§ 3.36 p.m.
§ Commander Galbraith (Glasgow, Pollok)
I think it is now generally realised throughout the country, and in every quarter of this House, that the gravest problem in the domestic sphere which the Government are called upon to solve, is that of providing not only shelter but homes for all those who require them, and that, obviously, cannot be done, unless building materials and housing components are forthcoming in very large quantities. At the General Election, many right hon. and hon. Gentlemen, who now sit on the benches facing me, held out high hopes that, under their direction, every family in these islands would be provided with a good standard of accommodation within a reasonable period of time. Some right hon. Gentlemen went even further and used words which appeared to indicate that a solution of the problem was comparatively simple.
For example, the right hon. and learned Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, who gives me the impression that, before making a statement, he always considers it in all its aspects, gave it as his opinion that, if the Labour Party were returned to power, the housing situation could be clarified within a fortnight. We have waited for a period of eight months, and I do not know that the situation today is any more clear than it was when the right hon. and learned Gentleman used those words. The right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary believed that we could build from 4,000,000 to 5,000,000 houses in very quick time. Those pro- 46 nouncements are typical of what right hon. and hon. Gentlemen were saying at that time, and it was therefore not surprising that at least a proportion of our population came to believe that they had a plan which would speedily solve the housing problem. I think it is obvious now that, if any such plan ever existed, it was incapable of operating with the speed which they envisaged, and that, as a result of these too optimistic statements, very great disappointment and also disillusionment have been caused throughout the country.
Any plan for providing houses which is worthy of the name must, first, provide for sites and materials being available. As a result of the foresight of the Coalition Government we have sites in plenty, but all forms of building materials are in short supply. The necessary labour, both for the production and erection of materials, must be forthcoming and housing components must be brought forward in sufficient quantities and at the proper time. If these matters are not properly thought out, if manufacture and distribution have not been properly organised, then the programme will necessarily get out of gear. Delays will occur, and will hold up the completion of houses and also add greatly to their cost.
The question of building materials was raised by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for West Middlesbrough (Wing-Commander Cooper) on 23rd January. He complained that many building materials were in very short supply, and also that there was considerable delay in deliveries. He also said that some, at least, of those who were employed by the Ministry of Works, if they had been working for an organisation which was required to show a profit, would not have retained their posts. That is an observation with which many hon. Gentlemen, I am sure, will have the utmost sympathy. The hon. and gallant Member implored the Minister to make his Department efficient. The Parliamentary Secretary, when he replied, seemed to place the blame for practically every shortcoming on his right hon. Friend's predecessor. I suggest that that is an excuse which is beginning to wear just a trifle thin. The hon. Gentleman told the House, however, that his right hon. Friend had set up a programming organisation to cover, not only housing, but also other essential building schemes, 47 manpower and materials, and the placing of bulk orders for components. I am sure the House will be very grateful to the Minister if he can give us some information on how that organisation is functioning, and how the departments under the Director-General of building materials and his opposite number in the Ministry of Supply, the Director-General of housing and supplies, are working together, and how their work is being coordinated and integrated. We have exactly the same complaints today as those which were made by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for West Middlesbrough two months ago.
There is very great anxiety as to the output of bricks. It is freely stated in the Press and elsewhere that, unless the output is largely increased, the whole permanent building programme will be endangered. The Minister of Works, in reply to a Question on 5th February, said that out of the 925 brickworks closed down during the war, 395 had been licensed to open up again since VE-day and that 65 of these had gone into production up to 31st December. A month later, on 5th March, in reply to another Question, he said that licences had been issued to all but 373 of the brickworks which had been closed; that is to say, that in a period of a month he had licensed 157 brickworks to reopen. I think the House would like to know today how many of the brickworks which have been reopened are now actively in production, and what percentage their production bears to their prewar output. If my memory serves me right, the Parliamentary Secretary, in reply to the Debate to which I have already alluded, stated that the output then was one-fifth of the prewar figure. He said that, fundamentally, the problem was one of manpower and that the matter was occupying the very closest attention of the Government. Might we be told whether any action has since been taken to increase the labour force and, apart from that, whether anything has been done to speed up output? Have any practical steps been taken by way of mechanisation or otherwise, to increase the average output per workman? The Simmonds Committee made a number of recommendations in this connection and pointed out that the reopening of the closed brickworks would give a golden opportunity to put those 48 recommendations into effect. Have the Government done anything to implement those recommendations?
Slates are also in very short supply today. Can the right hon. Gentleman give any explanation of why the output between November and January fell by no less than 1,700 tons a month, and how it comes about that the output in January was only one-third of the prewar output of the quarries then working? It is almost impossible today to obtain any castiron goods. Guttering and down pipes for permanent housing are practically unobtainable. It is alleged that stocks of these goods are held by the Ministry of Works for temporary houses. In view of the very great shortage and of the fact that the temporary house is to last only for ten years, would it not be possible at least to revise the specification in regard to that item, with a view to making as large a quantity as possible of rain-water goods available for the permanent housing programme? In any case, material which is available should surely be shared out now, and should not be kept in hand for one side of the programme only. I can see no sense in holding up permanent housing now, because it is thought that materials will be required later, for the temporary housing programme.
I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman can tell us something about the position in regard to glass. I understand that, at this moment, the manufacturers in this country cannot possibly cope with the situation—the capital is simply not available. Before the war we obtained a great proportion of our stocks from the Continent. Are imports from the Continent to be recommenced or is the exchange position such that glass cannot be procured from that source? In general, the complaint of builders who require building materials for work which they have been licensed by local authorities to undertake is that their merchants inform them that they cannot supply, because the Government have commandeered their entire stock, or that their stock is held against the order of the Ministry of Works. Under the housing conditions which exist today, it is appalling that building should be held up when material is available because the Ministry of Works may require that material in the future for some other purpose. May we be told what is happening to the stocks in the local authority and special repair service dumps in the City 49 of London? Are those stocks being made available to contractors or are they being hoarded for some future time, and for some purpose yet unknown?
There is another aspect of both supply arid distribution. Uncertainty as to whether materials will come forward on time has a bad effect both on output and on the price of tenders. Employers cannot tender properly unless they are assured that deliveries will come forward as required and experience goes to show that, unless the men see that there are supplies on the site, they are inclined to "go slow." When the right hon. Gentleman was speaking on the Second Reading of the Building Materials and Housing Bill, he said that it was the intention of his Ministry to go into business in a big way both in the manufacture and distribution of building materials and components. I do not think that his entry into business has succeeded hitherto in getting rid of the shortages of all kinds of material, nor has it yet removed the bottlenecks in distribution. But he has certainly succeeded in producing a very ponderous and unwieldy machine, and also in upsetting, in very large degree, the confidence of those industries which, before the war, produced and distributed everything that was required for an annual output of some half million houses. It may well be that his entry into business is one of these factors which is prolonging the scarcity of building materials. Production depends on the allocation of manpower and of raw materials. Both these are under the direct control of the Government. If production falls short, the responsibility rests on the Government's shoulders. Here, perhaps, it would be pertinent for me to ask whether the right hon. Gentleman has seen fit to place any orders with those 20 Royal Ordnance factories which the Minister of Supply told us some time ago were to be used for the purpose of relieving shortages in the national interest. If he has given orders to those factories, would he tell us whether he is satisfied with the deliveries, and also how the prices which are being charged compare with the price of goods of similar character which he receives from normal sources.
So far as distribution is concerned, again the Government must bear the responsibility for any shortcomings, because they have completely upset the normal channels of distribution by the 50 introduction of new and untried agencies of their own device. I do not think I am merely expressing the views of the Opposition. I believe I am also expressing views which are held on the benches opposite, and in other parts of the House, by those who have special technical qualifications and who are fully informed as to what is taking place. The machine is not working satisfactorily or smoothly. The Secretary of State for Scotland, speaking in this House last week, had some rather severe remarks to make, and I would like to quote from them. He said:Production in our factories of materials and components is not yet in its full stride. We are still experiencing exasperating bottlenecks which cause delays and hinder the rapid completion of both temporary and permanent housing.Later, speaking of the temporary housing programme, he had this to say:Progress so far possible has been disappointingly slow, due to initial production difficulties—so slow that many local authorities are labouring under a sense of frustration."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, I9th March. 1946; Vol. 420, c. 1701.]The hon. Member for Dumbartonshire (Mr. McKinlay) also had certain severe words to say. He said that the sooner the Ministry of Works cleared out of Scotland, "lock, stock and barrel," as far as housing was concerned, the better it would be for everybody.
The fact is that materials and components are in short supply in almost every direction, and, indeed, the situation has not improved since the Ministry issued its first notice on 22nd January. There is a general complaint from all over the country, of delays, and uncertainty as to delivery. The Ministry of Works is entirely responsible for the production and erection of temporary houses. The object of that programme was to fill the gap which would naturally occur between the termination of the war, and the time when permanent building got into its stride. Hon. Members will remember that the proposal was that 150,000 temporary houses should be erected by October, 1947, and that they should be provided, without prejudice, as regards either labour or materials, to the programme of 300,000 permanent houses by approximately the same date. The Noble Lord the Postmaster-General, speaking in another place recently, said that 19,000 of these temporary houses would be completed in 51 England and Wales by the end of this month. I understand that, approximately, another 1,000 will have been completed by that date in Scotland. So that, in all, 20,000 of them will have been completed by 31st March. The programme calls for an average of 5,500 of these houses being completed every month. In the Autumn it appeared that that average would very soon be reached, but in the first three months of this year it has remained stationary around 3,500 houses, and, as a result, the average monthly completion, to complete the programme on time, has now risen to 7,000 houses a month.
What is the reason for this slowing down in the programme, and why in these last eight months has more progress not been made? I gather the impression from various speeches to which I have listened in this House, that the delay is put down to a lack of planning on the part of the Coalition Government. In whatever directions that may be true, it is certainly not true in regard to temporary houses. The Government, when they came into office, took over 34,200 sites which had been fully developed. At the end of September there were 10,600 hulls on the sites. By that date 4,049 had been completed. Yet it was not until well on in January that the 10,000th house was completed. We know that by 23rd October over 15,000 kitchen and bathroom sets were available, so that it is no good endeavouring to say that the delay is due to lack of planning on the part of the previous Government. The slow progress during the last three months is certainly not due to lack of sites. There has been no holdup in the erection of hulls. It could not be due to labour shortage, because on 31st January we had 37,000 men working on the erection of houses. Is it due to a shortage of hulls or components, or is it due to lack of organisation in that the hulls and components are not being delivered as required? From my own experience, I have a very strong suspicion that it is due to lack of organisation. Every day I pass a site on which a number of these houses are now erected. A week before Christmas the hulls were fully erected, but it was not until the first week of this month that they were in occupation. That is to say, there was a difference of over two months between the 52 erection of the hulls and the houses being occupied.
I think everyone is in complete agreement that the temporary house is merely a stopgap, and that it should not in any way conflict with the permanent housing programme. I mean by that, that if a permanent house, whether prefabricated or otherwise, can, other things being equal, be completed as quickly as a temporary house, the permanent house should have priority. A temporary house demands many materials—plaster boards, asbestos, steel window frames, and all internal fittings. A permanent prefabricated house demands the same things. Let me given an example of what I have in mind. Today, asbestos is in very short supply. The Ministry of Health recently announced that they have placed an order for 30,000 permanent prefabricated houses. I am informed, on the best authority, that one of these houses requires only one-fifth of the asbestos which is required by one temporary house. Therefore, it may well be that the completion of one temporary house will hold up the completion of five of these permanent prefabricated houses.
The Ministry of Works is responsible for all building materials for all types of houses. At the same time, it has a wasted' interest in temporary houses. All over the country it has set up depots for components for these temporary houses. It is alleged that these depots are filled to overflowing. Yet nothing is allowed to go out except for temporary housing; so it may well be that material which could be put to immediate use for other housing purposes is being frozen. The question I wish to put to the Minister is this: Is the Ministry holding back supplies required now for permanent houses? Is it using unwisely, if not unfairly, its special position in regard to materials to ensure that, whatever else suffers, the temporary programme, for which it is responsible, does not? If there is any truth underlying the insinuation behind that question, then obviously there is a conflict between the temporary and the permanent housing programmes. If that be so, it is something which the Government must resolve immediately in the interests of housing generally. The Government must make up their minds on the place which the temporary house is to take today. If it continues to receive a top priority, then the permanent programme cannot possibly 53 go ahead at the speed which is necessary and which is required.
May I remind the House that the Government now have greater powers than any previous Government in time of peace. They have complete control over every agency required to provide houses—over labour, raw materials, building materials and components of every kind. Notwithstanding all these advantages, the results, till now, are highly disappointing. Hitherto, the people of this country and the Members of this House have been extremely patient, but their patience is beginning to run out. We on these benches, having given the Government eight months in which to settle down, must now press the Government and seek to ascertain what steps are being taken to remedy what is, not only an unsatisfactory, but a deplorable situation.
§ 4.4 P.m.
§ The Minister of Works (Mr. Tomlinson)
I wonder if the House will forgive me for asking a question. How many hon. Members fully realise the vastness of range and the multiplicity of things covered by the term "building materials and components "? I ask that question, because it seems to me we can only see this problem in its right perspective if we realise its magnitude. The purpose of this Debate, I think, is to assist the Government by advice and criticism; to assist the Government in general, and my Department in particular, to carry out their duties with efficiency and expedition. That may be a rather generous assumption, but in spite of the opening speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) it is still one which I like to cherish. The hon. and gallant Gentleman asked many questions, and I shall endeavour to deal with most of them.
In the statistical bulletin which we prepare in my Department, the section dealing with building materials and components comprises no fewer than 42 classifications, with innumerable variations, from sand and gravel as an aggregate, to prefabricated houses, and from nuts and bolts to steel-framed structures, all of which have to be kept in mind when an estimate is being made of the requirements of the building industry for the immediate programme and for future needs. Before appropriate productive capacity can be planned—and I am glad 54 to realise that the necessity for its planning is now being accepted on all sides—it is necessary to know, with reasonable accuracy, the quantities of the materials and the numbers of components required, and not only that, but the rate at which they are required. One of the first steps I took, on my appointment to the Ministry of Works, was to reorganise and strengthen the section of the Department dealing with planning and programming. This rearrangement embraced close cooperation with the Ministry of Health, which is responsible for housing requirements, and also the Ministry of Supply, which is responsible for the production of a wide variety of articles used in building.
I have discovered that the task of programming building requirements is far from easy. Now that the war is over the Government are the direct customers for only a small fraction of building and civil engineering work. The vast bulk is planned by local authorities, public utility companies, industrial concerns, commercial bodies, and private citizens in all walks of life. Whatever may be said of this Government, at least we have not interfered with all this. There are no practicable means of getting speedy and accurate information as to the precise intentions in building for a long period ahead. The temporary housing programme, to which reference has been made, being under complete Government control, is capable of precise statement and phasing. There has been a good deal of criticism of this programme, much of it legitimate, I admit. However, the difficulties and delays which have so far accompanied that programme, I would submit, were inevitable in the circumstances in which it was launched. I must confess, however, that I rubbed my eyes when I read in the evening Press last Friday, that 10,000 houses had been standing empty for six months waiting for baths. As a matter of fact, six months ago, less than 6,000 hulls had been produced altogether Since that time well over 10,000 houses have been finished and occupied, complete with baths and everything else.
It is true there have been shortages of baths, and other things too, but a report such as that presented in the Press, which is a travesty of the truth, is not calculated to help in these difficult days—perhaps it was not intended to be helpful. The temporary housing programme is the best 55 illustration I know of the need for planning, programming and synchronisation of materials and components. Between 2,500 and 3,000 parts, made in 165 different factories, each part essential to the complete house—is it any wonder that there has been delay?
Even if there had been an abundance of materials of every kind, the very nature of the problem, the bringing of the separate component parts together would have needed a miracle of organisation to avoid delay. Add to this the developing shortages of various things, as the programme began to get under way, and you have an explanation of, if not an excuse for, many of the disappointments of the past few months. May I say, however, that most of those difficulties have now been surmounted, and I look forward in the near future to seeing, in completed houses, the fruits of our new organisation.
All this, however, has meant the ascertainment of the materials and components necessary for the completion of the programme. In order to ascertain the materials and components necessary for the building of traditional houses, target programmes have had to be worked out in conjunction with the Ministry of Health, and calculations made therefrom. A large proportion of the building and civil engineering labour force, as the House is aware, is and will continue to be employed on war damage repairs, maintenance work, and new constructional work outside the housing field. When hon. Members speak of the necessity for assessing the amount of material required in all phases, let them remember that it consists of far more than that which relates simply to housing. The numbers actually employed in each of these fields of activity are regularly reported. Assumptions have been made, and have to be made, as to the changes that are likely to take place and which can, to a considerable extent, be controlled, and are controlled, by the operation of the licensing machinery. Then for all major building materials and the majority of components, for the production of which the Minister of Supply is responsible, calculations have been made of the average consumption of materials per man per year for all classes of work. The totals are best expressed as monthly rates for future periods.
56 The first complete estimates were available before the end of 1945. These have been discussed with representatives appointed by the producing industries. These discussions have brought out, what are in the light of the experience of producers, obvious errors in calculation whilst they have also enabled producers to see what their production targets should be and what must be achieved if our whole programme is to be met. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Health has furnished a great deal of detailed information on actual house building plans. At the same time, we have obtained from all the Government Departments concerned information as to building being planned in other fields. Requirements have been calculated, are under continuous review, and are discussed from time to time with the industry. Naturally we cannot hope that the figures will ever be precisely accurate, but they have already reached a stage at which they provide what may be described as a good guide to the size of our future demands.
§ Mr. David Eccles (Chippenham)
Can the right hon. Gentleman give us those targets for building, because that is the one thing we all want to know. What is the target for house building of various types, for this year?
§ Mr. Tomlinson
I am not in a position to say, at this stage, what the targets are. What I have said, and what I repeat, is that it was necessary for us at least to work on an agreed target programme, in order to assess the components and materials that would be necessary. We, ourselves, have information on existing and planned capacity of all important building materials, and we obtain regular returns of production, stocks and deliveries. Every possible step is taken to ensure that future industrial planning is on an adequate basis to meet anticipated demands. In the implementation of these plans, the assistance of the Government machine is given, in so far as it is needed and is helpful, and the industrialists concerned take advantage of it.
Before the war, in certain materials, home production was eked out by imports. The hon. and gallant Gentleman in his opening speech mentioned one of them. The policy now being followed is to build up home capacity to an extent sufficient to meet all home requirements 57 and to leave a margin for substantial exports in types of material for which export markets are likely to be available. In general, prewar capacity remains available, but owing to the marked concentration of building materials industries during the war, much has to be done to rehabilitate plant and buildings, bring back skilled labour and management, and overcome initial production difficulties. If it is suggested that six or eight months is a sufficient time in which to rehabilitate industries that have been standing idle for six years, then I misjudge the business knowledge and capacity of hon. Gentlemen opposite who come to such a conclusion. It should be remembered that building materials industries were among the most heavily concentrated of all. Those for which the Ministry of Works is responsible are capable of employing, at the full prewar capacity, about 1,50,000 workers. At the end of July, 1945, less than 60,000 were being employed, and some of the industries had been reduced to less than a quarter of their prewar labour strength.
Let me quote two or three examples to show the House what the situation was and is. In bricks, for example, the prewar labour force was 55,000. The present labour force is 20,500. By 30th June we need 50,000, and the intake from August to February inclusive, that is in the last seven months, was 11,600. In stoneware pipes, which are allied to bricks, and are just as necessary in the fulfilment of our programme, the prewar labour force was 10,000. The present labour force is 5,000. In clay tiles, which all builders or builders' merchants will recognise as a necessity, the prewar labour force was 12,000, and the present labour force is 3,900.
Concrete products and cement are both in short supply, though not nearly to the same extent, for which relief, at least, I am thankful. In concrete products the prewar labour force was 13,000; the present force is 1,800; whilst in cement the prewar labour force was 10,000 and at present it is 7,600. So that in these two very essential industries connected with building materials we are, in comparison with some others, at least, sitting pretty. The hon. Gentleman referred to slates. The prewar labour force working on slates was 9,000; the present labour force is 4,300. The prewar labour force working on plaster 58 board was less than at present. I shall have something to say about that later. The same thing applies to asbestos cement. Both of these materials, in spite of the fact that there are more people in those industries today, are, owing to the excessive needs of the moment, in short supply.
§ Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)
With regard to these figures showing the difficulties in the various industries, may I ask if all the men who are required are in the Forces, and, if so, are they being brought out as quickly as possible?
§ Mr. Tomlinson
I was coming to that part of the problem. Although Class B release has been offered to a large number of essential workers, the results have been disappointing. May I say in this respect, speaking as Minister of Works, that it does seem to me that at times we have over emphasised the need for getting home building trade workers, when we had not made sure that the workers in the materials industries had preceded them. A total allocation of 19,000 for Class B release has resulted in 8,139 men actually being released up to 28th February, which is much less than 50 per cent. of the allocation, a proportion of the men who have been nominated have preferred to await being released under Class A—and there is no guarantee that such men will return to the building materials industries—whilst others for various reasons are ineligible for Class B release. Steps have been taken to make offers to further men with the appropriate industrial classification, and in order to secure that the total number of men authorised under Class B are available, firms have been invited to submit, without limit, the names of former employees regarded as essential to production. Every effort is being made to speed up labour recruitment and, also, to employ German prisoners of war. The Ministry of Labour has appointed Labour Supply Officers with the sole duty of investigating the requirements of the clay industry, and of doing all that can be done to make sure that these vacancies are filled.
The possibility of training at the works themselves is also being considered at the present time by the Ministry of Labour, for it is suggested that, although we are very short of labour, the utilisation of much of the unskilled is dependent upon our obtaining a proportion of skilled labour in the works themselves. If we can 59 train, as we trained during the war, on the premises, instead of in separate premises, it may be that our labour force can be supplemented. As I announced in the House on 5th March a committee has been set up to make inquiry into working conditions in the brick industry, and to make recommendations which will; it is hoped, enable us to make this industry more attractive to labour. A newly-formed Joint Industrial Council is also meeting this week—it is an adjourned meeting—to consider an application for an improvement in wages. I am also appointing a committee to inquire into the organisation, technical efficiency and attractiveness to labour of the salt glazed pipe industry, another very essential industry which fails to attract labour just as the brick industry itself does.
