HC Deb 27 September 1944 vol 403 cc316-26

3 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Westwood)

I beg to move, in page 3, line 43, to leave out "and."

I have also a manuscript Amendment in line 47. Shall I read it now?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Charles Williams)

The right hon. Gentleman had better move the first Amendment. If necessary we can have a discussion on the two together.

Mr. Westwood

The first of these Amendments, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, is to extend to the local authorities in Scotland the same enabling powers that the Committee has already granted in the new Clause moved by the Minister for Health to the English authorities, and is solely and wholly consequential upon the decision of the Committee to extend these powers to England.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 3, line 47, at the end, add: (f) in Section six for references to Section seventy-four of the Housing Act, 1936, and to the First Schedule thereto, there shall be substituted respectively references to Section fifty-one of the Housing (Scotland) Act, 1925, and to the Second Schedule to the Housing (Scotland) Act 1930; for references to Section eighteen and to Sections eighty-four to ninety of the Land Clauses Consolidation Act, 1845, there shall be substituted respectively references to Section seventeen and to Sections eighty-three to eighty-eight of the Land Clauses Consolidation (Scotland) Act, 1845; and for the references to Section one hundred and eighty-eight of the Housing Act, 1936, there shall be substituted reference to Section forty-nine of the Housing (Scotland) Act, 1930."—[Mr. Westwood.] Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

3.3 p.m.

Mr. Stephen (Glasgow, Camlachie)

I want to say a few words on the Third Reading of the Bill. Unfortunately I only got a few minutes when the Second Reading was before the House. I put two questions to the Minister of Production yesterday. I asked what the rent of the Portal house was going to be and I was told that 10s. without rates was the figure being proposed. The point I would put to the Government in this connection is that the Portal house in various parts of the country will have a different rateable value owing to the difference in rating systems so that one of the things which is worrying me is that in Glasgow the rent of the Portal house will work out at 17s. 6d. or 18s. a week while in other parts of the country the figure will be 12s. 6d. or 14s. a week. I would like the Scottish representatives in the Government to look into this matter because it will be obvious to Members of this House that if Scottish occupants of Portal houses are to pay 18s. a week while in other parts of the country people will only have to pay 125. 6d. or 14s. it will cause a lot of trouble in Scotland.

One other point I wish to make is as to the cost of this temporary house. I have never yet been able to get a detailed account of how the figure of £600, which has been estimated as the cost of the Portal house, is made up. I cannot for the life of me understand how it reaches this enormous figure, and I would like a Member of the Government to give the House a detailed statement. Surely some estimate can be given of the various items that total up to the figure of £600. I think it is very important that the House should have this information. Unfortunately, I could not ask it on the Second Reading when possibly it would have been more appropriate and more useful, but before we depart from the Bill. I would like either the Minister of Health or the Under-Secretary for Scotland, or the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works, to give us the cost of the items comprising this figure. Many people in the country cannot understand why an erection of this type is going to cost so large a figure, and before the Bill passes from us I would like the Government to give us an explanation on this point.

When I was travelling to Glasgow, I discussed the question of this house with some of the people in the train. They said that they would like the Portal house because, for one thing, it had a bath and the houses in which they were living had no bath, but they thought that if they had to pay 16s. 6d. a week for it they would not be able to afford it. Take the man with a wage of £4 14s, a week who, after paying Health Insurance and Unemployment Insurance and other outgoings, has four guineas left. If he is to pay £1 a week for this house plus, say, 10s. a week Income Tax I do not see how such people are going to be able to occupy these temporary houses at all. The housing need is greatest with regard to the poorer sections of the community, and it seems to me that all this Government have been able to do in this connection is to try to make things easier for the people who are better off instead of for the poorer classes. I wish to make that protest and to ask for that information before the House departs from the subject.

3.7 p.m.

