§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Mr. William Whiteley.]
§ 3.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller (Daventry)
On 10th October we had a Debate on Scottish housing, and it was as recently as 30th July that we last had a discussion in this House on housing in England and Wales. The fact that we are having another Debate so soon requires no apology. It is evidence of the interest which this House feels with regard to the housing situation, and of the concern, the grave concern, that we on this side of the House feel with regard to the present position; a concern which I feel sure is felt also by some of the hon. Members opposite. [HON. MEMBERS: "All."]
It is unfortunate that before us today we have only the figures up to 31st August. On 10th October the Secretary of State for Scotland was able to give figures up to 2nd October. If he could do that, it is surely a little surprising that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health has not made available figures up to the end of September before today, 21st October, and before this Debate. This information would have made the Debate much more valuable. However, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman is keeping those figures up his sleeve with the intention of surprising us in the course of this Debate. All I can say is that I hope, when the figures are revealed, that they will be good, because we should be delighted to see some real progress. What I am sure both sides of the House will agree upon, is that there are thousands of people now in this country enduring appalling conditions of overcrowding both in the towns and in the country. In the country, I venture to think the conditions are just as bad as they are in the towns.
There are thousands living now in houses which were condemned before the war, and which would have been pulled down but for the war. [HON. MEMBERS: "Which war?"] I want to know what these have to look forward to. They have received some cold comfort from the Minister of Fuel, but is the right hon. Gentleman really unable to do more than say that in 3½ years' time, by the next Election if this Parliament runs its full course, there will be no housing problem in Great Britain for the 1328 British working man? I notice that his confidence has diminished a little. He said that in July; on 24th May he is reported as having said to the directors of the London Co-operative Society:I confidently expect that before the next election, every family in Great Britain will have a separate home.Does it mean that these people will have to face the prospect of another four winters in the same condition as those they are now enduring? After all, the right hon. Gentleman said last December that this summer his housing programme would be in full flood. It would seem that that is the interpretation to be placed upon the right hon. Gentleman's statements. It may be the best that he can do, following the policy that he has pursued up to the present time, but the country demands to be satisfied that it is not just the best he can do, but that it is the best that can be done.
Hon. Members opposite, in looking to see what has been accomplished, delight in contrasting what was done after the last war with what is being done after this war. They ignore the responsibility that the noble Lord, who is such a prominent member of their party, had with regard to housing after the last war. However, quite apart from that, it is not a fair comparison, because they ignore also the fact that the right hon. Gentleman has had one advantage that his colleague had not. When the right hon. Gentleman took office, he had no less than 305,230 sites acquired for permanent houses, and development of 107,825 had begun. By the end of August the site development of 128,000 had been completed, so that in the right hon. Gentleman's period of office only 21,149 sites, on which development began since he took office, have had that development completed. In his condemnation of his predecessors and his inheritance—and when he engages in that, as he so often does, he reminds me of the chemist's advertisement, "I dispense with accuracy"—he should also pay tribute to the fact that he had this vast number of sites ready for him with development already begun.
But what has he done with that advantage? On those 305,000 sites only 18,000 odd new permanent houses were erected by the end of August. No one would have expected the number of permanent houses to have approached the prewar monthly figure of about 30,000, 1329 but, at least, we were entitled to expect that the Socialist housing programme in full flood, would have produced more than 5,000 permanent houses in each of the summer months. The right hon. Gentleman is gaining a perhaps unenviable reputation for secrecy, but we are entitled to know, and the country is entitled to know, the reasons for these sorry figures. They are clearly not due to lack of sites, for more than 51,000 sites had their development completed by the beginning of February this year. What are the reasons? Is it building labour? Shortage of materials? Bad distribution? Concentration on the use of one chosen instrument? Or a combination of them all? The building force has grown very appreciably, from 343,000 to 584,000 between July, 1945, and August, 1946. The total force employed on building is very close to its prewar figure, and one can fairly assume that the total building force employed on housing approaches the prewar figure. The right hon. Gentleman has himself said, as recently as 4th July, that it is not due to lack of building labour on the sites.
In trying to find out what are the reasons, I think we can put building labour on one side. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman said on 21st September at a Press conference—although I know it is the fashion now to deny the accuracy of reports of Press conferences—that at the beginning and towards the middle of the year, the Minister of Works found it necessary to give licences for certain types of work in order to maintain full employment in the building industry. We know also that unemployment has risen to nearly three per cent. in that industry, and rose sharply in the best building months of June and July. Therefore, I would say on examination of those figures that the short production is clearly not due to an overall lack of building labour. Is it the case that the labour engaged is not working well? If so, the right hon. Gentleman should say so frankly. My impression, from my own constituency, is that it is not working badly.
Let me come to the next possible cause, shortage of materials. We know that there has been difficulties over bricks, and things of that sort, and that that accounts for some of the failure. Now I am told it takes ten months to get a supply of rainwater goods, possibly six months for steel windows and for tiles, 1330 and there is a considerable delay in regard to grates. The production and How of materials does not pay tribute to the efficiency of Socialist planning.
Is it due, this low figure of completed permanent houses, to over use of, and over emphasis on, local authorities? I think the answer to that question is in the affirmative. I, personally, am satisfied that there would be more houses now for more people to occupy—more permanent houses—if the right hon. Gentleman had not imposed his four to one rule, which has the effect, where there is a laggardly local authority, that nothing gets going, or gets done, in that area at all. Let us examine the figures of the first year in regard to private enterprise and local authority housing. From the report of August, it appears that private enterprise has completed 13,307 permanent houses out of 46,861, and that local authorities have only completed 5,064 out of 91,000. Those figures—
§ The Minister of Health (Mr. Aneurin Bevan)
I would like to get the second statement correct. The hon. and learned Member said that local authorities had "only completed." Has he the exact figure of the number of houses built by local authorities?
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
If the right hon. Gentleman will consult page 11 of his housing report which I have here, I think he will find that by easy mathematics that figure emerges.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that not all houses built by local authorities are built by private enterprise. I am contrasting, as he has contrasted in his housing return, houses built by private enterprise, and houses built under the aegis of local authorities.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
The right hon. Gentleman has no right to say that I have not been present at housing De- 1331 bates. Also, if he says that the real distinction is between houses to let and for sale, he has not studied the contents of his own report. I say again, that if he looks at the figures on pages 11, 13 and 14 of his housing return for England and Wales for August, he will find that it is perfectly obvious that the local authorities started twice as many houses, and have finished less than half as many as those built by private enterprise. Take another period, the period from 31st March, when the local authorities, according to his returns, had 32,000 houses under construction. They have now got 4,323 completed. In the same period private enterprise had 37,000 under construction and have now completed 10,737. What is the reason for the disparity? That is the question I put to the right hon. Gentleman. The Parliamentary Secretary has made the general charge that more men are employed on private enterprise housing, than on local authority housing.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
Per house. But whatever doubts there may be on the accuracy of that statement, it must be borne in mind that there is nearly three per cent. unemployment, and that the Minister of Works is giving licences to provide employment. It should have been possible to increase the number on local authority housing, and to find work for them to do on those houses. The reason is not so simple as that. I think it is that the private builder has every possible incentive to build as quickly as possible. He pays for time wasted and has a terrific sanction on him to see that the goods arrive on the site when they are wanted. The contractor to a local authority has in many cases to report to a local authority official, and leave it to the official to secure the arrival of the goods. The completion is the responsibility of many persons, and not his concern, and it all means delay. The right hon. Gentleman has appointed progress officers, and my information is that some of them are doing a very useful task. But who are these officials who go round the sites—I know this has been happening in my constituency—saying they come from the Ministry of Labour and also appearing to act as progress officers, short circuiting the officials of the local council?
1332 I am not seeking to suggest that the sorry housing returns so far as permanent housing is concerned is the fault of local authorities, but the right hon. Gentleman has placed upon them a burden they were not designed to carry although of course some of the authorities are better than others. The Minister with that fairness we all so much admire has singled out for chastisement three metropolitan boroughs. It was no doubt a coincidence that they had Conservative councils. They were Westminster, Kensington and Marylebone. I wonder why he did not refer to the fact, which is apparent from his return of August that there are no new permanent houses in his own constituency, no new permanent houses in the constituencies of ten Cabinet Ministers, no houses at all completed by 841 out of 1,470 authorities and no new permanent houses completed by 21 Socialist boroughs? The local authority with the best housing record, as I understand it, is the City of Birmingham. There, I understand, three-quarters of the housing has been done by private enterprise, and there, of course, there is a Conservative council. The moral for the people of this country will not be hard to draw. The moral for the right hon. Gentleman—
§ Mr. Shurmer (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)
The hon. and learned Member has just said that the Birmingham city council has a Conservative majority. May I remind him that at the last November elections it turned over, and now has a Labour chairman of the housing committee, and that the private enterprise people of whom he spoke are combined together and working for the Birmingham city council? I am an alderman of the Birmingham city council.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
That indicates the point I was about to make—the necessity of making full use of private enterprise. As I say, the moral of the comparison which I have drawn is obvious: If the right hon. Gentleman wants houses, he must give more freedom of action to private enterprise. He should revise the ratio of four to one.
The figures show clearly that private enterprise did best before the war, and has done best since. The right hon. Gentleman has backed the wrong horse. He should use private enterprise more. It is all very well trying to draw the dis- 1333 tinction between the one building houses to let, and the other building houses for sale. We want houses, and if the right hon. Gentleman is really concerned to secure houses, he will let private enterprise build them on the terms on which they can build them. After they are built they can be acquired by the local authority at the controlled price, and, if necessary, let by the local authority at subsidised rents. Really, there is not much in that point about houses being built for sale as against houses built for letting. The right hon. Gentleman has invited rural authorities to invest in the Airey house. Indeed, he has pressed them to do so. Can he say how the cost of that house is working out? Will he say what is the extent of the subsidy, and what is to be the cost to the local authority? I ask these questions because I have received information that the cost will work out, and has worked out, at nearer £2,000 per house than £1,000.
On 6th March of this year the Parliamentary Secretary said that it was the intention of the Government to see that subsidies, after 30th June next year, would be at a lower rate. I would like to ask what the position is with regard to that pious aspiration now? Costs are rising. There are new increased wage demands, and local authorities are apparently being pressed to take more expensive houses. Is that intention abandoned or not? If it is not abandoned, how is it to be fulfilled? I ask the right hon. Gentleman to give us some information on that point when he speaks. I do not propose today to say much with regard to temporary houses. On both sides of the House we realised from the outset that they were more expensive than traditional houses. None, of course, has proved so expensive as the aluminium one, the offspring of the President of the Board of Trade, but these temporary houses were designed to fill a gap, and the right hon. Gentleman should be grateful to his predecessors for their action in laying the plans for that programme. He takes advantage of it by including in the figures the number of homes they have provided, and it is right to say that but for the action of his predecessors, he would have had a storm about his head far greater than that raised by the squatters.
What affects my constituents mostly at the present time is the condition of rural 1334 housing. The need there is urgent, quite as urgent as it is in the towns, and I would say to the right hon. Gentleman and the Government that the absence of houses in the country, not the Minister of Agriculture, will dictate farm policy. Unless there are houses for agricultural workers in the country, particularly in Northamptonshire, which was a pasture country before the war, the arable land there is bound to revert to pasture for lack of people to work the land. In my part of the country local authorities are faced with a terrible dilemma. There is bad overcrowding, but the local authorities, at the present rate of progress, cannot remedy that and provide houses for agricultural workers. If they solve the overcrowding problem it scarcely means another agricultural worker upon the land. What is the answer to that problem? Which is to have priority? What is the Government's policy on this?
I doubt whether the Government really appreciate the needs of rural areas sufficiently. Between the wars, something like 40,000 houses per year were built in the country. Now, one sees from Appendix B that only 3,162 have been built in the rural districts of this country, while the right hon. Gentleman has been in office, 3,056 of these by private enterprise. That is where the country is particularly hard hit by this four to one ratio. Quite apart from the country areas being hit by that, it would appear that the right hon. Gentleman is imposing some further restrictions. I hope we will be able to tell something about that. I have a cutting from the "Daily Telegraph" of 3rd October in which it is stated:Epping district rural council has been told to go slowly with its housing programme by an official of the Ministry of Health.and it is reported that the officer said to the chairman:You will have to go a bit slow until next spring. One of your troubles is that you are going too fast You are one of the best councils on my books.The officer is reported later as having said:The number of houses under erection and contracted was far in excess of any similar council in my area.I brought to the notice of the right hon. Gentleman a case in which a similar decision had been made affecting my own constituency, a decision to stop the rural dis- 1335 trict council from carrying on with its programme, which had been approved in principle. I am grateful to him for reversing that decision in part, but what is the policy with regard to these tenders now Is there an additional restriction upon rural district councils, and, if so, what is the reason for it? One curious feature about it is that the letter communicating the decision of the Ministry to this particular council ended with this passage:Meanwhile, it is particularly requested that no reference should be made in the Press to this modification.That was a letter from the principal regional officer. Then, on 30th September there was a meeting, and in the course of that meeting, of which I have a shorthand note, the principal regional officer said:The Minister does not want long explanations given, nor anything in the Press on this point.It seems to me that consideration was given to the question of sending out a circular to local authorities generally, but it seems that they are not going to take local authorities into their confidence, and that it is the Minister's wish to keep it out of the Press. If that report be accurate and reliable, why keep it out of the Press? Is the right hon. Gentleman in difficulty in explaining to the country what his policy is upon this matter. Is it the case—I hope that it is not, but we should like it to be made quite clear; I feel confident it is not—that, having restricted private enterprise to the speed of local authorities, he is now engaged on restricting the speed of the progressive local authorities to the speed of the laggards? I cannot believe that to be the case. Is it the case that he is giving priority to boroughs over local rural district councils? Again, we should like to know. Is it the case that too many houses have been built on paper under this scheme, too many tenders entered into, and that there is not enough actual building proceeding?
I have reviewed the situation as I see it, based on the latest figures that are available. I hope the right hon. Gentleman may have a better picture to put before us. I feel sure, however, that we shall not make real progress in this matter until, while using local authorities, he makes more use of private enterprise to get the houses put up quickly within the 1336 controlled price. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will deal with the questions that I have raised. In conclusion, I warn him that all his skill in rhetoric, all his wordy vehemence, will not save him from the wrath of the people who, but for his wrong policy, might have been enjoying better conditions this winter.
§ 4.22 p.m.
§ The Minister of Health (Mr. Aneurin Bevan)
I was, I confess, astonished when I heard that despite the exuberance at Blackpool, hon. Members opposite were going to ask for a further Debate on housing. The speech to which we have just listened confirms my astonishment. It really would have seemed, from what we have heard, that we had had no Debate at all on housing in this House The hon. and learned Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller) has repeated the same turgid, windblown arguments that we have heard over and over again, and which have been completely exploded. Furthermore, I am astonished that it was the hon and learned Member who was put up to open the Debate. The fact that the hon. and learned Member was put up is, itself, evidence that the party opposite have no confidence whatsover in their criticism. Where is the Leader of the Opposition?
§ Mr. Bevan
The right hon Gentleman ought not to drop any more bricks. He has dropped quite a few recently He should take refuge in a period of silence. The right hon Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition makes speeches about housing outside the House, where they are not capable of being examined critically, but he neglects the opportunity of making them in the House of Commons where they can be answered. The same thing is true of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden). He also has made a series of speeches outside the House about housing, but never a whisper have we heard from him in the House. Instead, they put up the hon. and learned Member, who has no responsibility at all for 1337 the previous Administration, and who, obviously, has not given very serious attention to the preparation of the little essay we have just heard from him.
It was decided by the Government last year that we should place the principal responsibility for the production of houses upon local authorities. This was criticised by the party opposite on the ground that the local authorities would be a bad instrument for the purpose; that they would be too laggard in their preparations; that they would not be able to acquire and develop sites in time; and that they would not be able to get out their plans. In other words, we were said to be making a first class blunder in putting our reliance mainly upon the public authorities. The facts now show that our decision was entirely justified. At 31st March, in England and Wales, sites for permanent houses in possession of local authorities amounted to 498,859. Site development had begun for 188,821; site development was completed for 103,248, and tenders approved for 71,078. By 31st August last, this figure had increased to 155,523 houses. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is houses we want."] Houses, yes. If the hon. Member listens he will get his reply. All steps had been taken that could be taken by the local authorities. They had put into contract, that is to say they had handed over to the building industry, the job of building 155,000 permanent houses, excluding 54,000 licences given for houses for sale. Every step that the public authority could reasonably be expected to take had been taken, and the job was handed over at that stage to private enterprise. Hon. Members opposite really ought to learn the A B C of the housing programme. The number of houses built by local authorities under direct labour schemes is negligible. Most of the houses are built by contractors contracting with the local authority. Therefore, if the hon. and learned Member is correct in saying that the completion of houses has not been as rapid as we expected, and as we hoped, then the indictment is an indictment of private economic adventure in house building.
In so far as the housing programme has developed in accordance with expectation, and as we predicted, in so far as there have been order and predictability in the plan, that comes from the activities of the 1338 Government and the local authorities. In so far as the housing programme begins to be unsatisfactory, it is where private enterprise takes over.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
The Minister has made a very important statement. Does he really say that when the sites are developed, and the local contractor starts building on a contract with the local authority, the local authority takes no further control or direction in what happens?
§ Mr. Bevan
No such thing. What I said was that the contractor enters into contract to build the houses and it is the job of the contractor and not the local authority to assemble on the sites the materials with which to build houses. When the hon. and learned Member suggests that the local authority are responsible for providing materials, he reveals his utter ignorance of the operation of building. What the local authority do is to attempt to assist the contractor where he is unable to get materials. But, in point of fact, the job of building houses is the job of the private contractor, and not of the local authority. Therefore, when the hon. Member says that the number of completed houses is not as great as he hoped it would be, he must inquire, for the reason, into the organisation of the building industry and not into the Government's plans for housing. The hon. and learned Member, said indeed, we have heard it over and over again from the party opposite—that their main criticism is that I have all along insisted that the main emphasis should be placed upon the provision of houses to let. Not only have I insisted upon it, but I propose to continue to insist upon it. The local authorities are the only instruments by which this programme can be carried out, and I would like to ask hon. Members opposite a question which I have asked before, but to which I have never yet had a reply. Do they believe that the principal way of providing houses in the present shortage of houses should be by way of building 1339 houses to sell? I would like to know. It would be a very useful thing to know from hon. Members opposite whether, at a time of—
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
If the right hon. Gentleman had listened to me, he would remember that I said that I thought the main thing at the present time was the building of houses. I also said that, if it was so important to build more houses to let than to sell, it would surely be possible to arrange for the local authority to buy the houses when completed from the private builder.
§ Hon. Members: Oh.
§ Mr. Bevan
Really, this is disgraceful. The hon. and learned Member is showing that he does not know that local authorities were authorised to do that many months ago. Private builders all over the country are building houses to sell to local authorities. Hon. Members should not treat the House so frivolously. They do not even try to learn the main facts. I would still like to have a clear answer from hon. Members opposite. At a time when there is so much misery arising from the shortage of houses, when hundreds of thousands of ex-Servicemen, returned after fighting overseas, are trying to set up homes for themselves, would the hon. Member, would the party opposite, leave the provision of houses only to those who can afford to buy them, and not provide for the poorer members of the community?
§ Hon. Members: Answer.
§ Mr. Molson (The High Peak)
The right hon Gentleman has asked a question, and I will give him his answer. Is he so ignorant of the building societies, and of the very large number of workers in this country who have bought their houses through building societies— [Interruption.] Well, the right hon. Gentleman asked for an answer. Does he not realise that it is completely false to draw distinctions between richer and poorer, and those who buy their houses through building societies, and those who obtain them from local authorities?
§ Mr. Harold Roberts (Birmingham, Handsworth)
On a point of Order. The Minister has varied his question. First, he asked whether hon. Members on this side were in favour of building by private 1340 enterprise, and then he asked a different question—whether we on this side consider that the poorer classes should have been left solely at the mercy of private enterprise?
§ Mr. Bevan
I would like to follow this up, because I have one or two other questions to put, and I do not see why this opportunity should be lost. Hon. Members opposite have not taken advantage of the chance to ask me intelligent questions; therefore, I will ask them intelligent questions. Will they tell us—we would like to know—whether it was the intention of the party opposite that the provision of houses for the poorer members of the community should be left to the building societies? Is that the answer? Everybody knows that building societies do not build houses; they lend money. What the hon. Member opposite has now said is that, in a time of acute housing shortage, the well-to-do can buy houses, and the poorer people will be handed over to the moneylenders.
§ Mr. Molson
The right hon. Gentleman quoted the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for North Croydon (Mr. Willink) and he said quite plainly, in March, 1945, that he intended to use the local authorities as far as possible, and, on the same occasion, he made it perfectly plain that he would use private enterprise.
§ Mr. Bevan
Now, we are getting nearer. Now, we understand that hon. Members opposite do not quarrel with me in leaving the matter to the local authorities. Every Tory Member who has spoken on housing in this House in the last 14 months has been accusing the Government of leaving the main burden of housing to the local authorities. Now, they are caught in their own trap; and so they say it was always their intention to use the local authorities to build houses.
§ Mr. Osborne (Louth)
The Minister has just said that every Tory Member who has spoken in the last 14 months has accused him of using the local authorities. If the right hon. Gentleman will look up the last Debate, he will find that I spoke then and—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Bevan
The fact is that, at the same time as hon. Members opposite were stating that the local authorities were to carry the main burden of housing after the war, they were preparing to give a subsidy to private enterprise. In a time of acute housing shortage, if we give a subsidy to local authorities, and a subsidy to private enterprise for houses for sale, which houses would be built? Of course, all the houses would be built for sale. If there is any criticism that can be levelled against my housing policy, it does not come from those benches opposite but from here; and it is that there should be no houses built for sale at all. That is the criticism, and it is a just one, because, according to the arguments of hon. Members opposite, the speculative builder is more anxious to build houses for sale, than houses to let. On their own showing, that is what they call the efficiency of private enterprise. In other words, private enterprise is efficient in serving an unworthy public purpose. The overall efficiency of private enterprise is to produce the wrong sort of house, for the wrong sort of people.
§ Mr. Bevan
The wrong sort of people, in these circumstances, are those who get a house merely because they can afford to buy it. This has been made clear on many occasions, but let me make it clear again. Local authorities have been instructed—and, in fact, carry out their duties in this matter, I think, with a very considerable sense of fairness—that, in selecting the tenants for the houses, they should have no regard whatsoever to the social class from which the applicant comes, but that the applicant should be judged solely on the ground of his need for a house. In those circumstances, the well-to-do person would have an opportunity of renting a house if he were in need of it. What we are really engaged in at the present time is the rationing of houses in short supply. We are trying to introduce a sense of justice into the solving of the housing problem. I am prepared to assert that there is considerable satisfaction throughout the country in the ethics of the housing programme.
1342 Let me come to another question. The Tory Conference at Blackpool went on record as stating that, as far as they were concerned, they did not care whether the houses were built for sale or for letting. In other words, they are on record as saying that, in the present circumstances, the person with the biggest influence and the longest purse ought to have the best chance of getting a house. I would ask hon. Members opposite, and especially the hon. and learned Member who opened the Debate, how they would solve the rural housing problem. How many agricultural workers could put down £1,400 for a house? Hon. Members opposite have been making speeches about rural housing, and if there is any party that ought to be silent about rural houses it is the Tory Party, whose record on the subject is completely disgraceful. But if the local authorities are not to build houses in the rural areas, and if the main emphasis is not to be placed on the building of houses to let, how are the agricultural workers to get houses at all? [An HON. MEMBER: "The farmers will build them."] Farmers have stopped building them now although there is nothing to prevent them building houses. In some instances, what they want is to have public money put into their property. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] What they want to do, and what I will not do, is to use public money to tie the farmworker to the farmer. In other words, hon. Members opposite are deliberately saying to the farming population of Great Britain that, if they were in office, the agricultural workers would get no houses to rent, or, if that is not exactly what they are saying, that they would subsidise the farmer to build a cottage for the labourer he chose. It would not be housing for the agricultural worker in accordance with the housing needs, but in accordance with the caprice of the farmer selecting the labour.
