§ 10.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Derek Walker-Smith (Hertford)
I beg to move,That the Control of Building Operations (No. 8) Order, 1947 (S.R. & O., 1947, No. 74), dated 15th January, 1947, a copy of which was presented on zest January, be annulled.This is a comparatively long Order, but it is a mercifully short point. In the main, the Order which I am praying that the House will annul tonight, is a reiteration of the Control of Building Operations (No. 7) Order, 1946. In passing, I am tempted to remark that, if only the construction of houses in this country were multiplied at the same pace as the Orders controlling building operations, we should 2405 be a good deal nearer the target which the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health has put before the people of this country. But there is one significant difference between the No. 7 Order, which is rescinded, and the No. 8 Order, which is the one with which we are concerned tonight. The point I am putting before the House is concerned solely with that one single difference.
The previous Order, in imposing certain restrictions upon building operations, exempted from the requirements of licensing, work of the value of over £10, where that work was done by unpaid labour to domestic premises. That exemption is now discontinued by this new Order, and it is that discontinuance which I invite the House to express its disapproval of tonight. The effect of this dis-continuance, put in practical terms, is this, that the odd job man, the useful man about the home who is a valuable citizen—I speak, personally, in some small envy, because it is a thing I have never been able to do myself—but the effect is, that the useful man about the home, the man who is able, in these difficult times, by his own energy and skill to do small works of jobbing, repairs and maintenance in his home, is brought face to face with the wholly complex and awesome machinery of restriction and control.
In my view, it is right, and it is for the benefit of all, that such people should be allowed, and, indeed, encouraged to extend their domestic and beneficent activities within the province of their own homes. If they are not allowed to do so—at any rate, as regards work exceeding the value of £10, at the House will appreciate that their beneficent activities are very closely "cabined, cribbed, confined" indeed, because £10, at the present cost of building materials, is, of course, a very low sum when translated into terms of wood, paint, or whatever it may be. Therefore, in my submission this Order is, at first sight, a complete absurdity.
It is, at first sight, an incomprehensible thing why any Government or any Minister should wish to shackle individual liberty in this rather mean and petty way. They are restricting and repressing the useful and constructive energies of people, and thereby—the Minister should face it—they run the risk of diverting them into less socially desirable channels. I do believe we are reaching the fantastic and 2406 paradoxical stage in this country, where the only personal activity not actively discouraged by the present Government is dog-racing and football pools. At first sight, as I say, this Order is manifestly absurd, and therefore, I think it my duty to try and put myself, for this purpose alone, in the place of the hon. Member who is to reply, to see why he should wish to do this thing. No doubt the answer is—and I am to some extent indebted for his courtesy in letting me into the secrets of his mind—the unhappy scarcity of certain building materials, particularly timber and paint. No one knows better than myself that there is this unfortunate shortage of these basic building materials, and no one knows better than myself the catastrophic effects of these shortages in the sphere of the constructive energies of the building industry. I assure the hon. Member and the House that no one is more irreconcilably opposed to black-market activities, whether it is in the building trade or anywhere else, than myself and the hon. Members whose names are associated with me on this occasion.
The question I want to put is this: Are this Order and the restrictive machinery contained therein really the right way to tackle this problem? Is it the right way to crack down on the small man, who can make good and immediate use of the small amount of timber, paint and other materials which can be bought for fro today? I believe, if the small men are prevented from doing this personal task of jobbing repairs in their homes, some at any rate of the little stocks of materials which they can usefully draw on for this purpose will remain idle, like those hoards in the quartermasters' stores which are such a drawback to the efficiency and comfort of the soldier in wartime. Black-market jobs, on the strength of which the hon. Member will no doubt justify this Order, are not little jobs; black-market jobs are big jobs, and are jobs which should be stopped. Will these restrictive measures curb these big black-market operations? I think the answer to that is "No." What they will do is to divert the machinery of investigation and repression into unprofitable and anti-social channels of repressing the small domestic man. I would remind the hon. Gentleman of the military maxim that a dissipation of forces leads inevitably to a diminution of strength. What he should be doing is to 2407 concentrate the strength of his investigation and control against big black market operators, and not dissipate it in this fruitless and anti-social endeavour to curb the small man.
