§ 3.44 p.m.
§ Commander Galbraith (Glasgow, Pollok)
Housing, in the light of present needs, is, in my opinion, the greatest 788 human problem with which this Parliament is called upon to deal. It is, as the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health is recently reported to have said of it, the biggest source of misery in Great Britain. Therefore, it is very appropriate, particularly as we have not had an opportunity of debating housing as a whole for more than nine months, that we should consider the problem in all its aspects before we part for the Summer Recess. As a result of the drive for houses in the interwar years the problem of England and Wales—I am saying nothing about Scotland—had practically been solved by September, 1939.
§ Commander Galbraith
During those years more than 4,000,000 new houses had been built; there was approximately one house tor every separate family in the country; those who lived in unfit and overcrowded houses had been reduced to six per cent. of the population; and 30 per cent. of the population were living in houses that had been built since 1919.
That, I suggest, is a very different picture from the one which the right hon. Gentleman and some of his hon. Friends are fond of painting from time to time, but it is the picture which was presented to this House by the Coalition Government, and therefore agreed to by many of those right hon. Gentlemen who fill the offices of greatest responsibility in the present Government. It is, in fact, the true picture. In the last five complete years before the war, that is, from January, 1934, until December, 1938, there were 1,650,000 houses built, that is, an average of 330,000 houses a year. I have little doubt that but for the war that progress would have continued, and if it had, by the end of 1945 we would have had an additional 2,310,000 houses. In other words, but for the war, no one in this country would today be living in an unfit house, no one would be living in overcrowded conditions. In fact, our housing conditions would be better than those of any other people in the world. But the war intervened, and instead of getting these 2,300,000 houses we only got 200,000. In the meantime 200,000 houses had been destroyed as a result of enemy action, and the situation in regard to housing with which this country was faced, at the end of the war, was that we had to start off, in May, 1945, where we had left off in September, 1939.
Not only had we lost over 2,000,000 houses as the result of the cessation of building during the war, but, in addition, many hundreds of thousands of houses had received war damage. Who, I would ask, in the light of those figures, all of them taken from official sources, will maintain today that the present deplorable housing conditions are not directly due to the war? The Coalition Government faced that situation with a courage which the country had come to expect of it. Having surveyed the resources which would become available, they immediately 790 announced to the country what they believed would be possible in the first two years after the war. They gave to the country their programme, so that their performance could be judged, and they were willing that it should be judged on that programme. May I remind the House what that programme was—220,000 permanent houses to be completed by the end of the first two years, and 80,000 to be in course of construction? That programme was adopted by the succeeding Government. Hitherto, we have had no programme from the present Government.
The Minister of Health is reported to have said, in a speech delivered at Durham on 20th July:The Tories have got the impudence to ask us to define our policy.Since when, I would like to ask, has it become impudence on the part of His Majesty's Opposition to ask the Government to define their policy? How often in the past has the right hon. Gentleman pressed the Government of the day for such a declaration? What I think the Minister fails to realise is that it is not only the Opposition, it is the whole country, which wishes to know what his programme is. On the same occasion he is reported to have said that he would rather have houses than a target. I suggest he must have a target, that he cannot plan the construction of houses nor yet the erection of anything else without a target. He must have a target in his own mind although he has failed to disclose it hitherto, probably, I would suggest, from fear that he may fall short. Those of us who knew the right hon. Gentleman in the last Parliament find it somewhat difficult to recognise as th-2 same person, the secretive, shy, gentleman who is now the Minister responsible for housing. Let us hope that, today, he will have the courage to put aside this cloak of mystery with which he has surrounded himself and to announce his target to an expectant and anxious public. If not, he will fall to be measured by the only yardstick which is available, the programme of the Coalition Government which had the approval of so many of his colleagues.
During the Debate on 17th October the right hon. Gentleman laid it down as a principle of first importance that the local authorities must be looked to as the organisations and source for the building 791 of the main bulk of the housing programme. He said they were admirably suited for that purpose. I think everyone would agree that the local authorities should have been one of the agents. I, personally, would not agree that they should have been the main agency or that they were admirably suited to the purpose. Local authorities today are submerged with the new work which has been thrust upon them in regard to housing. Never at any time have they been the main source of the supply of houses. In their best prewar year, that of 1938, they built 88,000 houses as against the total of 331,000—
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Buchanan)
Is that the English figure?
§ Commander Galbraith
That is the English figure. It is 26 per cent. of the total. In selecting local authorities as his main instrument, the Minister was placing upon them a burden for which they were not designed, for which they were not staffed, and which their organisation was incapable of carrying; and that particularly so when they had placed upon them recently the onerous burden of licensing, a burden which has since been increased. At a time when the housing shortage in this country was desperate, when it was obvious, or should have been obvious, to the Minister, that the return of men from the Forces would greatly increase the gravity of the situation, when he must have known that in scores of thousands of homes where a wife and family were residing with relatives the return of the husband would change a situation that was barely tolerable into one that was utterly intolerable, and when, therefore, a speedy commencement of the housing programme was vital, the Minister chose to throw over the agency which had proved itself to be capable of doing the job. That agency had the experience and the organisation which had built three out of every four houses in the inter-war years. The Minister chose to throw it over in favour of one which was not equipped and which was incapable of making a speedy start. By that decision he dealt a cruel blow to the hopes of all those whose housing required urgently to be improved and particularly to the men who had acquired wives and families during the war and were serving overseas 792 and had no opportunity to look for accommodation for themselves or to set up their own home.
Now we have the result of that decision. After 11 months, the chosen instrument of the Minister has produced 2,393 new permanent houses, while the instrument which he had ready at his hand, and which he wantonly threw aside, has produced, notwithstanding all the obstacles placed in its way, more than three times as many. I think it must be to salve his conscience that the right hon. Gentleman tells us so frequently that what this country requires is houses to let and not houses for sale. From the point of view of the country, it matters not one jot whether the houses are for sale or to let so long as houses are forthcoming. Every house that is made available provides a family with a home, relieves congestion, and gives more accommodation to others. The right hon. Gentleman also would have us believe that the private builder will only build houses for sale and that only if large profits are in prospect. I suggest that he knows very well that the private builder today is longing to be allowed to play his part even at prices which are so controlled that they can yield him little profit. In the present emergency, is it really beyond the wit of the Minister to devise a scheme which will make full use of all private building resources without restraining them with red tape? He has acknowledged that such a scheme is possible by the issue of Circular 92 dated 30th April of this year. That is a scheme which I suggest could and should be widely extended.
It appears to me that the right hon. Gentleman is determined to exterminate the private builder and that the housing needs of the people are of little consequence compared with the achievement of that object. The proportion of licences which he grants to private builders, of one to every four granted to the local authority, if not designed for that purpose inevitably will have that effect, as also will the failure to raise the permitted price above £1,200. That price was fixed a year ago and it takes no account of the increase of 4d. an hour in operatives' wages which has since happened, or of the increased cost of materials, fuel, and transport. There is no doubt that any Government, no matter how inefficient, 793 armed with all the powers that this Government have taken to themselves, will, in the course of time, produce houses, and perhaps produce them in very large numbers. They could not help it even if they tried; but the just complaint of the country and we who sit on these benches is that in the time of greatest need so little has been accomplished when so much more could have been achieved.
It is all too clear that the right hon. Gentleman's choice of instrument has been mistaken. That, however, surely, cannot account for the full measure of his failure up to now. I wonder if he will tell us today to what he in his heart ascribes his failure. It is not due to a lack of sites, for possession has been obtained of 530,000. It is not due to a lack of developed sites, of which there are 117,000 as against 66,000 houses whose construction have been completed or which is in progress. In no region in the country are there not fully developed sites awaiting the builders. They are there in considerable numbers. If his failure is not due to a lack of sites, perhaps it is due to a lack of material.
The House may find itself in certain difficulties in that connection, particularly in regard to the principal material— bricks. It was on 25th March that the Minister of Works informed this House that the demand constantly exceeded production but that statement did not necessarily imply that there was any actual shortage. On 24th May, the Minister of Health told the London Co-operative Society that there never had been a shortage of bricks. On 1st July, the Minister of Works was reported to have said that no scheme was held up by lack of bricks, and, last week, in reply to Questions in this House, he said that, in at least one scheme, work was being delayed by a shortage of bricks. Maybe there are other schemes held up by a similar shortage of which the right hon. Gentleman has no knowledge. From these statements, I think it is fair to conclude that, if there is no general shortage of bricks in this country, then there is a failure of distribution, and I hope that, in the course of the Debate, we may be told what the actual position is, both in regard to bricks and other building materials, both with reference to production and distribution. If there be a shortage, what materials are in question and what steps are being taken to overcome the difficulty?
794 May we, further, be told, in view of the very grave statement made in this House by the Minister of Fuel and Power last week, whether an ample supply of coal has been assured to those industries employed in the production of building materials and components, in order to enable them to get through the winter at full capacity? If not, have these manufacturers been informed of the amount of coal that will be available so that they may be able to plan their production in such a way as to minimise, to the greatest possible extent, the ill effects of the coal shortage? We are, I am certain, happy to know that the labour force is gradually increasing. Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied with the output of that force? Is he satisfied with the proportions in which it is distributed between repairs and maintenance, war damage and new construction? Can he tell us whether the output measures up to the prewar standard, and, if not, to what extent it falls short? These matters to which I have referred, affect equally all builders. I hope we shall get answers to these questions, but, even if we do, we shall still be left without an explanation as to why the output of the private builder in these last 11 months should have exceeded that of the local authorities in the proportion of three to one.
If the progress of the permanent housing programme has been deplorable, that of the temporary programme has been very nearly as bad. The whole object of that programme was to fill the gap between the end of the war until such time as the permanent industry could get into its stride. In 11 months, 30,706 houses have been erected, but the worst feature is that, since the commencement of this year, there has been no speed-up in completion. They have remained constant around the 3,500 mark, and, during the last two months, they have fallen off. There are 30,000 men employed in the erection of these temporary houses, and that number has been employed since the beginning of this year. Month by month, the number of houses in course of erection has increased, but completions have remained constant. The labour force seems to be driving ahead, and one can only conclude that some administrative incompetence is holding up the completion of these houses.
I am certain that this House received a very severe shock last week when the 795 Minister of Works informed us that it took nine months from the start of the preparation of the site, until the temporary house was occupied. I would say that that is ample evidence on which we can decide that there is a complete and utter lack of drive behind this programme and that there is no sense of urgency whatsoever I am told that 25,000 Arcon houses have been completed; that 16,000 have been erected, but only 10,000 occupied. Why have not all the 16,000 been occupied? Is it because the components have not been provided, or because the organisation of the Ministry is incapable of making the components available as and when they are required? During the last month, the total number of houses completed, temporary and permanent, was 6,714, but let us assume that all the existing houses now being converted, adapted or repaired also required components. In that case, 13,832 sets would have had to be provided. Are we to understand that, after 11 months of planning, this Government is unable to provide that number?
Let me refer to the case of baths. The Minister has said that there is a shortage of baths, and he said it again only a few days ago, yet, in the month of May, he told the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) that the annual rate of production was 250,000, that is, 21,000 a month. If we only required, last month, 13,800, what has happened to the other 7,000? Are they really being stored away for temporary houses that we are not to see, or are not to be available until the end of the year, or some later date? The Minister also referred to the shortage of metal window frames. What is the right hon. Gentleman doing about it, if anything? Output has been constant since June of this year, and, in April last, the latest date for which figures are provided, it was lower than in January. The Minister also complains of a shortage of slates. In March, we produced 360,000 fewer slates than in March, 1945.
These are merely a few examples of the manner in which this Government is fulfilling its promises to ensure an efficient building industry. These shortages are the outcome of Socialist planning, centralisation of purchase and the pooling of materials and components. I cannot for- 796 get that the Minister of Works told us, during the Debate on 25th March, what a miracle it would be if the 2,000 to 3,000 components could all be gathered together without delay. Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that that was a miracle that the private builder performed for generation after generation without any hitch whatever, and that he is quite capable of performing it today? The Government's policy in regard to repairs is, in my opinion, uneconomic inefficient and also stupid. The retention of the £10 limit is the cause of endless delays. It is also uneconomic in the use of available labour, and it keeps men standing idle when they could and should be fully employed, while the rigidity of the controls over materials is also wasteful in the extreme.
The kind of case put to me is this, and I would like the Minister to consider it. We have a pipe underground which is worn out. There is a burst and the pipe is laid bare. A new length is applied for, but we are only permitted to have enough to patch the job. The pipe is patched, the ground restored, and, later another burst occurs, and so it goes on for a number of times, until, finally, a new length of pipe, which was required originally, is supplied. What a waste of time, labour and materials, due entirely to the strictness of the controls, which do not allow the officials operating them to use any initiative or to trust the man who is doing the job, and who knows what is necessary.
This housing programme is involving this country in very heavy expense. Where that expense is necessary, no one grudges it, but I suggest that the time has come when the House should be informed how the money which it has granted for the temporary programme is being spent, whether it is sufficient to complete that programme, or whether more will be required. We also have a right to know what the all-in cost of the temporary house is, how the total is made up, what is the cost of the preparation of the site, the cost of the hull and that of erection. I have seen figures recently which go to show that the labour cost of erection is in the region of £160. Is that correct? We ought also to be told the cost of the components, of storage, transport and administration. Will the Minister give us these figures today? After all, this House is the 797 guardian of the public purse, and I claim that it is entitled to have these figures, and similar figures in regard to permanent houses.
I have not time at my disposal to deal with the question of rural housing, which is a very grave issue, but I would remind the right hon. Gentleman of the hopes which he held out during the Debate on 17th October. He then said that he was not against the Housing (Rural Workers) Act, that, later, he hoped to give this House a better Act, and that, when he could see how circumstances developed, he would come to Parliament and ask for an Act to enable cottages to be reconditioned. Many of them he said, were of great architectural value and ought to be preserved; it would be disaster if they fell into ruin. May we still expect that better Act and, if so, when? For, without such an Act, there can be no real alleviation of the housing conditions of the agricultural population for many long years to come. I have purposely made no mention of Scotland. Conditions there are different from those in England and Wales, and I have no wish to confuse the issue. The Leader of the House has also promised that we shall have a Scottish day before the end of this Session. I suggest that that will be the appropriate occasion, and much the most suitable, for us to discuss the position of Scottish housing.
In conclusion, I wish to express the hope that, when the Minister of Health comes to reply, if he is to reply, he will give us all the facts and hold nothing back—that he will clothe the bare bones of his monthly report, and will not introduce, because the weather is rather warm, those old, stale red herrings which he sometimes likes to give an airing on these occasions. I hope that he will also tell the House that he has given further consideration to the role which the building societies might play, the building societies which the Lord President holds in such high regard, and which we on these benches believe should be encouraged because they help people to that independence which comes from owning their own home at little greater expense than the economic rent. Home ownership is one of the fundamental desires of the people of this country, and we wish to see it extended far beyond the 35 per cent. who owned their own homes in 1938.
798 Let the Minister defend his policy if he can. [Laughter.] The right hon. Gentleman should not be laughing; he should be ashamed. There have been 2,393 new permanent houses from his main instrument in 11 months. That is something to be proud of, I suppose. There have been 3,500 temporary houses a month since the beginning of this year, with no sign of an increase, and a continuation of shortages of essential materials. Those facts will take some defending and some explaining away. In my imagination, I can hear the ringing tones with which the right hon. Gentleman would have denounced that record had he been speaking from these benches and we had been in office. I can hear the scorn and contempt which he would have poured upon us. I can see the seething indignation which he would have expressed and which, let me assure him, is being felt by tens of thousands of people in this country today. In their judgment, his great housing drive has, up till now, been a complete fiasco and failure, and the promises which his party so glibly gave at the time of the Election, a mere mockery. I only hope that, in the interest of this country, the Minister may yet be able to discover means by which to redress the situation, to relieve the people of an intolerable housing position and to give them homes which they so urgently require
§ 4.16 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Mr. Key)
The speech to which we have just listened started off with, to me, a most remarkable statement —that, in the years before the war, the Tory Party had solved the housing problem, and everybody in the country had a house to live in. I have always thought that the Tory Party lacked the power of vision, but they must have gone about entirely blind in the working-class areas of this country.
§ Commander Galbraith
The hon. Gentleman seems to suggest that I have misquoted something. I told him that I was quoting from the White Paper on Housing, Command 6609. If he will look at paragraph 2 of that White Paper, he will see that, in 1939, the number of houses was, approximately, equal to the number of separate families. That document was issued with the authority of many of his right hon. Friends.
§ Mr. Key
But a number of the things put down in that White Paper as houses were an absolute disgrace to the Tory Party, and to the people who were responsible for their use by the working people of this country as places in which to live. Having got this problem solved before the war, we then learn, from the speech of the same hon. and gallant Gentleman, that, after the war, we still want 1,500,000 houses to complete that which was completed before the war.
What has to be said with regard to the condition of affairs which we find today, so far as the housing problem is concerned, and what in justification of the method which we have adopted to solve it? The great need of houses is obvious to anybody and, in my opinion, the greatest need is in the homes of the poorest. If we are to tackle this problem sensibly and logically, we must concentrate our attention on the greatest need. Therefore, we have said that, in the early stages of dealing with this problem, the houses to be built are to be of the kind which the poorer people in the country can afford to rent for the purpose of occupation. As building costs are at the present moment, no private owner of a house and no private builder of a house can build to let at a rent which ordinary people can afford to pay. Therefore, if houses are to be let to those people some assistance must be given towards their cost, other than the annual income from rent. In these circumstances, we decided—and the House has agreed—that there shall be a considerable subsidy for the building of houses.
The problem which we had to face, first, was: To whom shall that subsidy be given? The experience of what was done after the last war proved conclusively that the giving of a subsidy to private owners did not result in the production of houses which people could afford to rent. In the end it went in increased profits to the builders and the producers of materials, and in increased rents to the landlords concerned. If we were to secure that the houses that were erected were to be let at reasonable rents, we had to see that the subsidy was used for the purpose of assisting those rents. The agency for that purpose is obviously the local authority. It is our main agency, and it is admirably suited for the purpose. It is our main agency 800 because our chief concern is to produce houses to let, and it is admirably suited for the purpose because of all authorities the local authority is first in the position to know the need of the people in its locality, and it is in a position to secure that houses are let to the people who are really in need and not to those who can afford to pay most for them. Hence the local authority is the instrument we use.
One would suppose from what has been said, that it is the local authority that builds the houses. In the vast majority of cases it is not the local authority which builds the houses. True, there are a number of go-ahead and up-to-date local authorities, which have direct labour departments and build houses most successfully, but, in the main, the building is done by the private builder. Yet, providing all this opportunity for the private builder to exercise his powers, we are told by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) that the Government are determined to exterminate the private builder. That is not so. The thing that we are determined to do, as far as we can, is to exterminate the thieving landlord who has been getting his money out of the poor people.
What has been the result, of what has been done so far in this housing programme? I want to give a few facts to show what has been accomplished. There are just over 13,000 permanent houses completed and occupied. Of war-damaged houses rebuilt, there are nearly 2,000. Of temporary new houses occupied at the present moment, there are over 35,000. With houses of a larger type that have been converted and adapted to multiple occupation in the form of flats, there has been provided accommodation for over 20,000 families, and in what are called emergency huts, there are 3,400 families at present living. So that completed new accommodation has, so far, been provided for 73,636 family units. In addition, there has been an enormous amount of necessary work to be done in order to repair and make occupiable unoccupied war-damaged houses, and of these, so far, 92,000 have been completed. Our record up to the present, therefore, is this: we have provided accommodation for family units to the number of 165,636. That is complete accomplishment so far.
801 I want now to continue the picture of what has happened. At present there are under construction 109,441 permanent houses. Of war-damaged houses at present being rebuilt, there are 8,281. Of temporary houses at present under construction, there are 26,333. In addition, unoccupied war-damaged houses at present being repaired amount to 18,600. So that at the moment there is under construction accommodation for another 162,700 families. In other words, not at the end of a two years' programme but at the end of a one year's programme there is complete, or in process of being built, accommodation for over 330,000 family units. I say quite definitely and positively that the facts that I have just given prove conclusively that the instrument which we have chosen is a competent instrument for doing the job.
§ Mr. Key
Certainly. From the returns that are provided for England and Wales, to which must be added the figures that are appropriate for Scotland—because, after all, this is all one country, whatever else the hon. and gallant Gentleman may think about it. The figures that I have given are obtainable from the returns.
§ Mr. Key
Permanent houses under construction in Great Britain at the moment number 109,441. I want now to give some other facts which show the wisdom of the choice of our instrument for this work. I am going to compare the history of two counties in relation to this housing problem—the counties of Durham and Hertford. Everyone who knows anything of housing conditions in the county of Durham will recognise that there is now, and there has always been, a great need of housing there. In 1938, at the time of the highest peak of building, when there were 335,000 houses built in this country, 7,000 were built in the county of Durham. In the county of Hertford in the same year there were 6,500. Let me now give a comparison of figures at the moment. At present under 802 licence for erection in Durham by private industry and by the local authority, there are 8,000 houses. In the county of Hertford the number is 4,000.
The first thing that I want to claim from those figures is that they show that, in relation to the need, the instrument which we are now using is functioning. We are getting the houses where the houses are wanted. The second thing, I would point out is that in 1938 half the houses in Durham were produced by local authorities and half by private industry. At present well over 7,000 of the houses in Durham are being produced by the local authority, and are, therefore, being produced for the people who have the greatest need. In Hertford before the war, in 1938, of the 6,500 houses, 6,000 were produced by private industry, and only 500 by the local authority. At present more than half of the houses in Hertford are local authority houses; again a proof that our instrument is working in the interests of the people who have the greatest need for the houses. So much for what has been done so far, in the programme of housing in this country. I claim to have proved here that the instrument is working well.
I wish to give another fact, which will explain one of the things the hon. and gallant Gentleman tried to emphasise, and will also, I think, add to the soundness of the reason for using local authorities as our instruments. We have not wanted to be too hide-bound about this business. We have allowed the local authorities the power of licensing the erection of houses for owner-occupation. We felt it was right that the type of house to be so built should be of the same character as the house which the local authority erected, because, even for owner-occupation, the need that must be satisfied first is the need that is greatest, that is, the need of the people who can afford to pay least for their houses when they buy them. Therefore, we state that, roughly, the licensing power of the local authorities shall be for houses that will cost the figure that their own houses cost, about £1,200 to £1,300, land included. What do we find? In some cases, though they are few, the local authorities do not quite play the game. Let me say, quite frankly, the number of local authorities of that type is very few. In those cases we have had to restrict 803 their power of licence. In general the local authorities have done right.
When we come to analyse what is being done by private industry when it gets the chance of building houses for sale, as well as contracting to build houses for the local authority, what do we discover? We discover that private industry sees to it, that in building houses for sale more men, on the average, are employed on each house than are employed on local authority houses for which they have accepted contracts. At the present moment, there are roughly one and a half men per house employed on houses for sale, to every man per house to be built for the local authorities. No wonder that, in the returns shown in these first months, it is private building houses that show a greater percentage of completion. It is quite natural that if there are a greater number of men employed upon them, they will be completed at an earlier period, and the others will only come into the picture a little later on.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing (Weston-super-Mare)
Would the Parliamentary Secretary make one point clear? He just said there was the equivalent of one and a half men employed on private enterprise houses compared with one man employed on the local authority houses. Is that right?
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
Did he mean one and a half times the number of total man-hours in the total of the houses?
§ Mr. Key
No, I did not. What I meant was, for every man employed on a house to be built for a local authority, one and a half men were being employed on a house to be built for sale by private industry. In both cases, the houses were being built by private builders, but one was for sale and the other was for the local authority. What is found is a greater concentration on the building for sale, if that can be done, rather than on the building to let. I was giving that as an explanation of the figures that are so readily quoted by hon. Gentlemen opposite when they try to show it is private industry that is doing this, that and the other as against the local authority.
