§ 3.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Derek Walker-Smith (Hertford)
We on this side of the Committee, and the increasingly large numbers who follow us in the country, feel that no apology is needed for bringing forward once again the vexed and vital question of housing because it is our duty as an Opposition, to expose failure and to prescribe improvement. It is my particular duty this afternoon to say at once that here is a case in which much that ought to have been done has not been done, and much that has been done has been ineffectively done. The Minister of Health has been active in his own defence, not perhaps by way of reasoned argument, but in his deployment of evasive action and the tactics of the counter-offensive. As I see it, his case, like Gaul of old, is divided into three parts. First, he says that he has done well. Second, that if he has not done well he has done comparatively well, in that he has done better than Lord Addison in a comparable period after the last war. Thirdly, that if he has not even done comparatively well, it is the fault of others; of his colleagues, of local authorities, of the building industry, or of the weather or any possible combination and permutation of causes—always excepting the administration of the right hon. Gentleman himself who, in his own 46 view, remains a cool figure of commanding competence above the welter of chaos.
It might be thought that it was only necessary to state these fantastic propositions in order to refute them. Nevertheless, stripped of the gaudy and glittering rhetoric with which the right hon. Gentleman invests his argument, that is the case which he has been putting forward to the country; and, judging from the reports in the local newspapers of lesser Members of his party, that is also the party line. I am told that these harangues have had some effect on the, perhaps, less thinking elements of the, community. Nor is it altogether to be wondered at, however regretful it is. After all, Goebbels did define propaganda as simple and constant repetition; and the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues are adept at both. In spite of every visual evidence to the contrary they are trying to pursuade the people that their housing record is not the failure that it is in fact.
How do they proceed? They proceed by seeking to avoid battle on the one issue that really counts—the provision of new houses. Instead, in his monthly returns and in his speeches, the Minister of Health talks of the provision of units of family accommodation and even of homes. In the English language the word "home" has a particular, and almost a sacred, significance. It means a house, of course, but it also suggests the carrying on of family life, the sharing of domestic joys and sorrows, so characteristic of our race. Therefore, "home" is a good propaganda word because the people of the country think that a Minister who can provide houses is a good Minister, but a Minister who can provide homes must be a master builder indeed.
But what are these homes of which the Minister speaks in his returns and in his speeches? What are these units of family accommodation? I will tell the Committee what some of them at any rate are. No fewer than 26,967 are requisitioned—but requisitioned from whom? From the rich? Not all of them, by any means. I have many cases in my own constituency of ordinary folk anxious to return to the possession of their homes but unable to do so because those little homes are one small unit in these vain, inglori- 47 ous, and misleading figures. 3,480 are temporary huts, 11,155 represent temporary accommodation in Service camps. This last is another way of saying squatters, people eking out a difficult and precarious existence in camps which they were only originally able to enter in despite the right hon. Gentleman last summer when he was absent in Switzerland. Is this what hon. Members opposite mean by homes? Is it what they meant when they talked of homes in 1945? I say that the use of such figures in such a context would in any circumstances be deplorable; but in the mouths of hon. Members opposite who built up in 1945 such high hopes of homes in the minds of the people of this country as a means of paving their personal path to power it is a revolting and inexcusable hypocrisy.
What of the new permanent houses? Here the failure of the Minister is spectacular indeed, with under 90,000 houses by the end of May instead of the 220,000 which was the target of the Coalition Government for the same period. The Minister has always proclaimed his dislike of targets. We are beginning to see why. It is because he always misses them. Of his "finish the houses" target of 30,000 last autumn he achieved just under half. He had a target of 240,000 new permanent houses for 1947. That was in January; in April he scrapped the target. It is fair to say that that particular target was not called a target by the Minister; it was called a programme; but it is a little difficult for ordinary people like myself to see the difference. It appears that in the right hon. Gentleman's peculiar and highly individual use of language a programme is a target which he knows he will not hit.
Here, then, is failure. The Minister excuses himself. First, there is his plea that he has done better than Lord Addison. I deprecate this Agincourt technique, this ploughing the sands of the past. [Interruption.] Perhaps I had better say in this case the highly selective sands of the past. I do not want to arbitrate between one Socialist and another; but the Minister of Health makes such a point of this comparison that I feel obliged to state the fallacy on which it rests. The comparison with Lord Addison seeks to compare two unlikes. Lord 48 Addison inherited a building industry which had slumped in the years prior to 1914 and whose restored activity had not been safeguarded during the years of the 1914–18 war. The Minister of Health, on the other hand, inherited a building industry geared to very high production in 1939 and also the benefits of the wise provision for its restored activity to which such striking testimony was paid in this House in a recent speech by the hon. Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks). The sin of Lord Addison, if sin it was, was to fail promptly to reverse a declining situation, but the Minister of Health is guilty of the much graver sin of depressing an upward trend, and of sending the graph of production down instead of up. Nevertheless, while deriding the efforts of Lord Addison, the Minister has adopted, and made his own, Lord Addison's particular sin, the sin of over-centralisation in the planning and organisation of house building. Lord Addison paid the penalty for his faults, of course, to the subsequent enrichment of the Socialist Party. It may be that, under a more dynamic Prime Minister, the Minister of Health would pay the same penalty, to the enrichment of forces and cliques not yet clearly defined.
I now turn to the third of the Minister's points, the alibi argument, the plea in mitigation, that things may not be as good as was expected but that it is the fault of others. It is a vitally important point, because it puts this question: Would progress under another Minister and another Government have been no better, or would we have had more houses if a Conservative Government had been in power? I say at once that the answer to that last question is "Yes." How would we have achieved our greater success? We should have done it by assisting the local authorities and the building industry to make their maximum contribution instead of first frustrating and then blaming them, as the Minister has done. I am satisfied that, generally speaking, both the local authorities and the building industry up and down the country are doing their best, but the Committee must face the fact that in both cases their best is conditional upon the planning and policy of the Minister. Unfortunately, the present Minister, though I understand he is a good plotter, is a very bad planner.
49 Let us look at the things which are holding up the production of houses, and see whether the Government can escape responsibility. First is the question of materials. As I have said before, there are two aspects of this question, the aspect of initial production of materials, and the aspect of the most effective distribution of such materials as we have. It would not, of course, be fair to fasten on to the Minister the sole responsibility for the basic shortage of materials. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] Hon. Members opposite ask me "Why not?" Because that shortage is merely part of the general economic malaise which now afflicts the country after two years of Socialist misgovernment. I have spoken in some detail before on the question of materials, particularly when we had a Debate on the subject in March last year, when the then Minister of Works announced that the Government was going into building materials in a big way. Now we know that the big way has been a big flop.
I want, this afternoon, to say a word as to distribution. The channels of the supply of building materials are clogged by complex priority licensing schemes and by the subordination of the industry to bureaucratic requirements. As always happens, delays and shortages create further delays and shortages. The anticipation of difficulties, and the impossibility of precise planning—which is the main if not the sole function of the building materials industry—leads to hoarding on the part of Government Departments and of the larger local authorities. The existence of those hoards, of course, aggravates the difficulties of ordinary, lesser local authorities and builders, who are at their wits end to get the right materials to the right place at the right time. This question of the availability of materials closely affects another Ministerial alibi—
§ The Minister of Health (Mr. Aneurin Bevan)
Would the hon. Gentleman be good enough to come down from the stratosphere of generalisations to facts? Particularly would he tell us which local authorities have the hoards of building materials?
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
I am given to understand that the London County Council, for example, a great Socialist authority, has never been held up for any 50 single item of materials, unlike other local authorities. This suggests to the mind that they are holding a reserve—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I have never interrupted anyone in the middle of a sentence—or the likelihood that they are possessing an unnecessary reserve, if the Minister finds that phrase more acceptable, of building materials.
§ Mr. Bevan
I have been anxious not to interrupt the hon. Gentleman in his flow of jaded epigrams. Now that he has come to the actual body of his speech, perhaps he will give out some particulars on which his generalisations are based. The only thing which can be described as hoarding which local authorities are practising, is the stacking of bricks on the sites, as they were asked to do last November, in order to complete a continuity of flow from the brickworks to the sites and so that there shall be no hold-up in house production. Apart from that, there is no hoarding so far as I know. The hon. Gentleman should arm himself with facts to support his case.
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
There will be elaborations, in the local sense, of these arguments. Let me add that there might not be anything morally wrong in having hoards. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh"] I am about to argue, when the noise opposite subsides, that the rhythm of house building is dislocated If there are hoards or unnecessary reserves of materials they may have been aggregated in quite good faith. They may have been got for use but have not been able to be used because of the dislocation of the house building industry.
I was about to say, before that interruption, that the question of the availability of materials links up with another Government alibi regarding the low output of the building industry. We all know the sad story of standards of output far below prewar standards, despite rising wages, and of a postwar labour force producing only one third of a house per man per year against the prewar output of one house per man per year. I hope that out of the present consultations in the building industry a system of payment by results will emerge. I am on record as being a believer in this system, but let nobody fall into the error of thinking that increased output is merely a matter of increased incentive. That would be to attribute to the building 51 operatives a universal slackness which would be as uncharitable as it would be unfair. The truth is that we can never hope to get maximum production, or even maximum effort, so long as the men on the job are harassed by the fear that to work quickly means the exhaustion of materials and consequent unemployment. Introduce incentives by all means, but let us not think that that will or can do away with the necessity of ironing out the delays, frustrations, and uncertainties due to non-arrival of materials on the site.
It is not only a question of materials and of labour. There is a third element in house building which is greater than either, and includes them both. I refer to smooth rhythm and execution, the right synthesis, of building operations. It is that rhythm which has been dislocated. I see no signs of improvement. The local authorities are at a double disadvantage. First, they have been misled by the Government; and they are now deprived of guidance. In April, the breakdown to local authorities of the figure of 240,000 houses for 1947 was given. In the same month the figures were scrapped and the Government announced that it would be undesirable to give an alternative estimate. The local authorities therefore have been left in the air, like the Minister's castles.
The second disadvantage is inherent in the nature of contract building. I always try to avoid being technical in these Debates; but it is impossible to understand clearly the difficulties of the local authorities and the building industry without taking into account something of the background and methods of house building. There are two main methods of house building. First, the building and developing of an estate by a private enterprise builder bearing his own risk and taking his own decisions, but subject to the general conditions as to standard of quality and construction of the National House Builders Registration Council, an independent body with 22 organisations represented on it, including local government bodies. Secondly, there is the building of houses by contract builders, so called because they build under contract with a building owner, subject to the conditions of the contract and to the authority of the building owner's architect in the execution of the works and particularly in the specifica- 52 tion of building materials. Local authority building is, of course, contract building with the local authority in the position of the building owner.
It is very far from proved that contract building is in any case a suitable medium for house building. Contract building is designed and intended for large lump sum contract work like schools, hospitals, factories and so on. There is as great a difference between this sort of work and the mass production of houses, as there is between the production of the "Queen Elizabeth" in John Brown's shipyard and the production of a fleet of motor cars in the Morris Motor Works. Contract building is, therefore, in any case of doubtful validity as a medium for house building. It is taking a sledge hammer for a series of nuts. I know where the shoe pinches in contract building; and here I speak less as a politician than as a lawyer with some little experience of building contract work and perhaps some little knowledge.
Time forbids a detailed analysis of the difficulties and delays inherent in contract house building. But as an example, the Committee may consider the time taken in putting out to tender, tendering and the subsequent approving of the tenders. Here the normal delays are aggravated by the necessity of Ministerial approval, and the possibility of having to cut down the specification in order to get within the sum that will be approved. There is also the power of the architect to specify types and quantities of materials in detail. If, as so often happens, the specified materials are not available, the builder must seek the written permission of the architect to vary the contract by including some other type of material. If he does not thus safeguard himself he finds himself penalised when the final account comes to be settled. If he is a wise man he suspends operations pending that variation. Thus we get recurrent delays simultaneously on every building site in the country, the total of which is an enormous cumulative delay of the house building programme.
There is, today, a combination of basic difficulties and special difficulties. There is the shortage and maldistribution of materials, and there is the further complication that when local authorities are the building owners we get the delays of committee procedure added to the delays 53 of architects decisions. In these circumstances it would be a miracle if house building were not entirely out of phase, out of rhythm, and subject to every conceivable form of delay and frustration. The miracle has not happened. Hon. Members know perfectly well from experience in their own constituencies that I have described the case as it in fact is.
If further proof were needed, it is readily at hand. It brings me to the one part of the Minister's housing programme which is really going up. I refer of course to the question of costs. Cost is the index of smooth and efficient production. High costs mean bad planning and bad production; and costs are very high today. I have here a specimen of the costs of some local authority houses in different parts of the country. I will take just one or two; a three-bedroomed house at Bridgwater, £1,501; in London at East Barnet £1,600; in the Home Counties at Luton, £1,396; even in Lancaster in the prudent North, £1,434. Those are houses which before the war would have cost about £500 to build. The figures I have given are not final costs but merely the approved tender figures to which ultimately must be added the extras for delays and variations.
The costs are, therefore, about three times prewar and are still rising. The Minister recently made an admission, reluctantly wrung from him by our persistent efforts, that the cost of a 950 super feet house has risen by £110 since early in 1946. This is uncontrolled inflation and shows that the situation is completely out of hand. I argued in detail in March and July last year that the rising costs would defeat the subsidies. I am not citing that to claim any credit as a prophet today, but merely mention the cost position to show how entirely out of rhythm is the production of houses.
I shall not close without trying to add prescription to diagnosis. Here are the steps which I counsel the Minister to take at once. First, in regard to materials, he should do two things. He should at once overhaul the whole machinery of licensing, applications and priorities, removing restrictions on materials no longer scarce, so as to free the clogged channels of supply and let the lifeblood flow once again in the veins of the industry. Secondly, if there is—as I believe there is—anything in this point with regard to 54 hoards of stores held by the larger local authorities and Government Departments, just as a good general in war forces quartermasters to disgorge their stores for the general good, the Minister should force those stores to be disgorged.
§ Mr. Sparks (Acton)
Would the hon. Gentleman say where those stores are? Some of us would like to know.
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
During a short interval in which the hon. Member was obviously asleep—for which I do not blame him this hot afternoon—that question was disposed of between the Minister and myself.
§ Mr. Benn Levy (Eton and Slough) rose——
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
I will not give way again as I am just drawing to a close.
Having thus eased the position in regard to materials, the Minister should press for an incentive scheme of payment by results in the building industry, which can only be of use when apprehension of unemployment because of lack of materials is removed, or at any rate sensibly reduced.
So much for the specific question of materials and labour. To restore to building a rapid, smooth and economical rhythm the Minister must also do three things. First, he must reverse the present tendency in local authority building to have a great and confusing variety of forms of contract together with over-rigidity in the specification of materials. What is wanted is a uniform contract—and though I ought perhaps to declare an interest here as a joint author of the annotation of it, I think the R.I.B.A. contract is the obvious standard form—with less rigidity in specification. Only so can the delays of the local authority contract system be appreciably reduced.
Secondly, the Minister must reconsider his four-to-one ratio. I argued in detail on 18th April last year that the ratio was founded on two fallacies, first, that local authority building and private enterprise building cannot usefully and properly coexist, and, second, that local authority building benefits in proportion as private enterprise building is discouraged. Both of the two things are fallacies. Private enterprise building, unfettered by the complexities of contractual procedure 55 but obliged by the registration scheme to maintain a high standard of construction and design, can help forward the provision of houses enormously if the Minister will only take the weight of his prohibition off its neck.
Finally, the Minister must see that the scheme is allowed to work which is set out in the Ministry of Health circular 92/46 and provides a system whereby private enterprise builders can sell houses to their own specification to local authorities for subsequent letting by the local authorities, thereby cutting out the complexities of the contractual procedure. At present, I am advised, this excellent procedure is yielding results far short of its potential owing to the negligent and restrictive attitude of many local authorities towards it. Here is a chance for the Minister to do some really valuable missionary work with the local authorities. Here, then, are six practical steps which the Minister can take at once——
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
They do not involve any grandiose additions to our basic supply of materials, which would be out of place in the present parlous economic state of the country. They certainly do not add anything to the demands for manpower. They are designed to get real value out of the labour and materials we have. They are steps which a Conservative Government would have taken long since, and that is why our output of houses would have been vastly higher than it is at present. The Minister said he has broken the back of this problem. In my view, unless he follows these steps, he is much more likely to break the back of the industry; and perhaps the heart of the long-suffering and patient British people, as well.
§ 4.21 p.m.
§ Lady Megan Lloyd George (Anglesey)
We have had from the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) a racy and lively attack on the Government's housing policy, and on the Minister of Health in particular. The hon. Member proved to his own satisfaction—though not, I maintain, on the facts—that a Conservative Government could have done better. If I may say so, no one can make bricks without straw more admirably than hon. 56 and right hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway—when they are in Opposition. However, I do not want to engender any unnecessary heat this afternoon and it is certainly not my job to defend the Government, but I think we have to judge this issue without prejudice, if possible, and on the facts of the situation. Of course we are disappointed. Hon. Members on all sides are disappointed at the progress of the housing programme.
What is the position? The latest published figures show that we are, in the main, back to where we were before the fuel crisis began; that is, we are back to the close season for building, and this at what should be the height of the building season. That is really the grave aspect of the situation. We have, therefore, to revise, quite honestly and fearlessly, the whole of our estimates. The Minister has told us frankly that the target set out in the White Paper in January is now not possible of achievement. The hon. Member for Hertford may argue as much as he likes about private enterprise and local authorities, but the crux of this problem is the shortage of materials and the shortage of skilled labour. He can give us his six points—they were not 14, only six—but to put them all into operation—and some I should be sorry to see in operation, particularly an alteration in the ratio of four to one—would not make any substantial difference in the programme; in fact, it might hang it up in many serious respects.
The question really is how we can use the maximum available resources of material and labour. That is the only problem we have to consider in the present crisis. Therefore, the target must now be not to dissipate our resources on starting houses all over the country, but to concentrate on getting as many houses ready as possible for occupation before the winter and during the winter. The Minister has instituted zonal conferences with a view to getting what he called a balanced programme. I still think much propaganda is needed to bring home to the local authorities the necessity for concentrating labour and materials on finishing houses for occupation. I had a case only the other day from a progressive local authority in my own constituency. At the time the Minister visited that area there were some houses at roof level. Several weeks later they were still not occupiable, and the reason was because 57 the labour and materials available, were being used for houses at other levels. There must be a great many instances of that kind at the moment. The Minister had a campaign last year to finish the houses up to roof level between the autumn and Christmas. I hope very much that he will have another drive now, in order to finish as many houses as possible with the available materials and labour.
The need for housing accommodation has been acute in the rural areas. It is now becoming critical, particularly in view of the vital need to increase the production of food. The prisoners of war are being repatriated, not as quickly as we would like, but at the rate of 15,000 a month, and they have been accommodated in camps. We shall need something like 100,000 permanent new workers and where will they live? This may hold up the whole of our food production. What are we going to do to meet that essential need? May I quote the position in Aberffraw, a village of my own constituency because it is typical of many other villages? It is a village with a population of 790 people. There are 150 houses, all old and obsolete. Only 40 out of 150 could be called satisfactory by the most elastic stretch of the most vivid Celtic imagination you could find anywhere. Out of that 150, 36 have been scheduled as unfit for human habitation; 64 other houses require extensive repairs to make them habitable under any definition which anybody would think of calling "tolerably habitable."
Let me give two instances of what I mean by obsolete houses. There is one with eight occupants, seven children, sleeping three in a bed in one room and five sleeping in the other room of 70 sq. ft.—that is, large enough for one person only. The other is a parent and six children sleeping in two bedrooms, five in two beds in one room and three in a bed in a room of only 45 sq ft.—that is, not large enough to sleep one. Those are two examples of houses that are unfit for human habitation. I need hardly say that sanitation in the village is primitive in the extreme; it hardly exists.
With all this need for accommodation for new permanent workers on the land, what is being done in that village? We were informed in the last zonal conference that only six houses can be completed at 58 present. Under the best conditions we might have had 20, and now it is to be only six. That is, six for a village which needs 100 new or reconditioned houses. How shall we get new workers on the land in conditions and in villages of that kind? I agree that that village is probably admittedly the worst, but there are many that come bad seconds and bad thirds in my constituency. How many more are there in how many other villages in every part of Great Britain? I agree with the Minister that this is the result, not of 20 years, but of generations—[An HON. MEMBER: "Under the Liberal Party?"]—no, under the neglect of Tory landlords.
Would it not be possible for local authorities to meet this need if they were encouraged to apply for more Airey prefabricated permanent houses? Tenders have been approved for over 3,000, and the rate of production has been extremely disappointing, as I am sure the Minister will agree. The trouble is that the local authorities are not really interested in the Airey house. They think it is not suitable for the countryside, and they have not therefore made applications for it. Would it not be possible to have an exhibition in London, the provinces, and Welsh centres, of the Airey house, where representatives of local authorities could come and see the house themselves, as they saw the Portal house? If they did so, it would encourage them to give orders for this house. After all, it is vital that something should be done to supplement the building of the traditional houses in the countryside.
There is no doubt at all that the housing programme in the main, is held up by shortages of materials and labour. There are shortages of essential fittings, and work is being held up on building sites for lack of cement—and that at the height of the building season. It is perfectly true that the building labour force is up, but the proportion of operatives on bomb damage repairs still seems to be inordinately high. I do not know whether the Minister could look into that to see whether it would be possible to speed it up. That is quite apart from the very substantial numbers still employed on ordinary repair work, and together the two make an alarming number.
I am informed that in many parts of the country there are pools of labour which may not be available for building 59 contracts, certainly not for large building contracts, but which could be used on essential repair work. There are pools of labour which are being liberally—or perhaps I should say illiberally—used on black market or non-essential work. I would be very glad if the right hon. Gentleman would look into that, to see whether, by tightening up on licences for materials, or some other method, he could get hold of some of that black market labour to supplement building labour, or to release building labour for permanent building. As everyone knows, there is still a serious shortage of key workers, and above all of plumbers and bricklayers. Quite as serious as the shortage of bricklayers, is that the production per man is lower than it was before the war. That is perhaps the most serious factor of all. Conditions and wages are not good in the building trade. On the other hand, employers say that it is very difficult to increase the wages if there is to be no incentive for higher production.
I am very glad to see that two advances have been made in this situation, which seemed to be almost insoluble. I am glad to see that the wartime Defence Regulation—and I hope the Minister will confirm that this is a fact—which forbade percentage payments to building operatives, is to be relaxed. I hope the Minister will tell us something about that today. It has been reported that that is the case, and that the Government will no longer reserve powers to fix a ceiling for wages. It is also very encouraging to see that the unions have now given their executives powers to join with the employers on incentive schemes, because that is the only way in which we can get out of the impasse. We hope that the negotiations will not only prove fruitful, but that they will be speedily concluded, because, after all, time is precious. We are wasting summer months, and in another few weeks we shall be in the close building season in this country.
In the months to come we may very well be faced with the necessity for making cuts in many directions in order to meet our commitments. I hope the Minister of Health will secure and maintain as high priority for housing—as high a priority as the stringency of the times will allow. I am perfectly sure that with his natural pugnacity derived from the natural pugnacity of the race from which 60 he springs, he will acquit himself well in any ministerial tug of war. I wish him well, and hope that he will acquit himself well, because I do not think we can get the full benefit of education, improved maternity and child welfare schemes, or anything else, while people are condemned to live in bad slums and in conditions of overcrowding.
