§ 3.38 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot (Scottish Universities)
We have set down the Votes for housing and connected services today because there is scarcely any subject of more vital importance to the ordinary man or woman. I am sure that hon. Members will agree that there is scarcely any subject on which we receive more representations. We are now in possession of the Housing Return presented at the end of June this year containing the detailed figures up to 31st May, so that the main picture for the current housing year is before us. There are also several important declarations of policy and it is, therefore, in our view appropriate to review the position now.
The purpose of any housing policy must be an adequate supply of houses at reasonable rents. To this end, with very general agreement, a large programme of non-traditional houses was organised during the war and an immense weight of manpower and materials has been concentrated upon this and upon traditional houses ever since. The programme of non-traditional houses is now undergoing the run-off which was anticipated, and the programme of traditional houses is running up, as also was anticipated.
1202 The building machine of this country, after perhaps a slow start, is getting into shape to deliver houses at a rate comparable with the pre-war years—[Interruption.] I shall make my own speech in my own time. If the hon. Member wishes to know which year, I will say the 12 years before the war, and, if he wishes, all the years since the Baldwin Government was returned in 1924. The figure of actual completion is at present running high, but the figure is to be reduced. That is the first point.
The proposed figure, according to the housing returns, is 180,000 per annum for England and Wales, and some 210,000 for Great Britain. That is, of course, as I said just now in response to an interruption, a reduction from the figure which this country has been running at for a very long time. The figure of 180,000 was first reached and passed in England and Wales in 1926, when we touched 197,000, and it is important for the Committee to know that, except in 1928 and 1930, that figure has been maintained. It was above that figure for the 12 or 13 years before the war, and the average for the whole of those 12 years was about 250,000 per annum. So the first point for the Committee to grasp is that we are being asked to accept a level 70,000 a year below the average we held for 12 years before the war, including the three years of the slump. The machine which was advancing towards this figure, and indeed to the height of the figure before the war, has been halted. What reason is given for this?
I think it would be fair to say that the Minister claims, firstly, that the present houses are much bigger and better than the pre-war houses. He advances that contention. I wish to be perfectly fair to the Minister. He says that the reduced rate is not really as much reduced as it would appear, because the individual dwellings are bigger and better than before the war. He is entitled to that point. Secondly, he makes a point that at the rate envisaged, the back of the housing problem will be broken by the next General Election. I think that is a contention that we on this side of the Committee would find it very difficult to admit. The Minister said at Durham on 20th July, 1946:When the next election occurs there will be no housing problem in Great Britain for the British working class.1203 At Deptford on 9th October, 1946, he said:I give you this promise: that by the next General Election there will be no housing shortage as far as the mass of the British people are concerned.He said at Coventry on 5th July, 1947:By the time the next General Election is held we will have broken the back of the housing problem.Becoming still more cautious, he said at Cambridge on 24th April:By the next General Election the back of the housing programme will have been broken.It is more easy to break the back of a programme than of a problem, but these prophecies seem to refer to the estimate—and again I wish to be perfectly fair to the Minister—which the Coalition Government gave in the White Paper, Cmd. 6609, of March, 1945. The Coalition Government estimated that at the end of 1944, three-quarters of a million new dwellings would be needed to afford a separate dwelling for every family. By the way, the White Paper also stated that half a million more were needed to abate overcrowding.
There are, I think, two fallacies in this, to which the Commitee should address itself. Since that time marriages account for a considerable increase in the households or families requiring accommodation. It is within the knowledge of most of us from our post bags that a continual demand is made for new houses for families of ex-Service men and others who have married since that date, and I think that the figure of 150,000 for that is no exaggerated estimate. The wastage of pre-war houses is a difficult matter to ascertain. G. D. H. Cole has given the figure as one house in 60 annually.
Again we must try to determine from what basis we are to calculate, because actually a great number of houses in this country have been built within the last 60 years. Even going right back for 60 years to 1888, and saying that no house built since 1888 has required replacement, which is a very strong assumption, and taking it that 2 per cent. of houses built before 1888 are requiring replacement, which is to say one house in 50, which is giving a 50 years life to the houses built before 1888—which the hon. Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks) 1204 will admit is again a very strong assumption—we have a wastage of houses which will amount to not fewer than 350,000 since the date of this estimate by the Coalition Government.
These two figures together come to half a million. Even if the Minister has produced 750,000 houses, which, according to his own statement, ought to have solved the problem or, at any rate, even if the 750,000 has dealt—I am trying to be as generous as possible—with the figure mentioned by the Coalition Government, I would say there are still clearly at least half a million more needed before we begin to catch up with the original problem.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
I do not quite see how that squares with the Minister's very confident pledges and there are others also who find difficulty in agreeing to that. Tory comments are always subject to the suggestion of party bias, and therefore I will not quote any Conservative critic in this matter. But let us call as a witness the President of the National Union of Clerical and Administrative Workers. Speaking on a responsible occasion, his presidential address this year—it happened at Llandudno and I say this to distinguish the conference from any other conferences which may be held at Llandudno this year for that conference was strongly in favour of the present Government—the president said:It is unfortunately true that our Minister of Health, Mr. Aneurin Bevan, made a foolish boastful speech in the House of Commons, on 17th October, 1945, suggesting that in four years at most he would have relieved the housing stringency and broken the back of the problem. All knowledgeable people knew he was talking nonsense, so perhaps we need not take his personal weakness too seriously; but we expect better from Labour Ministers.The President is Mr. Scouller. It is clear that the view that in four years the problem will have been disposed of does not meet with universal acceptance. It may be necessary, for reasons of force majeure, to accept the rate of 180,000 houses proposed by the Minister; but, as I say, that is a cut of 70,000 houses below a 12 years' average before the war. The suggestion that we should accept this cut of 70,000 houses a year is a suggestion 1205 that we should accept a cut in the greatest of the social services. It is not an argument which is advanced about any of the other social services or indeed about the main industries of this country. The suggestion that the output of steel, food, or indeed of coal should be at a figure lower than the pre-war figure is not a contention which is accepted. Certainly it is not accepted in the great social services.
The health service, the pension service, the insurance service and others are being expanded. This is the greatest of the social services and it is being contracted. As I think the Minister would agree, the problem is not, in fact, the completion of 600,000 or 700,000 houses. The problem is the commencement and completion of the next four million. That is the great task which now lies before us. We are now beginning to lay down the lines upon which the next four million houses will be begun, carried through and completed. That is a task upon which many Ministers of Health will be engaged. Indeed, it will tax severely the energies of the whole country.
The output of houses since the war has been considerable and I am more than glad about that. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Yes, it is true. This is a matter in which we are all vitally concerned, none of us more than another. But this output has been gained by a great deployment of manpower. The Parliamentary Secretary, in concluding the Debate last year, said:The aim has been to get something like 60 per cent. of the total building force employed on housing work of all kinds."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th July, 1947; Vol. 441, C. 156.]The Minister, in his somewhat more flamboyant style, said:Over the last two years, by means of … controls, … roughly 60 per cent. of the building force of Great Britain has been compelled to obey the overriding Socialist purpose."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th July, 1947; Vol. 441, c. 83.]The two statements are the same. One is couched in more vigorous language than the other. The hon. Member for East Woolwich, whose impending departure, of which we are informed, we all very greatly deplore, set a very high standard, as indeed he is entitled to do. During that Debate he said:One hundred thousand building workers should be able to build 100,000 houses per year.1206 The present figures are very much below that.
§ Mr. George Hicks (Woolwich, East)
As the right hon. and gallant Gentleman said, the houses are larger now, and they require more effort.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
The hon. Gentleman did not hedge on that occasion. He said:One hundred thousand building workers should be able to build 100,000 houses per year."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th July, 947: Vol. 441, c. 112.]I am taking that as his contention. I would point out that in the current 12 months, 242,000 employed men have produced 184,000 houses, which is one house to about one and a half men. The "Economist," in a survey on 10th July, 1948, said that there had beena fall in productivity which can be roughly summarised by the statement that two men are now necessary to produce the results that one produced before the warThat seems to me perhaps an overstatement on the figures before us. However, Mr. Wood, the Comptroller of the London County Council, read a paper before the Municipal Treasurers' Conference, reported on 25th June of this year. He said:Experience over the last three years has shown that twice as many man-hours as prewar were required to complete a dwelling.The National Federation of Building Trades Employers, who do not go so far, estimate that work formerly carried out in 100 man-hours now requires approximately 160 man-hours. These are figures of very great importance. As I shall show later, they are reflected in the cost and, thereby, in the rents of houses which are being erected at present. They are of vital importance to all of us, because Mr. Wood reached some further conclusions to which I shall ask the attention of the Committee later.
Some of the causes for this are good and some bad. As I said at the beginning, and as I say again, the causes include the increased size of the houses and the improved amenities. But also, Mr. Woods gives the upsetting of the rhythm of constructional operations through shortages of material and other causes. Again, I think all of us will agree that that has been a most important feature. There have been repeated changes of policy. The curve reproduced at the back 1207 of the Housing Return bears witness to that. When the Army is fighting badly, it is a good maxim first to sack your Ministers and then to sack your generals. The fighting troops are the last people who ought to be blamed. If there is a mistake here, the mistake begins at the top. The upsetting of the rhythm of construction is certainly not a thing that can be blamed upon the ordinary bricklayer or plasterer.
The Government, in their White Paper, "Capital Investment in 1948" state that the manpower on housing was to be reduced from 569,000 at 31st October, 1947, to 525,000 on 30th June, 1948, and the total building force was to be cut from 1,004,000 to 835,000. As far as I can gather from the Housing Return, the labour on housing has been reduced from 569,000 to 540,000. That is another symptom of the voluntary and deliberate reduction in this great social service which we all know touches the lives of the people so closely. The total labour force remains at almost exactly one million.
Obviously, there is here a wasteful use of the greatest national asset—manpower. That is reflected in the costs which, in turn, are reflected in the rents. So far as I can, I shall try to translate the figures into terms of rents, because they are what touch the ordinary tenant, the ordinary citizen of this country. To take first of all the cost, the Minister's Act of 1946 was designed to secure that houses should be let at 10s. a week in urban areas and 7s. 6d. a week in rural areas. It took the interest rate of 3⅛ per cent., and on that I make the cost of the house, including the site and services, £1,155. The figure of the National Housing and Town Planning Council is the same, but Mr. Wood's figure is £1,100 The interest rate, the Minister will not deny, has actually been a little below what was envisaged. The site costs have certainly not risen, yet the Comptroller of the L.C.C. in this paper states that the annual deficiency on a three-bedroomed cottage was £33, as against £22 contemplated in the Act.
How does this come about? The "Economist" quotes Mr. Wood's figures and adds some more of its own. I trust the Committee will not object if I use a considerable number of figures in this examination, because it is of great importance and upon it the whole future of 1208 the great housing programme of this country depends. The 1946 figures were either £1,100 or £1,155, but these costs are now given as £1,330, and the charges on that figure—£62—were made up by £16 Exchequer contribution £5 10s. rates, £11 special contributions, and the rent met less than one-half of these charges.
We want to know from the Ministry what the cost of a house is running at under the present arrangements. The "Economist" says:The Ministry of Health is prepared to assert from the figures in its possession that the final cost of house building by a local authority is below the price of £1,300, and, in London, £1,400. Outside the Ministry of Health, there is a general impression that costs are often well above these limits, and it is sometimes suggested that the Ministry's average figure owes something to the skill of accounting more than to certain expensive fittings.That is an unsatisfactory way to leave it. The Committee, which is being asked to vote a very large sum today, has a right to something slightly more solid than the fact that the Ministry is prepared to assert certain things from figures in its possession.
From any figures which I have been able to ascertain or which have been quoted by the "Economist," these costs are exceeded in a considerable number of cases, and, in some, are very highly exceeded indeed. The "Economist's" investigation is here. The cost in November 1946, and 1947, in a group of large boroughs, is given at the reasonable figure of £1,200, but, in June, 1948, the figure is given in the same investigation of £1,670. That is a very disquieting rise indeed. For medium boroughs, the figure given in March, 1948, is £1,610 and, for small boroughs, in 1948, up to £1,729. I have tried to ascertain certain costs by inquiries from local authorities and others, and I find that the costs for a three-bedroomed house in Bridgwater—which, it is fair to say, is a house of 1,098 feet superficial area rather than the Dudley house—is £1,500. In Chesterfield, the figure is £1,340; in Lancaster, £1,434; in Coventry, between £1,170 and £1,450, according to the date of the contract; in Petersfield, £1,500, and in East Barnet, £1,600. Again, I say these are the figures which an ordinary private Member has been able to ascertain. They are figures which only the Ministry can examine, 1209 check and break down, but they are far above the figures suggested in the Act.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Mr. John Edwards)
Is the right hon. and gallant Gentleman talking about the price for permanent houses, or about that for the B.I.S.F. or some others?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
No, in all these cases, they are permanent houses, and, as far as possible, they are three-bedroomed houses, and, where the superficial area figures exceeded the Dudley standard, I have given them. So far as I can make out, they are strictly comparable, and I have ascertained them from the local authorities and I have their various letters here. I have letters from Chesterfield and Bridgwater—this is from the Town Clerk, concerning a brick house with a superficial area of 1,098 feet and with three bedrooms. I have all the other figures here. I think the Minister may take it that these figures are as near as I can make them—and the private Member has difficulties as compared with Government Departments—strictly comparable figures.
The Ministry of Works carried out an inquiry into the distribution by builders' merchants of building materials and components, on which I shall have a word to say later on, but it does not lie in these margins. There are certain animadversions made against the practices of building merchants, mostly very strongly in favour of free competition. Reading them, I wondered whether I was not reading an article by William Barkley in the "Daily Express." It is an odd thing to find published by the Government, but I shall return to it in a moment. The figures show that, even supposing the merchants made no profit at all and had done that work for nothing, the increase in costs would have been only one per cent. less, so that it is not there that it lies.
These figures are also reflected in the high rents. The Minister will be familiar with the memorandum submitted by the Towcester Rural District Council in February, 1948. The figure from that rural district ran to £1,645. To crystallise it in a single figure, the Comptroller of the London County Council reckons that 1210 the next 4,500,000 houses, if the programme is to be carried out on these rates, will cost £7,000 million, which brings into very sharp relief the statement by the Dudley Committee that, unless building costs could be reduced, it would be impossible to complete the next programme of 4 million houses, and it is the real foundation for that programme which we are beginning to discuss.
The hon. Member for North-West Hull (Mr. R. Mackay) in opening last year's Debate, said that the whole essence of the building programme was not that houses should be built to let at rents of 30s. a week or to be bought through building societies, but to be let at rents of from 12s. to 15s. a week. Rents—and again I am using data supplied by the National Housing and Town Planning Council—are running as high as 17s. a week in Banstead, 19s. a week in Frimley and Camberley, and 22s. 4d. a week in Barnet. These rents are in respect of traditional three-bedroom non-parlour houses for which the average pre-war rent, ex rates is given by the same organisation as 6s. 6d. a week. Rural districts show a similar disquieting trend. According to the authorities, the rents in St. Ives are 15s. a week, in Chesterfield 15s. a week, and, in Beverley, non-agricultural cottages were 13s. a week, and agricultural cottages 11s. a week.