§ Major Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
How many of the builders building private houses are also building houses for the 804 local authorities? Are they the same builders?
§ Mr. Key
In a great number of cases they are the same people. There is one other thing, too, I want to say with regard to the private builder. We do not want to prevent the private builder from building. We want the private builder to build for all he is worth. Therefore, we have given every encouragement to the private builder to do that job. We have given the local authorities every encouragement to get him to do it. We have said to the local authorities that we want them to use their powers to get the small private builders together in their own particular areas, to build on their own land, if they have got it, and on local authority land if the local authority will provide it, houses which afterwards the local authority will purchase from the private builder, in order that we may guarantee that the houses so erected are for letting to people at rents they can afford to pay. I am glad to be able to say that the private builders are playing up to that scheme very well. It is developing, and we have every reason to believe that in the months ahead it will make a goodly contribution towards the houses that are being provided. In the month of June, for instance, 629 such houses were sanctioned. They were, roughly, as to two-thirds on land belonging to the local authority and as to one-third on land belonging to the individual.
It is not my intention to speak at any length this afternoon. I think I have done my part in reporting what the progress has been so far. However, before sitting down, I wish, as an old local authority man, to pay my tribute to the success of the local authorities in the job they have undertaken. I believe that, given the full opportunity, not only shall we far surpass the programme which was laid down in the White Paper of last year or the year before, but we shall also secure that the type of house to be provided for our people in future will not be the jerry-built sort of thing in which they have had to live so much in the past. It will be a house well constructed, well planned, well appointed and worthy not only of the people who erected them, but of those who labour to support the general well-being of the community.
§ 4.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Wadsworth (Buckrose)
We have heard a good many figures given by the Parliamentary Secretary, but I cannot say I am yet convinced we have made the progress in housing that we should have made had there been more planning. I will explain what I mean by "planning" later in my remarks. Personally, I think the actual figures as reported in the White Paper are rather pitiful. I heard this large figure of housing accommodation provided in the last 12 months. The figures that really matter to me are the figures of the new permanent houses that have been provided in the last 12 months. According to this While Paper, the total amount was 12,000 permanent houses.
§ Mr. Wadsworth
Yes, that is in England and Wales What excuse is there for providing such a small number of houses in the last 12 months? In the 12 months since the end of the war there have been plenty of opportunities for building; we have also come to the end of the Parliamentary year, a large number of people have come out of the Forces and gone into the building industry, as the records show, yet we have this rather poor result, as I think, at the end of it. Surely there is no difficulty in building houses? We have enough experience; there are 80,000 private builders in this country all ready and willing to build houses as fast as they possibly can, and we gained a tremendous amount of experience before the war. It is not like building tanks, when we first had to provide plans and spend considerable time in research. We had the plans all ready for getting on with the job, but in spite of that, the figures are poor.
To me the real blame attaches not to the Ministry concerned—I am sure they are doing their best—but to the local authorities, who, for one reason or another—I shall try to show a few—are not playing the game sufficiently. Or perhaps they are so entangled in red tape and bureaucracy, which we find in many local authorities, that they cannot get on with the job. I would give an example, in something that happened to a friend of mine quite recently in connection with a local authority near London. Before the war, he had acquired a site to build 600 houses, and by the time 806 the war came along, he had actually completed 60 and had developed the roads and drains for a further 250, all ready for the erection of houses. At the end of the German war, he went to the local authority and said, "We would like to get on with building these houses at the earliest possible time." Months went by, delay after delay occurred, there was correspondence, calls, telephone messages, interviews and ultimately the local authority agreed to pass the plans. More months went by, more delay, and then he brought the matter to my attention. I have sent the whole of the papers to the Ministry of Health. Had some action been taken by the local authority at a much earlier date, I am told by this builder that we should have had 100 houses on the site already, because anybody with any experience of building knows that half the job is in the laying of drains, the building of the roads and the preparing of the site. That is one example. Let me say that the builder concerned was not only prepared to build these houses to sell for profit; he was quite prepared to build at an agreed price—and I understand that a price was agreed at one time with the borough surveyor—to rent, in other words, to hand over the houses to the local authority in order that the latter could conform with the Ministry's scheme.
Analysing the figures of building by local authorities, it is found that only 50 local authorities in this country have completed a house. Out of 1,469 local authorities, only 50 have built one house or more. That is a pathetic figure. In the 12 months since this drive began, the 1,469 local authorities have completed only 793 permanent houses. I repeat that figure—793 permanent houses have been completed by certain local authorities out of the 1,469. That works out at only half a house per local authority on the average.
§ Mr. Wadsworth
I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon, that is perfectly true; 1,469 local authorities have built, on the average, half a house each in the month of June. I am sorry I made that mistake. What can we do to help the local authorities, from the Government's point of view, 807 to get on with this drive—because I am convinced that they are not doing all they ought to do to help? Again, I am not blaming the Ministry; I believe they are doing everything they possibly can to induce the local authorities to build, but remember that the Government have placed their faith in the local authorities, and if the local authorities let them down, which I believe they are doing, we shall have a very disastrous picture in a year or two to come.
During the war, when we had a similar difficulty with the building of aeroplanes, the Prime Minister called in Lord Beaverbrook, as the House will remember, and the first thing he did was to form a progress department and send progress officers throughout the country to ensure that the necessary components were on the job, at the time the aeroplane was being constructed at the aeroplane works. I would like the Minister, when he replies, to say whether he has a similar department to enable the components to be on the building sites when the houses are being erected, because I have come across many examples of houses held up for lack of components. Baths have been mentioned, but they have even been held up for door handles, and in many cases I know have been held up for lack of paint. Is there a progress department whose business it is to make certain that these necessary components are there when they are required? I feel also that the Government have not done sufficient to help the local authorities to overcome a certain inertia which, I am afraid, is very evident. I could give many examples of this, and I think they will have to go very much further and produce a plan—another plan, I do not mind plans so long as they accomplish what is required—to help the local authorities. I will give the House some idea as to how I feel this problem should be tackled.
§ Mr. Dumpleton (St. Albans)
A moment ago the hon. Member said that the Government were not sufficiently helpful to the local authorities, and two or three minutes before that, he said that the local authorities were not helping the Government. Which is which? Are the Government letting the local authorities down, or are the local authorities letting the Government down?
§ Mr. Wadsworth
That is a very reasonable question, and the answer is that both are to blame. In other words, I feel that the local authorities are letting the Government down; that is quite true and I know of many examples of it, and in addition I feel the Government could go much further in helping to overcome the natural inertia which is often manifested by the local authorities. Have I answered the hon. Gentleman's question? If I have, I suggest that there should be a plan to enable local authorities to overcome that inertia and get on with the job.
If I were planning a housing programme of this kind, directing it through the local authorities, I should, at the first stage, have a designing department, which would cut down the number of parts of components and improve the artistic appearance of components. An improvement of appearance of components is needed. But I would have that department, at the first stage of the plan, cut down the number of components to enable manufacturers to produce larger quantities in less time. There are far too many varieties of many household requirements and of components for them, to enable mass production to be accomplished. Then I would issue specifications, and ask for tenders for the number of components required over a given period of six or 12 months. Then I should arrange with the various Ministries concerned, the Board of Trade, the Ministry of Supply and the Ministry of Health, to coordinate their activities, so that enough raw material would be allowed to the manufacturers to produce the articles required.
I could quote many examples of how manufacture of housing components is held up for want of raw materials, which could be directed to housing but are, actually, directed to much less useful purposes. I have a telegram here, dated 23rd July, stating that the Directorate of Paint Materials, Board of Trade, announce that, as and from 1st August, 1946. preferential treatment of direct Government orders involving Lithopone will cease. From this date all available supplies for paint manufacture will be distributed on the basis of purchases made during the year ended 30th June, 1938. This is an absolute absurdity. It is taking off a certain amount of control, but I believe that raw materials should be 809 directed to channels in which they will be most useful. Raw materials should be allocated by the various Ministries to enable housing components to be made, and that is not being done at the present time.
The third stage is that at which the Ministry of Works would order the necessary components from manufacturers and store them in warehouses placed in various parts of the country. The use of the warehouses would be that of reservoirs from which the necessary components could be drawn immediately on call by the builders of the houses. The next stage would be that of notifying the local authorities of the prices of these various components, and when tenders were awarded by the local authorities to the private builders, the builders would have a schedule, showing whence they could draw components on call, as they required them, to enable them to get on building with all speed. I would remind the House that the prices of the components awarded in this way to tenderers by the Ministry of Works would be considerably lower than the prices that the local builders are now paying, and, therefore, the prices of houses would, I am certain, go clown under that system.
I hope that the Minister will consider this. Politics do not enter into this building of houses to any great extent. What I am concerned about is that houses should be built with all speed. Every other day, I receive letters from my constituents, drawing attention to the difficulty of finding houses. Ex-Servicemen are coming back to their home towns and having to take work elsewhere, in other parts of the country, and to separate from their wives and families because they cannot find homes. I plead that no stone be left unturned, no effort spared, in driving forward with the housing programme, and in helping the local authorities to go forward with their plans.
§ 4.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Mallalieu (Huddersfield)
The hon. Member for Buckrose (Mr. Wads-worth) had a good deal of difficulty at one stage in his speech with his figures. I began to wonder if he had not been going through the experience I have had in the last three nights, standing on my feet looking after a teething baby. I had the greatest sympathy with him because I should have the same difficulty if I 810 now followed him in detail into the housing figures. But he said one thing about the accurate figures; he said he found them "pitiful." So long as any hon. Member of this House is in the position he is, of receiving day after day notes from people desperately wanting houses, so long as the people's need for houses is unfulfilled, any figure that does not equal that of the demand will be pitiful, in a sense. But I think that in the use of the word "pitiful" he should have given us the background against which he used it, a yardstick against which he measures the performance of the present Government.
There are yardsticks. The hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith), who opened the Debate, said that the only yardstick he could think of, was that of the promise of the Coalition Government. I think that a more effective yardstick, than that of laying the promises of one Government against those of another, is the comparison of the performance of one Government against that of another; and the comparable performance under comparable conditions, which we can set against the performance of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health, is the performance of the combined Liberal and Tory Government after the last war, when, as a result of two years of desperate effort they did succeed in building a sum total of 1,500 houses, which was not very much. Contrast that figure with those we have heard today, in the performance of rehousing families and providing homes for families. That is the most urgent need the Government have to fulfil. They are faced with the task of finding homes immediately, without any question of slum clearance, for something like 750,000 families. That task, Sir Ernest Simon said, would take any Government round about five years. It looks to me, from the figures we have been given this afternoon, that by the end of this year we shall be halfway to meeting that need—not after three years, but after 18 months; and I think it is a reasonable expectation that that particular, immediate, and desperately urgent problem will have been solved, not in the period that Sir Ernest Simon estimated, not in five years, but in three. I think that that will be a really remarkable achievement by this Government.
I listened with the very greatest interest to the hon. and gallant Gentleman who 811 opened this Debate. He always speaks extremely vigorously in the House, and the thinner his argument gets, the more quarter-deck becomes his manner. I was absolutely staggered by one of the remarks which tell from him this afternoon —that it did not much matter whether we built houses to buy or to let, so long as the houses were built. I was staggered, because it is so contrary to the experience I am having in my constituency, and I am sure that it is contrary to the experience of hon. Members on both sides of the House. In my constituency, which was not blitzed, we have a waiting list for council houses of something like 4,000. In the interwar years, the combined resources of local authorities and private enterprise took something like 10 years to build 4,000 houses of all kinds in our borough. These people cannot wait for 10 years, and they cannot put down a lamp, sum of £1,200 to pay for a house, because they have not the cash. The only alternative for them, if they cannot buy a house cash down or rent one, is to go to a building society, where they will have to pay over a period just about double the cash price for a house. I was staggered to hear him say that the policy of providing houses for letting to meet the immediate need was really unnecessary.
I think that the performance of the Minister and of the Government in regard to housing has been outstandingly good, but there are some black spots. There are black spots in which I am closely concerned in one way or another. One of the difficulties which we are having in Huddersfield is due to the lack of planning which the hon. Member for Buckrose was speaking about earlier. One would have thought that the first thing the Coalition Government would have done when they began to consider the problem of postwar housing, was to get architects and surveyors out of the Forces under Class B, but they talked as if one set up a house and then drew up the plans—it looks as if that happened with most of the houses built by jerry-builders in the inter-war years. The fact is that architects were not brought out of the Forces until after the war was over, and the result is that we are now desperately short of assistants in the borough architect's office. I suggest that the Minister uses his powers of direction, and transfers architects and surveyors in private offices to the borough 812 offices to carry out such things as quantity surveying. I know that there are snags about that. I see the Parliamentary Secretary is shaking his head, but unless he does something to deal with the black spots in my constituency, we shall have local authority housing delayed.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
Does the hon. Member mean architects or surveyors? Surely, he does not want fully qualified architects in surveyors' offices?
§ Mr. Mallalieu
I am particularly referring to quantity surveying, done by surveyors. Local authorities, even if they are opposed to the Government politically, are desperately anxious to get houses put up, but there is a danger, in certain areas, that political antipathy, combined in some instances with property interest—a man may be a private architect, or he may have an interest in a building society—tends to outweigh the public need. I believe that there are instances where local authorities are deliberately not cooperating as fully as they should. Quite apart from his dynamic personality, the Minister has certain powers, and I hope that now the machine is going ahead, he will look more closely into these black spots, and see whether he cannot use his powers and energies to make absolutely certain that no interest whatever shall be allowed to stand in the way of providing the houses for the people who need them most.
§ 5.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Kendall (Grantham)
It seems to me that there are two approaches to this housing problem. First, there is the political approach, and, second, there is the practical approach. It seems to me that in the majority of the speeches it is the political atmosphere which has prevailed. The hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith), who opened the Debate for the Opposition, claimed that the Coalition and the Tory Governments had built something like 300,000 houses a year, and the Parliamentary Secretary said in reply that the Government have built and are building at the rate of 300,000 houses a year. It seems therefore that we are not getting very far with the political argument. We are short of houses in every part of the country, and the houses which have been built so far are not nearly the number we require. It is the easiest thing in the world for 813 any of us to stand up in our various constituencies and say that the Ministry of Health are no good, because they do not build sufficient houses. We can get a bit of political gain from that, because folk-arc always sympathetic where their troubles are concerned, and there are many thousands of people in the country who are clamouring for homes.
I believe that we have to get away from this political atmosphere, and come to the practical approach; how can we get the houses more rapidly? In the first instance, private builders may have been exacting in their demands on the Ministry, and in the second instance the Ministry may have used local authority administration a little too widely. Thirdly, there are too many Ministers concerned in this housing programme. We have the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Works, probably the Ministry of Supply, the Ministry of Transport, and the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, ail of whom have to take various decisions. It is about time that one Minister had overriding powers. It is not my business to say which Minister that should be, because that is a matter for the Government. There is a big shortage of materials, and I am sure that it is easier to get the shells, the roof, walls and floors, than the rest of the fittings which make a house habitable. There is certainly a tremendous shortage or basic materials, and in consequence, a shortage of manufactured parts from those materials. I agree that one can learn a good lesson from what took place during the war years, when we had good committees set up to deal with specific problems. Who were appointed to make up those committees?
They were chosen from folk who were responsible for the actual production of the article. In the majority of instances, and certainly in relation to the production Departments, these committees functioned efficiently, because those who manufactured were able to pool their resources for the good of the country. They loaned out their labour, materials and machine tools. The results were outstandingly successful. Surely, the provision of houses is as important in the private lives of the individuals of this country as were guns and shells in the war.
I would recommend very seriously to the Minister of Health that, with his great 814 personality and fighting spirit, he should make those who are today responsible for manufacturing, under proper chairmen-ship and under his leadership, get together to produce the things which are necessary to make houses habitable. He knows far better than I do on the statistical side that putting up a shell does not make a house fit to live in. There have to be bathroom fittings, toilet fittings, electrical fittings, locks, hinges and window sills—all of which take a lot of making If we have parts of the industry concerned with house building pulling in opposite directions, whether in favour of private enterprise or building by local authorities, we shall not get the result which we and the people of this country have every right to expect.
I suggest to the Minister that every step should be taken—I do not know how he is going to accomplish this, because he is only one of the Ministers concerned—to prevent the overlapping which obviously must take place throughout the various Departments concerned with the housing problem. No sooner does one fill up one form from one Ministry, than one gets half a dozen more forms from another Ministry. By the time one gets a decision, weeks and sometimes months elapse. I have the utmost regard and affection for the Minister of Health, which was fostered when he was a party with myself and other Members of a little group during the Coalition period of the last Parliament, when we considered ourselves the "Ginger Group" of the House of Commons. I look upon the Minister of Health as being the "Ginger Minister" in dealing with the housing problem in relation to all the other Ministries concerned. If he will get after them, and get some kind of co-ordinating committee that has an overriding decision on all matters affecting the housing problem, he will make far better progress than he has done.
There will have to be someone who can make quick decisions. When, for instance, we cannot get porcelain bath-tubs, we must get bath-tubs made out of cheap steel, but" made quickly. We shall not get them quickly unless we make the folks who have the capacity and equipment get together to form a committee which will produce all the requirements which the Minister wants. The Minister could impose upon them the duty of assigning a certain amount of their equipment to the 815 housing programme. I am sure that on that basis he would make far better progress, and that the picture in six months' time would be one which was really worth looking at. It is not going to be a picture worth looking at if one has to go through all the various Ministries, and is not able to get a quick decision, which is so essential if this programme is to be a success.
§ 5.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Medland (Plymouth, Drake)
I want to follow somewhat on the lines of the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Kendall), and put some questions to the Minister of Health, which are born out of the experience of myself and others in trying to rebuild a blitzed city and to rehouse something like 70,000 people—a programme which is inevitably bound to take a very long time. All that we can do this year and next year will have very little effect upon solving the real problem of housing. In attempting to deal with this problem, I would ask the Minister if he will give us a clear statement as to what priorities and preferences are to be given to blitzed cities like my own.
I listened with great interest to the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Mallalieu) when he was talking about his housing problems. When we have had, as some of us have had, a loss of 5,000 or 6,000 houses, in addition to the loss of many of our buildings for conducting the work of a city—schools, municipal buildings, etc.—then our problem is great, and I would ask the Minister in what priority blitzed cities or towns stand in relation to those which have never had a bomb. I would like that to be made very clear, because up to the present—and I have every regard for the fact that we have had some financial assistance—we have not been too successful. In the first place, what is the policy with regard to labour? Are we to have any preference so far as labour is concerned, because labour is our main bottleneck at the present lime? The decision to allow all the men of Unbuilding trades to return to their own homes is perfectly right, but there are many thousands of men—building trade workers—who are returning to areas in which the need for houses cannot be compared with that of the blitzed cities.
816 Some 12 months ago we asked whether the Ministry would organise and put into being what we called mobile squads, which could come to the relief of blitzed cities—men who would be voluntarily enrolled and who would augment the building trade workers already in the district. What has become of that suggestion? Is it to be adopted by the Ministry? When I made inquiries the other day, I was told that the difficulty of sending administrative officials with these squads was very great. I immediately went to some of our people in my own area and asked if they would be prepared to take on this job.
They immediately said, "Yes, we will do the administration." Still we have not got the mobile squads. We have had some German labour, and from our experience of it I would say today it is very quickly deteriorating. From an observation made on some of the Germans who have been employed on sites during the past few weeks, there is every sign of a revolt on their part, which is going to give us some further trouble in the future. We are not likely to get very much value out of the German labour. They may be a problem for the War Office, and it is a problem that will continually grow. We ought to have these mobile squads. Will the Minister tell us when we can expect them, when the scheme will be in operation, and how soon he will get them into our cities?
The second point I want to ask about is, how far and how much preference is given to blitzed cities in the bulk buying of materials? Four months ago I took to both Ministries concerned a schedule of the requirements of my own city for the next five years. It ran into millions of pounds, and showed in detail the amount of cement, the number of fittings and so forth which we would require for the rebuilding of the city. We ask to be given special privileges in bulk buying. We pointed out the fact that in the purchase of cement, which would run into something like £1½million, we would have to pay a large sum in commission if it were procured through the builders' merchants. We suggested to the Ministry that they might arrange for us to deal direct with the manufacturers, and so save our blitzed city the considerable commission which would be paid to builders' manufacturers. We were eventually informed that we 817 would get a percentage off and that we could go to the manufacturers, but the percentage we would get off would be exactly the same as the percentage which the builders' merchants would have allowed us because of the quantities which we were purchasing. So what happened was that the builders' merchant, being a good ratepayer of ours, got the buying, because we did not feel inclined to take the commission away from him, when in actual fact it made no difference to us. That kind of thing will not do. We must have exactly the same terms as the builders' merchant when we have a whole city to rebuild in the shortest possible time.
Finally, I want to ask what arrangements are going to be made for blitzed cities to have priority in respect to plant. The story of our attempt to obtain plant is a very sad one. We began in 1945 by suggesting that we might acquire American plant. We had meetings in London and we were promised that we should receive the American plant. Then the Chancellor of the Exchequer stepped in at the end of 12 months, and told us that, owing to the arrangements in connection with the American loan, the American plant would be taken over by the Government. What did we find? We found that the very plant for which we asked for the rebuilding of our city eventually went to U.N.R.R.A. to rebuild German and Italian cities, as well as other cities on the Continent of Europe.
§ Mr. Bevan indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Medland
The Minister may shake his head, but we have other evidence to show that this plant went the way I have suggested. We have made every effort to get plant, and the procedure we have now to follow is, that we have to get, through agents, plant which we ourselves have asked for and have endeavoured to buy direct from the Government. Agents have actually offered to hire us plant which we ourselves wanted to buy. I have here a long list of correspondence running into hundreds of letters, first to one Department and then to another. Still we require plant for the rebuilding of our city. I ask the Minister of Health and the other Ministers concerned, how much longer will it be before they settle this matter and give some priority to the blitzed cities of the country?
818 Having got over my grumble, I should like to say that we are satisfied that never in the whole of our history as a municipality, in spite of what I have said, have we had so much assistance and good will and this enabled us to accomplish as much as we have been able to do in the last 12 months. Nearly 1,000 homes have gone up and families have been rehabilitated. In spite of the criticism I have levelled at the Government, I still think this is the best administration in all my experience of the housing question—and that goes over a quarter of a century of local government—and I must say that we appreciate very much indeed the help that we have been given. There are bound to be weak spots in such a plan and I have tried to enumerate them. I hope the Ministers concerned will see that those which were front line towns deserve greater consideration than those centres of population which never received any injuries during the war.
§ 5.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing (Weston-super-Mare)
I think we would all have been interested had the hon. Member for the Drake Division of Plymouth (Mr. Medland) carried his story a little further. He spoke about his efforts in regard to overcoming the payment of commission to the builders' merchant, and he showed that they did not get reduced commission, but had to pay the same as a builders' merchant would have been prepared to accept. There is a gap there, and I hope that the Minister when he winds up will unravel that rather difficult point.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
It is quite obvious. The hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Kendall) referred to the organisation which should be set up. If I may say so with great respect, this is a Socialist Government. I quite agree with the general outline and structure which he put before the House. It was exactly the outline and structure which, in fact, was working during the war and it provided results. I know from experience how important it is to get people who know the job, round the table with civil servants, and get them to work out a scheme. Once they are got round a table they can work out a scheme. But does the hon. Gentleman think for one moment that a Socialist Government could dare to do that? It is 819 far too much like common sense. If one is a Socialist, as I understand it, one has to approach these problems from the political and not from the practical angle. One has got to put the plan in at the top, like a penny in the slot, and that plan goes all the way down, dictating to people, but not consulting with them.
