one last point with regard to requisitioning. Some local authorities in my area still feel that in spite of the power which they have been given to requisition houses and to put bombed-out people in them, the procedure is still too complicated and takes too much time. They would like a simplification of procedure to speed up the job of requisitioning empty property and putting people 579 who are in need into the particular houses. I was very much struck with the suggestion made by the hon. Member for North Tottenham (Mr. R. C. Morrison) that when property becomes vacant, it should be notified to the local authority. I am sure that if powers were taken to the effect that those with vacant property must give notification of vacancies and coming vacancies to the local authority, it would ensure that landlords would have to take people who were on the local authority priority list in order to fill up their vacant property. That would go a long way to meet the wishes of the council in my area and of many other local authorities in the Greater London area. They feel that their powers of requisitioning are not working smoothly, because there are so many ways of getting round the law, that the law is not really worth very much. I hope and trust that it will be possible to look into the whole question of requisitioning again to see whether some new Regulations which will work rather better, cannot be drawn up.
To conclude, I would say that this big problem is, I think, being tackled on very comprehensive lines and that the people in London realise that an attempt is being made to get on with the job. However, if they do not see results in the months immediately coming, the friendly feeling that the general public have towards what is being done, will change in a very definite way. I hope and trust that this good start will be definitely followed up in a right and proper way in the months immediately ahead.
§ 4.25 p.m.
§ Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, South)
This has been an interesting and valuable Debate, admirably and vigorously opened by my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Robertson), on whose initiative very largely it was arranged. It has been a London Debate. We have had Scottish Debates, and a Welsh Debate, and at last we are having a London Debate, which is quite international, if one has regard to the origin of the people concerned. For example, my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham is a Scotsman, and I am a Welshman by origin. There is no harm in telling the rest of the United Kingdom that London is the greatest international centre in this country. The Debate has been interest 580 ing from a personal point of view, with two Conservative Members for parts of Lewisham taking part, two Socialist Members for Poplar taking part, and rather disagreeing about something, and now the Debate is to be wound up by two Conservative Members for Croydon, two members of the same party, representing the same borough, speaking from the opposite sides of the Chamber.
I think my hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. Green) set a very good tone in his speceh. It was full of good commonsensical stuff, and there was nothing in it with which I disagreed. He analysed the problem with great ability and no rancour. This is essentially a nonpartisan Debate. Hitler has done his worst against London, and London has survived; there have been great suffering and great hardship, but London remains the greatest capital in the world. On the other hand, I think the concluding words of the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Parker) contained great wisdom. He said that we all realised that efforts were being made, but that if they did not proceed with greater vigour the tolerance will diminish. It is a terrible problem. We can talk more freely about these things than we could some weeks ago. Personally, I think the Government were rather too rigid in their embargo. Obviously they did not want to tell the Germans where the bombs were coming down, but last July I remember pressing, with the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham and Worthing (Earl Winterton), that we should have a Debate.
The value of Debates here is that they often create a sense of urgency among the people who administer things. If we could have had it earlier the point of view raised by the hon. and gallant Member for North Kensington (Captain Duncan) might have been the sooner realised. I know there was a meeting in August. I read about it in the papers. I did not know it was to be held. I was told it was on that bit of paper we get daily from the Chief Whip. I think it is a pity it was not better publicised for metropolitan Members. I did not look at the back of that sheet, and I did not know that the meeting was to be held. I think it is a little unfortunate.
We are up against a very great problem, from some points of view, probably the greatest social problem which this 581 country has ever had to face. There has been the criticism, which has a certain amount of validity, that there are too many Ministers in charge. I know what the official reply is to that, and I am not too much impressed by it. The theory is that each Minister has his separate responsibility to the Crown and to Parliament—I am talking about Ministers at the higher level, not Parliamentary Secretaries—and that it is not proper for a Minister at that level to give orders to another Minister. That does not interest me. If Ministers are willing to waive their privilege and take orders, why should they not do so? If I were concerned I would not mind my Friend, Lord Woolton, telling me that I had to do this or that if he was in a position to give orders and that was the essential way to get on with the job. Surely we could forget these points of constitutional practice.
