HC Deb 26 September 1944 vol 403 cc172-5

Question again proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

Mr. Bevan

I am not trying to be obstructive at all, but I think the House is entitled to ask that before we continue with the further stages of the Bill, certainly before we finish with the financial Clauses, a White Paper should be prepared on the financial proposals of the Bill in order that we may know a little more about what is proposed. I am certain that when it is understood in the country that the rents of these houses may be as high as has been stated to-day, local authorities everywhere will be frightened at the prospect of having to order large numbers of them. Unless we can have more details of how it is proposed that this money should be spent, the names of the firms who have been invited to produce jigs, what kind of estimates have been formed as to the cost of individual houses, and how many of these houses the local authorities have agreed to acquire, it will be necessary for us to examine the Bill in very much more detail before the Third Reading. I therefore invite the Government to let us have that White Paper at the first opportunity, in order that we may know in a little more detail what they propose to do.

Mr. Muff (Kingston-upon-Hull, East)

I would remind the House that when we postponed this Debate it was because there was great dissatisfaction, but also there was a tendency on the part of the Government to show that they had not got only an empty mind but an open mind. I had hoped that we could have had a fair amount of unity in the House to cope with this problem. We were thinking in terms of steel when we debated the matter a couple of months ago. I suggest that we are not now debating altogether in terms of steel, as hon. Members will see if they take a walk along Millbank tomorrow morning. There is a certain amount of urgency, and if this House rejects the Bill, I will gladly, on the ground of urgency, put my hand into my pocket towards a flag day to indemnify the Government. We are changing our minds. What we have to do is to make up our minds, and to get rid of some of our prejudices against what we call prefabrication. In the West Riding of Yorkshire we have plenty of stone, and we like to think in terms of stone, but our friends in Scotland and Northern Ireland and other places have to think in terms of unit blocks—that is, prefabrication. [An HON. MEMBER: "We have stone in Scotland."]Then Scotland ought to use your stone. There is 25 per cent. of overcrowding in Scotland, and we want to help remove it. I have seen three of these houses—one for aged people, one for a small family, and one for a larger family—made of what I prefer to call unit blocks. Those houses will outlive steel houses by at least 15 years, and, on the same basis, will cost about £50 less for the same kind of house, but that should not prevent our trying to get a new idea by thinking in terms of chalk, wood and clay, instead of steel. Hon. Members will see that for themselves if they take a walk on Millbank to-morrow morning.

With regard to the names of firms taking part and ready to take part, I have already a list of 22 reputable firms, some of them in Scotland, I am glad to say, who are ready to co-operate, and, if there are any patent rights attached, to waive any rights to patent fees, and put them into a common pool. In fact, if there is one positive thing I like about the present crisis with regard to building, it is that both operatives and firms have been ready to co-operate and come to the aid of the Government. There are firms all over the country, but I do not wish to mention a single one of them, though I know their names and their repute, who are ready to co-operate and guarantee 100,000 houses in one year, not of steel, but partly of cement and partly of laminated wood. The Government, I am told, have refused to consider what they call plywood, but if they will provide ten ships in order to import from British Columbia the plywood which is there, and which the British Columbian timber merchants have promised they would supply, the country would get houses at least 20 to 30 per cent. warmer in winter than steel houses. I do not rule out steel houses; I only say that, both on the operatives' side and on the other side, co-operation is taking place, and that is why I agree with the remark of the right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot), "Get the signals ready for the All Clear; it is a matter of urgency." That is why I support the Second Reading of the Bill to-day; I want to get on with the job. I have a sufficiently long memory to recall what took place after the last war, and it was one of the greatest causes of the disillusionment which took place in this country and which caused people to say that we had sold the pass.

There is one condition, and that is that every step of production must be controlled, whether we like it or not. When the right hon. Christopher Addison (as he then was) was given the task of providing 350,000 houses at £1,100 each by the Government, he was given an impossible task. He could not do it because there was no control of raw materials, but if the Government will see to it that these raw materials, from the beginning to end of production, are controlled in a proper way, just as we have already got standard units of production on the domestic side of the house, even to the refrigerator, we shall get the houses. If we waste our time in pettifogging peccadilloes we shall not get the houses but a revolution.

Dr. Russell Thomas (Southampton)

May I ask one question in regard to the preparation of sites—foundations, roads, drains and so on—I will not go into that now? This is a very important part of these prefabricated houses, and I would like to have an assurance from the Government whether contracts will be put out to open tender by the local authorities or be confined to a few firms. There is an impression at present that these sites will be put into the hands of half a dozen big firms—firms which will be taken off the air runways and so on and which will still have the special machinery—many hon. Members will know the big firms I mean—largely obtained under Lend-Lease, I believe, while the smaller firms—but still firms of considerable size—will have no opportunity of tendering. I would ask whether these smaller firms will be given the opportunity of tendering and of having the special machinery directed to them which is now, in fact, as we all know, in the possession of the big firms, and whether they will also have the skilled labour directed from those firms if need be. I think it is time the Government disposed of these somewhat disturbing and ugly rumours of monopoly in this respect which are going about.

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

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House.—[Mr. Buchan-Hepburn.]

Committee to-morrow.