HC Deb 27 September 1944 vol 403 cc265-88

12.10 p.m.

Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)

I beg to move, in page 1, line 7, after "temporary," to insert "and prefabricated."

During the Debate yesterday, I gave notice that I would place an Amendment of this character on the Paper. I had not then heard the speech of the Minister of Production, and I want to say now that that speech afforded me very considerable satisfaction upon this question of prefabricated buildings. Prior to that, it is true, one had heard the Scottish Secretary's speech but there remained in my mind principally the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works in the Debate in August, when he conveyed the impression to me that he had only one type of house in his mind, namely the Portal house. He went so far as to tell us that 100,000 of those houses in the first year would employ so much steel, and so on. He rather chided the House for criticising the Government upon their concentration upon one type of house. He said, "Where are the others? My Department is open to anyone to come but there are not any others." It was that concentration on one- house to the exclusion of all others that troubled me and induced me to place this Amendment on the Paper. I had in my mind then the expert view on the matter. May I read a few lines from the "Architects Journal" of 22nd June, because it represents clearly what seems to be the right view on the matter and expresses admirably the view that I have tried to express more than once. We believe that several serious errors of a general kind have been made. For instance, to repeat a former criticism, it has been wrong to concentrate on a type of, house rather than on a flexible system. Such a system would make possible a variety of plans, and the later addition of units or rooms when a family is increased in size. It goes on to meet a point, which was raised at Question Time to-day, about the amazingly dull uniformity that the house is going to present.

It will also prevent a dull uniformity. A major advantage of standardised mass production lies precisely in the power of flexibility of combining in a variety of ways a limited number of basic units. It is just that variety that was partly in my mind; but my chief plea yesterday was that the Government should not concentrate too much upon the temporary as opposed to the new, quickly-erected, prefabricated type of house. Until I heard the speech of the Minister of Production I had not felt satisfied that the Government were adequately seized of the amazing opportunities now presented to us. The Minister of Production, however, gave a very cheering message. He said: Since this housing problem has engaged the closest attention of the Government … two things have happened— That is, recently happened. One was the flying bomb blitz and the other was the emergence of this new kind of quickly and cheaply erected prefabricated house. The Minister went on to say: I want to say, straight away, that … if we can bring the man-hours and the cost of a permanent type of building down nearer to the cost of the temporary house, then that is an alternative which the Government would embrace with the greatest willingness."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th September, 1944, Vol. 403, C. 165–6.] I welcome that statement. As was pointed out in a letter in "The Times" yesterday from Sir George Burt, I take that to mean that, having accepted the in ciple of new types of prefabricated houses so admirably displayed at Northolt, the programme of temporary houses will, therefore, be drastically reduced. I welcome that, and that being the Government's object I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Mr. Austin Hopkinson (Mossley)

Before the Amendment is withdrawn let us get a confirmation of that statement from the Government.

The Deputy-Chairman (Mr. Charles Williams)

Did the hon. Member move his Amendment?

Mr. Henderson Stewart

I want to withdraw the Amendment. I beg to move the Amendment.

Mr. Molson (The High Peak)

Would the hon. Member be in Order in making a speech and afterwards asking leave to withdraw the Amendment?

The Deputy Chairman

I assumed that the hon. Member was going to move his Amendment. It is rather difficult; we have to see what happens if we do not know what the hon. Member is going to do, but I conclude that he has now moved the Amendment.

12.15 p.m.

Mr. Hopkinson

Should we be in Order in discussing whether this Amendment should be withdrawn or not? The hon. Member has asked leave to withdraw his Amendment. Are we in Order in discussing the Amendment? I hope the Committee will insist that the hon. Member gets a specific statement from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works that his interpretation of the statement by the Minister of Production yesterday is a correct interpretation. I hope that we shall have no shilly-shallying about it, but that we shall get a definite and direct statement which can be quoted subsequently instead of having any prevarication.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)

Before the Minister replies it seems to me that the Amendment moved by the hon. Member is in direct contradiction of what he desires to secure. He desires that permanent buildings as well as temporary buildings should be erected under this Bill, but he has moved an Amendment which says that the buildings must be "temporary and prefabricated." Surely he should have said "or prefabricated." Otherwise his Amendment would mean that the buildings must not only be pre- fabricated but temporary, whereas his argument was that he was against the erection of a large number of purely temporary buildings and that we should devote attention also to more permanent buildings.

Mr. J. J. Lawson (Chester-le-Street)

Before the Minister replies can be give me an answer to a question which I asked yesterday? Can he say whether prefabricated houses of a permanent type put up by local authorities come within the compass of the grants and the policy which the Government have laid down in this Clause? I wish he would give a definite reply, because a large number of local authorities are considering putting up something like semi-permanent houses.