§ Mr. Kendall
Does the hon. Member think that, therefore, politics are never, in any circumstances, practical?
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
I think where they involve brain work as well as political theory, both should be applied instead of political theory only. That is my complaint against the way the Government are handling the housing problem. Their plans are entirely theoretical; they are not practical plans. From the beginning there was a far more difficult situation under the Coalition Government because at the time the war was still on, but at least some attempt was made in those days to get into touch with those really responsible for the supply of materials, labour and so on. These contacts are steadily disappearing, are being crushed out under the enormous weight of theoretical propaganda, plus planning, plus goodness knows what. That is one of the basic causes of the slow progress that is being made where, I believe, rapid progress could be made. Speaking of rapidity, the Parliamentary Secretary was, I feel, driving through this problem as though in a delightful old victoria, with a pair of rather aged greys, ambling through the Park. He told us, with almost bated breath what a terrible thing it was because it took one and a half men employed by private enterprise to build a house as compared with one man employed by a local authority. The hon. Gentleman did not end the story by saying that you really get a house in two-thirds of the time, which is a fact—
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman can get away with that. He is, in one sense, looking at the machinery of production and, in the other, at the capital invested. He ad- 820 mitted that one and a half men were employed by private enterprise to every one employed by local authorities on house building—
§ Mr. Bevan
The local authorities do not employ the men. The hon. Member is getting extremely mixed. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary pointed out—and it might shorten the Debate if Members really understood the facts—that some building contractors build for sale, as a contract with local authorities. Where they have houses under construction for sale, they put more men on to finish those houses than they put on to contracts which they, themselves, have to provide houses for local authorities.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
The right hon. Gentleman put the case clearly. Of course, the private builder, building on his own job, which he has planned and for which he has got the material on to the site himself, can go ahead with the job. But the moment he is working for the local authority he comes up against the inevitable delays, and the cat's cradle of red tape, which slows down the supply of material.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
I must be allowed to make my speech in my own way. I am not misrepresenting the picture; I am putting it fairly to the House, from evidence which I have collected, during the last few weeks, of the sad experiences to which some local authorities I know have been subjected. What I am claiming is that the drive for houses— which the right hon. Gentleman must believe everyone is anxious to assist, and not to hinder—is being held up because the plans are completely jammed in the machine itself. That is one of the weaknesses of the whole of this elaborate system which the right hon. Gentleman has put into operation. We all admit and understand the Minister's difficulties, that he had to get this material and to canalise it in the right direction. But why complicate the system as it has been complicated? By over-concentration on the local authorities as agents, rightly described by the Parliamentary Secretary as the sole agents, at too early a date, the Minister has handicapped his entire output. I am sure that when he started off his 821 scheme, he looked around for alternative means of handling it. But did he realise that by making local authorities responsible in the way he has done he has overburdened men who have done grand work during the war, but who are now hopelessly understaffed, and tired, and cannot help as much as they would like to do?
Two Members have attacked local authorities for failing to assist the right hon. Gentleman's Ministry. The hon. Member for Buckrose (Mr. Wadsworth) was in a little difficulty in not knowing who was failing to help, and indicated that nobody was helping. The truth of the matter is that the right hon. Gentleman has hopelessly overloaded his "sole agents." I had an opportunity of looking at a letter the other day, parts of which I would like to quote to the House because it sets out the whole picture very concisely, and shows what is happening. This loiter is from a local authority, which is very much concerned because they feel that they cannot fulfil the part they really want to fulfil, and are trying to fulfil. There is no question of obstruction in this matter. This local authority refers not only to the question of planning, but say that when, on top of that, there was suddenly superimposed a materials priority scheme they felt that that was almost the last straw. They made gallant efforts, by the provision of additional staff to meet the situation, and they summed up the position in these words:If the scheme is to operate successfully it involves close contact with the Ministry of Labour, local distributors and manufacturers, and the building contractors themselves. As the livelihood of many building firms, both small and large, is now in the hands of the licensing officer the position is serious to them, particularly if there is any delay. Well over 1, 100 applications for licences have been dealt with to date, and 120 are still in hand.Not only was that imposed on them but when it comes to the stage of material priorities having been agreed there is an elaborate system to be gone through as regards labour and material priorities. The letter says that there are many additional forms to be filled up and circulated and, of the position of their own officials, says that of the time of the chief building inspector 90 per cent. has to be given up to the managing of this scheme, and the whole time of the assistant building inspector. One female clerk, 95 per cent. of her time, a temporary assistant his 822 whole time, a technical assistant his whole time, and the deputy borough engineer one-quarter of his time.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
I will give it to the Minister, although he has probably seen a copy of the letter. I do not think it is fair to give it now, unless the Minister insists. The Minister and his Department, the Ministries of Works and Supply, and the others involved, do not realise the enormous amount of additional work that the control of the issue of materials is throwing upon local authorities. One of the difficulties is that the suppliers of these materials, and merchants, cannot replace the stocks that they issue unless they have a priority licence. It is right that what material is available should go to the right place, but if only the Minister and those around him would consult a little more with the suppliers and merchants I feel certain that they could, between them, evolve a far simpler scheme, and one which would not involve additional labour, or to anything like the same degree as tinder the present system.
I wart now to refer to a matter that has been raised already by one hon. Member who pointed out the impossibility of making proper plans unless everybody knows where he is. I wish to draw attention to what has been happening in this matter over many months. No Ministry appears to know—or if it knows, is not prepared to divulge—how much of any piece of manufactured equipment, or how many of any particular manufactured component, will be required before a programme is completed. What happens as a result? The specification is sent to the manufacturer of a component, and he is asked to quote a price for, say, 50,000, or even 100,000 of those things. After he has quoted a price, he is probably told that, owing to the speed of the housing programme, that number will be cut down to 20,000. Obviously, if the manufacturer is to make only 20,000 instead of 100,000 of those things, he has to allow for the additional spread of tools cost, and the components will cost more.
The manufacturer does not go to the Department and demand that the whole order for 100,000 should be placed with him at once; what he asks is, "Do you 823 intend to place an order for 100,000 with me eventually or not?—If you do not, each component will cost you more; if you are going to place the order for 100,000 with me, the components will cost you less." It is lack of that information which makes it extremely difficult for manufacturers to quote, and, far more important, it is lack of that programme information and that schedule of planned progress which is forcing up the prices of manufactured components. The manufacturer cannot see ahead of him sufficiently far to enable him to spread the costs. I believe that the Minister must look into this matter very seriously. He has not divulged to us nearly enough about the costs of the houses, and I do not believe he would dare to divulge a great many of the costs which have to be accepted at the present time, but which, under proper management, need never have had to be accepted. Unless the Minister looks into the question of the organised placing of orders and the giving of advance information as to what the ultimate requirements will be, the people of this country will pay far higher rents and taxes than need have been the case.
This is a very human problem. It is not just a question of bricks and mortar, schedules, programmes, and timetables. Every hon. Member, whatever his party, wants to see houses built in large numbers as quickly as possible. It is the duty of the Opposition to criticise the Government when they see that that is not taking place. It is essential for us to look at this matter with a little more humanity, and a little bit less from the point of view of timetables and schedules. I do not want the Minister to be thought of as a little Welsh boy afraid to play for fear of dirtying his clothes and getting out of order. I want to see him as a great wild Celt, tackling this problem, upsetting the rigid tidiness of columns of figures, and getting on with the job. He must be a little less prudent, he must relax a little. However good the Minister's programme may prove to be in a couple of years' time, hundreds of thousands of people will never forgive him if he does not relax a little bit and become a little more human now. I ask him to do that. I am not particularly concerned about his political future, but I am deeply concerned with the future happiness of this 824 country, and with the prestige of government, of whatever party. I believe that in these days unless government of any party can show humanity, it will come into grave disrepute. I ask the Minister to do his best to be a little more untidy and a little more human in handling this problem.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Mackay (Hull, North-West)
I appreciate the opportunity of speaking in this Debate, although I intervene with a certain amount of diffidence, in view of some of the things that have been said, because for a number of years I have been conducting a rather large builder's business. I have been in constant touch with local authorities and Government Departments, and I do not agree with many of the things that have been said by hon. Members opposite. The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Orr-Ewing) asked for humanity in the treatment of the housing problem. I think the Minister of Health is the last person in the House whom one would ever charge with lacking that quality, particularly having regard to the Measure which has just completed its successful passage through the House. We want more than humanity in a discussion of this kind. What we have not had today is the facts. The Minister of Health has been good enough to provide hon. Members, month by month, with the housing returns, and yet we had from the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith), who opened the Debate, as from all other hon. Members opposite who have spoken, very little reference and much less understanding of the facts in the housing returns, which disprove almost every statement that has been made by hon. Members opposite.
I propose to deal with the various points that have been made. The hon. and gallant Member for Pollok attacked the Government's temporary housing programme and what they have done since they took office. I ask the hon. and gallant Member to take his mind back to the beginning of this programme. It is an ill-conceived programme. It is administered well, for reasons which I hope to be able to show in a few moments, but anyone who recognises that a house which costs £1,000, or about that amount and which is to 825 be a temporary house, although one quarter of the cost, £250, goes on the land and things which are permanent and good for all time, will realise how ridiculous is this programme. The whole temporary housing programme was a mistake from the beginning. It was one of the wild conceptions which that grand and gallant Gentleman, the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill), occasionally has. In his famous broadcast, he talked about 500,000 Portal houses. Then the hon. Gentleman who became Minister of Works at that time had to scrap the Portal houses. After that, we were to have three types of temporary houses. I know a little about this, because I have been connected with the making of one of the three types of temporary houses for the Government for quite a long time. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for North Croydon (Mr. Willink), who was then Minister of Health, told the House, in December, 1944, that he had every reason to expect the arrival of 3,000 temporary houses in the months of January, February and March for London, I wonder how many hon. Members remember that by 1st February, 1945, two months later, exactly three houses had arrived, and that two more came by the end of the following month. It is the party who were doing this at that time, and the people who are attacking the temporary housing programme now, who are not willing to turn their minds back and realise how great a failure this whole programme was from the very commencement.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
Is it not a fact that the Government have continued this temporary housing programme? If they thought so badly of it, why did they not wipe it out altogether?
§ Mr. Mackay
The hon. Gentleman asks why the Government, when they came into office last year, did not cut off this programme. They could not do so. They were committed to contracts. The whole of the 150,000 temporary houses were let on contract before the end of December, 1944. My own firm had a contract for 11,000 houses—1,000 immediately, and the balance early in 1945. The Government could not have cancelled that contract.
§ Mr. Mackay
In the first place, because they were committed to the payment for them. I beg the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare, if he asks questions, to listen to the reply. The more questions there are, the better hon. Members opposite may understand the position. The hon. Member suggested that, at the end of August, 1945, the Minister of Health, when he came into office, realising that this was a badly conceived programme, should then have scrapped it, together with all the baths, electrical fittings and equipment, plumbing units, and all the fittings that go into the different rooms, all of which had been ordered for 150,000 houses.
§ Mr. Mackay
It is one of the peculiarities of the temporary housing programme that most of the components ordered for the houses are not of standard size. They were ordered as a building unit, not by this Government at all. I know, because in August and October last year we had a thousand completed houses in Hull but we could not erect them because we were unable to obtain the fittings. I said, "Do not bother about standard components; let us take the risk and get outside components at our own expense." But we found that even standard ones would not fit these houses. No one in this Government, at least certainly not the present Minister of Health, is to blame for the way in which that programme was outlined, organised, and carried into effect.
It was a legacy he had to inherit and by accepting it he at least attained the number of houses we are getting now, and even with a bad programme, even by putting in no components rather than components valued at £200 or £300— which was nonsense in a house supposed to last only 10 years—it was better to carry on and build according to the programme that was then outlined, and the orders then placed than to scrap the whole idea, and start over again. It should be realised by hon. Members of this House that it is impossible to have a temporary programme and a permanent programme at the same time, and that because the temporary programme was being carried out materials which could have been used for permanent housing were not available. That has been one of the biggest 827 difficulties with which the Minister has been confronted in dealing with the whole of this problem. We who are associated with this industry see it every day.
I now turn to some of the figures of the temporary housing programme. I had got as far as the right hon. and learned Member for North Croydon and his three houses in July, 1945; that programme had been in operation for seven months.
§ Mr. Mackay
Yes, during the war, and that is one of the facts which has to be taken into account, but I do not complain of the shortage—I complain that hon. Members themselves complain about deliveries during this year. If one looks at the figures for the deliveries to the end of December in the temporary housing programme, one finds that 8,000 houses were erected. I have not the figures before me, but I am fairly certain that at least 6,000 of these came in the latter half of the year. If we then move forward we find that in six months we had 21,000 houses, or nearly three times the number for the previous year. I do ask hon. Gentlemen who are criticising the way in which the present Government have been handling the temporary programme to look at the figures. They will see that during the six months of 1946, the Government have done nearly three times as much in their temporary housing programme as was done during the whole of last year. If we look then at the further figures of houses under erection, the position is exactly the same, or perhaps even a little better. Anyone who really considers this programme will recognise how ill conceived it was, and how unsuitable for the conditions under which it had to be worked, and that, taking into account the work that has been done, it is impossible to justify the criticisms which have been made this afternoon by certain Members on the other side.
Let me now consider the permanent housing programme. We have had this afternoon an enormous attack on the way in which the local authorities are being so hard worked. It has been said that they cannot carry out the operations in view of the way in which the Government is placing responsibility upon them for carrying out the permanent housing programme. I ask hon. Members to look 828 at the figures given by the Minister of Health. There have been criticisms because the Minister will not say what is his target, but if there is one thing for which we could praise the Minister of Health, it is that he does not disclose this target. Naturally he will not do so because he wishes to see how things are developing and what is going to happen, but he does say what is going on, and gives the fullest figures. Hon. Members do not bother to look at them. At the moment I have in mind page 10 of the Report for England and Wales. We are told that local authorities' building is stopped, because they are unable to make the necessary preparations. According to the table, we have over 500,000 sites of which possession has been obtained by local authorities; we have over 250,000 layout plans approved, and all this within 12 months of the Labour Government coming into office It is an enormous figure and an amazing result which we have achieved; it could only have been achieved by throwing the responsibility on the local authorities and not leaving it to a whole lot of jerry building, competitive, private enterprise builders.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
May I ask the hon. Member to carry his point one stage further? Will he look at page 19 of the Report, table 19? That is where I claim that proof lies of complete congestion within the machine. Perhaps he will read the figures under the different headings there.
§ Mr. Mackay
Let hon. Members look at these figures, because I think the hon. Gentleman is reasoning quite wrongly, and assuming from the fact that there is a difference between the fifth column and the second column it is due to congestion, when actually it may be due to the lapse of time—as in fact it is. In table 9 the figure for June is 69,000 "preliminary house plans submitted but final plans not approved." The next column gives a figure for June of 175,000 final plans approved.
§ Mr. Mackay
But no authority given to proceed to tender. The next column, under the heading "Authorised to proceed to tender but tenders not yet invited," shows a total of 28,000. These 829 are all graphs which are going up the whole time and this is the only way in which these things can be done. I have not had previous access to these figures but I know perfectly well that the cases where they are not approved concern permanent prefabricated houses; local authorities have put in for permission to build but have not yet obtained that permission from the Ministry of Health. To come back to table 1 on page 10, this gives a very good indication of exactly what the local authorities have done in this period. I will return in a moment to the discussion of the policy behind giving local authorities responsibility, but I ask hon. Gentlemen to realise that the whole problem of getting the housing programme under way is one of having sites prepared The joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland would be the first to say that the biggest bottleneck he has in Scotland in the housing programme is not materials, bad though that is, but getting sites prepared. That is why it is important to have the figures for this period, because them we know that we are going to be building all the time an ever-increasing number of houses thanks to the proper preparations having been made for them in the early stages.
I should like to take up this question of the whole problem of private enterprise, which has been thrown up again this afternoon. It has been suggested that we are not getting houses built by private enterprise because the local authorities are doing it. This is a complete non sequitur. For my part I should be very glad—although I do not know whether others would be so glad—to see the building industry nationalised tomorrow, but I can realise that for 23,000 odd builders who do not employ more than one person, and many other thousands who employ only a few more, it is not a very practical thing to do if one wishes to have something done quickly. When it is said that private enterprise is not being given a chance in the building programme, that is a complete misstatement of fact. I speak as a director of one of the largest building companies. We are a private enterprise. We spend our time building for local authorities and for other people. The Government know that, and we are not in any way kept out of the building programme; nor is any other builder.
In the city which I represent we have a housing programme at the present time 830 which is among the largest in the country. Hull is a very badly blitzed city, as every body knows. It has more than 1,000 temporary houses, and permanent housing of all kinds is going on, prefabricated, traditional and other types, within the limits of materials available. All the builders in the city take their share of the work that is to be done. On one site, the corporation are building by direct labour, as an interesting experiment, to discover whether they can build more cheaply in that way than private enterprise. Why should they not do it? It is a perfectly proper thing for them to do. It is quite untrue for people outside, and for the more reckless newspapers, to be telling the country, as they have been doing for the last 12 months—I do not believe that hon. Members of this House have been doing so—that we are backward in our housing programme, and are not allowing the building industry to take their fair share of building. Such statements are completely out of accord with the facts. Builders are being given every opportunity in all parts of the country to handle the building programme.
Now I would like to discuss generally the whole problem of Government building. I find it difficult for people to understand this subject, as it is dealt with so indirectly that people are always asking, "Where are we going?" "Who is in charge of this programme?" and "What kind of bureaucracy are we giving rise to?" During the Debate, an hon. Gentleman gave instances of the different Ministries which are concerned in the building programme. He referred to the Ministry of War Transport. Everybody in the building industry is grateful to that Ministry, which handles the whole of the temporary housing components from factory to depot, and from depot to site. No private enterprise could handle the matter as efficiently. My own firm deals with from 600 to 800 lorry loads per week, and we have never had the slightest difficulty.
The same is true with regard to materials. I do not know on what facts hon. Members base their statements, when they complain of the housing programme being held up by inability to get materials. There is a shortage of materials in the country. No one denies it. There is a shortage of plaster and materials of that kind. The Government, having decided that so many temporary houses, and so many permanent houses, 831 are to be built, have also decided that whatever materials are available, shall be rationed, so that the programme can be carried out. No manufacturer of houses today is complaining about materials, date of delivery or quantities. I speak with long knowledge of this matter. We have erected or manufactured from 10,000 to 12,000 houses in the course of the last 12 months, and we have had to order large quantities of materials. Everybody concerned in the operation of the programme is grateful for the controls which exist, and everybody is glad that, because of those controls, materials are not going into other channels, to which they might go if the controls were not there.
The Prime Minister made a declaration not long ago as to the way in which the Ministries are functioning in connection with the housing programme. I am only too glad to see criticism of all that this party is trying to do; I ask only that the criticism shall be intelligent, informed and factual. Some hon. Members referred to the fact that several Ministries are concerned, and asked why we cannot have a definite Ministry of Housing. The answer, as the Prime Minister said, is clear. We have decided, for good or for ill—and I think it is for good—that the housing programme is to be handled through the local authority. We want it handled in that way, because houses can be built to be owned by local authorities and rented, through subsidies to local authorities. That makes it possible for people to get houses at a reasonable rent. That is the only way in which we can get houses built. The local authorities are the only public authorities operating in the country who are able to provide the organisation necessary to handle such a big building programme.
That being so, what other Ministry than the Ministry of Health could organise the housing programme and coordinate the Ministries of Works and Supply in the matter? The Prime Minister's statement was clear. A committee of the Ministers meets weekly. The Ministry of Health approves contracts put in by local authorities. We then know the target or number of houses required. The Ministry of Supply allocates the materials to them. There has been some comment this afternoon, by hon. Members who raised questions about materials and said that the position was a jumble and a 832 mix-up. That is not true. Anybody who has experience knows that immediately contracts are passed, we can go at once to one of the Ministries and the materials are allocated.
Looking at the record of the past 12 months, we can say that the foundations laid for the housing programme of this country are of greater quality and provide much greater opportunity for success than those of any other housing programme ever conceived. Short of nationalising the land, which most Socialists would like to see done, and short of having all the houses owned by the State, the only way in which the problem can be handled, is to make local authorities own all the houses and, as owner be responsible for the houses. In the period of 10 or 20 years between the two wars, thanks to building societies, jerry-builders and private entrepreneurs, a large number of houses were built in this country, but not for the people who needed them. Now, thanks to the Socialist Government and the operations through the local authorities, we have a housing programme which will meet, in a spirit of fair shares for the people who require them, the real housing needs of the population of this country.
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ Sir David Robertson (Streatham)
The hon. Member for North-west Hull (Mr. Mackay) has painted a very rosy picture of the housing situation. He has even outshone the Parliamentary Secretary in his satisfaction at the position in which the people of this country are placed for houses at the present time. I would remind him, and all other hon. Members who have spoken on the subject, that the powerful speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) remains unanswered.
I am glad that the badly battered city of Hull is being so splendidly rebuilt. I only hope that the constituents of the hon. Member are as satisfied and pleased as he is, but I doubt it. He wanted to know what facts we on this side had for our dissatisfaction. I will try to give him a few. We have had three or four housing Debates since the Socialist Government came into power, and I have deliberately refrained from trying to catch Mr. Speaker's eye. I wanted to give the new team a chance. I realised that housing was a very difficult task, and I felt that 833 the least we could do was to wish the Government well in solving that greatest of all human problems. When I came here today I did not intend to intervene in the Debate. I desire to withhold criticism, to try to row in with the Government and to help them. Unlike Hull, my constituency—Streatham—is in a deplorable housing condition. The Parliamentary Secretary stated that the aim of the Government is to house those in greatest need. No one would dispute the Tightness of that policy. In fact, it is the Government's policy to give bombed-out people the first priority. But what are the facts in regard to Streatham, one of London's finest towns?
Not a single permanent house has been built—in almost the worst bombed constituency in the whole of the London area, certainly the worst in the flying bomb period. We have the foundations of only two permanent houses, built by a local builder four months ago with four first-class bricklayers and a general labourer. He had to dismiss them after completing the foundations, because there were no bricks, and for three or four months he has stood there waiting for the bricks to come. I met him three weeks ago, when I made a tour of my constituency to find out what had been done in regard to rebuilding, and he told me that he would never get those four men back again. This was the ideal machinery for getting houses—the small builder, a craftsman, working with his small team of fellow-craftsmen. These houses are for two ex-soldiers who, with their families, are each living in one room under appalling conditions. I wonder when they will get their houses. That is the record of permanent housing in my constituency. I wonder what the Minister will say about that in his speech tonight. A Socialist borough council rules the borough of Wandsworth of which Streatham is one-fourth or one-fifth.
When the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary speak of their chosen instrument, may I remind them that the responsibility for seeing that the chosen instrument works, lies with them and with no one else, and I accuse them of gross neglect in the borough of Wandsworth, and in Streatham in particular. The figures I have given must illustrate the unhappy position in which this London town is placed. It is true we have some 834 temporary houses, but they are nearly all unoccupied. They are lying there, the house erected, the roof on, and the windows in, but the doors are locked and weeds are growing round the pathways and in the gardens; and 80,000 homeless people of the borough of Wandsworth pass by, and wonder why those who promised so much at the General Election have done so little. There is street after street of temporary houses without an occupier. My constituency has almost 20,000 bombed-out, homeless people. Until some months ago, we had some living in public shelters, and children were going to school from those public shelters. We are breaking every public health law today through overcrowding and rat-infested basements with soldiers' wives and families living in them. In addition to the bombed-out people, we have 60,000 prewar residents of the borough, including many thousands of ex-Servicemen and women, who art on this borough's list for rehousing. I have had hundreds—perhaps thousands—of the most pitiful letters from people—and I daresay hon. Members opposite have too —who wonder when they are going to get homes. They have gone through the channels laid down for them—to the borough council and to the London County Council—and have been told they are on the list; but the list is growing bigger instead of smaller.