§ 4.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Mackay (Hull, North-West)
We have heard a very eloquent plea from the hon. Lady the Member for Anglesey (Lady Megan Lloyd George) that rural housing conditions should be improved. I agree, but I would like her to relate the situation of which she has spoken to the country as a whole. There are approximately 800 people in the village to which she referred. That, worked out over the country as a whole, means that if the village had six houses, the country as a whole would have 360,000 houses per year. These problems have to be related to the problems of the country as a whole.
§ Lady Megan Lloyd George
We must not forget that there are more people being absorbed in the villages.
§ Mr. Mackay
I am not forgetting that. I represent in this House a city which wants 12,000 houses. They are badly needed, and the conditions are just as bad as those in the district to which the hon. Lady referred. They are conditions which ought not to be tolerated in these days. But to provide Hull with 12,000 houses in a year we should build something in the vicinity of two million houses in the country as a whole. We must widen the perspective, and realise that it must be taken in relation to the problem as a whole, and not as an individual problem. We have to ask ourselves what quantity of houses can be built in a year. We never got up to the 360,000 total until 1935, and no one will suggest today that we can get that figure at the present time with the available materials which exist.
The speech of the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) was more in the nature of generalisations than reality. He suggested six prescriptions as what he would do if he were in power. May I say without any disrespect to the hon. Member, that I am very grateful, and I am sure the 61 country is grateful, that he is not Minister of Health. I would like to take the Committee through his proposals one by one to see if there is any substance or reality in any of them. There is only one of the six which really merits consideration. First, he wants to review the whole machinery for forms and licences. He thinks that if we could relax controls on materials which are short, and get rid of this sort of thing, we should stimulate the production of houses in this country. As one who has experience of the building industry, having been formerly associated with a firm which had a large number of employees, I have yet to learn that we have any trouble from licensing or any great trouble in the housing problem due to filling in forms, if employers do their job properly in regard to the forms of procedure which are laid down. My firm built some 20,000 temporary houses and a large number of permanent houses. They have never had trouble in securing the materials available because they applied properly. The hon. Member for Hertford suggests that if we get rid of these controls and licensing, we shall improve the housing position.
Surely the problem of materials is a much more real one than he suggests. Before the war, when we built 300,000 houses in a year in this country, we imported two and a half million standards of timber; last year we imported 800,000. That is a much bigger problem in relation to materials. If the Minister of Health knew that he was to get 2,000,000 standards of timber this year, he would know that he could build many more houses. This is fundamental to this question of shortage of materials, which is due not only to conditions in this country but to a shortage of imported materials also. If the hon. Member for Hertford, instead of devoting his time and eloquence to criticising the controls, would spend his time in suggesting ways in which we could increase the importation of timber, he would be advancing a much better prescription.
I was surprised to see that the hon. Gentleman who led the attack against the Minister of Health on housing, had not apparently looked at the schedule given in the latest housing report. One has only to look there to see how short we are of bricks, cement and other products which go to making houses. One can say, as the hon. Member did, that we 62 ended this war better prepared than we were at the end of the previous war. But that is not true. For example. there was only one-third of the brick-making industry making bricks when peace came. We cannot recover from a situation like that overnight; it takes time.
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer (Worthing)
That is not what hon. Gentlemen opposite said at the last Election.
§ Mr. Mackay
If the hon. and gallant Member will only look at what the Labour Party said he will see that in the documents we put out at the time of the Election we said that we would use all the materials available Lo the best purpose, that we would not allow houses to be built for the rich until we had secured that working people had got the majority of the houses built. During the past two years we have gone on carrying out this policy by keeping to the four-to-one ratio, and by seeing that houses were built by private enterprise for local authorities so that they could be owned by the local authorities and let at rents which working-class people could afford
The hon. Member's second prescription was to put an end to hoarding. I suppose he had a great dream last night; he must have dreamt of all local authorities, 1,400 of them, hoarding materials. Actually not one per cent. of them are building houses by direct labour today. The hon. Gentleman would not answer the Minister of Health, so that there was no point in a back bencher getting up to ask just which local authorities are hoarding. I am in close contact with a large local authority which is doing little direct building but it is not doing any hoarding. As I say, there are 1,400 local authorities in the country; I do not know the exact number engaged in direct building but I doubt if there are 30. The others have entered into contracts with private builders. They have no materials—no bricks or other materials—to hoard, except such materials as they may get at the request of the contractor so that he will not be delayed in building houses. I suggest that such a prescription, advanced as one of the ways by which housing can be helped, is merely one of the kind used to fool people. It is one of the kind put out by people who are not prepared to accept the enormous amount of goodwill that is being put into the housing programme, or to face their 63 constituents and tell them that we are short of the large number of houses we want—a half a million a year which we have never had before—because of shortage of materials, and that all the materials available, are going into the houses which are being built.
I come to the hon. Member's third prescription of incentives—payment by results. The hon. Lady the Member for Anglesey also dealt with this matter. She drew attention to the fact that the regulation that was passed in the war is probably shortly to be ended, and that the trade unions are considering this problem. I would say quite frankly, as an employer in the building industry, that it has been the employers in the industry who have opposed incentives in the past. During the past two years my firm has instituted a payment by results scheme in Hull. They were not members of the employers' federation because they instituted this scheme. That scheme was beneficial, not only in reducing the cost of building prefabricated houses—the cost came down from £98 to £60—but increasing wage rates from £5 to £7 10s. It meant that houses went up much more quickly. The scheme was worked out with the Ministry of Labour and the unions concerned.
§ Mr. George Hicks (Woolwich, East)
Will my hon. Friend explain that Regulation 56 AB was not designed to prevent payment by results. There was nothing in it about payment by results. As a matter of fact, the Coalition Government introduced payment by results under that regulation, and to talk about its removal being required in order to enable provision to be made for payment by results is not true. The regulation said that what was nationally negotiated between employers and operators should be observed by the whole of the employers and the whole of the operatives in the country
§ Mr. Mackay
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point. The scheme to which I am referring was arranged under Regulation 56 AB. The point was made by the hon. Lady the Member for Anglesey that the whole objection in the past on the part of the workers to payment by results was the feeling of insecurity, and the fact that it 64 meant that the job would finish all the sooner, and they would be out of work. That is a perfectly right and proper objection, until we can secure, as is now being secured in other industries, full employment. It is a point to which I will return. Until we can secure full employment in the building industry, the workers have every right to object to a system which will enable them to earn more money for a short period and then result in their being out of work for a long period. The problem which has to be tackled as a social problem in the building industry is to secure full employment for the people in it, and security, not for six months or for nine months but for 10 years, or the whole time during which they are willing and able to work properly. Until we can guarantee the people in the industry that form of security, we have no right to criticise those of them who object to schemes which are going to take away advantages which they would otherwise have.
I now turn to the remaining three prescriptions which the hon. Member put into a scheme of "rapid rhythm." I do not understand what is meant by "rapid rhythm," but I took it that his point was that we should reverse the tendency in local authority building and get rid of the forms used and have a particular type of uniform contract. Why does not the hon. Gentleman read the circulars of the Ministry of Health? If he did that, he would find that the R.I.B.A. contract to which he referred is the very one which they use. It is used for ordinary normal building as well as for prefabricated building. I cannot give the Committee the actual reference, because I have forgotten it, but if they will read the circulars they will see that that is used. A circular on the subject says that the R.I.B.A. form has been supplied to local authorities so that they can adapt it for either type of building without having to go all through the various stages.
The reason for sending it out to local authorities is because, apart from ordinary brick building upon which they can engage, they erect prefabricated houses as well, and by using this method they can hasten the proceedings. The whole purpose is to get rid of tenders. It is to provide for contracts to be entered into directly between building contractors and local authorities. The form of contract is 65 enclosed with the documents sent to the local authorities so that they can use it. I suggest to the hon. Member for Hertford that instead of dreaming wild dreams about things which have no basis in reality, he should have looked at the Ministry of Health circulars before launching upon his attack.
Then he asked us to reconsider the four-to-one ratio. Really, I should have thought that after two years, the Tory Party would have given up this argument. If they consider the enormous amount of building which must be done, they must realise that there is every ground for laying down, as a fundamental principle by which houses are to be built in this country, that they are to be available at cheap rents. If building contractors desire to build houses to sell to local authorities or otherwise, and if they will build within the limits laid down, they are perfectly free to do that. Of course, the answer is that they are not able to do it at the price and, therefore, we find that the building going on at present works out advantageously not only to the State, but to the local authority and to the tenant. The whole essence of the building programme is that houses shall be built not at rents of 20s. or 30s. a week, or to be bought through building societies, but at rents of from 12s. to 15s. a week. They must be houses which can be let to the people and which, at the end of the period of the subsidy, will not be owned by the rentier or private enterprise, but by the State. The longer we stick to the four-to-one ratio, the better the position will be. I am sorry to have taken up so much of the Committee's time, but when the leading spokesman for the Conservative Party produces this tiny little mouse as a sort of remedy for improving the housing programme, I feel that it is time for someone on this side of the Committee to say, "Really, what does this amount to but, a whole lot of jargon which means nothing?"
The hon Member's last point was that we should allow private builders a greater amount of freedom to be able to work out their own specifications to sell houses to local authorities. That is all very well, but who, in the name of Halifax, is stoping them working it out? There is nothing to stop any private builder in the country building houses at the prescribed amount and selling them to local authorities, and there are 1,400 local authorities who would 66 willingly take every house they could build. The point is that this programme, in the way in which it has been carried out, has demonstrated to the country, if not to the Conservative Party, that private builders are not able to produce houses as cheaply as local authorities or at any rate, that when a limit is put on the price, they no longer have an interest in building houses of this character.
There are many things I would have liked to say, but I want to stick to the speech of the hon. Member for Hertford. He said there were three things which could account for the position. Either the Government have done well—and that is what the Minister of Health has always said—or they have not done well but only comparatively well, and that is reasonable at any time; or, finally, if they have not done comparatively well the fault was the fault of others. With great respect, I have never heard evidence—and I look forward to the time when someone opposite will produce it—that the Minister of Health has complained that he has not done comparatively well and that the fault has been the fault of others. One of the complaints which has been voiced is in regard to the limitation of available supplies. In the case of the importation of timber, what has the Minister done? He has cut down the amount of timber to less than two standards per house.
§ Mr. Mackay
The average before the war was over three. Before the war, if one had spoken to a normal building contractor—and there are several in this Committee—and suggested that one could build a house with 1.6 standards of timber, he would have been laughed at and told that it was completely silly. I ask hon. Members, in judging the matter before this Committee, to relate whatever they have to say to the facts. If there were 2,500,000 standards of timber in this country, we would have all the incentives we wanted. We would be well on the way to having all the houses we wanted. I will combine the other two alternatives—that we have done well, and that we have done comparatively well. The hon. Member for Hertford says that we should not compare circumstances today with the period after the last war because then the building industry was not organised as it is now. I ask him to look at a few 67 facts. At the end of the 1914–18 war the Coalition Government prescribed that in the first three years they would build 500,000 houses. They considered that that figure was right and they laid it down as their building programme. In the first three years they built about 150,000 houses, and in four years they built something in the vicinity of 200,000. The average for the first five years after the 1914–18 war was, to be very generous, 60,000 a year.
What have the Government done since the end of the war? Apparently, people must be reminded of these figures. In the period since the end of the war-roughly two years—we have provided housing accommodation for approximately 400,000 people. I know that the hon. Member for Hertford will say that homes are different from houses. All I know is that after the 1914–18 war we did not have the problem of bomb damage. We were told today what a good thing private enterprise had done in building so many permanent houses. No one pointed to the fact that local authorities have also been doing that job as well as building temporary houses.
I think it is time that figures were brought to light. The Ministry takes the trouble to publish monthly figures. Judging from his speech the hon. Member for Hertford, does not bother to read them. I want to give the Committee the figures up to the end of May, both for local authorities and private builders. Local authorities built 47,726 new permanent houses, and private enterprise built 41,465. Local authorities rebuilt 4,063 war-destroyed homes, and private enterprise rebuilt 6,226. Local authorities erected 111,029 temporary houses, and private enterprise built none. Some hon. Members appear to take the view that temporary houses are very temporary indeed. I suggest that they should inspect some of them and they will see that they will last from 60 to 80 years. In many cases the only difference between a permanent house and a temporary house is that the temporary one has only one storey. Conversions of existing premises, 30,469 by local authorities, and 14,907 by private enterprise. Repair of houses damaged during the war, and places badly blitzed during the war, which were un- 68 fit to be occupied and had to be repaired before they could be used, 107,727 by local authorities, against 15,335 by private enterprise. That gives a total of homes and houses, because to me the two things are completely synonymous——
§ Mr. Walker-Smith
Does the hon. Member call huts and temporary squatting in Service accommodation "homes"?
§ Mr. Mackay
The hon. Gentleman, if he had listened to my speech, would have known that I was not referring to huts.
§ Mr. Mackay
When the hon. Gentleman was speaking, he did refer to huts. He spoke of 3,000 temporary huts out of a total of 400,000, making an enormous point out of it. If he had stayed to listen to the Debate, he would not have made such a foolish interruption as he made just now as I was not including huts; and, if he wants to take further part in this Debate, I suggest that he sits and listens and understands what is being said, and then, when he understands, he can interrupt. The point I was making was that, in that period, we had 301,000, plus 78,000, making a total of 388,000 houses, which is the number of families for whom living accommodation has actually been found by this Government.
Then there was the suggestion by the Coalition Government that, at the end of two years, we should have 300,000 houses built or building, with a possibility of 230,000 completed in two years. That programme was laid down at the end of 1945, before the end of Lend-Lease, and before the Conservative Party of this country had wakened up to the possible economic circumstances which would face this country after the war. Let us take that as just a pious hope. The Government have doubled those figures within the same period. I think it is about time that hon. Members opposite were more honest about these figures, and told the people quite frankly what the housing difficulties are, and that they should face the realities, and in particular, examine the timber position.
I do not mind what comparisons hon. Members opposite make if they will take into account the relevant circumstances I will take the paradise of America, and show what America has done. The American population is 69 approximately three times ours. We should, therefore, expect that their housing figures would be roughly three times ours. They are not dependent on imports of materials as we are, they are not short of labour as we are, and they have machinery necessary for building houses which is far in advance of ours. They were able to carry on the war without in any way interfering with their ordinary consumption programme in the normal way, and their war industry was able to function efficiently without any dislocation of their normal programme. In the main, we would expect their progress to be much greater than ours, considering all the difficulties and restrictions which we have had to face. By the end of 1946 they had built 662,000 houses, while we had built 310,000.
§ Mr. Mackay
I am glad of that interruption, because I was going on the basis of putting the case so low that no one could criticise it. The rent of these houses, including the trailers, is £3 14s. a week, against 12s. to 18s. The selling price, against our £1,200, is from £2,000 to £2,500. The number of houses let in America is about 30 to 35 per cent. against our 80 per cent., and in 1946, they started 860,000 houses, whereas we started 300,000. I do not mind from where hon. Members opposite take their figures, provided they will relate them to the circumstances. If they will take a comparison with America, as I have done, they will find that there is just as great a housing shortage in America as there is here. One-third of the houses in America have no bathrooms, and another third have no inside lavatories. Housing conditions are just as bad there as they are here. When we take the comparison with America, we see how, because of Government control exercised in the use of building materials and in the type of house to be built, we have met a much greater social need in the two years since the war than has any other country taking population into account and in comparable circumstances. The hon. Member for Hertford said that the Minister claims that this Government has done well; we know that, even with the great limitations on the housing programme, we have done well.
70 I would like to emphasise what was said by the hon. Lady the Member for Anglesey. I think we should reorganise the building industry and make it more efficient. I think that we shall be able to overcome a lot of our economic troubles at the present time, but, for greater progress in housing, we shall need to reorganise the building industry itself. We are, today, to give one small example, building 80,000 prefabricated houses by the use of different methods of construction, and these houses are of 40 different types. That is not mass production, in the sense in which I understand it. That is not the way in which we should be organising the prefabrication industries of this country. We may be building one type of house in aluminium, one in steel and one in concrete; but I think hon. Members opposite should realise that, in the two years following the war, private enterprise has let down the Government and the country in the field of prefabrication. If we are to have prefabricated houses, we want them mass-produced, and, if we are to have mass-produced houses, we should have the smallest possible variety and the greatest possible quantity that can be produced of each type, whether concrete, steel or aluminium. The building industry has never organised itself. The private enterprise spirit was so strong that it was not prepared to sacrifice something for the benefit of the country as a whole.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing (Weston-super-Mare)
Is the hon. Member claiming that the prefabricated house has been built by the small builder, and that, in regard to the aluminium houses, production has been limited by the firms who make them? Surely, it has been limited entirely by the Government?
§ Mr. Mackay
I appreciate the hon. Member's interruption, but if he had been listening, he would realise that I never said anything like that. The aluminium house was produced by one firm, and they produced of one type about 50,000. Take the case of the concrete houses. There are 58 different types of concrete house on the market today, not one. That is not mass production. If the people who are running these private enterprise businesses had had initiative and ability, they could have done better. The Minister has said that private enter- 71 prise should build along with local authorities so that there would be no running away with rents, and so that people could have cheap houses. Private enterprise has failed lamentably to show ability in regard to both the steel and the concrete house. We ought to be getting more production than we are getting.
Complaints have been made that people should work more. I frankly feel that the matter is more in the hands of the employers than the employees, and that they should put their house in order. There are over 100,000 building firms, of whom 38,000 are one-man firms, 50,000 have fewer than 20 employees, 11,000 fewer than 100 employees. There are very few of the big type of builder in the industry. This is where reorganisation is necessary. If hon. Members opposite wanted to criticise the Minister for his housing policy, they might have said that the building industry is the most archaic and inefficient in the country. It has not been reorganised for years. Largely owing to the fact that its work is out of doors, it does not allow of the same reorganisation as in factory management. Conditions in the industry are very bad, and it is only recently that the workers in it have had a week's paid holiday. Even today, in bad weather, they have to wait 32 hours before they get anything. No industry, the mining industry not excepted, has such bad conditions as the building industry. The hon. Member for Hertford raised the question of price; this is tied up with the overheads of an inefficient industry.
In conclusion, I want to say that there is an obligation on hon. Members, at times when things are difficult, when we have shortages due to the war and the condition of the world today, and when, being without coal, we cannot buy timber and things of that nature, to give the facts to the people of this country. I would willingly join any hon. Member in suggesting to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health ways in which we could get improved conditions in the building industry. I have already indicated some of the ways in which it can be done. But the six prescriptions which were given this afternoon are a mere bagatelle in a problem which has been tackled more courageously after this war than any Conservative Government tackled a similar problem after the last war
§ 5.13 p.m.
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer (Worthing)
We are debating a subject which is topic No. I in the minds of many thousands of people in this country, and we are also trying to debate the causes for the catastrophic failure of the Government to live up to its election promises. We have heard a very long speech from the hon. Member for North-West Hull (Mr. R. Mackay). This is the second time since I have been a Member of this House that I have heard the hon. Member say that he found no difficulty whatever in obtaining building materials and licences. That is a very significant statement, coming as it does from a Socialist Member of this House.
§ Mr. Mackay rose——
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer
I do not propose to give way to the hon. Member. Perhaps he will first listen to what I have to ask him. How is it that he finds no difficulty while the building contractors that I know in the South of England complain of, and can show proof of, dilatoriness and inefficiency in regard to licences?
§ Mr. Mackay
I do not know the hon and gallant Gentleman's friends or what intelligence they use in the matter When one employs 4,000 people on a building programme, one has to fill in a lot of forms. We have no difficulty in filling them in, just as many people have no difficulty in filling in football pools. The answer is that if people in the building industry would realise that a form of control has been instituted and would not kick against it, and would say "This is the normal way; we must apply ourselves to the problem and understand and use the machinery that exists just as do other people," they would have no trouble.
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer
The hon. Gentleman has confined his answer only to the filling in of forms. I should have thought that was an over-simplification, because anybody who applies himself to the matter for five minutes can fill in any form, but whether, when the form has been analysed by a Government Department, he gets any information of the slightest value out of it, is another question.
I would like to follow the hon. Member for North-West Hull a little further. He produced various reasons for the shortage of houses in this country—the shortage of labour and the shortage of 73 materials—but he did not mention the stock reason—the bad winter. I was very interested in his argument with regard to the question of building incentives. He said—I think I am quoting his words correctly—there must be no question of building incentives while there is any danger of unemployment.
§ Mr. Mackay
All I said was that one can well understand the attitude of men who have been unemployed in the past. They feel that, with incentives, the work will be finished so quickly that they will be out of work again.
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer
Surely, the hon. Member must realise that there is no question of unemployment in this country at the moment. If hon. Members opposite use the excuse that there is a shortage of labour, then, I maintain, there must be incentives to further production. [Laughter] I am not in the least put off by the various chuckles from hon. Members opposite; it only means that they are unduly sensitive on this matter. As always, when we are debating a subject in this Chamber which it is difficult for them to defend, they use the old propaganda about what the Conservative Party did in the past, and continue in that vein, and then endeavour to deride any hon. Member on this side who tries to be constructive.
The winter has also been blamed for the shortage of houses. But statistics, which are based on 50 years of experience, and by which the weather rule is calculated, show that, in the past, the percentage of time lost in the winter was 11½ per cent., and reliable statistics for this winter show that it was 25 per cent. Therefore, the only difference in the actual shortage is in the nature of 15 per cent. Surely, hon. Members opposite are not suggesting that 15 per cent. has any relation whatever to the shortage of houses at the present moment? The truth is that the Government, as we on this side have said over and over again, have placed reliance, for purely ideological reasons, on an instrument which is totally inadequate and unsuited to the task in hand. The results forecast are now proving to be correct. It is characteristic of a private builder that, when he is building, his solvency depends on the completion of the work in the shortest possible time. The result is that he starts where he knows that there is a reasonable 74 certainty of completion within a specified time. Whereas the local authority under pressure from the Ministry, are able to put out houses to contract for erection in places where there is no possibility of their completion, while the contractor himself is subjected to every form of hampering and bureaucratic control.
The situation is aggravated by the four-to-one rule which emphasises the inherent inefficiency in these methods of dealing with housing construction. I would like to say a word about this ratio. I know it will be adhered to by hon. Members opposite for purely ideological reasons. They suggest that in this way a certain class, which they claim to represent, will get better houses more quickly than under any other scheme. One can discuss this matter for hours, but I would like to put one point to the Minister. Does he not realise that the so-called middle-class, or whatever he likes to call them, for whom he does not appear to want to build houses, are occupying those very council houses which are being built by the local authorities, and are preventing the working classes from occupying them? If the private builder was allowed to build houses for the middle class, the houses built by the local authorities would be available for the working class.
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer
The hon. Gentleman says that I know nothing at all about housing. The point I am making at the moment is in relation to the four-to-one ratio.
§ Mr. Shurmer
The hon. and gallant Gentleman said that the houses which are being built for the working class are being occupied by the middle-class. Does he not realise that up and down the country nearly every local authority has a points scheme to which they adhere rigidly, irrespective of the station of life of the individual?
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer
May I give an answer to the hon. Gentleman, or is he frightened of what I am saying, and trying to shout me down?