What will be the result of this Order? In my view, the terms of this Order are probably unenforceable. It is always a very wrong and dangerous thing to try to introduce laws which are likely to be unenforceable because we are told—and I am glad to have the authority of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) on this matter—that nothing brings the law more surely into contempt than to impose laws and restrictions which are, by their very nature, unenforceable. In so far as they may be enforced, they are likely to be enforced against the small men, on their legitimate and domestic jobs, while the big black marketeers are likely to escape through the gaping meshes of this net which has been so widely cast, and so loosely woven. I believe that the true answer to illegitimate black market activity is not universal and indiscriminate restriction, but wise encouragement of legitimate and useful forms of activity. I believe that the restriction against which we are praying tonight is unwise and unenforceable. I believe that it will open the doors to a system of espionage and tale-bearing which, at any rate, until very recently, we were always able to claim was quite incompatible with the British character and practice.
Here, I would like to quote a comment from the "Economist," a paper which, until recently, was not markedly critical of the present Government. Of this Order, the "Economist" says:The first prize for the silliest piece of interference with people's private affairs, the encouragement of snoopers, penalisation of enterprise and the misuse of sledge hammers for cracking nuts, will be duly awarded to Mr. Tomlinson the Minister of Works.
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
It refers to this Order; that is what it has got to do with it. It is true that the right hon. Gentleman referred to here is no longer the Minister of Works. No doubt the Prime Minister read the "Economist," and promoted him to some other office. But the Order remains. The Minister may go, but the 2408 Order remains, and in his place a Prime Minister has imported, as the new Minister of Works, a Minister who has learnt his methods in a still more extreme and doctrinaire school. We have been wont to consider, on this side of the House, that the right hon. Gentleman referred to by the "Economist was, on the whole, a constructive Minister not wholly dedicated to doctrinaire ideologies. We have been wont to consider that the little finger of the Minister of Health was thicker than the loins of the Minister of Works. Here is a chance for the hon. Gentleman 'who has been sent here to reply, while the Minister of Works acclimatises himself to the atmosphere of his new office, to show that we are not mistaken. Here is a chance for the hon. Gentleman to show that however harshly the east wind blows from the Ministry of Health, there are tempering breezes coming up in a westerly direction from across the river. I ask the hon. Gentleman to consider the terms of this Order again. We are at one with him in condemning utterly and absolutely black-market activities in the building industry, as elsewhere, but we believe the machinery which he seeks to use in this case is not well adapted to the purpose.
§ 10.15 p.m.
§ Sir John Mellor (Sutton Coldfield)
I beg to second the Motion.
I wish to associate myself with the case, so well made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith). I think that it is singularly unfortunate that this Order does not make what is described in the Explanatory Note as a free allowance of £2 a month, presumably expendable without licence, cumulative. I believe that if owners of property were enabled, under the Order, to allow it to accumulate month by month for the six months, so that they would have some £22 to spend, far better use would be made of the money. It would be more welcome to those concerned, and there would not be a tendency to fritter away the £2 each month on comparatively unimportant things. I am sure that what the Government would wish is that householders should get value for the money. That surely is in the interests of all.
As things will work out, I am afraid that a lot of money will be wasted on small and perhaps quite unnecessary jobs. There will be a tendency for an exceptional demand for labour to arise 2409 during the last day of a month and the first day of the following month, because people will then be able to spend £4 instead of £2. At the end of the six months' period, if they have not already spent their and they spend it in the last three days of the period, they may add to the total expenditure, the amount expendable in the next period. I know that happened at the beginning of this period. People lumped together what they had saved during the former period, and spent that £10 and the succeeding all in one week. There is no harm in there doing that, except that it creates an exceptional demand for labour at the end of each month, and at the end of each six monthly period.
It is quite certain that people will spend the so-called free allowance to the full, even though they may have no real need to do so. I am sure that the very fact of there being a maximum permitted will mean that most people will desire to spend it. It is one of the features of control that when a maximum is imposed, in practice it always becomes the minimum. I think that it is natural when we are permitted so little freedom that everyone desires to exercise it to the full.