These are facts which I hope the hon. Member for North-West Hull will consider without smugness and satisfaction. My constituency was as badly blitzed as Hull. A Socialist Government have been in power for 12 months and we have had a Socialist borough council in power for 12 months. I have tried to help rather than criticise the council. I speak with reluctance about a London borough council. But I am stating the facts, and I reiterate that it is the responsibility of the Minister of Health and his Parliamentary Secretary to make their chosen instrument work, and when there is a reply to the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok—which has not been made up to this moment—I hope a word will be said to the House in regard to my long-suffering constituency. I also hope that the Socialist Members who have the honour of representing parts of the borough of Wandsworth will say their piece, too. I see at least one sitting opposite. If they tell the truth, their 835 verdict must be the same as mine. Their report, if it is true, must be the same as mine. I appeal to them to get up and speak up. This is not a question of party politics but of humanity, as the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Orr-Ewing) said. It is a question that concerns this Government acutely. There is no greater question before it. I hope to get some kind of answer tonight. I hope some of the hon. Members opposite who may be inclined to make "Yes-men" speeches will either sit in their places, or get up and tell the facts, because they will have to account some day to their constituents.
§ 6.18 p.m.
Mr. Richard Adams (Balham and Tooting)
It is not inappropriate that I should follow the hon. Member for Streatham (Sir D. Robertson) because, as he stated, I come from the same part of the country and represent another constituency in the borough of Wandsworth, the largest borough in London. Until a short time ago it was true that the borough had not got a permanent housing scheme under way. But that is not all. Why is it that the Wandsworth borough council was unable to produce a housing scheme since it took office last November? At the time of the election last November, the Tory council gave out to the public that they had a plan for 3,000 houses and flats. I went into that scheme in great detail because, as one of the local Members of Parliament, I was very much interested. I found to my astonishment that these 3,000 houses and flats existed only in the imagination of the Tory council. There was hardly a plan or drawing. It is, therefore, not difficult to understand that the Socialist council, taking over for the first time in November, should have found difficulty in producing a large housing scheme by this time.
I am afraid that the hon. Member for Streatham has not given the complete facts. He dwelt, quite rightly, on the lack of permanent houses, although I am pleased to say that the first permanent housing scheme was started some two weeks ago; but that is not the whole picture. At the present time we most urgently require to provide accommodation for the people, and the situation in Wandsworth is not so black as the hon. 836 Gentleman painted it. He spoke of nearly 20,000 families—
But there are actually 15,000 homeless families requiring accommodation. Surely the hon. Gentleman should get his figures right—
§ Sir D. Robertson
The figures I used were about 20,000 bombed-out homeless persons, and in addition 60,000 persons, all prewar residents and including many thousands of Servicemen and women, who are in need of housing and who are on the borough's list—a total of almost 80,000 persons.
There are some 15,000 families who have applied for accommodation to the council, and the borough council of one of the worst, if not the worst, blitzed boroughs in London has set out to satisfy that need. I am pleased to be able to say that at the present time the borough rehousing officer is rehousing families at the rate of some 70 a week— that is, an annual rate of 3,500 homes, temporary accommodation of one kind and another, provided for the people of the borough. That equals the amount of the accommodation provided by the Tory council throughout the 20 years between the two wars.
I did not get on to my feet only to argue with my colleague from the borough. I would like to turn now to the opening speech made in this Debate by the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith). I was pleased to notice that he, together with a small handful of his colleagues—I think four or five most of the time—remained to take part in this Debate, because he stated that this was a most important and most urgent problem facing the Government. I was pleased therefore, that they stayed to take part in this most important Debate. He also said in his opening remarks that we had not had a Debate on the subject of housing for nearly nine months. That is perfectly true, but I would point out that we have just passed through some 20 Supply Days, and it was open to the Opposition on any one of those days to choose housing as a subject for Debate. I have a shrewd idea that something of this sort happened: they got through the 20 Supply Days and suddenly realised 837 that they had not raised the subject of housing, and they said, "We dare not let the wizard from South Wales get away with this; we must raise the subject of housing at all costs, otherwise the people of this country will think we are letting them down" So they raised housing on this, the last possible day open to them.
As I came down here today I wondered who would be chosen to open the Debate for the Opposition, because I knew they were on a sticky wicket. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] That is why they have not raised the subject in the last nine months, because they knew the Minister of Health was getting on with the job. I must say, as a tribute to the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank), that I thought they would choose him to open the Debate. It may interest the House to follow my line of reasoning. It was, that realising they were on a sticky wicket, they knew they had to call upon their stonewaller, and, therefore, I thought they would call upon the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough to open. In addition to stonewalling, he can keep a straight bat, and there was always a chance that a snick through the slips might produce a score against the Government. But no, they decided otherwise. They decided to call in the wicket keeper from Scotland, who made careful reference to the fact that he did not propose to probe into the Scottish problem. No doubt they have left the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough to wind up, because they realise that the wicket will get stickier and stickier as this Debate proceeds.
Now I will refer to some of the points made by the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am glad to hear that the cheers are a little louder than they were in the earlier part of the afternoon, when there was only a handful present. The hon. and gallant Gentleman said, first, that the war was the only cause of the present housing need; that if the war had not occurred, private enterprise would have gone on to solve the problem. I will grant him that some million of those houses needed is due to lack of building during the war, but how does he account for the fact that we need between four million and eight million houses built before we can rest satisfied with the state 838 of Lousing in the country today? Does he suggest that those houses would have been built by private enterprise? The truth is that, before a single bomb fell on this country, we needed millions of houses to be built as quickly as possible to provide decent living conditions for the ordinary people of the country. He then went on to pervert figures as I have seldom heard them perverted in this House since I came here. He said that between 1934 and 1938 the average production of houses was 330,000. Why did he choose the years 1934 to 1938? Let me tell him why. The year 1935 happens to have been the best building year for private enterprise, during which year in England and Wales—I have no knowledge of Scotland—it built 275,000 houses. It is rather significant to find that the building of houses by private enterprise in this country slumped after 1935. Long before there was any threat of war, long before there was any likelihood of war, private enterprise had lost interest in building houses.
§ Mr. Osborne
Surely the shadow factories were being built long before 1935, and were absorbing labour and materials?
In other words, private enterprise, rather than carry on building houses which were urgently needed, switched to the more profitable side.
§ Mr. Jack Jones (Bolton)
On a point of Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Is it in Order for the noble Lord to accuse us on this side of the House of being conscientious objectors? I am getting sick and tired of listening to the noble Lord. Let me tell the noble Lord that many of us served and lots and lots of those on this side have sons and daughters who served, and I object to the accusation of being conscientious objectors.
§ Mr. Dumpleton (St. Albans)
Is it right for the noble Lord to use that expression to an hon. Member who served gallantly in the war?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)
The hon. Member can no doubt reply for himself, but it is certainly very undesirable.
§ Commander Galbraith
If the hon. Member for Balham and Tooting (Mr. R. Adams) will be good enough to allow me to interrupt him—
§ Commander Galbraith
The hon. Gentleman stated that I perverted the figures, and I think he used that word quite accidentally, but he will agree with me, I think, that I quoted the figures absolutely correctly. Might I say further that in 1938 private enterprise completed 248,000 houses without subsidy?
Mr. R. Adams
This Debate is getting somewhat livelier than it was earlier. I think perhaps I had better take the noble Lord first. I did see service in much the same part of the world as the noble Lord in the last war but one, and certainly he cannot throw the term "conscientious objector" at me, although I would return that word by saying that the noble Lord is an unconscientious objector to most things from this side of the House.
§ Earl Winterton
The hon. Gentleman has made a very witty and appropriate reply, but I take great exception to something he said. I hope, being a fair-minded man—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I say, I hope he, being a fair-minded man, will admit that the grave charge he made is a grossly unfair one against certain persons and firms who were compelled, whether they wanted it or not, to turn their factories into shadow factories in order to make armaments for the war. I think when he looks at HANSARD tomorrow, he will be slightly ashamed. He said they did it because they could get a better profit. It is a monstrous charge, and he should withdraw it.
If the noble Lord will take the trouble to examine the figures for these years he will see that there was unemploymnt in the building industry, which surely is an answer to the point he made. Before I was interrupted, Mr. Deputy-Speaker—and I must say it seems a long while ago—I was dealing with the average quoted by the hon. and gallant 840 Member for Pollok, who took the five best years and produced an average of 340,000. Let me take a much fairer average for the whole 21 years between the two wars. I take the figures for England and Wales. We produced an average in the 21 years between the wars —during which private enterprise had the ball at its feet with all the supplies and materials and labour it needed—of 140,000 a year. Is that a record of which private enterprise can be proud?
Then the hon. and gallant Gentleman went on to talk about targets once again. Every time we have a discussion in this House on the subject of housing, the Opposition raise the question of targets. What target do they want us to take? Do they want us to take the target of the less than 7,000 houses produced in the first year after the last war? Do they want us to take the target they produced out of the blue over 12 months ago, of 220,000 permanent houses to be built in the two years after the war? That is a target which I hope my right hon. Friend will lose sight of in the next year or two. Satisfactory targets cannot be produced unless one knows and has control of all the factors concerned. We are dealing here with a number of variable factors. We do not know how the supply position is going to improve, and how successful we are going to be in attracting new labour to the industry. I consider the Minister is entitled to refuse to give a target on these variable factors. A target for the whole 12 months serves no useful purpose. The target of my right hon. Friend's predecessor of 220,000 houses in the two years after the war has no significance.
The only satisfactory target is to take a global figure and break it down to its constituent elements. In the case of the mines we have all the previous records of production and know what each mine has produced in the past. If the Minister of Fuel and Power wishes to set a target of another 10,000,000 tons of coal, he can say what each man must produce per shift to produce that target. The Minister of Health cannot do any such thing, and I support him in his refusal to produce vague and nebulous figures for hon. Members opposite. I think the hon. and gallant Member for Pollock gave the game away when he said that it does not matter whether we build to let or to 841 sell. The whole policy between the wars has been that those with money to spare have been able to buy houses. The great mass of houses built then were to sell to people with money who could purchase them. The result was that the ordinary people with no money to spend on buying houses, were left without suitable accommodation. That is a policy we refuse to follow.
The hon. and gallant Member said that so little has been accomplished in the last 11 months. Let us look at some figures of what has been accomplished. Private enterprise built less than 6,000 houses in 1919, the first complete year after the last war. In the first six months of this year, they have built 7,699. In other words, more than in the whole year of 1919. There are also 30,000 houses under construction under licence. It is safe to assume that those will be completed by the end of the year, which means that private enterprise, working under the dreadful restrictions and controls of the Socialist Government, can build four or five times as fast as they did after the last war. It is fantastic nonsense to suggest that this Government is out—as one hon. Member said—to exterminate the private builder. We must not lose sight, too, of the fact that more than 598,000 houses have been repaired in the last 15 months. It is true that the standard of repairs varies—a few slates and tiles here and a basin or a bath there—but the materials used would build a considerable number of houses. We cannot have it both ways and put houses into a good state of repair while at the same time using the same materials for building new houses. Already 42,700 houses have been completed, and 123,000 are at present under construction. It seems very likely that we shall exceed the prewar average of building under the Tory Government, in the first year of office after the war.
The hon. and gallant Member went on to talk about temporary prefabs, and said they were to fill the gap. I say without fear of contradiction that the bright boy who hit on the idea of temporary prefabricated houses did not know the first thing about the housing needs of the people of this country. Take, for example, two three-storeyed houses which have been destroyed by a bomb. They were probably housing six families. They are completely destroyed and two Portals 842 are put in their place. Is that solving the housing needs of the country? Two are housed where six lost their homes. I think it is a tremendous shame, too, that the open spaces and commons have been taken for these tin monstrosities. One of the worst legacies left to the Government are the temporary prefabricated houses. It was an ill-conceived plan of the Coalition Government during the war. Another thing that is forgotten is that in dealing with temporary prefabrication one is only dealing with the shell of the house. All the components inside, the fitments and baths and sanitary equipment, are the same as in a permanent building, and there is no saving in cost and labour. If we could have thrown overboard the plans for temporary prefabs, and got on with permanent buildings, we would have been in a happier position than today.
We are in that position as a result of the legacy left by Tory hon. Members opposite.
I think the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok was absolutely full of irrelevances and misstatements. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO."] I do not doubt that when the time comes for the Minister to reply he will deal adequately with all that has been said, but we on this side are by no means satisfied by the progress that has been made. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I say that deliberately. The whole truth is that we have been left such a dreadful legacy of indifference and mismanagement in the interwar years, with so many million houses which must be built as soon as possible, that any progress we make in the first few months must seem small. We cannot be satisfied with 100,000 or 200,000, and we cannot begin to think of targets until we have all the materials and labour. When we are able to build 200,000, 300,000 and 400,000 a year, the Minister will be able to look round and gauge more accurately what his final goal must be. We have made some mistakes in the past, but of this I am certain. We are making far more progress, and the people of this country are far more satisfied with the work done by this new Labour Government, than ever they would have been if the old Tory gang had been left in power.
§ 6.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Derek Walker-Smith (Hertford)
I hope the hon. Member for Balham and Tooting (Mr. R. Adams) will forgive me if I do not follow him in detail. If I did, I think I would be guilty of a certain amount of discursive irrelevance. I have always deprecated the habit of hon. Members opposite, in making contributions to housing Debates, of ploughing the carefully selected sands of the past. I want to take a forward view. We have heard much about how bad was the programme for temporary houses as evolved by the Coalition Government. But I challenge the right hon. Gentleman when he comes to reply, to quote one single extract from HANSARD, covering that period when he was a Member of this House, and I was not, in which he drew attention to the inadequacy of the programme because—
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
The right hon. Gentleman was, no doubt, fully occupied in giving advice on military strategy, for which he was so well qualified. But it will be within the recollection of people who did sit in the last Parliament that the then Conservative Member for Barrow-in-Furness passed some very constructive criticisms on this programme, with which from a distance I associated myself.
I wish to face the future in regard to this matter. The hon. Member for Balham and Tooting has referred to the question of targets. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Works has given some sort of target in a recent speech. It was eagerly seized upon by the people of this country, as hungry for information as they are for houses. The right hon. Gentleman said that the Government would have completed 100,000 permanent houses by the end of the year. The first question that I ask is whether or not that target is likely to be attained. I see no reason why it should not be attained. The target is arrived at by the simple method of assuming that all the houses under construction by, say, the end of May will be completed by the end of the year.
It is difficult to pass an effective judgment on the probability, because the data 844 showing the speed of completion of any one house are at present rather sketchy. Also, we have to take into account the inevitable fall in production in the winter months, of which we heard so much last year. It is true that that fall in production becomes less the further the stage of construction advances, because when roofing-in is completed, the effect of climate, of course, becomes considerably less. Subject to these considerations, I see no reason why that target should not be attained. It seems to me that the more important question is: How does that target relate to the more long-term target, of 4 million houses in 10 years, that is to say, 400,000 a year on the average?
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
It is fortunate that the Minister of Town and Country Planning has come into the House, because the figure is given in the second Report of the Reith Committee, which was issued with the knowledge, and presumably the approbation, of the right hon. Gentleman. It is there given as a Government target. It may be that the left hand knoweth not what the right hand doeth, but that is given as the target of the Government, and it has never been contradicted by any right hon. Gentleman.
§ The Minister of Town and Country Planning (Mr. Silkin)
I knew nothing of what was in that Report until after it was issued.
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
Has the right hon. Gentleman, in the months that have elapsed, issued any contradiction of this most important statement?
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
I think that the Minister, even on his busy day, might have found time to attend to a little matter like that, where an announcement of a Government target for housing was concerned.
I can see that if I have the benefit of so much advice from the opposite side of the House, my speech may become unduly protracted. The figure of 100,000 houses completed by the end of the year is, in fact, 100,000 houses in 18 months. Of that total some 60,000 odd will be local authority houses, i.e., about 845 40,000 a year. I will be generous in this matter. To attain the average of what we expect from local authorities in normal years, I will treble that figure, making a total of some 120,000 houses a year from local authorities. To that we add the private enterprise figure, which is cut down to the ratio of one to four. This gives 30,000 houses to be added. The figure of 120,000, plus 30,000, seems to be a generous estimate of the total which this Government are likely to be able to build under their present policy. That falls far short of the long-term target figure.
The hon. Member for Balham and Tooting asked what sort of targets we wanted. I want what is known as a phased programme, to show year by year how many houses are expected to be built, at what price, for whom, and by what agency. A phased programme can be checked up and related to the sort of time and progress schedules with which the Americans have made us familiar in these matters. These are the only type of target which, to my mind, will be of any use to us in this problem. All we get are either trivial and immediate targets, or long-term pious aspirations, which even so are then contradicted by some, but not by all, of His Majesty's Ministers.
I pass from the question of targets to the question of costs, because we are now in a time of very high building costs. I know it is fashionable today to take little account of finance, that is of national finance, though people are normally preoccupied with their own. But quite apart from the strictly financial aspect, high building costs reflect an inefficient use of labour and materials, and they reflect that faulty synthesis and organisation of building organisation which under the policy of this Government I have all along thought to be at the root of our difficulties in housing today. What is the present position in regard to housing costs? We know that last autumn the Minister attached a great deal of importance to the figure of 21s. per superficial foot, and tenders which exceeded that figure were to be sternly and decisively rejected. I suggested at that time that that was not the way to reduce building costs. I pointed out that they could only be reduced by removing the cause of high costs, and not by an arbitrary Ministerial decree. I likened the Minister to Mrs. Partington, trying to sweep back the Atlantic with her mop. The tide of rising prices has 846 engulfed the Minister, as I prophesied, or would have done had he stood his ground. But with more discretion than heroism, he has retreated to the higher . ground of higher costs, and uses the mop in the more congenial way of pushing it in the faces of those who warned him of his predicament.
It is not easy to tell the House what is the present position in regard to costs, because of the iron curtain which the Minister chooses to erect between the House and the information which is its due. He said, on 18th July, that to give the average price of tenders approved would be misleading owing to the wide variation in local circumstances and would tend to raise the minimum price to the level of the average, and his reply to a request for information as to the cost per superficial foot for completed houses in the last six months was "not available." In spite of its not being available, I make bold to say that the figure of 21s. per superficial foot has now risen as high as 25s. per superficial foot, and that that is the sort of figure at which tenders are now being accepted. There is a two-fold danger in this rise in housing costs. First, it is a reflection of reduced speed and efficiency. Secondly, it inevitably widens the gap between the economic rent and the subsidised rent. I entered into this question during the Second Reading Debate on the Housing (Financial and Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill on 6th March. I argued then that the right hon. Gentleman would not be able to rent houses at 10s. per week on the present subsidy, without directly increasing the subsidy or giving a concealed subsidy, that is, by placing a heavier burden on the rates.
The rise in building costs makes that far more true today even than it was then. I submit that this Government are faced now, or they soon will be, with this dilemma; either higher rents, or higher subsidy or, most probably, both. There are certain other undesirable social consequences which follow upon this. I said in the House on 6th March:There will be many ratepayers economically less well off than the tenant whose rent they are subsidising and who will find their rates grossly inflated by reason of these proposals."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th March, 1946; Vol. 420, c. 424.]Since then I welcome a very respectable and powerful ally in this matter. I refer to the "Economist," whose objectivity 847 and knowledge in these matters is well-known to the whole House. The "Economist" said in its issue of 6th July:Mr. Bevan will also before long have to explain why he thinks it is right to provide houses at half price for the wage earners and no houses at any price for the middle classes.I invite him to explain that here and now, and to satisfy not only the "Economist" but a large number of people in this country who are very interested in this question. The right hon. Gentleman stated in a recent speech in Sussex:I give this promise: that when the next election occurs there will be no housing problem in Great Britain for the British working man.That is an admirable sentiment; but how is he defining the term "working classes"? It will be within his knowledge—at least, I hope it is by now— that the term "working classes" is nowhere defined in the housing legislation of this country except in the Eleventh Schedule of the Housing Act of 1936. It is there defined solely for the purpose of that Schedule which, as the House will recollect, refers to the rehousing of people of the working classes by statutory undertakers. That definition is itself rather a sinister one because it excludes, broadly speaking, all non-wage earners in receipt of an income of more than £3 a week. The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but there is the Statute and those are the words of it.
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
Not at all. Perhaps unwisely, I am taking the Minister at his word. I am assuming he meant what he said when he said there will be no problem for the working classes. I am asking this very relevant question: Who are the working classes? Whom has he got in mind in this matter? The difficulty of defining this phrase has always defeated Parliament. That is why these words are not defined. It did not matter very much before whether we could evolve a definition or not; but now the situation has changed because under the present policy of this Government it is a question of affiliate to the working class or perish, so far as housing is concerned.
848 That being so, it is extremely important to know who is meant. I see hon. Members laugh but many of the people who voted them into power are getting very disturbed as to what their prospects of houses are. I will suggest a definition which will commend itself to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. I suggest the definition of "workers by hand and brain," which I understand was the definition which was adopted by the Socialist Party when it sought to make itself respectable some 25 years ago. If he adopts that definition we then find it refers virtually to the whole population. It is right that it should because it is the whole population to whom this problem of housing shortage refers, either now or very soon. It is a universal problem. Therefore, I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman is simply confusing the issue when he promises to solve the question of housing for the working classes. If he adopts this generous definition of workers by hand and brain, then he is being tautologous, because what he means is that he will solve the problem for the whole population; and we know by his policy that clearly he has no intention of doing that. I have dwelt on this question because if seems to me to be fundamental.
The whole of the highly selective policy of the right hon. Gentleman is based on the supposed need for doing something specific and special for certain selected people. If that is a falsely conceived policy, as I believe it to be, then the keystone is out of the arch of his whole argument and what in fact he is proposing is to provide houses for arbitrarily selected people by aid of the subsidy contributed by equally arbitrarily excluded people. That, I believe, involves grave social injustice and improper discrimination.
I want to make one further point. I am speaking for rather longer than I had intended owing to the helpful interruptions from hon. Gentlemen opposite. I think hon. Gentlemen on all sides of the House will agree that a Government which grasps universal authority should not shrink from universal responsibility; and that applies in the field of building materials. The Government are much more frank on the subject of materials than on either targets or costs. We can see from the circulars put out by the Ministry of Health what is the position in regard to materials. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will not seek an acquittal 849 in the matter of housing, merely because of the shortage of certain materials. Materials used in housing have this characteristic, that normally speaking they are what one might call processed materials, rather than raw materials; and it is not in the actual supply of the initial raw material that there is normally a difficulty, but in the processing or distribution of those materials. If that is so, the chief problem is one of organisation and social and economic inducement in which this Government have always claimed particular excellence. If there are failures in regard to materials a large share of the blame must rest on the Government. I referred at some length to the question of the brick industry on 25th March. I suggested then, in rather similar words, that the difficulties of the brick industry were those of organisation and of economic and social inducement. I am glad to see the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Works nods his head. I think what has happened proves the truth of that because the position of the brick industry has improved considerably since March.