In addition to the progress made by local authorities in putting houses into contract, the Government had to take steps to provide the building materials industry with a certain market. I am surprised that the hon. and learned Member has not dealt with that point, because I thought it would be the gravamen of the charge that we have not taken sufficient steps to provide building materials. It never seems to be realised that that is what we have done. We informed the 1343 country and the building industry that we were putting large numbers of houses into contract, and one would have thought that that would have been a reasonable stimulus for private enterprise. In addition to providing the building materials industry with what every capitalist industry always wants—a safe customer— we then had to take the necessary steps to try to bring up to date those industries which private enterprise had allowed to fall into obsolescence. We had to take steps to man the light casting industry. We had to repair the deficiencies of hon. Members opposite. We had to intervene to improve conditions in the foundry and brick industries, and in industry after industry. In other words, the Socialist Government had to come to the rescue of capitalism in each one of those industries.
The assumption is that the indictment lies against us. The truth is that the indictment lies against the party opposite. The instrument with which we are trying to build the houses is a blunt instrument. Last winter I took the necessary steps, with the cooperation of my right hon. Friends the Minister of Works, the Minister of Supply and the Minister of Labour, to try to get these industries properly manned in order to produce the materials we needed. What did we find when we took office? We found that not one single step had been taken to plan, to prepare or, to advise the building industry. Although Lord Woolton the new hope of the Tory Party had been appointed Minister of Post-War Reconstruction in 1944, I have been unable to discover any evidence of his activities, except the Portal house which died stillborn. Neither I nor my right hon. Friends in other Departments have been able to discover a single result of that expensive appointment. This is the man who has been taken over by the Tory Party in its extremis.
It is true that hon. Members opposite had put their reliance upon the temporary housing programme. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition made a speech in which he talked about 500,000 Portal houses, each consuming five tons of steel—more than twice as much as the whole British steel sheet making industry could produce. The capacity of the British industry is about 1,500,000 tons of sheet per annum. He was going to produce 500,00 Portal 1344 houses which would each require five tons of steel. Had he done that, there would have been no steel for cars or for anything at all. So well advised and so perspicacious were hon. Members opposite, and so much knowledge did they possess of British industry, that they spent over £2,000,000 designing a house which was never produced. These are the business men—the captains of industry. We had, however, as the hon. and learned Member has said, inherited the temporary housing programme.
§ Mr. Bevan
I do not see why the right hon. Gentleman jibes at that. The temporary housing programme was so devised by hon. Members opposite that, unfortunately, the completion of the temporary housing programme is now competing with the production of permanent houses. It was hoped that the temporary houses would give us immediate relief and that we could then go on building permanent houses. Furthermore, we had to make provision for materials for all these temporary houses. I am now able to report with some degree of satisfaction that practically all the materials for the temporary houses have now been made, except for the aluminium house which was scheduled from the very beginning to run into August, 1947. Indeed, the aluminium house was so excellently planned that the whole programme is only 400 behind. The aluminium house programme is now being accelerated and we expect that it will be well ahead of schedule in its completion. For the others —the Arcon, Uni-Seco, Tarran, Spooner, and other temporary houses—the parts have been completed and it is now really a matter of assembly. The industry producing those building materials will be relieved of the necessity for providing them, and will be able to switch over to the provision of materials and fitments for permanent houses.
The plans that we had to make at the end of last year and the beginning of this year are now fructifying in the provision of materials. I will give some figures in order to show how the programme is developing, because I had to devote the winter of 1945–46 to making preparations that ought to have been made in 1944–45. Here I would say that the anxieties for ending the war were very considerable 1345 and at that time it was not too easy to make material preparation, but if it was not possible during the war to make building materials it does not lie in the mouths of hon Members opposite to blame me because the materials were not there when we started. We had to make them. Take, for example, bricks. We understood from the Ministry of Works, who received the information from their predecessors, that whatever else we would be short of in the immediate period after the war, we would not be short of bricks. We were told that it was the one material of which we had plenty. But I was very sceptical about information from that source. [Interruption.] I am talking about the Ministry of Works in the last Government. We made an investigation into the stock position and, to our astonishment, we discovered that the information was inaccurate. So far from the brick stock position being satisfactory, we had been entirely misled, and investigation revealed that unless we took emergency action to provide bricks we would find ourselves short. That action has been taken. Following is the result. I am expressing these figures in terms of houses, because that is easier to understand than if I expressed them in tons or squares. In July, 1945, the output of bricks would build about 4,740 typical houses. In December, 1945, the figure was 5,350.
§ Mr. Bevan
Per month. In September, 1946, the output had gone up to 17,081. Roofing tiles, per month, were as follows: July, 1945, 3,281; December, 1945, 3,543; September, 1946, 11,942. Cookers, gas and electric: July, 1945, 15,534 houses; December, 1945, 23,700; September, 1946, 43,340. Baths: July, 1945, 8,773; December, 1945, 12,200; September, 1946, 21,348. Cast iron rain water goods, for which the hon. and learned Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller) said people had been waiting 11 months: July, 1945, 6,777; in December they went up to 9,031, and September, 1946, 17,392. In other words we are now producing housing equipment in those classes at the rate of 200,000 houses per year, so that the supply of building materials marches with the number of houses put by the local authorities into contract, and the connecting link between the two is the 1346 distributive industry and the building industry, both of which industries are in private hands. It is perfectly true that a very large number of those building materials do not reach the houses for which they are intended. The explana-tion of that lies in the field of private economic venture. We know very well all over this country there is a great dearth of housing repairs, a great desire on the part of householders to get their repairs done, and there are scores of thousands of building workers engaged in draining away into repairs of all kinds the materials that have been made for the new houses. We are, therefore, loosing the building materials and labour that are badly needed for the completion of houses.
In the light of those conditions, I thought the time had arrived to try to find out precisely where the responsibility lay for what I agree to be a slower completion of permanent houses than we had a right to expect. It is true that one of the reasons for the slowness was the very success of the local authorities, because a larger number of houses was actually put into contract than the industry was able to handle. Therefore, a comparatively small labour force was spread too thinly over a large number of houses, and that in many cases has been responsible for the slow rate of completion. So far from having to complain about the local authorities, we had in some cases to take steps to prevent local authorities from going to tender for more houses, because what is the use of going to tender for a larger number of houses if we have not got half the houses, already in contract, started? That is the explanation of some of the statements that have been made. I have, in fact, said to some of the local authorities who have got under construction only about half the houses in contract, that it is not worth their while putting more houses under contract until the other houses are started, but I did not want to send out a general circular on the matter because I did not want any local authority to have an excuse for remaining behind. This step has been taken by administrative action, and administrative action only.
However, I thought it was necessary to conduct an experiment, and at the same time to provide hon. Members opposite with what they have always been asking 1347 —a target. If there is one thing about a target that is of any value it is this, that it must be a target which is accessible. It is no use asking the building industry to build one million houses; the figure has no meaning.
§ Mr. Bevan
Of course, hon. Members opposite have been using those figures with great success, as their present numbers show. However it was necessary, or so it seemed to me, to provide a target which the industry could understand, and which would have some psychological impact. It seemed to me, therefore, to be a good thing to speak of houses which at the end of August were up to eaves' level, because that is a target the building worker on the job can see; he can aim at it; he can grasp it; it is accessible and meaningful. Therefore, I had to estimate, as far as I could, approximately the number of houses that were up to eaves' level at the end of August. Then we started a campaign to get those houses completed, because the building industry tells me there is no reason whatsoever why a house that was up to eaves' level at the end of August should not be completed by the end of the year if the labour and materials are available for its completion. We have laid on that campaign. If it succeeds a large number of people will be in houses, who otherwise would not be there. How much help have we received in that direction? One would have thought that, quite apart from any party politics, it would be a desirable objective. One would have thought that hon. Members "opposite, who have pretended such concern over the ex-Servicemen, would be concerned about assisting the nation at this moment in trying to get those houses completed as quickly as possible so as to get the poor people into them.
Did we have any assistance whatsoever from hon. Members opposite? Not a word. None of their leaders has taken a part at all. None of their leaders has exhorted the industry to hurry up with the completion of those houses; and the newspapers which support the party opposite have been silent in the campaign from the very beginning. In other words, the party opposite does not want houses. 1348 It wants to exploit the anxieties of the people. If it wanted houses it would have taken part in the campaign. It would not have argued about the faults of this party or that party. It would have said to the builders—[Laughter]. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman does not usually look very nice, but when he grins he looks appalling. [Interruption.] As the House knows, all the while I have been speaking the right hon. and gallant Gentleman and his colleagues have been laughing with each other. If they are to have courtesy, they must give it. We have not had it from them at all in the course of this Debate. In fact, the whole Debate has been staged and undertaken by the party opposite in a spirit of the utmost levity. It was clear from the opening speech that they did not attach much importance to the Debate. I hope that when the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition comes to accord Parliamentary time to the party opposite he will ask them whether they have any serious intention in asking for Debates in future.
We have received from the party opposite and from the newspapers supporting it, no assistance at all in what is, after all, not only a national emergency but a source of the utmost misery for large numbers of people in this country. One would have thought, therefore, that every citizen in the land, whether he be Liberal, Socialist, Tory, Communist or what-not, would have exerted himself in order to try as far as he could to raise the morale of the building industry, and to try to bring home to employees and employers the need for exerting themselves at the moment to finish those houses so that they might be occupied by those who so urgently need them. Instead of that, we have had no cooperation whatsoever. All we have had is a class campaign, conducted from the very beginning. I have no objection to that at all. All I would wish the country to understand is that hon. Members opposite and their friends saw in the postwar situation an opportunity for them and for their friends to make large fortunes out of the housing needs of the people. Their main objection to the Government of the present time is, not that houses are not being built, but that houses are not being built in such a way as to enrich them and their friends behind them.
§ 5.7 p.m.
§ Lady Megan Lloyd-George (Anglesey)
This afternoon the Minister has given us a characteristically exhilarating defence both of himself and his policy. He ended his speech with an appeal to which I think all fair-minded men and women in this House and the country outside will respond, to give every assistance they can to see that the housing programme is carried out efficiently and vigorously throughout the country. I think hon. Members on all sides of the House are agreed that no prospect is more chilling in this winter of continuing austerity with which we are faced than the prospect of the dispossessed and displaced families who have to share the firesides of other households, or who have to be satisfied with improvised accommodation which is often very unsuitable. No decision is more invidious and more cruel to have to make than that of a local authority which has to allocate the few houses at their disposal to the many deserving applicants.
The hon. and learned Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller) who opened the Debate this afternoon told us, as he and other hon. Members of his party have so often told us before, that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister has made an awful mess of the housing problem, and that if they had remained in office they would have done it so much better. Judging by the way they laid the foundation for the housing programme when they were in office, I really do not think very serious consideration should be given to that statement. May I say this in fairness to the Government? After all, they are faced here with a major problem of supply, as great as any supply problem during the whole of the war. Let me refresh the memories of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway. Some of those problems took years to solve—I have no doubt the Minister will remember too, perhaps with a sigh, those far-off, care-free days when he kept a rod in pickle for all Ministers. He will at least have the satisfaction of remembering he has enjoyed very much doing unto others what they are now seeking to do unto him. The hon. and learned Member for Daventry said that if only we would leave things to private enterprise we would see houses springing up everywhere: give private enterprise free rein, away with the five to one restriction on private enterprise. — [Interruption.]— 1350 No; well, four to one. That is how it works out. He quoted the figures up to date to prove his case, 13,000 houses already completed by private enterprise and only just over 5,000 by local authorities.
But for whom are those houses to be provided? What, after all, is the main problem with which we are dealing? Do not let that escape our minds for one single moment when we are considering this question. We are faced with the problem of building houses to let and not for sale, as the Minister pointed out, and for those whose needs are the greatest, for those needs were least satisfied between the two wars. I should like to ask hon. Members above the Gangway how many of those houses, the figures concerning which they have quoted with such pride today, are to let. I should say, practically none; there may be a few, but I should say, practically none. The hon. and learned Gentleman and his hon. Friends say that the Minister is allowing his Socialist theories to get the better of him, and to interfere with the housing programme. Surely, there is no ideological consideration here. I do not see it. I do not belong either to the Eastern or the Western bloc. For the life of me I cannot see that there is, or that any one could create, an ideological problem here. What did hon. and right hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway do when they were in office, and were faced with this problem of providing houses for the workers to let? They relied on the local authorities for this particular class of house.
It is perfectly true a restriction does now exist, imposed by the Minister; and he has imposed it for the excellent additional reason that we have to ensure that there is planning, and that the available amount of labour and materials does go to those whose needs are the greatest. There is no doubt, on the other hand, that the figures in the progress reports are neither stimulating nor satisfying. I am sure that even the Minister himself would not say so. It is quite obvious that the machine is stalling. There are serious defects. The right hon. Gentleman has spoken of some of these defects today, and of some of the difficulties which are holding up the programme— shortages of labour and materials. The hon. and learned Member for Daventry 1351 pointed out that there has been a very considerable increase of building operatives—that they have risen in three months from 93,000 to 147,000. He said that, in point of fact—I have not verified the figures—there are now almost as many building operatives employed as before the war. Where, therefore, he asks, is the bottleneck here? There are still shortages of certain skilled craftsmen and workers—plumbers, and, particularly, bricklayers.
But there are other disquieting features about these figures. One is the number of workers who are still employed on bomb damage repair. There are more employed today on bomb damage repair than there are on the building of permanent houses. In fact, there are as many employed on bomb damage repair as in the whole increase in the number of building operatives in three months. That is a very serious figure, indeed, and I would ask the Minister whether he would not give urgent consideration to this matter. Is it really not possible to have a special drive to expedite the completion of this work, and to secure, above all, that all non-essential work is ruthlessly cut out? There is one other suggestion I should like to make. Would it not be possible to employ on this work small businesses, possibly two-men businesses, that would not be suitable for building contracting, but would certainly be admirably fitted for doing work of this kind?
It is perfectly clear to me that a comparison of the figures of the houses under construction and of the houses completed shows that the houses are being held up in their final stages by an insufficiency, not only of specialised labour, but also of material and of certain parts. The right hon. Gentleman gave us some very interesting figures showing that considerable progress has been made in the production of these specialised parts. In spite of that, hon. Members in all parts of the House know that there are cases where temporary houses are there, ready on the sites, and cannot be assembled because there are essential parts missing. The same thing applies to permanent housing—above all, shortages of plaster board, steel window frames, baths and timber. Timber, I believe, is going to become, unless some very drastic action is taken, one of the most serious and stubborn bottlenecks of all as the pro- 1352 gramme develops. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not rest or, what is more important, will not let his colleagues rest —and I think, from what we have seen on many occasions in this House and, notably, today, that his qualities as an irritant are very considerable indeed—I certainly hope he will not let his colleagues rest until a trade agreement has been concluded with the Soviet Union and with Sweden which will assist us very considerably with the solution of this problem.
The Minister has initiated a new drive. He has given priority to houses which have reached eaves level, so that they may be completed by Christmas or the end of the year. That is all to the good, but it really only means assembling and switching over the limited and inadequate number of parts which are already in existence. It does not solve the problem. It does not make up for the deficiency of those essential commodities. What I think the House would like to be assured of is, that the Minister is going to take full advantage of the dead building season, which is now approaching, to organise the production of all these essential parts that are in short supply, and to plan so that no other deficiencies and no other snags are likely to arise by the time the spring comes; so that we may then go full speed ahead with the programme. I hope the Minister will give very serious attention to that.
He spoke about bricks, and said there had been an increase in the production. Will the Parliamentary Secretary be able to tell us, what steps have been taken to improve conditions in this industry, so as to attract new recruits into it? That is an important part of the long-term policy, which will have a great effect on the housing programme. Can he also tell us how far local authorities are relying on bricks in their new construction, and how far they are adopting non-traditional methods? He must have figures which show what the different types of buildings are in the plans that have been approved.
There is one other question to which I think reference was not made by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Daventry in his speech this afternoon, and that is the question of a Ministry of Housing. Whatever our views may be about this matter, there is no doubt that a good many of the delays that have taken place are due to the fact that there are 1353 too many cooks dealing with this very rationed troth. The Prime Minister the other day, in answer to a Question, made a statement on this point and gave the number of Ministries involved, and their functions. There are the Minister of Health and the Secretary of State for Scotland, responsible for housing, including the design of houses. The Minister of Works has a general responsibility for the organisation and efficiency of the building industry, and for building technique. The Minister of Supply is concerned with the production and distribution of certain components falling within the scope of the general engineering industry—and this is becoming increasingly important from the point of view of housing, now that we are getting more prefabricated parts both for temporary and permanent houses. Then there are the President of the Board of Trade and the Minister of Transport. The Prime Minister told us that all these are co-ordinated.—[AN HON. MEMBER: "The Minister of Town and Country Planning."]—I am coming to that—I am speaking now of the Prime Minister's statement. Co-ordination is secured by regular meetings of the Ministers concerned under the chairmanship of the Minister of Health.
As my hon. Friend has just pointed out, that does not include the Minister of Town and Country Planning, who is of course vitally important in this matter. So that instead of six there are seven Ministries dealing with this matter, all with separate responsibilities to discharge, all with separate interests to serve, all pulled and pulling in different directions— a tug of war in which time is wasted and energy dissipated. Can this set-up be improved? Hon. Members above the Gangway and opposite, and I think on these benches, although I was not one of them, all said during the Election that a Ministry of Housing was the solution. But is it? I do not believe it is. I believe it would be extremely difficult to break up the functions of the different Ministries, particularly that of the Ministry of Health, which is a very complicated Ministry. I would much prefer to see the Prime Minister extending the peace-time precedent which he has just set in connection with the Minister of Defence. I would like to see him establish a Minister of Building—it does not matter what you call him, perhaps the best name would be, "The Minister of Faith and Works," but 1354 let us call him the Minister of Building. He would have the task of co-ordinating the activities of the various Ministries which now exist and would be responsible for planning and priorities in building. I do not think, however, that that would be enough. More would be needed because there is no doubt that there are now delays between the Ministries in Whitehall and the local authorities, and in order to make sure that the machine is really brought up to concert pitch it would be necessary to establish regional committees representing the various Ministries concerned, to make sure that decisions are taken quickly and without continuous reference back to Whitehall which, at the moment, is clogging the machine.
§ Lady Megan Lloyd-George
But now is the moment for planning, and that is exactly what I am trying to impress upon the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon. I hope he will now be seized with my point, that this is the moment to rearrange and re-organise the machine and put it right. I hope that by next spring the building industry will be in a far better position to take advantage of the plans which are now lying dormant in the pigeon holes either of the local authorities or of the Ministry of Health.
If I may continue with my point about regional committees—the right hon. Gentleman has already been compelled to set up regional committees to deal with the problem of the squatters. The thing had to be done quickly, there had to be co-ordination, and he found that the most useful and efficient way of dealing with it. I hope, therefore, that he will reconsider the whole of the machine from that point of view. It is vitally important that the machine should be re-organised. I believe that if he will set up machinery 1355 of this kind, with a Minister of Building together with the various Ministries now concerned, initiating policy and co-ordinating activity, with regional committees to supervise and to smooth the way for the local authorities, he will cut out many of the difficulties and delays which now hold up the programme. I think it is the experience of all hon. Members that the Ministries are cluttered up, and there is no central direction. I therefore hope that the Minister will consider some re-organisation of this kind so that he himself may have an efficient instrument to tackle this tremendously vital and urgent social and human problem.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham)
I wish that some of my constituents who interviewed me last night, and who are suffering all the agonies caused by Tory mismanagement of housing in the past, could have come down here today and seen the course this Debate has followed. I wish they could have seen that, in a Debate asked for by the Conservative Party, there were less than a dozen Members present on those benches to listen to the distinguished speech of the noble Lady the Member for Anglesey (Lady Megan Lloyd-George), who has made a helpful contribution to this Debate; and could have seen that the hon. and learned Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller), who occupied a short, ephemeral and undistinguished office in a still-born Government and who was put up to open this Debate, did not even stay to hear what the Liberty Party had to say about the matter. I wish they could have seen, as the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health has said, the attitude of sarcasm about this vital human problem, and the laughter and tittering that have come from those benches during the course of this Debate.
§ Mr. Hale
I could wish that we had an Opposition in this House. I am bound to say that sometimes I find the burden resting upon me of providing a substantial portion of the Opposition rather more than I desire to sustain. But look at the spectacle today. It really ought to be a matter for consideration whenever hon. Members go to Blackpool again. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for 1356 Woodford (Mr. Churchill), who knows a good deal about the Conservative Party, has described a Conservative Opposition in the brilliant life he has written of his distinguished father, and every word rings home about the spectacle we have witnessed today. The right hon. Gentleman said:The position of the Conservative Party, on the other hand was weak and miserable in the extreme. The Front Opposition Bench, cumbered with the ancient and dreary wreckage of the late administration, was utterly unequal to the Government in eloquence or authority. The attendance of Conservative Members "—
§ Mr. Hale
This is now. I am adapting, with suitable apologies, the words of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford:The attendance of Conservative Members, as in all dispirited Oppositions, was slack and fitful. Outmatched in Debate, outnumbered in Division, the party was pervaded by a. profound feeling of gloom … Jeered at as the stupid party, haunted by profound distrust of an ever-growing democracy, conscious that the march of ideas was leaving them behind, these desponding counsellors could discern in the future no sign of returning fortune, and seemed to find the sole function of the Conservative minority in delaying and restricting the functions of the age.The hon. and learned Member for Daventry made some reference to the Government, which was said to be a Coalition Government, which held office at the termination of the last war. I propose now to look into the matter. Let me say at the outset that the comparison makes the hon. and learned Gentleman quite unfair. In every respect the Government of 1918 was stronger and in a better position than the Government of 1945, except for ability. When we took Office the war was still on, and our men were dissipated across the whole globe. There had been a mobilisation of industry for the war effort such as did not take place in the last war.
§ Mr. Osborne
Is it not true that the hon. Member at a later stage stood as a-Liberal with that record behind him?
§ Mr. Hale
It is true that I fought the Division of South Nottingham. I am glad to have an interruption from the hon. Member far Louth (Mr. Osborne), who rightly spoke at Blackpool about the absence of working men. This is a serious matter, or, at any rate, it is a serious matter for those who sit on this side of the House, if it is not for others. I think it is right to examine what happened under that Government. The election was fought on the promise of "Homes for Heroes." I am making no criticism of the distinguished father of the hon. Lady the Member for Anglesey (Lady Megan Lloyd-George)—
§ Lady Megan Lloyd-George
That phrase was never in fact used. If the hon. Member or any other hon. Member of this House can produce a statement of that kind made by my father at the time, I should be very glad publicly to apologise. It is not available, because it never existed.