I share with my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford regret at the withdrawal of the exception which was contained in the previous Order in favour of work by unpaid labour. I think it is particularly unfortunate that no longer are we to be permitted to disregard the cost of materials used by unpaid labour. I want to ask the Parliamentary Secretary this question—what about the materials that are already in stock in the hands of the owner of the premises? Are they to count in the cost? If they are to count in the cost, I certainly do not think the Order is going to be effective. Who is to assess their actual value by the time they are used, having regard to their age, condition and so on? Again, if the owner decides to dismantle something and re-erect it, is the value of the materials dismantled to be included in the total cost which he is permitted in respect of that operation? We appreciate that some materials are in very short supply, timber and paint particularly so. But all materials are not in short supply and while it is reasonable that some restrictions should be placed upon the use of 2410 those materials in short supply, why should the cost of materials which are plentiful be included in the maximum permitted sum? I do not think that this Order is going to work at all effectively. I think that very few people will ever really understand its contents. I have not found it altogether easy to do so myself.
We find in paragraph 1 of the Order:The sum prescribed under paragraph (c) of the proviso to paragraph (1) of Regulation 56A of the Defence (General) Regulations. 1939, is the sum of ten pounds.Naturally, we have to look at Regulation 56A and when we get there we find that we have to go a great deal beyond that. In order to understand what is intended by paragraph 1 of the Order we have to look not only at Regulation 56A but at Parts I and II of the Sixth Schedule to the Defence Regulations. It is a considerable intellectual exercise to understand all that. In paragraph 2 of the Order we are referred to Regulation 56A. In order to understand we have to look not only at that Regulation but also at Parts I, II and III of the Sixth Schedule to the Defence Regulations. This also applies to paragraph 3 of this Order. I do not think that anyone outside the Ministry of Health could be expected to go through all that. It is true that we can refer to the explanatory note, but surely we ought not to be expected to rely upon an explanatory note. Why should people have to go through all this to ascertain their position under the law. I have known occasions when explanatory notes have not only been misleading but actually inaccurate. Therefore, an individual to ascertain his position under the law, has to perform an enormous intellectual feat.
I would ask the Minister one further question on this. Like many other Orders this Order says:the Minister of Works in the exercise of the powers conferred upon him by Regulation 56A of the Defence (General) Regulations, 1939, as having effect by virtue of the Supplies and Services (Transitional Powers) Act, 1945 (a) and of all other powers enabling him in that behalf," etc.I want to ask the Parliamentary Secretary what other powers do "enable him in that behalf." I think that if other powers are to be cited in that way, he ought to specify what they are. Apparently there are some other powers apart from those conferred by Regulation 56A. Will the Parliamentary Secretary please tell us 2411 what they are, because if there are none, then he ought not to put something in the Order which implies that there are? As I say, I hope very much that the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us exactly what these powers are, and what is their effect.
§ 10.26 p.m.
Mt. Chatlen (Hampstead)
I should like to reinforce the last words of my hon. Friend with regard to the use of the expression "all other powers enabling him in that behalf." We constantly find these vague generalities put in Orders, Orders in Council and so on, and they are merely intended to cover up inefficiency and lack of knowledge on the part of those individuals who draft the Orders. They should either know what these powers are or should not have the task of drafting the Orders. Any person or any Minister drafting an Order ought to be perfectly clear about exactly what powers enable him to make the Order, instead of leaving it to a vague generality of this nature.
I feel that a protest of this kind should be made equally with regard to some of the explanatory notes attached to Orders. Indeed, such protests have been made before but little or no attention has been paid to them. We constantly find notes appended to these Orders which give the ordinary reader no positive conception of the real effect of the Order. As a result we still have to go into the whole paraphernalia of prior Orders and so on, and chase them up, find what the actual object is. I do not want, however, to drift away from the immediate purpose of the present Order. The fact is that this matter was raised in another place a couple of days ago. One point which was made, and with which I am now concerned, was that where we are dealing with the infringement of the ordinary liberties of the subject we should be particularly careful not to legislate in a petty, "pernickety" fashion. In raising the point, Lord Cranborne used these words:I would like to ask the Minister whether further instructions could not be issued to the regional officers, or whoever they are, to exclude altogether the householder himself or his family from the scope of this Regulation. In our view, a householder ought not to be subject to a £10, limit. That seems to us to be an infringement of the elementary right of the ordinary citizen that he should be able to make his own house fit for habita- 2412 tion without a licence from the State. I do not think that a very large number will wish to take advantage of it, or that the amount of paint they use will, in the nature of things, be very large.The Government were invite to give an undertaking in this respect and the answer was that materials which are essential for housebuilding might be diverted to the wrong purpose. The reply to this, in turn, was:If the diversion is really not very large then the limitation of the liberty of the individual would not be justified.I beg to suggest that that really is the principle at stake. De minimis non curat lex—and all the other maxims. We are not dealing with trivial things, and it is not suitable for the Government to come down like a steam-hammer with an Order of this nature, exercising unknown general, and not inconsiderable powers, in this way against the ordinary individual to prevent his putting his house in order. I suggest that every individual should be allowed to put his house in order; that the Government should apply its mind to the larger issues and leave the private individual alone.