The House, I feel sure, will be interested to have some information about the individual materials which are, at the moment, in short supply, or are in danger of being in short supply. First, with regard to bricks. The estimated demand as at June this year, is over 560 million bricks a month. The monthly production in February was 142 millions. Scaled up to a normal 30-day month this would be rather more than 150 millions. At the end of February, stocks of bricks of all types were 825 millions, but demands are constantly exceeding production and exceptional efforts will be necessary on the part of all concerned—owners, workers and Government—if a brick famine is to be averted.
Major Leģģe-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
Can the right hon. Gentleman say what proportion of that total of bricks in stock, is in facing bricks?
§ Mr. Tomlinson
Yes. Of the 825 millions—I am quoting from memory—about 43 millions are facing bricks. I will correct that figure, if it is wrong, when I have had time to look it up. Measures to secure full returns of workers from the Forces are under consideration. Adequate numbers of prisoners of war are available for employment in brickyards, and arrangements are in train to introduce these, wherever they can be usefully employed. The trade unions have agreed, not only that these men should come in, but that they can make a contribution. A guarantee has been given to them, how- 60 ever, that no prisoner of war should be employed, if it means the displacement of one of our own people—a promise and an undertaking with which, I think, the House would fully agree.
Before the war, Fletton bricks which are made in the area of Peterborough and Bedford, represented nearly half the total bricks produced in the country. Works in the Fletton field are generally very large and highly mechanised. The clay contains a considerable proportion of combustible material and the amount of fuel used for the burning of these bricks is considerably less than normal. At the main works of the London Brick Company at Stewartby, before the war, 2,100 workers made 45,000,000 bricks a month, an average of over 20,000 a head. This was about double the rate of production per operative throughout the country. One has to keep in mind all the time when thinking in terms of bricks and brickworks that, in this country we have got all kinds, from what I would call the most antiquated, to the finest brickworks in the world. Between these two extremes is a variety which I had better not attempt to describe. Fuel consumption for the manufacture of Fletton bricks is less than two cwt. per thousand bricks as against five cwt. for other types of clay.
Owing to high organisation and economical use of labour and fuel, Fletton bricks were, and still are, the cheapest in the country. The size of these works and the method of production adopted, make them particularly suitable for the large scale employment of prisoners of war. Arrangements have already been made to put 200 prisoners into Stewartby and 200 into the same company's Peterborough works. After a month these numbers will be doubled, and later on, when nightshifts can be started, they will again be doubled. Similar action is in hand for the other three main Fletton manufacturers, although these works are smaller and cannot employ such a large number of prisoners. Out of 1,300 active brickyards in 1938, over 900 closed down during the war. Many of these brickyards were requisitioned and used for storage purposes. Many were occupied by our troops and they have the appearance today of having been occupied by the German army. These brickyards are being cleared and derequisitioned as rapidly as possible, but, in many cases, 61 there is much work to do in necessary repairs to kilns, plant and machinery, and to recruit a balanced labour force.
With regard to asbestos cement sheets, about which many questions have been asked, the present production of the flat and corrugated type is nearly 50 per cent. above prewar output. Three-quarters of the production is necessarily earmarked for use in construction of temporary houses, and in consequence supplies are very short for the wide variety of building purposes for which this material is normally used. I have taken note of the suggestion made by the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok that stocks are being held for one purpose which could be used for another. I can assure him that we are not holding stocks in any of those places about which he speaks, which could be, or should be, used for the permanent housing programme. As the demand for prefabricated houses falls off, there will be a corresponding increase in the supplies available for other users. A similar situation exists in the case of plasterboard. The production of plasterboard is now about 700,000 square yards per week, which is slightly above the pre-war level. Abnormal demands arise for this material for temporary houses and war damage repairs. It seems to me, in the criticism being levelled, that no account is taken of the vast amount of time, labour and materials which has to go in repairs to war damaged property, and in the rebuilding of thousands of houses in the London area. Major extensions to capacity have been planned, and the erection of the first big new unit is in hand. These production units involve a great deal of specialised and heavy plant and machinery. I am afraid it is likely to take at least 18 months from the completion of plans to the stage when reasonable production can be available. I do not know whether that is the fault of the Socialist. Government or not, but it is the information which the experts have given me. The hon. and gallant Member asked a number of questions about sheet glass and other materials in short supply. The present production of sheet glass exceeds prewar production by more than 25 per cent. Repair of war damage creates exceptional—
§ Commander Galbraith
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us by how much our production falls short of our needs at the present moment?
§ Mr. Bossom (Maidstone)
Has the right hon. Gentleman any idea of the enhanced demand for glass today compared with prewar demands?
§ Mr. Tomlinson
I am speaking for the moment of production. I think I explained very carefully in my opening statement how we have been attempting to ascertain the demand and the requirements. In dealing with production, I would point out that it now exceeds prewar levels by more than 25 per cent. Repair of war damage creates exceptional demands, and we no longer have available the imports from the Continent upon which we relied to a substantial extent in prewar days. We never made enough for our own requirements, and therefore we are making up what we received from abroad by increasing our own production. Planned expansions to the industry are in active preparation, and will provide, when working; sufficient glass to meet all foreseeable home needs and leave a substantial margin for export.
Present production of plate glass substantially exceeds the prewar level, the increase being about 60 per cent. The very large quantities required for war damage repair cannot possibly be met in a short space of time. Apart from building requirements, as the House knows, a large quantity of plate glass is used in the manufacture of motor vehicles, furniture, railway vehicles, household and other goods. The possibility, which the hon. and gallant Member mentioned, of obtaining imports from the Continent is being explored, but the prospects do not appear to be very good. A question was asked about slates. The production of slates is still below prewar levels. I have given the figure of the number employed, and production improves steadily as the labour is recruited. Here again, with the repair of war damage, the demand is exceptional. Slated roofs can be repaired only with slates, short of stripping and re-roofing with alternative materials. We have agreed with the Ministry of Health to limit the use of slates, for the time being, to repair work, and to use clay and concrete tiles for new houses and other buildings. It has not been easy, and it cannot be easy, to convince a slate producing county of the necessity to use tiles on the houses they are building.
63 In September, last year, the responsibility for the production of a large number of housing components and fitments was transferred from the Board of Trade to the Ministry of Supply. These new responsibilities necessitated setting up within the Ministry of Supply, a new division, which was brought into being in October, 1945. This division is responsible for the production of all housing components and fitments produced by the engineering industry. Again, the question was asked whether the Director-General of building materials, in my Department, and the Director-General of housing supplies, in the Ministry of Supply, were working together harmoniously. The answer is that they are, but they are incapable of working miracles, much as I, personally, would like them to. The duties of the division, in the Ministry of Supply, is the overall planning and production of all, items of housing components and fitments, whether required for the Government housing programme, including bomb damage repair, or for private enterprise houses, or for general maintenance. The planning and progressing of direct Government contracts for the temporary housing programme is also their responsibility. The requirements of fitments for temporary houses and the main programme have been drawn up by my Ministry, and the various industries are being planned in such a way as to meet the programme. When it is suggested that we should transfer from temporary houses to permanent houses, components or fitments which have been provided for the one but not for the other, I would point out that not always, in fact, very seldom, are these interchangeable, and particularly those which are in short supply.
Planning has necessitated discussions with the various trade associations and their co-operation in meeting the demand for housing and other essential building has been secured. Let it not be said that the actions of this Ministry, or of the Ministry of Supply, have led to either the associations or to individuals seeking to "crab the programme of the Government.
In the case of some stores, it has been found advantageous to place blanket orders, in the form of production agreements, to secure production at the required rates and to reduce types and sizes 64 to as few as are considered essential. The range of stores which it is proposed to cover in this manner is still under active investigation, and additional production agreements are likely to be placed in the near future. In the case of two stores in particular, difficulty has been encountered in meeting the requirements—iron castings and ceramics. To overcome the difficulty of iron castings, substitute materials have been introduced in the form of pressed steel and aluminium. These materials will now be used in the manufacture of baths, lavatory basins, sinks, gas and electric cookers and rain water guttering. Investigations are proceeding with a view to introducing a substitute for cast iron rain water pipes and soil pipes. At the same time, no effort is being spared—and I think that the House will agree that no effort should be spared—to increase the flow of labour into foundries in order to step up the present production of iron castings to a maximum. As regards ceramics an advisory committee has been set up to assist in organising the trade. The placing of orders is being regulated in such a way as to secure that those required for most essential purposes are given preference over all others.
The House, I think, will be interested to have an assurance that the Ministry of Works is in the forefront in the use of scientists and a scientific approach in connection with the formulation of policy. We have in our Chief Scientific Adviser, a scientist of great eminence and experience. For many years he was head of the Building Research Station. He has direct access to the Parliamentary Secretary and to me, and is consulted freely by all sections of the Ministry. In the Chief Scientific Adviser's department we have economists, physicists, engineers and architects. The Department has also the advice of the Scientific Advisory Committee with personnel eminent in their various subjects. Both the permanent staff and the Scientific Advisory Committee have sections devoted wholly to the study of existing and potential building materials, and both sections work in close cooperation with the relative sections of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, so no possible approach to the use of materials is neglected for want of scientific investigation.
The House will realise that it will be necessary, for some time to come, to ensure that so far as possible materials in 65 short supply go primarily to housing and other priority building work. After long consultations and discussions with the distributors and producers, a scheme has been evolved, and will shortly be introduced, which will enable a builder undertaking housing or other priority work to obtain preference in the supply of the necessary building materials. The builder will be authorised to quote a priority number when ordering the materials necessary to carry out the job. The successful working of the scheme will depend, in large measure, on the good will and cooperation of builders, distributors and producers, and it is greatly in the national interest that this cooperation should be forthcoming.
The present supply of building materials and labour is quite inadequate for the vast amount of building work that is waiting to be clone. Only yesterday, a man upon whose judgment I rely suggested that all labour and all materials available could be absorbed on necessary maintenance work at the present time, without attempting to build a single house. Apart from housing and the equally essential work of reconstruction for industry, there are war damage repairs and arrears of maintenance urgently requiring attention, and to meet these needs the limit of £100, for work to be carried out without a licence, was reduced last August to £10. We were hoping, and are still hoping, that that measure would enable the country's building resources to he used to the maximum advantage, by providing a strict scrutiny of all building work before it is started. Time and again, however, in this House, I have been asked to raise the £10 limit to prevent what is called "black marketing."
The success of such a control depends chiefly upon the loyal co-operation of building owners and all those employed in the building industry. In general, the necessity for the control is recognised, but there is no doubt that a considerable amount of unlicensed and unnecessary work is going on, and it is essential to cut out this "black market" if we are to progress with housing. We have, therefore, decided to take stern measures against those selfish individuals who put their own convenience before public needs, and who are apparently not deterred by the comparatively mild penalties incurred so far for breaches of the 66 licensing regulations. As the House knows, a new Order has been laid on the Table, and persons who contravene the licensing regulations will now be liable to much severer penalties than hitherto. In addition to the penalties, the building contractor's certificate of registration may be revoked or suspended, if he is convicted of an offence against the licensing regulations. That, I suggest, will be far more salutary than any penalty that can be imposed.
I have given the House a frank and open statement of the position in the industries upon which we are dependent for the manufacture of the materials without which Britain cannot be rebuilt. With the assistance of hon. Members and the cooperation of employers and workers in these industries, I believe that we can overcome our difficulties. Without that, we face the possibility of disaster, for we should then be unable to provide homes for our people to live in, factories to work in, and public buildings in which they can take a pleasure and a pride. Personally, I have no doubt that when the people in the industries know the need, they will rally to the Government's cause.
§ 4.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Bossom (Maidstone)
We have just heard one of the frankest statements that I have ever heard from the Government Benches. The Minister has painted a picture showing how tremendously difficult is the problem that is being faced, and I think that it is unfortunate that he did not have an opportunity of making this speech to a great many people before the General Election. I do not believe that Members of the present Government would have made such wild promises if they had heard then half of what the Minister has said today. The Minister's frank and sincere statement has really been a revelation to me and I am sure that it will stop all talk about curing the housing problem in two weeks and building four to five million houses as was said during the election.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham)
Before the hon. Gentleman goes any further, is he 67 aware that that statement has been made before on the Floor of the House, was contradicted completely by the President of the Board of Trade, and that it is wholly devoid of truth?
§ Mr. Bossom
I think I can best answer that by saying my own opponent during the election made similar wild statements.
§ Mr. Bossom
Yes, fortunately. Almost all Members in this House have received most pathetic letters from wives, who have children, many of whom are going to have another baby and who willingly lived under great hardship during the war, but who now want a house of their own as their husbands are returning from the Forces. This is a matter, I am sure, about which every one is terribly disturbed. [Interruption.] I am sure that hon. Members over there who are laughing have had letters like we all have had on that distressing subject. It is very sad. I do not think that the housing programme has given the satisfaction that every one is agreed is desirable. The failure on the part of the Government to accomplish that is due to the fact that they did not make some fundamental decisions in the right way. I believe that three of those decisions will have to be changed if the Government are going to succeed as the Minister clearly desires them to do.
First of all, we must have a larger number of building operatives. We must have manpower. The most important component in all building work is manpower, for buildings cannot be constructed without it. The vast building programme that has to be accomplished will entail a tremendously enhanced building force, and the Government should use every inducement to increase that force and remove all difficulties. Everything of this nature should be done as quickly as possible. The training of operators too is not going as well as we should like. I will give a few figures, which, I hope, will convince everybody that we must get more manpower into the situation than has been contemplated so far. Prewar the nation had about a million operatives in the building trade, a million and a quarter being the maximum one year only. One third of all of those were engaged on maintenance and 68 repairs alone. No maintenance or repairs have been done in the last five or six years, so that that class of work is now in arrears and has all got to be done. In addition to the normal work, we have approximately half a million houses which are useless, for they have been so badly damaged or destroyed that they cannot ever be used again. The rough total is somewhere between 460,000 and 500,000 houses; I am not sure of the exact figure.
I believe that to end overcrowding substantially we need 2,500,000 new houses. I remember the Minister of Town and Country Planning saying from these benches that we needed eight million houses to satisfy the demand in this country today. It is contended that anywhere up to 75 per cent. of our construction work in the country is sub-standard and needs rebuilding. This is a tremendous quantity of work that now is requiring to be done, and to handle it we have to have a larger building force than was ever contemplated in the past. In addition, about 3,500,000 houses have been damaged more or less seriously and half a million slum dwellings have to be wiped out. Fifteen of our great cities have been very seriously bombed, and 25 large cities and towns have had great gaps torn in them by the German bombs. All this work is waiting to be cared for. The demand for workers will continue for years, for there is no possibility of all this work being done this summer or for many years yet. Therefore, as I have said, there is three or four times if not 10 times as much work to be done as was ever faced in prewar years, and its completion will take very many years.
Although I believe the Minister will get his 750,000 operatives by June, that is not anything like sufficient, and every effort will have to be made to make it easier and more attractive for the men to leave the Forces and to come out of the factories to get on with the building task if the Government are to succeed with their plans; for at the moment we- are merely nibbling at the smaller edges of it. Immediately demobilisation started the Government should have invited men formerly engaged in industry to come out of the Forces and to have brought them out far quicker than has been the case. We are all receiving letters from men in 69 the Forces, particularly from those in the Army, who want to get back to their work in the building trade, but they do not like to come out under the "B" scheme of release. They prefer to wait on their ordinary release. It is a pity that this cannot be changed right away. As I said, the Minister will get his three-quarters of a million operatives before June, but these operatives will have to care for all the temporary and permanent houses, do all the repairs and maintenance, repair the war damaged houses all over the country and at the same time remove the war obstructions. These obstructions ought to be taken down by the Services; it is work which requires quite a number of men. I know of a thoroughfare where vans cannot get into the street to remove furniture due to the existence of barbed wire, and yet the Forces declare that they are waiting on civilian operatives to cut it down. There are plenty of soldiers doing very little real work who could remove these obstructions. Surely those who erected these obstructions should be able to remove them. Also there is essential building work like schools, hospitals, factories, churches and buildings like that that will have to be cared for by the building trade operatives. I am sure the present number of operatives is totally insufficient and we must have a much higher target than the Minister has indicated if we are to undertake this immense reconstruction. To hold it down to that announced level is a fundamental error. The target ought to be considerably increased.
The second fundamental trouble, which is a very serious one and is causing much trouble, and to which the Minister has alluded, is the lack of balance for the makers of components for the work that is coming on. Manufacturers of components are not getting the men into their factories. The Minister has given us a list of things which have got to be made, but to ensure their production there must be a balanced allocation of men to these factories on a much better and bigger basis than in the past if the nation is to get ahead with its building programme. Certain of the vital ingredients are not being produced in anything like sufficient numbers, and in some cases not more than 15 per cent. of the requirement even now. Again, take bricks. Only one third of the number of men required in the brickyards are there, and at least as many 70 more are required to meet the needs of the yards that have already been licensed and still as many again to satisfy the existing demands of the industry. Some of the brickworks are still requisitioned. These ought to be released right away, and some of the German prisoners made to straighten them out and make it possible for our men to make the bricks. This or a similar procedure must be followed at once, because you cannot build traditional houses without bricks.
There is the question of bath tubs. Prewar in this country we made 300,000 odd annually, but during the war output dropped to below 50,000. This production of baths is a vital matter which should have been pushed hard immediately upon the commencement of demobilisation so that there would have been enough bath tubs to put into the houses when they became ready. There has not been enough considered anticipation as to the requirements of the components. There is serious delay in the programme, and it will continue unless the Government thoroughly overhaul their present arrangements to care for the production of components. I do not wish to go into details, but I want to stress the imperative need of the Government looking into this matter again, because they are, obviously, not getting the results the nation requires. A most comprehensive review should have been made when demobilisation started in order to see how many men were wanted for the brickyards and how many for the manufacture of bath tubs and for each other of the components that would he required.
The third fundamental in regard to which the Government have made a serious mistake is in deciding to make permanent houses of prefabricated metal, instead of the usual traditional materials. What are preferred by worker and users are brick-built houses. Builders employed on the new mechanical made houses are not getting along anything like as quickly as they could by using bricks. All these new experimental matters such as planes, tanks and permanent prefabricated metal houses are bound to have serious teething troubles that are not discovered until the first ones have been in use for a time. When a few of these houses have been built lots of unexpected developments will demonstrate themselves. It was the same with all weapons during the war. Let us 71 have mass produced temporary houses and prefabricated interiors by all means, but let us not overdo the production of metal permanent prefabricated houses The Minister of Health has had many widespread headlines, and has received spectacular Press notices, but he has not yet produced many of these houses, and I have little doubt we shall be shocked to see how few of these there will be. Building operatives themselves would prefer to work on brick houses. Of course, by using an almost unlimited amount of the taxpayers' money the Minister will be able to build thousands of these houses—which will be grim monuments of a mistaken decision of the Minister which we shall have to look at for the next 50 years. They will all be substantially alike, and I do not think anybody will be proud of them when they see them. Prefabrication is all right for an emergency, but to mass produce the exteriors of permanent houses—no.
Further, normal traditional houses can usually be built more quickly and more cheaply, so I cannot see where the Minister will gain by going in for these prefabricated permanent metal affairs. And at this point I would like to remind the Minister that he is not using the science of prefabrication as well as it can be used. That science of prefabrication is quite complicated, and in the house he is fostering he is not employing sufficient standardisation or modulisation. Thirty-five years ago, the First National Bank at Richmond, Virginia, a 20-storey building, once the foundations were completed, was erected, furnished, and occupied within six months, and yet some of the one-storey bungalows we see going up today have taken six months from the time of manufacture to the time of occupation. I am convinced the Government must reconsider these three fundamentals of large-scale production before they will be able to solve the housing and the general building problem: there must be a higher target for building operatives, a more balanced programme for getting components made, and they must adopt more extensively the traditional form of construction, rather than go in for this metal permanent prefabrication. If that is not done most people in the industry believe the results will be considerably below what we nationally 72 are capable of achieving. Costs, too, to which the Minister did not refer today, will be high. I fear exceedingly high. I do not want to refer to the advantages of private enterprise, but everybody must admit that it did provide the men and material wherewith to build 300,000 houses a year before the war. Private enterprise organised itself.
Now I want to ask the Minister two questions which, I think, will be of assistance. Why do not the Government revise building regulations and bylaws so as to make it easy and cheap to refashion the thousands of Victorian houses which can be seen in all parts of the country, and which could be easily turned into flats? Difficulties of many kinds with party walls, staircases and plumbing can now be simplified or removed. Moreover, there are 50,000 to 250,000 houses, which have been damaged by bombs, which could be treated in the same way as the Southern Californian houses, which were cracked by earthquakes, were treated. They were coated by a skin of guncrete over wire mesh. By this treatment, we would cheaply renovate houses up to 50 per cent. damage in a short time. It briefly consists of shooting liquid concrete over the entire surface and into the cracks of the structure, which binds it together. Why have not the Government attempted to do those two things, which would give us more housing accommodation quickly and cheaply?
§ Mr. House (St. Pancras, North)
Surely the hon. Member is aware that local authorities, under their town planning schemes, are continually giving attention to the question of altering the internal structure of houses, but that they do not find it is a practical proposition in many cases.
No, because the regulations need revising. If they were revised it would he a practical proposition.
§ Mr. Bossom
As a practical man, I know that it can be done. Regulations control a system and work has to conform with the bylaws and many bylaws are out of date.