§ Mr. Hale
I did not suggest that the father of the hon. Lady said that. I was saying it was the theme song for the election. I am making no criticism of the hon. Lady, whose record is one for which I have the greatest admiration, although I may have a few words to say about the Minister of Health of that day, for whom I have not quite the same admiration. There was no disgrace about "Homes for Heroes," because it is a great policy. It is a right policy, and I am asking today for homes for Lancashire men, the best available and as soon as possible. The Housing Act of 1919 was passed with commendable promptitude. We come now to 1921. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health has many great qualities. He also enjoys the entire confidence of the junior Member for Oldham, which is a very rare distinction. I venture to suggest, however, that there is one quality in which he is conspicuously deficient, and that is the quality of the superfine, supercharged, superfatted business man to juggle with figures—the faculty of making 10 per cent. sound like 5 per cent. and bring in 15 per cent. The Minister of Health was the arch-apostle of all business men, so much so that Sir Alfred Mond's own great enterprise was not only private, but private, confidential and secret. He came down to the House to deal with the housing record of the Government. He said 1358 that the original estimate was that we needed 500,000 houses. No one could suggest that that was an exaggeration, because there were only eight million houses in the country at the time. He said that we had built in three years 176,000 houses, or at least., if we had not built them we had planned them, or if we had not planned them we had the land, or they were in the air, the drawing board, or in the pigeon holes of the Ministry of Health. He said that we could not build any more, and he gave the reason that the country could not afford it. We had had a little excursion into Russia costing £100 million, and a lot of fun in Mesopotamia.
§ Mr. Hale
I am giving a summary of the Debate which took place, contained in Vol. 121, col. 2451, of HANSARD, on a Motion by Mr. Asquith to reduce the Estimates. He said it was perfectly true, that someone said something about 500,000, but the Government had cut it down to 300,000. To balance the Budget, he said that they had cut it still further to 200,000. Finally, a great genius said, "Knock off the odd 24,000 to make it balance." They did, and so there you are with everything accomplished. In point of fact, only 176,000 houses were built under the Housing Act of 1919, either then or thereafter. We have heard a great deal about private enterprise. There was an interjection about building societies. I will make one reference to what happened under private enterprise after that date. It is within the memories of all of us that the jobbing builder was private enterprise in excelsis. He eliminated the solicitors, the architects, the surveyors and everyone else.
§ Sir W. Darling
Is it in Order for the hon. Member to advertise in this House hire-purchase firms in Lancashire or Oldham?
§ Mr. Hale
It was not a comedy but a tragedy. All you had to do was to sign an agreement, no matter whether you read it. Everyone knows what happened —it was always a speculation which went first, the furniture, the roof, or the purchaser. One gallant woman organised a strike and fought an action through to the House of Lords against people being robbed of their savings and robbed of their homes. What has happened to the building societies as a result of that decision? If you want to buy a house now you sign a form which virtually says, "No one has told me this is a good house, and it probably is not."
I say to the Opposition that this is a grave and serious matter. It is a matter which affects all our people and it is a matter which we have very much at heart. The Opposition at the moment may not be dead, but they certainly appear moribund. I suggest that the only comparison you can get is from study of icthyology. There is a well known fish known as a protopterus. It has a very small brain and a very large lung. When the friendly waters which have long been its habitat subside, or evaporate under the light of truth, then it takes refuge in the mud beneath. For a time there is a certain amount of splashing of mud, and then it throws out a protective coating of slime. It sinks down deeper into the mud until it disappears. It remains there quiescent, dormant and torpid in the hope that some day the waters will return. In the final stages even the lung ceases to function.
I have the honour to share in the representation of the town of Oldham. The hon. and learned Member for Daventry referred to Socialist boroughs which had not built houses. Ours is one of them. But we took control only at the last election, and we are tackling this job with speed, initiative and vision. The fact is, however, that there is not a piece of land on which we can build. We have to go outside the town, and fight other authorities in order to get land. We have to use the powers of the Acquisition of Land Act, which are not so swift as one could hope.
I would like those who are here to listen to a few things about the town of Oldham. The greatest contribution towards failure to solve the housing problem in Oldham has been made by the Conservative 1360 Party. Their management of the cotton industry in the years between the wars was such that 20,000 people were driven from the town to seek their livings elsewhere. We have a population 20,000 less than a couple of decades ago. In decent circumstances we should not have had a housing problem at all. Last night, a man came to see me in Oldham, and asked me whether I could get him a house. He said, "I am living in one room up and one down. I am paying 7s. Id. a week rent for myself, wife and four children. One of my children is lying in bed injured through falling downstairs." I had to say to him, "Your condition is no worse than that of many other people in the town." In 45 years of Tory and Liberal Government, mostly Tory—and the right hon. Member for Woodford had his first seat in this House as Member for my constituency—our sanitation has become such that we have still 880 pail closets, 24,000 waste water closets, and only 40,000 houses in the town. One discharged soldier told me that he had not been to bed in the nine months since he had been discharged, because his house was so overcrowded that it was impossible for him to go to bed.
There are 2,350 back to back houses in Oldham. A friend asked me what a back to back house was, and I sometimes doubt whether some of the Members opposite know what it is. I have had to interview discharged soldiers about their pension cases, and I have had to walk up rickety wooden unsafe stairs to see them. I have walked into many a single bedroom that was the home of a man, his wife and family, a room in which they cooked, fed and lived, with no backyard and no front, and nowhere to play. In Oldham, we have 9,500 houses which have been scheduled for demolition out of our 40,000 houses in the town. When the Minister of Health faces that financial problem I ask him to realise that that is a burden which no town can bear. The Government must consider the question of the equalisation of rates, to enable backward urban areas to consider this great problem. Oldham is a town which has produced, for one section of the community, as much wealth as any town in the country. It was the centre of our most prosperous export industry, known throughout the world for its textile products. Millions of pounds from it have 1361 gone on the spending for houses in South-port; nothing has been done for the slums of Oldham.
Now we are having to tackle this great problem left us through the incompetence, ignorance and lack of interest of the party opposite. We mean to tackle it, and to support the Minister in all his efforts to deal with it. I believe that my right hon. Friend is already doing a mighty job, and that he has a still mightier job to do. In that task we pledge him our sincerity and support in future, although there will be some criticism, prodding, and urging to speed up this great task.
§ 5.46 p.m.
§ Lieut. - Commander Joynson-Hicks (Chichester)
I think we are glad indeed that in his concluding words the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Hale) reintroduced into the Debate something on the question of housing. It took him a long time to come to the modern question of housing, but I, for one, was particularly-glad that he gave us, with that eloquence of which he is capable, a picture of some of the ghastly housing conditions which not only he, but all of us, have represented to us day after day and week after week, and about which our only reply is, "There is nothing we can directly do about it ourselves, and nothing we can say in comfort except that you are no worse off than many thousands of other people."
I, and, I am sure, many of my hon. Friends on this side, wish that the Minister could have shown some similar feeling. The right hon. Gentleman appeared to approach this question more from the mathematical basis than from any other. There was, in his speech, no evident feeling of any commiseration or pity for scores of thousands of people who are now in the condition described by the junior Member for Oldham. Never can I recall, no more have I ever read, of a Minister coming to this House and, on a subject which is of the most intense seriousness to the public, making a speech which dealt so little with that subject. The right hon. Gentleman's speech was riddled with cheap jibes and frivolous inanities. It was a speech which, being the principal speech of the Government, made at the request of the Opposition, to convey information on a subject of most urgent importance, contained information whatever, no progress report, 1362 and gave no comfort at all to the people of this country.
If the Minister will not provide us with information as to what he is doing, save only as regards the number of bricks produced, which is something, let us examine for ourselves what the position is today. We gather that the Minister has set as a target for the country, for local authorities at any rate, the completion of 30,000 eaves houses by the end of the year. That target has been dated, as I understand it, from August of this year. So the completion of 30,000 houses to eaves level in the succeeding five months of the year from August is not a very great ambition, even for a Socialist Government. May we compare that with what the right hon. Gentleman said before? Members will remember, whether they were in the House or not, that the last Government, when we were at war, and when they were being pressed about their housing problem, refused to commit themselves beyond a figure of 220,000 permanent houses completed in the first two years after the end of the war. That was because they were unable to see definite prospects of being able to complete more. They expressed the hope that circumstances would arise which would enable them to increase that number, but that was the figure beyond which, time after time, they refused to commit themselves.
We know what was the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman of that figure at that time. He has described it, and it has been referred to frequently, not only in this House, but at the General Election. It was very largely upon the strength of the fact that the Socialist Party held out expectations to the people of this country that what they called "chicken feed" in the building of permanent houses could very greatly be surpassed, if Socialism were put into practice, that the people of this country voted them into power at the last Election. What do we see now? Far from the 220,000 houses being built by the expiration of two years, which was the record which the National Government were prepared to guarantee, we find that, despite the ending of the Japanese war much earlier than was anticipated, we are gradually falling from target to target.
Even the pious hope expressed recently by the Minister of Works, that 100,000 houses would be completed by the end of the year, was damned with faint praise by 1363 the Minister of Health, who said that it was a personal hope. So far as we can gather, the Minister of Health himself is optimistic in anticipating the possible completion of 70,000 permanent houses by the end of this year; leaving him from that time until the end of next May to produce the difference between 70,000 houses and 220,000 houses, even if he is to give this country "chicken feed." Is it for this target of 70,000 houses that the right hon. Gentleman claims, as he claimed the other day at Deptford, that the bricks and materials were on the sites, because, if that is all, it is not a very big target. We had the figure given us today that sufficient bricks were produced in September for the erection of 17,000 houses per month. Where are all these bricks? In my part of the country we cannot find them. One does not see them on the sites.
The problem is far greater than, I think, the right hon. Gentleman has given the House to understand. He claims now that 750,000 houses will be sufficient. I do not think that his staunch supporter, the hon. Member for Oldham would agree with that. Certainly, I do not agree with it. We know, full well, that during the period between the two wars—the figures are on record—after the false start which has been described, when under the Coalition Government very few houses were built, the Conservative Government got into its stride, taking over from the Coalition, and built houses to the tune of 4 million. During the period 1934– 1938 they averaged 330,000 per annum, new permanent houses. Even then, the job was by no means finished, and that rate would have at least been continued, if not accelerated, by every town in the country. We then had a lapse of six years of building. If those houses were necessary before the war, they were still necessary during the war. The result of the simple failure to continue building, means that there are upwards of 2 million houses less than we should have at the present time. On top of that, we have had the destruction of houses caused by enemy action which accounts for something like a further million houses. How the right hon. Gentleman gets his figure when he says that 750,000 houses will be sufficient, I cannot understand. I do not want to misquote him, but the House will recall that he said that by the next Election—and we understand that he is optimistic enough 1364 to believe that he will have a full run of the maximum period in office—there would be no housing problem in this country, and that every family will have a house of their own. How does he make that coincide with his estimate of 750,000 houses?
May I turn to the question of rural housing, because that is a matter of which, quite frankly, I do not think the right hon. Gentleman has any idea or understanding? Let me ask this: What provision is he making, or are the Government in any of their Departments making, for increasing the number of rural houses?
§ Mr. Alpass (Thornbury)
is the hon. and gallant Gentleman not aware of the subsidy which is being offered by the Minister to assist the building of houses in rural districts—the finest subsidy ever offered in the history of this country?
§ Lieut.-Commander Joynson-Hicks
The hon. Member is perfectly right, because building costs have gone up so much under this Government that an increased subsidy is required. The first problem with regard to rural housing, and particularly with regard to agricultural housing, is to increase the number of houses in the general plan, so as to bring people back from the towns to the country. So far as I have been able to ascertain from the Government, there is no provision whatever for counteracting that drift from the land to the town. The second point, so far as agriculture is concerned, concerns the whereabouts of these rural houses, if they are built. At present, and under the system which the Government have adopted, there is practically no alternative but to build the houses for agricultural workers in the rural towns, because the housing sites which are being used by the local authorities are, practically speaking, bound to be crowded round the towns, and not in the villages and on the farms where the agricultural workers want them. That is another point on which the Government has failed to exhibit any forethought or carry out any scheme of planning.
The third point, which has been referred to before, is the scrapping of the Housing (Rural Workers) Acts. If only those Acts could still be in operation— and they resulted in the production of 22,000 houses for occupation by agricultural workers alone—houses to let, not 1365 houses to buy—not only would it relieve very largely the trouble of finding adequate housing for agricultural workers, but it would also give employment to unemployed builders in the country. It would enable the builders, who at the present time cannot get licences or permits, because they are too far away from building sites to contract for local authorities, to carry on work in a useful, constructive way in their own localities. Notwithstanding this fact, there have been 4,000 houses built in rural areas, and of those 4,000, 3,000 have been built by private enterprise. I think that is a figure which may be of interest to some hon. Members.
I do not believe there is any member of the public who can visualise with equanimity a state of affairs in which a man is fined for building houses, as he is at the present time. Hon. Members probably have read the report in the Press over the weekend according to which a man had built houses in accordance with plans which had been passed on the lines of the permits which had been granted to him for previous buildings, and in accordance with every rule and regulation, except that he did not wait until his application for a permit to build these houses was granted. In fact, he completed the houses before the permit was granted. [Interruption.] Hon. Members may laugh, but that is an example of what we have been saying. If one wants houses built, one gets them built by private enterprise, but if they have to be put through all this rigmarole of local authority, regional and Ministerial permits and licences, one has to wait longer than it takes to build the houses. If only hon. Members would get down to the practical necessity of getting houses built, It would be far better for the people of this country.
I want to touch briefly on the question which the Minister raised with regard to building for letting and building for sale. I think the right hon. Gentleman cannot have informed himself on the subject. It was difficult to understand when he was speaking seriously and when he was not speaking seriously; some of his remarks were in that jocular vein which has to be translated by a public relations officer at a later date; but if he was speaking seriously, he should know that in the three years ending September, 1938, well over 200,000 unsubsidised houses were built 1366 for letting, and that was a substantial proportion of about one-third of the total number of houses which were built in the period; but out of the total number, something like six-sevenths, or nearly seven-eighths, of the total houses built during that period were built at a rateable value of 10s. per week. The result of that was seen subsequently in the Fitzgerald Report, with which I have no doubt the Parliamentary Secretary, who, I anticipate, is to reply, is familiar, where it was found that in 1938 only 40 per cent. of the population at that time were seeking houses to let, and that the remainder were seeking houses to buy.
Since then, as the hon. Gentleman and the House will probably know, the ratio has increased very considerably, and even last year, when no houses were being built, building societies were buying for people who were living in rented houses 50 per cent. as many houses as they were buying before the war. Therefore, it is absolute nonsense for the right hon. Gentleman to base the whole of his argument upon the necessity of a ratio of four to one of houses to let as opposed to houses to buy. If only the right hon. Gentleman would give private builders their head to go ahead, they would get the job done. [An HON. MEMBER: "What job?"] The job of building houses. I am not surprised that hon. Members have forgotten long since that that is the object—to get houses built. While the local authority has to refer to higher authority to get a decision, the private builders make their decision and take action upon it, and that results in the houses being built. I am absolutely certain that until restriction is taken off the private builder and private enterprise, we shall not see any solution to the housing problem.
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ Mr. George Hicks (Woolwich, East)
I had not intended to intervene in this Debate until I listened to the statements of the hon. and learned Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller) and the Minister's reply. I do not propose to range over the whole of the Debate, but I heard some statements made by the Minister—and I want the Parliamentary Secretary to hear this, because I think he has gone dangerously near to repeating those statements himself—which I think should be corrected. The seriousness of 1367 this problem is much above any dialectics or oratorical skill on one side of the House or the other. The necessity is to try to provide homes for the people of Great Britain. For nearly 48 years, since 1898, I have been associated with this matter; in 1898 I was a member of the Workers' National Housing Council, of which the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty at that time, Mr. Macnamara, was president. Housing is one of the things to which I have devoted a good deal of time and thought.
I am very anxious to help the Government in their approach to the housing problem, and generally I am a supporter of the Government in all these matters; but the Minister has been telling us today about certain materials and how at the Ministry of Works there was nothing prepared at all, and nothing but blank sheets. I do not know what information the Minister of Health has had given to him, but I can assure him that it was not left like that at one period. As a member of the building industry during the whole of the last war and in subsequent years, I knew that after the 1914–18 war one of the big problems we had to deal with was the shortage of bricks. Prior to 1914 we were producing and importing about 3,000 million bricks. We were using roughly that number of bricks in this country. We have the richest clay deposits in the world in this country, we can make bricks here. We expanded the production from roughly 3,000 million bricks to nearly 7,000 million bricks per year at the point when the war broke out in 1939.
I was particularly anxious, knowing what happened after the last war, that the building trade workers should not again be unemployed because there were no raw materials. We instituted a levy of 3s. on every thousand bricks sold to be put into a common pool for the purpose of ensuring that the brickyards were being maintained in such a condition that they could start right away to produce bricks for housing and other building needs as soon as the war was over. As a matter of fact the Minister did say on one occasion, when addressing a meeting of members of the co-operative movement, that there had never been any real shortage of bricks, and I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to check this since it is on record. I have not a copy of the 1368 report with me as I had not expected to take part in the Debate. The plant and machinery of the brickworks had been kept in such a condition or should have been—
§ Mr. Hicks
So far as bricks were concerned, we kept the brickworks in a condition to begin manufacturing on a scale that would have been equal to all demands as soon as building began again. I make that point quite definitely. There is another point to which I take exception. I do not object to it as an oratorical statement, but when we are coming down to facts it is a different matter. It was never stated by the National Government that 500,000 houses of the Portal type would be built in any year. The maximum amount that could be produced by the sheet metal industry in any one year was sufficient for less than 90,000 and the steel industry had told us very definitely that so far as sheet steel was concerned—and we at the Ministry of Works were informed—that there would be sufficient sheet steel for the job, and that we should not require 50 per cent. of sheet steel manufactured. That is another thing with regard to the intention to build 500,000 of these houses—
§ Mr. Hicks
Oh, yes, it was; I know what I am talking about. When the temporary house was first conceived the idea was to have one type of house. That is where the error was made—in going from one type of manufacture to another. What the Minister said today was perfectly correct. It was intended that engineering workers should manufacture the houses in the factory, and that building trade workers should assemble them on the site, but it was never expected that any more than 1369 10,000 men would be needed to erect this 90,000 or 100,000 a year, and that would have released roughly an army of 90,000 men for permanent traditional building.
I had better qualify that statement. The position, roughly, is that to build an ordinary house one building trade worker would take a year; in other words, if 100,000 houses were required in 12 months 100,000 building trade workers would be required. Therefore, we thought that if 10,000 men had been taken out of the building industry to assemble these houses the other 90,000 would have been available to build houses of the traditional and permanent type with normal building trade materials. That was the idea. I have never expressed the opinion that these temporary houses were beautiful; I never wanted to make them beautiful, and in fact I hate their appearance, but the accommodation they gave was the best that could be provided, and we only wanted them to stand for 10 years. Anything else would have to be established after the immediate necessity had been met, and we therefore wanted to build one type only Then, however, there was a change of policy and other firms were brought in, manufacturing this type and that type of house, and we have since been using building trade materials and labour in the manufacture as well as in the assembly.
One other point in this connection is the number of men in the building industry prior to the war. We had, roughly, 1,020,000 in the building trade proper and 300,000 in the civil engineering trade. Taken together, these figures represented quite an army, but during the period of the war the numbers were reduced to a total of roughly 400,000 and there were very big demands for building trade labour in this country at that time to meet Government requirements. It was impossible to continue building houses, never mind who thought they were necessary. The 400,000 men had to be employed on all sorts of work for the Government—factories, aerodromes, and that kind of thing—and they were all very fully employed. Before the war, it required about 300,000 men out of the 1,000,000 I have mentioned for ordinary maintenance, quite apart from new building. I would say that during the period of the war 00 per cent. of the maintenance work had to be neglected. 1370 Our position at the end of the 1939–45 war was that maintenance was at a very low ebb indeed. Not only did we require those 300,000 men, if we could have obtained them, to come in and start building up necessary maintenance, but there was also a very large quantity of new building to be done in addition to house building. Industrial buildings and local buildings, baths, libraries, schools and so on, were needed. Before the war there were never more than about 40 per cent. of the building trade workers engaged upon house building; the other 60 per cent. were engaged on commercial and other building, and on general maintenance. Now the housing arrears became so great that it was very desirable to do what we could in the way of house building.
There is one other step which I took and which guaranteed the success of the various schemes. It concerned manpower. At the end of the last war there was a great difficulty of dilution, and I remember as the representative of the unions at that time being offered £250,000 by the Ministry of Labour, to take certain men into the building industry and train them. The industry, however, decided against this and they did not come in in that way. This time I said to the unions, "Let us have a meeting to discuss this matter." The unions met and agreed to a general expansion of building trade workers up to another 300,000 or 350,000 above the 1,000,000 we had in 1939. We established training schools, technical schools, and teachers in Government factories, knowing that if the job was not done then it would have had to be done now. In this way, two years of effort were put in before the war was over in order to make everyone familiar with the idea of trying to get manpower into the industry to start training craftsmen. The hon. Lady the Member for Anglesey (Lady Megan Lloyd George) has referred to certain types of craftsmen who are not too plentiful. I do not know just what there is in that but every type is now being trained in the building industry. They were coming from the Army, from the Services generally, and they were being accepted by the trade unions for the first time. That was a very great contribution. When we say that nothing has been done I would remind hon. Members that that was the first step that had to be taken, that it was a most important 1371 step, and that possibly it is a step for which there ought to be a little bit of recognition.
I have taken advantage, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, of the latitude available, by going as far as I have done on this matter. I shall not go into the question of rural housing, on which subject I have ideas which differ altogether from some that have been mentioned here. The Debate is useful in bringing out the facts, but we do not want to tabulate how many people there are waiting for houses. In my constituency 12,000 are waiting. If other constituencies are large enough they will have 12,000 also. If they are larger than my constituency, they may have 15,000 people waiting for houses. All over the country are people waiting for houses. If anything can be done— without saying that nothing has been done before—to marshal the forces of good will and cooperation, let it be put into practice, so that we may produce the houses. That result will be satisfactory not only to this House but to a large number of people in this country.
§ 6.22 p.m.
§ Mr. J. H. Hare (Woodbridge)
I think the House will have welcomed the speech to which we have just listened from the hon. Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks). For the first time, we have had a contribution from the Government Benches which has given us facts rather than rhetoric, facts given honestly without bias, facts which we of the minority party, and the country as a whole, have been waiting to hear. From the examples which the hon. Member gave in debunking the speech of the Minister of Health, we may gather that a very large part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech is equally lacking in plain truth. Our charge against the Minister of Health is that he is putting prejudice before production. He is not making the proper use of the instrument he has at hand and with which the houses have to be built. The hon. Member for East Woolwich has spoken about increasing good will and cooperation. Those are words which I should very much like the Minister of Health to study. It is no use allowing his prejudice against private enterprise in the building industry to poison the relationships between the industry and the powers that be, who are responsible for 1372 erecting houses. In the words he has addressed to the House this afternoon, and in his public utterances, the Minister of Health has never shown any sign of admitting that there can be anything wrong with the plan that he has produced for the housing of the people of this nation.
He has spoken, as we all know, of breaking the back of the housing problem in a year or two. [An HON. MEMBER: "No."] That statement was made on the public platform and was given wide publicity. He has, without doubt, convinced the House this afternoon that he believes in attack as the best method of defence. It may be right. Probably, all that he is doing is to preserve his own reputation. He has not attempted to admit the fact that all is not going well with the housing programme, and that some improvements are necessary. In other words, I would say to the right hon. Gentleman that although he may not have a song in his heart, like his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he has a wasp in his tongue. That may be a very useful quality for the Minister of Health, but it does not help the country.
§ Mr. Hare
There are some questions I should like to put to the Parliamentary Secretary. Are we to have the 100,000 permanent houses, the figure stated as a target by the Minister of Works earlier in the year? Or do the Minister of Health and the Parliamentary Secretary dissociate themselves from that statement issued by the Minister of Works? The only excuse for desiring to dissociate themselves from such a target figure, issued by a responsible member of the Government, can be that, there is very little liaison between the Minister of Health and the Minister of Works. Unfortunately, this may be only too true. The Minister has stated that he has had to create a special new plan, starting at the end of August, in order to intensify and concentrate the drive to finish houses which were at that time up to their eaves. I would like to know how much that last minute change of plan will affect the ultimate total production of houses. It is clear that there has been a dislocation in the original plan, it is clear 1373 also that that dislocation must mean some diversion of labour and material. The House is entitled to know how far all that will affect the ultimate figure, maturing, we hope, during the next six months or year.
