Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a further sum, not exceeding £70, be granted to His Majesty, towards defraying the charges for the following services connected with Housing for the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1946, namely:
|Class VII, Vote 4, Ministry of Works||10|
|Class VII, Vote 5, Miscellaneous Works Services||10|
|Class X, Vote 16, Ministry of Works (War Services)||10|
|Class V, Vote 1, Ministry of Health||10|
|Class V, Vote 4, Ministry of Labour and National Service||10|
|Class V, Vote 16, Department of Health for Scotland||10|
|Class X, Vote 18, Department of Health for Scotland (War Services)||10|
§ 3.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Greenwood (Wakefield)
We are now approaching, in the dying days of a long Parliament, one of the most vital human issues, the housing of the people. What is really the true position about housing in this country? At the beginning of this war we were left with some millions of houses which had been built 75, 100 and even more years ago. They were built in the days of free enterprise, which I understand that my hon. and right hon. Friends opposite still feel is the goal of their economic effort. They were built at a time of an industrial revolution, the brunt of which this country took, in days when there was no sanitary science and the new Liberal 1108 manufacturing interests, so hated by the Tories of that day, believed in the gospel of each for himself and the devil take the hindmost. Those houses are old houses. They are described in the White Paper as obsolescent, but they are more than obsolescent, they are rotten, according to modern standards, and that really is the core, the heart, of Britain's housing problem. It is not merely a case of patching up what is left, it is not merely trying to catch up the leeway. The fundamental housing problem is the rehousing of the vast majority of our industrial population.
During the war there has been very little building. The White Paper refers to the houses which were erected in the interwar years. They were not sufficient, and in the six years following we have got behind with any reasonable national house building programme. We have had in addition six years of cumulative obsolescence, six years in which old, unsanitary houses have become older and older and more and more decrepit. Further, unfortunately, there has been a substantial amount of enemy action, which put out of existence a very large number of houses or damaged them beyond repair or brought them to such a state that very little could be done to them. Then, during the war, young people have insisted upon getting married—they do so more in war time, I think, than in peace time—and so, on top of all the cumulative arrears and of our deficiencies in the past, comes this problem of providing houses for the newly-married couples or the couples who will be married when the soldier or the A.T.S. is discharged from the Forces. It is very likely that they will feel more indignant, perhaps, than those large numbers of people who have during lifetime learned to put up with bad housing conditions.
This is the most gigantic problem on the home front. This is not a problem like that of the restoring of our foreign trade, where we are to some extent in the hands of our friends overseas. This is a problem on our own doorstep which we can solve if we so choose by our own efforts. Failure, therefore, to solve the housing problem cannot be placed at the door of unwilling Allies overseas. Failure here means our failure to deal with what is a fundamental problem.
The present position is most unsatisfactory. The labour situation is a very 1109 grave one. When this war broke out more than 1,000,000 people were employed in the building industry in Great Britain. About a third of them were permanently employed on repair and maintenance and not on the building of new houses. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Works can check me if I am wrong, but I think that is broadly the fact. Today we have a building industry which is about one-third of what it was at the outbreak of war; the shortage is a very grave one. As regards materials, both manufacture and distribution are unorganised. With regard to finance, into which I cannot enter in any detail, the building industry has in the past, broadly speaking and apart from what local authorities have done, been financed by the bankruptcies of large numbers of small men. Ambitious, they go to a bank or an insurance company, get money to build their houses, build very bad houses—it is the only way they can make their money, if they do make it—and before they have made their money the loan is often foreclosed and they come to grief. From the point of view of financial organisation no industry has been more shabbily and more unprofitably conducted than the building industry.
What is really the nature of the problem which confronts us now? The fundamental problem, one which the late National Government was unable to solve, is how the limited and precious land of this country can be best used in the national interest. The control of the use of land is fundamental. It is no good building houses unless you know where to build them. It is no good pretending you can have a housing policy unless there is a policy for dealing with the land that is available to us. During the war, and it was inevitable in the circumstances, some of the finest agricultural land was used for bomber aerodromes. I do not complain about that, but as a national policy in peace time I should regard it as disastrous. It is not the case that Members of Parliament have not had guidance in this matter. There was the Barlow Report. It is true that it was published in the early days of the war, when people were not much interested in these problems. Then we had the Scott Report, and two Reports from the Uthwatt Committee, the final Report being published in December, 1942.
1110 We have never had a discussion of this fundamental problem in this House. In the last Housing Debate, in March I think, I raised with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, the present Foreign Secretary, the desirability and the urgency of a discussion on this very important problem, but we have not had one. Now we have entered into the realm of controversy. That is not displeasing to me; I have borne my burden of non-controversialism for quite a long time. The truth is that the late Coalition Government could not in any circumstances come to an agreement about the use of land, because that is the most precious thing that the Conservative Party thinks about. I am not blaming the Conservative Party, but only stating what is an obvious fact. Therefore, in the dying days of this Parliament, the country is now placed in an impossible position, because it must know, and intelligent people do know, that you cannot build houses on a proper national plan unless you have made up your mind about what land you want to use for what purpose. Agriculture is vitally concerned. I should hate to see towns sprawling out into the rural areas, eating up good agricultural land. That would be wrong. I should hate to see houses or other buildings put in wrong places.
This subject has not been thought out, and we may as well face it, because any hon. and right hon. Friends opposite must face it, and I have no doubt it will recoil on the heads of all of us when we take to the hustings in a very short time. The fact that no decision has been taken on the Uthwatt and the earlier Reports means that a solution, a real beginning of a solution, of the housing problem has been postponed for at least a decade. That we have to face. The Government have concealed their inability to deal with this problem under a smoke screen of superficial activity. In the Debate on the White Paper two or three months ago I described it as chicken feed for a hungry nation. I am bound to say that now I do not think it is chicken feed for even an urban district council.
Let us look at how this problem is being handled. There is my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health. There is the Secretary of State for Scotland. There is the Board of Trade, which is now a housing authority. There is the Ministry of Aircraft Production, which has shown great interest in the building of aluminium 1111 houses. There is the Ministry of Supply, which is interested in the raw material needed for houses. There is the Ministry of Production, which seems to be dying on its feet, but as long as it is there has some responsibility for the supplies needed for house building. And there is the Minister of Agriculture, who is very much interested in the housing of the people of the countryside.
Then there is the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Works who has emitted a lot of noise—sounding brass and tinkling cymbals and all that—but does not seem to have produced any houses up to now. Up to the recent change in the Government the Minister of Reconstruction was the Pooh Bah of the circus of Ministers, all of whom were dealing with one aspect or another of the housing of the people. He seems to have faded out now. There is no Ministry of Reconstruction, and I do not regret its going. We had this very large and complicated circus which produced very little. I quoted from the speech made by the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, who has many qualities and wide knowledge, but knowledge of the housing question is not part of his equipment. He told a good story; I do not want to quote it again, although I have here a copy of Hansard of 22nd March, in which there appears a most glowing account of the young couples who were to be housed in the most remarkable conditions and so on. Three months have passed and I would doubt very much whether half a dozen young couples are occupying these houses.
The right hon. Gentleman called it a military evolution. The Prime Minister loves to speak in language of that kind. I have a suspicion that he would like every evolution to 'be a military one. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Works appointed General Pile, a very distinguished soldier who has made a very great contribution towards winning the war. It was on my tongue in March to say, "You cannot build houses with Piles of Sandys," but I did not do it because we were not then, so controversial as that. We have not got any results out of this Pile driving. I submit that we are now facing a very grave national crisis. It is said that Nero was fiddling whilst Rome burned. I think the right hon. Gentleman and his circus of colleagues are fiddling 1112 whilst this country is rotting. I think it is a most unfortunate and desperate situation. The right hon. Gentleman and others with him have been driven to the expedient of temporary houses. I have said before, that we must provide shelter for our people. It may be very modest, but we must provide shelter for them. But the more the Government have to resort to temporary houses, the greater is the Government's failure. Many of us are very anxious about these temporary houses. We fear they may not be so temporary as has been envisaged in legislation. In any event, I cannot think of a greater waste of our national assets than pumping, I think the Government said £150,000,000, into houses which are not going to live for more than 10 years. The more temporary houses you have to put up to give shelter to the people who are coming back from the Forces, the greater is the Government's failure in facing this major problem.
What must be done? I assert there must be a policy for the control of the use and utilisation of land for purposes appropriate to the character and the position of the land. I think there can be no escape from that. Unless that is done everything else fails and we embark on another campaign of complete folly, disorganisation and probably the creation of an increasing amount of economic inefficiency and a good deal of housing congestion. I cannot assume anything—this Parliament has not got many days to live—but if one assumes that there is to be control of the use of land, it is possible to tackle the housing problem on a big scale—as the Prime Minister would say, as a military evolution—with the same organisation of resources as we have applied to the prosecution of the war.
We have to organise the mass production of materials and of the manufactured units for houses by collaboration between the Government and local authorities. That must be done, I think. Prefabrication can be carried out with traditional building on a much bigger scale than it could be done 20 years ago, and it would be absurd and fantastic if some of these more or less standardised parts were allowed to be produced in driblets with minor differences in detail when mass production would turn them out not only in larger numbers but at a much lower price. It is quite clear, though this may be distasteful to some hon. Members, that we 1113 have to keep a close hand on the prices of building material and of the manufactured products, for unless we do, fewer houses will be built.
In the next place I would say that, assuming this policy of large-scale production, assuming there is to be some control of prices and so on, then the Government in collaboration with the local authorities should embark on a big scheme of bulk purchase. Bulk purchase on a big scale might easily reduce the prices of building materials by 25 per cent.—in some cases, I believe, even more. After bulk purchase there must be organised distribution, and those kitchen units and household fittings or whatever they may be ought to go first where the need is greatest. That seems to me to be a reasonable, very modest and moderate programme. I do not believe it will be accepted by the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues to-day, but I put it forward as a scheme in which I believe.
The labour situation is very difficult. I would like to see early demobilisation of building trade workers, who are eating their hearts out in munition factories and doing nothing. We have to use the building labour which is available far better than we have done during the last year or two. It is undeniable that to-day on maintenance staffs in munition factories there are men who are doing building and dodging the Distribution of Industries Bill, when their services could be far more profitably utilised in the national interest outside. With the shortage of building trade labour, unless we pool our labour resources for building purposes so that they can be taken to the areas where they are needed most we shall waste a good deal of opportunity for building houses. I would like to see a time and progress programme so that every man should pull his weight, whether he be a building trade employer, or a clerk in the works or a foreman, or an ordinary operative. That, I think, would reduce the financial burden. I realise I cannot enter into this in any kind of detail but it seems clear that if we adumbrate any large and generous house building policy over a term of years local authorities will be put in a position of great embarrassment and, indeed, of potential bankruptcy unless somehow or another we can come to their aid.
There are two things I would say in passing. The first is that it would be 1114 sound economic policy for the Government to buy land and let it at nominal rents to local authorities, having regard to the purposes for which the land would be used. In the blitzed areas, I think, there should be a war charge. It is going to be a crippling disability for the places like Deal, Ramsgate and Coventry if they are made to bear a burden which arises out of enemy action. Do we mean to settle the housing problem? I put it to hon. Members opposite; do they mean to settle the housing problem? Do the public of this country believe that the Government are in earnest about it? My feeling is that they do not believe that the Government are in earnest. The country has no confidence in the Government's efforts. I regard the housing problem as fundamental to the spiritual life of our people. I remember many years ago as a young and active propagandist—I am going back 40 years—hearing at street corners the criticism that my party wished to destroy the sanctity of the home. What nonsense; what rubbish. It is even worse than the Prime Minister's broadcast on Monday night, which really was a piece of misrepresentation.
The Party to which I am very proud to belong—whatever service I have given to the public, has been done with the support I have had from my colleagues—believes in the sanctity of family life. We believe that houses are the temples of the spirit of our people. The ordinary people of this country have, with enormous courage, fortitude and sacrifice, beaten down the deadliest enemy which, democracy ever faced in its history, and they did that notwithstanding the intolerable and inhuman conditions under which so many of them have lived all their lives. Despite those conditions—I have seen it in the East End of London and by the riverside during the blitz period—how magnificent they were. They were men and women who had but the smallest grip on life, people who never had a real chance in life, and who always lived on the raw. They could not help it. I have seen their magnificent spirit and I, as a Yorkshireman, felt proud, living in London during that time. Bred as I was in a contempt for the Cockney—allYorkshiremen are—I take my hat off to the Cockney spirit.
One thinks of those people, having suffered and having been denied the 1115 elements of a decent human existence, still standing against the dreaded enemy in the greatest hour of trial this country has ever faced. They are surely worthy of something better than they have had in the past. A proud and worthy people such as we have proved ourselves to be are entitled to honourable and dignified conditions of life. Until we get those things, the magnificent possibilities, the real potential, of our people, which has been displayed during the war, will lie dormant. I believe that we have the finest man and woman power in Europe and in the world, but it needs to be treated with dignity and with honour. Our greatest national asset is not in our material resources but resides in the spirit of the common man. That spirit is, in my view, worthy of an honourable habitation.
What is to be done? Unless something is done and our people are convinced that this House is determined to solve this problem, the war will be well on the way to being lost, for it would be terrible if social disorders, social bitterness, social disappointment and new hatreds were allowed to grow because the ex-soldier and his wife have nowhere decent to live.
§ 4.3 p.m.
§ The Minister of Works (Mr. Sandys)
We have listened with attention to the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman. I did not feel that his speech added very much to the constructive proposals which have been made at different times in this House on the subject of housing. Some of us on this side of the House did not have the benefit of an invitation to the recent Conference at Blackpool; however, the right hon. Gentleman was good enough to repeat some of the jokes which he made on that occasion. I felt that the speech of the right hon. Gentleman would have sounded very well on the air, but I understand that, for the time being, we are not likely to have that privilege of hearing him. He raised a number of general issues, with some of which I will deal. Others will be dealt with by my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Health, when winding up the Debate.
A big change has taken place in the housing situation since we last debated the subject, on 23rd March. Now that 1116 the war in Europe is over, things which we have hitherto only been able to talk about and prepare for can now actually be done. As has often been explained from this Box, so long as the German war continued, the man-power needed to start up permanent house building could not be spared. All that, happily, is now changing. Men and women from the Forces and from munitions will now be returning to the building industry in increasing numbers. The moment for which we have long been waiting has come. Permanent house building can now be restarted. The necessary instructions have been issued to local authorities. The flag has now been dropped and the housing race is on.
§ Mr. Craven-Ellis (Southampton)
My right hon. Friend has said that local authorities have been advised that they can go on; but what about private enterprise which, in the past, has been responsible for most of the houses?
§ Mr. Sandys
If the hon. Member will give me a chance I will try to deal with that point. House-building activity has been virtually closed down for the best part of six years. Our task is to start it up again with all possible speed. This is a vast production problem, which raises in an acute form many of the same difficulties which were encountered in the early stages of munitions production. Whether we make guns or houses, whether the work is carried out in the factory or on the building site, the phases of production which have to be gone through are very much the same. The first stage is taken up with planning and preparation. During this period there is no production at all. In the second stage, the production gets started on a small scale, usually in a very jerky fashion and almost invariably behind the scheduled time-table. During this second stage the process of expansion takes place and the labour force is gradually built up. Every sort of growing pain is experienced. The different parts of the programme very often get out of step and delays and hold-ups are not uncommon. However, these various teething troubles are eventually overcome. The final stage is reached, and production gets into a full and even flow.
Most of the preparatory stage of our temporary housing programme was com- 1117 pleted several months before the end of the European war. We have now got well into the second stage, that is to say the early production phase. Up to date, about 1,000 houses have been completed. Erection has started on about 2,500. Sets of components for about 5,000 houses have been delivered from the factories. Foundation slabs and drains on sites for 12,000 houses are in course of construction. Sets of house components of the Uni-Seco type are now coming off production in a steady flow at the rate of between 800 and 1,000 month. The production of the Tarran and Arcon types has now started and should build up to a rate of about 3,000 a month by the Autumn. The first few American houses have already arrived and we are assured that the greater part of the total consignment of 30,000 will be despatched to us before the end of the year. We have had many production difficulties to overcome and we are by no means at the end of our troubles. Nevertheless, I think it is reasonable to expect that, with the exception of the aluminium house which will not be in large-scale production until next Spring, our temporary housing programme will be in full swing by this Autumn.
From what I hear, the families who have gone into the first temporary houses are well pleased with their new homes. The country will welcome any houses, temporary or permanent, but it is permanent houses which we most urgently need. We long ago announced our plans for building 300,000 permanent houses within two years from the end of the German war. More than sufficient permanent housing sites for the whole of this two years' programme have already been acquired. As far as was possible everything was got ready in preparation for the day when the building trade and building material workers would begin to return from the Forces and from munitions. This time has now come and local authorities have been asked to go ahead with all speed and place their contracts for permanent house building.
Wherever the nature of the job permits, it is desirable that the contracts should be given to local builders, using the local labour which is already in their employment. Every effort will therefore be made to arrange that the form, size of contract and the conditions attaching to it 1118 are such as will enable small, medium and large builders, each in their own sphere, to make an effective contribution.
§ Mr. Sandys
I was talking about permanent housing contracts in particular, contracts placed by local authorities, I dealt on a previous occasion with Government contracts for the temporary houses, if that is what the hon. Member has in mind.
§ Mr. Silverman
No; what I had in mind was that the Minister appears to be contemplating dictating or laying down a form of contract, and I was interested to know whether that meant a form of contract to be granted by the Government or the local authority, or whether they were proposing to prescribe a form for private contractors, too. We should all be interested in that.
§ Mr. Sandys
I was talking in particular about contracts placed by local authorities for their own housing programme. It should be possible during the next six months or so to put in hand the bulk of the first year's programme of 100,000 permanent houses. A high proportion of these will be council houses built by local authorities. In addition, the first year's programme will include the replacement of a substantial number of houses which have been totally destroyed during the war. I believe that people who have lost their houses and have been insuring against war damage are entitled to have some priority in the programme.
Mr. McNeil (Greenock)
Would the Minister be so good as—
§ Mr. Sandys
I really cannot. [An HON. MEMBER: "We want to hear the Minister."] It is impossible to explain the position if one is interrupted at every point. In answer to the hon. Member for Southampton (Mr. Craven-Ellis) I can tell him that private enterprise house builders will also be given an opportunity to play their part. These house building firms were responsible for providing a 1119 large proportion of the output of houses in this country before the war. The Government is, therefore, anxious that they should begin to make their contribution once again as quickly as possible. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Health, when he winds up the Debate, will explain the arrangements by which we hope to get private enterprise housebuilders back on to the job again.
§ Mr. Sandys
There will be plenty of opportunities.
As has been said on previous occasions, it is the Government's policy to supplement traditional house building with a programme of permanent prefabricated houses. The object is to secure a substantial reduction in site man-hours of building labour, and also to spread the housing effort over a wide range of building materials and manufacturing capacity. Development work is being pressed forward on a dozen or so of the most promising of these non-traditional systems. This work is being undertaken by the firms themselves, with the advice and assistance of the technical staff of the Ministry of Works, In the case of one type sufficient progress has been made to enable a pilot order for some 3,000 houses to be placed, with the object of getting production under way. Small scale deliveries will start next month. These will be offered to local authorities to form part of their housing programme.