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer
I happen to know by heart the points scheme in my local authority. I also happen to know that a large number of people who have got points in that scheme are ex-Servicemen, who have got them for one reason or another, or for any of the reasons which are laid down in the priority scheme. But a large number of those people are middle-class people and the only way in which they can get houses is by going to the local authority for them. If the private builder could build houses for them, they would buy the houses and there would be more accommodation for the others.
There is one other point that I would like to raise, and I am now asking for information. I may be wrong, but I am under the impression that the private builder is still limited to the £1,300 maximum except, I think, in the London area. The private builder has been taunted by hon. Members opposite because he does not wish to build houses at that price. Is it not rather peculiar that local authorities also find that they cannot build houses at that price, and are having to build them at £1,400, £1,500 and £1,600 upwards? Why should there be this discrimination against the private builder, except on entirely ideological and party grounds, and no other? Perhaps that question might be answered later on.
Having engendered a certain amount of heat on this warm afternoon, I would like to introduce one or two constructive proposals, as a change from what we hear from hon. Members opposite. I would like to make a very simple suggestion—and I hope it is not a great over-simplification of the problem—to ensure that licences are not issued against non-available materials, because that is what is happening. Licences are being issued in a haphazard manner all over the country, without any relation whatever to the availability of materials, and I suggest that there should be a tie-up between the two, because if anything causes disappointment and frustration, it is that. I have a rather revolutionary suggestion to make, and that is that licences should be issued on a long-term basis. They should be issued, if you like, on a different coloured piece of paper, stamped on them, "Not valid 76 before such and such a date," and should be tied up with the B.M.A. and the priority schemes. The advantage would be that the contractor would be able to notify his merchants of his long-term plan and policy, and of the likelihood of certain eventualities arising. It would assist the building industry enormously in many ways. I have had this suggestion made to me by many builders, just as big as the hon. Member for North-West Hull. I would like to hear from the Minister some comments on that suggestion, and I would like to know whether it has already been thought of by the Ministry or not. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not say that it would give rise to a black market, because that could quite easily be prevented.
I have in my constituency—and I understand this applies all over the country—an example of the question of indoor conversion during bad weather. I believe that there has not been anything like enough energy, foresight or thought devoted to this matter. Close to me is a large hospital which belongs to the L.C.C. It was requisitioned during the war, but it has been standing empty for two whole years. I asked the other day what was to be done about it, and I am informed that the matter is still under consideration and that no decision has yet been reached. Knowing, as I do to my cost, the lack of availability of hospital space in London, this is very serious indeed. However, it would be out of Order to debate that matter, but I will talk to the Minister about it privately if he likes. It seems almost unbelievable that a hospital should be standing empty for two years while in my constituency 2,000 people are wanting homes, some of them living five in a room, old ladies living with young boys in the most appalling conditions, and nobody has thought of converting this hospital into temporary flats during the wet weather. It has got everything that could be required. I trust that next winter something will be done about it.
I ask the Minister to look into the question of maldistribution. I can quote an example of an area in which all the taps arrived, but no baths, while 60 miles away all the baths arrived and no taps. If that is not the sort of "cock-eyed," crazy maldistribution which is the result of Government control, I do not know what is. It is the sort of thing from 77 which we suffered in the Army at the beginning of the war.
§ Mr. Bevan
I do not wish to interrupt my speech later on to deal with that point, but, as a matter of fact, it has nothing to do with us. It is a case of intelligent co-operation between the building merchant on the one side and the contractor on the other side, both of whom are a part of private enterprise.
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer
The matter could be co-ordinated if necessary. The trouble about it is that the Minister does not know what is going on under his nose. Another point, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) referred, was the question of hoarding. He did suggest that there was hoarding on the part of the Ministries as well as on the part of the local authorities. I am not taking up this question of the local authorities, but I am going to take up—because I was going to anyhow—the question of hoarding on the part of the Ministries. I cannot quote exact chapter and verse, but what I can say is that every building contractor in the country says that it is going on; and there is no smoke without fire. It is vitally important that house building be brought back "into phase." The longer this is delayed the greater will be the dislocation. Having encouraged this situation and distortion, it is up to the Government now to take stringent steps to see that things are put right. I dare say it is difficult for them to admit their failure, but it is their bounden duty to do so, and to come forward and accept the odium and responsibility for it, and give a quota system on an area basis, indicating how quotas are to be filled.
§ 5.31 p.m.
§ The Minister of Health (Mr. Aneurin Bevan)
I am delighted that after the lapse of a year—a full year—the Committee has another opportunity of debating the housing programme of the Govern- 78 ment. It is, perhaps, rather extraordinary, in view of the hyperbole used from the benches opposite concerning the housing programme, that the Opposition have permitted a whole year to elapse before asking for a Debate on general housing. That omission on their part, of course, can be explained by those who have been present at previous housing Debates; because whenever the Opposition have sought a housing Debate the consequences to them have been so catastrophic that they have avoided asking for another for some time. Indeed, the Front Bench opposite at present carries the political corpses of those who opened previous Debates.
I was expecting today that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) would open the Debate on behalf of the Opposition, but previous experience has taught him, perhaps, that discretion is the better part of valour, and he left that to his hon. Friend the Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith), who, after the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for North West Hull (Mr. R. Mackay), joins the political corpses on housing Debates; because rarely in my experience have I witnessed an opportunity so woefully missed. I rejoiced at the thought—despite the fact that I had hoped the right hon. Gentleman would have plucked up courage at the last moment to open the Debate—that they entrusted the opening of the Debate to a back bencher who, by family association, would be expected to have some knowledge about housing. But he has missed his opportunity; and not only missed his opportunity, but he has deserted the Committee. I really think that it is up to the acting Leader of the Opposition to see that, when he invites one of his hon. Friends to open a Debate in future, he had the courtesy to remain in the Committee whilst the Debate is continuing.
However, I do not want to engender too much heat because, after all, it is not a very cool day, and I should like, therefore, to leave the hon. Member for Hertford where he has been put by my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hull, and discuss some of the things that I rejoice I have the opportunity of indicating to the Committee. It is unnecessary—or ought to be unnecessary—to spend very much time on this subject in giving facts, because I doubt very much whether there has ever been a 79 great national operation carried out in this country which has been more fully publicised than the housing programme. We issue reports every month, and have done so ever since the end of 1945; which, judging from their questions and judging by their speeches, are almost entirely neglected by hon. Members opposite. Therefore, I am exempt from the obligation, I hope, of giving many of the figures which are contained in those reports.
We have stated before—and, perhaps it is wise to restate them—what are the main objects of the Government's housing policy. These objects are to build as many good permanent houses as quickly as possible; and to see that the houses which are built go to those who are in the greatest need of them. The hon. and gallant Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) gave evidence that that is being done, because he complained, in the course of his speech, that in very many instances, houses which are being built by local authorities are being let to middle-class persons. Well, surely that is exactly what we want to happen. If those middle-class persons are persons in need of houses more than others, they have a claim to them.
§ Mr. Bevan
The hon. and gallant Member was not obscure. I understood him. He said that those people would have been perfectly content to buy their houses. Yes, but we are not content to permit them to buy them. It has been part of the Government's housing policy that modern housing estates should contain people of mixed income groups, and we do not want to have a repetition after this war, of what occurred in the years between the wars—whole estates occupied by stockbrokers, telling each other on the trains to London all the stale jokes of the Stock Exchange. This has been laid down 80 as one of the chief objectives of housing policy.
I hoped that I had taken the Opposition with me there, because I always thought it was universally accepted as good housing policy that we ought not to have housing estates in which income groups are segregated from each other. Indeed, I have listened on more than one occasion to hon. Members, who have spoken in other connections, and when not merely making party speeches, speaking about the virtues of the old English country villages. Those virtues consisted solely in the fact that the village contained all the mixed elements of the population living, almost all of them, in the main street. Therefore—and I am sorry to make this digression, but it is a very important aspect of housing policy—we should rejoice at the fact that many of the council houses are being occupied by persons who, normally, would have occupied Suburbia in the years between the wars.
I should like to learn from hon. Members opposite what I have asked them on a number of occasions: To whom would they have entrusted the selection of tenants of houses to be built after the war years? We decided that they were to be entrusted to the local authorities. Speaking now not about the building of houses, but about the selection of tenants for the houses built, do hon. Members opposite consider that the local authorities are less worthy to be entrusted with the finding of proper tenants for houses than builders are? Builders select the people who will buy the houses irrespective of need. Local authorities select the tenants to occupy the houses in relation to need. I ask hon. Members opposite once again: To whom would they have entrusted the selection of tenants? I get no reply, and I make a prophecy: we will not get one. That is a question which the Conservative Opposition has always dodged.
When my predecessor as Minister of Health was in office he made the policy of the Conservative Party quite clear before the Election. He said: "I anticipate that the vast majority of the houses built will necessarily be provided by the local authorities in the extraordinary difficulties of the two years we are now considering." I have asked before, and I ask again—because this has been challenged today by the hon. Member for Hertford 81 —do the Opposition still stand by that principle? If they have departed from it, by what principle do they stand? Because, in fact, all I have done in this housing programme is to carry out in the post-election years the inspiration of the Conservative Party in the pre-election period. On this there is a genuine coalition—and it is the only kind of coalition I am prepared to consider. A year ago the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) in opening the Debate said:It is all too clear that the right hon. Gentleman's choice of instrument has been mistaken."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th July, 1946; Vol. 426, c. 793.]Of course, the post-election Conservative Party do not say the same things as the pre-election Conservative Party. We all understand that. Nevertheless, it is still difficult to deduce from those two statements what is the position of the Conservative Party Opposition.
The right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill), in a speech in which he made one of his few references to housing, said: "We want all the agencies, no matter what they are"—because, of course, the right hon. Gentleman is always expansive. "We want all the agencies; stimulate all of them to build houses wherever they can, whenever they can, and as many as they can." That may be described as a plan. I describe it as simply empty rhetoric, because with limited physical resources—for that is the circumstance and context in which we must consider this subject, as my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hull said—we must decide whether to use those limited resources in providing houses for those who stand in the greatest need of them. That is what we have said we would do, and the result of our having so decided has already been described.
The fact that we have provided, in less than two years and at the end of six years of war, more than 250,000 homes, in addition to effecting bomb damage repairs is not due to any administrative superiority which this Government possess over the Government of 1918. Not at all. It is not due to any administrative superiority that I might claim to possess over Lord Addison. Not at all. It is due to the superiority of the Socialist principle over the Tory principle. Because what we have done in two years 82 is to deny to the building industry the right to build luxury buildings while people are needing houses. When the right hon. Member for Southport replies he might challenge that. I should like to put a number of questions to him, as he would put them to me if I were going to follow him in the Debate. I should like to ask him those questions, not because I wish to lay for him any dialectical traps, but in order that the whole thing may be elucidated, for one of the virtues of having a Government and an Opposition is that the nation might have placed before it two alternative sets of principles. Then, if the nation turn us out, they know why they are putting the other people in, and I want to assist the Opposition in making its case clear to the country. I want to know from them: Would they have had any control at all? Would they have allowed building resources, as such, to flow freely over the whole field of building? In other words, if the people wanted—and the hon. Member for Hertford intimated it——
§ Mr. Bevan
Oh, yes. He said that the contract builders are not accustomed to building houses and that, therefore, the building of houses ought to be left to those accustomed to doing it. That was the argument. Would he have left the contract builders to build cinemas, skating rinks, restaurants and hotels, or would he have had an overall control? Would he have said: "Oh, no. You won't be allowed to build what you like. We will have to control that "? Would he have had controls at all? The assumption is that the Opposition would have had one primary control, that they would not have permitted the resources of the building industry to-be spent anyhow; they would have said that those resources must first of all be funnelled into the priority class, and presumably that priority class would have been factories and houses. If I am allowed to assume that without challenge, the centre of the hon. Member for Hertford's case collapses completely, because if the building resources of the building industry are concentrated, as we have concentrated them, on factories and houses, then the contract builder had to be brought in. No one could deny that.
Therefore, we are to assume that there ought to be a primary control. And re- 83 member, that primary control is open to all the objections that hon. Members opposite make to any kind of control, in stopping people doing what they want to do. Indeed, when they are stopped doing what they want to do, they fill the "Yellow Press" with protests about it, as they have done for two years. All that has been appearing in some of the newspapers supporting hon. Members opposite has really been a demand for certain builders to deny houses to the poor and to the ex-Service men, and to build luxury houses for the rich. If the Opposition do not accept that to be the case, would they have denied luxury houses to the rich? That is the question. If they would have denied luxury houses to the rich, how could it have been done without control?
When we come to the priorities within the overall priority, we then have to decide which particular priority has most claim. We decided that it was necessary to make an allocation, and that allocation was that 60 per cent. of the available building force should be concentrated on housing. The first claim I make for the Government's programme is that the main objective has been realised. Over the last two years, by means of all these controls, all these objectionable forms and all these denials of self-indulgence, roughly 60 per cent. of the building force of Great Britain has been compelled to obey the overriding Socialist purpose. As my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hull has said, when we are speaking about local authority building, we must speak also about the temporary housing programme, because that programme has, in many respects, used up as much labour and material as permanent houses would have done. And so, we have provided that the main part of labour should go in that direction.
We also decided that we should have a four-to-one ratio. I do not know what hon. Members are really complaining about. I have got a complaint. It is the complaint that the four-to-one ratio is too generous to those who can afford to buy houses, and I will make them this promise: it will be altered if the material situation worsens. If we have to accept a constriction in our overall housing possibilities, then houses built for selling will be almost entirely excluded. If hon. Members opposite demand, as they are 84 always doing, Draconic measures from the Government, they must expect the shoe to pinch sometimes where they will not like it to pinch. If we are to be denied material sources, we mean to see that that denial is not at the expense of the worst off members of the community. The second claim I make for the Government's housing plan is that over all this field, with all its complications, with 1,469 authorities to manage, and with scores of licences with building firms and hundreds of thousands of building sites to manage, we have, over the last two years, kept to the four-to-one ratio, and for every one house that has been built for sale, four houses have been built for renting. We have, in fact, achieved our main objective, if we always accept the temporary housing programme.
The third claim is this: Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport will give me his attention, because I am hoping that he is going to do his best to answer the Debate this time. It was complained against us, and it has been repeated today by the hon. Member for Hertford, and by many others, especially by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) in the country, that we have selected the wrong building instrument and that we have not harnessed the resources of private enterprise. I do not expect the right hon. Gentleman to speak with exactly the same scrupulous accuracy outside as in the House of Commons, but he ought to come somewhere within the orbit. He said that we ought to have entrusted this job to private enterprise. As my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hull has pointed out, we have entrusted it to private enterprise. When it comes to the local authorities, they have a case—against whom? They have a case against private enterprise. At no time since the housing programme started has the private builder been unable to build because he has not had contracts from local authorities.
We have had complaints from hon. Members opposite, usually uninformed, and almost entirely quoted from the headlines of the Press that owing to the conflict between the Minister of Health, the Minister of Town and Country Planning and the Minister of Agriculture it was impossible for local authorities to get ahead. The facts are completely otherwise. Every site has been agreed, acquired and 85 laid out, and the houses have been designed, and contracts have been placed for 100,000 more houses than the building industry can build. In other words—and this is a legitimate point of criticism—by the end of 1946, the housing programme was was out of phase, out of balance. I accept that at once. I accept that by the end of 1946 we had placed more contracts at the disposal of the building industry than the physical resources of the industry could manage. I accept that, but if hon. Members opposite launch it at me, they entirely deny all they have said about local authorities as building instruments They cannot have it both ways. They cannot argue that local authorities are too lethargic and muscle-bound, if at the same time they have let more contracts than the building industry could manage. I accept it as an inevitable concomitant of the planning of building over a wide field. If by the end of 1946 we had cut down further housing contracts, 164 local authorities would have been denied any housing at all. The year 1946 had been devoted to an even spread of building all over the country.
The result is, and I must state it because it is a remarkable tribute to what the local authorities have done, that at the end of May only those local authorities which represented 0.2 per cent. of the population had no housing contracts. In other words, 99.8 per cent of the country had been covered by housing contracts. That is a very remarkable achievement. Why should hon. Members opposite deny it, because local authorities are of varied complexions? In the rural areas they are often composed of Conservative majorities. So anxious were the local authorities to get ahead with the job, that they put all these contracts in being very quickly.
I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman, when he replies, if he argues that the four-to-one ratio was wrong, whether he will tell us who is going to build houses for the agricultural workers? The right hon. Gentleman made a speech in the country the other day, in which he said that the Conservatives had a plan—a plan mind you, although I have not even seen a scrap of paper about it, and I have searched all the pigeon-holes in the Ministry of Health—for 100,000 houses for the countryside. Where is it? If the right hon. Gentleman plans to build 86 houses for the agricultural workers does he plan to sell them houses? In between the wars, we have been told, a vast number of houses were built in rural areas by Conservative Governments. Of course there were—but it was a case of Suburbia in the rural areas. The houses were not built for the agricultural workers. It was, therefore, one of the main objectives of the present Government's housing programme to have an even spread of building all over the country in order to use building labour where it lay. As the housing need was universal we have to build houses all over the country.
I apologise for keeping the Committee so long, but we have not had a Debate for some time. It was necessary for us in 1947 to do what was manifestly impossible in 1946—to bring about a proper balance between the number of houses in tender and the number under construction, in relation to the number completed. It was because of the necessity to do that that I had to produce a housing programme. If we are to ration—which is what it means—local authorities in 1947 as to the number of houses they are to be permitted to build it is necessary to have a national global figure. So, the 240,000 permanent houses estimated at the end of 1946 to be within the physical possibilities of the building industry in 1947, was not so much a housing target as an instrument for bringing about a balanced programme. The hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) grins, but that is explained in the White Paper, which he probably has not read. If we go to a zonal conference, and say to the local authorities and builders represented there, "You will be allowed to construct so many more additional houses," they ask, "On what do you base your figure?" We say, "We have based it on the national global figure of 240,000 houses, broken down for your area, in relation to your physical possibilities."
§ Mr. Quintin Hogg (Oxford)
A few moments ago the right hon. Gentleman accused me of grinning; I was only sneering at his excuses.
§ Mr. Bevan
I think we can leave the matter where the hon. Member has left it, and where he has left himself. Almost immediately after the 1947 programme was announced, we ran into difficulties. We have been sneered at because we referred to the winter, but Members in all 87 parts of the Committee must realise that the effects of last winter on the building programme were more catastrophic than on any other form of activity. It was not merely that site work stopped; the production of basic materials, such as cement, bricks and pipes, stopped. What is much more important, and what cannot be calculated because we have not the statistics, was the diversion of a large number of building workers from the finishing stages of houses to the repair of houses damaged by floods and frost. What the result of that was I cannot tell, and no one else can tell. The overall picture of what we have done has been explained, and I do not propose to add to it now, or to what is in the monthly housing returns.
Reference has been made to the output of building labour, and I must remind the Committee that comparisons between output in 1935–36–37 and the present day are entirely unfair. They are unfair to the building industry; and to building operatives. In the first place, the houses that are being built today are much bigger and much better than the houses which were built before the war. One has only to take a motor ride out of London to see the brick boxes which were described as houses by their speculative builders. But they all count as houses, whereas the houses being built today are, superficially, one-third or one-fourth more than the area of those houses. We do this deliberately. We know that we shall not get as many houses that way, but we are building houses for a long time and we do not want to build bad houses. Further, the equipment of the modern house is much better than that in the prewar house. The young housewife who goes into a modern house is not compelled necessarily to go into the secondhand furniture market and buy expensive wardrobes, because in present-day houses we have built-in cupboards. There is much more labour and material lavished on the present-day house.
I must, nevertheless, say—because if I did not I should not be speaking the truth—that in some respects, the output of building labour is not as much as we are entitled to expect. This is no reflection on building operatives, it is merely a general reflection on human nature. It appears to be fundamental to all of us that we do not do our best work under 88 sustained ideological inspiration. We have to have some more material reward. Therefore, the Government have decided to amend Regulation 56AB, not, as my hon. Friend the Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks) rightly pointed out, because it stands in the way of incentives, but because a lot of people believe that it stood in the way of incentives, and because it was instituted m order to produce a discipline over the building industry which we consider unnecessary in times of peace.
So, from now on, from last Friday, when the Order was promulgated, there are no inhibitions whatsoever, either implicit or explicit, against building with incentives or with payments by results. I devoutly hope that the negotiations which are going on between the building unions and master builders on this question will result in the early adoption of piece rates in the building industry. We are asking the miners to make a very special effort, at the moment, to provide more coal. The miners at the coal face work on piece rates. It is not generally understood that the graph of accidents in the mining industry is entirely different from that of any other industry. In every other industry—I use this as an illustration—the accidents are higher at the end of the day than at the beginning, when a man is fresh. In the mining industry, according to the statistics, the graph of accidents is higher in the middle of the day, because in mining, output can be kept up only by not taking the same safety precautions. To produce more coal by payment on results in the mining industry, therefore, involves a greater risk.
We have asked the miners to do it, and the miners will do it; they are doing it. It is not too much, surely, to ask the building workers who are building the homes of the people to do this in the building industry as in the mining industry. It ought not to be too much to ask the building workers to do this in building houses in the rural areas, because if we are going to break this clamp of dependency on other nations it can only be done by stepping up agricultural production, and that can only be done by building more houses in the rural areas. We are, therefore, entitled to expect the building industry to establish a new tempo of production by accepting incentives.
89 I am told that we have not the materials. That is really no answer, because every worker is a consumer of materials produced by some other worker, and if each worker goes slow, every one goes slow. We want a general increase in the tempo of all industries. We are at the present time stacking bricks on sites in this country because we are not getting enough orders into the brickyards. If the existing brick building force laid bricks at the same rate as before the war, we would be short of bricks; we would not really be short of bricks because we would take steps to increase production—nevertheless, we are having to close down in certain brickyards because they cannot get orders, and the reason why they cannot get orders is because the rate of bricklaying is not what we are entitled to expect it to be. Here we have an example where if cannot be argued that there is a shortage of building material. There will be found on sites all round London, wherever one likes to look, stacks of bricks. I am speaking the truth, and it does us no harm to look these facts fully in the face. Therefore, I say that there is no excuse whatsoever.
There is no excuse, either, for the joiners. There have been some difficulties over a few weeks about cement and timber. But the timber is now coming in, and if hon. Members opposite taunt us about building, I would like to ask them from where they would get the soft wood timber. Most of it we have had to buy in Canada and the U.S.A. with dollars; and we have bought it. We have had timber from Germany—a very large amount. I expect that hon. Gentlemen opposite would say that we could get it from Sweden if we had more coal. That is quite right, and if they had behaved themselves about the mining industry, we should have got it. That is the old, old story; nevertheless, it is the story, and we are reaping its consequences on the whole.
That is, so far as the Government is concerned, mainly the position we are taking up in regard to houses. We are not satisfied with the progress. There is no single problem from which more heart ache arises than from this lack of housing accommodation, and I resist the suggestion that has been made in some quarters that it is necessary for us to reduce our housing programme. I believe 90 that if we did that, we would gravely jeopardise national progress. There is nothing which creates a sense of alarm and despondency more than not to see new houses springing up all over the country. How can we expect the nation to reinvigorate itself if it throws its hands in the air and says that it cannot provide decent homes for its own people? I reject that suggestion. It is perfectly true that we have not been able to accomplish what we would have liked to accomplish; nevertheless, I say we have done a very good job. May I say that not only the Government but, in the circumstances facing us, the nation as a whole has done a very good job; so, for heaven's sake, do not let us be so depressed; we are getting on with it.
