§ 3.49 P.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Westwood)
The last occasion on 2022 which I made a detailed statement about housing progress in Scotland was when opening a Debate in this House on 10th October, 1946, and it may serve the convenience of hon. Members on both sides of the Committee if I briefly survey what has happened since that date. Towards the end of last year we became increasingly aware of the fact that the housing programme in Scotland was getting out of balance. Since the war ended local authorities had been placing housing contracts with the industry in greater numbers than the industry could expeditiously handle, and the result was a dissipation of labour and materials over too large a number of houses, with a consequent slowing down in the rate of the completion of the houses. While tenders had been approved at 31st December, 1946, for 60,000 permanent houses, only 5,800 had in fact been completed. The remainder were either under construction or had not yet been begun. This was not the fault of the local authorities. On the contrary, the local authorities in Scotland have done their part of the job well.
We were anxious, at the end of the war, to secure the resumption of house building on a nation-wide scale, in order to 2023 provide work for the men who were coming back from the Forces and from the war industries, and, having this end, and the provision of houses for our people, in mind, we encouraged authorities, both in urban and rural areas alike, to push forward with their schemes, and to place contracts with the industry for this purpose. Just how well the local authorities responded can best be shown by the fact that out of the 228 housing authorities in Scotland, no fewer than 221 had placed their contracts, which means that 97 per cent. had tenders approved at the end of the year. In view of the time being taken to build houses and the large amount of unfinished work which the industry had on hand, we reviewed the whole position in January of this year, and we published the results of that review in the White Paper about the 1947 housing programme.
There has been some misunderstanding, even among local authorities, about the object of this particular programme. It has been represented—I do not say with a desire to misrepresent, but through a lack of knowledge of the facts—as an attempt on the part of the Government to restrict house building, and to put a brake on the efforts of local authorities. The allocations of houses under the programme have been represented as the maximum number which the various authorities will be permitted to build. Nothing could be further from the actual facts. The sole object in view is not to hamper housing operations, but, on the contrary, to secure an increase in the number of completed houses. At the end of the day it is not the number of houses under construction that matters, it is the number of houses completed, with people actually occupying them. Therefore, to have entered into contracts, and above all started houses, which, because of lack of materials could not be completed, would not have been a solution for expediting the housing problem. I wish to make it clear that if any authorities complete their quotas before the end of the year, so far as I, the Joint Under-Secretary and the Government are concerned, they will be encouraged and assisted, within the scope of the powers we have and the materials we have available, to build as many more houses as they possibly can.
In order to carry out the programme, we are doing two things. In the first place, 2024 with over 60,000 houses contracted for but not yet completed, there would be little point in placing further contracts with the industry until they have made substantial progress with the work in hand. We are arranging further contracts to meet the special needs of miners and agricultural workers in selected areas for the urgent national purpose of increasing production of coal and food. Apart from this, new contracts will, for a time, be confined in the main to districts where house building has not yet started, or where additional work is required to avoid local unemployment. In the second place, we are concentrating labour and materials, particularly materials which are in short supply, on certain selected houses in order to achieve an increase in the rate of completion. These are houses which make up the allocations which have been intimated to local authorities—houses for the most part in an advanced state of construction at the beginning of the year, or non-traditional houses which are capable of rapid building. We think that by pushing forward the completion of these houses we will make the best use of the available labour and materials. If we do not do this, our resources would continue to be thinly spread over a larger number of houses, and fewer would be completed in 1947.
When we made the survey which was described in the recent White Paper, we estimated that it might be possible to complete 24,000 houses in Scotland during the year. Hard on this estimate being made we had three months of very bad weather, which seriously curtailed building on the sites, and which even more seriously affected the production of building materials in the factories. Moreover, we must recognise the increasing demands of the basic industries, electricity and transport, for many of the materials used in housing. We felt it only right, having reviewed the position in early April, to tell the House and the country frankly, as we did, that in view of the altered circumstances there now seemed to be no posibility of building as many as 24,000 permanent houses during the year. At the same time, we indicated that we did not propose to attempt to make an alternative estimate, but that our object must be to complete this year as many as possible of the houses already under construction.
2025 Unfortunately, there was a serious check in progress during the wintry weather of February and March. Taking temporary and permanent houses together, the total completed in January, 1947, was 1,513. The figure fell in February to 1,168; and in March it fell still further to 655. With the passing of the worst weather there was a substantial recovery in April to a total of 1,935 temporary and permanent houses completed. The figures for May, which will be published in detail shortly, show a still further improvement, with 2,211 houses completed.
§ Commander Galbraith (Glasgow, Pollok)
Would the right hon. Gentleman be good enough to divide that figure into permanent and temporary houses?
§ Mr. Westwood
I will try to get that information for the hon. and gallant Member before the end of the Debate. On this basis the total number of houses completed during the first five months of 1947 is almost 7,500. I can now give figures for which the hon. and gallant Gentleman asked; these houses comprised some 4,000 temporary and 3,500 permanent houses. We had hoped for better progress but, considering the exceptional difficulties during this period, a total of 7,500 houses completed is a reasonably good achievement. It compared with 4,550 temporary and permanent houses completed in the corresponding five months of 1946.
So much for progress in 1947. I turn now to the progress made with the postwar programme as a whole. First, I refer to temporary houses. The total programme here is for the erection of approximately 32,000 houses; and up to nth June we had completed 16,941, or something more than half. Before the bad weather at the beginning of the year it was our hope that we would.finish this scheme in 1947. The prospects now are that we shall substantially do so but that a residue of temporary houses will remain for completion in 1948. In the case of permanent houses, the position at the same date was that 9,661 had been completed by local authorities, the Scottish Special Housing Association, and private enterprise, while 38,210 were under construction. Taking permanent and temporary houses together and adding the accommodation provided by means of requisitioning and the conversion and 2026 adaptation of existing properties, we have provided shelter in the postwar period for more than 31,000 families, or approximately 125,000 persons.
There are hon. Members on both sides of the Committee specially interested in rural housing. I have always considered that the rural housing problem—different and perhaps more difficult in many ways—is every bit as urgent as the problem in urban areas and we are concentrating on both with equal attention. All the 33 county councils in Scotland have housing schemes in hand. Up to date, included in the total figures which I have already given, 1,225 permanent houses and 4,349 temporary houses have been completed in landward areas. Not all these houses have been built, however, for rural communities since there are substantial industrial communities in some of our county areas. But we have taken special measures to secure the erection of houses specifically for the rural population in general and for agricultural workers in particular.
Because of the special difficulties of building in country districts, we are doing this largely by encouraging the erection of permanent prefabricated houses or houses of non-traditional types which make limited demands on site labour which is a scarce commodity in many rural districts. For example, 500 of the 2,500 Swedish timber houses, many of which have been completed, and the whole of the 3,000 Cruden houses, for which we arranged last year, are to be built in small groups in landward districts and small burghs, for rural communities. In addition, as I explained in the Debate on rural housing on 25th March, we recently arranged for the provision of 400 Weir steel houses and 200 Atholl steel houses for exclusive occupation by agricultural workers working on farms. This is the first instalment of a programme designed to assist in the manning up of the agricultural industry.
I have a scheme in mind at the moment which provides that in the 1948 programme we will be able to allocate another 1,200 houses on exactly the same principle. I have already communicated with the county councils on this matter. The houses will be allocated directly for the purpose of providing accommodation for those engaged in agriculture. The 600 houses to which I have referred have been allocated to the milk producing districts 2027 in the West and South-West of Scotland and substantial progress has already been made in the selection and servicing of sites. We intend to extend this programme to other agricultural districts as early as we possible can, having regard to the supply position, and I have written to the various county councils concerned to enable them to make preliminary arrangements.
Housing progress as a whole is still being hampered for lack of adequate supplies. There are substantial unsatisfied demands for bricklayers for housing work throughout the country, but the most serious shortages are not of labour but certain materials. In many cases production dropped heavily during the winter months, as a result of bad weather and the fuel situation, and the bad effects of these checks may continue to be felt for some time. In particular, there was recently a general shortage of cement. This necessitated introducing a priority list for delivery, but steps have been taken to increase supplies to Scotland and to ensure an equitable distribution among the various users. Brick production was also checked. This has now recovered to an output of 41 million in May which we are aiming to increase still further up to or even beyond the prewar figure of 56 million a month. Other troublesome shortages are those of rainwater goods and electrical equipment of various kinds. But the main holding item continues to be timber, over which we have less control. Available supplies of timber for housing work have progressively diminished in recent quarterly periods. As a result, however, of the strenuous efforts of the Government to increase imports from different sources, there are prospects of improvement which should begin to take effect in the latter half of this year.
§ Mr. Stephen (Glasgow, Camlachie)
On the question of the shortage of timber, would the right hon. Gentleman tell us on what basis timber is allocated between factory and housing schemes?
§ Mr. Westwood
The first priority is housing, but in Scotland we cannot develop housing alone. We must, especially in development areas, carry the programmes side by side for the erection of houses, factories, buildings in which to provide meals for our young children, 2028 and so on. A very limited amount of timber is allocated to the factories
§ Mr. Stephen
But may I put this point to the right hon. Gentleman? How is it that Marks and Spencers and Woolworths are able to get timber for the flooring of their shops?
§ Mr. Westwood
All I can say is that I would like to have particulars of this sort of thing, and that is the purpose of a Debate of this kind. Members are drawn from all over the country; they use their own powers of observation, and it is only by such methods that they can convey information to Ministers which enables them to look into these matters and see whether they can stop leakages, if there are any.
I think the Committee would like to know the result of the review which I recently made of the contributions payable from the Exchequer and the rates for new houses provided by local authorities under the Housing Acts. The existing rates are payable for houses completed by the 30th of this month. Since those rates were fixed towards the end of 1945, there has undoubtedly been an increase in building prices. Against this, however, the rate of interest on housing loans was reduced on 1st June, 1946, from 3⅛ to 2½ per cent., and, according to calculations made by my Department, the annual charges remain practically unchanged. I am not going to say that these calculations made by my Department are not challenged by some of the local authorities, and I am waiting for the results of talks I have had with them.
I have decided that the existing rates of subsidy shall continue to be paid without increase or decrease for another year, that is, for houses completed by 30th June, 1948. I will shortly submit to the House the detailed report which I am required by statute to make on this subject, but I felt it right to take this opportunity of giving the Committee the earliest possible information about my intentions. I should add that the three associations of local authorities, whom I have consulted, pressed me to increase the subsidies but I was unable to agree. On the contrary, it is of the utmost importance that everything should be done to reduce costs without delay, and, as hon. Members are aware, I appointed earlier in the month a committee whose terms of reference are 2029to consider and keep under review the cost of house building in Scotland and to make recommendations.The Committee, under the chairmanship of Mr. G. P. Laidlaw, has already held its first meeting and its report should be available before the next review of contributions.
There is another question of interest to the Committee, and of particular interest to the hon. Member for West Aberdeen (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley) because he raised it, concerning the use of local material for the building of houses. I am very indebted to the Scottish Council of Industry for having come to my assistance in that connection. They have set up, on my advice, a small sub-committee that will examine the business side and the technical problems associated with it. Professor Hibberd is the expert on the use of materials and the business side of this matter, and he is one of a committee of two people, which means that we will get speedier recommendations. I am very anxious to use materials, and particularly stone, in our own districts, because if we do not do that, we shall lose the craftsmanship which Scotland possesses in building with stone.
§ Mr. MacLeod (Ross and Cromarty)
Do I understand that this committee is limited to looking into the development of stone quarries already in being?
§ Mr. Westwood
No, Sir. They are not limited to anything in their inquiries, but we have to get information from the quarries that are in being, so that we can use the local materials and extend the quarries to the extent necessary to give effect to the proposal for building with these materials.
§ Mr. Westwood
Certainly: that suggestion will be considered, and any suggestion which the hon. Member puts forward will be examined.
Housing today still remains our greatest social problem, a problem which we have to solve as speedily as possible and despite all the difficulties. Not only is it our greatest social problem, but it is also one of our great economic problems. If we can provide the houses, we can attract people into our mining areas and so develop the mines. If we can provide 2030 the houses, we can attract people into the rural areas to help us with agriculture. So that not only is it a great social and economic problem, but it is also a great human problem, and no one can either be complacent or satisfied, no one can cease to give of their best, until for every family in Scotland that desires a separate household or home one is available. That is the object we have in mind in our housing policy, and it will require the united effort of everyone, including the building industry, to give of their best to enable us to produce the houses that are so necessary if we are to solve Scotland's greatest social, economic and human problem.
§ 4.17 p.m.
§ Commander Galbraith (Glasgow, Pollok)
I was rather disappointed when the right hon. Gentleman rose to open the Debate, because I thought it would, perhaps, have been better if he had waited to see what the attack was going to be. I can assure him that I am speaking more in sorrow than in anger, because no doubt we shall get a very efficient reply to the Debate from the Joint Under-Secretary. The last occasion on which we debated this important problem—a problem which has a greater bearing on the happiness of a people than any other—was eight months ago, and, therefore, I think the Committee will agree that the time has come when it is right that we should again review the situation. The general impression which I took away with me after our last Debate, and particularly after the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman and the Joint Under-Secretary, was that, while progress had been slow up to that point, as a result of the shortage of materials and the shortage of labour and components, these difficulties had, to a very great extent, been overcome, and that we could look forward with some confidence to much faster progress in the immediate future. Indeed, the Joint Under-Secretary, in the closing sentence of his speech, expressed the hope that progress would be faster and speedier, and that was a hope which was shared by the entire nation.
Frankly, the country has been disappointed, and, when I use the word disappointed, I probably err gravely on the side of under-statement. Disappointment has been absolutely universal, and, in addition to that, I know from the 2031 correspondence which I have received that there is also despondency and even despair at the very slow progress that has been made. On this side of the Committee, at least, we are very distressed indeed and very disappointed, and I have no doubt that that feeling is shared by many hon. Members who sit on the Government Benches, and, perhaps, in large measure if not most of all, by the right hon. Gentleman himself and his Joint Under-Secretary. I do not see how it can be otherwise. I can very well remember the dissatisfaction that was expressed immediately following the issue of the White Paper in the days of the Coalition Government which outlined their programme for the two years after the end of the war in Europe.
May I remind the Committee that that programme was that there should be 220,000 permanent houses completed and 80,000 building at the end of the second year after the war—that is, by 7th May, 1947. In addition to that we were to have 145,000 temporary houses. These figures were considered much too low by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. Let me remind the Committee that the Minister without Portfolio called that programme "chicken food," and that the Minister of Health described it as being "not much of a blitzkrieg." However, those two right hon. Gentleman are what I would call rather volatile politicians, and I think the most damaging criticism of all came from one whom I would describe as a stolid and practical politician. I refer to the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Town and Country Planning. So that I can bring the Committee back to the state of feeling at that time, I wish to quote the words which the then Member for Peckham used on that occasion. He said:My next ground of criticism, one that has emerged very strongly during the Debate, is that the Government's plans for meeting the immediate and urgent demand are insufficient. We are told that there will be 220,000 houses completed in the first two years after the war, and also that the 145,000 temporary dwellings which have been allocated to local authorities will, in fact, be provided. That makes 365,000 houses which we are promised will be available…Against the 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. Unless my right hon. and learned Friend can do better than that there will be very considerable disappointment and dissatisfaction."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd March 1945; Vol. 409, c. 1246.]2032 It is for that reason, and because these sentiments were shared by a large number of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, that I say today there must be disappointment on the Government benches. They honestly believed at that time that much more could be accomplished.
What actually has been achieved? 78,029 permanent houses and 106,794 temporary houses have been built against the target figures of 220,000 and 145,000. These, of course, are United Kingdom figures, and what we are most interested in today are the figures relating to Scotland. The Joint Under-Secretary may remember that it was as a result of a Question which he put to the then Secretary of State, Mr. Thomas Johnston, on 22nd March, 1945, that we were given the Scottish housing programme. I am going to quote again from the OFFICIAL REPORT, because I think it is necessary that we should have these matters very clearly in mind. Mr. Johnston said:Our target figure…for two years in Scotland is for 50,000 permanent houses and 40,000 temporary houses, a total of 90,000 houses in the two years from now."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd March, 1945; Vol. 409, c. 1095.]Unfortunately, when we are referring to Scottish housing programmes officially, it has become customary to talk not of completed houses, but of houses built or building, a phrase which conveys nothing at all. It may have been that Mr. Johnston's programme was to be 50,000 complete permanent houses by the end of the second year after the war, but I propose to deal with it in the same manner and in the same proportions as applied to the United Kingdom programme. If I apply that proportion to the 50,000, I find that the target for Scotland would have been 35,000 permanent houses completed and 15,000 building on 7th May, 1947.
What have we accomplished? Since 1st January, 1945, until the last day of April this year there have been built 7,521 permanent houses. After 21 months in office the Government have produced 6,857 permanent houses, but we have to take into account the fact that 1,525 of these are of non-traditional type, so that of the traditional type of houses there have been completed only 5,332 in the period of 21 months. That, hon. Members will realise, is a lesser number than, on occasions in the past, have actually been completed by the City of Glasgow alone in 2033 the course of one year. It is one-fifth of the number of permanent houses that were built in Scotland in 1938. In the disappointed hopes which they represent, in the distress which they occasion, in the despair which they engender and in the failure which they reveal, these figures are really tragic.
Although I have not the advantage of having the latest figures which the right hon. Gentleman has produced, which places me rather at a disadvantage, I want to consider now the progress that has been made between the date of our last Debate in October last year, and the end of April, the figures for which period are the last which have been officially issued. In that period the Government built 3,230 permanent houses at an average rate of 461 houses a month. That is, admittedly, an improvement on the average rate of 259 for the preceding 14 months. From the figures which the right hon. Gentleman has given to us, it appears that the rate in the first five months of this year has now risen to 700 houses a month; that would be 8,400 houses a year. It is not very much. I hope that we shall improve very greatly on these figures. I would like to ask—and the right hon. Gentleman in his speech today has given us very little information—what is the Government's expectation for completion during 1947.
We know it was to be 24,000. That was in the original programme. Now we are running at the rate of 8,400, but what is the figure which the Government expect to achieve? They must know something about it; they must have some figure. After all, the Joint Under-Secretary thought it right to request a figure from the former Secretary of State, Mr. Torn Johnston, and, therefore, I think he might give us a figure relating to his expectations for this year.
The Secretary of State has explained that the programme has had to be departed from. He lays the blame principally, I understand, on the phenomenal winter weather. Really, that has been very much exaggerated. I am given to understand from reliable sources that in a normal winter, between October and March, the loss of building time is about 11 per cent., and that if I wanted to be very sure indeed that I was not exaggerating, I might put the loss of time at 25 per cent. for the recent winter. It seems to me that even that figure is too 2034 small to make it incumbent on the Government to admit defeat at this stage, which is what they have done by departing from the programme as early as this. But that is not the real reason why the programme has been departed from. The real reason lies far deeper than that, and it is to be found in the Government's failure to plan in the building field or any other. I am quite certain that the fuel crisis, which we had in the early months of this year will ultimately have a far greater effect on our building programme than the effect of the weather during the month of March.
But I want to know why progress has been so slow. After all, the Secretary of State in October informed us that we have more men employed in the building of houses than ever before, and that at that time 30,000 men were employed. According to the latest return, we are informed that the numbers are 34,300, of which 30,200 are actually employed on the building of permanent houses. In prewar times it was common to say that for every one man employed in the building industry one house should be provided each year. But if that were so today, then in the seven months' period—and always keeping in mind that we had over 22,000 houses in course of construction in October, and even making allowance for the weather—we should have completed some 15,000 houses between October and the end of April of this year, instead of a mere 3,230. I do want the Committee to think for a moment of these figures, because they are really appalling. Thirty thousand men employed for a period of seven months; 22,000 houses under construction at the beginning of that period; and at the end of it 3,200 houses for the people of Scotland, hungry for houses.
§ Commander Galbraith
We really must have some explanation of these most deplorable figures. But even if I were to allow an additional 25 per cent. we still should have had, at least, 11,000 houses completed in that period. Are we to understand that the output of building labour has been reduced to one third of what it was in prewar days? We cannot accept that, unless there is very strong evidence to support it.
2035 The Secretary of State has said that there are some explanations which can be offered, and he has again trotted out the good old explanation, of which we are getting very tired indeed, that there is a shortage of materials and components. But this Government have been in control of the materials situation ever since they came into office. Are we to understand that, in a period of 21 months, they are quite unable to plan the importation or production of the materials which are required for the very urgent housing programme? The Government realised perfectly well when they came into office the magnitude of this problem. They admitted that of all the evils of the war the greatest was the inadequate housing that had resulted; and that it should be the first to be remedied. I think—I presume, at least—that it was for that reason they made all the promises they did make. According to them, housing was to be planned and tackled with all the energy and all the skill that goes to the conduct of a military operation. I remember very well the Minister of Health saying the job would be tackled in the same way as the nation went about the task of making Spitfires. The Foreign Secretary said he would tackle it as he tackled the supply of aeroplanes and shells for war. The Lord President of the Council referred to our getting houses as we got guns, by planning and control. Unfortunately, houses are not coming out at the same rate as guns, shells, and aeroplanes did during the war. But the controls are still there, and are stronger than ever. The trouble is that the planning is not in evidence at all, and so today, as I anticipated, we have had again excuses from the Secretary of State that we are short of materials and components—and short of timber.
Recently I had to travel by road from Glasgow to Aberdeen and back, and on that journey, in every little town and village through which we passed, I saw numbers of houses standing at wall head level, and not a man on the sites. I suppose that was because we were short of timber. And here I come to a point that was made by the Secretary of State in his speech. Surely, the Government should have known the amount of timber that they required to complete their programme? If they had not got that timber, then they should have planned only the number of houses for which the timber 2036 was available. Obviously they did not do anything of the kind. They never thought ahead at all, and now we have houses lying open to the weather and rapidly deteriorating, and some, at least, of them are bound to become a total loss. These houses are a monument to the planning efficiency of this Government. Last October the Secretary of State told us that on 20th September there were 7,200 houses at wall head level and that these were to be given super priority in an effort to complete them by the end of 1946. Well, I do not know what priorities they had, but, in spite of them, the right hon. Gentleman succeeded only in completing 1,612; and now we come to the end of April, four months after the target date, and not half of those houses were then completed. I do not know whether the failure is due to lack of timber or to some other cause, but I do think that this Committee deserves to have a full explanation of that failure.
On 24th March we had published by the Board of Trade what I can only call an apology for the timber shortage. I do not know who wrote that document, but certainly he thought very hard to discover every possible excuse for that shortage. I can see him sitting at his desk, sucking on his pen to think of some proper cause for the shortage. He left nothing out of account at all—the fall in production abroad due to the devastation of the war, the confusion created by the war in the transport system, the need for the renewal of roads, railways, power stations, road and rail vehicles in the timber producing countries. After all, not all the timber producing countries were devastated by the war. Canada was not devastated, Newfoundland was not devastated, the United States were not devastated, nor Finland nor Sweden. Those countries are out of that category. But anyone who cares to peruse that document will find one thing standing out clearly, and that is that the need was not foreseen, that steps were taken too late to prevent the shortage that, in any case, was bound to come from developing into the crisis which we now face. The timber famine, indeed, is merely an example of the Government's lack of forward planning, and of their waiting until the crisis arose before they took any action whatsoever.