§ 10.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Bossom (Maidstone)
I am not going to follow exactly on the lines of the previous speeches in this Debate. I am going, I hope, to get the attention of the House for just a few moments on an eminently practical situation which might arise, in relation to this Order. I suppose that many hon. Members have had in the last few days burst pipes in their homes on account of the hard weather. A good many hon. Members here may have suffered in this way, but there are hundreds of thousands of people in the country who have suffered similarly. Are we going to restrict the repair of burst pipes? Is there anyone in this House who has ever employed a plumber in London for less than £2? I am sure not one of us has ever employed a plumber to repair a burst pipe for less than £2. Here the Government are bringing in an Order which is impracticable. It cannot be carried out. I would ask them whether any consideration is given to the position which might arise after the weather we have experienced recently. When the thaw comes. we are going to be prevented from doing anything to deal with the damage caused by the frost. This is a stupid Order. It has not been thought 2413 out or considered, and the Government will find themselves up against an impossible situation. When pipes burst they have to be repaired; there are other things which have to be put right at the same time. To bring forward an Order like this without considering the possibilities, as obviously has been done in this case, is to put the Government of this country into a ridiculous position. People will laugh at them for what they have done in this Order. As I say, no one can find a plumber to do the work for less than £2. It is not possible. It is a ridiculous situation, and, therefore, this Order should be cut out right away.
§ 10.33 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works (Mr. Harold Wilson)
The speeches we have heard show, I think, the extent of the misunderstanding and misconception which there are about this Order. Therefore, to that extent, I am glad to have an opportunity of informing hon. Members who have spoken, and certain other people outside this House who also misunderstood the Order, of the exact situation. As I understand it, all the four speakers we have heard are agreed that they are not going to call into question the need for retaining general control and licensing of building operations—the need for having a fro limit. In fact I would like to congratulate the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) upon the progress he has made in this matter in the last eight or nine months. He was speaking plainly about the big black market operations, and so was another hon. Member. When this matter was debated last April, the whole tenor of the speeches of hon. Members opposite was that there was no black market in building whatever, and that the powers which were then sought by the Government were not necessary.
§ Mr. Wilson
This Prayer has shown to what extent not only this Order, but all the Orders before it, are misunderstood in certain quarters. The hon. Member was inveighing principally against the £2 free allowance, as he called it, in each separate month. But that was in the preceding Orders, and has been in force now for some time. I do not think it has been called into question until tonight. 2414 The hon. Member said that if this were continued there would be a danger that work would pile up in the last few days of each month. All this time these Orders, including those made by the previous Government and by the Coalition Government, have been i force and there has been no evidence of that happening. I would like to re-assure the hon. Member about that.
§ Sir J. Mellor
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves that point, will he say what objection there would be to making the £2 allowance cumulative?
§ Mr. Wilson
Yes, it would lead to too much building being undertaken and this limit, in any month—not in each month—allows as much building as can be permitted in the present difficult situation. The hon. Member then said that maximum limits of this kind tend to become minimum limits. The facts are quite otherwise. If people did all the building they were allowed to do as a maximum, it would take up a large proportion of the total building labour force. The hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. Bossom), who is an authority on the subject, will bear me out in this.
§ Mr. Bossom
We are going through an abnormal period just now. There are more burst pipes than we have ever had, and one is led to believe that the hon. Gentleman says that they shall not repair them.