There is a great tendency for this nation to denigrate itself, and too great a tendency for people overseas to reproduce the speeches of critics in this House, as though they were condemnations of the British people—far too great a tendency. I know that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite are not responsible for that; these are the courtesies of Parliamentary exchange. Nevertheless, it is necessary for us to say that we are making more progress in our housing programme than any other nation in the world, and we propose to go on doing it. The Government are seeking the co-operation of every one in all parts of the industry and in all parts of the country, because there can be no more inspiring job to which we can put our hands than the provision of homes for our own people.
§ 6.19 p.m.
§ Mr. R. S. Hudson (Southport)
This is the first occasion in this Parliament that I have spoken about housing. I had it in mind to claim the consideration usually accorded by hon. Members in this House to Members making a maiden speech, till I remembered, while the right hon. Gentleman was speaking, that one of the characteristics of a maiden speech is that it is supposed to be non-controversial. I cannot think that the Committee, or any one else, will expect me, after what we have heard from the right hon. Gentleman, not to be controversial. The right hon. Gentleman said that at the present moment we were making more progress in housing than any other nation in the world. That is a statement that is widely made, not only by the right 91 hon. Gentleman but by all his minions. The hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) wrote an article only the other day in the "Daily Herald" in which he compared the housing record of this country with that of the United States, and, with his usual accuracy, he said that the American figures were not known. The hon. Member said that no one keeps and publishes them every month as in this country, but, from all accounts, they have reached nothing like the total of 1,200,000 which, he rightly said, would have been required in order to correspond with our figure. Unfortunately for the hon. Member for Devonport the figures are published and the figures given by the hon. Member for North-West Hull (Mr. R. Mackay), despite his appeal for honesty in the Committee in regard to facts, are entirely wrong. The hon. Member for North-West Hull said that the number of houses or dwellings completed in the United States was 661,900, and he compared with that 400,000 houses built by this country. But he was not comparing like with like, just like most hon. Members opposite. He was taking two years in. the case of this Government and one year in the case of the United States, because the 661,900 houses are in respect of one year, not two. As for the right hon. Gentleman's figures and statement, let me give him the most recent figures——
§ Mr. Hudson
In 1946, the total number was the figure quoted by the hon. Member for North-West Hull, 661,900.
§ Mr. R. Mackay rose——
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Mr. Hubert Beaumont)
Two hon. Members cannot be on their feet speaking at the same time. The right hon. Gentleman has not given 92 way and the hon. Member for North-West Hull (Mr. R. Mackay) must resume his seat.
§ Mr. Hudson
I anticipated that this would come in useful, because I had intended to refer to the claim made by the right hon. Gentleman. I did not know he was going to repeat it today. I asked the American Embassy to let me have the latest figures, and now I am quoting from the official report provided by the United States Embassy in London. These figures are available to anyone who likes to ask for them. Here is an official statement about the United States housing programme.Last year——that is 1946—661,900 non-farm houses were completed In the year——
§ Mr. Hudson
The hon. Gentleman for North-West Hull was comparing two years with America's one year and I am comparing one year with their one year. At all events, I will come to a figure which I hope will be acceptable as non-controversial and it deals specifically with the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
These controversial issues and constant interruptions are only prolonging the Debate.
§ Mr. Mackay
On a point of Order. As the right hon. Gentleman has said I have given inaccurate figures to the Committee, he might at least allow me to correct that statement.
§ Mr. Hudson
I will now give a figure of direct interest to the right hon. Gentleman. He used the words, "We are now building …" There can be no question that he was referring to the present and1 93 not to 1945. Let us take the figures for the first five months of this year, and compare like with like. It will be found that in the first five months of this year in the United States over 300,000 houses were completed, and if we take figures for the first five months of this year it will be found——
§ Mr. Wyatt (Birmingham, Aston)
On a point of Order. While the right hon. Gentleman is looking through his figures could something be done about the microphones which make it difficult to hear the figures, already very confused?
§ Mr. Hudson
I am sorry it my voice got mixed up with others. It is a little difficult if one is not allowed to make one's speech in one's own way. After all, the Minister of Health did not take any particular trouble not to be controversial, and we listened to him quietly with one exception. [Interruption.] I have until 10 o'clock to complete my speech.
§ Mr. Hudson
I am going to compare the first five months of this year in this country and in America, which is comparing like with like. I am talking about permanent new houses. In the first five months of this year the United States finished just over 300,000 permanent new houses. In this country, taking the local authorities and private enterprise together, we finished 59,000 new permanent houses.
§ Mr. Hudson
The right hon. Gentleman should really get his facts correct. He will find if he takes the trouble——
§ Mr. Baldwin (Leominster)
On a point of Order. We listened in silence to the Minister when he was making his speech. Could we have the same courtesy of silence now for this side of the Committee?
§ The Deputy-Chairman
It would be of great advantage if some of the heat of debate was turned off and that hon. 94 Members should now give to the right hon. Gentleman an opportunity to deliver his speech.
§ Mr. Hudson
I repeat it the right hon. Gentleman looks at the publication, he will see that I am comparing like with like. We built 59,000 permanent houses in the first five months of this year, and allowing for the difference in population that would mean that America would need do no more than some 180,000 houses. In fact, they built up to 300,000 houses, and, therefore, the claims of the right hon. Gentlemen, the hon. Member for Devonport and the hon. Member for North-West Hull are demonstrably false.
Let me turn to the right hon. Gentleman's speech. He started off by saying that there had been no Debate on housing in this House for a year. That is another incidental illustration of the fact that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite do not know the meaning of words or the meaning of accuracy. It is true that the right hon. Gentleman was ill at the time, but there was a Debate in the House on a whole day in March.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Mr. John Edwards)
My right hon. Friend made it perfectly plain that he was referring to a general Debate. The right hon. Gentleman opposite was also absent on the occasion to which he refers, when we discussed rural housing which is in no sense general housing.
§ Mr. Hudson
The hon. Gentleman will have his chance to reply when I have finished dealing with the gravamen of the charge that we levy against the right hon. Gentleman's administration. The Minister proceeded to be sarcastic at our expense over the fact that we have waited until now to have a general Debate on housing. The main reason that actuated us was that we thought that the end of July would be an appropriate occasion, because we hoped that we should then have the figures for the end of June, so that we should be able to compare the first two years after V.E. Day. I am making no complaint that the right hon. Gentleman has not published those figures yet. I know the difficulties of the Stationery Office, but the fact remains that they have not been published and, therefore, we have to deal with figures up to 31st May 95 only, which is a year and 11 months instead of the full two years. That is the sole reason why we have waited until now.
We have seen and heard the right hon. Gentleman and his friends going up and down the country saying that 400,000 homes provided means that he has virtually broken the back of the present problem. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] He says that the administrative task is completed and we object. He has been repeatedly using the figure of 750,000 as though the providing of 750,000 homes, let alone 750,000 houses, would have solved the major part of the problem and carried out the figures that were set as the target by the Coalition Government. The first thing I want to emphasise is that 750,000 was not the figure set as the immediate minimum needs of this country in the way of new dwellings. What the Coalition Government said was that we required 750,000 dwellings, plus another 500,000 to replace those which were overcrowded and had already been condemned. Now the right hon. Gentleman is continually using 750,000 as though that was the only target we had set ourselves. The interesting fact is that his own friend, the Minister of Town and Country Planning—whom I am sorry not to see in his place today—in the Debates in 1945, at the time of the Caretaker Government, went out of his way, like many other hon. Members opposite who were then on this side, to say that the figure of 1,250,000 was grossly inadequate. The Minister of Town and Country Planning said at that time:… I am of opinion that instead of 1,250,000 dwellings which are immediately required"—mark his words—"immediately required"—the actual number is more like 2,000,000. …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd March, 1945; Vol. 409, c. 1246.]But whatever figure was the right one two years ago when the right hon. Gentleman started, has to be increased by an allowance of at least 200,000 for every year since for the houses that have become unfit for habitation. This figure of 200,000 required merely to replace unfit and obsolescent houses is based not on any calculation of mine but on the writings of no less a Labour authority than G. D. H. Cole. If anyone doubts that 96 the figure of over 2,000,000 is the right one it can be reached in another way. There has been no house-building for eight years. If there had been no war and house-building had continued at its prewar rate we should have had between 2,000,000 and 2,400,000 more houses than we have today, so that whichever way we look at it, the immediate shortage of houses in this country is over 2,000,000, and yet the right hon. Gentleman goes into the country saying that he has solved the administrative problem with 400,000 homes, including tin huts.
§ Mr. Hudson
The figure of 400,000 new homes provided in England and Wales up to the end of May—homes, not houses, and my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) said in his opening speech that for most ordinary people the word "home" means something better than "house," although with the right hon. Gentleman it is the other way round—includes, besides the 90,312 permanent houses, 94,465 temporary houses, 45,000 conversions and adaptations, 119,000 repairs of war damaged houses, 26,967 requisitions, 3,480 temporary huts and 11,155 huts in service camps.
§ Mr. Hudson
From the May return, the page headed "Total Provision of Housing Accommodation Summary." The interesting point is the next sentence,The total number of new permanent houses, flats, temporary houses and other units of family accommodation …The return then goes on to give new permanent houses so many, new temporary houses, so many, use of existing premises, 97 unoccupied houses requisitioned for residential purposes, temporary huts 3,480, Service camps 11,155.
§ Mr. Hudson
This summary says in paragraph (b):The number of family units of accommodation shown are included in those quoted in a subsequent paragraph of the return dealing with temporary accommodation in Service camps. These represent the numbers of units occupied in camps that are at least up to the standard of the temporary accommodation. already included in the summary"—which includes temporary huts and huts in Service camps.
I venture to suggest that those are not what the ordinary man, and still less his wife, would regard as home. On this question it might not be improper to quote from a speech made by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food. She was talking about the miserable accommodation for married couples and she said that the task was to get homes for people who considered themselves homeless, whether they were living in one room or with their mothers-in-law. They were just as unhappy as if they had no shelter at all, but many of those people had not even applied for a house. The demand might therefore be even greater than was apparent. One sentence in her speech I would commend. It was:The time has come when we should put the feelings of the people above the feelings of the Ministers."—[OFFICIAL REPORT 23rd March, 1945; Vol. 409. c. 1202.]How have the Government tackled the problem? I have said that our first charge is that they have grossly understated the problem and that they are endeavouring to mislead the people of this country into believing that the problem is much smaller than it actually is. How have they tackled the problem? We say that the Coalition Government would have got 220,000 new permanent houses built, 80,000 building, and 145,000 temporary houses, by now. Hon. Members opposite criticised those figures at the time as grossly insufficient. The present Minister of Town and Country Planning said that the Government plans for meeting the urgent and immediate demands were insufficient. He went on: 98We are told that there will be 220,000 houses completed in the first two years alter the war and also that 145,000 temporary dwellings … will, in fact be provided. That makes 365,000 houses which we are promised will be available, against an admitted need of 1,250,000 and against the need which I put at not less than 2,000,000; 365,000 houses will not carry us very far.Then he said:Unless my right hon. and learned Friend"—the Member for North Croydon (Mr. Willink)—can do better than that, there will be very considerable disappointment and dissatisfaction."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 4th June. 1945: Vol. 411, c. 1250.]The Minister of Health has not only failed to do better than that. He has failed to come up to that very low standard.
Why has the right hon. Gentleman failed? He failed because first, of the dissipation of effort, secondly, because of the slow rate of construction and thirdly because he is piling up excessive costs. He asked us what we would do about the production of soft wood timber. He seemed to think that he was scoring a point. The Minister without Portfolio, who was then Lord Privy Seal—I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman remembers what the Minister without Portfolio, who was then Lord Privy Seal, said, when he was standing where I am? The right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Arthur Greenwood) said, on 4th June, just before the Election that the Coalition Government's housing programmeis not a problem like that of the restoring of our foreign trade where we are to some extent in the hands of our friends overseas. This is a problem on our own doorstep, which we can solve if we so choose by our own efforts.There was no nonsense there about soft wood timber from Canada. This was a problem which we could solve if we so choose by our own efforts. The right hon. Gentleman went on:Failure, therefore, to solve the housing problem cannot be placed at the door of unwilling allies overseas. Failure here means our failure to deal with what is a fundamental problem."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 4th June, 1945; Vol. 411, c. 1108.]I commend those words to the right hon. Gentleman, when he is talking about softwood timber.
We say that if we had been in power, the total number of new permanent houses completed would have been 99 greater than it is today and we say that one of the reasons for the ill balance, which the right hon. Gentleman admits is affecting the building industry today, is that there is no relation between the number of houses started and the raw materials likely to be available. The right hon. Gentleman was warned against this in the White Paper of the Coalition and Caretaker Governments. His colleagues who were then in the National Government realised it. The White Paper setting out the Coalition programme—subsequently taken over by the Caretaker Government—mentioned and called attention to this point. It said:As experience after the last war showed, a programme beyond the capacity of the building industry would have the result that many houses would be started but few would be completed. Moreover, there would be powerful pressure on prices if, in the early stages, more work were offered than the building industry could perform.That was a very prescient warning, and it has been completely disregarded by the Minister. The right hon. Gentleman has done exactly the opposite, and the results predicted therein have necessarily followed.
It is obvious, and it should have been obvious to the right hon. Gentleman at an early stage, that bottlenecks were bound to arise. I will not go into the details, because they would be out of Order. Nevertheless, local authorities were encouraged to go all out in starting housing and letting contracts. Then the fuel crisis overcame us. Let us admit the difficulties that were caused by it; but even since then, at a time when he knows that he has not overtaken the arrears of production of raw materials that were caused by that fuel crisis, the Minister is still encouraging local authorities to go ahead. He said this year—I can only go by the figures that show a result of his prophecy—that he was going to have a return to a proper balance. If he will look at the figures for April and May, 1947, he will find that in spite of his desire to get a proper balance, twice as many new houses were started in those two months as were finished and that far from the discrepancy between the number of houses started and finished being decreased it is increasing with every month that passes.
It is sheer nonsense, in the face of figures like that, for the Minister to get 100 up and talk about the restoration of the balance of the industry. I say that as a result of the ill balance and of his administrative incompetence the people of this country have at least 60,000 new permanent houses fewer than would have been the case if we had been in power. [Laughter.] I am making that statement. The right hon. Gentleman went on during his speech to emphasise his belief in the four-to-one ratio. We believe that the four-to-one ratio is bad, for two reasons. First of all, we believe that it does not encourage the use of the best instruments we can get, secondly, that the local authorities build a permanent house which takes longer and is more costly than under private enterprise. I do not want to weary the Committee with a great many figures, but at the present moment local authority houses are taking from 13 to 14 months to build compared with nine months in the case of private enterprise.
One of the results of that is steadily mounting costs. The costs have been given by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford. Let me remind the Committee that private enterprise builders are limited to £1,300 per house, which has to include everything, including the allowance for their overhead expenses, but local authority tenders are running at £1,400 to £1,600, and they include nothing for the overhead costs of the Ministry or the local authorities. As far as the cost of building of houses goes, the local authority—the chosen instrument—is running away above private enterprise.
I would take an example selected by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Works when he was Parliamentary Secretary last year. He was boasting about what he called his chosen instrument. As an example of how well it works, he quoted the case of the two counties, Durham and Hertford. He said that in the old days in 1938, 7,000 houses were built in Durham but the need of Durham was greater than that of Hertford. He boasted a year ago that 8,000 tenders and licences to build had been issued to Durham and only 4,000 to Hertford, and he asked the Committee to assume what a first class chap he was and how good his chosen instrument was. It is interesting to see what has happened under this chosen instrument 12 months later
§ Mr. Hudson
I am speaking of the county and county borough and I am talking of permanent houses, not temporary houses because they have been largely erected by the Ministry of Works. A fair comparison is between permanent houses erected by local authorities—the chosen instrument—and private enterprise. As far as private enterprise is concerned in Durham, in June, 1946, 846 licences were issued and by May, 1947, 450 houses had been completed. In the case of local authorities, 5,866 tenders had been approved and accepted but the number completed was only 1,408. Private enterprise completed more than half the houses licensed in June a year ago, whereas local authorities completed less than a quarter. That is by private enterprise, subject to all sorts of delays and frustrations in county Durham. The Minister said that the local authorities were the chosen instrument. I am showing that the chosen instrument has let him down. Let us look at Hertford. There the number licensed to private enterprise was 1,478 and a year later 918 were completed. A good deal more than half were completed by private enterprise. In the case of local authorities, curiously enough the figure was 1,478 tenders approved but only 685 were completed. In Hertford and Durham the chosen instrument let the right hon. Gentleman down badly. There is a further point about this illustration to which I would call attention. It illustrates—I am sorry that the hon. Member for North-West Hull has gone away—the real importance of honesty in using facts and figures.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food (Dr. Edith Summerskill)
The right hon. Gentleman has just quoted me. He has just told the Committee that it is very important to be honest in quotations. Will he tell me if the quotation he gave is from a speech I made in the time of the Coalition Government about the Conservative Minister of Health?
§ Dr. Summerskill
I must draw attention to the fact that the right hon. Gentleman was so dishonest—[Interruption.]
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I rather thought the temper of the Committee was rising. I think it is unfortunate that the word was used.
§ Mr. Hogg
Further to that point of Order, Mr. Beaumont. I daresay the temper of the Committee is rising, but the hon. Lady used these words, "The right hon. Gentleman was so dishonest," and the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health has sought to justify that. May I ask for your definite ruling?
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I said that I thought it was unfortunate. [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."] It is against the rules of the House that any imputation of dishonesty should be made against any hon. Member. I do not want to place an interpretation on the word used, but I would express the hope that no personal dishonesty was inferred. I trust the hon. Lady will withdraw the word.
§ Dr. Summerskill
If you ask me to withdraw the word, Mr. Beaumont, of course I shall do so. May I finish my sentence and say that the right hon. Gentleman was so inaccurate as to imply that I was criticising my right hon. Friend whereas I was in fact criticising a Conservative Minister of Health in the Coalition Government.
§ Mr. R. S. Hudson rose——
§ Mr. Shurmer
The right hon. Gentleman knows what that means in the Press tomorrow morning. He stated it deliberately.
§ Mr. Hudson
I was quoting from a Debate which took place in March, 1945. 103 [HON. MEMBERS: "You did not say so."] I quoted two, if not three, extracts from the speech of the present Minister of Town and Country Planning in that Debate and I went on to quote from the hon. Lady.
§ Mr. Bowles (Nuneaton)
The right hon. Gentleman made references to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary some time after the references to the Minister of Town and Country Planning.
§ Mr. Hudson
I am very sorry It would have been quite clear if I had said column 1202, 23rd March, 1945.
§ Mr. Hudson
The point I was trying to make was how a first-class remark made then, was applicable to today.
§ Mr. Hudson
The words the hon. Lady used in March, 1945, referred to the feelings of the people of the country, and that applies today.
Now we come to the question of the housing figures given by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Town and Country Planning. He said that 7,000 houses were built in 1938. He went on to say that today 8,000 tenders for licences had been issued to the county councils. We shall see what happens with this chosen instrument. His words were exactly accurate, but I suggest that anyone hearing or reading them quickly would not have realised the essential difference—he was not comparing like with like; he was comparing completed permanent houses before the war with licences and tenders issued for permanent houses—local authority, private enterprise and temporary houses.
§ The Minister of Works (Mr. Key)
if the right hon. Gentleman will excuse me, I think he has missed the point completely. The illustration that was being made there was that as between county Durham and Hertford, the number of houses completed in the first period bore a different relationship to the number of houses sanctioned under the present arrangement for the Durham County Council and the Hertfordshire County Council, and the point was that as a result of this, greater activities were taking place in the area of greater need.
§ Mr. Hudson
Yes, but the point is that the right hon. Gentleman was comparing 7,000 permanent houses actually built and completed in the current year with 8,000 licences issued not for permanent houses, but for permanent houses plus temporary houses——
§ Mr. Key
The right hon. Gentleman will excuse me again, but the comparison was not that at all. The comparison was between completed houses in the given period at Durham and Hertford, and between the tendered houses in Durham and Hertford in the later period and not between the two figures of the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Hudson
The fact is that the hon. Gentleman was comparing tenders with houses built. The right hon. Gentleman had 1,408 houses only built in Durham by his local authorities.
The third count in our charge against the right hon. Gentleman is one to which he has alluded himself at the end of his speech. He has, owing to his maladministration, caused the industry to be grossly over-manned in relation to the raw materials likely to be available. There is no question at all, as the right hon. Gentleman himself said, that if the men today were working at full capacity and full output, a substantial number would be unemployed——
§ Mr. Bevan
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman would not wish to misunderstand or to misinterpret this, because it has a very real bearing on negotiations going on between the building operatives and master builders. Therefore I am sure he would not wish to give a false impression. What I said was that if the rate of production of houses, or the rate of progress by building operatives, was the same today as in 1937–38, they would soon build themselves out of bricks. Then I immediately went on to say that we would not permit that to happen, because we would immediately go on to increase the production of bricks, which we cannot do now because we cannot stack them.
§ Mr. Hudson
Equally it applies to carpenters because we have no timber. What is beyond dispute is that at the moment the output of the building industry is substantially—although it has the same number of men as prewar—below prewar, and that if the output of the men engaged in the industry was at prewar level, having regard to existing bottlenecks and shortages of raw material, particularly timber, large numbers of men would be unemployed. That is proved by the words of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Works' own Under-Secretary, speaking in the House only a short while ago when he said—I have his exact word here. [An HON. MEMBER: "When?"] The 18th June this year:The second obligation is to ensure that the necessary raw materials are there, because it would be of no use either to the workers in the building industry, or to those who need houses or other forms of building, or to the country at large, if a method of increasing efficiency were adopted and the raw materials were not there.The only consequence of that would be that men would be working themselves out of a job. Then he said:So the responsibility rests plainly and squarely with the Government to see that the raw materials are in ample supply."—[OFFICIAIL REPORT, 18th June, 1947; Vol. 438, C. 2202.]We say that the Government have failed in that responsibility because the raw materials have not been in ample supply. I would ask hon. Members to cast their minds back, if they want to look at the situation in which we find ourselves today, to the situation two years ago when the right hon. Gentleman and his friends were returned as the Government of this country amid the cheers and rejoicings of a majority of the people of this country, filled with relief at the end of the war, filled with hope that this new Government would build—I emphasise the word "build"—a new England. They thought houses would be built, houses that people would be proud of, and that the work was regarded as so essential that, in the words of the Minister of Works, it was to be regarded as a war operation. The words of the right hon. Gentleman in his election address were that we were to build houses as we built Spitfires during the war. Above all, the country was told, "We have a plan" 106 —[An HON. MEMBER: "So we have."] When you speak of a plan, the ordinary man in the street means that you know what you want, that you have investigated how it can be done, that you have estimated what materials and labour and directions will be needed.
§ Mr. Key indicated assent.