It is perfectly obvious, if hon. Gentlemen will look at the replies which have 2037 been given by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade in recent weeks, that the larger imports which are now anticipated from Canada, from Sweden, from the United States of America, from Finland, and the prospect of suplies from the U.S.S.R., are all the outcome of recent negotiations at high level, negotiations which ought to have been taken a year or 18 months ago.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman say how that timber could be brought to this country, having regard to the shipping shortage?
§ Commander Galbraith
The hon. and learned Gentleman is completely out of date. The facts of the shipping shortage are these: that today, at this moment, there are f o million more tons of shipping on the seas of the world than there were in 1939; and that the ships are there, but are not being properly employed because ship-owners are hampered by Government orders—by the Ministry of Transport.
§ Mrs. Jean Mann (Coatbridge)
Does not the hon. and gallant Gentleman know that Finland cannot send us timber because she is bound to send it to Russia by way of reparations? Does he not know the reason in regard to all the countries he mentioned? Or is he speaking with his tongue in his check?
§ Commander Galbraith
The hon. Lady does not need to tell me that I have my tongue in my cheek. She refers to the fact that we cannot get timber from Finland. But the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade has said categorically that we shall get timber from that country.
§ Commander Galbraith
The whole basis of my argument is this: that if these negotiations had been entered into earlier, that timber would have been here now.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes
The hon. and gallant Gentleman has not answered my point about the sufficiency of tonnage to bring timber to this country.
§ Commander Galbraith
If there was sufficiency of tonnage to give us timber in 1939, there are 10 million more tons now. I cannot answer the hon. Member in any other way. It seems to me to be obvious that there is plenty of shipping in the world to bring us all the timber and other stores and supplies which we require.
There is another aspect of planning to which the right hon. Gentleman alluded in his remarks. It seems that the Government discovered in January that the whole of this housing programme was unbalanced, and that the number of houses approved or commenced was out of proportion to the number being completed, and they considered that that situation must be rectified. In other words, that the number of houses commenced must be drastically reduced. The Government, of course, have been pressing local authorities for a long time now to get ahead with the initial stages of building. The consequence has been that the trades concerned have been doing their utmost to increase their output in order to meet the demand. They have been taking on additional labour, installing new machinery, and taking every possible step.
§ Commander Galbraith
All the trades concerned in the initial stages have been taking on labour and putting in new machinery; for instance, brick manufacturers, and many others who provide materials required in the initial stages. Now, what is happening is that they are being called upon to reverse the process—
§ Commander Galbraith
Well, as I see it, if the number of houses to be commenced is to be reduced, obviously the materials and labour required in the initial stages must be reduced. If that is so, then the only result will be that the men will be paid off, and the machinery will not be employed. That is exactly what the building industry has been frightened of. In my submission, the Government have again failed in planning. They know 2039 perfectly well that the building industry cannot carry on efficiently, economically or smoothly unless there is a steady demand, or a steady rise in demand. The Government, knowing that booms and slumps are to be avoided, that they create unemployment, are just setting about creating those very booms and slumps—pushing on production one day and damping it down the next.
At the end of April there were 33,000 houses under construction. I do not know how many of them will be completed in 1947; seemingly it will be, unfortunately, less than 24,000. Some of these houses have been under construction for more than a year; a very large proportion—I calculate about one-third—have been under construction for more than nine months; and many of the remainder have been under construction for over six months. Therefore, the majority of them have already suffered, in an incomplete state, the deterioration of the winter weather. How many of them will be incomplete through two winters? Those that are may well be written off as a total loss, and that is a very serious thing, both from the point of view of the taxpayer and from the point of view of the private individual who is building a house for himself. I want to make a suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman. If it is obvious that many of these houses cannot be completed this year, I suggest to him that priority should be given strictly in relation to the date on which the house was begun. That is not happening now. I know of at least one case where a house being built by a private individual for one of his employees, is at wall head level. Information has been received that scarce materials—timber in this case—will not be supplied until the local authority programme has been completed.
§ Commander Galbraith
I will give the hon. Gentleman full details of it afterwards. These houses are needed, particularly in the country areas. They have been licensed, and they should be completed whether or not they are part of the local authority programme. If they are to wait on the local authority programme it is perfectly obvious that they will fall into ruin. That would be unfair, and also wasteful. I hope, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman will see that materials in 2040 short supply are issued in accordance with the date on which the licences were granted.
The Secretary of State said—and I have already referred to it—that the programme was getting out of balance. I should like to know what is being done to correct it. I want to quote the words that appear in the foreword of the March return:The number of houses completed month by month must first be brought up to and then beyond the number of new approvals given and new houses started.I looked into the figures, and this is what I find is happening. The right hon. Gentleman told us that this discovery was made in January of this year, that the programme was out of balance. In January there were approved and started 5,686 houses, and 645 were completed; in February the respective figures were 5,387 and 555. When I came to March I said to myself: "Oh, yes, here is the Secretary of State putting this measure into operation." But in that month, 728 houses were commenced or approved and 345 were completed. Then I come to April, when 2,671 houses were commenced or approved as against 747 completed. If we are to continue at this rate the programme will get further out of balance every month.
I have dealt fully with the situation in regard to permanent houses because I regard it as the most important part of our housing programme. I should like to say a word or two on the temporary programme. Mr. Johnston said that his estimate was 40,000 houses to be completed within two years. There have now been completed 15,208, and 2,961 are under construction: a total of 18,169 houses—again well behind the Coalition programme. The Secretary of State may remember that in October he said he anticipated that half the programme, which has now been reduced to 32,000, would be completed by the end of the year.
§ Commander Galbraith
I am not concerned about that. I was referring to the statement made by the Secretary of State in October of last year. He said he anticipated that 16,000 of these would be completed by the end of December. Looking at the return for April, we see that those 16,000 have not been completed yet, so that 2041 we have the right hon. Gentleman making an estimate for two and a half months ahead and being four and a half months out in his calculations. It is really most extraordinary, that in such a short forecast he should be so much out. We are told in the housing returns that the non-traditional type of house is designed to secure that the, minimum time is spent on erection on the site.
I drew the attention of the Committee in October last year to the fact that 2,500 Swedish timber houses had been in the country since February, 1946, and that in the eight months which had elapsed since then only rob had been completed. Here we have a type of house capable of speedy erection; 2,500 of them waiting, and in 14 months up to the end of April we have completed 1,116. In October the explanation was that, while the Government had done everything in their power, some parts were missing, and that the responsibility for supplying these lay with the private merchant to the local authority—so we were told by the Joint Under-Secretary. Is that still the cause? If so, what steps have been taken to remedy it? Or, in the interval has some other cause for delay developed? It really does seem to be altogether ridiculous that these houses should have been held up for 14 months, a longer period than, in the normal course of events, it takes to complete a traditional house. All I have to say about the remainder of the non-traditional housing programme is, that it is proceeding at a very leisurely pace indeed, and I hope we shall receive some encouraging information—even more encouraging than we have had already—before the joint Under-Secretary con? cludes his speech tonight.
§ Mr. McAllister (Rutherglen)
Would not the hon. and gallant Member care to elaborate a little on the policy of the B.I.S.F. and their performance?
§ Commander Galbraith
No. I regard it as the duty of the Government to see that the contractor they employ is capable of fulfilling his contract. Any business man would do that, and to put the blame on to some firm is perfect nonsense, and would not be accepted in any business quarter. That certainly cannot be an answer put forward by any Government.
§ Commander Galbraith
Perhaps the hon. Lady will allow me to get ahead. After all, there are many hon. Members who want to speak in this Debate, and I do not want to delay them.
The right hon. Gentleman said, in regard to rural housing, that there would be 600 new houses provided this year, and he hoped that 1,200 would be provided next year. If that is so, it will not even touch the fringe of the problem. That the discontinuance of the Housing (Rural Workers) Act was an error of judgment, and inflicted the very gravest hardship and injustice on the rural community, was apparent to everyone who knew anything about conditions in the countryside. I hope that it has now become apparent to all hon. Members who have had an opportunity of studying the Hobhouse Report or Scottish Advisory Committee's Report on this matter. They are both unanimous on the point that reconditioning is essential, if the rural community is not to wait for many years to enjoy the amenities of modern housing. They are also unanimous on two other very relevant points, that many houses in the countryside could and ought to be modernised, and that this operation could be carried out at half the expenditure of labour and material necessary to produce the same quality of new houses. It really comes to this, that not only is it socially desirable that there should be reconstruction, but that it is also economically desirable.
When the grants were discontinued, the Minister of Health announced that he was not against the Housing (Rural Workers) Act, but that he wished to wait until he could see, after the upheaval of the war, how the building workers would disburse themselves throughout the country, when he hoped to produce a better Act. That was 20 months ago. Surely, by now the workers have settled themselves throughout the country? In spite of that fact, and the fact that we have had two unanimous reports recommending reconditioning and reconstruction, we are still awaiting an announcement as to the Government's intention. The right hon. Gentleman told us in April that there was no time for legislation this Session. I suppose that it comes to this: so long as the railways, road transport, docks and harbours and electricity are nationalised, the urgent needs of the rural community do not matter a cuss.
§ Commander Galbraith
I have been speaking rather longer than I anticipated, which is in part due to the interruptions I have had to put up with, and I will, therefore, come to a close. I have endeavoured to make a detailed and rather critical analysis of the situation as I see it today, but I express the hope that I have not been in any way unjust. After all, this Government have accepted full responsibility for the housing of this nation. They control at every stage, from obtaining the raw materials, manufacturing the components, to the completion of the building. They have failed to live up to the promises they have made, and they have failed in any way to approach the target laid down by the Coalition Government, which many of its Members denounced as being too low. For these failures the Government alone are to blame, and it is no good trying to shuffle off the responsibility and place the blame on the shoulders of anyone else, whether it is the local authorities, the manufacturers, or the merchants.
Housing in Scotland is the responsibility of the right hon. Gentleman, and he must bear the failures. I know perfectly well that he and his Joint Under-Secretary have worked hard and have done their utmost, but the fact remains that in spite of their efforts, they have failed to provide the number of houses which in the time at their disposal should have been forthcoming. I have no doubt whatsoever that that failure is not so much the failure of individuals but of a system, which is now proved to be quite incapable of efficient operation. In concluding my remarks on the last occasion when we debated this subject, I expressed the hope that in the next 12 months the Government might redeem their failures of the past. In view of what has transpired since, that hope is dead so far as I am concerned. It seems that the people of Scotland are now called upon to extend their patience far into the future before they can hope to receive, in any real measure, the amenities of housing, to which they are entitled in the light of modern conditions and which this present administration has proved altogether incapable of providing within a reasonable period of time.
§ 4.54 P.m.
§ Mr. Mathers (Linlithgow)
It seems a long time since I raised my voice in this Committee, and, therefore, I am glad to have the opportunity to take part briefly in this Debate. I am sure that all of us will agree that the Secretary of State for Scotland has given a very frank and illuminating statement about the housing position in Scotland. I do not think that he sought to burke anything in the way of criticism; indeed, he met many criticisms before they could be voiced by Members opposite. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) has delivered a speech, of some length and with some force and fire, against the Government for what he described as their failure in respect of the Scottish housing programme. He blames that alleged failure upon the lack of planning. Those of us who have heard many of these Debates, before the war and during the war, are able to say that if there has been a failure in respect of Scottish housing, and if the present Secretary of State for Scotland has failed in that regard, then he has many companions among those who have held his office in the past.
We can also say that the difficulties and the needs of the present day have arisen not merely as a result of what has happened during and since the war, but are due to a long programme of arrears in respect of housing in Scotland. One might say that what we are seeking to tackle today is a problem which has suffered from many years of neglect by Governments of other complexions than the Government now in charge of our affairs. Notwithstanding the fact that we had all hoped to see greater progress than was indicated by the right hon. Gentleman, we all must agree that the figures represent a substantial advance and that it can at least be said that after the greatest war ever known, lasting for six and a quarter years, we have made greater progress than was made in a similar period of time after the 1914–18 war, which was not so devastating in effect, although, in all conscience, its consequences were serious enough.
I do not feel like indulging in criticisms today, or in seeking to attack hon. Members opposite for their neglect in the past. I want to make my contribution to this Debate by putting a number of inquiries, the answers to which would be helpful to 2045 our people, and would let them understand exactly what is the position. Some reference has been made to the supplies of the various materials which go to make up a house. I know that I may be dealing with matters which are not wholly the concern of the Secretary of State for Scotland, and that they may relate to other Ministers, but he is responsible for housing in Scotland, and therefore will accept some responsibility in the matter. We have had an indication that the supply of bricks is being speeded up very rapidly indeed. My only inquiry is whether proper attention is being paid to the resources in each locality, so that the bricks are used on the nearest housing site, instead of being conveyed to other parts of the country. There have been indications that bricks have been sent very long distances for houses being built in some other parts of the country. In this connection, I ask whether attention could be paid to my own constituency, and whether the resources in the waste shale bings are being utilised to the best advantage?
Timber seems to be a bottleneck in regard to much of our housing progress. I have heard no mention made about timber from the Baltic and the White Sea. Perhaps some indication could be given whether these supplies are to be available this summer, as they were in years gone by when timber used to come to this country during the late summer in very large quantities. If we could have these supplies running again, it would be very helpful indeed to our housing programme. Allegations have been made, about which I have no figures in proof, that Scotland has not been given a fair deal with regard to supplies of cement. I know that very recently urgent efforts were made—I think it was only last weekend—to obtain supplies from South of the Border. I hope that efforts of that kind will continue to be made, and that this will not be looked upon merely as an emergency effort. I hope that it will be put on a proper basis, so that we shall have a guarantee of a proper share of all the supplies which are available.
It has always puzzled me why electrical fittings are in such short supply. One would think that an industry so active during the war would by this time have been fully equipped and turned over to 2046 peacetime production. I ask bluntly the question: what is the cause of the delay in respect of making electrical fittings available? It is regrettable that in a number of instances houses have been completed except for electrical fittings. The fact that these fittings have not been supplied, and, therefore, the houses cannot be regarded as completed, may have kept them out of one column in the housing returns and left them in another less creditable. Some time ago there was a grave shortage in respect of roofing materials. I have not heard so much about this recently, but the fact that many houses are left without roofs seems to indicate that these materials are still in short supply. Are slates still as difficult to obtain, and are they still as expensive to quarry? We have slate available in Scotland. I know there are difficulties in respect of quarrying, and that it is very expensive, but there is no sounder and more durable roof covering obtainable. There is another item that on occasions has been indicated as a source of difficulty. How do we stand with regard to the supplies of earthenware sinks and tubs? I am certain that Scotland can and does make very large quantities of these, and I know of firms who could have Len manufacturing far more profitable lines, who have turned over their production to supplying this need for houses. Are we fully equipped in that regard, and is there now no difficulty?
To venture into the difficult and even dangerous realm of manpower, I find among people who are desirous of having houses in which to live a growing concern about the slow progress made in the building of houses. Many are inclined to blame those who have the direct responsibility of erecting these houses. Every day, going to and from their work, they pass housing sites where building is going on, and they see the slow progress made. I know how very serious is the housing position in my constituency, where there are many houses unfit for human habitation, and where there is much overcrowding and many other difficulties that can be surmounted only by the provision of new houses. Seeing this slow progress these people are inclined to blame those who are responsible for the actual erection of the houses.
With regard to the amount of work put in on the erection of houses, we know that a ludicrous small number of bricks 2047 was talked of during the war—the low figure of, I think, 350 per day—and that was excused on the grounds that the industry was then manned by men who were past their prime and who had not been taken into the Forces. I understand that something like 800 bricks a day is a normal and reasonable output to expect from men fully equipped and fully skilled in their job. Is there any agreement with the trade unions, and is there any effort on the part of the trade unions to limit the number of bricks and to prevent their people laying a fair number of bricks—800 or some figure of that kind—which is considered by many competent to judge to be a fair number to lay per day? If there is anything of that kind, an appeal could well be made to those who are responsible for any restrictions. I have not been able to find that there are any restrictions, but if there are I am quite sure that an appeal would be listened to, because those who are doing the work are citizens before they are trade unionists and they are, I am certain, as anxious as anyone can be, given proper conditions, to see that they make their fair contribution towards meeting the housing needs of our people.
What about the position with regard to bringing more manpower into the industry? Is there proper acceptance of the men who, for example, have been trained in the Army and passed as competent by men capable of accurately judging their skill? Is there anything standing in the way of their acceptance? If so, I am certain that the Secretary of State would find that he would get the proper response if he went about it in the right way and appealed to those in the industry to realise that they are not simply laying so many bricks a day, but are providing houses, and in doing so are providing for the health and happiness of thousands of their fellow citizens. I believe that an appeal like that could not fail to have a good effect. We can give the building trade a guarantee that in the years ahead they need have no fears about work not being available.
At the present day there is an enormous amount of work waiting to be done in providing the new houses which are needed. That need in time will be met, but there will be a tremendous amount to do then in improving the standard of 2048 houses. Even when we have provided every family in the land with a house of sorts, we shall still have a great housing programme to tackle in dealing with the sub-standard houses which exist today and in raising the standard of housing in Scotland to a greater height than it has ever reached before. It has been a re-poach to us all our lives, and even to those who have gone before us, and we have an opportunity now of giving a lead in tackling the problem in a way that will finally result in Scottish housing being raised to a higher standard. I do not believe that we can do it by means of political controversy, but I believe that we can do it by realising the need that exists, and by realising that in meeting that need we shall be doing one of the greatest things that can be done for Scotland, putting Scotland in her proper place in the world in the matter of housing.
§ 5.15 p.m.
Lady Grant (Aberdeen, South)
I welcome this opportunity to take part in this Debate on a subject which, perhaps more than any other, vitally affects the lives and interests of the people of Scotland today. I am glad also to have the opportunity of following directly the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Mathers); I understand this is the first occasion on which he has addressed the House since he became a a Member of His Majesty's Privy Council.
I think it is true to say, from all the personal contacts one has with one's constituents—although I have been in the House for a period of only seven months—that the predominant trouble in all men's minds is the want of a home. In Aberdeen, my own city, we have already 16,000 applicants for houses, and at the rate of building before the war we should by 1948 have been well on towards fulfilling our programme, but now throughout Scotland we find a general slowing down of the whole building industry which it is indeed terrible to see. We have, as has been mentioned before, an estimated requirement of houses in Scotland of 500,000, and yet only 7,500 permanent houses have been built. Despite an extension of six months to the middle of the summer, we have only just completed, by June, some 50 per 2049 cent. or 60 per cent. of our temporary housing programme of 32,000. This is at a time when the present Government inherited from the Coalition Government far more preparations than had been made at the time of the last war. Now, in fact, there were 4,000 houses already under construction and when, two and a half years after the war, there was a larger building force than there has ever been before.
Would it not be wise if the Secretary of State would openly admit the appalling failure of the housing programme rather than try to cloak the trend of the times by hopes and figures that have no relation to the facts? It is true, as has been mentioned in this Debate, that one of the greatest problems in housing at present is the shortage of materials, but although we cannot lay the blame for all this at the door of the Government, because much of it must be due to circumstances not under their control, nevertheless they can be thoroughly blamed on two points; first, for not making proper use of the materials that were available, and second, for the unfortunate dependence of the Secretary of State on his colleagues in other Departments who, owing to their own bad administration, have had an effect on the building programme which is most disastrous. I refer primarly, of course, to the activities of the Minister of Fuel and Power.
Regarding the great question of the shortage of bricks, surely one could sum up by looking right back and considering that, in the beginning, the Government made a glorious muddle by releasing bricklayers from the Forces before releasing those men who were needed in the process of producing the bricks. Then, again, increasing dislocation has been caused by the shortage of various components which range—to mention a few examples—from electrical equipment to drain pipes, putty, paint and metal window frames. We find that there was exported abroad over £6½ million worth of heavy insulated electric cable, which is absolutely vital, and is one of the foundations of our housing programme. Over £1½ million worth of metal window frames were exported. Both these are components of which we are short at the present time, and I understand that at present various essential components are still being exported. I ask the Secretary of State whether he could not make 2050 determined representations to his colleagues in the Cabinet that the essential requirements of the building industry should not be sent away as part of the export drive until our own needs are more nearly being met. Then, there was a great shortage of paint. Linseed oil, which is a component of paint, came under fire and controversy through the indecision of the Government in purchasing that commodity from South America. The contract was, in fact, lost to Russia. All these happenings had a very severe effect on the housing drive.
Hon. Members have mentioned the great shortage of cement. The right hon. Gentleman said that an increased allocation of cement had been made throughout Scotland. I am given to understand that the cement shortage is largely due to the insufficient allocation of coal received by manufacturers, and that although there has been an increase in fuel, present production is equivalent to only 85 per cent. of last year's production. That is not sufficient to meet the increased demands of the building industry. I am told that the building industry will be unable to maintain more than from 70 to 80 per cent. of last year's output. The shortage of timber has been mentioned by every hon. Member who has spoken today, and though we do not want to blame the Minister for being unable to produce timber—it is probably due to our lack of coal exports—the country has been misled by being given a housing target which it has been impossible to fulfil because of lack of timber. I am given to understand, on reliable authority, that the allocation of timber to the Scottish building industry during the coming year will be sufficient for the erection of only 11,000 houses, as compared with the hoped-for target of 24,000 houses.
Taking the shortages of materials together, we feel that there has been a great lack of co-ordination among Government Departments, and lack of foresight, skill, and management of these resources. Knowing the position, the Minister should have done his very best to try to relate the number of houses contracted for to the amount of material available. We now find the extraordinary position of a great number of houses being out to contract with no possibility of their being finished because of lack of various components. We were told that by 30th April this year local authorities and the 2051 Scottish Special Housing Association had about 41,000 houses under construction. I cannot resist remarking that there is something vague in the term "under construction."
§ Mr. Buchanan
If the hon. Lady will read our monthly report, she will find that she is 10,000 out in her figure.
§ Mr. Buchanan
If I may interrupt the hon. Lady again, I would remind her that we issued a figure. There is no need for her to understand anything. We issued a figure.
Perhaps I misinterpreted the figure, but I was about to say that "under construction" is an official term which is applied the moment the first sod of earth is turned. It is a very misleading term. We find, for instance, that in April of last year 10,000 houses were under construction, and that when 5,000 were finished the other 5,000 were left to stand through the whole winter. It seems that in future we are to expect that a great number of houses in Scotland will have to stand through two years of our humid, chilly, and fabric-destroying climate.