I wonder whether this attitude actually comes from the Ministers so much as from those on the higher levels in the hierarchy of State. The way our Departments of State hate each other appals me. I tell them that they are all members of the same firm, of which the King is chairman and the Prime Minister managing director, and that they are all departmental managers. The way in which Government Departments will not realise that they belong to the same firm, the United Kingdom, Ltd.—a very good firm—leaves me a little tired.
I want to ask my colleague from Croydon something about which we have been corresponding. I do not know where the truth lies. I am told that a large number of houses are being held in reserve, so that if an incident happens somewhere there will be some accommodation for those who are immediately homeless. I am told that it is called the "Homeless Pool." A lot of people in local authorities believe there is such a pool. My right hon. and learned Friend says there is not such a pool. Someone is under a misunderstanding, and I hope the Minister will clear it up. I know there is some sort of pool, because although I represent South Croydon I live in Westminster, only three-quarters of a mile from here, and when the great expedition which has achieved so much success was being planned, 70 flats in the block in which I live were requisitioned. A lot of flats, 582 good flats, are now empty, at least they appear to be, except for the entrance hall of the block, which is piled with sheets of glass, paint pots, etc., I do not like its appearance. I asked the Office of Works if the things belonged to them. They said, "No, the Pioneer Corps." I see all this muck and muddle daily and anyone who visits me sees it, and one judges Departments by the amount of muck and muddle one sees about. It is the War Office, it seems, that is responsible, the perfect Department, according to the Secretary of State who is not here.
There is a lot of idle accommodation. I walked down a street a mile and a half from here a week last Sunday. I saw about 20 houses bearing a notice, "This house is requisitioned by the City of Westminster." These notices have been up so long that they are covered with dust. I walked into one house, the door being open, and heard noises. I found a gentleman and asked him what he was doing, and he said, "We are trying to put it right, but we cannot get on. We cannot get any orders from anybody." He was trying to make the house habitable. Ebury Street, not far from here, was badly bombed. Half the houses are empty, and yet are fit for human habitation. I know that more than half of them display this notice of the Westminster City Council.
Regarding the problem of labour there have been allegations that workpeople are idling. I am certain that the hon. Member for Deptford was right when he said there is not much real, deliberate idling, but that there is a great deal of idling because materials have not arrived, or because the foreman is not there to tell the men what is the next job to do. We know that at present labour is not as good as it was. Labour is being sent to London as no battalion is sent—without its officers and N.C.O.s, if I may use that metaphor. I am told that there is an enormous pool at Wembley—not the one in which one swims—called the labour pool. Men are sent off without any proper direction or anyone to look after them. I am told a great many small builders somehow or other cannot get the jobs. Everybody assures me that they can, but they assure me that they cannot, and the people who want to employ them assure me that they cannot. Repairs are essentially the small man's job, not the 583 job of the big contractors. Repairs to houses have never been done by the great contractors but by the jobbing builders, and the jobbing builders who have peacetime experience are complaining most.
Reference has been made to the cost-plus system. No one hates it more than I do. I have been a member of the Select Committee on National Expenditure for five years, and in repeated Reports we have condemned the system, but I do not see how it can be avoided at the present time. There is not the staff to estimate the cost of these repairs. We have to use the cost-plus system; and the prevention against abuse is efficient supervision. To what extent has supervisory staff been brought to London from local authorities who are not oppressed as the London local authorities are? We all know that local authorities have been stripped of a good deal of their supervisory staff, but I am certain that by going into the provinces we could find surveyors, borough engineers and others from staffs who could help. This is a direction in which the Army might help. Some of us have had the privilege of seeing upstairs the very marvellous exhibition of the synthetic harbours—built by whom? Not by regular soldiers, but by civilians dressed up in uniform. Their job at the moment is largely finished—at least, for a lot of them.
§ Sir H. Williams
I know. But have any of them been asked, now that their task is finished, to go on to this job? They are the very people who could play an important part. I am certain that the materials problem is a major problem. I have here a convenient summary which somebody has prepared for me. Nothing is more terrible in a bombed house than the mess when the ceiling comes down. That is the real domestic problem. Even after the ceiling is down, it drips dreadfully. Plaster in the soup is not at all pleasant—even if one has the soup. I know that the Ministry of Works have made great efforts to increase the supply of plaster board. Gypsum is necessary for that. Certain mines have been opened, and great efforts are being made. Not only are gypsum and plaster board very short, but the distribution is defective. 584 Insulation board also is in very short supply.