There is another point
I am sure that most Members opposite, during the 73 Election, said that what was needed was a Minister of Housing: Why do we not have that Minister? Let him be the Minister of Works if you like, but the Minister of Health has far more to do than any one man can possibly carry out successfully. He cannot possibly give the time to be a satisfactory housing controller, as he is placed today. Surely all that the Minister of Works said today emphasised, more than ever, the need for a Minister of Housing. There has lately been a wonderful opportunity to cause the construction of fine and beautiful houses, but I am afraid, however, that the present campaign will have a dismal and sorry result unless the Government take hold of the fundamentals of the whole situation, and amend it to meet the practical conditions with which the whole industry can and will be able willingly to comply.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Mr. George Hicks (Woolwich, East)
I listened with great interest to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Works. I thought he made an excellent statement and I appreciated his speech very much. I am sure we all have great sympathy with him. When he was speaking about substitute materials, particularly cast iron, he referred to the fact that steel and aluminium are now being used and he mentioned baths. I do not know whether they are proposing to make aluminium baths. It will require something to insulate the bath from the heat that will travel when the hot water touches it. If you do get such a bath, the hot water you put into it will have to get cooler before you can sit down. This may be rather a difficult thing. My hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. Bossom) has spoken about bricks and bricklayers. I was going to invite him over, but I do not know whether he would like to come. It was very good of him to make the generous references that he has done. My union did, at one time, give the ex-Prime Minister a trade union card. I do not see any reason why, through his advocacy, the application of the hon. Member for Maidstone should not be considered also. He was very right and proper in what he said about bricks. It is not generally understood that the greatest prefabricated unit we have in this country today is the brick. It is marvellous; it will go round doorways and windows, and it is useful 74 at election times. It has so many uses and it is so easily available and so cheap that it is bound to have its proper place in the more permanent construction of our traditional homes.
There is one point not generally understood by Members and the public generally. Most people think that if you can get the bricks cheaper and the bricklayers to do a little more, you will get a very cheap house. I have stated on many occasions that if you take the cost of the bricks and the materials and the bricklayer and add them together, it is less than 20 per cent. of the cost of the house. There is 80 per cent. entirely outside the cost of the materials and the bricklayer. I think I might say a word on that little point today in order to get some publicity to correct the minds of many who think that bricks and bricklayers are really responsible for the high cost of building. I am not advocating that they should not lay more bricks if they can become available. How is it we have got short with brick production? I have been to my union headquarters today, and I have had it reported to me that some bricklayers have been discharged because they have not had the bricks; that is a bad state of affairs and it is not a thing that will encourage production. Once you get a shortage of materials of any sort in any industry, the people employed in such an industry feel very uncertain and unhappy. If you are asking for increased production, they wonder how long it will be before they become unemployable.
When I was at the Ministry we introduced a system of charging 3s. a L000 upon bricks for the purpose of providing a fund in order to see that brickworks had adequate maintenance. Two shillings was paid by the consumer or the client and one shilling by the trade. About 900 brickworks had closed down and that fund secured that the plant and machinery was kept in condition so that when the war was over they would be available to go back into production in order to meet the need. It was a very definite plan. I had experience at the end of the 1914–18 war when we had a large number of men unemployed because we had not got the necessary materials. Brickworks were shut up and cement works closed down, and it took a long time to get them back into action again. In so far as I had any influence at all, I was anxious to see that 75 some ways and means were employed to ensure that materials should be available for the building industry as soon as the war was over, and for that purpose we created this fund. How it was spent I do not know. I think we had sufficient officers to see that all the brickworks were visited from time to time. I am aware that some were taken over for stores, but, so far as I was aware, those brickworks were to be got into commission in order that they might start up again at very short notice.
There was one thing the Minister mentioned which he was necessarily unable to develop, but I could sense what was behind it—that men of the A and B Class from the Army had been asked to come back, and that the A Class had been discharged and some of them returned, but the B Class were rather anxious to wait for their A Class to arrive before they returned. If conditions of labour and rates of pay for the industry are not sufficient to attract them, they prefer to remain in the Army rather than to come out and go back into the industry. I do not like the Government interfering in wages and conditions. I would keep them out of it entirely but it may be that they will have to come in because of their stimulation of demand. I hope that they and the trade unions will get together and see that in the industry—and industries such as tile-making and pipe-making and other related industries—the wages and conditions are so attuned as to be able to attract men back in their right proportion.
I would like to say a word about the temporary houses, and I sincerely regret that the first proposal put to the country has not been accepted and maintained. I am satisfied in my own mind that had it been done, had the Portal house which we evolved and brought to this House and made public in the country, been accepted by the country, we would have gone very far towards solving our problem of temporary housing. The Minister must not complain about this. Anyone with a job like he has will be told he has not delivered sufficient. That is the charge which will be brought against him, and I shall be one of those who will see that he is properly criticised from time to time about the amount he delivers. The steel house under the name of Lord Portal was evolved—a steel house to be 76 stamped out under mass production conditions, with partitions all tested for insulation, equipment and so on, and we had worked it out at about £600. I am satisfied that the increased costs, whatever they might have been, would not have made it more than £800, and it would very likely have been much less.
I have one figure to give for the House to keep in mind. The building of 100,000 houses a year requires roughly 100,000 building trade operatives; that is to say, roughly one house per man per year. With regard to temporary housing, we had conceived the idea of erecting 50,000 a year, or more, according to the opportunities available, and it was anticipated that not more than 10,000 men would be employed in any one year for the erection of those houses. The prototypes were made, and the men were trained to assemble them, and to make them habitable. We were not concerned with making them pretty to look at. I did not want our people to be satisfied with living in houses of that kind after 10 years; I wanted them to be dissatisfied with the elevation of the houses; but the comforts inside the houses were the equal of anything we have been able to erect.
The country went off the rails when the last Minister who was at the Ministry of Works before the end of the war cancelled the order for the stamping of the units necessary for the Portal house. Every type of building trade material and building trade labour is used in the manufacture of temporary houses of every other type. In the case of the Portal house, we would not have used building trade labour, with the exception of a very few men needed to assemble the plumbing units and one or two other small units. This would have meant releasing 90,000 men from the manufacture and erection of temporary houses to the general building industry for the purpose of building more permanent types of houses. In the last Parliament, I fought for, and eventually got, the sanction of the House to spend money on the manufacture of jigs arid tools. Those orders were all cancelled.
In the production of temporary houses, mass production is necessary, as it is necessary also for tackling the big housing problems now before us. Everybody in the House preaches about the rights of small builders. The small builder is all 77 right as long as it is a question of half a dozen houses or 30 houses, but when it is a matter 100, 200 or 500 houses, one needs bulldozers, concrete mixers, trench diggers, and so forth. One does not want little men who are handicapped because they have not the tools and the machinery for general work. The small builder is all right in his proper place, but his rights ought not to be magnified out of all proportion. Equally, the temporary houses to which I have been referring ought to have been put in the hands of big firms—Brigg Bodies and Pressed Steel. Those were, the two firms in mind. There were those who wanted the work to be done in every little shop, at the back of garages, and so on, but big mass production is necessary. If that course had been followed, the firms would have manufactured the houses, they would have been assembled, and the Minister's headache would have been reduced. The houses would have been available today, without a large quantity of building labour being employed in their manufacture or erection. It is all very well to talk about that now. The thing has happened, and I regret it very much.
The hon. Member for Maidstone talked about having one Minister for housing. I do not think we shall ever get one Minister in charge of housing, because I do not think it is a practical proposition. The Ministry of Works have a great deal to do with the subject, the Ministry of Health have to deal with the local authorities, the Ministry of Town and Country Planning have to be consulted as to where the houses shall be put, the Ministry of Agriculture have to decide whether the land should be used for agricultural purposes; everybody has to come in, and in the end, probably Uncle Tom Cobley will come along as well. Whatever one may say, that position cannot be very substantially changed. Even if there were a Minister of housing, he would have to consult every one of those other Ministries before he would be able to do anything.
I wish the Minister well in his work. I am sorry we have not got more houses. I was very well aware at the time he took office that we should not get them. We cannot get them any faster than they are being put up now; of that I am satisfied. Later on we shall be able to criticise the Minister; we shall be able to quote figures about what he promised and what he has performed; and if he has a good enough 78 memory he will be able to say to hon. Members opposite what they promised and what they performed. But it takes a long time and much hard work to get plans made, to get everything organised for house production, to get the materials and equipment, and so on. I hope the Minister will get on with the manufacture of materials to the greatest possible extent. I do not think there are very many prefabricated permanent houses, although there are many units that can be prefabricated in the permanent houses, and no argument ought to be used against that being done. Unless there are plenty of materials available, there is a bad effect on the morale of the men. They are worked up to a pitch, and then, if there is no material, their interest lags, and it is very difficult to get it back again. I hope the Minister will use every agency that he can in the country, and obtain the assistance, consultation and co-operation of those who have very long experience in manufacture and distribution. If the Minister does that, and bends all his energies towards improved production of materials, I feel certain that, in so far as a contribution can be made to this great problem, he will have helped to do so.
§ 5.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Derek Walker-Smith (Hertford)
I count myself fortunate in being called immediately after the speech of my hon. Friend—if I may use the term in a nonpolitical sense—the Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks), having been for a very long time familiar with his great prestige in the building industry. I want to address myself only to one aspect of the matter before the House. There are two main methods of projected building in this country. There is what I would call the method of experiment, and there is the method of tradition. The Minister of Works is, perhaps rather unexpectedly, the apostle of experiment, and even more unexpectedly, his right hon. Friend the Minister of Health is the custodian of tradition. The Ministry of Works are charged with all those methods which are sought in substitution of the normal method of traditional building. Most of these methods are designed to achieve the avoidance of the necessity of using bricks in building, and therefore, of using bricklayers' labour.
I want to put a question to the House for its consideration. How far is this search for substitute methods necessary, and how 79 far is it likely to be really effective? Perhaps I may pray in aid at the outset the illustration of the latest type of substitute method house; I refer to what is known as the B.I.S.F. house. I understand that this house is costing at present a minimum of about £1,300. That figure is exclusive of roads, sewers, professional fees and the various other on-costs that we have discussed in the House before. That means that the total figure is something like £1,500. I went into the basis of assessing the on-costs on a previous occasion in this House and will not trouble hon. Members with it again.
This figure of £1,500 is, as the House is aware, substantially larger than the maximum figure for a commercial enterprise brick-built house at this time; and therefore, at any rate for the present, the latest representative type of house of this sort costs more than the traditionally built house. The higher cost is not in fact in issue at all; it is admitted, at least implicitly, in Clause 17 of the Housing (Financial and Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, wherein it is proposed to indemnify local authorities to the extent of the excess of the cost of the substitute method house, over that of the traditionally built house. All that is now in issue is whether that excess of cost is likely to be permanent or temporary. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, with that robust optimism which I am glad to find still exists in Members of this Government, expects it to be temporary. He said in the Debate on the Bill to which I have referred:It is expected when this type of house has established itself on a large scale of production that the cost will not be higher than that of traditional houses.I omit a sentence, after which the hon. Gentleman goes on:It is possible in the initial stage that the cost of these non-traditional houses will be higher than that of houses built on traditional [OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th March, 1946; Vol 420, c. 348.]There are two things there. There is the fact—which is that at present these houses cost more; and there is the expectation—that in the future they will cost less. I share with the hon. Gentleman the hope that the cost of these houses will diminish, but I cannot wholly associate myself with him in his conviction that this will be so. Experience in the main is against this. In 80 the experience that we have, these prices do not tend to fall.
The other element besides cost that I think we should consider is the element of speed. Can it be shown that this type of house is likely to be more speedily constructed than houses built by traditional methods? Again, it is expected that this will be so. It has been expected since the inception of this type of building some two years ago, but we are still in the realm of expectation. There is no experience so far to show that this is likely to be so in fact, and I should like to draw the attention of the House to some considerations which suggest that it will not be so. The right hon. Gentleman has referred this afternoon to the immense assemblage of components that must take place prior to the building of this type of house, the actual construction of which may be comparatively simple. It is in these preliminary operations of the assemblage of divers components that the factors of potential delay add up. In addition, there must be factories for the manufacture of the components, storehouses in which to keep them, and so on. I think all these factors make it at least doubtful whether even on a long term view the manufacture and the erection of nontraditional houses will in fact be either quicker or less expensive than that of the traditional house.
If this is so it seems to me that we are in danger of diverting attention and distracting effort from what should be our main preoccupation, that is to say the pursuit of permanent houses built along traditional lines. I think that it is right to say that brick-built houses are at once the cheapest, the best, probably the most speedy of construction and, last but by no means least important, those which commend themselves most widely to the tastes and wishes of the community as a whole. Brick-built houses have been in vogue at least since the time of Pharaoh, and in my view it is likely that they will continue to be in demand. In regard to brick-built houses I think the right hon. Gentleman will bear me out that the basic problem is one of bricks. Of all the components necessary, bricks, so far as I can see, is that which presents the biggest problem; and, in passing, may I say with regard to the traditionally built house that virtually every component required, with the exception of timber, is indigenous, that is to say is capable of production 81 in this country, which gives it a substantial advantage.
In regard to the brick position I should just like to say one or two words on two aspects; first the aspect of bricklayers, and secondly the aspect of the bricks themselves. The problem in regard to bricklayers today is one of output, rather than of getting the necessary head of labour. On the question of Output my attention has recently been drawn to the case of a private building operation—properly licensed of course—going on at present in the vicinity of Bristol where three bricklayers are succeeding in laying as many as 4,000 bricks a day. That is a high average but it is happening at the moment. If that average could be sustained it would mean that to build 300,000 brick-built houses a year only 12,000 bricklayers would be required. [Laughter.] The hon. Member for the East Woolwich Division laughs. I do not know whether he wants to question the possibility of that figure being attained.
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
The hon. Member is aware that our friend Sir Harry Selley, at an advanced age, was able to put up a figure approaching that in a transaction with which the hon. Member was intimately connected. The hon. Member knows that I have reasonably good information on these matters and I will certainly acquaint him and the right hon. Gentleman of the precise details of the case I have mentioned. I was going on to say that I do not take that figure as an average because it is too high, but supposing we discount it by as much as 33 per cent. we still would need only 18,000 bricklayers in order to give us 300,000 houses a year. In case the House has in mind the figure given by the hon. Member for East Woolwich, I would point out that that applied to building trade operatives as a whole, whereas I am referring in my figures only to bricklayers. As I have said, 18,000 bricklayers would give us 300,000 houses a year if they had sufficient bricks. We have in the industry at present some 60,000 bricklayers. The prewar figure was 100,000, and we understand that the intention is to get back to that figure. It can be seen 82 therefore that 30 per cent. of our present strength of bricklayers or 20 per cent. of the prewar strength, given a good standard of output, can provide us with 300,000 houses a year, which is nearly up to the immediately prewar standard of house building.
I want to make it clear that I do not say that this can he done in all circumstances. I do not believe, for instance, that it can be done in the circumstances of the Government's present policy because they are casting too much upon local authorities in the way of the building of houses. I do not believe that local authority building can get that higher rate of output because those authorities are not equipped to get that right synthesis of building operations to which I have referred before in this House and which the private builder, by reason of superior organisation and personal attention, is able to achieve. But I do say that in some circumstances it can be done; and if it can be done it should be done.
I pass to the question of the bricks themselves. The present position, as is well known and as is admitted, is unsatisfactory. Figures have been given showing the number of brickworks closed down, those licensed to reopen, and the number actually working. In my view there are four causes of this present unsatisfactory situation. The first is the number of brickworks closed during the war and put on a care and maintenance basis. Steps are being taken to get them restarted and reopened. I think the House will agree that we could do with a great deal more speed in this matter.
Secondly, there is the use for storage and other purposes of many of these brickworks, on a basis of requisition. Here again the process of derequisition is lagging. It was stated recently in another place, and not denied by the representatives of the Government, that the Coronation Works of the London Brick Company, when derequisitioned by the War Department, passed under requisition to the Ministry of Works, but have not been returned to the manufacture of bricks. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us when he replies whether that is still the case. In any event, I would urge on the Minister the necessity of getting these Departmental cuckoos out of the nest of production.
§ Wing-Commander Geoffrey Cooper (Middlesbrough, West)
The hon. Member spoke in very vague terms. Can he give the actual figures for the brickyards which have not been opened since the war?
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
Yes, Sir, I have the figures here. I am conscious, as always, of the passage of time, and I was hoping not to have to delay the House by quoting these figures. The figures were given in reply to the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Wing - Commander Cooper), who has just asked me this question. They were given to him in January by the Parliamentary Secretary, who stated that 458 out of a prewar figure of 1,362 brickworks were operating. I understand that the March figure is that 552 out of the 965 closed during the war have been licensed to reopen; but that does not necessarily mean that they are in production.
Now perhaps I might return to the third of the causes for the present unsatisfactory condition in brickworks. I refer to labour conditions. This cause is perhaps the most important of all. Labour is not available, or attracted, to the industry. If I might continue my metaphor of birds, I would say that in order to attract the sparrows we must scatter the crumbs, and that the crumbs must be attractive to the sparrows. There must be work not only available but such as will bring the men into the industry. The Simmonds Committee reported during the war upon the extent of absenteeism in the brick industry; that was presumably because the conditions were not good. We know that, relatively speaking, they are not good. We know that the wage rates are 82s. and that the workers have asked for an increase to 96s. What surprises me is that the National Joint Industrial Council for the Brick Industry, referred to by the Minister, has only just come into existence whereas the corresponding organisation in the building industry has been, as the hon. Member for East Woolwich knows so well, in effective and useful existence for a long time.
As a result of that, and of industrial negotiations, an increase in building workers' wages has recently been granted of some 15 per cent. of which the Government have been good enough to express approval and appreciation. It is to be 84 hoped that the discrepancy between the wage rates of the building industry and those of the brickmaking industry will soon be ironed out by the same sort of industrial machinery, and that the Minister will soon have an opportunity of expressing his approval of it.
The fourth and last reason for the present condition of things is coal. We are told that coal is scarce and dear, making the production of bricks more difficult. We must leave that point to be dealt with by the Minister of Fuel and Power, who is so confident of the success of his efforts in that direction. All I would say is that the manufacture of bricks needs, basically, only two things, brick-earth and coal. Both of those things are found in abundance in this country. Therefore, if we cannot manufacture bricks, I do not see that we are likely to be successful in many of our undertakings. The difficulties of the brick industry are those of organisation and economic and social inducement. Those arc things in which the present Government hold themselves out as particularly expert. It would be an administrative disaster if the Government were not able to bring prosperity back to the brick industry.
I have referred to the brick industry because, taking an objective view as an outsider, it seems to present the most difficult problem, greater than the problems of timber, cast-iron components, slates and tiles, cement, and other elements of house building. I am sure that those difficulties can and should be resolved. I hope that the Minister will be able to give stimulus and encouragement to the brick-making industry to revivify and improve the production of bricks to the level at least of what it was before the war. Having done that, and simultaneously with it, he should give every opportunity to the housebuilding industry which, in spite of discouragement and rebuffs, remains anxious and qualified to contribute largely to the solution of the great and urgent problem of housing the people of this country.
§ 5.48 P.m.
§ Mr. Mallalieu (Huddersfield)
One of the most disturbing things in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Works was his description of the brick production position. I knew, as did other hon. Members, that there were local shortages in this country. There is one just 85 now in Huddersfield. We Have a job there which requires something like 6,000 common bricks per day but which is getting only 1,500. The work is being held up. I had been given to understand that there were purely local shortages. What made me understand that, was a statement put out by the Ministry of Works on the supply position in January. I have it here in front of me. In that statement various materials are placed in categories, and one category is of materials and components for which there isadequate manufacturing capacity, labour and materials immediately available to meet all probable requirements, including orders for stock.En that category arebricks of all types.That supply report came out only two months ago. Now the Minister is telling us that we are in serious danger of a brick 'amine. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to give us some idea of how what seems to have been a slip-up in his Department's plans, has come about. Would he try to give us an assurance that steps have been taken to ensure that a similar slip-up in planning does not occur in the future?
I agree strongly with the points made about the release of men from the Forces to help in brick making. It is perfectly true that in the past too much emphasis has been placed on the release of building workers, and too little on the release of workers who will make the materials with which the building workers will do their work. I urge the Minister of Works to press his colleagues in the Cabinet to speed up the release of skilled brick makers from the Armed Forces, and not only to release brick makers, but to press his colleagues to release the makers of brick making machinery. It is not much use having brick makers returned to brick kilns, if those kilns are not equipped with the new machines which have been brought out in the last six years.
In passing, I would also ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether he can give us any indication of what results he has achieved with the brick cleaning machinery experiments that he was making. If the experiments have been successful, I think that machinery might go some way towards meeting the really dangerous shortage with which we are faced at the present time. However, the 86 best suggestion I can make—and hon. Members on the other side of the House have already made it—is the release of men from the Forces. They will not come out, as we know, under Class B, and it is not merely that they will not come out because the conditions of the industry are bad; another reason is that many are reluctant to give up their Class A privileges—their 56 days' leave and so forth. Therefore, I suggest to the Minister that he should not try to get out these men under Class B, but that he should get them out under Class A in this way: He should say to them, "You are not due for release for five or six months yet, but you are urgently needed in your job. Therefore, go out now to do that job, in uniform if necessary, at trade union rates and continue still in the Navy, —or the Army or the Air Force—" but instead of brushing up the barracks square, get on with the job of making machinery or making bricks." Send them out in uniform to work out their time doing a useful job. That was done to me when I was in the Navy. I joined up, presumably to go to sea, and within about twelve weeks of joining the Navy I found myself as part of a naval working party, after the blitz in Portsmouth, delivering milk from door to door. I did not mind that; it was a much better job than anything that could be found for me to do in the Royal Naval Barracks. I believe if that offer were made to the men in the Services now, not only would they themselves welcome it, but their colleagues would welcome their departure.
If you explain to the Services the full reasons why you are making such a concession to special men, I think they will understand. I have always found that if you treat the Service men as grown up people, if you tell them the reason why you are doing a particular thing, if you tell them the facts of life—[Laughter]not the facts of life as understood by hon. Members opposite, but the facts of life as relating to the housing position in this country at present; if you tell them quite honestly what is the position, they will understand and respond, and will agree to this variation of the existing release scheme.
§ 5.54 P.m.
§ Mr. Wadsworth (Buckrose)
One could speak at considerable length on such an occasion as this in drawing the 87 attention of the House to the really urgent need for houses, but I know that every hon. Member is fully aware of the conditions in his own constituency, and even if I quoted from the many letters I have received, it would not make us more aware of the position. I shall deal today more with the mechanics of the situation, which is a much duller side of the picture but, nevertheless, one which is definitely needed in this Debate.