In regard to timber, so far as I know, there is no shortage in the world supply. It is for this Government to get us the share we need for our housing programme. Are they doing that? There is timber in Russia, in the British zone of Germany, and in Scandinavia, but are we getting our share of it? The answer is "No." The President of the Board of Trade said in this House on 15th July that since August, 1944, the Soviet authorities…have been aware of our requirements. I am in constant touch with the Soviet Trade Delegation on this matter but they have not so far found themselves in a position to make any firm offer."—[OFFICIAL REPORT: 15th July, 1946; Vol. 425, c. 850.]In other words, he has been unable to extract the necessary timber from Soviet Russia. With reference to the British zone in Germany he said on the same day at Question time:I am aware that there are great supplies of timber in Germany, but the trouble is to get it cut, taken to the ports and brought here." —[OFFICIAL REPORT: 15th July, 1946; Vol. 425, c. 860.]Those are exactly the functions which we expect the Government to discharge. If the Government will play their proper part in helping in the matter of materials, instead of placing a clumsy and inexpert hand upon those who are trying to do 850 the job of building, then they would be doing a function for which they are better fitted and in which they would have a greater measure of success.
I believe that the whole house-building industry of this country is being stifled with forms, regulations and so on. What is wanted is a sort of Ministerial Florence Nightingale, who would come and open the windows and cleanse the atmosphere for the industry. Here, I believe, is a great opportunity for the Minister. The right hon. Gentleman, as we all know, is extremely able, not least in defending unwise decisions and unsound policies. But I would ask him, as a student of history, whether he wants to figure in history as a sort of 20th century Charles James Fox—as a brilliant debater, a vibrant orator, and a colourful personality, but a bad administrator? That is what he will do if he remains stubborn in the errors to which he so prematurely committed himself in housing policy within a few weeks of taking office last autumn. Why should he deny himself the right of second, and wiser, thoughts on this policy?
The Minister of Health, having succeeded to the functions of the President of the Local Government Board, stands, as it were, in loco parent is to the local authorities of this country. He is showing himself a most unwise parent. He is too lavish with the local authorities in regard to housing responsibilities, and much too harsh on them in regard to many other of their responsibilities. The whole course of his tenure of office has shown that he whittles away the proper functions, rights, and duties of local authorities, and heaps upon them unasked for and unwanted responsibilities. The right hon. Gentleman smiles, but I suggest that his smile will be reflected somewhat wanly in the local authorities of this country, among whom the right hon. Gentleman is beginning to be considered, unconsciously, no doubt, an enemy to the true interests of local government. I am as apprehensive in regard to the future of local government as I am in regard to the future of housing, if this policy and state of mind are allowed to continue. Of course, it would be to the advantage of hon. Members on this side of the House, as a party, if the right hon. Gentleman hardened his heart, like Pharaoh of old, because, like Pharaoh of old, he would 851 thereby promote an exodus. It would be an exodus of himself and this Government from office.
I said, however, in the first speech I made in this House, that the housing of the people was of infinitely more importance than party advantage. I believed it then, and I believe it today. Therefore, I say to the right hon. Gentleman that I hope he will not harden his heart against considering this matter anew. He should consider with fresh eyes our needs and our resources in this matter of housing today. I am sure that he is an admirer, and I know that the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. M. Foot) is also an admirer, of that powerful Radical realist, Oliver Cromwell. I quote therefore to the right hon. Gentleman some words which Oliver Cromwell addressed to the Parliament of his day:By the bowels of Christ, I beseech ye, think it possible you may be wrong.If the right hon. Gentleman can achieve that, if he can achieve that standpoint of constructive humility, he will then be on the way towards solving this problem. When he has achieved that standpoint of constructive humility, I shall urge upon him some other words of Cromwell: "Neglect no means." Neglect no means that are likely to contribute to the housing of all the people of this country now and in the future.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Diamond (Manchester, Blackley)
I wish it had been in Order for me to have produced a large mirror and held it behind the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health, while the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) was quoting the words of Charles James Fox and referring to humility, because then the hon. Member could have seen the reflection of his own form. I accept what the hon. Member said about this question of producing houses not being a party matter. I think that, in his argument, the hon. Member proved to everybody's satisfaction that the words "working classes" could not possibly have the meaning which he gave to them, but I heard no constructive suggestions put forward as to the improvements that could be made in the machine adopted by this Government for getting homes for the people built by the quickest possible means. Apart from cracks at the Presi- 852 dent of the Board of Trade, who gave a perfectly honest and obvious reply about the difficulty of getting timber from Russia, there were no other suggestions of any use to the House.
I was astonished to hear the hon. Member say that, in our housing programme, we are arbitrarily selecting people to have the houses. Does the hon. Member really not know that the test is that of the most urgent need? Does he not know that every local authority has a list with a clearly defined priority? Does he not know what is going on in his own constituency? The hon. Member may come here and talk about arbitrarily selected people having the houses, but it has been made clear, time after time, that our policy is to give things first to the people who need them most. If one accepts that, one is bound to agree that, in this matter of housing shortage, than which there is no more urgent problem in this country today, there must be priorities. I imagine that only two hon. Members will not accept that view. The hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith), seemed to think that the housing position at the start of the war was perfectly satisfactory. I am sure that that is what I heard him say.
§ Mr. Diamond
I am not trying to put words which he did not use into the mouth of the hon. and gallant Member, but I understood him to say that there was no housing problem at the start of the war—
§ Mr. Diamond
—and that he was satisfied with the position before the war. Many hon. Members have addressed remarks to him on that point, and I could not understand his statement. The other hon. Member who would be delighted if we did not have priorities would be the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher), because, if we did not have priorities, but left private enterprise to go its own sweet way, we should be having the bloody revolution which the hon. Member wants. If we accept, and I am sure that every reasonable person will accept, that there should be priorities, we must have some power of control so that what is in short supply, should go to the people who need it most. Having 853 accepted that, we have to get the best possible system of putting that control into effect, and some means of managing the very diverse activities which constitute, the building industry. We cannot control the industry by trying to control the thousand and one firms which constitute it. In that way it is unmanageable. It is only possible to control it through the local authorities, and, there, we have a machine which is the right one and experienced in matters of housing and is knowledgeable in all those matters and able to help. This antithesis between local authorities and private enterprise is something which I do not understand. I should explain, as all hon. Members do when they have interests of this kind, that I serve in the capacity of a financial director in a large building company, and that all our contracts are contracts with local authorities. Am I to say that my firm is not a private enterprise firm?
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
Perhaps the hon. Member would take this opportunity to make clear to the House the distinction, perfectly well known to him, between what are known as contract builders, and commercial enterprise builders, who are those referred to as being shut out by the present policy.
§ Mr. Diamond
I am glad to hear the hon. Member say that, because I am sure there must be a distinction in his mind on the matter which is not in the mind of anybody else. It is certainly not in the minds of people who read the Press and—
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member again, but, in that case, can he explain to the House why it should have been necessary for the right hon. Gentleman to evolve and sanction the scheme contained in the Ministry of Health Circular No. 92?
§ Mr. Diamond
I am not fully aware of the contents of that Circular, but if the hon. Member wishes to say exactly what point he is dealing with, I shall be glad to answer it.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) has exhausted his right to speak. He has already interrupted three times, after making a long speech.
§ Mr. Diamond
The only manageable way of seeing that houses are built for 854 people who need them, and the only manageable way of seeing that materials are used in the best way, is to have the work done, as far as possible, through local authorities—it being clearly recognised that, in the vast majority of cases, local authorities employ those very private enterprise firms which hon. Members opposite say are not having an opportunity of taking part in rebuilding the homes of our people. Every hon. Member knows that it is very rare, indeed, for any one firm, or for one local authority, to build the whole house. They only take on a portion of it and sub-contract to specialists such work as the electrical work, plumbing, and a variety of other things with which I need not bore the House. Therefore, even in the few cases where local authorities build their own houses by direct labour, they are, even then, giving employment to a number of firms, on an ordinary tender basis.
As a private enterprise builder, I believe that the machine evolved by the Minister is a good machine. It is good for these reasons. I find it difficult to think of any body of persons better equipped to say what are the needs of the local community than the people themselves, represented on the local authority. If we are going to build houses for the people, let us first find out what they want, and the local authority is the most expert body to do that. Secondly, and this must not be forgotten—I am sure that it will not be forgotten by hon. Members on this side—it is the best means of securing decent houses. What happened before the war when houses were built in the very way which the hon. Member for Hertford wishes to see perpetuated?
§ Mr. Diamond
I will give way with pleasure to the hon. Member, subject to your Ruling, Mr. Speaker. I do not wish to take advantage of him.
Before the war, there was a good deal of what was called "jerry-building," and if the hon. Member is talking about jerry-building, I understand precisely what he is saying. That was a means by which building was done very cheaply. Indeed, everybody engaged on building such houses had to forget his craft, his interest in the job, and turn out any sort of 855 second-rate work for the sake of keeping his job. It went all the way through men and management alike. It was an impossible system, and did not result in decent houses. The houses built by such methods were not architect-advised houses; in the majority of cases, no architect was consulted at all. As to amenities, it is not questioned that those of the countryside, to which people are entitled, were completely ruined by this freedom of private enterprise jerry-building.
I have explained my own personal interest, and the main reason why I like the machine which the Minister has devised, is because it is the greatest possible help to private enterprise to get on with the job. First, it provides the means of overcoming the main stumbling block with which every builder is faced, the problem of money. Where is he to get the money with which to get the job done? If the hon. Member for Hertford says he should go to the financial firms and that they should have a cut out of it, I can understand his argument; but, if not, let us realise that the simplest way of getting on with house building is for the builder to be without any money problems. The way to achieve that situation is through the local authority, when the builder will know that he is going to be paid regularly, and will not have any bad debts. Hon. Members will remember the tremendous number of bankruptcies in the building trade before the war.
The problem of labour is overcome, as far as it can be overcome, by the vast machinery of the Minister of Labour, which assists in satisfying labour requirements. People who have not made use of that machinery should not deride it. There is also the assistance given by the Minister of Works who tells builders where to go for materials if they experience a shortage. I wonder what any hon. Member opposite thinks would have been the case, had the Minister of Works not taken in hand the question of the material shortage and, particularly, that of bricks? What would have happened had he not shouted loudest from the housetops about the brick shortage, and gone through the difficulty of getting bricks produced?
Those are the various reasons why, quite obviously, everybody concerned with the function of building, and with the very satisfying job of building homes 856 for the people, is happy about it. Of course, the people who are not happy about it are those who either want to cash in on prewar sites, which exist in great number, or who wish to exploit the shortage which exists and the need of the people for homes.
Every hon. Member who speaks should, of course, exercise due responsibility, and I can assure the House that in what I am going to say, I am only mentioning the case because I believe it to be one case of many. The Minister must be aware that there are many private firms anxious to build houses for private customers, but houses which, at the prices he has laid down, cannot be very profitably achieved, and, in fact, cannot be achieved with any profit at all. It has often occurred to me: How on earth is such building being achieved? Only the other day I happened to be having a meal in a train with a complete stranger who said how pleased he was to have found a firm which had promised to build him a house in a seaside town. He had gone round from one builder to another, in an endeavour to get a house built. In my innocence I asked him how much it would cost. He said £200. What he meant, of course, was £200 in addition to the contract price. A cash sum of £200 had been paid to this builder to enable the house to be built, because he could not show a profit at the price set by the Minister. I mention that incident because it actually happened to me and because I believe it to be not the sole example of that sort of thing.
It would be wrong for any of us to be satisfied that building is going ahead as fast as it possibly can. Everyone—and I am sure the Minister leads us in this—is anxious to find ways and means of improving the speed with which houses are being built. I am sure, therefore, that the Minister will not mind my addressing a few remarks to him on a question which has not been fully tackled as yet, and that is the question of incentive. It is a very difficult matter, which is being dealt with in the proper way; that is to say, by discussion between employers and employees through their representative associations. Before hon. Members opposite start getting curious ideas about so many bricks per hour, may I read to them the only authoritative figure which I have on this question of output which, after all, is 857 the thing that matters? The hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) told us at great length of his desire for a target. I understand that it is something one shoots at; I doubt whether he wanted a target for any other purpose than that.
I would not be satisfied by comparing building now with building after the 1914–18 war. Let us not be satisfied with that sort of comparison. What we have to compare our work with is not a target which is set up for the purpose of being knocked down again, but rather with the best possible achievement. Having provided, as far as possible, the right machine and the materials needed for the job, we should get as reasonable an output from the men as we can, having regard to the fact that output depends on the master putting the men to work in the most economical manner, and on the men doing the job with interest and with the knowledge that they are getting a fair share as a result of the work they do. They should also work in decent surroundings, because everybody knows that the problem of welfare on building sites is important.
The most authoritative figure was given by Mr. Bowen, the former head of the statistics department of the Ministry of Works, who said that the output of houses is equivalent to 1.2 houses per man per year. I am sure the hon. Member for Hertford will agree that that compares favourably with the generally accepted figure of one house per man per year, which existed before the war. I do not base my case on the suggestion that output is down, or anything like that, but I think that this question of incentive should be looked at particularly because it is not too clear to the men themselves. A man can be working on one site putting up prefabricated houses for the Ministry of Works. His comrade can be working on an adjoining site putting up permanent houses for the local authority. One man gets a bonus and, therefore, has an incentive. He is paid on the basis that if a man works a bit harder he gets a little more money. The other man has not that incentive. Those are the circumstances which I have exaggerated to bring my point to the attention of the Minister. That state of affairs is not satisfactory to the men or to those who put them to work, and it makes it difficult for one to decide the best possible output to get in terms of houses.
858 Finally, I want to appeal to the Minister not to relax on these two questions of a £10 limit for repairs and a ratio of one in four. The £10 limit for repairs makes it virtually impossible to carry out repairs, and that is as it should be, except in most urgent cases. There is nothing more wasteful of men and materials than small repair work. On big repair work such as London bomb damage work, compared with erecting new houses, it is estimated in terms of man hours that one has to have half as many men again to get the same results. On small work it is a complete waste of time, men and materials. So far as local authority work is concerned, I shall give only one example. The firm with which I am concerned has, among others, about 75 houses for each of two local authorities both on the South coast. We have contracts which were approved by the Minister, after a lot of unnecessary "trimmings" were cut out, and none of us complain about that. After they were approved by the Minister, we prepared to start the job. But of the men required to build 150 houses, we were able to find only seven. The reason is that the local authorities had issued licences for the repairing of boarding houses and so on, which is much more profitable this year and is much more important to the members of that local council than to find houses for people in which to live. They had issued far too many licences. I am sure that I am pushing at an open door when I ask the Minister not to be led from the path which he is taking and which, I feel sure, will provide in the quickest possible time the homes that the people need so badly.
§ 7.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Osborne (Louth)
I am grateful, Mr. Speaker, that you have called me at this moment, because the hon. Member for Blackley (Mr. Diamond) has made nearly half my speech. I want to thump home a point he endeavoured to make to the Minister, but before doing so I would like to refer to something that was said by the hon. Member for Balham and Tooting (Mr. Adams). I am sorry that the Minister is going out because I want to talk to him. The hon. Member for Balham and Tooting spoke about targets, and asked why we should demand a target. Why should we not ask for a target? When 859 he asked what sort of a target we had in mind, he seemed to think that that question would flabbergast us. It did nothing of the kind. Let us take the ablest Minister in His Majesty's Government, the Foreign Secretary. What did he say during the Election campaign? "We will have 4,000,000 houses in no time." There is a target. The President of the Board of Trade, another able Member of His Majesty's Government, said, "We will solve the problem in a fortnight." There are two targets. I am speaking from memory at the moment, but I will stand by the substance of what I am saying.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne) rose—
§ Mr. Osborne
If the hon. Member does not mind, I have no time to give way. The right hon. Gentleman said the Government would settle the housing problem in a fortnight, and yet they are still wallowing. The hon. Member for Blackley asked: "What do the people want?" I will tell him what they want. They want good houses, the cheapest houses they can get, and they want them quickly. I am sorry the Minister has left the Chamber, because I wanted to speak to him especially. This terrible problem of housing is not one over which we should bandy party politics. It is far too serious a matter which affects the ordinary people of the country too closely. We must all agree that housing conditions have been made worse by the six years of war. No matter how bad they were before, we must admit that to begin with It is useless going back and saying what happened 30, 50 or 100 years ago. Let us look forward and get on with the job.
When the peace celebrations were being prepared, I went to catch a train with an hon. Member from the party opposite, and as we went by the stands that had been erected he said, "What horrifies me is this: the same old decisions are being made by the same old civil servants at the same old leisurely pace. There is no sense of urgency." I challenge any hon. Member opposite to deny the truth of that statement. There is no feeling that we must get on with the job. The attitude is much too leisurely. When I was serving with the R.F.A. the first thing they taught me was to do things "at the double." If 860 we did not get on with it "at the double," we were in trouble. There is nobody opposite, either Ministers or back benchers, who seem to be moving at the double, and there is no sense of urgency. There are far too many speeches.
I think there are two matters on which we all agree: houses are going up far too slowly, and those that are going up are too expensive. They are costing far too much. Let us forget about the paper controls. The real object is to build more houses, to build them quickly, and to build them cheaply. In my opinion the most important problem, upon which no one has yet touched except the hon. Gentleman the Member for Blackley, Manchester, is labour and incentive. No man will work unless he is given an incentive. This weekend I was told on one estate that there was a great shortage of unskilled labour. The work is heavy, and the men have gone into factories where they feel they can get better jobs. When the wet weather and the bad times come there is as much as 30 per cent. wastage in unskilled labour. I was told by another authority of a site where they were 1,000 unskilled workmen short. What is being done about it? I am sorry the Minister ran away; he is a practical man who understands practical talk. There were men who were unskilled workers when they went into the Forces, but now, having undertaken the Government training schemes to improve their position, they are not coming back as unskilled workers —and I do not blame them. What are the Government doing about it?
Yesterday, on a big housing estate in Leicester, I saw an escalator that was carrying up the bricks, doing the work of about half a dozen unskilled labourers. I believe it was built by a firm in Birmingham, and cost about £230. Why are not more of those built and hired out to small builders, on the same scale that the war agricultural committees produced agricultural machinery and lent it out to farmers? I was also shown trench diggers that would do the work of unskilled men, and do it quickly. Why are not more of these things provided? Let us forget the paper flapdoodle and get down to the facts. What are the Government doing to bring this machinery into the building industry? While visiting one site I did what I think all hon. Members ought to do, namely, I saw two or three building 861 operatives, not in front of their boss or their foreman, but by themselves. They made certain complaints to me, and until the men have been satisfied we will not get the houses. First, they complained that on many sites the amenities are still terribly bad; that the hut which is usually put up for them, in which they have their food, ultimately gets filled with bags of cement, with tools and goodness knows what, and they finish up sitting out in the cold, or in the rain, having their mid-day meal. On certain big sites canteens are being provided. If the men are to do their best they must be provided with canteen facilities. That is only a reasonable request. I also make this suggestion to the Minister: If the men are not provided with a place on the site where they can dry and clean their clothes, they will not work early in the morning if they think it is going to rain, and that they will have to work for the rest of the day in wet clothes.
§ Mr. Diamond
Does the hon. Gentleman realise that all these things, which he is putting forward with such freshness, have been in force during the war by reason of the factory rules?
§ Mr. Osborne
I was on a large site this morning, and I am only pointing out to the House what the building operatives said to me, that these conditions did not obtain.
§ Mr. Osborne
I am not saying that. The truth of what I am saying cannot be denied. I am trying to get down to the things that are wanted. We will not get houses until the men have been satisfied. They want also a guaranteed week. At the present time the guarantee is not sufficient. The building operative still remembers the bad old days of frost and wet, when he was lucky to get 20 hours work in a week. He does not want to return to those days, and I do not blame him. However, he is not the first operative in an industry who wants a guarantee. Everybody wants a guarantee, and what I want to know is: Who is going to guarantee the guarantor? If we all have a guaranteed week and a guaranteed wage what will happen? I suggest the same as has happened in the coal industry. We guaranteed the miner a 862 wage, and output dropped at once. I fear that if the operative has a guaranteed wage we will have not a greater output but a smaller output. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO."] It is perfectly true. I am putting to the Minister what was said to me by the men on the site. If the Government and the trade unions would permit a bonus scheme to be put into operation, so that there would be more and more payment by results, we would get better output. The man to whom I spoke yesterday morning said: "I am a good skilled man. I can set the pace. But if this other fellow does half the work that I do, and gets the same wage, do you think I am going to try my best?" The pace is set by the slowest instead of the fastest.
We would get more houses and cheaper houses if the men were told: "We will give you a bonus system, and the bonus will be free of P.A.Y.E." No man will work unless he gets something for it. One of the contractors told me that up to 30 per cent. absenteeism is recorded on Saturday mornings. The men tell the boss: "We are not going to work for nothing." They have worked out exactly what they draw on their Saturday mornings' wages. At the conference of the building operatives in Cambridge last week, I understand from the "Daily Herald" of 26th July that these resolutions were passed unanimously:A 40-hour working week, without reduction of pay; a guaranteed week, and canteen facilities on all large sites.If there is guarantee after guarantee, we will not get more houses, and cheaper houses, any more than we are getting more coal and cheaper coal. We will get fewer houses and dearer houses. I commend to the Minister—and I hope his colleagues will pass it on to him—the article in the "Economist" of 29th July, on the carrot and the stick. I feel this very deeply. There is no hope for this country until the principle of the carrot and the stick is reimposed on our economic life. By that I mean, for the workmen there must be fear of the sack, and for the employer fear of the bankruptcy court. Until we have those two things again we will never have the houses we want. I appeal to the Minister to reintroduce incentive into industry, so that the men will give of their best, and then we shall get the houses we require.
§ 7.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Braddock (Mitcham)
In view of the speeches we have heard from hon. Members opposite this afternoon it is not surprising that the housing conditions in this country are unsatisfactory. This solemn fact stands out. To go back no further than the period between the two wars, there was always anything from 11 to 25 per cent. of building trade workers in this country out of a job. That was when private enterprise, and those who support private enterprise, had full and complete control, in this House and in the country. If these men had been organised, if the matter had been planned and they had been allowed to work, they could have built in that period, without leaving any of the building that the rest of them did, over a million houses and all the school accommodation that we now want to increase the school-leaving age under the 1944 Act.
It is a very solemn and a very terrible fact that those conditions could have existed in this country for so long. Hon. Members opposite are pointing out to us now the deplorable housing conditions which exist at the present time, and as far as that is concerned, it is true, but the difference is that today we have a Government who are setting about solving these problems, and the figures that were quoted at the start of this Debate proved, right up to the hilt, that a splendid start has been made, because, as was agreed by the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Kendall), we are now approaching an output of housing accommodation equal to that which was achieved between the wars and equal to what existed in the years between 1934 and 1938. That was 16 years after the last war; we are now attaining that object, and there is very little doubt that if we go on, as we shall go on, with these planned and deliberate methods of first building houses for the people who really want them, we shall achieve the object we have in view, namely, solving our immediate housing requirements.
That does not end the problem, and it is on this note that I want to make a suggestion to the Government, if it is necessary. It must not be supposed that our present housing output is anything like what is required. We are only working up. It is successful compared with anything that has been done before under 864 similar conditions, but we have to work up to a still greater output, and I appeal to the Government not to put too great a burden on private enterprise. It must be remembered that the building trade of this country has not been organised to produce the enormous amount of building now required, and if the Government place too great a burden or. private builders and private producers of building components, there is a danger that we shall not have the machinery and the output we shall require in the very near future. I appeal to the Government to continue their efforts in the production of materials in Government controlled workshops, because otherwise I am perfectly certain that in a year or 18 months we shall not be producing enough components to put into the houses we shall then be building. If it is done, I am confident that the housing programme of this country will be carried out, and when it is it will be the first time in the country's history that the ordinary people who do the work, and on whom this country really relies, have been reasonably and properly housed. No attempt whatsoever has been made to do that in the past, and it is significant that with the return of a Socialist Government for the first time we have got carefully laid out plans which, at the very outset, are producing magnificent results, and which will ultimately achieve our object of giving the people of this country what they really desire and what they must have.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer (Worthing)
For nearly a year now we have watched the ineffectual flounderings of this Ministry concerned with housing in a mire which is the result of two things: first, Socialist ideology run riot, and, second, a machine —a cumbersome machine—which was never designed to deal with the sort of task which has been imposed upon it. It is the declared policy of the Government, as we know, that local authority building shall take precedence over private enterprise, and what is the result? We have frustration, muddle and very few houses, for the simple reason that local authorities are not capable of coping with the enormous task which has been placed upon them. They say it themselves. They say that their quantity surveyors are not the type of quantity surveyors to tackle the work involved, that their architects 865 are not the sort of architects who are competent to cope with the task. They say they want far more staff, they are overburdened, they cannot get on, they have much too much to do. That is one of the reasons; it is not a question of not trying to back up the Minister or the Ministry, it is a question of the machine not being adequate to the task.