The trouble lies largely in the method of organisation of our housing problem, apart from the shortage of materials. If there is a limited number of materials of one kind or another, there should be a smaller number of houses under construction. To go about organisation as it is being carried out now will greatly increase the cost of building. Moving men from job to job—at one moment mostly requiring men to start erection, and the next moment requiring finishers—will add to the cost to be met by the taxpayers. Before the war, I am informed, it took seven months to erect a house. Now it takes from 15 to 18 months to do the same job. Sincere though the Secretary of State is in his desire to produce houses, the result of his policy is having the effect that a great number of houses are in various stages of completion, and only a few are ready for occupation. The great campaign to 2052 "Finish the houses," which began at the end of last summer, has been a failure, taken all round. I will give one example. The City of Aberdeen, is as good an example as any city in Scotland, although perhaps more industrious. Of 242 houses which had high priority building up to the eaves, precisely two were completed at the end of last year.
I want to ask the Secretary of State a question about zonal conferences. I understand they are organised for the purpose of examining questions of labour and materials, and I am informed that the people represented at them are from the local authorities and Ministries concerned, but not the contractors. Although it is no doubt true that the conractors would, on request, supply specific information about bottlenecks or prospective shortages, I suggest that the conferences would be far more useful if the contractors were allowed to take part.
I would like to make one more plea for the private builder. I feel he has a great part to play in Scotland's housing programme. There are many hon. Members opposite who say that the private builder, building for sale, is only making provision for a certain type of person who is perhaps wealthier than others. I know from personal experience that many people, especially those returning from the Forces, consider it a sound investment to put their money into house ownership rather than to put it into Government savings. The right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues should consider housing as being far above party politics. [Laughter.] Members opposite may laugh, but they ought to realise that the provision of good housing is the greatest contribution that can be made towards our economic recovery. Members on all sides appreciate the fact that good housing is an essential background to our social services education, and will to work. I say to the Secretary of State that if he continues to tackle Scotland's housing problem with his present lack of imagination, bad administration, and political prejudice against the private builder, he will destroy the very basis of our civilised existence. What is even more dangerous, he will warp the character of our people, because we all know perfectly well that a proper family life is the only thing which can give that sane, balanced outlook which this country must have if it is to face the unknown in the years ahead.
§ 5.31 p.m.
§ Mrs. Jean Mann (Coatbridge)
I listened with very great interest to that very charming speech by the hon. Lady the Member for South Aberdeen (Lady Grant), a seat that once was a veritable Tory stronghold, like East Renfrew and others. We must congratulate her on managing to hold it for her party.
§ Mrs. Mann
The slump took place during the war, and even those very safe seats became a matter for speculation even for so charming a lady as the hon. Lady to whom we have just listened. I feel that she comes amongst her colleagues as a babe in the woods, and that the sins of the fathers have been visited upon the children. She knows not the history of her party in housing.
§ Mrs. Mann
Her party's history caused the votes to slump in every constituency in the country. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) cannot refrain from interrupting. For our history, I refer him to the figures issued by the Department of Health, where he will see that the only two successful Acts on the Statute Book, and the two Acts that gave the greatest number of houses to Scotland, were the Labour Government's Acts, that of 1924 which produced 89,000 houses—
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
Does the hon. Lady deny that the housing of Glasgow slumped after her party came in, and that she herself as housing director was one of the worst.
§ Mrs. Mann
It is rather surprising to find the right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities allowing himself to become frayed and irritated and to wander from the point. If he had allowed me to develop my case, I would have shown to whom we have to attribute the failures in housing. Before I was interrupted, I was making a point which I know is not liked by hon. Members opposite. May I repeat it? Under the Labour Government's 1924 Act, 89,000 2054 houses were built in Scotland, and that Act was remorselessly withdrawn by hon. Members opposite when they came into power. They substituted the 1933 Act, under which 2,000 houses were built in Scotland, and then the right hon. and gallant Gentleman taunts me with the failure of housing in Glasgow when we were deprived, by the Tory party when they were in power, of an Act under which the Corporation could build.
§ Mrs. Mann
I gathered, in the humble and dignified circumstances in which I was brought up, that it was very rude for a gentleman constantly to interrupt. The Tory party have produced ten or eleven Acts, none of which was successful. I am quite prepared to prove it. The fact that they had to produce an eighth and ninth Act is, of course, in itself proof that the fifth, sixth and seventh were absolute failures. The first attempt that was made was in 1921, but those were the days of the Coalition Government. Then there was the 1923 Act. I do not give them the credit for the Labour Government's Act of 1924. They had another one in 1925, another in 1926, after which we come to the 1930 Act, which was the most successful Act, next to the Wheatley Act, on the Statute Book. In fact, they have produced so many Acts that I think they are in the position of being able to sit there, and, looking at us, to say, as the woman said to the young mother, "I know all about bringing up children; sure, I have buried ten of them."
While it is undoubtedly true that the situation in Scotland is tragic in the extreme, we have witnessed repeated attempts to solve the problem by hon. Members opposite, including the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill), who came to Glasgow and blamed the war for it all. We know, however, that one of the principal reasons was their withdrawal of the Wheatley Act, followed in 1933 by another big flop; and then they introduced another in 1935, which precluded every local authority in Scotland from building houses for newly-married couples, preferring only to concentrate on overcrowding. The Tory Party said, in effect, "We must not cater 2055 for newly-married couples; we must concentrate on the larger type of house for overcrowding." So the Act under which local authorities could build for newly-married couples was withdrawn, and from 1933 until 1939, the six years before the war, local authorities in Scotland appealed time and again to the Tory Party to allow them to build for newly-married couples, but they appealed in vain. If those newly-married couples are now old married couples with families who are now grown up, and if they have been waiting ten or twelve years, it is not due to this Government. This Government will not keep them waiting ten or twelve years—
§ Mrs. Mann
—but far less. Through lack of foresight from Governments of other days, the people of Scotland had to thole in the inter-war years. I notice that the phrase "under construction" has been used quite a lot today. Hon. Members on this side will smile when they recollect that "houses under construction" was a term which had a very loose meaning indeed before the war. Members opposite today are meticulous in asking us to fix a time like six months or nine months, but we who have had any experience in administration in cities like Glasgow realise that the Members opposite who are making such a demand, and who include the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith), know that "under construction" was so loosely interpreted during the reign of the Tories in Glasgow that when they acquired land it was relegated to the department of housing and construction and was shown in the balance sheet year after year as "houses under construction," although tenders had not even been accepted. They produced to the Glasgow ratepayers every November, just before the election, a large number of "houses under construction"—houses which they had no intention of even starting within the next four or five years.
I noticed the concern of the hon. Lady the Member for South Aberdeen for the private builders, but I can assure her that in this Debate, at any rate, we shall not be told of the success of private enterprise, about which we so often hear from the lips of the right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities. He can point out how successful private enter- 2056 prise has been, in a Debate at which English members are present, and can say that they have built three houses in England to every one that the local authorities have built—always withholding, of course, the essential fact that most of them were built for sale and not for letting. He cannot, however, say that in this Debate, because the private builder, may I inform the noble Lady, has been one colossal flop in Scotland.
I am not quite sure of the accuracy of that statement, because I think that when talking about the private builder we have to take into account such peculiarities as our own Scottish rating system.
§ Mrs. Mann
I quite understand, but if the hon. Lady had read a little more she would understand that the figures are scientifically prepared and verified. She has probably not heard of the Sorn Committee, but I will tell her about it in a moment. So great was the failure of private enterprise in Scotland that the Secretary of State had actually to set up a Commission to inquire how Scotland could attract private enterprise into building, houses.
§ Colonel J. R. H. Hutchison (Glasgow, Central) rose—
§ The Temporary Chairman (Sir Robert Young)
I have a long list of hon. Members who wish to speak, and these constant interruptions take up a good deal of time.
§ Major Guy Lloyd (Renfrew, Eastern)
On a point of Order, Sir Robert; for my information and that of many bon. Members, would you kindly say whether Estimates of long years past have anything to do with the subject under discussion?
§ Major Lloyd
Further to that point of Order, I thought we were discussing particular Estimates on a particular Vote. 2057 Is the mere magic word "housing" the only thing we are discussing, and are we not discussing specific expenditure which is proposed on housing within a certain period of time, not covered by the hon. Lady at all?
§ The Temporary Chairman
The hon. and gallant Member is quite correct in what he has said, but the hon. Lady has a right to point out why houses are so scarce at the present time.
§ Mrs. Mann
May I remind the Committee that the Sorn Report has been referred to by hon. Members opposite several times in these Debates, although not today? They appear to object now because it is mentioned from this side. The Commission under Lord Sorn decided that the only way to attract private enterprise into building houses for the Scottish people was to entice, persuade or push the Scottish people into paying higher rents. They said in their report that it had been found that the Scottish people were not inclined to pay the same percentage of their wages in rent as the English people.
The report went on to say that although the Commission had no actual proof of this, they had been informed that whereas the Englishman was prepared to pay 20 per cent. of his income in rent, the Scotsman was prepared to pay only 15 per cent. They went on to deal with the investing point of view—and here I must challenge hon. Members opposite when they talk about private enterprise building. Private enterprise is being used to its utmost extent by the Government. What hon. Members mean is the investment side of private enterprise. That is exactly what the hon. Lady said—that people wanted to invest their money—and I must ask hon. Members to remember that the Commission appointed by the Coalition Government reported that not only would we require a general rent increase in Scotland, but that those people for whom the hon. Lady expresses such great concern would require to be subsidised to the extent of a limit of 5s. in the pound combined rate. In other words, her rates and mine might be 25s. in the pound. We should both have to subsidise the person who wanted to build a house so that his outlay would be no more than 5s. in the pound—that is to say, so that the combined owners' and tenants' rates should 2058 together be not more than 5s. In spite of all that soothing syrup, I do not think there is any prospect of private enterprise being attracted to Scotland so far as investment is concerned.
There are two other points with which I must deal. I notice that hon. Members opposite, and particularly the hon. Lady, have been urging from the platforms the introduction of the Rural Workers (Housing) Act and deploring that it has been withdrawn. They have also been urging modernisation, and I say that the fact that they are urging these two particular phases of housing at a time like this shows that if they were in power they would commit the very same psychological errors as were evident in the whole paraphernalia of Bills they produced between the two wars. They produced Bills and Acts, but very few houses.
§ Mrs. Mann
This Rural Workers (Housing) Act is really a rural landlords housing Act. That is why hon. Members opposite hate the very mention of a challenge to debate housing. They want their audiences to be constantly in ignorance of the fact that the Rural Workers (Housing) Act does not add a single house to meet the problem of rural housing. That Act has been responsible for modernising landlords' houses at the expense of the community—two-thirds of the cost of every reconstruction paid by the community. I can say the same about modernisation. Here is a problem—woman to woman. The problem is that Scotland, as well as England, is at a sorry stage in its affairs when young women are having to share a kitchen with their mother or, worse still, with their mother-in-law. Hon. Members opposite say, "Modernise the kitchen and it will be all right." No architect has ever been born capable of modernising a kitchen to suit two women. Two kitchens are needed. I know. I have a modern kitchen which I share with my married daughter. We arrive at the modern stove in the morning at the very same time and in the evening it is again a case of "two minds with but a single thought."
The only way out of this impasse is to have two kitchens and two houses, and that is the course the Labour Government are following, taking assistance from every 2059 form of private enterprise. I understand that very honourable firms in Scotland are assisting the Government. The Weirs and other firms are now coming to the assistance of the Government. Surely, we cannot say that the Government are refusing any assistance that is offered. I do not think the position in Scotland was ever so bright from that point of view. We have a Government determined to explore every avenue. Had it not been for the unprecedented situation through which we have passed—I know it was the opinion of architects in Scotland—1947 would have been a record year for housing in the history (Yr Scotland. We will get that record sooner or later by employing all the devices that our Ministers are employing. By concentrating night and day on this problem, as they are doing, we are bound to bring it to a successful conclusion.
§ 5.53 P.m.
§ Mr. John Henderson (Glasgow, Cathcart)
I have had many surprises since I became a Member of this august assembly, but not the least of them has been that which I received while listening to the hon. Member for Coatbridge (Mrs. Mann). I have had the pleasure of knowing her and of being a colleague of hers in the Glasgow Town Council for a great many years. I can well remember the time when, almost with tears filling her eves and a break in her voice, she described the miserable conditions of the people of Glasgow as the result of overcrowding. I never thought the day would come when the hon. Lady would be found standing in the House of Commons trying to make excuses for what is undoubtedly the dismal failure of this Government in housing.
Once every month I meet some of my constituents. Perhaps they average 40 or 50 in an evening. At least 90 per cent. of the people who call on me are people who desire a house, people with two or three in the family who have been compelled to rent an apartment or share some other accommodation. When one hears of their experiences and realises the enormous amount of unpleasantness which is bound to ensue as a result of those conditions, one cannot find words to describe one's feelings. I have been amazed, as I have sat on these benches during the past 18 months, to detect a certain amount of 2060 complacency in the attitude of hon. Members on the Government side to the dire need of housing in Scotland Where are the speakers of 15 years ago who sent round the fiery torch from the Clydeside district of Scotland? Where is that great band of men who with tremendous fire and zeal assailed whatever Government was in power because of the housing conditions in the Scottish industrial cities?
Fifteen years ago I visited this House and the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), now the Joint Under-Secretary, with his unfailing courtesy and kindness, took me to a seat in the Gallery. We sat there speaking for a minute or two and then he returned to the Floor. Within 15 minutes of leaving me he took part in a housing Debate. I see him now—his eyes blazing forth with indignation and his rusty tousled head of hair standing on end—leading forth on the miseries of the Gorbals district and the East End of Glasgow. I was quite moved. I thought everybody appreciated to the full the enthusiastic and fiery speech. The whole passion of the man called out for justice to be handed out to the working classes in the various parts of the city. I can hardly believe it is the same man who is now occupying the position of Joint Under-Secretary for Scotland. He seems perfectly satisfied. I do not doubt his sincerity, but I cannot understand the silence and the lamb-like attitude of hon. Members opposite on the question of housing in Scotland. The numbers promised and the numbers which have been completed make a ghastly story which was admirably and forcibly put by the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith), but as one surveys what has been accomplished and thinks of what has been promised, one can quite well understand the concern of the hon. Member for Coatbridge.
§ Mr. Henderson
To "Face the Future." I do not want to go over those promises. The less said about them the better for the lion. Member's party.
§ Mr. Henderson
I have one word to say about reconditioning. I understand that would require fresh legislation. I deeply 2061 regret that the Secretary of State for Scotland has not seen fit to impress on his colleagues in the Cabinet the desirability of bringing in legislation to deal with reconditioning. Everybody who comes from Scotland knows that in the great cities and towns, indeed throughout the whole country, there are a number of large houses, and, indeed, a few castles left. Sir Ben Smith may require a few more and the Minister of Transport may he looking round to see if there are such places available. I cannot see why these vast houses, of which there are a considerable number, should not be reconditioned in order to meet the need for housing in Scotland. On Monday night in my constituency I called to inspect an aluminium house. It was a delightful house inside, the accommodation was simply amazing and very much better than it looked from the outside, but I was shocked at the amount of damp which prevailed. I daresay in due course something will be done to rectify that, but there are all these old houses with their splendid fabrics, their great stone walls, which could so easily and so cheaply be reconditioned. That source alone would be very helpful in meeting this dire need.
Reference has been made today to the shortage of cement, timber and other essential fittings for houses. It has become increasingly evident that there is a close relationship between coal and housing. I wonder if this Government would not set out on a crusade to try to get the miners to realise that they must not live unto themselves, that they have a great responsibility for the happiness of other sections of the community so that they will realise that the shortage of coal, due to absenteeism or to unofficial strikes, has an adverse effect upon other things so essential—
§ Miss Herbison (Lanark, North)
Can the hon. Gentleman give the Committee any proof that the miners are not playing their part today and are not producing all the coal they could produce?
§ Mr. Henderson
My advice is perfectly sincere. I believe, if this was done to the miners or to any other section of industry—
§ The Temporary Chairman
I must remind the hon. Member that criticising the miners does not come up on this Estimate.
§ Mr. Henderson
I am obliged to you, Sir Robert, for putting me right. I will leave the miners alone and will say a word regarding the building employees. They are a large section of an important industry and nobody is satisfied that they are pulling their full weight. On both sides of the Committee I think there is a good deal of doubt in that direction. I would say to the employees in the building trade that they have a responsibility to the other fellow who is homeless or overcrowded. It should be put before them in a plain and unmistakable manner that they must not be taken up with themselves but that they have a responsibility to other sections of the community. This Government, the Coalition Government and the Conservative Government have brought in many great social improvements. Recently we raised the school age; there have been all sorts of improvements in health services; family allowances, and allowances for children have been substantially raised; but I suggest that a good deal of the good intended by these services will be undone if a mother and two or three children are huddled together in overcrowded conditions and denied all the hygienic and sanitary facilities which Members of this Committee have installed in their own homes.
Two weeks ago a large number of women came to London from various parts of the country. A very excellent organisation, non-political, known as the Housewives' League. [Laughter.] They can be laughed at, but they are so important that three Cabinet Ministers have gone out of their way to speak about them in the past few days. They were anxious to have the question of more food and more fuel considered, but the day is not far away when the women of this country will revolt as the British Housewives' League has revolted and will assert in no unmistakable manner their determination to see that better houses are provided. The husband goes out to work and escapes the horrible conditions at home. His mind is taken off these adverse conditions, but the women, not for five days but for seven days and seven nights in each week, have to put up with 2063 these shocking housing conditions. I appeal to the Secretary of State for Scotland and his Joint Under-Secretary—for whom I have a tremendous respect—to try to bring the Cabinet to a realisation of the deep and dire need for housing in Scotland, and to bring in some remedy in order to obviate the dreadful circumstances about which I have spoken.
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Willis (Edinburgh, North)
We have had three speeches from the Opposition and I have heard each of them. I have listened, as I have on previous occasions when we have had housing Debates, to find out what alternative suggestions the Opposition has to make—
§ Mr. Willis
—to what the Government are doing. I listened to one speech in which the only suggestion was that we should exhort the workers to produce more. The previous speech suggested that we should not have started building so many houses because we have already started too many. I wonder what the Opposition would say if my right hon. Friend gave up starting to build houses? That is what was being suggested from the opposite side. Those are supposed to be constructive suggestions. The first speech had no constructive suggestions in it, but was rather a vicious attack upon my hon. Friend. Of course we all agree with hon. Members opposite on the necessity for houses, but it is a pity that hon. Members opposite did not think that 20 years before the war. Who created the slums? Who is responsible for the shortage of houses? Not this Government but Governments of hon. Members opposite.
§ Major Lloyd
On a point of Order, Mr. Beaumont. Could I ask whether it is in Order to discuss on the Estimates that are before the Committee, what happened many years ago?
I have only just taken the Chair, and therefore I am not aware of what the hon. Member was saying. I think I had better hear what he has to say first before answering the question put to me by the hon. and gallant Member.
§ Mr. Willis
I cannot help feeling that these Debates assume an air of unreality 2064 because of the failure of the Opposition in the past. It is difficult to live that down. The hon. and gallant Member who has just risen on a point of Order—
§ Lieut.-Commander Clark Hutchison (Edinburgh, West)
On that point, in 1939—the last year this party was in power in peacetime—24,000 houses were completed in Scotland.
§ Mr. Willis
If the hon. and gallant Member will allow me, I will give him the record of his party between the two wars.
§ Mr. Willis
Wait for it. I cannot help feeling that hon. Members opposite suffer in this background. The thing they suggest that the Government should do now is to give private enterprise a freer rein. We get suggestions along those lines. No one in this country today is stopping private enterprise from building houses—
§ Mr. Willis
—and, in point of fact, private enterprise has built more houses in the first two years after the war under a Labour Government, than private enterprise built in the first two years after the last war under the Government supported by hon. Members opposite—[An HON. MEMBER: "Under Lord Addison."]—so that the argument about private enterprise does not seem a very real one.
What is the achievement of my right hon. Friend? During the two years since the end of the war he has succeeded in making ready for occupation as many houses as hon. Members opposite succeeded in making ready for occupation in five years after the last war. The annual output of houses by hon. Members opposite never reached the output of my right hon. Friend last year, until after the advent of a Labour Government, which passed a Housing Act to enable that to be done. It has to be remembered that not only was there no shortage of materials then, but Governments which hon. Members opposite supported, were operating under conditions which they favour, whereas we are certainly not operating under conditions which we favour, with an industry run by private enterprise and split up into small units. 2065 They had all the things they wished, but could not achieve what has been achieved by this Government. While the Government may not be satisfied—and I think we are all dissatisfied—they need not be ashamed of what has been done.
At present there are under construction 38,000 houses, if we include private enterprise houses. At no time between the two wars were there ever 38,000 houses under construction; yet two or three million people walked the streets; there was an abundance of timber, copper and all the electrical fittings which were needed. All that was required was the will and ability to do the job. Within the limits imposed by higher considerations, I think the achievement of my right hon. Friend is quite a good achievement. What I find difficult to understand is what exactly are the limitations within which my right hon. Friend has to work. It is all very well for the Government to say that housing is priority No. I, but in point of fact we find half a dozen other things getting equal priority. I am sorry there is no representative of the Ministry of Works present. I think there should have been a representative of that Ministry present for this Debate, because the Ministry of Works has a great deal to do with the distribution of materials and supplies. In addition to building houses, the Government must build factories, if we are to absorb the unemployed in Scotland. I accept that limitation on the activities of my right hon. Friend. In addition to that, we are faced with the fact that we have to provide accommodation for school children as a result of the school leaving age. That is another priority, and I accept the fact that we must do something about that.
But there seem to be a large number of other concerns obtaining licences, and I cannot see why they should be considered a priority. In my own division during the past two or three months—it is a division in which a large number of private houses are occupied by Government offices—a large "pools" office has been derequisitioned, instead of being used to house the offices which are occupying those private houses. I cannot understand that; neither can people' who are waiting for houses. If each of these large houses had been subdivided they could have provided three or four dwellings. At the same time, I find that the Theatre Royal in my division, 2066 which was burned down, gets a licence for £22,000 for rebuilding. No one can convince me that in Edinburgh that is a priority No. I job. Certainly no one is able to convince people who are waiting for houses that it is.
The Secretary of State has said to the churches, "We will give you a million pounds worth of licences during the next two years." I recognise the important, part the churches play in the life of the people of this country, but I think we should be realistic about this. Churches which we have at present cannot be filled. Some of them have congregations of 10 or 20 on Sundays, yet £1 million worth of material is going to church building. Surely the churches could have waited a year or 18 months. I have heard it said in explanation that there is not a church in certain housing areas, and that people have to go a long way to church. But, surely, in the present state of affairs, when raw materials are so short, it is much fairer to ask people to walk to church on Sunday than to ask a worker to travel 10 or 12 miles to work six days every week.