§ Mr. Hudson
I see I carry the Committee with me. Today we are discussing two years' results. There are not only no houses, there certainly is not a plan. Two years ago the right hon. Gentleman and his friends blamed the Tories—[An HON. MEMBER: "Another headline."]—for the lack of houses, for the manpower shortage and everything else. Today the Government have been in power for two years with the biggest majority and has had complete power. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) said two years ago that this was a task any Government of this country could perform if it so choose. There has been an ingenious attempt today by the right hon. Gentleman to shuffle off his responsibilities. He tickled the ears of some of his supporters with his rhetoric but, believe me, the people of this country want houses and not, to use his own words, empty rhetoric.
If I may sum up, our charges in this Debate are these: First, the right hon. Gentleman and his friends are trying to pull wool over the eyes of the public by understating the size of the real problem and by consequently claiming virtually to have made some substantial progress in meeting it. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is true."] Secondly, building of permanent houses has fallen well behind the target that we believed possible in Coalition and caretaker governments. Third, by faulty planning and administration he has dissipated rather than concentrated the raw materials and the efforts of the building industry, and has thereby unnecessarily reduced the number of houses that would otherwise have been built today. Incidentally, he has also enormously increased their cost. Fourthly, owing to his wilful pigheadedness and doctrinaire prejudice, he has failed to make use of the instruments which lie ready to his hand and he has destroyed, or considerably reduced, the efficiency of the industry. Employers are frustrated, merchants have no incentive to efficiency, and 107 the men's output is well below what it was prewar.
The result is that the industry has become seriously overmanned today in relation to raw materials available at a time when, in other spheres, priceless work and production required by the nation is not being obtained, owing to shortages of manpower, and the right hon. Gentleman and his administration are responsible for that. His is the chief responsibility for housing. I do not believe I am doing him an injustice, and he would not deny it. He is head of the co-ordinating committee of Ministers. Some of us knew him during the war when he used to sit here—he has not changed very much. Those of us who knew him in the House during the war will remember the occasions on which he did his best to sabotage our war effort.
§ Mr. Bevan
Mr. Beaumont, that is an extremely serious charge. If it were true, the Privilege of the House of Commons would not have protected me during the war. The right hon Gentleman is reading out what he says; it is not a thing said in heated debate, but a prepared, malicious, statement for the "Daily Express" headlines tomorrow—I ask him to withdraw.
§ Mr. Hudson
Yes. Many hon. and gallant Members on the other side of the Committee were engaged in fighting for the country, they were fighting the enemy.
§ Mr. George Wallace (Chislehurst)
On a point of Order. As one who served in the Forces, and followed proceedings in this House, I would like to draw your attention Mr. Beaumont, to the fact that the right hon. Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) is about to make a charge which is tantamount to that of treason.
§ Mr. R. S. Hudson
I am merely going to read out a statement made by the right hon. Gentleman during the war.
§ Mr. Bevan
I really must ask your protection, Mr. Beaumont—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] It is customary when a Member is going to make statements of this sort, so wide of the mark, to give notice about what he is going to say. Then we can discuss the matter in the context in which it was said. I do not know what the right hon. Gentleman is going to say at the present time, but I suggest that it is utterly irrelevant to what we are discussing, and shows the depths of infamy to which the Opposition have sunk.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
It is my Ruling that the word is entirely out of Order, and must be withdrawn. It is a grave charge and imputes motives of the basest character. No matter what the right hon. Gentleman said during the war, it is not in Order on this Vote. I cannot allow any quotation to be made in defence of the charge. I hope the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) will withdraw the word.
§ Mr. R. S. Hudson
If you definitely make that Ruling, naturally I withdraw. But it has always been the rule in this House to allow a Member to quote from other Member's speeches.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
Yes, but if the right hon. Gentleman had read the quotation first, and then put his interpretation upon it, then it could have been dealt with. But I cannot allow him now to read the quotation or to substantiate the word.
§ Mr. Hudson
I am quite prepared to leave it. Whatever the right hon. Gentleman's actions during the war, which you object to my qualifying, may have been, I do say that by his maladministration and by the methods that he has adopted—and I hope that you will not rule this out of Order—he will go down to history definitely as having ruined our housing effort during these last two years.
§ 7.16 p.m.
§ Mr. George Hicks (Woolwich, East)
I am particularly pleased to have the opportunity of saying a few words in this Debate. I can assure my right hon. 109 Friend the Minister of Health that he has the backing of this side of the Committee, including myself, for all the things he is doing. When I was listening to the Debate earlier this afternoon, I was reminded of the old lady who looked at her old man and said, "Isn't nature wonderful?" I thought how wonderful is the English language to allow such propositions as we have heard in regard to a situation in which the emotions of the men and women of this country are bound up. They ought to be appeased, and not aggravated. There is no proposition which should demand more respect and attention in this country than the provision of homes. It is the greatest need, and why it has become the subject of political controversy and twisting of Debate—I do not know whether I am in Order in using that term, but perhaps some one will provide me with another word if that is not the right one—to make it appear something totally different from what it is, I do not know.
Every party has interested itself in housing, and has done its best to stimulate housing. I remember many of the efforts that have been made. It is over 50 years since I joined a housing association as the representative of a trade union, when the late Dr. Macnamara was Member for Camberwell. He became Minister of Labour later, and unfortunately, has now gone on. He was our chairman, and we were discussing then the question of houses, and we have been doing so ever since. I am very pleased to know that it has interested all parties, but the inadequacy of the results, as revealed by the hon. Lady the Member for Anglesey (Lady Megan Lloyd George), is only too patent to anyone who looks around. We are short of the number of houses to which the right hon. Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) referred. We are more short than that; there is no doubt about it. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Health is not pleased; he is not satisfied. At present he is only accepting the situation as far as it has gone, and doing the best he can.
What is the use of talking about the number of houses he would have built if there had been a different Government? If the labour and materials are not there, is there any common sense in trying to say that more houses would have been built? If there is any common sense in it whatever, I am unable to appreciate 110 it. I am unable to understand how, under a Conservative administration, more would have been built. The total building trade labour, employers' organisations, and private enterprise in civil engineering and in sewerage and other preparations for building have been available, and local authorities have invited them to build. Few local authority houses have been built by direct labour. The right hon. Gentleman said that private enterprise would have got on with the job better and quicker. We know that where the private contractor has had a local authority contract for houses and has had a private contract of his own, he has starved the local authority contract in order to put labour on his own, and his own houses, built for sale, have been put up much more quickly than they would have been had labour been properly distributed. We know why. What is the use of trying to conceal such a thing? Everyone knows, or should know, about it.
I do not intend to deal with figures, as did my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hull (Mr. R. Mackay), in reply to the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith), because I do not believe in repetition. If I had my way I would recast a lot of the speeches made in this House in order to get the result much quicker than is done by talking to the newspapers. I do not repeat things that have been said time after time already, but I would commend my hon. Friend for the excellent analysis he gave and for the very proper speech he made. There is a lamentable lack of houses everywhere. Target fixing may be a good thing, but I advise the Minister of Health that if he has a target he should make it low enough. Do not let him fix it so high that it is something to be aimed at, because if he fails there will be criticism, regardless of the good effort which may have been made. If there is to be a target, let it be a low one.
Criticism ought not to be resented, and I do not believe it is, if the problem is fairly stated and the analysis is truthful. Let us have the problem fairly stated and the analysis truthfully made. Do not let us try to play on the uninstructed emotions of millions of people in an attempt to make them believe that many things would have been different if there had been a change of course at a particular Election. I would like to compliment 111 the Government on being so wise as to make local authorities responsible for the allocation of houses. I heard the Minister of Health challenged from the other side of the Committee, and he asked, "Who would you ask to allocate the housing in a locality if you did not ask the local authority? Would you ask the master builders, or some other organisation in the locality?" There was no answer forthcoming to that question. One of the greatest things that has been done has been to stimulate the interest of the local authority in housing by giving them this task to do. This Government have done nothing greater. Instead of being criticised for giving this task to local authorities, they should be complimented.
I wish to say something about temporary houses, to which reference has been made. They were designed by the Coalition Government, and I had some part in designing them. They were very good temporary houses—and we only intended them to be temporary. We never visualised that they would be permanent. That has been said many times, but apparently one has to keep on saying it. I heard my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hull say that there were about 40 different types of temporary houses. The country went wrong, and made a sad mistake, when it departed from one type of temporary house. In my view, we should have kept to one type only. As the Minister of Health has quite rightly said, no sooner was the departure from one type made—I am referring to the Portal type, which made minimum demands on building trade labour and materials in its manufacture and erection—then we went off the rails so far as temporary houses were concerned. Building trade labour and materials began to be used in every one of the others, the result being that the more traditional, permanent type of house was neglected because of our going off the rails and embarking on these other types of temporary houses. Temporary houses came in for much criticism and many jokes. I ask hon. Members, as they go about today, and see those houses erected and occupied in different parts of the country, to ask themselves "Where would the people be if they had not had those houses?" The very fact of having those temporary houses guarantees 112 shelter and, furthermore, a standard of living accommodation which has never previously been equalled.
Lord Portal, and the then Secretary of State for Scotland, Mr. Tom Johnston, and I discussed many times this question of providing fitments for the temporary houses—fitments for the kitchen, wardrobes for the bedroom, and, in the sitting rooms, cupboards and all those things which ordinarily, as the Minister of Health has said, would have to be purchased by the tenant because they would not have been provided by the landlord. A good standard was set, and it has been carried forward in some degree in the permanent houses today, which have many fittings that were not provided in the old days. For many years it has been said that, on the average, the production of houses was at the rate of one per year per building trade worker. I have used that argument myself many times in the House, namely, that 100,000 building workers should be able to build 100,000 houses per year, that is, by a proper balance of labour and materials. But let us not forget that the area standard of housing accommodation is much higher today than the standard we had previously. From 700 and sometimes 750 superficial feet per house it has now reached 900 feet and is often 1,000 superficial feet or more. That often means that 20 or 25 per cent. more has to be put into the house than in the old days. At some time there must be a revision of the time taken to erect a house, so that we can find out what is the average time it should take a building trade worker to build a house.
Many Members are interested in the problem of production. I am one of those who believe that the discussion which is now going on about incentives is a good thing, and I hope that something will materialise. I much prefer the incentive of additional payment to the incentive of unemployment and the sack, and I trust that something tangible can be agreed upon between the negotiators on behalf of the operatives and the employers. I compliment the Minister of Labour on the helpful interventions he has made from time to time in this matter in assisting to bring about a solution of the difficulties between the two sides—very useful and very proper intervention indeed. It should be borne in mind, in relation to this question of production, that in the building of houses, brickwork accounts for 113 less than 20 per cent. There is 80 per cent. of other kind of work and material in a house. Thus, if all the bricklayers engaged on a building work together, less than 20 per cent. has been contributed towards the completion of the house when they have finished. That seems to be conveniently forgotten, and it is the poor old bricklayer who is charged with being responsible for not laying bricks faster, and thus getting houses completed more speedily.
My right hon. Friend said that building trade workers as a whole ought not to be condemned but complimented on the work they have done. I think that is right. It would not be true to say that they are entirely free from blame. Of course, some are to be blamed. I wonder how many hon. Members, when they go to their constituents at the next General Election, might be told that they are to blame for some deficiency here and there. When we speak of the one million men in the building industry, there are bound to be some who are not pulling their weight in such a large number. Let it not be forgotten that they have been the victims of inclement weather. A full week is not the normal; it is the exception. Many of the men have not worked more than half a dozen full weeks in the year. In the other weeks they have had to stop for frost, rain or other types of bad weather, for lack of material or transport. Therefore, the question of guaranteeing them a livelihood ought to be considered. If there are plenty of bricks, I hope that sufficient transport can be made available to enable supply to be made in the proper areas. I do not subscribe to the point of view expressed by the chairman of the Federation of British Industries. I cannot pronounce his name, but I hope the Government will not be influenced unduly by his point of view.
The Government have appointed a committee to inquire into rising costs and distribution. When I was at the Ministry of Works, and materials were in short supply, I called in the manufacturers and secured the maximum amount of co-operation. We were short of slates, asbestos, glass and plaster board and we had special meetings to decide how to deal with the problem. Whenever the master builders and civil engineering contractors were asked to put their backs into it, they did their very best. Of course, in their case we must remember there was an incentive 114 to get results. Hon. Members should not forget that at one time there were nearly 200,000 building trade employers. I heard one of my hon. Friends say there were 100,000. At a building trade conference last week it was said that there were nearly 200,000 registered building trade employers. That is far too many. When I was at the Ministry and we introduced Regulation 56AB, we reduced the number of building employers. In my opinion, the number should have been kept down instead of being allowed to expand. Hundreds of thousands are engaged in the building industry as employers when they have neither plant nor material to enable them to carry on the work. They may have an idea how to do it, but they have not the material.
In regard to the question of direct labour, as a member of the Labour Party I have stood for that as a principle, but I think that in the case of housing it is hopelessly out of date to start a direct labour scheme. We must have contractors with sufficient plant, bulldozers and things of that kind, to clear the site in order to make an economical approach to the problem of house building. We should not be in the position of having to wait until such time as an organisation has built up its plant before it can start work. We hear a lot said about the lack of cement. It is said that we cannot get on for lack of cement. When I was a young man in the building industry, housing was never held up for that reason. We had plenty of lime mortar. It is much better, quicker and cheaper to use lime mortar than to use cement and sand. Cement and sand are hard to work, particularly if the sand is "short" in texture It is then very heavy to work. We always had plenty of lime, but the great cement rings did their best to close down the lime works in this country to prevent competition.
I ask the Government to inquire into the situation. There could not be any better material for quality and cheapness for use in building. Lime mortar is much quicker and easier to use, and a craftsman would not work half as hard in order to do 10 per cent. more work than he does when using sand and cement. Anyone with knowledge of building knows the difficulty in hot weather when using sand and cement, but the difficulties are not so great when lime mortar is employed. I ask the Government to consider that suggestion. Also I ask them to encourage large-scale 115 organisation and the supply of material equipment in order to equip the houses properly.
I do not know what is the position in regard to baths. When I was first at the Ministry, we used half a million baths a year. That figure included those which we imported. When I left the Ministry, fewer than 40,000 baths a year were manufactured in this country, and none were being imported. The Government had to make up the leeway between 40,000 and 500,000. I do not know what they have done I wish them well in their work. I believe that the building industry is getting a keener, and better understanding of this great work with a nearer approach to the Ministry. Not only do we want builders for housing. The Minister has plenty of other things to occupy his mind in regard to his requirements for our great social services. In addition, we want plenty of factories. Those that have been put off commission must be rebuilt We ought not to think in terms of the whole of our building trade labour being employed upon housing. In the old days, if ever more than 40 per cent. were engaged upon housing, it was considered to be improper. Sixty per cent. were required for commercial and other work. I compliment the Ministry on the proportion of men engaged in housing building. I wish the Ministry would exercise a little more severity in the case of the employer who "pinches" men from house-building with local authorities, in order to build for himself to realise money quickly. I hope the Government will take all the necessary steps to carry on with this urgent work of providing the necessary homes for our people.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Corbett (Ludlow)
I hope the hon. Member for East Woolwich (Mr. G. Hicks) will forgive me if I do not follow him exactly in the remarks he made, but I want to take the opportunity of talking about rural housing. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has said that agriculture can be our greatest dollar-saver. There are two ways of looking at housing First, we can look at it from the point of view of the individual, and try to provide a home for him; and secondly, we may look at it from the point of view of industry, and try to use housing as a spur to put people into the right 116 places and in the right jobs. I think that special priority is being considered for various coalmining areas, and I know that it is the case in the constituency which I represent, but I regret to say that, so far as I can see, no special priority or consideration has really been given to the needs of agriculture.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Buchanan)
I can assure the hon. and gallant Gentleman that the same priority as is given for coalmining areas is extended to agricultural areas.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Corbett
I think that, if the hon. Gentleman will give me time to explain, he will see why that is not the case. First, I should like to make it clear that there is a very urgent need for more houses for farm workers, and, in my opinion, the Government are not setting about their production in the right way. Everybody knows that, during the war, we employed vast numbers of prisoners of war. I would not like to say just how many more permanent employees we need in the agricultural industry, but it has been set at something like 100,000 when we lose the prisoners. In my opinion, agricultural production is capable of considerable expansion, even on the wartime peak. There are three farms in my village whose production during the war was expanded very considerably. In prewar days, they employed three or four men, and now employ from 15 to 20, 50 per cent. of whom are prisoners. I was talking to one farmer who told me that he was going to give up. He is a very good farmer, and so I told him not to talk nonsense, but he said. "I simply cannot face the labour problem." When I asked him why he did not build houses and get Englishmen into them, he said, "I simply cannot afford to do it, because the scales are so much weighted against me, and it is not worth my while." I think the Committee will agree that generally that is the case.
I must say to the Government that their subsidy to local authorities for rural housing is absolutely adequate. I cannot gainsay that, but the Government provide a poor subsidy for the private person, and only then on condition that he does not have control of the tenancy of the accommodation which he may build. The same farmer told me that he could not build cottages unless he could control the tenancies. That is the situation. The 117 Government have weighted the scales against the private person so much, that it really does not pay him to compete with the local authority in the provision of houses. I do not think the Government take full account of the situation as it really exists in the rural areas. I do not think the local authorities have ever provided sufficient houses in rural areas. The farmers and landowners, from year to year, have had to provide the housing accommodation or go without the men they needed, and it is most unreasonable to turn against them now and make it impossible for them to continue with the provision of houses where they are necessary, particularly if the local authorities do not do the work themselves. The local authorities are not providing the houses on anything like the scale, or with anything like the urgency, which is absolutely necessary if agricultural production is not to decline considerably.
In my part of the country, practically 50 per cent. of agricultural workers live in tied cottages. They pay no rent, or only a nominal rent of about 3s. a week. When the local council builds houses, they do not get agricultural workers to occupy them, and for two reasons. First, the agricultural workers cannot afford to pay the rent; secondly, when an agricultural worker changes his job, he very often changes his parish, and there never happens to be a house available when a farmer employs a new man. These are problems which the Government ought to face, and I think they should instruct local authorities to make some special effort to let houses to agricultural workers, and also to inform farmers, when houses are going to be completed in their districts, so that they can make some sort of claim to that accommodation. That may sound unreasonable, but I think it is better than the ordinary housing list at present in use, because the houses are not going to agricultural workers. I think that only two new cottages have been let to agricultural workers in South Shropshire.
§ Mr. Alpass
Is not that entirely within the discretion of the local housing authority? Are there not a large number of these farmers on the councils in those districts? Should not they know the needs?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Corbett
That is, to some extent, true, but it does not cover the other objections I have raised—first, that 118 the agricultural worker has to pay the full rent, while the majority of his fellow workers are living either rent free or very cheaply, and, secondly, that when he changes his employment, there never happens to be a house available in the district to which he goes.
The Minister of Health twitted the Party on this side for wishing to give priority to private enterprise to build houses in rural districts in order to let them to farm workers, and I would like him to quote one instance of a landowner offering to build houses to sell. When the Minister of Health makes such statements as he has done, he shows his ignorance of the whole subject. In my opinion, there never has been, in spite of what the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland said, any real effort between the Ministries of Health and Agriculture to ascertain the needs of particular districts in the housing of agricultural workers. I have asked my own rural district council how they know where to build their cottages, and the answer invariably has been that they build the cottages in what are at present the largest centres of population—the biggest villages. It is, I know, an accepted principle that we should now try to form village communities, and if that is so, there may be some justification for building houses in the larger villages, but it does not always follow that those villages are the ones where more farm workers should live, and for that reason I think that greater effort should have been made, through the county agricultural committees, to co-ordinate plans with local authorities so that houses would be located where they are required to serve the industry.
Another point I would like to stress concerns the slowness of the local authorities in carrying out their work as housing agents. I think they are too much subjected to restrictions. When they decide to build cottages, they have to consult almost every kind of Government Department about the site. Surely, that could be done within the county, and the local authority should be allowed to decide where these cottages are to be built? I have heard of cases where plans have been submitted and have been sent up to the Ministry of Health, and have then been sent back, and where all the "to-ing" and "fro-ing" has caused very considerable delay, and where, in the end, as often as not, the cottage has been 119 built on the site originally selected. In one case concerning the Ludlow Rural District Council, plans were submitted for the building of cottages, and after the usual consultations were submitted to the housing authorities, who sent back a letter asking why they could not be built on another site. The answer was that the suggested alternative site had been built on 30 years before. The housing authorities should bring their maps up to date. It is absurd that there should be these long delays when the people on the spot are capable of planning their own villages, and I strongly recommend that they be allowed to do it.
I further strongly recommend that they be allowed to accept tenders. I heard of a case the other day where tenders for the building of houses had been accepted by a rural district council, who were told by the housing authorities that they were too high. After a lot of correspondence, the plans were re-submitted to tender, and the only result was that in the end, a tender from the same people had to be accepted, but at a higher price than the one they had originally put forward. I also ask the Minister to allow more houses to be built by people who are dependent on the production of cottages for their farm workers, and who do not happen to be situated close to villages being developed by rural district councils; in other words, to allow more tied cottages to be built, where necessary. I know that hon. Members opposite are prejudiced against tied cottages.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Corbett
I own a farm and employ a large number of men. They mostly live in tied cottages and pay very little rent. Fortunately, I have not had to evict anybody. We are a very happy party, and I know of very few cases of eviction. Hon. Members must know that the cure for evictions is for local authorities to provide sufficient houses and alternative accommodation; the cure is not to put every obstacle in the way of farmers and landowners looking after their tenants and workers. For years past, if farmers and landowners had not provided houses for their workers, there would have been none for them. It is no use turning on the landowners now and trying to abolish a principle 120 which they have been forced to accept. The answer is to stimulate rural district councils to build more houses so that, if a man does not wish to live in a tied cottage, he can live in a house provided by the council. At the moment, that is not being done.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Corbett
Because they have not tackled the matter in a proper way; men will not go to live in those houses because of the high rents. There is one other point I would like to mention before I leave the topic of providing houses for agricultural workers. It would appear that, for some little time to come, we are going to be dependent on the services of foreigners—the Poles and, possibly, displaced persons. I will deal only with the Poles, but what I have to say about them applies equally to the displaced persons. The Poles are asked to join the Resettlement Corps and to become civilians, which they do, when farmers give them employment. Once they become civilians, they go to work on the land. At present, they have to go on living in their camps, and they do not like it. We want to give them some hope that they will eventually have homes of their own. Personally. I cannot see anybody being in a position to offer them a home of their own for a very long time to come. We need so many farm cottages for our own men, and for the men whom we must attract into the industry, that it will be a considerable time before any Pole gets a chance of having a house.
Therefore, as a first step, I ask that a scheme should be put in hand so that the huts in their camps can be converted into self-contained units. There are various reasons for doing that. One of the most important is that they should learn to live the English way—to buy their own rations and to feed themselves. They want to do that. They are entitled to extra rations as agricultural workers, but, at the present moment, they get none of these privileges. They are not allowed to draw extra rations while living in the Army camps; they only draw the Service scale of rations, which is less than the active service scale, and much less than the entitlement of an agricultural worker, who gets a considerably bigger allowance of bread and cheese, although, as the hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary to 121 the Ministry of Agriculture knows, he ought to get more meat and other food as well. I ask the hon. Gentleman to consider that problem, and to take action about it. We have made provision in Service camps for our own squatters, and we should make similar provision for the Poles, as otherwise they will get "fed up" with their present life, and will eventually want to go back to Poland.