I believe that tilers and slaters are the most precious people in this country today—even more precious than His Majesty's Ministers. I do not know the total number of tilers and slaters in this country, but it is a small number. A good many are in His Majesty's Forces. I think the War Office, and perhaps the other Departments as well, have been very sticky. To get tilers and slaters out of the Forces would be a greater service than any other service. I believe that certain classes of tiles are short, and I understand that slates are short too—I very much regret that, because I come from the slate district in Carnarvonshire. Slates are very much better than tiles: they do not blow off so easily when the doodlebugs come along. We know there has been a substantial increase in the output of glass, and that windows are now being reglazed. It is vital that they should be reglazed before winter comes on. I believe that a glass is being produced which is not properly polished, and is not very popular and I hope the Minister will go to St. Helens and see if they can do better. People like glass they can see through; so do not put in this dreadful stuff if it can be avoided.
Timber is causing more trouble than anything else. I do not believe that we are too short of timber in this country. Naturally, the timber situation cannot be easy, because we are not self-sustaining. In pre-war days 90 per cent. of the timber we used was imported. Nevertheless, we can see a good deal of timber up and down the country—well dispersed, I am glad to say. A lot of timber is taken from bombed premises, and that can be used if it is cleaned up, but here we have to be careful, because sometimes it is bug-infested; but there is a lot of it which could be used if the nails were pulled out of it. Yet I am told in my constituency that the largest joinery establishment cannot get on because they cannot get timber, and there cannot be doors, and window frames without some timber. I ask Ministers to press on.
There is the problem of transport. In the summer-time I live on the Sussex coast, and travel up every day. When I was going down in the evening I used to find my journey made less comfortable because at East Croydon in poured a great 585 mass of building labourers from Brighton and Worthing. Later a special train was put on, which made things more comfortable, for me at any rate. There is a great deal of labour being brought in daily by train and by bus, and a good deal of dissatisfaction about the means of transport. My hon. Friend the Member for Streatham referred to the fact that men were leaving home in these buses before they had their first meal. A certain amount of trouble is caused because there has been introduced in war-time a system of excessive hours of labour, which I regard as a terrible mistake. Working one Sunday or a couple of Sundays there will be extra output, but thereafter, No. The evil of excessive hours was well described by the Fatigue in Munition Works Committee in the last war. I believe that I was the first member of the Select Committee on National Expenditure to draw attention to the evil of excessive hours. A lot of that idling among workmen, which is unfairly described, is the idling of people who are overworked. Then there is the tea interval, a war-time introduction, pretending to be a 10-minutes' interval but sometimes degenerating into a half-hour interval. When my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works was in the building industry, if he had a cup of tea it was brought to him on the job.
§ Sir H. Williams
Now they walk away to the canteen and the 10 minutes' interval becomes half an hour. It seriously obstructs the progress of the job. We are not dealing to-day with one of those political issues which sometimes excite us: we are talking about a great job of administration. I think there is great force in what has been said, that the top direction ought to be better than it is. I do not mean better in personnel, but better in the authority which is allocated to it. General Eisenhower, of great qualities, is boss of all those under him. In any army somebody is boss. Here we have an army with seven commanders-in-chief. All this circulation of papers, which we all know about, is not a very good system. I am not going to complain too much of the way it is operating in Croydon. I am proud to be able to say that as far as I can make out our local authority organi- 586 sation in Croydon, and the officials concerned, have done a great job of work. Ministers have told me that Croydon, which is the most bombed place, has faced up to the job better than any other local authority. But, as my hon. Friend the Member for Deptford said, Mrs. A grumbles because Mrs. B's house is being done.
I think we want a little more publicity in explaining to the people what the policy is. They get so cross. I had a letter yesterday from a lady whose house was bombed last July. Fairly recently, there was another incident near by, and she saw all the organisation brought in to deal with the more recent incident. It happened, through ill chance, that nothing had been done to her house since July. That makes people cross. I am not blaming anybody. In Croydon, we have 1,400 houses completely put out, 4,000 gravely damaged, and 50,000 which have suffered minor damage. All that cannot be dealt with at once. When the assault was continuing every day, people saw the very efficient first-aid organisation and were content, but, now that the imminent danger is past, they are more restless. I know it is psychological. Many houses are in a mess, and are in the condition described by the hon. Member for Streatham. A five-roomed house, with three upstairs rooms uninhabitable and all the furniture put into the rest, with the family sleeping in one room—that is the sort of condition in which people are living. It is appalling; it is dreadful, and I am amazed at their courage and Patience.