§ Mr. David Renton (Huntingdon)
When the right hon. and gallant Gentleman says "St. Ives," does he mean Huntingdonshire or Cornwall?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
I understand it is the St. Ives in Huntingdonshire, but I will look up the letter and let the hon. Gentleman know. In Dunmow the rents of non-agricultural and agricultural cottages are 15s. 8d. and 13s. 2d. a week respectively; in Pershore 16s. 6d., and in Amersham 16s.
The average 1939 rate for non-parlour local authority houses—traditional houses—was 5s. 6d. a week for non-agricultural workers, and 5s. a week for agricultural workers. As the Committee will know, the rent at present allowed to be deducted from wages in the case of the tied cottage is 6s. a week. Therefore, an agricultural worker who is asked to move from a tied cottage to a local authority cottage is 1211 asked to move from a cottage at 6s. a week to, in some cases, a cottage at 16s. a week, that is to say, a rent raise of rips of 10s a week.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
That may well be, but the mere rise in rent means that the man and his wife have to forgo the whole value of the food subsidies which is at present given as 4s.—the whole of the food subsidies, on which such great stress has been laid even during the present week in Debates in this House, are wiped out by the single figure of the rise in rent. That is something which, quite frankly, a great many agricultural labourers will find it very difficult to—
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
I am talking about today's wages. The deduction from today's wage is 6s., whereas if a man moves to a council house the deduction from his wage may be as high as 16s.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
As the hon. Member knows, in many cases the house is a reconditioned modern agricultural cottage; it is a good house and quite comparable with the local authority cottage.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
If they are not fit for a pig to live in, then nobody should be allowed to make a deduction of 6s. a week in respect of them. That deduction should only be made for houses in good and tenantable repair—proper houses for people to live in.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
The hon. Member must not get so excited about it. The cottages which have been reconditioned—and it is only of the reconditioned cottages that we are speaking—are fit for anyone to live in. I should be perfectly willing to live in one of them myself. I do not seem to be carrying the hon. Member with me. Let me give some particulars, to which the hon. Member 1212 cannot possibly take any exception, as to the difficulties of the proposed tenants of these new dwellings. In March of this year, the Treasurer of the City of Coventry—the city in which the Minister made one of his declarations—said that rents based upon current costs are so high that it would be impossible to let houses except to those with high incomes. It is well known that the difficulties in which these high rents are placing local authorities are causing them to complain and make representations of every kind to the Minister.
The Minister has so far said that he cannot give final figures as to costs. I think the Committee is entitled today to say that the Parliamentary Secretary must be prepared to give those figures, and to give them in detail. It is not enough to give averages; he has got to give us figures for representative groups, and, indeed, to discuss the figures which not only I but the Controller of the London County Council or the "Economist" has submitted. These are groups which, as I say, bear out not merely the fact that there is a disquietingly high level of rents, but that it is disquietingly patchy. This matter is of great importance since the Minister's last circular because one of the remedies he has adopted is to sanction the building of houses on private account. He says that the cost at which a house is to be sanctioned is to be a cost comparable to that at which local authorities are passing their own houses. Therefore, it is clear that a local authority which is passing the cost of its own houses at £1,600 and £1,700 will, according to the Minister's circular, be perfectly entitled to pass building on private account at the same figures.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
The Minister seems to dissent from that; I do not seem to be carrying him with me either. I should have thought he would agree with me.
§ Mr. Bevan
I cannot agree with the right hon. and gallant Gentleman for the very simple reason that there is a proviso that they cannot allow more than one house in every five to be built for sale, and as the four out of the five will always be based on a competitive tender, the tender price will keep the general level down.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
But the houses based on that level are running at £1,600 and £1,700. We cannot do more than say that these are the figures supplied to us by local authorities, by the Controller of the London County Council, and by the "Economist." When we find the figure for smaller county boroughs running at £1,729, it is clear that a local authority would be perfectly within the terms of the Minister's circular in passing a house for a private individual at £1,700 odd. It will be very difficult in these circumstances to prevent levels like that being established or, at any rate, to prevent those areas exercising a greater attraction to building materials and labour than others where the prices are lower.
A good deal of this certainly comes from loading a machine with more than it can take on. A great deal also comes from the frequent changes of policy which have taken place. Even more, I think, comes from the attempt to block, first, most building, and, next, all building on private account. The Minister contends that it is not fair to use private enterprise because it is building for local authorities just as direct labour is building for local authorities. Then let us take building on private account—we cannot fall into any error about that—under which 80,000 houses were built before the Minister put an end to it, and were built at £1,300. The great rise has taken place since the Minister withdrew that permission.
The Minister contends that building to private account is building for the rich as against the poor. I do not think that argument is valid. A great addition to the national stock of houses of the desired size and inexpensively built, eases the whole housing situation, and not merely the personal situation of the particular possessor of a house. The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland is present. I think his experience will bear that out, because in Scotland in the years before the war the local authorities were the major providers of houses. In fact, they were almost the sole providers of houses.
In England, as everyone knows, an enormous percentage of houses were ordered for building to private account, as much as three or four to one. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. In 1938, 29 per cent. of the houses in Scotland were overcrowded and only 3.8 per cent. of the houses in England were over- 1214 crowded. It shows conclusively that the great expansion of houses due to bringing in the builder on private account as well as the builder on local authority account eased the whole housing situation, and consequently a much greater reduction of overcrowding took place in a country where both the trace horses were pulling on the wagon as compared with the country where one horse alone was being asked to shoulder this great load.
The Minister's new policy in his circular is to take off the ceiling and then to throttle down competition. If he adheres entirely or even as much as he is doing to local authority housing, I prophesy that he will find a very slow decline in costs. I commend to his notice the conclusions of the sub-committee which the Simon Committee, already mentioned, set up. That sub-committee went to America to view the problem of the distribution of materials there. They wrote:We found no devastation as the result of price warfare. On the contrary, we were repeatedly impressed by the advantages both to traders and to the public of a system in which trade associations can concentrate their energy on the promotion of education and efficiency, individual merchants can pass on to their customers any economies they may achieve themselves, and purchasers pay only for the services they require.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
I am only talking of the view which the Minister's own committee found as a result of going to America at public expense and coming back to report. There has really been nothing like it since the prophet Balaam was sent out to curse the Israelites and turned round and blessed them. I think it is worth while for the Minister to read this criticism of his own committee.
I apologise for taking the time of the Committee; there are many others who wish to speak, but it would not be fair to close without indicating the alterations in policy which we think the Minister should adopt. First of all, he should certainly bend his efforts to creating a climate in which it is possible for building to private account to flourish, instead of doing his best to discourage it. He should certainly act on the recommendations of the Hobhouse Report which has now been out for a long time, and allow and assist 1215 the reconditioning of existing houses both in town and in country, which I am convinced would give housing accommodation at a lower cost than he is able to achieve at these enormously high costs which I have been quoting. When I say "assist" I do not only mean by grants; I mean by the release of material and by the issue of permits. What is the use of saying, "I shall sanction expenditure by a private individual of up to £100 on repairs to his house," and then say, "Of course, this makes no difference to my standing refusal to let you have anything to do it with"? The permission to spend £100 nowadays is a very small concession. The question is, is it possible to get a permit for anything on which to spend the £100?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
The first thing is to get permission and not to be put in goal if you are found trying to get anything for £100. That is the limiting factor just now, as we all know.
The Hobhouse Report, or the extended Hobhouse Report, is certainly the second of the lines which the Minister should adopt. When he is licensing for private account building it is a mistake for him to try to hold that to the local authority figures. He should try to hold it below those figures—at £100 or £200 below those figures—and try to get the spiral going downwards instead of upwards. Somehow or other he will need to get the spiral turned downwards instead of upwards. We on this side of the Committee do not believe that the reduction of cost will ever be obtained simply by the action of committees and commissions of inquiry. Only the firm of Jones can really discipline the firm of Smith, and that will be done, as the Simon Report says, bya system in which individual merchants can pass on to their customers any economies they may achieve … and purchasers pay only for the services they require.
§ Mr. Bevan
Perhaps the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will allow me to interrupt him, because he has made a very important statement. Does he suggest that what I should now do is to issue a new circular to local authorities to the effect that in granting the licences to builders to build houses on private account, to use his own description, they should always 1216 insist that houses of a comparable size should be built at £100 or £200 less than the local authority builds a similar house?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot:
The Minister has appreciated the half of my argument correctly, but he must also appreciate the other half—that he should double or treble the amount of a private account building which he is prepared to sanction. That is the point, that he should bring it up to at least 50–50 and, in my view, he should strive to bring it up even higher than that. He should certainly say, "If I release this on private account I expect private enterprise to show it is efficient and produce cheaper than they would in the other case."
§ Mr. Bevan
I am obliged to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman for the courtesy he extends to me in giving way, because I should like to understand what is now being suggested. The Opposition have had so many different housing policies, and I should like to know where they have now arrived. Is it now suggested that in the rural areas the building force there should be permitted to build as many houses for private ownership as for renting to agricultural workers?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot:
Surely in all areas the Minister's present policy of restricting to one in five represents a totally inadequate allocation, and that allocation should be very considerably increased. That is no change in policy. That policy has been advocated consistently by every speaker on these benches in every housing Debate. If we have not made ourselves clear to the Minister I am glad that we have now got it across to him and to his supporters. Otherwise, I fear that if the Minister is not able to adopt these suggestions, in spite of his feral and mercurial temperament, which I take it is the antithesis of a bovine and phlegmatic temperament—to use an extreme and perhaps libellous term, which I would not have done but for the well-known vigour in controversy of the Minister—he will go down to history as little better than the Dalton of housing.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Mr. John Edwards)
I am sure that in recent weeks many of us must have had sympathy with those unfortunate people who had to select our 1217 cricket team to play against the Australians. How much more must our sympathy go out to those people, whoever they may be, who decide who is to open the bowling in these annual housing tests which we have?
Last year we expected the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) to open the bowling, but, as a matter of fact, he came on rather late as a change bowler, and then we all recollect how in the end he retired hurt, having been hit on the head by a direct return from my right hon. Friend and—how humiliating—off a no-ball at that. Today we have had a change of bowling, and I can say to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) that on this occasion at any rate he has been bowling for most part on the wicket, and except for right at the end of his speech he did not indulge in anything remotely like body-line bowling. He will understand that there are some of the points that he made which I must obviously leave to my right hon. Friend to deal with in his own way.
It is a year ago since we had a Debate on housing and I think, therefore, I can best serve the Committee by giving a review of what we are doing and what we are aiming to do. We have given in the monthly Housing Return a wealth of information of the progress of our programme—much more than any Government have ever given in the past—and in the last report we gave a fairly comprehensive review. I shall have occasion, as I go on, to deal with a number of the various headings of that review, but I think it would be for the convenience of the Committee if I dealt mainly with four basic points. What is the basis of the programme on which we have been embarked since 1945? How far has a balance of performance been established since 1945? How far has control over the cost of the programme been successfully secured? What are the main lines of development in mind for the future?
First, as to the basis and policy of the programme; it was to treat the provision of new houses for those without a separate home of their own as our primary object, to build as many houses as the national resources available would allow, and to rely on the local authorities as the main agent in order to ensure that the houses would go to those found to 1218 be in the greatest need of them, in the judgment of a responsible elected public authority. On previous occasions we have asked the spokesmen of the Opposition to say plainly whether they any longer agree with the view of the Coalition Government, expressed by Mr. Willink when he was Minister of Health, that they proposed to use local authorities for building the vast majority of houses. On previous occasions the Opposition have refused to answer on that point. This afternoon, I think, the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has come off the fence and has said plainly that the view of the Coalition Government no longer is the view of His Majesty's Opposition.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot:
The Parliamentary Secretary will agree, of course, that the view of the Coalition Government was to deal with the immediate postwar problem. We are now beginning the construction of 4½ million houses, which is a different matter.
§ Mr. Edwards
At any rate it is satisfactory to know where the Opposition now stand. We did not know before.
Turning to numbers, there has been some criticism that too much and some criticism that too little of the national resources has been devoted to housing. There has been some criticism that we are building too few houses and some criticism that we are building too many, and, indeed, there have been some critics who almost managed to combine the argument that too much of the national resources is being devoted to housing with the argument that, at the same time, we are building too few houses and also not doing enough reconditioning.
A notable absence from the speech of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman this afternoon was that he did not even give us the beginning of an idea as to where he stood in this regard. He did not even attempt to say whether he thought we ought to be building more houses or fewer houses, except by implication, when he suggested that if we gave more of the work to private enterprise we would get more houses built. But it is important that we should know whether the right hon. and gallant Gentleman stands with the much-quoted "Economist" in this regard or not, or whether he disagrees with the view of the "Economist" that we are devoting too much of our resources at the present time to building houses.
1219 The amount of the national resources that can be devoted to building as a whole was discussed in the Economic Survey and I think it would not be right for me to go into that now; but out of the total building resources the housing portion has been determined on two main principles. One is that to which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman referred, that the Government have aimed at securing that approximately 60 per cent. of the building labour force should be on housing work, and this figure has been broadly maintained over the three years 1945 to 1948. Secondly, it was expected that as the new housing programme came fully under way and the repair of war damage made smaller calls on the labour force, the number working on new houses would be approximately half of the total force on housing work; and this, too, has been substantially achieved. In May, 1947—I give the figures for England and Wales unless I state to the contrary—out of a total force of 480,000, 216,000 were employed on new housing work. The comparable figures for May, 1948, were 220,000 out of 481,000.
As I have said previously to the House because the housing need is universal, because houses have to be built in each district, we had to rely very largely on taking our building labour where it was and, although there has been some slight amount of mobility, broadly speaking that is what we have been doing. Last Summer it was quite apparent that the desired spread of housing had been secured and that in order to secure the completion of houses already in the programme it should not be overloaded with additional contracts for a time. Let me say at once that I do not apologise at all for that position.
Some discrepancy between the work of the authorities and the capacity of the industry was inevitable in the early stages of a programme initiated throughout the country and carried out by 1,500 local authorities, and the administrative arrangements might have lagged behind industrial capacity. There is always a risk that the administrative machine will not be able to work fast enough for industrial capacity. Actually, the administrative machine got well ahead and the lee-way which the industry had to make up was, as everyone knows, accentuated by the abnormal weather early in 1947 1220 and by its consequences upon industrial productivity.
Let me say that the decision to restrict for a time the number of new contracts was not a decision to cut down the housing programme. It was a step necessary to secure a more rapid completion of houses for which contracts had already been made. No amount of talk in any quarter will really show that a cut in paper contracts ought to be treated as a cut in the actual houses to be built. The effect of the decision which was then taken can be seen by those who study the Housing Return month by month. There can be no doubt that the result has been that we have now got the programme in very much better balance.
Let me give a few illustrations. The number of houses completed in relation to those under construction has increased from one to 18 in May, 1947, to one to 10 in May, 1948. The number of houses at later stages of construction is larger. In May, 1948, there were 51,000 houses plastered out of a total of 173,000 under construction, whereas, in May, 1947, there were 33,000 out of a total of 197,000. A better balance has been established between the number of houses under construction to the number of men engaged in building them. In May, 1947, there were 207,500 men engaged on 197,000 permanent houses; in May, 1948, there were 217,300 men employed on 173,000 permanent houses. As was said in the Housing Returns last month, it is our view that the programme is now well balanced in relation to the resources of labour and materials available at the present time.