§ Mr. Sandys
This particular type is made of steel, with asbestos cladding. It also uses certain other materials. If the hon. Member is interested I. will give him particulars. Satisfactory progress is also being made with the design of a permanent two-storey pressed steel house, employing the plant and system of construction which were originally evolved for the temporary pressed steel bungalow. It is hoped that this type can be brought into production by the middle of next year. If so, this will be only a few months behind the date when the production of the pressed steel bungalow could have started, had we proceeded with that 1120 project. The various types of prefabricated permanent houses will be produced on a limited, range of standard plans which are being worked out in collaboration with the technical officers of local authorities. This has entailed a great deal of detailed discussion, but I am hopeful the plans will be finally agreed during the course of this month. In order to ensure that these standard designs are satisfactory from the architectural point of view, I am submitting them to the Royal Fine Arts Commission. In addition, I have invited a panel composed primarily of representatives of women's organisations, under the chairmanship of Lady Reading, to comment on the internal lay-out from the stand point of domestic convenience.
§ Mr. Sandys
In the design of these prefabricated permanent houses particular attention is being paid to heating arrangements. Our efforts have been directed towards ensuring economy in fuel consumption, and also towards improving the insulating properties of the walls. From what I have said I think the Committee will see that we are taking all practical steps to ensure that these prefabricated permanent houses shall be technically sound in construction, pleasing in appearance and as easy and economical to run as possible.
A variety of criticisms are at present being made about the output and state of efficiency of the building industry. No industry is perfect, but many of the allegations which I have heard or read are clearly based on ignorance of the plain facts. My hon. Friend the Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks), the former Parliamentary Secretary, nods his head. I am glad to see him on the bench. I would like to take this opportunity of acknowledging the continuous help and loyal support which he has given for over four years to successive Ministers of Works. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] In any case, I do not conceive it to be the business of the Government to teach the industry its job. The Government can, however, help indirectly in a number of ways. Scientific research is an outstanding example. During recent 1121 months the scientific and technical activities of the Ministry of Works have been considerably extended. In addition, I have set up an outside Scientific Advisory Committee which advises upon the programme of building research to be undertaken by the Ministry and by other scientific bodies on our behalf.
The Ministry of Works can also be of assistance to the industry by bringing to their notice the potentialities of new developments in equipment. Mechanised plant is, of course, extensively used by large civil engineering contractors. In my opinion, however, there is scope for a much greater use of power hand tools and other special equipment for house building. My hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. Bossom), with his experience of American practice, and also my hon. Friend the Member for East Fulham (Mr. Astor), have drawn attention to this point on several occasions. They will be glad to know that I have arranged an exhibition and a series of demonstrations to show the use and advantages of mechanical equipment of this kind for house building. This exhibition will open in a few weeks' time in London and will then tour the principal provincial centres. Most of the equipment shown will be of a type suitable for, use by small or medium builders.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) said that the labour situation is a very serious one. It is, indeed. I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman the late Minister of Labour, who knows more about this subject than anybody else in the country, has not honoured us with his presence this afternoon.
§ Mr. Sandys
As I explained in our last Debate, the rate of house building is almost entirely governed by the supply of labour. The Government's housing programme is largely based on our estimate of the rate of release of labour from the Forces and from munitions. The estimates on which we are now working are those prepared by the right hon. Gentleman, the late Minister of Labour. They are the best calculations we can make. If these estimates can be improved upon, then it will be possible to build more houses. If, on the other hand, the rate 1122 of releases does not for any reason come up to our expectations, then the rate of house building will be correspondingly retarded. Every practicable step is being taken to expand the labour force of the building industry as quickly as possible.
Apart from the ordinary releases from the Forces under Class A, over 70 per cent. of the special out-of-turn releases under Class B have been allotted to the building trades. These will include a limited number of specialists and key men who are needed in the building material factories. It must, however, be realised that the process of demobilisation takes a certain time, and that the men, when demobilised, will most of them wish to take at least some part of the period of paid leave to which they are entitled. I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield—that the quickest way to secure an immediate increase in the labour force of the building industry is by the rapid release of men from munitions. The Minister of Labour explained to-day in reply to a question that the Government have decided to call for the names of all building trade operatives now engaged on war production. Measures have been taken to carry out this registration at once. Except in very special cases, all men with previous building trade experience, who express their willingness to return to the building industry, will be released from the munitions factories immediately.
Mr. Orr-Ewinģ (Weston-super-Mare)
Will the scheme cover the release from munitions of men for work in factories producing housing components as well as the release of men with experience of building work?
§ Mr. Sandys
The immediate scheme of which I am speaking is confined to the actual building trades, but certain other machinery is being set in motion in order to get out of munitions men who are urgently needed in the building materials industries, including those factories which are producing components.
§ Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)
Will the men concerned be given directions as to whom they shall work for or will they be able to choose their work?
§ Mr. Sandys
I do not wish to be drawn into a discussion of the details of the scheme. The effect will be to enable very considerable numbers of men to leave the 1123 munitions factories and to take up work on house building.
Will the Minister explain to us whether these men, under this apparently most admirable scheme, will be released under the same conditions as Class B men from the Forces, and will have to return to munitions if they leave the building industry? In other words will they be directed to the industry?
§ Mr. Sandys
I have already explained that those who are willing to return to the building industry will be released. That is the purpose and condition of their release. I would prefer the hon. Member to await the publication of the details of this scheme. If further questions then arise either the Minister of Labour or I will be prepared to deal with them.
Our plan is to double the strength of the building industry from well under 400,000 to-day up to 800,000 within one year after the end of the German war. This is a formidable target. In some months the intake may be as much as 50,000 and it will be no easy matter to get these large numbers of operatives smoothly absorbed into the industry, and to ensure that they get quickly placed among the tens of thousands of building trade employers throughout this island. We are, however, taking all possible steps in the planning of the national building programme and in the distribution of contracts to minimise the danger of temporary or local dislocations. During the last Debate on housing the hon. Gentleman the Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin), and other hon. Members, urged us to make use of prisoners of war to speed up the rate of house building. Since then we have worked out a scheme for the employment of considerable numbers of German prisoners on site preparation and civil engineering work. These arrangements have been made in full consultation with both the employers and the trade unions, who have given us every co-operation.
The labour required for house building embraces, of course, not only building trade operatives but also as my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Orr-Ewing) has pointed out, large numbers of factory workers who are needed to produce building materials, fittings, and housing components. Broadly 1124 speaking, there already exists sufficient manufacturing capacity in this country to produce almost all the materials to meet the overall needs of our building programme. However, owing to the drastic reduction in the volume of building work during the war many factories have either been partially or wholly closed. In the brick industry, for example, half of the total capacity has been shut down. Arrangements were, however, made from 1942 onwards to keep these works on a care-and-maintenance basis. Many of them will be opening again in the next few months. Likewise, for example, as labour becomes available, the cement industry and the foundries producing builders' castings will be brought back into full production. However, there are a few building materials for which the existing plant and factory capacity are insufficient to meet our anticipated needs. In some cases this is due to the fact that the development of a new technique or new methods of construction have resulted in the more extensive use of certain materials. In such cases we shall give the industry every facility and encouragement to expand its capacity to meet these increased demands. Our building programme is also to some extent dependent upon the importation of certain raw materials from abroad. The most important of these are timber and plywood. These are needed for many other purposes, apart from building, and we are endeavouring to obtain large supplies from America, Canada and Scandinavia.
§ Mr. Sandys
I have explained, in answer to questions in the last few weeks, that we shall do what we can to obtain building materials, among which timber will rank high, from Germany. There are serious practical difficulties of organisation and transportation, and I would not like at the moment to hold out high hopes of any great supply of timber from that source. There is at present a world shortage of timber and plywood. It will therefore be necessary for some time to come to exercise the very strictest economy in their use.
In order to simplify and cheapen production and to lessen the volume of stocks which have to be held, every effort has been made to reduce the multiplicity of 1125 sizes and types of building materials and fittings. Much valuable work has been carried out by the British Standards Institution. This body, which is advised by representatives of the various interests, has agreed specifications for a selected range of materials and components. These cover most of the normal building requirements. During the two years' emergency period these standard products will be used in Government building work and the Health Ministers will ask local authorities to adopt this same practice in their plans for new house construction.
§ Mr. Sandys
Yes, in work which carries subsidy. Care will be taken to ensure that the range of standardised products is not excessively restricted, and that there are sufficient alternatives to provide variety and flexibility of design. In reply to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield, I would say that in most cases manufacturers will be able and willing to undertake the production of these standardised components and materials without any assistance from the Government, but in cases where it is necessary the Government are prepared to enter into production agreements, and, if need be, to make bulk purchases. But in the great majority of cases I think this will not be necessary. For some of the building work directly undertaken by the Government, in particular the temporary housing programme, it has been found necessary to set up a special organisation for the storage and distribution of materials and components. However, the Government do not in general propose to disturb the normal trade channels for the distribution of building materials to consumers through the well-established system of builders' merchants.
The Government intend, however, to maintain a close check upon distribution costs, as well as on the prices of building materials themselves. This matter was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) in an Adjournment Debate the other day, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) took up the same point to-day. One of the principal causes of the early failure of the housing programme after the last war was the fact that the Government allowed the building industry to be swamped with orders many 1126 times greater than it was able to carry out. As a result, prices and building costs soared to prohibitive heights. Building materials account for about three-fifths of the cost of a house. It is therefore of the highest importance to ensure that the prices of material are maintained at a reasonable level. In no circumstances can we allow the nation's needs to be exploited. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] If, after an examination of production costs, there is evidence of profiteering I give the House the assurance that the Government will not hesitate to step in and fix a ceiling price for the material in question.
§ Mr. Sandys
I entirely disagree with the attitude of some hon. Members opposite, who always assume that British industry is out to exploit the public. As I said, if there is any evidence of exploitation or profiteering, we shall not hesitate to use the powers we possess to fix a ceiling price.
§ Mr. Sandys
In practice, the actual exercise of compulsory powers will not usually be necessary. The fact that the powers are known to exist, and that it is known that the Government will not be afraid to use them, will, in most cases, provide sufficient encouragement to well doing. Ceiling prices for almost all the principal building materials have already been fixed by agreement with the various sections of the industry. I propose to review these agreements, and if necessary to revise them. I have recently had consultations with representatives of the building material manufacturers and the builders' merchants, who have both assured me of their fullest co-operation. I am, therefore, hopeful that over most of the field it will be possible to maintain fair prices by voluntary arrangements, which in practice work far better than any system of compulsion.
After the last war a large part of the available building capacity was dissipated on unessential work and on luxury pro- 1127 jects. We mean to see to it that this does not happen again this time. That is the main purpose of our licensing system. In order that our scarce resources of labour and materials may be concentrated as far as possible on housing, on bomb damage repair, and on other urgent work, I am, as has already been announced, extending the £10 licensing limit in a modified form to the whole of Great Britain, as from 1st August. Before doing so, I thoroughly reviewed the experience gained in London and the Home Counties, where the £10 limit has been in force. I also had discussions with representatives of local authorities and with the various sections of the building industry. Without impairing the effectiveness of the licensing system, I have found it possible to introduce a number of important relaxations, which will remove many of the more irksome features of the present system and will lighten the task of the licensing staff of the local authorities. Below £100 the local authorities will themselves decide what work should be licensed. Whilst in the case of work costing more than £100 the Ministry of Works will act largely on the recommendation of the local authorities. In this way the responsibility for deciding how the local resources of building labour can best be used will be left largely in the hands of the local authorities, who are, I think, in the best position to judge the needs of their districts, which will vary considerably in different areas.
§ Sir Frank Sanderson (Ealing)
How long does my right hon. Friend think the £10 limit is likely to remain?
§ Sir W. Davison
Are applications for work costing £100 or under to be addressed to the local authority?
§ Mr. Sandys
The local authority issues the licence itself for work costing less than £100. For work costing more than £100 the Ministry of Works issues the licence, on receipt of a certificate of essentiality, as it is called, which is in fact a recommendation from the local authority. The local authority would forward the certificate to the Ministry of Works with the application. I cannot foretell how long it will be necessary to maintain this limit. The present scheme is for six months, from 1st August until the end of January. But I propose to keep it under continuous review. It will 1128 certainly be necessary to review the position thoroughly at the end of that period. But I would not hold out the hope that it could be abandoned at the end of that period. It is a scarcity measure, and so long as the scarcity of labour and materials continues, some effective system of licensing will be necessary.
I have outlined what we are now doing to tackle the housing shortage, and I have explained the methods and machinery which we are employing. We intend to take any and every step to secure the maximum number of houses as quickly as possible at fair prices. It is not, of course, the business of the Government actually to build houses. It is only the present very exceptional circumstances which have made it necessary for us to accept direct responsibility for the production of prefabricated houses. Housing is the business of the local authorities and of private-enterprise housebuilders. We shall do everything in our power to help recreate conditions under which these two great housebuilding agencies, each in its own sphere, can once again assume its full responsibilities. So long as there is an abnormal shortage of labour and materials, the Government has the duty of seeing that our available resources are concentrated upon those things which the country most urgently needs. For these essential purposes, we shall retain such controls as are necessary. We shall retain them so long as a state of scarcity persists, but not a day longer than is absolutely necessary.
Members of the Socialist Party, inside and outside this House, have repeatedly complained that the Government's housing programme is utterly inadequate. I think that we, on this side of the House, are entitled to ask them how many more houses they think they could build and what measures they would take which we are not already taking. The present Government stands by the programme formulated and announced by the late Coalition Administration. This consists of a long-term and a short-term programme. Our long-term programme is to build 3,000,000 to 4,000,000 houses in 10 to 12 years. Our short-term programme is to provide a minimum of 500,000 houses, built or building, within two years from the end of the German war. Of these, at least 300,000 are to be permanent. Of the remainder, at least 145,000 will be temporary bungalows.
1129 Our proposals were plainly set out in the White Paper on Housing issued last March. This White Paper was, of course, fully considered and approved by the late Coalition Cabinet. I ask leaders of the party opposite who were Members of the Coalition War Cabinet—I see there are none here to-day—to make their position clear. I think we are entitled to ask some Member of the party opposite, speaking officially for that party, to make their position clear during the course of this Debate.
§ Mr. Sandys
Those Members of the party opposite who were in the Government know as well as I do that it is going to be no easy task to achieve the target which we and they together set ourselves. With their knowledge of the facts, they would, I am sure, also agree with me that for the Government at this stage to promise more than is contained in the White Paper would be both dishonest and irresponsible, and what applies to the Government applies of course equally to the right hon. Gentlemen opposite. If they intend to repudiate the White Paper and to dangle before the electorate the prospect of a bigger and more ambitious programme, then I think this House has a right to be told what discoveries the right hon. Gentlemen have made during the last fortnight which entitles them to take a rosier view of the possibilities of house building. We, on this side of the House, necessarily have to be rather more cautious about making promises. As the Government of the day, we have the responsibility for making good our promises, and we expect that we shall continue to have that responsibility for quite a while longer. We have announced what we expect to be able to do. If it is possible to do more, we shall do it. We are acutely conscious of the seriousness of the housing shortage and of the distress, unhappiness and frustration which follow in its train. We are constantly mindful of the countless families whose comfort and happiness depend on the success of our efforts. We shall do all in our power not to let them down.
§ Mr. Hicks
May I say that I appreciate very much the review which my right hon. Friend has given? I thought, for a moment, I was still across the bridge. 1130 Whilst agreeing that housing is a priority—and everyone here must recognise it and any Government that fails to deal with it would be sure to get short shrift from the country—there is another side of building which my right hon. Friend has not touched to-day. Some hon. Members may feel that all building effort may be diverted to housing. The right hon. Gentleman may know that there were at least 300,000 men employed on maintenance before the war. We have now six years of maintenance of work to pull up, and there will be a big contribution to make in maintenance. While I appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman has said, I am sure that he could reveal that a very large proportion of the building trade effort that is coming from munitions and the Services will still be required for other branches of building than housing.
§ Mr. Buchanan
On a point of Order. I must ask where the Debate is going, because I wondered if the last speaker was putting a point or making a speech. I ask you, Sir Douglas, what is in Order at the moment. Is this another speech?
§ The Temporary Chairman (Sir Douglas Thomson)
It is customary to allow a Minister to answer a question, but I did not think the question by the hon. Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks) was going to be so long. Perhaps the Minister will reply to that question.
§ Mr. Sandys
The question was a long one, but I will try to be brief in my answer. I agree with everything my hon. Friend has said. Naturally, I went into this matter in some detail in our last Debate, and that is why I did not recapitulate what I have said before. One of the tasks which are occupying a large part of our limited resources of building labour at the moment is, of course, still the bomb damage repairs in London. Over 140,000 building trade operatives are still engaged on that work, and, whilst it will be necessary and right to release a certain proportion—I cannot say now how many—to return to the provinces and start up house building, a very considerable proportion of that force will have to be retained on that work for quite a considerable time to come.
§ Mr. Silverman
On a point of Order. The Minister indicated that the Government rely, to a considerable extent, upon encouraging private enterprise building. He indicated also that that would be done by means of a subsidy. So far, the Committee has heard nothing about that at all, and the Minister indicated that we would hear about it for the first time when his right hon. Friend the Minister of Health replied to the Debate. This is a Supply Day, and we are concerned in not granting finance until grievances have been heard. If part of the answer to the grievances which we have urged is to be referred or delayed until the end of the Debate, that would be out of Order. The Government's reply to the grievances ought to be made now, so that we can deal with it and intimate whether we are satisfied or not and ask questions about it. It ought not to be left to the end of the Debate, when nothing more can be done about it.
§ The Temporary Chairman
I did not hear the Minister say that, but, if the Government are prepared to make a reply by another Minister, that would depend on whether he was able to catch the eye of the Chairman.
§ Mr. Silverman
No, Sir Douglas. I am afraid I have not made myself clear, and it is my own fault. On a Supply Day, it is for the Opposition to raise grievances, and, until those grievances have been satisfied and dealt with by the Government, the Committee does not grant what the Government require on this Order. The grievances were raised by my right hon. Friend, and the right hon. Gentleman opposite purported to answer them, but he indicated that a substantial part of what he relied upon as his answer to the grievances would be withheld from the Committee until the Minister speaks at the end of the Debate.
§ Mr. Sandys
Perhaps I could just say this. I indicated clearly to the Committee that the Government intended to take steps to bring private enterprise back into house building as quickly as possible. The hon. Member's point of Order seems to suggest that everything the Government has to say must be said in one speech. If so, there would be no necessity for two speeches.
§ Mr. A. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
May I ask whether it is proposed that the Minister, at the end of the Debate, will indicate how public money is to be used for this purpose under existing Statutes, administrative orders or what authority?
§ 4.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Dingle Foot (Dundee)
After more than five years' almost complete silence on the Treasury Bench, it is a strange and not altogether disagreeable experience to be able to address the Committee for the Party which occupies these Benches. I remember, before the war, taking part in a good many Debates on housing, but I think none of us, bad as the situation then was in many parts of the country, ever imagined that we should be facing a situation quite as appalling as it is to-day. I should like to take up, on behalf of the Party to which I belong, the challenge which has been made from the Front Bench to-day. I cannot, of course, speak for hon. Members above the Gangway, but I do want to comment on the subject of the White Paper. The White Paper produced by the Coalition Government, in the circumstances to which we have been accustomed in the last five years, was the lowest common denominator among the parties making up that Government. I agree that it would be entirely wrong, after the break-up of the Government, for a member of it to dissociate himself from the views there expressed, but that certainly does not prevent any party from trying to improve on the proposals contained in the White Paper.