I have all the good will in the world for the Minister, who is primarily responsible for these matters constitutionally. We all want to help him. I think to-day's Debate has brought valuable constructive suggestions from all parties. It has shown the House of Commons at its best. I hope it will create, in the minds of the Ministers, their staffs and the staffs of the local authorities, a greater sense of urgency. What is wanted is this sense of urgency and if it is brought home by this Debate, then the Debate will have been worth while.
§ 4.48 p.m.
§ The Minister of Health (Mr. Willink)
I should have been surprised, indeed, I think I should have been disappointed, if my fellow London Members—for I am a 587 London Member myself, in the regional sense—had not demanded a Debate on this subject. It has been, as several of the speakers in the latter part of it have said, a very useful Debate indeed. It has been useful for many reasons. It has been useful because those who have spoken with very great experience have described this task as one of unparalleled difficulty for local authorities. It has been useful because it has shown that the task is one of unparalleled variety. That is one of the great difficulties about it. It has been useful because it has shown that people approaching the problem in an entirely objective spirit arrive, in their different local authority areas, at widely differing solutions, even when the circumstances of those authorities are, as one would think, as similar as those of the Metropolitan Borough of Poplar and the Metropolitan Borough of Stepney immediately adjoining. Representatives from these two have expressed entirely different views on what should be done in their respective boroughs.
It has occurred to me, that, after something like, I suppose, 20 speeches from hon. Members representing this great area, it might not be unwise for me to secure that a copy of the OFFICIAL REPORT for to-day, should be made available to every local authority in the London region. I believe they will find that stimulation in the Debate to which my hon. Friend and colleague who sits for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) has referred, and I propose to take that course, though not with the sole object expressed by the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling) that all the world might read the speech of the hon. Lady who represents Dartford (Mrs. Adamson).
I am not the only Minister concerned with these matters who is a London Member. London has cause to be grateful, I can assure it, to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour and National Service for the part he has played in building up this great labour force. It has also much cause to be grateful to the Minister of Works and his Parliamentary Secretary. But perhaps I have even a special position among these three, for I had three years' experience as Special Commissioner for the Homeless, and I got a special knowledge of the extent to which the homes of London were decreasing in 588 number. I can assure the House that, day by day, during the flying bomb attacks, it was borne in upon me very severely indeed that we were moving towards a terribly difficult winter.
It was suggested by the hon. and gallant Member for North Kensington (Captain Duncan) that nothing whatever had happened until 12th September, but I can assure him that that is very far from being the case. It was, in fact, before the date he mentioned—on 30th July—that the Government had fixed, as its man-power figure for this Work, 70,000, nearly twice the size of the force available in London at any time in 1940–41; and, by 12th September, the increase aimed at had been more than half accomplished and the force built up from 24,000 to 61,000.
I would like, although I am sorry to see he is no longer in his place, to say a special word of congratulation to the hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Manning), with whom I had, as he so kindly recalled, a close association during the period when he was acting as Civil Defence Controller for the borough of Camberwell; and, in referring to him, I should like to congratulate him upon not having been misled by three, or, it may be, four, experienced hon. Members of the House who preceded him and who fell into the heresy of supposing a rearrangement of Government Departments has always to be effected to meet any particular crisis that arises. Many of us remember the same point being raised during the bombing of 1940–41—that one Department, and one only, should look after all the concerns of anybody who has suffered in any way from an enemy bomb. That was much discussed at the time, and in that situation, of course, it is true that there were and are a number of Government Departments concerned.
I think it has been obvious from the attendance of representatives of three Departments on the Treasury Bench today, that I am really bound to speak at this stage in respect of the work of three Departments. I should like to attempt to satisfy the House, very shortly, that the difficulties are not as great as is sometimes supposed. The description that I can give, in very few words, of the responsibilities of my own Department and those of the Minister of 589 Labour and the Minister of Works, is that they are rationally divided, and, in each case, in relation to this problem, constitute a task requiring a special staff with special knowledge, the amalgamation of which would really be of no advantage whatever and would result in very considerable difficulties.