The next question is whether proper use is being made of the available manpower in the building industry. I understand there are about 3 per cent. or, roughly 26,000 men, unemployed in the industry today. That sounds to me like bad management. We see for ourselves when examining the figures that many boroughs, including working class boroughs in London, have a totally inadequate building force to meet their needs, while other boroughs appear to have a totally disproportionate number of building workers employed on their own schemes. I gather that the Minister blames the black market for that state of affairs. I understand that he proposes to put it right by further restricting the issue of licences and so on. I would support any effective measure which the right hon. Gentleman takes to stop the black market, but he should examine the number of plumbers, carpenters and bricklayers employed by other Government Departments. He should find out whether many of those men should not be diverted from working for Government Departments to the priority needs of civilian houses. I am certain he would find a potential addition to the building force in such an examination.
Secondly, I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether he is satisfied— I am not—that the best use is being made of thousands of small builders throughout the country. I understand from a quotation from the report of a speech made by the Leader of the House that that right hon. Gentleman has been converted to private enterprise. If we may believe the "Daily Herald" of 4th October, the right hon Gentleman said:There are two pressing needs in the building industry, speed and adaptability, and low costs of construction. I want the closest cooperation between the research organisation of the State and industry itself and I want private enterprise to join the state activity.I would like some assurance from the Parliamentary Secretary that we are getting proper results from that vast reservoir of skill and business capacity which the small builders of this country can produce.
1374 I have a further question to put concerning the labour force. If we examine Cmd. Paper 6190, the August housing returns, we find on page 7, item 6, that in England and Wales from 31st July, 1945, 32,000 men were employed on conversions and adaptations it is estimated. We see that the figure grows from July, 1945, to the figure of 92,900 in July, 1946. It remains, on 30th August, 1946, at 92,900. This labour force in the period April, 1945, to August, 1946, provided 20,000 units of family production, but in the month of July this building force, which has been built up from the figure of 32,000 to a figure of 92,900, produced only 2,481 units of family accommodation, and in August that figure had decreased to 1,170. The House should have some explanation why, when this total number of men is locked up in this particular form of work, their output does not seem to be increasing and the amount of units of accommodation they are producing appears to be on the down grade.
§ Mr. Ronald Mackay (Hull, North-West)
May I draw the hon. Member's attention to the figures in the rest of the table? He has given only half the story. He has given only the figures for local authorities for conversion, and not private enterprise.
§ Mr. Hare
I am very sorry, I have the figures in my notes. The total figure provided by local authorities and by private enterprise in July, 1946, was 2,344. It still makes my point that the total figures are going down. I feel that some explanation should be given.
I want to say a word or two about London, with special reference to the London County Council. As the House knows, the housing shortage in London is probably more tragic than it is in any other part of this country—
§ Mr. Hare
The hon. and gallant Gentleman says "No." We have 250,000 applicants on the L.C.C. list and on the lists of the 28 metropolitan boroughs, and the tragic fact is that that figure of 250,000 has been reached by an increase of 120,000 applicants in the last 12 months. Twelve months ago the figure was only 130,000. To meet this great demand there have been produced up to 31st August 6,568 new family dwellings. Out of that figure, 1375 only 339 are new permanent houses. Out of the total authorities concerned, only two out of the 28 London metropolitan boroughs, Poplar and Woolwich, finished one new permanent house. Great credit is due to those two for getting on with the job so quickly.
Whatever the Minister of Health may say, rhetoric cannot by-pass the tragic need in London for houses and the bad start that has been made to fill up this huge gap of demand. I suggest to the Minister of Health, with great respect, that there are certain things which he and his right hon. Friend the Minister of Town and Country Planning should busy themselves with. I was always brought up to understand that if one is to do an operation, whether it is housing or military, one should plan properly first. Unless one's plans are properly made, the subsequent operation is bound to be a failure. I submit that the housing situation in London, in the county council area and the Greater London area is suffering from bad planning.
The London County Council must be asked by the Minister of Health or the Minister of Town and Country Planning to produce a plan. It has given, we all know, lip-service to the Abercrombie Plan, but its actions have belied that lip-service. Instead there has been a policy of grabbing land wherever it can be found, irrespective of the interests of its neighbours and the Green Belt, and irrespective even of the health and interests of those people who are in fact going to be rehoused in those sites. I understand, if I can believe the "Star" of 9th October, that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health is also a believer in planning. When interviewed two weeks ago by a reporter for the purpose of explaining his new drive for houses, he used the following words:Of course, it is always quicker to build badly and blindly than to build wisely and well But I do not think this country wants any more uncontrolled building. It had more than enough of that between the two wars. We want the right houses in the right placesI assure the right hon. Gentleman that this statement has my unqualified support. I would like to ask his support and action on behalf of these principles and to see that they are carried out so far as London and Greater London are 1376 concerned. I suggest that there is very bad liaison between the Government and the local authorities of the London area. I would perhaps quote as an example what has happened over Chessington. The London County Council for months past, despite the advice of all those who were interested in the better principles of planning, have persisted in going forward and negotiating for this site which is right in the middle of the Green Belt. Now, eventually, after months of negotiations, in a report which was made public on Saturday and which will be discussed by the London County Council tomorrow, they are informed that the Minister of Town and County Planning, who has consulted with the Minister of Health on the Council's proposals, has stated that although he has reluctantly agreed in some instances to development in the proposed Metropolitan Green Belt, the Government's long term policy of limiting the outward spread of London must prevail and the land in question ought to remain open for the recreation and benefit of the population of the built-up areas. That is a very right and proper decision. But surely the London County Council has no right to spend months and months pursuing this most improper scheme, and employing its officials on carrying out negotiations which, if justice prevails, will obviously be abortive. There is therefore a strong case for the Minister to tell the London County Council to make up their minds what they want, and then, having produced a plan, to coordinate that plan with the activities of the adjacent authorities in Greater London and in the boroughs themselves.
The hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks), in this House in a Debate last July, raised this point about the lack of coordination between the various London housing authorities. He pointed out that in addition to the L.C.C. and its 28 metropolitan boroughs there were 22 Greater London authorities who had responsibilities for decentralising their population. The urgent appeal I make to the Minister is that he must waste no further time in working out a bold policy of coordinating one single comprehensive plan which every single authority in London can understand and from which it will learn of its responsibilities. This coordination is lacking, and at the moment the various individual authorities 1377 concerned are drifting hopelessly, each in its own direction, without either consultation or cooperation. If the Parliamentary-Secretary would be good enough to give an answer to these various questions, the House would appreciate it very much.
In conclusion, as a representative of a rural constituency, I cannot refrain in any housing Debate from adding my humble voice to those of hon. Members who have already spoken on this side. This is no matter for argument. The issue is clear. If agriculture is to be saved, if there is to be a labour force available to replace the German prisoners who will have gone either within the next year or two, houses must be produced on a special priority basis for agricultural workers. That is a perfectly clear decision which the Government must make. Either they must abandon the idea of a healthy agriculture and be prepared to admit that they are not interested in producing the maximum amount of food from the resources of this country, and give us no houses, or, alternatively, they must say that they want these things and they must give agricultural workers priority treatment in the allotment of new houses erected by rural district councils.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Corlett (York)
I do not want to indulge in any rhetoric and will confine my remarks to one aspect of the problem: the relationship of the regional authorities set up by the Ministry and the officials of the local authorities. In my opinion these regional authorities are desirable, and I want to make it perfectly clear that I am in favour of their being set up. It may be stated that I am raising this issue rather early because they were only set up in January, but already difficulties are cropping up of such a nature that unless we deal with this problem, we shall be faced with the fact that our drive for houses will be gravely handicapped. While I do not want to exaggerate the position, it would be equally foolish to underrate it.
These authorities are coming in at an unfortunate time, after the regional commissioners, who were set up during the war. I do not think anybody would pretend that the regional commissioners were popular with local authorities. I think they were regarded as a menace and a threat, and it is unfortunate, therefore, for 1378 these regional bodies that they are being set up in such an atmosphere. I think we should demand from them unreasonably the tongues of angels and the wisdom of Solomon, and it would be equally unreasonable to expect these people to have the qualities and qualifications that are not always to be found in officials. I hold the view, which I think most people do, that qualities are more important than qualifications. Speaking as a member of a professional organisation—and I know it has been true of all trade union organisations—I would say that most disputes are caused from a lack of qualities rather than qualifications, an ability to see where the shoe pinches, an ability to see the other man's point of view, to understand the difficulties with which another person is faced. A lot is being asked of these regional officers in this respect, but they are doing their best to see that the other man's point of view is considered, and I believe they are succeeding.
I am certain they are succeeding in the rural areas because the problem there is simple. In the main, the rural authorities have not the technical staffs, and they are glad of the advice they are getting from the regional officers. They welcome the assistance of the architects, the surveyors, and the other officials of the Ministry of Works, the Ministry of Supply and the Ministry of Health. I am quite certain, however, that that is not the position in the big towns. There, they have already highly specialised staffs. In the big towns there are competent town clerks, competent surveyors, competent engineers, competent architects, and these people, in addition to their competence and technical ability have, of course, considerable local knowledge. I suggest that they resent very strongly the idea that they must submit their plans and schemes to regional officers—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] They do. It is my own experience, and it must be the experience of most hon. Members, that they resent having to submit their plans and schemes to people who, in their opinion, are not nearly so well qualified and who have not their local knowledge. I think they are profoundly wrong, but I can quite understand their point of view; it is an understandable human point of view, and one that we must face.
When they have this resentment, and when they find delay in getting on with some of the things which they think are 1379 necessary, that resentment takes the form of frustration, and once resentment becomes frustration it becomes terribly serious, for you will find these people asking, "Are we the instruments for the housing programme? Are we the housing authority, or is the regional authority the body to do the job?" When they begin to feel they are not the instrument, that they are not trusted, that there is no confidence in them, that they are being frustrated, then I am certain that there sets in, in some cases, a deliberate attempt not to be very helpful. If, in addition, there is some act of discourtesy—and that can happen—they immediately begin to see red and to grumble.
I had two cases recently in my own area which should never have happened. One was where they were building temporary houses and, unfortunately, there was a hitch in regard to technical development, and where, more unfortunately still, the Ministry of Works did not supply the city engineer with the name of the contractor who had been appointed, and he happened to meet this contractor in the street. When the contractor said, "I have been appointed," the city engineer was up in arms at once. I can quite understand how this sort of thing happens —some clerk had forgotten to inform the city engineer. The city engineer takes umbrage, he is up against the Ministry, and the result is seen in the lack of cooperation in that area. The city engineer need not worry, he can talk about remote control, and need not throw himself into the job. This feeling of frustration is developing and there is an attitude on the part of officials in the local areas which will not help us in the housing drive.
One of the worst features, as I see it, and I do not see how it can be avoided, is the fact that the Ministry of Works grants licences for all except housing repairs over £100. It is quite a proper procedure, and, from their point of view, there is everything to be said for it. They can say, "This is a national problem," "This is a high level decision," "This is in connection with economic reconstruction," "This is in connection with the export drive," "It has something to do with education, or the Ministry of Health." They can also say, and they do say rightly, that when they grant these licences they have every regard to availa- 1380 bility of labour and material. But look at the effect on the officials of the local authority. Immediately they are up in arms. Let me give another example. One of the best authorities in the country, high in the list before the war with their housing record, suddenly learn that the Ministry of Works has granted a licence for the erection of a big Post Office Savings Bank A big contractor comes down, takes 50 per cent. of the labour available for housing for his job under the Essential Work Order, and the authority loses 50 per cent. of the labour it has been relying upon to get on with the job of building houses. That authority told me that they have now only one-seventh of the available labour supply to put on to housing in their district. They have no say in this. It is done without any consultation with them. This means that that authority cannot get on with the building of houses because of the labour building the big Post Office Savings Bank. At the end of that time, 2,000 houses will be required for the people brought to work there. Yet already there is a long waiting list. Then there are the claims of the Electricity Board and the Ministry of Transport for labour there. What is bound to be the effect on local authorities and on local authority officials? I think the effect is bound to be disastrous.
The Parliamentary Secretary put his finger on it very clearly the other day when he said that local government had broken down. I think all of us in this House are perturbed about the fact that local government has broken down. We are failing to attract to our local authorities the type of people we would like to see serving on them and have the time and interest to devote to the work. The result is that we are securing busy people, not always competent people, who are bound to leave much of the work of the local authority to the permanent officials. We are getting that type of authority all over the country. It will be disastrous if they have to depend on disgruntled officials who feel thwarted at every turn. I am not suggesting that they are thwarted, but they think, wrongly, that they are. It will be disastrous if our local councillors are dependent on people to advise them who are suffering from a sense of grievance.
The result now is that houses are not being produced at the rate we would like 1381 and a scapegoat has to be found. A scapegoat is ready to hand. It is as old as municipal government; the scapegoat is Whitehall. For years the cry of any local authority that did not get on with its job, has been that Whitehall would not let it get on with its job. I understand that in Manchester the municipal elections are to be fought on Whitehall versus the local authority. That, I think, is rather better than Socialism versus the people, but it is the sort of cry which would appeal to some people. I believe that is the actual municipal issue in Manchester at the moment. I am informed that an authority in Lancashire which has never built a house is now shouting that it cannot get on with building houses because of Whitehall. It is tragic that we should allow this state of affairs to develop. I believe the Ministry are aware of it, and are going to set up zonal conferences in which regional officials may meet the officials of local authorities. That will clear up a mass of misunderstanding, but I hardly think that it is enough. With some trepidation I would suggest to the Ministry that they should have a round table conference of official of the regional authorities and the local authorities with all cards on the table, so that they can all clear the air, and know where we are. It will be fatal to us if this sense of frustration is allowed to continue.
On these benches we are 100 per cent. behind the Minister. We are behind his policy and want him to succeed. We believe he has the drive, the grit, and the imagination. We want him to succeed because we believe he deserves to succeed. But we shall not help him to succeed unless we look into this machinery which has been set up.
§ 6.56 p.m.
§ Mr. David Renton (Huntingdon)
I should like to endorse the views put forward by the hon. Member for York (Mr. Corlett) in regard to the part which is being played by the regional officers in this housing programme. What he has said is borne out by evidence in my own constituency, where there are no fewer than ten local authorities. The uneven-ness of their performance has to be seen on page 26 of Appendix "B", to be believed. It is extraordinary. Some authorities have as yet built no houses, while another authority built the first pair of permanent houses in rural England. 1382 That was about a year ago; and they will have about 100 houses up by Christmas. That is no mean performance for one rural district Foundations for that excellent work were laid by an official with extremely good liaison with Whitehall, and with a flair for cutting red tape, and getting the job done. Unfortunately, he is now lingering in prison on certain charges of peculation. He happened to be the man with the flair for the job. Now that we have advanced sufficiently far to see how things are shaping, progress officers and regional officers of the Ministry should make contact with the weaker brethren among the local authorities. The House will be glad to know if they are doing so, and the extent to which they are doing so. It seems important that the uneven-ness should be wiped out.
I would rather see this Government succeed with their housing programme and get the full kudos for it, than see them fail, and allow the Opposition to have the kudos. Hon. Members opposite may be quite certain that we shall take full advantage, if the Government do fail. Having made that clear, may I, in a spirit which I hope is appropriately called constructive, offer one or two suggestions? The Minister is not a person whom one can ask to profit by his mistakes, because it is understood that he does not make mistakes. But we ask him to learn by experience. Surely the experience of the last 14 months has shown conclusively that what people want more that anything else is a house of their own, some kind of separate home. "Phase one" of the squatting movement was fairly conclusive proof that most people would rather have a house of their own, however inadequate, than wait for two years or three years to get something which would certainly be well worth having. The quality of many of the permanent houses which are going up is excellent; but whenever a few prefabricated houses are offered, people who are at present lodgers are clamouring for them. I venture to put forward a suggestion. Here I may be in disagreement with the hon. and learned Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller) and I think I am in disagreement with the right hon. Gentleman, but if I am wrong, he will no doubt correct me. I feel that we should be wrong to say that the gap which had to be bridged by the tempor- 1383 ary housing programme, has come to an end. The temporary housing programme should be regarded as something which must continue for several years to come. The hon. Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks), whose contribution was such a valuable antidote to what had passed before, said, in speaking in the first bousing Debate in this Parliament:My right hon. Friend the Minister of Town and Country Planning has stated the minimum requirement as being 8 million houses. I am certain the Government will be congratulated if they produce 500,000 bouses a year. Therefore, if the Minister gives four years as the time when arrears will be caught up, I wish him the best of luck. I am certain he will have to correct his figures later on."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th October, 1945; Vol. 414. c. 1248.]Suppose we divide by two the total number of houses then stated to be given by the Minister of Town and Country Planning, and say that four million houses will be needed in this country before everybody who needs a separate roof— that is to say each separate married couple, with or without children—will have one, then we have a long way to go, and a long time to wait before we have the permanent houses needed.
§ Mr. Bevan
I cannot sit here and allow those figures to be used without correction. Otherwise I might be held to be conniving at them, as it were. There are in this country about 12,500,000 houses. When the hon. Member relates four million to that total, he will see that he has got his figures quite wrong. The figure which has been used in this country by the previous Government and by us—though I think it is on the conservative side—of houses which must be constructed to provide every family with a separate home, is 750,000.
§ Mr. Renton
I am not sure whether the figure of 750,000 which the Minister has given includes all types of houses, permanent and temporary, which, if built, would give each family a separate home.
it means that if 750,000 separate apartments are built, either by conversion or by temporary or permanent buildings, every family in this country will have been provided with a separate house. I think that is on the conservative side. It must always be remembered that these figures, although they are carefully 1384 assessed, must necessarily be approximations.
§ Mr. Renton
I accept the last part of the Minister's remark, but with all respect to him, may I put this proposition to him? By the time we have made up for bomb damage, by the time we have replaced temporary houses, housed the people who are going into them, and those who will go into camps as a temporary expedient, by the time we have cleared away slum property, and replaced houses which in due course will need replacing, surely the figure to be aimed at for permanent brick built houses will be very much larger than whatever number goes into the Minister's figure of 750,000?
§ Mr. Bevan
I am sorry to interrupt again. The number of houses one wants to build depends on one's housing standards. If 750,000 houses have been provided, every family will then have been provided with a separate household. One then starts on the problem of raising housing standards, and then the sky is the limit. One might want to wipe out the 12½ million houses and provide everyone with a new house. That is entirely a matter for Parliament at that time, but the actual number required to provide a separate home for every family is that which I have given.
§ Mr. Renton
I do not intend to argue with the right hon. Gentleman; it is his job, not mine, to know these things. I continue with my thesis, which is that for a considerable time to come, there will be people who will be requiring any type of separate accommodation they can possibly get. But if they wait until they get permanent houses they will still have to live as lodgers far too long. I will make three suggestions as to how the Minister can satisfy the immediate urgent need for getting a separate roof for these people.
First, I welcomed the statement in the Press the other day about the aluminium house. I should like to ask if there is a chance of any further temporary houses being produced. I am one of those—I may be in a minority—who believe that temporary houses, as they go up, are proving to be a great success. My second suggestion—I congratulate the Minister on the way he handled the squatters' problem; if he showed the same vigour and efficiency in other things too, we should all be pleased indeed—concerns this question of camps. In my constituency there 1385 are eleven aerodromes, only four of which are now being used. There are several hundred huts on each aerodrome. If the Minister could only persuade the Service Departments to adopt a less dog-in-the-manger attitude there would be several hundred separate homes for people who want them. My third suggestion is this: Permanent prefabricated houses are also a great success. The Swedish timber houses fit well into the English countryside. They cost about the same as brick built houses, and are just as permanent. I should have thought that the number of that type of house in this country could be increased, not necessarily from Sweden, but also from Austria, where it is known they can be produced very cheaply and fairly quickly, and it might be of mutual benefit to Austria and ourselves to produce them. Some might be brought from Germany, and possibly Canada. These houses have been a great success and look very well. I find that they are more popular, among the people now going into them, than are the brick built houses of next door neighbours.
One word about rural housing. There is a hidden obstacle with regard to rural housing of which the right hon. Gentleman may not be aware. It is not often that essential components for houses that are being built are found in rural districts. They have to be brought, generally by rail, from a long distance. It is a most unfortunate thing that small country towns such, for instance, as Ramsey and St. Ives in my own constituency, are suffering from rail embargos which have been in existence since the early days of the war. These rail embargoes are preventing the arrival of components for the essential house building programme.
I close by making one remark of a more general nature, which I hope may not be considered superfluous. I find it absolutely astonishing that hon. Members opposite, who spent such a great deal of time, before they got into power, in saying what a disgraceful state this country was in, and blaming the Liberal and Conservative Parties—who after all, had built this country into something which is really not so rotten—should now want to use as a yardstick for judging whether or not they are keeping their own promises, the performance of a Coalition Government a quarter of a century ago. Surely, it might be a little nearer the mark to think back just ten years, not 1386 quite so long ago, when 330,000 houses were being built.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Dr. Comyns (Silvertown)
I confess I was surprised and not a little dismayed at the atmosphere that was created during the early part of this Debate. To me there was a feeling of unreality which fitted ill with the mood of my constituents. Such being the case, I propose, with the permission of the House, to draw attention to the very serious housing position which exists in my constituency. Silvertown has many memories for many of us when we recollect the late Jack Jones, who was so popular with everyone, and his graphic description of the houses in the Tidal Basin area of Silvertown, where he lived at the time. He pointed out that it was necessary to open the windows in the morning in order to put on one's trousers. Today it must be recorded, alas, there is one wide open space where previously there were serried rows of grim, dark, sullen houses, houses which were jammed tight against each other, and almost back to back, to give mutual support. Those houses have gone. In fact, there is, in the midst of the Tidal Basin area, one square mile which is completely devastated. It must be seen to be believed. As a result of the terrible bombardment which that part of the world endured during the war, no fewer than 30,000 people were affected. That is a figure which it is difficult to give meaning to when one takes into consideration the number of houses which are required to accommodate those people.
During the long dreary months of enemy attack one thought was particularly in the minds of many of the people. They looked forward eagerly to the day when a new Tidal Basin, a new Silver-town, would arise phoenix like from the ashes. The local authority grasped eagerly the opportunity accorded to them. Their proposals were approved and embodied in the Greater London Plan. The land was acquired under Compulsory Purchase Order and I believe it is true to say that West Ham was the first local authority to have its Order confirmed by the Ministry. Contracts were entered into for the building of houses and everyone awaited eagerly the completion of our first new housing scheme. That was in March, 1946. Today on 21st October, 1946, I regret to state that not one house 1387 has been completed in that area. In all, out of 344 dwellings scheduled there are but 13 dwellings which come under the Minister's "Finish the houses" campaign. Only 213 dwellings in toto have been commenced.
What is the reason for this delay? In connection with these 213 houses there is an available labour force of 234 men, just over one man per house. Among these men are 41 bricklayers; that is, one man for more than five houses. The situation is quite fantastic. A badly blitzed area like Silvertown with an overwhelming housing problem, nearly r8 months after the end of hostilities, still finds itself without one permanent house completed. The local authority are allowed to straggle as best they can with a labour force of a paltry couple of hundred men At the town hall there is a long list which, I understand, totals 16,000 families who are desperately in need of accommodation. Is it any wonder that the temper of the people is rising, and rising rapidly, when they see in the Tidal Basin scheme this classic example of masterly inactivity? They claim that their problem, the problem of a blitzed town, is the problem for the Government of the country and that it should have a special priority. Can it be said that any priority is given when one compares the labour force available with that possessed by other towns and boroughs which have not been nearly so hard hit by the war? I repeat that a force of only 234 men, including only 41 bricklayers, is making a mockery of their desperate needs.