Mr. Oswald Lewis (Colchester)

I want to make a plea on behalf of those areas which have either not suffered bomb damage at all, or have suffered only slight bomb damage but, nevertheless, have a problem of overcrowding. I am sure that people in those areas would agree that the first call on these temporary dwellings must be for those areas which have suffered severe bomb damage. I do not think anybody would dispute that, but the inhabitants of the areas for whom I am trying to speak feel that if, after substantial deliveries have been made to severely bombed areas, it is the intention of the Government to go on and complete all the needs of such areas before dealing with the needs of those who have suffered no damage at all, then that is not fair. I submit to the Minister that after substantial deliveries have been made to badly bombed areas, all areas where overcrowding exists should rank together and get some deliveries. Otherwise, the position will be exceedingly difficult. Owing to movements of population superimposed on the absence of building during the last five years, there has been very severe overcrowding in many areas, which cannot claim precedence on the grounds of bomb damage. It is for such areas that I desire to plead, and I hope the Minister will be able to assure us that, after the first substantial deliveries have been made to badly bombed areas, those areas which have not been badly bombed will rank for consideration with the bombed areas.

3.11 p.m.

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

We on this side congratulate the respective Ministers concerned upon reaching the Third Reading of this Bill, end we will gladly give it to them. I only wish to say that I hope the Ministers will strike a note of urgency in the country for the building of these houses. The country is in a very bad state indeed from the housing point of_ view. Up to the period of the war many areas were in a bad condition for want of houses. Some of the most pathetic tales used to be told by young people who had got married and others who had been waiting for years for houses. This temporary housing question, which we must remember is only temporary, underlies the greater question that is in everybody's mind. We mobilised all our forces In material and men to meet the situation in 1940, and it is just as necessary to concentrate all our energies on the provision of houses. In the main we are providing temporary houses and the more permanent ones that will be built afterwards for men who have been married since the war began and have never had a house of their own. We should remember that we are building them for the men who have made it possible for us to remain here, and the Government should use extraordinary means, as they did in 1940, to bring home to everybody—I do not care whether they are workmen, or interests or whoever they are-the urgency of the need for making these temporary houses. They should also impress on the people and the local authorities the urgency of the greater problem which lies behind the temporary one.

3.14 p.m.

Captain Strickland (Coventry)

I want to emphasise what has been uttered by my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterle-Street (Mr. J. J. Lawson) as to the dire necessity for prompt and strong action being taken now that the Government have got this Measure. I hope they will also speedily deal with the larger question of town and country planning. The need in some of the bombed cities is so terrific that I doubt if even Members of the House who are not as closely connected with such centres as I am realise what the housing shortage means. My hon. Friend the Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) spoke about rent, but even the rent is of secondary consideration. People in Coventry are paying much more than my hon. Friend mentioned to live with a whole family in a single room. Many people in Coventry do not know what it is to have a home. Every week when I meet my constituents, young married people come to me who are living in rooms with their small families and who are not wanted because they have babies or because babies are coming. They are often faced with being turned out into the street, and they come to me and say, "Captain Strickland can you find me a house in Coventry?" Coventry's centre has been blitzed and hundreds of workers' dwellings have been swept out of existence. A host of people from all over the country have been poured into Coventry, and we shall shortly be faced with the return of our soldiers, and particularly the return of disabled men from the Services, The position is pitiable. I hope that the Government will realise that local authorities are terribly hampered because they do not know what is going to happen and how much support they will get-from the Government. This Bill is about to pass through the House, and I am sure that from every quarter there will be a feeling of joy and gladness that, at any rate, a first step has been taken towards meeting the housing problem.

Can we have an assurance from the Minister that from now on this will be regarded as an A.1 priority. concern of the Government, even to the extent of drawing people into the building trade, even if they are dilutees, and of getting whatever help can be obtained from any part of the country so as to cope with this terrible and horrible situation? I hope that the Government without delay will let the local authorities know where they stand and what the Government propose to do in town and country planning. I hope, too, that they will give an assurance that in every step that the local authorities take to deal with the housing situation they will have the support of the Government and the Ministers concerned. Some difficulty is created by so many Ministries being concerned with a single subject, and the ramifications of the housing problem are so wide that one gets confused and bewildered as to the best means to take to bring this matter to the attention of those in authority. I am glad that this Measure has reached its Third Reading, and I hope we shall have an assurance that the local authorities will be well armed to go forth in this big fight. I am certain that the salvation of our country will lie in the establishment of happy homes. People want a home which they can regard as something which belongs to them, as something which is their own little place. If after ten years we have to dispose of these temporary houses, let us be ready to put the people in proper homes of their own.