§ Mr. Wilson
I cannot refer again to the hon. Member for Maidstone and his burst pipes, but so far as this Order is concerned, any urgent breakdown can be repaired without it, and that has been the position for a considerable time. Secondly, although many of the bursts cannot be repaired for two pounds, they can be repaired for ten pounds, which is provided for in the Order. If I might come back to the main point, I think hon. Members were not asking so much about the present situation as they were about the unpaid labour clause, and the need for the £10 limit in general. I would remind the House that this £m limit has been in force for nearly two years. When the first Order was introduced in 1940, there was a limit of £500, and it was reduced to £100 later on, and during the flying bomb attacks it was reduced to It was reduced to that figure, first in 2415 London and the southern area, and later in the whole country.
I suggest to hon. Members opposite that this limit of £10 is more than ever necessary today. It is more necessary than it was in the past because we are now, apart from the very recent period of extremely bad weather, reaching the peak load of the building programme throughout the country. Hon Members must remember that it is not only in the field of housing that we have an enormous programme of arrears to make up, such as arrears resulting from war damage and the difficulties experienced during and since the war, and, what is even more important, arrears resulting from prewar neglect. We have a very large building programme going on today. It is a programme which includes the building of factories, the building of development areas, and of providing enough industrial capacity for the requirements of the country. We have to make up those large arrears, and, in addition, there are welfare provisions to be made. I refer to such things as pit-head baths, building for industrial efficiency and so on, and this is putting a very heavy strain on the building resources of the country and on the available building materials.
We all know that there have been remarkable increases in the production of certain basic building materials during the last year, but, as hon. Members opposite have said, there is an urgent need to see that certain materials are properly controlled and put to use on the right work. That is true not only of timber and paint, but also of iron goods. The fuel position of recent weeks has had a serious effect on building production, and how extensive this actually is, it is impossible to say. Although the Government intend to introduce plans for a very much tighter control of building materials, which, I am sure, is necessary, it is very urgent in present circumstances to prevent a leakage of any materials for use largely upon relatively unessential work. That is especially true, of course, of timber, to which hon. Members have referred, and for which we are almost entirely dependent upon imports from abroad. It is also true to a smaller extent in the matter of paint.
I am sure that even hon. Members opposite, in spite of their attitude on this matter last year, are completely with us on the need for this £10 limit. I was glad 2416 to hear the hon. Member for Hertford stress the importance of proper enforcement of the regulations. I am sure that because of that he will have welcomed another Order we made at the same time, empowering local authorities themselves to initiate proceedings in cases of illegal building. The main point which has been made refers to the unpaid labour clause 1 would like to say a word or two about that. In the explanatory note of the Order referred to, which I am sorry the hon. Member does not find at all clear—I should have thought it was a very clear explanatory note—it says:The exception in respect of work carried out on private dwellings by unpaid labour is discontinued.There has been a lot of misconception about the fact that in the present Order we have dropped this exception in respect of unpaid labour, which was in previous Orders. Perhaps the feeling has got about—it has certainly got about on the benches opposite—that this means that a householder cannot use a paint brush in his own house, and cannot do small amounts of quite necessary work, and that the handyman to whom the hon. Member for Hertford referred cannot do many of the jobs which he would like to do.
I will explain what the effect of this abolition is going to be. First, I will say why the Clause was in originally. It was first put into the Order at the time of the flying bomb attacks in 1945. It was put in on 1st August, 1945, and had been drafted by the Caretaker Government at a time when they were, quite rightly, very much concerned about the position with regard to building labour. Building labour was very scarce, and it was decided to encourage householders to carry out their own repairs. This exception only applied to work on private dwellings, and did not allow the use of unpaid labour on other premises. In more recent months—in a period when, I must remind hon. Members opposite, the material situation has become even more serious than the labour situation—there has been widespread evidence of this unpaid labour clause becoming something of a racket. Quite a number of cases were being reported of extensive and extravagant work on private dwellings where there was every reason to believe that paid labour was being employed. In very many cases it was impossible to get sufficient evidence 2417 of this to justify proceedings, but, in a number of cases, proceedings are being taken, and in a number of other cases proceedings are pending in the courts.