Sir Percy Harris (Bethnal Green, South, West)

This issue is an important one, and I agree with my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) that the Amendment which has been moved is a most unfortunate one. The fewer temporary houses we build the better it will be for the country. The erection of temporary houses is a wasteful way of using labour and could only be justified by the emergency. If, at the same cost, and using the same amount of labour, it is possible to build as quickly prefabricated houses, I am sure it would be the desire of the whole Committee to do so. We have the impression, though I have no doubt it is a wrong impression, that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works attaches importance to the word "temporary," that he prefers houses of new design and using new materials to be purely temporary. Our experience after the last war was that many of these unsatisfactory temporary houses were made to exist for a very long time. I am not quite sure which is the hon. Member's constituency in Woolwich, but I could take him to parts of Woolwich where some of these temporary houses built after the last war still exist and are inhabited. That is what we are really alarmed about. Although I do not like the character of the Amendment I think before we proceed much further we ought to know that there is not a prejudice in favour of temporary houses as against prefabricated houses of a permanent character.

Mr. Leach (Bradford, Central)

On a point of Order. If an Hon. Member, called upon by you, Mr. Williams, to move his Amendment did not do so—[HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."]I never heard it moved.

The Deputy-Chairman

The hon. Member did move it.

Mr. Hugh Lawson (Skipton)

I have an Amendment upon the Order Paper, but I understand that it is not the intention of the Chair to call it— page 1, line 8, after "accommodation," insert "or housing accommodation of a permanent factory made type. It seems to me that if my Amendment were put into the Bill it would do what the Committee desires, and that is allow the Government to build prefabricated houses of a permanent and also of a temporary character. I think that was favoured in 90 per cent. of the speeches made during the Second Reading Debate. Although my Amendment is not to be called I think we ought, at this stage, to have a specific assurance from the Government that they will insert words in the Bill some time before Third Reading to make it possible to build also permanent houses. There is, of course, the objection—

The Deputy-Chairman

The hon. Member cannot discuss his Amendment. It is not being called.

Mr. Lawson

The intention of the hon. Member who moved the Amendment which is before the Committee was an intention that I would support. Under this Bill it should be made possible to build both temporary and permanent prefabricated houses. The words which it is proposed to insert are "and prefabricated." It has been suggested that "or prefabricated" would be better, and it seems the best thing would be for us to get a specific assurance from the Minister that he will insert the words "or prefabricated," or similar words, before the Bill passes its final stage.

Mr. Stephen (Glasgow, Camlachie)

It seems to me that the question before us has become a little confused. Since the intervention of the right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) there has been an attempt to get some clarification, but I am a little doubtful as to what exactly it is we are discussing. It seems to me that most of the speeches have been speeches in support of the Amendment of the hon. Member for Skipton (Mr. H. Lawson) which is not to be moved, and that there have been no speeches in support of the Amendment before the Committee. I do not know how it will be possible for the Minister, if he is to keep within the bounds of Order, to deal with the point which the Committee evidently wish him to deal with, and I would ask you, Mr. Williams, whether it would not be possible for us to depart from the present Amendment and take the next Amendment so that the Committee should be able to discuss what Members really wish to discuss.

Mr. G. Griffiths (Hemsworth)

I have been under the impression all along the line that this is a temporary Measure, that its purpose was to get these Portal houses put up as quickly as we can, and, as the right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) has said, the Amendment is wrong and it is not one that can be accepted by the Government. The hon. Member moved it and withdrew it and then moved it again. He might as well say "We want the temporary and permanent buildings at one and the same time." What we have been discussing is the provision of temporary buildings, because of the emergency, and we cannot have them as permanent buildings and we ought to face that fact. I hope the Minister will say "I want the temporary buildings and at present I am not prepared to accept the proposal for prefabricated permanent buildings."

The Minister of Health (Mr. Willink)

I think, at least I hope, that I can clarify this matter a little. It is certainly the case, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths) has suggested, that the Government could not possibly accept this Amendment. It is, with all respect, confusing—temporary and prefabricated houses. Our proposal is for temporary houses which are prefabricated, and the language of this Amendment would be confusing to the last degree. In the second place it is hardly fair for my hon. Friend to say what he did after what was said on ist August. In moving the Second Reading of the Bill I said: At this moment alternative materials for the hull are being considered, and I am advised that they are now likely to be capable of manufacture at a price no higher than the prototype which hon. Members have seen."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st August, 1944; Vol. 402, c. 1260–61.] Investigations proceeded during the Recess and four types have now been approved by the Burt Committee on Materials and Construction. This is a Bill to make provision for temporary housing accommodation. The developments in prefabrication for permanent houses will have an effect on the ultimate scale of this temporary programme but, after all, the prefabricated houses, if I may so call them—the term is one of some ambiguity—which have excited so much admiration, have only been put up as an experiment. I hope very much that in our permanent housing programme too we shall make great strides in new methods of construction.