It is hardly necessary for anyone to give actual examples of the housing situation at the present time. It is something with which we are all familiar, particularly when we represent industrial constituencies, and I suppose there is no hon. Member of this House who has not received many pathetic appeals from people living in conditions of great overcrowding or who are unable to obtain a dwelling house at all. I want to say a few words, if I may, about the dimensions of this problem. In the South of England the problem is due to enemy action. In Scotland it is due to causes which go much further back. In England, before the war 1133 began, it was probably true to say—and it was stated by successive Ministers of Health—that the problems of slum clearance and overcrowding had been practically solved. [Interruption.] I said that that was the statement made at that time, but certainly nobody ever claimed that the problem had been solved in Scotland. I remember a speech in the Standing Committee on Scottish Bills by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the present Lord Advocate, when he took the comparative figures of overcrowding and showed that, in the matter of overcrowding, the very worst district in England was better than the best district in Scotland. As long ago as November, 1938, it was estimated by the then Secretary of State for Scotland that we needed 250,000 additional houses in Scotland to meet the need of slum clearance and the more serious overcrowding which still existed. I emphasise the words "the more serious overcrowding," which shows that that was by no means the whole need.
The figure that was given at that time made no allowance for the normal increase of the population, so that even then the programme that was put forward by the Government of the day was wholly inadequate. At that time they proposed to build 102,000 houses over a period of four years, so that, if there had been no war, by the time that 1942 had been reached we in Scotland would have still been a long way off meeting even the most urgent and clamant needs of the population. That was the situation which existed before the war, and it needs no imagination, even for those who are not personally familiar with housing conditions in Scotland, to see how very much worse it must be to-day.
I would make one reference to my own constituency of Dundee, because I think it illustrates the position which exists throughout the whole of Scotland at the moment. We estimate our total needs for all purposes, for slum clearance, the relief of overcrowding, and the ordinary needs of the population, at 22,000 houses. The average rate of construction before the war, with the labour force we had then, was 350 corporation houses a year and 140 odd private enterprise houses. We are promised 1,550 temporary houses. I give those figures because they show the enormous disparity between what can be done with the present and potential labour forces and the undertakings we have so 1134 far received, and, on the other hand, the needs of the population.
I am not going to try to follow my right hon. Friend the Minister on details of price, and construction. There have been very long Debates in this House on the various types of house. I am certainly not going to suggest that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Works would fail to tackle this problem with all the energy and all the administrative ability that could possibly be expected, but he doss, as it seems to me, work under certain very definite limitations. If we are to make considerably more progress than has been envisaged so far, there will have to be certain major decisions of policy. We shall not solve this question simply by improving the output of prefabricated parts or in any of the ways with which the right hon. Gentleman has been dealing. He himself pointed out quite correctly that the whole programme is governed by the question of labour. The figures that were given to the House earlier on were that we only have at the present moment a building labour force of 337,000. The right hon. Gentleman went on to tell us of all the steps that have been taken to comb out workers from munitions, and at the end of it all he gave precisely the same figures as had been given before that is to say, 800,000 by the end of the first year after the defeat of Germany. Here we are up against the major difficulty, and there is only one source from which the right hon. Gentleman can hope to obtain additional labour and that is from the Forces. Under the Demobilisation Scheme a certain number of building trade operatives will be released under Class A, and a certain number under Class B. It was my right hon. Friend himself who gave the latter figure as 60,000, but there still will be, even when that is done, a considerable number of building trade operatives who will remain in the Forces.
I want very seriously to suggest that this Government, or whichever Government may later sit upon the benches opposite, should consider the enlargement of Class B. I am very well aware of the great psychological difficulties which are involved. The Demobilisation Scheme is designed to be fair and just as between man and man and to avoid the deep resentment which was occasioned by occupational releases at the end of 1135 the last war. That is a very real consideration, which, I think, is in the minds of all hon. Members. But do not let us pretend that this dilemma does not exist. On the one hand, we can all appreciate the feelings of the soldier who might see somebody who had served for a much shorter term than himself released out of turn. On the other hand, we have to consider the urgent needs of the population, and not only of the population, at home, but of the returning soldier as well. I believe that if the issue could be put fairly and squarely to the men in the Forces, namely, that certain men must be released out of turn in order that the others, when they were released, might have homes and jobs to go to, their consent would be forthcoming.
The second way in which I suggest we could appreciably ease the situation is by the importation of prefabricated houses from abroad. I had hoped that we were going to hear something from the Minister on that subject to-day. As he knows, I have myself always been interested in the possibility of obtaining timber houses from Sweden. As long ago as May and June of 1943, I had long negotiations with a delegation that came to this country representing the Swedish Government. As a result of those negotiations Sweden made a very substantial reduction in her trade, both with Germany and, indeed, with the whole of Axis Europe. One form of Swedish exports to the enemy which was very considerably reduced as the result of the agreement we then made was prefabricated timber huts and houses. Ever since that time I personally have been most anxious that that Swedish capacity which was denied to the enemy through the operations of my late Department and through the co-operative attitude of the Swedish Government, should be made available, at any rate in part, in order to assist the housing of people in this country.
There have been a good many difficulties on which it is not necessary for me to enlarge, but it appears to me that we may hope to receive a substantial contribution from this source. In the Debate on 23rd March the Minister said that he had sent a technical mission to Stockholm and that various alternative house plans had been agreed with the Swedish manufacturers and a small preliminary order 1136 was being placed in order to get production started. I do not propose to quote figures to the Committee but my right hon. Friend is well aware that the Swedish capacity is considerably in excess of any small preliminary order. That assistance would come in the form of probably the best timber houses in the world, because the Swedish people had had a greater experience than anybody else in this form of construction.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)
Could my hon. Friend indicate the sort of numbers of houses he has in mind that might come from Sweden in that way?
§ Mr. Bowles (Nuneaton)
Why? My hon. Friend said that Germany was receiving 30,000 a year and I was wondering whether it was not possible, seeing that the Government in some way had in the last few years prevented Sweden from getting on with the export of houses, that they might be able to export to this country 60,000 houses by now.
§ Major Markham (Nottingham, South)
The hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) said that the total production of Swedish timber houses is 30,000 a year, and would not that be only a very small drop in the bucket?
§ Mr. Foot
The total production of Swedish industry is rather more than 30,000 a year, but the reason why I was rather diffident about going into exact figures is, that there may be other countries which have claims on Swedish capacity as well as ourselves. Therefore, it seemed to me undesirable to try to make any estimate of the exact amount we might be able to obtain from Sweden. All I am saying is that there is a very considerable capacity there and it is a source from which we should draw. I want to add, before leaving the question of Swedish, and possibly Finnish houses, because some time ago the right hon. Gentleman told us that he was also sending a mission to Finland, that I hope that, if we do avail ourselves of this form of construction, we shall make use of Swedish technical advice. Before the war, in my constituency and in other parts of Scotland, experiments were being made 1137 with timber houses, but in some cases there were defects in construction which tended to give that class of house rather a bad name. I believe it to be true that those defects could have been easily avoided, and I know that Swedish producers themselves would be very willing to make available to local authorities in this country, to housing associations or to whoever might be interested, the necessary technical advice in setting up this prefabricated house.
My third point is that I hope we shall hear something more than what was said by the right hon. Gentleman regarding the point which was raised on 15th May by my hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak Division (Mr. Molson). The Minister told us that he was keeping a close check on distribution costs. That was something that we knew already from the White Paper, but that is not quite the same point which was raised by my hon. Friend in the debate on 15th May, because he was referring not merely to controlled costs, but to the problem of the control which is exercised over selling prices by combines and by rings in the building industry. It really is not enough to say that you are going to have fixed prices, and personally I regret that the election is being so hurried that we shall not be able to see the Restrictive Practices Bill, which was in the Government's legislative programme for this Session, put on the Statute Book.
It seems to me that if you are going to tackle this question of high costs in the building industry, it is not enough to fix prices alone; you must have the powers to make inquiry into the reason why prices are at their present level and into the existence of rings and combines, and those powers the Minister does not at present possess. I hope that before this Debate ends we may hear something of the intentions of the present administration, if it survives, upon that matter.
The last point, which I do not intend to elaborate at all, is very similar to that which was made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood). I would like to say on behalf of my own Party that we entirely agree with him that, although at the moment the difficulties may consist of shortage of materials and labour, ultimately you cannot make a real impression upon the 1138 housing problem until you tackle the question of land. It was a great disappointment to me, and to all those who think as I do, that no action was taken, and no decisions were taken, upon what we regarded as the most important part of the Uthwatt Report; that is to say, that part which recommended the immediate acquisition of the development rights outside built-up areas, and a levy every five years on all increase in site values. Until you take measures of that kind, it will not be possible to find a permanent solution of your housing problem. We believe that as long as any Government permits the excessive compensation, which is involved in the present system of the piece-meal acquisition of land, so long will you have a great retarding factor holding up the housing of the people.
§ 5.17 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
I want to raise a point which I do not think will take me long to expound but which I think is one of really great substance. I understand that the Minister said that when the Minister of Health came to reply to the Debate, he would give details of how public money is to be used for the purpose of assisting the private-enterprise building of houses. I want to know from the Government under what Parliamentary authority it is proposed to make those payments. At the moment I know of no such Parliamentary authority. There was an indication in the Press a short time ago—I think it was a speech made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Minister of Health, in which he said he intended to bring forward immediately a Parliamentary Bill, the purpose of which would be, among others, to assist private enterprise to go on building houses. I think I am right in saying that. We have not had the Bill. Parliamentary opportunity has not been provided because of the decision of the Prime Minister not to provide time for a Bill of that kind at all, so we are not having a Bill, but it would appear from the statement of his colleague that the Minister proposes to make the payments without Parliamentary authority.
This is a most unusual procedure. Of course it would be in Order, I suppose, to make these payments and then rely upon the Estimates in the next Parliament justifying the payment proposed to be 1139 made. That, of course, is such a truncating of Parliamentary procedure as to amount to a grievous abuse of our financial proceedings. The normal form, the proper form, and the one which gives the most effective Parliamentary control, is for the Minister to bring his Bill before Parliament with a Financial-Resolution which indicates to whom the payments are to be made and how much money Parliament is asked to find, but if in the meantime the Conservatives are going to pump out money to their friends—
§ Mr. Bevan
Certainly. That is exactly what it would mean. If they propose to make payments out of public funds, I want to warn the Minister that if he does not come back with a Parliamentary majority of his own party, he will be charged with the moneys he will be paying in the meantime without Parliamentary authority. There is a justification—and that is the reason why our financial system is sufficiently resilient—there is plenty of machinery for the Government to make emergency payments if they wish and then come to Parliament in the Estimates and ask for retrospective justification and authority.
§ Viscountess Astor
When the hon. Gentleman said that the Conservatives were going to pump out money for their followers, is it likely that the Conservatives—
§ Viscountess Astor
—could go to the country and say, "Give us your votes and we will pump out money to our friends"?
§ Mr. Bevan
The Noble Lady ought not to intervene in discussions of this sort. Really her subtleties are beyond me. The position at the moment is that we are having a discussion, in Supply, on housing. The Government are furnished with certain Parliamentary powers to make payments of a limited and defined kind. They, however, have it in mind to make payments for which no Parliamentary sanction has been provided, and those are not payments made arising out of an emergency, the extent and character of which they cannot at the moment foresee, but they propose to make payments in substitution of a Bill that they themselves have 1140 provided no time for Parliament to consider. I am suggesting to hon. Members that this is an outrageous interference with the financial control of the House of Commons over matters of this sort.
§ Mr. Stewart He did not say that.
§ Mr. Sandys
May I intervene? I do not believe the hon. Member was in the Committee when I made my speech; therefore I think it would be better if he confined himself to facts.
§ Mr. Bevan
In that case, if hon. Members are only to make speeches in reply to speeches they have heard, his father-in-law would have made very few speeches, because he hardly ever listens but comes in and replies. It is not necessary for hon. Members to hear statements to know what the statements were, and the right hon. Gentleman knows very well that he did make the statement.
§ Mr. Bevan
The right hon. Gentleman has had so little Parliamentary experience that he really ought not to intervene at all in this matter, because he is one of the least competent persons I have seen entrusted with high office. [Hon. Members: "Oh."] Certainly, and all the House knows it very well. The right hon. Gentleman owes his position at the present time not to any Parliamentary—[Interruption.] I am not going to be bullied in this matter. I insist on the Committee facing up to the situation. I have already quoted from a speech made 1141 by the Minister of Health, which he agrees he made, in which he said it was his intention to bring forward a Bill before the end of this Parliament, one of the purposes of which would be the subvention of private enterprise in house building. We had this evening from his colleague a statement which indicated that towards the end of the Debate the right hon. and learned Gentleman would be making reference to an intention of that sort. I am now asking that, when he comes to make his speech, he will reply to two points: in the first instance, whether he proposes immediately to authorise payments of that sort; and, secondly, if so, under what authority he proposes to make them, because, so far, there is no authority, as far as I know, which enables him to make payments of that kind.
§ The Minister of Health (Mr. Willink)
I am in the same position as the hon. Member in that I was not present when my right hon. Friend made his statement. However, I am confident that he would not, and he assures me that he did not, make any statement that it was proposed to make payments of this kind without Parliamentary sanction.
§ Mr. Willink
What I was referring to was what I was confident my right hon. Friend would not say, and what he assures me he did not say—
§ Mr. Willink
—that was, that there was an intention to make payments either to the owners or builders of private enterprise houses without Parliamentary sanction. What I shall be able to say at the end of this Debate depends very largely on the Rules of Order, but no such statement has been made, and I have expressed no such intention.
§ Mr. Silverman
I wonder if my right hon. and learned Friend would allow me, since I was here and I did hear the right hon. Gentleman's speech. I am going to say what I think I heard, and if the right hon. Gentleman thinks I have got it wrong he will no doubt correct me and I will accept his correction. What I heard him say was that, at the end of 1142 the Debate, his right hon. and learned Friend would deal with the encouragement that was to be offered to private enterprise to build houses and then, later on in his speech, he talked about the conditions of the contract. When I asked him, by intervention, whether those conditions would be binding also on private enterprise builders, he replied, "Yes, that will be one of the conditions of the subsidy."
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
The hon. Member has had plenty of opportunity for interruption, and he has spent the whole afternoon in interrupting in one way or another.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
The hon. Member is undoubtedly incorrect in what he said. I have sat here all the afternoon. That is not what the Minister said within the recollection of the Committee.
§ Mr. Bevan
The answer, of course, to my right hon. Friend is this, that there does exist at the present time a very genuine misunderstanding as to what is the situation. We know very well he cannot deny it, because actual figures of subvention have been mentioned. There fore, I want to be quite sure, because we shall have to discuss this, those of us who are returned here in the next Parliament, and I want to make quite certain—
§ Mr. Molson (The High Peak)
On a point of Order, Sir Douglas, I submit to you that it is in accordance with the Rules of Order in Committee that there should be a Debate, and that questions which partake of the nature of long speeches discussing what is alleged to have been said earlier in the afternoon—after the Minister has said that he did not make that statement—are quite out of Order.
§ The Temporary Chairman
I think there is a misapprehension. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) was not rising to a point of Order; he has been called and he is making a speech.
§ Mr. Bevan
In the first instance. I did not raise a point of Order. I had already discussed this matter with my hon. Friends before I started my speech. It was perfectly clear that a very grave irregularity was about to be committed, and it is the responsibility of those of us on this side of the Committee, in the functions we discharge, to see to it that the financial procedure of the House of Commons is properly preserved. At any rate, it would be really monstrous. [Interruption.] I wish the Noble Lady would keep quiet.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for West Edinburgh (Lieut.-Commander Hutchison) was asking me a question, and I was answering him. The hon. Member cannot expect complete silence when he is repeating himself a hundred times over.
§ The Temporary Chairman
The Noble Lady's intervention, if anything, was a reflection on the Chair. I think we had better get on.
§ Mr. Bevan
There never was such a racket. The position is this: there are certain powers, now exercised by public authorities, under which private house building is subsidised. We want to make quite sure that it is not the intention of the Government to add to the amount of money already being provided for houses built in that way. If money is so provided we give a warning that the House of Commons has not sanctioned it, and that the Government will be exposing themselves to a serious surcharge when we come back here in the new Parliament.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ Sir Alexander Erskine Hill (Edinburgh, North)
I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) in that part of his speech which dealt with personalities, and which I do not think was well received in the Committee and will not be well received in the country. I want to refer to the speech made by the 1144 right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood). The line he seemed to take was that his party ceased to have responsibility for the housing plans that we are now pursuing, from the moment the Opposition left the Government a fortnight ago. The right hon. Gentleman made rather a poor joke when he said that houses could not foe built on piles of sand; I want to say that neither can houses be built with green wood. The wood must be allowed to mature. The right hon. Gentleman as every bit as responsible for the housing policy of the Government he supported as any Member on this side.
The real problem in connection with housing is the labour problem. If you can provide labour in sufficient quantities, the problem can be faced in the only way which will lead to a satisfactory solution. In the last Debate, which took place about two and a half months ago, this point was made by myself and a number of other Members. The person in the last Government who was most responsible for dealing with the most important factor in housing was the Minister of Labour. I mentioned then that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Central Wandsworth (Mr. Bevin) was not in his place during that Debate until complaints had been made from all quarters about his absence. I thought that he would have now taken the opportunity, when he no longer had the cares of office, to give some account of what plans he had made while in that Government, and what his plans might be in the future.
Has the hon. and learned Member noted that the present Minister of Labour is not in his place either?
§ Sir A. Erskine-Hill
My right hon. Friend has just told me that that is because he is outside seeing one of the hon. Member's own party, by arrangement. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the present Minister of Labour will show himself to be worthy of his position, on which so much depends.
§ Sir A. Erskine-Hill
They will always remain until the labour problem can be solved, and it is only by a realisation of that that this Committee can look forward to the future with any hopes at all. I 1145 ought to say how grateful I am that the Government have adopted the suggestion made by myself and other Members during the last housing Debate. We then urged that German prisoners of war should be used to build drains, and do the rough work on housing sites. I am glad to learn that that suggestion has been adopted, because we must tackle this job by every means in our power. If the Russians can use, to their advantage, prisoners of war, then we ought to do the same here.
I want to talk for a moment or two about the great criticism there has been about the housing situation in London, and the quality of the repairs which have been carried out. The emergency period was one of great difficulty for the Government. The criticisms which have been made from many quarters about the quality of the work which has been done are something which the Government ought to consider. In the "Evening News" of 1st June this letter appeared, which gives an example of what is the general feeling:After seeing the mess made of many houses a. considerable number of people, myself included, have vowed that we will put up with any inconvenience in the way of broken walls and ceilings until such time as experienced workmen are available.The Government ought to realise, as I feel sure they will, that the quality of the work is something which should be looked at, and do what they can to get experienced labour for repairs. The same applies to Scotland, and elsewhere. The letter went on to state:My own view is that the sooner repair work is handed back to private builders the better, and I say this as a Socialist.That letter was written by a Socialist, who lives at Wood Green, in Essex. The Committee ought to impress upon the Government that every available means, whether by private enterprise or anything else, should be adopted to meet this problem. I count on the Government to try at the earliest possible opportunity—and it will not be long in coming—to widen the scope of the efforts made to deal with this problem, and utilise private enterprise to the full. A great point was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield about delay. I think I speak for a great many people on this side of the House when I say that if the Town and Country Planning Act is not going to be sufficient to give the 1146 powers that are necessary to see that land is made available for its proper purposes then further steps should be taken. I think we ought to note how important is this question. During the housing Debate on 3rd June, 1924, the then Socialist Minister of Health, Mr. Wheatley, referring to the rent of working-class houses, said this:If we could get the land free we should reduce rents by 1½d. a week."—[Official Report, 3rd June, 1924; Vol. 174, c. 1106.]I want to know whether it will be possible for us to be given figures to show up-to-date prices on that basis? I think this argument about land is a purely political argument which will have the effect, if it is successful, of misleading the people. I want to have an honest reply on this point, so that the people themselves may be able to judge.