3.18 p.m.

Mr. Logan (Liverpool, Scotland)

I am pleased that the Government have brought this Bill forward, and as one who has lived among my Liverpool people for 60 years I am glad to speak for them and for the people in the Scotland Division in particular. I have been a member of the Liverpool Housing Committee, but I have been easy during the Debates on this Bill because I thought that things had gone on nicely. I rise now only to bring forward one point, which I think is of the utmost importance. A Minister can make or unmake a reputation, but we do not want any reputations to be lost in this matter. We want reputations to be made by many houses being produced. He will be a well-blessed Minister who is able to bring houses to those who have been on the waiting lists for 12 or 14 years, even if it is only something of a temporary character. I know that some comment is made about houses that are to last only 10 years, but 10 years is a long time to be without a house. Many of our men will be returning after having fought to retain homes for us, and the least a grateful nation can do is to speed up the erection of houses, even though they be of a temporary character. Life itself is only temporary. Some of these houses may last longer than others, because of the more considerate way in which they are used. That is a point to be taken into consideration. If the Minister will give me 40,000 houses for Liverpool there will be 40,000 more homes immediately, and people will bless the Minister, even though he does sit in a Coalition Government. Any Minister who is able to produce the goods for the public will sit on the Government Front Bench.

We are very much handicapped in Liverpool. We have been badly blitzed and many streets are vacant of houses; but we do not cry about it. We want, however, something more than speeches. We want houses to be built in order to get our people back into the city. We want our great port to be used for the purpose for which it was intended. If we have a war to wage in the Western world, we want to be able to sail the Seven Seas. It is essential that our great ports should be regarded, because the life of the nation depends upon them. I want to see temporary houses built not on the outskirts of Liverpool, but near the former homes of the people, and where the houses were situated before. I want the evils of land and property speculation to be stopped, and I ask the Minister to keep an eye on this aspect of the matter, and to nip any such operations in the bud.

We do not want it to go forward that the housing directors of our great cities cannot use their brains and their ingenuity in disposing of the sites they have. If they can put 20 or 25 temporary houses on little strips of land here and there, they will be conferring great benefit upon pepole, and gladden their hearts in a way that we are not able to do today. The Minister should urge the municipalities to get going and to put some vigour into the machine. Let us have houses built, even though they are temporary, and then we shall bless the day when the Bill was passed.

3.25 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel H. Guest (Plymouth, Drake)

I reinforce the words of my horn and gallant Friend the Member for Coventry (Captain Strickland). I represent a city exactly like his. It has been through a most desperate time and it is estimated that a fifth of the city's houses have been destroyed. If we are to wait for a Town and Country Planning Bill we have to wait a long time before there is accommodation for the people to live in. If we do not get houses for the people, and for the returning soldiers, we may have a situation in this country little short of revolutionary. I see from the Press that Plymouth has been declared a city to which returning evacuees may go, but there is no room for returning evacuees. How can they go back if there are no houses for them? Is it not possible for the Army, Navy and Air Force authorities to derequisition as many houses as possible in Plymouth? I know of houses held by Service Ministries although nobody is in them. That applies not only to Plymouth but to many other places throughout the country. The Bill is a stepping stone to what we must do in the most general way possible. We must not allow anything to stand in the way of getting temporary houses up as quickly as possible so that our people can get shelter.

3.27 p.m.

Captain Duncan (Kensington, North)

As a Greater London Member, I would congratulate the Minister upon getting the Bill through and would wish him to use his greatest personal endeavours to make it a success, not only in London but in all other places. The question is frightfully difficult. There seem to me to be two main difficulties which will come along as a result of passing the Bill. The first is that too many Ministers are involved. The Ministry of Works will manufacture the structures but will not be able to get materials except through the Ministry of Supply. The Ministry of Health will deal with the local authorities. A multitude of authorities will have to be consulted and that is one of the great dangers. I hope that the Minister of Health, who will be held primarily responsible, whoever else may in fact be responsible, will watch this matter and will see that other Ministers and subordinate authorities get on with their work without friction.