§ 7.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland)
I am sure that the hon. and gallant Member for Ludlow (Lieut.-Colonel Corbett) will not expect me to follow him in his arguments about rural houses. I represent an urban area, and, in any event, rural housing was discussed separately some time ago. About the Debate in general, I can only say that the Opposition has been so disappointing as even to disappoint themselves. All we got from the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) was a good deal of froth from very small beer, and all we got from the right hon. Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) was evidence that he had not read his brief, and that in any case, even if he had it was a very bad brief indeed.
I am glad to have caught your eye, Mr. Diamond, because I had the privilege to be a member of the Select Committee which inquired into housing expenditure, and which reported in November last year. Whatever the arguments about the generality of the Debate, I think it remains significant that there has been no Debate on housing since the issue of that report. I rather gathered from the right hon. Member for Southport that the present intention is to hold annual Debates on housing. Even that is surprising if it is the case. I was led to believe that housing would be one of the most controversial subjects in immediate postwar politics. At any rate, it presumably means that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health is in a position to claim that he has implemented the various recommendations made in that Select Committee's Report. The hon. Member for Anglesey (Lady Megan Lloyd George) called attention to the black market. In my opinion, talk of the black market is wildly exaggerated. In fact, we called attention in our report to the opinion of witnesses that it is only in London and certain of the big towns, 122 where the authorities cannot spare the staff to inspect the work being done, that the black market seriously affects the supply of labour.
The major difficulty is the absolute shortage of labour, both in the building industry and in the manufacture of building materials, and also the shortage of certain basic raw materials. It is obvious that without operatives we cannot build houses, and that without building materials the operatives cannot get on with the work of building houses. I do not think the difficulties which have been overcome are sufficiently widely appreciated. They certainly were not appreciated by the hon. Member for Hertford when he claimed that my right hon. Friend inherited an industry geared up in 1939 to a high productive effort. I would like to refer to paragraph 20 of the Select Committee's Report, where we called attention to these facts:The dislocation of the industry caused by the war has created major difficulties. In 1944 the number of building operatives employed was as low as 496,000. Virtually no houses were built during the war. Contractors' teams were broken up. Many men served in the Forces; of those who remained, some were diverted to building camps and factories and later to the repair of bomb damage, and others were directed to work in factories. All are seven years older, and during this seven years there has been no inflow of recruits to the industry. Apart from the general shortage, the labour within the industry is out of balance—a factor aggravated by the temporary housing programme.Against that background, any fair-minded person, to whatever party he belongs, must admit that considerable progress has been made. There was at one time a good deal of talk about the Class B releases. It is quite clear that so far as the building trade is concerned, the Class B release scheme worked efficiently and to schedule, and was of considerable assistance to the building trade.
Again, there has been a good deal of criticism of the Government training schemes, but it is clear that those schemes, by and large, have worked excellently and have made a first-class contribution to the labour requirements in the building trade. I would like however to put to the Parliamentary Secretary two questions with which I hope he will be able to deal when he replies. Amid the confusion and 123 welter of figures and statistics available, it is rather difficult to get precise information about the relevant factors. From the Economic Survey of 1947, it appears that at the end of last year there were 943,000 male operatives in the building industry, and that the target for the end of this year is one million operatives. I should like to know how far we have gone towards attaining that target. Again, I should like some further information on the difficult problem which I have mentioned, of the balance of the trades within the industry, because it was a little alarming to hear one of the trade unions in the industry recently complaining of a lack of balance in the building trades.
Equally important is the question of the manufacture of building materials. It may be my own shortcoming, but I again found it difficult to obtain precise information about the relevant factors on the important fronts. During our inquiry the Ministry of Works stated that on building materials generally, the labour employed was little, if any, more than half the labour employed before the war. I should like to know what progress has been made since then, because this is a matter even more fundamental than the building trade itself. Let me take brickmaking as an example. In 1938 there were 55,000 men employed in the brickmaking industry. In October, 1946 there were only 40,000. I say "only," but, in fact, that 40,000 represented a considerable achievement. Between August, 1945, and October, 1946, the manpower in the brickmaking industry had been increased from a figure as low as 11,500 to 40,000.
I have heard my right hon. Friend the Minister refer to the stacks of bricks which are to be seen at the moment on some of the housing sites. We cannot accept that as an argument for not immediately stepping up brick production to its maximum. Let me give the monthly production figures. In 1938 our average monthly production figure was 650 million bricks. By September, 1946, we had reached 364 million bricks a month. In spite of any stacks there may be on the sites, we must step up brick production. We must as soon as possible get back to the 1938 average level of 650 million bricks a month. Until we do that, we cannot expect to get the building which 124 is essential if we are to push ahead with the housing programme.
I should like to know what progress has been made this year in re-manning the industries manufacturing the orthodox essential basic materials for the building industry. I do not think it is any good depending upon substitutes. After all, substitutes rely upon raw materials in short supply or imports, and if we are to extend the plants for substitutes it will take just as long and will be just as expensive as extending the plants for the orthodox traditional materials.
I understand that the temporary housing programme is nearing its completion. I think it has served an immediate purpose admirably, but I think it is now very properly being brought to an end. I think it had the inevitable disadvantage that it tended further to upset the already upset balance of trade within the industry. Now that the temporary housing programme is nearing completion, I would like to put one or two questions to the Parliamentary Secretary with which, perhaps, he will deal when he replies. In the first place, what use is to be made of the factories which have hitherto been engaged in the temporary housing programme? In particular, what use is to be made of the factories which have been producing the aluminium houses? The Select Committee was informed that the cost of the aluminium house itself was estimated to be £1,000 and that £700 had already been fixed. Only £300 remained to be fixed, and, of that £300, we understood that £200 was an estimate for factory overheads, and £100 for materials bought by the manufacturer in the free market. Can the Parliamentary Secretary tell us how that cost has, in fact, worked out? The Committee recommended that firm contracts should be placed at the earliest possible moment. I understand that orders are being placed for 15,000 permanent aluminium houses. Are those contracts based on a fixed price, and, if so, perhaps we could be informed how the prices work out.
I would like to say a few words about the question of regional organisation. At the time of the inquiry, the Select Committee was not convinced that the relations between the regional officers and the local authorities were in every case equally satisfactory. By and large we found that 125 the difficulties tended to be with the larger local authorities. On the other hand, the smaller local authorities tended to get a good deal of benefit from the regional organisations. We recommended a full investigation to promote the smoother working of the regional machinery. We appreciated that a good deal of advice and assistance was given through the regional officers to the local authorities. We appreciated—and I am sure the regional officers appreciate—that, after all, it is the local authorities that remain responsible for the building of the houses. But I hope, personally, that by now the regional organisation has got through its teething troubles, that it has settled down; and I anticipate an assurance from the Parliamentary Secretary that investigation has been held and the position improved. A subsidiary point, not unimportant, is this: that, at the moment, in building there is an acute shortage of architectural and technical staff. I would urge that every step be taken wherever possible to prevent such highly skilled staff engaging unnecessarily on supervisory work. I hope myself that inquiries have been made—and are constantly made—to ensure that no architectural or technical staff are unnecessarily engaged at regional level on supervisory work.
My personal impression from these inquiries into the regional organisation is, that any examination of the housing problem in itself reveals the inadequacies of our present structure of local government. I agree with the Minister; I do not think that it would be fair or accurate to attribute any delay in the solution of the housing problem to deficiencies in local government. But I think that, probably, any comprehensive review of the structure of local government would reveal the necessity for an urgent and speedy change and I hope that the Government will keep that under review. Finally, not as a member of the Select Committee but as a member of this Committee, and, in particular, as a Member on these benches, I would say that, reviewing the progress of housing generally, recognising the immense difficulties that have confronted my right hon. Friend, we are convinced that, by his vigorous and forthright manner and, as important, by his sympathetic approach to the local authorities, he has tackled the housing problem in such a way as to bring immeasurable credit to His Majesty's Government.
§ 8.13 p.m.
§ Mr. J. H. Hare (Woodbridge)
I think the Committee will agree that in the last three speeches the atmosphere of heat engendered by the rather exceptional day has rather vanished from the Debate.
§ Mr. Hare
As my hon. Friend reminds me, the sun is setting. But we have had three very constructive speeches. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ludlow (Lieut.-Colonel Corbett), put forward a very eloquent appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary for some answer on many problems that beset rural housing. The hon. Gentleman the Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks) is always good to listen to on housing. He has an amount of experience in connection with the building industry that no other hon. Member has, and I hope that the Minister of Health will take some advice from that very wise Member of his own party. I hope, for instance, that he will be wise and not set target figures which he might not be able to fulfil. I am not sure whether that advice is necessary to the right hon. Gentleman, because I think he is capable of looking after himself so far as political manoeuvres are concerned. But he will always have a very constant and wise counsellor in the hon. Member for East Woolwich. I hope he will pay particular attention to what the hon. Member said about the temporary housing programme. The hon. Member, besides being a zealous Socialist Member of Parliament, is also loyal to his old friends of the Coalition, and I think he gave a very unbiased appreciation of the great planning work that the Coalition Government did to make the present temporary housing programme possible. Possibly the Minister of Health has been converted since this time last year. At that time, speaking of the temporary housing programme, he said:… we are struggling with all the worst features of the most ill-conceived programme any Government ever put before the country—the temporary housing programme … that programme is crazy … we have to struggle at every stage, to try to overcome the bad planning of the temporary housing programme."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th July, 1946; Vol. 426, c. 904.]How very different that language is from the language he used today. How very different it is from the language used 127 by the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. F. Willey), who said that the temporary housing programme has served admirably our immediate purposes. That, politics aside, is the view of the average Member of this Committee.
After listening to the speech of the hon. Member for North-West Hull (Mr. R. Mackay), I was somewhat horrified at the thought of having to listen to a series of speeches from the Government benches proclaiming that everything in the garden was lovely, and that nothing could be better. The hon. Member for North-West Hull put up a most extraordinary performance in a most eloquent speech. At one moment he said he was an employer of building labour and had no difficulty in carrying out his responsibility in the housing programme, and the next moment he said that private enterprise—which, presumably, he represents in his private capacity—was not doing its bit towards helping the Minister in his national housing project. I should have thought that was beside the point. On the other hand, the Minister of Health was more forthright. He admitted two definite weaknesses in his programme: first, that by the end of last year the phasing of his programme had got out of focus; and secondly, that too many houses were being started, with the result that too few houses were being completed. Again—I suppose for political purposes—he tried to give the Committee the impression that those difficulties had been overcome; and that he had, in fact, succeeded in arresting the starting of new houses in order to build up the number of houses that he can hope to complete by the end of this year.
I took the trouble to look at the figures, and I do not think they are as satisfactory as the Minister would like to make out. My right hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) save the national figures as in May of this year—the last figures available. He pointed out that 6,564 houses were completed and 13,923 started; in other words, twice as many houses were started for the new programme as were completed during May, which is a good building month. It still does not look as if the proportion is quite right. Even more disquieting figures are those for the London County Council. I am glad to see present the hon. Member for Ken- 128 nington (Mr. Gibson), who is the chairman of the L.C.C. housing committee. The L.C.C. is the largest housing authority in England and what they are trying to do bears some relation to the general problem. In the three months, April, May and June, 447 new permanent houses and flats were completed, whereas during that same period 16,023 were started. That shows that, instead of the national figure of a two to one difference, as far as the L.C.C. is concerned, four times as many new houses and flats were started as were completed during those three months.
I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to say something about this all-important side of the housing programme at the moment. It is easy for anyone to say: "There is a shortage of materials." Of course, there is; and what is more, it looks as though that shortage may get worse. Timber cannot become more plentiful, in view of what has happened recently in our negotiations with Russia. If we fail to achieve our coal target for this year, we may lose steel and other valuable components essential to the continuation of house building. When one sees these hundreds of thousands of houses dotted all over the country in various stages of development, with no progress being made towards their completion, one realises what a vast amount of valuable material is being locked up in them, thereby preventing many other houses from being completed.
§ Mr. David Jones (The Hartlepools)
Is it not a fact that the houses completed in the second three months of this year were the houses started at the beginning of the year when the weather was bad for building, and if this is the best time to build houses, is it not obvious that more would be started now than in any other month of the year?
§ Mr. Hare
That may be true. I believe that this is the crux of the situation. The Minister of Health stated that he was aware of the fact that his programme had got out of phase by the end of 1946, 129 and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will have something more to say on this important point.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) said that large local authorities like London had ample materials, whereas smaller local authorities were held up through lack of materials, but the Minister, in his usual ingenious way, tried to make out that my hon. Friend was exaggerating. I am sure that the chairman of the L.C.C. housing committee will confirm what he told the L.C.C. last May. He said that we had not had our housing programme held up by lack of materials, but that our problem was labour. It is true that since May there have been shortages of cement and certain types of plaster board but up to then we had no major problem in regard to materials, whereas it is well known that many local authorities have had to stop building because of lack of materials. Our problem is lack of materials. In this connection I was interested to hear the Minister say that he had been able to put 60 per cent. of the building industry on to the sole job of building houses.
§ Sir. Hare
What is very disturbing is that in London we, as a housing authority, have been able only with great difficulty to raise our building force to 11,000, whereas what we need to carry out our programme is 20,000. There still seem to be certain adjustments the Minister could make in trying to get a balanced labour force as well as adequate material. The Minister's second admission was that output was not as satisfactory as he would have wished, and he made a very eloquent appeal to building operatives and employers in the building industry to help solve our national problem. He said that he had decided to amend Regulation 56AB.
He also pointed out that he hoped that the system of payment by results in the industry would go a long way towards getting that increased output for which he and the nation so urgently longed. But there was a weakness in the right hon. Gentleman's case—it is always a weakness with the Minister that nothing is ever 130 wrong—and it was this: Why have we had to wait two years for the right hon. Gentleman and the Government to take that action? Why have we had to wait two years for them to become aware of the fact that productivity in the building industry is not as satisfactory as could have been wished? On that point I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will defend the Minister, because it seems wicked that two years should elapse before any action is taken by the Government to get increased productivity out of the building industry.
I do not want to speak too long on a subject which is dear to my heart—rural housing—but I must refer to what was said by the hon. Lady the Member for Anglesey (Lady Megan Lloyd George) and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ludlow. The hon. Lady pointed out, in eloquent terms, that the future of the country during the next two or three years will depend on the extra food production from agricultural districts. I am sure that both she and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ludlow will agree that we must get another 100,000 workers on the land during the next 18 months, because by the end of next year we shall lose a far greater number than that in the way of German prisoners-of-war. What do the Government intend to do? It is no use saying, as the Minister said, "I hope that by increased productivity we shall be able to get more houses in the rural areas." That is not enough. We must get this number of people housed and working on the land within the next 18 months. It is a big problem, and I hope it will not be treated——
§ Mr. Hare
The interruption of the hon. Member opposite was rather beside the point. I want to suggest to the Minister that the Government must allow a large proportion of prefabricated Airey houses or others which are suitable to the rural districts out of the general national pool. Agriculture must be treated in the same way as mining. It is just as important, possibly more important. The right hon. Gentleman should give some guidance to rural district councils. He should tell them that a fixed proportion of the new 131 accommodation they provide should be let to agricultural workers. The figures are staggering. According to the applications for subsidies for agricultural workers' houses, only 1,000 agricultural workers have been housed out of the 18,000 houses which have been built in rural districts since the end of the war. I do not know whether I am right. No, I have just been handed the figures, and I see that the actual number is 587. I was too optimistic. If, out of 18,000 houses constructed, not more than 500 or 600 have been occupied by agricultural workers——
§ Mr. Hare
This is not a political question. I think we might have some assurance from the Parliamentary Secretary that the Government will take some action in this matter. In this matter of rural housing I suggest that party prejudice should be dropped, and that it is quite wrong for a Minister to prevent a farmer or landowner from putting up a cottage for an agricultural worker, whether within the one-in-four ratio or not. To prevent this being done when we are faced with grave food shortage is so much nonsense.
I have had a certain satisfaction out of the Debate because, for the first time, the Minister of Health is prepared to admit, although he does it very subtly, that certainly things are not going so well with his housing programme as he would like. He is, in fact, beginning to realise that the Government's success in housing will depend not on their speeches but on the number of houses they succeed in building. These plans which were discussed in great detail when the Government first came into power remind me—if hon. Members can remember what a banana looks like—of a bunch of bananas, some green, some yellow, and the rest rotten. It is to getting these plans more suited to existing conditions that I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to apply his mind.
§ 8.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Julius Silverman (Birmingham, Erdington)
I am sure that the hon. Member for Woodbridge (Mr. Hare) will forgive me if I do not follow his line of argument, except to comment on one point. He made the remarkable suggestion that the one-in-four ratio should be 132 dropped in favour of the agricultural worker. Does he seriously intend to suggest that the speculative builder will put up houses and sell them to the agricultural labourer?
§ Mr. Silverman
There is nothing to stop him from doing that. The point is that, under the law as it exists today, once the speculative builder has put up the house, there is nothing to prevent him from selling it to anyone he chooses; he is an entirely free agent. Hon. Members opposite say that the Government believe that everything in the housing garden is lovely. We have never said anything of the sort, and the right hon. Gentleman has never said anything of the sort. Nor has the hon. Member for North-West Hull (Mr. R. Mackay). All we have said is that, bearing in mind the physical difficulties that exist today, we are making a reasonably good job of it.
There have been faults, of course; even the right hon. Gentleman is not perfect. There are one or two points that probably concern his Department, or possibly the Department of the Ministry of Works, to which I would refer. The first is the supply of materials. There is no doubt that, whatever may have been the position a year ago, during the past few months the supply of building materials, especially wood, cement, glass, steel, etc., has been an extremely serious bottle-neck for the building industry. The hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) said that he wanted the Minister to relax the control on the supplies of these materials.
§ Mr. Silverman
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman really means to say that where materials are no longer scarce, there is any difficulty in obtaining permits?
§ Mr. Silverman
I am sorry to disagree with the hon. Gentleman. So far as most of those materials are concerned, and especially those which are scarce, I am asking the Minister, on the contrary, to tighten his controls and make them more 133 effective, because I am going to suggest to him that the controls at the present moment under which these permits are executed are not effective. In some cases they amount to little more than a farce. Let us see what happens when a builder applies for a permit. He obtains four forms in variegated colours, white, pink, yellow and green in order that he may clearly understand the difference between the various sorts of materials. I believe that they are issued in triplicate. One is kept by the builder, one goes to the local authority and another goes to the Minister's Department. When they are issued this is what happens? The man applying simply gets his priority symbol under the licensing authority. He goes to a builder to get the supply of materials or whatever it may be. It might be a supply of mortar or bricks or anything of that nature, but nothing is marked or ticked off on the sheet. Nothing is surrendered. I do not know what was intended in the first place, but this is the actual practice today. There is nothing to prevent a person going that same day or the next day to another builder, using the identical forms and getting the same materials or supplies twice, three times, four times, or five times on that same form. I am told that not only that but in many cases a builder simply rings up his supply merchant, quotes his priority symbol, and that is sufficient for him to get supplies.
The consequence at the moment is that there is a serious black market in building materials. One hon. Member on this side of the Committee said that there was no black market in building materials to be seriously examined. That is not my information. Recently I have been in conference with certain gentlemen who are called in the building trade the Association of Supervisory Staffs and Technicians. Most of them are either building foremen or building technicians. They have a fairly good idea of what is going on in the building trade. I am sure that the black market is very considerable, especially in London, and even if my information were not so, I should be very much surprised if there was not a black market in view of the easy way in which these forms can be used time and time again to get building materials without a check. Is it not possible to devise some more adequate safeguards and ensure that a builder gets his 134 materials once and once only? Is it not possible to see that the form is surrendered when the material is supplied and that it is not used again? I believe if that were done it would help to remove one of the bottlenecks which at present is affecting the building trade.
I pass to an entirely different matter, which relates to one of the problems that is besetting the large majority of housing authorities and their schemes. That is the large number of evictions which are being made today by the county courts. The evicted persons come to the local authorities, with the result that their housing programmes are seriously dislocated and their progress retarded. I have here some interesting figures relating to Birmingham. Between 5th May and 26th July there were no fewer than 162 people who were evicted and presented themselves at the estate department for accommodation. This was not the total seeking accommodation, but the number of persons who did so because they had been evicted. The effect of this is that over a third of the Birmingham estate department's available houses are disposed of in this manner. Birmingham's rehousing plan is being seriously dislocated by this spoke which is put into the wheels of the estate department's system. Why is this? I submit that there are two different reasons. Most of these people are evacuated tenants and the landlord obtains possession under what is called the greater hardship Clause of the Rent Restrictions Acts.
In my view, the landlord obtains the order because the county court judges seem to take into consideration the fact that estate department accommodation will be available for tenants who are turned out. I think that this kind of thing is all too prevalent, and it may be that the county court judges interpret the law of greater hardship as being a question of the landlord's hardship on the one hand, and that of the tenant on the other, mitigated by the fact that accommodation is available through the local authority. I do not think that that was the intention of those who drafted the Rent Restriction Acts. There is another sore point with the estate department; that is the decision made some time ago where the tenant of two rooms of a house who had joint use of a kitchen was held 135 not to be a protected tenant. His protection has gone under that decision, and that undoubtedly affects—
§ The Chairman (Major Milner)
The hon. Member appears to be suggesting legislation which is, of course, out of Order on Supply.
§ Mr. Silverman
I am submitting the position as it is. It is not, of course, for me to suggest what steps can be taken by way of remedy, but in assessing our housing difficulties, surely I am entitled to point out the situation? I entirely agree, Major Milner, that it is not for me to suggest that legislation should be introduced.
§ The Chairman
The purpose of this Supply Day is to discuss the details of the administration of the Minister of Health with regard to housing. This does not seem to me to include the matter to which the hon. Gentleman refers, and if that is so, he had better pass on to another part of the subject.
§ The Chairman
The hon. Gentleman has been dealing with the operation of the courts, which, again is not a matter for which the Minister of Health is responsible. In any case, the discussion of any modification of legislation would be out of Order.
§ Mr. Proctor (Eccles)
Further to that point of Order. Would it not be possible to deal with this outside legislation by means of an increase in housing Supply?
§ Mr. Silverman
I was simply pointing out the present position, Major Milner. I listened very carefully to hon. Members on the other side criticising the measures which have been put into operation by my right hon. Friend. I heard my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hull saying that the hon. Member for Hertford in giving his six points, had, like the mountain, gone into labour and produced a mouse. When the right hon. Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) spoke, a mountain again went into labour and 136 all the signs of anguish of labour were produced, but not even a mouse. I can only imagine that the right hon. Gentleman had not even a piece of cheese.
§ 8.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Molson (The High Peak)
I intervene in this Debate in order to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health a number of questions which arise out of the major exchanges between the right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Benches. I am sure that he will remember the housing Debate we had in March. It was, therefore, a little unreasonable of his right hon. Friend to claim that the Opposition had not asked for a Debate for 12 months past. I know that was a Debate upon rural housing and that we might have asked for a whole Supply Day to be devoted to urban housing. The right hon. Gentleman complained about the delay in our asking for this general Debate. Had we asked for it in the spring, the alibi would have been that the bad weather had held up building operations. We thought it wiser to wait until the clement weather had made conditions favourable for building, in order that we might adjudge the right hon. Gentleman quite fairly upon his performance in the most favourable period of the year.