I would also like to assure the House that in this sphere at any rate, whatever may be the case in other spheres, the idea that there has been competition and jealousy between Departments is a complete misconception. Day by day, throughout those 10 weeks from the 15th June onwards, very senior officials of the three Departments, and of the War Damage Commission met and worked together in the closest concert. A very large part of the co-ordinated machine, which we wish to see working ever more efficiently and at an ever greater speed, was in existence when Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve was appointed. The responsibility of the Ministry of Health in this sphere is the general direction and supervision of the work of the local authorities, and to lay down the standards of repair which are to be adopted from time to time in accordance with circumstances.
The responsibility of the Ministry of Works is for the supply of materials, and for bringing in reinforcements of contractors' labour. The Minister of Works also makes a special contribution, in the employment of the Special Repairs Service as a mobile force for special work; and he also employs what have come to be known in this connection as "working parties," consisting of very small units in the building industry, to work together under contract with the Ministry of Works, and then under the general direction of the local authorities. The responsibility of the Minister of Labour is, again, quite distinguishable. It is the bringing in of individual men. My right hon. Friend is interested in seeing that labour is used to the very best advantage, and in connection with this work he is shouldering the very difficult and important matter of the management of the hostels for the imported building labour, the catering, cooking and welfare generally. I have referred to three Departments, but I should really have said four Ministers, for my Noble Friend the Minister of Reconstruction has taken, and is taking, the very closest interest in this 590 matter, which is, above all, a matter of immediate reconstruction.
One of the differences, which has not developed very far in the course of the Debate, has been on the extent to which local authorities should be the proper instruments for this work. There were some suggestions that the local authorities concerned are very small units, and very parochially minded, but I might remind the House that the majority of the local authorities most seriously concerned in this matter have a normal population of about 200,000 people, and in some cases more. Really they are not small for this task. We here should recall that it was Parliament, as recently as 1941, that gave to the local authorities the power under which they are working.
I shall cover a great many of the points that have been raised by hon. Members in the course of the time available to me, but it will obviously not be possible to cover all the points of detail. They will be noted and dealt with in the usual way—I hope even better than in the usual way. Nor can I say much about the South-Eastern Region. It would be undesirable that I should specify in any detail the amount of damage which has taken place outside the London Region, but I can assure those who are interested in the progress of this matter in the South-East, and in the East as far as it is affected, that it is being very closely watched; and as far as labour and materials are concerned, the areas most affected are being treated in exactly the same way as the London Region itself.
§ Mr. Willink
I am afraid I have a lot of ground to cover. The next matter I want to deal with is the extent of the damage, because those who suggest, as was suggested by one hon. Member, that if we really set our minds to it, we could finish the job by Christmas, must be enlightened on the position. The daily returns which were made up to 12th September showed as that, so far as the London Region was concerned, 24,000 houses were destroyed or damaged beyond repair, and that there had been 1, 100,000 incidents of damage—
§ It being Five o'Clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.591
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Mathers.]
§ Mr. Willink
It was always difficult to get the figures because the same house might be counted two or three or four times, but a particular incident might double the amount of damage to a particular house if the blast came from the back when it had already come previously from the front—in fact it might more than double the damage. At that stage we were dealing with what I call the "field dressing," a difficult task, but a task with none of the complexity of extensive repair going into the individual circumstances of every house. Our task to-day, of course, cannot be, as was said by one hon. Member, to reinstate; it would be quite wrong to attempt to reinstate in the course of this winter. What we have to do is to make, as quickly as possible, homes which are warm and reasonably comfortable for those who are to live in them. In the middle of September we asked the local authorities to review the situation as to the damage, and I can give the House the best estimate that I believe there is, based on those fresh returns. Here I will include everything which is outstanding at some stage, because all outstanding damage is relevant, and not merely the flying bomb damage. Another most relevant fact is the loss of houses arising during the earlier blitz, and it is on the basis of the total loss of houses in both major air attacks that the labour is being allocated.
