HC Deb 09 December 1947 vol 445 cc934-76

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn." —[Mr. Watkins.]

8.9 p.m.

Mr. David Renton (Huntingdon)

I desire to draw attention to the need for making the maximum possible use of former Service huts for ordinary civilian housing purposes. I count myself fortunate that this matter, which I have had the good fortune to raise, can now be discussed until half-past ten. I sincerely trust that hon. Members will consider this a worthwhile opportunity of making a positive contribution to solving the housing problem of thousands of people. I believe that can be done if this once despised form of building, in which many of us spent long periods with varying degrees of discomfort and happiness during the war years, is now appreciated to be a valuable asset. It is a matter which concerns hon. Members on both sides of the House equally. I suppose it concerns every constituency, except the City of London and the Universities.

If the question is tackled with thoroughness, the Government and the local authorities have a very great opportunity. We are all familiar with the various types of temporary wartime dwellings. They are built all over the country, sometimes in large camps, sometimes in ones, twos and threes, sometimes in remote places on airfields and militia camps, and sometimes right in the middle of towns. They are built, for the most part, in three main types of material. There are those which are built of brick and concrete; there are those of the corrugated iron type, known most often as Nissen huts; and there is the type which is built in wooden sections and so constructed that they are capable of being taken down and re-erected in another place. Many thousands of Service men and women had to sleep and work in these huts during the war, but when they did so, few of them could have realised that they might later be seeking this sort of building as the only available home.

Perhaps I ought to mention that I intend to make no recriminations about housing in this Debate, and I am sure that the Ministers, both of whom I am delighted to see here, will tackle the matter in a similar spirit. We now have to realise that the temporary housing programme is drawing to its close, that when it has done so 160,000 houses will have been completed, and that for economic reasons the permanent housing programme has been postponed except in the case of essential workers—namely coalminers and agricultural workers. This is happening at a time when many thousands of families, especially young married couples, are without separate homes of their own. Although I do not, and could not for one minute, claim that these former Service huts provide ideal homes, I do say that they provide a much better opportunity of living for a few years the sort of family life which many people would prefer to lead merely because of having a separate home in which to lead it.

It so happens that I have paved the way for this Adjournment Debate, as many hon. Members do, by finding out as many facts as I possibly could by means of Parliamentary Questions. I see the Minister of Works and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health both smile. I am sure they are familiar with some of these matters. However, it is just as well to ascertain the facts, because in a sense we are dealing with what may be described as a concrete problem, if I may be forgiven for saying so, yet when one tries to ascertain its total dimensions all over the country one finds it is really not a concrete problem at all but a somewhat nebulous one.

I have managed to ascertain that on 22nd January, 1946, the Ministry of Health issued a circular No. 20, the title of which was "The Conversion of Temporary Wartime Buildings to Housing Use," and I find that in pursuance of that circular it is possible for local authorities to Convert wartime huts into temporary civilian dwellings by the expenditure of not more than £250 per family. I know that in my own constituency, at least one local authority has made some very good use of the powers granted in that circular, and I learned from the Minister of Health, in answer to a Question last week, that by 31st October this year 9,325 families had been housed in huts converted in that way.

There is a further point that I should mention in passing, about the use of those powers for converting huts at not more than £250 per family, and it is that huts so converted are assumed to have an expectation of life of approximately 10 years. It is interesting to note that that is the approximate expectation of life of the temporary bungalows in the prefabricated house programme. It is also interesting to note what a tremendous advantage by way of cost this conversion of former Service huts has over the cost of the temporary housing programme. The cost is £250 per family as compared with £1,300 and upwards.

The Minister of Health also told me. last week, in answer to a Question, that there were 9,997 families living in former Service huts—let me call it 10,000 for the sake of a round figure—upon which £250 has not been spent in conversion. In other words, there are more families living in the huts just as they were when those families found them, than there are families living in the converted huts. It is my own experience, at any rate in my own constituency, that quite 80 per cent. of the men who are living in these unconverted former Service huts are themselves ex-Service men, and we have to remember that until their demobilisation they were not in a position to be on the look out for houses. They were, so to speak, at the bottom of the lists of the housing applications which started to be made as the war approached its end. That is the main reason why those ex-Service men had to scrounge round for anything they could find, and many of them have preferred to live in Service huts than live as lodgers or with their in-laws, or in conditions of squalor due to overcrowding which they might otherwise have to face.

My first positive suggestion to the Government is that huts already occupied and not yet converted in accordance with this admirable circular issued by the Ministry should be much improved by the expenditure of £250. That sum was fixed as the upper limit nearly two years ago. The value of money has changed since then, the cost of building work has risen, and if we are to make this work effective it might be well to review that figure of £250 and make it correspond with the present value of money. My second suggestion is that the local authorities should be encouraged to take a more lively interest in the people living in these huts, and, indeed, a more lively interest in the whole question of hutted accommodation.

Under Section 71 of the Housing Act of 1936, the Section placing this general housing duty upon local authorities, they are charged with the duty of examining the housing needs in their district and of framing proposals to meet those needs. These proposals are submitted in various stages to the Ministry of Health, and I would be interested to know what proportion of the local authorities in the country, in pursuance of their duties under Section 71 of the Housing Act, have actually submitted to the Ministry proposals relating to the hutted camps within their areas.

If I may hazard a guess, I would say that the general attitude of the local authorities is this: "There are these hutted camps, we do not like them very much, we do not always know the people who have gone into them; we have got our own ideas as to how we would like to fulfil our own housing programme and let us stick to that. Of course, if the Ministry of Health wants us to do something about the hutted camp, let them virtually order us to do so, and, then we will do it, not on our own account but as agents of the Ministry." If my guess is not far wrong—and I believe it is not —I would suggest that the time has come to make local authorities alive to the facts of the present and future situation and to point out to them that this valuable asset must not be wasted. When we find that there are camps or huts so remotely situated from people's work that it is not a practicable or useful idea to encourage people to live in them, then these huts, instead of just being allowed to go to rack and ruin, should, as far as possible, be dismantled and the materials used either for erecting fresh huts elsewhere or for equipping huts which are to be converted with the various perquisites which at the moment they do not possess.

May I first of all deal with this question of taking down and re-erecting. I know there are serious limitations; obviously you cannot take down brick and concrete huts in order to re-erect them elsewhere. Having had some experience of Nissen huts during the war, and knowing that I have slept in Nissen huts which have been leaking after being up only two years, I would not put very great hopes on pulling down Nissen huts and re-erecting them, although, of course, there may occasionally be some which have been kept in very good condition—well painted and so on. My main proposal to the Government on this relates to the wooden huts which are built in sections, and are supposed to be, and generally were, erected in sections in such a way that they could readily be taken down, moved and re-erected if required elsewhere. I suggest that the Government should very carefully consider the possibility of surveying all the country for the purpose of finding which of these wooden huts have been built in such remote places that they will not be lived in by people needing houses, but which, if moved, would serve very useful purposes.

All three classes of huts which I have mentioned, however, do contain a number of useful fittings. They all contain—or a great many of them do—wash basins, sinks, stoves, sometimes baths, kitchen ranges, many useful electrical fittings and many power plugs of which there is a considerable scarcity. At the present, huts on remote aerodromes are mostly left empty with the doors and windows open and the weather getting at them. I spent a couple of hours two or three week-ends ago wandering round a remote and now completely deserted air- field, magnificently fitted. I found scarcely a hut into which I could not walk, scarcely even a hut which had not the windows open, and I did not find a single hut which was not already beginning to suffer considerably from neglect. In a very large number of these huts there are most useful fittings which could be used in the conversion of huts elsewhere.

Mr. Skeffington-Lodge (Bedford)

Would the hon. Gentleman permit me to ask a question? Is he talking specifically about the huts he has come across in his own constituency or about huts generally throughout the country, in describing them as containing these various fittings?

Mr. Renton

My own experience has naturally been based mainly on my own constituency, but I have seen many other constituencies and, having made a much more superficial observation in other constituencies, I should have thought—and this is only my opinion—that my own constituency offered a fair example. Therefore, I would ask the Government what steps are being taken to prevent these fittings from either rotting or finding their way into the black market, because that is the other tendency which has started.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Mr. John Edwards)

Would the hon. Gentleman say whether the airfield he is describing is an airfield still under the control of the Air Ministry or not?