I believe that the Minister is tackling this question of control from the wrong point of view. He is trying to inflict considerable penalties on a large number of people in this country. He has religiously refused to alter this £10 limit, thus making potential criminals of a very large number of our people. He has informed us today that he intends to increase the penalties in an attempt to direct building materials into proper channels. I feel that he could much more easily have accomplished his object by controlling building materials at their source; in other words, he could get all the control he needed by controlling the building materials at the source of manufacture. During the war we had the same problem. Can one imagine anything requiring greater organisation than the plan for D-Day? I cannot. With all due respect to the Minister, I think it is much easier to plan the building of houses than it was to plan such an expedition as that, but I think he must use exactly the same methods as were used then. In other words, at this time we know there is a tremendous shortage of building materials; we know that there is a huge demand from all sides, and that there is a large variety of needs in this country; we know that the manufacturers arid people generally arc asking for goods so that they can do this or that. Nevertheless, paramount and most important of all, is the demand for the building materials for housing schemes, for the houses that will be built by the local authorities. I suggest to the Minister that he can accomplish his object, first by writing to the local authorities to ascertain what building materials they will require to accomplish their building schemes; secondly, having discovered the quantities, tenders should be issued from his Department to all manufacturers of building components; thirdly, after those tenders are approved, he 88 should notify the names of the successful manufacturers of those components to the local authorities, who could notify the names of those manufacturers to the successful building contractors.
Naturally, raw material will have to be found for the manufacture of those components, and I suggest that, just as in the war we had a system of priorities, so he should ensure that the raw materials will be available for that first priority of building components. In war time we had exactly the same thing. We had a list of priorities by which one day the Admiralty had priority, another day the Army would have it, and another day the Air Force would have priority. I ask him to go back to that system in the next 12 months and I am quite certain that, if he does that, he will have no difficulty at all in finding the necessary building components, and the first priority, that of building houses, will be accomplished.
I also suggest to the Minister that he should keep in close and constant touch with the societies or federations which represent the manufacturers of each of the components required in the building of houses. I am quite certain he will find them very helpful indeed, because they will make sure that if, by chance, on some particular component there are not sufficient tenders to accept, then the federation responsible for those components will help him to get all the components required.
I am making these suggestions, but, of course, I realise that the only satisfactory way to rid ourselves of controls, is by encouraging the manufacturing of more of these components. That is going to take some time, I am afraid. I imagine that it will possibly be 12 months before we can expect to catch up with demand. I look forward to the time when building is accomplished completely by private enterprise, but in this interim period we have no alternative but to bring back one phase of wartime control, which, in my opinion, is absolutely essential at present. Unless that is done, we shall be constantly complaining of the rate at which houses are being built.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Dr. Barnett Stross (Hanley)
I do not wish to enter into the merits or demerits of traditional building, as compared with newer methods of erecting houses, 89 although I know full well that in my constituency as, I think, in all there is such a desire and such a need for shelter, that there would be no refusal of anything reasonable. It may well be that we are quite right in considering alternative forms of structure. I was a little disturbed, however, when the Minister, if I heard him aright, discussed the possibility of using alternative methods of construction for some fittings. I think he included under the heading of ceramics, the possibility of using steel or aluminium. I hope that if he had sanitary fittings in mind, he will be good enough to remember that in my constituency, and in Burslem and Stoke, we can supply such fittings not only of the traditional kind, but of the best quality in the world, if he can give the labour and assistance to supply them. The thought of invoking the goddess Latria over stainless, steel or polished aluminium sends a cold shiver through my body.
The Minister mentioned a very important material when discussing plaster boards. Whatever may be the future of house building, it is certain that plaster board has become a very important and popular constituent in house erection, not only for walls but for ceilings as well. l think the Minister gave a figure of 700,000 square yards a week as the present output. In terms of weight I think it is reasonable to say that the probable output per year is about 180,000 tons and the firms that manufacture this important element in house construction have offered to increase their production gradually until they ultimataely reach an optimum of 500,000 tons per annum.
In order to effect manufacture on this scale, they will require something like 1,250,000 tons of gypsum/anhydrate per year. This material has not always been found in this country in the past, and a portion of it used to be imported. It is available from Soviet sources in Riga, and can be obtained from France at a very reasonable price. It was also imported from Canada, although now there is a problem with reference to currency and the dollar exchange. Only two firms, as far as I know, arc interested in the production of plaster board, and this makes as close a monopoly as any other that exists, or ever has existed in the country. The two firms are I.C.I. and B.P.B.—The British Plaster Board Company—and 90 they became interested in this production in the 1930s, first importing it and later creating their own manufacturing plant here. I.C.I. are in a privileged position, because they rely on their own resources of gypsum / anhydrate, but British Plaster Board have allocated and laid out three of their largest plants for imported gypsum material from Canada. This is bound to cause difficulty in increasing our production if we ask for, and we must ask for, increased production as quickly as possible.
This association of two firms or companies succeeded in monopolising itself by taking over some 15 competing firms before the war, and three more firms during 1944. I doubt whether five per cent. or 10 per cent. of the material is available from any other source today. Plaster board is in short supply, and plaster itself is acutely short in supply. We have to negotiate through a Government Department with a monopoly which can charge whatever it likes and produce how it likes, and we have no proper check. Neither have we control over the firm, nor is anyone competing with it. The price of Is. IId. per square yard is something we cannot evaluate in the market. We do not know whether it is too much, or whether they are losing money. I do not think they can be losing money, because they paid 50 per cent., before the war, and still pay 25 per cent. So we may assume that Is. IId. is either fair, or rather expensive. I suggest that the type of material they are turning out will handicap our production in building factory made houses. Almost all the material is three-eighths or one quarter of an inch thick, whereas the ideal measurement would be half an inch to give some measure of protection against fire and to meet the requirements of the Ministry. At the moment, not a single yard of half-inch thick material is manufactured, to the best of my knowledge.
We have not enough board available for our needs, the output being manufactured is not really suitable, it is too expensive and we have no competition. Obviously only one of two things can be done. The Ministry must take over the firm because it is a dangerous monopoly, or else they must encourage production by outside firms even if they create them, so that we may know where we stand.
§ 6.9 p.m.
§ Mr. David Eccles (Chippenham)
The Minister's speech gave me a most uncomfortable feeling that we were not making progress in providing materials at the same rate as we are accumulating building labour. This is the case in my own county. In Wiltshire, building labour is in greater supply than materials. For instance, there is a contract for 14 council houses in a little village called Bromham, just outside my own constituency, where bricklayers may have to be sent away because the bricks arc not arriving. This is a serious situation, because it adds to the expense, and most assuredly it will prevent the best being got out of our available resources.
When the Minister comes to this House and gives us a glowing description of his programme, telling us how he turns it into components and raw materials so that he can go to the manufacturers and say that we want so much of each particular type, he cannot expect us to be satisfied, if he will not tell us the targets to which these programmes are related. We really want to know how high the Government have set their sights. Then we can begin to tell what is the measure of their performance. The Government prevent themselves from building houses by refusing to give the House these details, because they muddle the whole industry. If these targets are kept secret, it is not possible for the private firms—especially if building materials are being manufactured in Royal ordnance factories—to know the scale of the operations they will be required to undertake in the next year. I know how we did this scheduling of components in the war. We cannot do it now, even though we ought to, because the Government have not made up their mind between the two choices—either to keep the price of houses low, in which case we shall get very few houses now, or to let the price go up, and get more houses.
The reason for that came out clearly in the Minister's speech. He said, in so many words, that we were not able to attract the right make of labour to the industries that make building materials. Why not? Because the price at which these materials are sold is controlled by the Government. Therefore, the manufacturers cannot raise their wages and offer inducements which were offered in 92 war. Every time we wanted to "man up" an aircraft factory, we offered inducements. That cannot be done now because the final price is kept down in response to the policy of the Minister of Health of keeping down the price of houses. This shows quite clearly that we shall not get the building materials unless we have a wages policy. I wish the Parliamentary Secretary to tell us, when he replies, why it is that labour is not going into the industries such as the brickworks. If it is because labour is not being paid enough we ought to know, and we ought to consider whether it is necessary to raise wages in order to get houses.
It is stupid to have bricklayers now waiting in Wiltshire with no bricks because of a policy—which I do not think is sound in a period of full employment—of holding down the price of houses. The price can only be held down to the present level, if there is to be a pool of unemployed, who would reallocate themselves in the hard way in which it was done before the war. We shall not have a pool of unemployed, and we must take constructive steps to get the necessary productive labour to match the production programme. I see no signs of any steps of that kind being taken. The Minister spoke of labour officers. In Wiltshire such an officer was appointed 10 days ago. Why wait until the beginning of March to find out why there are not enough labourers in brickyards in Wiltshire? The Minister said we were to have prisoner of war labour. I know a brickyard outside Devizes, which has been asking for prisoners of war for two years. Before the war, the labour force there was 47; it had sunk to II last November, and is now up to 15. Why cannot this brickyard hays; prisoners of war? Nothing satisfactory has yet been done. When the prisoners do come let the Minister of Works at least take a lesson from the experience of the Minister of Agriculture. Let him give them some incentive to work. We shall not get the best out of these men unless, they have something like 10s. a week, and something on which to spend it. That does not seem a very high figure, but I think it is necessary in order to get good work out of the German prisoners. At present they get 6s., and have nothing but hair cream on which to spend it.
While I am on the subject of the price of houses, I would ask the Parliamentary 93 Secretary to tell us a little about the price of the aluminium house. According to my information, it is costing 43S. per foot super, against a figure of 20S. 6d. or 21S. 6d. per foot super for the permanent house. If the Government are spending 43S. per foot super on the aluminium house, they had better consider whether they would not get more houses if they let the price of permanent houses go up, so that labour could be attracted to where it is required. Unless we have the targets to which I have referred, we cannot tell what some of us are most interested to know, whether the rural areas are getting a fair deal in the allocation of building materials.
This is a most important point because we are being asked, in the rural areas, to expand the permanent labour force engaged in agriculture to 100,000 workers over what it was before the war. We had 650,000 workers before the war; we now need 750,000, if we are to keep up the volume of production from British farms when the prisoners of war and the land girls go. Is the target set today for the rural areas one which will merely rehouse the overcrowded population we had before the war, and makes no provision for additional cottages for an industry which has to be expanded as a matter of national policy? If that is so, and the allocation of building materials remains at its present low level, it is not the least use trying to plan a permanent policy for agriculture. We must have 150,000 cottages within three years if we are to maintain the output of food at its present volume. We want to know whether that target is one at which the Government are aiming or not. If not, it is not fair to ask the agricultural industry to plan for a long-term labour force that cannot possibly be housed. Therefore, I hope that, as the Minister mentioned this target in his speech, the Parliamentary Secretary will be specific in his reply because without that, we cannot tell what we are entitled to know, that is, how high are the Government aiming, and by what measure are they falling short?
§ 6.18 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Edward Davies (Burslem)
It is most refreshing to hear Members on the Opposition benches taking this interest in what has been described as the most urgent domestic problem which confronts this country. But the sorry position in which we find ourselves today is not due 94 solely to, or derived from, the war. It is a legacy which came to us, to some extent, from the years before the war, and when the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles) asks for the target figures, he may satisfy himself, as I am sure we are all satisfied, that the target is illimitable. For the next two or three years, there is sufficient work in rehousing the people of this country, as we all know from our day-to-day experiences in our constituencies, where thousands of our young folk, who have been married during the war, have not a place to live in, and are living with their mother-in-law and under other unsatisfactory conditions. This is a legacy which is not entirely to be associated with the war but which came to us from the traditional parties many long years ago. I think it will be generally agreed that if there was a simple choice between a brick house and either an aluminium house or a Portal, or something of that kind, we should all prefer a brick house. There is one thing in common about all of them, I submit, and that is that the price is far too excessive both for the local authorities and for the ordinary young couple who wish to acquire a house.
I was most interested in the remarks of the hon. Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks) this afternoon. He reminded the House that some 20 per cent. only of the total cost of a house was the figure which would cover the services of the bricklayer, the craftsman, and the cost of the bricks. I want to ask my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench whether they have made detailed inquiries into what is happening to the other 80 per cent. Whether the figure remaining is 75 per cent. or 80 per cent., it is far too excessive. I am convinced that useful time and work could be spent in bringing down the cost of a house, and not, as the hon. Member for Chippenham said, letting the figure rise. I hope it is not going to rise. The tendency should be for it to go down, and I believe that is the aim of my right hon. Friend on the Front Bench. This problem of housing, which interests everyone in the House, is not a subject over which I must wander too much. I desire to limit my remarks to one or two aspects.
As a trade unionist, I am a little concerned about the proposal to use prisoner-of-war labour. If this is just an adjunct, strengthening our hands in getting houses 95 quickly, good luck to the Government. Let them bring in the prisoners of war or use any methods they can to provide our people with dwellings. We have been reminded this afternoon of what we said during the Election. It was said that some fantastic promises were given, that we might resolve this problem in a fortnight. I think that was a gross exaggeration—[Laughter]—I mean, misstatement of what was said by the President of the Board of Trade. In my constituency and in neighbouring constituencies, what we did say—and I will repeat it for the benefit of the Government—was that we would attack this problem as if it were a war job; that it was equally important to the life of the people and that we should be critical of any effort which was of less dimensions than that. If we have to bring in prisoner-of-war or feminine labour to assist us in the building of houses, let the Government get on with it, but be assured of this: The committee which is investigating the conditions in the industry is going to satisfy itself that, in the phrase which is so often used in other connections from the Opposition Benches, a square deal is given to the men in the industry.
Before the war, I believe, in my own district the figure per hour for men engaged in some sections of the brick industry was 1s. 0½d. That was 48s. 6d. per week, or something like that, less deductions. I submit that those are not conditions which are likely to attract vigorous and active young men today. If the figure has gone up to is. 7½d. an hour, and if recently a few coppers more have been added, still the position cannot be regarded as satisfactory. I hope my hon. Friend the Minister will assure us that we are not bringing in prisoner-of-war labour at the expense of pinning down conditions which are not sufficiently attractive, nor ought to be attractive, to British men and women. I am no insular nationalist but I do think that assurance must be given in the first place.
I pass to another aspect which presents itself to my mind from time to time. Are we satisfied that the local authorities are planning sufficiently ahead in respect of the preparation of sites? In the turnover from a war economy to a peace economy we get small pockets of unemployment, some consisting of workers of 96 a semi-skilled character and others of labouring forces. I do not know in my own mind whether some of this labour is being utilised to the best advantage. I would like the Minister to assure us that, in collaboration with his colleague at the Ministry of Health, sufficient preparatory work is being done by local authorities with the long term view of providing houses for the people by the preparation of sites. That would have the great advantage of being a first-class investment for the local authority and of absorbing some of the unskilled labour in the localities which may have some difficulty in adjusting themselves for the time being. With these two points, I leave the subject, but I warn my right hon. Friend the Minister that we are going to make his life a burden to him, we are going to criticise even our own people very vociferously, if the houses are not forthcoming. In doing that, I am sure we shall be backed by the people of the country, and that we shall have their wholehearted co-operation.
§ 6.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Marples (Wallasey)
I would like to follow the hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. A. Edward Davies) in some of his remarks, particularly relating to costs, because several questions have been put down to the Minister of Works regarding costs and he refuses to give the details. He states that they are well known to himself and to the building industry but, so far as I can see, he is not prepared to put them on paper. It would assist this House and the country generally if an analysis could be made similar to that made by Mr. Wheatley on the occasion of the last housing subsidy. Comparative figures today would enable the House to have some accurate data —
§ Mr. Walkden (Doncaster)
At the time when those figures were announced by Mr. Wheatley, was there not also a housing subsidy and did not prices go up immediately, so that the speculators pocketed the subsidy that was intended to relieve the prospective purchaser? Therefore, did not the then Government give away money to the speculators and achieve nothing at all?
§ Mr. Marples
I would like to start by paying a personal tribute to the Minister of Works himself. He answers all correspondence and gives interviews very promptly and courteously. That is my impression of the Minister, and I make that clear at the outset because I have a few other impressions which are not quite so favourable. I am going to speak, firstly, about the bad administration which I think, exists in the Ministry of Works, then I am going to say a word or two about temporary houses. Thirdly, I am going to refer to the question of employees, and finally to the question of costing.
About bad administration first. The House knows perfectly well that there is a great deal of difference between talk and action. I think "Mr. Schickle-gruber" showed us that when he said, "I have no more territorial demands," and then proceeded to eat up half of Europe, The same thing applies as between policy and administration. The policy as announced by the Ministry of Works from time to time to my mind is spoiled by bad administrative effort. I will give an example to prove my point. On 22nd January, 1946, the Ministry of Works issued a Press notice, in which they stated the position of the supplies of building materials at that date. They divided the materials into three categories —A, B and C. I shall refer to only one material in category B. That category includes:materials and components for which there is adequate manufacturing capacity, labour and materials immediately available to meet all present requirements, including orders for stock.Amongst these materials were lead sheeting and lead pipes, and I know one man who, on the basis of this information, made out his programme, his time and progress schedules and his indents for materials, in accordance with this publication. On 26th March, the position is that there is a shortage of lead, and, in fact, the situation is that local authorities, in some cases, have been asked to use wrought iron. But wrought iron itself was in short supply on 22nd January, and still is. I am not complaining of the short- 98 age of lead, of which there is a world shortage; what I am complaining about is wrong information, on which the contractors have based their estimates, tenders and programmes.
On a site, it is far more difficult to plan the job than it is in a factory. In a factory, the same raw material goes in at the same end every day or every week, and the same finished product goes out at the other end. The same people do the same jobs every day and every week, and the work is done under decent conditions, while, on a site, it is a case of different operations each day or week. One day, it may be footings, the next day walls or something else, and the operations are far more delicate and are interrupted by things like this. If one item goes wrong on a site, everything else goes wrong, and I suggest that, when the Ministry send out information like this, they should be absolutely sure that it is information that can be relied upon. I could take the Parliamentary Secretary to a site where there are 68 houses completed in almost every respect but which cannot be inhabited for the simple reason that there is no lead available to connect to the water mains although the Minister of Works has stated supplies would be available.
Now a word about the temporary houses. I regret to say that it will be necessary here to refer to the Monthly Digest of Statistics, a copy of which I have brought along for the Minister's use. In Table 69, we find that, in regard to temporary houses, the number of hulls produced by the end of January was 41,114, and that the number of houses completed or under construction on that date was 28,297. If we subtract the number of homes completed from the number of hulls produced, we find that there is a figure of 12,817 left, which represents hulls which have been produced but which are not on any site. In Table 66, again, according to the January Digest, we find that 4,556 hulls were produced in November in a five-weekly period, and this gives a weekly rate of 911. There are 12,817 hulls which are wandering around the countryside or are in the Ministry's distribution centres, and this represents something like 14 weeks' supply of hulls. The Minister of Works has said today that it was not faulty organisation, but really, when there is 14 weeks' supply of hulls not on the sites, not in course of 99 erection, there is some faulty organisation somewhere, This is especially so as housing sites have been closed down for temporary houses all over the countryside and we have three months' supply wandering about. Would the Parliamentary Secretary give the House the information where these 12,817 are?
It seems to me that there arc three possible places where they could be. Firstly, they may be at the Ministry of Works centres of distribution, because these centres have broken down in a fairly big way. It may be, also, that the Ministry of War Transport has not supplied the transport. Thirdly, it may be because of the failure of the Ministry of Supply to provide the fittings for the temporary houses. The Minister of Supply is characterised by a very wise silence, because there is no information about fittings in this Monthly Digest, and, sometimes, when the right hon. Gentleman is in the House himself, as was the case the other night, he is often not very forthcoming when invited to give his views, and, I think, probably, quite wisely. The 12,000 odd houses which are wandering up and down the countryside —and I do not know whether the Minister of Labour might be able to tell us something about them—are a very grave reflection on the Department. These houses are simply doing nothing; they are not being erected, they are just lying idle. There is another point about the rate of completion of houses. According to Table 66 of the January issue, we find that 2,091 were ready for occupation in five weeks; and this means that 418 homes were being completed each week. That is at a rate of approximately 20,000 a year. At the present rate, the temporary houses will take something like five years to complete.
My next point concerns the number of employees in the industry. The Minister of Works gave a number of figures, which I must say confused me completely, and the only way in which I am able to discover what is happening in the industry is by looking at this valuable book again. In 1939 the number of people employed in the manufacture of building materials was 259,700. In 1945, the number had fallen to 173,400, which was a drop of 86,000 people, which represents something like 50 per cent, of the present number of people employed. In other words, we 100 have to increase the number of people now employed in the industry by 50 per cent. to get back to the 1939 figures. Now as regards expansion of the industry during the last six months of 1945, we find that 19,900 people entered the industry, and that 12,200 people have been scheduled to go into exports, and 7,700 into the home trade.
We are all in favour of exports to a certain extent and in certain industries, but if there is one industry where men are required for the home trade, it is the building materials industry, yet we find over 60 per cent. of the 19,900 people by which the labour force has been increased during the six months to the end of 1945 have gone into the foreign trade and that only 7,700 are engaged in the home trade. At this rate, it will take five years to get the number of employees back to the 1939 figures, and I submit to the Minister that he ought to envisage the plan as a whole. Let us have the people in the export trade back in the building materials industry now, because the repercussions in the industry, if we are to have a shortage of materials, will be far greater than if we lose foreign exchange, and we have already got one or two right hon. Gentlemen opposite losing foreign exchange for us at a fairly rapid rate.
Now I come to my pet theory about the cost of distribution. I have mentioned this before and I shall mention it again. I was very glad to hear the Minister of Works refer to the Scientific Advisory Committee in such glowing terms, because I am going to quote from a member of that committee, and I hope the Minister will follow his advice. It is absolutely necessary, if intelligent discussions are to take place in this House, that we should have accurate data. I know some hon. Members opposite do not like accurate data, or, for that matter, intelligent discussion, but we on this side of the House like to have accurate data for our discussions. I mentioned operations on the site, and the hon. Gentleman the Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks) stated that this problem was going to be solved by the large contractor in a big way. He is quite right. The problems of a large contractor are not those of a small builder. The problems of a large contractor are twofold; he has to organise his labour and his materials; and he is a financier and an organiser rather than a craftsman. He has technical staff trying to coordinate 101 the various parts of his work. He has labour under his direct control, but the materials are under the control of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Works.