12.30 p.m.

We are satisfied—and it is really the principle of the Bill—that in our present situation the particular need we have to meet is for something smaller in scale, with two bedrooms only, something mass-produced, of a type not designed to last for 60 years, but for 10 years. That is an essential element in meeting our need. That is what I have found in seeing those who have suffered most. They feel that we need to proceed concurrently both with permanent and temporary bungalows of various types. That is the scope of this Bill.

Mr. A. Hopkinson

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman please give us a specific answer to the question which I raised at the beginning? It almost seems as if there is something here to be hidden. The Minister of Production yesterday made a statement and my hon. Friend opposite asked the Minister of Works to confirm the statement. The Minister of Works' representative sitting there will neither confirm nor deny it, and I think that is treating the Committee very badly indeed. He has only to say that the hon. Member has interpreted it rightly or wrongly. The other point on which perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman can inform us is this. Supposing a new system of housing is proposed and a house can be put up for less cost and in less time than those selected by the Minister of Works, is the fact that it is going to last more than 10 years to debar it under this Bill, because I understand that unless it is only for 10 years, it is not to be considered?

Mr. McGovern (Glasgow, Shettleston)

There are some of us who are convinced that owing to the developments which have taken place there is now a house which can meet the needs of the community, not of a purely temporary character, which can be mass produced and become a permanent house. If such a house is available, and there is expert opinion on it from people drawn from the building trades, would that not be a reason for the Government and the Minister revising the plan for putting up a large number of these temporary dwellings Which are going to be scrapped in 10 years, and giving us the benefit of a mass produced house that could be permanent?

The Deputy-Chairman

I am afraid the discussion has got very wide of the Amendment.

Mr. McGovern

I am asking only because of the difficulty regarding the Bill. I want to know whether the Government are taking stock of this development.

Mr. Willink

I think I can give the assurances asked for. In the first place there is no restriction whatever on the proposals of local authorities with regard to the type of permanent house they shall erect. All sorts of experimental construction are being considered, but I would impress upon the Committee that the time for experiment with regard to our immediate business is past. It is time to take decisions with regard to homes that will be made available in the course of next year, and where there are types which have been passed and can be produced in the right numbers they should be produced.

As to confirming what was said by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Production, a Member of the War Cabinet, it is almost unnecessary and, indeed, unseemly, for a request to be made for such confirmation. I would only say that it is for the Minister of Health to provide these structures and what was said by the Minister of Production is entirely another matter.

Mr. Hopkinson

I must protest against the right hon. and learned Gentleman regarding it as unseemly. I insist upon getting a definite answer to that question, and, further, if the representative of the Ministry of Works refuses to reply, I shall move to report Progress.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works (Mr. Hicks)

It is certainly a matter of policy for the Minister of Health to decide. It is not for the Minister of Works to decide upon policy. When my hon. Friend moved his Amendment to-day, he referred to the fact that on 1st August I devoted a large portion of my time to the Portal house. That was the only one, at that time, before the House and, therefore, I had to devote my speech to it. I indicated at the same time that the Government were not opposed to any other proposal for temporary houses, and, at the request of the Ministry of Health, my Ministry has erected three other types of temporary houses, the names of which I have given this morning. There are other types coming in and if they pass the Burt Committee and the prices are right—the prices of none of these other temporary houses have been decided Upon—and if their production can be made available, then the Ministry of Health will give us, after consultations with the local authorities, the types to be constructed. I thought the position was perfectly clear. I am sorry if my language was unable to communicate that to the House. I did not think there was anything wrong about it, but it appears that my hon. Friend thinks there is.

The other point is that at Northolt there has been some other types of houses put up of a permanent character—nothing to do with the Bill at all—and the Ministry of Works has been responsible for demonstrating the use of other materials for building houses of the traditional type.

The Deputy-Chairman

I do not think we had better follow that any further.