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
Would it not be right for the hon. Gentleman to assist the House to get this matter into its right proportion by recalling the figures of the complaints made in relation to the convictions secured? That is to say, there were 11,000 odd complaints, and 222 convictions. Would it not be right to remind the House of those figures?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd (Mid-Bedford)
It is the hon. Gentleman's duty. Those charges have been made, and he ought to justify them.
§ Mr. Wilson
Perhaps if the hon. Gentleman had allowed me to go on, he would have got the figures gratuitously, without having to ask for them. What I was saying was that there was evidence that some of these cases were becoming a racket in respect of the unpaid labour clause. The problem was in respect of the number of people who were doing that work and were, in fact, using paid labour and, in many cases, an extravagant amount of building materials which were in short supply. Those materials were being squandered upon this kind of work in the grounds of private houses on things which, in ordinary times, are considered desirable—
§ Mr. Wilson
They were being used for garden sheds and so on. I think hon. Members opposite should know that this matter has caused considerable dissatisfaction among local authorities. The position is that, since 1st February, work carried out by unpaid labour is, of course, subject to licence if the value of the work is in excess of the financial limits laid down in the Order. The exception which exists in favour of dwellings, and only in the case of dwellings, has been discontinued and we have now returned to the position in which we were before 1st August, 1945. So far as premises other than dwellings are concerned, the position is exactly what it always has been throughout, namely, that this work is subject to licence. But what I want to assure hon. Gentlemen opposite is that 2418 this does not mean a general ban on small private work genuinely done by a householder, his family or his friends.
This does not mean, as has been said in certain quarters, the end of the right to potter about in the garden. We have sent an instruction to local authorities regarding the application of this Order. A copy of this instruction has been placed in the Library and it is there for hon. Members to see. It lays down four points which I think should go far to meet the arguments put forward by hon. Members opposite. In the first place, local authorities have been instructed to be as sympathetic as possible in this matter, and told that they should not ordinarily refuse a licence where they have reason to think an owner does not propose to use any paid labour, particularly where he has the necessary materials already in his possession. I think that meets one of the points which has been raised.
§ Mr. Wilson
Certainly beyond £10. If it is below £10, no licence is required. Secondly, this instruction will apply now to work other than on dwellings, so that in this respect the position is even easier than it was before the Order was made. Thirdly, any work licensed in this way is not to count against a general total figure of licences that local authorities are asked to keep down. As hon. Gentlemen know, local authorities are trying to work to ceiling figures, and these will not count in the ceiling figures for very obvious reasons. Fourthly, in counting whether such cases come within the £10 limit or not, no assessment is to be made for the value of the unpaid labour. In other words, the job is to be regarded as a £10 job only if it involves £10 or more of materials.
§ Sir J. Mellor
The hon. Gentleman said that instructions had been sent to local authorities that no assessment is to be made in the cost to include materials already held in stock by the owner of the premises. Is that within the terms of this Order? Is the Parliamentary Secretary satisfied that this comes within the meaning of the Order?
§ Mr. Wilson
Most certainly. The Order says that the job must not cost more than £10. If the labour is unpaid, then no cost arises except in the case of material.
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer (Worthing)
Does that include labour that is employed after hours? Would it apply in a hypothetical case of work between the hours of 10 and 12 at night, when the men could not possibly he working anywhere else?
§ Mr. Wilson
These cases have not been quite so hypothetical. In the case of labour employed, say, between 10 and 12 at night. if it is paid for, certainly it will be regarded as paid labour, and rightly so.
§ Mr. Wilson
In the first place, there is no doubt that work done between the hours of 10 and 12 and on Saturday afternoons and Sundays is something of an inducement to absence from work of a higher priority, and, secondly, the fact that work has been done in that way makes its much more difficult to trace whether paid labour has been used irregularly inside or outside. As a result of these directions sent to local authorities, and the notes sent for their guidance, I think we can certainly assume that they are going to be reasonable and understanding in dealing with such applications, and I think that local authorities have been extremely good in the way they have dealt with this problem. They are certainly not going to be restrictive in cases where there is reason to think that paid labour was not going to be used. They will be restrictive if it looks as if paid labour was going to be used or the work involves an unjustifiably large amount of material.