Now a workman works better when he has a large pile of material near him than when he is working in a hand-to-mouth fashion. No workman can possibly carry on his work with a brick arriving here and a brick arriving there. He must plan his work for the day or week. At the present moment there are a large number of workmen receiving very small quantities of material. Would it not be possible for the right hon. Gentleman the Minister to get together with his right hon. Friend the Minister of Health—who I am sorry to see is not here today—to see if we can have fewer jobs going on and whether we can get more efficiency out of the labour by having fewer jobs and therefore being able to supply the men with more material? I am sorry that no representative of the Ministry of Health is present today because I think the Minister should be here to listen to what is going on.
When a large contractor is working on a site, his whole plan can be disrupted by materials arriving late. For example, plumbing materials arrive late, and by the time they do arrive the plumbers have been taken to another site. I have always asked the right hon. Gentleman for a costing system which will show the proper cost of distribution. If a man on a site has to be paid wages and no materials arrive, the contractor will have a claim against the local authority for extra wages. That claim for extra wages should not be charged to the local authority; it should be charged to the Minister of Health for failure to deliver the materials on time. Unless that is done, we shall never have a scientific costing system showing the cost of distribution of building materials. Professor Bernal of the Ministry of Works Scientific Advisory Committee said in November that we must attempt to get a scientific answer to what are the real economics—not the gaper economics—of the purchase and distribution of building materials. From that, it will be seen that it is a problem which is well understood in the right hon. Gentleman's Department.
That statement was made in November and it is now March. What has been clone? What has the Scientific Advisory 102 Committee done about it and what has the right hon. Gentleman done about it? If we had those costs of distribution we might be able to find out whether the distribution centres for temporary houses were efficient or not. In all my experience—and I have gone into the question of thousands of temporary houses—I do not know of one house being delivered to the site complete with fittings, except the aluminium house. I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree with me that very few, if any, have been delivered complete.
Although I could go on for a long time about the inefficiency of the Ministry of Works, I think I have made sufficient points. I do not think it is an efficient Department, although I realise that the right hon. Gentleman has a very difficult job which, as he said in his opening speech, is not appreciated by hon. Members of the House. I appreciate how difficult is his job, but I think his Department needs a great deal of reorganisation. These are business problems, not political ones, and they will have to be solved by costing and commonsense and not by rhetoric from soap boxes, as some hon. Members opposite seem to think. The right hon. Gentleman has got to get down to details in a big way and I know he must be having quite a number of headaches. I would like to end, as I began, on a personal note now that the Minister is here. I should like to repeat what said at the beginning, that I thank him for his courteousness in his replies to individuals, but the mere fact that he has so many individual cases shows that there is something wrong with his Department as a whole. Unless he does something efficient and drastic pretty quickly, this bottleneck of building materials will reduce the number of houses the country should receive in the next few years.
§ 6.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Edelman (Coventry, West)
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles), in a very temperate speech, expressed the fear which many of us feel that the purchase, production and supply of building material may not be co-ordinated with the plan for actual building construction. We fear that the delivery of building materials may lag behind the preparation of the sites and may, accordingly, hold up the actual construction of houses. For that reason I would like to ask one or two questions this evening.
103 At one time some of us felt that, in order to achieve complete co-ordination between the construction of houses and the supply of the necessary materials, it would be desirable to have a Ministry of Housing. I accept that there were many difficulties which prevented that from being achieved, and I do not wish to recriminate on that point. But I would ask whether today we have a budget—I do not mean a financial budget but a material budget—by means of which we can relate the number of houses we are going to build in any given year to the building materials which we require in order to erect those houses. We suffer from a certain difficulty. Unless we know what the programme of house building is going to be, no supplier of building materials can prepare his production schedule in a manner which will properly relate supply to demand.
It is true that at the present time of dire shortage, one may say that the amount of building materials which are desirable is the maximum that can be produced. Although, as a generalisation, that may be true, it is a fact that if the various Departments of supply and building materials compete with each other, not only for raw materials, but also for labour, it is impossible to have an orderly plan for the production and delivery of building materials. Therefore, I would ask the Minister of Works whether, in conjunction with the Minister of Health —even if it is impossible or undesirable at present to publish an actual programme of the number of houses it is intended to build in any given year—he could not establish a target figure of houses to be built each year; and, then, in conjunction with the trade associations concerned with the supply and production of building materials, could he not fix for each of them a target to which they might aspire? I feel that only in that way is it possible to obtain a real co-ordination of what is desirable with what may, in fact, be supplied. Only in that way can we guarantee that there will be neither under nor over production of building materials, while, at the same time, making the most efficient and economic use of our resources.
This Debate, so far, has concerned itself very largely with bricks as the basic building material. I would like to refer 104 to another material which has only been mentioned in passing. I mean timber. The amount of timber which goes into the construction of a house is of the greatest concern to any builder. The actual value is something like £100 at least, and is a most important item in the cost of production. Unless we have timber for our building programme, even if we overcome the difficulties of obtaining bricks, clay products and ceramics, we will have a permanent difficulty which may obstruct and even destroy our building programme. The Minister of Health is seriously handicapped—and this is perhaps one of the drawbacks of not having a centralised purchasing authority under a Ministry of Housing—by the uncertainty of European timber supplies. The Russians need their timber for purposes of reconstruction. The timber which at one time we obtained from Finland is now going to the Russians as an indemnification or, perhaps, by way of pre-emption, in order to strengthen Russia's bargaining position in the world timber market. But the fact remains that, whereas at one time a most substantial part of the soft woods which were used in our building programme came from Russia and Finland, today we are not getting it. The shipping season is due to begin shortly. The ice is breaking up, and under normal peacetime conditions our ships would be calling at Leningrad and at the Baltic ports to collect timber for the summer season's building programme. Unless the Russians conclude a trade agreement with us, and ship that surplus of timber which, for ordinary trade purposes, they might be willing to subtract from their reconstruction programme in order to use it to obtain currency in the open market, we may find that, so far as timber is concerned, we may be in a serious position.
There remains the prospect of obtaining timber from Canada and Sweden. In 1945 we obtained approximately £24 million worth of timber from Canada, and I believe about half that amount from Sweden. Clearly, eager as we are to expand our Empire trade, the fact that we have to pay dollars for Canadian timber might make us inclined to obtain as much timber from European sources as possible. As far as Sweden is concerned, the difficulty is that the Swedes are anxious to obtain coal in exchange for their timber. At the present moment they are using valuable soft woods as fuel 105 because they are short of coal. Consequently, our dilemma is that in order to obtain that most valuable material, timber—a material which we need so urgently for our housing programme—we must, if possible, try to export another material—coal—which we need urgently at home. Faced with that dilemma, we must find some alternative solution in order to obtain Swedish timber without having to export the coal which we ourselves need so desperately. I suggest, through my right hon. Friend, to the Government, that they might consider obtaining from the Ruhr a certain proportion of the coal to which, after all, I consider we are as much entitled as any of our other Allies. We could then send that coal to Sweden, and obtain in exchange from Sweden the timber which is required for our housing programme. At present France, Holland and Denmark are obtaining coal from the Ruhr.
We are very properly sending food into Germany to prevent the Germans from starving. We are doing so on humanitarian grounds and also in order to simplify our task of administration. But the fact remains that, instead of obtaining indemnities from the Germans, as we are entitled to, we are exporting commodities to the Germans of which we ourselves stand in need. I think there is both a practical and moral justification for us to obtain coal from the Ruhr and send it to Sweden, so that we may obtain from Sweden the timber which we need so badly. The average small house needs at least two and a half standards of timber in order to fulfil the various requirements. That means that, if we are to have a programme for building half a million houses, we will need approximately 1,250,000 standards of timber. As things stand, we seem unlikely to obtain that from any of our usual sources. We must, therefore, use imagination and endeavour in order to obtain timber from those countries who today are in the market to sell it.
From the subject of timber, I would turn to the question of joinery. Every house needs a certain amount of joinery in the form of window sashes, doors and so on. In the past, there has always been a considerable variety of joinery work, so that, quite rightly, the private builder had a large variety of choice of joinery according to the particular inclination of his 106 client or the particular taste of the neighbourhood in which the house was to be erected. But today we are concerned with the problem of mass building. For that reason we must consider whether the building components should not be correspondingly mass produced. Clearly, standardisation is one of the fundamental conditions of mass production. The joinery industry, together with the British Standards Institute, has evolved certain standards for joinery, but, unfortunately, there is not that perfect coordination between the joiners, the Ministry of Health and the local authorities for which one might have hoped. The result is that joinery has not been effectively standardised, and local authorities ask in their specifications for certain types of joinery which are not standard and incapable, therefore, of being "made up" for stock on a mass production scale.
Consequently, I suggest that the Minister might consider the question of making a standard specification for the joinery of the small house which is to be erected under our general housing programme, in order to enable the joiner to plan forward, to prepare a programme and to manufacture a stock of windows, doors and so on. I ask the Minister to consult with the President of the Board of Trade and the Minister of Supply, in order to ensure that joinery works throughout the country have a source of timber ready at hand from which they can draw. Instead of living from hand to mouth, instead of a joiner having to wait -six weeks in order to obtain the timber which he needs to continue with the manufacture for joinery for which houses are waiting in a semi-finished condition, as has happened recently in my own constituency, these joiners should be allowed to hold timber stores, arid so be enabled to manufacture for stock. That is the way to make the most economical use of the timber available, and to prevent bottlenecks in production. I feel that if we can reintegrate the purchasing departments of the Ministry of Works with the production departments of the Ministry of Health, if the two halves—supply of the building materials and the actual building—can be made to fit, our housing programme will avoid the threatened holdups. Coordination is essential and I hope the Minister will apply himself to that end.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing (Weston-super-Mare)
The hon. Member for West Coventry (Mr. Edelman) has devoted a considerable part of his interesting speech to consideration of the question of timber supply. I certainly would not quarrel with him as regards the urgent need of working out a timber supply programme. However, I hope he will speak on that subject not only in the House, when it comes to the question of the importation of timber, but in mining districts where it is essential for people to realise that we should get more coal in order that we may get more timber into the country. Possibly he may be able to get in touch with some of his friends in Russia and elsewhere to point out how much better it would be for the working classes of this country if it were made simpler to import timber from Russia and countries under Russian control. I am not quite sure that he has struck at one of the major troubles in this question of the supply of materials. Personally, I would have said there was a stumbling block even more serious than the stumbling block of timber. This question of supplies comes from the foundries, and foundry production as a whole. It is true the problem is quite different. Whereas the one is an importation problem the other is a question of home production.
I am quite convinced—and I think everybody else who knows anything about housing supplies is equally convinced—that unless we can solve, and solve rapidly, the problems which face the foundries, especially as regards the supply of labour, we shall have a very serious bottleneck when we get further with the housing programme. I cannot help thinking that a great deal more will have to be done than the setting up of working parties, investigating bodies and all that sort of thing, before we can solve that problem. I know a great deal of work is being clone, but is it really being done in the right way? Of course, during the past few years there has been a great pull away from what is, and what in the very nature of things must be, considered a dirty trade in a great many respects. At the same time, I think there is still a very high element of craftsmanship in the foundry trade. If that craftsmanship were properly encouraged it would go a long way towards solving the labour prob- 108 lem itself. It is one of the few trades where craftsmanship is still of the highest possible value, where the individual craftsman is not being knocked out by mechanisation or over-mechanisation, as is the case in so many of the industries of this country.
Speaking of the labour problem in connection with the foundries, I would like to endorse what was said earlier by the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles), on the question of whether the labour programme and the materials programme are sufficiently interlocked. I would like to know particularly whether the labour programme as regards the brickfields has been properly worked out. There seems to be an impression that one can work things like brickfields at a slow rate with a small number of men fairly economically, and that it is a good thing to get them all started. I would like the Minister to give us as much information as he can in that respect. It really is a serious matter. It is not only a case of production being slowed down quite out of proportion to the small number of men engaged in a particular yard, While it is being slowed down, the cost of production rises. That is a very serious aspect of the matter. If the yard—or any factory, for the same thing applies—works below a certain point as regards economy of production, the cost of production rises out of all proportion to the actual numbers engaged. Unless we can get down to solving that problem, especially in the brickfields, we shall be faced not only with a short supply of bricks, but with a supply of things put on the market and distributed to local authorities, or to private builders who happen to survive, at a price so exorbitant that very soon we shall be faced also with a very serious increase in the already staggeringly high cost of production of new houses.
The hon. Member for West Coventry also spoke of the question of central purchasing and standardisation. I entirely agree that if we are to purchase centrally we must try to standardise as far as we can. However, probably I would not agree with him as to how far we can go. To my mind, there are very definite dangers facing us in this respect. First, let me deal with the question of costs. A certain amount of central purchasing is going on, and I hope a great deal more will go on. What is happening? After a 109 lengthy struggle over many months, documents passing through the hands of a whole series of Ministries, with rapidly changing personnel—here, indeed, I sympathise with the Minister—the design of a particular house is settled upon as being right, proper and economical, and also alter a certain amount of discussion, though not nearly enough discussion, with the manufacturer who it is hoped will carry out the programme. What then happens? Various people are told about this semi-standard product and the orders are then placed.
A Ministry may place an order for a number of prefabricated houses, or components that fit into a prefabricated house, in considerable quantities. Within a few weeks, however, you may be perfectly certain that the quantity will be cut down, possibly to 10 per cent. of the original order. The Ministry will be terribly surprised when, having told the manufacturer to cut it down to 10 per cent. of the original order, the cost of the component has gone up. The manufacturer comes along and says: "If only you will give a bulk order. We want to know how many of these things are going to be demanded eventually." The Ministry say: "We cannot possibly place big orders like that. We cannot tell you how many we want."
Therefore, we come back straight away to the actual goal, namely, the target figure. Is anybody really in a position to be able to go to the manufacturer and say: "Within the next three months we are going to require a million and a half of these things," or whatever the figure may be, "in the next two or three years "—it does not matter what the period is? "We tell you that now, and this is the sort of schedule we are going to prepare for you. We shall want so many by December, so many by March," and so on. The manufacturer is then in a position to plan his own production. What is more, he is in a position to do something equally important, namely, to give a far more economical price than he could possibly give if those orders were farmed out in small quantities. Some of these things are comparatively cheap components costing 25s., £3 or £4. The totalling up of those is a very serious matter; it may cost £5,000 or £10,000 to do the job if the order is for large quantities, a very different matter from placing 110 an order for £30, £40 or £50 worth of the products. If central buying cannot provide that ultimate target figure, it will be of no use whatever. Unless the central purchasing authority can give the supplier and manufacturer indications on which he can reasonably base his prices, it is far more of a menace than of a help.
Then we come to the question of standardisation. At first sight many people who do not know anything about housing, architecture, design, building or manufacture—in all of which fields I have been, and in some of which I am now, engaged—imagine that the more you standardise the more quickly are the goods produced. That of course is perfectly true with war products, because taken by and large modern weapons and war supplies are not standard products in normal times, and there are not a variety of designs already in existence, tooled up, patterns made, and the rest of it. But in considering the standardisation of housing components the problem is entirely different. It would of course be possible for a mad dictator—and I know quite well that some of the Ministers engaged on this matter are mad dictators —to do away with all plans, patterns, moulds, jigs and tools and say, "Start all over again, we are going to nationalise a certain standard product, you will have to make that and nothing else." The effect of that would be to delay production by many months. The problem of all the different Ministries concerned is how to make use of existing patterns, jigs and tools to produce something which will work into the type of house the country can afford to build and which it wants to build quickly.
How far has the Minister gone in that investigation? It is not a question of calling people together and saying, "Make this, that, or the other," but rather of finding out exactly what they did make, and whether it might not be wiser to put off the 1946 design and go back to the 1938 design, because the article is needed quickly. After all, though the 1938 design may not be quite so attractive, all the bits and pieces—the jigs, tools, patterns, moulds and everything else—are in existence and production can be obtained quickly. Arc we possibly aiming too high, are we trying to modernise ourselves too much in the 111 middle of a very rapid production demand? We can certainly go too far in that direction, and L hope the Minister will be able to say something about it. Are we possibly looking for too much up-to-dateness in the products we arc building, or want to build, into our houses, when the first thing to do is to get anything at all there? I am not suggesting, for one moment, that we should stick to the old products for all time, or for many years; certainly not, but so long as we want quick production I believe that in many cases it would be far better to be content with the old pattern instead of the new one.
I have the greatest possible sympathy, and I mean this very sincerely, for all the Ministers involved in this terrible "cat's cradle "of a business of pulling all the bits and pieces together to build houses. I said just now that there had been many changes in personnel, and of course there have; a great many men and women with experience in industry have left the Ministries and have gone back o industry, and I think they are being missed. That is all the more reason why the closest possible contact should be maintained with the industries themselves and with the people who have left. If contact is lost in the Ministry, it must he taken up outside, where the people who know the job have gone. Let us maintain those contacts as closely as possible. But while I have all the sympathy I have mentioned for the Ministers concerned, let them not forget that however efficient their plans, however efficient industry may be in producing the goods, we shall never get rapid production in this wartime operation unless the spirit of every man and woman is the right spirit to tackle the job. I do not mean that Ministers should go round giving "pep talks" in factories. "Pep talks," in my experience, during the war did far more harm to production than anything else, but I think a great deal could be done to impress on those engaged, not only on actual building but in the production of building elements, exactly what they are doing. They are engaged in a war operation; it is a long term problem which we have to solve in a short time. We shall have to go full out if we are to do it, not only because of the urgency of the need, but because if we slow down I doubt whether we shall be able to afford it. The 112 slower we go the more it costs. There is no getting round that very hard fact. While I would be ready to give all the help possible to any Ministers engaged in this job, I hope they themselves will help the country by losing no opportunity of getting a fighting spirit into all those engaged in tackling this problem.
§ 7.17 p.m.
§ Wing-Commander Geoffrey Cooper (Middlesbrough, West)
I am glad of the opportunity to intervene in this Debate, particularly since I brought up the subject of building supplies on the Motion for the Adjournment some two months ago. I would like to say that the reply given to me by the Minister dealt very adequately with the problems I presented to the House at that time; the answers which the Minister was not able to give me then he gave later, and he took considerable notice of some of the suggestions which were put forward. That is encouraging to the House, because a number of suggestions have been put forward this evening and I think we may feel that the Minister is receptive of ideas and is willing to act on them if he finds that they are practicable.
I do not want to follow the hon. Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) in criticising the Ministry, although I would like to put certain suggestions to my right hon. Friend. When, before the war, it was not the Ministry of Works but the Office of Works, it had a very different task to fulfil from that which it has to perform today, and that was true during the war also. It had an executive task to fulfil, a task that was related almost to that of a commercial organisation. When the function of a Department alters, its organisation should also alter, in order to carry out its task efficiently. During the war the Department, I understand, had the assistance of those who had been in industry, and were to some extent specialists. Some of them have now returned to their old industries, and I would ask the Minister to consider whether his Department is really functioning as a commercial organisation, on business lines, with the staff he now has. If he fmds that there are any weak links in his organisation, people who have not the necessary technical knowledge and so forth, will he weed them out? It is a very important thing, because a few key people who are not fully conversant with 113 their job, which may be different from what they have had to do before, may hold up the work to a quite considerable extent.
My right hon. Friend referred to the fact that there was close cooperation between his Department and the Ministry of Health. I am not quite satisfied on that point because, although obviously I do not know the subject from the inside, I do know something of the impressions of those who have to deal with his Department from the outside. Some of these people find there is a certain amount of friction. They raise a point with one particular section of the Department and they then find that that is not the right section to deal with the matter, they are referred to somebody else in the same Ministry, and that there is often friction between the various sections in the Ministry. This brings up an essential point of organisation which does need to be watched. I have myself, as a Member of this House, found there is substance in this complaint. I write to the Ministry and, perhaps, the eventual reply comes from the Ministry of Health. Will my right hon. Friend make very clear to the public, to the people in the building industry, the executive functions of each of the various Departments that are involved in the housing programme? I think if he were to make the different functions in the organisation clear, within each Ministry, and between the various Ministries concerned it would he of material assistance to those engaged in the handling of building materials and in the construction of houses, whether local authorities, architects or contractors.
I should now like to refer to materials. Obviously, there is a shortage due to various reasons. To some extent, I think the shortage is a "paper shortage." I mean this. If a local authority finds it cannot obtain its materials from any particular supplier, it tends to repeat that order to a number of other suppliers. That makes it seem there is a huge order for that particular item, but it is only an exaggerated "paper" demand which has no real existence. I think the right hon. Gentleman would find his new regional organisation could get that sort of problem solved. I should like also to refer to the question of bulk purchases of supplies. If the Ministry has a certain item which it knows it will require in the future it places a bulk order for it. 114 I do not think the chaos is as pronounced as the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Orr-Ewing) tried to indicate, but I think that, in the placing of these bulk orders, when they are placed ahead, the supplies come through and then are put into store. I am informed that in the warehouses of the Port of London Authority there are some baths available, and that they have been in store for some time. I think that if my right hon. Friend would look into that matter he would find he could free some of the baths in store so that they might be available immediately for the houses under construction.
As to the question of the supply of building machinery, and building plant, some of the local authorities have said that they have not been able to get suitable plant, bulldozers, tractors, lorries and so forth. We know there is a supply of tractors held in some of the parks controlled by some of the Service Departments. It may be found that some of the works squadrons organised in the Royal Air Force during the war have building plant that might be available, and that might be freed from the maintenance units of the Royal Air Force. Perhaps my right hon. Friend will inquire into that. There are in many cases, as hon. Members may know, tractors with caterpillar wheels, equipment required for levelling ground, and so forth, available in some of the vehicle parks belonging to the Services.