Mr. Renton

No, it is an airfield which has been ploughed up all round the runways and, therefore, the open part of the aerodrome has, in fact, been derequisitioned and handed back to farming. There are no personnel, R.A.F. or civilian, living in any of the huts that I could see. At a rough guess, I should say there were 200 huts on the airfield. I shall not give the name of it in public, but shall give it to the Parliamentary Secretary afterwards; because I think that to give the names of places like that is merely to invite people to go to dismantle them. I will most certainly give the Parliamentary Secretary the name of that one I have in mind, and of others as well. It is the duty of every hon. Member to find out all he can about these places, because they constitute for many families the only solution of their housing problem—and will do so for some years.

To summarise what I have to say, because it may be of value to the Parliamentary Secretary when he replies, I say, generally, that the fullest possible use should be made of those huts, that they ought not to be allowed to become a wasting asset, and that they are a really valuable asset. Secondly, I say they should be converted, wherever possible, by spending £250, or possibly even more, upon them; thirdly, that local authorities should be encouraged to take a more lively interest in them, especially where there are fair sized camps; fourth, that wooden huts in remote places should be taken down and re-erected where they may be needed; and lastly, that the fittings which are not wanted for any other valid purpose should be removed and used for improving those houses which are without such fittings.

The people are still suffering very greatly as a result of the lack of houses, and that specially applies to ex-Servicemen, who, as I say, were last in the hunt for houses. The use of these huts will not do more than house a few thousand families. I know that. However, that should not deter the Government from trying to house as many families as they can in the huts. I seriously maintain that the present number of families, which, on the figures I have given, totals under 20,000, could easily be doubled by the fullest and best use of those huts, and I would encourage the Government to go ahead with the work of converting them.

8.32 p.m.

Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)

I should like to get clear the situation regarding these huts. The hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) said the Government should make the fullest use of them and not allow them to become a wasting asset. In my constituency there are some ex-Servicemen who wanted a couple of huts for an ex-Servicemen's club, to replace the premises they had and which were built in 1920 and are now completely dilapidated. I understand that they could not get the huts because there is such a demand for them, apparently, for other purposes. I would say, in view of the statements I have received, that there is little chance of the huts being used for the purpose the hon. Member has put forward, but I should also like to say this much; that the fact that it can be suggested that huts should be used for housing is an indication of the terrible conditions that appertain in this country so far as many families are concerned. My own county council sent me a letter recently, saying that there are about 3,000 families in Fife waiting for houses, most of whom are living in sub-lets. It is ghastly that people should have to live in such conditions.

I was talking to a lad at the weekend who has succeeded in getting one of the temporary houses which the Minister described at one stage as sub-standard houses. That lad and his wife and their couple of kiddies lived with his mother-in-law. Now he and his wife have one of the temporary houses. They do not describe it as home. They describe it as "paradise." "It is paradise," he said —paradise to have a lovely little place of their own away from the sub-let conditions in which they have been living. If there is any possible way of getting housing accommodation which will take people out of the sub-lets, away from disease breeding slums, to places that will provide them with homes of their own, comfortable places which will give them a chance of health and happiness, there is not a Member of this House who would not be ready to give support to the project.

But I am not too hopeful that the huts will provide such homes. In my constituency, in Leslie, I was round visiting some huts occupied by squatters who were living in conditions that were appalling. There was an appalling lack of amenities, so far as sanitation was concerned, that would horrify any hon. Member who saw it. It is not always an easy matter to move huts to a place where the necessary amenities can be provided. It is possible that if huts were taken from one place to another, it might cost nearly as much to provide the necessary amenities—such as sewerage and sanitation—if the huts are to provide healthy homes in which people can live and bring up children, as it would to build temporary houses; that is, if we could get temporary houses under the original conditions, not aluminium houses at the price recently mentioned by the Minister. I do not think there is much hope of doing anything through the medium of the huts. However, if it were possible to get huts in suitable sur- roundings, and to provide all the necessary amenities—not as some of the huts are at present, with people living in conditions as bad as those of sublet houses, because of the lack of those amenities—then I am certain many people who live in sublet houses, or in the worst of our slums, would be only too glad of the opportunity to live in them.

The fact that this matter has been raised by the hon. Member for Huntingdon is yet another indication of the terrible plight in which thousands of our people are living today, and it should spur us on to do everything possible to ensure that at the earliest possible moment our people get what is the first and fundamental right of every man, woman and child—a home. What possibility is there of life, health and wellbeing for our people if they have not healthy homes? This should spur us all on to do everything possible to see that all our people have homes. Whatever cuts are to be made, there should be no cut in housing. I ask the Minister who replies to say that, even if he cannot provide any huts for this purpose, he will see that everything possible is clone to avoid cuts so far as house building is concerned, and that the maximum amount of permanent and temporary houses will be provided for the people of this country.

8.38 p.m.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)

I very rarely find myself in the agreeable position of agreeing wholeheartedly with the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher), but I certainly do so tonight. He was absolutely right when he said it was a tragic commentary upon the state of affairs existing in this country today that this House should find it necessary to be discussing this subject tonight. In those circumstances, there is no doubt that my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) has performed a very good service indeed in securing that this Matter should be discussed in the House of Commons.

I agree, too, with the hon. Member for West Fife in saying that much of the hut accommodation available provides accommodation with a far lower standard of amenity than that to which our people are entitled or should be submitted. However, it is also true to say that there is an immense variety in the quality of accommodation provided; certain of these camps of a semi-permanent nature provide a not unreasonable standard of accommodation. It is equally true that almost any of those camps afford the possibility of a better standard of living for people on the waiting lists of our local authorities than the conditions under which those people are living at the moment.

There is not a full appreciation in this House or in the country of the amount of human misery which those waiting lists of local authorities represent. There is an insufficient appreciation of the steady grinding misery of life in grossly overcrowded houses, shared with other families with all the possibilities of friction, ill-feeling and ill-temper which those circumstances breed and generate. There are many people, particularly young married couples, who would prefer almost any sort of accommodation of their own to living with two or three other families in some overcrowded house. My hon. Friend speaks with full experience of the problems of young married couples, but even detaching oneself from such bias as he may have shown on that subject, it is true that they would welcome almost any standard of accommodation which they could have on their own.

I hope whoever replies will give some indication that the Government realise that this is a matter which has to be dealt with by more drastic and forceful measures than we have seen so far. My hon. Friend has said rightly, and I propose to follow him, that it would not be expedient to discuss tonight the reasons why this state of affairs has come about. There will be other occasions to discuss that, and many of us have very strong feelings on the matter. The House can be united in accepting the facts of the situation, which cause more misery to more people in this country than any other single factor. I hope, therefore, that we shall hear from the Treasury Bench, not the usual Departmental answer—I say that without intending any discourtesy—but something which shows a fuller appreciation than we have previously had of the urgency of this matter.

I hope we shall hear that there is to be a reversal of the tendency we have had so far to discourage the use of these camps, the tendency to use them for almost any other purpose than housing, to use them, as the Minister of Works knows full well, in one case, for the housing of the Olympic Games athletes, and for the purposes of Government Departments. I hope we shall hear that far more attention will be given to the far more important claims of the people who are waiting for living accommodation. I hope we shall not be told that there are technical difficulties. If we are told that, I shall be tempted to reply that it is a mark of a Minister's capacity and ability to get round and over technical difficulties. He is equipped with a technical staff with considerable skill and experience, and if they believe that they have behind them a Minister determined to do the sort of job Lord Beaverbrook did at the Ministry of Aircraft Production during the war, they will prove surprisingly capable of tackling the problem, as he and his staff did; but if they feel that the right hon. Gentleman is a Minister prepared to listen to their arguments on technicalities, we shall probably drift on in that calm, placid, inept way which has been so characteristic of the past two and a half years.

Mr. Skeffington-Lodge

Is the hon. Member suggesting to the House that the bulk of these huts would be welcomed as dwelling places for the homeless in this country? If he is, all I can tell him is that in their present condition thousands of people would turn them down flat, if they were offered such accommodation.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

The hon. Member is, of course, generalising. It is true that there are many huts in the condition he has described, but there are a great many others——

Mr. Skeffington-Lodge


Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I will quote one example of a camp I have inspected, whose use I have already urged unsuccessfully on the Minister of Works for housing purposes, and that is the camp in Richmond Park, which people have inspected and expressed their wish to inhabit. I concede that in the vast number of camps which cover our countryside there are many beyond use, but there are others in a medium condition to which people would prefer to go, as compared with their present conditions of living. There are others, a minority perhaps but sufficient in size to provide housing accommodation for many thousands of people, which are in excellent condition, and which have been, and are being, properly cared for now——

Mr. Guy (Poplar, South)

Is it suggested that these huts should contain one or more families?