I suggest that the mistake of the Ministry lies in having taken the matter completely out of the hands of the small private builder, and that almost brings me to my next point, though there is one other I should like to put first. Despite the fact that the small builder has had every sort of obstacle placed in his path, every sort of difficulty and every sort of delay, he is still building houses in the ratio of seven to two by the local authorities, a fact which will stand to his eternal credit. It is, however, becoming increasingly clear that the screw which is being still further applied to the small private builders will have the effect of crushing them completely and squeezing them right out of business The hon. Member for North-West Hull (Mr. R. Mackay) and another hon. Member respresenting one of the Manchester Divisions have made very excellent speeches on behalf of big business, and the hon. Member for North-West Hull said that he was getting all the materials he wanted. If so, he is a very lucky man. He is one of those anomalies, as far as I can see—a Capitalist-Socialist who can get all the material he wants when he wants it—but I could give him the names of dozens of small builders Who are quite incapable of getting anything, and it most extraordinary that we should have that sort of thing thrown at us. I believe there are two reasons for it. One is that in course of time, when the small builder has been strangled and completely squeezed out of business—as he is being today—the figures of local authority building will exceed those of private enterprise. Then private enterprise will be accused of inefficiency and incapability, and that will be used as an argument for the whole of the building trade being taken over as a national concern. This is one of the steps in that direction.
We on this side of the House were asked by one hon. Member opposite today to talk factually, and I propose to produce facts to substantiate what I have 866 just said. I could produce any amount of instances, and I propose to produce two. One is of a small builder who has applied for a. licence to build four houses which comply with three conditions: first, they are within the price limit; second, they are to be built to let, and third, they do not use any of the materials— and he took care about this—which are normally used by local authorities in the building of their houses. What has been the result? He has at the moment got four ex-Service men's families who want to go into the houses, which will be let at the very reasonable rent of £40 a year. He applied for the licence in March. He has been told that the local authority is being consulted by the Minister. He has heard nothing since, despite repeated requests; and I have not yet had a reply to my letter of three weeks ago now. That is one example out of many.
Another example is of a small builder who started some houses before the war. They are partially erected, and he has been endeavouring for nearly six months to get a licence to complete them. The first pretext was that they were too expensive. He said he wanted to build them for £1,100; so he came down to £1,000. It was then pointed out that another builder, quite close, was building a similar sort of bungalow for £923. When he pointed out that that builder had got his land for £80, whereas he had had to pay £250, he was still not issued with a licence. These houses are still standing half finished, and nothing has been done about it. There is an example. Someone said it was the acquisition of the sites that was the difficulty in a great many areas. It may have been in the areas quoted, but it was not here. Those, I suggest, are two typical examples of how Socialist theory is overriding and taking precedence over the vital needs of the people. There surely must be a little more latitude, and there must be directions given to regional officers that licences on this basis should be issued at once. They will not be doing any harm to anybody, and not preventing the so-called working classes from having houses. They will be doing exactly the reverse, because if people do not get these houses they will have to go to local authorities and enter their houses, and so deprive working men of the houses they ought to have.
867 There are two other examples of the sort of hindrance and difficulty being put in the way of local authorities who are trying to do their best. We have a case of the acquisition of some American temporary houses. It has taken nearly five months of writing and re-writing to get permission for the erection of those temporary houses on a certain specific site. I should like to go quickly through the sort of thing that has happened. It all started about 1st April.
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer
It was an auspicious day, and the result has been what might have been expected. By the end of April, further requests came from the district valuer for the plans and for the site. That was a month later. He had already had them in his possession before that. Early in May the plans were sent to the regional officer, at his request. By the middle of May the regional planning officer stated that the matter was being referred to the Ministries, and asked for the number of houses to be erected on the site, although he was given the number of houses in the original statement in the middle of April. By 31st May the principal housing officer said there would be no objection to the houses being built on that site. On 3rd June plans were asked for by the estate surveyor. On 4th June the plans were sent again to the district valuer, who had had them twice already, and who asked for them for the third time. By 15th June the principal housing officer asked what were the particulars of the various services which were available. He had already been informed, in the middle of May, that the services were all there, electric light and water. He then, on 15th June, asked what were the services that were available. By 26th July, 14 months later, the district valuer stated that they could have the site at a cost of £380 on a 10 years' lease.
As that was something like five times the value of the land, the local authority have had to refuse to put the houses on that site, and the whole thing is now completely at a standstill. Think of all the passing of paper and the interminable writing that went on, and the mistakes and the muddle. That is only one example of the sort of thing that is 868 happening the whole time. I earnestly suggest to the Minister that he should listen to people like us, who have our ears slightly nearer to the ground, who know what is going on; and I would earnestly suggest that he should issue instructions to his regional officers, and to people of that sort, and give them a crack of the whip, and tell him he will not stand for this sort of thing. It does not matter if all the directions are complied with provided the houses are built.
There is a case of long-term planning policy in my own constituency. Four years ago, two years ago, three years ago, I am not quite sure when, but, certainly, over two years ago, they decided on a development area next door to an existing housing site, on which they were to provide for a planned community, with community centres, schools, churches, cinemas, and every possible thing. The Ministry of Town and Country Planning and the Ministry of Health were informed of the plan and approved of it. Since then all the various rigmarole has been gone through, and the whole of the planning has been done and completed, and there is nothing more now to do but to get final permission for the work to be started and carried out. It is an enlightened plan for the working classes. What has happened? The Minister of Agriculture has stated that the land is required for agricultural purposes, and it is suggested that these houses should be built on other sites, which have been named. These sites have been named, having no regard to the cost of the sites. They can build houses on those sites in that area, but only in a higgledy-piggledy manner, by the taking of a bit of spare ground here, and another bit there, and so completely wrecking the whole original plan. I suggest that that is another example of complete lack of coordination between two Government Departments. They are working in watertight compartments. The Ministry approved this 18 months ago, and now it is wrecked, to the bitter disappointment of the members of the local authority. I have over-stayed my welcome. I should have liked to say something on eviction orders, but I have been informed that that would be out of Order in this Debate. I hope to have a word to say on that subject another time.
§ 7.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Sparks (Acton)
I am very glad to have the opportunity tonight of saying a few words in this Debate in connection with housing. I should like to say at the outset that hon. Gentlemen opposite should realise that their party have been in the seat of power for a very long time in this country, and that the housing problem with which we have to grapple at the present time is due, to no small extent, to the legacy of failure on the part of successive Conservative Governments during the long period of time which is past. I listened intently to the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith), who opened this Debate, and I felt that he was speaking very much with his tongue in his cheek; because he must be well aware of the long catalogue of failure in solving this housing problem for which his party have been responsible. I was astounded when he said that in 1939 the housing problem was mostly solved. I am going to suggest that he cannot really believe the truth of that statement. I tell him that he is sadly misinformed if he thinks that is the case.
There was a very serious housing problem in the country in 1939. The Barlow Report, which was compiled by impartial people, made the statement that in 1939, 530,000 houses were urgently needed to clear the slums and to deal with the problem of overcrowding. The war then came along, and in addition to this number of houses required for slum clearance and overcrowding, we had 245,000 houses destroyed by enemy action. That puts the Government in the position, as a result of the legacy of prewar Governments and the destruction of houses by enemy action, of having to provide at least 750,000 homes. The hon. and gallant Member went on to say, in regard to houses for sale or houses to let, that it did not make much difference, and that again shows a total inability to understand the main problem.
Many of us on this side for many years before we came to this House have fought lonely battles on local authorities controlled by Conservatives. We fought very heavy battles to get these local authorities to build houses at rents which people could afford, but continuously there was imposed on local authorities a policy of refusal to exercise the housing powers 870 which existed to build houses to let at decent rents. There was an insistence that the ring should be held for private enterprise to build houses for sale at high prices. In the borough which I represent, nine people out of ten who wanted to come and live there between the two wars had to go to money lenders to buy their houses. They saddled themselves with a chain of debt for 20 years. It meant having to pay mortgages which they were not able to afford, with the result that they were not able to have the necessary food, clothing and little luxuries to enable them to live a decent life. While it may look very nice to see new modern villas with people in them who believe they are the owner-occupiers, there have been great tragedies behind the curtains and respectable outside appearances of these houses. Families have suffered very largely on account of the heavy burden of mortgages which have been saddled around their necks for periods up to 20 years.
It is most important that we should realise, as the Government realise, that we must get homes for the people at rents which they can afford. Private enterprise is not in a position at the present time to build houses to let at low rents, and they cannot expect that any Government would be prepared to spend public funds to subsidise an enterprise which is unable to produce the goods required. If public funds are to be advanced to subsidise housing development, the development must be undertaken through the local authorities. They will act as agents for the Government, using private enterprise to build and construct houses at a contract figure, knowing that the subsidy from public funds will be used in the public interest and for the public welfare, and will not be appropriated by private speculators of all types and all kinds. The hon. and gallant Member in his concluding remarks said, in accusing the Government, that so little has been accomplished when so much could have been achieved. I do not think he is speaking for many of his own party who have come to be known as authorities on housing problems. I have a very interesting statement on housing and urban development which was made by Lord Balfour of Burleigh to the Institute of Municipal Treasurers and Accountants at their annual conference in Blackpool in June, 1946. Hon. Members opposite will know who he is, because he 871 happens to be their spokesman on housing in another place. It is most important that hon. Members opposite should be made aware of this statement which comes from one of their friends. He puts this matter in its true perspective, and absolutely denies many of the allegations which have been coining from the other side that the Government have failed to do the job. He said:House building in the years since the end of the war has made a slow start as everyone who understood the problem knew was inevitable.We are only in the first year of the end of the war.I hold no brief for the Minister of Health, but it is fair to remind ourselves that after the last war local authorities and private enterprise together in the first two years built only about 10,000 houses, and that the actual shortage then was probably greater than it is now. It was not until the third year, 1922, that we exceeded the rate of 100,000 a year.About 10,000 houses were built in the first two years after the first world war. Let us realise that the present Government have been in office for only 12 months. What is the position today? There have been erected 42,708 temporary and permanent houses in England and Wales. At the present time there are 123,990 houses under construction, and sites for 662,577 for which possession has been obtained. I would submit to the House and to hon. Members opposite that that is an exceptional record for which the Government can claim credit. These figures do not include war damaged houses rebuilt, conversions, or other premises requisitioned. I want to remind hon. Members of what they have said in regard to this problem. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Croydon (Mr. Willink), who was Minister of Health in the previous Government, told this House on 7th December, 1944, in regard to the housing problem as it then existed:When I have referred to the immediate housing need, what I have had in mind and have sought to give an estimate of, is the number of houses which would be required here and now to meet the needs of the whole population, including those now serving in the Forces and in war work away from home, of those who would require a separate home; and it is that figure which in England and Wales"—not including Scotland—we have put, and still put at 1,000,000."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th December, 1944; Vol. 406, c. 885.]872 That is the answer to the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith), who said that in 1939 the housing problem was practically solved. It is contradicted by the statement made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for North Croydon when Minister of Health, because if one million houses were required in 1944, the need for those houses could not have arisen between 1939 and 1944.
§ Commander Galbraith
There had been a complete stoppage of building for all those years, and we should have had, if the rate had continued as it was in the five years before the war, another 2,310,000 houses. He is leaving those houses out of his calculation altogether.
§ Mr. Sparks
I am glad that the hon. and gallant Gentleman is now contradicting the statement which he made.
§ Commander Galbraith
No. If the hon. Member will read HANSARD tomorrow, he will see that that is not so.
§ Mr. Sparks
I took down the actual words which the hon. and gallant Gentleman said, and I think that if he looks in HANSARD tomorrow, he will find that he made the statement that in 1939 the housing problem was mostly solved.
§ Commander Galbraith
I said that it had been practically solved so far as England and Wales were concerned. I think that the hon. Member has confirmed me in that opinion by saying that we need 530,000 houses to complete the picture, and we would have had those in about 18 months.
§ Mr. Sparks
Five hundred and thirty thousand houses were needed to complete slum clearance and overcrowding, but the hon. and gallant Gentleman has quite forgotten that there are 4,000,000 houses in the country over 100 years old. As time goes on, they get older and older and, in turn, become slums and overcrowded. I think that the hon. and gallant Gentleman will agree that in 1939 there was a considerable housing problem left, and we, as a Labour Government, have inherited the legacy of what I will say was neglect on the part of past Conservative Governments. They had the opportunity because they were in power for over 20 years between the first and second world wars, and, if they had shown more drive, energy and determination, 873 they could have solved this problem. They have left us that legacy with which we have to deal at the present time. The point which I am making is this: The right hon. and learned Member for North Croydon, who was Minister of Health in the previous Government, and who speaks for the other side on housing matters, said on 7th December, 1944, in this House that he required "here and now" 1,000,000 houses. What did he and his Party do to provide those houses? This is all that they did: This is what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said in the House on 22nd March, 1945:The Government programme is, in fact, a tremendous commitment if we are to fulfil it— a programme of 220,000 houses completed in the first two years after the defeat of Germany-plus temporary houses plus repair of war damage."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd March, 1945; Vol. 409, c. 1020.]If he admits that the problem was one million in 1944, why did he not lay the plans and the policy to complete the building of one million houses in a definite period of time? He limited the problem to 200,000 temporary and 220,000 permanent houses; in fact, he merely provides for 420,000 houses, leaving the balance between that and one million to be dealt with in some far off day.
§ Mr. Bossom (Maidstone)
Is it fair to put it that way? Is it not a fact that the right hon. and learned Gentleman only gave the programme for two years, knowing that, after that time, whoever was in power would have a full complement of workers to go ahead and do the job?
§ Mr. Sparks
The other side are complaining because we are not solving this problem fast enough. I tried to indicate that the hon. Member's party opposite estimated in 1944 that the problem was one million new houses "here and now," not in the dim and distant future; but you made no provision for them when you had the power; instead of that you looked to—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hubert Beaumont)
I must inform the hon. Member that I have not limited anything, and also that I am in power.
§ Mr. Sparks
It was one of those lapses of the tongue which new Members of this House are apt to get into. I, obviously, did not mean that you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, were guilty of all that. I in- 874 tended to place the blame on the shoulders of hon. Members opposite. They have indulged in a great deal of criticism of the Government, which is unkind and undeserved, and I think that they should be willing to take criticism which comes from this side. I feel that they are not in a sound position to point an accusing finger at those on these Benches, because they knew the magnitude of the problem, and they knew that in 1944 the then Minister of Health admitted that one million new houses would be needed "then and now." But nothing was done by the Party opposite to overcome that need; rather they confined their activities to a partial solution of the problem—220,000 permanent houses and 200,000 temporary houses in the period of two years.
§ Commander Galbraith
The hon. Member must not forget that there was a Coalition Government at the time.
§ Mr. Sparks
I know that a Conservative was in charge of the Ministry of Health, and that the Ministry of Health are the supreme housing authority on housing policy.
§ Mr. Bossom
Does the hon. Gentleman contend that the world was coming to an end after two years? Surely, work was going on after two years—of course it was.
§ Mr. Sparks
I am emphasising, once again, that the policy of the party opposite was confined to 200,000 temporary and 220,000 permanent houses as a two years' programme. They had themselves admitted that there were one million houses short "here and now," and there was no provision made for dealing with that shortage. When one gets on to this question of houses there is such a lot to be said, and time is so short, that I feel that I have inflicted myself far too much upon the goodwill of the House, and I do not want to take up more time than is absolutely necessary. I would like to conclude with one reference to the problem in London.
Now that the Minister has returned, I hope that he will pay some particular regard to that problem. We are expected to make provision for housing accommodation for roughly 1¼ million people who are to be rehoused in approximately 350,000 houses in and around the greater London area. At the present time, the Minister of Town and Country Planning 875 —whose work I obviously cannot discuss in detail on this occasion—is planning arrangements for the decentralisation of these persons, and the London Regional Planning Committee have suggested that these people from London should be accommodated in a fairly large and scattered number of places. They have to be exported from 22 local authorities' areas in greater London, and in addition from 14 London boroughs.
As far as the 22 authorities in the Greater London area are concerned, the number of people that have to be decentralised varies from 1,017 to 93,821. I wonder whether it is expected that these authorities should go their own way, seeking their own sites, and developing their own schemes wherever they can get somebody to grant them land, or whether the housing powers of all these authorities in London could be coordinated in the interests of housing development, in the same way as the Ministry of Town and Country Planning is coordinating the planning policy of local authorities.
There is much general planning for the whole of the London area taking place, but I cannot see anything being done to coordinate and correlate the powers of housing authorities in London who have to send their surplus population outside to be housed. I think it would contribute considerably to the solution of the problem in London if the Ministry of Health established some kind of general housing development authority, so that the local authorities within the area could be guided, conducted and assisted in the development of their housing schemes. Unless that is done, they will go their own way, drifting here and there and going here and there for sites. We in Acton have had some difficulty. If we look round for land we find obstacles placed in the path of our development. New towns are about to be built. Which authorities are going to have accommodation there for their homeless people? Nobody knows. Is it not possible for something to be done in the new towns, and in the quasi satellite towns where there will be increases in the population, to say to one local authority, "You will be able to send so many of your homeless people to this area'' and to another local authority, "You will send your homeless to that area"? I think if there were some coordination in that way, 876 in regard to actual housing development schemes, apart from planning altogether, it would help considerably in speeding up a solution of the housing problem in the London area.
§ 8.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Marples (Wallasey)
I must apologise to both Ministers for not being in my place when the Debate began, but I have only just returned from Nuremberg. This morning I was listening to the violence of the Russian prosecutor and this evening I expect I will listen to the violence of the Minister of Health when he winds up. As a matter of fact I thought he must have opened the Debate because we were faced with a head wind on the way home. I do not intend to follow the controversies on both sides of the House in delving into the past. I do not think that it is of very great use, and I propose to try to deal with what I consider to be the key to the whole housing problem—the present high cost of building. Before doing so, I should like to say that the right hon. Gentleman and the party opposite will build their houses sooner or later. It may be later, or it may be sooner, but what we really want are houses built sooner and cheaper, and not later and dearer. I rather think that the present high cost of building is going to handicap them considerably. I want to give my reasons why the cost is so important, then to analyse the cost, and after that, state what I consider to be the conclusions which are to be drawn. Finally, I want to make some constructive suggestions.
The high cost of building is the most important factor for two reasons. The first is there are fewer houses for a given cost, and the second reason is that the higher the cost the higher the subsidy and the higher the subsidy the greater is the benefit to those people who receive a subsidised house over the person living in an old Victorian home at an economic rent, and who in addition has to pay to subsidise the other people's home. At present one person will receive a house at approximately half the cost of building and the Government will find the other half. Other citizens paying economic rents will have to contribute to that half cost. It will become increasingly important as costs get higher, and I think we shall have to decide nationally which citizen should get the house. At the present moment the decision is made by the 877 local authority and not by the Minister. Each local authority has its own plans, and in some cases they are rather haphazard. For this there are different reasons. Some local authorities have a rule whereby an ex-Serviceman cannot settle down in their district unless he lived there before the war. He has to have a residential qualification. That is unfair to a man whose business future is in that district. For these reasons high costs are most important. Another point is this. When a person gets a house, how long will he retain possession of it? Near the White City in London, there are some L.C.C. flats, and very nice flats they are. Drop down there any morning in the week, and outside, one can see one or two nice motor cars possessed by the occupants of those flats. It may or may not be justifiable for them to have such cars, but if they are using these cars for pleasure, they should be given some opportunity to pay towards the subsidy on the flats in which they live.
§ Mr. Marples
The question is who needs them most, and what is the interpretation of that? The right hon. Gentleman may have one interpretation, but the local authorities interpret it differently. If that was not the case the Minister would lay down the rules for the whole countryside. However, the local authorities have their own rules. The Parliamentary Secretary looks doubtful. Have they or have they not their own rules?
§ Mrs. Braddock (Liverpool, Exchange)
Does the hon. Gentleman mean to say if a person gets a subsidised house and his circumstances alter and he improves his position that he should be immediately put out of the subsidised house?
§ Mr. Marples
No, but he should meet the increased cost which the taxpayer has to pay. In other words, if a particular person is receiving a house at half the cost, then not only must he have a 878 need for that house, but he must not have the money to pay for it. If a man gets one of these flats in the White City and has an income of about £30 or £40 a week and is able to run a motor car for pleasure, surely it is not right for someone else to subsidise that particular man? There are more deserving cases than his. The higher the cost of these subsidised dwellings the greater the value to the recipient of the houses. The question is, who is to get these houses.
§ Mr. Medland
Does the hon. Gentleman suggest that we should put on a means test before we decide who should have a house?
§ Mr. Marples
I am not suggesting that. I am merely saying that the higher the cost, the greater the subsidy, and, the greater the benefit to some individual who will be chosen probably by a local authority, or maybe by the Minister of Health if he takes over the powers necessary for allocating tenants to houses. He wants to remember the story of Louis XV who, when giving a medal to one man, remarked, "I have made one man ungrateful, and ten discontented." We cannot have subsidised houses for everybody, because the scheme would break down under its own weight. The present subsidy covers half the cost of the house, which is an important reason for saying that the high cost of building is one of the greatest factors in the present day.
Now my analysis of the high cost of building is rather roughish, because the right hon. Gentleman and his friends on the Government Front Bench have seen fit not to give a great deal of information about the cost of building today. In that he may or may not be right. At any rate, we are not getting that information. Before the war the completed building costs of a £1,000 house were made up, approximately, of £500 for materials, and £500 for labour. The building contractor paid £500 to direct labour, and £500 to the builders' merchants for materials.
§ Mr. Marples
If the hon. Gentleman had been doing me the courtesy of listening to what I was saying he would have noticed that I mentioned the cost of the building. Even right hon. Gentlemen opposite do not build a site; it is there for them.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The Debate is getting exceedingly ragged by these constant interruptions and questions, and I must remind the House that we are not in Committee now.
§ Mr. Marples
As I have said, if the cost of building a house, before the war, was £1,000 the materials would cost £500, and the labour £500. Provided that efficiency is now the same, the total cost of building a house today should rise in the same proportion as the increase in the cost of materials and wages. If wages have increased, on an index figure of 100 before the war, to 150, and materials on an index figure of 100, to 150, then the complete cost of the building of a house should have increased from £1,000 to £1,500. Let us look at the increases in the cost of labour and materials. May I refer to table 121 and 123 of the Statistical Digest of June? Taking an index figure of 100, in 1938, it shows that the cost of materials has risen to 161.6 in 1946, and that the cost of labour, on an index figure of 100, in 1938, has risen to 169. Surely, the cost of building a £1,000 house should now not be more than £1,690, taking labour as the greatest increase.