The total loss of houses is now 109,000 in the London Region and, on 22nd September, we estimated that 800,000 houses needed repair of some kind to make them reasonably comfortable. That figure does not include all the houses that are damaged and which have not been reinstated. It does not include those for which the "field dressing" was sufficient to make them reasonably comfortable—where it was a matter of a few tiles or perhaps just a window or two—not complete loss of the windows. Nor does it include those houses which, in the view of those concerned, are too serious to be tackled this winter at all, in view of the demand they Would make on man-hours. It would he quite irresponsible of me, speaking on behalf of my colleagues, and on my own 592 account, if I were not frank and honest about the size of this task.
It is a very heavy task indeed, and I would like to say a word about these C (b) houses as they are called, houses which are technically and properly reparable, but are so damaged as not to be fit for occupation. It is from those whose homes these houses were, that I believe the majority of the most serious complaints are coming. How natural. Perhaps there is nowhere else to go, in their own district at any rate, and they are remaining in those C (b) houses in spite of the houses being, in the view of technically expert people, not fit for occupation. Such houses are so seriously damaged that they are not on the local authorities' programmes. Now the proper course for the local authority must clearly be this: a C (b) house must be repaired if people cannot be offered alternative accommodation, but if they can be offered alternative accommodation, it must not be repaired, if that would be out of scale with the proper programme before the local authority.
The average cost of repair—and this is a significant figure—of houses, including C (b) houses, which were damaged in the attacks of 1940 and 1941 and which were repaired in 1941 to 1943, was £45 per house. It is easy, therefore, for hon. Members to get a rough idea of what that means in terms of labour—man-weeks. What is the task with which we now have to deal? The figure of £45 per house included a substantial number of C (b) houses. We shall not deal with those, except in the rarest cases, during the coming months. We believe that the widespread blast of the flying bomb causes a larger number of slightly damaged houses in the total damaged than that of the bombs of the 1940–41 attacks. Therefore we can hope that the average, when ascertained, will be substantially less than the £45 per house I have mentioned. But if there are 800,000 houses to be dealt with, it is clear that we have before us this winter a job which will represent £30,000,000 to £35,000,000 worth of work.
To suggest that such a task could be accomplished by any organisation, and particularly with a change of organisation, between 27th October and 25th December is really very far away from the mark. Mending, repairing, is, quite clearly, the 593 main part of the programme and it is in added efficiency in repair, in laying down a programme, in organising both labour and materials and the relation of one to the other, that our major progress must lie. But on top of what I have described as work which is estimated to cost between £30,000,000 and £35,000,000, there are all the extras, on which some are inclined to lay such stress. For example, there is the provision of huts in special areas, where the loss of houses has been great, the adaptation and conversion of larger houses, and the repair of C (b) houses, where that is necessary for the same reason that huts are necessary, namely because such a high percentage of houses have been totally lost. The building of these huts is expensive in man-hours, compared with the average expenditure of time on repairs. The asbestos cement Nissen hut, so far, takes 750 man-hours to erect, and the average cost in time of making a house reasonably comfortable, is very much less than that. I am sorry that Stepney has not been able to have all she wished in the way of uni-seco huts, but uni-seco production is also available and proper for the temporary bungalow, and I believe that it will be better used, on the whole, for the production of the bungalow than for the hut.
To give the House an approximate idea of the measure of progress to date, I can say that for the four weeks from 22nd September—on which date the estimate of 800,000 was made—something like 120,000 of those 800,000 houses have been brought into a reasonable state of comfort. I am not going to hazard to-day an estimate of future progress, such as the hon. Member for West Fulham (Dr. Edith Summerskill) seemed to expect me to give, with precision. I hope that the rate of progress will be increased, and that the improvement in the balance of labour and in the distribution of material and the added supervisory staffs, both employed by local authorities and available to contractors, will effect a progressive increase in speed. We thus start to-day with a better prospect.
§ Mr. R. C. Morrison
It would be interesting to know whether that figure mentioned by the Minister is arrived at because of the fact that the most slightly damaged houses are being treated first, and, as time goes on, you will come to the others.
§ Mr. Willink
It has taken account of that, but it is not the case with every local authority that the most lightly damaged houses are done first. A whole street may be done, leaving out only very slight and very serious cases, and that is a system which has commended itself to a number of local authorities and may well commend itself to those who live in the district.