Reference is made from time to time, both in the House and in the Press, to the unpleasantness of certain tasks, and too much emphasis is placed on that. I think it tends to discourage the recruitment of labour to the brickmaking industry, if we keep saying it is an unpleasant task, badly paid, and with bad conditions of work which ought to be improved. Admittedly these things ought to be considered, but I have made careful inquiries in my own constituency, and I have found that the conditions are not so bad as is sometimes suggested. Men in that area are earning £6, £7 or £8 a week, working under cover and in good conditions. I think that applies to other parts of the country, too.
§ Mr. Murray (Spennymoor)
Arc not those piece rates? The figures I have are totally different. I suppose they are piece rates, and not clay-tale rates?
§ Wing-Commander Cooper
I shall have to verify that point. I have not the information with me. That is possible. But the point I was trying to make is that wages in the brickmaking industry are not so bad as is sometimes suggested. In some parts of the country they need improving. I do not want to screen that. But if we give publicity all the time to the worst side we shall find that the recruits whom we need will not come forward. We have to give reasonable publicity and see conditions are improved.
§ Mr. Diamond (Manchester, Blackley)
Does the hon. and gallant Gentleman not appreciate that, already, recruits are not coming forward, and that publicity is needed to improve the conditions so that the recruits will come forward?
§ Wing-Commander Cooper
That is quite right. I appreciate that point. I have raised this question of improvement in the brickmaking industry, and we have to take very definite steps to improve conditions. I should like to refer to the question of the brickyards that have been opened, because this is a point which I raised on the Adjournment some time ago. I gave figures then which were rather pessimistic. I said that 75 per cent. of the brickyards had not been opened. I thought it was a pessimistic figure. I have made inquiries and I find that brickyards have been opened recently. I do not mean merely that permission to open has been given. I mean they are actually working. The figure of those not open has now fallen to below 50 per cent. That may sound a high proportion for brickyards not yet opened, but the point is they are in most cases quite small yards, the less efficient yards. Quite rightly, the Ministry should give priority to those that are more efficient in order to get those working before the smaller yards come into operation.
One proposal I should like to make is this. It has been suggested that some of our building materials ought to be brought in from overseas. I believe Belgium had a quite considerable export of bricks to this country before the war. In view of the need to progress rapidly with our housing programme, and so that we can take the best possible advantage of the summer months, would it not be worth while, as a temporary measure, to import a quantity of bricks from Belgium which would help us at this time when 116 there is a bottleneck of one particular item? My hon. Friend the Member for West Coventry (Mr. Edelman) referred to timber. He suggested a rather roundabout way of obtaining it, saying Ruhr coal could be sent to Sweden so that we could get timber. Would it not be worth while obtaining timber from Germany direct? I understand supplies are available. A commission went out some months ago to review the position. Would it not be justifiable to press for the delivery of considerable supplies of timber from Germany directly to this country as a result of the recommendations, perhaps—though they have not been published, I believe—made by that commission?
Finally, there is some difficulty still in the building supplies industry over the Essential Work Order. This is a very vexed point. I realise the ramifications of the removal of this restriction, but it might be advisable to give that very earnest consideration at the present time, as, if there were reasonable freedom, that might encourage labour to give to the utmost of its ability. It is a point which has been brought to me by architects. It is found that the restriction on labour, preventing it from being mobile and, if one job is held up at one stage, preventing it going to another, does tend to delay both the building of houses and the supply of materials. If my right hon. Friend will give consideration to that point and to the other suggestions I have been able to put before him, it will materially assist, I feel, in getting a really adequate supply of the building materials now so urgently required throughout the country.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Sir Henry Morris-Jones (Denbigh)
I apologise to the Minister for not having been present to hear his introductory speech. I have made one or two inquiries from my hon. Friends, and they tell me that it did not amount to a good deal. I do not know about that, but I understand that he did not make any mention of the question of timber. I am very surprised indeed about this, because there is nothing in the building industry which is Causing a greater headache at present than this question of timber I am concerned with a rural area, and carpenters and joiners, in my constituency, who are in a small way of business, tell me that they cannot get timber. There is urgent work to be 117 done, apart from new construction. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, repair and maintenance work is just as important as new building, but he does not appear to me to be so keen on repair and maintenance as on new construction. The right hon. Gentleman does not give anything like the same priority to those undertaking this work. Is it not just as important to keep a house from falling down, by carrying out suitable maintenance work upon it, as it is to build a new one? Is it not better to repair a house, than to build another in its place? Work on the farms is being held up in rural areas through lack of timber, and especially in my county of Denbighshire. The right hon. Gentleman is in possession of all the facts, and he has been under constant pressure from hon. Members on this question of timber. Surely, it is of the most vital importance that we should have timber. I suggest that under the new Canadian Loan we should be able to import timber from the Dominion to ease the situation. We should do that, rather than wait on Sweden, Finland, Norway and the other Baltic countries.
I listened with amazement to the reference of the hon. and gallant Member for West Middlesbrough (Wing-Commander Cooper) to the question of labour in brickworks. My information is quite contrary to his. According to my information, the scarcity of labour is due to the conditions of pay. I do not know where the hon. and gallant Member got his figure of £7 or £8 from, but I was told in my own county that the reason why they cannot get labour is because of the inadequate wages. We used to have labour from Ireland, but it is impossible, to import Irish labour now because of the situation in regard to housing accommodation in the area. I hope that the Minister, or Parliamentary Secretary, when he replies, will give us a review of the position. The House is entitled to know the position in regard to timber, and if the right hon. Gentleman has made no mention of the subject, he should do so. Nothing is likely to be lost by taking the House into his confidence. As was said by the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles), the trade is in a quandary because of the different statements that have been made in regard to materials. It would he a great help to the industries concerned to know the outlook for the next few months. It is a matter of sur- 118 prise to be told that at the moment when there is great scarcity of building materials of all kinds, we are exporting building materials from this country. Putting aside all currency issues, is it not of vital importance that all available building material should be used in this country, so that our people may be housed, and housed quickly?
§ 7.37 P.m.
§ Mr. Shurmer (Birmingham, Spark-brook)
I have to claim the indulgence of the House in making my maiden speech, but I know that I shall receive that sympathy and understanding which have been given to previous Members in making their maiden speeches. It is rather unfortunate that I should rise so late in the day, but I want to get a word in on the question of housing. I come from the City of Birmingham, which is very short of materials at the present time, and I want, if I can, to state to the Minister the position in which we find ourselves in regard to the Ministry of Works, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Labour.
If my mind plays me fair, the Minister of Health told this House a few months ago that he hoped to break the back of housing within a couple of years. I believe that he was sincere, but unless we have more men released from the Forces for the building industry and ancillary trades, I am afraid that we shall be rather behind in that estimation. Steps have to be taken to speed up the release of men from the Forces, and in this connection I believe that the Department of the right hon. Gentleman is responsible for sanctioning releases. On 21st January, we were told by the Parliamentary Secretary that 141,000 men in the building industry and ancillary trades had been authorised for release under Class B. All hon. Members are receiving daily letters telling them how difficult it is for men to get out of the Forces under Class B release. I know that Class B releases should be 10 per cent, of Class A releases, but I understand that they are far below that figure. I should like to see the Minister of Labour, the Minister of Health and the Minister of Works get together on this great problem of releasing men, not only for building houses. but for manufacturing the component parts required for the building programme.
119 The chairman of the Public Works Committee of the great City of Birmingham attended the House of Commons only a few clays ago and was complaining of the shortage of materials. I want, if I can, to show the colossal problems which we have in Birmingham. I have been a member of the City Council for 25 years. I have lived in the heart of the slum district and I know what is happening. I am there every weekend, and I know the appalling conditions under which people are living. There are sites which ought to be cleared, and if some of the materials from those houses were used to repair other property that would help for the time being to ease the situation in that great city.
With regard to the release of men, the chairman of the Public Works Committee told the City Council that he required 5,000 men to carry out his first housing programme, whereas he had only about 950. We find that when a builder applies for a man to be released from the Forces—a bricklayer, carpenter, joiner or plumber —he receives a letter from the Ministry of Works which reads something like this:The conditions which have to be satisfied in respect of individual key specialists are very stringent and only in exceptional cases can a recommendation be made. It is regretted that the very limited quota for release ….I know it is said that if men are released from the Forces in any numbers for the building and ancillary trades there will be a "rumpus" in the Army. We must tell the men in the Forces that, unless some of their comrades are released from the Forces, they will get no homes, and that it is necessary for men to be released to build houses. I believe that if the position was put clearly to the men in the Forces they would realise that they cannot have their cake and eat it.
I think that a conference should take place between the three Ministers concerned on the conditions under which Class B men are released. There are many men authorised for Class B release who will not accept it, because they have only a few months more service to do, and if they are released under Class B they receive only 21 days furlough with pay as against 56 days plus one day per month for their overseas service. These men are required to take part in providing one of the most vital needs of the 120 day. They would be engaged on a job just as vital as the war and one much better, because instead of fighting and killing, they would be doing constructive work. If some arrangement could be made whereby these men would come out under conditions equivalent to their ordinary Class A release, we should get many thousands of men out of the Army. They would be helping in the fight against overcrowding, disease and slums which has been too long the lot of the working class of this country.
When I first became a member of my council, I was a civil servant. I gave up my suburban house and went to live in a back alley in order that I might realise the conditions of the people who had to live in those districts. I little thought that today I should be dealing with a problem in a great city far worse, and one which is being dealt with much more slowly than it was after the last war. Then again, if men were released under Class B on the same conditions as under Class A, there would be many who would be willing to work in the brickyards. The men in those yards should be paid a proper rate of pay. The chairman of the Public Works Committee told the council that 1,700 houses which are being built in Birmingham were being held up for facing bricks, and he did not know how he could complete them. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour, during the early days of this Parliament, said that the first of many problems with which the industry was faced was the restoration of its labour force. I entirely agree. The Secretary of State for War, in a booklet issued a short time ago, referring to the age and service principle, stated that the Government were prepared to maintain rigidly this principle, even at the cost of delay in reconstruction. I say quite frankly that any man who does anything to obstruct the building of homes for the people is doing a wrong thing, no matter to what party he may belong, and to say that we are going to stick rigidly to a principle of age and service, when men could be brought out of the Army to carry on work which is vital is, I suggest wrong, and there should be some conference between the Ministers concerned.
During the war, camps and hostels appeared like magic. There was no regard to cost of labour. I know that there is no regard to cost now so far as housing is 121 concerned. It is the labour question which we are up against at the present time. During the war, there were placed on airfields 30 million tons of ballast, one million tons of steel and over one million wooden and brick buildings at a cost of £16 millions. Enough concrete runways were built to extend from London to Peking. That was the way in which we tacked a necessary job in war time; surely something on similar lines could be done to house the men returning from the Forces.
The housing position in Birmingham is serious. We have 37,000 back-to-back houses, 52,000 houses with no separate water, and 15,000 with no separate lavatory accommodation. Bathrooms are a luxury to thousands of people and at least 200,000 human beings are living in that city under conditions that are verminous and injurious to health. The general standard of working-class houses before the war left much to be needed. They are in a more defective condition now. At the beginning of the war we needed something over 15,000 houses—and here I have to be controversial—simply because the friends of hon. Gentlemen on the other side deliberately sabotaged house-building in Birmingham three years before the war through the bringing forward of fictitious figures as to the city's needs. In addition, five large slum clearance schemes required to be carried out. Hitherto there was only one way of clearing slums in Birmingham and that was by German bombers. But for the loss of life it was a pity that "Jerry" did not come over every night until the slums were completely cleared. There is no doubt that "Jerry" did do much in slum clearance in Birmingham. For over a century friends of hon. Members opposite controlled the City Council of Birmingham. The Labour Party has just got control, and we have found that the only slum clearance done has been done by German bombers.
Overcrowding in that city has reached such proportions as to constitute an immense threat to the health and well-being of the people. The deteriorated condition of the houses there is becoming increasingly favourable for contagious diseases. There are nearly 44,000 people on the books of the Estates Committee seeking housing accommodation, and they are increasing at the rate of 250 to 300 people per week. These people come to 122 the Housing Committee and have to be told that that Committee can do nothing at the moment to provide them with accommodation. Thus it follows that a man, having spent four, five or six years in the different theatres of war, finds that there is nothing else to do but to lie on the floor of the room which his wife and children were fortunate enough to get for lodgings during wartime. To make that city worthy of the great sacrifice which has been made in this war we need 100,000 houses. The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that it is a colossal task he has to perform for the City of Birmingham, but those houses are needed to rehouse families who are in overcrowded lodgings, in insanitary dwellings and in houses which have been condemned. The City Council has just passed five great housing development schemes, the greatest social reconstruction plans of their kind ever undertaken in the country. We hope to go on with the job, and I do not think for one moment that the sweeping away of the slums of that city will be such a colossal task if we get the help of the Ministries concerned.
I may have been a little bit controversial in what I have said, and I may have got hot beneath the collar, but I feel confident that there are bottlenecks somewhere which are holding up confidence between the Ministers. Every effort should be put forth and I believe that the Ministries concerned ought to give to the people "pep" talks in regard to housing, pointing out to them that much as they sacrificed to kill and destroy, they need to sacrifice more in the interests of reconstruction. The people should be told that it is not only bricks and mortar which are needed to build houses, but that components are equally essential, and that it is up to the men and women of this country to get on with the job. I feel very sore when I meet men who have borne the brunt of battle for five or six years and for whom I can do nothing when they appeal to me to get them a home.
I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman has considered the using of materials off the blitzed sites. In Birmingham no site has been touched since 1941. The difficulty here is that generally it is first one Minister and then another. I went yesterday morning and saw a family living in the surroundings of blitzed property, and when the people came out to 123 see me they said, "If they wanted this for an airfield they would clear it very quickly." I suggest to the Minister of Works that something should be done to clear these blitzed sites. Some move should be made towards the preparation of these sites for building houses, and I hope something will be done to ginger up the Departments concerned so as to get on with the housing programme. I have lived for 27 years in these slum conditions, and I have suffered imprisonment and all sorts of things. I lost my job, and efforts were made in this House to get me back into the Civil Service. I was sentenced to 51 days in prison for fighting for the people, and I am here tonight to fight for them, no matter what it may mean. I am fighting to get decent homes for them to enable them to bring up their children as decent citizens. Great numbers of our people are living in that city, which manufactures things needed throughout the world, in hovels under insanitary conditions. I trust that something will be done to enable the Birmingham City Council at last to get its chance to build houses and to make the city into a really happy, contented place, as it ought to be with its motto "Forward."
§ 7.57 P.m.
§ Major Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Shurmer) on the excellent speech which he has delivered. I am sure everybody in the House will agree with me in saying that, not only did he go at his subject with an air of determination, but he made a contribution of great value which had behind it experience, and that is something we always value in this House. We shall look forward to similar contributions from him in the future. If I might say so, my own experience of Birmingham has been that one spends one's time there going round in circles; but I think the hon. Member has proved an exception to the rule. I hope he will long be with us here to speak as he has done tonight.
I have only a few points to raise in this Debate, and they follow up to some extent the speech of the hon. Member for Sparkbrook. I do not think I can go the whole way with him and say that this is the time to drop the "age and service" principle, in the Class B release scheme, but I would 124 say that there is still room for improvement in the relationships between the various Ministries concerned in getting men released under Class B. I should like to see a clear definition of the position as regards a man coming out under the block scheme and coming out under the individual, specialised or key-man scheme. It has confused a good many people; it should, and I hope it will be clarified.
In the matter of bricks, the Minister in his opening speech mentioned a figure of 43 million facing bricks out of a total of 825 millions. I know that some builders are very badly held up in regard to this. A few weeks ago the London Brick Company were unable to promise the delivery of sand faced bricks for over six weeks. This percentage of 43 million out of 825 millions seems a disturbing figure, because, as I understand it, the proportion of facing bricks required for new houses is something like two in three, whereas facing bricks are not so urgently required for repair.
I would very much like to know what the Minister feels about this matter. Does he think that production of facing bricks is not less adequate than the production of other types of bricks? I understand that efforts have been made, in cooperation with the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, to decide what types of other bricks can be used in place of facing bricks, which are in short supply, and I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will give us some information about that.
With regard to labour for the building industry, I was surprised at a suggestion made by an hon. Member opposite that more men in uniform should be put on to this work. A few months ago, I made that suggestion myself but I visualised it as a temporary measure. The suggestion today, however, seems to smack a little of the Labour Corps we used to hear about before the war. I think it is highly dangerous that we should make a practice of putting men in uniform on to civilian jobs more than is absolutely necessary. The crisis which demanded that has now passed. I am not certain what percentage of men who have not yet been released from the Forces, are now cooperating with the building trade, but I know that the Class B scheme is beginning to work a little better now, and I hope it will not be necessary for men still in uniform to continue to be put on to building work. The Forces have a great 125 deal to do by way of organisation, and if, at the same time, they have to bolster up our civilian labour force, it will not be a good thing from the point of view of the security of this country.
I would refer to another detailed point, which particularly affects my constituency. It has been said today that there are many people living in the great cities in distressing conditions. That is true, but there are quite as many, proportionately, living in just as bad conditions in the country areas. In those areas, there is a great cry for piped water supplies. One of the ways in which that demand can be met to some degree—although not entirely—is by the supply of what are technically known as furnace pans. I asked a Question about these some time ago, in which I referred to coppers. The penny dropped in one direction, but not in the other. The matter was referred to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but now, I think, the Parliamentary Secretary has cleared it up. The reply I got was that few firms were making furnace pans. I have been in touch with a firm in my constituency who tell me that they have stopped giving orders, but that the demand is so great that they could take any number which were supplied. This is a serious matter for people living in cottages. I believe the supply of these pans is the responsibility of the Ministry of Works, and that they could be classed as building materials. They could come under the heading of "Repairs," and would do much to relieve a great deal of distress now being experienced. It would help, particularly, men coming back into the country areas, a great many of whom are reluctant to do so.
With regard to temporary housing, some time ago I raised with the Minister of Health the question of the delivery of temporary houses, and recently I had a letter from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, in which he said:Aluminium houses are, however, supplied direct from the factory to the site. The production of this type comes late in the general production programme.I quite appreciate that, but what I do not quite see is why the fact that the aluminium houses are supplied direct from the factory should be given as an excuse for their being late. I should have thought that would possibly have been a reason for their being a little more 126 prompt in their arrival. I should be very much obliged if the Minister would explain why it is that that system has been adopted for aluminium houses and not for others. I cannot see the reason why aluminium houses should be supplied direct from the factory to the site and other types should not be so delivered. What is known in certain parts of my constituency is that the houses have not arrived, although they were expected some time back.
One very important point that arises in connection with aluminium houses is the enormous cost. I quite agree with those hon. Members on both sides of the House who have said that the cost must not be allowed to stand in the way of getting houses, but I think it ought to be very seriously considered whether or not it is really advisable to go full speed ahead on temporary houses without considering the other possibilities, especially when one realises that in 10 years' time these houses will apparently be unfit to live in. It is very disconcerting to think of England being dotted with tin boxes which apparently will not be fit to live in. What is to happen to them?
Obviously, before one condemns that policy, one must try to produce some alternative. There have been alternatives put forward. The Americans seem to have produced a machine which does the most amazing work; the whole house is put into one casting. Obviously, it would take time to get that in this country, but have the possibilities of that method been considered? I would stress particularly the old military hut building. Again, the Americans have produced a very good conversion of the Nissen hut. I believe that the same thing has been done in England. I put a Question on this matter to the Minister some time ago, and he sent me a copy of a Question which had been asked earlier by the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Collins), the concluding part of that answer reading:The use of Nissen huts for this purpose would, however, generally lead to uneconomical use of labour and materials which could more profitably be employed on other housing projects."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd August, 1945; Vol. 413 c. 828.]He also enclosed a copy of Circular 20/46, dated 22nd January, paragraph 3 of which reads:In some instances, the structure and planning of the buildings will enable them to 127 be converted at reasonable cost into temporary dwellings with accommodation comparable with that provided by the temporary houses supplied by the Government, In such cases, provided that they are sited in places where, as far as can be foreseen, temporary housing is likely to be required and to be acceptable to tenants for at least xo years, the buildings may be transferred to local authorities.The only thing I would say about Nissen huts is that during the war I had the doubtful privilege of living in some of them, rather against my desire. I also lived in some which had almost attained the status of being houses. They had been lined, they had floors in them, and they had extra windows and decent heating arrangements. Those huts were very comfortable and were nothing to be ashamed of. I can think of many people who enjoyed living in them, but there is a sort of bogy about the Nissen hut, and I can quite understand a great many men in the Forces not wanting to go back into them. But I believe there are a great many houses built of bricks, which are far worse to live in than those huts.
In rural areas where the houses have not got water laid on, and where camps were put up with proper drainage and proper water supplies, it seems to me that conversion of these types of dwellings would be fairly cheap and very much quicker in results, and the dwellings would be very much more attractive in many cases, to people who have not any of the amenities I have mentioned. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to give us some indication of whether this temporary housing policy is to go on for ever, because it seems to me there are many other alternatives. Hon. Members will have received pamphlets about quick methods of permanent building and that sort of thing. There are other methods and I should like to know if the Minister is studying them and what progress is being made.
The Minister painted a very accurate, if disturbing, picture of what is happening. No alternative should be ignored. If an alternative is produced, it should be studied carefully and, if possible, put into practice, even alongside and in addition to the other temporary housing and the permanent housing. I ask the Minister to push on with permanent houses in particular. It is one of my greatest regrets that temporary houses have been considered for the rural population. The rural 128 areas want permanent houses. We shall never get the men on the land until we have permanent houses. We should push on with permanent houses.
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Murray (Spennymoor)
I was very interested to hear the speech of the hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Shurmer). He not only knew his subject but knew it by experience. I hope that in the future we shall continue to hear his voice in this Chamber. I also listened very attentively to the speech made by the Minister today. I was very glad that he did not make any excuses, but faced the situation as we should have expected him to do. I was disturbed a little about the question of employing German prisoners. However, I took comfort in the fact that the Minister did say that they would not be engaged if there was civilian labour available. I remember, not in my own division but in the division of my hon. Friend the Member for Durham (Mr. Grey), German prisoners were engaged at the Nevilles Cross College, and that caused disturbance in my own division as well as in the Durham division. Labour was available at that particular time. Men were signing on at the employment exchange and drawing benefit, and German prisoners were being employed at the Nevilles Cross College. I hope that will not happen so far as the engagement of these people is concerned.