§ Mr. Stokes (Ipswich)
Will the hon. and learned Gentleman explain to the Committee why landlords hold on so tightly?
§ Sir A. Erskine-Hill
I do not think that question deserves an answer. It is not a question of the lack of sites. There are sites in every town that I know that can be proceeded with at once. There is no delay being caused by lack of sites. The difficulties will be solved by taking practical steps. I think it is a great misfortune for the people of this country that the land argument is being used as a purely political argument, and is unworthy of those who make it. If those hon. Members opposite, who are coming back to the new House, will only face up to this problem as a national problem they will be able to be of service to the country and not, as they have shown by their speeches to-day, be totally unworthy of playing their part in the great effort which must be made to provide the required number of houses as soon as possible.
§ 5.40 p.m.
Mr. McNeil (Greenock)
I am greatly heartened by the concern which the hon. and learned Member for North Edinburgh (Sir A. Erskine-Hill) has shown about the prices of houses. I was trying to recollect whether, as a railway director, he thinks that all landlords have been just as kind and careless about the value of land as he wished my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) to believe.
§ Sir A. Erskine-Hill
If the hon. Member suggests that railway companies have been bad landlords, then I say that they have been excellent landlords.
Being the competent businessman that he is, I am quite sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman would admit fairly, in his usual open fashion, that the railways have had to pay stinking prices to the landlords that we are up against in this housing problem.
I want to join my hon. Friends on this side who have protested against the apparent intention of the Government, later in the Debate, to tell us about a new subsidy. My interpretation of the Minister of Works' remarks is not precisely that of my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman), but no matter who is right it is bad business to withhold that information until the end of the Debate. If the Government are activated by the same horror of making election speeches as was the hon. and learned Member for North Edinburgh then I can see no reason why the statement should not have been made earlier. I want to protest against another discourtesy. The Committee is indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) for his vigilance in this matter—
I would gladly give way to my hon. Friend on this matter. It is exceedingly disturbing to Scottish Members, not only that we have no longer in this House a Secretary of State for Scotland—as a result of a voluntary decision by the Government, for which we in Scotland will ask them to accept responsibility during the coming Election—but it is exceedingly discourteous and inefficient that when the Minister presents figures relating to housing in the United Kingdom he does not provide separate figures for Scotland. It was exceedingly discourteous that when one of my hon. Friends and I tried to get the figures from him, he refused to give way, although he gave way frequently to hon. Members on the Government side.
§ Mr. Sandys
The question that was asked me was whether the figures I had 1148 given included Scotland. My answer was that they did. I was not asked to give separate figures for Scotland, and I did not give them.
The Minister will recollect that I tried several times to interrupt him, and in doing so I wanted to ask two questions, to which I hope he will find replies when he has taken that smirk off his face. [Interruption.] No one in the Committee can expect any Scottish Member to talk with any humour about housing. It is not a subject to which we can bring any smiles. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the Committee what proportion of the 100,000 permanent houses, which are in the programme are allotted to Scotland? I also want to know what proportion of the 800,000 labour force which he expects to build up is being allotted to Scotland.
§ Mr. Willink
I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the approximate number—one cannot be absolutely definite—in the first year's programme is 20,000 for Scotland and 80,000 for England and Wales. We are making inquiries as to the likely distribution of the 800,000 men.
That is precisely the point to which we come; the right hon. and learned Gentleman cannot tell us with any definiteness what is the allocation. If he cannot tell us what is the allocation of labour, there is no point in talking about the matter. Eighteen months ago, when the original programme was being talked about, we were told that we ware to get one-fifth, which is the proportion to which the Government adhere. That figure is meaningless unless we know that we are to get a satisfactory allocation of labour.
§ Mr. Willink
The allocation of the houses and the anticipation of what the building will be were based upon an anticipation of what the relative head of labour would be in the two countries.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman cannot have it both ways. During the last two years, when my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals and I have attacked the Government and the Scottish Office for not fulfilling their pledges with regard to the emergency housing programme, the only reply the Government have given has been that they could not build houses when they had not the labour. Again and again we could not get past that statement. The Minister must not now say to the 1149 Committee that the Government would not make an allocation unless they know that that was substantially the division of labour. The right hon. and learned Gentleman must make up his mind one way or the other, just as the Government must make up their mind as to which voice they are going to speak in—the voice of the Minister of Works to-day or the voice of the Prime Minister last Monday.
I am delighted to see displayed this change of heart on the part of the Government. Apart altogether from electioneering, I think our only hope of having houses in this country is that for a considerable time—for more than the length of the next Government—we should maintain rigid controls in these matters. When the Prime Minister makes an electioneering speech, apparently the kind of planned control which hon. Members on this side have advocated steadily for the last four years, means State slavery; when the Prime Minister's son-in-law speaks to the Committee, it means houses. I want to know from the Minister who is to reply, if the Government are in earnest about this business, how soon they intend to address themselves to the ring prices for cement, bricks and most housing components. The Minister of Works said rather airily—and refused to pursue the matter, although he did allow one of his own friends to intervene—that the Government are to fix ceiling prices and that when necessary they will have an investigation.
There is no hon. Member who has any association with the industry, and certainly no Member of the Government whose job takes him remotely into the business of house building, who does not believe that prices for the main housing components are rigged. In Scotland we have had houses authorised by the Government, but when the tenders have come in the Government have not been able to approve them. There have been prices in excess of £1,250 quoted for houses which were being built for less than £600 in 1928. The Government had to throw out those tenders and the houses, some 60 of them, are still not built. It is not enough to plan the labour, it is not enough to promise that the control of scarce commodities is to be maintained; we must see that the houses when built 1150 are rented at prices which the people who need houses can afford. It will not be acceptable to hon. Members on this side that when the prices prove to be too high, the Administration will be permitted by some secondary subsidy device to hand out from the Treasury profits which the public would not sanction in rents. We shall be careful to watch that.
I ask the Government whether they are in earnest about seeing that there is a regular flow of components at the cheapest prices commensurate with good quality. Are they prepared now to place contracts for bulk orders? There cannot be any reason against that device. It is a device which has been employed frequently during war. The Minister of Works said that he is already experiencing different parts of the machine being out of step. He laid down three stages. He told us that the first stage was planning. I thought it not unreasonable to assume that planning had been done during the four years when no building was being done. If it was, and remembering the amazing somersault which the right hon. Gentleman performed in relation, to the initial Portal house, it is very difficult to believe that the planning was very effective. In between his rather scurrilous remarks about my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), the right hon. Gentleman delivered himself of a few phrases about teething troubles and growing pains, and in illustration of them he told us that the preparation of sites was out of step with the erection of the fabric.
The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head. I may not be right in the precise figures, but I have not got to the stage of imagination. I am willing to stand by the report in Hansard. If the Government are concerned to see that these disproportionate processes are ironed out, they should meet the programme for their raw materials now, and should do that by bulk contract and by bulk purchase.
I can see two objections neither of which is technical and both of which are electioneering. The right hon. Gentleman cannot put out of business the 1151 people from whom he hopes to get votes. I want to put a comparatively trivial question to the right hon. Gentleman. I have asked for figures about the Phoenix house—how many contracts have been placed and how many more are to be placed? That is not a Government approved house, and I am not prepared to argue that it is a house of high merit—I do not know—but we have been told of these four years of planning, and I presume there was some inspection of that house. If the Government are going to place orders for such small numbers as 2,400 and are not going to place further contracts for houses of that type, or any other type with which they start, they will get very high prices. The Parliamentary Secretary has said that no decision has been taken as to whether or not further contracts are to be placed, but this matter came to my attention because one of the factories in Scotland making components for this type of house is already in process of being dismantled and I am told that is happening in other parts of the country. Apparently the capital charges are to be loaded on to a very small number of houses. I do not know what the figure is, but probably it is in excess of £900.
The time for experiment has surely been ample. Hon. Members on this side and the people in the country have a right to expect soon to see the proof that the plans have been effective. If the Government live up to their long-term programme, I think they will have done very well. But while, of course, they have excuses for saying that at the beginning of the programme the results will be small, I am inclined to predict that, so far as one can look over the next six or 12 months, there is not the remotest hope that their 12 months' programme will be discharged even in 24 months. The Government cannot have any doubts in their mind that this will be one of the most important questions at the Election. If they are not prepared to give plain and simple replies to the points I have put, and similar points, if they are not prepared to say openly that they will have no respect for rings, no matter how powerful, that they will do the building themselves if outside people do not do it satisfactorily, it is certain they will take a first-class thrashing at the Election.
§ 5.59 p.m.
§ Mr. David Eccles (Chippenham)
I was very glad to hear my right hon. Friend the Minister of Works use the language of the munitions programme, because I am sure that unless the methods of the munitions programme are employed to solve the housing programme, we shall not get very far. I felt in his speech today that a big step forward had been made. Of course, if you treat houses as though they were munitions of war, you must start with the requirements, as you go to the General Staff and say "How many aircraft and how many ships do you want?" and from that requirement you must work backwards and see if your labour and materials are sufficient.
I wanted to say something about a part of the requirement which I think is not sufficiently appreciated, that is the housing shortage in the small towns and country districts. The result of my observations is that housing authorities under-estimate the number of families which require and cannot get a separate home of their own. The main reason for this under-estimate is that many wives of men in the Forces now living doubled up with mother or a friend have not put their names down with any local authority because they do not know where their man is going to work when he comes out of the Forces. These same housing authorities make an equally bad calculation when they over-estimate the number of evacuated or directed families who are likely to return to the cities in the next year or two. The houses are not there for these people to return to. On the basis of these two bad calculations they grossly under-estimate the net demand for new houses, and therefore their plans are inadequate, and in particular the need for temporary housing programmes for small towns and rural areas is nothing like appreciated.
The situation, however, in regard to the supply of labour is so bad, that there is little prospect that even the inadequate plans in the countryside can be carried out. We shall have to rely on the small builder. He is the man who has the skill to supervise the construction of a house. At present his skill is not allied to a sufficient building force. He is left with only a few old, immobile workers, and his skill and their productive capacity are at least half wasted. He is stripped of mobile 1153 workers, first to the Forces and then to the repair of bomb damage. I wish to impress on the Committee how expensive in production this transfer of workers from the Provinces to London must be. We realise in the Provinces the claim of the blitzed cities, but we also want them to realise how expensive it is to give up our building labour because, if you take a dozen men from a provincial town and send them to London, you are not just transferring productive capacity from one place to another. It is very much worse than that. The men who are left behind are reduced to half-speed and the small builder, who is the chief man for training apprentices, is now doing no work on which he can train apprentices, and that is a very bad thing for the industry.
That leads me to the conclusion that the real decision to be taken is about the method of expanding the total building labour forces in the Provinces. I wonder if the methods now envisaged are sufficiently drastic. I ask myself what the returning soldier will say when he comes to Wiltshire and finds no house for his wife and children, sees hardly any houses going up around him, and is not told why in his area there are hardly any houses going up, and then, round the corner, he comes upon a camp of German prisoners of war doing nothing. He will say to the Government: "There are two choices open and I wish you to take one or the other. Either you must use those German prisoners to build me a home or you must send them away and let me and my wife live in the good hutted camp which they are now occupying." Throughout the country districts the Supply and Service Departments have put up camps, hostels and married quarters sites during the war. When one of these sites becomes vacant I understand that it is put into a pool of released buildings and then allocated between the Government Departments in London.
I want to ask for an assurance that, whenever one of these camps goes into that pool, the housing authority in the area concerned shall be consulted about its need for temporary housing accommodation, because, judging from my own constituency, where a number of hostels have recently become vacant at Corsham the housing authority has not been consulted. Instead, all the other Departments—it may be the Ministry of Educa- 1154 tion wanting a teachers' training college, or, the Admiralty wanting storage, or the Ministry of Labour wanting a rehabilitation centre—start bidding for these released buildings. The returning soldier would say, "A house for myself and my wife is for the moment more important than getting on with these other parts of the reconstruction programme, however admirable they are and however much we all want to see them carried out."
To go back to the expansion of building labour, there are two ways in which you can approach the production programme. You can either say, "The final target that I am aiming at is the number of operatives that we should like to see there when this emergency has passed," and then proceed to approach that target in an orderly fashion; and, having decided how many building operatives there will be in the next two years, you work back to the number of houses that they are capable of constructing. If that line had been adopted with the aircraft industry we should never have got the bombers and fighters that we needed for the war. If we said, "We are never going to expand the aircraft industry beyond the point at which it ought to be in peace time," production would never have come along. If we are going to treat the expansion of the building industry on the munitions level, we must not start with the number of building operatives likely to come into the industry by traditional methods of recruiting and by observing restrictive practices on the side of the suppliers of material and on the side of the trade union. We must adopt the munitions method, which is to go to the General Staff and, having got a target for production, see in what way the materials and the labour can be found to reach that target. That method involves sacrifices in other directions, just as sacrifices had to be made to get aircraft and ships. Other things would have to be given up—perhaps schools, clothing and all kinds of consumer goods.
Is it not time to give the public the facts on which to judge between the two methods of getting houses? Is it not time to say "If we increase the building force by traditional methods, if the target at which we are aiming is the number of building operatives we want to see there when the emergency has passed, in that orderly way, we shall get so many 1155 houses"? The other method is to say, "By great sacrifices on your part and by diverting the resources necessary to achieve the target, we shall get so many more houses, and in that process we shall have to use German prisoners of war and dilute the building industry by all sorts of war-time measures." Hon. Members have spoken of controls. Let the public judge what those controls mean and how many houses we should get if we adopted 1940–45 methods. I feel that we are beating about the bush, not knowing what is the price that the country has to pay if we are to get the houses under ordinary conditions or if we are to get them under munitions conditions. I hope the Minister will give us some data on which to judge between the two methods.
§ 6.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Buchanan (Glasgow, Gorbals)
I agree with most previous speakers, and particularly with the hon. Member who spoke last, that there is no serious dispute on one or two issues. No one will dispute the terrible urgency of the matter nor the gravity of the situation as far as living conditions are concerned. In parts of Scotland, and in parts of my native city, there are awful conditions which beggar description both in terrible over crowding and in shockingly low standards. I am anxious to discover whether we cannot take a greater step forward than we are doing. The housing problem is as serious as the problem of war and peace. It calls for the same emergency measures and for the same ruthlessness in our struggle. These are common-places which are uttered by nearly everybody, but we never do anything. No one would dream of being as easy-going with the war problem as we have been with the housing problem.
I trust the Committee will forgive me for raising what might appear to be almost a personal matter. The incident I propose to recount, however, tends to show that we do not regard this problem as having anything like the human urgency that prevailed in the war. The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland is not responsible for the Noble Lord who is now Secretary of State. May I say, with as little heat as I can, that to appoint the Noble Lord as Secretary of State for Scotland when he has so little knowledge of our housing conditions, 1156 was one of the worst affronts to my native country that I have ever known. I say that more in sadness because I want to see decent conditions of housing established, and we cannot get them by such an appointment.
The Minister to-day mentioned many types of houses, such as the Phoenix, the Tarran and others. There is a firm of contractors in my Division which had been repairing ships. They came along like a sensible group of men, and said, "We see ship-repairing coming to an end, and we will start to build houses." I wish that the Whips would allow the Minister to pay a little attention when one is making a serious contribution. I maybe touchy on this one subject, but it is the only subject on which I am touchy; all my other touchiness has gone. This firm decided to embark on house-building, and the Tarran type was allocated to them, the Government inspector saying to them, "If you have the capacity, your job is to build the Tarran house under instructions from the Tarran Company." They were asked to make about 600 houses by the end of the year, and the contract was fixed. The firm went to the division of the Under-Secretary and bought a factory, an old carpet bowling factory. It is capable of making a magnificent factory, but at the moment it is stored with mattresses and clothes. I wrote to the Secretary of State four days before he left office, and I have not even had a reply yet. I have been four times on the telephone, and I have been assured that the mattresses will be shifted out at once, but the firm are told by an inspector from the Department of Health that, owing to the difficulty of the railway taking the mattresses from Glasgow to England, they will be lucky if they are out within ten weeks. You would not deal with a matter connected with the war like that.
There are also contractors from Aberdeen, Falkirk and other places. They read in the newspapers that the Tarran Company had a financial crisis, so they met together to see how they could get the money to build these houses. That, again, would never have been necessary in war-time. In the urgency of war they would have said, "No matter what the risk with regard to money, our country is in great danger and we will carry on." These contractors met in Glasgow and they had to say, "We are not going on 1157 with building Tarran houses because we are not sure we shall get our money." I have a letter to show that in my possession. If contractors had said such a thing in war-time about guns, the Government would have dealt with the situation within 24 hours. That does not end the story. The firm in my Division to which I have referred said, "We are going on with the houses for, after all, the Government allocated us to do the work, and if the houses are being built by us for the Government, we will be paid." Then enters the bank and says to the firm, "You must stop. If you don't we will not give you credit to carry on." I have the correspondence in my pocket. All this happened over the building of one type of house, and then we talk about the urgency of the problem. In time of war that sort of thing would not have been tolerated. I remember the firm of Shorts being pilloried in this House for inefficiency, but it was nothing to the laxity of method which is being shown now in the housing problem.
There is a good deal of argument about the land question in connection with housing, and I think that it ought to be made far more readily available at the disposal of the local authorities than landlords often make it. On the question of finance, I want to say to my Tory friends that if small building contractors are to go in for housing on anything like a large scale, one of the first things that they have to get is capital with which to work, and they cannot be left to the mercy of the banking companies. I will mention another issue, even on the eve of the General Election, which may annoy friend and foe alike. The Minister dealt with only two ways of augmenting labour. I never thought that politics could be so ungenerous as the last week or two has shown me that they can be. Who will deny that the right hon. Member for Central Wandsworth (Mr. E. Bevin), the former Minister of Labour, had to do perhaps the most disagreable job in the Coalition Government? I quarrelled with him more than once and divided against him, but who will deny that he worked hard and with ability at his job? What does he get to-day? He gets flung at him with contempt the fact that he happens to be absent at a housing Debate, not merely by the Back bench but by the Front bench. That is what he gets for the disagreeable, hard and toiling task that he performed during the war. 1158 One would have thought that there was sufficient generosity in politics to forgive a miserable little thing like that.