Mr. Henderson Stewart

I must apologise to the Committee for a technical slip made at the beginning which has led to some confusion, but perhaps I may claim that it has caused an interesting Debate and got from the two Ministers, if not a confirmation, at least an explanation of the pronouncement made yesterday. In these circumstances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Hutchinson (Ilford)

I beg to move, in page 1, line 14, after "authority," to insert: or on land of which such authority are entitled to exclusive possession for a period of not less than five years. This Amendment deals with a different aspect of this matter from the one which the Committee has discussed for the last half hour. Its purpose is to enable local authorities to erect the Portal bungalow upon sites which are not intended to be used permanently as sites for permanent houses. I venture to submit to the Committee that, if this Amendment is accepted, it will very considerably enlarge the scope of usefulness of these temporary houses. I regard the Portal houses as a temporary expedient which has been introduced to meet a temporary emergency. It is an expedient for which my right hon. Friend and the Minister of Works are, in my judgment, entitled to considerable credit. But if the Portal houses are to be restricted to the sites which are destined to be the sites for permanent houses, then their usefulness will be considerably restricted. The principal vacant sites available for housing development, in London at any rate, are the sites of blitzed houses scattered about in small groups in different streets, and in different parts of the London area.

The purpose of my Amendment is to enable the local authorities, if convenient, to erect these Portal houses on those blitzed sites scattered in small groups in different parts of their localities. The Committee will readily appreciate that there are certain definite advantages in using the Portal house in that way. The roads are available and other services are available at the site which could be connected to the houses in a short space of time. I am told by those who have technical knowledge of these matters—a knowledge which I do not profess to possess—that the preparation of sites for Portal houses is a comparatively simple matter, and that it might even be possible to prepare these sites by using the organisation of emergency first-aid repair labour which has been brought into existence throughout London by most of the local authorities. If that is so, it means that the local authorities, if they had the power to place these houses upon sites of this sort, would be ready to begin the work of erection as soon as the houses became available. It may be, if they have to wait until permanent sites have been acquired, and until the services and roads have been made available on them sites, that they may not be ready to use these houses as soon as the Ministry of Works is able to deliver them. On the other side of the picture, I recognise that there are certain difficulties. No doubt my right hon. Friend will point out that the frontage of a Portal house is greater than the frontage of an ordinary terrace house. That, of course, means that if the Portal house is used in the way suggested, it would overlap the normal site frontage of the terrace house. But on most of these sites four, five or six, or even more houses have been destroyed and there is available a vacant frontage which extends very considerably beyond the frontage of a single house. It is really only a matter of arrangement to place these Portal houses in a suitable way upon sites of this nature. In some of the local authorities' areas, where Portal houses might usefully be used in this way, it may be possible to put the Portal house—

The Deputy-Chairman

I should point out that this is not a question of the value or otherwise of Portal houses, and we should not go any further in that direction. This is a narrower point, concerning an authority's exclusive possession of land for a period of not less than five years. That is the point, and we cannot go into a full discussion of the value or otherwise of Portal houses.

12.45 p.m.

Mr. Hutchinson

With respect, Mr. Williams, as the Bill stands, local authorities are restricted to the erection of these houses upon land which is acquired or is to be acquired for the purposes of housing. My Amendment proposes that their power to erect Portal houses should be extended to land of which they can obtain exclusive possession for a period of not less than five years. That would mean that they could go to the owners of blitzed sites and make arrangements with them for the local authorities to have possession of the sites for this purpose for not more than five years. The matter goes a little further than you indicated. It enables the local authority to erect these houses upon sites which do not belong to them but of which they have obtained possession for a limited period. Therefore, I submit that it is relevant to consider whether it is a practicable proposition to place these houses upon sites of that sort. It was for that reason that I began to discuss the comparative frontages of the Portal house and the terrace house.

The Deputy-Chairman

That could be used as an illustration. But it is not possible on a narrow Amendment of this sort to have a full discussion on frontages. I was merely trying to limit the hon. and learned Gentleman's argument and warning him that the discussion should not be taken on to the value of Portal houses in general.

Mr. Hutchinson

I will pass from that aspect of the matter. There is one other objection which my right hon. and learned Friend may bring forward. If the local authorities are to get the right of exclusive possession of these sites for only five years, it means that at the end of the five years the house would have to be taken away. My right hon. and learned Friend may say that these houses are so constructed that once they have been erected it is not practicable to take them down and re-erect them elsewhere. I can readily see that the number of times which a Portal house can be taken down and erected somewhere else is limited, but I should have thought that, if these houses are of a purely temporary character and are really sectional buildings, as I understand them to be, it ought to be possible to take them down at least once during their lifetime and re-erect them on a second site. If that is not now practicable, then the usefulness of the Portal bungalow would be considerably increased if it were possible so to alter its present construction that it could be taken down at least once during its lifetime and built elsewhere.