The local labour exchange has sent every available man to work on these new housing contracts but, in an area which chiefly houses dock workers, this type of labour is not readily available. Of 90 bricklayers available as resident in the area, 77 have been sent during the past six months. Today, as I have said, only 41 are at work on the site. For one reason or another the others have gone elsewhere, and unless the work is scheduled they cannot be required to remain on the job. The Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Labour have given their official opinion that the result of applying the Essential Work Order would, in the circumstances, be negligible. What then? How are we to put up the houses of which we are in such desperate need? 1388 It is suggested that men leave permanent house building tor other work of a different nature for which they get the rate plus an additional amount per hour. If that is the case, can the Minister do nothing to counteract it?
In my submission, the labour shortage could be relieved materially by consideration of three important facts. The first is the licensing of non-housing work. In the London area there is available a labour force of 230,000 men. Of this about 60 per cent., or 137,000 men are actually engaged on housing; but only 23,000 are engaged on new work. The remainder are on work which is not providing new accommodation. Those 23,000 men, or 10 per cent. of the total force available, obviously form an inadequate body for such a major task as that which confronts us. Therefore, I urge a severe curtailment of a good deal of the present licensing which is granted by every local authority and by the Ministry of Works. Secondly, I deprecate the issuing of licences by the Ministry of Works for non-essential work without any regard to local needs. There is a lamentable lack of cooperation and collaboration which is not only very wrong but totally unfair to the local authority when it is not informed of the work licensed to be done within its own boundary. Thirdly, apparently there is no limit to the permitted registration of master builders. Thousands of small firms have sprung into existence during the last year or so, and many of them, I regret to say, have neither the adequate knowledge nor experience which is necessary in the trade. The result is that in a very great number of cases what is called "botched" work is done, and once the men have finished, the work requires to be done over again. There must be tens of thousands of such men in the London area alone who could be much more usefully occupied working on new houses.
I offer these suggestions for the consideration of the Minister. Where they all manage to find the necessary materials is a complete mystery. I do not propose to deal with the question of materials, but a closer supervision and control of the mushroom type of firm would, I am sure, pay handsome dividends. One last word. As a long-term policy, I feel that we shall require to rely more and more in future on Government training centres 1389 for our labour. I had the pleasure of visiting one such centre the other day, and I was very favourably impressed by what I saw Is it not possible for more of these centres to be set up, and even to encourage the establishment of municipal training centres in the near future? I believe that the potentialities of such places are exceedingly great, and I should like to see them very much extended.
§ 7.21 p.m.
§ Sir David Robertson (Streatham)
As a fellow London Member, I welcome the very forthright speech which we have just heard. It was very refreshing, coming from those benches. When we had our last housing Debate, we had speech after speech from those benches throwing bouquets at the Government which the Government did not deserve. Now that we have had proof from Silver-town, I will proceed to give the facts from Streatham. Before I do so, I would like to say a word or two about the Minister's speech. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman is not here. He has attacked the Conservative Party—we, who represent almost as many people as hon. Members opposite—for asking for this Debate today. I will tell the right hon. Gentleman why we asked for this Debate. It is because the people of this country are very anxious and disturbed about the appalling housing situation. I only hope that this anxiety is shared by hon. Members of the Front Bench, and other hon. Members on that side of the House, as it is shared by the constituents of the hon. Member for Silvertown (Dr. Comyns).
In the borough of which Streatham is a part, the Socialist council in control in July acknowledged that there were 50,000 persons seeking homes. That is in a borough which had a prewar strength of a little over 200,000. That is also without taking into account the many thousands of Wandsworth residents who are registered with the London County Council for rehousing, and, included in those miserable figures, are a large number of bombed-out people. That is the same story as Silvertown, only in a much larger degree. Wandsworth is a bigger borough than Silvertown, and, like Silvertown, we have had no new houses. We have only three houses, which were started a few months ago, but all are completely held up for lack of materials.
1390 The much sneered-at and scoffed-at prefabricated house has been a godsend to South London. The short-term policy of the Coalition Government was the right one, and nothing that the Minister or his adherents can say today can alter that. It is the only contribution which has been made to housing in London, except for the patching up of old houses and the conversion into flats of houses which should have been pulled down long ago—simply makeshift measures. The "prefab." is the only modern accommodation we have got, and the tragedy of it is that the bulk of those which have been erected are standing unoccupied, waiting for fittings which the Government alone control and which they should be able to produce. This is not the fault of private enterprise, as the Minister said today. To listen to his ranting effort, one would have thought he was the only person who could not make a mistake. It was the old song of the mistakes of the Government after the first world war. What a dreadful excuse on which to rely 15 months after the Socialist Party have come to office. Then we had the story of the Socialist Government being landed with the baby, but the hon. Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks) gave the lie to that statement when he told us of the wonderful preparations which the Coalition Government had made, and of which this Government have not taken full advantage.
What are the facts which emerge from this situation? The Minister's speech was only a series of makeshifts, but, from the welter of chaos and confusion, there emerged, first that the policy must be wrong because it fails to produce the houses; second that there is a grave shortage of all building materials—and I hope the Parliamentary Secretary is taking note of my remarks, because I shall expect an answer to that assertion—third that there is faulty distribution, and that is putting it very mildly; fourth that labour is failing in production; fifth that timber is in famine supply, and sixth, that far too many tenders are issued. The Government have absolute and complete control of the building industry through the Ministry of Works, the Ministry of Supply and the Ministry of Labour. The Minister read out a long list of figures, that mean nothing at all today, of the number of taps and baths and so on, but the most significant thing he admitted a little later on. The right hon. Gentleman said that 1391 there was a very large number of houses under construction; he might have said "with very little materials in them at all." That is why he has been compelled suddenly to change his tactics in desperation and get the houses which are up to the eaves completed before Christmas.
The whole of the right hon. Gentleman's much vaunted Socialist planning is thrown to the winds in an endeavour to huddle some thousands of unfortunates into homes by Christmas. I have no objection to that, but if ever there was a damning indictment from a Minister's own laps we have had it today. All his policy has broken down, because it was a bad policy to begin with, for the reasons disclosed in those six facts which I have enumerated. Who controls distribution? No builder in this country can get materials without a W.B.A. priority. All this talk about a black market is not true, and I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works, and his colleague of the Ministry of Health, whether their officials believe it to be true. Do they support the Minister in his contention that the scheme which the Socialist Government introduced to ensure that builders could get materials only against a W.B.A. priority—not only a licence, but a priority as well—has broken down, and that materials have not been used for those priorities? There is no black market; it is untrue, and these Ministers know it is untrue.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works (Mr. Harold Wilson)
Will the hon. Member allow me? He asked me a question and I am sure he would like me to reply. With regard to the distribution of building materials, it is controlled by the W.B.A. system. The hon. Member knows that the only method that would have brought complete control would have been coupon rationing. It is not our aim to bring in coupon rationing, as the W.B.A. system is working very satisfactorily on the whole. To the extent that it is not, and we have had some evidence that it is not in regard to electrical products, it is the fault of private enterprise.
§ Mr. Speaker
It is a dangerous point which was introduced in the hon. Member's speech, and I must warn the House. I think the hon. Member asked the 1392 Minister what was the opinion of civil servants. The opinion of civil servants cannot be asked for in opposition to the Minister responsible.
§ Sir D. Robertson
I am very much obliged to you, Mr. Speaker, for correcting me, and I am exceedingly sorry if I transgressed the traditions of this House at all. It was entirely unpremeditated, but I am quite convinced that the statement I made on this point was correct and that no black market does exist on anything like a scale which would interfere with the Government's planning purposes. In reply to my question, I think the Parliamentary Secretary said that the W.B.A. scheme is working very well. If it is working very well, how can there be a black market?
In my opinion, this Debate concerns the most vital of all our domestic problems. Overcrowding persists everywhere, and all the evils and disease which follow from overcrowding are present. The Government must admit that they are putting up a pitiful show. My submission is that the labour is not working well, although I do not blame the men entirely for that. I am talking about something of which I have bitter knowledge. During the flying bomb period, I saw the pitiable attempt made at war damage repair in my constituency. The situation was bad then, and I am convinced that it is still bad. But men still knock off and go for tea in the morning and again in the afternoon. I think that the men should have tea, but that it should be brought to them. The other day I saw a whole gang of men leave a West End building at 9.15 in the morning and go to a cafe. They had not started earlier than 8 o'clock. We shall not get houses built or repaired. by that kind of work.
There is an even more important aspect concerning labour. The reason why labour is not working as well as it could is because the materials are not on the job. That is the real fact. There was an old saying in the building industry before the war—"We won't work ourselves out of a job." That was a very natural remark for men who knew they were liable to be paid off at a day's notice. They wanted to see a good pile of bricks and mortar and other components on the job before they started. Does anyone think that 1393 such a sight can be seen in this country today? Of course it cannot. I recently went to a builder in my constituency who is building a scholastic hostel in Norwood. He is desperate for materials, and is held up for everything. When he got on to the Ministry of Works they even telephoned to Scotland to have components brought down for the job, which has a very big priority. Does that situation bear any relation to the whole list of materials coming from the factories which the Minister read out today? The same builder told me that, since May, he has been trying to build three small houses at Mitcham, to replace war damaged houses and has only just been able to start on them. He could not get the materials at first and when he eventually got them, the prices had advanced so that he had to go back to the local authority, who went to the War Damage Commission, who went to the borough council, who went to the Minister of Health and, in time, the answer came back that he could get on with the job. But when he wanted the bricks they were not there. The Minister told us today that bricks were available. I have two letters here from Hall & Co., one of the largest builders' merchants in this country. With permission, I should like to read a brief excerpt from one of them, dated 27th July, 1946. It says:With reference to our telephone conversation of yesterday, we beg to advise you that the Fletton brick situation is at the moment rather difficult. Delivery direct to site through the London railhead appears to be, approximately, four to five months delay, but we are able to offer you three alternatives to this type of delivery, but at an increased cost to yourselves.
§ Major Cecil Poole (Lichfield)
I notice that the letter from which the hon. Gentleman quotes is dated July. He may be interested to know that during the past week the London Brick Company have offered to a constituent of mine supplies of bricks which he does not require. They made the offer because they have so many bricks on hand, and this is October, not July.
§ Sir D. Robertson
I can only congratulate the hon. and gallant Member and his constituent, because my constituent has had a different experience. The letter proceeds:This increase is due to very much greater haulage cost from the London Brick 1394 Company's Peterborough group of works as opposed to normal deliveries through their Aylesbury group. The alternatives we have to offer are. (a) collection ex works by Ministrv of War Transport, which appears to have a commencing delivery of about four weeks; (b) by truck to local stations, which appears to have a commencing delivery of three to four weeks; (c) collection ex works by our own transport, which we can arrange within three or four days. The extra cost of the bricks through sources (a) and (b) above is somewhat considerable, although not exactly definable. The price will be, approximately, 100s. to 102s. 6d. in either case.It means that if a man wants bricks at the controlled price of 84s. to 86s. a thousand, he may have to wait about five months for them, but that if he is prepared to pay an increased cost, bringing the price up to 105s., he can get them straight away.
§ Sir D. Robertson
This is not the black market; this is all part of the distribution scheme approved by the Government. After weeks of effort, this firm have been able to contract for the bricks with which to build these small houses at as much as 105s., but the letter says that delivery will not be made for many months. That is the brick situation prevailing in South London today. But there is a more serious aspect than that. If the contractor cares to send his own transport, he can get delivery within three or four days. I submit that that clearly shows that there is no scheme of distribution whatever in operation. If a contractor takes his place in the queue—and there is a very long queue for building materials—he has to wait four to five months, but if he owns transport he can collect the bricks and take them away. That simply means that there is no priority whatever in regard to the delivery of essential building materials. It is a case of "devil take the hindmost," as we say in the North, and reflects no credit on the Government. The real truth is that the Government have no scheme of distribution.
Today, every builder is deluged with tenders. If one walks into a builder's office, one finds the builder and his manager working out tenders and pricing costs of buildings which cannot come up for years. They are telephoning all the suppliers trying to ascertain dates of delivery. At the other end of the line, are the manufacturers and the merchants 1395 doing the same thing. At the local authority office one sees the borough surveyors and their staffs immersed in tenders. The battle of building houses on paper is going on at full speed, but the real battle of building houses is, in fact, being lost. Unless hon. Members on the Front Bench and other benches opposite wake up to that fact, the people whom they represent will wake them up instead.
The Minister made some jibing remarks about our interest in this thing being only political. That, of course, is quite untrue, as were many of his other observations. We do not want cheap votes out of this; we want roofs over the heads of our constituents. We believe that, even at this late hour, a great step forward can be taken, if only the Government will face up to the facts and try to organise this scheme. We had far bigger problems to tackle during the war, but they were tackled as war operations. Why should not this problem be tackled as a war operation? Why not create a battle G.H.Q. with half a dozen young industrialists who have been well tried in large-scale production during the war? There are plenty of them about. Give them the task of getting rid of the bottlenecks and the bureaucrats who are destroying progress. That is how we got things done during the war, and that is how the Government will get things done now. This is a common problem. This country is our heritage and the people are our greatest asset. The years that the locusts have eaten will never be recovered, but if the Government face the facts, and really tackle the job and show that they are getting somewhere in fact, and not merely on paper, they will get all the help the Conservative Party can give them.
§ 7.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Dye(Norfolk, SouthWestern)
The speech to which we have just listened reminds me of a bitter North-East wind howling over Streatham Common, and just about as helpful to the housing situation. It was a striking contrast to the previous speech from the benches opposite. The hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) made a thoughtful, considered and helpful speech, but I thought some of his suggestions were not quite practicable. He urged the Minister to 1396 equip more of the existing military camps so that families might go into them straight away, but it seems to me that with the shortage of essential items, it would only delay the completion of new houses, whether prefabricated, temporary or permanent, if we diverted the necessary materials into huts in an effort to make them into homes for a short time. So often when hon. Members opposite are faced with a practical problem, such as laying brick upon brick in order to make homes, their speeches are far removed from realities. They try to make every housing Debate in this House an issue of private enterprise versus council enterprise, and it is nothing of the sort. I have spent a number of years on local authorities engaged in the task of endeavouring to build houses, and every one that we have built so far has been built by private enterprise. One cannot distinguish between houses built by private enterprise on the one hand and those built and let by the councils on the other hand, because the whole task is put out to the organisation of the building industry to get on with the job. It is not the duty of the Government or of the local authorities to restrict in any way the activities of the building industry, except in so far as priorities and needs are concerned.
When we look at the rural housing problem, we can congratulate the Government on having stirred rural district councils, for the first time in the history of this country, to realise the needs of the working people in the countryside. When I hear hon. Members opposite say, as did the hon. and gallant Member for Chichester (Lieut.-Commander Joynson-Hicks), that we should do away with Government control of the building industry and let private enterprise have its full head and build as and where it likes, I look upon the villages and the towns in which there are many slums and say, "These were all built by private enterprise when it had full sway, unhampered by any form of control." Surely, our experience of the past shows us quite clearly that we shall only build homes worthy of our people when the Ministry lays down the standards and the local authorities see that they are correctly carried out. After all, we do not want a lot of "jerry building." We have seen enough of that. We want to see homes worthy of our people. Our first aim must be to supply those who have no home of 1397 their own, and there are large numbers of them in the country districts. It has been rightly said that if we are to have the necessary labour force to enable British agriculture to supply even the existing volume of food, let alone to increase it, we must have as early as possible a great number of new homes for the farm workers. It appears to be a slow and difficult job, but the Government and the local authorities are getting on with it. I cannot see that those who may have the assistance of the Government if they wish, who own and control the land and the farms, are using or developing their enterprise to supply the farm workers with homes, in spite of the very increased subsidy which the Government are providing for them.
I have been looking at the annual report of the medical officer of health for the rural district in which I reside, and he refers to the survey of rural housing that is now taking place in that area. He notes that 16 parishes have been surveyed with a total of 1,225 houses. This gives some idea of the extent and nature of the problem. Of 1,225 houses, only 345 were found to be satisfactory. There are 300 scheduled for demolition, 340 for drastic reconstruction, another 105 are suitable for improvement, and 140 need minor repairs. That is the immediate problem which faces the rural district council, apart from providing for the needs of those who are without homes of their own. In the years between 1912 and 1940 this district council built a total of 230 houses or, on an average, eight houses a year. This very council has already let 16 new completed houses in the first year after the war, whereas the average number built over the period since 1912 when it started building council houses was eight a year. I notice that it has also received a promise from its housing officer that the total number completed by Christmas this year will be 28. In addition to that, the total number of houses that have received the sanction of the Ministry of Health and are in course of erection, or for which tenders have been sanctioned or are in the course of being sanctioned, is 130. In something like 33 years there were 230, but the Ministry has already sanctioned nearly 130 in 15 months; a striking contrast to any previous experience of rural housing in the Eastern Counties.
1398 Therefore, it is quite untrue to say that the Government are falling down on their task. If this district council, and others, can in the course of the next year proceed at the pace it is going now it can break the back of the rural housing problem by the end of next year. There may be difficulties in London and elsewhere, but by bringing in types of prefabricated house in addition to the traditional type of house, we are on the way to solving our problem where the councils are co-operating fully with the Government, and have the full desire to get the better of this problem.
To build the houses is but one aspect of the problem. We inherited from our predecessors a countryside which is devoid of a pure water supply and without electricity. Therefore, the Ministry, in pushing forward with schemes of house building, must also get on with the task of spreading a pure water supply to the new houses, and to those which already exist. I call the attention of the Minister to the need for bringing into the rural areas an organisation and undertaking similar to that used to build the aerodromes, in order to lay and spread the water undertakings to our villages. I notice there is also the need for extending electricity to our villages so that every new house can be equipped with electric light and certain apparatus. It is not possible now in all the villages in which these councils are building because the electricity supply is not available. On making inquiries I find that this is what is happening. Whereas developments by electricity undertakings are taking place, in five cases in my neigh-hood those developments are to supply the big houses, the country mansions, without supplying the villages as well. I call the attention of the Minister to the fact that this development is allowed to go on in a time of scarcity. It is far better that such developments of electricity undertakings as are allowed should be of such a nature as will enable a greater number of people to be supplied, rather than only those who can pay a large sum of money towards the capital cost of bringing electricity to their homes.
We have inherited this legacy of bad and inadequate rural housing and the absence of amenities from our predecessors. We do not want to spend too much time talking about that. I am much more concerned that we should get on with the problems that face us. However, in the 1399 past there has not been a complete absence of all modern amenities from the countryside: those with money could buy and put into their homes every modern amenity—right in the middle of the countryside. Those who owned the estates have equipped their large houses with every modern amenity, leaving the people in the cottages to do without them and to suffer from an impure water supply and a complete absence of sanitation. I ask that the Government, not only in the case of housing but in the development of electricity and water supply schemes, shall see that those who do the work on the land, who are needed on our farms today, have every one of these modern amenities, and I ask them to get on with the task as quickly as possible.
Hon. Members opposite often speak of this Government as one which is wedded to certain principles, certain doctrines, and which just wants to see one policy put into operation. I would remind them and the House that it was this Government which made the provision whereby the farm worker can take money up to 90 per cent. of the cost of building his own home and receive a subsidy of £15 a year for 40 years towards the cost of that building. The Tories come out with their ideas about "property owning democracy," but they have done nothing about it in the past. This Government has made it possible for farmers to build cottages for their workers and to receive a subsidy, provided they do not want to make them tied cottages, and for the farm workers, if they so dseire, to build their own houses and live in them. The ideal which should be before this Government or before any Government which tackles the housing problem is to see that every working family in this country either lives in and owns its own house or has it provided by the local authority. I believe that the day of the private ownership of houses and tying them to others, such as we have endured in rural England in the past, is ended. We can look forward with confidence, and if the Government continue their present policy we shall have the houses and the amenities, and the people happy and contented in rural England.
§ 7.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Roberts (Birmingham, Handsworth)
The Debate has ranged over a wide field, and I admit at once 1400 that I have no knowledge of rural housing problems. There are people whose chief joy it is to indulge in party controversy. I am not one of them. My life has been mainly administrative. However, I do not intend to hear my party misrepresented and to hear history falsified without endeavouring to correct the mistakes which I hear. An hon. Member said he had made a certain suggestion to the Minister with trepidation, and well he might. He ought to know that the Minister and all belonging to him are perfect. He ought to know that if he dared hint at any imperfection he would run the risk of being told he was talking politics, or that he cared for private profits. Those are the sorts of arguments which are brought forward by the Minister to buttress the infallibility of himself and his Department. It is said that the trouble is all the fault of the long administration of the wicked Tories in the past. I was interested in a speech made by a venerable Gentleman opposite who told us that at the end of the 1914–18 war he was being expelled from school and starting a career, and thereupon informed us that we were suffering from the misdoings of various Governments in the last 40 to 45 years. I sympathise with him in one respect. He spoke, rightly, of the deplorable conditions of the working class of Oldham. I came into this inheritance myself by a similar route, when I was trying, with various colleagues, to grapple with the problem of the slums of the great city of Birmingham, and I found that we were hampered at every step by a housing shortage. This was about 1922 or 1923.
Why was it, I asked, that we had that shortage? When Joseph Chamberlain cleared the slums and built Corporation Street, he made no provision for rehousing the people displaced, for there was a margin of houses available. Why had we not that margin? I turned up the records, and I found that down to about 1905 or 1906, 40 years ago, the beginning of the "40 Tory years of misrule" of which we hear, houses were being built in sufficient numbers to give all, and rather more than all, replacements and a margin of new ones, tending to make slum houses unlettable and obsolete. I inquired what altered that state of affairs. The answer was not far to seek—legislation, the Finance Act of 1910, promoted by the then Liberal Government and sup- 1401 ported wholeheartedly by the Labour Party in this House, which definitely had the effect of killing the building industry. To take one trifling; example: in the three years 1906, 1907 and 1908 in the city of Manchester, 5,600 houses were built. In the years 1912, 1913 and 1914, after a Measure which Mr. Phillip Snowden said in this House would promote house building, the number had dropped to about 1,500; and then came the first World War, which ended, as the hon. Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks) has told us today, in a totally depleted labour force in the building industry. One would not expect anything else. If one kills an industry, and then a war of four years supervenes, one does not expect it to show many signs of life at the end of the war.
We know what happened. A certain noble Lord was, in a weak moment, put by Mr. Lloyd George in charge of building houses. Mr. Lloyd George afterwards unkindly said that he had to sack him, but, nevertheless, he has remained an honoured member of the present Ministry. Housing made very little progress, but gradually, by stages, as the years 1909 and 1910 were forgotten, confidence revived, and between the wars private enterprise and public enterprise, hand in hand, the one complementary to the other, very nearly broke the back of the housing problem in this country. That was pretty good.
§ Mr. Perrins (Birmingham, Yardley)
Would the hon. Member permit me? To take his own city, will he care to give us the total number of applicants for municipal houses in Birmingham when this war broke out?