With regard to adding to the labour force, I would say that, even given the land and adequate capital to get houses in abundance—and I am for having houses in abundance—there must be a large labour force. I do not want employers and men to use housing as a dripping roast to suit them for years to come. Just as we shall have to use the methods of war on the financial side and in the requisitioning of land, so we shall have to add to the labour force in ways other than the orthodox ways. There must be brought within the pool of the building industry groups of people who are now outside it. We must not merely wait for men to be demobilised or men to come out of factories; we must utilise other methods for adding to the labour force. There are men in engineering trades who, with a short period of training, could become first class workers, and I do not see any reason why the labour force cannot be added to considerably in that way. Our fate as Members of Parliament will be decided in the next four weeks. I do not know what my fate will be any more than others know theirs. I will not prophesy who may be the Government. I know whom I want to be the Government. Never have I wanted more that the Labour movement should form the Government than I do to-day. No matter who wins the victory, the real victory will not be won in the Election. That victory will be won when we have given greater numbers of the people the decent home which is their earnest and fervent need.
§ 6.27 p.m.
§ Viscountess Astor (Plymouth, Sutton)
The House has got back to a pre-war attitude of mind, and to-day's Debate is really more like the old days. I regret that we have had to get back to that attitude before the war is really over. We may as politicians have our little quarrels, but the great bulk of the people in the country do not understand them. I have never seen anybody more mystified than the ordinary man in the street, who cannot understand why we have begun our party wrangles when the war is not over. Most people believe in the Prime Minister and want him, and, bad as some hon. Members opposite may think the Coalition 1159 Government, the world thinks it has done a remarkable job. I have not always agreed with the Government, but I doubt whether any other Government in a war has done better than the Coalition Government. I pay my respects to the Prime Minister, and I hate to hear these personal animosities beginning again. The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) complained about attacks on the ex-Minister of Labour, but what have Members opposite said about the Prime Minister? It horrifies me to hear these personal attacks on Ministers who were in the Coalition.
I agree with the last two speeches about housing. I realise that the Coalition Government had a difficult time, for the Tory Party had its Right Wing to deal with, which was not easy, and the Labour Party had its Left Wing, which was even worse. There are two wings the country could do without. [An Hon. Member: "What is the Noble Lady?"] I am what I have always been, and I shall stay where I have always been for 25 years in this House. I am a Social Reformer. I believe in private enterprise, and I will fight to the last ditch for it. The Government have been marvellous in winning the war, but it has been a great disappointment to people who are interested in town planning and who want to get on with the peace that the Coalition Government did not get the Minister to come to the House and present the Reports of the three Committees which were set up, and have a great plan for the rebuilding of Great Britain. A great many people outside the House do not realise the difficulties inside the House. I believe that if the Minister had got someone like me, for instance, who has no respect for red tape and does not give two pence for party politics when it comes to getting something done, and had made this housing problem one of first priority, we would have got further than we have. No matter how good the White Paper and the Coalition Government may be, we have to make a much more vigorous approach. I am not going to make speeches about overcrowding or the lack of privileges of the common man and the hard-hearted Tories. We have heard those things in this House for the past 25 years. People have always talked about building Paradise and running the Government, but, as Maggie Bond field once said 1160 at a Labour Conference, "You could not run a tripe shop, let alone a Government."
This war has been run by "common or garden" men like us following the genius of the uncommon men. When it came to D-Day and the invasion, how did we get our Mulberry Port? How did we do a job at which the whole world marvels? We did not do it on party lines and we did not get politicians to do it. We called in outside people. One of them, I think, was Sir Harold Werner, a very rich, intelligent and able man, and he had a genius for picking other men. Those men produced something which was, I suppose, one of the most difficult things in the world to produce. They got to work and did it. We have to get that types of man—not a Ministry, because I doubt if they could do it. When the Prime Minister comes back I hope, he will do it. He will see that the White Paper, local authorities and difficulties of labour and trade unions are cut right across; I hope he will say, "Houses are a priority," and I hope he will get the same type of men to deal with houses as those who built the Mulberry Port. Only the other day one of the great builders of the Mulberry Port was talking to me, and he said that what we ought to do was to see what different areas can produce in the way of housing materials and so on. We should go to the people in one area and say, "What are your assets?" and then go to another, and so on. But we shall eventually have to divide the country into areas and tackle the job just as we did in preparation for D-Day. I am certain we must do that if we are to get the houses we need so desperately.
Scotland has had a housing problem for years. During the last war they had a genius, Lord Weir, but they would not listen to him. They had trade union and class-conscious prejudice, and now they regret it. I used to hear them abusing Willie Weir as if he were a pickpocket, but he was a Scotsman with a genius. Class prejudices are all right on the platform, but they do not work in real life. I am not going to talk about the area which I represent, because that is a bombed area, but I do say that the people I represent are not stupid, because town planning came mostly from Plymouth. We were the first to have a plan. Although I say so, if the Government had listened to the peer to whom I happen to be 1161 married, and had appointed someone like him, we might have been much further ahead than we are now.
§ Mr. Guy (Poplar, South)
I know the Noble Lady is putting the case in the best way possible, but will she realise that it is not genius nor fakirs we want, but houses?
§ Viscountess Astor
Lord Weir was a genius and we should have got houses if we had listened to him. We need people with some imagination to build houses. I hate that talk about the common man. There are too many common men. I want the uncommon man, and when we have an uncommon man I want to follow him and to praise him. I want the Government to get an uncommon man to tackle this housing question, and then the common men will follow him just as they did in building the Mulberry Harbour. We have a long-term policy and a short-term policy, but we need not spend so much on the short-term policy. People do not mind if they have not things like baths such as they will get in their permanent houses so long as they have homes of some sort to live in. There are in Plymouth people who would live in anything; they would live in a tent. These men coming back from the front would welcome a hut if they could get one. I am not worrying about these short-term houses. They are very temporary. [Interruption.] Although we may have our die-hards who do not want to move, the Labour Party have their left wingers who talk but who do not and could not move and who have never yet done anything. These people who criticise the Government do not do anything. They have not got to the Front Bench yet, and I hope they never do.
If the Tory Party comes back into power it will have a chance that it will never have again. I believe the country wants the Prime Minister. They know perfectly well that he is an international asset, and I do not believe that even his bitterest enemies feel that he ought to be burdened, attacked and blamed. The country expects the Prime Minister, if and when he gets his majority, to be as drastic about building these houses as he was about winning the war. We need co-operation among all the people of good will, whether they are right, left, high or low, peers or paupers. I rejoice to say we have a Tory reform group of young men who 1162 are not in the least concerned with vested interests or even in just strict party politics. They appeal to thousands of people throughout the country. There are Labour men of good will and thousands of people in the country who deeply regret that the Government fell apart. They would rather the Government had continued and finished the job. If it had not been for the pressure from outside the Government could have gone on. Everybody knows that. It was not the members of the Government. It was the pressure—
§ The Chairman (Mr. Charles Williams)
I am sorry to interrupt the Noble Lady, but I think this speech is getting out of Order.
§ Viscountess Astor
When we get on to this subject of houses, as the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) said, it is outside all party politics. It is very difficult for people outside and who are not involved in politics to understand what some of us here understand. We know that these party speeches which we make do not matter very much. We know this abuse is only skin deep. There is a real desire among the great masses of the people for the Government in peace-time to appeal to what is best in people, as they did in war-time. There is so much good in the people. Some of it goes into private enterprise, some into co-operation and some goes another way. What the Prime Minister will have behind him are those on the right wing of the Labour Party and those on the left wing of the Tory Party. I hope the Minister of Labour will consider things far more drastically than the Government have done up to now, and will use some of these people of whom he knows—if he does not known any we can tell him of some—who will cut across red tape and deliver the goods in peace-time just as they did in the war.
§ 6.43 p.m.
§ Major Markham (Nottingham, South)
It is always a difficult job to follow the Noble Lady, and particularly to-day when one realises that it may have been her last speech in this House. I am sure the Committee would wish me to take this opportunity, if it is in Order, of expressing regret at her forthcoming departure, to say how sad we are at this parting, and to ask her: "Where can we find such another Nancy?" [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] The Debate to-day has had one 1163 or two minor irrelevancies, and I for one do not want to diverge into the realm of party politics but to "cut the cackle and come to the hosses." I think the Committee is agreed that everything possible has been done by the late Coalition Government to prepare for a great housing drive. The only difference of opinion is whether there is going to be sufficient drive in the future to get those houses built. No matter on what side we are or what our politics, we are all wondering whether there will be on this side, or on the opposite side should the Election go wrong, the energy and determination to produce the million or so houses that we shall want in a few years. We have to deal first with the deeply-laid plans of the Coalition Government. I am convinced those plans are good ones and that they are far-reaching and sound. Have we the technicians, and also directors who can produce the requisite drive?
The point is, have we the best possible men on what might be called the civil engineering side? Would not the team be strengthened by the addition of a personality such as Mr. Gibson, of Mulberry fame? Some of us are not at all happy with the present line-up. We know that Sir Frederick Pile is an excellent man, with excellent qualities as a staff officer, but we need something in addition, what might be called civil engineering vision, to get the great housing drive through.
My next point concerns not what we can do here at home, but what we can get from abroad. An hon. Member mentioned that we might get houses from Sweden and other countries. Might I ask the Minister whether it is not possible to get something like 300,000 houses from the United States and Canada, temporary houses, within the next 12 or 15 months? I have seen many statements from the American Press that that is possible. We know that some Americans have a great genius for advertising, but if there is anything in those statements, and the houses are obtainable, what are we doing about it? How many can we get from countries which have very great productive capacity?
We have heard a great deal about the necessity for getting the building done but very little about the design of the proposed houses. During the war this House of Commons gave approval to a permanent housing programme for agricultural workers, and many hundreds of thousands 1164 of houses went up. As bricks and mortar they were excellent but in the arrangement of kitchens and pipes and fireplace design they were the last word in Victorian inefficiency. I cannot use words too strong to condemn the out-of-date ineffectiveness of the arrangement of those houses. Every one that was built since the war for agricultural labourers has water pipes put in such positions that they were likely to freeze under a heavy frost and have no bathroom or kitchen equipment arranged for convenience. Not one of them has a fireplace that produces the heat into the room instead of up the chimney.
Members of the Parliamentary Scientific Committee have been to the heating exhibition in Conduit Street, and agree that it is a most excellent exhibition. They saw there one of the new open fire grates, a masterpiece of design and efficiency. The exact difference in cost between those modern grates and the old kind is the difference between£7 and£3 10s. We all want local authorities to build houses, but we know that some of them, as well as some Government Departments, object to spending£3 10s. We know that they take the line that as long as they get the houses built they can quite well accept the lowest tenders. We have to produce in this matter not just a house with certain essential fittings, but the most efficient and modern house that the country can produce. We should not burke at£5 or£10, if it makes all the difference in having a good kitchen, unfreezable water pipes and a first-class bath. We have to think of the qualities of the houses, from the point of view of the housewives. I sincerely hope that in future months, no matter what Government is returned, we shall get together on the subject of housing with the same national unity as has been such a great boon to the country in the past.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)
The difficulty in which the Committee is placed just now is that a sort of dual purpose Debate is going on, part of it devoted to housing and part of it devoted to hustings. I suppose that is inevitable in present circumstances. I wish to look rather towards the position in which the Minister, whatever Minister it may be, responsible for housing will find himself when Parliament reassembles, the 1165 actual position. The Estimates which are now putting through are Estimates which give the Minister money for some time to come. The gist of the situation is surely that before the war this country was turning out 1,000 houses every working day, complete, slated, with glass in the windows, handles on the doors, paths up to the front door and railings round the garden. Every 24 hours, a new thousand houses were completed and a new thousand families walked into them. That was a terrific figure, of which the country might be rather proud.
The facts which have been given to us, not only in this Debate but in others, are that the permanent housing programme, which is what we have to go on with, does not go beyond something like 200,000 houses, built or building, in two years.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
Very well, 300,000, built or building—and there is a very good let-out in that expression.
§ Mr. Willink
I know that my right hon. and gallant Friend would be glad to be interrupted at this point. It has been made clear that the programme is for 220,000 houses of those 300,000 to be built in the two years and only 80,000 to be in course of building.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
Good. That is an encouraging figure; 220,000 houses built in the first two years. Let us remember that it is the year after the conclusion of the German war, the year in which we are now that will count, in which a great flood of returned people will pour back and will wish to get into houses. My experience suggests that the figure will not reach the first 100,000 in the first year, and that it might well be under that figure. That is to say, that for every house that was being completed before the war we are to build, not one, two or three houses, but one-third. That is the programme which is laid down. This position was inescapable, and was in the nature of things.
I do not believe that such a programme as was sketched out by the junior Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) will appeal to the Committee; that we should say: "Of course, we are not bound by the White Papers. We can go on and outbid them. The White Paper on Demobilisation was a grand and noble thing, but let's tear it up 1166 and double or treble the Class B release," and put that forward to the Minister as a way for him to get out of his difficulty. I am certain that of all the ways to create social unrest in this country, to tear up or even seriously to break into the demobilisation paper so carefully worked out by the late Minister of Labour, who has done a great deal of work for which the whole House owes him a debt of gratitude, would be to run the greatest risks of doing so, and of upsetting the labour force in this country and the men in the Armed Forces, and producing social unrest transcending even the social unrest which will be caused by the difficulties of people getting into houses.
When that is said, let us again examine the position of the Minister of Health, the Minister of Town and Country Planning, the Minister of Works and the Secretary of State for Scotland, in the Government which will be returned in a a few weeks' time. They will have to stand up for a year to a programme which will not in present circumstances produce more than about 100,000 permanent houses and an added number of temporary houses. The hon. and gallant Member who just spoke mentioned a figure of 300,000 temporary houses from the United States. Frankly, that is a pipe dream. It is not possible. The exchange position alone would make such a task impossible. It is not possible for us to draw on the resources of the world, or to continue to do so, at the levels upon which we have been drawing, with the world's full acquiescence, for the purpose of prosecuting the war. We shall have to dig into our own resources and work out our own problems to deal with these matters, and to solve this very important difficulty.
The position is summed up in two speeches which were made by the hon. Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil) and the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), who delivered a speech of great force and great courage, as he always does. He spoke of the difficulty which firms in his Division had in raising capital and getting bank guarantees in order to go on with the job. The reason for all that was shown in the speech of the hon. Member for Greenock, who said, "We will watch whether prices go up. We shall not allow any profits to be made or any risks to be taken." That is the way to 1167 stultify new developments and to nip them in the bud. The hon. Member for Gorbals said, "That is not what would happen in war." What would happen in war was the thing that many hon. Members opposite have objected to time and again: "Go ahead, give us the goods, and we will settle up afterwards for it." If the attitude of mind of watching every penny and screwing down any chance of a possible exaggeration of price is adhered to, it may be good accounting but it is not the way in which an emergency will be relieved.
When I heard the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. A. Greenwood) say: "£125,000,000 is being spent on erecting temporary houses; what a waste," I realised that that was not the way in which the country looked at the position when it was dealing with its war problems. To produce speed you must have a certain amount of waste. You cannot get away from it. If housing is to be treated as a war problem there will need to be experiment, and bold experiment. There will need to be a cutting of red tape, not merely in the attitude towards the building problem but in the attitude toward the accounting problem.
There is nothing in the story of the shortage of land holding up houses. The right hon. Member for Wakefield said: "How can we go ahead until we have settled what to do with the land?" We have settled what to do with 27,000 acres which is the property of local authorities at the moment, and on which not one stone or brick has been laid. There are 27,000 acres, enough land on which to build at 10 houses to the acre, 270,000 houses, but no house has been put on it, although the land is available.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
The hon. Member has made several irrelevant interruptions in the course of this Debate but, really, he has crowned his irrelevancies with this last one. "Whose fault was that?" We are now considering the question of what is to happen after the war. The fault up to now has been Hitler's. If the hon. Member likes it better, the Coalition Government, of which the Leader of the Opposition, now on the Front Bench, was a member. The right hon. Member is not anxious to get 1168 away from the responsibility. He has signed and countersigned all the decrees which have said that the men and the materials were to be used in the war effort. "Whose fault was it?" We cannot get on with the Debate when questions like that are asked. We are talking of the future.
I say that there is land enough for a two-years' programme now in the possession of the local authorities. What is more, the local authorities, as we all know, have power to do for land exactly what the hon. Member for Gorbals asked for in general. They have power to enter upon any land and begin operations upon it, and to settle the accountancy affairs afterwards. Neither in the present nor in the future is shortage of land holding up the efforts of the local authorities. It is also perfectly true, as the right hon. John Wheatley pointed out, that the amount of the cost of the land in the rent of a cottage is 1½da week. The idea that land is responsible is one of the fallacies from which it is necessary to get away. Building is a matter of labour and materials; the land is there. On the statements of the Socialist Ministers, of the Socialist Secretary of State for Scotland, land for two years' building or more was in the hands of local authorities, there to be entered upon at any moment.
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
If that is the case, will the right hon. and gallant Gentleman say why the people of Glasgow are packed together in such masses, and why, wherever there is a housing scheme, there is no provision in it for wider amenities for the people?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
If the hon. Member had come in earlier and listened to our Debate, he would have heard what we were discussing. I would say that the Glasgow authority is one of the worst housing authorities in the Kingdom, and that the Socialist majority has brought the progress of housing far below what it was under the Progressives. Glasgow town council has to shoulder as much responsibility as anyone.
The difficulties before us are those of labour and materials. Certainly we can make use, to the utmost, and I think we should make use of alternative housing methods. Admittedly, however, it is on the tried and trusted means of house building that we shall ultimately have to rely. On that matter the hon. Member for 1169 Gorbals made a very bold and far-reaching statement, which he has made before, and it is well worth following up, that the reinforcements of labour proposed by bringing back men from the Forces and the munitions factories will not be enough. The Government have explained that the labour force is now something lower than 400,000, and that they hope to bring it up to 800,000 within a year of the end of the war with Germany. Even that is 25 per cent. below their ultimate target, and is certainly anything from 200,000 to 250,000 less than the force we had pre-war. The hon. Member for Gorbals has said we shall have to produce, by hook or by crook, a greater head of labour to work on this problem. I think that is inescapable. His suggestion that that avenue of expansion of the labour force from outside sources would also need to be tried, is one which we shall need to take seriously into account.
I heard my right hon. Friend say that there are two great forces whose responsibility housing is—private enterprise and the local authorities. In England, undoubtedly, a great contribution has been made by private enterprise. Before the war, in 1938, about 220,0000 houses were built in a year by private enterprise, and about 70,000 by the local authorities. In Scotland, the proportion was almost reverse. Roughly speaking, the proportion of house building there by private enterprise was very small. It would be out of Order to go into the many reasons for that.
§ Sir Leslie Boyce (Gloucester)
For what period is my right hon. and gallant Friend speaking? I understood that in the inter-war period 4,000,000 houses were built, 3,000,000 of them by private enterprise.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
I was giving the figures for 1938, and those show, roughly speaking, a proportion of three built by private enterprise to one built by the local authority. That corresponds with the figure over the longer period given by my hon. Friend. That was done very largely by enormous expansion in the South of England in the use of building societies. It does not fully deal with the problem of the distressed areas. Nor does it deal with the problem in Scotland.
There is a third line on which we can go when attacking the problem of housing, the public ultility company, which exists in Scotland and, to a certain extent, in 1170 England, such organisations as the Special Areas Housing Company or, in Scotland, the Scottish Special Housing Company or Housing Association.