I do not anticipate that, if the local authorities have power to act in this way, they will encounter any great difficulty in obtaining sites. In the case of sites which have been occupied by houses more than 40 years old, which come within the class of pre-1914 houses, it would be a considerable advantage to the owner of the site that it should be occupied in this way for a period of, say, five years as against the alternative of having the site unoccupied altogether perhaps for two or three years, until a building can be erected upon it. The local authorities would have no difficulty in obtaining vacant sites of this character for five years. But if. difficulty in obtaining an adequate number of sites is encountered, some powers of requisition might have to be given. It does not seem to me that the owners of the sites would suffer any great injury by reason of their sites being requisitioned. I would not agree to any power to requisition sites of which the owner or his family were in occupation before the building was demolished; but subject to that and to proper safeguards, I see no reason why local authorities should not be granted the power of requisition.

I have no wish to press this Amendment upon the Minister unduly. I have put it down in order to enable the Committee to discuss what seems to me to be one of the most important aspects of the use of this temporary house. If my right hon. and learned Friend in reply says that he, in conjunction with the Minister of Works, will give consideration to the matter and make some provision in the Bill at a later stage to enable local authorities who desire to do so to make use of these bungalows in this way, I shall be satisfied and will ask leave of the Committee to withdraw the Amendment.

Mr. G. Griffiths

After being very definite about the matter, the hon. and learned Member for Ilford (Mr. Hutchinson) says that he may withdraw his Amendment. I hope that he will not waste his time in moving the Amendment and then withdrawing it, because I hope that the Minister will accept it. I want to support it from a different point of view. I want to speak for some little authorities all over the British Isles—the urban district councils. There are scores of local authorities who own bits of land which they cannot use as estates for permanent houses. They have a patch of land in one place that would take four houses and a patch of land in another place that would take 10, but they will never be able to use them for permanent buildings. The sewers, water and other services are already laid on, and the erection of temporary houses will be cheap from that standpoint. I asked the Minister of Production yesterday whether it Was true as the Press had stated that the Minister would not sanction fewer than 50 Portal houses in any district. He told me that that was not correct, and I am pleased that it is not.

I am chairman of the housing committee of my urban district council and we have given consideration to these tem- porary houses. Outside the blitzed areas there is a great need for them. I have had letters galore and people interviewing me begging for these houses. I had a most distressing case the other day of a soldier's wife, and I am not ashamed to put it before the Committee. Her husband has been a soldier for four years, she has a little boy six years of age, and she came to me and said, "We are going to have an increase in our home. I am living with my-mother-in-law, and she told me, 'We cannot have any more babies in our house and if you are going to have a baby you must go'." I was astounded. There are three bedrooms in that house. The woman said, "If I could get hold of one of these houses I would go on my knees and thank Almighty God that I have a home of my own, I have a bit of furniture and I would jump at the chance of having one of these temporary houses." We have land in our urban district at three different points where we could fix 12 of these temporary houses. I had a letter from a soldier only the day before I came to London begging and praying to be put on the list for one of these houses. All I am asking is that where we have the land and do not have to buy land and are able to put these houses up in fours or sixes, we should be allowed to do so. If the Minister does not give a favourable reply, I hope that the hon. and learned Member for Ilford will stiffen his back and go into the Lobby.

Mr. Molson

I am not surprised, Mr. Williams, that you did not fully appreciate the scope of my hon. and learned Friend's Amendment, because when I saw it on the Order Paper I did not fully realise what he had in mind. After listening to his speech, I understand that he is dealing with the point that the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Key) raised on Second Reading yesterday, to which I referred afterwards. It referred to the large number of sites where houses have been demolished in London recently by flying bombs and where the ordinary services are readily available, and it would appear that it would be both economical and speedy to use those sites for the erection of Portal houses. In most cases it would not be desirable or convenient for the local authority to acquire the freehold of the land, but where a number of houses had been destroyed in a street, if the site could be made available for Portal houses, it would result in temporary accommodation being made available without the need for long and costly work having to be undertaken. I hope that the Minister will give sympathetic consideration to the Amendment.

1.0 p.m.

I pointed out yesterday that I understood there were many places where there are bombed sites, where the houses have been destroyed, and where it might be possible to make use of the services which exist. Although the Portal house is by no means ideal, when we consider the appalling conditions under which many Londoners will have to live for months to come, and the Government proposal that huts should be put up this winter, in order that those people should have just mere shelter, it seems as if the Portal house might, very usefully, be erected on a large number of those sites.