I am sure the House is fully with us in the need to maintain a tight control over essential building, and I think the explanation I have given of the further restrictions on this question of unpaid labour, and the way in which it is going to be administered, will convince even hon. Members opposite that we are right in making this extension of the restrictions. I am sure the House will believe me when I say that no one will be more pleased than my right hon. Friend, and all of us concerned with this matter, when we can take this restriction off altogether, and when private jobs, large or small, can be done by the householder, but we are agreed that first things must come first, and, clearly, this kind 2420 of job must take second place to the more essential building work that is going on.
As long as we have to keep these restrictions on, they will be sympathetically administered by the Department and the local authorities concerned, and everyone will try to work the regulations in a way that will meet the convenience and needs of the people to the very limit of their abilities.
§ Mr. Bossom
The hon. Gentleman has been speaking of unessential work. Would he say if the painting done in Carlton Gardens on a residence for one of the Ministers in the Government was essential work or not?
§ Mr. Wilson
I am not sure how that matter is related to this Order. If hon. Gentlemen opposite had studied these Orders carefully, they would have seen, of course, that they do not relate to essential work authorised or undertaken by Government Departments.
§ 10.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd (Mid-Bedford)
I am sure the whole House will endorse one concluding phrase of the hon. Gentleman's speech—that the Government and the country should put first things first. At a time when the country has no coal, no houses—
§ Mr. Speaker
This is really disorderly. I think it is just as well for hon. Members to continue to listen, in silence, to what the hon. Gentleman has to say, and leave me to decide whether he is in Order or not.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. When we have been told that the greatest need of the nation is production, the interruption of the hon. Gentleman opposite is ironical. I think the whole House will agree with the Parliamentary Secretary in saying that Government Departments have no difficulty in getting licences for building. But if a man happens to be a producer, a small man who wants to play his part in the indus- 2421 trial revival of Great Britain, then, every difficulty is placed in your way.
§ Mr. Wilson
If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to interrupt him, I should like to say that I think his understanding of what I said is almost as dim as his understanding of the Order.
§ Mr. Wilson
What I said was that the Order specifically excluded all Government Departments from doing the things which are authorised. That is not the same thing as the hon. Member said, that it is much easier to get licences for work to be carried out on Government property.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
If an Order applies only to private citizens, and not to Government Departments, then it is not unreasonable to suggest that Government Departments have some sort of priority and consideration. My hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. Bossom) referred to a well known instance in Carlton Gardens. He might have reinforced that remark by reference to what has happened recently to a large number of houses. It has been impossible to get a licence for some sort of improvement, until those houses were either sold to, or commandeered by, Government Departments. He might have referred to the stories we have recently heard of the restaurants in Coventry which found it impossible to get licences.
§ Mr. Speaker
That has nothing to do with this Order, and the hon. Member must not continue his present line of argument.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
With respect, Mr. Speaker, I only wish to point out that restaurants would have been entitled to do their own repairs if the cost of such repairs did not exceed As it was, they had to apply for licences, which were not granted. But the moment they were confiscated by the Government and turned into civic restaurants, the licences were automatically granted.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
With all respect, Mr. Speaker, that is not how we read this Order. Hitherto, if a restaurant in Coventry or a private householder had some materials at hand, they were allowed to use them, and the £10 did not apply 2422 either to the labour or the materials. In future, though it is true it would not apply to labour, it will apply to the materials they might have put by, and, therefore, there is a very significant change, to which I intend to refer in one minute.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I wish that the hon. Gentleman, to whom we gave a silent and courteous hearing, would allow hon. Members who speak for the many tens of thousands of dispossessed or houseless citizens, to make their own case. It is not unreasonable to say that, in so far as this Order makes a change in the rights of private citizens, it is not altogether inappropriate to refer to the repairs carried out to civic restaurants in Coventry, or to Himley Hall, now Government property and used by the Coal Board.