Our present aim, therefore, is to keep the volume of building construction in England and Wales at approximately 180,000 houses. There are, of course, bound to be fluctuations from month to month. It is quite impossible to relate the number of houses which will be started in a particular month, under approvals given a number of months before, to the number of houses completed month by month. Some critics have, by a most curious process of reasoning, interpreted the simple aim to keep going for the present—and I emphasise, for the present—the level of construction at 180,000 houses as a decision to aim at the completion of 180,000 in 1949. Other people have taken the purely factual 1221 announcement that we are at present completing 20,000 houses a month—I include Scotland here—as an intention to build 20,000 houses a month almost indefinitely. Neither of those statements has any foundation. The completion of houses at the present rate of 20,000 a month is due, of course, as I imagine most hon. Members appreciate, to the very large number of houses that we have at advanced stages of construction at the present time. Nevertheless, in view of the increased numbers of houses completed in recent months, it has been possible—indeed, it has been necessary, in order to maintain the level of construction—to give more approvals. Perhaps, I may give the Committee figures for tenders approved, showing the growth in their numbers: in September, 1947, 4,300; December, 1947, 5,900; March, 1948, 5,300; May, 1948, 7,800. The effect of these approvals will, of course, show itself in a few months' time in the number of houses under construction.
Now, it must not be thought that any number of houses can be built in a particular district just because the builders say so. The total number of houses which can be built in the country is, of course, governed by the amount of the national resources which can be devoted to housing, and it is also governed by the amount of timber which can be imported. It may be thought that such a statement is so elementary as not to be worth saying, but if one reads articles that appear from time to time it obviously is important to insist that the over-all limit imposed on us is the physical limit of material things. It will be within the knowledge of the Committee that, having fixed the global figure for the country, we are endeavouring to distribute it among the various localities, after consultations with the local authorities, and taking into account priority classes, like the agricultural workers, the miners, and the key workers in Development Areas. But these allocations represent, of course, the total number of houses to be put in hand for a particular period in a particular district, and it would be quite wrong to allow an unplanned increase in a particular district, because the only result would be that we should slow up the rate of building or prejudice the position of adjoining authorities.
That is why the houses which are built by licence must form a part of the local 1222 allocation and cannot be used to increase it. I am absolutely satisfied that in present conditions, and until more houses for letting have been built, the number of licensed houses ought not anywhere to be more than a fifth of the programme. For some months the issue of licences was, except in the case of the priority classes, suspended as part of the machinery for bringing the programme into balance. I would remind the Committee, however, that even as late as the end of May the number of houses completed under licence was more than a quarter of the number completed by local authorities. This was largely due to the large number of houses built under licence in a number of districts attractive to the private builder in the early days when the number of houses for which licences were issued was left to the discretion of the local authorities. This increase, I must insist, was at the expense of the building of houses for letting by the local authorities.
It is all very well for the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to plead for more houses to be built by the builder on his own by licence, but if we look at this from the point of view of those who want houses, it is our bounden duty to try to meet the wishes of those who want houses; and I am absolutely satisfied that on a free choice those in most urgent need of houses at the present time—the great majority of them—want houses which they can rent, and that the proportion of one to four private houses to council houses is, if anything, generous. I know there are circumstances in which it is possible to compel people who are unwilling to buy houses to buy them because they cannot get accommodation in any other way. That, however, it not part of our policy. We are determined to do our best to satisfy the needs of people according to what we conceive to be their free choice.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
Before the hon. Gentleman passes from that point, would he deal a little with the argument that any addition to the pool of houses eases the whole housing position?
§ Mr. Edwards
I do not deny that if we have more houses, we have more houses. That is clear. What I deny is the rightness of building houses for people to buy when the great majority want to rent them.
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer (Worthing)
What evidence has the hon. Gentleman that the majority of people wish to have houses to rent? Where is the evidence?
§ Mr. Edwards
It is evidence from the local authorities. I would refer the hon. and gallant Member to a little snippet on the front page of today's "Daily Herald," in which two people, who, I imagine, are associates of his in the political sense, nevertheless are defending the ban on the private builder because they believe that if the ban were totally relaxed, it would have the most disastrous effect on the rural housing programme. Anyhow, we think that within the limit which we have now set, the best course is to leave it to the local authorities to decide what this proportion should be, in the light of their knowledge of the circumstances of those in need of houses in their districts. Houses to be built under private licence must be shown to go to those who are in need. Under the new arrangements evidence that the family of the owner-occupier will occupy the house when it is completed must be produced before the licence is issued.
I turn to the matter on which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman spent most of his time. I want to deal with the cost of houses. I would say, first, that I think that the cost of house building at the present time can be best considered, not in relation to the cost before the war, but in relation to the cost of other items in the national economy. There always has been a close correlation between the trend of building prices and the general course of economic affairs. For example, after the last war it was not until we had the great slump that we had a sharp decline in the cost of building. I do not believe that one gets far in trying to take absolute terms—prewar and postwar. I think it is better to take the trend of building prices in relation to other things.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
I think the hon. Gentleman will do me the justice of saying that I did not use the figures of prewar and postwar. I was comparing the prices now with those when the Act was passed.
§ Mr. Edwards
I agree. I was maintaining that, for my part, I do not want to talk about postwar and prewar comparisons, but about the price of building in relation to other things.
§ Mr. Derek Walker-Smith (Hertford)
Will the hon. Gentleman make it clear to the House whether his argument is that inflation in one price of one commodity does not matter as long as it is balanced by general inflation?
§ Mr. Edwards
Not at all. The hon. Gentleman has no right to interpret what I said in that way. I said that when we are talking about the price of building, we cannot talk about it sensibly unless we consider it in relation to other things. During the six years of war, as is commonly known, the level of prices over the whole field of productive activity underwent a revolution. When we took Office in 1945, we had to make our plans and carry them out on the basis of the price and cost level already established, even for those productive activities which had been continuously maintained during the war. House building which had been suspended for six years, had to be restarted and made to function, and, because of our need for houses, expanded to the fullest possible extent against the background of a price level. This was the situation of hard fact which faced any Government that took Office after the last war. It was accepted by the Coalition and Caretaker Governments, who based their plans for houses on the best estimate of the cost of housing which they could make on the facts known to them.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman pursued his argument mainly on the basis of the total cost of houses. If I do not take that method, it is not because I want to avoid any issues, but rather because I am not in a position to take the total costs of houses and use them for any kind of comprehensive argument, and, therefore, I propose to base my remarks on the tender prices of houses on which we have complete and full information. If I compare like with like, we shall, at any rate, be able to form a clear opinion as to the trend of prices. What were the estimates made by the Caretaker Government? The building of houses by private enterprise has always been regarded by the Opposition as the cheapest way of building houses. In authorising licences for the erection of houses by private enterprise, the Caretaker Government allowed a selling price of £1,200 for a house of the maximum size of 1,000 feet super. Making a reasonable allowance of £100 for the cost 1225 of the land and development, this allows a cost figure at the rate of 22s. per foot super. On the thesis which the Opposition have adopted, but which we do not accept, it is reasonable to suppose that they expected that the cost of house building by local authorities would be higher.
However that may be, the question is—did our initial prices exceed those on which our predecessors were basing their plans? Have tender prices since 1945 been effectively controlled? The average tenders for three-bedroomed houses provided during the last three months of 1945—that is, the weighted average on which we can rely quite confidently—were: October, 20s. 10d.; November, 21s. 4½d.;December, 21s. 8d. I submit that these actual figures compare favourably with the Caretaker Government's estimate of 22S. for the cost of houses to be built under licence. It was well known to local authorities that the Minister laid particular emphasis on a good standard of housing and the provision of good modern fittings and equipment. The average tenders for three-bedroomed houses approved during the last three months of this year for which I have figures are as follow: March, 24s. 8d; April, 24s. 6½d.; May. 24s.; that is to say, an average increase of approximately 2s. 10½d. per foot super. If we put it in percentage terms, the tender prices have gone up by 13 per cent. over the period covered by my figures.
This increase in price compares very favourably with the general rise of prices. To take only one example, the increase in wholesale prices since 1945 has been over 30 per cent. compared with 13 per cent. shown by the tender figures. When we are thinking of tender figures it should be remembered that housing is an end product—the builder controls only the final operation. The industry has been quite abnormally exposed and subjected all the time to very great emotional pressure. I submit that the figures I have given show beyond any argument that we have been successful in controlling what was within our administrative competence, namely, the tender prices. Let me say that we have controlled tender prices and at the same time we have not lowered standards in any way.
In case I should be thought to be too complacent, may I assert that we are very much concerned to obtain an absolute 1226 reduction in cost by improving the efficiency not only of the building industry itself but of all those who supply it. The Ministry of Works, through the Building Research Station, are engaged in the fullest research into building methods and materials, and are doing their best to introduce new techniques into the industry. The Minister of Works has also put in hand a number of inquiries. The Simon Committee on the distribution of building materials, which has already reported, has been referred to. The Palmer Committee is investigating the cost of building materials. The Phillips Committee is to survey the organisation of the building industry. In June, 1947, my right hon. Friend appointed a committee under the chairmanship of Mr. Girdwood "to consider and review the cost of house building." This Committee has now submitted its first report, and my right hon. Friend has decided that the report shall be published.
May I turn now to the scale of the housing programme? Reference has been made by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to the figure of 750,000. This was a figure adopted by the previous Government as their estimate of the number of houses required in 1945 to enable each family which wanted a separate house to have one; and it was undoubtedly adopted by that Government as a target. As has been said, we shall hit that target in the autumn. But it is not a target of any particular significance for us, because it is a figure that was based—and at the time necessarily based—on general statistical estimates of global figures. It was made originally in 1942; it was changed in 1945, and takes no account of any increase in the need which has occurred during the last three years. We are, therefore far from thinking—and the right hon. and gallant Gentleman must not interpret our speeches in this sense—that by the autumn each family which has not got a separate house but wishes to have one will be able to get one. All we say is that the target set by the previous Government will, in fact, be hit this autumn.
We shall, as time goes on, find out what are the outstanding demands and how they are classified by a sifting of the waiting lists, which we intend to ask local authorities to carry out. This is a 1227 job that will take some time, because we do want it done with care. We can take time over it, because we can be sure that in the meantime the houses which are being built are all required for urgent needs—needs both of the individual families for health and happiness, and for the requirements of essential industry.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
What is the target the Minister considers he will hit by the General Election? What is the general problem he will have solved, if it is not the 750,000? I was giving him the utmost possible ease, and being as fair as I possibly could; but the hon. Gentleman says it is not 750,000. What is it, then?
§ Mr. Edwards
What I said was that this autumn we shall hit a target set by our predecessors. For the rest, the right hon. and gallant Gentleman must not expect to lure me into a discussion about hypothetical targets. This target was set for us and not by us.
§ Mr. Edwards
The scale on which house building can continue—which is really what the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is getting at—is something which must necessarily depend on considerations of national policy and on our economic resources. What proportion of national resources can we devote to house building? What supplies of scarce materials can be obtained and can be afforded, particularly timber, when we are dependent upon purchases from abroad? What proportion of our resources should be devoted, on a long-term basis, to new house building as compared with repairs and reconditioning? These are questions which cannot be answered this afternoon in the sense of giving an answer which will hold the field for all time. We can say that at present it is our intention to have a volume of house building of the order of 180,000. But these are questions which necessarily must be kept under regular review in the light of ascertained facts and of the best judgment of future tendencies that can be forecast.
I am satisfied that from 1945 to 1948 it has been right to concentrate on the establishment and maintenance of our new house-building programme, not only as a measure of social justice and for the health and comfort of those without homes of 1228 their own, but as an essential part of our economic programme. When my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer was speaking in the Capital Investment Debate, he put the thing, I thought, in a nutshell when he said:Housing is not an added or an unnecessary luxury; it is an essential part of our capital equipment necessary to carry out our plans."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th December, 1947; Vol. 445, c. 1895.]Let me say, in passing, that, convenient though it may be to separate housing expenditure from industrial expenditure, it is most misleading to imply, as the "Economics" has done frequently, that there is no real connection between the two. On one ground alone, that of mobility of labour, it is of the first importance that we should get houses built all over the country, and in large numbers, as soon as possible. As we go along there must be factual ascertainment of the demands and needs, and that is why, in the review published of the May figures, we indicated that we would try to ascertain the demands from a study of the waiting lists, and that we would, as time went on, try to ascertain needs by surveys of local conditions—how many people ought to be provided with new houses because they are living in overcrowded or unfit conditions, and so on. This is a job which necessarily will take time; but in the light of it we shall, I believe, be able to frame our programme in the future accordingly.
In the past we have tended to concentrate on three-bedroomed houses. I think that that concentration was right in the immediate circumstances. It must be remembered that, with the parallel provision of 150,000 temporary two-bedroomed houses, we have in England and Wales some 400,000 new homes suitable for families ranging from the newly married to the married couple with three children. We do not say this represents the proportion on a long-term programme; but we do say that when we have ascertained the needs of the varied family groups we shall be able to see the precise proportions that will be required. We know for certain that we shall need more homes suitable for old people, and a proportion of houses suitable for larger families.
When my right hon. and learned Friend stated in his speech on the capital 1229 investment programme that houses were being completed at the rate of 15,000 a month, and that he saw no reason why this could not be maintained throughout the Winter, his remarks were greeted with jeers and ironical laughter from hon. Members of the Opposition. We know today how much, in fact, he under-estimated the progress that we were going to make; and we know today how short, and conveniently short, are the memories of hon. Members opposite. They would today find it very hard indeed to deny the fundamental principles on which we have been operating, and I am convinced that they cannot destroy our substantial administrative achievement and our quite considerable housing performance.
§ 5.8 p.m.
§ Lady Megan Lloyd George (Anglesey)
The right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) seemed a little surprised that the number of houses now being constructed should have fallen below the average for the 12 years before the war. I did not expect the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to look at this question with a completely unprejudiced judgment; but I should at any rate expect him to attempt to make a fair judgment. He took no account of the fact that one set of figures referred to 1926, eight years after the first world war, and that the second set of figures which he quoted referred to a period three years only after the second world war. He took no account of such apparently trivial matters as world shortages, or even of the economic situation. Now, I do not think the situation is as rosy as perhaps some hon. Members opposite would make it out to be; but for sheer unrelieved gloom Jeremiah could not have improved on the right hon. and gallant Gentleman this afternoon.
I should like to try to look upon this question with an unprejudiced eye. Last year when the Committee debated this matter, there was every prospect that we should be faced with a drastic cut in our housing programme. There has been no such cut. The programme has come out of the capital investment cuts, in the main, unscratched and unscathed. The Government have been criticised for that. It has been said in many quarters that housing has had more than its fair share of both materials and labour. I am convinced that the decision of the Govern- 1230 ment in this respect was right, because I believe, quite apart from health and social considerations—and they should at all times, even in days of economic stringency have a high priority—the overcrowding of families cannot be in the best interest of higher production and good output.
I believe, therefore, it is absolutely essential, even in these days, for each family to live under its own roof and in good healthy conditions. It is satisfactory, and I put it no higher than that, that local authorities have been instructed to go ahead on the assumption that the rate of 200,000 houses for England, Scotland and Wales will be maintained. Of course, we all realise perfectly well that that rate may have to be varied, perhaps downwards, although we hope it will be varied upwards, once the import programme is better defined. If there has been no drastic cut, there has been an adjustment, a much needed one. No one realised the need for it more than the Minister himself.