Dr. Russell Thomas (Southampton)

I must say I feel sympathetic towards the Amendment which has been so ably moved and supported, but there are one or two objections to it to my mind. It seems quite obvious on first examination that houses should be put on these vacant sites which, as has been pointed out, are already supplied with water, drains and so on, and especially in London where there are already large gaps where houses have been destroyed and sites cleared, but to do so might very well obstruct in the long run the development plan of the local authorities concerned. Once temporary houses are placed on the site and if local authorities are to have control of those sites for five years, interference might very well affect the new development of the area. That point must be borne in mind. There is another factor, a human factor, which comes into this matter. Suppose the local authorities say that after two years they will take these temporary bungalows down; they would have to be very ruthless and determined. After all there is a human side to this. They would have to make up their minds at some period, perhaps within the five years, to scrap the Portal houses and move all the people out when, perhaps, permanent houses would not be ready for them. That would be very disturbing to the people concerned, and might prevent them from following their occupa- tions, for instance, in any easy manner. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford (Mr. Hutchinson) made another point with which I cannot altogether agree and I think it should be examined a little further. It sounds alright. He said that if sites are conveniently situated in regard to services it might be well to take the opportunity of using the workers whom the local authorities have mobilised for first aid repairs and to put them on to the work of erecting Portal houses on these sites.

Mr. Hutchinson

I said that I had been advised by people with experience in these matters that the labour gangs now being used for first aid repairs, might be used for the purpose of erecting Portal Bungalows. I did not suggest that the gangs should be taken off first-aid repairs. If I did not make the suggestion clear, I will do so now, and it was that when the work of first-aid repairs has been completed, or has proceeded to a reasonable and suitable point, the organisation brought into existence for that purpose might be used for the purpose of erecting these Portal houses.

Dr. Russell Thomas

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for clarifying the matter, although I do not think it makes very much difference to the point I am trying to express. We know that 900,000 houses can be reconditioned in London, and that it will take a very long time to get them into ship-shape order. To my mind it is better to get houses into habitable condition as far and as quickly as possible, than it is to go on even with temporary housing on bombed sites. I hope that the Minister will not be tempted in any way and will not draw his workers off for this purpose. It will be a long time before these houses can all be reconditioned and it is hoped to erect temporary houses very shortly. I quite accept the explanation of my hon. and learned Friend. What he has in mind is a matter on which I take, perhaps, a long view. We should see whether houses which have been blitzed can be put into order first—

The Deputy-Chairman

We are not discussing that point.

Dr. Russell Thomas

No, Mr. Williams, but I am objecting to the point which was made by my hon. and learned Friend. As I said when I began I have considerable sympathy with the Amendment but before we accept it we should consider very carefully its far-reaching effects.

Mr. Cocks (Broxtowe)

The Amendment illustrates one of the general criticisms made against the Bill, and which has never been clearly answered, which is that so long as the temporary building is in position a permanent building cannot be put in its place. I do not know where the temporary houses can be erected so as not to prevent permanent building.

Mr. Willink

If I were to be absolutely strict in keeping to the Amendment, perhaps I could not cover all the points which have been addressed to me. I believe that, within that strict view, I could define the Amendment as one which first raises the question of the land on which these bungalows are to be placed, secondly asks the nature of the interest in the land which the local authority is to have, and, thirdly, raises a question as to the duration of that interest. I would, first, express my appreciation of the very thoughtful observations which have been made, both by my hon. and learned Friend and other Members who spoke about what is a particularly difficult problem—that, as the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Cocks) has stated, of finding appropriate sites for the temporary structures. It is a problem on which I am already having assistance from my right hon. Friend the Minister of Town and Country Panning. Circumstances differ in every place. Where there is a big housing site, part of which can be devoted to the purpose, or where there is an area so heavily blitzed that the programme over or years sill not cover the whole of the area, a quarter, say, or a fifth of the area can quite properly be covered with temporary houses during that period.

I cannot accept the Amendment, and I want to give my reasons. In the first place, I am advised that it is, technically, unnecessary, as a matter of law. As the Bill stands, houses can be erected on land acquired or appropriated for the purposes of Part V of the Housing Act by a local authority. Here I would answer the point raised by the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths). The sort of land to which he referred, which is in the owner- ship of the local authority but did not come into their ownership originally for housing purposes, comes within the Bill and can be appropriated to this purpose. The hon. Member need have no anxiety upon that score. I am advised, in regard to the point raised by my hon. and learned Friend as to leases, that a lease is sufficient to bring the land within the meaning of the word "acquired" for the purposes of Clause 1. The point is of some little complication. It is probable the necessary power is given by Sections 73 and 74 of the Housing Act, 1936. The language of those two Sections distinguishes between acquisition by agreement and by compulsion and with regard to the latter uses the word "purchase." This seems to indicate that the acquisition of a lease-hold interest is acquisition of land for the purposes of the statute. If, however, that view is wrong the matter is not concluded. Under Section 157 (1) of the Local Government Act, 1933, a local authority may for the purpose of any of its functions under this or any other public general Act, by agreement acquire, whether by way of purchase, lease or exchange, any land. … and so forth, though that section should not be relied upon for the purposes of the Housing Act if the Housing Act itself gives sufficient powers. In the absence, therefore, of the necessary powers in the Housing Act, Section 157 of the Local Government Act would operate and give those powers. Consequently, on that technical point, the Amendment is unnecessary. On the Bill as drawn, these houses can be erected on land acquired by the local authority in the sense that it has been leased.