If we continue to issue licences to dog tracks, football ground stands, theatres and churches, we have to face the fact that housing will suffer. The Government have to make up their mind whether or no housing is to be a first priority. If it is to be a first priority, in fairness we should say "I am sorry, but you will have to wait a year, 18 months or two years; we must get on with the housing of the people." I ask my hon. Friend to convey this to the Secretary of State. We must give proper consideration to this question and give priority to housing over and above things which, while essential in normal times, are not essential at the moment.
I was rather dismayed by the figures given in an answer to a Question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin) as to the number of small dwellings for which licences had been given. At a time of shortage of material, when we lack a large number of supplies, one of the ways by which we could best and most quickly ease some of the desperate overcrowding problems is by making accommodation for single men and elderly couples. For example, I would have liked to see a much greater programme undertaken by the local 2067 authorities in Scotland for the housing of old age pensioners. It seems to me that that would have eased the overcrowding situation at the cost of less material, which would appear to be an important consideration at the present time. I make that suggestion as one which I think my right hon. Friend should take into consideration. Finally, I would say that if hon. Members opposite had had the record of my hon. Friend, when they were in power, this problem would never have been in existence today and we should not have been debating now how to get over the shortages. For the rest of the Debate I hope we shall hear what are the alternative suggestions which the Opposition have to make to what is being done by the present Government.
§ 6.21 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Commander Clark Hutchison (Edinburgh, West)
The hon. Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Willis) made some play with figures, and said that the problem of housing would not be in existence now if we had carried on in the same way as the Government are doing at the present time. I would say that the housing problem would not have been in existence today, except possibly in the city of Glasgow, where there are exceptional circumstances, had it not been for the outbreak of war—six long, years of war—which held up building operations.
§ Mr. Willis
Surely, the hon. and gallant Member, representing, as he does, an Edinburgh constituency, knows that a survey in Edinburgh immediately before the war revealed that one-third of the houses in the city were overcrowded?
§ Lieut.-Commander Hutchison
I do not carry that particular information in my mind, but I accept what the hon. Member says. What I said was that had it not been for a break of seven years in building on account of the war—I excepted the city of Glasgow—the housing problem would have been eliminated in every part of Scotland, including Edinburgh.
The hon. Member mentioned that there were at present 38,000 houses under construction, and he compared that advantageously with the prewar figure. All I can say is that I prefer houses that are actually built to houses under construction. In 1939, there were actually built 18,930 2068 houses by local authorities in Scotland and 6,038 houses by private enterprise, a total of just under 25,000. Of these, all save under 5,000 were built for letting, the others being for sale. These are facts which can be found in the official statistics. I prefer those 25,000 houses built to any number, however astronomical, under construction.
§ Lieut.-Commander Hutchison
I was referring to the year 1939. As the Secretary of State said, housing continues to be the most pressing of our social problems in Scotland. Not one of us is not conscious of that, because every one of us receives at any rate several letters every day from people who are diving under the most distressing conditions, many of whom are reaching a condition of despair as they see their prospects of ever obtaining a house disappear into the future. It is not only from individual constituents that one gets very sad letters. Indeed, only a few weeks ago I received one from the Managers of the Simpson Memorial Hospital in Edinburgh, which is the foremost maternity hospital in that city. In it was a report for 1946 by the almoner, which commented in the gravest terms on the conditions under which many maternity cases are having to be treated at the present time, in overcrowded housing conditions, with consequent danger to the health and life of both the mother and child. The report also commented on the need for increased hospital accommodation.
I say in all sincerity to the Government and to the Joint Under-Secretary of State, for whom I have a personal regard, that I feel that the Government have failed to live up to the somewhat rosy prospects which were held out to the people of this country at the time of the Election. Indeed, the figures show that they have failed to live up even to their own rather more restrained post-Election target figure. In his opening speech, the Secretary of State gave us a good deal of statistical data about progress in 1946 and 1947, but as a datum line I would like to remind the Committee of the statement which was made in this House by the Joint Under-Secretary on 16th October, 1945, in answer to a question by myself. He then said that the Government aimed at having 50,000 permanent houses built 2069 or building, and 34,000 temporary houses completed by the end of June this year. I have always regarded that as being a datum line by which one could b gauge the progress actually made. As we now know from the last official return, Cmd. 7130—I have not the Secretary of State's later figures—the position at 30th April, with two months to go, was that we were some 9,000 permanent houses short and very nearly 16,000 temporary houses short of the target. Those facts speak for themselves.
That is a rather serious state of affairs, and one which calls for the fullest explanation on the part of Members of the Government. All reasonable people appreciated the fact that immediately after the war building would be difficult, that there would be the changeover from wartime to peacetime conditions, and that there was bound to be a shortage of labour and materials in the transitional period. 'The only unfortunate fact is that we on these benches faced that prospect with a modest and realistic programme which was derided by Socialist Ministers, while hon. Gentlemen opposite rather glossed over the possibility of these shortages. They cashed in and won the Election. Possibly, in days to come, the people of this country will remember which of the two parties put forward a practical programme and which one put forward a rosy programme. Two years have elapsed since the end of the war in Europe and I say to the Government that the housing programme is still hanging fire. I spoke to someone associated with the housing programme in Edinburgh the other day and he made a remark which has stuck in my mind. He said that going round the housing sites reminded him more of cemeteries than hives of industry. That is a terrible thing to have to say. It seems to me that there is a lack of urgency. I think my hon. Friend the Member for Cathcart (Mr. John Henderson) said much the same thing. There seems to be a diminution in urgency and drive on the part of the Government in pressing forward with the work of construction.
I wish to ask the Minister some questions on the subject of material shortages and priorities, which matters have also been referred to by other hon. Members. Admittedly, it is a matter which rather comes within the scope of the Minister of Works, but the Secretary of State for Scotland is obviously closely concerned with 2070 it. We have heard from him that there is at the present time a general shortage of cement, which is the chief immediate trouble. This is certainly the case so far as Edinburgh is concerned. As soon as a cargo of cement comes into Leith Docks it is at once seized and distributed among the various contractors in the city. They are living from hand to mouth, and there are no reserve stocks in the city. That is exercising a serious psychological effect on the building operatives on the spot. They have to be careful with the material they use, or, they may be out of work for a day or two through lack of supplies, and thus they tend not to go as fast as they might have done. One must sympathise with them in that predicament. The psychological effect is nevertheless most unfortunate.
I have been looking at that useful paper, the "Monthly Digest of Statistics," to find out the cement position. I find that in February, when the fuel crisis was at its height, production dropped to 192,000 tons. It improved in March to 366,000 tons, and in April there was a considerable recovery, for the five week period, to 601,000 tons. Even so, that production is considerably below the average monthly production in 1938 which was 643,000 tons. It is not only the actual production figure with which I am concerned, but also the fact that there is a shortage of stock in hand. Stock in hand appears to be abnormally low. According to the "Digest of Statistics," in April there were only 178,000 tons of cement in stock compared with a normal average figure of about 250,000 tons. The Joint Under-Secretary of State will remember that two days ago some questions were put to the Minister of Works on the subject of cement. I call his attention to a reply made by the Minister which runs:There is a shortage of cement arising out of the fuel difficulties in the early part of the year. Production is now increasing, and by the end of the month I think that we shall have overcome our difficulties."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th June, 1647; Vol. 438. c. 1587.]That is gratifying if indeed it is entirely correct. I would like to be assured that the Joint Under-Secretary of State is satisfied that the position will be cleared by the end of this month and that that bottleneck will be eliminated. Further, I would like to know what steps, if any, he contemplates to ensure that there will 2071 not be a similar bottleneck in the course of next winter. A great many people, including myself, are very much afraid that we shall be confronted with another breakdown of fuel supplies next winter.
On this question of cement, I wish to make a suggestion. I do not like doing it because I hate the idea of importing a commodity which we can make ourselves. But, if all else fails, will the hon. Gentleman make arrangements for the importation of cement from Belgium? I think that was done before the war, on occasions, to ease the position at difficult periods. The hon. Member for North Edinburgh discussed the question of priorities. I understand that at the moment the Hydro-Electric Board gets first priority for cement. I must say that in the existing circumstances of fuel shortage I personally would not challenge that decision, but I would like to think that housing came very definitely next on the list, and that there were not a lot of other intervening undertakings. I have heard it said in Edinburgh that there are other undertakings which get a measure of priority. The Joint Under-Secretary shakes his head, but I would point out that my statement is rather confirmed by a reply given by the Minister of Works in this House on Monday. He then said:Special priority has been given to power stations (including hydro-electric stations), gas works, coal/oil conversion plants, projects to assist the production and transport of coal, and atomic energy projects."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th June, 1947; Vol. 438, c. 1586.]These all seem to rank above housing.
§ Lieut.-Commander Hutchison
The Joint Under-Secretary lumps them altogether with the Hydro-Electric board?
§ Lieut.-Commander Hutchison
I am satisfied if I have the assurance that housing is definitely the next on the list. The Secretary of State mentioned some other material shortages. Perhaps the Joint Under-Secretary could deal with them in a little greater detail when he replies. I refer particularly to the shortage of steel for conduit tubing, which material is very important for the electric wiring of new houses, and cast iron for the manufacture of soil pipes, rones and 2072 other essential parts of houses. In addition, there is also a shortage of electric fittings. Perhaps in a general way the hon. Gentleman could say whether he anticipates that the supply of these materials will be forthcoming in a more satisfactory manner during the rest of the year. We all know that there is an acute shortage of timber. I understand that there is a prospect of getting some timber from Russia by the early autumn. I wonder whether any more detailed information could be given on that point. The Joint Under-Secretary may not be able to give an answer now, but I would like him to inquire into the question of the seasoning of that timber. I am told that Russian timber is not so thoroughly seasoned as timber from our other sources of supply. From the builders' point of view, that is a matter of some importance. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would investigate the situation.
Finally, on the question of building materials, I would like to ask the Joint Under-Secretary whether he can tell us if the Building Materials and Housing Act which we passed in the Autumn of 1945 is working satisfactorily. That is an Act which gives a great deal of power to the Government or, rather, to the Minister of Works as representative of the Government. It empowers the Minister of Works to purchase building materials and equipment for building and also to make and carry out arrangements for the production and distribution of building materials and equipment. It is worth while reminding the Committee that that Act was not opposed by hon. Members on this side either at Second Reading or Third Reading although we doubted whether it would achieve the objects which the Government had in view. That Act has now been in operation for over 18 months and I would like to know whether it is proving to be helpful to the Government in their housing programme. Looking at the problem from the point of view of a layman, it seems to me that the results are not very spectacular. If this Act is not doing what it was designed to do, then I ask the Joint Under-Secretary whether the Government have all the powers which they require in order to go ahead with their programme. Knowing the great anxiety which exists in all parts 2073 of the Committee, if the Joint Under-Secretary has any further proposals to make, I am certain they will receive sympathetic examination by Members of all parties. I ask him to comment on that point in his reply because the Committee is entitled to know whether the Government are satisfied that they have all the powers necessary for carrying out the task of rehousing the people.
There are many other matters which one would like to touch upon, such as rising costs, the difficulty experienced in placing trainees in the building industry, and also the attitude of the Secretary of State towards the Report of the Scottish Housing Advisory Committee on modernisation. That is a Report which is of great importance to the cities where there are large blocks of tenement property which might be brought up to modern standards. However, there are many other lion. Members who wish to speak, and I will leave those matters to them. I conclude with a point which affects my own constituency. I ask the Joint Under-Secretary and the Secretary of State to direct their attention to paragraph 50 of the Report of the Select Committee on Estimates which deals with the release of requisitioned property. In that paragraph they will find reference is made to the slow rate of release of residential and non-industrial premises. As the Joint Under-Secretary is well aware, from questions and answers in the House, and from correspondence we have had, this is a matter which is a source of particularly sore grievance to the Edinburgh Corporation at the moment. This all-party and authoritative Select Committee on estimates have made some forceful comments upon the delay in the release of requisitioned property. I suggest that in future a little more energy should be used in evicting Government Departments and other public bodies from houses which could be used as dwelling houses. I also ask that the hon. Gentleman should try to prevent the infiltration by the Coal Board and other bodies into houses which could be used by the corporation for the housing of homeless people. I hope he will consider this plea sympathetically and take action upon the points dealt with in paragraph 50 of that Report.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Forman (Glasgow, Springburn)
In the few minutes at my disposal, I should 2074 like to deal with the arrangements which the Government are making in encouraging alternative methods of building—the non-traditional methods. The Government have for some time been investigating all these alternative methods, and the local authorities have been investigating them, as well as private firms. We have now reached the stage when we are in a position to offer the local authorities that variety of design which is very necessary to them in carrying through their housing schemes. We should not forget that we are proposing to put down housing schemes that will last, at least, for 60 years, and it is of the utmost importance that we should have, not only adequate houses, but a sufficient variety of design which will give a pleasing appearance.o our housing sites.
The committee which has just submitted this report—an Inter-Departmental Committee has now taken its place—has rendered valuable service in approving various houses for local authority construction. Sometimes, I thought that that committee was probably the most convenient burial ground for any particular type of house that stood apart from the traditional types, but I have now come to the conclusion, after examining the work of that committee, that it did its work very thoroughly, and that there were some splendid conclusions in the advice which it gave to the Scottish Office. I should like, therefore, to pay my tribute to their work.
What are the houses that this Burt Committee approved? There is the Weir house, and, here, we are indebted to this private firm for the work it has carried out in giving us a very good permanent house. For almost 12 months, it had to experiment with a difficulty which it had experienced in getting rid of condensation, but it got over that difficulty and has satisfied all those who have tried this house that it is a satisfactory job. Then, we have the Tarran Clyde house, which was also approved by the committee, and which will also be very suitable for development in our country. I was rather disappointed with the statement made by the Secretary of State for Scotland when he dealt with red sandstone, for we in Glasgow found that it was not possible to use red sandstone by the ordinary methods, because we could not get the craftsmen to work in red sandstone. We 2075 in Glasgow had to carry through an experiment for the Government in trying a red sandstone veneer with a brick background, and I had the job of arranging with the quarry masters in Dumfries to get them to dress the stone about one-and-a half inches thick. That gave the appearance of a very substantial red sandstone house with a brick base. It seems to me that, while the Department are at the moment inclined to turn down that experiment, they ought not to allow finance to stand in the way, because I believe that this house, along with the others, will help the local authorities in getting over their difficulties. I do not say for a moment that it gives them very speedy construction, but it does give them a variety of design that will do much to relieve the monotony of the ordinary run of housing sites which we have all over the country.
The Glasgow authority have also carried through an experiment in the Foamslag house, and it has been very successful, so that they are now able to use a material that is easy in construction and very useful in design. It seems to me that, when we are examining our housing problems, we must have regard to, and encourage all suitable methods of alternative building, because the traditional methods are not going to solve our problem. Therefore I would urge the Government to continue the experiments and to encourage, not only the private contractors but also the local authorities, in carrying through their experiments in alternative methods of construction.
The third point with which I would like to deal is modernisation. I had the honour to serve on a committee on modernisation, and I spent a considerable time on the subject, although I was not a member when the committee finished its work, having then been elected to this House. But I got sufficient information in regard to modernisation to lead me to the conclusion that we shall require to fix a financial limit on the amount of money to be spent per roof, because we may get to the point, if the expenditure is unlimited, where it would be a question whether it would not be better, instead of modernising a property, to build a new house. I think the Government will require to face the questions of how far they are prepared to agree to modernisation and how far they will finance it. 2076 That leads me to the point of control. I do not think that the Government should allow private enterprise to control modernisation. It must be handed over over to the local authorities, who, I think, can get a better grip of the whole picture, because it is not, in the cities and towns, a question of modernisation alone.
We must take into account the question of planning. On several occasions, while we were considering this report, we found that one or two landlords had modernised tenement property, but they had done that and erected first-class houses with modern accommodation in an area that was surrounded by derelict property. The town planners will have a headache when they find three or four modernised tenements in that area. Therefore, we must watch not only the financial arrangements, but control and planning. The position will be much easier in the countryside where one comes across many cottages which have been modernised and which have given satisfaction for a number of years. The question whether a cottage is tied or is under some factor, should not determine whether a cottage should be modernised. They are two separate questions. The first consideration in modernisation is to decide whether the people in the cottage will be provided with modern and up-to-date conditions. Thereafter, one can decide whether to continue tied cottage or to have some other kind of control.
I do not know that it is a good thing to dwell too much in the past although, of course, we must learn from the mistakes in the past. I have known big builders, probably the best respected in their trade, who have fallen down when materials were plentiful and when men were walking the streets. I had such an experience when I was convener of the housing department in Glasgow. One of the biggest builders in Scotland took something like five years to build 800 houses, and it was estimated that he could have built them in a very much shorter period. Frequently when I visited the site I found that the men had been transferred to more remunerative work. That happened in the years between the two wars, and that was often our difficulty. I think the Government are going the right way about tackling their housing programme by control and by developing other means of construction. I hope they will reach a decision on the question of modernisation, 2077 though not so much from the point of view of speeding up the housing of the people, because it must be remembered that when houses are being reconditioned, there must be an adequate number of houses in which to put the occupiers. I hope the Government will take the most complete form of control, and that they will place in the hands of the local authorities a machine that will help them to solve their housing difficulties, and provide within measurable distance a decent house for every citizen.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ Major Guy Lloyd (Renfrew, Eastern)
It falls to my lot, and I am happy that it should, to congratulate the hon. Member for Springburn (Mr. Forman) on what, I understand, was his maiden speech, and, if I may say so, a most successful one. It was constructive, practical, moderate and obviously showed a full knowledge of the subject and a great interest in it. In saying that, I believe I am speaking on behalf of every Member of the Committee. I hope we shall often have contributions from one who is, as we who come from Glasgow and the surrounding area know well, thoroughly experienced in the difficult question of housing. I hope the hon. Member for Springburn will feel encouraged by the reception of his maiden speech and by my very sincere words of congratulation, and that we shall often hear him again in the future.
I must add that the hon. Member's speech was in striking contrast to those of some of his predecessors on the other side of the Committee, for in his speech there was no attempt to draw red herrings across the lamentable housing situation in Scotland. There was no attempt to indulge in the usual electioneering stunt of blaming the Tories for a situation which at the present time has nothing to do with the Tories. There was no attempt to try to side-track the issue and to avoid apologising for a most unfortunate and unhappy situation. It was in striking contrast to the speech, for instance, of the hon. Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Willis), of which not one word was constructive, not one word was an attempt to make reasonable and practical suggestions, all of it trying to whitewash the Government and to blame the Tories, going back years past in order to try to find an excuse to do so. The speech was also 2078 in striking contrast, if I may say so, to the most unfortunate speech of the hon. Lady the Member for Coatbridge (Mrs. Mann), which did not add to her reputation in the House, nor, I think add lustre to her fame in Scotland. It was a cheap speech from beginning to end. It had only one motive, so far as I can see, and that was to blame the Tories for everything.
It would be useless for me to waste time in pursuing those will-o'-the-wisps of the past with which the hon. Member for North Edinburgh and the hon. Member for Coatbridge spent such a happy time. But I can picture hon. Members opposite discussing, as I assume they do, prospective Debates. They knew well that they would be under fire, that they would receive criticism, and that the Opposition speakers represent the feelings of frustration and indignation which have been growing for months among the people of Scotland. What was to be their defence? Presumably, they got into a huddle and decided that the only defence was to attack the Tories for things which had happened in years gone by. I hope the hon. Gentleman the Joint Under-Secretary will not descend to those depths. I am sure he will not, because he knows in his heart of hearts that it is perfect nonsense, and that it cuts no ice with the people of Scotland. It does not excuse the fact that today houses are not being built in Scotland as they should be. In fact it is just complete nonsense from beginning to end. I hope he will stand up, like the man he is, the man we have always respected on this side of the Committee, and face the music, and answer the indictment—and it is an indictment—and the challenge which has been made from these benches today.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) produced the most damning indictment of this tragic situation. He gave facts and figures which are incontrovertible, facts and figures with which no slashing attack on what the Tories did 20 or 30 or 40 years ago has anything to do at all. These figures must be answered; these facts must be gone into. I am quite sure that the hon. Gentleman who is to reply to this Debate will not descend to the depths of some of his colleagues on the back benches behind him, but will face the 2079 music with his usual courage and determination. He has a very poor case to defend, arid I say, quite frankly, that I do not envy him the job. I should be the last person in the world to suggest that either the Secretary of State or the Joint Under-Secretary of State is personally to blame for the situation. No Member on this side of the Committee is attempting to blame them for any personal inefficiency or lack of enthusiasm or lack of energy or lack of sincerity. I should like to make that perfectly plain. We give them full credit for having tried their best. But, as my hon. and gallant Friend said, it is the system they have to defend which is at fault. That is our indictment. It is not against them personally, but against the system and the theories which they have produced as a result of their particular form of Government.
I should like to turn for a moment to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State. He was not quite so complacent and happy and optimistic as the last time I heard him on the subject and had the privilege of reproaching him. Admittedly he was a little less optimistic and a little less complacent than before. I give him credit for that. But still he was characteristically over optimistic; and there was every now and then in his speech a note of complacency which distressed me, but at which I was not surprised, coming as it did from him, because he is, of course, an inherent optimist, and can see a silver lining sticking out from behind the darkest cloud. But there are some remarks he made to which I must refer.
He was trying to repel, I assume, the many attacks which have been made upon his administration in St. Andrew's House by local authorities all over Scotland—or in many parts of Scotland—because of the curtailment—and it is a curtailment—of their programme for housing, owing to the fact that the Government and the administration in Scotland were unable to supply the materials necessary for the programme to be maintained. That was a bitter disappointment to the local authorities. They had been egged on and urged to go ahead. Indeed, they did not need much urging. They had prepared their plans and worked them out as best they could, and put them up to St. Andrew's House, and got them approved, after much passing 2080 to and fro. I do not think there was any undue delay there. I do not want to make any accusations. At any rate, there had been big progress made, and there had been big plans prepared. The local authorities are not to blame. On the whole the local authorities in Scotland have done a good job, and the people of Scotland should not blame the local authorities for the present situation of housing in Scotland. It would be grossly unfair if they were to do so. It would be still more unfair for any hon. Member opposite to suggest that the blame should be attached to the local authorities for inefficiency when, after all their enthusiasms and all their efforts, they were told the whole programme had to be curtailed and their plans could not be fulfilled, and that they must cut them down. They were bitterly disillusioned and bitterly disappointed. I know many who have expressed that disappointment, and I hope that some of them have expressed it to the Secretary of State and his colleagues.
Yet the Secretary of State gets up today and says there must have been a lot of misunderstanding in Scotland with regard to the curtailment of the housing programme. I do not think there have been any misunderstandings. The local authorities know perfectly well, what has curtailed their programmes and frustrated their hopes, and 90 per cent. of them know the reason and where the blame lies. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman there is no misunderstanding. It is quite unnecessary for him to suggest that there is. I was amazed, really, at the right hon. Gentleman's coming forward, not with an apology for the housing situation in Scotland, but with what can only be called an apologia—a welter of excuses, but not one word of real apology. What is the use of making excuses for an appalling situation unless, at the end of making the excuses, one makes some apology for the situation?