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

That must depend on the camp. In some huts there would be one family, and in others there would have to be a semi-communal system. There is infinite variety. I am protesting against the apparent lack of any firm will, on the part of the Department concerned, to make any concerted use of any, substantial number of these camps. I fully appreciate the practical difficulties—anyone who has lived in such camps for a number of years, as I have, would have no doubt about this point—but let us put these camps to the test. Make them freely available to the people on the waiting lists. Leave the choice to them. Do not let us assume that they would not use them.

People in my constituency, in the case I tested, and in which I got a clear and emphatic expression of opinion, would have regarded a change from their present conditions to the camp in Richmond Park as a change to what the hon. Member for West Fife called a paradise. If any Member is in doubt the matter can be resolved between us by putting it to the proof, and giving these people the chance of occupying these camps. I appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary for an encouraging answer, indicating that the Ministry will do something. I appeal to Ministers opposite to go back to their desks tomorrow morning and show themselves to be Ministers whose administrative capacity is being put to a good cause, a cause in which, if they succeed, they will earn the thanks of many unfortunate people in the country, regardless of party.

8.48 P.m.

Mr. Watkins (Brecon and Radnor)

It is fitting that a Welshman should follow a Scotsman and an Englishman in this Debate, and I am sure that we are all grateful to the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) for raising a matter to which I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will reply, not from his brief, but from his heart. I am not so much enamoured of people living in these huts. I suggest that many houses which are used by Government Departments at the moment should be released by the Ministry of Works, so that people without homes can be accommodated. I am sure that if there was a survey taken in Wales a large number of huts could be found and used. Some of the huts I have visited recently have contained nothing but dead sheep. In Brecon and Radnor there are many huts not being used by any Ministry.

The question I would like answered is this: Who has the responsibility of maintaining a hutted camp, such as there is in my neighbourhood? I find that one of my own rural district councils, when they make a complaint, have to send a letter to the Welsh Board of Health and also to the Regional Officer of the Ministry of Works. From neither do they get a satisfactory reply. When I had occasion recently to visit the site of the hutted camp in Gilwern, in Breconshire, I found that the sanitary conditions were shocking and deplorable, because no attention had been given to the complaints sent to either of these Ministries. I ask for the sake of public health that they should, instead of the rural district council, take more interest in the maintenance of that camp. I am referring to the lavatories and also to the wastage of water which has been reported. Nothing has been clone about that. With regard to electricity, although a complaint has been made to the Ministry of Fuel and Power, the Ministry of Works, and the Welsh Board of Health there are single switches operating three lamps and for 12 months light has been wasted. If something is not done about that within the next seven days, I hope to be lucky in the ballot, so that I can raise the matter on the Adjournment. I also hope that I shall get support from hon. Members opposite as I am supporting them tonight.

I suggest that the points raised by the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) are worthy of a full reply, particularly the one with regard to the removal of camps. I have in my constituency a camp where 37 families came from the district of Ebbw Vale, and if the huts could be moved nearer that district, it would be a much better proposition. I suggest that the Parliamentary Secretary should, if he cannot do anything else, send an inspector at once to examine the camp to which I have referred tonight.

8.52 p.m.

Mr. Spence (Aberdeen and Kincardine, Central)

I want to raise a minor issue on this topic, which will not take long. I am struck by the complete unanimity in the House on the urgency of this question. The point to which I wish to draw the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary is the responsibility of the Government for maintaining in habitable condition those huts for which they charge rent. Instances arise in my own home town in Scotland, which is outside the jurisdiction of the Parliamentary Secretary here tonight, but I hope that he will make representations to his right hon. Friend in the Scottish Office on what I have to say. The position prevailing there is that huts are let at a rent of 10s. a week. No rates are charged, and light is provided free. These huts are not habitable, but I believe that they could be made habitable, if a small amount were spent on their repair.

About 10 days ago, I put a Question to the Secretary of State for Scotland asking whether he was aware of the conditions. He said that if I made recommendations, he would see what could be done. I submit that it is not my responsibility to make recommendations for the repair of huts for which his Department is receiving rent. I suggest very definitely that a surveyor should be sent to view these huts to make sure that at least they are weather-tight for the winter. In the main, the huts are of the Nissen type. The iron is in a bad condition and, surely, something could be done to get big truck tarpaulins, which one sees advertised every week in the farming papers, for covering stacks, so that the huts could be made waterproof and there could be a few dry places in which to put beds.

There is the question of the sanitary arrangements in these camps, and I support what has been said. The camps were built under the stress of war and in conditions of emergency and the sanitary accommodation was rather rough. In these particular cases much is to be desired in the conditions under which these people live. We realise that there is a shortage of housing. I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, who is to reply tonight, has been impressed by the strength of the arguments and the unanimity on all sides. I appeal to him to see that where the huts are provided no money shall be spared, within reason, in making them watertight and habitable, because the greatest discomfort and even injury to the health of the people can occur through these conditions.

8.56 p.m.

Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, Central)

The hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) has rendered a public service, in my opinion, by raising this question tonight, but I trust we shall deal with it dispassionately, because since this is such a very human problem there is a tendency for us to follow the advice of my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins) and allow our hearts to run away with our heads. I believe that this House has rarely discussed a problem in which the people are more interested than this of homes for the people. If there is any subject which is full of dynamite for politicians at the present time it is housing, but what is far more important is the fact that under the stress of present conditions family life is being menaced. It is being broken down in many instances, and if the relief which the hon. Member for Huntingdon suggests will in any appreciable measure relieve this problem, then I am sure that all parts of the House would welcome it.

The hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) has uttered a word of caution arising from knowledge that he has of the scarcity of these huts for other purposes. I would draw the attention of the House to the fact that at the present time we have young married people, such as were referred to by the hon. Member for Huntingdon, who are actually living apart. In my constituency at Central Cardiff we had, in 1939—for this is no new problem—over 10,000 families on the waiting list for a house, and hon. Members opposite will forgive me for making the point that in those days labour was cheap and materials plentiful, but my people, and people in many parts of this country, had to live in slums and under shocking conditions. It is no new problem, but it has been accentuated as a result of bombing and of those dreadful war years when building could not be proceeded with. We have a legacy from other days, but that does not take away from right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench the responsibility for the drive that is necessay to solve this problem and the use of these huts if any of them are available.

On Monday last in my office at Cardiff —and I try to meet my constituents every Monday—a young man came to see me. He was just out of the R.A.F., and his wife had a baby 11 weeks old. She has to sleep on the sofa and the baby in the pram, whilst his brother and wife and their baby occupy the bed in the same room. This young man has had to sleep out on the floor in another place. Every hon. Member could give instances of that sort. It is causing human agony beyond description, and any way will be welcome so far as I am concerned——

Mr. Gallacher

Would not the hon. Member emphasise the fact that we get a husband with one child in one village and his young wife with another child in another village, each with their separate parents?

Mr. Thomas

Unfortunately I know from my experience that that is so. This Debate will have been exceedingly useful if it only serves to warn the Government Front Bench that we do not want any tinkering with or cutting down of the housing programme and that we have a grave responsibility for seeing that the programme has a high priority. Huts are not the final answer to this problem. Huts cannot be the answer. What we want are decent homes for our people. I am afraid, as the hon. Member for Huntingdon must be afraid, that there is a danger that when a family is put in a hut it will stay there year in and year out. It is like temporary school buildings—they are put up for us for five years and they are still here 20 or 30 years later being used as class rooms, as the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Works knows better than anybody. Even if these huts are used, they must not be used for a long period.

The hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) said that he did not want to debate the reasons for the present muddle. I have referred to them, but I think that the public are mindful that we have succeeded in giving real homes rather than huts to a very great proportion of people in this time of scarcity of materials and skilled labour. We are paying the price of the war, but if it is possible to bring some thing of the drive which was shown in munitions in time of war into the problem of hut accommodation, I am sure the House will welcome it. I trust that this Debate will not raise false hopes in the breasts of any of our people that the huts which are near to them can be used. There is a natural tendency on the part of people to feel that a hut which looks all right on the outside will be good enough for them, because—as the hon. Member for West Fife said—anything will do for people to enable them to get out of their present misery if they are unhappy with the people in whose house they are living; but anything cannot be good enough for the Government. We must see that these places are made perfectly habitable if we are to allow the people to use them for their homes.

9.3 P.m.

Mr. Blyton (Houghton-le-Spring)

I have listened to what has been said about sub-let tenancies, and I would remind the House that this is no new problem. I was married in 1919 and I first got a house of my own in 1929. I had 10 years of sub-let tenancies in different places, and I know how children are not liked in other people's houses.

Mr. Renton

I do not know whether the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton) has been here throughout this discussion—

Mr. Blyton

Yes, I have.

Mr. Renton

It was not intended in the first place to be a discussion on the subject of sub-tenancies. Every speech so far has related to the question of the use of former Service huts. The hon. Member is, of course, entitled to discuss any matter he pleases, but I felt that he might have preferred to discuss what everybody else is discussing.

Mr. Ungoed-Thomas (Llandaff and Barry)

Is that not left to the Chair?

Mr. Blyton

When I listened to the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) talking about the need for drive on the Front Bench, I thought it would have been better if there had been drive between 1919 and 1929 when so many ex-Service men were trying to get houses. I am not enamoured of camps. When all is said and done, a camp is an impossible housing condition for any person, and once camps are established on this basis it will take years to get the people out. I remember that a camp was built at Birtley for the Belgians in the first world war and, when the Belgians disappeared in 1920, the people of Birtley went into those houses and it took the Durham County Council until 1932 to get shot of the wooden huts which were used as houses in Birtley during those inter-war years. I have some of the Army camps used in World War Two in my constituency, and I say frankly to my own Front Bench that there are some huts there from which it would be better to remove the people, because the huts are not habitable.

Because of the sanitary conditions, undoubtedly as time goes on those huts will create a huge epidemic problem in the heavily populated areas, but the local authorities, while not unmindful of the difficulties of the people in squatters' camps, have to face this problem: a local authority cannot say to a person who has gone into a squatters' camp where the conditions are not habitable or decent, "We will take you out of there and give you the first permanent house," because there are other people on the list who have not entered a camp, and therefore have priority to the first permanent house. There is no local authority who can clear these camps by allowing the people in them to jump the queues.

Therefore, we have to face the fact, unpleasant as it may seem, that unless we get these people housed and out of these camps, and alter entirely the policy of allowing our people to live in camps, we shall find as the years go by that we shall never get shot of the camps at all. It raises a huge problem, not only here but for the local authorities, and I for one, while recognising the existence of the camps, am not prepared to encourage them as the standard housing conditions of working-class people. I believe this Parliament ought to press not for Nissen huts, not for fireplaces being taken out of unused huts and put into some other hut housing a family, but to concentrate on the Government giving sufficient capital to build decent houses and so wipe out the camps.

There may be differences of opinion about this, but I believe that the Minister of Health is doing a good job and that his record will compare most favourably with the Opposition's record after the first world war. Wooden huts were still in existence for working-class people long after the war had ended, and when we pleaded with a Conservative Government to abolish those at Birtley, we had no response. While asking the Minister to make habitable some of these occupied huts, it would be' wrong and foolish for it to go out from this House that we are encouraging people to go into huts when their rightful habitations should be proper homes.

9.10 p.m.

Mr. Ivor Owen Thomas (The Wrekin)

I am glad that this question has been raised because, as in many other parts of the country, this problem occurs in my constituency by the acquisition, or conquest, whichever term one wishes to apply, by squatters of certain Army camps containing Nissen huts. It has created a problem for me of having to raise the question of the condition of these huts with the Minister of Health. It is clear from any examination of the circumstances of such huts in camps scattered over the country that in the great majority of cases they are entirely unfit for permanent habitation. They are not houses; they are disused Army huts. The urgency of the housing problem all over the country is underlined by the fact that hundreds of families have thought them fit, necessary and preferable to their present living conditions and have even taken over these places by force. They have marched in and established occupation.

When such circumstances arose, the War Department were faced with a problem which is not easy of solution. Families have gone into these places, entirely unsuitable as far as any decent standard of comfortable accommodation is concerned, lacking sanitary facilities, with insufficient water service, and the absence of almost all the amenities which go to make reasonable accommodation. The families who have taken over these places cannot be put out on to the road. They have come from places where, as mentioned by other hon. Members, conditions had become absolutely intolerable. The intolerable nature of these conditions is, as I say, underlined by the fact that these people have seen fit to go into camps, and to occupy them.

The problem has to be dealt with as a fait accompli. We cannot put these people out as there is nowhere else for them to go. We have to face the fact that they are there, and reconcile ourselves to the fact that we have to make their conditions reasonably comfortable, and safe from a sanitary point of view. In the particular case raised from my constituency, it appears that the War Department, faced with the problem, were not prepared to accept it as a housing problem. They thought, probably quite rightly, that their field of activity was preparation for war, and the defence of the country generally, and not the provision of housing accommodation But they appear to have reached a bargain with the Ministry of Health, because I understand from the honorary secretary of the Roden Squatters' Tenants' Committee that these huts have been taken over by the Ministry of Health from the War Department. As the Member of Parliament for that area, I have received representations on behalf of the squatters to put their case for some attention to be given by the Ministry of Health to the condition of these camps. I have written to the Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry, and presumably the matter is being looked into.

I do not suggest that this is a matter which is easy of solution. These places were obviously not built for family accommodation, but having taken them over, the Government have a responsibility to discharge—to see that these people are made as comfortable as it is possible to make them in these places. I remember reading in the local Press, when this invasion took place, that there was some attempt at forcible prevention of entry, but the invaders won the day. They established themselves, and the huts having now been transferred to the Ministry of Health, they have actually become the tenants of the Minister, and presumably they are paying a rent, and, therefore, the Minister has accepted the responsibilities of a landlord. Those responsibilities must be discharged, as far as possible.

The huts are in a very bad condition. Some of them are better than others. I have seen some photographs of the internal set-up of some of the huts. They appear to be in the nature of one big room, with certain services, such as water, in the corner, with gas, perhaps, laid on, but no really up-to-date facilities and amenities. The room is just one family living room, and in order to secure the minimum of privacy for the members of the family when they retire at night, they have had to hang up curtains, which are drawn at the end of the day to enable the family to settle down to rest. There are families with growing children of both sexes aged 15, 16, 17 and 18, and those conditions create a grave human problem, not merely from the point of view of the actual accommodation, but from the point of view of the whole circumstances of life, of dozens of families in the case I am quoting, where there are the mother and father and children ranging over all ages.

I appeal to the Minister, as other Members have done, to see that where the Ministry has taken over the responsibility for these places, it should do its utmost to make them reasonably habitable. Having accepted the circumstances of being a landlord, the Ministry must accept the responsibilities of a landlord, and I am sure that if some effort is made it will be found possible to make these huts far more habitable than they are. I do not know how long families will have to stay in these places, it may be 12 months, five years, 10 years, 15 years. The problem will only be solved as and when decent houses are built to which these people can be transferred. As long as people remain in these places, they should be made as comfortable and happy as it is possible to make them. I hope the Minister will give a considered reply to the points which I have raised.

9.20 p.m.

Mr. Gibson (Kennington)

There was one point made by the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) upon which we are all agreed. It is that the problem is a serious one and that the suffering caused in thousands of families through housing difficulties is as great as ever it has been. Some of us hear horrifying stories when we meet our constituents week by week. I am not satisfied that it would be any solution to this problem to use these huts. I have seen some which are being used. In London we are still pestered with some which were occupied during the first world war. Both in Woolwich and Bexley there are huts which were condemned before the war, but which are still occupied because of the difficulty of finding permanent accommodation for the people.

I fear that the more we use ex-Army huts to house families, the more difficult we shall make the problem of getting people out of such accommodation into decent surroundings. They will tend to become satisfied with their circumstances. On the other hand, so difficult and hard is the situation, that if it is possible to provide satisfactory accommodation with all the internal fittings which a reasonably decent home ought to have, and where people will be able to live a normal life, nobody will object. But it is a bad policy to put people in the middle of a huge aerodrome because a hut happens to be there with water laid on. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Works knows that some of us could find a good use for these huts. As chairman of the London County Council Housing Committee, I would like to take over one or two of them in order to house building trade workers who are building permanent homes. However, so far we have not been able to get any of them.