Actually, the figure that has been given in the country by propagandists of the party opposite is that 400,000 homes have been provided. The Minister has complained about the accuracy of that figure. I think that, as a matter of fact, the entirely accurate figure is 390,997, which includes 111,155 tenants provided for in Service camps. That was the point that was made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson).
§ Mr. J. Edwards
From what statement is the hon. Gentleman quoting when he talks about 400,000 homes?
§ Mr. Molson
To be frank, I cannot at this moment turn to the particular newspaper. Whether it was the "Daily Herald," which I read at breakfast every morning, or whether it was one of the less popular newspapers, I think it has been the figure generally given out.
§ Mr. Edwards
We do not want a wrangle about the figures, especially if there is some genuine misunderstanding. I suspect that if the figure 400,000 has 137 been seen somewhere, it is not the figure for England and Wales, but the comparable figure of 400,000 in the programme which applies to the whole of Great Britain.
§ Mr. Molson
As the Parliamentary Secretary has now interrupted me twice, I hope that you, Mr. Chairman, will allow me an extra three minutes. We are most anxious in this important controversy to put the facts quite fully and fairly before the country. It is noteworthy that whatever may be the correct figure on that point, the Parliamentary Secretary will confirm the proportions as between permanent housing, which is 80,300, and temporary housing, which is 94,400, so that temporary housing, which his right hon. Friend denounced last year and which his party denounced when in Opposition during the war, has made a larger contribution towards the provision of general housing for the people than permanent housing has so far been able to do.
We should like to have full particulars about the finished houses programme which was launched by the right hon. Gentleman last year. It was rather a disappointment. Something in the neighbourhood of 25,288 houses were at eaves level at 31st August, 1946, and despite the appeal, only 13,798, or 54.5 per cent., of these have been completed. We have naturally been very glad to hear the outspoken and frank words of the Minister about the decrease in the productivity of labour, especially in the matter of bricklaying. In view of the fact that we have now very nearly the same number in the industry as before the war, it is necessary to find some explanation for the reduced number of bricks laid in order to account for the difference between the number of houses being built under this Government after the war and the number being built in 1937 or 1938.
I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will not object to dealing with a certain matter about rural housing which I raised in the Debate in March and which the Minister of Health had rather forgotten because at the time he was indisposed. I cannot repeat the lengthy speech I made on that occasion about the increased subsidy under Section 3 of the Housing (Financial and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1946, but on that occasion, in view of the fact 138 that local authorities could obtain a very much larger subsidy if the houses were occupied by agricultural labourers and their families, I asked whether it was not possible broadly to judge how many agricultural labourers had been provided with housing by ascertaining in how many cases local authorities had made applications for the increased subsidies. In an answer which the Parliamentary Secretary gave today—I greatly appreciate his courtesy in seeing that I got the ammunition for my speech before the Debate—he said the number was 587. Perhaps he will deal with this matter and explain whether, in the general housing programme the Government have so far carried out, only 587 of the houses have qualified for the agricultural subsidy.
I feel about the Government's general policy that if it satisfies the Minister of Health and his more servile followers on those benches, that is the most that it can do. At some time in the future perhaps we shall have an opportunity of passing judgment on it.
§ 8.54 p.m.
§ Mr. s. Middleton (Plymouth, Sutton)
I wish to draw the Committee's attention to what has been said from the benches opposite regarding the slowness of local authorities as the chosen instrument of the Government in carrying out the Government's housing policy. In doing so I would like to extend an invitation to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) to come to Plymouth and get a new slant on the subject of house-building, for if he is really concerned with housing I am quite sure that it would be an exhilarating experience for him. If he is concerned only with party politics, on the other hand, it would be a most depressing experience for him.
Indeed, I greatly regret that when the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) came to Plymouth last autumn to make a speech on housing, he did not ask the leader of his local party to take him round our housing estates in order that he might sec for himself what the Labour-controlled local authority of Plymouth were doing in this matter. If he had done that instead of spending his morning in a millionaire's study, if the local Press is to be believed, he would not have been able to make the kind of speech he made that afternoon, nor could 139 the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport, had he had that experience have made the kind of speech he made today. For the position is that, up to a month ago, in the City of Plymouth there had been erected and inhabited 2,500 houses, some temporary, some permanent. That is altogether apart from the very heavy programme of war damage repairs which the building labour in the city has had to carry through. I suggest that this reflects great credit on at least one local authority and its officers, and that they have made of the housing of the people of Plymouth not simply a job to be done, but a crusade, since they gained control in November, 1945.
I go further and say I am quite certain that that record would not have been achieved but for the fact that we had a Labour local authority elected in November, 1945. I know this is an unpopular point on the benches opposite, and that there have been protests during today but I have in my hand a list which I had prepared for another purpose, from information supplied to me by the town clerks of several of our badly war-damaged cities. To take one or two at random, I find the position is as follows. In Bristol, where a Labour majority had been in operation only for a short period before the war broke out, there were 3,000 applicants for houses on the waiting list. In Liverpool, which had a record of Tory municipal control, there were, before the war broke out, 14,000 families on the housing list. In Southampton there were between 1,500 and 2,000 families on the waiting list, and in my own city of Plymouth we were faced with a waiting list of 4,000. There are many other points I would like to have made in this Debate had time allowed, but I have said enough to show that, where there are Labour-controlled municipalities, entrusted by the Minister and by the Government with this task, the job has been well done, the job is being well done, and we have every reason to be proud of what has been achieved.
§ 8.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Roberts (Birmingham, Handsworth)
We have reached a time in the Debate when I feel one must be brief, so I propose to make only two points. The first is in regard to an interjection from an hon. Gentleman who in- 140 quired what my party had been doing for the last 20 years. For the last two years we have not had to worry, for the matter has been in the super-eminent hands of the Minister. For six years before that we were engaged in a war. For 12 years before that we were trying to pick up and repair the ruins of the housing trade wrought by the Liberals a generation ago with the capable assistance of the then Labour Party——
§ Mr. Alpass
May I inform the hon. Gentleman that there are some houses in my Division that have been condemned for 50 years. What has the right hon. Gentleman's party been doing all that time?
§ Mr. Roberts
For a good part of it, 40 years ago the Liberals had an uninterrupted run and, after that, they were kept in power only through the help of the Labour Party, who do not seem to have exerted much pressure in this matter. If I am asked what my party has done, I turn to my city of Birmingham. Between the wars we were able to overtake the arrears to such an extent that, according to the impartial testimony of the city engineer, there was no housing shortage. According to the city engineer—[Interruption.]—if I may interrupt the conversation on the opposite benches, I think I am right in saying that that is the impartial opinion of the city engineer based on the report of the Medical Officer of Health.
§ Mr. Shurmer (Sparkbrook, Birmingham)
Tell the Committee about the 50,000 slum houses in Birmingham. Tell them about the hovels.
§ The Chairman
The hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Shurmer) must not interrupt if the hon. Member for Handsworth (Mr. H. Roberts) does not give way.
§ Mr. Roberts
The other point I have to make arises from the very important statement of the Minister to the effect that experience shows that ideological considerations alone are not sufficient to ensure output. Apparently one must have material rewards, and although everything has been perfect in the last two years, it is now going to be more 141 perfect because the Government policy is to be reversed and payment by results is to be encouraged. That is to say that it was quite perfect to go north, but even better, of course, to go south. It is very interesting to learn from the other side of the Committee that ideology is to be reinforced by material rewards. I suppose that even the profit motive may not be considered illegitimate, unless it is right for men to have bonuses and wrong for employers to make profits. However that may be, I think the utterance of the Minister is most important and gives a gleam of hope. I feared he was completely impervious to reason and experience, but it seems that the failure of this policy is so complete that even he, now realises the time has come for a change, and very sagaciously he makes a virtue of it and endeavours to represent it as a real find.
§ 9.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Gibson (Kennington)
I am quite convinced, having listened to part of this Debate, and having read the Opposition Press, that the house-building programme which the Minister of Health has been conducting has so far succeeded, that the Opposition find it impossible to produce any really effective criticism, and are therefore indulging in the spreading of gloom, and throwing out vague hints of everything being wrong. How on earth the right hon. Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) could say that there was no plan and no houses when he had the housing returns in his hand, I fail to understand. Some 184,000 permanent and temporary houses have been built since the end of the war. There is not much failure about that so far as 184,000 families living in them are concerned. The hon. Member for Woodbridge (Mr. Hare) talked about London. I will not follow him in what he said about the work of the L.C.C. Housing Committee, but I am quite prepared to defend that on some other occasion. I know that in London people are not only seeing houses going up, but that, in fact, as a result of the activities of all the local authorities in London, with very little help from private enterprise, there are, as the statistics show, 76,000 families now in homes which did not exist when the war ended. If that is failure, I hope that the Minister of Health will have a few more failures of that kind in the next year or two. 142 [An HON. MEMBER: "Does that figure include requisitioned houses?"] No.
It has been suggested that a good deal of the fault, if there is a fault, in the output of houses, is due to the operatives in the building industry. It has been suggested that the bricklayer is not giving as big an output as he ought to do. I have said publicly what I think about that. It is true that in London the output per man is no more than about 75 per cent. of the prewar output. That is not all due to the laziness of the bricklayer, the carpenter or the plasterer. As has already been said, houses built in these days are more like homes than the boxes which were built before the war. They are larger and have many more fittings inside them, and it takes longer to build them, as well as taking more materials. It is not only the operatives who are concerned. What about the need for more efficient site organisation by the contractors, the need for efficient mechanical aids for labour? We need 3,000 building trade labourers on L.C.C. schemes, and they use mechanical aids today. If the Minister put more drive into compelling contractors to go in for a great deal more mechanisation on the site and more effectively organising the site work, it would greatly assist in the output of houses during the rest of this year.
When I hear people complaining that housing in this country is a complete failure, I cannot help thinking of the many deputations from other countries which, during the past 12 months, I have had the pleasure of meeting, people from America, France, Belgium, Australia, and many other countries. They came to England to study, among other things, what we are doing in housing, and all of them said that the people of this country were making marvellous strides in the reconstruction of their shattered homes, and they were particularly amazed at the vast strides which, in their eyes, appeared to be made with the building of homes for people to live in. We are doing much more than any other country in Europe in the building of homes for the people, and under difficult circumstances. I remember the experience which those in the building industry had in the years immediately following the 1914–18 war. I was in the industry, I know the complete muddle and mess into which the Government got then: I know the complete 143 inefficiency of the industry on the sites and in the organisation of the building industry I, with many others, suffered unemployment and loss of wages and short time, and from the effects of bad weather, etc.
A move is now being made to improve efficiency in the industry, to organise the job much more effectively. I believe that if the Minister of Health can get the contractors to organise the work more, to introduce the most up-to-date scientific methods of site organisation, and, at the same time, encourage the operatives, as we hope they will be encouraged, to adopt a payment by results scheme, there will be a rapid increase in output this year. It will be tremendous, and * will justify our faith in the success of the present Minister.
§ 9.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Marples (Wallasey)
I would like to join with the hon. Member for Kennington (Mr. Gibson) in hoping for success, but I am convinced that we shall not get the best out of labour until we have a system of payment by results. In the short space of time available to me, I would like to ask two questions of the Parliamentary Secretary before I go on to my main point. Is the hold-up in housing due to shortage of materials or labour? I think that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health in his speech said that it was due to materials——
§ Mr. Marples
I rather think that the hon. Gentleman did. The hon. Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks) said it was due to materials and that the lack of materials had been the limiting factor the whole time. If the right hon. Gentleman will look at HANSARD tomorrow he will find that he did say it.
§ Mr. Marples
In today's "Star" there is an article, or an interview, with the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Works——
§ Mr. Marples
The hon. Member for East Woolwich said the difficulty was due to shortage of material. In an interview reported in the "Star" today, the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Works said that the biggest shortage in building is that of labour. Confusion confounded. Not only are the Government muddled in their money policy but they are muddled in their housing policy also.
The other question I wish to ask the Parliamentary Secretary is in regard to the Minister's speech. If the Minister of Health will kindly give his attention for a moment—when he has finished erecting an imaginary house—I would like to know whether or not he said that 60 per cent. of the building force was engaged on new buildings.
§ Mr. J. Edwards
When the Committee was rather empty, I explained this point. I said that 60 per cent. was the proportion of the total building force engaged on housing generally.
§ Mr. Marples
I have looked carefully into the last figures available, in the housing return up to 31st January, 1947. I do not think that they have been split up since then. Would the Parliamentary Secretary give reasons why he made his earlier statement? I apologise for being absent at the time, but I have listened to most of the Debate. It has been suggested that the Opposition have not made any constructive suggestions about the building problem.
§ Mr. Marples
If the hon. Member for West Ealing will look at the reference in HANSARD tomorrow, he will get all the information he requires. First, on the question of distribution of building materials, the Opposition made a suggestion on 26th November, 1945, at column 968, that a committee could be appointed to go into the distribution of building material. At that time the right hon. Gentleman said that it was irrelevant. Seven months later, on 24th June, 1946, the Government appointed such a committee. There is suggestion No. 1 with 145 a time lag of seven months. Referring to the question of increased costs in the building industry, on 6th March, 1946, at column 438, the suggestion was made that a committee should be appointed to go into the question of the high cost of building with a view to making recommendations to bring the cost down. On this occasion the time lag increased. Fifteen months later the Government decided to take action. On 5th July, 1947, 15 months after the Opposition made the original suggestion, the Government appointed such a committee.
On the question of payment by results, this has been consistently advocated from these benches, and attention was drawn to Regulation 56AB at all times last year. We are told now that it is to be amended, but I would point out to the Committee that we have been told that for many weeks past, but it is still not amended and put into force.
§ Mr. Marples
The right hon. Gentleman did not say "promulgated"; why does he not say the exact date?
§ Mr. Marples
I am sorry I did not hear the right hon. Gentleman, but he is much more eloquent when he is on his feet than when he is sitting down. Then the Government do admit that they have got their housing programme out of phase? They said that they commenced too many new houses for the physical capacity of the industry to manage. On 25th March, 1946—it is recorded in col. 101 of HANSARD—the Opposition made the suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health—he was absent from that Debate, and the Minister of Works was in charge—that they should start fewer houses. Seventeen months later when it has dawned upon them, they are now, in fact, trying to get the industry back into phase. There are a dozen trades in the building industry, not one, and, once it is out of phase, you cannot put it back again quickly.
146 Having made the point that we have made some suggestions from this side, let me now make another constructive suggestion in the hope that it will be adopted before the average time-lag of the previous ones, which was about 13 months. It is that the instrument for building houses is not the right hon. Gentleman's Department, nor the local authorities, but the building industry. At the present time, the industry is in a bad state. It is very slow-working and very costly, and it is completely out of phase at the moment, but we must bear in mind the difficulties of the industry, which is one of the most difficult in the country, and, in particular, the twin headaches of bad weather and casual labour, which are sufficient to disorganise the most efficient industry. Every day, on a site, a different phase is in operation. It is not like a factory, where the raw material comes in at one end, has the same operation performed upon it and is turned out at the other end as a finished product. In building, for the first week, it will be footings, for the next, bricklaying, and so on, with carpenters, plasterers and all the rest.
It is quite hopeless for the right hon. Gentleman to suggest that the industry should concentrate on one type of house even when it is prefabricated, because his chosen instrument will not accept one type of house, and I have known, in my personal experience, where, when the first contract was to be placed by a very large local authority, they would not accept the standard design sent out by the right hon. Gentleman's Department, but turned it down as inadequate and said that they wanted something like 20 different designs. In those circumstances, the right hon. Gentleman cannot blame the industry for not getting started.
The suggestion which I am about to make will make me very unpopular with employers, of whom I am one, and even more unpopular with employees. If there is one industry which needs a complete overhaul, it is the building industry—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear"]—and, I would suggest, as hon. Members are saying "Hear, hear" to that, that the Government should appoint a working party, because this is the one industry that really needs it. When appointing this working party, the right hon. Gentleman should be very careful to avoid the arithmetical equality between the trade 147 unions and the employers. If there are three trade union delegates and three employers' representatives on a working party, the result is going to be deadly. The only way to do it is to put an equal number of representatives from each side on the working party, and to bring in from outside a number of experts, such as quantity surveyors, civil engineers, technicians, and so on, who will have a majority over the trade itself. I offer that suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman for what it is worth.
I now come to the main point of today's Debate, and will try to follow it through to a logical conclusion. I must here ask the indulgence of the Committee, because it is a little difficult to get these arguments over. On the eternal controversy of private enterprise versus local authorities, there seems to be a certain amount of confusion and misapprehension all the way round. If I may, I would like to try to define my views on it, for what they are worth. I am trying to be constructive, although, perhaps, the Parliamentary Secretary will attempt to tear them to pieces later on. The right hon. Gentleman is very eloquent and tends to oversimplify the issue. He said that the Government's objectives were to build permanent houses as fast as possible—I took down his actual words—and to give them to those who were in the greatest need. There were two phases of the Government's policy—the first was the technical one of building the houses as fact as possible, and the second was the social desirability of allotting them to people whom the right hon. Gentleman and his party thought ought to have them. I am going to try to define exactly what private enterprise does, and what it means in the way the right hon. Gentleman is using it. Private enterprise building contractors have two separate functions to perform. The first is to build houses under contract for anyone who agrees to employ them, and the second is to build houses for what is known as speculation, either for sale or for letting.
In the first case, they are under contract to the local authority. I want to discuss the first case first because, when a building firm has a building contract with a local authority, it is a contract which is several hundred pages in thickness, and no variation of any sort can be made in the tender, 148 specification or quantities without the written consent of the local authority. No contract has yet been completed to my knowledge, without variations of some sort being necessary. I have never known a contract that has been completed from beginning to end as per specification. Therefore, it means that, on a building site where the speed and efficiency of the work depend on the flow of the materials and the labour getting those materials, if the time and progress schedule is disrupted in any way, there is likely to be chaos, and the job will take longer.
Let me give a specific example. My firm were recently building several hundred houses for a local authority. According to the specification, they had to use a certain type of plaster. That plaster was in short supply. It was impossible to get it, and an alternative sort had to be used. But before that could be done, permission had to be got in writing from the local authority. Altogether it took five weeks to get that permission. In the meantime, ten trades were thrown out of work. After paying the men for a week—we get no money at all—they were taken to another site, and they could not be brought back.
§ Mr. Marples
How could we start five weeks earlier on another site when the contract was not signed? [Interruption.] If the right hon. Gentleman wants to say something, would he get to his feet and say it, because he is more audible when he does that?
§ Mr. Marples
The right hon. Gentleman's eloquence convinces me just about as much on housing as it convinced the hon. Lady the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) on newsprint. Now the nature of the officials of the local authorities is such that it is not in their own interest to make a speedy decision. What is wanted on a site is not necessarily a 100 per cent. correct decision but a speedy decision. If a local authority official makes a wrong decision he is sacked, or the local councillors come down on him like a ton of 149 bricks if he is correct, he will get promotion, but he gets nothing at all for being speedy. It is one of the technical reasons why private enterprise working under contract is slower than when it works on its own.
Let me give another example. If the right hon. Gentleman wants particulars I will send him the facts in writing. There was a contract with a large local authority for several hundred houses. The contract was signed, sealed and exchanged between the parties and agreed. At that stage the right hon. Gentleman, in his eloquence, would have said that it was handed over to private enterprise and that it was their job; but, in fact, it was not their job, because in that contract was a clause which said that the local authority reserved the right to nominate its own sub-contractor for electrical work. We started work on the site, and when we wrote inquiring for the name of the form which was going to do the electrical work it was two months before we got it, and we either wrote or telephoned every other day for it. In the meantime, the men were taken off the site and sent elsewhere. Before that they were paid for a week or so at the public expense, and during that time there was no building going on at all.
Perhaps I may declare my own interest in this matter. My interest is to build houses under contract for the local authorities, and I say here and now, that I, as a contractor, working for a local authority, cannot build them as quickly, or as cheaply as private enterprise building for speculation, which is something I do not and cannot do. As far as I am concerned, the point of view which I am now putting forward is really against my private interests.
If the right hon. Gentleman wants any more proof, there is an excellent article in "The Times" on 22nd April, 1947. In that article it was pointed out that private enterprise started 5,700 houses in 1945, 21,300 in 1946, and completed the total of 27,000 in 1946, taking an average of eight months to build each house. Municipal authorities started 20,400 in the first year, 1945; 3,500 in the second year, 1946; making a total of 23,900, which they completed in 1946, taking an average of 12 months Private enterprise completed them in eight months and the local authorities completed them in 12 months.
150 The right hon. Gentleman must bear in mind that for technical efficiency—and I am not now talking about the social desirability of letting houses—both as to speed and as to cost, private enterprise is his best instrument. What the right hon. Gentleman is really doing, and doing very cleverly, if I may say so, is to confuse what he thinks is socially desirable and, perhaps, what he thinks is politically profitable, with what in fact is technically unattainable, and he is deliberately doing it in this Debate. He knows perfectly well that from the point of view of actually building the houses, private enterprise is cheaper, quicker and better than local authority building under contract.
It may not be that that is socially desirable. That is not the argument I am going into now. But I wanted first to prove that, from the point of view of building, private enterprise has it every time. I myself build the other way—for the local authorities. I am going to suggest that, if the right hon. Gentleman wants the best of both worlds, what he ought to do is to grant a subsidy to private enterprise, provided they give the houses to the people the right hon. Gentleman wants to have them. Or does the hon. Gentleman the Member for Widnes (Mr. Christopher Shawcross) who is laughing and sneering in the corner think that, whatever happens, local authorities must build—even at the cost of efficiency? I shall have to hurry through my other points or even leave them out altogether because of the lack of time. I want to say to the Parliamentary Secretary that at the present moment four out of every five houses are subsidised by the taxpayers, and if materials are reduced the Minister threatens to stop all building of houses by private enterprise. This will mean that every house in this country is subsidised by the taxpayer. What reasons can be advanced for saying that the economy of any country in the world can carry a burden like that?
I am going to suggest to the right hon. Gentleman regarding the second part of the argument—the question whether it is socially desirable—that houses should be allocated by the local authorities Personally, I think it is desirable, and I should think that physical need should determine the physical possession of the house. That does not mean to say that 151 physical need should determine who receives the subsidy. If a very rich man has to have a flat or a house, by reason of the fact that he has physical need of it, is it right that the less fortunate taxpayers, with not as much income as he, should subsidise him? Let me give an imaginary case. Suppose Lord Nuffield wanted a council house or a flat, and received it. Is the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health really going to suggest that he should be subsidised by less fortunate people like myself? I promised to sit down at 25 minutes past, so I really must conclude. I want to ask the Parliamentary Secretary if he will reply to these questions. I want to say to the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health in particular, and to the Government in general, that what is needed in housing, as, indeed, is needed in our general economic affairs, is a sense of urgency, leadership, and above all, national unity. We have none of those things today.
§ 9.33 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Mr. John Edwards)
If I should follow the order of Debate, I should at once endeavour to deal with the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson), but I think my duty is to put first things first and, therefore, to deal with matters which, I think, are of greater importance to the Committee, even though they may not be so entertaining. I would begin by saying what I hope can be regarded as gracious words. I am grateful, as is also my right hon. Friend, for suggestions made sincerely during the course of this Debate. If there are some matters, as I know there are, which really appertain to the Ministry of Works Vote—and that is particularly true of some of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland (Mr. F. Willey)—I assure hon. Members that I will do my best in due course to let them have what they want.