It was quite evident from the Minister's speech today that he confirmed everything that has been said in the Press during the weekend on the shortage of bricks. I realise from the Minister's statement that there is a shortage of labour in some areas and that there is likely to be a night sift put on to develop the brickyards that are now in operation. In some parts of the country there is no clay at all that would be suitable for bricks. In my Division men and women are now finding their way to the employment exchange. They are simply terrified of a repetition of 1918—terrified of it—and these conditions in the minds of men and women create a psychology that is not good for anybody. Housing in my Division is a nightmare—an absolute nightmare to young people who wish to get married, and a nightmare to the men already married who have nowhere to put their children. That is not a contribution to home life in this country. Men who have been five or six years married ex- 129 petting a home and seeking out landlords to try and get a home are not having their needs met. I understand very definitely—and everybody seems to accept it—that we are short of bricks, so much so that in my area alone bricklayers are being turned off because the bricks are not there for them to lay. That is a serious situation for anybody to find himself in. Men and women who are watching the process simply cannot understand it at all. In the Spennymoor Division there is plenty of labour available. The figures of both men and women at the employment exchange are growing week by week. In Spennymoor, Crook, Durham —all the exchanges round there are showing a rapid increase in men signing on, so that there is no excuse so far as the labour problem is concerned in Durham.
There is plenty of good clay in my division, I understand. I could produce a sample if I was permitted to do so, but I cannot give the House the information which is in my possession because I am not allowed to impart it. But on the analysis that has been provided, I can say that we have in the district as good clay to make bricks for houses as anywhere in this country. If we have the labour available and if we have the clay which makes good bricks, we ought to have the opportunity of making them. I would not have intervened but for the remark made by the hon. and gallant Member for West Middlesbrough (Wing-Commander Cooper), that there were men who had good conditions in the brick industry and were making £8 a week. That may be so for some of the men working at piece rates, but yesterday a man was at my home seeking a testimonial to get out of the brick industry. He told me that he had 14s. 9d. a day, for a seven-day week of 56 hours. There is no overtime rate of pay for the job, so that his all-in wage for seven days, including a Sunday, was —5 3s. 3d. If you think you are going to get bricks at that rate today, you are living in a fool's paradise. It will not operate. Men want to run away from the industry because they can get better conditions and better wages outside, and live near their homes. This man travels miles to work and his bus fares have to be deducted from his pay, besides such things as rent and light. As to the union rate, the Minister said today that negotiations arc going on with the object of improving it.
130 If bricks could be made at Crook, money would be saved in cartage, and there would be no need for bricks to be brought from the South of England to be sent to the North of England. Unemployed men would be given work to do in their own area, and we would not have to pay them money for doing nothing. I hate waste, and it is waste to keep men standing idle and drawing unemployment benefit when they could be helping to build homes for people to live in. It is ridiculous for them to be idle. There are local men who are anxious to put money into a firm in the area. That sort of thing ought to be encouraged. These men are prepared to sink £3,000 in a brickworks, and if they put £3,000 into a brickworks, they will try to make it a success. I know that these men are not able to raise all the money, but if they can put up a quarter of the money necessary, that is something that ought to be encouraged. I have in my pocket three letters begging me to press on the Government the necessity for getting these brickworks started. In such places as Crook, Spennymoor and Brandon, there are people waiting for jobs. During the last fortnight, 480 women in Spennymore have been given notice, and will go on the dole. People cannot understand that sort of thing. I ask the Minister to take some action. He is sympathetic and I know that he wants to help. I have received any amount of sympathy from the regional officers and the Departments with whom I have been dealing in connection with the bricks question, but it is now time for action. I appeal to the Minister to do his best for the men who are willing to put their money and their labour into making bricks. If we are to have decent houses, we must have bricks. I ask the Minister to do something in this matter and so help towards that great housing programme which every one of us want to see a success.
§ 8.22 p.m.
§ Captain Crookshank (Gainsborough)
I should like to re-echo the words of the hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Murray). It is time for action by the Government Front Bench on this difficult problem. About half an hour ago, we heard a most eloquent and forceful speech from the hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Shurmer), on which I would like to congratulate him; I also 131 remind him that it is not the first time that we have heard eloquent and forceful speeches from representatives of that constituency. Unless I misheard the hon. Member, he was troubled because, he said, it was even slower and harder now than it was after the last war to get on with the required building, and that in spite of the fact that very elaborate preparations were made in the 12 months preceding the conclusion of the war to get on with temporary housing construction.
The problem is a colossal one, and once again the Government have every reason to be gratified that the Opposition have brought forward this subject for Debate. We are always conferring favours upon the Government and their supporters by ventilating these problems which badly require to be ventilated. I hope those who have sat through the Debate will recognise that it has been a useful one, "although a somewhat technical one, and that the figures and information which have been poured out from both sides of the House require a good deal of study, nowhere more than in the Government Departments concerned. I must admit to some measure of surprise that, on a matter of this kind, we have not had the pleasure of the presence of the Minister of Health. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health popped in for about half an hour round about six o'clock, but he has not been seen since. [Interruption.] Then he must be hiding round a corner.
§ Captain Crookshank
The Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary ought to have been here all the time. It is not conferring any great benefit on the House for one of them to be here for two hours. Housing is their job, and we are discussing housing and housing components; and I think it is treating the House with complete disrespect that they should not be here. I would like now to deal with one or two of the main points, as they have struck me, with regard to temporary housing. Let us consider where this matter started as far as the Government are concerned. It started long ago, on 17th August, when we were treated to a speech from the right hon. Gentleman the Lord Privy Seal. It was almost an historical occasion, because his 132 speeches are so few and far between. On that day, he was discussing the question of housing, and he said:It is perfectly clear that the housing problem of this country will be solved by dealing with it on a system of priorities, serving first those whose needs are greatest. 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.]The Lord Privy Seal said, in August, that in the winter and in the coming months shelter must be provided. The whole gravamen of our complaint in this Debate is that, so far as temporary housing is concerned, that just has not happened. The whole point about temporary housing was that the structures are, as at present intended, only to be used for this purpose over a period of to years. Therefore, the sooner they are put up, the greater their value. The longer they take in building, the more wasteful is the whole experiment, because there will not be to years' use of them, the 10 years being a calendar date. If one threads one's way through the confusing statistics, one finds that in the last three months the production and erection of these houses has been going on at a rate of about 3,000 or 3,500 per month. At that rate it will be very nearly two and a half years before the last one will be completed. On the other hand, the Minister of Health was reported in the "Daily Express," on 16th March, as saying that he hoped to complete the temporary programme by the autumn. The Minister responsible did not go quite as far as that this afternoon, but the Minister of Health threw that out to the public, and is not here now to support it. If he is to carry out that statement, it means that these houses will have to be put up at something like five times the present rate during the next six months. Can that be done?
I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will elucidate that point when he replies, because, as I have just said, the whole object of this policy is speed. We have to put up with a lot of things which are unpleasant in these temporary houses; for instance, there is their ugliness and in some cases there is a measure of discomfort as compared with permanent housing, and certainly there is the fact that they are impermanent. All that is put 133 on one side for the purpose of getting them quickly. We are, not getting them quickly yet, and we on this side are trying to probe the reason for that. The reason is not a lack of sites, because, according to the January returns, which are the most recent, sites the use of which has already been agreed number no fewer than 117,000, with a programme total of 130,000, for England, and 23,749, with au ultimate programme of 33,000, for Scotland. We have about 140,000 sites agreed for an absolute maximum of 163,000 temporary houses.
lf that is so, obviously it is not sites which are holding up progress. That refers to sites agreed, but when it comes to sites under development, and those which are ready, the last table shows that in England there are 45,985 under development and 6,358 of them are fully developed. If we are putting houses up at the rate of only 3,000 to 3,500 a month there are already fully developed, almost sufficient sites for two months ahead. Therefore, as I say, it cannot be sites. I think that is definitely established.
Whether it is material or not is more obscure, but my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples), in a very careful speech, pointed out that there were something like 10,000 or 12,000 completed hulls whose present position was undetermined. He did not know where they had gone: they are shown in the statistical digest as having been produced, but not in the housing return as having arrived anywhere. If they exist, however, we cannot say there is a shortage of material. It is not a shortage of sites, developed or agreed for use, and it is not a. shortage of material. What is the answer? I suspect, and my hon. and right hon. Friends suspect with me, that it is faulty organisation. Now we are coming rather nearer home. The Minister of Works, on his own showing in his speech on the Second Reading of the Building Materials and Housing Bill on 26th November last, isresponsible for assessing the requirements and working out the programme for employing to the best advantage the labour force expected to be available for the whole of the building and civil engineering industries.Later on he said that he had toassess the requirements of building materials and components which are needed to meet this programme, to break these requirements down into minute detail and to present them to the Departments responsible for ensuring that 134 the programme will not fail for want of particular materials or items of equipment"— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th November, 1945; Vol. 416, C. 902.]That seems to pin the responsibility on him in almost exactly the same terms as those originally laid down in the White Paper on housing produced by the previous Government in March, 1945, which said that theregistration of builders, training of apprentices and, allocation of labour and licensing of building workwould be his responsibility. That being so I must admit that I am rather confused about the extent to which other Ministers seem to cut across his path. Perhaps he is confused too, but does not like to say so, and it may help him if I draw attention to it, and then, in Cabinet, he can say "this has been spotted, and had better stop." For instance, according to today's paper, the right hon. Lady the Minister of Education, when she spoke on Saturday in London, expatiated on how she was going to train the apprentices, craftsmen, and higher ranks recruited to the building trade. There was no reference to the fact that it is the right hon. Gentleman's job. Odder still—if an Englishman may even make a reference to a Scottish Debate—was what the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland said on this matter of training. I did not hear him of course—that would have been going too far—but I did read his words in the OFFICIAL REPORT. The right hon. Gentleman said:I will say a word now about the intake of building trade workers. On this question I—I stress the word "I "—had to work with the trade unions and with the employers. Any man who tried to run this business without considering the trade unions would be in a mess within a week or a month. He must harness and bring together both sides. We have got the trade unions to agree to a scheme of training…."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th March, 1946; Vol. 420, c. 1812–1813.]There is no reference to the Minister of Works. Then, not being satisfied with dealing with that side of the problem, the Joint Under-Secretary went into the question of bricks, but I shall return to bricks later.
At the moment, therefore, when we are talking about why the temporary housing programme is so much in arrears, I build up the case that it is not because of the 135 absence of sites or materials. The Minister's functions are perfectly clearly defined and were confirmed this evening, when I read out his description of them last November. Other Ministers seem to be interfering with his work, and that is bad administration which in the long run is bound to be fatal to the Government programme. I would only add that the Lord President of the Council had something to say on the subject at Bradford only last night, when he made what I thought to be an astonishing announcement. I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to explain this. According to "The Times" the Lord President said:By the end of the year the Government hope to have something under 1,500,000 men on buildings.Of course I do not know what "something under "means, but I have never heard any figure given of about 1,500,000 men on building during this year. If we were to succeed in having the figures of manpower in this industry I imagine the houses certainly ought to begin going up. But I cannot think that it is anything but a little propaganda at Bradford on the part of the Lord President when one looks at the manpower in the industry today. On 31st January the grand total in England, Wales, and Scotland is given as 690,000; on 31st July last it was 525,000, and if it is expected to rise from 690,000 at the end of January, to somewhere under 1,500,000 in eleven months it is a most startling pronouncement, and I am surprised that the Minister of Works—who is responsible—has said nothing about it this afternoon. I leave the temporary housing problem there for the Government to make the best they can out of their case, but the fact remains that the houses are not going up with the speed with which we or the country expected, and the whole value of the programme will be lost unless they do start going up very quickly from now onwards.
The right hon. Gentleman gave some very useful information in his speech earlier in the Debate. It is awfully difficult to criticise the right hon. Gentleman. Just as from a toothpaste tube you squeeze out lovely, soft, pink, toothpaste on to your brush, so the right hon. Gentleman exudes charm and benevolence all the time he stands at that Box. He does, however, say some things with which we cannot agree. Very 136 ingenuously, he calmly told us that he and the Minister of Health had agreed on a target for permanent and temporary housing. But the House of Commons is not to be told what the target is. The Minister of Health has firmly refused, time and time again, to tell us or the nation what the target is. The Minister of Works will not tell either. All they do is to come down to the House and say that they have decided upon a target between themselves and that it is to he kept a secret. This is a very extraordinary way to treat the House, because as my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles) pointed out, the whole problem of agriculture—as the Secretary of State for Scotland knows perfectly well—depends upon being able to get the maximum number of agricultural workers. It is, however, going to be very difficult for anyone who has influence in these matters to push forward the propaganda, and to be sufficiently persuasive, unless they have an idea of the target number of houses to be built in the agricultural areas. It will not do for this secrecy to be maintained indefinitely. The right hon. Gentleman and his colleague, the Minister of Health, have had a good run, but we hope now that they will open pp a little bit.
The right hon. Gentleman said they had taken into consultation the producers of these building materials, which had been very useful because they had been able to correct obvious errors. That rather shook me. The right hon. Gentleman did not think it was unfortunate that there were obvious errors to be corrected. I should have thought it was most unfortunate. He also said the trouble was that there were too many men going into the building trade, and not enough going in for making building materials. I wonder when that was discovered. In a great number of cases which have been cited two or three times in this House it did not seem so. Only two or three months ago lists were produced to show that there were ample materials of this, that and the other kind. Then the right hon. Gentleman said that bricks were one of the great difficulties. I think quite enough has been said on that subject to acquit me of having to say any more. The Minister said it was intended to use a certain number of German prisoners of war for brickmaking. That may do as a very temporary expedient, but I hope the Government are not going to produce that 137 kind of thing as a solution to all our problems. It will not do for the industrial life of this country to be built up on prisoners of war. It is only a very temporary expedient. I hope that that fact will be made quite clear. Then the right hon. Gentleman said that unless we all co-operated in this business of getting houses, we should not get the best results. Oddly enough, that was the same thing, in other words, that was said by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) in opening the Debate. He pointed out that the whole situation is unsatisfactory and deplorable.
We have discussed bricks. It is very curious how bad production is, and how only recently that fact has come to light. The most ordinary person would have thought that the obvious thing with which to start would be to make sure that there would be enough labour, enough bricks, and enough components. The labour difficulty is still very great. The brick position is very unstable. That is not the only difficulty. Slates have been discussed, and the position is very bad. So it is with baths. I would like the hon. Member who winds up to answer the Question which was put to him the other day by one of his own supporters, and which he did not answer. The hon. Member for Luton (Mr. Warbey) asked whether the Minister was aware.that local authorities are unable to obtain delivery of baths for permanent houses under construction, owing to the fact that a high percentage of the present output is being sent to his Department's storage depots to be fitted into prefabricated temporary houses as anti when they are completed.The Minister ignored that part of the Question by saying:I am aware of the shortage of baths."— [OFFICIAL REPORT 19th March, 1946; Vol. 420, c. 340.]He added that various steps were being taken to make more baths. The Question still remained unanswered.
Perhaps I might be allowed on behalf of the hon. Member for Luton—he may not thank me for doing so—and on behalf of my hon. Friends and myself, to ask the Minister whether it is true that baths are now being kept in storage depots and are not being used for the purpose for which they ought to be used, that is, to be put into the houses now under construction. Are they being hoarded for prefabricated temporary houses? Is that true?
138 There is another housing material about which I would like to ask the Minister a question. It is paint. Astonishingly enough, that too seems to be in great difficulties. We have been led to understand for some time past that paint was quite satisfactory, yet the chairman of the Paint Marketing Council pointed out in "The Times" of 20th March that the industry had been unexpectedly advised that large cuts would be made in the supplies of raw material for paint making. We would like to know a little about that matter. If we are not to have a lot of houses, and not going to be able to repair the old houses, or to do anything else which is necessary, a great deal to help the morale of the country could be done by the distribution of a lot of paint to cheer people up. If we are to have a fine Victory parade on 8th June, some paint on the houses on the various processional routes would be very helpful to cheer everybody up. I should have thought it was a simple way of encouraging people to realise that the war is over. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will tell us exactly how it is that these unexpected cuts have to he made in paint.
I am afraid that I have asked quite a lot of questions. May I put in this way what we want to know? My hon. and gallant Friend who opened the Debate asked about baths, and whether, in general, the local authorities are hoarding a lot of components against the time when they are able to build permanent houses, whereas the Ministry are hoarding them for their prefabricated houses. Have any orders been riven for components to Royal ordnance factories? Have the Government in fact commandeered all the stocks of a great number of lines of components, as is rumoured? My hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham wanted to know the target with regard to agriculture. My hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey wanted to know about the 12,000 missing hulls of steel houses or prefabricated houses, and also how far it was intended to implement the Simmonds Report on brickyards. The point there briefly is whether the byelaws are to be revised and whether there is to be standardisation of the common brick and methods of mechanisation, to achieve the maximum output.
Generally speaking, on the temporary houses we should like to know—I do not 139 think the House has yet been told, but if it has I apologise as it must have escaped my attention—the average time which all these processes take which are minutely described in the White Paper; for example, the development of the site and the erection of the house; and the average man-hours for each of the processes. Do they differ according to the type of prefabricated house? I imagine they would. There is a whole selection of different prefabricated houses going up, and I do not suppose they all take the same time Any information given to us on this matter will be helpful. All information about the numbers delivered during the month subsequent to the White Paper, if that information is available, will be welcome, and so will any news about January and any news about February.
Those are the questions we would like answered. We hope that this Department —we have not had this Vote before—will be a little more forthcoming than other Departments. My experience of previous Debates of this kind has been that we have asked a lot of questions but we have had no answers. It is early in the Session, so we can ask the questions again and again. In the interests of educating the Government's supporters as well as of informing us and in order to bring the matter fully before the nation, I hope that the Government will not be reluctant to give us the information for which we ask.
After all, they are still on trial, and Ministers are not yet finally established in their jobs. [AN HON. MEMBER: "Is that a threat? "] No, it is not a threat at all, but 30th July must be a date well known to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen because that was the day on which they triumphantly made an excursion to what is called the Beaver Hall in the City of London and there was a great deal of photography and good cheer—[AN HON. MEMBER: "Beer? "]—No, I am sure there was no beer—and a speech from the Prime Minister. It is the Prime Minister's words about which I would like to remind all Ministers if they are too careless in giving us the information we require. The Prime Minister said:The Labour Ministers will be judged by high standards and that if any of them prove less than equal to their new responsibilities changes will be made regardless of any personal considerations.As I look at that Front Bench, I realise that there are many who are still at risk.
§ 8.51 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works (Mr. Harold Wilson)
This Debate has shown the sincere concern felt on all sides of the House about the serious building materials position, and in reply to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank), I can say we are highly gratified that the Opposition suggested that this subject be debated today. A large number of questions have been asked, and I am most grateful to him for tabulating them for me at the end of his speech. I will do my best to answer as many as I can; I hope I shall not miss out too many.
Perhaps I should deal at once with one which was put by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith), when he asked if the House could now be told what orders have been placed with the Royal ordnance factories for housing components. I should be glad to give him the figures—I have them all here—but perhaps it would be rather a waste of the time of the House since the Minister of Supply gave the same figures in the House this afternoon. I am sure, if he will look up HANSARD tomorrow he will get what information he requires. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Gainsborough seemed rather concerned about the number of Ministers responsible for the position of building materials, and seemed to think that my right hon. Friend might be worried about them getting in his way. He thought it rather odd, for instance, that the right hon. Lady the Minister of Education should make a speech about the training of building workers in technical colleges. We think it is quite appropriate that the Minister of Education should be responsible for technical colleges and we are glad, and I am sure hon. Members opposite will be glad, to see how many more people are to be trained in technical colleges for building and housing work than were trained before the war.
Then the right hon. and gallant Gentleman thought it was strange that the Lord President should be free to go up to Yorkshire and make statements about the housing situation. Of course, the figures he quoted were very well known to us. I am sorry if the right hon. and gallant Gentleman had any difficulty in reconciling them with other figures, but there 141 are certain statistical difficulties which I shall be happy to explain to him at some other time, as it would take rather long to do it now. Certainly my right hon. Friend has no objection to the Lord President speaking on these things, because, in this Government, we work as a team and we do not conceal information horn one another. We are also working to the same programme, the programme to which my right hon. Friend referred. This is perhaps an answer to the hon. and gallant Gentleman who began with a query on this subject. The programme is binding not only on the Ministry of Works for the necessary materials and goods for which we are responsible, but also on the Ministry of Supply, and we are working together on the same programme for all Departments concerned for the first time in this country.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman seemed to think there was some difficulty about the division of responsibility between the Ministry of Works and the Ministry of Supply. If he will think about it, he will find it all right. The Ministry of Works is responsible for building materials proper; the Ministry of Supply is responsible for those which are produced by the engineering industry. This is all very right and proper, because the Ministry of Supply is responsible for the engineering industry as a whole. If we did not have this arrangement we might have hon. and right hon. Gentlemen from the opposite side getting up and saying that engineering firms in their constituencies had to deal with the Ministry of Supply for their ordinary work and with the Ministry of Works for housing work, and we might be in a far worse situation than he seems to think we are at the present time.
Before dealing with the general question of materials, I would like to say something about temporary housing, because that has taken a prominent part in the statement of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman and in other speeches. Hon. Members have referred to the hold up of the temporary housing programme through delays in the supply of components, and they have pointed out that in many places the delivery of these temporary houses is very much behind the promises made in the past, to the acute disappointment of the local authorities concerned and, more particularly, of those 142 who are waiting for homes. I should like to say a word about materials and components in relation to temporary houses before I come to the supply for permanent houses.