Finally, he made a remark which was characteristic of him—we have no less affection for him because it was characteristic—and made a statement which, really the people of Scotland must spurn, or else laugh at and mock. The figures of the housing situation which have come out today in the Debate, which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pollok has revealed, are figures which everybody knows, which are not secret, which 2081 are published for us all. The right hon. Gentleman said that they were figures that, on the whole, "constituted reasonable progress." Reasonable progress! How anyone, any reasonable person can try to tell the homeless people of Scotland and the local authorities in Scotland, that reasonable progress has been made in Scotland in the last 12 months in connection with the housing problem, I simply fail to understand. If the Secretary of State thinks that reasonable, then I am sorry indeed for Scotland that we should be led by people who consider that the appalling situation in many of our Scottish towns and cities and, in the rural areas, is reasonable progress, over which they need not lament, and for which they need not, apparently, make any apology.
It is, indeed, a terrible indictment that can be built up against the Government in connection with this housing problem. Let me try to put it in summarised form. First, it is now almost two years this month—I think I am right in saying, almost two years this week—since the General Election, at which the most fallacious and fantastic promises in regard to Scotland were undoubtedly made by numbers of the Members of 'he present Government and, I have not the faintest doubt, although I had not the privilege of hearing their speeches, by many hon. Members opposite who are sitting today as Members of the Labour Party. Had any one of them dared to suggest in those speeches that today, after two years of Labour Government, the situation would be as it is, does any one think they would have won their seats? Does any one think they would have dared suggest that the situation would have been like this? On the contrary, Labour could produce houses, they said. "Vote Labour and get houses," they said. Unfortunately, the Scottish people and the dupes of the Labour Party were led to think that that was so. My first indictment is that they issued a false prospectus to the people if Scotland, and that they got in on false pretences, that they won votes under false pretences. They told the people of Scotland they would do things which, in fact, they have not even begun to do. They led the people up the garden path.
My second indictment is that they led the local authorities up the garden path. The local authorities were led to believe, by all the promises about houses, that 2082 after the Labour Party came to power they would have only to give their figures and prepare their plans for houses and the houses would go up automatically under a Labour Government, and that the position would be so different from what it had been in the past—as it has, indeed, been infinitely worse. So my second charge is that they led the local authorities up the garden path and have bitterly disillusioned and disappointed them. I charge them, at any rate, in the first part of their ill-gotten career as the Government of the country, with having deliberately followed bigoted and prejudiced theories which they have only abandoned for the moment because of the problems which have arisen out of the gross inefficiency of the bulk purchase schemes of the bureaucratic officials, which have now frustrated them; for the moment bigotry and prejudice have to be laid aside. The situation in Scotland has got almost beyond repair. I charge the Government with having followed a prejudiced outlook with regard to this fantastic idea that only officials or politicians can buy anything, and that all the bulk purchases of raw materials in connection with the housing programme can be bought only by officials and through officialdom. I charge them with having clogged the normal channels of trade, and with taking the task of purchasing of these essential materials for the housing programme out of the hands of those who understand them, and who have had experience of these matters before, and putting it into the hands of a strange lot of people who have to do a strange kind of job. As a result, there has been mess and muddle.
I charge the Secretary of State, with great respect, with at any rate not having succeeded—even though he may have made a big effort—in persuading his colleagues at the Ministry of Works and other Departments in Whitehall to help Scotland as much as they should with regard to materials. That has not been brought out enough in this Debate. Scotland owes nothing to the assistance of Whitehall, but Scotland has much for which to blame Whitehall for not having given her housing programme a much happier and easier task. There can be no doubt that the housing situation in Scotland has added enormously to the burdens of the ratepayers and taxpayers. That point also has not been brought out 2083 sufficiently. When the Joint Under-Secretary replies to this Debate later, would he tell us whether, in fact, all the houses that have been built recently under the auspices of local authorities in Scotland would prove—were all the figures revealed and the truth laid bare—to come anything like within the standard figure which has been laid down by the Ministry of Health and supported by the Secretary of State? Or, is there not, in fact, a great deal of wangling going on in order to hide the real cost of the houses, and in order to keep the figure down below the standard figure?
§ Mr. Buchanan
No. The hon. and gallant Member is going a stage further. He asked a question and then went on to use the word "wangling." If the hon. and gallant Member asks me any question I will try to answer it, but he must not infer that we are doing something to dodge the issue. Indeed, we have set up an impartial committee to examine the whole question of the cost of houses, and they will report impartially on it.
§ Major Lloyd
The Joint Under-Secretary must not misunderstand me. I am aware that he has set up a committee, and I welcome that. The fact that he thought it necessary to set up that committee bears out the suggestion which I make, that, in fact, in many cases the cost of the houses has exceeded the standard figure which was laid down. I am not suggesting there has been any dirty work about it at all. On the contrary. I certainly asked a direct question of the Joint Under-Secretary—whether he would tell me, with his usual frankness and courage, if the costs come within the standard figure, or if they do not. If they do not, how is it that nobody has got into trouble for building thousands—well, not thousands, because there are not thousands—but hundreds of houses at above the standard figure? I make that point deliberately. If he wants an accusation, I make the accusation that there are several hundred houses which have been built in Scotland at well over the standard figure.
§ Mr. Buchanan
I do not understand the hon. and gallant Member, and I am very anxious to do so. If he would let me know, I should be grateful. Who does he mean is building these houses? Is it private enterprise, or the public authorities? If he will give me the details, I will try to answer the question.
§ Major Lloyd
I should like an answer from the Joint Under-Secretary, quite plainly, to the question whether houses built in Scotland by local authorities are, in fact, costing substantially more than the standard figure laid down?
§ Major Lloyd
If the answer is "No," I will accept his reply. But it is freely rumoured—to put it mildly—in Scotland that houses are costing substantially more. No doubt that may be one of the good reasons why the Committee to which he referred has been set up—in order to reduce the -cost. In any event, the point I was trying to make was really that there is an ever-rising cost of houses in Scotland, and that is obviously a matter about which we ought to be gravely concerned. I appreciate the fact that the Government are gravely concerned about it. The cost is rising not only because of the high cost of materials, and so on, but because of the low output of labour. I want to say nothing unkind about the building labour side. I have great respect for, and many friends among, working men in the building industry. So please do not let hon. Members opposite misunderstand what I say. However, I think we ought to be frank here, representing Scotland as we do.
Quite apart from politics, and speaking with great sincerity, I would point out that nobody has yet said here that any measure of blame, either for the low output of houses or for the high cost of houses, attaches to the fact that in many instances the output per man in the building industry is not as high as it should be. I do not want to say that they are all idling and slacking; that would be wicked, and it would be untrue. A great many are working very well indeed. But we should not be true to ourselves or telling the truth to the people of Scotland—as we ought to in Debates of this kind—if we ignored and slurred over these facts, because of some form of moral cowardice, 2085 or because we are afraid of what the leading trade unions or some Communist shop steward will say. We must point out that if only the output per man in the building industry was higher than it is—and it could be substantially higher than it is in many instances—then the cost of houses to the people would be a great deal less, and the houses would undoubtedly go up substantially faster than they have done. I have tried to put the point moderately, but I could not allow this vital issue, which greatly affects the housing situation in Scotland, to be ignored simply because I know that certain back-benchers of the Labour Party would sooner die than dare to offend any of their trade union comrades.
I have covered a fair amount of ground, and I know many other hon. Members want to speak. However, I wish to use some adjectives with regard to the situation in Scotland; adjectives which have been used to me by my constituents. That is what I am here for, representing 125,500 constituents in Scotland, the largest constituency in Great Britain. What they think of the housing situation is very different from what the Secretary of State thinks—my goodness, yes—and very different from what the Joint Under-Secretary will try to make out later in his reply to me. I know what they think. and I am representing their views. I will not use some of the adjectives they have used to me; in addressing this Committee I would not dare to do so. But they are filled with contempt, they are filled with disgust at the false prospectus which was issued to them at the General Election by the Labour Party, and the majority are thanking goodness that they did not believe it, but preferred to trust the moderate promises of a Unionist, whom they sent back to Parliament to represent them.
§ 7.18 p.m.
§ Mr. McKinlay (Dumbartonshire)
The hon. and gallant Member for East Renfrew (Major Lloyd) always interests me, not as a well-informed politician, but more as a study in psychology. I conclude from what he said that his world was destroyed in 1945. I can picture him going to bed at night and burying his head under the blanket in case some bogy-man comes in at his bedroom window and commits an awful crime. When he congratulated my hon. Friend 2086 the Member for Springburn (Mr. Forman)—which I now hasten to do—I was half inclined to believe that the hon. and gallant Member for East Renfrew had seen the light, and I sat back and said to myself: "Now, this is one of my constituents; I am glad to see that my influence is beginning to penetrate, and that he is a reformed character." Of course, to him everything we do is a political stunt, but everything done on the other side of the Committee is an act of statesmanship and political wisdom. The hon. and gallant Member criticised hon. Members on this side for not delivering constructive speeches. I listened to what the hon. and gallant Member had to say, and short of his threatening to use adjectives, -I heard nothing constructive. I would suggest that that is a quite natural impulse, and if he feels so inclined he should give way to it. In any case, I advise him to take to heart what he said to my hon. Friend the Member for Springburn.
A few minutes ago, I thought that I would find out how the landward area of Renfrew was progressing under the dynamic force of the hon. and gallant Member for East Renfrew. He has asked my right hon. Friend to answer a few questions when he came to close the Debate. In answering.the questions put to him, I would like my right hon. Friend to explain how it is that out of the 491 tenders for permanent houses in the landward area of Renfrew, 28 have been completed and 247 are under construction. The hon. and gallant Member said that he represents over 100,000 innocent people. I want to ask him how it is, if 491 houses have been approved, licences have been issued for 312 houses to be built for sale by private enterprise. He made the suggestion that "phoney" prices are being paid, but if he had the most elementary knowledge of the procedure of local authorities in dealing with tenders, he would know perfectly well that there is no possibility of concealment. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) would not make such a silly statement as that, because he knows the procedure, even if he does not agree with it.
If 312 licences have been granted for houses to be built by private enterprise, I assume that the price will not exceed 2087 £1,300, but can any hon. Member say that there is a single house being built in Scotland today for £1,300? How is it that, with a ratio of one in three, 312 licences have been issued for the building of houses by private enterprise? Private enterprise has only one grumble. Private enterprise is willing to come in and build houses to let, but with our money—the money of the taxpayers and the ratepayers. There was nothing to prevent private enterprise builders in the West of Scotland, who made themselves almost millionaires, from building houses between the wars. They could get the sites approved for the erection of houses to let then. The simple truth is that it was financially impossible for private enterprise to build houses to let because they could not get an economic rent—the rent for a four-apartment house is in the region of £90 per annum. The consequence is that they must have a subsidy from the State or from the local authority. I give an assurance to hon. Members opposite that if they know a firm of private developers wanting to build houses to let—I would not even say for the working classes—and they have any difficulty in securing sites, I will give them all the assistance I can. I know there will be no difficulty. All this talk about private enterprise being strangled is cant and humbug.
I do not know whether hon. Members are acquainted with what happened in the brick-making industry in Scotland before the war. When the suggestion was made in 1937 that the brickworks in Scotland should be extended, and that the State should guarantee the interest and sinking fund on the capital which was to be met when the extensions became redundant, the Government of the day turned it down. The brick-making industry was in a most deplorable condition. It was one of the surviving industries where women worked in their bare feet.
I am sorry that the Minister of Works is not here to answer one or two questions I wish to put. This dual responsibility in regard to temporary houses gets under my skin. I want to make a few observations about temporary houses. Do not let any hon. Member delude himself. The temporary houses being erected now will stand for the next 30 or 40 years. In Glasgow there is the worst example, throughout the length and breadth of Scotland, of 2088 putting temporary houses in odd corners. Even where decent sites have been chosen the most appalling temporary houses have been erected. Some have been sandwiched between tenements, so that even the smoke cannot get away. That is not the responsibility of the Scottish Office. But the housing revenue account is a matter which concerns every local authority and the Scottish Office.
In my constituency 80 per cent. of the temporary houses built in one scheme were flooded because of burst pipes in the winter. The Ministry of Works said to the local authority, "As this happened after the six months' guarantee period it is your pigeon." Those houses then became a charge on the housing account of the local authority, which means that every house handed over to the local authority in March escaped the serious weather six months afterwards. A 15 per cent. rent revenue will not cover the maintenance cost. The Ministry of Works sent somebody along to those temporary houses. What did they do? They put insulating tape around the pipes. Well, I have been in the building industry for a long time, and hitherto I thought that the prize for doing the wrong thing was taken by those who used caulking tools to caulk up the seams of houses after they had been occupied. To put around these pipes the kind of tape that is used by electricians is too funny for words.
If this were a question of an ordinary maintenance charge, I would not raise it, but there is a difference between defective design and construction and ordinary wear and tear. Then there are temporary houses backed by high ground. This sort of thing should not have passed the eagle eye of the Department of Health. It has resulted in surface water running down to the houses. It percolated through the houses, and when that has happened, I presume someone has been sent along to give the floors a coat of bitumastic solution, on top of the floor instead of underneath it. The Secretary of State has set up a building costs committee, which seems to have offended the hon. and gallant Member for East Renfrew. The hon. and gallant Member says that the reason this Committee was set up was that there was something sinister in the keeping of the accounts—
§ Major Lloyd
No, that is a gross misrepresentation. I said that I welcomed 2089 the setting up of the committee, and suggested that the main reason for it might have been because the cost of housing had got above the standard figure.
§ Mr. McKinlay
What is the standard figure? It is the tender recommended by the local authority for acceptance, and agreed to by the Department of Health. The Tory Party, in 1939, showed a higher appreciation of me than the hon. and gallant Member, whom I represent in Parliament at the moment. Why was not this question remitted to a sub-committee of the Housing Advisory Committee? I understand that the Advisory Committee have not met for a couple of years. That Committee produced what has come to be known as—I will not say the "bible"—a housing manual. It advised on the types and future of housing in Scotland. It is becoming increasingly difficult for anyone to say anything new about this problem. Even the hon. and gallant Member for East Renfrew, who has spoken so often in our housing Debates, seemed to be running out of gasolene. But I want to tell my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench that nobody on this side will apologise for the Government's attack on this problem.
If there is anyone who can show local authorities, or private or direct labour contractors, or the Special Housing Association, how to build houses without bricks, cement, glass, or timber, he will be a public benefactor. If any Member can show them that, then there is a place for him on the Government Front Bench. Yes, I would even welcome the hon. and gallant Member for East Renfrew on the Government Front Bench, because I would rather he sat in front of me than behind my back. But I know there is no one who can do what I have suggested. The Government need not worry. We on this side are prepared to defend their actions, if defence is necessary. We make no excuses. They should carry on with the good work. After all, there are two years to go yet. [An HON. MEMBER: "Three."] I am giving way to the wishful thinking of our opponents, because I am satisfied that the Government will be charged with the responsibility of seeing this question brought to a successful conclusion.
§ 7.39 P.m.
§ Mr. Snadden (Perth and Kinross, Western)
The hon. Member for Dumbartonshire (Mr. McKinlay) said there was a danger of repetition in these housing Debates, and although I am inclined to agree with him, I do not make any apology for repeating what has been said many times before, because the arguments which have been put forward today have been powerfully reinforced by various reports which have been published recently. The hon. Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Willis) seemed to be complacent and pleased with what the Government have achieved. I suggest to the Secretary of State that the Government have achieved nothing in the rural areas. Up to now, nothing has been said about the countryside, and as it is about time we heard a little about it, I am glad to have the opportunity of talking about some of the questions which affect us in the rural areas.
In my opinion the position in the rural areas today is so serious as to threaten what is, together with coal, the most vital need of this nation. I am referring to the production of food, and anyone who has studied the Scottish Economic Survey will see that Scotland's share of our total food production is out of all proportion to the acreage available. It produces 25 per cent. of our fat stock, 20 per cent. of our potatoes, 75 per cent. of our oat products, and 141 million gallons of milk. The whole of that food programme is being gravely threatened at the present time from three different directions. It is being threatened by dwindling dollars in the import field, by the heavy handicap of storms, shortages of machinery and feeding stuffs, and double summer time. On top of all that, the rural areas dependent on agriculture are becoming gravely short of manpower.
I do not think that it is realised that the labour position in our countryside is probably the worst we have ever known. Today one-fifth of the male workers engaged in Scottish agriculture are under 20 years of age, compared with one-third 15 years ago. I would point out to the right hon. Gentleman that in the countryside of Scotland there is a shadow hovering over the rural areas which is kept from settling, simply because we still have the Control of Engagement Order or, more specifically, the Essential Work Order operating within the industry. The 2091 control of agricultural labour cannot go on for ever. When it is lifted there will not be a drift in labour, there will be a surge of labour, from the countryside, unless we produce more new houses, and unless we bring existing houses up to the housing standards of the towns. Further, it is universally agreed that in the future economy of our country agriculture will play a very much greater part than it has done in the past. We cannot live on excessive imports, either strategically or financially, and if we are to enjoy a higher standard of living, then there must be a much greater demand on our home production and home farms than we have ever known before in this country.
All that means more, not less, labour; more and not less rural population, and, consequently, more houses than are apparent today. What is the position in the rural areas? We find that in the report on "Modernisation of Our Homes," produced by the Scottish Advisory Committee, and in the housing returns, that in the landward areas of Scotland local authorities have approved sites for 50,000 houses, about 48,000 permanent and 11,000 temporary. These houses would accommodate about 177,000 persons. I think that can be regarded as the minimum need of new houses in the rural areas. Paragraph 70 of the report of the Scottish Housing Advisory Committee states that there are in Scotland 405,000 houses without proper sanitary accommodation and it further states, in Table 3, that there are some 291,000 houses in the cities, large and small burghs which are without individual water closets. The difference of 113,000 houses can be taken, roughly, as representing in the rural areas of Scotland houses without proper sanitary conveniences. I calculate that those houses represent some 330,000 persons.
If these figures are considered together with the figures quoted in the return, we have a rural population of about 500,000 people whose housing needs have still to be satisfied. I think that the Secretary of State will agree that that is a deplorable situation. It does not really matter who is to blame for all this. It is silly to argue who is to blame. When the war came we did not argue about who was to blame for bringing the war about, and 2092 we did not take up the attitude that we should not make any attempt to fight because of that. We fought and we won. We have to fight this battle of housing in the same spirit and leave the recriminations to those who care to waste their time that way.
Looking at this from the rural point of view, I suggest to the Minister that he cannot get away from the logical argument that this battle has to be fought on two fronts simultaneously. The first is the building of new houses, and the second is the modernisation of existing houses. Mention has been made of the Housing (Rural Workers) Act, and therefore I suppose I shall not be out of Order in mentioning it. If 177,000 people have to wait for new houses, the 330,000 living under insanitary conditions cannot hope for improvement unless the existing houses are brought up to the approved standard. How is the battle going? Out of 7,521 permanent houses completed in Scotland only 475 are in predominantly agricultural areas. Of 15,208 temporary houses completed; only 3,000 are in the predominantly agricultural areas.
In the great agricultural counties of Aberdeen, Perth, Angus and Berwick—the four leading arable counties—only 80 permanent houses have been built When I look through the complete list of the 33 counties of Scotland I find that no fewer than 14 of the local authorities have built no houses at all. Finally, if we add up all the houses, temporary and permanent, completed or under construction by all agencies, including private enterprise, we have a total of 17,775 houses in the landward areas. If I were to go the length of assuming, quite unwarrantably, that all these houses would be completed this year, it would take eight and a half years to achieve even the minimum requirements of new houses in the rural areas. That is nothing like good enough to cope with the needs of an expanding agricultural industry and to fulfil the promises contained in the Agricultural Bill. Our labour on the land will be away long before those houses are completed.
The Secretary of State, I think, would admit that he was driven by hard economic considerations and the prospect of an even lower standard of living in this country when he made the announcement in regard to the boo steel houses for the rural areas of the South-West of Scotland. I 2093 applaud him for having taken that step, but these steel houses are going only to one area. Today milk is first priority and, therefore, logically, they should go to the dairy areas. I believe that milk is being over-done and that what is needed for the workers to increase production is not milk, but meat. We have, therefore, to think of the meat producing areas as well. What about the great agricultural areas of Aberdeen. Angus, Perth and Fife? Are they not to have any of these steel houses? It is very discouraging to them to be told that this first allocation is going to one area and all the rest are to be neglected until such time as the Minister can do something for them.
§ Mr. Westwood
I made it perfectly clear that the 600 were only a first instalment, and I announced today that I had in mind for the 1948 programme another 1,200 houses, the aim and object being that they will not be exclusively limited to the areas where the 600 are being built. They will be built for the purpose of housing those who are engaged in agriculture, because that is the essential thing in this matter. I cannot go into details of the areas at the moment, but a letter has been sent out to the areas which have been chosen, in consultation with the Department of Agriculture and the agricultural executive committees with a view to getting the closest possible cooperation in the provision of these houses to help me deal with what is truly an agricultural and rural problem.
§ Mr. Snadden
I am very much obliged for the right hon. Gentleman's reply. If I have the assurance that other areas will be considered in the next allocation, that is all I ask. It did, however, come rather as a shock to think that the complete allocation had gone to one particular area, and that was the only point I wanted to make. I spoke about dividing this battle into two fronts, and I have now dealt with the first front. The second front is modernisation. You cannot get away from modernisation. Unlike the second front of the war, no one can say that it has been delayed because of elaborate planning or laborious detailed preparation. The fact is that we can see now that on this front there has been no planning at all. We have had to wait for months in order to get the report on modernization 2094 from the Scottish Housing Advisory Committee. That report said:It is commonly felt that the benefits to be derived from modern houses and equipment should not be confined to those who are fortunate enough to secure the tenancy of a new house. A policy of modernisation makes those benefits available to people who have to live perhaps permanently in houses built before the war of 1914–18, and it is only fair that such people should have the benefits of modern housing research and technique. That these benefits are popular is indisputable. On our visits to modernised houses we were favourably impressed by the appreciation and satisfaction shown by the tenants.On the question of building labour, paragraphs 104 and 105 make the point about making fuller use through modernisation of the small builder, who is not readily mobilised for new construction. Paragraph 141 of the report says:Modernisation should supplement and not replace the building of new houses.I submit that that is a complete endorsement of the arguments that we on this side have been urging on the Government for nearly two years. Whatever the arguments may be for or against the tied cottage—and some hon. Members opposite have mentioned the tied cottage—I will not go into them now, but surely this is undoubtedly the silliest possible moment for forcing that issue. It is glaringly obvious now that because of the enormous demands on our housing resources we cannot hope for years to come to build the new houses required in our rural areas. We simply must modernise, and the question of whether a cottage is tied or not is a separate question. I had hoped that today the Secretary of State, when he made his opening speech, would have told us that he was going forward with some new proposal to help in modernisation of houses in the rural areas, something to replace the Housing (Rural Workers) Act. When the Socialist Government decided to sweep away that Act, in my view they struck a vital blow at the labour position in agriculture, because of the fact that houses are the key to production. The common sense policy for the Government is to revise their whole attitude by offering substantial assistance towards the modernisation of existing cottages approved by the Department of Health. I make that point about modernisation to show that we have two separate things to consider. We must have as many new houses as we can, and 2095 the second front on which this battle must be waged simultaneously is, in my opinion, modernisation.