Let me deal first with rural housing. A number of hon. Members, unfortunately when the Committee was thinnest, dealt with this matter; and we did have a discussion on it in the early part of the year. I do not underestimate the importance of it. It is important to the national 152 economy. It is important to the agricultural workers. Nor do I underestimate in any way the difficulties which have been presented to us. But I believe that at the moment we are attacking this problem by the only direct method open to us; that is to say, by seeing that houses are built on terms which will enable them to be let at reasonable rents. I challenge anybody to compare the inter-war years' record of the rural districts as a whole with what has been done in the rural districts since the end of the last war and to come to any other conclusion than that, for the first time in the history of this country, rural councils are really properly organised and on top of their job.
Questions were asked about the actual number of houses that had been let to agricultural workers, and the hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) quoted a figure, which I had given him, in answer to a Question today, of 587 houses which had attracted the special subsidy. I ask him and the Committee not to take that figure as the figure of the number of houses that have, in fact, been let to agricultural workers, but to await the future housing returns, in which we shall show the number of houses let to agricultural workers from month to month. Perhaps I need not dilate on what we have been doing about the special scheme——
§ Mr. Molson
Are we to understand that a great many more have, in fact, been let? The hon. Gentleman will remember that under Section 3 of the Act, if they are let they do attract this larger subsidy, and one would naturally suppose that local authorities and private individuals would obtain the larger subsidy.
§ Mr. Edwards
The hon. Member must not understand anything of the kind. All he must understand is that I do not know at the moment, and I am asking him to wait until we have the information upon which the House can decide. I am not trying to avoid the issue here. We are getting the information at the request of hon. Members opposite, and when the information comes to hand we can, quite properly, be judged on it.
§ Mr. Edwards
I have answered the point—[HON. MEMBERS: "Give way."] I am quite willing to give way on points which have not been dealt with. I gave way to the hon. Member for The High Peak, who raised this matter, and I have given him a frank and, I hope, complete answer. Now, I must get on, in view of the limited time I have left. The right hon. Member for Southport had 41 minutes; I have something like 25, and I do not propose to waste any of it if I can help it. Now let me get on. I am certain that there is no need tonight to make another speech about the Airey house, but it is important to stress that although we have now allocated most of the 20,000 that were ordered, we are still held up on the matter of getting people to put in tenders at reasonable prices in order that the work may go on.
There is one matter in particular on which I think the Committee would wish to be informed. Hon. Members have manifested much interest in the subject of reconditioning. On this aspect we have had certain considerations in our minds: first, that the most urgent need was for more houses; and secondly, that reconditioning can improve houses but, as a general rule, does not produce more houses.
§ Mr. R. S. Hudson
On a point of Order. May I point out to you, Major Milner, with respect, that reconditioning involves legislation—certainly the reconditioning of rural houses—and would, therefore, be out of Order in this Debate?
§ Mr. Edwards
I was referring, Major Milner, to a point which had been put in the course of this Debate, and in the course of previous Debates, namely, that of reconditioning. If you rule that I cannot refer to a matter which has already been referred to by certain hon. Members during the Debate, I must, of course, accept your Ruling.
§ Mr. Molson
May I point out that a most mischievous circular was issued by the Ministry of Health——
§ The Chairman
Having regard to the shortness of time, I hope hon. Members will allow the Debate to proceed.
§ Mr. Molson
This is a point of Order, Major Milner. There was a circular issued by the Minister of Health in his administrative capacity in which he restricted the amount of repairs and reconditioning which could be done. I do not know what the Parliamentary Secretary is going to say, but if it is as matter within the administrative capacity of the Ministry of Health, is he going to alter that mischievous circular?
§ Mr. Edwards
I am sorry that the intervention of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport means that I cannot acquaint the Committee with a matter which I should have thought it would have been convenient for me to have dealt with. I will content myself on this matter of reconditioning by giving one or two general considerations on the aspects of the problem which we have been considering. The first thing I should like to make clear is that it is quite certain that the rural and urban problems cannot be separated in the way they were under the prewar laws. We had, therefore, in considering this matter, to bear in mind not only the Hobhouse Report on Rural Housing and the report of the Scottish Advisory Committee on Modernising our Homes, but also the Silkin Report on Conversion. At the appropriate time, my right hon. Friend will give to the House the results of this consideration, which apparently I cannot now give.
I will now turn to a matter on which there has been a good deal of comment, namely, the question of the control of the distribution of building materials. We have action in hand to strengthen the control over the distribution of building materials. The W.B.A. scheme, instituted last year, served a useful purpose, but with the passage of time, it has, I think, become subject to abuse. It is possible, with the increased output of many materials, to relinquish control over their distribution, and a revision of the present scheme is now in hand, being confined to a relatively small list of items.
§ Mr. R. S. Hudson
On a point of Order. It was quite clearly laid down, as I am sure you realise, Major Milner, that we should discuss the Ministry of Health Vote and the Ministry of Labour Vote, 155 and we specifically did not put down the Ministry of Works. There is no doubt that W.B.A. permits and details of this nature are matters for the Ministry of Works, and, as such, are outside the strict confines of this Debate.
§ Mr. Bevan
The right hon. Gentleman and hon. Members opposite were asking for information, which apparently they do not now want. The right hon. Gentleman, in the course of his speech, specifically referred to the Minister of Health as being responsible for the coordination of the various Departments concerned with housing. We were asked a number of questions on what we were doing to see to it that the material had reached the sites, and 50 per cent. of the speeches which were made by hon. Members opposite had no meaning unless they referred to the arrival of materials in time.
§ The Chairman
It seems to me that when we are dealing with policy the question of consultation or co-ordination with other Ministers should be in Order as coming within the administrative purview of the Minister of Health.
§ Mr. R. S. Hudson rose——
§ The Chairman
Having regard to the shortness of time, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will allow the Debate to proceed unless he has some fresh point to make.
§ Mr. Edwards
The revised scheme has been considered and discussed in principle by the Minister of Works and representatives of the various interests concerned, the manufacturers, merchants and builders, and has been welcomed by them. Today a meeting was held with representatives of the various bodies. Besides tightening control over the distribution—and I ask the Committee to appreciate that this does mean tightening, although the list may be smaller than before—our regional officers, in conjunction with those of the Ministry of Works, are now affording more help to contractors to secure supplies of those things of which they may be urgently in need. We hope that these two things together may effect an improvement in the present schemes which, I admit, have not been working as well as they should, and which have been abused. We hope 156 we shall stop some of the holes through which materials have been diverted, and which labour has followed to jobs which are outside the law. I am sure that we can reckon on the co-operation of everybody in this matter.
I would like to say a few words on the subject of building labour. The aim has been to get something like 60 per cent. of the total building labour force employed on housing work of all kinds. The total labour force in the building industry has practically reached the prewar level, but a substantial—although, I am glad to say, dwindling—number of men is still engaged in the repair of bomb-damaged premises. The latest figure of the numbers employed on new permanent houses is 236,500, and we hope to see that figure grow as work on the other side is reduced. Apart from the total labour force engaged on new houses, I admit that there is a lack of balance in the trades as they are now represented. Although I cannot elaborate the point in any detail tonight, I believe it would be no exaggeration to say that the greatest limiting factor in the completion of houses at the present time is the disproportionate number of bricklayers. A correspondent in "The Times" some time ago talked about "the battle of the bulge" in relation to housing. His bulge was the wrong one. The real bulge is that represented by the comparatively small bricklaying force. In percentage figures it may not be important, but it is fundamental to the work which follows. This is a point to which attention must be given. We are trying, by way of improving output in our training schemes and in every way open to us, to get more bricklayers on the job—to some extent, if bricklayers worked faster we should achieve the same result—so that we may tackle this lack of balance in our housing programme.
I would like to refer to some of the points made by the right hon. Gentleman for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson), who intervened so disastrously in the. Debate. I was amazed at the statistical aberrations of the right hon. Gentleman. If ever there was a person who was "a snapper-up of unconsidered trifles," it is the right hon. Gentleman. He combines, in his massive self, most extraordinary qualities. He has the manners of Worzel Gummidge. [HON. MEMBERS: "Who is he?"] Hon. Members opposite who have any children 157 will know who Worzel Gummidge is. Perhaps I may be permitted to explain that Worzel Gummidge is a scarecrow; he has a turnip's head, and he is singularly stupid and very, very rude. To come really to grips with the right hon. Gentleman, he made great play about the figures relating to the U.S.A. I will not follow him in all those figures; I will just read a sentence or two from the message from the President of the United States to Congress, dated 30th June, 1947, which, I hope, will settle the point. The President said:The progress in housing has not kept pace with progress in other fields. Private industry has not done and cannot do the whole job without Government aid. Much has been achieved with the methods heretofore authorised by the Congress. But they are far from adequate. In no part of our national life is there more urgent need for constructive legislation at this time. I sincerely trust that that Congress will not end this session without meeting the problem squarely.Whatever the right hon. Gentleman thinks, the President does not think that housing progress has been comparable with work in other fields.
Next, the right hon. Gentleman tried to suggest that we were underestimating the magnitude of the housing problem. He did not quote any references. This was one of the allegations which he made, and he said that we were doing something very wrong because we were suggesting that the magnitude of the first part of the problem was 750,000. This was the figure to which he took exception. I do not think that we have said anything more than was in the Coalition White Paper on this matter. This was as follows:The Government's first objective is to afford a separate dwelling for every family which desires to have one. For this purpose, it is estimated that some three quarters of a million dwellings are needed.It goes on to say that the second objective is to provide for the rapid completion of slum clearance and over-crowding. All I am saying is that the first objective laid down by the Coalition Government was the provision of a separate dwelling for each family, and if we say we have gone whatever distance—I am not now dealing with figures—along that road, we are quite entitled to regard that as our first objective; certainly no one on this side of the Committee has underestimated the magnitude of the long-term task which we have in front of us.
158 The right hon. Gentleman also made play with a number of figures. If there is a difference of opinion about the 400,000 which is the figure quoted, it is to be found, I think, in the difference between the Great Britain figures and those for England and Wales. I believe we had in fact a storm in a teacup over that point, partly due to the fact that the right hon. Gentleman had not read the footnote. The right hon. Gentleman's claim is the most extraordinary one that if the Tories had been in power they would have built 60,000 more houses than in fact we have built. This he implied, would have been done with a lower manpower because, he said, the industry was over-manned. Will he tell me from where he would get his materials? Would he have taken the timber that was being used for war damage repairs, or what? He cannot ride off on that. He has got to demonstrate that he could, in fact, have used materials which were available.
§ Mr. Hudson
The answer will be very brief. We would have had 80,000 houses under construction instead of 235,000. The difference represents a serious waste in building materials tied up in half finished houses.
§ Mr. Edwards
That is the most extraordinary statement I have heard for a long time. I suppose the right hon. Gentleman would conjure up the wood in the same manner as he conjures up his arguments.
§ Mr. Edwards
I want now to pin the Opposition down to a most important point. I am glad to see present the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for North Croydon (Mr. Willink). He will recollect, when speaking for the Coalition Government with a very real sense of the responsibility attaching to his office, if I may say so, stating that the vast majority of houses in the two years following the war would necessarily be built by local authorities.
§ Mr. Willink (Croydon, North)
I do not think that the word "vast" was in the sentence. It was "great majority."
§ Mr. Edwards
If the right hon. Gentleman will look up the quotation, he will find that the term "vast majority" is in it. My right hon. Friend asked the Opposition Front Bench on a number of occasions to say whether they stood by the right hon. and learned Gentleman's statement or not, and so far no one speaking for the Opposition has given any answer to that question. This is important, not only because the country is entitled to know what the official Opposition view is, but it is equally important because the standing of the Conservative Party in the eyes of the local authorities is steadily going down. Every time they go into the country they disparage the work done by local authorities and by implication the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for North Croydon has been disowned by his party. If he
§ is not, why does not someone in authority put the back bench boys in their places?
§ This is in some ways the most serious issue. Hon. Members on the other side have thought that they could say, "No controls, no limit, to the number of houses which can be built." They think that they can draw their strength through negation, but they are quite wrong. The country expects something different from His Majesty's Opposition. It expects an alternative and that has not been forthcoming. I submit that nothing that has been said today really does damage to our record in this matter.
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 111; Noes, 258.161
|Division No. 341.]||AYES.||[9.59 p.m.|
|Agnew, Cmdr. P. G.||Gridley, Sir A.||Peto, Brig. C. H. M|
|Amory, D. Heathcoat||Grimston, R. V.||Pickthorn, K.|
|Astor, Hon. M.||Hare, Hon. J. H. (Woodbridge)||Pitman, I. J.|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Head, Brig. A. H.||Ponsonby, Col. C. E.|
|Beamish, Maj. T. V. H.||Hogg, Hon Q.||Poole, O. B. S. (Oswestry)|
|Beechman, N. A.||Hope, Lord J.||Prescott, Stanley|
|Birch, Nigel||Hudson, Rt. Hon. R. S. (Southport)||Price-White, Lt.-Col. D.|
|Bower, N.||Hurd, A.||Prior-Palmer, Brig. O.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.||Jeffreys, General Sir G.||Raikes, H. V|
|Bracken, Rt. Hon. Brendan||Keeling, E. H||Rayner, Brig. R.|
|Bromley Davenport, Lt.-Col. W||Lambert, Hon. G||Roberts, H. (Handswroth)|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Robinson, Wing-Comdr. Roland|
|Bullock, Capt. M||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A H||Ropner, Col. L|
|Butcher, H. W.||Lennox-Boyd, A T.||Ross, Sir R. D. (Londonderry)|
|Carson, E.||Lindsay, M. (Solihull)||Sanderson, Sir F.|
|Challen, C.||Linstead, H. N.||Stanley, Rt Hon. O|
|Channon, H.||Low, Brig. A. R. W||Stoddart-Scott, Col M.|
|Clarke, Col. R. S.||Lucas, Major Sir J.||Strauss, H. G (English Universities)|
|Clifton-Brown, Lt.-Col. G.||Lucas-Tooth, Sir H.||Sutcliffe, H.|
|Corbett, Lieut.-Col. U. (Ludlow)||Macdonald, Sir P. (I of Wight)||Taylor C. S. (Eastbourne)|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col O E||McKie, J. H. (Galloway)||Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (P'dd't'n, S.)|
|Crowder, Capt. John E||Macmillan, Rt Hon. Harold (Bromley)||Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)|
|Darling, Sir W. Y||Maitland, Comdr. J. W.||Thorneycroft, G. E. P (Monmouth)|
|Davidson, Viscountess||Manningham-Buller, R. E.||Thorp, Lt.-Col. R. A. F.|
|Dodds-Parker, A. D.||Marples, A. E.||Touche, G. C.|
|Dower, Lt.-Col. A. V G. (Penrith)||Marshall, D. (Bodmin)||Turton, R. H.|
|Drewe, C.||Marshall, S. H. (Sutton)||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Dugdale, Mai. Sir T. (Richmond)||Maude, J. C.||Walker-Smith, D.|
|Eden, Rt. Hon. A||Mellor, Sir J.||Ward, Hon. G. R|
|Elliot, Rt. Hon. Walter||Molson, A. H. E.||Watt, Sir G. S Harvie.|
|Fleming, Sqn.-Ldr. E. L.||Moore, Lt.-Col. Sir T.||Wheatley, Colonel M. J.|
|Fox, Sir G.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester)||White, J. B. (Canterbury)|
|Fraser, H. C P. (Stone)||Mott-Radclyffe, Maj. C. E.||Williams, C. (Torquay)|
|Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir D P M||Nicholson, G.||Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)|
|Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D.||Nield B (Chester)||Willink, Rt. Hon. H. U.|
|Gammans, L. D||Noble, Comdr. A. H P.|
|George, Maj. Rt. Hn. G. Lloyd (P'ke)||Orr-Ewing, I. L.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Gomme-Duncan, Col. A||Peake, Rt. Hon. O||Major Conant and|
|Adams, Richard (Balham)||Ayrton Gould, Mrs. B.||Benson, G.|
|Adams, W. T. (Hammersmith, South)||Baird, J.||Beswick, F.|
|Allen, A. C (Bosworth)||Balfour, A.||Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Barstow, P. G.||Bing, G. H. C.|
|Alpass, J H.||Barton, C.||Binns, J.|
|Attewell, H C.||Battley, J. R.||Blackburn, A. R.|
|Austin, H. Lewis||Bechervaise, A. E.||Blenkinsop, A.|
|Ayles, W. H.||Belcher, J. W.||Blyton, W. R|
|Boardman, H.||Hicks G||Reeves, J.|
|Bowden, Flg.-Offr. H. W.||Holman, P.||Reid, T. (Swindon)|
|Bowles, F. G. (Nuneaton)||House, G.||Ridealgh, Mrs. M.|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M. (L'pl, Exch'ge)||Hoy, J.||Roberts, Emrys (Merioneth)|
|Braddock, T. (Mitcham)||Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, W.)||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)|
|Brook, D. (Halifax)||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Rogers, G. H. R.|
|Brooks, T. J. (Rothwell)||Hughes, H. D. (Wolverhampton, W.)||Ross, William (Kilmarnock)|
|Brown, George (Belper)||Hutchinson, H. L. (Rusholme)||Scollan, T.|
|Bruce, Major D. W. T.||Hynd, H. (Hackney, C.)||Scott-Elliot, W|
|Buchanan, G.||Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)||Segal, Dr. S.|
|Burden, T. W.||Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.||Shawcross, C. N. (Widnes)|
|Burke, W. A.||Janner, B.||Shawcross, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (St. Helens)|
|Butler, H. W. (Hackney, S.)||Jeger, G. (Winchester)||Shurmer, P.|
|Byers, Frank||Jones, D. T. (Hartlepools)||Silverman, J. (Erdington)|
|Castle, Mrs. B. A||Jones, J. H. (Bolton)||Silverman, S. S. (Nelson)|
|Chamberlain, R. A.||Jones, P. Asterley (Hitchin)||Simmons, C. J|
|Champion, A. J.||Keenan, W.||Skeffington, A. M.|
|Chetwynd, G. R.||Kenyon, C.||Skeffington-Lodge, T. C|
|Cobb, F. A.||Key, C. W.||Smith, C. (Colchester)|
|Cocks, F. S.||Kinley, J.||Smith, H. N. (Nottingham, S.)|
|Coldrick, W.||Kirby, B. V.||Smith, S. H. (Hull, S.W.)|
|Collick, P.||Lawson, Rt. Hon. J. J.||Snow, Capt. J W|
|Collindridge, F.||Lee, Miss J. (Cannock)||Solley, L. J.|
|Collins, V. J.||Leslie, J. R.||Sorensen, R W|
|Corbet, Mrs. F. K. (Camb'well, N.W.)||Levy, B. W.||Soskice, Maj. Sir F|
|Corlett, Dr. J.||Lewis, A. W. J. (Upton)||Sparks, J. A|
|Corvedale, Viscount||Lewis, J. (Bolton)||Stamford, W.|
|Crawley, A||Lindgren, G. S.||Steele, T.|
|Crossman, R. H. S.||Lipson, D. L.||Stewart, Capt. Michael (Fulham, E.)|
|Daggar, G.||Longden, F.||Stross, Dr. B.|
|Daines, P.||McAdam, W.||Summerskill, Dr Edith|
|Davies, Edward (Burslem)||McAllister, G.||Swingler, S.|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||McEntee, V. La T.||Sylvester, G. O|
|Davies, Haydn (St. Pancras, S.W.)||McGhee, H. G.||Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield)|
|Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)||McKay, J (Wallsend)||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Deer, G.||Mackay, R. W. G. (Hull, N.W.)||Taylor, Dr. S. (Barnet)|
|Delargy, H. J.||McLeavy, F.||Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)|
|Diamond, J.||Mallalieu, J. P. W.||Thomas, Ivor (Keighley)|
|Dodds, N. N||Manning, C. (Camberwell, N.)||Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)|
|Donovan, T.||Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping)||Thomas, George (Cardiff)|
|Driberg, T. E. N.||Marquand, H A.||Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)|
|Dugdale, J. (W. Bromwich)||Marshall, F. (Brightside)||Thurtle, Ernest|
|Dumpleton, C. W.||Mathers, G.||Tiffany, S|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Mayhew, C. P.||Timmons, J|
|Edelman, M.||Messer, F.||Titterington, M. F.|
|Edwards, John (Blackburn)||Middleton, Mrs. L.||Tolley, L.|
|Edwards, N (Caerphilly)||Mikardo, Ian||Tomlinson, Rt. Hon. G|
|Edwards, W. J. (Whitechapel)||Mitchison, G. R||Turner-Samuels, M|
|Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury)||Monslow, W||Vernon, Maj. W. F|
|Ewart, R.||Moody, A. S.||Viant, S. P.|
|Farthing, W. J.||Morgan, Dr. H. B.||Walkden, E|
|Fernyhough, E.||Morris, Lt.-Col. H. (Sheffield, C.)||Walker, G. H.|
|Fletcher, E. G M. (Islington, E.)||Morris, P. (Swansea, W.)||Wallace, G. D. (Chislehurst)|
|Foot, M. M.||Mort, D. L.||Webb, M. (Bradford, C.)|
|Freeman, Maj. J. (Watford)||Moyle, A.||Weitzman, D.|
|Gaitskell, H. T. N.||Naylor, T. E||Wells, P. L. (Faversham)|
|Gallacher, W.||Neal, H. (Claycross)||Wells, W. T. (Walsall)|
|Ganley, Mrs. C. S.||Nichol, Mrs. M. E. (Bradford, N.)||West, D. G|
|George, Lady M. Lloyd (Anglesey)||Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford)||White, H. (Derbyshire, N.E.)|
|Gibson, C. W.||Noel-Buxton, Lady||Whiteley, Rt. Hon W.|
|Glanville, J. E. (Consett)||Oldfield, W. H.||Wigg, Col. G. E|
|Goodrich, H. E.||Oliver, G. H||Wilkes, L.|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A (Wakefield)||Paget, R. T.||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Greenwood, A. W. J. (Heywood)||Paling, Rt. Hon. Wilfred (Wentworth)||Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)|
|Grenfell, D. R.||Paling, Wili T. (Dewsbury)||Williams, J. (Kelvingrove)|
|Grey, C F||Pargiter, G A||Williams, Rt. Hon. T (Don Valley)|
|Grierson, E.||Parker, J.||Williams, W R. (Heston)|
|Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley)||Parkin, B. T.||Willis, E.|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hon. J (Llanelly)||Paton, J (Norwich)||Wills, Mrs. E A.|
|Gunter, R J||Pearson, A.||Wilson, J. H.|
|Guy, W. H||Peart, Thomas F.||Woods, G. S|
|Hall, W G.||Platts-Mills, J. F. F.||Wyatt, W.|
|Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R||Porter, G. (Leeds)||Yates, V. F.|
|Hardy, E. A.||Pritt, D. N.||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Hastings, Dr. Somerville||Proctor, W. T.||Younger, Hon. Kenneth|
|Henderson, A. (Kingswinford)||Randall, H. E.||Zilliacus, K|
|Henderson, Joseph (Ardwick)||Ranger, J|
|Herbison, Miss M||Rankin, J||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Hewitson, Captain M.||Rees-Williams, D. R.||Mr. Hannan and Mr. Popplewell.|
Question put, and agreed to.
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again Tomorrow.