On the other hand, turning to my hon. and learned Friend's second point, there is no power for the compulsory acquisition of a lease. The only form of compulsory acquisition is by purchase. Any legislation bringing in a mode of compulsory leasing of land would be complex, possibly controversial, and anyhow not within the scope of the Bill as drawn. It would give rise to delay and difficulty. In so far as local authorities can obtain by agreement land by lease for these houses, they are free to do so, but I ought to tell the Committee and warn my hon. and learned Friend that I Should very seldom, if ever, be able to approve a site which was safe to be able to approve a site which was safe to be in the possession of a local authority for only five years. The types of bungalow so far approved are what the experts call "demountable"—an unpleasant but technical word. That means that they can be taken down and, in theory, put up again. Though the process is technically practicable, the best advice I can get is that it is not really a practical proposition because of the damage that would be done, which might be of a very substantial character, and because of the expense which would arise. It would not be an economic proposition with this temporary accommodation which is to last, at the best, only ten years.

The real purpose I understand my hon. and learned Friend to have in mind is that land, the houses on which have been destroyed, should be used for three, four or five years, until the owner has an opportunity of rebuilding. It is an object which, I am afraid, cannot be achieved. Owners are unlikely to take the view that voluntary leasing of their land for ten years is the right course, and I believe that the right policy is for the land to be acquired. So far as speed is concerned, my hon. and learned Friend supported his Amendments partly on the ground that voluntary leasing might be more speedy than compulsory acquisition; but we believe that the right policy is rather to make sure of rapid acquisition, a process which, as the Committee knows, I am going to ask the Committee to facilitate later in the day.

Mr. Hutchinson

I am very much obliged to the Minister for the explanation which he has just given to the Committee. Before I ask leave to withdraw the Amendment, I should like to put two points to him. May I ask him, first, whether he will be willing to amend Clause I so as to make it plain that the expression "acquired" includes acquisition by leasehold as well as by freehold interest? I would remind him that in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum to the Bill it is stated that the purpose of the Bill is to enable housing authorities to place these houses on sites on land belonging to them or to be purchased by them. If my right hon. and learned Friend is now advised that the expression "acquired" in Clause 1 includes acquisition by lease, would he, on the Report stage, amend Clause 1 so as to make it quite plain that the expression does include leasehold acquisition?

The other point is this: whilst I quite appreciate what he said, that there may be technical reasons for not taking these houses to pieces and re-erecting them, I should like some assurance that; before these bungalows are put into production, the Minister of Works will ascertain whether the difficulty of demolition and re-erection to which my right hon. and learned Friend referred can be overcome so that the houses, at least once during their lifetime, can be removed from their first sites and placed in a second position.

1.15 p.m.

Mr. H. Lawson

I would like to ask the Minister one question before he replies. He has told us that this Bill is going to give permission to local authorities, or that it will be possible for local authorities, to erect these Portal houses on any land in their possession. I hope that will not be taken by local authorities to mean that there can be a wholesale erection of houses on public open spaces, allotments and places of that nature. I agree that may have to take place in a few very exceptional cases, but I would like an assurance that the Minister is not going to allow that to happen, that he will discourage it and make it perfectly clear to local authorities that they shall preserve their existing local open spaces.

Mr. Molson

I appreciate the force of my right hon. and learned Friend's argument in so far as it applies to the erection of temporary houses on sites that are going to be held for, say, a short period such as five years. I gather that under the Local Government Act, 1933, it would be possible for these houses to be erected upon land which was leased for a longer period than that time. I think it would be useful from the point of view of local authorities if the Minister could say what his real intentions are on that matter. If the practical difficulties are insuperable to the suggestion which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford (Mr. Hutchinson) has put forward, I would like the Minister to deal with this point. There may be much more extensive areas which, perhaps, are not likely to be used for permanent building for some considerable time, something like ten years, the contemplated life of these temporary houses. In circumstances of this kind, would my right hon. and learned Friend view sympathetically the proposal that Portal houses should be erected on a site of that kind, where a local authority has a lease for something like ten years?