But what actually is the completed cost of building? It was stated in another place in November last that in 1938 the cost, per super foot, was 9s. 4½d., and that tenders were being placed at 20s. 11d. in 1945. If that is boiled down to index figures it means that the index figure of 100, in 1938, has now risen to 224. That is using the lowest estimate of building costs, because 20s. 11d. was the approved tender, and not the final figure paid to the contractor, because there would of course be extras. Furthermore, prices and wages have increased since then, and my estimate of what a superficial foot will finally cost is not far short of 30s. I think that when the Minister comes to settle his final bill for extras, the cost per super foot will not be far short of that figure. Boiled down, again, to an index figure it means that the figure of 100 before the war is now 321. That disposes of the fact that the increase in the cost of materials is responsible for the high cost of building, because materials have risen only from 100 to 161, whereas the actual building cost has risen from 100 to 270.
880 The question is: What conclusions can be drawn from that analysis? That increase can be due either to an increase in the builder's profits and overheads, to the poor output of labour, to organisation on the site, which is entirely the job of the building contractor, or in the organisation off the site which, at present, is the responsibility of the Minister of Works. Dealing with those items in that order, I have analysed the accounts of three of the largest firms, and it is found that the profits, in proportion to the estimated turnover do not show a very great increase. Using index figures once more I estimate the increase to be no more than 120 as against 100 before the war. As to the output of labour, this has gone down a little, for reasons which are, to a large extent, justified. There are old men in the trade, they worked long hours during the war, and no building worker can be efficient for 54 hours a week, no matter what job he is doing. The rigid rules of the T.U.C. have also, to some extent, stopped the workers from working hard, and the same applies, to a certain extent, to the Ministry of Works, because when a building licence is given to a firm, they insist that the firm shall pay neither more nor less than the rate approved in the particular district or area. One exception to that is the London Cooperative Society, who seem to have had some prior agreement with the trade union, and pay one penny an hour more than private firms. Private firms who wish to pay their men more cannot do so because of the rigid rules, and I know of several who wish to increase output by paying more.
With regard to organisation on the site, I mean by this the most important part of the builder's work, namely, the time and progress schedule. The two great capitalists who spoke from the Socialist Benches opposite, are not present at the moment, but I have no doubt they would agree with me if they were here. The closely integrated process of working out how the labour shall be applied, and how the materials shall arrive on the site, is known as the time and progress schedule. This operation is still being controlled by the same people who did it before the war, so that no great loss is involved there. I come, finally, to the organisation of the Ministry of Works, that is to say, the production and distribution of building materials. I think that the bulk 881 of the increased cost of building at the present time, over and above the increase in the costs of labour and materials, arises from inefficiency in the distribution of building materials. It is very necessary to get the right materials in the correct sequence; otherwise the job is held up. There is, for example, a site not far from this Chamber where a number of plumbers are waiting for prefabricated units which were promised by the Department. When such things do not arrive, the building contractors, and in the end the public, have to pay the men their wages, since the reason they cannot work is that the goods have not arrived at the right time. It is quite impossible to have coordination if there are uncertain and unpredictable deliveries which disturb the rhythm and flow of work on the site. Therefore, my view is that part of the increased cost is due to the rather lower output of labour, which is, to a certain extent, justifiable, but that most of it is due to the bad production and distribution of materials by the Ministry of Works.
I wish to make a constructive suggestion as to what might be done to improve the position a little. Although hon. Members on both sides of the House have attacked the Minister—I have no doubt the final attack will come later— I feel that the building problem is more technical than political in its nature. I know that the Minister of Works referred to himself as belonging to the new ruling or governing class—
§ The Minister of Works (Mr. Tomlinson) indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Marples
I apologise if I am mistaken, but I thought I saw it reported that, in a speech in his constituency, he said something about being in the governing class now. Certainly, the Attorney-General said, "We are the masters now." If the masters would leave building alone for a bit, we might get some building done. My constructive suggestion is really the general theory which shows the difference between that side of the House and this. It has been already mentioned today and it is the question of incentive. The Socialists believe in centralised planning with centralised control, and orders going down the line to a salaried servant who leaves at 5 o'clock. There is no reward for ability, 882 and no penalty for lack of it; in the same way, enterprise brings no reward at all, and lack of enterprise brings no penalty. Under that system, the slacker earns just as much as the genius—most of the geniuses are on the Front Bench at £5,000 a year, but the slackers in their own departments earn just as much as a genius in those departments. The result is that we get an invincible inertia and a mounting Income Tax, and there is no doubt about that at all. I think the Socialists are probably right and that their system is probably a very good one for another planet, peopled with another kind of animal life, but it is no use on this one which is peopled with human beings.
Let me say a word about the general theory which I think ought to be applied. The system of payment should be founded on human frailties and a person should receive a large profit or a large wage if he is efficient while at the same time there should be a sanction behind him, the bankruptcy court in the case of a firm and the "sack" in that of an individual if he is inefficient. Whether it is the fault of this Government, previous Governments, the employers, or the trade unions I do not know, but I think it is true to say that there is no incentive for people to work very hard, and no great fear for not doing so. [An HON. MEMBER: "Speaking from experience?"] I think that if an owner does well he should receive a good profit, and if not he should go into the bankruptcy court; similarly, if an employee does well he should be paid a good wage—in most cases over the trade union rate—and if he does badly he should get the "sack." I know this is not politically expedient if one is hoping to get votes, and some hon. Gentlemen opposite must be worrying about their votes next time. If the House really wants an example of how frightened people are it is only necessary to go to the Division Lobbies at about the fifth or sixth minute; one narrowly escapes being knocked down by the rush of Socialist back benchers. I wondered why this was, until I discovered that the Socialist Party send their Division records to their constituencies.
§ Mr. Marples
Nothing, and that is my point; there should be some sort of sanction as well as an incentive and I am 883 very glad to be in agreement for once with the hon. Member for Thornbury (Mr. Alpass). The State, the employers, and the employees have gone a long way to removing incentive and the sanctions. The State has done it by taxation and a system of social security, which, although good in itself, does much to remove to a large extent the fear of the "sack" or the fear of going into the bankruptcy court. The employers have done just the same thing—I am being impartial as always—by trade associations and price fixing, and the employees have done it with trade unions. The whole trend of the State, employers, and employees has been towards safety and maintaining their own positions in society. That may or may not be right, but I think we ought to get more incentive and a greater sanction in the building industry, particularly so far as concerns the distribution of building materials. The builders' merchants ought to be called into consultation and should be paid by results; if they do very well, they deserve their small percentage on a large turnover, and if they do badly they deserve to go bankrupt.
I would like to take just four examples of the builders' merchants and how incentive works. First they choose the nearest manufacturers for the job. Generally speaking a builders' merchant pays the freight, so he sees the cost is kept down. That is their incentive. Secondly, they send materials direct to the site, to save double handling. There again, their own pocket is affected. Thirdly, they deliver on time, because if they do not they lose business, and their goodwill. Finally, they will give personal service which is extraordinarily valuable to the buyer. The Ministry of Works will do none of those things, because nobody suffers if they do not. The classic case occurred at Bootle, where prefabricated houses were being erected. A mile away was a factory making parts for the houses that were being erected. The houses were short of those parts. Nevertheless, the components in question had to go to London. There they were unloaded, checked in by somebody, checked out by somebody else, loaded again, and finally sent back to Bootle. Those components made a journey of 400 miles, although a journey of only one mile was necessary. The fundamental difference between the two 884 situations was that in the latter case there was no incentive for efficiency and no one suffered by inefficiency.
Now I should like to point out where the Government have failed. I think the Minister of Works will agree with me that distribution of materials is—I hope I may have the right hon. Gentleman's attention for one moment—the one weak spot in the process. I want to know what has been done about it. I am always asking what has been done by the right hon. Gentleman's Department. The real answer is that he has done practically nothing. He may, like other members of the Government, preserve some sort of secrecy about what he is doing, in order to keep it from the nation, but perhaps he will tell us, so that we may be in possession of the information. All I know is what I read in HANSARD. On 26th November, 1945, mention was made of what the chairman of the Scientific Advisory Committee to the Ministry of Works had said on 16th November. He said that he wanted to know the scientific answer to one question that had been raised, namely what were the real economics, and not the paper economics, and purpose of the distribution of the building industry. He wanted to have some sort of assurance on the point. On 3rd December, another Debate took place. On 6th March the matter was mentioned again, and the Minister was asked whether he would inquire into it. These records go on for a very long time. Finally, on 26th June, the right hon. Gentleman realised the importance of the matter, seven months after it was pointed out by his own scientific advisory committee chairman, and by this side of the House. He appoints a committee to go into the matter. Hon. Gentlemen opposite may disagree with what I have said, but their own Front Bench, at any rate, admit that this is a serious matter. On 24th June, the right hon. Gentleman said that he had appointed an independent committee to examine the organisation, methods and distribution of building materials, and he added that it would have particular reference to the cost and to questions of efficiency. There is only one old Army term that can be applied to the Government in the circumstances, and it is that they have been idle. More than seven months have passed. It has taken the right hon. Gentleman seven 885 months to appoint the committee to go into the matter, even though pressed by this side.
The key factor in building is the building season. If the right hon. Gentleman had appointed his committee in 1945 he would have had the recommendations and the benefits of their inquiry now, and they would have helped him in this building season. As it is he has missed this building season, and there is nothing left for him at all. If there is, I shall be glad to give way to the right hon. Gentleman so that he can tell me what it is. He has acted too late. The Minister of Health will, I think, build his houses sometime, but this comparison with what happened after the last war is a perfectly silly one. I have read the Debates during the war in which the Minister of Health took part, when he was the great military genius behind the country. In those Debates I find no reference to the number of planes built during this war compared with the war before. The reason is that progress has been made, certainly not from the political point of view but from the material and technical points of view. That comparison he makes is absolutely useless, and I hope that tonight he will get off the wicket of what happened in the last war. All I ask the Minister of Health is—Will he face the future and not the past, and will he stop making comparisons with what was built after the last war? If the Minister wants to make comparisons, he should make them between the promises of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, and how they have carried those promises out.
§ 8.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Dumpleton (St. Albans)
The hon. Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) started his speech by saying that he did not want to delve into the past and returned to that theme at the end. Of course, he does not want to. No hon. Members on the other side want to delve into the past. The relevance of the comparison between the two wars is that it shows the increased task that the present Government have had to undertake because of the accumulated neglect arising during those years. Almost every hon. Member in this House is concerned deeply with this housing problem. If we are, as most of us on both sides of the House undoubtedly are, conscientiously keeping in touch with the conditions and 886 lives of our constituents, we cannot help but be depressed by the pathetic circumstances in which many of them are living.
The hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith), who opened the Debate, was right when he stressed the importance of this subject. It is, therefore, all the more surprising that he has been so scantily supported in the Debate by hon. Members behind him. Most of the time there have been only four, five, or six of his supporters sitting there. I was struck by the emotion, fervour and vigour that characterised the speech of the hon. Member for Streatham (Sir D. Robertson). I thought it a great pity that that fervour and vigour were not expressed by Members of the Conservative Party in the years between the two wars. The hon. and gallant Member for Pollok made one of the most fantastic statements that I have ever heard in this House when he said that as a result of the drive in the interwar years the problem of housing had been practically solved by September, 1939. There could be no clearer confirmation of the conviction that many of us on this side, and many people in the country, have had for many years, that hon. Gentlemen of the Conservative Party live in realms completely remote from the everyday conditions of the people of this country, if in fact, he really believed what he was saying when he said that the problem was practically solved by September, 1939. As a member for many years of a local authority, I know that many local authorities had long waiting lists in September, 1939, that many of the houses in which the working people of this country were living at that time were without bathrooms, without a water supply, and every local authority had lists of houses which they wished to condemn if there had only been alternative accommodation.
I know that time is short, and although the two previous speakers have between them occupied nearly an hour, I will be brief and concentrate on one particular aspect of this problem. Although I disagreed with a great deal that the hon. and gallant Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) had to say, I had some sympathy with his point about the relationship between the local authorities and the regional officers of the various Ministries. Here, I would assure the Minister that I, with many other hon. Members on this side, support him to the 887 full in the drive and energy with which he is conducting this housing programme. If, therefore, there is a note of criticism in what I have to say, it is with a desire to make constructive suggestions. The hon. and gallant Member for Worthing described in eloquent language the delays and hindrances that occur in the course of the paper work and the negotiations which take place between the local authorities and the regional officers of the various Ministries.
I want to make one or two suggestions to the Minister, as a local authority man with years of experience and as chairman of a housing committee. The local authorities are, rightly, the chosen agents for the housing policy of the Government. Sufficient has already been said in the Debate to justify the policy of giving local authorities immediate priority for providing houses to let for those who cannot afford to buy them, together with the most efficient and competent use of the scarce materials and labour. If this is to be canalised through appropriate channels, then I think the policy of the Minister in making the local authorities his agents is perfectly correct, but I wish it could be possible to give those local authorities rather more trust and confidence than they get at the moment. Many of them are hedged around by the officials at the Ministries requiring approvals and consents for every conceivable action in carrying out the work. As an example, I would give a case in connection with Circular 92, which is the provision by which houses built by local builders can be purchased by the local authorities to let. A local authority looked round, when they received this circular, to see what local builders there were in their area who had houses for sale. There was one who had an estate, half developed by September, 1939, which had been held up during the war, who was now ready to continue its development. It was an estate with roads of semi-detached three-bedroomed houses of the type which were selling at £750 to £800 before the war, and sell now at about £1,100 and £1,200. They are very nicely laid out with front gardens. The proposal was submitted to the regional officer, who said that it could not be approved because they must not have all pairs of semi-detached houses; there must be blocks of four introduced. 888 That meant further delay in again laying out the site.
Some local authorities have met with delay owing to the difficulty of getting the district valuer to value the sites that are to be purchased from land which belongs to the builders. In this case a delay of one month has occured before the district valuer came along to value the site. Another way in which I would like to see rather more discretion given to local authorities, is in the matter of the issue of licences to private builders. Generally, I believe the policy of the Minister is absolutely right. If private contractors and builders are to be allowed to absorb all the available materials and labour, many local authorities would be given the excuse for not proceeding vigorously with their own programme of houses to let. But I have a local authority in my constituency which is one of the few on which this ban has had to be placed. As a policy I do not quarrel with it. But there are exceptional cases where the local authority, knowing the local circumstances, might be given discretion to make an exception. There is the case of the woman with three children living in a condemned bungalow and told she has not a chance of a council house for years to come. She has found a small builder, who does not employ labour, but works by himself, who is ready to build a bungalow for her. In that sort of case, local authorities might be given some discretion.
§ Mr. Dumpleton
I only give these examples as cases in which a little more discretion should be allowed. There is the case of site acquisition in which a site for 300 houses was submitted to the town planning committee and, on the advice of the expert town planner, was approved. It was also approved by the Joint Planning Committee, again on the advice of its expert planning officer. But a regional town planning officer turned it down saying that it was bad planning. I am aware that there is no complacency on this side of the House, and least of all on the part of the Minister. We on this side will give him every support in his efforts to pursue his programme.
§ 9.4 p.m.
§ Captain Crookshank (Gainsborough)
I think those who, like myself, have sat throughout the Debate, will come to the conclusion that we have had an interesting day. I wish to say to the hon. Member for Balham and Tooting (Mr. R. Adams) that we deliberately kept this Debate until we had the housing returns, because we thought it would be more informative to have it on this occasion than to have it on a Supply day. Debates on the Consolidated Fund Bill are the same as on Supply days, in that the Opposition decide the subject for discussion. Therefore, it is an absurdly false point which he tried to make, that we were not interested in this subject. It is the other way round. We were so interested that we wished to know what were the most up-to-date figures before the House separated. I think the Minister will agree that we have had a number of very practical speeches. We had a speech from my hop. Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne)—I do not know if the right hon. Gentleman heard it all—in which he gave us the result of a recent tour of inspection he made of various housing sites. The hon. Member advantaged the House by giving us a report on this subject. I do not want to say anything unkind, but it would be better if more people spent some time visiting housing sites rather than gallivanting abroad on Parliamentary delegations. They would thus find out a little more about what is happening in this country, rather than elsewhere. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) gave us some very specific cases from his constituency into which I hope the Minister will look.
From the benches opposite we had a great deal of oratory, but very little defence of Government policy. We had a great deal of talk about the building records between the wars, of course with the general slant, which is common in Socialist speeches, of denigrating anything which happened before 1945, when they came to power. For all that, the country was a great country before they came, and will be long after they are forgotten. We had a lot of talk about jerry-building, and no one seemed to have remembered that one of the Acts put on the Statute Book just before the war was put there as a result of the feeling in the building industry itself that this matter should be tackled. The House Builders' Registra- 890 tion Council was set up, but the war came, and of course it never functioned, nor was there any building of houses.
Of course, we had the usual claptrap, if I may use the word, about what happened in the early months after the first world war, a subject upon which hon. Gentlemen opposite are always extremely eloquent. They forget two things. They forget that, for whatever reason, when that war came to an end, there were practically no sites available, laid out ready for building development, or even purchased, whereas when the second world war came to an end there were hundreds of thousands of sites ready and available. That is one consideration which they forget. They also forget who was responsible for the fiasco of 1919. After all, it was that venerable and aged peer who leads their party in the other place, and who, because of his incompetent handling of this problem at that time, was "sacked." He found his spiritual home in the Socialist Party, which welcomed even incompetents.
On the other hand, what has been noticeable in the speeches opposite has been that the greatest laudation of the Government's efforts has come from the hon. Members for Blackley (Mr. Diamond) and North-West Hull (Mr. Mackay), both of whom, I understand, are connected with building, but building on the large scale—not the small builder, the problem of today, but the big organisations. I hope I may say so without disrespect, but I understood that the hon. Member for North-West Hull had been a member of the Commonwealth Party. Today he certainly worked his passage finally from being a cooperator to being a full ally. He stressed, from the experience of his big firm, that today private enterprise was, in fact, being used, and that, therefore, our criticisms on that subject were invalid. The Parliamentary Secretary made the same point. Of course, it is being used, but there is all the difference in the world between being used as an agent and being a principal doing the work on one's own. At the end of it, there is no doubt that their promises about housing constituted one, if not the main, contributory factor in bringing hon. Gentlemen to this House in such serried battalions. I openly admit it. In the early months of this Parliament, I am sure the Minister will agree that we held back from attacking him—
§ Captain Crookshank
That is not an attack. It is not an attack such as the mishandling of this situation will undoubtedly cause in the future. Just one Vote of Censure—that is nothing to what is coming unless, of course, the Government mend their ways and get on with the job. Up to the moment, their achievements are negligible. The results in this field and the prospects for the immediate future are, as I hope to prove, pretty grim. We do not rejoice in this situation. This is a terrible human problem which hon. Gentlemen opposite, by their slow action, are treating with utter callousness. Everywhere that one goes hopes are fading. There is no sign of that vigour, energy and drive which we had been led to expect, and which, from the past record of the Minister as a private Member, we had hoped to see. We were promised vigour, energy and drive in a Ministry of Housing. Of course, as soon as such votes as could be got by that particular proposition in "Let us face the Future" had been won, the proposition disappeared from the programme.
A fortnight ago, the Prime Minister explained exactly what was the set-up and coordinating machinery for housing, and once again emphasised that it was a hopeless suggestion to concentrate it all in one super-Ministry. Of course, every one of the hon. Members opposite got into the House on the promise that that would happen. We are left with the various responsibilities upon various Ministers. The Minister of Health bears the most responsibility. He is the chairman, we understood from the Prime Minister, of the coordinating committee. Therefore, he is the greatest of the failures. We were told by the Lord President of the Council that as compared with the party on this side of the House, the Labour Party, about housing, should go about their work with greater energy and efficiency and with more economy and speed than we did. Greater energy— practically none; greater efficiency—conspicuous by its absence; more economy— everything costs more than before; and more speed—well, as I shall show, the rate is going down each month. The Minister himself in his own election address said that Labour was convinced that the job of providing houses should be tackled on a national scale as the nation went 892 about the task of making Spitfires. We hoped that that meant that a whole organisational process would be built up, in a manner analogous to a military operation and, with the planning complex that hon. Members have in such a superlative degree, we expected, with due regard to what General Eisenhower called the logistics of the affair, that every endeavour would be made to get a good sound organisation built up. So far from there being build-up, there is not even any building.
We all realised that it would take some time to start, but on 7th December, the Minister himself said—I hope he will recollect this; it was at Birmingham, though I do not know the circumstances of the meeting—that, by the "middle of next year," that is, the time covered by the June housing report, "our housing programme should be in full flood." Does he really think it is? Can he really use those words about what is in this White Paper? I wish he could but he cannot. There is no flood. One might have hoped that Socialist Members of Parliament, seeing this slow advance, and not the rapid advance which we all looked for, and which they, above all, said would come about, would have done some prodding and urging. But they have not complained all these months. They have said little or nothing, but have let it go by. It is hardly to be wondered at, because, after all, the Minister himself, speaking long ago, said that the Labour Member of Parliament was reduced to the status of a rubber stamp. That was in the "Tribune" of 20th August, 1943. And the quotation ends:endorsing the conclusions of the general council of the T.U.C.No wonder that, in his rubber stamp capacity, the hon. Member for Hudders-field (Mr. Mallalieu) considered that the housing record of the Government, to use his own words "is quite staggeringly good." I have looked up Appendix B about Huddersfield, and I find that the local authority has not yet completed a single house. Not one house. On the other hand, though I do not think that it is much of a figure to boast about, housing under licence, I see, has produced 13 erected by private enterprise. If that is "staggeringly good" words seem to me to have lost their meaning.
It is true, however, that the hon. Member for Mitcham (Mr. Braddock) and 893 the hon. Member for Balham and Tooting said they were not satisfied with the progress made, and I do not think that anybody else who looks at this White Paper, can be satisfied. The Minister has made the local authorities his chosen instrument. A year after the war—if hon. Members will look at page 17 of the Report they will find it—4.06 of the local authorities still have no sites of which possession has been obtained, and 32 per cent. of the authorities have not begun building; that is, 32 per cent., covering 12.9 of the population. I put the blame entirely upon the shoulders of the Government. I do not blame the local authorities, for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, it is said that it is because there is a difference between Socialist local authorities and non-Socialist authorities, and that if they were all of the same political colour, this would not happen. I have here a list of 29 Socialist county boroughs in which, at the moment, not a single local authority house has been completed. I will not read the whole list, but it covers places like Bradford, Doncaster, Lincoln, Merthyr Tydfil, Newcastle, Preston, Reading, Oldham, Salford, Southampton, Wakefield, West Ham and East Ham—all large, important authorities, in which not a single house has been completed by the Minister's chosen instrument.
Perhaps hon. Members opposite were not aware of the fact. They may not have explored the statistics in the same way as they have the Minister's arguments. I again say that this is a terrible human problem, and that this sort of result is most unsatisfactory. This is the time, the six months' period at the end of June, when the Minister said that the programme should be at full flood. If hon. Members, when they get home, would cast their eyes not only upon the June report, but upon the May report, and would then compare the April-May-June figures, they would find some very extraordinary facts. So far from it being in full flood, it is going slower. Every single one of the figures on these first three pages shows a diminution in the rate of progress in June as compared with May, although the months were pretty well like for like. There was about one and a half or two days difference owing to the Bank Holiday and the Saturday morning which was the Victory Day 894 holiday. On the other hand, of course, it is the best building season.
I ask hon. Members, for example, to look at the summary at the bottom of page 3, of houses under construction. We find that the increase in June over May was 14,500. The increase in May over April was 20,600, a 30 per cent. drop. A flood ought not to show a drop of that kind. If hon. Members will look at the next page, they will find, not houses under construction, but at an earlier stage, a number where site development has been completed. It will be seen that, in June, there was an 8,000 increase against a 14,000 increase in the month before. To take it further back still, "Site Development Begun," hon. Members will find there a 9,000 increase as compared with a 13,400 increase, so that, all along the line, we can fall back upon the not very high, very remarkable or very praiseworthy figure of May. It is just the same with the temporary houses. There it will be found that, in this month, the increase is 5,000 in houses with slabbing completed, as contrasted with 7,000 in the month before; and, in houses tinder erection, that there was a 1,700 increase as against 2,600.