We need to be cautious in the use of these huts for living accommodation. It may be that there is a case for using the huts in Richmond Park where the circumstances might be different. They are close to a densely populated district with plenty of shopping and entertainment facilities. I am not at all sure that the same applies in the case of the aerodromes in the Eastern and Southern counties that I have visited. The policy has been that local authorities should be responsible for building. I was interested to see what the local authorities in the constituency of the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) had done, and also what had been done in Kingston. Two and a half years have passed since the end of the war, and we have had adequate opportunity to make a drive to build permanent homes or temporary houses. Kingston has produced 63 in two and a half years.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Will the hon. Member allow me? Is he aware, in making that point, that in November, 1945, the party of which he is a Member attained a majority on that council?

Mr. Gibson

.Well, so much the worse for them; they built only 63. There have been 203 houses built by the Ministry of Works, and private enterprise has built 25, while, in Huntingdonshire, 220 permanent houses have been built and 80 temporary houses.

Mr. Renton

With great respect to the hon. Member, would he say up to what date those figures refer. I have seen later housing returns than that, and I am sure that the figures for both are much bigger than those he has given. I mean figures published about three weeks ago.

Mr. Gibson

These figures come from the Housing Return of October 31, the very latest figures that hon. Members can get. The only point which I want to make is that, if we are going to complain about the Ministry of Health or the Ministry of Works not doing this, that or the other, let us kick our local authorities into doing more than they have done.

Mr. Renton

Is the hon. Member suggesting that it is part of the functions of a Member of Parliament to kick local authorities, when they have their democratically-elected representatives, and when there is a general supervision exercised over them by Government Departments?

Mr. Gibson

It is for each hon. Member to determine in his own mind how to tackle the problem. I know what I would say if the borough which I represent complained that the Government were doing nothing and if I found that they had done nothing themselves. I cannot help comparing the figures in this Return with what has been done, for instance, by the Borough of Woolwich, which has built 192 permanent houses and rebuilt 108 war-destroyed dwellings, and with what has been done in Greenwich, where they have built 132 permanent houses and rebuilt 10 war-destroyed houses, and a large number of temporaries in addition.

The hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames gave a little lecture to Ministers about being Ministers and insisting on carrying out their functions properly, but it seems to me a little bit unfair to do that when we can see that the local authorities of the constituencies which we represent have not, on the face of it, been doing all that they ought to have done.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

As the hon. Gentleman has repeated that charge with particular reference to myself, may I say that it is no part of my duty to defend the doings of my local council when it is controlled by people with whom I disagree, but, in fairness to them, it is surely right to point out that they recently, and for some time, in fact, have been refused by the Minister any authority whatever to issue any licences for building. In these circumstances, it ill becomes the hon. Member to taunt them for their lack of progress.

Mr. Gibson

There have been quite a number of permits given, because private enterprise has, in fact, completed 25 houses in Kingston. However, the point I want to make is that the use of huts may, in an extreme emergency, be a useful proposition, but if it is going to have the effect of making people think that it will in any way ease the terrific housing problem, then it is wrong, and we ought not to give it the slightest encouragement. We have got to insist that, so terrific is the problem of housing in this country, whatever else we may go short of, we must not go short of building new houses.

9.30 p.m.

Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, West)

I hope this question of hutments will not be taken as an opportunity for an attack on the Government in the way in which some hon. Members opposite have sought to use it. As a matter of fact, to take my own constituency as an example, the entry into hutments has not only been decided by the squatters who entered in the first place, but it was decided by the desire of the local council, which was almost frantic because of the difficulties arising from the general shortage of houses.

In my Division, although the accomplishments of the local council are excellent compared with those of other councils, there are still 12,000 persons on the books applying for houses, despite all that has been done. In its desire to get on with anything that offered, the local council not merely agreed to the squatters invading the huts, but made available a considerable number of huts for people who were simply taking the law into their own hands. The council asked me to accompany a deputation to my hon. Friend, the then Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, to ask for a considerable sum of money to be spent upon improving the huts which had been taken over. The sum involved was only a flea-bite. It was something between £150 and £250 a hut. There were to be bathrooms put in, hot and cold water, and all sorts of improvements which, I agree, ought to be in houses, besides the general improvement of the site outside.

At that time, the people were wandering about in the mud, during a terrible winter, in an effort to collect water from pipes in a field sometimes 200 or 300 yards away from the huts. In very hard weather, women with child were carrying water under those conditions. We protested, and the council wanted the money to be spent. The case put by the Minister of Health was that it would be better, instead of drawing building materials and labour for that purpose, to get on with the housing scheme. The Minister said that, in some cases, the huts were on the sites which would be used for building permanent houses, and that it would be better to get on with the job of providing the permanent houses instead of spending considerable sums of money on utterly unsatisfactory huts. The local council have got on with the job. I am not prepared to blame the Government for their part in these proceedings. They have been facing a very difficult problem, and, up to the present, they have done the best they can.

There is not only the question of huts involved. In my division, there is a terrible place which goes under the name —it is almost blasphemy to use the name —of the "Good Shepherd Hall." Last Friday night, a woman came to me to say how she, her husband, a baby which was born in hospital three weeks ago, and another child of 14 months, were living in one miserable little room in this "Good Shepherd Hall." She was breaking her heart about the situation, and wanted something to be done about it. But I know that if they were put into decent conditions, such as are accorded to people in, say, temporary houses, they would probably be out of their turn as compared with the many other families in my division who are seeking housing accommodation. In the same way, if the Good Shepherd Hall was improved, it would not necessarily be improved for the people there at present; it would only be improved for people who have even a better claim to such decent accommodation as we can provide.

That is the sort of problem which we ought to take into consideration when complaints are made. I admit that these things are bad, but I do not try to apportion blame to the Government. Every hon. Member who has spoken from these benches has been right when telling the Government that, despite the international situation—dollars, timber, and the rest—we cannot afford, whatever else we do, the cuts contemplated at the present time regarding permanent houses.

A statement was made on behalf of the Ministry of Health that new houses in London are to be provided only at the rate of 300 a month, instead of an average of 2,000 a month. This was in reply to a deputation, when I was present, and we were assured that that was the rule now being adopted in London, because of the stringent difficulties with which we are faced. If that is the procedure to be adopted, and if it continues for long, there will be a revolutionary situation in the London area—and also in my area. We are not prepared, in any sort of national stringency, with the 12,000 people who are on the waiting list, to see such a cutting down in the housing programme as is contemplated in these figures. I would even say that the figure of 140,000 houses for 1949, in place of the 260,000, represents a figure altogether too low in view of the situation facing us. It is only when I face the future that I say any word of complaint about the action of the Government. Up to the present they have done extremely well in a bad situation.

9.37 P.m.

Mr. Skeffington-Lodge (Bedford)

I want to endorse and underline the commonsense which has been uttered by my hon. Friend the Member for Kennington (Mr. Gibson). These huts are no solution whatever to the housing problem. I appreciate the generous sentiments lying behind the speech of the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) but I would say that in 90 cases out of 100 they are utterly unsuitable for human habitation. In most cases they are hardly fit to house either pigs or hens. A point which, to my mind, is very important is that they are cluttering up the landscape, and spoiling the natural amenities from one end of the country to the other. Taking the Orkney Islands as an example, literally hundreds of these derelict huts are still there, and for those who like the beauty of Northern Scotland in general and those Islands in particular, it is a shocking picture which greets the holiday visitor in these days.

Where the huts are usable they are most suitable for various welfare activities. In my constituency of Bedford I have had the Sea Scouts asking me to help them to secure local headquarters in which they can hold darts matches and have lectures and so on. In my judgment these huts are more suitable for that sort of use than for living in. I cannot agree with the hon. Member who said they were often fitted up with amenities such as wash basins, lavatories and sanitation. That is not the case. I think we must have some sense of proportion in considering this matter. It would be fatal if it went out to the country tonight from this House that there were a lot of habitable huts which people could secure merely by badgering their local authorities or their Member of Parliament. I want myself to inject this amount of common sense into the Debate and to stress that we must keep a balanced outlook in discussing this matter.