The second danger I see in the Bill is that the short view may prevail over the long view. The urgent need for temporary houses of the Portal bungalow type will be very great, not only among evacuees and local populations but among returning Service personnel after demobilisation. The pressure will be very great that land which ought to be used for permanent houses should be taken for temporary houses. Land is very short in London. When local authorities make their suggestions the Minister has to do the deciding, and I should like him to warn them that, when thinking of temporary housing, they should not overlook the paramount need of land for permanent or semipermanent housing of prefabricated manufacture. I hope that the Minister will watch these two dangers so that they do not ruin the scheme which he has put forward.

3.29 p.m.

The Minister of Health (Mr. Willink)

The Government—and I personally—are very grateful for the help which we have received from the Committee and from the House to-day and in winding up this Third Reading Debate I need not take very long. There are two points which I want to clear up, and they both arise from what was said by the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen). The first is in regard to the price. I can do no more at this stage than refer the hon. Member to the speech made on 1st August by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works—the column in HANSARD is 1310—in which the figure of £600 is given. This of course is very provisional and is based upon various elements, many of which are not in a normal house at all.

The second point he raised, to which others also have referred, was with regard to rents and rates. This question of the fair level of rents and rates affects, and is equally relevant to, any discussion on permanent houses in this country; it is not something special to this Bill. What is clear is that the rents to be charged for temporary bungalows must be wisely and sensibly related with the rents of their permanent houses by the local authorities who will be managing them. The impression seems to have been given that the Government would take a more rigid line with regard to these temporary bungalows than has been the practice with regard to permanent houses. Might I, to satisfy the House that that will not be the case, state what has already been indicated to local authorities in Scotland and what certainly will be indicated to local authorities in England and Wales? The actual rent to be charged for the houses will be left to the local authority to determine in accordance with the provisions of the Housing Acts. We anticipate that it will be appropriate that the rent should be roughly in line with that charged for a permanent house; but there will be no rigidity and there is no special problem with regard to rates or rents arising on these bungalows.

A number of hon. Members, particularly those whose constituencies have suffered heavily at the hands of the enemy, of whom, I may say, I am one, referred to the general housing shortage and said that no undue concentration should be made on those most recently damaged. As I see the position, the main purpose of the Bill is to make a contribution to the accumulated housing shortage of the whole country, but the blitzed areas will have a special claim to priority, and the most recently blitzed areas will have a still higher claim to priority, both because of the exceptional amount of damage that has occurred in London and Southern England this summer, and also because many of the earlier blitzed areas had arrived with whatever difficulty at some measure of stability. The tremendous damage to house property in the Metropolitan area this summer indicates that a large proportion of the earliest deliveries of these bungalows should go there.

With regard to the relation between temporary and permanent housing, I can assure those who are anxious that it is very clear in my mind that what this House wants, and wants at the earliest possible date, is good permanent housing. Within the last few days I have been able to issue to local authorities Housing Manual, 1944, and with the issue of that Manual I have asked all housing authorities to take a step which will lead straight in the direction we all desire to go—I have asked them to submit lay-outs and house plans for the earliest part of their programme. I am encouraging them to go forward with that. We must at all times remember that it is no more possible to build houses this year than it was last year—we are still at the height of this phase of the war and I cannot promise what the demands of the war will be in 1945—but what I can promise the House is that I shall bend my utmost energies to providing our people with homes.

3.35 p.m.

Squadron-Leader Fleming (Manchester, Withington)

I would like to ask my right hon. and learned Friend one question about the use of labour under this new Bill. At the present time, as everybody is well aware, there is a great deal of repair work going on in London. For example, my own flat was destroyed two months ago. I went to it this morning. Nothing has been done. The reason is because labour that was employed on that block some six weeks ago has been removed to another site. What I would like to ask the Minister is, When this Bill becomes law will the labour that is at present being employed on repairing damaged property be in any way removed or taken to set up these Portal houses?

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

Bill read the Third time, and passed.