Temporary housing is undoubtedly a long way behind the original programme drawn up by its sponsors. This is chiefly due to difficulties which I am sure the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will want to know about. As he said, it is not a question of sites. It is clue to materials and individual components in short supply. At the present time shells or hulls have been made available to a total of over 50,000, including 8,000 imported from the United States. This 50,000 compares with less than 10,000 when we began. But complete sets of components and internal fittings have so far been produced for only 38,000 of these. In many cases complete sets are available except for one or two particular items, and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply is putting the heat on those items. As my right hon. Friend said this afternoon, there are between 2,000 and 3,000 items in the average temporary house. They are made by some 400 to 500 contractors and they have to be spread over from 5,000 and 6,000 sites. Obviously, the problem of distribution is an exceedingly difficult and intricate one.
The Ministry of Supply, which is responsible for many of the components in short supply, has in our view tackled this problem of turning privately owned works and publicly owned munition works on to the production of housing fitments and of mobilising private industry by bulk orders, with very great energy, and in spite of great difficulties in the supply of certain goods, such as castings, on which I shall say a word later, and ceramics, we are assured by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply that he is confident of bringing the rate of supply of components for temporary houses into line with the need for them by about the beginning of May.
§ Mr. Marples
May I interrupt the hon. Gentleman? Is he aware that the Minister of Supply, in answer to a written question on firth March, said that in a few weeks the production of every fitting would be adequate?
§ Mr. Wilson
I do not want to teach the hon. Gentleman statistics, although I very 143 much wanted to do so this afternoon when he was making those statements of his, but I think he will find that the beginning of May is only a few weeks from the date when that reply was given.
One of the difficulties is that we are working on very narrow margins with nothing left over for buffer stocks to deal with any changes or any temporary lack of balance in the programme. For instance, we have no margin in the supply of electrical fittings to cover variations in voltages from one area to another, which is one of the characteristics, unfortunately, of the electricity distribution of this country. Very often we find that we have pushed ahead with fittings of a particular voltage for one area where houses are expected to be ready first and, in the event, another area is ready first, and although we may have enough electrical fittings in total for our needs, they are the wrong voltage, and therefore the houses arc standing unfinished and empty.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
Is the Minister really suggesting that the number of areas in this country which have not standard voltage is so great that it is really an embarrassment to the supply of electrical equipment? As the whole country knows, that is not the case.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
On a point of Order. The Minister has made a definite statement quite contrary to the knowledge of many of us.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hubert Beaumont)
That is not a point of Order. I have no power to direct the Minister to make any particular statement.
§ Mr. Wilson
We are having cases brought to us every day. If I took the time to answer that point now, there would be no time left for the rest of my reply.
I am sorry to have to say, as one who saw a great deal of munitions planning 144 during the war, that the planning of the temporary housing programme was inadequate and amateurish in the extreme. Although my right hon Friend's predecessors gave a great deal of personal time and attention to the matter, virtually no forethought was given to it. This so-called military evolution was almost totally unplanned. Promises were given at the time which a realistic study of the facts would have shown had no hope whatever of fulfilment. We have done a great deal in pulling the programme into line, and it is not in line yet. We are now bearing the brunt of the misleading promises that were made. It is just a little ironic to hear this described as a breakdown of State control and so on, since the scheme, from its very beginning, was under the control of Ministers from the party opposite and was, in fact, never planned at all. In one important aspect I can give plenty of evidence of this. It was never realised at the beginning that producing houses from so many factories and for so many sites with so many components was so involved; it was thought that somehow they would arrive miraculously on the site at the same time. No provision was made for storage. In reply to the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke), the reason why the aluminium house arrives direct on the site, is that it is made and assembled in one factory. It is the most truly prefabricated house that is being made.
The temporary housing programme and progress made on war damage repairs, although providing much needed shelter for many families, have added considerably to the problem my right hon. Friend is facing. Our difficulty is that the temporary housing programme was entered into without a full calculation of the materials required. My hon. Friend the Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks) put his finger on the problem—and he speaks with great authority—when he said that if the original Portal steel house scheme had gone through that would have been much more successful. The hon. and gallant Member for Pollok said that the idea was to produce 150,000 houses without prejudice to the labour and materials required for permanent housing, which the Portal scheme was designed to do. The mistake was made when a large scheme was entered into after the Portal scheme broke down with- 145 out any thought of the effect that scheme would have on permanent houses. This was particularly true as to asbestos cement, plaster board and metal windows, which are all in critically short supply. I have seen the files which show that undertakings were made to supply local authorities particularly with temporary houses on a great scale, before anyone had even thought of calculating how much asbestos and plaster board would be required. Fortunately, the asbestos cement industry was able to expand to some extent, as my right hon. Friend has shown. Although production is nearly half as large again today as it was before the war, it is far too small for current needs. Many builders are urgently short of it for current work. I ask the House to believe me when I say how distressed my right hon. Friend and I are when we have to refuse permits in case after case for small quantities of asbestos cement required for important work, covering agricultural buildings, etc., because the supplies are simply not there. But as the planned increase in productive capacity materialises, and as the temporary house programme comes to an end, the supply of asbestos cement should ease.
Plasterboard, also required in great quantities for war damage and for both temporary and permanent prefabricated houses, is in a worse position, and I cannot understand why thought was not being given to this question 18 months or two years ago. As my right hon. Friend showed, it requires a period of that length to get plasterboard factories into production. Naturally in such a situation we are trying to develop substitutes, including particularly the encouragement of the traditional plastering craft, to which far too little thought has been given in the past year or two. Here, as well as trying to make emergency supplies of laths available and trying to increase supplies of gypsum plaster, we are trying to encourage a greater use of lime plaster in this country.
Metal windows are another component which, because of the timber shortage and the abnormal needs of the prefabricated programme, there is a serious shortage. The shortage is not in fabricating capacity but in the supply of rolled sections, which the Minister of Supply is doing his best to increase. I am assured by representatives of the iron and steel 146 industry that this could have been done 12 Months ago, if only there had been a programme of requirements in which the industry could have felt some confidence. Such estimates as were produced were very sketchy and ill founded, and the industry, left to itself, did not feel that it could take the responsibility of creating the necessary capacity. There has been considerable discussion of the alleged shortage of glass. This is rather surprising—I am speaking of sheet glass, of which there is no general shortage in this country. Production is very much higher than before the war, and so far from having to import it we are, at present, exporting more glass than we were exporting before the war. There have been one or two individual shortages which have been brought to my attention. In every case they have been due to the fact that builders had not placed their orders or had not let the Ministry of Works know about them.
I have been dealing with points which have been made about temporary houses and materials in short supply because of war damage and the programme of prefabricated houses. Turning to more basic materials which we have been discussing, the problem with which the Government have been faced, as regards bricks and other materials, can be put in a few words. It is that of starting up, building up, and that at a time of an almost general labour shortage, industries which have been virtually closed down in wartime and which, for the most part, have been singularly unattractive to labour. This applied particularly to bricks and to builders' foundry work of all kinds, and, in a greater or lesser degree, to the other building materials industries. The main facts of the brick situation were given by my right hon. Friend. Our main problem has been to get the industry into full production after it had been virtually shut down. It was operating at less than one-sixth of its prewar output when we took office. The output is at present barely one quarter of the prewar figure, but it is building up at a substantial rate. I would remind hon. Members who criticise the slow rate of increase, that, as in building, so in materials, we have had only winter conditions in which to build up production. Winter is traditionally a season in which many manufacturers have been accustomed to close down, in which many of them have shown unwillingness to start 147 up again, and in which, owing to unpleasant outdoor conditions, it has been difficult to recruit labour.
On derequisitioning, Class B releases, labour recruitment, financial inducements to produce, and working conditions, my right hon. Friend has given a pretty full picture. With regard to derequisitioning, for instance, 390 brickworks were requisitioned—
§ Lieut.-Colonel Price-White (Caernarvon Boroughs)
I know the Minister is restricted for time but before he leaves the subject of material, would he please deal with a point which is vital to this subject? Will he tell us something about slate production? Many people are interested in this important matter, and I think His Majesty's Government should deal with it more forcefully.
§ Mr. Wilson
I hope to come to that in a moment. I am still on the subject of bricks. Of the brickworks, 390 were requisitioned. Of these 14 were derelict, 228 have been derequisitioned or are in process of clearance for that purpose, and the others are being dealt with extremely urgently at the present time. The Coronation Brick Works, to which the hon. and gallant Gentleman referred, while not exactly clear—there are some huts still on it—is now in such a position that we have been able to tell the London Brick Company to go ahead and get into production. The care and maintenance scheme for brickworks referred to by the hon. Member for East Woolwich fulfilled a very great function in keeping brickworks in trim during the war and has helped us considerably during the past few months. There has been no doubt that, taken together with the rent paid for storage at requisitioned premises, these payments have sometimes operated as a temptation to be slow in opening.
If one pays people not to produce bricks, there is a danger one will get what one pays for. We have, therefore, made arrangements to terminate these payments, and the rapid progress of de-requisitioning is removing the other source of temptation. In fact, we are, trying to put finance on the other foot. Instead of paying people not to produce bricks we are now trying to go the other way. We do recognise that exceptional costs are involved in starting up production and consideration is being given to a 148 scheme for financial assistance to help the works concerned. There has been doubt expressed on this point. In general I would say brick manufacturers have shown great willingness and co-operation. If any did not, we should not hesitate to use our powers and take the works over and make other arrangements for their management and operation. They have shown great willingness. The real problem in practically every building material industry has not been lack of co-operation but, quite simply, the difficulty of recruiting enough manpower.
My right hon. Friend showed that in the brick industry, compared with a manpower of over 55,000 before the war, there are today only about 21,000 operatives employed. The problem is to get enough of the prewar skilled or experienced workers back and to build production with relatively unskilled workers up to the total required. In the matter of obtaining skilled and experienced workers we have had a considerable measure of success and we hope to do very much better in the coming weeks. The building materials industries lost nearly all their experienced workers to the Forces and other industries. Both sources are being tapped. About 3,000 have returned to the industry from other industries and we are at present going into the question of a further comb out in other industries to try and persuade exbrickworkers to return.
Many hop. Gentlemen have referred to Class B releases. I cannot pretend that we are satisfied with the numbers that have returned, and we are making further efforts in this direction. Men have come out of the Forces under Class B in three ways. The first is the block scheme in which men in particular occupations have been identified from Service records and have been released to such occupations as the manufacture of cement, glass, roofing felt, artificial stone, and so on. The Services have gone as far as Group 60 in their authorisations for release. Then, as a further check on the block release system, building materials firms have been invited to nominate experienced workers for release. So far nearly 11,000 such nominations have been received, many of them, of course, from men already on their way home under Class B block release or Class A arrangements.
149 Up to the end of last month over 8,000 had been released. Many more are now being released, but I must draw the attention of the House to the very high percentage of refusals that we are encountering. A great many men, when they are offered release, refuse to come, often because they have no desire to return to the brickworks. Some of the cases referred to by hon. Members probably include some such men. Very often a brickworks writes to us that only a small proportion of the men offered release have accepted, and, when we have made inquiries, we have found that a man rejected the offer, but we did not tell his old employer for fear of prejudicing his chance if he later decided to come out and work for him. There have also been cases where the men's wives have written to us asking why their husbands have riot been offered release, and, on making inquiries, we have found that they have.
This problem of unwillingness to enter the brick industry is a big problem—the problem of the unattractiveness of the building materials industries. Many hon. Members have spoken about it, including the hon. Member for East Woolwich and the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith), whose speech was very constructive and helpful on this point. Hon. Members have spoken of a shortage of very many items—tiles, bricks, slates, cast iron rain water goods, baths, and many other products—but it nearly always comes down to this. Under present conditions, those who worked in the industry before the war are unwilling to return, others whom we might wish to come forward are unwilling to go, and those already in the industries very often take the first opportunity to leave.
In spite of the ring fence placed round the building materials industries by the operation of the Essential Work Order, what success we have had in getting manpower has been very heavily offset by the high rate of wastage. Last month, some 7,000 operatives entered the industry, while the wastage was over 3,000. The rate of wastage in many of the industries, including bricks, in spite of the Essential Work Order, is nearly 50 per cent. of the whole labour force, and there is no doubt that, in these industries, as in coal and some others, we are paying the price in high wastage and poor recruitment for the methods of low wages and casual employment and other things which went on in 150 those industries before the war. Unlike many other industries, they have been bypassed by some of the improvements which came about under the guidance of the right hon. 'Gentleman the present Foreign Secretary when he was Minister of Labour.
With regard to the steps taken to improve working conditions and increase mechanisation and technical efficiency generally, we are about to launch a campaign for increased recruitment with confidence that, in this campaign, we can promise a new deal in all these industries for all who work in them, but we must recognise that all these matters take months. We cannot hope to achieve our object in a few weeks. Reference has been made to the Simmonds Committee, whose recommendations have been there for some time, though very little was done on most of them for a considerable time until we came in. We are taking steps to see that the efficiency of this industry is raised to the highest possible level, but we cannot wait for that or for the improvement in working conditions.
That is why we have to meet the urgent problem—though we do not like doing it —by the use of prisoners of war in very considerable numbers, and I want to give an assurance to my hon. Friends on this side who raised this matter that there is no question of making this a permanent thing in the industry, nor, indeed, as the Minister said, any question of bringing in prisoners of war if, by so doing, we should cause unemployment among potential British brick workers. We should only need to do this as an urgent measure if we are not going to have unemployment among building trade workers. It is our only hope of increasing present production to the required level. We are very anxious—and this is a reply to the hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Murray)—to see that, in those areas where there is unemployment of British workers, we should get the brickworks going again and the men employed. Before we can do that and before we can employ as many prisoners as we should like, it is necessary to have a nucleus of skilled or experienced workers back in the works. We have to say to the brickmaking industry that it is no use sitting back and waiting for the skilled workmen to come back before building up production. The prewar workers are not coming back. Many are dead, and many have taken up better 151 appointments in other industries and have made up their minds that they are not coming back. It is, therefore, necessary to train, to upgrade and, as the war industries learned to do, to get through with a smaller proportion of skilled workers.
Many hon. Members have referred to timber. I do not want to say too much about that. Everyone knows the serious timber position at the present time and the reasons for it, but we arc taking steps to see what can be done. My right lion Friend—and the President of the Board of Trade is co-operating in this—is going to see that housing work does not suffer because of the shortage of timber. We have had to impose a ration of two standards per house, which means that timber is not available for all the purposes some of us would wish it to be, including built-in cupboard space, but it is adequate for building a house. Indeed, many builders before the war managed on considerably less. The hon. Gentleman the Member for West Coventry (Mr. Edelman) suggested that we should get the joinery industry to produce standard fittings for stock. We are already doing that and are discussing the matter with them at the present time. The question of slates has been—
§ Sir H. Morris-Jones
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the question of timber, can he give some indication as to the prospect of the use of timber for repairs and maintenance, especially in the rural areas, where it is seriously required?
§ M. Wilson
I am afraid the timber situation is likely to continue serious for a considerable time to come. All we can guarantee is that timber will be available for essential permanent houses, but we will do as much as we possibly can to make timber available for repairs and maintenance. It would be impossible to enter into any guarantees before the world situation is clearer.
I was going to say a word about slates. My right hon. Friend explained why we had to insist that new houses shall not be roofed with slates. The reason is that so many are required for repairs, because a large number of houses which were damaged had slate roofs. Our problem in the slate industry is very similar to that in the others with which we have been dealing. There is the problem of 152 getting the skilled men back and inducing people to enter the industry in sufficient numbers.
Turning from production to distribution—although our main job is to increase production—I do not think we shall get much further by taking materials away from temporary housing and giving them to permanent housing, or vice versa. It is important to improve distribution and to see that materials and components when produced find their way to priority work, particularly housing. As I have said, when we took office there was no plan for production and no plan for distribution except as regards the urgent need in war damage repairs. Everything apart was left to the trade channels and the course of nature. It is a complete travesty of the facts to suggest, as the hon. and gallant Member for the Pollok Division did, that our troubles are due to excessive State intervention in the matter of distribution. He quoted my right hon. Friend as saying that he was going into the business both of manufacture and distribution in a big way, and blamed that statement for our present trouble. He said that my right hon. Friend completely upset the normal channels of distribution by the introduction of untried agencies of his own devising.
Of course, these worries are figments of the hon. and gallant Gentleman's imagination. We have not upset these channels yet. We have not gone anything like as far as he says. I wish we had. As my right hon. Friend said, we have devised a scheme, which will be in operation in the next few weeks, for securing priority for housing and ensuring that materials arc earmarked for priority work. This should remove many of the difficulties to which hon. Members have referred. I hope it will remove the worries of the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles) about the allocation of materials to rural areas. Rural areas, like urban areas, are short at the present time, but when we have a proper priority scheme for ensuring that the materials go into housing, there will not be the same difficulties that we have at the present time.
On the question of the distribution of materials, we have heard many cases of men being laid off for want of bricks; many hon. Members have referred to that subject today. I would like to feel that in many of those cases they had con- 153 tacted the Ministry of Works first. I have heard of so many cases, and if only we had been told in time we could have seen that the bricks, or whatever the material was, were there. We cannot guarantee help in every case, but in many cases we can. It is often a case of distribution. Sometimes we find builders are very particular about the kind of brick they want. There has been discussion today about the shortage of bricks in Portsmouth; we have heard that 58 houses are held up for want of bricks, and yet we know there are 6,000,000 bricks in stock close to Portsmouth, which can be made available for that purpose. I hope that in the case of Chippenham and Huddersfield, which great city, I was sorry to hear, is short of bricks, the builders concerned will go to the Regional Materials Officers of the Ministry of Works before they stand men off. While talking about distribution, I am sure the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) would like me to say something about the cost of distribution.
§ Mr. Wilson
I will talk about the cost of distribution first. I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Gentleman; I know he has this "King Charles' head" complex about accountancy procedure. One of our worries—and perhaps the hon. Gentleman can help us—is that we do not know anything about the cost of distribution through the normal trade channels. There is a great amount that we would like to know about the cost of distribution through the normal trade channels before the war. We would like to know the margin in a number of cases in private enterprise distribution, and what services were rendered for some of those margins. In fact, there is quite a lot we would like to know on a number of questions before we give the information which the hon Gentleman wants.
§ Mr. Marples
If, in private enterprise, distribution is inefficient, the merchant goes bankrupt; if the Ministry of Works is inefficient, the Income Tax goes up by 6d.
§ Mr. Wilson
I am afraid we are comparing two states of affairs—one before the war, when there was plenty of materials, and now when there is a 154 shortage. It is easy to blame shortages on the State machine, but if the whole thing were left to the state of nature which some hon. Members opposite seem to prefer, the situation would be far worse and there would be far more merchants going bankrupt, which we are anxious to avoid.
With regard to the 12,000 houses, I had some difficulty in following the hon. Gentleman's figures; they were very involved. I will study them carefully tomorrow, but I think I can give him the answer he wants. The houses which have been produced and which are not yet erected are, to a large extent, in distribution centres and also at the places where the houses are made. If we are held up for components, for the reasons I have mentioned, it is often not worth while sending them to the site immediately, so we hold them back.
I would like to revert to the question of economy in the use and the substitution of alternative materials, to which considerable reference has been made. We are pressing the local authorities to use alternative materials, to use less rigid specifications for some materials which are in short supply. That is particularly the case which regard to facing bricks, to which the lion, and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) made reference. It is quite true that stocks of facing bricks are small in comparison with stocks of common bricks. That is one of our biggest problems. We are trying to get the industry generally to use common bricks as long as the facing bricks are in short supply. We are trying to improve the production of facing bricks. Of course we are developing permanent non-traditional houses which economise in bricks. This is a time for a planned programme, having regard to the materials available. The hon. and gallant Member for Ely also asked whether we are examining these new methods. I can tell him that we have examined over 1,400 and a number are already being developed or in production. My right hon. Friend referred to what is being done by private industries and in Royal ordnance factories in regard to aluminium and pressed steel for various things in short supply.
In conclusion I should like to refer to a general point made by a number of my hon. Friends, namely, the question of rings in production. There is a very natural amount of feeling in that regard 155 which has been voiced by one or two hon. Members, that the operation of monopolies and trade associations might be impeding the national effort for increased production. Up to the present, at any rate, we have not had anything like the amount of trouble from such organisations which I expected. Perhaps they recognised that we now had a Government which would take a short sharp line with them, and recognised that the House and the country would be solidly behind the Government in doing so. We have had virtually no trouble at all, though there are one or two industries about whom we are not quite happy, and we are pursuing our investigations. If we do run into trouble we shall not hesitate to act quickly and ruthlessly. We are keeping a fairly tight system of price control in most industries, and shall continue to keep it in operation.
§ Commander Galbraith
I am sure the hon. Gentleman does not wish to be unfair. Is it not a fact that many of these trade associations have invited the Ministry to investigate? Is it not a fact that the cement industry, in particular, invited such investigations?
§ Mr. Wilson
Yes; I was just going to say that, as a matter of fact. In certain industries where monopolistic tendencies are at work, or thought to be, we shall institute independent inquiries, as we have done in the case of cement. It is only fair to the country and to the industries themselves that we should do that.
§ Mr. Wilson
Yes, that is quite true. They have been a very long time doing it, and they have spent several years flourishing before they did it.
§ Wing-Commander Cooper
Can my hon. Friend say if the cement industry has been able to justify its increase in price of 5s. 6d.?
§ Mr. Wilson
The cement industry, of course, is one of the questions into which 156 this committee will look. At the same time we are going to press on with our plans designed to secure the maximum technical efficiency in these industries. At the moment our chief concern is to get them into full operation, efficient or inefficient; we shall need them all this year, and for a long time ahead. That is what we are concentrating on now. Our long term target is: increased production beyond and above the 1938 levels. In Scotland we shall need 50 per cent. more bricks every year than we had before the war. This is connected with the export drive. Of course we want to export as much as we can, once we have met essential home needs. Some industries are playing a big part in the export drive already, and we hope they will continue to do so. However our first need is to meet the requirements of our own housing drive. The Government, encouraged by what the House has said today, knowing the House appreciates our difficulties, will go forward knowing the House is behind us in our efforts to build up these industries for the very great and noble task which lies before us for housing our people, and also to put these industries on their feet as healthy and efficient industries, and as sources of satisfaction and of pride to all who have to work in them.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.