Mr. Willink

With regard to the suggestion made by my hon. and learned Friend that there might be an Amendment to this Bill, making this point clear, I hesitate to promise to do that in the course of to-day. But it is my clear intention that where the local authority has a satisfactory leasehold interest it should be possible to build these temporary houses on that land. I can undertake to make quite sure of the existing law, which I believe to be as I have stated. If I am satisfied on that, the position as regards leasehold land will be made clear to the local authorities in the circular which will follow the passage into law of the Bill. If the legal position remains obscure, I will consider whether an Amendment can be moved in another place.

With regard to open spaces, no local authority will have a completely free hand as to where these bungalows should be placed. All the projects for the lay-out of the sites and so forth will come before both myself and the Minister of Town and Country Planning. Although the circumstances will vary so much and there may be very exceptional cases where possibly a fringe of an open space might be strongly pressed for by the local authority itself—I have no such particular case in mind—I think the hon. Member for Skipton (Mr. Lawson) can rest assured that, under the control exercised by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Town and Country Planning, there is no reason for apprehension on that score. On the question whether further technical investigation should be made to see that the houses are as easily movable as possible, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Works says that shall most certainly be done. It is, of course, of importance from the point of view of ensuring the maximum of salvage if not for other reasons.

Mr. J. J. Lawson

I take it from what the Minister says that he is not going to the the local authorities too tightly in this matter. I am very pleased, and I beg the Committee to understand what we are asking these local authorities to do. We are asking them to acquire temporary sites as well as sites for permanent houses. That is a big job for a local authority to undertake, and while I think that nobody would like them to take wholesale, say, a playing field or anything like that, certainly nobody would like to tie them too tightly in the matter of temporary houses, when we are also not only asking them to undertake permanent housing schemes but we are asking them to plan—

Dr. Russell Thomas

Not only that; is it not really worse—asking the local authority to use a site temporarily when it might well be building permanent houses on that site?

Mr. Lawson

I think a good deal of this arose from the point raised yesterday regarding the London area. That is an area by itself. Taking the area of the country as a whole, London is a strictly limited part of the country. The rural and urban areas have very big problems indeed, and I am very glad the right hon. and learned Gentleman has not undertaken to tie the local authorities too tightly.

Mr. Hutchinson

I am very much obliged to my right hon. and learned Friend for his assurances, which entirely satisfy me, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

Mr. Cocks (Broxtowe)

Do I understand, Major Milner, that you are not calling the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Stewart)— In page 1, line 14, after "structures" insert "of various designs.

The Chairman (Major Milner)

No, I am not.

Mr. Cocks

While the Government are considering different types of construction why must they all conform to the lay-out and design of the Portal prototype? I asked that question yesterday, and the Minister of Production replied that the reason was that they had to be of a design which could take the standard fittings, the kitchen unit. That being admitted, and the fact being that standard fittings can be used in permanent houses as well, what is the objection, if a firm can produce another bungalow at a lower price, or a price which is not higher, of a different design, say, for example, with a third bedroom? That will not affect the question of standard fittings and the kitchen units.

Mr. Willink

I think I can satisfy the hon. Member with regard to that. If he visits the four types at present erected, he will find that even among these four there are variations in design. The kitchen must be something very much of a uniform size and shape to take this kitchen unit, which is not only a kitchen unit but a bathroom unit at the same time. With regard to the other rooms, we are very anxious—although the house is sub-standard in certain respects in regard to the number of bedrooms and height of rooms, for instance, as compared with the Dudley house, if I can so name the house recommended by Lord Dudley's Committee—that the size of the rooms should be in accordance with those recommendations. Another limiting factor is that we take the view that the temporary house should be one for the small family unit. We picture this as a house for the young married couple in the early stages of their family life. Consequently we think two bedrooms the right number to provide in the temporary house.

Lastly, and I think this is the most important point, the preparation of the sites will be going on simultaneously with the manufacture and production of the houses, and it is most desirable that the lay-out, the foundation, the bed on which these structures shall be put, shall be capable of taking whatever type may be most readily available at the time when these sites have been prepared. Consequently there is to be an interchangeable system, and the area and shape of a number of these types, certainly all those to be put into production in the first instance, must be roughly identical. Subject to these limiting factors—the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works is here—I can assure the Committee that we shall encourage variety as far as possible.

Mr. Cocks

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman realise that a young married couple in ten years can produce, say, five children?

Mr. Willink

My belief has always been that the proper occupation of one of these bungalows is for three or four years, and that then the family will move into a permanent house, and another young married couple will move in for the second half of the period of life of the temporary house until they require a permanent house.

Mr. J. J. Lawson

The right hon. and learned Gentleman will have to make some very strict rules if he wants to keep to that. We have seen that laid down before, but we have never seen one such rule that was kept.

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