If we look at the record of the Gov-eminent I think we shall see that Ministers have shirked the issue of the housing needs of our countryside. I dare say that two years ago it did not seem possible that food production at home would become a national interest second to none—not even second to coal, because you cannot get coal without food in your stomach, and I would put food before coal for that reason. The Government now face a hunger crisis, and the solution will depend on the labour available which, in turn, will depend on the houses which are put up in the countryside. I hope the Joint Under-Secretary, when he replies, will have something to say about the second front of modernisation, and what assistance will be offered to people who are ready and willing to put their existing houses into a fair state of repair. We have been told that a Socialist Government plan for everything, and that we have entered the era of planned economy. Certainly, today the Government have taken into their hands the control of almost everything one can imagine. They cannot have it both ways. Having done that the planners must accept the responsibility for everything that is being done in this country. They must accept the responsibility that flows from such a policy. They must swallow prejudice and get down to house building.
§ 7.57 P.m.
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
I am not going to speak at length, as I have spoken before in previous Debates. I only wish to make one or two very short observations. In my constituency I am continually brought up against the housing problem, and I find the bitterest feelings exist among those who occupy the temporary houses. I would like the Secretary of State to have a talk with the Minister of Health about temporary houses. The rent of £26 is far too heavy for many people to pay. A young couple with two children and only one wage coming in find it is a very heavy burden, and I want to impress that upon the Secretary of State. I hope he will take it up with the Ministry of Health. In regard to housing as a whole, the Secretary of State and the Government will have to face up 2096 to the situation which is arising in Scotland. There is a continual tendency all over the country to jump up the rents. One of the local authorities in my own area has just recently raised the rents by £4 10s. a year. That has a very bad effect on the tenant and causes a great disturbance in his mind. It is certainly not a method of helping in the general drive for production which we are anxious to obtain.
Then I would draw attention to the fact that this morning I and the other hon. Members for the Fife area received a letter from the Fife county clerk. I am certain that if I read it many of the expressions in it would appeal to hon. Members opposite, so I will only quote one small part, which says:There is no reason whatever for satisfaction in the records of housing progress during the period since the war terminated.I can only say that I am quite convinced that the Minister is not satisfied, and will not be satisfied, until every person in Scotland occupies a decent home. The county clerk goes on:One feels that cases like the following should be made public to those whose housing circumstances may not make them feel personally the gravity of the situation.It is, apparently, the Tories he is referring to. He then gives a number of cases, and those cases are a legacy. of Toryism and capitalism; there is no question about that at all. Here is a letter from Mrs. George Bell, 12, Fifth Street, Bowhill, Cardenden, and I hope hon. Members opposite will consider this. She writes:I am writing to ask if you will be kind enough to let me know if I will have any chance of one of the four-roomed houses which will be ready shortly as I would like to know. You already have all particulars. I am in one room with my husband and nine children.That has been going on all the time, and hon. Members opposite never bothered their heads about it. The clerk to the Fife County Council gives a number of cases of a similar character and I should like to mention this one from Mr. William Selfridge, 23, McDuff Street, East Wemyss:For 18 months my wife and I have lived apart, she at her mother's house and our three children and I at my mother's.That is a terrible situation and there are hundreds of cases of the same kind. Here is what Dr. F. McEwen Sinclair says of Mrs. Burchell, 91, South Glencraig: 2097There are in residence eight adults and one child. Mrs. Burchell expects to be confined in April, 1947.All are packed into two rooms. That is a deplorable situation, a legacy handed down from the other side. The Clerk goes on to say in his letter:Sub-letting is rampant in Fife and is undoubtedly the most clamant housing problem facing the county authority. Of the 7,000 applicants for county homes almost 3,000 have no homes of their own and are existing in all sorts of holes and corners in houses tenanted by other families.That is a picture of the situation that exists in Fife and in every county in Scotland. It is quite obvious that an extra special effort will have to be made in order to overcome it. The county clerk goes on to say in concluding his letter:If greater freedom were given to local authorities in the management of what is, after all, their own affair, and if the Government would concentrate on the securing of material and labour, I am sure very much greater progress will be made in the provision of houses.I hope the Minister will consider giving the fullest help to local authorities, as no doubt he will because of his great experience with local authorities. He should give them the greatest possible scope and let them get ahead with this housing problem. There is one further point I wish to make, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will take up this matter with the Ministry of Works. It is also from the county clerk:It is important to note that in this county in the village of Comrie, 85 sites for aluminium houses have been prepared for over six months and all services provided, and the Ministry of Works have delayed all that time in erecting the houses. This is an area where coalmining is the principal industry and yet the necessary priority has not been given to the house building. It is difficult to understand the reason for this.I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will take up this matter with the Ministry of Works. Here is my last word before I sit down. Yesterday in the Debate we had hon. Members drawing attention to the menace of America to this country. I want the Secretary of State aria those associated with him to understand that the hope of the people of this country for the future, whether on the question of employment or of the provision of houses through the supply of timber, is in the East and not in the West.
§ 8.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Carmichael (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
I take part in a Debate on housing for the 2098 first time in this House, and I make no apology for it. Unfortunately, I represent a part of the City of Glasgow which, together with a section of the constituency of the Under-Secretary of State, is about the most overcrowded part of the city. In the Debate today almost every Member declared that he was alarmed at the lack of progress in housing in Scotland, and that as it was No. 1 priority it should have the full backing of the entire Committee. I think that is agreed by all of us, and I should like to see the housing problem in Scotland solved very rapidly. I am not going to spend time arguing on the faults of the people in the past. Regarding the Opposition I will say this, that while they may be alarmed and unhappy at the housing problem, they tend to allow political opposition to override even the problem of housing. To them the advantage of scoring points against the Government is of paramount importance and not the solving of the housing problem.
If I make any criticism of the Government's programme, it is not with any desire to make political capital. I think we, who are the people of the working class movement, are entitled, if there should be any criticism, to make that criticism; in other words, we are entitled to criticise ourselves for our own shortcomings and even resent the criticism of outsiders. I want to make one or two points which I think ought to be cleared up by the Joint Under-Secretary of State in his reply. Great play has been made in the Debate on the new policy pursued by the Government both in England and in Scotland whereby in future partially built houses shall be completed rather than getting ahead with new building. In that there is the great danger that there will be a hold-up of a certain number of workmen who have no part to play in the completion of the job but who are involved in the preparatory work. If a shortsighted policy is adopted there will be bottlenecks which will take many months to get rid of. I hope there will be an attempt always to see that the incomplete part of the job is well in advance of the start of new building, so as to avoid a clogging of the industrial machine.
I want to mention the temporary houses as against the permanent houses. One of the unfortunate things about the permanent house building since the war—and it has to be admitted because the figures are here and cannot be disputed—is that 2099 we have been able to build approximately 50 per cent. fewer permanent houses during the period since 1945 than were produced per annum during the war. That needs explaining. I cannot understand why we could build over 6,000 per annum when the war was on and today we have built little more than 7,000. I do not raise that matter to score debating points, but I think it requires to be answered.
§ Mr. Carmichael
On page 65 of the Special Report on "Industry and Employment in Scotland," Chapter 19, which deals with housing. I will read one part:In all, some 36,200 new houses were completed during the war.Those are factors which we are entitled to examine. We are advised that there are as many people engaged in the building industry now as prior to the war. We must remember that in addition to these 7,000 permanent houses, 16,000 temporary houses were completed. Therefore, it is unfair to try to argue that the entire building industry is concentrated on the permanent houses; many of the people engaged on temporary houses are inside factories and completely divorced from the well-established methods of permanent house building. I leave that point because I think the Under-Secretary of State now understands the line that I have been taking.
One other matter upon which I should like some guidance and information from the hon. Gentleman is building other than house building. I was advised by a prominent member of the Corporation of Glasgow that since the end of the war something like £7 million had been allocated by special order to building other than housing in that city. I asked him if he was quite sure that the figure did not apply to Scotland as a whole, but he replied that he was perfectly certain that it concerned Glasgow alone. It is true that that figure of £7 million must include some building material associated with factories, but it would be interesting to discover the actual figure for house building as against that.
I come now to the question of the reconditioning and repairing which is now proceeding on many buildings other than 2100 factory buildings. Littlewoods, a well-known company which made its money from football pools, came to Glasgow from Liverpool and, presumably by paying fancy prices, took possession of a great block of buildings in the centre of the city. I understand that they are now preparing for a complete overhaul of the interior of those premises and changing them from beginning, to end because they are not adaptable to the work of the company. With all due respect to Little-woods, whether they are engaged in football pools or in anything else, I want to know whether people of that kind have priority over housing. No matter what kind of business they are conducting, in my view there can be no question of permitting one penny to be spent there until we are much further ahead with housing.
That is all I have to say on the problem of temporary accommodation, except that I hope that the several Departments concerned will carefully examine the question of temporary houses as against permanent ones. The temporary house is very useful for the small family, but the biggest problem we have today is the overcrowding of large families. No matter how we try to explain to the ordinary people that they cannot have temporary houses, they feel that there is some dishonesty in our method of allocation. I know from experience that persons with eight or 10 children living in a single apartment in Glasgow say, "Why cannot we have a temporary house? It may be small, but at any rate it is a big advance on the one we are living in now." We cannot answer that, and the fact is that people who have been waiting for a long time feel that they are passed over by those going into temporary houses. I do hope that permanent house building will be examined from that angle.
I turn now to the question of the coordination of the Departments concerned. I may be wrong, but my own feeling is that a great mistake was made in the first place in setting figures which could never be achieved. No one suggests that those figures were deliberately misleading, but surely there is evidence there of some lack of co-ordination in the administration of the Departments. I suggest that there is room for a greater degree of coordination among the Departments responsible for house building. I will even go so far as to say that although the person responsible for providing 2101 housing cannot have the same power as Ministers during a war emergency, he nevertheless requires much more power than he has at the moment. It would be interesting to know the relationship of the Housing Department with the Department of Works and the Ministry of Supply. How often do they meet and examine the figures in relation to England? How do they compare with Scotland? How often do they examine the overcrowded industrial belts and make allocations accordingly? The job is difficult, but precisely because it is difficult, the responsibility on the person in charge should be a responsibility which is not diverted by other responsibilities.
Mention has been made of the workers. It is quite true—I say it as a trade unionist—that criticism has been lodged against many of the trade unionists in the building industry. Criticism has been expressed in the hope that the workers will improve their methods of building houses. I think the wrong approach is made. T o stand here and lecture them is not the line of approach that will get results—and we want results. We require greater co-operation. How often are the men who are actually building the houses on the sites brought into intimate contact with the employers in the industry and with Government representatives? It is true that their trade union officials are called in—merely to regulate wages and certain conditions—but the ordinary working people in the industry, as right hon. Members on the Government benches know very well, feel that they have no idea how long the job they are doing is going to last and they have not, therefore, the social conscience which we desire to see in the building industry. I want to see social conscience developed in the workers, apart from their particular trade, craft or calling. We have no right to express criticism unless we are prepared to sit down in the most intimate way and discuss problems with them from time to time rather than to lecture them. We have to be one and the same family trying to solve a social problem.
If I have said anything critical, I have said it to the Labour Government because I see no other Government solving this problem. I say with the best will in the world to the hon. Members on the Opposition benches that not only have we a legacy of the past, but that if it were 2102 possible or the Tory Party to regain power in this country I would despair of the possibility of Glasgow or any of the other big towns being rebuilt as they should be. This is a great responsibility for the Labour Government. I hope, and I feel, that the Labour Government can do this job, but it requires all the coordination to which I have referred. What is, housing? It is not matter, as we have often said in earlier days, of finding a habitation for families. Housing is the foundation upon which the social life of the people depends. If we desire to build up a people with an education that gives them a cultured and intellectual outlook on social problems they have to be housed in a way they never understood in the past.
There is a certainty in the minds of many decent ordinary working people that they are now going to have an opportunity of giving their children a chance. I back this Government because I feel it is the only Government that has ever made a real attempt at the job, with all its shortcomings. I hope that as a result of this Debate there will be an examination of all the points which have been made and that the outcome will be that not only the Government Front Bench, but the people employed permanently by the Government, will look upon this as a priority and that they will be ruthless to those who come along with priorities for other kinds of people. It is difficult to say to people, "You have a good case in the abstract but, I am sorry, you are not going to be considered," but it has to be done. If it is done in regard to housing, we shall make a progressive step forward to Scotland that will redound to the credit of our people, not merely in solving the housing problem but in giving our people an opportunity to live as they are entitled to live, with a broad and decent outlook on the affairs of the world.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Major McCallum (Argyll)
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Carmichael) will not be surprised if I do not agree with him that a Tory Government could not do a great deal better than the present one. As time is short, I shall not indulge in recriminations over the past. I want to put to the Joint Under-Secretary of State a few points to which I hope he will be able, if he cannot answer them 2103 now, to give consideration in his Department. The hon. Member for Bridgeton stressed the unsuitability of temporary houses as compared with permament houses. I shall refer to the West Highlands where after the war we were lucky enough to find camps in several areas which were good enough to serve as temporary housing sites.
One of them was near Oban in the County of Argyllshire, and it helped to solve immediately the overcrowding problems existing in the rural areas which are just as bad as in the urban areas. I am informed on reliable authority, however, that even those houses are already beginning to deteriorate though, when they were built, it was said that they would stand for ten years. Therefore, the housing situation for that part of Argyllshire is more serious than was thought originally. The Secretary of State said in his opening address that he had despatched Cruden houses to various landward areas of which Argyllshire was one. In fact, sites have been prepared in Oban for a number of Cruden houses, but no Cruden houses have appeared. I do not know whether they got lost on the way or what has happened.
The right hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Mathers), whom I congratulate upon his honour, mentioned the question of slates. Near to my home are some cottages being built by private enterprise on which I was astounded to See that they were putting Welsh slates—Welsh slates on Scottish cottages, not 15 miles away from the quarries where they can get all the slates needed to cover the houses of Scotland! I was interested to know how it could possibly happen, though I know it happened during the war. I was informed that it was because of the shortage of timber. The Welsh slate, being machine-cut, can be cut so thin that it does not weigh as much as the Scottish slate, and therefore one can use smaller timbers for roofing. Also, as they fit more closely one need not have the same high pitch; and again, one can reduce the amount of timber required. That is a serious situation for the Scottish slate industry, which the Scottish Council on Industry is doing its best at the moment to revive. I hope it may be possible to enlarge the quota of timber for those areas so that they can use Scottish slates on the cottages.
2104 The timber shortage is, I believe, the key to the hold-up in houses. The hon. and learned Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Hector Hughes) said that timber can be fetched from the Baltic or wherever it may be, but that there are no ships in which to fetch it. I do not think he can have travelled round the West coast or the sea lochs of Scotland at all because in several of them are ships lying idle. In Loch Eil there are at least ten or 12 good-sized merchant ships lying idle. They may still be full of ammunition, as they were during the war, but could not the ammunition be dumped and those ships sent off to the Baltic to bring timber? If the advice offered was followed, I am quite sure that timber supplies could be obtained.
Again, I had a recent case which I sent to the Joint Under-Secretary about repairs to agricultural buildings. Once more it was shortage of timber. I may have put the Question to the Ministry of Works, I am not sure, but I asked if it was not possible, as the timber control allocations are now under the Department of Health of Scotland, to allow proprietors who have timber and can carry out repairs with their own timber to have licences in order to do so. I am thinking of a particular farm which is not in production because the proprietor cannot get the timber, and cannot get a permit to supply the timber himself. Various bottlenecks like that could be cleared out of the way.
The Secretary of State said that a large number of houses had been allotted to landward areas. I am concerned about the rural areas. I believe that at a Press conference he said he was hoping to see groups of eight cottages established in villages in order to house agricultural workers. But that type of housing for farm workers in the more remote parts of the Highlands will not fill the programme at all. I do not want again to raise the old argument about the tied cottage, but there are areas where agricultural workers must live near the farms. Farms are scattered, and it is no good putting up 8 cottages in a block, from which labourers will have to go four or five miles; over hilly country, to their work. It is essential to have sufficient independent houses to house the agricultural workers. The Forestry Commission can get the houses, why cannot the Department of Agriculture? It is reported that the Com- 2105 mission are going to build eight or 10 houses in a village on Loch Awe. I do not know where they get the timber from, but I suppose it all comes from the same Government pool, and if the Forestry Commission can do that, why cannot the Department of Agriculture? Those eight or 10 cottages will certainly be tied cottages, because no one but Forestry Commission employees will be housed in them.
§ 8.29 p.m.
§ Mr. McLean Watson (Dunfermline Burghs)
I wish to intervene for a moment on an aspect of the problem which was only mentioned by the Secretary of State. The hon. Member for West Perth (Mr. Snadden) devoted his remarks largely to the question of the rural areas. I wish to refer to the mining areas. The Secretary of State mentioned that additional housing for miners is to be undertaken by local authorities in association with the National Coal Board. I hope that this matter will receive the urgent attention of the Secretary of State. We have been promised these additional houses for miners, and they are most urgently required. The hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) referred to a letter which has been sent to all Members of Parliament for the county of Fife on the condition of housing in mining areas in his constituency. I would point out to the Secretary of State and to the Joint Under-Secretary who is to reply, that it is general over the whole of the West Fife coalfield. It is not confined to the area mentioned in the county clerk's letter; it is general from east to west in the Fife coalfield. The coalfield there is developing. We are promised big developments in the future. Practically new colliery villages will have to be built, but as an immediate measure we are promised a share of the 2,000 houses which were promised as additional housing for miners.
I do not know whether the county clerk's letter has been sent to the Department. If it has, I hope the Secretary of State will give it a little consideration, because it illustrates the scandalous overcrowding which is taking place in the mining areas. I do not speak for the county of Midlothian, though I dare say that condition of affairs exists in the county. For many years I have complained about the housing conditions in my constituency, which is enclosed by 2106 the constituency of the hon. Member for West Fife. In my constituency, at least in the Burghs of Cowdenbeath and Lochgelly, conditions are just as bad, and can provide just as shocking illustrations as the ones which were quoted by the hon. Member for West Fife. In Cowdenbeath especially we have had a housing problem for many years. We have had exceptional circumstances there, for over and over again houses in the burgh were undermined, and many of its streets, were wrecked by underground workings. The local authority have had a terrible job to keep their services going. It has been pretty costly to keep those services in good condition. Houses have been wrecked, re-erected and wrecked again by the continual undermining that has taken place in that burgh.
That has created a difficult job for the local authority. When they tried to get new ground for additional houses they had the same problem to face as they had had to face in the past, the fact that they could not get on with building extensions to the burgh without running the risk of having their houses undermined. For years we have had there a condition of overcrowding which has been shocking. I think that at one time the burghs of Cowdenbeath and Lochgelly shared the honour, if it can be so called, of having the largest number of one-and two-apartment houses of any burghs of comparable size. The local authorities have been able to take advantage of certain housing Acts in order to build houses to replace the houses that have had to be demolished, and those which have had to be closed as being unhabitable. In spite of all that the local authorities have done we have a considerable amount of overcrowding in the burgh of Cowdenbeath, and I believe that the same is true in the burgh of Lochgelly. I believe that they have been pacified to a certain extent by the promise of a new town in this area, which is to be established between these two burghs.
I do not know whether it is the intention that new houses should be built only in the new town or whether, in addition, the local authorities of Cowdenbeath and Lochgelly will be able to get on with their housing programmes in the same way as they did between the wars. I hope that they will be able to get on with their programmes. In addition to permanent and temporary houses which are being 2107 built, many more are required. Unfortunately,, very few have been completed in either of the burghs. I hope that the promise of a new town will not rob these two burghs of their share of the building materials and labour necessary to enable them to continue the building of houses to replace those which ought to be demolished. All over West Fife the housing situation is terrible, not only in the mining areas but in Dunfermline. In the burgh of Dunfermline there is a naval base and houses must be provided for dockyard workers. In addition, there is the demand of the workers in the coalmines.
I wish to refer to the remarks made by hon. Members opposite about the reconditioning of houses. I have no particular prejudice against reconditioning. I know that there are a considerable number of houses in Scotland which could be reconditioned and made into much better houses than many of the new ones which are being built. Many old houses can be reconditioned and modernised. I prefer the reconditioning of good brick or stone built houses to the erection of many of the temporary houses which are now being built. Hon. Gentlemen opposite are continually asking the Government about the operation of the Housing (Rural Workers) Acts. I hope that in future the financial conditions will be very different from what they were hitherto. If once again we are asked to hand over £2,000,000 to Scottish landowners for the reconditioning of their cottages, I am sure we on this side of the Committee will think twice before we agree. I have no objection to reconditioning if the structure of a house is sound. But I have a decided objection to the handing out of millions of public money to owners of property, particularly to landowners. We know how they considered the interests of their workers in the past. The owners themselves ought to have been keeping the houses in a better state of repair and even reconditioning them at their own expense—
§ Commander Galbraith
The hon. Gentleman is, of course, aware that the report of the Hobhouse Committee stated quite categorically that nothing whatever would accrue to the owners, and that, in fact, all the advantage goes to the tenants in the arrangement which they suggest?
§ Mr. Watson
I am referring to what was done under the Housing (Rural Workers) Act, and the payments made to the landowners in the past for the reconditioning of their property. In the clays when they existed, most of these properties had paid their owners over and over again, and the owners ought to have been compelled to keep their properties in a proper state of repair. Instead of that, under this Act, which hon. Gentlemen opposite want to see again, money from the public purse was paid to the landlords to the tune of millions of pounds. Should this proposition again come before the House of Commons, we shall watch very carefully the financial conditions that are attached to it. Finally, when we are talking about a great expansion of the coalmining industry in the West of Fife, we should remember that, before there can be any great development of coalmining, there will require to be provided a large number of houses for those who are to dig the coal in that area.
§ 8.42 p.m.
§ Colonel J. R. H. Hutchison (Glasgow, Central)
One has noticed, in listening to the speeches in today's Debate by hon. Members opposite, with the notable and refreshing exception of the hon. Member for Dunfermline Burghs (Mr. Watson), an obvious loyalty to the instruction which no doubt have gone out from headquarters to try to throw a smoke screen across the failure of what they said would be their earliest and their greatest test. That smoke screen, of course, will in time wear thin, and, as for the heritage from the past, that was blown into smithereens by the independent and courageous speech of the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Carmichael), who pointed out that during the war there were, in fact, more houses being built than at the present time. What becomes of the heritage of the interwar years, then, since, during the war, and with the war upon our shoulders, we were building more houses than are being built now? Nothing could hide the fact that the Government have, up to now, failed. They invited themselves to be judged by this test of housing, and, now they find that, after almost two years of urgent operational endeavour in the production of houses on the most scientific scale—on the same scale as war materials during the war—the jeers and sneers which they levelled at our party at the 2109 time of the General Election are hanging in judgment over their heads. So the instructions have gone out, we perceive, from some of the more vitriolic speeches, for this barrage or smoke screen of the heritage of the past to try to cloak the failure which is only too apparent.