We now have a better balanced programme, as the Parliamentary Secretary has reminded us, which is all to the good. Last year we were measuring our housing programme by the number of foundations that were being laid, but this year we are measuring our programme by the number of roofs which have been put on. That is a considerable improvement. In the middle of last year an average of something like 18,000 houses per month were under construction. That has now come down to something like 10,000. But as a result of the adjustment the number of completed houses has risen until in May we reached the monthly figure of 20,000 houses, the highest since the end of the war.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman reminded the Committee of what was regarded as the first phase of the housing campaign, the provision of 750,000 units to provide separate homes for each family. The Parliamentary Secretary has told us this afternoon that he does not accept that target, and that it was simply a legacy which the Government inherited from their predecessors. I was glad to hear him say that, because if it is true that that target of 750,000 units is to be reached this Autumn, it is also true that there will be numbers of families throughout the country who will not have separate accommodation. We all know 1231 that in most areas there are going to be long waiting lists of people living in other people's houses, or in rooms, or who are billetted on their families. Members I am sure can quote instances in their own constituencies.
I will quote only two instances from my constituency. In one case a small urban authority has provided accommodation for 128 families, a good record for a rural area, but there are still 200 families on the waiting list. In the case of another urban authority one family in every 10 is still living in rooms. The local authorities in these circumstances have had the most unenviable task of trying to select tenants from families many of whom have an almost equal priority. On the whole, I think that the local authorities are discharging that difficult task well, although in some cases it cannot be said to have been so well done.
Very little has been said in this Debate about the serious shortages which are holding up the housing programme. The Minister of Health has emphasised the fact that the supply of soft woods is a serious limiting factor in the housing programme, but there are other shortages. Work on eight housing estates in my constituency was held up through lack of cement. That has happened twice in the last six months, and I am sure that the same thing has been experienced by many more Members in different parts of the Committee.
§ Lady Megan Lloyd George
I am not sure that Wales is very much better in that respect, although I am sure it is better in most others. The shortages are pretty widespread. They not only hold up the housing schemes, but they add greatly to the costs, and unless costs are to be reduced local authorities will be faced with a serious situation. The Parliamentary Secretary quoted some figures in his speech. He compared the figures of private enterprise building with the figures of local authority building, which were very favourable to local authorities in the circumstances of today. He also said that tender prices had gone up by something like 13 per cent., and he argued very rightly that we must compare this to the general prices throughout industry. The point I should like to make is that 1232 this rise in price is going to put local authorities in a difficult position.
I should like in this matter to quote Mr. Wood, who has already been quoted in this Debate by the right hon. Member for Scottish Universities. He has pointed out that it was estimated that the cost of building a three-bedroom house was put at £1,000 for the purpose of subsidies under the 1946 Act. That figure has since increase to £1,,300, which means that existing rents cover only half the costs of building. I hope that the Minister will tell us something about the report of the committee which is looking into this matter.
I think that we can look back on the year with a certain degree of relief, but when we look at the task that still remains to be done, we cannot but be appalled by its magnitude. We can measure it by the figures of unsatisfied applicants for new houses, or we can measure it by the number of houses which should have been condemned by all reasonable standards but cannot be condemned because there is nowhere to put the dispossessed people. We can measure it by the increasing number of people in urban and rural areas who are living in overcrowded and slum conditions. But looking at all this, we can still say, to use the words of the Leader of the Opposition, that this is the end of the beginning, and I would add that it is a good beginning and a sound beginning.
Now that the programme has started to gather speed, I hope that we do not lose sight for one moment of the amenities side. In the next few years hundreds of thousands of houses are to be built in the villages, towns and cities all over the country. In our generation we have done more than our fair share of vandalism. We have built better houses, but we have been responsible for desecrating as much of the natural beauty of this country as our forefathers did during the industrial revolution. Our motives were better, but the aesthetic results were about as lamentable. We have not consciously built slums during the past few years, but we have added enormously to the total sum of ugliness and dreariness. I know that the Minister is sincerely interested in this matter, but that his powers are limited. This is largely in the hands of local and regional authorities. I hope every means will be taken to make them realise their 1233 responsibilities in this matter, and that the right hon. Gentleman will do everything he can by exhortation—and he can do that very well, on occasion—and propaganda to encourage good design. After all, it is not necessarily more expensive to build a charming house, of simple, but good, design, than it is to build one of the ornamental horrors which so abundantly litter this country. I am glad to note that in the report of the Committee on the Appearance of Housing Estates many excellent recommendations have been made, which would improve not only new estates but existing estates.
I believe that some of the fal-de-lals now adopted could be dispensed with. I can quote one instance from a charming village, where an expensive concrete wall has been built around a housing estate. A well-kept green hedge would have been far more appropriate and more charming. As I have said, now that the housing programme is beginning, as we hope and believe, to gather momentum, I hope the Minister will use all his gifts to stimulate local authorities, so that we shall not only have well designed, healthy and well-equipped houses but that we shall also have houses that will add to the charm and beauty of our country.
§ 5.21 p.m.
§ Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu (Huddersfield)
One of the more amusing sidelights on our housing Debates in this Parliament has been the obvious and increasing reluctance of the leaders of the Conservative Party to face the Minister of Health. The right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) himself is very valiant in battle against the echoes of the Albert Hall, but when it comes to leading his party in the House of Commons he is the modern Plaza-Toro. His deputies have not been much better. We were reminded by the Parliamentary Secretary today of the last housing Debate when the leaders of the Opposition stayed like mice in their holes, not putting out even one whisker until the Minister of Health had passed by. Today they have done a little better. We have had, at least, the right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) coming out first. I imagine that when his colleagues in the nest pushed him through the hole he was too old and too feeble to resist.
1234 Possibly the right hon. and gallant Gentleman was so guileless that he did not know what was being done to him. It is even possible that, realising that the Minister of Health would speak last in this Debate, he thought that if only he could get his speech in first, everything he had said would have been forgotten by the time my right hon. Friend came to wind up. Unhappily—and this is something on which I must commiserate with him—no sooner had the right hon. and gallant Gentleman sat down than he ran slap into another Welshman, and found himself clouted all over the place by the noble Lady the Member for Anglesey (Lady Megan Lloyd George). As the noble Lady said, throughout his speech the right hon. and gallant Gentleman looked utterly miserable and dejected, just like a St. Bernard dog that has run out of brandy, miles from home.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
May I remind the hon. Gentleman that the St. Bernard does not drink the brandy himself?
§ Mr. Mallalieu
I agree, but this particular St. Bernard looked badly in need of it, and I think the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will be even in more need of it when he has to face the wrath that is to come later today.
Be that as that may, the rather gloomy and rather grudging approach of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to the housing achievement of the Government so far was not satisfactory. By any standards, except the impossible standard of meeting all needs at once, the housing achievement of this Government has been good. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman was very careful to avoid comparisons between the present time and immediately after the first world war. He would only accept responsibility for comparisons between what was done in the last three years and what was done after Mr. Baldwin—that dynamic and ruthless house builder—came into power. Even on these comparisons we have done better in three years than was then done in six.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman made fun of the forecasts of the Minister of Health, yet when it suited his argument he came down to deal not in facts, but in forecasts. For instance, he picked up the 180,000 figure forecast for next year. We all hope and believe that the 1235 achievement will be much higher. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman neglected the fact of the actual achievement during the past month—the 24,000 figure. I know that that is most unlikely to be maintained but, nevertheless, it has been reached, and Mr. Baldwin's Government did not touch that monthly rate until 1928, nine years after the first world war. Having done that they did not get near it again until 1933. By any sort of comparison with the performance of prewar Governments this Government have done well. There is another comparison, based on the 750,000 target, of which we have heard a great deal today. I entirely agree with both the right hon. and gallant Gentleman and the noble Lady, that that target now seems to be much too low, but it should be pointed out that it was a target accepted for accomplishment in five years. It will have been achieved by this Government in under three years.
But although we on these benches, for the most part, would say that the housing achievement generally had been very good, there is not the slightest doubt that there are still some black spots in the country. Among those black spots is my own constituency, Huddersfield. The right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities urged that the number of licences issued to build houses to sell should be vastly increased, that it should come out at about fifty-fifty with the local authorities. From the experience we have had in Huddersfield that would be absolutely disastrous. That is what has been done there. Of the 300 or so new houses built in Huddersfield about half have been built for sale.
Those 150-odd houses built to sell really have not eased the housing position in the town of those people most in need of houses. It has certainly helped the more well-to-do people who have been able to afford to buy them, and it is perfectly right, of course, that the needs of the wealthier people should be met as well as the needs of the poorer. It is a question of whose needs are most urgent. Middle-class families, on the whole, those who have not got houses of their own, are living with their parents or "in-laws" in houses which are already reasonably large. They face, of course, certain inconvenience.
1236 But the inconvenience for the reasonably well-to-do person is really much less than the inconvenience suffered by the poorer families who are crammed together in houses which are both small and badly built. What happens when a middle-class family living with "in-laws" is able to buy a house? They move out into that other house, but their movement does not release any accommodation for other people. Nobody else moves into their place. All that they manage to do in that case is to ease the position of people who are not suffering very severely.
The people in Huddersfield, and, I suspect, throughout the country, who have been suffering most acutely from the housing shortage are people who cannot afford themselves to buy a house. I hope that hon. Gentlemen opposite will not believe that this party is opposed to people buying their own houses. Indeed, we are not. I would like to see everybody in this country owning a house of his own, if he wants to, but the facts of the matter at the moment are that the vast majoriy of them cannot afford to do so. In a survey made just before the war, it was reported that, out of every ten people who died, nine left property worth less than £100. Conditions, thank goodness, are slightly better than that, but they are not so much improved that many people in this country can afford to pay £1,200 or £1,500 for a house. They simply have not got that amount of money. If it is suggested that they should go to a building society, it only means that, in the long run, they will have to pay for the house twice as much as they would pay if they bought it for cash. I beg my right hon. Friend, so far from listening to any suggestion that the number of houses built to sell should be increased, to watch very carefully the application of his present proposal to restore the one in five ratio.
I believe that the general housing position in the country has improved, and we are beginning to have higher hopes about it now, but I think it is important that, because the general position is getting better, my right hon. Friend and his colleagues who are dealing with housing should begin to pay increased attention to particular circumstances in areas which are backward, especially in my own constituency. We have had an appalling time there, for a lot of reasons, some of 1237 them political. The controlling body on the local council, mainly Liberal and Tory, for a time were strongly opposed to the general policy of one in five and resisted it, and, because they resisted it, they would not go ahead with local authority house building, although the sites were already prepared. That period is now, I hope, over, but I am desperately afraid of it being revived again by the Minister's own action in permitting, wholesale throughout the country, the restoration of the one in five ratio. I suggest that he should watch particular areas where local authority building has been lagging behind, and only grant a restoration of the ratio where the local authorities have been building satisfactorily.
There is another point which affects Huddersfield, most of the West Riding and many other areas as well. Besides housing, there is in my area an enormous amount of very necessary industrial building going on at the present time. There is a vast extension being built to the Imperial Chemical Industries plant at Huddersfield, and a big reservoir is also being built in that area. Many of the textile mills are quite rightly being renovated and rebuilt, and a lot of them needed it badly. The result of all this is that the demand for labour for work other than housing is very great, and, at the present time in Huddersfield, of all the building trades labour in the town, just under 15½ per cent. only is engaged on housing. That is far too low, and I would appeal both to the representative of the Ministry of Works who is now present and to my right hon. Friend to watch very carefully this question of the priority which is given in expanding industrial areas. I suspect that this industrial work, important though it is, has been given a priority above housing which it should not have had.
I ask the Minister, and the party of which I am a Member, not to be too pleased with the tremendously successful general housing achievements of this Government until they have gone into the black spots which we find in many parts of the country. I believe further that the Minister of Health, so far as the general issue is concerned, is doing a remarkable job, but that, once he has done that, he should concentrate all his great energy on the black spots. Once 1238 he has put these right, he can then go forward to the other work referred to by the noble Lady the Member for Anglesey of providing not merely separate homes for everybody in the country but separate homes of which every one of us can be proud.
§ 5.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Marples (Wallasey)
I listened with some interest to the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Mallalieu) who showed characteristic Yorkshire tenacity in keeping to the narrow front of housing in Huddersfield, but I want to concentrate my remarks at the start upon the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary, who, I regret to see, is not now in his place.
The Parliamentary Secretary made great play with the fact that this Government were controlling costs, and he gave an indication of how they were doing it. He compared tender prices between 1945 and 1948 and he said they had increased by 13 per cent. in that time. As a preliminary it must be made clear how a builder makes up his tender price. He visits the particular site, envisages the operations which are necessary, works out how much it will cost for lorries and manpower. Thus he finds the total cost and divides it by the amount of work to be done. So he produces a rate for each operation and this rate is inserted in the specifications and the contract. That will meet agreement from the hon. Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks), whom we are all glad to see in his place and whom I would congratulate on what we hope will be a very successful move for him. The tender price then goes to the Ministry of Health, but is of course subject to no modifications and variations taking place. If any substantial variations do take place, as a general rule the contract is null and void, and extras are added by the builder. These extras will, of course, be computed so that he does not make a loss.
Therefore, tender prices are no basis for a comparison at all. I will give two examples to illustrate that point. My own firm erected nearly 2,000 temporary houses for the Ministry of Works. The Ministry promised to deliver them to the site complete in every respect. They did not deliver one house complete, and that broke their contract. There will be a claim against the Ministry of Works for something between £50,000 and £100,000, 1239 towards which we have already received about £34,000. This state of affairs happens on almost every contract, and the contracts with the Ministry of Health for houses are no exception. The extras for permanent houses in one district comes to between £100 and £300 extra on every house. For the Parliamentary Secretary to produce tender prices as a basis of comparison shows a technical ignorance which is simply appalling in this Committee.
§ Mr. Bevan
The hon. Member is doing my hon. Friend a disservice, because he specifically pointed out that he was comparing the rise in tender prices from what they were in 1945 to what they are at the present time, and the assumption is that the extras would have risen in something like the same proportion, so the comparison would stand.
§ Mr. Marples
I am sorry that the Minister of Health shows equal ignorance, for the simple reason that the extras have no relation to the tenders rising.
§ Mr. Bevan
The hon. Member, I am quite certain, is permitting his belligerence to cloud his judgment. What I said was that in 1945 there would be a tender, and, as the hon. Member says quite properly, there would also be extras in 1945 so that the tender would be no indication of the final cost of the house. So far, I think I carry him with me. But in 1948 the tender price also would be no indication of the final cost of the house, but it is reasonable to assume that the extras would have moved in the same proportion as the movement in the tender.
§ Mr. Marples
That is exactly the same point as the right hon. Gentleman made before, but I bow to his superiority in knowing the difference between belligerence and judgment. I would say this to the right hon. Gentleman: if the tender price in 1945 could bear no relation to the final cost, and if the tender price in 1948 could bear no relation to the final cost, why on earth compare them, because it is some hypothetical figure which has nothing to do with the final cost? And only the actual final cost matters. In Northamptonshire the amount of extras added to the tender price varied as between six contractors. The lowest increase was £100 and the highest over £300 per house. The extras bore no relationship to tender prices.