§ Mr. Roberts
I will deal with that in one moment. I said that these combined efforts very nearly broke the back of the housing problem in this country. I was much gratified to hear titters of amusement opposite. It always reassures me if, when I trail my coat, there are some people who are liable to step upon it. When my hon. Friend, the Member for Yardley (Mr. Perrins) asks me to tell him the number of people on the housing register in Birmingham, I say frankly that I do not know. The figure is not in my mind. But I think it highly probable that the figure is a high one. If it were 30,000 or 40,000 it would not surprise me, because I do know that that figure, on analysis and in- 1402 spection, breaks down to almost nothing. I was not a member at that time of the Estates Committee; I had been in former years. But let me in a moment finish talking of Birmingham by saying that, between the wars in that city, 100,000 houses were built, partly by the municipality, and partly by private enterprise. We had the problem of the back to back houses in an acute form In 1914 there were approximately 200,000 houses in Birmingham, of which 40,000 were back to back; one in five. When this last war broke out we had about 30,000 back to back houses in a total of about 300,000 houses. The number had gone down from one-fifth to a tenth.
With the exception of some setback in housing during the Labour Government's period of office in 1929 to 1931, the building of houses in this country went forward in a continuous crescendo until the outbreak of the recent war. When the Minister of Health last March referred to 40 years of Tory misgovernment in connection with houses, I thought I should like to get the facts as far as I could in cold blood, and not by heated badinage acrosss the Table When I sought from the Ministry a return of the old houses built in this country from 1905 to 1945, the reply was, rather surprisingly, that for the years up to 1919 no reliable figures were available. But, the House will notice, a little trifle of that sort did not stop or fetter the imagination of the Minister of Health, who cheerfully talked of 40 years of misgovernment
§ Mr. Roberts
I was making no corn-paint against the Minister. I was congratulating him on the fervour and energy of his imagination, which enabled him to fill up the gap of the missing 40 years and to talk cheerfully of the 40 years' period, when he had the figures for 26 years only. But in the figures he was able to give me I found the continuous crescendo to which I referred.
I do not want to bore hon. Members by reading out replies to written Questions. This war opened with the building trade in a very different shape. It was vigorous, healthy; it was being financed by the building societies. The rancour and petulance of the Minister of Health 1403 are well displayed when he refers to these institutions. It is a wonder to him to think that people with a little money should buy their houses, to think that we should not all be State tenants, to think that some men have energy enough to work to fend for themselves, to make a struggle, and not to rely upon the State to provide everything for them. No wonder he is indignant with the building societies. No wonder he could not bear to think that private enterprise and the building societies were ready to resume building when this war ended.
In the course of my election campaign I was asked a good many questions about housing, and I could only reply that the only remedy for a housing shortage is to build houses. [Laughter.] I have no doubt that hon. Gentlemen opposite, whom that remark so much amuses, would be able to furnish a far better solution than that; possibly to start a new Ministry would be a good idea, or to organise a little further, do some planning or issue a few more forms. Those might be better, but they did not occur to a low intellect like mine. In that task, which was bound to be difficult and laborious, private enterprise and local authorities must each do their part, so that when the Minister, in a desperate state of mind, tries to issue a challenge, suggesting that we should tell him whether we think that private enterprise should supply houses to people with money while poor people should not get them through the local authorities, I am quite unmoved. My opinion is that had the Minister allowed much greater scope to private enterprise than he has, he would have gone further. Why? Because a great many people will build on their own account who will not take on housing contracts for corporations. What you take away from private enterprise you do not add to municipal housing—you add some of it, but by no means all.
Here let me say that I completely join issue with the Minister, who appears to think it a wicked and sinful thing that men should desire to build in order to make a profit. It would be very interesting to know what are the reactions of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to nonsense of that kind. Fortunately, he does not often have to submit to it, though I suppose he reads it sometimes in HANSARD. Where precisely his budgetary yield would 1404 be, or his Income Tax yield, if people did not make profits, I do not know. That brings me to what is my final observation on the Minister's speech this afternoon. If I spoke as a partisan I should welcome it. Speaking as an Englishman, I deplore it. As a partisan, why should I welcome it? Because it means that the Minister no longer attempts, by a cloud of figures, to justify his housing programme so far. Here let me interpose two very short remarks. The first is that I admired the Minister's commonsense when, in September, 1945, he declined to fix a housing target, but I did not admire his commonsense when three months later he did so. May I remind hon. Members that in the course of a Bill to control furnished lettings, the Minister of Health lost his temper when asked why he was making it a temporary Measure for two years only, and gave as his reason—I paraphrase his remarks, but they can be found in HANSARD—that two years would be sufficient, because he apprehended that in that time the most acute housing shortage would be solved. That is 14 months ahead from now.
The Minister is apparently reduced to this, that he can only say, "Please, Sir, it was not me, Sir—the blame does not lie with me, my Department is innocent, it does not lie with the local authorities, it lies with those incompetent people the builders, it lies therefore with the capitalists." To be reduced finally to putting up that kind of defence, looked at from the partisan's point of view, would appear to be satisfying, showing the desperate straits to which he has been reduced. To Englishmen concerned to see not that this or that formula is observed, but that houses are built, it is most depressing. It is most depressing to find the Ministry of Health occupied by a man so obdurate to all suggestions from outside. I sometimes think, when people complain to the Minister of Health, that they are sending their complaints to the wrong address, and that they should complain of the judgment of the Prime Minister in allotting the post of Minister of Health to a man brilliant in controversy, very clever at oratory—especially that which appeals to baser persons—but with no administrative capacity.
§ 8.16 p.m.
§ Mrs. Nichol (Bradford, North)
I do not need to go over the ground of Tory 1405 responsibility for the muddle and wretchedness in housing which we all know exist. There has been complete justification for this view, not only in this Debate but in previous Debates, and plenty has been said about it. If hon. Members opposite were a little less pachydermatous politically, they would be more sensitive and even reticent over this question of housing. I wish to deal with a matter which has been causing many of us a great deal of perturbation, and that is the question of high and constantly soaring prices for building materials, and for all the equipment necessary for a house. We all know what happens. An architect sends in his plans; the job goes out for tender, and the estimates come back, showing an increase of anything from £50 to £150 above the ceiling level. It might be argued that the architect could get busy and cut down the frills. He might if he had any frills to cut down. There are no frills nowadays, and the architect has to go over his plans inch by inch, cutting down on the essentials which make all the difference between a good, dignified durable house and a poor, miserable, mediocre one. He has to cut down on such things as timber sizes, provide for cheaper door furnishings, cheaper fireplaces and stoves, eliminate footings for walls, reduce the thickness of walls to out-buildings, provide wooden window frames instead of metal ones—it would not be so bad if the wooden frames were very good but they are a bit "whippety"—soft wood draining boards instead of hard wood, and black stoves instead of vitreous enamelled stoves.
All these things not only detract from the durability of a house, but make an infinite amount of extra work for the woman in the home. If shelves and cupboards are cut down, it is not only an inconvenience but a major tragedy. I was recently a member of a brains trust, and I was asked what I would advocate as the best things in a house. I said, "Cupboards, cupboards, and still more cupboards." Any woman would tell you the same. If you have soft wood draining boards, instead of hard wood, they absorb the grease, and show all the marks, and need a great deal of elbow grease to keep clean and tidy. Similarly, if you have Berlin black stoves they have to be constantly blackleaded. Women have something better to do today than to be slaves to a blacklead brush. It 1406 was probably all right several generations ago, but young women today will not be happy just cleaning stoves. If you have ordinary paths outside the house yon have more dirt coming in. After the first world war, cottages which ought to have cost. £350 or £400 were costing £1,000 or £1,100 to build, and even then were wretched things. I know, because I lived in one. Unless you have lived in one of these jerry-built affairs you do not know what exasperation and misery they cause through doors which will not shut, drawers which will not open because they stick, and stoves which will not burn well. Everything is miserable and cheap.
I am afraid that we shall spoil our fine ideas of first-class houses, unless this price racketeering is taken in hand. I would like to be sure that the Minister is prepared to use the ordnance and other Government factories to make components which can be used as yardsticks for measuring prices. Members will remember that during the first world war, Ordnance factories were used as yardsticks for costing when it came to shell filling. Prices were rising at such a rate that the Government of that day said they would fix them. It was a case of, "You make them for this price, or else…." I feel that something of the same sort should be done now. There must be a halt, because we do not want the quality of houses to be lowered. There will be a limit to that, and then we may have to start on areas. That happened with the Addison houses. We want houses of the best quality, labour saving houses which will lighten women's work. Moreover, we want durable houses, so that local authorities will not continually have to spend money on repairs.
I would like to appeal to those in the building trade to cooperate in helping to keep prices down. I realise that this is a two-way business. I want them to realise that this is a Socialist Government, a Government with a majority which, no doubt, they helped to put in, and that they are building houses for their own comrades and workpeople and for those who fought in the war, who need houses desperately. We want splendid houses in every sense of the word. This Socialist Government has come into power with fine new ideas about these things. We do not want something on 1407 the basis that anything is good enough; we want it on the basis that we have the right to the best that is going. I appeal to building operatives to share in that philosophy, and in the programme on which the Government have now embarked. We have a Minister of drive, initiative and courage, and, as has been said so many times this evening, we are prepared to back him to the very last ounce of our enthusiasm and help in his great task.
§ 8.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Osborne (Louth)
I do not wish to go over the quarrels, which we have had so many times, as to whether private enterprise or the chosen instrument should be used. I wish to make an appeal to the hearts of all hon. Members on one aspect of this matter, and to bring to the notice of the House one of the greatest housing scandals in the country. Within the shadow of Big Ben, stands a slum, housing today between 250 to 300 people, which is not fit for pigs to live in. I appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary to listen to what I have to say, and I ask for the support of Members on all sides of the House to see if something can be done.
Last Friday morning, I went in South-wark to a little side street, called Webber Row, where there is a building, named Marshalls Building, containing about 60 flats, in which between 250 and 300 people—men, women and children—are living, or, I should say, rotting. To get to this site of flats, I had to go through a dark alleyway, where there were two men, repairing an outside drain. They told me that that was the third time they had repaired it during the past few months —and that drain carries all the sewage from this great block of flats. During the past three months, all the filth has been dropping into that yard, where dozens of children play day by day. It is a great scandal, and I feel that it is my duty to bring it to the attention of this House. It is almost without light and air. I question whether God's sunshine ever penetrates into that court. It has a yard half the size of a tennis court. Along one side, there is an iron girder, supporting part of these old flats, which was covered with slime from the droppings of filth, which must have been going on for years.
§ Mr. Osborne
I will tell hon. Members whose fault it is in a minute. At the bottom of the yard is a wall, which has half tumbled down. Three months ago, the borough surveyor himself condemned it, and a man was sent who knocked out. a few bricks. The tenants said to me, "I suppose that something will be done when a child has been killed." I think this is vitally important: I found three small flats, each containing two wretched little rooms and a scullery, which were let at us. 6d. each a week. [An HON. MEMBER: "Who is the owner?"] I understand that the owner is called Mr. Goldblum, and that he owns lots of other slum property. I am not defending the rights of slum property owners. I would put them all in prison if I had my way. As an old prison visitor, I am inclined to think that prison is too good for them. The place was rat infested and the stench from the broken sewer pipe was too awful to describe. On one side of the yard, the wall backed on to a bakery. Within a few inches of that bakery, where the daily bread for hundreds or thousands of South Londoners was being made, this filth had been dropping day by day for months. I went up the stairs. There was no light in the yard, no light in the entrance, and no light on the stairway. I have been round many prisons as a visitor, but I have not seen in them conditions as hard and harsh as in those flats. At the foot of the stairs stood garbage that must have been there for 12 months. I looked at one flat the condition of which was so bad that the roof had fallen in on the people living there, and they had been compelled to go and live in another flat. I stood by doors which, if you had rattled them, would have caused the walls to fall down. [Interruption.] Hon. Members opposite need not laugh, because this is the state of things in a borough that has been controlled by the Socialists for 10 years, and where the Member of Parliament is none other than the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour.
The walls were damp and decaying, and the people were wracked with rheumatism and chest troubles. I saw one woman who said she was 24, but who looked nearly 60. The whole thing 1409 is a disgrace to our Christian civilisation. In one small flat there was a family in which there were eight children, but as there was not enough room for them all, two of the children were still evacuated. I plead with hon. Members opposite, who have more power over their Minister than we have, to see that something is done quickly. The hon. Lady the Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Mrs. Braddock) asked whose fault it was. May I quote from a newspaper which is often quoted by hon. Members opposite, the "Daily Worker"? The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour was compelled by a Communist group who asked for him in the Central Lobby to go last Wednesday to inspect this place, and this is what he is reported to have said:In my 40 years in Southwark I have seen some bad housing conditions, but never any as bad as this.The right hon. Gentleman has only got a pocket handkerchief constituency, with relatively a handful of people. He ought to have known. He has not been doing his duty. Instead of trotting about America and telling them what they should do, he ought to have stayed at home. I quote from the "Daily Worker"—not from the Tory Press— which quoted him as saying:I promise the tenants that I will not rest until they have been rehoused.I ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether any communication has come to his Department. If so, what is it, and what has he done? These people are demanding something that shall be done. The Minister of Labour has been forced to look at the slums in his own constituency. What has happened? Have the Government done anything? Furthermore, the local manager for the borough admitted that he knew of these conditions, but could do nothing; he advised the deputation, so the "Daily Worker" said, to go and see the Communists, who were the people who handled this sort of thing. It is a Tory Member who has brought this up, and not the Communists. [An HON. MEMBER: "Rather late."] Too soon for a Labour Government. Too soon for a Labour Minister. It is not in my constituency, but in the constituency of a Labour Cabinet Minister, who admitted last Thursday night that he did not even know these things existed. It 1410 is a scandal, and the scandal lies at the door of the Labour administration. For the last 10 years the Southwark council has been controlled by a socialist majority.
§ Mr. Osborne
They could have put these places right, but they allowed people to stay there and rot. If hon. Members opposite think I have overdrawn the picture, they should read what was said in the "South London Press," which is a Labour newspaper. The Minister is reported to have admitted that he did not know that such places existed, yet he has not more than two square miles to represent. He has not done his duty. The Minister also said that the stench from those open drains was enough to cause a plague, and I agree with him. There has been a Socialist majority on the council for 10 years, there is a Socialist Member of Parliament who is in the inner councils of the Government, and there is a Socialist Minister of Health. What have they done for these poor people? Nothing. They have cheated and defrauded them. They promised at the election time what they would do for them. But they have left them to rot.
The Minister may say, in defence, as he has said many times so cleverly, "I am short of men and materials." That is true, but it is not upon that point that I accuse him. I say—and I wish the Minister were here to hear it—that during his 15 months of office he has provided plenty of materials and labour for bringing pubs up to date, reopening dog tracks, rebuilding cinemas and dance halls, amusement arcades, and even beauty parlours in the West End.
§ Mr. Osborne
I refuse to be put off. This lies at the door of the Socialist Administration and cannot be blamed on the Tories. In the past 15 months the Socialist Government have had the power to do what they would. They have permitted labour and materials to be provided for the things that do not matter, while neglecting the poor and unfortunate. There are no lights in this yard, no lights on these dark stairs, but there are hundreds of lights for dog racing tracks under a Socialist Minister. The Socialists have 1411 betrayed the people who trusted them, and I should like to say to the Parliamentary Secretary—
§ Mr. Osborne
For my part I should like to put the slum owners in prison—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] I should like to put the owner of this slum, the borough Member, and the Minister together in those slums for a month. There is no escaping the responsibility. [Interruption.] Do hon. Members opposite believe in free speech? I refuse to be put off, and I say that the Socialist Minister has failed to do his duty by the poor. This is not the only black spot in London. May I say, in conclusion, that if the Parliamentary Secretary will give this invitation to his Minister, I would like the right hon. Gentleman to go down after we have finished tonight, to see this property for himself and to promise these people that before the week is out the Government will redeem at least one of their election promises, and do something for them.
§ 8.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Shurmer (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)
I should like to add my contribution, first in support of the progress that the Minister has made, and second to stress the need for a greater drive. I should be the last to congratulate the Minister on making progress, if I felt that in fact progress had not been made. The House has just listened to a speech by the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) regarding the conditions which he saw in a block of flats. Let me tell him I went to live in one of the slum courtyards of Birmingham when I first became a councillor 25 years ago. Up till a few years ago I lived in the heart of it. Now I am on the outskirts, but still practically living in the slums. The hon. Member is apparently not aware that local authorities deal with these matters, and that the Tory Act for the repairing of property, the Public Health Act, 1936, prevents local authorities getting property repaired as quickly as they ought, because landlords can get away through a loophole. I know something about repair of property. I have been a member of the Birmingham City Council for 25 years, and I am there still. The hon. and learned Member for Daven-try (Mr. Manningham-Buller), who opened 1412 the. Debate, knew what was behind his speech. That was what hurt me most. If I felt that hon. Members on the other side were really concerned with housing the people, I would not mind, but I know what would have happened had they been in power. [An HON. MEMBER: "There would have been more houses."] There are thousands of people trying every move and turn to get houses built at the kind of high prices which they can afford to pay, and hon. Members opposite would have given them the opportunity.
It is strange to talk about the conditions under which people are living and about organising a drive exactly on the lines of a wartime drive. I would remind the House that we had all the drive we needed during the war, but for 12 months this country was badly bombed. Our men had to go through Dunkirk, not because we had no drive for building up the war machine, but because it took time to build that machine. We must also realise that 12 months after the end of the war there are many obstacles in the way, and that hundreds of thousands of builders are on bomb damage repair work; yet, nevertheless, 500,000 houses are built or building. If we can do that in the first year I believe that the drive will be greater next year and the year after, and that we shall have broken the back of the housing problem.
Hon. Members on the other side twit us with not solving the housing problem. Let me remind the House of the pamphlet which was sold during the General Election campaign and which I believe was the greatest factor in the return of the Socialist Party to power. It was "Let Us Face the Future." On page 2, dealing with the problems of the day, it says:The future will not be easy.It is obvious. We knew that the future would not be easy. We went into a garden of rubble, one that had been neglected for years. We have heard about the slums. I will tell hon. Members what appeared last Friday night in the "Birmingham, Mail." On many occasions, as a councillor, I have stood in their cartoons with a little sizzling bomb in my hand. Hon. Members can therefore tell that the "Birmingham Mail" is not a Labour paper. The paper made this comment:3,171 families re-housed in 12 months; this is a total of only 30 under the total achieved during the first six years after the 1914–18 war.1413 That is in the "Birmingham Mail." If I gave figures, I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Handsworth (Mr. H. Roberts), who is a colleague alderman of mine upon the Birmingham City Council—he is not present in the Chamber at the moment—would agree with me that if we had tackled the housing problem properly between the two wars when there was need for employment, we should not be in the housing difficulties which confront us today.
If I had time to deal with figures. I could prove that in 1931 in Birmingham houses dropped from 5,000 to 1,000. The number of applicants on the books of the Estates Committee for Birmingham was 30,000 in 1939, despite the fact that we had dropped 540 houses two or three years before the war. It is rather funny that when we had a Labour chairman of the Housing Committee and despite the majority of Conservatives on the City Council, we were able to rate a programme of 6,000 houses. The housing position in Birmingham is as bad as anywhere in the country. We have still 40,000 back to back houses. Was this brought about by a Labour Council or a Labour majority on the city council? This great wealthy city had over 10,000 houses with no separate lavatory accommodation, up to a few years ago some houses were burning oil lamps, and there were several thousand without any proper water supply.
We have heard about a courtyard tonight. When I first went on the city council I could go into homes in Birmingham and see coffins in the same rooms in which people eat, lived and slept. Even at the present time I can take hon. Members to see people living under conditions which are intolerable. However, I realise that if my party continues as rapidly as it has commenced, taking into consideration the position of the war machine, we shall break the back of housing. But one thing we do not want to do is to make political capital out of it, and the reason why hon. Members opposite want to make political capital out of it is that they know well enough that for once in our lives we have stopped them from exploiting the people. We know what happened in Birmingham —52 houses the first year. Why? The price of materials went up. We know the position in that city so far as private enterprise is concerned—people with mill- 1414 stones hung round their necks at the present time because of Jerry-built houses.
So far as Birmingham housing is concerned, we are doing wonderfully, but not enough, in my estimation. We could go further and do better still, but there is one thing which must be done. We must release from the Army men who are building workers. No man should be in the Armed Forces if he can take up a trower or use a saw or if he is experienced in any trade associated with building. When the war was on, if we wanted men to speed up our aeroplane or tank production, we brought thousands of them out of the Army. There are men today digging gardens, pushing pens and doing other work in the Army which they could afford to leave in order to come out and do building work. We have great programmes for Birmingham, and it is the same up and down the country. We have hopes that the Ministry of Supply will increase the production of component parts and materials.
In addition we shall want a great labour force. It is a difficult job. There ought to be some coordination. I may be told that there is coordination—and I hope there is—between the Minister of Labour and the Minister of Health to allow such men as I have mentioned to come out of the Army. Furthermore, canteens should be based on the sites where houses are being built so that the workers will not have to waste time or to go short of food, and will not have to carry cheese and lettuce sandwiches as some of them do on the house building sites in Birmingham. Canteens should be provided so that they can get the food they require and get on with the job.
I want to say quite sincerely—and I care for no one and no party, and I am prepared to speak the truth and the whole truth—I am pleased with the progress that the Minister has made. I believe we can and shall get on further still. Hon. Members on the other side should realise that their party for the last 40, 50 and 60 years have left the people in slums. The Conservative Party woke up at Blackpool. They have now got a different medicine. They are now lovers of the people and want to see the people housed. I do not believe it. I never shall believe it. The Conservative Party have been tried in the past and found wanting. We want to go on with housing the people 1415 and breaking the back of the housing shortage. Five years are needed.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Baldwin (Leominster)
If a mass of figures and vitriolic rhetoric could build houses, I should leave this Debate tonight very happy. We have just heard some of it from the last speaker. I would remind him that the year he mentioned was not a good one to quote. The year 1931 was a period when a Socialist Government was in power—and it was a period when fewer houses were built than any time for 10 years before the war. The hon. Member for South-Western Norfolk (Mr. Dye) asked what the Socialist Government had inherited from the Conservative Party. They inherited 4,000,000 houses built between the two wars. That was not what I intended to get up and say but, when I hear statements such as that, I cannot contain myself.
I wish to reinforce what has been said with regard to the need for houses in rural districts. I am well aware that a Department must look after its own interests and, in the case of the Ministry of Health, the desire is to build houses where they can be put up quickly without any consideration for where they are most needed, but I suggest that in the case of rural housing the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Health should cooperate. We are very worried about the labour position for the 1947 harvest. No matter what figures may have been given, tonight, the fact remains that in the remote country areas no houses are being built for farm workers. The houses which are being built, and they are only a few, are being built in villages, and they will not be of the slightest use to farms some miles away. Farmers in remote areas are being directed to produce food, and if they are prepared to live in remote areas to produce food, I cannot think that it is any hardship for a farm worker to do the same thing. If some attempt is not made to build houses in those remote areas, those farms will revert to grass, and the food production of this country will suffer to a large extent.
I would reinforce my argument by calling attention to the position in which farmers will find themselves with regard to labour next year. The German and Italian prisoners of war are rapidly return- 1416 ing to their own countries. It is only right that they should do so, but there is in existence still a certain reservoir of labour upon which we should be entitled to call—I refer to the Poles at present in this country. The Minister of Agriculture has written to the National Farmers Union as follows:I am endeavouring to secure agreement to the introduction into the industry of a sufficient number of these Poles.He is "endeavouring to secure agreement." From whom is he endeavouring to secure agreement? Is it from the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Mr. Gooch), who is raising a campaign against the dumping of Poles on the land? This may not appear to be linked with the question of housing, but if the hon. Member for North Norfolk is as successful in making an attack on his Minister of Agriculture in regard to the dumping of these Poles as he was in regard to doing away with the subsidy on tied cottages in the Hill Farming Bill it means that we are going to be left without labour on the farms of this country. I want to impress on the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Health that unless they take immediate steps to get these cottages built on the countryside the food production of this country will go down to an alarming extent.