§ Mr. Wilson
I would not interrupt the hon. Gentleman if it were not obvious that in every sentence he utters, he makes it more obvious that he does not understand the matter in this Order. The civic restaurants in Coventry cannot now, and could not when privately owned, have undertaken this work with material in their possession because, as I have said at least three times, and as is obvious from the Order, that relates only to private dwellings.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I am glad to have that assurance from the hon. Gentleman, but I am sure that he would not deny that the moment these restaurants pass out of private hands, every sort of facility is given to them. The hon. Gentleman chided my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) for having passed beyond an earlier stage in his outlook in agreeing that there was now a black market in houses. Without in the least accepting the charge that my hon. Friend has been guilty of any inconsistency, I would say that if he has made some progress from an original standpoint, it is, as the hon. Gentleman will recognise, a far swifter process than any building programme of the hon. Gentleman's Department, Our contention has always been that if, in fact, the Government are genuine in their contention that there is a large black market in private house construction or repair, then the proper remedy is to prosecute the people who break the regulations. If there is only an infinitesimal number 2423 of prosecutions, it is plain that there are, or should be, only a very small number of law breakers. It is ludicrous for His Majesty's Government to raise this alibi in an attempt to justify and explain their failure to build houses. The hon. Gentleman has a great reputation in planning circles; we look forward to the day when that reputation will be matched by his reputation in construction circles for ability in providing homes for the people. There is a fundamental point which we would like cleared up. Is it or is it not true that previously neither the unpaid labour of the individual nor the materials which he used were counted in the limit, and that though in future his unpaid labour will not be counted in, any materials he may have on hand will be counted in? Is that so or not?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
Does that mean that if, by prudence and foresight in earlier days, I and many other people have collected, from property or anything else, enough timber to rehouse our own agricultural workers, we are not allowed to rehouse any of them? [Interruption.] Well, would hon. Gentlemen rather employ foreigners and accommodate them in hostels and camps? Is it not a good thing to build houses and employ British people on British farms? If, by using good sense and planning—though not claiming to be a planner—I have collected enough material, is it true that I cannot use more than £10 worth of those materials to rehouse people who have rotten houses, or offer houses to people who have none? We are much more concerned in getting these matters clear and getting justice done than in scoring any party point—[Laughter]. Hon. Members opposite must not apply their own trumpery method of approach to these important matters. I would willingly give way to the hon. Gentleman if he would answer that question. If I have £50 worth of bricks and other materials, can I use them on my own houses, even if I or my family provide the unpaid labour?
§ Mr. Wilson
If the hon. Gentleman has more than £50 worth of timber I am sure he has got it by the prudence, good sense, foresight, and planning to which he has referred. A lot of other people in the 2424 country are accumulating materials by less reputable methods.
§ Mr. Wilson
I must point out that the hon. Gentleman was quite wrong in saying that he is not allowed to repair cottages which, for so many decades, under the control of the party opposite, have got into a disgraceful state. He can certainly do it if he has a licence, and the local authorities will give licences most sympathetically for that sort of thing.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
The hon. Gentleman gives a partial answer which will not encourage people to go ahead, when they may find themselves charged with offences, and pilloried for breaches of the law. If it is indeed true that local authorities have been told to view such applications with sympathy, we are entitled to know what are the precise instructions to the local authorities. I hope on some proper occasion the hon. Gentleman will provide the House with the information, and tell us what are the instructions and directives given to local authorities, because, although it may surprise him, a large number of people in England still want 'o do their duty by their fellow-citizens, and at the same time keep even Socialist laws. Once more we have had a demonstration of the attempt by His Majesty's Government to cover up their own incompetence by creating bogus alibis, and I hope this House, which I believe on all sides is anxious to come to fair decisions on urgent matters, will decide to support this Motion and reject this Order.
§ Mr. Derek Walker-Smith
On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker, I think I am right in saying that I have a right to reply.
§ Mr. Speaker
I must always correct that. There is no right to reply. If he is called, the hon. Gentleman is entitled to make a second speech, as mover of the Motion, but there is no such thing as a right of reply.
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
Further to that point of Order, Mr. Speaker, I beg your pardon if, owing to the rapidity of utterance, I expressed myself with less clarity than I would have wished. What I was about to say was that I was not seeking to contribute further to this Debate except, perhaps, if I were fortunate enough to catch your eye, to intervene for about thirty seconds to correct the Parliamentary Secretary on a point of fact of consider- 2425 able importance. He accused me of changing my point of view since the Debate last April, but he should verify the facts before making these accusations. If he refers to the HANSARD report he will see that I did not take part in that Debate at all, and it is quite wrong to say that I have changed my point of view.