1240 To compare the tender prices is quite fantastic because people in the building trade know that practically the greatest curse of the trade is to tender below what it will actually cost the contractor knowing full well that the rhythm of production will be disturbed by the building owner. When this happens the contractor can always claim not to make a loss. He must be allowed by law to recover his costs. Recently my firm tendered for a job at cost price but someone beat us by tendering at least £80,000 lower knowing full well that the rhythm on the site would be disturbed and they could recover their full costs plus a profit. If the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Benn Levy) has any comment to make on that I shall be glad to hear it.
§ Mr. Benn Levy (Eton and Slough)
I really did not want to intervene, but the comment I would make apropos of the conflict between the hon. Member and the Minister of Health is that it is quite a simple matter of logic. As I understand it, the conclusion is not acceptable because the comparison between 1945 and 1948 ceased to be relative as it contained two factors and not one. But if it contains two factors and both are variable both can be comparable.
§ Mr. Marples
That reinforces my argument that the Parliamentary Secretary is technically ignorant. If the point is as old as the hills he should not have used the tender price figure as basis of comparison. It is unreal. He should use the final cost. That is what matters and is real. What has happened in this Debate has reinforced my views formed after having read this weekend all the previous housing Debates in the life of this Parliament.
I would suggest to the Committee that this housing problem can be divided into two main, distinct and separate parts; first, the social aspect and, secondly, the technical aspect. The social aspect deals with such things as occupying and owning the house, and who shall receive the subsidy. The technical aspect deals with 1241 the assembling of building materials by the technicians and the trade to produce the house completely habitable for occupation. The social side should clearly decide the social aspect, and technical considerations equally clearly should decide the technical aspect. Let me deal with the social aspect first. The occupying of a house should be by test of a man's physical needs. Physical possession and occupation should be given to those in physical need. Generally speaking, that is done on a points system throughout the country. Now as far as ownership as distinct from physical occupation is concerned, both sides of the Committee disagree. We on this side think a man should be allowed to buy or rent a house as he thinks fit. Hon. Members on the opposite side would prefer that the ownership should nearly all be vested in the local authority and that the citizen himself should have no choice in the matter.
Now for the subsidy. So far as this is concerned, sooner or later, this Government, or the next, will have to face up to a serious problem because at present four out of every five houses are being subsidised by the State. Quite wealthy people are receiving a subsidy paid for by people without the same means. Surely financial need should secure financial assistance and physical need should secure financial possession. There is no reason why Lord Nuffield should be able to get a council flat and that poor people like myself should have to contribute towards it. There is no reason why a Cabinet Minister with a salary of £5,000 should receive a subsidy and why I, with £1,000, should contribute to his rent.
§ Mr. Scollan
On that point, is not the hon. Member aware that there are municipalities that for a very long time have placed the rent of subsidised houses on an economic basis and granted rebates to the families occupying them according to their economic needs? In some cases they have had to pay the complete economic rent.
§ Mr. Marples
That is so in a few cases, but in the majority of cases the occupant of the house receives the benefit of the subsidy. Certainly in my constituency that is so. In Liverpool and Manchester the occupant of the house receives finan- 1242 cial benefit. This is true of most of the country.
That is all I shall say on the social considerations, but conclusions arrived at on social grounds have no relation or significance to the technical considerations. I would define the technical problem as the assembly of building materials speedily and quickly. The aim must be to erect the maximum number of houses in the shortest possible time and at the lowest possible cost consistent with quality and producing a good job. What is wanted is high speed, low cost and good quality. Only technical considerations should govern how the house should be built. Whether it is to be let or sold does not interest me from the point of view of this technical argument. At this stage of the argument I am only interested in how the building materials can be assembled into houses at the speediest possible moment. We first have to consider the building industry in its wider aspect, the building of hospitals, schools and flats, as well as houses, because house building is only a narrow part of the building industry.
From the point of view of its wider aspect, the Ministry of Works Report on the Placing of Management and Building Contracts, 1944, on page 68, paragraph 24, says:The housing programme can only be solved by a long-term building programme which is steadily pursued and which is related to the capacity of the building industry (without working overtime) that results from the manpower programme.So there are two distinct programmes—the building programme and the manpower programme. Not a word so far has come from the Parliamentary Secretary about the manpower programme. He referred entirely to the building programme. This fault continues all through these Debates. The fundamental aim of the Government is to co-ordinate the building programme with the manpower programme. If they increase the building programme, they will have to increase the manpower programme. The speed of movement of the two will be dependent upon the speed of the slowest.
§ Mr. J. Edwards
The hon. Member does me an injustice. I devoted a fair amount of time to the distribution of building resources in labour terms and I broke it down into housing terms. Then, when 1243 I talked about the programme being in better balance, I again gave manpower figures in relation to houses. In fact, I could not have done much more.
§ Mr. Marples
The hon. Gentleman merely gave the number of people who are building houses. He did not say how they were to be increased or reduced. If his Ministry has six changes of policy in 18 months in the building programme, what is to happen to the manpower programme during that time? Is that to be altered six times in 18 months too? Every time the building programme is altered it is necessary to alter the manpower arrangements. If he is to double his building programme he must double his manpower. Manpower increases take five years, because that time is necessary in order to train craftsmen.
One of the difficulties in the industry is that of apprentices. The jerky and erratic manner in which building orders have been placed by the Ministry of Health has resulted in ten of my own apprentices having to sweep the yard because they had no bricks to lay and no other skilled work to carry out. The trade has lost a number of apprentices. As the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works knows, these men are going out of the industry. There are 625,000 craftsmen in the industry as a whole and each year there is a 4 per cent. wastage. Four per cent. of 625,000 is 25,000 That means that it is necessary for 25,000 apprentices to enter the industry each year for training. If the erratic delivery of orders by the Ministry of Health is permitted to continue, there will not be an industry to enable the next Minister of Health to build. There will be no trained apprentices. The repercussions of this policy will not be felt by this Government but by the next, which I am certain will come from these benches. That is the reason why I am most anxious about this problem. The skilled craftsman will not be replaced.
If the Parliamentary Secretary or the Minister of Works want further evidence, it is contained in the report of the London Master Builders Association, No. 5, of 1948. There is a joint council between the men and the management to discuss apprenticeship. The report says that they received a large number of applications to cancel indentures. If a man has spent 1244 two or three years in the building trade he has gone some way to learn his job. He perhaps needs another couple of years to complete his apprenticeship. Is it not a tragedy for this country that after three years' training, he should go into the Merchant Navy or leave to work as an unskilled labourer elsewhere? That is what is happening, because no attention has been paid to co-ordinating the building programme with the manpower programme. The report of the Central Council for Works and Buildings said:The result of the whole building programme will be largely determined by the success of the Government in making the building plan coincide with the manpower plan.
§ Mr. Gibson (Kennington)
On the question of apprentices, which I agree is most important, will the hon. Gentleman tell us how much concern the building industry paid to that problem between the wars?
§ Mr. Marples
All I can say is that we built 350,000 houses a year in the years just before the war. That was because the apprentices were well trained by the building industry and there were enough of them.
§ Mr. Scollan
There were unlimited supplies of labour and material. The hon. Gentleman ought to be ashamed of that figure.
§ Mr. Marples
If I were ashamed of 350,000 houses, I should certainly be most ashamed of the paltry total which the Parliamentary Secretary mentioned this afternoon.
A manpower plan is the key to the problem. The Government must decide how many men are to be in the building industry over a long term. It is no use saying how many they will have for this month and then altering the figure in six months' time. The programme must be planned on a minimum period of five years—the period of apprenticeship. The Cabinet must decide what number of men we can afford to have in the building industry. When that is done, the Ministry of Works and the Ministry of Health between them must decide what proportion can be spent on housing and what can be spent on other matters. The fundamental point is that the manpower programme and not the building programme is the key. The building programme must be fitted in to give a smooth rhythm to the men already employed in the industry.
1245 What has happened so far is that the orders have been given so jerkily and so erratically that one moment the building materials industry have no bricks and six months later they have millions of bricks. The building trade lose their apprentices. The professional organisations also have difficulties. Quantity surveyors and professional men such as architects are experiencing the same difficulty. Recently I had an interview with the President of the Institute of British Architects. Precisely the same kind of thing is happening in that profession. They do not get work steadily and smoothly. It comes so jerkily that they have not sufficient work to keep their pupils fully employed.
So much for the wider aspect of the building industry as a whole. The second technical problem is on the narrow aspect of house building. The problem is to build the maximum number of houses in the shortage possible time at the lowest possible cost. There are two main ways in which to build houses. The first way is that private enterprise should build for the local authorities under a contract with a rigid specification and a rigid set of quantities. The second method is that private enterprise should build on its own for what are called speculative purposes when, in other words, they are their own bosses. They make their own technical decisions on the spot. Without a shadow of doubt—and I do not care which expert speaks on this—when private enterprise builds for itself and makes its own technical decisions on the spot it can build 20 per cent. cheaper and 20 per cent. faster—
§ Mr. Marples
I will deal with the interruptions as they arise, and it will not take me long to deal with that one. Does the hon. Gentleman really think that he or any local authority can check up on a builder's work?
§ Mr. Diamond
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I also am interested in building. I would say without hesitation that the whole problem is that it is very difficult indeed, especially after work has advanced to a certain stage, for a local authority to check up on the work. Of course, it is for that reason that speculative builders 1246 are able to build shoddy stuff which contract builders are not able to build.
§ Mr. Marples
All I can say of the contract builder—and I know that the hon. Member for East Woolwich will agree—is that no local authority can check whether a building has been properly erected in every detail. They would need to have an architect behind every concrete mixer and one behind every bricklayer if they wanted to do that. When a man is laying bricks he can either lay with the frog, which is the cut-away portion, either upwards or downwards. If he lays the brick frog downwards, with the cut away portion facing down, he uses less mixture and does not do as good a job. Neither the hon. Member for Blackley (Mr. Diamond), his firm, nor any local authority can check up on that. The interruption is absolutely senseless.
§ Mr. Marples
I am indeed grateful to the hon. Member for Mitcham (Mr. Braddock) for answering the interruption of his hon. Friend the Member for Blackley. I hope that the hon. Member for Blackley and the hon. Member for Mitcham will have their debate outside.
I should like to give three common sense reasons for my contention that private enterprise working for itself, builds quicker and cheaper. First, there is the cash element. Private enterprise does not get the cash until it has finished the job.
§ Mr. Marples
But the contract builder gets 90 per cent. on even the materials that are dumped on the site because he includes that in his certificate to the local authority. And when the Government build by direct labour, as they did recently with the Mobile Labour Squad, of course they pay no attention at all to costs. They built a permanent house for £2,505 and a temporary house, without any cost for fittings or materials for £1,158. They pay no attention to costs because the money comes from the Exchequer each week. The contract builder can get his money as the materials are on the site, but, generally speaking, a private enterprise builder cannot get his money until the job is finished.
§ Mr. Marples
That is really the key to the success of private enterprise building. If they are on the site and a difficulty arises with material or labour, a speedy technical decision is made there and then. Again I must call in aid as a practical man the hon. Member for East Woolwich. He knows as well as anyone that every day on a building site something goes wrong which requires a decision on the spot. A local authority will not give that decision on the spot. The simple reason for that is that if the man makes a correct decision, he gets no promotion, apart from his normal promotion, and if he makes a wrong, decision his committee come down on him like a load of bricks. There is no incentive at all to make decisions.
§ Mr. Scollan
Is the hon. Member suggesting that the committee makes a decision? What nonsense. I have been on a housing committee for years but I have never heard of them making any decision.
§ Mr. Marples
I am quite sure that if the hon. Gentleman were on any committee they would never arrive at any decision.
§ Mr. Scollan
The hon. Gentleman said "Make a decision on the spot." They have never made any decision on the spot.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Mr. Butcher)
I think it would be well if the hon. Member were allowed to continue his speech.
§ Mr. Marples
I am sorry not to give way and to give the hon. Gentleman the opportunity of interrupting again, but I have a time limit, and there are other hon. Members who wish to speak. Also I have had my fair share of interruptions already.
So far the local authorities have built more expensively and more slowly than private enterprise, and the Government have now given in Circular 108 of 1948 permission to private enterprise to build houses provided they build them singly and they find their purchaser at once. So private enterprise has the unenviable task of building one house in Mitcham, another in Blackley, another one in another part of the country. How on earth does the Minister of Health think we shall get efficiency that way? The only way private enterprise can function 1248 successfully is by building 100 to 150 houses on the same site, getting a rhythm and flow, and using first rate technical people to build 100 or 150 houses, not one. It is quite impossible to spread over a single house the costs necessary to pay first rate technicians.
I now have two criticisms to make of the Minister. I gave him notice that I would make them, and if he is not in his place there is nothing I can do about it. In any business enterprise there are two essentials for success. The first is administrative and technical efficiency, and the second is the correct psychological atmosphere. On the technical side, with which I shall deal first, the right hon. Gentleman has proved practically as ignorant as his Parliamentary Secretary. I say that because he is fettering the building industry, as a technical industry, with instructions that are based solely on social considerations.
§ Mr. Marples
At least I throw them when I am standing and not sitting. This is proved by the four to one ratio because that is the ratio which is determining how houses shall be build technically. I want the Parliamentary Secretary to understand that I am not interested in what happens to the houses after they are built. This Government can have them all. The local authorities can have them all. They can even be blown up. The point is that the method of building a house is determined solely by this four to one ratio which was introduced by the right hon. Gentleman in these words:It certainly is not a figure based on statistical inquiry … but because it seems to me to bear the proper relationship to the social situation of most of our people."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th March, 1946; Vol. 420, c. 454.]He may be right about it bearing the right social relationship. I do not know. All I do know is, if that is imposed upon a technical industry then it must necessarily mean reduced technical efficiency unless technical considerations predominate. I suggest that the Minister has not paid sufficient attention to technical details.
Another criticism is that he is extremely reluctant to accept any technical suggestions which come from this side of the 1249 House. The Parliamentary Secretary referred to our "annual outing," to the annual discussion we are having today on housing. At the last Debate 12 months ago a suggestion was made from these benches that there should be a working party for the building industry. It has taken this Government 12 months to appoint one, and the teams of reference, as far as I know, have not yet been published.
§ Mr. Marples
In other words, it takes the Government 12 months to adopt the suggestion. If the Government themselves take 12 months, why pillory the industry for being slow? The same thing happened with all the other suggestions which were made from this side. It took seven months to agree to the suggestion about a committee on the distribution of building material.
§ Mr. Marples
We will do next time we are in, of course. It took 15 months to set up a committee on costs which was suggested by this side. And so it goes on. My criticism of the Minister is that he does not pay sufficient attention to the technical details which are necessary. When all is said and done, the trade, not politicians, will have to build the houses. My second criticism of the Minister is even worse—that it is quite impossible to get human beings to work well unless the psychological atmosphere is right and they are happy. At the present moment in the industry they are not at all happy. Then men are worried about the future. Apprentices are worried about their future, and the management are stubborn because of the insults which have been given to them by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health from time to time.
I can assure him that he will not get the willing co-operation of this industry or of any other industry unless he is just a little more reasonable and tolerant than he has been in the past in his utterances, and he ought to know perfectly well that it does not do to go about like a bull in a china shop. I remember when we had a Debate on newsprint, that the right 1250 hon. Gentleman stood there and hit the Despatch Box all over the House of Commons. And what happened? The hon. Lady the Member—
§ Mr. Diamond
On a point of Order, Mr. Butcher, may I ask whether it is in Order to refer to a Debate which we had some time ago.