What is the present position, taking the Government's own papers and the last published figures? We find that there is a labour force of 53,000 all employed on house construction, of which 28,000 are employed on permanent houses—and it is the permanent housing situation that I should like to examine. We find that construction had been begun on 46,000 houses, and that 8,500 had been completed, and that is the position that we have now. In May a White Paper was issued in which a target was given as to the Government's intention, and probable success, of completing 24,000 houses. That had to be abandoned. I think any fair-minded person would agree that certain other new factors did come into it, which made the achievement of any target previously accepted much more difficult to realise, but now we do not know what the target is.
We hear figures, such as that of 12,000 houses, but we do not know. But let me follow the independent speech of the hon. Member for Bridgeton, and take the conservative figure of 20,000 houses. Let us assume that the hon. Gentleman now hopes that he can achieve 20,000 instead of 24,000. Of course, if the figure is less, my point is all the stronger. The situation is out of balance. That has been admitted by all hon. Members who have spoken on both sides of the Committee. What we say is that with intelligent planing, that balance would never have become so disjointed as it is now. One for one is the ideal. Too many houses were started in the enthusiasm of the Government to get this urgent question settled. They allowed the whole thing to come out of phase. What will be the situation? We have 20,000 houses as the target for 1947, and there are about 28,000 houses in varying stages, from the very earliest stage, up to the point where, in the Government's opinion, they no longer justify the use of timber.
Timber, by all admission, is the real bottleneck in this matter or, at any rate, the earliest bottleneck. So we shall have 28,000 houses gradually pushing on until they reach wall head level, when timber 2110 becomes absolutely vital. As a matter of fact, timber is required at an earlier stage in order to do the job economically, but it can be done by ignoring timber requirements until the wall head level is reached. There is no labour shortage. By and large, there is enough labour to be able to deal with what is going through the disjointed process of the supply of houses. So, as the joiners and those engaged in the latter stages of completion of the houses move on in groups of 5,000, or whatever is the number of houses, we shall have the situation arising that at the end of the year we shall have one of three things happening. Either the whole of this joiner labour force will concentrate on the last batch of houses in the last week of December, which is obviously absurd; or we shall have them put out of employment and on the exchange; or they will have to be used, outside this target of 20,000 houses, on timber work on other houses. So we can take our choice. Either the scheme is abandoned or the unemployed are increased, or we have the fantastic situation of all the joiners in Scotland concentrating upon, perhaps, 5,000 houses in the last week in December.
Exactly the same thing will happen with those not employed on the timber side of the construction of houses. We shall be moving on with the construction of 28,000 houses up to a point where we must stop because we reach wallhead level. There is a balance of the 28,000 men who constitute the labour force employed, exclusive of those employed on the latter stage of the building. Practically the whole of those houses which have already been started will move to wallhead level and then stop, and there will be unemployement among the builders, or else we must start again, take new tenders and commence building new houses. So that, as the labour force has already been sufficient in the wallhead level stage of the house to produce an unbalance, it will only increase that unbalance at the end of December, 1947. Look at it as we will, it seems to me that either this system of concentrating on a limited number of houses and completing them must be abandoned, or we shall have unemployment, or else we shall have to go back to a stage where we have a tremendous, and even greater, unbalance than we have now.
2111 Is there anything we can do about the timber shortage—because timber is, undoubtedly, the bottleneck? It is always difficult for an Opposition to make constructive suggestions. There falls over their eyes a sort of iron curtain between them and facts. Those on the other side of the Committee have the information from which they can build up their case. We have to judge by experience and by past promises, and, therefore, hon. Members opposite must not find it surprising if we harp back to Election promises. However, certain ideas which may aid the situation cross one's mind. What is the timber position?
It is clear that we cannot hope for very much more than the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues are counting on to complete the project of housing. But is there anything we can do with Russia? We heard last year that we tried to send for timber from Russia after the Baltic had closed. I hope that that mistake is not being made again. What has happened to the 40,000 standards of timber said to be coming from Russia? Will not Russia play? Are we getting any timber? What is happening in Canada? I am satisfied that the Canadian Government would help us in any way they could. They have shown great understanding of our difficulties, and in this matter they would help, I have no doubt, if they could. Then there is Sweden. We have heard that in Sweden there are great masses of timber, great piles waiting, but the Swedes will not sell us their timber unless we can sell Sweden coal. So, as in the old days all roads led to Rome, now, today we find that all roads lead to coal.
I am also informed—and, perhaps, the hon. Gentleman will touch on this point when he replies—that the Swedish people are anxious to sell their timber houses. I further understand that there is enough timber in one Swedish house to finish eight brick houses—that the timber required for eight ordinary, traditional type houses, can, in fact, be got out of one Swedish house. So I suggest that, even though it would cost more—because costs have long since gone by the board, and houses left at wallhead level have disjointed all costing calculations—we should offer to buy from the Swedes a number of their timber houses, that they are pre- 2112 pared to sell, and that we should ask that they should not come in the shape of houses, but in the shape of the timber In them, so that we can construct houses of our own traditional type. I throw that out as a suggestion worth considering.
My next point is about the allocation of timber for houses. At the present time allocation of timber for houses is given, as I understand it, to the timber merchant, and he draws the whole of the two standards required per house. He draws that timber, and so we have a certain wastage, in the time while the houses are being built, before the timber for them is required. I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should see whether allocations can be made in half standards at a time, in stages, according to immediate needs. Further, allocations to merchants now are made on the 1938 basis, and that is an unhappy basis; I would suggest that allocations of timber to merchants should be in conformity with the needs of each district, so that a merchant does not have, for instance, to go to Peterhead from Glasgow for it, when the timber is required in Glasgow.
Then there is the question of the shortage of water in rural areas. Houses in rural areas cannot be built without water supplies. Two years ago a report was called for concerning co-ordination of supplies of water for rural houses. Nothing has been heard of it since that date. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will say something about this when he replies. Meanwhile, the drift goes on from the rural areas to the towns, and the drift goes on in the consideration of this problem of the supply of water. The whole problem of housing has become disjointed. I want to read for a moment from the leading article in "The Times" of this morning. It applies to the whole of the building industry, both to the past and the present time, in Scotland and in England. It says:The building industry stands out among the nation's leading trades today for its poor output and general inefficiency. The gap between the performance of the best and the worst firms is enormous, but the industry as a whole still retains the place it has held for several generations as one of the least progressive and most wasteful of British industries, negligent of research, indifferent to innovation, and backward in management and welfare.This is a terrible indictment. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will succeed in 2113 putting some of that right. The Government's planning has gone sadly astray. The test that they invited themselves to be judged by is upon them. I can only hope that, in the interests of my constituents, who are living in overcrowded conditions of the most terrible sort in Glasgow, especially in Townhead, they will find a solution to this problem.
Stones are cast at hon. Members on this side of the Committee as being hypocrites in this matter. I can take hon. Members opposite to my constituency and show them houses which are shameful, in whatever period they originated. It is for the Government to get on with the planning, to plan afresh and to get this thing properly into focus. Their present plan has gone wrong, although devised by these great high priests of planning. If they do not get on with the job they will find that the country will arise, awaken to its sense of danger and cast them into the wilderness where false planners and false prophets belong, where they will be able to plan, and plan, and plan without doing any harm to anybody any more.
§ 8.56 p.m.
§ Mr. J. S. C. Reid (Glasgow, Hillhead)
The provision of houses during this last year has fallen so far short of the needs of Scotland, and so far short of the promises of right hon. Gentlemen opposite, that we felt it was essential at this time to have a Debate upon this subject. Our purpose, I think, could be put in this way. First, we wish to put the facts on record; secondly, we want to bring home to the Government their failure to meet their responsibilities; thirdly, we want to cooperate in searching out the causes of that failure; and fourthly—and perhaps optimistically—we want to try to convince the Government that they have been proceeding on the wrong lines, and must in future proceed on quite different lines if they are to make any progress.
On that last point I am a little encouraged by the noticeable change of tone in the speeches from the back benches opposite when compared with the Debate of eight months ago. Last time most of the speeches were full of hope. Indeed, we on this side of the Committee were recommended to make all the criticism we could as quickly as possible because next time there was a Debate we should not be able to refrain from cheering, and it would be impossible for us to criticise any more. 2114 What a change today. Practically every hon. Member opposite who has spoken has not tried to defend the Government, but has answered, "Oh, but the Tories were much worse." We then get back to the question of who created the slums, and all the rest of it. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why not?"] Why not? Because I thought we were trying to face, if not the future, at least the present. Hon. Members opposite, having faced the future and seen it not at all to their liking, are facing the past in the hope of regaining some confidence.
One thing hon. Members opposite always conveniently forget, and hope that they can get their supporters to forget, is that during the 20 years between the wars—many of them very difficult years—the Governments of the time did at least rehouse one-quarter of the total population of Scotland. I should have thought that that was not bad going for 20 years. There is no sign of any such progress during the coming time, as vet; indeed, I think it would be fair to say that up to date, since the present Government have come into office, they have only just kept pace—if indeed they have kept pace—with the wastage and decay of the existing houses. There are 1,300,000 houses in Scotland. All of those houses suffer wear and tear every year, and a good many of them become past reasonable habitation every year. At present, of course, we have to go on using houses which were condemned, or should have been condemned, very many years ago. I do not think the present rate of progress is keeping pace with the rate of decay.
Therefore, we are no further forward than—if, indeed, we are as far as—we were at the end of the war. I should have thought there ought to have been some prospects of immediate and real improvement. Twice within the last 12 months the Government have promised a definite performance, but on each occasion their programme has failed miserably within a matter of a few weeks after its announcement. I ask why these things happen, because if we can find the answer to that, we can prevent the thing happening again. I am very much afraid that unless we do reach the answer, it will go on and on, because it is the inevitable result of the present Government's methods. In the case of the second programme in January, there is the convenient excuse of the bad weather, but 2115 for the first programme, there is no excuse at all. The Joint Under-Secretary stated very definitely last September that the Government were going to finish 7,300 houses before the end of December. It was not merely an estimate or a hope; it was something much more than that. I will quote the words which were used, according to Press reports, at a Press Conference.It has been decided that by making labour and material available for these houses, they can be completed by the end of December.After telling us about super-priorities, he said:We propose to let nothing stand in the way of the supply of materials needed for their completion.Apparently, that was the advice his technical people gave him, and they thought that the target was possible, but what happened? All he could build was 1,600 out of 7,300. There was no bad weather, no fuel shortage. What was it? We have not heard yet. If we could have an answer to that question, it might be that we could have an answer to the wider question of what is wrong with the whole business. It would be interesting if we could find out just who let the promise down. Was it the organisation of the Minister's Department. Was it the local authorities? I do not think so. Was it the trade? I do not think so. Was it his colleagues? I think that is where the fault lies. But, as yet, we do not know. It certainly was not labour, because as has been pointed out by the hon. Gentleman, he had, at that time, a large labour force—
§ Mr. Reid
In September. Let me read the Press cutting of what the hon. Gentleman is reported to have said:The labour employed in actually building houses at present totals 30,046, more than we have ever had before.So it was not labour that was the trouble. As I shall try to point out, the trouble has been that the hon. Gentleman has had too much labour, which has had very unfortunate consequences. In spite of that failure, the Government did not learn from it. They came along with another housing programme in January for 24,000 houses in Scotland, out of a total of 240,000 houses for the United Kingdom in 1947. Again, this was not an estimate, 2116 according to statements that were made. The hon. Gentleman put up one of his high officials to explain this matter on 25th March last, long after the frost, long after it was quite obvious that the coal situation had taken a turn for the worse. A report of what this official said read as follows:The question was approached scientifically. Estimates are being made by the Supply Departments, and, in the light of detailed knowledge of the labour position and supply of materials, by the Ministries of Labour and Works. A careful and exhaustive examination shows that probably the number of permanent houses which we can reasonably expect to build in 1947 is about 24,000.That was said without qualification, or anything about the weather, or coal, at the end of March. On 15th April, the Secretary of State said in the House that the number of houses then under construction was 35,000, and that it was estimated that it might be possible to complete 24,000 by the end of the yar. What happened? A fortnight later the whole thing was blown sky-high. At the beginning of May, the March figures were published, and they blew the whole programme to bits. What happened during that fortnight? It would be interesting to know Are we to take it that it was not until the end of April that the Secretary of State realised that there had been a coal crisis, and bad weather? Are we to take it that he was quite unaware of the effects of these things on 15th April, that his officials were unaware of these things on 25th March? Does it take so long for these obvious things to get into the heads of members of this Government? It is astonishing that it was only in the second half of April that the Government realised that something had happened to blow up their plans. If that is the way our affairs are being conducted there is no hope of housing progress in Scotland, and the sooner somebody comes into office who is prepared to keep pace with things, the more likely are we to make some progress.
What was the effect of the weather which has been put so high in the catalogue of misfortunes by the Government? Judging by the figures which the right hon. Gentleman gave yesterday, and one's knowledge, not as a skilled man, but as an observer of the whole situation, I should doubt very much whether the weather actually cut down the production of houses by more than 1,000. It does not appear from the figures, and I do not 2117 think it appears from the known facts of the situation. I would not take exception to calling the figure 2,000. If we had been told that the 24,000 target could not he reached, but that 22,000 could possibly he reached, nobody would have criticised.
What about the coal shortage? We, who have no access to the official figures, do not know what the full effects of that shortage will be, but will that crisis really cut down the number of houses from 22,000 to the 11,000 or 12,000 which, it is rumoured, will be the possible achievement for the Government this year? Is the coal shortage to cost Scotland 10,000 houses this year? If so, let us know it, because it is an incredible state of affairs that the Government have so muddled the situation that the lack of a mere 5 million to 10 million tons of coal has been allowed to act so as not only to deprive us of £200 million worth of foreign exchange, but of 10,000 houses in Scotland, 100,000 in England and Wales, and many other things as well. All that for 10 million tons of coal. Is it conceivable that planners have so planned that the lack of a few million tons of coal should have such appalling consequences?
Does not this suggest to the right hon. Gentleman and Members opposite that this rigid centralised planning is not working, and never will work? Does it not suggest to them that until they get away from that they will never produce houses, that they will produce programmes and blueprints, but never houses in any number? I should have thought that this would have put into the heads of the most convinced Socialists some doubts about the possibilities of their theories ever working in practice. If I am right in thinking that the probable cause is as deep as that, it is naturally no good our suggesting tinkering amendments to get a few more houses. The whole system will have to be changed before we can make any progress.
Sometimes it is suggested that this is a contest between planning and not planning. It is nothing of the kind. No one produces anything without planning, and the contest is between rigid planning at the centre by people who have little experience and knowledge and no financial stake in the result as against planning by people who are on the job, have the knowledge and have a financial stake in whether their plans succeed or not. That 2118 is the contest between those two different kinds of planning. I think that until the Government depart from rigid planning to the decentralised planning where, at every stage, there is somebody with an interest in seeing that things go ahead, they never will achieve success; and all that has been planned in the last two years makes that the more obvious.
We were told at one time that there was to be a housing Minister. I can understand that the Government did not pursue that because they could not find anyone big enough to tackle the job. I am not making that as a political point, because I should think that there is no man alive who is big enough to tackle the job. It is not the kind of job that can be tackled. But the present system is worse. It consists of six or eight Departments all being responsible for their own little bit, and no one knowing where is the division. I remember a Debate in the House in February when we tried to discover whether the Minister of Health or the Minister of Works was responsible for a particular type of house, and no one could discover. We did ultimately, but no one would answer for it, in the Debate. This very elaborate division of responsibility is far worse than trying to put the thing under the head of perhaps one man. Who is the driving force behind it? Is there one? It does not appear as if there is. We have a Minister of Labour, whose name is on the Motion today, and a Minister of Works—and I noticed that although hon. Gentlemen opposite do not like criticising the Scottish Office, they do not hesitate to criticise the Minister of Works, so I wilt let that topic stand where it is left by hon. Gentlemen opposite. We have a Minister of Supply, and the Board of Trade are responsible for quite a number of things, timber among them, the allocation of coal, and so on, and behind it all we have the menacing shadow of the. Minister of Fuel and Power who fails to produce the motive power for the whole thing.
Let us take timber as an example of how badly the system works. The right hon. Gentleman says, I have nothing to do with timber; I have to get that from the Board of Trade." They go round the world apparently looking for people who are offering to sell them timber. Of course, in a sellers' market they probably 2119 do not find people in that way. One has to go out and try to induce them to sell timber. What about Germany? There is another division of responsibility. The Board of Trade are responsible for timber, but are not responsible for Germany. They say that the German Department tell them there is no timber, but the people responsible for Germany are not in direct touch with the Scottish Office or the Ministry of Health, and they are not subject to direct pressure. I cannot understand why, in the course of two years, with all that timber standing in Germany, we should not have had some more here by this time. It wants a good deal of explanation, and if there had been unified responsibility for the provision of timber, including timber from Germany, and if there had been a better set-up in the German administration, I have not the least doubt that we could have had a great deal of timber from Germany by now.
Being a Minister in this Government must be a nerve-racking job. They never know when they are going to be let down by their own side. Right hon. Gentlemen have been let down twice this year. Partly, I have no doubt, it is their own fault, but very largely I feel quite sure it is some bomb belonging to some other Department which has suddenly exploded and blown up their schemes. Why these matters were not foreseen, I do not know. One would have thought that in a matter like timber, where the situation does not change overnight, the people who produced the programme in January could have foreseen two or three months ahead, but by the end of April the position with regard to timber had so worsened that the whole thing collapsed. We were told today that timber, in spite of the weather and the coal shortage, was still the worst shortage. Very well; the other shortages do not matter very much, because even if we had had plenty of the other things, we should not apparently have had any more houses because the timber would have been—in that case, even more markedly—the critical shortage. That being so, and it having been obvious a long time ago, what happened between January and April so to worsen the timber situation? It was not shipping, for there is plenty of shipping. It was not dollars—at least I hope it was' not, let us hear about it if it was—because we have not 2120 heard that the situation has altered during these few months with regard to purchases overseas. What was it?
§ Mr. Reid
I know. I am asking whether dollars have been a limiting factor in the purchase of timber, because personally I think the people of Scotland would rather have timber for houses than grapefruit, which were bought, with grapes and pears, in very large quantities by the Minister of Food. If dollars were the shortage, then I think we shall have something to say about the way in which our dollar resources have been squandered. But was that the shortage, and if not, what was it? Was there some foreign country which suddenly changed its mind and, having promised timber, refused to let us have it, and if so, why? We really must hear about these things; otherwise we shall be almost forced to the conclusion that these estimates are founded upon as little investigation and as little thought as the estimates of the Minister of Fuel and Power, and I should hate to think that the Scottish Office or for that matter any other Department, is as badly administered as the Department of Fuel and Power. I hope we shall not be driven to that conclusion.
I pass now to the future. What is to happen? We are told that the programme has collapsed. A detailed allocation was made; is that allocation to be curtailed, or how is the shortfall to be allocated among the various authorities? We have never been told that. Is there to be preference for certain authorities over the others; for example, are the rural authorities to have preference over the urban authorities? I represent a city constituency, but in the interests of my constituents I would not object to the rural authorities getting a preference. If the Paymaster-General is right we are threatened with a 50 per cent. cut in our rations, and therefore it would be very shortsighted for city constituencies to say that they grudge the rural constituencies timber for the erection of houses for those who labour in the fields. I hope that the Government will not think that those who dwell in the cities would regard it amiss if the production of our food, on which we shall probably all have to depend very soon, is given the first priority—even higher than the miners. 2121 You can do without coal for a while, but you cannot do without food at all. Therefore, the degree of priority must be higher than that given to the miners. Surely agriculture must come first, looking to the very critical food situation about which we have already been warned by the Government's statistical experts.
We were told by the Secretary of State that if the quota of houses under the allocation were completed by any local authority, they could go on and erect some more if they could obtain materials, and he said that he intended to help them to obtain those materials. Supposing the quota is not completed; supposing all the brickwork up to the wall head is done, but you cannot complete the quota because you cannot obtain the internal fittings; your bricklayers are looking for another job, although the other tradesmen cannot get on because they cannot obtain the fittings. Does the Secretary of State mean that as soon as the job of a particular class of craftsman is finished on the existing allocation, those tradesmen will be allowed to carry on with another lot of houses in the same area? I think that was probably what was meant, but I hope the Joint Under-Secretary will make it clear in his reply.
I turn now to another matter Are we to be scaled down in proportion to England? I thought we had a rather meagre allocation under the original housing programme in January. We received only one-tenth of the number of houses, although we have considerably more than a tenth of the population and our overcrowding is vastly greater than that of England. Overcrowding in Scotland was six times as bad as that in England before the war. I agree that enemy action has affected England more than Scotland, but I should be surprised to find that even yet overcrowding in England was anything like as bad as it is in Scotland. Therefore, on that ground also it seems to me that we have a pretty meagre allocation.
According to the original Government plan for Scotland, 24,000 out of 32,000 houses which have been started—that is to say, only three-quarters of the houses which were partly built—were to be finished this year. In England, on the other hand, they were not only to finish every house that had been started, but 2122 35,000 over and above. It is difficult to justify that. Obviously, far more than nine times the amount of labour and material was going to England under this plan than was coming to Scotland because of the difference in the stage of progress at which the two countries had arrived, but I have never heard any justification for the scales being weighted quite so heavily in favour of England as they were under this plan. I want to know whether there is to be a uniform scaling down, or whether in that scaling down Scotland is to have some preference, particularly in view of the fact that it would he easier in many ways to reach the quota in a number of Scottish areas than it would be in England. I hope the Joint Under-Secretary will tell us something about that.