§ 8.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Baird (Wolverhampton, East)
I want to raise one point which has been brought to my notice as a result of experiences in my constituency. In my opinion party prejudice and party politics are, to a great extent, holding up building at present. In many areas where there are reactionary local authorities working in alliance with the local builder, the building of houses is being sabotaged. In other areas, where the local authority. Members of Parliament, and the Ministry have confidence in one another, the builders are pulling their weight and getting on with housing. The hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Hale) said that there are some areas in which there are Labour majorities but houses are not going up because there is no land for building through lack of planning and coordination.
To prove my point, I want to quote from examples in my constituency. In Wolverhampton, where we have a Labour 1417 council and Labour Members of Parliament, we are getting on with the job. There the builders are getting on with the job, and on one estate of 400 houses 28 builders are taking part. The reason for the success is the team work of the local Labour council, the local Labour Members of Parliament, and the various Ministers. [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh, but this small town, of about 160,000 inhabitants, was last month the second highest in the country in the building of permanent houses to let. Our figure of permanent houses built for letting was 273. Some may say that that is not a big number. But, when one goes into the figures, one finds that we have built in that one small industrial town more houses than were built in the whole country in a comparative period after the last war. In Wolverhampton all the houses are built on what was derelict land, and many problems have arisen to hold up building.
There are also two urban district councils in my Division on which there are majorities of supporters of hon. Members opposite. What do we find there? Last month I had the honour to have my name coupled with that of the Minister of Health in an attack in the local newspaper because we were not giving sufficient assistance to the local authority. I went down and inquired into the position, and found that houses were not going up very quickly. There, a jerry built estate has given trouble time and again since I became a Member of Parliament. Beams had rotted, ceilings fallen in, and water systems did not work, "Certificates of disrepair" had to be taken out against the landlord in order to get work done. The estate had not been completed before the war.
A large area of land, however, had already been developed. The roads, the sewers, and water supplies were in. When it comes to building, the Conservative local authority, which says "Hands off private enterprise", has neglected that site which was already prepared, and upon which houses could be built, and has instead gone out to virgin land, and started to develop a new site. That is the principle on which hon. Gentlemen opposite go along, to encourage private builders to build jerry built houses and forget all about houses for the working class. In another urban district in my division, where the majority of 1418 the council are the supporters of hon. Gentlemen opposite, again we found a wonderful plan for building houses, but when it came to actual building we found there was no water supply for the houses. That was after a year's warning of what was required. The result is that there is still nothing done.
My final point is this: Even with these reactionary local authorities we are finding that more and more members of the party of hon. Gentlemen opposite even, are coming round to our way of thinking, and realising that the only way to get houses up is by team work. I believe that as a result of the propaganda of hon. Gentlemen opposite, who are always suggesting that we should do away with controls, local builders have got the idea that it is morally right to carry on black market building. It is obvious, from my own experience, which I have recounted, that where we have a Labour majority working with Labour Members of Parliament and the Labour Government, we are getting results, but where party prejudices are allowed to enter the building programme—[Laughter.]—hon. Members may laugh, but the fact that they are laughing is proof of their frivolous and silly approach to this problem. All through the speech of the Minister of Health, the Opposition Front Bench treated this matter as a joke, but those of us who were born and bred under bad housing conditions look on the subject rather differently.
I listened to the hon. Member for Handsworth (Mr. H. Roberts) trying to suggest that the demand for housing in Birmingham before the war was not as great as some of us suggested. I happen to live in Birmingham, and I remember that someone remarked that there were no open spaces in the West Birmingham Division. I found that there were two open spaces, two places marked green on the Ordnance map. One was a burial ground and the other a mental asylum. That is the kind of conditions under which many of us were living in our earlier years, and though we have as much sense of humour as hon. Members opposite, we do not consider this question of housing to be something to laugh about. It is something very tragic, and I appeal to hon. Members opposite to come in and help us, in the months and years that lie ahead, to 1419 get these houses built. I have confidence in the Minister. I am quite confident, with him, that when the next Election comes along housing will not be a political issue, but if hon. Members opposite will add their support the houses will go up sooner. In the past, we may have made this a political issue, but it is much too great an issue for that, and we shall need the assistance of everyone, of whatever party, in getting these houses up.
§ 9.5 p.m.
§ Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)
I am reminded that this is the anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar, and I am the 18th speaker on this occasion. An earlier speaker made a remark about the Tory Party being "politically pachydermatous." I must not be credited with being any more politically pachydermatous than any other hon. Member of this party. I am the only Scottish speaker this evening and the view is held by many that those who represent Scotland should not speak in English Debates. That is a view with which I totally disagree. I occupy property in the borough of Westminster, I was born in England, and the welfare of this country is just as deeply my business, as it is that of hon. Gentlemen opposite. Therefore, I have no hesitation in entering this discussion. My feeling is that it is not recognised sufficiently that homes and houses have been built in the past. There were 4 million of them, as we have been reminded, built between the wars, and they were built by a variety of methods. In many cities there were actually houses to let at the outbreak of the last war. [An HON. MEMBER: "At what rents?"] I could quote a case of 200 houses to let, houses which were not built by local authorities but by private enterprise, and that could be duplicated in half a dozen cities of importance.
I respond to the hon. Member for Wol-verhampton (Mr. Baird) in being truthful and accurate in this matter. We must not blacken the past unduly. I admired the courageous speech of the hon. Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks), who made the same appeal. We must not, I say, blacken the past unduly in the hope of making our present petty achievements appear more than they really are. The President of the Board of Trade has been optimistic about this matter, and the 1420 present Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health said we could have 4 or 5 million houses in quick time. The Prime Minister was nearer to the mark when he said that housing is an enormous problem which cannot be solved quickly. The Minister of Fuel and Power was wiser than any of them and he was still nearer the truth when he said:Now we have power, we recognise our limitations and shortcomings.Those are not the voices we have heard today, but they are the voices of those who are now disillusioned, and who have recovered from the "Rake's Progress" of the Election promises. There is, however, no ground for jubilation but only the assurance that at the next Election there will be fewer promises than there have been in the past and more honesty. The situation is too tragic for mere vituperation. It calls for criticism, I agree, but it also calk for counsel. Why are there so few houses? All are agreed that they are needed. What we are witnessing is the tragedy of good intention married to an unwise policy. The policy may be bad and the results good: the plan may be wrong yet achievement is possible. I am reminded that Columbus with a rotten plan, with a false map, discovered America. May not the Minister of Health with a rotten plan manage to build houses? Is the Minister of Health on the right track or is he still in the Sargasso Sea or bogged in the Slough of Despond? I am inclined to think that he is bogged down. He shares the misfortune of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He also had good intentions. Cheap money is his policy, the destruction of capitalism is his aim, but his policy has made him, the Chancellor, the most worshipped golden calf that the City has ever known. He is the punter's benefactor, the speculator's right hand man. The Minister of Health is in like character—
§ Major Cecil Poole
Mr. Deputy-Speaker, is it in accordance with the traditions of this House that a Member should read his speech?
Mr. Deputy - Speaker(Major Milner)
I do not think the hon. Member in possession of the House is a bad offender, or that he is seriously guilty of that.
§ Sir W. Darling
I am grateful for your protection, Sir. I supplied myself with 1421 some notes because I sometimes fear that when I speak freely, it causes more irritation than when I speak with restraint. I was remarking, Sir—and I can recollect what I remark without reference to my notes—that the Chancellor of the Exchequer aimed at a cheap money policy. He finds himself, good intention being married to a bad policy, admired by the City and worshipped by the punter. After that, comes the Minister of Health very much in the same character, although he is a tragic figure. He is a passionate reformer, a well-wisher of the people, but what are the proofs of his good intentions? As another hon. Member has already quoted, "By their fruits ye shall know them," and one does not gather grapes from thorns. What are the fruits of this policy? Not many houses. We have had eloquence, passion, rhetoric, denunciation of the past—we have had all these, but not many houses, not as many as were promised, nor, indeed, as a public which is hungering for houses would expect.
What has he achieved? Like the Chancellor, not what he planned. If the Chancellor has pleased the punter, the Minister of Health has pleased the property owners beyond all measure. Why is that? There is a look of blank astonishment that so vigorous an opponent of the capitalist class should have pleased the property owners. The proof is that a house which was built in London in 1914 for £400, was sold last week for £4,200. In a Northern capital, a house built in 1920 for £500 has sold now for £2,200. How has he done it? It is the reverse of his good intentions, because it was his wish to prevent it, but he has created that enormous inflation in the prices of houses. How has he brought it about, except by the chosen instrument? His Ministry has no experience in the building of houses. [Laughter.] I do not say the planning of houses and the issuing of tenders, but in the building of houses.
§ Mr. J. J. Robertson (Berwick and Haddington)
Is the hon. Member aware that, out of a total of 360,000 houses built in Scotland in the years between the wars, two-thirds of these houses were built by local authorities?
§ Sir W. Darling
I was well aware of it; in fact, I told the hon. Gentleman that. He has rather disappointed me as a pupil. 1422 I am well aware of the fact, but I return to the point that it is not the local authorities who actually build houses. They may plan the houses, but they do not give the actual instructions. The chosen instrument is the fundamental error which the Minister made. The present Government was a chosen instrument, and it is not too successful. Judas Iscariot was a chosen instrument, and he failed the brethren. There is no merit in a chosen instrument, even if it is endowed with the gifts of the Minister of Health himself. The public want to do their own choosing; it is not the prerogative of politicians. It-is a hard world, but I say that the people's will should triumph. There should be no selection of a chosen instrument by politicians; the people should have their way. The people do not want their houses from local authorities, and, even if they did, this chosen instrument policy could not succeed. Even if it could succeed by rationing, it might compel some success, but it is not the success of a free people exercising their free choice
The Minister of Health compels houses by restriction. Will this policy provide the maximum number of houses? No, the policy is too limited. We never attempted to fight the war with one arm; we advanced on all fronts. No general thought of fighting the war with infantry alone; the war was fought with all arms. It might have been possible for someone to think we could win the war with the Black Watch alone, but wiser counsels prevailed. I suggest that the Minister might think again. He is big enough to change his mind, and I hope he will heed what has been said.
I venture to make four or five practical suggestions. First as to repairs. Will he raise the limit, especially for those who are prepared to do their own repairs? There are many handy men among us. I have been brought up in a house where I have to hang the pictures and do other oddments under the direction of my wife. Why should not the Minister of Health encourage men to do their own repairs? Will he consider a special labour corps? In the part of the country from which I come there are 75,000 unemployed men and women. During the war, the women made shells, built ships and cultivated allotments on which they grew food. They defended themselves against the enemy. Cannot they build houses? 1423 Women in the U.S.S.R. do. We did it during the war, so why cannot we do it with these 75,000 pairs of empty hands?
May I say a word about conversion? I was so interested in the subject when the right hon. Gentleman came to power, that I promoted a company for converting houses. There are several people in houses today because of the interest he aroused in me to do my share. Will he allow more conversion? Is it not the best way during the winter months of using the available labour which cannot work for four months or so in the winter? Cannot he allow more latitude in conversion, more changeability, malleability and adaptability in the type of building? Is he wedded to baths? I do not say that in the sense of the "brides of the bath." The overhead spray, which is 4 ft. 6 in. by 4 ft. 6 in. by 9 ft., takes up no more space than the distinguished chair in which you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, sit. Cannot that take the place of the bath? Immersion is not necessary for cleanliness. The spray would save £60 to £80 in a period or shortages. The Minister knows what happened in Sweden The local authorities laid out the sites and the people of Stockholm built their own houses. Will not he try that?
Lastly, will he consider the question of selling houses? Will he consider allowing local authorities to sell houses? There are hundreds of local authority tenants who would like to buy the house in which they live. Why should they not do so? Is there any ideological objection to it? They cannot do so only because the regulation of the Ministry of Health makes it impossible. If one or two tenants in a block of local authority houses own their own houses that will not create a class war. Is it the desire of the Minister, with all his passion for human freedom, to make this a generation of rent slaves when he frees them from being wage slaves? Will he not offer a friendly hand to the building societies? Cannot he ask the local authorities to make such terms as will make the purchase of property easy for those who have lived in their houses for so long? Such a policy would give a stimulus, and would make men and women believe that there is something worth while in having a house. The great political parties have their hymns. The Socialist Party sing "Jerusalem" and the Tory Party sing "Land of Hope 1424 and Glory." Is there any reason why we should not cooperate in this great scheme in creating homes? When the Socialist Party sing "Jerusalem" we will join with them if they follow the right plans, and sing "Home, Sweet Home" in a land of hope and glory.
§ 9.20 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Lipton (Brixton)
One of the most thought-provoking remarks made by the Minister of Health in his speech today was that the instrument which the Government are trying to use in the solution of the housing problem is a blunt instrument. That remark deserves a little more consideration than it has received in the ensuing Debate. We on this side of the House are as dissatisfied as anyone with the slow rate of building, and we are as anxious as anyone to speed up the provision of accommodation that is so urgently required. There is little point in lecturing the building trade workers or grumbling about the illegalities that are taking place.
The point that I would like to submit for the consideration of the Government is that the building industry itself is capable of making a very substantial contribution by putting its own house in order and by facing the question of incentives so far as building workers are concerned. Speed is now the essence of the whole problem. The building industry as we know it is, perhaps, the worst organised and the most wasteful of all the major industries in this country, and that is a heritage for which we have to thank preceding Governments. We have a host of employers, with discontinuity of jobs. In those circumstances how can we expect the best results from such a badly organised industry, where it had become a tradition before the war to indulge in the wasteful use of manpower? If it is impossible under the present system of organisation of the building industry to provide the houses that are needed, the sooner we consider the conversion of the building industry into a public concern the better it will be for the country as a whole. It has been said that houses for sale are going up more quickly than houses which are built under the auspices of local authorities, and I have it on credible authority that, if this is so, one of the reasons is that many builders engaged on private building work are illegally, and contrary to trade agree- 1425 merits, offering bonuses to the building workers. I would like to suggest that, in conjunction with the trade unions concerned, some kind of bonus scheme should be legalised on council jobs, that there should be a new wage system in the building industry to provide some incentive to complete building work as rapidly as possible, because the efficiency of the building industry must be improved.
§ Sir Ian Fraser (Lonsdale)
Is it not desirable to offer the workers some share in the profits or some bonus on production? Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman deprecating that system?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Lipton
That is what I was trying to urge. If I have not made myself clear, I apologise to the hon. Member and to the House as a whole. In order to complete houses as rapidly as possible, we must have increased efficiency in the building trade, and, in my view, that can only be done by offering some incentive in the form of a bonus or in whatever form can be evolved by those directly concerned in the industry.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Lipton
What I am suggesting is this. I know, as do many hon. Members, that piece work is unpopular in the building trade. I admit that it is difficult to prepare a wage system which will take into account the many differences in trades, the influence of the weather and all those other circumstances and factors which impede the course of building. The question of wage rates has been tackled successfully in trades and industries where the craft structure is just as complicated as it is in the building trade. If some scheme is devised on those lines I am convinced that a very substantial contribution will be made.
If we can persuade those engaged in the building trade that they will benefit directly from a high output, and if we guarantee the workers engaged in the building industry against what used to happen in prewar days—working themselves out of the job in which they were engaged—there is sufficient work now facing the building trade in this country to occupy everyone engaged in it for their lifetime, and perhaps for the lifetime of the generation that succeeds them. If we can succeed in evolving a new spirit in the building trade, getting rid of the 1426 heritage of the past—for which the building workers are not themselves to blame, if this heritage has not yet been completely eradicated from their minds—then I feel that a very substantial contribution will have been made to speeding up the building of the houses so desperately needed.
§ 9.26 p.m.
§ Captain Crookshank (Gainsborough)
Although the Minister was surprised that we were going to have this Debate, I think when he comes to study the report of it in HANSARD he will find it will have been useful. A great number of important points have been raised, the details of which I will not now repeat, to which his attention was drawn. I am sorry we have had to have it at such short notice, because the most recent figures have not been made available to us. We had hoped that we could postpone the Debate, but the Chief Patronage Secretary wished us to have it today; therefore, the figures I shall quote are those for the end of August. I recognise they are slightly out of date. I only hope that the September figures, and still more the October figures, will be better than those we have had so far. I am sure the House is indebted to the Minister for having changed the batting order, and for having spoken earlier. After the loud wind we heard from him we shall look forward to the "still, small voice" of the Parliamentary Secretary.
I will just sum up the main points which are before the House. First, as to the situation as we see it today, the Minister said last October that by the middle of this year the housing programme should be in full flood. I should have thought that anything which was in full flood meant that the rate of increase—giving him all houses, permanent, temporary and under construction—would be going up each month; that is to say, that there would be a bigger increase in one month over the preceding month than there had been in that preceding month over the month before it, in order to create a flood. That, unfortunately, is not what has happened. The end of August increase of houses under construction over July was just under 14,000. That was the lowest increase in any month. As far back as May, the May over April increase was 20,000. The rate of increase has been dropping back. The main tenor of this Debate has been to try to find out what 1427 has happened and why. That is on the short term. However, when we look at the long term — that is to say, the houses that will be built on sites where development is either begun or completed — we find the same thing. In August the site developments begun had increased by only 3,000; whereas in May there was an increase of 13,000. Site developments completed at the end of August showed an increase of 10,000 over the previous month; in May the increase was 13,500. There is no sign of a flood on what I may call the long term, as to houses which we are looking for in the next year or the year after that. On the short term there has not been the promised flood this summer. That seems to me to be a very serious development.
Of course, the right hon. Gentleman is on fairly safe ground, because he has always steadfastly refused to give us any target, and he has always refused to say what was in his mind as to what could be done. I sometimes wonder if that view is shared by all his colleagues. In the Debate on coal last week the hon. Member for North Battersea (Mr. Jay) in a maiden speech — and who was the personal assistant of the Prime Minister — laid down the dictum thatthe very attempt to set targets is salutary, because it brings home to one how serious the outlook is. I would suggest that we should set targets …."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th October, 1946; Vol. 427, c. 947.]and so on. He was talking about coal, but the words apply just as much to houses. We should have liked all these months to know what the right hon. Gentleman thought would be possible. The Minister of Works was rasher. He did mention a figure, but it was washed aside as his own personal opinion. Anyhow, it will not be reached. There was only one day when the Minister of Health did get very near, and that was in the last Debate. I should like to remind him of that because it is only three months ago. He said:In far different circumstances we shall be striving"—I do not know what that means, quite, in this context —at the end of the year to complete 200,000 houses — in the latter part of this year.I admit to the right hon. Gentleman that to build 200,000 by the end of this year would be: 1428an almost miraculous performance."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th July, 1946; Vol. 426, c 903–4.]Then he went on to talk about the "ill-conceived programme of his predecessors." But that was dealt with in his absence by the hon. Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks), whose speech I commend to his notice. I do not know how far that was the real hope of the right hon. Gentleman, that 200,000 permanent houses, because the whole context is dealing with permanent houses —
§ Mr. Bevan
No, no. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman is quite wrong. That figure of 200,000 must, obviously, have had relationship to the 100,000 temporary houses. Anyone looking at the figures can see the possibility of reaching the completion of a large number of temporary houses, but, obviously, no one in his wildest dreams can talk of 200,000 permanent houses and 100,000 temporary houses.
§ Captain Crookshank
I know. But the trouble is that the right hon. Gentleman does seem to talk sometimes in his wildest dreams. However, the point I wanted to take up there, and so reinforce the hon. Member for East Woolwich, who said that preparations had been made, was that the right hon. Gentleman did inherit a very good wicket, if a wicket is something which can be passed on. I can give other testimony from the latest housing expert recruit to the right hon. Gentleman's party, Sir Ernest Simon, who, when he was discussing this matter the other day, answered the question which the right hon. Gentleman rhetorically put across the Table earlier on today. He asked, with a great gesture, "What did we find? No plans." That is what he said. Sir Ernest Simon, who, after all, has joined the party opposite, and who is certainly a housing expert, if nothing else, was talking about the astonishing difference, harped on by several hon. Members, between what has been done after this war, as compared with what happened in 1919. He said there were two reasons which made the task easier this time — first, the plans made in advance by the Coalition Government for the temporary 1429 houses; second, the successful efforts to expand the labour force in the building industry, which, very rightly, as the hon. Member has pointed out, had been planned by the Coalition Government. That is the answer to the right hon. Gentleman when he says, "What did we find?" And this was said after Sir Ernest Simon joined the Labour Party and not before.
Now the right hon. Gentleman has issued an appeal that the 30,000 houses which are nearest completion should be finished off by Christmas. We all devoutly hope that that will be done. But I must say I rather resented his observation earlier, when he, looking at us, said we had not cooperated to raise the morale in the building industry. It was the first I had heard of any need to raise morale in the building industry. I thought morale was all right, and that what was wrong was that they were not getting materials, but anyhow we have never been asked to cooperate in raising anybody's morale. If the right hon. Gentleman wants a great campaign to finish these 30,000 houses — and if any one anywhere can help in that direction I am sure they will, because the crying need today is for more houses to be completed — we have never been asked to join in any campaign.
So it really is rather ridiculous to ask why we have not done so. I have noticed recently a tendency in speeches by hon. Members opposite, and by their sup-porters, when acclaiming the great successes of the last month in housing, to lump together all the houses of all kinds which have been built or repaired — permanent, temporary, bomb damaged, family units and the rest, and bring up a great total. But, as a matter of fact, the success or failure of the right hon. Gentleman's policy will be judged on what happens about permanent houses. All the other things are temporary palliatives. That is the whole point of the temporary housing programme, and that, of course, is the point of the repairs to old property which suffered bomb damage and which, in other circumstances, if there was not this frightful shortage of today, would probably have been let go and the houses pulled down.
It is therefore on the permanent housing programme that the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues will be 1430 judged. On that, I must still remind him, though he does not like it, that the figure which the Coalition Government set for the first 24 months after the war was 220,000 houses, and that was the figure agreed upon in that Government — it is in the White Paper of March, 1945 —by our Socialist colleagues as well as by the Conservative and Liberal Members of the Government. The Minister of Labour was by no means a silent Member of that Government, and he conceived it possible to get the labour sufficient to carry that programme out. As far as the Ministry of Works was concerned, in their advice the hon. Member for East Woolwich also took his share and accepted his responsibility. What has happened? The United Kingdom figure so far — at the end of August — is 22,015 permanent houses completed; in other words, in two-thirds of the time the right hon. Gentleman has merely produced one-tenth of the programme which had been thought possible by the Coalition Government. And the right hon. Gentleman laughed, as he does now, at the 220,000 houses. He thought it was completely unworthy of thinking about. It was not much of a blitzkreig, he said; after all these years of labour, this was the mouse that had been produced. And mark this:As things are shaping just now—this is to the people who were to read his book—you'll be an old man and your wife will be an old woman before you move into a modern house of your own.But of course, under the present policy they never will, because he has changed his mind. He does not want them to have houses of their own, he wants them to live in houses owned by the local authority. He has changed even that. But the answer is that one-tenth of the houses have been produced in two-thirds of the time. Something must have gone wrong, because after all the figure of 220,000 houses was, as the right hon. Gentleman must admit, a genuine forecast based upon reliable information, such as he now relies upon. After all, the advisers remain even if the Ministers change. What has gone wrong?. Is it labour? The Government have built up a fine labour force. They have plenty of men at present; the Minister himself says that there is no particular difficulty about that, so much so that when people 1431 were talking about the national housing corporation in September to try and help him out, he said that those people were talking nonsense. I rather agree, but it was his own idea — at least it appeared from inspired statements in the Press as if it was his own idea, some months before — that there,should be some such corporation.