§ The Temporary Chairman
I was following the hon. Member carefully and I have no doubt that he will leave that rapidly.
§ Mr. Marples
Merely by way of illustration, Mr. Butcher, I was trying to point out the error of the right hon. Gentleman's ways. The hon. Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) refused to go into the Division Lobby. If he had said to her, "My dear, you look nice in the New Look," she would have followed him like a lamb into the Lobby, and that is the method he should apply to the building industry. [An HON. MEMBER: "Bad taste."]
§ Mr. Marples
I do not know what title has been given to me by the right hon. Gentleman. [HON. MEMBERS: "The vermin."]
§ Mr. Marples
Oh, the vermin. There must be no greater expert on vermin than the right hon. Gentleman himself. I have no doubt his acquaintance with them has been pretty close these last few years, especially since he has been in office. There is one more complaint I have to make against the right hon. Gentleman. Not only does he spew out hate on the soap box but he gives a lot of inaccurate facts from time to time when at the Despatch Box to secure debating points. I shall give an illustration of that by referring to the last Debate on Economic Affairs which the right hon. Gentleman wound up.
§ Mr. Diamond
Further to that point of Order, Mr. Butcher, is it in Order for the hon. Gentleman, having covered the Debate on the Press, now—
§ The Temporary Chairman
The hon. Gentleman can safely leave the conduct of the Debate to the Chairman.
§ Mr. Marples
Thank you for your Ruling, Mr. Butcher. I want to refer to 1251 a Debate which the right hon. Gentleman wound up when he referred to housing. It was on the Economic Survey which included housing. He said this:I do not want to make this argument over and over again because it is familiar to everybody, but we have built in the first two and a half years at the end of this war more houses than were built in ten years at the end of the 1914–1918 war—and that in addition to the repairing of all the war damage."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th December, 1947; Vol. 445, c. 2008.]That was a statement by the right hon. Gentleman during that Debate. It was reported in full in the "Daily Herald" and is about one of the greatest falsehoods ever uttered in this House.
I ask the right hon. Gentleman, when he replies, to deal specifically with this question. I will hand him these figures and I want him to either substantiate or withdraw them. In the two and a half years after the German war we built 315,452 houses—[An HON. MEMBER: "Where?"] The authority is the right hon. Gentleman's own housing return. In the two and a half years after the Japanese war we built 372,769 houses. In the ten years ending 30th September, 1928—after the first war—we built 1,194,720. In other words, the right hon. Gentleman has created out of his vivid Welsh imagination something like three-quarters of a million houses which he used at the Despatch Box as an illustration to convince the House. So that the right hon. Gentleman shall have no alibi whatever when he replies, I have here every statement from HANSARD together with my summary, which I shall hand to him after I have spoken and shall be grateful if he will deal with it and not, as he usually does, dodge it.
I have spoken longer than I ought to in a rather disjointed and erratic way because of numerous interruptions. There was a great deal I wanted to say about housing but I can say only this: Unless the right hon. Gentleman pays less attention to political matters and more to technical matters, this country will be in an awful mess.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Gooch (Norfolk, Northern)
I desire to join in the congratulations from this side of the Committee to the Minister of Health upon the progress of housing generally. My purpose in intervening in 1252 the Debate is to talk for a short time about the problem as it affects the rural districts. The importance of housing to agriculture, as outlined in the Agriculture Act, has been established by that Act. I think there is general agreement that in housing generally the rural districts have lagged far behind the towns and cities. I congratulate the Minister on the fact that in the rural districts the houses are going up, and I hope that before very long there will be a complete transformation in many of our villages. As one who has spent most of his time in rural areas, I am delighted with the real progress that has been made. I do not need to mention here, however, that much remains to be done. We must remember that in the rural areas in housing generally, there has been neglect for many years.
The Government have given the highest subsidy ever for the building of rural houses and, in particular, houses for farm-workers. It offers tremendous encouragement to local authorities who are prepared to get on with the job. In the presence of the Minister, however, I want to express my disappointment that, although the houses are going up in the rural areas, so far very few farmworkers have been able to secure a tenancy. From the detailed report of the Ministry I notice that in the period from 1st April, 1945, to 30th April, 1948, only 6,293 permanent and 852 temporary houses built in the rural areas have been let to farmworkers—a total of 7,145 out of the tremendous number built in the rural districts. The figures to the end of May disclose that, out of the total number erected, 7,051 permanent and 871 temporary houses have been let to farmworkers. I suggest to the Minister in all seriousness that when we consider the size of the problem from the standpoint of our food producers, this is a very miserable achievement.
The Minister will tell me—and has done previously—that he cannot dictate to a local authority to whom they shall let their houses. What he does is to provide the highest subsidy on record. In other words, he provides the incentive for local authorities to get on with the job of building. But, after all, when they have erected the houses, it is their job to let them. Now that priority has been placed on the building of houses for farmworkers the Minister should consider the possibility of issuing definite directions to local 1253 authorities to let more houses to farm-workers.
I admit that in many areas there is a reluctance on the part of farmworkers to apply for new houses. The reasons are, first, that the rents being asked by local authorities in many rural areas are far too high. For houses built supposedly for farmworkers, some rural district councils are asking rents of anything up to £1 per week. To expect a farmworker to pay nearly £1 a week for rent and rates out of a total minimum wage of £4 10s. is expecting too much. A farmworker is reluctant to saddle himself with such a financial burden. I have never been an advocate of building down to a wage, but rather of building up to a standard, and I think the suggestion should be made to local authorities that they should encourage farmworkers to apply for new houses. This can only be done, however, by overcoming the rent difficulty.
The suggestion has been made of pooling subsidies but I do not think that would help the position of the low-paid worker. The Minister said that subsidies are used to enable local authorities to build houses at rents within the reach of tenants. If any concession in rents is to be given, it should be given by the local authorities to the farmworker. There is another reason why farmworkers do not apply for new houses. Many thousands of them who are badly in need of new accommodation live in tied cottages. They dare not let it be known that they are applying for new council houses, because the personnel of the bulk of rural district councils in this country consists of farmers and landlords. Although the people are badly in need of the houses, that is the reason for their reluctance to apply for them.
§ The Temporary Chairman
It would be very much better if the Debate were confined to the subject which is before the Committee.
§ Mr. Gooch
The need is very great, although the applications are not forthcoming in the desired numbers. There is a great need in the countryside for more houses and I hope that, in the building 1254 of new houses, local authorities will not concentrate mainly upon providing for newcomers to the industry. The people who should have first claim on them are those who have been living under appalling conditions in the villages for years and whose needs are greater.
I had a letter a short time ago from a parish council in my Parliamentary Division. It indicates the state of affairs which still exists in many rural parishes in this country. The letter says:My parish council were unanimous in directing me to request you to bring to the notice of the Ministry the appalling condition of housing and sanitation in this parish. There are between 20 and 30 houses which were condemned as unfit for habitation prior to 1939, but still inhabited. There are about 17 houses without an atom of garden, the inhabitants having to carry their lavatory pail (some through the house) along the main street for anything up to 300 yards to deposit on allotments. In another instance, three families are compelled to use one lavatory situated in a separate garden 50 or 60 yards along the road. We have requested the Rural District Council to collect the night-soil, but without result.
§ Mr. Sargood (Bermondsey, West)
Could my hon. Friend tell us whether those houses were built by private enterprise, or by the local council?
§ Mr. Gooch
The note which is sent to me says that these houses have been occupied very many years and have been in a state of disrepair for many years. I think I am safe in saying that they were built by a private landlord. The letter continues:My council have reluctantly taken this step, but consider it their duty to get something done in this apparently forgotten agricultural villageThat is only one instance of many which I could quote. When I drew the attention of the Minister to the letter, he took immediate action and I hope that, before long, conditions will be very much improved in that parish.
I wish to touch on a point which has not been touched upon so far today and to express the hope that whatever the Minister has in mind in regard to the new housing programme, he will go very slow on reconditioning. I notice that the Central Landowners' Association and the National Farmers' Union have been on a deputation to him asking him to restore Government grants for reconditioning rural cottages now in disrepair. Those houses have not fallen into disrepair during the lifetime of the present Labour Government, but were in disrepair 40 or 50 years 1255 ago, due to the gross neglect of private owners, but it is now suggested that the Central Landowners' Association and the Farmers' Union should go cap in hand to the Minister asking him to give a grant in order that they can do work which they should have done years ago.
Mr. Vane (Westmorland)
May I correct the hon. Gentleman by pointing out that the Housing (Rural Workers) Act was not to make good arrears of repairs, but to carry out improvements, which is an entirely different thing. It has nothing whatever to do with repairs.
§ Mr. Gooch
The hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) knows that although the idea of the Act was to make additional accommodation in houses, many thousands of cottages which were put forward for reconditioning were structurally unfit and neglected and should have been demolished 40 years ago. That was the type of house put forward as being extremely desirable for reconditioning.
§ Mr. Gooch
Reference has been made to the fact that there are some black spots in the country. But black spots are not to be found altogether in towns and cities. There are many black spots in the villages. The fact that there they grow flowers in old-world gardens does not completely hide the defects which are to be found in many houses on the countryside. In regard to tied cottages, I have been reading the Conservative Charter for Agriculture. I have read it with great interest, but I am not going to talk about many of the things contained in it for the simple reason that many are already in operation. But there is one point which comes into the picture today on the question of rural housing. What does the Conservative Charter for Agriculture say to farm-workers? The message it gives them is that tied cottages should be retained. If 1256 any farmworker thinks he ought to vote for the Tory candidate at the next Election he ought to think again, because, if there is anything of which the farmworker wishes to get rid, it is the tied cottage. The Charter says:We will introduce grants and loans for the reconditioning of farmworkers' houses and make such grants obligatory.In other words, the Tory policy is tied cottages for farmworkers plus patched up property that ought to have been demolished many years ago. I hope the Minister will go forward with his great plans not only to provide cottages in towns and cities, but also in villages and that when those cottages are built in the villages, they will be built in community centres and provided with such conditions as will enable the farmworker and his wife and family, for the first time in their lives, to live in decency, comfort and happiness.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ Colonel Wheatley (Dorset, Eastern)
I can go a long way with the hon. Member for Northern Norfolk (Mr. Gooch) in what he said at the beginning of his speech. I am glad that he is pressing the Minister to get on with the building of houses for agricultural workers, and I agree with him very much on the question of supplying those houses with proper sanitation and water. If the Minister will get on with that, he will get the thanks of the agricultural industry. But I cannot agree with the hon. Member at all, in saying that we should not do any reconstruction of houses which are now uninhabitable or very uncomfortable. He must know very well that many houses are now in occupation owing to the Housing (Rural Workers) Act, which are extremely comfortable, sanitary and habitable and he must know that the grant was not given for repairs, but for reconstruction. He must know, indeed, that many of those houses were almost pulled down, and grants were given if only one wall was left and the house was practically rebuilt. The Minister did great harm to the agricultural industry when he did away with the Act. There would have been many more good houses in the countryside if that Act had been in operation during the last two or three years.
I am certain that tonight, at a quarter to thousands of people will be listening-in to hear the result of this 1257 Debate—thousands who are living in appalling conditions of overcrowding and conditions in which none of us would want them to live for one moment longer than is necessary. I think that housing is above party politics, or it ought to be, and I should like it to be, because I am certain that not only in this Committee but in the country, everyone wants to see housing increased and the people put into proper accommodation. But many difficulties have arisen, not the least of which, unfortunately, is that either we have the wrong Minister in charge or else that Minister got off on the wrong foot from the very beginning. If he had taken as his aim the construction of all the houses he could get, by whatever means possible, I am certain that we should have got further on with the job than is the case at present.
I do not want to stress the need for housing. We all know it. We all know of terrible cases which are brought to us every time we go to our constituencies. One matter which is worrying our constituents a great deal is the question of the rising cost of the houses. It has already been pointed out why this is happening. My hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) drew attention very forcibly to the delay in the arrival of materials on the site. We know of cases where materials have been dumped on one site, there has been a change of policy, and then they were moved and dumped on another site. That all costs money. Such conditions would never arise if private enterprise were dealing with that particular building. Another reason for the high cost of houses which the Minister could alter is that the subsidy is not paid until the house is occupied. The Parliamentary Secretary will, perhaps, correct me if I am wrong in that. It means that the local authorities are paying interest on borrowed money much longer than they need do. Surely it makes little difference to the Exchequer if the money is paid directly the house is started rather than when the house is occupied by someone.
I believe, too, that we could get on with the work much more quickly if we could cut out a lot of regional interference by the Minister giving a direction to his regional officers that they must not delay, as it seems to most people they do, for the sake of delay, for the sake of saying "no," for the sake of putting 1258 up some new suggestion. I had a case brought to my notice the other day when some essential fencing was wanted to protect gardens and to save children from accidents through running into the road on a new estate where there are no pavements as yet. This was held up because the regional official said, "Instead of having a wire fence, why not have a privet hedge?"—as if that would keep out dogs and prevent children from running into the road. These are things which cause delay and much irritation among the people who are to live in the houses.
I am sure that we are all very glad that the Minister has now given permission to private enterprise to take some part in the housing drive by building on private account. It is a pity that the Minister has said that the number of houses to be built on private account is to be part of the general allocation of the area. I should like to see the allocation given to the local authority and a percentage allowed outside that to builders on private account. A great deal is said on the other side of the Committee about the question of houses to let. It is almost looked upon as a crime if a builder wants to build a house. It is no crime for a man to want to build a house or for an operative to want to work in his own trade or for a man and woman to want to possess a house. Hon. Members opposite talk about it as if it were some crime.
I disagree with the suggestion that the vast majority of people who now want houses want houses to let. I should say that there is not a vast majority, although there may be a majority, but a vast number of people want to build and occupy their own houses. Hon. Members say, "How can they afford it?" They can go to the local authority and borrow money. There are many ways in which they can do it. Many men who came out of the Army not only bought their land but had sufficient money saved to put down the necessary deposit to get a house built, and even had a builder willing to do the work, but they were not allowed to proceed. I raised this question with the Minister of Health in a Debate two or three years ago. Surely anyone living in the conditions in which some of these people are living would be only too glad to get a house in any way possible? The days of high 1259 interest have to a large extent gone by. People can go to the local authority and borrow the money.
I desire the Minister, if he will, to give directions to, or make arrangements with, the local authorities to ensure that the licences that are now to be given to builders to build on private account shall be well looked into, so that we shall not have, as we had a year or so ago, people living in houses which they sell at a good price, having another house built at a lesser price and going into that. That is depriving the people whom we want to get a house—those who have not now got a house—of the chance to buy one. A simple administrative direction could go out to ensure that that scandal shall not happen any more. It has happened in many cases. It is a scandal and the Minister should put his foot down and see that it is not allowed.
I have no connection with the building industry, but I think it is unfair to the industry to suggest—and I resent the suggestions that are being made, particularly from the other side of the Committee—that builders are out to cheat when they can or are out to put up bad work. That is a great pity. It is an aspersion upon a great and good industry that such remarks should have been made in this Committee.
§ Mr. J. Edwards
The hon. and gallant Member has made an interesting point and it might be convenient for me to say that the point he made about seeing that the houses went to the right people, has already been put in Circular 108 of 1948. It says:Houses for sale built under licence must go and be seen to go to persons in need of houses.The point is further elaborated.