Needless to say, of course, there is a drop—because that is a matter of Government policy—in the number of licences issued to private builders. That was policy; the other cannot have been. The other is a calamity. What is it due to? I do not know, but perhaps the Minister can give us his views. After all, this is merely an exploratory Debate. Is it that there is too much centralisation, too much damping of initiative, too much administrative delay? All the blame rests upon the Minister, and I hope that, when he replies, he will give us a speech full of the pure truth of the word, and not a speech like some he has given which have-been devoid of truth.
§ Captain Crookshank
In my own hearing, on 18th April, the Minister in this House produced a lot of fairy tales about myself concerning a Debate upon an entirely different matter. I came into the Chamberand heard him dilatingabout me. 895 He said that I had delayed a Bill in which he had been interested for three weeks in Standing Committee. He remembered all the speeches I had made, and said we had not got through a line of the Committee stage. Not a word of that was true, and I had to sit and listen to that sort of thing being said about me. Therefore, I ask that the right hon. Gentleman will not indulge in too many flights of fancy today, but will try to explain to us, if he can, whether it is through control, over-control, over-centralisation, administrative delay or through the damping of initiative that we had this great reduction in the flood of progress which was showing itself in May, and which had fallen away so sadly in June, in the case of houses tinder construction or constructed, by no less than 30 per cent.
I think it is probably a combination of all. There is no doubt that there is a great deal of unnecessary form filling. That has already been referred to during the Debate. I had a case brought to my notice, involving the erection of no houses to be erected in blocks of twos, threes and sixes. This figure may surprise the Minister. They had to produce 141 bills of quantities together with general conditions, specifications and tender forms which meant typing 573 stencils; 30 copies of each had to be made, making a grand total of 17,190 sheets for no houses. If that is duplicated all over the country, it must tend to clog the machine, because one of the forms of labour which is scarce is typing and stenography.
It may be that there are difficulties in obtaining materials or in bad distribution of them. My hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) has dealt with the subject of bad distribution and has asked pointed questions. In a speech from below the Gang-way, we heard some of the figures with regard to materials. I mention only one, because I am still anxious about that. That is the subject of bricks. We have had conflicting statements from two responsible Ministers. One said there was a famine, and the other said there was not. Then he went back on that and said there was. While it is true that since this matter was debated in March, there has been a considerable and welcome increase in the rate of production, the position is still extremely anxious. A Question was asked 896 today by my hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson). The current rate of production is 340 million a month, and the current rate of consumption is 360 million, so that at present we are not making as many as we are using. We are having to draw from stocks which are expected to fall to about 300 million at the end of September. Then there was the very alarming statement of the Minister of Works, that he was hopeful that in October production would equal consumption, provided that strict economy in the use of bricks continued to be observed. Strict economy in the use of bricks is not encouraging to the development of building. We want to be able to use all we can get. We do not want people to be looking over their shoulders all the time to see whether the monthly consumption is outrunning the monthly production. I hope, therefore, the Minister will be able to say something to relieve our anxieties about that.
In private building, of course, there is the general discouragement which is bound to arise from what I understand is now the order, that the licence is to be revoked if work is not begun in two months. Owing to the difficult problem of obtaining building materials, it may not be easy for the man who has got a licence to be able to start in two months. Therefore, there is some discouraging element there. On 1st May, the Minister brought in a scheme by which, I understand, small builders would be able to undertake work on behalf of local authorities. I wonder if he could tell us how many have been able to do that. Of course, it was something which had been suggested some time before, and for nine whole months he deprived himself of that asset, such as it was. I have a case, the details of which I will not go into, which I saw in one of the Sunday newspapers dealing with a firm in my constituency. They had a great number of orders. They wished to be able to house a large number of people who had been working there during the war, and who were driven away. They suggested that it might be possible with financial assistance from the Ministry, to use some of the empty aerodromes or military buildings in my constituency to house the workers temporarily until houses were built. This was put through the regional officer to the Ministry 897 as long ago as 28th March, and so far no reply has been given. That is the kind of difficulty we have to face.
I think, in spite of the jeers which we have heard throughout this Debate, the absence of a target has been a disadvantage. It has been a disadvantage to those who are concerned with the building materials While I understand they get all sorts of little hints and asides from the Minister of Works, about what they might do and how much they might make, they still get no firm guarantees, because they do not know publicly what the target is. After all, there is a target. The Minister himself, at Eccles, on 14th July said what it was. He said it was 100,000 permanent houses and 100,000 temporary houses by the end of the year. [Interruption.] Yes, he did, on the 14th of this month, at Eccles. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman would call it, as he did before, crystal gazing. He has done some crystal gazing, and I wish and hope that the target may be achieved. Quite honestly, upon the figures and upon the trend disclosed in the June White Paper it is highly improbable, for the very simple reason that there has been a drop all along the line, as I have just explained. I put it to the Minister: Can he tell us clearly whether the trouble is too much centralisation, whether it is difficulties or mistakes about materials, whether it is bad distribution, or whether it is the discouragement of private enterprise? After all, the Communist Party in this House, or half of it, have said they are not opposed to private enterprise in house-building.
§ Captain Crookshank
In house-building. It was not that half; it was the other half, in the Debate on the Address. I do not see why the Government should want to be more "red" than the "Reds."
§ Captain Crookshank
There is not, we take it from the information we have been given at Question time, any shortage of labour, because that is proceeding at a very satisfactory rate. I think we can all agree about that. No doubt tribute should be paid to the Minister of Labour for that. I very much doubt 898 whether the figure for the building industry, which the Lord President forecast, of a million and a half by the end of the year, will be reached. So far as that is concerned, the labour problem need not worry us because it was the Minister himself who told us in this House on 4th July:… the limitation upon the construction of houses at the present time is not building workers on the site, but the supply of materials, which would not be added to by adding more building workers on the site.— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th July, 1946; Vol. 424, c. 2319.]If that is so, there is one question I would like to ask the Minister of Labour. We seem to be getting all that we require. He said it would not be any use to put more workers on the site. If that is so, why is it that about every five or six weeks we get apparently inspired comments in the Press that he is organising a national building corporation? Is he doing so really, or is it just a guess? If he is, why is he doing it? What purpose will it serve, when he has already admitted he has got all the labour necessary? The hon. Gentleman the Member for North-west Hull attacked the party on this side of the House for the temporary housing programme. I really do not know what he thinks the then Deputy-Prime Minister, now Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, and all the other Socialist Ministers in the Coalition Government were doing.
§ Captain Crookshank
I really do not know why the hon. Gentleman persists in making those strange noises.
§ Captain Crookshank
The present Prime Minister was the Deputy Prime Minister ever since 1940, and if the hon. Gentleman really thinks major decisions of policy were reached, without any Socialist Minister knowing anything about them, let alone approving, he just does not know how a Government works. The whole point and object of the policy was that it should be rapidly implemented. The 899 longer it takes to fulfil, the less its value. The whole point was, that it should be pressed on with.
Of course, times change and considerations alter. Incidentally, the Japanese war stopped about 15 months before that event had been estimated, and that made some great differences in this problem; it made great differences—to the effect that it should have been possible to get on quicker with the job instead of so much slower. The allocation accepted by this Government in October was that there should be 158,400 houses, 34,000 in Scotland—that is in Command Paper 6686. If the Minister thinks that his estimate of 100,000 to be completed by the end of this year is to be carried out, a look at the number of those which have been produced and of those which are now in course of erection will show that, between now and December, there must be an average monthly completion of 11,000, or else a progressive rise from where it is now, 3,500, to 16,000 in the month of December. Does the Minister of Works really think that that will happen? I hope he does, and I hope it does happen, but I must say that there is very little evidence that it is likely to occur. The labour force for temporary housing has been practically stationary all the year, and indeed it can only be increased, as far as I can see, except for the gradual increase of men coming from the Army or from outside, by a switch over of the present labour force from permanent to temporary houses.
It would require a very great improvement, and a very great speeding up from the point where the figures now stand to what they ought to be, to catch up with his forecast. Yet only the other day he said that it took, on the average, nine months from the commencement of site preparation to the completion of the buildings. If it is to go on being nine months, it means that the average completions in the last four months of this year cannot be above 4,500, because that was the number started in the January to April period. Therefore, to get anything like what he forecast, there must be an infusion of something very nearly like atomic energy to bring it about. I hope there will be; I hope that the result of this Debate will be to infuse fresh energy in the quarters, whatever they are, where 900 energy has not hitherto been displayed. The figures of the temporary housing programme as it now stands, on page 20 of this White Paper, are really quite deplorable. The total number slabbed or under slabbing in June, 35,500, was the lowest number of any month since December. Only 5,000 more began to be erected in June, and that was fewer than in May, which was fewer than in April. So far, only 30,000 anyhow have been built, and I hope the Minister made note of the question put to him, as to whether it was true that only 10,000 of the 16,000 Arcon houses are in use because of the lack of the necessary components. Yet with this pitiful result of the temporary housing programme we put—I do not want to carry pledges and promises too far—the statement in the Debate on the Address, which so to speak is the text for the work of this House during the Session, made by the Lord Privy Seal, that:The housing problem of this country will be solved by dealing with it on a system of priorities… That is why temporary housing has to be faced, because this winter and in the coming months shelter must be provided, and it is the urgency of need which must determine the order of progress of our housing policy."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th August, 1945; Vol. 413. c. 255.]That is the responsibility of the Minister of Works and, unless great changes are made and speed is greatly increased, the completion of those allocated in the White Paper of October, 1945, will not, at the present rate, be achieved until the autumn of 1948. I hope it will be better than that, but that is what would happen if the present rate were continued. And here we are, August just starting, and 15 months after the end of the war in Europe.
The rural housing situation is still slow, but it has not done too badly. It is quite true that five per cent. of the rural authorities still have no sites, but on the whole they have done rather better than the other authorities. Of local authority permanent housing they had 12,500 under construction out of 63,000; that is, 19 per cent. for about 17.9 per cent. of the population. They are certainly holding their own, though I must report to the House, as I did in March, that, whether it is boroughs or county boroughs, or urban district councils that are concerned, in the great County of Lindsey not one permanent house has been completed by any local authority.
901 But the Government still have not told us what they are doing about reconditioning, although we had the report in January. Nothing has been said about what is going to happen, and I hope that this will be the opportunity for some announcement about that. It is for the Government to tackle this deplorable position, this deplorable slowing down that I have tried to put before the House. Their own figures show there is this slowing down. What is the Minister going to do about it? It is not for me to suggest the answer. It is not my responsibility. It is his responsibility. It is on his shoulders. I do ask him to think again, and to investigate whether it is true that there is a castiron system of distribution which is strangling the merchants. Let Mm take the advice of half of the Communist Party, and not be so opposed to private enterprise.
Why should he not take a great number of military hutments and aerodrome buildings for this purpose? There has been quite an invasion at Scunthorpe in Lincolnshire, and squatters have come in and taken over R.A.F. buildings. They came as trespassers, but now, I understand, some arrangement has been come to with the local council. If this sort of thing is all right, then it had much better be organised and controlled—and urged on, because it is within everyone's experience that, despite the 200,000 Poles mentioned at Question time, there is an enormous number of military buildings which can be used as temporary shelter in one way or another, without very much labour or expense.
I have only this to say, that the blame does rest, not upon the local authorities, but upon Ministers, on the Minister of Health and the Minister of Works—on the Minister of Health for the general slowing down, the short sightedness, if he likes; and on the Minister of Works because he has not succeeded in doing what the Lord Privy Seal said would be his job, the production of all materials needed for housing on an organised plan, so that building should not be held up because there were deficiencies in the supply of housing components. Those were his terms or reference last August, but the experience we have had since then does not induce us to think he has been completely successful. Yet, at the end of all this, the Minister of Health last year announced that housing 902 by his party was going to be tackled in a way which would astonish the world. Well, we and the world are astonished.
§ 9.43 p.m.
§ The Minister of Health (Mr. Aneurin Bevan)
I was delighted that this Debate took place because I wanted the party opposite to tell us something new. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) read out a very indignant speech, but I noticed that for most of the Debate there were only about four or five Members on the Benches opposite. So much importance does the party opposite attach to this artificially worked up indignation that they could not even summon their own Members on to the Benches to listen to their own speeches. The fact is the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) has become so accustomed to using hyperbole in almost every speech he makes, that before very long few people will take any notice at all of what he says. I often try to find out from the party opposite what policy it is they wish to follow, or what are their criticisms of the Government's policy. It is really, for those who have been present throughout this Debate, unnecessary for me to speak at all. Every speech from the other side has been most adequately answered from this side of the House, but of course hon. Members opposite do not know it, because they were not here to listen. It really is going to be difficult for us to educate hon. Members opposite in housing economics, if they absent themselves when their masters are teaching them.
I should like to know from hon. Members opposite what kind of criticism they are making of the Government's housing policy. Are they suggesting that the Government are making a mistake in reposing their principal trust in local authorities as housing authorities? That has been the burden of almost every speech. The argument has been, and the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Gainsborough has repeated it, that we have made a mistake in selecting the local authorities as the medium, and that it would have been far better for the Government to have reposed their trust in unrestricted private enterprise. That has been the burden of almost every speech from the other side. Of course the Election is over, and the period of 903 irresponsibility for the Opposition begins. That was not the view of the last Government. On 15th March, 1944, my right hon. Friend, who is now the Minister of Town and Country Planning, asked the Minister of Health this Question:How many of the 300,000 houses to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred does he estimate will be provided by private enterprise, and how many by local authorities?The reply of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the then Minister of Health was:I anticipate that the vast majority will necessarily be provided by local authorities in the extraordinary difficulties of the two years we are considering."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th March, 1944; Vol. 398, c. 278.]In other words, the right hon. and learned Gentleman on the advice of his own officials, the advice of the Department, believed at the end of this war, as at the end of the 1914–18 war, that speculative building would be incompetent to deal with the housing needs of the population. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman tried to get away from the end of the 1914–18 war, but it is the only basis of comparison which we have. The ex-Minister of Health based his case upon the experience at the end of the 1914–18 war, and I must quote him. He said:Of course, if circumstances turn out better than we expect we shall review the programme. If anyone is disposed to suggest that these figures are less than the Government should be putting forward, may I ask him to recall what happened during the 28 months following the Armistice in 1918, a period when we were engaged in no military operations? During that period of 28 months, the total number of houses "—Twenty-eight months, not 11 months—built or building in England and Wales was about 100,000—as against my figure of 300,000 for a shorter period—and the figure for the first 16 months was less than 14,000."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th March, 1944; Vol. 398, c. 270.]We have already succeeded in completing, as permanent houses, very many more houses in 11 months than they succeeded in building in two years at the end of the 1914–18 war, and that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman said is a calamitous failure. I will admit that anything which does not transcend the record of the party opposite by many thousands per cent. is a. calamitous record. And mark this, in far different circumstances we shall be 904 striving at the end of the year to complete 200,000 houses—in the latter part of this year. I admit, with the right hon. Gentleman, that to complete 200,000 houses by the end of this year would be an almost miraculous performance, and we shall be striving to complete them when we are struggling with all the worst features of the most ill-conceived programme any Government ever put before the country— the temporary housing programme. As has been pointed out by an hon. Member, that programme is crazy. The whole idea of providing temporary houses was to standardise them. They provided standardised houses without standardised components; whereas we are providing un-standardised houses with standardised components in the permanent housing programme. The result is that we have to struggle, at every stage, to try to overcome the bad planning of the temporary housing programme. What is rather worse for us is this: Towards the end of the year, the temporary houses will be competing with the permanent houses for just those fitments and components which are common to both. That is a situation which we inherited—but we have got to go through with it.
I am bound to point out to right hon. Gentlemen opposite that for a Government in 15 months after the end of a great war to be approaching the completion of 200,000 houses, in addition to having 159,000 building workers on war damage repairs, is a record which this country has never before approached. These figures are a complete answer to the hyperbole of hon. Members opposite. They are, in themselves, a complete vindication. We have heard this evening a lot of talk by hon. Members opposite about the efficiency of private builders. It has been pointed out over and over again— and I must, at the expense of trespassing on the patience of the House, say it once more, because there are more hon. Members here now than there were earlier—[An HON. MEMBER: "On your side, too."] It is more important that hon. Members opposite should attend at these Debates than hon. Members on this side, because they have much more to learn about housing. It has been pointed out that private builders build both speculative houses and houses for the local authorities, and, in many instances, the same contractors build for the local authorities as build houses for sale. That is agreed, 905 Both are private enterprise. Therefore, the real distinction is the distinction between the provision of houses to sell and houses for the local authorities to distribute in accordance with needs. That is the true distinction.
Do hon. Members opposite wish the local authority houses to recede and that there should be an increase in the number of houses sold—is that their case? That is the case which they have been making all day. But the building contractors—many of them—are themselves responsible for the comparative slowness in the completion of more local authority houses, because where they have the manpower, they put that manpower upon the completion of the houses to sell, at the expense of the completion of the houses for the local authorities. That is what the building contractors do, because, so far as they arc concerned, they would rather complete the houses to sell.
No more building would be completed if all the houses were for sale. The same number of houses would be there, because the provision of houses for sale would be at the expense of houses for the local authority. The absolute number of houses would be the same, but their relative distribution over the population would be different. In other words, the persons able to afford houses would have them and the large number unable to afford them would not have any. What hon. Members opposite want to do, as usual, is to feed the fat ones.
I should like hon. Members opposite to face one or two realities in this matter. It has been the declared policy of the Government to try, as far as possible, to concentrate on the provision of houses for letting. Let me ask hon. Members a question. They are shy in answering this evening. Do they consider that it was a wise or unwise policy to restrict the local authorities in the issue of licences? Silence. Was it wise or not? We heard criticism from the other side of the House, because the local authorities, having issued licences extravagantly had their powers to issue further licences restricted. Do hon. Members opposite consider that I should have permitted local authorities to issue as many private licences as they like. Would the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Gainsborough like to reply? That is the whole issue between us. He is immersed now in his book. Now 906 he is hiding his discomfiture behind the Box. The whole issue this evening has been that we should let loose these speculative builders who are apparently held on the leash, and are burning to get the houses up. Does the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, therefore, suggest, that I ought not to put any restriction whatsoever on the number of licences to be issued by the local authorities to builders to build houses for sale? I should like to know. If he says "No," there is no need for this Debate; if he says "Yes," where is the criticism? Hon. Members opposite are not very good really, and I am surprised at the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Gainsborough. He has long experience of Parliamentary Debate and should not so ingeniously get himself into such an obvious trap.
As the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for North Croydon (Mr. Willink) knows, if there is one thing that the private speculative builder cannot do, it is to build houses in an inflationary market. That happened at the end of the 1914–18 war. For two years after it private enterprise could get large profits on short turnovers and, therefore, if we had had no control at all in this country, which is what hon. Members opposite want, there would have been no houses at all, because all the available capital would have gone into those industries making quick returns. That is the reason why private enterprise did not build a single house at the end of the 1914–18 war. If any criticism is to be levelled at me at all, it is that I have been too successful in promoting private enterprise, because I have made it possible for a far larger number of houses to be built by speculative builders than might otherwise be done.
Hon. Members opposite really have not got a case at all. Indeed, the country knows that they have not got a case. The evidence is to be found in the actual construction of houses that is taking place. I have been attacked by Members opposite —I do not resent it, because the attack has been so feeble—because they have not been more forthcoming in providing for the speculative builder to build houses to sell to the local authority. The answer is that for a considerable time past, and for a considerable time to come, my main preoccupation has not been, and will not be, the provision of people to build houses 907 on the spot; it has been, and will be, the provision of materials and components with which to finish the houses. That is what one would expect at the end of a great war. According to Members opposite, if I started to build 500,000 houses, and failed to finish them, it would have been evidence of failure, because the more houses I started to build the more I must fail to complete unless I had components for them. We have to keep our eye on the number of houses we are building.
The hon. Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) said that building costs are mounting because the distribution of components and materials is not smooth enough for the contractor on the spot. He is quite right. There must be some relationship between the number of houses started and the provision of components and building materials. But if I took his advice there would be no control at all over the number of houses that could be started.
§ Mr. Marples
If the right hon. Gentleman had taken my advice on 26th November, 1945, he would have appointed a committee to inquire info this matter. I told the right hon. Gentleman seven months before he moved.
§ Mr. Bevan
The criticism is that the Government were not getting on with the job through having too many committees. Now, the contribution is that we should have another committee. The hon. Member is not facing facts. If we do not control the number of licences issued and, therefore, the number of houses started, we may have a very much larger number of houses half-way up which cannot be completed, because the provision of components and building materials is entirely out of balance. It was necessary to try to bring about a balance, and the reason why we adopted the local authority was because it is a planning instrument, whereas the anarchic, individual, speculative, builder is no planning instrument at all. The speculative builder is not a contract builder who builds for local authorities under tender. The speculative builder who used never to employ an architect has been guilty of the monstrosities which we can see in various parts of the country. Nevertheless, the speculative builder is a man with a team of workers.
When I said to the local authorities, "You are no longer to issue any more 908 licences, because the number is already in excess of the number of houses that can foe properly phased," it was not sufficient to leave the speculative builder where he was, because that would have meant that he would have been unemployed. So, we devised a scheme under which the small builder can sell a house to the local authority, because we can keep the local authority under some sort of control. In that way, one part of the programme can merge with the other. That is being done. Up and down the country, local authorities are purchasing houses from the small speculative builders, but under this system the speculative builders have to provide satisfactory houses, and not the kind of rubbish we had before. Far from failing to enlist every agency for building, we are indeed reaching out for every single instrument on which we can lay our hands. It is hon. Members opposite who are doctrinaire; they want to rely upon private enterprise entirely. I am not doctrinaire. [Interruption.] On the contrary, if we did not restrict the issue of licences, all building labour would be drawn into the building of houses to sell, and hon. Members opposite are afraid to admit they would restrict building licences. Otherwise, they would be getting into real trouble.
I welcome this Debate, but I regret very much the tone that was introduced into it by hon. Members opposite, particularly in the opening speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok. The Prime Minister said recently that the trouble with the Opposition is that they try to make longterm capital out of short-term difficulties. I am extremely sorry for them. It would, of course, have been far better—and I know the wiser heads among them realise it—to have postponed this Debate until the autumn. Hon. Gentlemen opposite rushed into a Motion of Censure last year that brought down upon them the contempt of the country. They have insisted upon this Debate today before there has been a complete building season. We have not yet had it. By the end of the year—hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite need not worry—there will be a sharp acceleration in the number of houses occupied, both temporary houses and permanent houses. They will not be sufficient; of course, they will not; I never said they would be sufficient. I refuse to provide a target be- 909 cause I know that that target will be even more unrealistic than the ex-Prime Minister's speech about 500,000 Portal houses, not one of which has ever been built. I refuse to give a target because I am content rather to rest upon performance than promise, and I am satisfied that, as the months go by, the houses will come along, although not as quickly as we would like.
I appreciate rather more than hon. Members opposite do what the lack of housing accommodation means. There are more people on this side of the House who have suffered from lack of accommodation than there are on the benches opposite. We do not need to be taught what lack of housing accommodation is. I was brought up, one of a family of 12, in a four-roomed house. I know what it is. When hon. Members opposite presume to teach us the humanities of housing, we regard it as cant. We shall go on with the job, and we shall succeed in doing it, and when we have to face the electorate, we shall have no cause at all to be ashamed of the record behind us.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Tomorrow.—[Mr. Whiteley.]