9.40 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Kingsmill (Yeovil)

In my own constituency there are several camps which have been taken over by squatters. They are all Nissen huts, and they have been converted by the people who took them over. They have been converted extremely well, and they have made extremely good temporary houses. When the time comes, as we all hope it will come very soon, for permanent houses to replace those temporary huts, it will be a very good thing; but in the meantime when, so far as I can make out, only cow houses can be reconstructed and labourers' cottages cannot, it would be wrong to turn anybody out from any form of waterproof protection, which is what a Nissen hut is. If the Minister has no alternative suggestion for better accommodation to a Nissen hut which is converted by the people who take it over, with or without his authority—and in most cases it is without—and who have made a comfortable and warm home with suitable sanitation, it would be far better to let them stay there than to turn them out or prevent other people from doing likewise.

9.41 p.m.

Mr. Ungoed-Thomas (Llandaff and Barry)

The impressive feature about this Debate has been, despite superficial differences, the consensus of agreement. Before the Minister replies, I would like to put to him principles which I suggest have emerged from this Debate. In the course of the Debate there have been differences, but I believe that on an analysis of the speeches it will be found they are differences of emphasis rather than any fundamental difference of policy. First, I suggest that camps should be made available for human habitation wherever possible. I appreciate at once that those words "wherever possible" beg the question, but I will deal with that. I cannot accept the suggestion that when there is an issue between amenities and human habitation, amenities should have any consideration at all. The second principle involved is that the Ministry should approach this problem from the point of view of the occupants. That is to say, they should not have in mind, as any Administration is apt to have, the ideal standard of housing, but should consider the alternatives between the habitation which these huts provide and the habitation to which many people are condemned if they do not have the huts.

The third principle is that once huts have been handed over for habitation, they should be kept fit for habitation until alternative permanent accommodation is available. The fourth point which would inevitably follow, if the Ministry adopts these principles, is that in letting people go into these huts due regard should be had to the local authorities' priorities. It is no condemnation of using huts that as things are now that squatters go in and jump their claims, because if the Ministry and the local authorities adopted a definite policy of making huts available, the whole matter could be properly regulated and people could be put into the huts with due regard to their priorities.

Mr. Gallacher

Would the hon. and learned Member excuse me if I point to a principle I think has been forgotten. In view of the fact that we are dealing with very important principles, does he not think it desirable that it should he noted that any person going into a hut should not lose his priority position for a permanent or temporary house?

Mr. Ungoed-Thomas

Certainly. I am very much obliged to my hon. Friend.

I would like to illustrate these principles by referring to an occurrence in my own constituency. Some huts which had been occupied became vacant and were condemned to destruction. The Ministry was going to send in demolishers to dispose of them. Squatters jumped the claim, occupied the huts and are still there. The matter was taken up with the Welsh Board of Health and the Ministry. May I say at once that both the Welsh Board of Health and the Ministry gave every consideration, the matter was dealt with in a most human and expeditious way, the squatters were allowed to stay there, the demolitions were stopped and the Ministry and the Welsh Board of Health have been most helpful ever since.

The point I am making is this: if the policy were, in fact, laid down in accordance with the principles I suggest, there would never have been occasion for the squatters having to go in in order to prevent that camp from being destroyed. I am urging, and other hon. Members have been urging, that these principles should be recognised as part of the day-to-day regular curriculum laid down by the Minister and should not be considered only when some local occurrence is brought to the notice of the Minister. I do hope the Minister will extract from this Debate those principles which are constructive and will not pay too much attention to differences of opinion which have been merely superficial.

9.47 P.m.

Mr. E. P. Smith (Ashford)

I think it is fair to say in this connection that we all know huts differ and that some are better than others. I think, too, it would generally be true to say that even a bad hut is better than no accommodation at all and is certainly better than six or seven persons living together in one room —conditions with which I have been familiar in some instances in my constituency. I remember a case in the town of Ashford where there was a largish house, which had been in the occupation of the Inland Revenue. It had a table in it—I think for about nine months—and nothing else, and it was invaded by four families of squatters. At that time the Treasury transferred it to the Ministry of Agriculture to be converted into a hostel for drivers who conveyed prisoners of war to and from their labour in the field. The moment these squatters occupied it, the local authorities, apparently quite properly, cut off the electric light and the water, while the local fuel overseer would not allocate them any fuel. One night a baby was born in that house, without water, without electric light and with only a few sticks burning in the grate. Happily, the delivery was successful; the mother and child were taken to hospital and, I believe, everything went well.

As regards the people who were left in the house, whom I have been to see several times, they asked me for my advice—and though I do not know whether I ought to state this—I suggested to them that there was a camp of hutments not very far distant which might conceivably be used. They migrated there, and I believe they have been happy there and nave made themselves very nice-homes in every sense. I do, however, feel absolutely appalled at the prospect of cutting down the building of permanent houses. I know that it is said that that is due to the inevitable reduction of capital expenditure. I would suggest to Ministers that permanent houses are really a form of capital investment and not capital expenditure; and that we cannot expect to get the volume of production we want in this country if men and women are living under conditions which are very unsatisfactory and very unhappy, if they are living in houses which they cannot by any stretch of the imagination call homes, and in which they cannot be comfortable or lead a normal and healthy home life.

9.51 p.m.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre (New Forest and Christchurch)

I would not have intervened in this Debate but for two things. The first is that in my own Division there is a great number of hutted camps which, perhaps because of topography, are in very isolated positions. The second reason is that when I came into this House tonight I found a subject of this magnitude and this importance being reduced to a purely political level. I was horrified to find an hon. Member trying to say that conditions in the Borough of Woolwich were such as to enable him to secure some local success in the local paper at the expense of the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton). I do think that if we are going to discuss a subject of this importance from a constituency level——

Mr. Gibson

The hon. and gallant Gentleman is quite mistaken. I do not come from Woolwich. I do not represent Woolwich in this House.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

I did not say that. Had the hon. Member listened to what I said he would have understood that all that I said was, that it was apparent that his speech was purely designed, for one reason or another—far be it from me to judge what the reason was—to advance a particular case against the general case put from this side of the House. All I would say is that, if, when we are discussing so very difficult and very grave a problem, we are going to reduce the thing to a matter of making pros and cons for one particular borough or another, then we are going to fail in our job.

Mr. George Thomas rose

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

No. Let me finish my sentence. I would say this to the hon. Member—that I have learned from the latest housing return that the borough that he quoted has a population of 151,000 and has completed 192 houses, whereas in the case of the hon. Member for Huntingdon the county has a population of 157,000 and has completed 224 houses. Therefore, there could be no greater condemnation of the argument he was trying to make than the figures he dared to quote.

Mr. Gibson

I quoted Woolwich. Woolwich built 192 permanent houses, 108 rebuilds, and 893 temporaries. That is a total of 1,192, not 192. Even as far as the Kingston-upon-Thames figures are concerned——

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

I did not say that.

Mr. Gibson

Even as far as the Kingston-upon-Thames figures are concerned the hon. and gallant Member was wrong, because they built 63, and 202 temporaries, which does not give the figure he quoted.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

The hon. and gallant Gentleman has not quoted those figures yet.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

Perhaps I might be allowed to take part in this argument. As I understood the hon. Member for Kennington, the whole point of his speech was that we desire permanent houses—with which I am in full agreement—and he was saying that nothing should stand in the way of permanent housing.

Mr. Ungoed-Thomas

No, no.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

The figures I have given are based entirely on permanent houses. If he now wishes to alter the whole argument which he made, I am prepared to accept that. If he does not wish to, then the figures I have given represent a true proportion on what he strove to achieve in his speech, and what, in fact, has been achieved by the bodies he quoted. No doubt, the OFFICIAL REPORT will show which of us is right.

Again, I was rather horrified by the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Llandaff and Barry (Mr. Ungoed Thomas), who made the proposition—he will correct me if I am wrong—that housing, even in temporary camps, comes before amenities. That was his primary proposition.