§ Colonel Wheatley
I am grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary for his intervention and I am glad to know that that directive has gone out. As I say, the matter was a real scandal two or three years ago.
I wish to appeal to the Minister to let private enterprise take its fair share in the job of providing houses. I should like to see, as my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) suggested, the percentage allowed for building on 1260 private account gradually brought up at least to an equality with that for houses built by local authorities. I should like to see this percentage reviewed, say, every six months to see how matters are going. Let us take the political aspect out of this business of building houses. Let us get on by trying to think of the human aspect of the matter, and get houses built. Let the Minister take as his motto, "Let the builders build."
§ 6.39 p.m.
§ Mr. West (Pontypool)
The hon. and gallant Member for Eastern Dorset (Colonel Wheatley) made certain observations which will be echoed sympathetically in this part of the Committee, particularly when he was dealing with the point that houses should be allocated to those in the greatest need. That is something of which we entirely approve. Then he went on to suggest giving private enterprise a free hand. The two arguments just do not coincide. If we gave private enterprise a completely free hand, we could never be sure that persons who most needed houses would get them. I therefore hope that the hon. and gallant Member will forgive me if I do not follow his arguments any further.
I was disappointed with the attitude of the hon. Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples). When I have listened to him previously he has delivered speeches with moderation, and at any rate not with impertinence. I feel that he did himself rather less than justice in the way in which he wound up his speech today. I am sorry that he is not in his place at the moment, but I felt that it was necessary for an hon. Member on this side of the Committee to say how strongly some of us disapprove of such observations in Debates of this nature.
The right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) who opened the case on behalf of the Opposition, spoke moderately and with consideration. There were one or two points with which I was in agreement. Of course, like all the other speakers on the other side of the Committee, the right hon. and gallant Gentleman overlooked one essential factor. He complains that houses are not being produced in great enough numbers and seeks to suggest that we ought to have exceeded the pre-war production of houses under Tory rule. I say, in reply to that argument, that if 1261 the Minister of Health had had it within his power, if he had the conditions which existed in 1938, when there were no shortages of materials and no difficulties of labour, and if he had the financial resources of that time, he could have produced in this country far more houses—great as his achievement has been up to the present time—for the benefit of our people than the party opposite did during the years when they had their opportunity.
A matter upon which I should like to place emphasis is that in the arguments which have been raised from the other side of the Committee there has been a complete lack of appreciation of the difficulties which confront not only this country, but other countries in Europe, in regard to their building programmes. Other countries are confronted with problems as great as ours. Indeed, our record and our achievement far outstrip those of any other country in Europe. At the present time, all Europe is clamouring for the essential materials for the building of houses. There is a great demand for soft wood timber. The countries from whom we used to get large imports of timber before the war are not now able to let us have anything but a fraction of what was available in those days. That position must reflect itself in our building capacity.
Before the war, Finland was able to export to us large quantities of timber, but is now only able to export a fraction of the former amount. Sweden is in the same position. She is using her labour to convert her forests into fuel. Both countries are in great need of something that we can give them. If we can give them more coal we can get more timber. We must recognise this essential fact, that where-ever we turn we come to the question of coal. If we can provide coal we can obtain more steel. If we can have more steel we can provide more manufactured goods. Then we can get more timber. Indeed, if we could export more coal to those countries now we could get more timber immediately. Therefore, there must be great emphasis on coal. It is required for the production of steel, cement, bricks and glass. It is, and remains, a limiting factor.
I come from a constituency which produces coal. We are producing coal very well. Our record is good. We are hitting the target, but notwithstanding the great 1262 efforts that are being made in the national interest, many miners are still living in deplorable conditions. I do not blame my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health for that. The condemnation must fall upon the party opposite. The houses that were built were shocking dwellings anyhow. There are many in such a condition that no people ought to be allowed to live in them. Nevertheless, miners have to live in those houses at the present time.
We have been looking forward to a greater allocation of houses for the mining community. I know that the Minister has made a declaration that the miners should have priority in this respect, but we are still not getting as many houses in our area as I think we ought to get. Week after week I am confronted with people who are in great distress because they are living in these appalling housing conditions. We cannot expect men living in such conditions to do difficult, arduous and heavy tasks. They must have decent, civilised conditions. I hope that my right hon. Friend will give us encouragement on this matter and a further allocation of houses to coalminers.
On my next point, I support in some measure the view expressed by the right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities in regard to production per man in the building trade. This is due in a large measure to the allocation of materials. I would ask my right hon. Friend to say, when he replies to the Debate, whether he is completely satisfied that the co-ordination between his Department and the Ministry of Works is as good as it ought to be. I think it has been the experience of the local authorities and of building contractors that work is held up, the cost of houses to local authorities is increased, and there is an unsettled feeling among the men because they are compelled to stand off. This is due to the fact, as experienced in my own area quite recently, that material—cement—which was apparently in abundant supply, could not be delivered in time on the site. I would ask my right hon. Friend to ensure that there is closer co-ordination between his Department and the Ministry of Works about the supply of materials.
I wish to refer to another matter, and then I will conclude my speech. It is the increased cost in the building 1263 of houses to let. The subsidy which the Government gave under the Housing (Financial Provisions) Act was, I think, upon the basis that the cost of the house would be in the region of £1,000. The subsidy was allocated on that basis and it was expected that the rent of the house in urban areas would be about 10s. per week excluding rates. Now we find that by reason of the increased costs—my hon. Friend agrees that the costs have increased by about 13 per cent. on the tender price only; not the actual finishing cost of these dwellings—if those houses have to be let at an economic rent then the people who need them must pay a rent increased beyond their capacity to pay. Therefore, I ask my right hon. Friend to give further consideration to the question of subsidy. It is time that this matter was thoroughly examined and the whole position reviewed.
Having made those criticisms, if criticisms they be, I would say at any rate on behalf of the people whom I represent, that we recognise the great work which the Minister of Health has been doing with regard to the provision of houses. We appreciate the great difficulties which have confronted him and admire his determination and vigour in getting houses built. We look forward to the time when our economic position will be improved and the materials position easier and when decent homes can be provided for all the people who need them.
§ 6.52 p.m.
§ Mr. David Renton (Huntingdon)
I shall not follow the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. West), though I feel tempted to do so, into his interesting exploration of the broader economic aspects of the housing problem, except to say that, if he turns to the Government's Economic Survey for 1948, in paragraph 182 he will find this remark about housing. It affects his constituency, which is a coalmining one, just as it affects mine, which is mainly an agricultural one. It says:At the end of 1947 some 100,000 houses were roofed and awaiting completion. Special efforts are being made to hasten the completion of houses in coalmining and agricultural areas.It may very well be that special efforts were made, but, as was pointed out by the hon. Member for Northern Norfolk 1264 (Mr. Gooch), they cannot have produced quite the result which was intended in the Economic Survey, for we find that the number of houses which have been occupied by agricultural workers specifically—presumably that means those in houses for which the subsidy has been paid—reaches the figure of only 7,000-odd in the three years since the end of the war.
I would, therefore, like to go into the matter of housing for agricultural workers a little more fully. I make no apology for doing so, because the Government have quite rightly set a very high target for agriculture, a target of production which can only be reached with sufficient manpower; and we find that they fell short of their manpower target during 1947 by no fewer that 30,000 men, compared with the figure which had been set in the Economic Survey for 1947. The reason was, I am told—and all the inquiries I have made tend to confirm it—mainly the shortage of houses for agricultural workers. Without the houses we shall not get the workers for agriculture, and without the workers, we shall not get the agricultural production which is required.
It may be within the recollection of hon. Members—and I am sure that it will be within the recollection of the Parliamentary Secretary—that last autumn the Minister of Health and the Minister of Agriculture apparently got together to see how many houses should be built by local authorities for those engaged in agriculture. A questionnaire was sent to agricultural executive committees; and the result was what the Minister of Health felt quite rightly was merely a statement of their long-term needs, based possibly on the assumption that every worker going into the industry would need a house, an assumption which it was unnecessary to make. He therefore asked the committees to think again, and on 6th May, in answer to a Question which I put asking him whether the committees and the local authorities had got together and framed more precise estimates, he said that the committees and local authorities were still engaged in framing estimates.
It may be that already some statement or report has been published as a result of the deliberations of the agricultural executive committees and the local authorities; but, if any such report or statement has been published I have not seen it, 1265 and neither have some of my constituents who have been inquiring about it. I should be glad if the Minister who replies to the Debate would give us some idea whether a solution has been reached and whether a target for the number of houses for agricultural workers needed for the country as a whole and for each county has now been arrived at. Then we shall have something to go on.
It has become clear from this Debate that back in 1945, when we all began to apply our minds to this matter, hon. Members of all parties both underestimated the probable demand there would be for housing three years after the war and over-estimated the country's capacity to produce the houses. The result is that we find the Minister of Health obviously a very disappointed man. He cannot build as many houses as he would have liked. He cannot build as many houses as his hon. Friends at the time of the General Election suggested might be built. I was very interested to hear the hon. Member for Pontypool explaining the reason we cannot have as many houses as we would like. I wonder whether by any chance during the General Election campaign he pointed out to his constituents that there might be difficulties, such as he has described today. I know many hon. Members failed to describe such difficulties.
§ Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, Central)
My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool did not take part in the General Election campaign.
§ Mr. Renton
That lets him out to some extent. I do not know the date of the by-election when he was returned, but he may have been able to profit by the mistakes of his hon. Friends. At any rate, we now find that the Minister of Health is not quite his own master as to the number of houses that can be built; and, instead of a glorious and gigantic major military operation for the housing programme, we are to have a nice gentle "balancing" performance. The Parliamentary Secretary today to some extent reassured the Committee that the Ministry of Health would be making the best of its limited opportunities; but let us not forget that the opportunities of building permanent houses are to be limited, as has been quite clearly laid down by the Economic Survey and as is recognised in 1266 all quarters of the House; and let us also bear in mind that when we have made the fullest possible use of the limited opportunities of building permanent houses there will still be a lot of homeless people who will be glad of any kind of separate roof. It was for that reason that last December I took advantage of a good opportunity, which I had, of starting a long Adjournment Debate, to ask that the fullest use should be made of Service huts. I was glad on that occasion to find that the Parliamentary Secretary, who replied for the Government, agreed with me then. This is what he said and I agreed with him:We do not like huts, but as long as we have to use them we shall use as many as we can and the ones we use we shall make as habitable as possible."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th December, 1947; Vol. 445, c. 975.]What I am interested to discover is to what extent the Government have fulfilled the proposition so admirably and so succinctly stated by the Parliamentary Secretary. I am a little handicapped in going into the figures of this matter, because I find that, in answer to a Question which I put to the Minister of Health last December, it was stated that:Approximately 9,325 families were accommodated on 31st October in temporary wartime buildings taken over by local authorities in accordance with the circular. In addition approximately another 9,997 families were occupying temporary wartime buildings considered suitable for housing, most of which are being managed by local authorities on my behalf."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th December, 1947; Vol. 445, c. 84/85.]That makes a total of nearly 20,000 families accommodated directly under the supervision of the local authority or by them as agents for the Minister at 31st October. But, when we turn to the latest Housing Return we find that the position at 31st May is shown under the heading "Use of existing premises—Service camps" and it says that local authorities have accommodated 20,172 families and Government Departments 225. It is, therefore, impossible for one to find out on any fair basis of comparison, what progress was made during the seven months from 31st October to 31st May in converting Service huts into separate and very much valued homes for the people.
However, we do find that during the month of May only 339 families were newly accommodated in Service camps under the supervision of local authorities. If May is any criterion of the previous six 1267 months, one cannot feel that very much progress was made between 31st October and 31st May, nor indeed very much progress from 9th December, when we had that most interesting Adjournment Debate, and when the Parliamentary Secretary stated so admirably the proposition with which I agreed. I wonder whether the Minister, in winding up the Debate, can give us some idea of the extent to which use has been made of Service huts to provide accommodation since then.
To return to the question of the building of permanent houses by local authorities, it appears to me that local authorities have been frustrated. I am in the exceptional position of having no fewer than 11 local authorities charged with housing duties in my constituency, which I think is pretty far above the average. Although their performances vary considerably, I am quite convinced that they have all been doing their best. I am equally convinced that they have been frustrated, and are still be frustrated, by prohibitions, orders, counter-orders, and changes of plan on the part of the Ministry of Health and, where the Ministry of Works are concerned, on the part of the Ministry of Works.
There have been cases within the past year or eight months, to which I have drawn the Minister's attention, where local authorities know that they have the labour available and have been assured by contractors that the materials are available, but who still have been refused permission to build. These are local authorities with long waiting lists, and it is pretty galling for them to be refused permission to have those houses built. After considering the matter fully, it seems to me that for local authorities house building is still more like a game of snakes and ladders than a major military operation; and I beseech the Government to do what they can to get rid of red tape, as they said in the early days they could do, and simplify the whole procedure.
One feels tempted to use rather hard words about the Minister. I am not going to do so, because frankly I feel very sorry for him; I feel he is not his own master, but I do suggest he should listen to the advice which has been given by my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples), and try to be as good a psychologist as I am sure he thinks he is. I 1268 believe that it is a human failing with most people that they think they are good psychologists. Let the right hon. Gentleman try to be a good psychologist and let him remember that the building of houses requires a united effort and that the use of wild words might destroy the unity necessary for that effort.
§ 7.8 p.m.
§ Mr. George Hicks (Woolwich, East)
I want first of all to thank the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) for the very kind reference which he made to me in the speech with which he opened this Debate. Friends on both sides of the House have told me how very much they regret that I am going to leave this House. Generally I tell them it is a long time away yet and I have remarked that they might consult the electorate before then. They have agreed, and I have told more than one, "You may be here just as long as I shall be." I am very thankful to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman for his kind references to myself and also for the statement which he made in regard to housing. I would like to apologise to the Parliamentary Secretary and to my hon. Friends who sit on these Benches for keeping them here listening to me on this subject, because we know all about this problem.
I am not going to talk about the needs of the problem. I can only stress its great urgency. Everyone who wishes to do so can find out the exact position in his or her own area by getting into touch with the local authorities. There are specialists in those areas who can produce the facts, and when those facts are gathered together they give a complete picture of the national position so far as housing is concerned. I am satisfied that the Ministry of Health is doing its best to tackle this problem. I am not one of those critics who say to the Minister, "You should not change your plan." Some hon. Members on the other side of the House think that the Minister ought to state his plans and stick to them regardless of the facts. If the position is against us, it is wise to change the plans. That is the obvious thing to do. To say that we should lay down plans and never change them regardless of what happens from time to time, is perfectly ridiculous. 1269 Hon. Members opposite have been setting up Aunt Sallies and knocking them down to their own satisfaction, which makes me smile.
§ Mr. Renton
Would the hon. Member concede that in the case of an individual project, an increase in cost may be caused if after the plans for that project have been approved, they are changed?
§ Mr. Hicks
The hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) was not the only one who stuck up Aunt Sallies. I am not referring to him. I heard the hon. Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) talking on this subject in this Debate. He seems to me to have had very bad indigestion, and he ought to get some treatment for it, because I could not understand the vile stuff he was spewing out. I am satisfied that the Ministry is doing its very best in tackling this housing problem. I congratulate it also on building the majority of houses to let in the proportion of four to one because I think it is the right thing to do. I know that when the Minister introduced the scheme there was a great deal of foreboding and gloom about his proposition, and that it was thought it would be attended by failure. But today he comes along and says how successful it is, and everybody has to agree that it is successful.