Points were raised with regard to requisitioning. The hon. Member for South Poplar (Mr. Guy) was really under a misapprehension both with regard to the powers of requisitioning, and with regard to what has, in fact, been taking place in his own borough. I was relieved to hear it confirmed by the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Key) that the situation was, as I understood it to be, that requisitioning had gone forward well and that the huts were coming forward as soon as the sites were ready to take them. The extent of requisitioning has, of course, been very large indeed. It was fortunate that, at the beginning of the attack, local authorities, under my authority, held property empty and available for 26,000 people. Since that date, 11,300 individual properties have been requisitioned, and since the flying bomb attack began, 80,000 people have been rehoused in requisitioned properties.
What further can we do? I have some doubt myself as to the extent to which people will go far away from their own districts. We propose, on a reasonable scale and taking some central area, to try it out. Paddington has a scheme for 292 flats to accommodate 1,140 people, and in Islington there is to be made available, a decent amount of space for those who might be willing to leave their own district, if the shortage is as great as we believe it to be, and go to Islington. The military authorities have, I am glad to say, already transferred 475 houses from requisition under the authority of the Secretary of State to requisition under a local authority, and 573 more houses are in course of being turned over. That is very substantial progress and my right hon. Friend is helping me.
Can I help my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon on the matter of the "homeless pool"? The difficulty arises in this way. I was responsible in 1941 in a Regional capacity for fixing a figure which should be the aim of every 595 local authority to maintain as a reserve against future bombing. In part it would be ready for occupation and in part under requisition but damaged and in course of repair. Later the local authorities were authorised to requisition for those inadequately housed and to that there was no limit of the same kind. As I said in replying to a Question yesterday, there is now no question of maintaining a reserve of property fit for occupation against future bombing. In the London Region all property which is fit for occupation must be made available for occupation immediately. So the question of this quota, this pool, this reserve, has gone, and the only question for a local authority in requisitioning is this. It is useless to requisition 100 damaged houses, when it would not be a proper use of labour to put it on unoccupied damaged houses, but where homeless persons are needing requisitioned property, the proper course for the local authority which cannot find sound habitable property is in so far as it has labour available, to requisition the damaged property, and repair it from time to time and make it available as soon as it is habitable. That, I hope, makes the position clear to my hon. Friend.
May I pass to a question for which my Noble Friend the Minister of Works is primarily responsible? I do not want to trouble the House with a multitude of astronomical figures, but I would like to give two or three examples of what has been done, making the submission that the provision of materials has, in fact, been energetic and in all the circumstances very successful. Production of material of the kinds we need is being increased to the utmost possible extent consistent with the clamant needs of the war itself. London region and "bomb alley" have been given an absolute priority over the rest of the country. Increase in production in any field at the moment is not easy—our production is strained and the amount of material needed for this task is very large.
I believe that my hon. Friend was right when he said that the ultimate limiting factor in this problem is material rather than labour. With all-out concentration of our resources on war production and the difficulty of obtaining fresh productive capacity and labour in that productive field, as opposed to building labour, 596 we cannot be expected to go to indefinite lengths. In plaster board, which is a vital matter, the production before 15th June was 2,000,000 square feet per week. This has already been increased to 4,000,000 square feet per week. Provided that 400 men can be obtained, everything else is ready to raise the production as from mid-November to 6,750,000 feet per week. 46,000,000 feet have already been delivered to London since the attack begun. Other building board does not make so large a contribution, but is has been very important because the demand for plaster board has been almost insatiable, and production is now 1,000,000 feet per week. The national production of slates before 15th June was 800,000 a week; 20,000,000 have been delivered to London for this work, but the difficulty with any rapid or great increase in production of slates, is that slatemakers are experts, and there are very few of them.
§ Mr. Willink
I am sorry, I have not got that figure. The increase in the production Of tiles since the middle of June has been threefold, and by a coincidence 46,000,000 have been delivered to London, the same number as the number of feet of plaster board. In regard to windows, an interesting invention has been made available. A special emergency window has been devised in collaboration with the industry, with one large pane. It is ready glazed in the factory and expandable at the two sides so that it can adjust itself roughly to the size of the space which is being filled. One hundred thousand of these emergency windows have been ordered, and 10,000 a week are already being delivered.