Mr. Ungoed-Thomas

I do not want my speech misrepresented in the same fashion as that of my hon. Friend the Member for Kennington (Mr. Gibson). If the hon. and gallant Member had listened carefully to my speech he would have heard me say that camps should be used for housing rather than done away with merely because they are a blot on the landscape.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

I do not think I have said anything different. If the hon. and learned Member wishes to quarrel with me, I must accept his statement. Surely, the position is more grave than that. We have a great many camps in the New Forest; and I did start by acknowledging that I came from the New Forest which is, above all, one of the places where amenities and camps are bound to clash. When we consider this question, I do ask that we should do so not in the sense proposed by the hon. and learned Member for Llandaff and Barry, but in the widest sense. If we are to use these camps temporarily, then we must try to produce the amenities which go with accommodation in such temporary structures. That is where the Government have fallen down completely. They are perfectly willing to allow local authorities to take possession of camp A or camp B, irrespective of where it may be or what facilities it may provide for the temporary housing of local population.

Mr. Skeffington-Lodge


Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

The hon. Member says, "Nonsense."

Mr. G. Thomas

So it is.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

The hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeffington-Lodge) comes from a very densely populated area, where the archdeacon has received a number of copies of a particular prayer, which shows how efficient the local services are.

Mr. Skeffington-Lodge

On a point of Order. Is not the point made by the hon. and gallant Member utterly irrelevant to this Debate; and is he allowed to introduce irrelevancies about the Archdeacon of Bedford?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Skeffington-Lodge) must remember that in an Adjournment Debate anything is in Order unless it involves legislation.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

I apologise, Mr. Speaker, for that departure from the subject. In the New Forest we have quite a number of camps which are very isolated and are divorced from normal amenities, which I think I am fair in saying most hon. Members have in the case of camps in their areas which may be used temporarily for the purpose of accommodating people.

Mr. Ungoed-Thomas

The hon. and gallant Member has taken precisely the course I anticipated he would take. He attacked me on the question of amenities, and I expected him then to go on to deal with amenities in the camps. That is precisely what he has done. I was not attacking amenities in the camps. What I was attacking was the suggestion that camps should be done away with where they were a blot on the landscape and interfered with other people's amenities, and I said that such amenities should not stand against the need for housing accommodation.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

That is quite true; I am in complete agreement with the hon. and learned Member there. Perhaps if he visited the New Forest he would see that the attack which I made upon his argument is perfectly logical with the argument I am now putting forward.

It being Ten o'Clock, the Motion for the Adjournment lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Popplewell.]

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

If the hon. Member would visit my constituency, he would understand the argument on which I have tried to base it. If he has not been there, I wish he would come as soon as possible.

Mr. Ungoed-Thomas

What is the argument the hon. and gallant Member is making?

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

The argument I made in my speech. Perhaps the hon. and learned Member has not followed it, in which case I can only regret that I have not made myself clear. Let us not complicate the issue. The hon. Member attacked me for one particular thing I said. If he has not followed, let him come and see himself.

Mr. Ungoed-Thomas

It is not clear to anybody yet.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

The hon. and learned Member must not judge from his own intelligence that of other hon. Members in the House. I would ask particularly in regard to amenities in isolated rural areas, for the provision of special facilities. I have various arguments going on with the various Ministries at the moment, but it is quite apparent that these Ministries responsible for the taking over of camps in isolated areas for the benefit of local communities have not the same responsibility as the Minister responsible who is to reply tonight. We took over a camp in my division. The local authorities did their best to make it into something which would redound to the general benefit of the community, but the other Ministries will not do anything to implement that policy. Time and again we have been faced with that in the New Forest. It may be because it is Crown land, or for some other reason. We have hundreds of families living in isolated conditions, and no Ministry will do anything. I ask for some consideration where these conditions exist. I do not believe my own constituency is alone in this matter. I hope that instructions will be given to every Government Department to do something, so that the amenities which other communities enjoy shall be enjoyed by these communities.

10.3 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Mr. John Edwards)

I anticipated that this Debate would be of a relatively narrow character, but it has turned out to be almost like a major Debate, with questions concerning almost every Department of the Government. It will be obvious that it is quite impossible for me to deal with the detailed cases which have been put to me, some of which are under consideration, and some of which I have heard today for the first time. I was urged by my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins) to speak from my heart, and the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) seemed to doubt whether we were aware of the misery of people living in grossly overcrowded homes. The House would be surprised if I were to speak from my heart, or if I allowed one-quarter of my ancestry, which is Welsh, really to come to the top.

I do not need any exhortations from either side of the House, because I know, I served my apprenticeship in the City of Leeds, which had something like 80,000 back-to-back houses, 35,000 of the worst type—one up and one down—and 60 or 70 to the acre. I know a little more than that. I took part in the biggest municipal housing drive that this country has seen, and I was one of those responsible for the most thorough-going differential renting scheme Britain has ever seen. I wish I could put it on record that my political opponents of those days had helped in that work. If I may now stop talking from my heart, so to speak, and begin to go back to thinking with my head, I hope it will not be suggested that it is because my right hon. Friend, or the Minister of Works, or myself are indifferent to this human problem. In any event, even if I were likely to forget, my postbag of some 300 letters a week which I get from Members of the House would be a continuous reminder to me.

There has been some talk about housing in general, and the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mi. Renton) talked about the postponement of housing except for key workers. I am sure he did not want to leave a false impression. There is a good deal of talk at the moment as though there had been a cut in housing in the sense that we were holding back in some way. I want to tell the House that whatever 1949 may hold we have more than enough work in hand, either on house-building or houses under contract, to keep us fully busy until well into 1949. The Government have gone on record, only in the last day or two, in the White Paper, as saying that they actually want to accelerate the rate at which houses are completed. But whatever 1949 may hold let us agree that what we are going to try to do now is to finish, as soon as possible, the 360,000 houses We have in hand.

Mr. Renton

As the hon. Member has specifically referred to me, may I quote a passage from "The Times" which I have not seen disputed by the Government? On 4th December "The Times,"propos the 1949 period, said: Only 18 months ago, it is true, the Government were still dreaming of reaching a rate of over 400,000 new permanent houses per year by the middle of 1949, whereas their present aim for 1949 is no higher than 140,000. I hope, therefore, that I may be excused having used the word "postponement," which, I hoped, was a kind word.

Mr. Edwards

If the hon. Member will read the White Paper he will see that he is wrong and that "The Times" is also wrong in this respect. In any event, it is not proper for me to try to enlarge on this now as I want to deal more specifically with the points which have been put to me in the Debate. I must say that I do not much like these huts for the most part, and that there is a certain irony in the fact that at the very time when we are building houses of a better standard than before, and considerably better houses than those which are being built in any part of Europe, we have to have recourse, because of urgent necessity for accommodation, to what is admittedly sub-standard accommodation. I think we are all agreed about that, but I hope that nobody thinks that because of that irony we have to lower the standards of the houses we are building.

Certainly, I would defend to the last ditch the building of high quality houses which will stand the judgment of time.

But we have to use these huts. I agree with what the hon. Member for Huntingdon said about the use of the circular. He commended it, and said that we should use it to the full. I agree, but I am not in agreement with the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames, who suggested that the Ministry of Health discouraged—that was the word he used—local authorities from using these camps. The contrary is true. In every way we know, once a camp has been allocated for housing purposes, we do everything we can to encourage the local authority to take it over, or, if they will not do that, manage it on our behalf. The word "discourage" is not a word which I recognise as being in the vocabulary either of my right hon. Friend or anyone in his Department.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman appreciated the point which I had particularly in mind. That was that it was not enough for the Ministry of Health to encourage the use of a camp when it had been allotted. Their failure, in one particular case which I have mentioned, was to support the local authority in asking for the allocation of the camp.

Mr. Edwards

That was not what the hon. Gentleman said when he made his speech. I am glad to have the correction. In January, 1946, this circular was issued. It did not meet with a very enthusiastic reception, and it was not until the bursts of squatting in the summer that it really began to find much support from the local authorities. As a result, we now have a total of some 694 camps that have been taken over under the circular. We also have another 379 camps which are being managed on behalf of the Ministry by local authorities.

Mr. E. P. Smith

Are any of those in Kent?

Mr. Edwards

I cannot say without notice. That means that there are 1,073 camps in those two categories, which are being used for housing purposes. There is not an unlimited pool of accommodation here on which we can draw. If this Debate had taken place early in 1946, a good deal of what has been said would have been much more true. There is a limit, and when I have letters, as I have had from time to time, referring to the large numbers of huts about the country, or when hon. Members leave the impression that there are vast numbers of huts available for housing, I do not know where they are.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

In Richmond Pa.