§ Mr. Buchanan
Does the right hon. and gallant Gentleman really think that that is the right body, in view of the appointments which are made to it? People are appointed who never attend. Some are Members of this House and never come near this House, and the only people who never get on to that body are the people interested in housing.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
I think the hon. Member does that company less than justice. A very substantial contribution to housing in Scotland was made through that company. That is not at all to say that if one is planning a great expansion of housing through that company a great expansion of staff, in quality and quantity, to cope with its great responsibilities, would not be necessary.
I am convinced that the housing programme in Scotland will not be solved by the Scottish local authorities. It will not be solved under present taxation conditions by private enterprise in Scotland and we must look to the further possibility of the public utility company. That might well require the utilisation of personnel and methods such as were suggested by the Noble Lady for the Sutton Division (Viscountess Astor) in one of her sparkling speeches which made us regret all the more that it might be her swan song in this House. There is a technique by which these new methods of organisation could be tried without doing violence to the existing machinery in this country. Unless some new trace-horse is brought in to shift this heavy load at the outlet, it will not be possible for us to solve the problem.
I come back to the terrible problem which the new Government—the post-Election Government—will have to face. For a year the post-Election Ministers will be nailed to their seats on the Front Bench with the knowledge that, willy-nilly, they cannot produce more than 100,000 permanent type houses and about 120,000 of a temporary type. Great as the storm is now it is nothing to the storm which will be blowing about them by about the end of that year. It is the storm of the future that I ask them to look to, and to consider, when I am 1171 pleading for the use of new and additional forms of housing organisation as well as the forms of housing organisation which have been described here to-day.
§ 7.9 p.m.
§ Mr. G. Strauss (Lambeth, North)
I do not know enough about conditions in Scotland to say whether the suggestion that housing should be largely handed over to public utility societies would be the solution of the Scottish housing problem. All I can say, with conviction, is that that would be no solution at all in London. It would not help us in any measurable degree to overcome the very serious housing situation in London today, where it is quite clear it can only be through the action of the local authorities that we shall be able to rehouse the thousands of families wanting housing accommodation.
I agree with the right hon. and gallant Gentleman when he expressed sympathy for the Minister of Health, or the Minister of Housing, whoever he may be, to what ever party he may belong, in six or nine months' or a year's time. However anxious and eager the Minister may be to solve this problem quickly, there will yet remain, after a year has gone by, in every part of the country, thousands of families, including many ex-Servicemen, anxiously seeking a home, living in over crowded conditions, living with relatives, who will be impatient with whatever action the Government have so far taken. Let us be quite clear in our minds that this is a problem which cannot quickly be overcome. It would be unwise or wrong for any person or party to promise too much at the coming General Election, and I hope that nobody will do that.
But if we are all agreed about the urgency and the seriousness of the situation, it does not follow that we agree with the proposal put forward by the Noble Lady and, I think, one or two other hon. Members, that the housing problem can be kept out of politics. Indeed, it would be grotesque that it should be, because the housing of the people, poverty and the social welfare of the people are the very substance of politics. I, for one, refuse to keep housing out of politics. Indeed, during the past 25 years it has been continually in politics, nationally and locally. It has been out of the battles in this House and in town 1172 halls throughout the country that progress has been made, and an increasing number of houses built.
I want to make a comment on the Government's proposals which I shall be making during the Election. As it is critical of the statement made by the Government I wish to say it first in this House, and to be candid in doing so. Quite frankly, I do not believe that under a Conservative Administration, which believes fundamentally in private enterprise and private profit, where the big vested interests are already campaigning against controls, it will be possible to accomplish the minimum programme laid down in the White Paper. My contention is not merely based on political prejudice; it is based on past experience as well. We have had promises time after time about houses, as well as other matters, made prior to an Election by the Conservative Party, and not fulfilled afterwards. If it is re-elected I do not believe that the promises made in the White Paper on this occasion will be fulfilled, whatever the personal sincerity of the Minister of Health or the Minister of Works of to-day may be.
The Minister of Works came to the House to-day and said, "We have all these various plans, we have proposals to curb prices, we will see that there is no profiteering." He challenged Members on this side of the Committee to propose any better scheme by which more houses can be built. My reply is that whatever the Minister may now be saying, I do not believe that a Conservative majority in this House would adequately control the big monopolies, the builders or the manufacturers of housing materials.
I do not believe that they would control the cement combines, for example. They might here and there exercise their power in the case of some gross profiteering in some small factory; but that the Conservative Party, representing the vested interests, would be ruthless in their controls over the vested interests of the housing industry, I do not believe. I do not believe that it is in its nature, knowing, as we all do, its background and its backbone.
§ Mr. Strauss
The Noble Lady is apparently excited, and does not agree with what I say. In the course of her speech she talked about the people of the Left, who did a lot of talking and never accom- 1173 plished anything. The people of the Left produced the two principal Housing Acts under which the local authorities have built working-class houses. A man of the extreme Left, Mr. Wheatley, produced the Wheatley Act; the present Deputy-Leader of our Party produced the Greenwood Act. In London it is largely owing to the Greenwood Act that we have got houses for our people. I have not got the exact figures, but I think it is true that when the people of the Left, who talk and do nothing, got into power on the London County Council—and I have the honour to be among them—
§ Viscountess Astor
When I said "people of the Left," I did not mean people like some of the hon. Member's leaders; I meant certain other people. [Hon. Members: "Whom?"] People from Wales, for instance—you know.
§ Mr. Strauss
I was not aware that all the people of the Left came from Wales. They have some in Glasgow, I thought. I think we have some in London. I have often been accused of being one of them.
§ Mr. Strauss
May I finish what I was saying? In the London area, after the Labour majority got in, four or five times as many houses were built as there had been under a Conservative administration.
§ Sir Robert Tasker (Holborn)
May I remind the hon. Member that he is not the only Member of this House who is a member of the L.C.C.? Does he suggest that under a Labour majority the L.C.C. built more houses than we did in Becontree and Downham? Does he seriously suggest that?
§ Mr. Strauss
Yes, infinitely more. Under the Labour Administration, for the first time we got a move on in slum clearance in London. It is therefore my firm belief that there is little chance of the meagre housing programme put before us to-day being satisfactorily carried out by a Conservative Government, should one be returned. Of course, we should get some houses, but they would be far fewer and far more expensive than under a Labour Government. I believe that if we are to get the houses on the scale we all want, it will be necessary to take action as severe and ruthless as was taken 1174 during the war by the Government, when factories had to be taken over by the Government and operated by the Government. If we are going to get a large amount of building materials, of good quality, cheaply, it will be desirable for the Government themselves to run some of the basic factories in the national interest, in exactly the same way as they have been running some of the munition factories during the war. I am not suggesting taking over the whole of the building industry—that would be impracticable—but I suggest taking over some of its key points. But I cannot imagine that hon. Gentlemen opposite would contemplate taking such a step, as it is contrary to their whole political philosophy.
§ Mr. Strauss
We are going to have during the coming months, first a few hundred thousand, and then a few million, people coming back to this country. I do not think the right hon. and gallant Gentleman would suggest that it will be difficult, if adequate wages are paid, for the Government to run one or two very large factories making housing materials.
I do not know what we are going to hear about subsidies to private builders—perhaps we are not going to hear anything about that to-night—but it would be a crying scandal, if subsidies were paid to private enterprise to build houses other than houses to let. It would have to be a condition, among many others, of any subsidy to private builders that the houses should be to let—which would mean that they would be houses for the workers of this country, who are most in need of them. If they were to receive subsidies for houses that they were going to sell, perhaps at a substantial profit, it would be an outrageous abuse. And are private builders to be allowed to build houses for sale without any control of prices? It should be an absolutely firm condition that the houses must be to let.
A passage has often been quoted in the House from one of the books written by the Prime Minister. I do not want to 1175 quote it again, but it will be remembered that he compares the atmosphere after 11 o'clock on Armistice Day, when the last war was over and peace had come, with the atmosphere prevailing before. Previously, if guns or tanks were wanted in large quantities, they were ordered and produced quickly. But afterwards, if houses were wanted there appeared a thousand difficulties and causes for delay. Is the same situation going to arise again?
We hear much about making houses our first priority. That is agreed among all parties, but is it really going to happen? Are we going to be as energetic and ruthless about getting houses as we were about getting tanks and guns? I am certain that if we want to avoid serious social trouble, to say nothing of immense and widespread suffering every bit of the same vigour and resolution will have to be used to produce houses for the homeless. I do not believe that spirit will be shown by people who believe in private enterprise and profits as the best motive for industry. I believe the demand can. only be met by those who are prepared to exercise the necessary planning and control and direction; and who regard the building of houses for the people as every bit as important as was the production of armaments during the war.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Molson (The High Peak)
It is significant that in this housing Debate, just before the General Election, no hon. Gentleman has spoken from the opposite Benches who has recently left the Coalition Government. The programme which the Minister of Works has outlined to-day is exactly the same programme for which the Coalition Government were responsible, and all that we have heard so far from the hon. Member for North Lambeth (Mr. G. Strauss) is that he does not believe that this Government will be able to carry out the programme which was accepted by the previous Government. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) began by attributing to the late Government the blame for not having put into operation any policy dealing with land, and said it was obvious that we could not be successful 1176 in our housing policy unless that had been done. I see a certain amount of agreement on the Benches opposite. There is an hon. Member, not there at the moment, the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin), who has been chairman of the Housing Committee and is now chairman of the Town and Country Planning Committee of the London County Council, who takes an entirely contrary view. He said on 15th March, 1944:We should have no excuse for sitting back and doing nothing, merely because the Government have not adopted the Uthwatt Report.He went on to show that there were ample sites on which houses could be built if the difficulties of man-power and materials could be overcome.
§ Mr. Silverman
Why does the hon. Member say that that is in conflict with what my hon. Friend said? It is possible that two things are true—that you can never deal with the housing problem adequately unless the community have power to control the use of land in the communal interest, and also that there is a great deal to be done short of that, which has not yet been done. There is no conflict between those two things.
§ Mr. Molson
I noticed how inordinately long the speeches of other hon. Members have been this afternoon when they allowed themselves to be interrupted by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman). Therefore, I do not propose to give way again. As regards the programme, there has been criticism that the Government's programme for providing traditional houses in the next two years is unduly moderate; but, there again, the same hon. Gentleman, who has a great responsibility for the housing of London, has said about the Minister of Health:I know that many hon. Members are somewhat disappointed with the number of houses which my right hon. and learned Friend has promised in the first two years after the war….I realise how difficult it will be to achieve even the figures which he gave. I do not say at the moment that we cannot do very much better than we did after the last war, but it is right to remember that it took us seven years after the last war to reach an annual output of 200,000 houses. That is not to say that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has not done well."—[Official Report, 15th March, 1944;vol. 398, c. 345.]Why are we to-day confronted with this appalling housing shortage? By 1939, such had been the success of the housing 1177 programme in the 20 years between 1919 and 1939 that 4,000,000 new houses, or half the number in existence in 1919, had been built. There was at that time, taking the country as a whole, approximately one house for every family in the country. At that time we were therefore engaged entirely in the abolition of slums and over crowding. The problem to-day is entirely a war problem, except perhaps in the case of Scotland, of which I have no knowledge. The housing problem with which we are confronted to-day is one that has arisen entirely out of the present war. At the beginning of the war, there were over a million men engaged in the building industry, of which about one-third, or 330,000, were engaged upon the ordinary repairs and renewals due to the wear and tear of time and the English climate. We have to-day in the industry only 337,000 men, who are now being called upon to carry out repair of the damage which has been done by enemy bombardment. The problem with which we are confronted is that the whole of the man-power which was required for building new houses has been scattered to the winds, and the whole of the malice of the enemy has now to be dealt with by the same manpower as was required before the war to carry out ordinary renewals and repairs. Where have these men gone to? Any competent war-time Government must apply the same restriction to housing as it has found necessary to apply to food and clothing. If you want to fight a total war, the civilian population has to go short of food and clothing and also has to go short of additional houses, and that is why at the end of six years, with approximately 850,000 more married couples in the country, there is a great shortage of houses. But the Government has no need to apologise to the country that, amongst the many sacrifices which it has had to call for in order to carry the war through to a successful conclusion, one of them has been a complete restriction upon the building of new houses. The 200,000 which had already been begun were completed, but these only made up for those totally demolished by the enemy.
Where have all these men gone? First, they went to build camps in 1939 and went to build airfields for the Royal Air Force and the Americans when they came over, and large numbers of other men, especially highly skilled men, were diverted into the munitions industries. I 1178 remember the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Dobbie), as long ago as last September, saying that he thought the war was sufficiently near to being won that he wished men to be drawn back out of the Army. That was three months before the German offensive. I believe the men in the Armed Forces will say that the Government were right not to withdraw men from the Army and the munition industries until the war in Europe had been won, and, now it has been won, there is still the Japanese war with which we are confronted. When hon. Gentlemen are complaining about the shortage of houses, they might, in fairness, have said that the man in the armed forces, who complains of having had a four years' tour of service overseas, is glad that the Government was not willing to reduce the number of reinforcements available, even in order to begin building houses before they were needed. Now we are confronted with a difficulty, but I believe that the men, when they come back, will have the clearness of vision and frankness to understand that houses cannot be made to spring up like mushrooms before the men come home. It is when the men come home that they will be engaged upon the building of houses which they will then occupy. That the limit of 300,000 houses was all that could be expected in the first few years was admitted by the hon. Member for Peckham in the Debate on 15th March; and I was glad to hear the hon. Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks), though no longer at the Ministry of Works, confirming from the opposite benches his view that that was the most that could be done.
Hon. Members in all parts of the House have asked that the Government should approach this housing problem as if it was a military operation. Well, that is exactly what they have done. It was really against the advice of the experts that they undertook a temporary housing programme. The hon. Member for Peckham was the Chairman of a sub-committee of the Central Housing Advisory Committee set up to consider temporary houses. They did not approve any of them, although they were willing to give additional consideration to Duplex houses. It was what I might call the "Mulberry" mind of the Prime Minister and the War Cabinet which said, "We will try to tackle this problem in a new way and 1179 do for the housing of this country what was done in the way of building an artificial harbour off the coast of Normandy." In the Debates last August and September, all the difficulties were raised with very great force by hon. Gentlemen opposite, and a good many of the difficulties which were pointed out have, in fact, appeared.
It has been difficult to find the sites, and that is why we have got a Bill to enable temporary houses to be placed in London parks in a constructive effort to deal with the immediate problem. Another of the criticisms made was that it was going to be extravagant to spend these large sums on houses that were only going to last for 10 years. I think the Minister of Works is to be congratulated that he saw how much better it would be to use some kind of method of prefabrication in order to produce a permanent house that would be a permanent contribution to the housing problem of this country. I should like to congratulate him because, after many months of work, helped by the scientists and the practical builders he had called in, he has been able to tell us today that matters have reached a point where he has been able to give a substantial order for these houses.
There is a further point which I should like to make, and that concerns the wisdom of limiting the number of houses which are going to be constructed in the first two years after the war to approximately the number that can be completed. At the end of the last war, a large number of houses were begun and only a small number were finished, and building costs went rocketing up. My right hon. Friend is right, as the hon. Member for Peckham has admitted, in restricting the permanent building programme to approximately the number that can be finished, in that time. Therefore, the maximum number of homeless families will be housed, and the effect will also be to check the tendency for a great increase in prices.
I was not wholly satisfied with what my right hon. Friend said about the control he will exercise over the prices of building materials. I shall look in Hansard tomorrow very carefully at what he said. When I raised this matter on the Adjournment on 15th May, I did so on the authority of a very distinguished man in the building industry—Sir George Burt, 1180 head of Mowlem's and Chairman of the Committee set up by the Minister to consider the new designs of houses. When such people take the view that there is either something wrong in the amount of the profit or the number of the profits, I think careful consideration ought to be given to their criticism. I was not wholly pleased to hear that my right hon. Friend was proposing to use all established trade channels for the distribution of building materials.
I have tried, in reply to hon. Gentlemen opposite, to state quite simply and plainly why I believe that the programme, which was put before us originally by the Coalition Government and is now going to be carried out by the present Government, is as ambitious as can be made effective. There has been criticism in the country that a great deal was heard about the Portal bungalow but that nothing is being heard about it now. Again the explanation is simple. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Production, speaking in September last, said they intended to use pressed steel, and he made a guarded promise that it could be done even in war-time because the war was going very well and he thought the war was coming to an end. Well, there was the Rundstedt offensive in December, and we also ceased importing under Lend-Lease any more iron and steel from 1st January this year. What the Government expected would be a raw material in plentiful supply for housing purposes was, in fact, not in plentiful supply. It is not fair to criticise the Government for not having been able to foresee all the chances of the war, and I believe that one has only to explain that to the country for the country to be entirely satisfied with the explanation given.
At any rate, I am glad that neither of my right hon. Friends in this Government, any more than the Government before, have tried to make promises beyond what it believed was likely to be carried out I would like to pay a tribute to my right hon. and learned Friend, and I could not do better than finish by quoting the words of the hon. Member for Peckham, because it shows the principle on which I hope the Conservative Party will go into the Election:I think courage is probably the quality that is most needed. May I say to him that I believe he has shown it by coming to this House and not holding out glamorous promises 1181 of what he hopes to be able to do. He would have had a much easier passage in the Debate to-day if he had been able to tell the House that he had a proposition to build a million houses in the first two years, but these promises would have come back to him in the end. I think he has shown courage, at any rate, in facing the storm to-day and not promising to the House more than he can carry out."—[Official Report, 15th March, 1944; Vol. 398, c 352.]So far as we, on this side, are concerned, I hope we shall face any storms there may be in the country rather than make promises which, in the long run, we shall not be able to redeem.
§ 7.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)
May I say, with regard to the reference to the Portal bungalow, that whatever the reason for its disappearance from the public scene, I am heartily glad that it has disappeared? I am one of those who, from the very first, consistently criticised that particular proposition, and I am very glad that that view has been accepted by the Government.
§ Mr. Mathers (Linlithgow)
Have we not been told that it was not the view that has changed, but that the change was due to circumstances over which the Government found they had no control?
I do not know what the reason is; I am only saying I am very glad it has gone. I want to put a question to my right hon. and learned Friend who, I understand, is to reply. I do not share the views of hon. Members opposite, of course, but I confess I had a good deal of sympathy with their general protest about this statement as to the subsidy, which I gather we are to receive. What actually happened was that the Minister, opening the Debate, indicated that there would be some statement at the end about subsidies for privately built houses. That is a matter of very great importance, and I think that the Committee ought to have been told of the proposition at the beginning and not at the end of the Debate. In the White Paper, it was stated that the Government proposed to offer subsidies to local authorities and private builders in England, but, in the Scottish version of the White Paper, the subsidy was to be confined to local authorities.
I have never yet had the opportunity to ask why that distinction should be made. I wish to ask why the Government's policy which proposes to offer subsidies to private builders in England, should decline 1182 to offer subsidies in Scotland. I ask with a good deal of reason because, as my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) has shown to-day and on many other occasions, the builders of private enterprise houses in Scotland were the least successful in their efforts in the days before the war. There must be some good reason for that, and I would like to hear the Government's answer to the question. Is it not likely that, if a subsidy produces the houses by private enterprise builders in England, it is probably likely to do the same in Scotland. If that be true, why is it refused to Scottish builders?
The hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) admitted that he did not pretend to be able to speak of Scottish conditions and, describing his own country's situation, indicated that the main problem was one which arose within the war years. It is not so in Scotland. Our problem is one which has lasted almost through the generations. We are faced with a housing shortage to which the war has contributed relatively little. Our shortage is the result of years of under-housing and the gradual decline of housing, and unless some very special and drastic measures are taken in Scotland, we shall never get over that. I understand that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Minister of Health is to reply for the Government and, therefore, for the Scottish Office, too, and I can assure him that Scotland will pay attention to the speeches that have been made to-day as this is the Government's last say on the matter before this Parliament ends.
I would ask my right hon. and learned Friend a question on another matter. The Minister of Works indicated that there are going to be very large increases in the amount of labour available. I was very glad to hear that. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary told me the other day, in answer to a Question, that of the 60,000 building operatives to be released under Class B, Scotland will get its share. I would like to know what is to be our share of the men released from the industries. Of the great new wave of 400,000 men coming into the trade this year, haw many are we to get in Scotland? We ought to know that, because only when we know it shall we be able to judge whether the programmed indicated of 20,000 permanent houses, built or building, this year, and 20,000 temporary houses as well, is 1183 likely to be completed. Therefore, I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman if he can give me an answer to that question.
May I also draw the attention of the Minister of Works to information which reached me only this morning. I was telephoned by one of the leading housing directors in this country who said that although his need for assistance in his work in the form of chartered accounttants, clerks, typists and people of that kind is very great—and they would be used entirely in connection with housing—he cannot get one person of that kind from the Employment Exchanges because there is no priority for housing. That is a very strange situation. I am not suggesting that there should be direction, if there is no direction in other quarters, but if housing is No. I priority, and any direction is applied to workers, then surely that direction ought to be applied, in the first instance, to housing. I would ask for an explanation of that very strange situation.
I want to say a word to my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot)—it is a pity he has left the Chamber—because, like the Leader of the Opposition, he appeared to attach very great, and I think excessive, importance to the part which land as such plays. The hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) takes the same view. Let us face this problem. There was a letter in "The Times" yesterday from Sir John Mactaggart. He is a man who has been 50 years in the building trade and he bought land for about 40,000 houses. He tells us in the letter that the price of land as such is a relatively small item. He gives figures which work out at two pence per week per house. It is no use trying to persuade the country that there is a ramp in land values and that land stands in the way of housing. It is not true, nor is it true that local authorities are prevented in any way from acquiring land. Under the Housing Acts they have all the rights to acquire, and equally under the Town and Country Planning Act, parts of which I criticised, they have the right to acquire land at a reasonable price.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Health will notice that, so far, there has been only one reference to rural housing in this Debate. As he is to reply for the Scottish Office, may I remind him that in our rural areas in Scotland we have 1184 some of the most disgraceful housing conditions to be found in any part of Great Britain. I am literally ashamed to look at some of the houses in which East Fife farm-workers have to dwell. It is one of the most beautiful and richest of the counties of Scotland and has a great many advantages, and yet, for one reason or another, hundreds and thousands of people in that historic corner of Scotland are condemned to live in what are nothing short of slums in the countryside. I make an earnest appeal to the Government, when we are approaching the Election, to give us an indication that something special is being done for the rural areas. The Minister of Agriculture, only the other day, made a fresh appeal for a greater production of foodstuffs. There is to be a scheme for inducing many more people to work on the land. All that is humbug, unless houses by the tens of thousands are provided in rural areas. I therefore invite the right hon. and learned Gentleman, who is, I know, sympathetic, to give us the assurances we want, so that those of us who come from rural areas may go into the Election, on whatever side of the House we sit, with assurances to offer to those whom we address, that their housing troubles, as well as those in Glasgow and London, shall receive the full attention of the Government.
§ 7.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
I listened to the hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) make the most amazing speech I have ever heard in this House. He seems to have come from some far-off planet, and to be unaware of the conditions in this country. I have never heard so much complacency in the presence of such terrible tragedy and suffering, as has been expressed here to-day. I would like to make a reference to the speech of the right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot). I asked him a question arising out of a statement he was making about land. I asked, why, if land is not vital, are the people of Glasgow crowded together in such masses, and, why, when there is a housing scheme, are there no amenities provided for the people? His answer was, "I do not think much of the Socialist majority in the Glasgow Corporation." What an answer. No Member opposite is prepared to answer the following question: Why is it, when there is a housing scheme, no matter what authority it is, that it is always necessary 1185 to get the maximum of houses on the minimum amount of land? Why is it that a Bill has to be passed in this House permitting temporary houses to be placed in public parks, when there is abundance of land available? As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) has said, you cannot solve this problem unless you deal with the land. "Free the land and house the people," is a very good slogan and a very true one. The hon. Member for The High Peak told us that the housing problem is a war-time problem, and that in 1939 we had solved the housing problem, but he did not know anything about Scotland. If he had added "and England and Wales," I would have been in agreement with him. Is anybody prepared to say that the housing problem was solved in Wales in 1939?
§ Mr. Molson
I said that there was, approximately, a house for every family in this country. I did not say that the standard of the housing was satisfactory but that we were in fact demolishing slums and replacing them by good housing.
§ Mr. Gallacher
If there was a house for every family in this country, I did not know where the houses were to be found. The Minister of Health did not know where they were, and the masses of people who were huddled together in the sub-lets did not know where they were. Was there a house for every family in London? My hon. Friend here, the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Key), as the representative of one of the London areas, could answer that question. Was there a house for every family in Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds and Newcastle? Before the war I heard the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) make one of the most terrific speeches I have ever heard in this House, with great drive and appeal, about the horrible and ghastly conditions which existed in the countryside in his own area in Wales. Time and time again in this House we have discussed the horrible housing conditions in rural parts of England as well as in Scotland. It is appalling nonsense to say that there was a house for every family in this country in 1939. There was a house in this country for every parasitic family; every parasitic family had a house, with abundance of accommodation, but masses of the people were crowded into sub-lets and living under the most 1186 appalling conditions in the countrywide. The hon. Member went on to say that the Government were not prepared to stop reinforcements for the Services in order to provide labour for houses. The Government could not possibly stop reinforcements. Is the hon. Member aware of the fact that hundreds of thousands of wives and children of soldiers at present have no houses in which to live? They are living with relatives, with friends and in sub-lets. Does the hon. Member know what is going on in this country? I am sure he does not or he would not have talked as he did.
§ Mr. Molson
Was the hon. Member in favour of calling men back from the Forces to build houses in this country, before Russia had won her part of the war?
§ Mr. Gallacher
If the hon. Member had listened, instead of attempting to make that facetious remark, he would know that I said that, of course it was quite right that the Government should not withhold reinforcements. But how can anyone make the remark he made about building houses when the houses were needed? Does he not understand that the houses are needed now? Does he not understand, when we talk about soldiers coming back and no houses being there for them, that their wives and children at the present time are without houses, that they are living under the most appalling conditions? He does not seem to understand that. Everything is going nicely for the hon. Member. He has a nice house, I suppose; everything is very comfortable for him, so he seems to think that everything must be very comfortable for everyone else. That is the sort of attitude we always get on the other side of the Committee, and that is the sort of attitude which would prevent us from getting on with any real building programme. I say, free the land, control the building materials, and supply the local authorities with interest-free loans, and the local authorities will do the job and supply the people.
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Key (Bow and Bromley)
That the housing problem is the greatest social problem now facing this country is the obvious conclusion from the Debate today. I shall not attempt to assess the 1187 magnitude of that problem—whether we want 4,000,000 houses in 10 years, or 6,000,000 in 12 years. What is quite obvious is that the number we require is far in excess of anything we shall be able to produce in the next two or three years. Therefore, it is up to us, by the best organisation we can devise, by granting the fullest powers to the local authorities, by sweeping on one side class privileges and vested interests, by traditional methods and by any new plans of prefabrication to produce the greatest amount of shelter we can in the shortest period for our people.
No one method will yield the results we require, and we must be prepared to adopt any and every method. I am quite certain that the first thing we have to attend to, is the repair of the exsiting houses, particularly those so badly damaged that they are vacant, and the conversion or adaptation of the large houses with greater vigour than is being shown at the present moment, in order that we may produce, within the next six months, the shelter that will be so sorely needed as this winter comes along. The erection of temporary houses, where that will assist and not hinder our programme, should be speeded up, even to the extent, as the House agreed on Tuesday, of the use of the much-needed open spaces in our country. It is shelter, and ever more shelter, that will be needed as the winter approaches, and the great numbers of men and women are demobilised or returned to their original homes from the places to which they have been directed for war-time production.
Another problem will arise out of this dearth of shelter which will be one of great seriousness. There are very large numbers of young men and young women, married during the war, who have never yet attempted to set up homes who, when released from the Services, will be looking for accommodation. Even if they can find empty rooms—and I am convinced that they will not be able to do so—the obtaining of the necessary furniture to equip them will be impossible. As a result there will arise—unless we take the steps to prevent it—a very serious problem with regard to the exorbitant rents that will be charged for furnished lettings, over which we have not, at present, the necessary control.
1188 Meeting that problem of shelter, however, is no solution of the housing problem. Tin huts and wooden shacks are not houses, and solving the housing problem is an even greater and more difficult task than the immediate shelter problem; it is a task which, in my opinion, is comparable to the organisation of war production, and has to be tackled with no less enthusiasm, no less drive, no less foresight and no less detailed planning. I am convinced that if the housings problem is to be solved it must be upon a basis of full planning. The local authorities have been asked to submit plans for two years and they have had sanctions to buy land limited to those plans. My claim is that no real planning can be done upon that basis. Much longer programmes must be worked out, in order that the supply of services and materials, roads and layouts should proceed in a proper, orderly manner. More than that, I am convinced that we cannot do the planning merely upon the basis of a mosaic of the annual or biennial plans of local authorities. The housing problem of our big industrial centres can only be really solved on a basis of decentralisation, on the planning and building of satellite towns and garden cities, on the redistribution of industry, on great movements of the population, and all that is a programme far beyond the powers of local authorities so far as planning is concerned. Therefore we must have a definite national plan for housing purposes, and in order that that may be carried out, a Department definitely set aside and charged with the duty of co-ordinating all the activities that are contributory to the solution of the problem.
I want to take up, too, the land problem, because I am convinced that without adequate and proper control over the land, no real planning, whether of agriculture or industry, housing or transport, will be possible at all. The statement was made here to-day that the land problem is not a major one so far as provision of houses is concerned. Statements have been made about the cost of land being 1½d. a week on the rent of the house. My local authority is engaged, at the moment, in negotiations for the purchase of land for housing, and the average price we have had to pay, under compulsory purchase orders, has been anything from£8,000 to£10,000 per acre. If you make provision 1189 for houses and flats and open spaces and build, on the average, 30 tenements per acre you are not going to tell me that land at£9,000 per acre, or£300 per tenement, in its interest and capital repayment charges, will mean only 1½d. a week extra on the rent of the house. It is nearer 3s. than 1½d. That is why, without a sound land policy, there is no real hope of getting a sound housing policy. We shall not get that in this type of House because, so far, the landed interests inside the dominant political party here have been sufficiently powerful to prevent any sound land policy from being produced. In fact, so obstructive have those interests been that we have been prevented from discussing the White Paper on Land Policy.
§ Mr. Key
That is not true. In the industrial areas difficulty in the acquisition of land, and the price that has to be paid for it when acquired, provide one of the greatest problems for local authorities. The only sane way of dealing with that problem is for the nation to become the owner of whatever land is required for housing purposes, and to let it at nominal rents to the local authorities, whose duty it will be to provide houses for the ordinary folk.
What is true of land is also true of finance. Only if local authorities are guaranteed money at a stable and reasonable rate of interest can they hope to build houses to let at rents which ordinary people can pay. The Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget speech boasted—and, I think, justifiably—that the financial controls that had existed during the war had not only prevented a rise in the rate of interest but had brought about an actual fall. Now it seems that every effort is to be made to remove those controls, and that a war-time reduction is to give place to a peace-time increase. Higher rates of interest mean higher rents for the working class. The average price of a working class house, at any rate in our big towns and their surrounding areas, including the price of the land on which it is built, is likely to be in the neighbourhhood of£1,000. A rise of 1 per cent. in the rate of interest will mean that on the average, over the whole period of the loan which is necessary to meet the cost, there will be an increase of 2s. a week in the rent. That is the situa- 1190 tion which the party opposite will bring about for the working class if they have their way, and are able to remove the financial controls.
There is another matter in connection with housing which has been mentioned in a rather queer sort of way, and that is the provision of a subsidy. My experience has been that the Government have been both anxious and eager to discuss the amount of subsidy that is to be provided for the private builder or private purchaser of houses, but have not made anything like the same headway about the subsidy for local authorities, who will be responsible for building houses to let. There are to be real doles for those who buy, but there are to be higher rents for those who have to rent. It is true that this House passed an Act which led to the application of the slum clearance subsidy, but those pre-war sums were recognised as totally inadequate for the purpose and an assurance was given that in a few years' time, in the light of the increased prices which might have resulted, there would be a revision of those figures. Local authorities have been given no real indication of the amount; there is no assurance that the assistance will be adequate for the job they are trying to do. If they are to go ahead with housing then a firmer assurance of adequate help must be given than has been forthcoming up to now. There must be consideration of the subsidy for houses to let.
§ The Chairman (Mr. Charles Williams)
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but he cannot possibly discuss the question of a future subsidy without discussing future legislation. If I allowed one Member to discuss that I should have to allow others to do the same.
§ The Chairman
I cannot help what the right hon. Gentleman said. Neither a Minister nor a private Member can be allowed to go outside the Rules of Order, which must apply to all.
§ Mr. Key
I can only accept your Ruling, Mr. Williams, but I would add 1191 that unless great attention is given to the question of the ability of local authorities to face up to their problems they will not be able to go forward in the way they should in order to provide an adequate number of houses for our people.
The next problem with which I wish to deal is labour. There is too great a tendency to talk of this merely as a matter affecting what are ordinarily known as building trade operatives. Nobody would wish to minimise their importance, but my experience is that there are other people whose labours are essential as a preliminary to the work of the building trade operatives, and it is the dearth of these people which is holding up so considerably the early stages of the housing programmes of the local authorities. There is, for instance, all the work of survey and purchase of sites. In my own area a site of some 30 acres involves negotiation with from 500 to 600 separate interests. The amount of work in negotiating, issuing notices, surveying, and so on, is such that, although it is being attempted at the present time with very restricted staffs, it is in many cases beyond the capacity, even of those who are willing to work considerable overtime.
I have had the task and the privilege, on a large number of occasions, of speaking on behalf of the local authorities' associations at the Ministries with regard to this matter. While at all times we have received very sympathetic attention, it has gone very little beyond sympathy, and has resulted in the supply of very little labour. With all these problems there is necessity for a reorganisation at the centre to deal with the correlation of the supply of material and labour, the securing of land and approval of plans, in order that the local authorities may be able to deal with one central organisation and thus be able to work smoothly in their job. Housing is the most important social problem with which we are faced. A night or two ago some of us listened to the palpitating peroration of a broadcast speech which talked about:the cottage home to which the warrior will return, blessed with modest but solid prosperity, well fenced, and guarded against misfortune.In the last war it was "homes for heroes"; in this war it is to be "cottages for warriors," nestling, no doubt, under the shadow of the castles of their lords 1192 or the factories of their millionaire employers. I want to know where the cottages are. Where is the indication that there is any real drive in the preparations?
I will give a few actual experiences of the operations of the Administration in attempting to deal with this problem. According to the promises that were made to the House and to the local authorities, as from 1st January of this year there were to be erected in the London region during every week 500, not cottages, but temporary bungalows. The promise was 500 a week, 2,000 a month. What has been done? Not 500 in the first week, because when last I raised the matter in the House I was told it was quite obvious we must begin in a modest way and step up production as the weeks proceeded. Not 500 in the fifth week, or the tenth week, or the fifteenth week. Not in the whole of the five months that have passed since 1st January have the Ministry of Works accomplished the equivalent of the programme for one week. From 18thMay, which was the last date to which I could get reliable returns, there have been erected and completed in the London area 431 temporary bungalows. Such is the measure of the appreciation of the urgency of the housing problem.
But there is more to it than that. This job, we were told, was to be tackled as a military operation, with soldiers in command, and with a meticulous attention to details, so that the erection could proceed with military precision and accuracy. How does that tale tally with the facts? In my local authority's area at the present moment there are 21 temporary bungalows standing empty, and not handed over to the local authority for letting, while there are hundreds of homeless families in the are wanting accommodation. Why? Because such is the attention to detail, so precise are the military preparations that have been made, that although the bungalows were wired for electrical equipment, no provision has been made for the supply of the necessary D.C. apparatus for the job. In a week's time another 20 bungalows will be added to that same list. The Ministry of Health are not much better than the Ministry of Works. On many occasions we have been to the Ministry to plead for more staff, more key men, in order to allow us to plan the job, prepare for it and get started on it. As 1193 a result of the promises made to us, my local authority appealed to the Ministry of Health, because we had been given a promise that they would use their influence to get the necessary staff. Last week we got a reply which began:Under the current arrangements the Minister is unable to make any recommendation to the authorities for the release of the officers concerned";and ended by saying:It will be open to the council to make further application for the release of their key men having regard to the current conditions when the conditions governing such release are published.There are many local authorities in exactly the same position, desirous of getting the necessary key men and technical men to do the job, but receiving no assistance to get them.
But there is more to it than that. The local authority to which I belong is very keen to be ready to start on house building as soon as that is possible. In my area we have lost more than 40 per cent. of the housing accommodation. Even those houses were not houses for single families. There were 47,000 families living in 23,000 houses in that area.
We were eager to start on the job and we made our plans. We wanted compulsory powers for the purchase of 30 acres of blitzed and blighted land, and last year the formal Order was made by the Council. Application was made to the Minister last December for confirmation of the Order. Objections were raised, and it took three months before the Minister could hold an inquiry. After the inquiry it took another month for us to be told that the Minister intended to confirm the Order. That was ten weeks ago, and we have still no confirmation of it. We have still no power to enter upon the land, even to start clearing it for the purpose of using it for housing. When we inquire why there is this delay, we are told that it has been impossible yet to print the Order which has to be sent out. I want to know why there is this dilatory, dawdling procedure. Such a thing as that would never have been allowed to happen in the Services which are directly connected with the conduct of the war against Germany. The war against squalor, overcrowding and slumdom is no less urgent and vital than that. Then why the difference in drive? I think the answer is pretty clear.