In regard to timber, I know there has been a good deal of complaint about difficulty in obtaining supplies. I would not claim to be familiar with the details of timber control, but I would like to make one general point with regard to material, because it is particularly applicable to timber. The one thing which is vital in all this matter is programme. I am advised that, even with all the difficulties of timber, a contractor who is enabled by the local authority to plan ahead and then takes the second step and plans ahead for himself, and orders his material for three or four weeks ahead, will find that, even 597 in the sphere of timber, many of the difficulties disappear.
So much has been said about the development of the labour force that I need not go over that in any detail except to give the House a few precise figures, with a comment. On 25th October there were working for the local authorities on house repair 102,213 men. That figure did not include men on demolition or clearance of debris, who are, of course, another force dealing with the consequences of the flying bomb. It did not include men on private work licensed or certified by the local authority, nor did it include another 15,000 or thereabouts working on hospitals, schools, factories, shops and offices. We expect that in a few weeks there will be a building force of nearly 140,000 workers in the London Region dealing with war damage. I could pay tribute to many, including the Minister of Home Security, who has released a very substantial force of Civil Defence workers, and the three Service Ministers. One hon. Member seemed to be under the impression that it was soldiers only. It has been Marines, R.A.F., Royal Engineers, Pioneers and Naval Ratings. Every Service has made its contribution, the provinces as well, and Scotland too.
What is more important is the matter of balancing the labour. On the "field dressing," this question did not arise. A disproportionately large number of labourers was almost satisfactory at that stage, but it is fatal at this stage. The normal build-up of the building industry is, roughly, 50–50 as between craftsmen and labourers. This task needs two to one, craftsmen to labourers. That we have achieved. Such an example as the two firms, one with 60 slaters and the other with none must, of course, be looked into. I discovered only yesterday that, having got the general balance in the Region right as between craftsmen and labourers, the next stage, on which we have actively embarked, is to straighten the matter out locally in the area of each authority.
I think it right to say, before passing from the question of labour, that I believe that those who are inclined to clamour—I will not say clamour but to demand—a greatly increased labour force are at this stage making a mistake. I believe that with the developments I 598 have indicated we shall, as organisation improves, be able to match all available material with labour, because it is clear that the progress of organisation and programming, will make the use of labour considerably more economical.
§ Mr. Martin (Southwark, Central)
Before the Minister leaves that point, can he give the House an assurance that when the craftsmen are required for key purposes, they can always be secured from the Services?
§ Mr. Willink
I cannot give an assurance that a craftsman, whatever responsibility he may be holding in the Services—he might be a squadron-leader in the Air Force—will inevitably be released. But all the Services are giving the most sympathetic consideration to these cases. As a specific question was asked on the method of getting men of various kinds released for this purpose, may I say, quite shortly that so far as concerns technical staff needed for housing, the application should come to myself. So far as building craftsmen or operatives are concerned, whether they be in the Services or Government Departments, the application should be made to my Noble Friend the Minister of Works.
May I pass for a few moments to the question of efficient organisation? I was most genuinely delighted to hear the tributes paid to Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve. I think I shall find the House agreeing with me when I say we appreciate greatly the courage and public spirit which led him to undertake this very important task. It is a most onerous task, but I hope nobody will henceforward call it thankless, because we in this House are, I know, grateful to him for what he is doing. It is right that the House should know precisely what his position is. He has executive responsibility, subject to Ministers, for concerting the activities of the various agencies, both Government Departments and local authorities, which are concerned in the London area with (1) the repair of war damage and (2) the provision of such temporary living accommodation as can be made available for use before the end of this winter. I was anxious to be precise about that because I saw it stated yesterday in one of the newspapers that he was also responsible for the re-housing of the people. He has enough on his plate with 599 the fabric without the duty of seeing to the user of the fabric when it has been repaired. That remains the responsibility of the local authorities and myself. There is decentralisation. We have a district organisation—four districts in the Region, where the three Government Departments and the contractors meet regularly and discuss this problem.
The key-note on which I would like to end is this: I believe that now we are getting the materials we have got the right labour force for both local authorities and for contractors. Order and programme 600 are the two key words for the next stage. When that it done, and when every man in every grade and trade realises that this is a tremendous task, in which London deserves his very best efforts, I believe we shall be able, in spite of all the difficulties, to satisfy those people who have suffered and given so much, that the very best is being done for them.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-nine Minutes after Five o'Clock, till Tuesday next, pursuant to the Resolution of the House this day.