Mr. Edwards

One swallow does not make a summer.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

One failure tells a story.

Mr. Edwards

When the hon. Gentleman can show failure to use the places for a long period, such cases I will admit as relevant, but to sling the case of Richmond Park across the Table in Debate is neither here nor there. If Richmond Park was not being used it would be a different matter.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

It is empty at the moment.

Mr. Edwards

It is not empty at the moment. The hon. Gentleman is wrong, and if he will take the trouble to go there, he will find that it is not empty.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Will the hon. Gentleman accept this challenge? Will he make available to the local authority who have asked for it, such parts of that camp as are empty tonight?

Mr. Edwards

The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the Government have a use for Richmond Park, and that one result of the use to which the Park will be put, will be the derequisitioning of other property, including houses, which hon. Members on the other side of the House have from time to time mentioned.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter


Mr. Edwards

The second thing that I have to say is that, even if the huts are seen to be empty, it must not be assumed that they are surplus. The Service Departments have vacated and do vacate camps, but they may be unable to give them up pending decisions on the allocation of troops, the strength of Forces, and so on. Moreover, when Service Departments declare that a camp is surplus, then the Ministry of Works has to consider whether that camp can be used by any other Civil Department, and, in general, to review the claims, and sometimes they are competitive claims. In considering the claims, the Ministry of Works have regard to housing, because, as soon as a camp is declared redundant, the regional officer of the Ministry of Health passes that information to the local authority. Therefore, when my right hon. Friend the Minister of Works comes to consider the matter he has housing claims in front of him.

At the present time the Government have a tremendous need to find accommodation not only for their own ordinary purposes, but for actual living accommodation. In the next six months we shall have to find accommodation for getting on for 150,000 British workers, Poles, and European voluntary workers who are being put into industry, into mining and into agriculture. One must, I submit to the House in all seriousness, weigh up all the time very carefully how the accommodation should be used, and there will be a large number of circumstances where camps that are not really suitable for housing because of their situation may well, for example, be suitable for agricultural workers who may have to be moved by transport and the like.

Lieut.-Colonel Kingsmill

How does the hon. Gentleman suggest that housing, which is not useful for ordinary people, may be useful for agricultural workers? Is it that they do not need the usual amenities?

Mr. Edwards

The hon. and gallant Gentleman has no right to assume anything of the kind.

Lieut.-Colonel Kingsmill

That is what the hon. Gentleman said.

Mr. Edwards

It is not. What I said was that some camps were not situated so as to be convenient for housing purposes. I went on to say that that might not prevent a camp being suitable, for example, for housing agricultural workers who may have to go a considerable distance. I feel that the proposal of the hon. Member for Huntingdon comes down in the end to this, that there will be comparatively few camps for which no Government use can be found. I am now speaking of his suggestion for moving. We want to use them in some cases, but he says if we cannot use them we ought to try to dismantle them and remove them somewhere else.

Mr. Renton

Remove the fittings.

Mr. Edwards

Here it is a matter of what is practicable. The only type of hut which can be dismantled and re-erected, without disproportionate difficulty, is the timber hut. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Works tells me that there are none surplus at all. Several types are not easily dismantled and re-erected and, as has been pointed out by a number of hon. Members, even though the huts are excellent they are not always kept in the best of condition for one reason or another. If we take, for example, the Nissen hut, I made inquiries from the Service Department and they reckon that it would be necessary to dismantle or, as they say, cannibalise half a dozen to provide one good Nissen hut for dismantling and re-erecting. In the case of plaster hoard huts we can pretty well be sure it is a dead loss.

We have, therefore, to consider whether it is really worth while going to the expense of dismantling and re-erecting the only two kinds where we could do it—one the timber hut, of which we have not got a surplus and, secondly, the Nissen hut, to move one of which would involve a number. Also, we should have transport costs, the preparation of sites, the laying of foundations and all the civil engineering work. My own opinion—and I say this without any attempt to ride off on an easy keel—is that we should have to be very hard pressed indeed for material before we could really force the use of labour to such an extent as is there involved. Considering what we get at the end in the matter of lifetime of the hut—our experience of the huts in London is very interesting in this connection—I feel quite certain we have the right to dispose of the surplus huts as they stand, and in the last resort, when no other use can be found for them, of selling them maybe to the owner of the land or to someone else who can use them.

One point which was raised by the hon. Member for Huntingdon was that of the responsibility of the local authorities for the care of the huts and so on. I would ask him to believe that as far as we are able we encourage the local authorities. We advise them that if they get into any difficulties, our regional officers are at their disposal and ready to help in any way they can, but in the use of huts for housing purposes we have to remember that not only must the huts be available but we must have local authorities who want to take them over and use them. Once the camps have been taken over by a local authority under Circular 20, 1946, they become part of the local authority's pool of housing accommodation and are managed in exactly the same way as the local authority's own houses. Some local authorities have, in fact, appointed special wardens to look after particular camps and to cope with the special problems that may arise there.

There has, however, been considerable reluctance on the part of a number of local authorities to assume responsibility for camps that have been occupied by squatters. At the time of the outbreak of squatting, the Government decided that families should not be evicted from camps unless the camps were required for Government purposes. A good number of camps occupied by squatters were subsequently declared redundant by Service Departments and became a housing responsibility. The local authorities concerned had to be persuaded that the problem rested with them as housing authorities and in some cases very much against their will, or at least against their first inclinations, they were persuaded to take the camps over in due course. I can understand their anxiety. In some cases, the squatters came from outside their district; in other cases, they had jumped the queue; and as everybody knows this causes very considerable local trouble. Most local authorities have now realised that the problem is not only one of housing but one of good local government, and they have either agreed to take over the camps occupied by the squatters or, as I said earlier, in some 379 cases, they have agreed to manage them on behalf of the Minister of Health.

This is the measure of the problem. In my submission, while it was true a couple of years ago that there were a lot of empty camps that could be used and while there may still be an occasional case—I am quite willing to look at any cases sent to me—I am satisfied that over the country as a whole there is very little surplus accommodation indeed. I am satisfied that the proposal to move or to dismantle and re-erect huts is not really a practicable one, and I believe that the local authorities are really doing their best to handle what is admittedly an extremely difficult problem.

We all know what this housing problem means. I had it put to me perhaps as abruptly as it could be the other day when I went to open the two thousandth house at Hereford. After the ceremony I save a group of women talking and looking across the road at the house. I said to them, "You can have a look round," and one of the women at once turned to me and said, "It is not a look round we want; it is a house." We all feel that and know that, and certainly those of us who are in any way responsible for this are determined to provide as much accommodation as we can. We do not like huts, but as long as we have to use them, we shall use as many as we can and the ones we use we shall make as habitable as possible.

10.25 p.m.

Sir John Barlow (Eddisbury)

I have heard most of the speeches this evening and have paid careful attention to them. Housing is not a political subject in any way; it is far too serious for that. We all have this problem in our constituencies, and although I have listened to the explanation of the Parliamentary Secretary, I am not entirely satisfied with it. I do not feel the Government are making the best use of the available housing. I know perfectly well that this problem is full of difficulties from the point of view of the Government but, at the same time, we as Members from different parts of the country know that hutments of various quality are available.

We know that they are not as good as the housing which the Government or we would like for the people requiring homes so badly, but I am still convinced that the hutments available in different parts of the country are not used as well as they should be, and the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary has not allayed my fears in any way. It is not housing of the highest quality, it is not housing of average quality, it is housing which will give people a temporary roof over their heads that is required. We know the value of a house for young couples at the present time, and not only young couples but people who have been in the Services and want to start on their own.

It is of vital importance that greater use should be made of these huts. We have been told that there are not any of the wood sectional huts available because they are required for other purposes, but I would suggest that many of those purposes are not nearly so necessary as are houses for the people and that the Parliamentary Secretary should review the purposes to which those sectional hutments have been allocated. When they become surplus to requirements of the moment, the hon. Gentleman told us, it is considered whether another Department requires them before they are made available for housing. In many cases far too long is taken over such consideration, and in some cases where other Departments actually take them, I suggest that the urgency is not nearly so great as for private housing. As I say, we see these hutments, which look reasonable if not good accommodation, all over the country and, as a temporary measure, I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will seek for far more of these hutments which I believe are really available.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-nine Minutes past Ten o'Clock.