If there are enough people, are they rightly distributed? On that we have had some rather striking statements in the Debate. The hon. Member for Silvertown (Dr. Comyns) in a very moving speech touched upon that. The hon. Member for Streatham (Sir D. Robertson) in a powerful speech also dealing with London referred to it, and incidentally may I say how glad we are to see him restored in health and taking part in our Debates again? Can it be maldistribution? I do not know the answer, but I do know that it was published in a paper in my constituency the other day, in connection with a local authority's scheme for 40 houses, that —it is hoped that another bricklayer may be engaged this week. If this is done, the labour on this site, where 40 houses are to be erected, will be two bricklayers, one trainee and three apprentices.I am quoting from my own paper. That is not very much, but perhaps the overall forces are sufficient and the labour does not get into the right places. Could it be as some hon. Members have suggested, that productivity of labour is not as high as it might be?
In other words, as the hon. Member who has just sat down asked, are there any incentives — this is rather like the coal Debate — to aid those who are engaged in this industry? I do not know, because we cannot get the figures of our productivity for permanent houses. We do have some figures about producitivity for temporary houses, because the Ministry of Works has published a document called "Production in Building and Civil Engineering, Supplement No. I." They give the length of time that would be required to erect and finish 50 temporary houses as 552 man weeks, or an average of 11 man-weeks per house. Over the first six months of the year, there was an average of 31,430 men engaged in the erection of temporary houses, and the average number of houses, under the 1432 Ministry of Works estimate of the time required, which should have been produced in that period was between 2,800 and 2,900. In point of fact the average number produced was 847 per week. I hope that some time the Minister of Works will take part in one of our Debates, and when he does, we shall be able to hear from him directly on the matter and shall know something about it. If this is the estimate of the Ministry of Works, what is likely to be the speed at which temporary houses can be put up, when we find that instead of 2,900 the average number produced is 847? It looks as if the productivity of labour was not all that the Minister of Works — and he is no mean expert in these labour problems — had himself expected. It may be that the labour is not yet quite all right.
On materials, the right hon. Gentleman was good enough to mention various materials which were apparently in very good supply at the moment, some of which are in very large supply in the light of the houses now being completed. He omitted to mention anything about timber, which, according to what one hears, seems to be very short, and he did not stress too much the brick situation. My hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson), who always seems to have a Question down on this subject on the day when we are to have a Debate, has had an answer from the Ministry of Works this afternoon, from which it appears that 364 million bricks were produced and 379 million were delivered in September. We are therefore using more than we are producing. He was told that the stocks at the end of the month were 267 million bricks, which is about three weeks' supply. That seems to be a pretty narrow margin on which to be working with this vast pro gramme. I hope that we shall at some time or other have some solution to that. All the Minister can tell us is that the supply of materials marches with the number of houses. In the Army there is either a quick march or a slow march — [AN HON. MEMBER: "Or a dead march."]—I suspect that this is a slow march.
Therefore, on these two problems we ought to have a little more enlightenment. Although the overall figure for labour seems adequate, are there many bottle- 1433 necks, can they be eased, is productivity much less than it ought to be, and, if that is so, what can be done about it? Can new incentives be thought out? On the materials side, in spite of the figures which the Minister selected today, is it all right over the whole held, and are the Government satisfied about the timber and brick situation?
What is really wrong is the whole policy of the Government. One feels that people today are more concerned with building the maximum number of houses than with any question of whether they are for sale or to let, or whether they are privately or publicly built. I am sure that that is the general opinion, and because of that we deplore the policy of the right hon. Gentleman of limiting private effort and discouraging the extension of house ownership, although last year he was telling people that they would be old before they owned houses. Now, he has given that up. He is discouraging the great sources out of which houses might be coming along more quickly. Local authorities, to date, have commenced 91,000 houses, and have completed 5,000. Private builders, under licence, have commenced 45,000 — half the number which local authorities have commenced — and have completed 13,000, which is more than twice the number. So, the result of their efforts is twice as much building as by local authorities. Is it because there have been too many plans, and that local authorities' resources have therefore been spread too thinly? The Parliamentary Secretary, in July, was saying that private builders were getting the services of a man and a half, as compared with one man by local authorities, in the building they were doing. If that is so, it surely means that the private builder is working with the most efficient ratio, to house building, of the labour he can get.
I should have thought that the reason was fairly obvious. It is that the private builder is limited on the amount the house is to cost and that, therefore, to him time is money. With the local authority that does not arise. It does not matter to Mrs. Jones or Mrs. Tompkins, who are on the local authority, whether there is a delay of two or three weeks about this or that, whereas, to the private builder, every day makes a difference. That is one of the many reasons why we believe that if the right hon. Gentleman harnessed every- 1434 body into this great endeavour he would get better results. The Minister seemed to argue that the small number of houses which had been built so far — 22,015 in the United Kingdom — was due to faulty action by all builders, no matter whether they were building for local authorities, or were private builders, under licence. I understood him to say that the local authorities' interest in the matter finished when the site was developed, and they handed over to the contractors. That seems an extraordinary doctrine, that everybody is tarred with the same brush, whether he is working under contract for a local authority, or on his own. One would assume from that that local authorities themselves did all the site developing, which, of course, they do not. To try and make out that local authorities have no more responsibility when the builder starts putting up his houses, and no longer interfere is quite wide of the facts.
The root of the trouble is the right hon. Gentleman's theory that only one house in five is, by licence, to be built by a private builder. That figure, he told us, was not based on any statistical inquiry,because the facts are not available, but because it seems to me to bear the proper relationship."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th March, 1946; Vol. 420, c. 454.]As a matter of fact, he was wrong in saying that there was no information available. I do not know if he was here when the hon. and gallant Member for Chichester (Lieut.-Commander Joynson-Hicks) was speaking, but he quoted the figures available in the Fitzgerald Committee's Report, 1938, when, in investigating the question from the point of view of rating, it was discovered that 60 per cent. of the houses of the country at that time were owner-occupied or being rented without a subsidy. Therefore, the gap between those people who were willing to have their own houses or to live in unsubsidised houses and the rest was within, I think, 40 per cent., whereas the right hon. Gentleman has reversed it altogether, and says it is nearer 80 per cent. That does not tally with the prewar information, and I should have thought that it would have been less likely to tally with the situation today, because there are a great many people very anxious to own their own houses, who possibly were not in a position to do so before the war. "After all," the right 1435 hon. Gentleman says, "if you do that, you would be giving houses to people who do not need them — and the wrong people."
But who are these wrong people? A great many of them, I imagine, are people who, under the encouragement of the Government throughout the war, have been saving hard with this very object in mind. Probably a great many of them are ex-Servicemen, looking forward to using part or all of their gratuity towards buying themselves houses in which to live. I should have thought that the proportions were quite different from those which the light hon. Gentleman has in view. If his argument is that we have to have the maximum number of houses to let, and we must go slow on those which men and women may buy for themselves — even so, there is no reason why he should not have given far more responsibility and scope to the private builder. In 1944, the Parliamentary Secretary, a good Socialist, as far as I know, and the Minister of Town and Country Planning, also a good Socialist, as far as I know, both agreed to the housing report of the Pole Committee. That expressed the opinion, which they both accepted, that subsidies should be available to private enterprise as well as to local authorities to enable the houses they built to be let by subsidised rents. That was what they recommended in this difficult postwar period.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Mr. Key)
To build houses.
§ Captain Crookshank
Available to private enterprise as well as local authorities, to enable the houses they built to be let at subsidised rents. Certainly that is the recommendation of the Pole Committee, and it is sheer commonsense, in order to bring everybody in. As it is, there are a great many houses which might be built which are not. One hon. Member quoted a case referred to in the Press about Epping Rural District Council, who were told to go slow because they were ahead of other people. I heard of another case in Oxfordshire, where a private builder was told to stop, although he had the materials and the site was developed, until the local authorities had caught him up. He had already produced 40 houses. The right hon. Gentleman must remember that there are areas in this country which 1436 are not completely industrial and where people will require houses and do not particularly need for any reason to live in subsidised houses.
I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that I am quite convinced, and my right hon. and hon. Friends are convinced, that it is his policy which is wrong, and the proportion which he has arbitrarily decided upon which is wrong, because, he says, "It seems to me that is the right proportion," and that is hampering a good deal of the initiative and enterprise which are there for the asking. The Minister is not really encouraging housing associations overmuch. Building societies could do a great 'deal more, they are eager to do more, but the right hon. Gentleman says, "No, this is what I have decided, and there I stand." That is what is wrong. It is the policy which is wrong. The sooner the right hon. Gentleman and the Government reverse it, the sooner we shall get more houses.
In parenthesis, I will answer one of the right hon. Gentleman's oratorical questions — What would we do about rural houses? The right hon. Gentleman knew the answer before he put the question. It is that we would have done what we said we would do, carried on with the Housing (Rural Workers) Act, because that, so far, is the only Act, as far as I know, which deals specifically with the case of the agricultural worker. The houses reconditioned under that Act have to be occupied by agricultural workers. The right hon. Gentleman spoke about the number of houses that have been built, and are being built, in rural district council areas, but that does not answer the question, because rural district council houses are occupied by all sorts of people, and a comparatively small proportion come the way of the agricultural workers. If the right hon. Gentleman is not prepared, in spite of the hints that were given some months ago, to do something about re-enacting that particular piece of legislation, I hope that between now and the new Session he will think again about that proposal, and if not, that he will have some other proposals to make in order that we may get more houses in rural areas in the right places for those who work on the land. I am not saying that houses are not required for other people who live in rural areas. I represent an agricultural con- 1437 stituency, and I know the needs of those people, too, but in so far as we want to encourage and build up the agricultural industry, we must keep an eye on the agricultural worker and his needs, and I do not detect in the policy of the right hon. Gentleman anything to make me think he has done that.
The right hon. Gentleman thought the other day that he had got us into some sort of dialectical trap. He has not. My answer to all his questions is that he has to mobilise everybody who can make any contribution to this housing problem. He has turned a blind eye where he could have got help. That is what is wrong, and the result is seen in the pathetically small number of houses produced up to date. He cannot get away from the figures — 22,015 by the end of August, one-tenth of what might have been built in two-thirds of the time. It is a pathetic, terrible story. The needs of the people are overwhelming. I am sure that all of us who have had acquaintance with the right hon. Gentleman in the House would wish him every kind of success. We hoped he would succeed. There is more joy over one rebel who comes right into the ranks than there is about all the others. We hoped that he would succeed, but he has absolutely failed in his policy. Last year the Prime Minister said he was going to be ruthless with those of his colleagues who proved less than equal to their new responsibilities, and they would leave his Government, regardless of personal considerations. The Minister of Health has failed. The thing for him to do is to admit it, and to say, "I have fallen down on this job, my policy has been wrong, and I have not produced the houses; I am very sorry, Mr. Prime Minister, I offer you my resignation." That is the thing to do. "Mr. Prime Minister, I offer you my resignation. O Lord of the Treasury, let me now depart in peace."
§ 9.59 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Mr. Key)
In the brilliant climax which we have just heard, expression is, no doubt, being given to the wish of the party opposite that the person who is showing himself capable of tackling this job, and planning it on the lines on which it should be planned, should give it up. I can assure the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for 1438 Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) that he will be very greatly disappointed in that direction. It has been said that we have been wrong in the policy we have adopted with regard not to the building of the house but to the use of the house after it has been Built. I want, therefore, to emphasise that all the talk there has been of our failing to mobilise the building industry and to use the private builder, in favour of having the work done by the local authority, is missing the point because, in fact, practically all the building is being carried out by the private builder. He is doing it for the local authority —
§ It being Ten o'clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Captain Michael Stewart.]
§ Mr. Key
In the end the four to one proposition is only with regard to the user of the particular house. It has also been said that we are exercising a prejudice against the erection of houses by private builders, but I want to point out to hon. Members that in a circular issued recently the Minister has urged:that small builders be brought together for the purpose of building under contract for the local authority two to six houses or up to 12 houses at a time based on the type of house which has already been erected by the builders, and will be on contract to pay a specified sum for that type of house, subject to such modifications as between them the local authority and the builder may agree.As I have pointed out, in the building of houses it is the job of the builder to erect the house; it is not his job to determine in a time of shortage who should occupy it when it has been built. That is a question of social justice and not of building technique, and it is therefore a task to be carried out by an authority which is in a position to exercise the social justice necessary in the matter. We hold that the local authority, with a knowledge of the needs of the people in its area, should determine that the house shall be provided, not for the person who can afford to pay most, but for the person in greatest need of the accommodation that has been provided.
It has also been said in the course of this Debate that the pace of the erection of houses has been determined by the fact that we have picked out the slowest agent — the local authority — for deciding the 1439 pace that shall be set. I wish to point, out that in the returns, which show the position to 31st August of this year, the proportions which we have set, have been relatively the proportions attained. The private builders, in permanent building, war damage building, and the repair of uninhabitable houses, as well as the conversion of others, have provided accommodation for 28,000 people, while the local authorities have provided accommodation for 119,000, and in addition some 50,000 temporary houses have been built. Never before in the history of this country has there been such a nation-wide effort on the part of the local authorities for carrying out this business, and I want to give some information as to the success of the local authorities in the work which they have undertaken.
I should like first to compare what is being done now with what was done after the first Great War. [Interruption.] I will give reasons for the comparison in a moment. By 31st March, 1920, out of a total of 1,802 local authorities only 370 were building houses, or had sites under development. Actually, only 715 houses had been completed. On 31st August this year, of 1,469 local authorities 1,172 had houses built or building and had completed 6,800 permanent houses. They had a further 89,584 houses under construction.
I want also to compare the position with that which existed on 31st March, 1939, the year of the outbreak of war. Then, houses were being built by 945 local authorities, as against the 1,172 this year. Some point has been made during the Debate about the number of local authorities which had not really started houses within a year of the ending of the war. First, I would point out that that number is considerably smaller than it was in 1939, and that the number of local authorities who have not yet started house building is out of all proportion to their importance and in relation to the housing problem. The authorities who had not started building at the end of August covered only 7 per cent. of the population; those who had not had tenders approved only 3.5 per cent. of the population, and those who had not been authorised to go to tender at all, represented only 1.3 per cent. of the population. In all other cases, local authorities had schemes approved or houses actually under construction.
1440 The point has been made that we are exercising some control, and it is being said that local authorities are being restricted and, therefore, go only as fast as the Minister of Health will let them go. The only limitation which is being placed upon the number of houses under construction at the moment, is the limitation of the ability of the building industry to build the houses that are required. Nothing else is being done to limit the local authorities. The checks that are placed upon them are only to ensure that effort is not wasted by being dispersed over a greater number of houses than it is possible to produce with the available labour and materials. I want to emphasise that point by saying that, at the present moment, more than 90 per cent. of the local authorities of this country have tenders approved. We claim that the building programme which is in hand has to be big enough for the building resources that can be used. At the end of August, tenders had been approved for 155,000 houses and licences had been issued for 57,000. That makes a total of 212,000 houses. Of that number, 130,000 had been started, 21,000 had been completed and there was, therefore, a margin, as it were, of 82,000 under tender that could be put in hand, as labour and material arose, for the purpose of carrying on the job.
An effort has been made in this Debate today to show that the comparison, in considering what has been done in this period, should be with 1939 and not with the period after the previous war. The conditions of 1939 are in no way comparable with the conditions which we have today. The materials and the labour available make all the difference in the world between the type of activity that can be carried out. Moreover, private industry never has done housing work of a very great amount, unless there has been a surplus of materials and a surplus of labour for doing the job. In the period between the wars 4,000,000 houses, it is true, were erected, but 70 per cent. of those houses were erected in the last half of that period, and half of those houses were erected in the last six years. It is only when we get a supply of materials — the pipeline, as it is called — overfull and a surplus of labour, that can be directed to different places, that private industry 1441 does the job in the way in which it was done in those last few years between the wars.
The cenditions that are comparable are the conditions immediately following both wars. In the 21 months after the war of 1914–18, under the control largely of the party opposite — [HON. MEMBERS: "Addison."]— 6,127 houses had been completed. In the 17 months after this war, the number is 24,957, or four times as many. In this case I am dealing entirely with permanent houses. I know it has been said that for the housing work done after the 1914–18 war a present Member of the Labour Party was responsible as the Minister of Health, but the building of houses for the country as a whole is not a one-man job. The carrying out of scheme like this is the job of an executive who believe the same thing, supported by people who believe the same thing, and what happened in that period was that a person was trying to do a job in an alien atmosphere with alien people.
I want next to emphasise the problems that are facing us at the present moment. They are far different from those which existed after the first war and they make the conditions today far more difficult. We have had to use building labour and materials during the last seven months to complete the repairs to 630,000 war damaged houses. In the same period we have used labour and materials to make habitable war damaged houses to the extent of over 98,000 houses. At the same time there have been erected something like 50,000 temporary houses and, in addition, the adaptation and conversion of others to provide accommodation for 25,000 families, and all that is in addition to the permanent houses that have been erected so far in excess of the numbers that were erected in a comparable period following the 1914–18 war.
I was asked about the position of the people in London and what had been done for them in the provision of accommodation. In the London region there had been provided up to 31st March this year extra accommodation for 114,242 families. That is a great thing to have carried out. Another point was made with regard to the "Finish the Houses" campaign, as to whether it would lead to a dislocation of the building industry and the fulfilment of the plan 1442 of permanent housing. That is an entirely mistaken conception. it will not interfere with the work of permanent housing at all. The "Finish the Houses" campaign is merely an effort to ensure that, where supplies of materials are required to finish houses, the existing supplies are directed to the houses concerned and that no local dislocation of distribution is to be allowed to prevent the building completion of those houses.
§ Mr. J. H. Hare
May I interrupt the hon. Gentleman? Can he also state that there will be no diversion of labour to complete this campaign?
§ Mr. Key
No, there will be no diversion of labour for the simple reason that the type of labour required for houses after they have reached "eaves high" is different from the labour which is required in the main to bring them to that stage. What we have here are plasterers, carpenters, painters, and so on, and what we shall ensure by the "Finish the Houses" campaign is that the material that this type of labour requires is there for the purpose of completion. I want to emphasise, too, that in addition to the 30,000 houses under tender for local authorities that have reached the stage of "eaves high," a goodly number are being erected by private enterprise outside contract with local authorities, and because that is an unplanned part of the present production, we have no information as to the number of those that have reached this stage. But there are 34,000 houses under licence at the present moment, and a considerable number of those should be completed in the forthcoming period.
I have also been asked to give particulars regarding the labour supply at present. Labour actually employed on housing work increased by 70 per cent. from 31st July, 1945, to 31st August, 1946. Because of the conditions in which we find ourselves, a quarter is being employed on war damage repair. That, of course, must be a slowly disappearing factor in our housing problem, and, as it disappears, those people will be transferred to permanent housing construction. Surely, however, it has to be admitted that at present we shall be getting more accommodation for occupation by the repair of war damaged houses than by concentrating on the permanent house. One-fifth of the labour at the present 1443 moment is being employed on conversion and adaptation of existing houses as a means of providing ready accommodation, and one-tenth of it is being used in site preparation and the erection of temporary houses.
§ Mr. Key
That is a natural thing to happen because as your aim is to get accommodation for your people as quickly as you can, in the early days of conversion and adaptation you tackle those houses which can most readily be adapted and converted. When you have done that, you take up the more difficult tasks and, as a result, the amount that is accomplished is proportionately less.
My right hon. Friend said a good deal about materials, and there is no need for me to add greatly to what he said. I have been asked questions, particularly about bricks. The actual production of bricks has been very largely increased by bringing into operation an added number of brickfields that had been put out of production. I do not know whether it is realised that out of the 1,388 brickfields that existed in this country before the war, only 383 were working, and many of those were on short time with short staffs in December, 1945. By July of 1946, the number had been increased to 790, or by 100 per cent., and the production of bricks was three times greater in July, 1946, than in December, 1945. A question has been asked about the con dition of labour in the brickfields and that has a great bearing on productivity. We have now received the report of the Garrett Committee which was inquiring into conditions in the brickfields. That report should be published shortly, and we are engaged in discussing with the industry the putting into operation of the committee's recommendations. It is admitted that timber is getting increasingly difficult for housing construction. Whilst we are using every effort to increase possible importations of timber, we are also finding alternative materials 1444 which can be used in housing construction so as to limit the amount of essential timber in any particular house.
A matter which has been raised at considerable length is that of rural housing. This was neglected so long by the people who should have been responsible, and former economics of the agricultural industry have been so bad, that the good housing of the agricultural worker and his wife is one of the most pressing problems we have to face. It is said that we ought to have gone on repairing agricultural houses The great need is for more accommodation at present, and we felt that we ought to concentrate on the production of new houses, whilst lamenting our inability to do the proper conversion of houses that already exist. But, I can assure the House that we are doing everything possible to assist rural authorities. At the same time, rural authorities are showing themselves among the most forward of local authorities in dealing with the housing problem. Already, more than 93 per cent. of the rural district councils have housing schemes approved for tenders. Out of the 475 rural authorities in the country, 106 have already completed houses, and 281 more houses are actually under construction. But, rural authorities represent only something like 17 per cent. of the population, and their work is maintained equally as high, if not higher, than the proportion of the population would warrant.
I wish to say a word or two about temporary houses. Here, if it had not been for the failure of the party opposite, when in power, to organise the job, the temporary housing plan would have been invaluable in the early stages after the war in providing the necessary accommodation. We were given all sorts of airy fairy speeches about what was being done. We were told that half a million of them were to be erected, and not only that they were anticipated but that actual preparations were being made during the war on a nation wide scale. The factories were being assigned, the necessary set-up was being made and the materials were being earmarked for this particular job. We were told that in March, 1944. Later, in September, 1944, we were told that the Government were to begin the actual production of emergency houses in a very short time, irrespective of the end of the European war. Instead of them being 1445 actually planned and begun, not one of these houses was produced.
The pressed steel bungalow was dropped, and Lord Portal was dropped with it. But other planning was being done, we were told, for other types of houses of a temporary character. Yet, when we came into power and had this job to tackle, we found that the necessary phasing and planning of the production of the necessary materials was such that there was little chance of getting the houses in the time when they were required. They are now coming forward in greater numbers. We have passed the figure of 2,600 a week in the completion of temporary houses, but the great regret, so far as temporary housing is concerned, is that because of the failure to carry out the necessary plans in those last few years of the war as a preparation for the postwar period, the temporary house programme is now likely to interfere with the more permanent programme and its successful execution.
One last word. Much has been said of the sort of plan of 200,000 permanent houses, and so forth, that were to be erected in two or three years after the war. By 31st August, we had provided accommodation for 200,000 families, and we had under construction other accommodation for another 200,000, and these are not airy fairy castles. They are actual productions of the building industry. We have not spent our time in lisping in numbers about the job; we 1446 have tackled it, and I for one am far from being apologetic about what we have done.
I claim that what we have done in the way of accommodation built and building, in the material produced, in the labour employed, whilst it is not all that we hoped, is nothing of which we need be ashamed. We shall go on carrying out the planning we have laid down, using the agent which has proved to be so efficient in the job, and maintaining our resolution to fulfil the job we have in view. That we are getting on as fast as we ought none of us will claim. We want more and still more, but our own dissatisfaction with our rate of advance arises from an entirely different cause from that of the dissatisfaction of the party opposite. We are dissatisfied because we are not freeing our people of the results of Tory neglect, from the grip of private landlordism and the hovels of private enterprise as fast as we want to do it. They are dissatisfied because we are doing too well, because we are not abandoning public enterprise in housing, because we are not allowing unrestricted and uncontrolled forces of landlordism and monopoly that desire to use this time of dearth to exploit the needs of our people for private and individual gain.
§ It being Half-past Ten o'Clock, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.