1194 To many hon. Members opposite, and the people they really represent here;—not their constituents—the war against Germany was a struggle to preserve their privileges in the possession of land and property and their powers of exploitation of the labour and lives of the working people. The war against squalor and misery, the provision of real homes for the people, can only be made by the lessening of those privileges of possession and the abolition of those powers of exploitation, and it is their determination to preserve their privileges and powers which explains not only their failure to give local authorities adequate and expeditious powers to acquire land for housing, but the mutilation of the Location of Industry Bill which has taken place and the shameful delaying tactics adopted against the Requisitioned Land Bill. The solution of this problem involves changes in our land laws, adequate control over investment and finance, the organisation of industry to produce the essential materials and the provision of an adequate labour power, well equipped, well trained, well treated and well paid. From this Government those essentials will never come. I am convinced that it is only along those lines that the problem can be really solved. It is only from a Parliament and a Government prepared to adopt those methods that the people can hope to secure the homes for which they have worked and fought for so long. My earnest hope is that the next month will see the advent of both.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Mr. McIntyre (Motherwell)
In a minute or two it is not possible to discuss the serious aspects of Scottish housing. I wish there was a time limit on the erection of houses in Scotland, as there is on this Debate. We have heard many Election speeches from both sides of the Committee, but it has not been impressed upon me that the Government are dealing with the matter seriously enough—no doubt they take housing seriously, but not seriously enough—to overcome the obstacles. I shall have to confine myself to one point, and that is that the administrative arrangements for dealing with houses in Scotland are deplorable and chaotic. I should like to know, for example, what the Ministry of Works, is doing in interfering in Scottish affairs, in which, from past experience, they have shown themselves ignorant and incompe- 1195 tent. I should like to know if as a first step we cannot have a Ministry of Housing set up for Scotland, for lack of houses is the most serious material difficulty that we are facing to-day. It seems that the people generally are getting too used to the lack of houses. One of the Ministers said that it is an abnormal situation. It may be in England but unfortunately it is only too normal a situation in Scotland. Children are even having to go to the poor house because respectable folk cannot get houses. I hope the Government will show enough seriousness in looking at the Scottish position to change their administrative arrangements.
§ 8.36 p.m.
§ The Minister of Health (Mr. Willink)
A very great number of points have been referred, to in this wide ranging Debate, some of which I shall be unable to deal with in the time that is left, but I intend that we shall deal at least by correspondence with every one. If I were to try to identify the two points which stand out in my mind, they are these—first, that every hon. Member who has spoken has stressed the need for the utmost, and indeed the most ruthless, vigour in dealing with the extremely difficult situation in which the war, and in particular war damage, have left us at the moment. There are none more determined to act with vigour in this matter, in every direction, than my right hon. Friend the Minister of Works and myself.
The other feature of the Debate, which is, I think, of very great interest, is a point made at the beginning of the Debate by my right hon. Friend: I think we are entitled to ask the Opposition how many more houses they think they could build than the Government programme and what measures they would take which we are not already taking? During a large part of the winding-up speech from the opposite benches the Opposition were represented by one right hon. and three hon. Members sitting on the front Bench, and at no time in the course of that speech have there been more than 12 Members of the Opposition present.
§ Mr. Willink
If any question of that kind is raised, the answer would appear to be that those who sit behind His Majesty's 1196 Ministers have confidence in their policy and achievement. If, however, their policy or achievement were under criticism, I should have expected to find the big battalions represented on the Opposition side. Not one single Member of the Opposition has suggested that the Government programme is inadequate or that it is not going to be achieved.
§ Mr. Willink
I apologise if the hon. Member said that—I think his was the only speech that I did not hear—but the suggestion was certainly made in neither of the speeches from the front Bench.
§ Mr. Willink
I should like first to mention certain general aspects of this problem and refer to the speech made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for North Edinburgh (Sir A. Erskine-Hill). He put forward the proposition that in every way we must broaden the basis of our effort.
§ Mr. Willink
There are a number of hon. Members who have spoken in the Debate, including the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), who opened the Debate, who, no doubt for good reasons, are, like my hon. Friend the Member for North Edinburgh, no longer in their places.
§ Mr. Willink
Hon. Members are under a misapprehension in their constant interruptions. I was not complaining of their absence; I was commenting on the fact that their small attendance indicated that they did not think they had any very strong or vigorous case to make against the Government's programme.
§ Mr. Silverman
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is not entitled to do that. He is surely not entitled to suggest that Members on this side are away for insufficient reasons, whereas those behind him are away for sufficient ones. The very Member to whom he is referring, who made a rather critical speech which showed that he had not full confidence in the Government, is not here to hear the answer.
§ Mr. Willink
My hon. Friend has intervened on neither a point of Order nor a question of fact. I was not complaining or criticising because hon. Members of the Opposition were absent for a bad reason or not for a good reason; I was saying that the thinness of the Opposition benches, the Opposition having demanded the Debate, appeared to indicate that they had not a very strong case to make.
The policy of His Majesty's Government is to use all methods of construction to increase the number of houses in the shortest possible time. We shall take direct action wherever that is appropriate and shall use all the normal agencies. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Works referred in his speech to certain aspects of direct action in the matter, for example, of temporary houses and of permanent houses which make full use of methods of pre-fabrication. Both these types of houses, and the permanent houses of traditional type which will be built by the local authorities, will be under the control of the local authorities and built on sites which they have acquired.
I desire to use most of the time available to me in giving an account of the partnership which exists in England and Wales between my Department and the local authorities. We work closely together, as my hon. Friend who has just sat down knows—I shall comment on some of his observations with regard to the working of the partnership—and I desire to let the Committee know what progress has been made. All those of good sense appreciate that the war has prevented, except in very special circumstances, the building of houses during the last 5½years, but now the ban can be removed. The Committee will want to know in what state we are, in what state the local authorities are, how much of all that tiresome priority work, which has to be done in advance of actual building, has been accomplished, and how we stand with regard to building itself.
I shall refer to one or two points of a general character which were made by hon. Members before I come to the rest of my speech. The junior Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) regretted that the Restrictive Practices Bill was not on the Statute Book. I can assure the hon. 1198 Member and the Committee that we not only have power under Defence Regulation 55AA to make inquiry into all cases of that kind, but we are determined that the housing programme shall not be frustrated or made more expensive from that cause. My hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles) and the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) spoke of the labour position, but it is only right to say that the demand that the building industry should be swollen to perhaps twice its normal size for a period of perhaps three or four years, which I understood was something like what the hon. Member for Gorbals was suggesting, is fraught with great risk to those who would be brought into the industry, swollen temporarily on these terms. The better course is to use for this emergency period the production capacity and labour which is not of the normal building type, and that is what my right hon. Friend is so active in doing.
War damage was not referred to until comparatively late in the Debate. I would claim that in this great London Region the actions of the previous Government, which are being carried on by the present Government, provide an example of what was asked for by several hon. Members, namely, that the Government should not hesitate to bring men of distinction and ability from any field to direct and guide emergency work right through this housing programme. I think that the Committee will be interested to have a short report on the achievements in the field of war damage repair since 31st March, which was the end of the period of the winter target.
Here I would say with confidence that over the two months of April and May, the figures for which I am about to give, the action on repairing the very heavy loss to the homes of Southern England has been remarkable. The figures I am giving fall under three headings. There were still, at the beginning of April, houses damaged by rockets which had not teen able to have even the "field dressing." But 1,820 of these had that work don; to them in these two months. During the two months 147,576 houses which had been damaged to a serious extent, so that they could not be described as in any sense fit for reasonable habitation, have been brought up to a standard of reasonable comfort. In addition, 60,477 have in these two months been brought to the 1199 maximum standard far first-aid repair, which is, in substance, everything short of decorations.
This is a matter on which we have had to concentrate during this period, and have been right to concentrate, a great head of labour. That will continue for some little time ahead. It is sometimes forgotten that since the date when the target of 300,000 houses built or building was fixed, in March, 1944, we have been set an enormous additional problem to solve. We had certain set-offs in the speeding-up of demobilisation and the more rapid building cup of the industry, but it cannot fairly be suggested by anybody that the advantages we have been able to gain by additional devices and resources can outweigh the enormous strain and burden cast on the building industry by the flying bomb and the rocket.
While I am saying a word about war damage I think it would be right that I should say something about the repair and rebuilding of houses either totally destroyed or so damaged as to be in substance useless, which are entitled to a cost of works payment under the War Damage Acts. Those who have paid their contributions and whose houses it is in the public interest should be rebuilt have a really high claim to priority for the restoration of their homes. The programme of new housing for the next two years must include some provision for the rebuilding of these houses. I said last March that we feel that such houses, if of moderate size, have a high claim to priority in the building programme. There are about 50,000 such houses. They were all of them good houses, but they were of all sizes and all sorts. We do not feel that it would be justifiable at the present time to devote the necessary labour and materials to the rebuilding of large houses required for the accommodation of one family only. We therefore propose in this first period that priority should be given only to houses the rateable value of which in 1939 did not exceed in London£100 and elsewhere£75, those being the rateable values used for the purposes of the Rent Restrictions Act of 1939. This category will cover probably 90 per cent. of the houses which I have mentioned.
The War Damage Commission is at present engaged in surveying all these totally destroyed cost-of-works houses, 1200 and when that survey is complete we shall know exactly how many there are, how many fall within the limits which I have mentioned and how many are affected by planning considerations which would make their rebuilding unwise; and that will enable us to reach a net figure of houses to be included in the two years' programme. I shall authorise the new building programmes of each local authority in the light of information supplied to me on the quantity of labour and materials likely to be available and I shall arrange my authorisations so as to secure that the re-building of these war-destroyed houses shall proceed proportionately with the new house programme. I shall tell each local authority how many houses can be built in its area, including these houses—and of course these houses include not only privately owned houses but local authority houses—and then it will be for the local authorities, having got their ration, to decide the order in which the eligible houses should be rebuilt and to issue certificates of essentiality. The actual rebuilding will be left in the hands of the owners. They will obtain licences on the strength of the certificates they get and they will be entitled to priority for materials and labour. The local authorities will have to weigh up the various factors in deciding how to apply their ration, but I should like to take this opportunity to urge on the owners of these destroyed properties the wisdom of joining up with their neighbours in the same area and of employing the same builder, so that their properties can be rebuilt together. That would undoubtedly increase both speed and efficiency. In Scotland there will be similar, though not identical, arrangements, because this particular problem of the destroyed houses is far smaller and so detailed a plan will not be necessary.
Another example of the vigour with which the housing shortage was dealt with by the previous Government, and will continue to be dealt with by this Government, is the use which we have made and are continuing to make of existing accommodation, reduced in quantity as it is. I have delegated to the clerks of all housing authorities power to requisition houses for the inadequately housed as well as for the bombed out. The number of houses held under requisition on 31st December last, the last date for which I have complete figures, was 82,752; the 1201 number of houses requisitioned for the bombed out was 57,631; and for the inadequately housed 4,931. This process must continue in these difficult days.
A good deal was said, particularly from the Opposition Benches, on the subject of land, much of it I venture to think—and I feel confident that I am right—on a most falacious basis. The hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) called attention to a letter which appeared in the "The Times" yesterday in which a well-known large-scale builder of privately built houses wrote that the element of land in the rent of certain houses which he built amounted to no more than 2d. a week. It was interesting that his figure for the land element in rent—perhaps by virtue of the fact that he was a gentleman engaged in private enterprise—was lower than that for the houses built by local authorities who may have to acquire their land compulsorily. But the land element in the rent for local authorities' houses is really diminutive compared with all other elements. I know that there are special features about the expensive land in the centre of London, for which, of course, special provision is made by way of special subsidy for flats built on such expensive land. But perhaps I may give the Committee two figures which are of interest, figures for the whole of England and Wales excluding London. The element of the cost of land in the rent of local authority houses, over the five years ended 31st March, 1938, was 17s. 4d per house per annum, or 4d. per week, and the corresponding figure for houses built on recently acquired land is going to be a little lower—just about 3¾d.
The suggestion that either the cost of land or the difficulty of acquiring land is in any sense an obstacle to our housing programme is fantastic. The hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Key) cited some period of delay in these very hard-pressed days, when the number of schemes coming into my Department which involve compulsory purchase orders is, of course, legion. What is the force of talking about a period of three months or of one month before the results of a complicated local inquiry are known and the final compulsory purchase Order is confirmed, unless there is some jot or tittle of evidence that that delay will hold up the building of a house? There is no evidence whatever that there is going to be a delay for one 1202 single hour in what can be built in London during the period immediately to come, where the bulk of the work will have to be for some months the repair of war damaged houses.
§ Mr. Willink
It is most important to inquire where local authorities are going to acquire land compulsorily. For the hon. Member to charge the Government with delay in those circumstances seems to me, with all respect to the hon. Member, to be entirely fallacious.
I want to go on from that to the question of the provision of land for permanent and temporary houses. The local authorities have at their disposal special powers and an expedited procedure for the acquisition of land. The Committee will want to know what the results of their administration and that of my Department have been. I can, if it is desired, give separated figures, though not in the time that is available, as between England and Wales and Scotland. For permanent houses the local authorities already possess considerable areas of land. At the moment the housing authorities of Great Britain already own enough land for 276,000 houses, considerably more than enough for the programme which, on all our evidence as to labour resources, the local authorities can possibly carry out during the two years. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Bow and Bromley says, without rising in his place, "All in the wrong places." What evidence is there for that suggestion? The situation is entirely different from that at the end of the last war. All those sites have been acquired after the question of their acquisition has been referred not only to my Department but to the Minister of Town and Country Planning, who has had to ascertain that there was no agricultural objection and no objection from the Ministry of War Transport. The preparations for the acquisition of appropriate sites, the vast bulk of which were made, of course, during the period of the Coalition Government, have been remarkable in comparison with what was done at the end of the last war. It is important to look forward and I am informed that local authorities already have in contemplation additional purchases for another 300,000 permanent houses. There is not going to be a hold-up of building because of the ownership of land. Nor, indeed, 1203 will there be this year or next year any hold-up because land is net developed. Sites for 35,000 permanent local authority houses are already fully developed with roads and services, and many more are in course of development.
So far as sites for temporary houses are concerned I can give a good account there, too. Acquisition has been carried out under pressure of time, because the Act was passed only on 10th October. So far as England and Wales are concerned, 119,000 temporary houses have been allocated to local authorities, who have already submitted and had approved sites for 85,000 houses. They have already acquired sites for 56,000 houses.
§ Mr. Willink
I can, indeed. The position in regard to temporary houses in Scotland is as follows: 20,000 sites have been approved and 11,280 have been acquired.
The progress has been upon these lines: From 10,000 to 12,000 sites for temporary houses are being approved and acquired every month, and under the Bill which the House approved yesterday we have every reason to believe that enough land for the total number of temporary houses will have been approved by July and acquired by September. The development of sites is, of course, a matter of man-power. I sympathised with the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley when he said that one of the great difficulties was availability of technical officers. The trouble about these gentlemen is that they are giving such extremely valuable service where they are. It is difficult to get a competent Royal Engineer officer or someone of that kind out of the Services at the moment. However, the matter is going forward. It was announced last March that 1,000 expert technical officers were to be released at the earliest possible moment. I hope that hundreds of them will be arriving very soon.
It is not only sites and site development in which we are interested—it is the building of houses, and it is my business and that of local authorities to see that they are ready to start with any number of houses which the available building resources will enable them to put in hand. Two months ago I asked all housing 1204 authorities to let me know what number of houses they would have sites ready for building on during the six months, April to September. I am glad to say that they inform me that in England and Wales there will be 102,089 sites fully developed, ready for building on by September. It is clear that the governing factor will be the availability of building labour, but we can see some way ahead. Already I have authorised 273 local authorities in England and Wales to call for tenders for just on 11,000 houses, that is, for houses to be built on the approximate number of sites which were ready at the end of last month. I shall continue to expand that programme as sites and labour become available. As I have said, the number of houses which can be put in hand must be governed by the position as to labour, which we shall see more clearly as the weeks go on.
Little reference was made, except, I think, in one or two speeches, to a matter which has worried me greatly—that is, the allocation of such houses as become available. I feel, with the hon. Member who has just spoken, a great anxiety for those young couples who have never set up home before. Another point which gives me anxiety is that local authorities naturally feel a primary responsibility to those who lived in their area before the war. But there will be countless people who will be setting up homes, because of their work, in areas with which they had no connection before the war. With all we can do it will be a long time before there are enough houses to go round comfortably. The local authorities have the difficult task of allocation, and I think it is right that they should have that responsibility. The situation is extremely difficult at the present time, and will continue to be so, because so many men and women left their homes and joined the Services or took up employment in the national effort. Many of them are anxious lest their claim for consideration should be prejudiced by absence from home.
I have therefore been in consultation with the Service Departments and with the associations of local authorities to ensure that effective steps are taken to enable those in need of housing accommodation to submit their applications in such a way as to ensure that they will receive appropriate consideration. An explanatory leaflet and form of application have been drawn up which will be distri- 1205 buted by the Service authorities to officers and men in His Majesty's Forces. Within a fortnight from now, at the latest, I intend to issue a circular to local authorities to tell them of the arrangements, and to ask them to accept these forms as sufficient application for houses in their area from those who, either because of long service in the Forces, have no established associations with any particular district, or, because of new employment, must live in a district other than that in which they lived before enlisting.
I am asking that such applications should be considered by the local authority as though it were from a local resident. In the distribution of houses everyone must agree that the overriding consideration must be that of need. But it is our aim that serving and ex-Service men with families, who have no separate homes, shall have all possible consideration in the provision of housing; that their absence from home shall not prejudice their position in the waiting list; and that special consideration shall be given to the families of those retained for service in distant theatres of war.
There were some curious anticipations among various Members of the Opposition that I should grossly transgress the rules of Order this evening. I can assure you, Mr. Williams, that I never had any intention of proposing that payment of subsidies should be made without Parliamentary sanction. But this I would say, with regard to private enterprise, in the first place—and I shall say a little more before I sit down: it was the announced intention of the Coalition Government that all house-building agencies should be able to make the fullest contribution to the building of houses, when building should be resumed; and that arrangements have been made to enable local authorities to start, and are in train to enable private builders to start, during the present building season. The local authorities have been authorised to make a start without waiting for legislation dealing with subsidies to them. I was a little surprised at some of the observations of the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Key), because it had been agreed with the authorities that the fixing of subsidies should be postponed until experience had been gained of the cost of building, and that the subsidies should be made retrospective, so that local authorities should not be prejudiced by the fact that they 1206 started building in advance of legislation. So far as private builders are concerned, the Coalition Government had intended to introduce this Session a Bill providing for subsidy in respect of small private house-building, for sale or for letting.
§ Mr. Silverman
On a point of Order. I understand that it has been a Ruling of the Chair, applied very severely to my hon. Friend in front of me, in making a winding-up speech, that reference to the matter that the Minister is dealing with is out of Order.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
In view of the fact that very strong observations were made by the hon. Member who has just intervened, I trust, Mr. Williams, that the Minister will be allowed to proceed.
§ The Chairman
I am watching the right hon. and learned Gentleman very closely, and I feel sure that he will not mention future legislation, apart from the one sentence he has used.
§ Mr. Willink
It was the intention of the Coalition Government to introduce this Session such a Bill, but the course of events has necessitated the postponement of legislation. It would not be in Order for me to make any statement to-day about legislation. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) was under an utter misapprehension. There has never been any question at all of either making or promising payment to anybody without Parliamentary sanction.
It is in Order for me, I hope, to state what administrative action, under the powers that Parliament has already conferred, the Government intend to take now to make it possible for private persons to begin the building of small houses during the present building season. The Government propose to authorise a start on housebuilding by private people by means of the machinery of licensing, for which the Ministry of Works is responsible. Licences will be issued only in respect of houses which comply with certain conditions. These I am now permitted to announce, and the Committee may like to know of them in view of the interest which has been shown by hon. Members. Licences will be issued only for the building of houses of between 800 and 1,000feet superficial area, and of which the selling price, if the house is sold, is not more than a maximum of 1207 £1,200. The number of houses to be licensed in any area will be settled after consultation with the local authority and will be related to the available labour resources and the house building programmes of local authorities. The great period of house building in this country was five years before the war, in which, four-fifths of the building was by private enterprise.
§ Ordered: "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—[Mr. Cary.]
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.