In the few moments that remain, I should like to say a word about the labour and price situation. I said a moment ago that the labour force was far too large, as, indeed, it obviously was. I have not time to go into the figures, but I think I am right in saying that the output in the last 12 months from Scottish building labour has been about one-third and certainly not one-half of what it would have been on a prewar basis. In the January programme it was stated that it was hoped to get back to prewar standards very soon. The reason for the present low output is quite clear. If a man sees that he is getting only a small amount of material with which to work, and he knows that deliveries are extremely irregular he will go slow in order to spin out the job. We all know that that is wrong, but it is a natural temptation. Already I see that the labour force engaged on erecting permanent houses has had to be diminished by 2,000 during the last month for which we have particulars. If a number of men are dismissed from the job in a month, it is not surprising that the others do not go on with the work as fast as they should. The Government are responsible for that—not the men. The Government cannot have this sort of thing going on for a while and expect everything to be all right overnight when materials become available. I warned the right hon. Gentleman of that last October, and regardless of the warning he increased the labour force, with the result which we see. I hope the Joint Under-Secretary of State will tell us something about that when he replies. I want to speak now with regard to prices. 2123 The leading article from "The Times" today has already been quoted in this Debate, and I will quote only another sentence:The housing programme is now patently threatened by a crisis in costs, and the most disturbing feature of the crisis is the apparent complacence of Government, employers, and building union leaders alike."The Times" generally does not criticise the Government more than it can help, and when "The Times" says that sort of thing, it is time for the Government to sit up and take notice. What has happened? The Secretary of State has told us that the rise in costs has been counter-balanced by the fall in interest rates. That fall is in the ratio of five to four, and I take it that the ratio of the rising costs is four to five. The subsidy was fixed on a cost of £1,140 and that figure is now £1,400. That seems to be the inference from what the Secretary of State said. If that is wrong, I shall be glad to hear it.
I do not think the Secretary of State told us the whole story. If he did, that is the meaning of it as I understand it, and I hope the Joint Under-Secretary of State will tell us what the true figure is, because, although he was ordered by Parliament to prepare a report in December last, he has delayed preparing it all this time and the results have been announced today only very cursorily. Accordingly we are in the dark in this matter, but it is most important that we should learn what the level of costs is. If there is a programme with far too many men, that causes the costs to rise very steeply, and I was not surprised to hear what the Secretary of State had to say in that regard.
In conclusion, I would say that the Government's policy of central planning and of limiting production to approved channels is not working. Whether that is because the whole system of Socialism is faulty or because the present Government are incapable of managing it, I leave them to say. I fancy it is a little of both, but the fact remains that the present system has broken down. We do not know where it has broken down. We do not go to the various conferences which take place, and we do not know what information passes from one Government Department to another. There 2124 are on the Order Paper today four votes, and as far as we can see, each one of the four Departments must take a share of the blame. I will add to those four as being equally implicated the Board of Trade and the Ministry of Fuel and Power—in particular the Ministry of Fuel and Power. They are not here; so I cannot criticise them. We are so dissatisfied that we intend to divide against this Motion. I ask leave to propose an Amendment to reduce the sum by We could not put it on the Order Paper because the Motion itself was only on the Order Paper this morning. Al the items are implicated and we do not feel that our criticism and vote should be directed against one only of these Departments. We hope the hon. Gentleman will tell us who and to what extent each is implicated, but I do not expect he will. I expect that he is too loyal to his colleagues. Therefore, in the dark as we are, we say that the whole Government are to blame and the whole theory on which they plan is wrong.
I beg to moveThat a further sum, not exceeding £20, be granted to His Majesty, towards defraying the charges for the following services connected with Housing in Scotland for the year ending on the 31st March, 1948, namely:
|Civil Estimates, 1947–48||£|
|Class V., Vote 12, Department of Health for Scotland||5|
|Class VII., Vote 1, Ministry of Works||5|
|Class V., Vote 4, Ministry of Labour and National Service||5|
|Class X, Vote 1, Ministry of Supply||7|
§ 9.32 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Buchanan)
I must confess that the right hon. and learned Member for Hillhead (Mr. J. S. C. Reid) is a formidable debater and a formidable opponent. He has on this occasion been rather generous in the sense that his criticisms include many more than myself. His condemnation clears a fairly wide area. May I say one or two things quite frankly to the Committee at the outset? It has been said that we have been complacent, and many things have been quoted about the last Scottish Debate. If I remember aright, the following morning I was attacked by the Press of Scotland not because I was complacent, but because I took a grim and grave view of the future. One Scottish newspaper went so far as to attack me, not for being 2125 complacent, but because I did not attempt to be more buoyant in my outlook in regard to Scottish houses.
This Debate has been quite fair, in spite of many hard things said by the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith). I leave the many things which have been said by the hon. and gallant Member for East Renfrew (Major Lloyd). They are so common to him. That is his everyday talk even in his ordinary personal conversation. We had from him a speech containing the familiar phrases, "Hon. Gentlemen opposite are prejudiced; they are steeped in their miserable Socialist outlook." We have heard phrases like that before. If we spoke to the hon. and gallant Member and he did not use such phrases, it would be rather disappointing and we should think that he was declining or going into old age. The hon. and gallant Member for Pollok said some hard things, but none of which any experienced Parliamentarian had any right to complain.
A number of questions have been raised and I cannot be expected to reply to every detailed criticism made. Many things have been covered, such as cement, timber, the price of houses, labour organisation, licensing, relationship to local authorities and rural supplies. I would like to deal with the subject mentioned by the hon. and gallant Member for Central Glasgow (Colonel J. R. H. Hutchison) and the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Carmichael). The hon. Member for Bridgeton said that we had built 36,000 houses during the war. That is true, but not quite as true as it first looks. The fact is that there was a balance on 1939 to be taken into account. The war started in September, 1939, and the balance from then until 1940 has to be taken into account. Indeed, more than half of those 36,000 houses were built between the beginning of the war and the end of 1940, so that to quote the number of houses covered during the war does not give a true picture. In the last year of the war we completed only 1,566 houses. At the beginning of the war the Government of that time, therefore, had over 20,000 houses started but not completed. These were completed in the first 18 months after the war.
On the subject of licensing the hon. Member for Bridgeton referred to Little-wood's. In fairness to him, I would have 2126 liked him to give me notice so that I could have made some inquiries and answered him today. The hon. Member for Dumbartonshire (Mr. McKinlay) put a question to me recently which put me in a position to answer. He put a question last week asking how much work had been licensed in Glasgow. I can answer that question when I have notice, but if somebody throws Littlewood's at me, I cannot answer straight away.
§ Mr. Carmichael
There is a tendency to give the impression that I have done something rather unfair in making that point. I am not even saying now that Littlewood's have a licence, but the talk of the town is that Littlewood's are preparing to have the place altered. Perhaps, if they have not a licence, the prospects are bright.
§ Mr. Buchanan
These are the facts. We have licensed £3 million worth of work in the City of Glasgow over the period covered by the question of the hon. Member for Dumbartonshire. Fully 30 per cent. was for new factories. Nobody will deny that. Fifty-one per cent. was for extensions to factories, which are equally important, and certain alterations to factories to make them conform to the new Factory Act conditions. Offices got four per cent., shops four per cent., and miscellaneous 11 per cent. New factories and extensions to old factories, therefore, accounted for 81 per cent. of the total, so that it can be said that Littlewood's or anyone else on these figures account for comparatively nil. A question was also asked about a greyhound racing track near Ayr. In that case no licence has been granted by the Minister of Works, and the granting of a licence is not being contemplated. On the question of licences, there was a case raised, about the Theatre Royal in Edinburgh, for which I believe £22,000 was granted. The answer there is that it was damaged by fire, the roof being destroyed, and if the rest of the building was to be preserved, some roofing had to be provided. Only after the most urgent representations had been made to us by neutral skilled men was that licence issued.
§ Mr. Buchanan
I cannot say offhand, but I am told that they were consulted and advised that this was absolutely necessary. The number of people to whom we 2127 have to refuse licences is enormous. The licensing system, like any other system, is not perfect, but taking it as a whole, we attempt to run it on a fair and even basis. The question of cement has constantly cropped up in the Debate. The hon. Lady the Member for South Aberdeen (Lady Grant) mentioned the figure of houses under construction as 41,000. I can understand how she made the mistake, but I think 8,000 ought to be deducted from that as the number of houses completed in addition to houses under construction, so that the figure should have been in the region of 33,000. The hon. Lady, and other hon. Members, raised the question of what is meant by "houses under construction." When I went into office I gave instructions to my officials not to alter the definition used by my predecessors. I did not want to be accused of faking or altering something which was in accordance with the best traditions of Tory outlook in the House. Very strict instructions were given to the effect, "Do not try to alter a figure which might get me accused of faking it." "Houses under construction" is the same definition as has been used since we granted subsidies for houses. It does not mean when we make the roads and sewers, although one of the chief bottlenecks in regard to some houses in Scotland is roads and sewers. One of the chief difficulties in regard to Weir houses which are factory made and, therefore, come on rather quickly, is found in the making of roads, sewers and site work. The phrase includes roads and sewers, and means when we have actually stepped on to the site, and actually cut the site for the purpose of building the house.
Shortages have held up the housing programme, and will continue to hold us up as long as there are shortages. There are three or four main shortages, the first of which is timber and, recently, the second has been cement. I do not deny that the question of cement is linked up with coal. The overwhelming mass of cement is made in England, but even where it is made in Scotland, the supply of clinker for the making of cement comes from England. So that even in Scottish production the English supply of clinker dominates the position. What have we done? It is true that it was short; it was true that two works in Scotland were kept going but that a third works at Gartsherrie 2128 had to close down. It has now restarted. I would here interpolate that there are enough enemies in the world. We hear in foreign debates of borders between Czechoslovakia and other countries; we hear enough to frighten us about the future of the world without us in this Committee trying to raise a mimic war between England and Scotland. We have taken steps in the matter we are now discussing and we ought even in these days, in our lavish praise of Scotland, to bear in mind that in this we have been indebted to England in many ways. On the question of bricks we could never have overcome that difficulty, particularly in rural areas, if it had not been for the supply of English bricks. In regard to cement, we took up last week in direct shipments, 9,500 tons, and this week we are taking up over 9,600 tons. In addition to that, we are making a favourable consignment of clinker to the Scottish works in order that their production of cement may be speeded up, and, as a result unemployment in Scotland reduced.
What is the result of our efforts? Before the crisis in regard to cement arose, our over-all needs in Scotland were about 63,000 tons a month. With production aided by the extra clinker, and the supplies now being forwarded from the South, we will now have over 65,000 tons, or almost 70,000 tons, in another three weeks' time, to overtake our difficulties in Scotland. I am not saying the difficulty is now past. The hon. and gallant Member for West Edinburgh (Lieut.-Commander Clark Hutchison) said quite fairly that we could not overtake our difficulty next week or in a month, even if we got enough cement, because our stocks have run down. But we have taken energetic steps, and the present position in Scotland in regard to cement is at least considerably easier.
I turn to other shortages. Electrical goods have been mentioned. These have continued to be scarce and difficult because in certain products the supplies are not available. One of the difficulties is to get local authorities—I do not blame them—to adapt themselves to something new. We have offered them electrical fitments, particularly tubing, of an alternative type. I have the greatest difficulty in getting them to accept it. If this problem is to be tackled even partially, local authorities cannot expect in this respect 100 per cent. fitness as previously. 2129 I wish to say a word about timber, which has been put to me as one of the great shortages. So it is. I do not accept the view that shipping has been a cause of any hold-up. I do not say that it has not here and there been responsible somewhat for a hold-up in cases in which we expected the exporting country to arrange the shipping, and they have suddenly asked us to do so. It has taken us some time to adjust shipping, but apart from that shipping has not been a cause of delay. The right hon. and learned Gentleman chaffed me, saying that I would be terribly loyal to my colleagues. I served all my life on the other side of the Committee and learned all the loyalty I needed from various colleagues for 20 years. On this question, dollars have not been a drawback, but difficulties have been experienced in entering into proper commitments. Most nations would not enter into commitments until what they call the spring of the year. The hon. and gallant Member for Central Glasgow mentioned the figure of 40,000 standards from Russia. I would have allowed anybody else to get away with it, but I correct him because he is so mathematical. The agreement we entered into was for 25,000 standards, and we have not secured the delivery which we would like.
The Secretary for Overseas Trade tomorrow is proceeding with a skilled staff to meet the Russian Government to discuss further additional supplies of timber. We must face the fact that, whatever our likes or dislikes, if we are to solve the problem an agreement with Russia must be made. Before the war we received over 400,000 standards annually from Russia. Russia was our greatest source of timber supply. With all our talk, timber shortages will continue until a real trade agreement is made with Russia. The Opposition know the difficulty surrounding that situation. It is not merely a question of trade. Other considerations must be taken ino account. I say that the outlook is better, but not rosy, for the next quarter mainly because of two other sources of supply. We have entered into agreements with Canada and the United States which allow for increased imports of timber. These imports are to be stepped up in the third and fourth quarters of this year.
We anticipate that that will allow us to get on with our housing programme. Un- 2130 fortunately, it will not allow us to do one thing which I would like to do. I had to instruct local authorities to put in concrete floors. I did not like to do that. I lived in a tenement with a concrete floor for a long number of years. I did not want to do it, not because it is a bad thing in itself, but because it is expensive and causes delay. Timber is a handy material for work in houses. It produces good results quickly and, for that reason, I would like to allow the installation of wooden floors. But supplies of timber are not sufficient to enable us to revert to the provision of wooden floors in kitchenettes. The right hon. and learned Member for Hillhead spoke of the cost of houses. He said, rightly, that the cost was round about £1,140, and he asked what was the figure now. The figure now is £1,286. That is the figure worked out by the same experts as calculated the previous figure.
§ Mr. Buchanan
It includes land and services, foundations, and erection; that is, it includes all the normal things connected with housing, and hon. Members can take it that it is based on the same things as the figure of £1,140. A great deal has been said about progress and about non-compliance with our intended rate of progress. I admit that, and I do not blame anybody, but I take the blame myself; but the Opposition must always remember that they constantly pressed us for figures. They asked us to make figures, and I always knew that, if we made a figure too high, they would say, "You have broken your bargain," and if we made it too low, they would say, "You are miserable." It is always the same story, and it does not matter what we do—"They win, and I am bound to lose." That has been my lot in politics ever since I began.
But let us deal with this question quite fairly. It is said that in Scotland we have difficulties. So we have, but I put it fairly to the Committee that this is not an unfair comparison to make. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that we had completed, first of all, in temporary houses, about 17,000. I am a native of Glasgow, and I have never been away from it, and I find that the most popular house in the City of Glasgow 2131 at the moment is the temporary house provided by the Government. I do not care who challenges that; I say that it is the most popular house of all. When hon. Members are decrying some of the temporary houses for their floors, do not let us forget that the permanent houses often have many kinds of floors, and there was no monopoly of one or the other.
What have we accomplished in permanent houses? Up to Wednesday of last week, we had completed 8,500 permanent houses, and roughly 17,000 temporaries. With conversions—that is, making the big house into a number of other houses, which the Glasgow Town Council have done with great skill and ability—and with private enterprise in the building of houses, the gross total of housing in Scotland now provided is 31,000 in less than two years following on the war. If I take the 21 years before the war, and average out the good years with the
§ bad—and 1938, with 26,000 was the very best—they hardly come to 16,500 houses. Of that record, I am lot ashamed, and, although I will not be happy until there is abundance in Scotland, at least I am certain that we have a record of which no one need be ashamed.
That a further sum, not exceeding £20, be granted to His Majesty, towards defraying the charges for the following services connected with Housing in Scotland for the year ending on the 31st March, 1948, namely:—
|Civil Estimates, 1947–48|
|Class V, Vote 12, Department of Health for Scotland||£5|
|Class VII, Vote 1. Ministry of Works||£5|
|Class V, Vote 4, Ministry of Labour and National Service||£5|
|Class X, Vote 1, Ministry of Supply||£5|
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 83; Noes, 169.2133
|Division No. 264.]||AYES.||[10.0 p.m.|
|Amory, D. Heathcoat||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Raikes, H. V.|
|Astor, Hon. M.||Hudson, Rt. Hon. R. S. (Southport)||Ramsay, Maj. S.|
|Beamish, Maj. T. V. H.||Hutchison, Lt.-Cm. Clark (E'b'rgh W.)||Rayner, Brig. R.|
|Bossom, A. C.||Hutchison, Col. J. R. (Glasgow, C.)||Reid, Rt. Hon. J. S. C (Hillhead)|
|Bower, N.||Kerr, Sir J. Graham||Robertson, Sir D. (Streatham)|
|Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.||Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Robinson, Wing-Comdr Roland|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W||Legge-Bourke, Maj E. A H||Ross Sir R. D. (Londonderry)|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P G T||Linstead, H. N||Sanderson, Sir F.|
|Carson, E.||Lloyd, Maj. Guy (Renfrew, E.)||Scott, Lord W.|
|Challen, C.||Lucas-Tooth, Sir H||Shepherd, W. S. (Bucklow)|
|Clifton-Brown, Lt.-Col. G||McCallum, Maj. D.||Smiles, Lt.-Col. Sir W|
|Cooper-Key, E. M.||MacDonald, Sir M. (Inverness)||Snadden, W. M.|
|Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C||McKie, J. H. (Galloway)||Spearman, A. C. M.|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E||Maclay, Hon J. S.||Spence, H. R.|
|Crowder, Capt. John E||Macpherson, N. (Dumfries)||Strauss, H. G. (English Universities)|
|Cuthbert, W. N.||Maitland, Comdr. J W.||Stuart, Rt. Hon J. (Moray)|
|Dower, Lt.-Col. A. V. G. (Penrith)||Manningham-Buller, R. E||Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.|
|Drayson, G. B||Marlowe, A. A H||Thorp, Lt.-Col R. A F|
|Drewe, C.||Marples, A. E||Touche, G. C.|
|Dugdale, Maj. Sir T (Richmond)||Marshall, D. (Bodmin)||Walker-Smith, D.|
|Elliot, Rt. Hon. Walter||Maude, J. C.||Wheatley, Colonel M. J.|
|Fleming, Sqn.-Ldr. E. L.||Mellor, Sir J.||White, J. B. (Canterbury)|
|Fraser, H. C. P. (Stone)||Molson, A. H. E.||Williams, C. (Torquay)|
|Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D||Morrison, Rt. Hon. W S. (Cirencester)||Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)|
|Gomme-Duncan, Col. A.||Neven-Spence, Sir B||York, C|
|Grant, Lady||Nicholson, G.|
|Hare, Hon. J H. (Woodbridge)||Peake, Rt. Hon. O||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Harvey, Air-Cmdre. A. V.||Pitman, I J.||Mr. Studholme and|
|Henderson, John (Cathcart)||Poole, O B. S (Oswestry)||Major Conant.|
|Allen, A C. (Bosworth)||Bramall, E. A.||Cooper, Wing-Comdr. G|
|Alpass, J. H.||Brook, D (Halifax)||Corbet, Mrs. F. K. (Camb'well, N. W)|
|Attewell, H. C.||Brown, T. J. (Ince)||Corlett, Dr. J|
|Awbery, S. S.||Buchanan, G.||Crawley, A.|
|Ayles, W. H.||Burden, T. W.||Daggar, G.|
|Bacon, Miss A.||Burke, W. A.||Davies, Edward (Burslem)|
|Balfour, A.||Butler, H. W. (Hackney, S.)||Davies, Harold (Leek)|
|Barstow, P. G.||Carmichael, James||Deer, G.|
|Beswick, F.||Chamberlain, R. A.||Delargy, H. J.|
|Bing, G. H. C.||Champion, A. J||Diamond, J.|
|Blyton, W. R.||Cobb, F. A.||Dobbie, W.|
|Boardman, H.||Cocks, F. S.||Donovan, T.|
|Bowden, Flg.-Offr. H. W.||Coldrick, W.||Durbin, E. F. M|
|Braddock, T. (Mitcham)||Collins, V. J.||Dye, S.|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Leonard, W||Shawcross, Rt. Hn. Sir H. (St. Helens[...])|
|Edwards, John (Blackburn)||Levy, B. W.||Shurmer, P.|
|Edwards, N. (Caerphilly)||Lewis, A. W. J. (Upton)||Simmons, C. J.|
|Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury)||Lindgren, G. S.||Skinnard, F. W.|
|Ewart, R.||Lipton. Lt.-Col. M||Snow, Capt. J. W|
|Fairhurst, F.||Logan, D. G.||Sorenson, R. W|
|Farthing, W. J.||Lyne, A. W.||Stamford, W|
|Field, Capt. W. J||McAllister, G.||Steele, I.|
|Foot, M. M.||McKay, J. (Wallsend)||Stephen, U|
|Fraser, T. (Hamilton)||McKinlay, A. S.||Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)|
|Caitskell, H T. N.||Maclean, N. (Govan)||Swingler, S.|
|Gallacher, W.||McLeavy, F.||Sylvester, G. O.|
|Ganley, Mrs. C. S||Macpherson, T. (Romford)||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Gibson, C. W.||Mann, Mrs. J||Thomas, D. E (Aberdare)|
|Gilzean, A.||Mellish, R. J||Timmons, J.|
|Glanville, J. E. (Consett)||Middleton, Mrs. L||Titterington, M. F.|
|Gooch, E. G.||Mikardo, Ian||Tolley, L|
|Gordon-Walker, P. C.||Mitchison, G. R.||Tomlinson, Rt. Hon. O|
|Grenfell, D. R.||Morgan, Dr H B.||Ungoed-Thomas, L.|
|Grey, C. F.||Morley, R.||Usborne, Henry|
|Grierson, E||Morris, P (Swansea, W.)||Vernon, Maj W. F|
|Guest, Dr. L. Haden||Mort, D. L.||Walkden, E.|
|Hall, W. G||Neal, H. (Claycross)||Walker, G. H.|
|Hastings, Dr Somerville||Oldfield, W. H.||Wallace, G. D. (Chislehurst)|
|Haworth, J.||Orbach, M.||Warbey, W. N.|
|Henderson, Joseph (Ardwick)||Paling, Rt. Hon. Wilfred (Wentworth)||Webb, M. (Bradford, C.)|
|Herbison, Miss M.||Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)||Westwood, Rt. Hon. J.|
|Hobson, C. R.||Palmer, A. M. F.||Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.|
|Holman, P.||Parker, J.||Wigg, Col. G. E.|
|Holmes, H E (Hemsworth)||Parkin, B. T||Wilcock, Group-Capt. C. A. B.|
|House, G.||Pearson, A.||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Hoy, J.||Poole, Maior Cecil (Lichfield}||Williams, J. L. (Kelvingrove)|
|Hudson, J. H. (Ealing W.)||Porter, G. (Leeds)||Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)|
|Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Price, M. Philips||Willis, E.|
|Hutchinson, H. L. (Rusholme)||Pryde, D. J.||Wills, Mrs. E. A|
|Janner, B.||Randall, H E||Wilson, J. H.|
|Jeger, Dr. S. W. (St. Pancras, S. E.)||Ranger, J||Wise, Major F. J|
|John, W||Rankin, J.||Yates, V. F|
|Jones, D T. (Hartlepools)||Reid T. (Swindon)||Zilliacus, K|
|Keenan, W.||Robens, A.|
|Kenyon, C.||Robertson, J. J. (Berwick)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|King, E. M.||Ross, William (Kilmarnock)||Mr. Hannan and|
|Kinghorn, Sqn.-Ldr. E||Scollan, T.||Mr. Popplewell.|
|Kinley, J.||Shawcross, C. N. (Widnes)|
Question put, and agreed to.
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ It being after Ten o'Clock, and objection being taken to further proceeding. The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to make his report to the House.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again Tomorrow.