We are discussing today the question of the number of houses built and how many are being erected in agricultural and mining areas. Everyone knows that there is not the necessary nucleus of building trade workers in the agricultural and mining areas with which to build the houses there; they have to be imported from other places, and the material has to be transported. We also know that the number of houses built is small in comparison with what is an economic unit. When one is building, say, 100 houses instead of only nine or 10, one is able to get all the necessary machinery, and the trades following on in perfect rhythm one after the other, which makes it possible to produce the houses more economically.
I agree that we must build for the agricultural worker, but I would point out—although this is a point which will be made later tonight—that the agricultural worker was not bombed as badly during the war as was the town worker. I know 1270 that agricultural workers have been badly housed in the past, and that they must have sufficient housing accommodation, but I would emphasise that the people in the towns suffered many more bombs and much more shattering of their homes than those in the agricultural areas. However, be that as it may, I congratulate the Government on building houses in the agricultural and mining areas, because they have to attract people to those areas.
What the Minister has done by way of cutting down house-building has been necessary because of the national economic position. That is obvious to everyone. If we are fair, we must admit that the Government had to contract the building programme because of the world economic situation. Had they been free to carry on, they would have said, "Certainly, let us continue building." I would point out to the Minister that we have a building organisation of employers, workpeople and technicians sufficient to build at least 400,000 houses a year. We can do that provided we get the necessary approval. We have plenty of bricks and steel available in the country—I know there is a shortage of timber which is an essential part of house building—and I would beg the Minister to expand the building programme at the earliest opportunity in order that we may use to the full the available employers and technicians, when the operatives will follow. Once the building industry is reduced to below its peak efficiency, there is always some difficulty in getting it restarted on the technical, administrative and workers side.
With regard to the additional cost, as I have told this House of Commons on many previous occasions, the necessary brickwork does not represent more than 20 per cent. of the cost. I have to keep emphasising that fact because many people do not know it. They think that if we can get bricklayers to lay another 80 bricks a day the cost will come down. I said 20 per cent. because I hoped to be challenged and to be able to say that it was less, but nobody appears willing to rise to the bait.
For the first time in the history of the building industry the operatives, through their trade unions, have a guaranteed week. For many years I worked at the trade with my sleeves rolled up and was very poorly paid all the time. In 1271 the end, I decided to roll down my sleeves and to put on my coat, and I got a much better income. It pays better to wear a hard hat instead of a soft one. Before the unions were in a position to get a guaranteed week for their members, the men were put off for every shower of rain, fog or frost, and had to lose the time. The people who eventually lived in the houses never gave a thought to the men who built them and who had such a miserable existence. For many years we fought for the guaranteed week, and we hope to get some guarantee in this matter also.
I congratulate the Ministry of Works on the introduction of the £100 licence, although I wish it were more. However, it is a step in the right direction. When I was in the Ministry we had to impose a £10 limit on each house. When we remember that we had 10 to 12 million houses in the country, if only eight million had had £10 spent on them that would have represented a sum of £80 million—a figure we could not afford. As I say, the Ministry has now decided to extend the figure to £100, and I hope they will extend it even further later on. I know that not very much can be done for today, but, if possible, a surveyor as well as a contractor should be employed so there is someone to check up on the work done. As I have said before in this Chamber, when the work is left entirely to private enterprise one is never sure what the total bill will be.
It has been said today that private enterprise should be left to do these things. I have seen houses built by private enterprise with a bay window on the first floor and with nothing but two inches of breeze concrete, plastered on both sides, and roughcast on the outside so that when people look at such a house they think that it is a lovely, solid building. But let them get inside and they will find out the difference. Unless a clerk of works and a good architect are constantly supervising a structure, nothing lends itself more easily to adulteration than a building job. I could deceive hon. Members of this Committee quite easily over the building of a house if I wished to, but I prefer to be open about it. Unless the Minister gets local authorities, their clerks of works and other representatives capable of looking after everyone responsible 1272 for any building, the finished job will not be of a very high quality.
With regard to the general outlook, my hon. Friend who is to speak later in this Debate, and who was chairman of the Housing Committee of the London County Council, has figures to show how much the present output has increased owing to the trades and trade unions getting together, and how, in turn, that has reduced the costs. I wish to support the Government in the things they are doing and to congratulate them on their policy, but I would appeal to the Minister, when increased materials are available, to raise the labour force of the industry to above one million. Unless we do that there will be disappointment, which will take a long time to rectify. I am certain that when the labour power, the technicians, the employers, and all the operatives are properly organised and "married" we shall have no reason to regret it.
I would like to refer to something which was said by the right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities. He said that we are using building labour out of all proportion for house building. I know. I worked with him when he was at the Ministry of Health. I broadcast with him when we built the millionth house after the 1914–18 war. But I am certain of this—and the right hon. and gallant Gentleman did not tell hon. Members—that at one period there were 60 out of every 100 building trade workers employed upon housing, and 40 out of every 100 employed upon commercial and other work necessary for the country. The normal position should be 60 per cent. of the building trade labour employed upon the commercial and other building, and 40 per cent. upon housing.
I do not want to say any more. I am talking rather fragmentarily, because I have been sitting here since 2.30 trying to catch your eye, Sir. I am obliged to you for seeing me at last. I want to congratulate the Ministry in general on their efforts, on the spirit which has actuated them and on the common sense which they have shown from time to time in changing their plans when this has been necessary, and in discussing movements and not "monuments" as some hon. Members opposite have done. They say, "Let us do something and keep it 1273 there"—that is a monument. We on this side are a movement. In so far as the Ministry have movement, the right movement and a live movement, I congratulate them.
§ 7.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Hurd (Newbury)
The hon. Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks) is a practical man and he has a very kindly nature, but I was surprised that even his kindly nature enabled him to shower congratulations so repeatedly upon the Minister of Health. I also want to look at this problem of housing from a practical point of view, although I may not be able to shower so many congratulations upon the Minister.
I want the Minister to consider for a moment the difficulties and frustrations which face the individual employer and the local authority in applying priority for agricultural housing. There are many examples of the frustrations which I could give the Minister, but I am sure he knows about them. I ask him to consult more freely with the men in the counties who are trying to do this job. His Ministry, his regional officers and, indeed, the whole team will get on a good deal faster and better if he will do that.
So far, the Minister has persisted in his refusal to carry on the Housing (Rural Workers) Act. The hon. Member for Northern Norfolk (Mr. Gooch) commended the Minister for letting that Act lapse and for putting nothing in its place. All I would say is that it makes it extremely difficult for the owner of property to do what he would wish to do in reconditioning and enlarging cottage property if he is not to get any kind of financial assistance, and if he is still tied to a maximum rent of 6s. a week. This is the position today. It is virtually impossible for small owners to do what they wish to do, and what they now have the means to do—which they had not before the war—in putting these houses in order, unless they can get some assistance from public funds.
Let us be quite clear on this point. Not a penny of public assistance goes into the owner's pocket. The benefit is entirely for the man who occupies the house. The Minister—and I was surprised to find that the hon. Member for Northern Norfolk, who is President of the National Union of Agricultural Workers, agreed with him 1274 —is condemning thousands of farm workers to live in bad conditions, and he is also hampering the food production campaign.
The Minister pins his faith almost entirely on local authority building. What is happening with local authority building from the point of view of agricultural priority? In Berkshire the rural district councils have let very few houses to agricultural workers. One council has let seven, another has let three. That is out of all the houses which have been built since the war. The rents of those houses—they are new council houses—are 21s. a week. That is, of course, a high rent for a farm worker to pay, and there is a good deal of mystery in the rural districts as to how these rents have got so high. When we were discussing the Housing (Financial Provisions) Act in March, 1946, the figure suggested as a probable average rent for these agricultural cottages was 7s. 6d. They have gone up from 7s. 6d. to 21s.
§ Mr. Hurd
The 21s. is an inclusive figure, but, of course, as the Minister knows very well, the rates would not be very high, and even if one compares 7s. 6d. exclusive with 21s. inclusive, there is a very wide gap. When the Minister replies, I hope he will deal with that point. We should get on very much faster and more economically in providing better housing for the agricultural community if the Minister would relent and put aside his political prejudices, and assist and encourage the reconditioning and improving of existing cottages, and also allow more private enterprise building.
The hon. Member for East Woolwich was quite right when he said that the conditions in the agricultural areas are different from those in the towns. In the agricultural areas we have as our building teams many small units—small firms of builders who are able to build one or two houses at a time. The Minister considers that these small builders are grossly inefficient. He gave that opinion in answer to a supplementary question of mine the other day. However these men are there. They have the skill and the organisation. We must allow them to get ahead faster than 1275 the Minister proposes in this ratio of one to five.
I want to give one example of what is happening. I have been doing battle with Ministers during the last few weeks on behalf of an ex-Service man who served six years in the Army, four and a half years of which were spent overseas. He has taken on four acres of land which he is cultivating intensively. Everybody agrees that is so. He has cleared the land and is growing potatoes, strawberries, winter greens and so on. This man is living in a hovel with his parents, his wife and three children. He has been trying to get the Minister of Agriculture to sponsor priority for a house. Of course, the Minister of Agriculture can only do that if he is satisfied on food production grounds. The Berkshire agricultural executive committee are satisfied, but the Minister of Agriculture has become so over-awed by the Minister of Health that he will not put forward this case as one of priority on food production grounds; he says that this man must apply to the local council for a private building licence.
I have taken this matter up with the local council. They have no fewer than 150 applications for private building licences, and in each case the applicant has acquired the land and has obtained the approval of the council and of the town and country planning authority to build a house. There are 150 of those cases. According to the most optimistic estimate, the council will be able to allow 20 licences a year. That means that this smallholder is expected to wait seven or eight years to be allowed to build himself a house. A council house in the village would be of no use to him; he must have a house on his holding. I am sure that in many such cases food production is being hampered and real hardship is being caused to, deserving people because of this insistence that private enterprise should build only one house out of five.
The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu) would, no doubt, say that the smallholder should not want to build himself a house, but the smallholder is not all that class conscious. He wants to make a home for himself and his family, and he has a stronger ambition—he would like to own his home, I ask the Minister whether, 1276 where there are practical grounds—and we have these small firms of builders in the country—and where there are food production grounds, he will look much more sympathetically at these applications and allow them to go through without too much red tape at the regional offices. Time and time again one finds that these applications have to go through not only his Department on a regional level but the Ministry of Works and the Ministry of Agriculture, too. It takes many months to tie everything up and, in the meantime, people are suffering through bad houses and in many instances food production is suffering, too.
I have tried to be practical. I hope that when the Minister replies on this point of agricultural priority in housing he will also be practical and that we shall not get a deluge of political prejudices against private enterprise or against the landowner. That is really irrelevant today.
§ 7.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Kinley (Bootle)
In view of the number of Members who still wish to speak in this Debate, I will condense my contribution as much as I can, although I want to say quite a lot to the Minister and I want to make an appeal to him to give special consideration to the housing problems of the blitzed areas.
I would like, first, to draw the Minister's attention to the uncomfortable fact that the present cost of building is a growing difficulty for the local authorities. A house which before the war cost £500 to build, and being built by the local authority had to be built with borrowed capital, carried a rate of interest, together with sinking fund, which would average five per cent. That meant, on the £500 house, a payment of interest on the borrowed money at the rate of 10s. a week. Today, that rate of interest—reduced to three per cent.—means, if we allow half of one per cent. for sinking fund, that on a £1,200 house £42 a year is paid in interest alone. In other words, 15s. a week has to be paid to the moneylender. It involves a high weekly rent, further increased by the local rate contribution. I want to remind the Minister that in areas like my own, where the basic industry is dock working, the loading and unloading of ships, where the basic rate of pay is £4 12s. 6d. a week, if we have to charge between 25s. and 30s. a week, with rates, for these houses 1277 we shall impose a most unfair burden on the dock workers, who are restricted to their £4 12s. 6d.
The next point I want to make is that ours was a very congested area before the war. An overcrowding survey prior to 1939 showed that to house our people with a home for every family we were involved in the provision of an additional 5,000 houses. Our total number of houses was 17,000. We needed an additional 5,000 houses to provide a home for each family and to abate overcrowding. We could not build any of those in our area. We should have had to build every one of those houses outside our boundary, because there was no room for any more inside. The year 1939 found us needing 5,000 houses. The war came, and of our 17,000 houses 2,043 were completely demolished by bombs—one in eight. At a later period, when local authorities were invited to make application for pre-fabs, we hoped that we might be able to replace the 2,000 houses which had been demolished. We therefore applied for 2,000 pre-fabs. We got 850. Now, in addition to the old need for 5,000 houses to abate overcrowding—which still remains—we need 1,200 houses to make up the 2,000 which were demolished by bombs. This is one of the most bitter things. We cannot do any permanent building in our own boundaries, yet the overcrowded houses are still there. We have hundreds upon hundreds of families still outside the town. We are unable to provide accommodation to which they can come back. No Government Department has had any special powers given to it to enable it to depart from existing legislation.
The point I wish to make is this. The Minister will have a fair knowledge of the number of occasions upon which he has been approached by Bootle and other authorities similarly placed for assistance in their difficulties. We have thousands of families overcrowded with, so far as we can see, no hope of permanent homes of their own for years to come, unless we can get some assistance which hitherto we have not had. I ask the Minister to contrast the position of the blitzed area with that of the unblitzed area. A small unblitzed area not very far from the Merseyside has been able to provide itself, since the war ended, with 150 per- 1278 manent houses. I ask the Minister to agree that that local authority may now be considered as "1939-plus" so far as the provision of houses is concerned—that is, plus the 150 houses they have now built. Bootle, having lost 2,000 houses, would need to build 2,150 to be in the same position as that place which was not bombed at all. I hope the Minister will understand, from that illustration, the extra help which must be given by the Government and Govern-Departments to the areas which were blitzed and which, without special assistance, will not be able to escape from the difficulties now surrounding them.
In closing, I appeal to the Minister to come to inspect the blitzed areas, to see for himself what is needed and to decide for himself whether, under existing legislation and under existing arrangements, there is any possible hope for the 5,000 families in Bootle who still need houses and to whom the local council, in spite of their efforts, can offer no hope. There are all those people who have been married since 1939, during the war and since demobilisation, and those marriages have added another 600-odd to our list of families awaiting an allocation of corporation houses. I invite the Minister, understanding the deep suffering that is involved in such a housing situation, to come to Bootle to examine the position for himself, and to give the local council, which at present is at its wits' end, the benefit of his advice. If he can persuade the Minister of Works to come with him, they may possibly together make decisions on the spot which would ease the hearts of a large number of people in the Bootle area. If he can do that, I for one will be pleased and very much relieved.
§ 7.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)
I think it would be difficult to find a greater contrast between two towns than there is between Bootle, which is represented by the hon. Member who has just spoken, and Cheltenham which I have the honour to represent here. However, both towns have this in common: they both have a most serious housing problem. In spite of all that has been done since the war—and I do not want to underestimate the results of the efforts of my right hon. Friend—the problem still remains as urgent as ever. I find that I receive just 1279 as many letters as I ever did drawing attention to deplorable housing conditions. Among my constituents whom I interview each weekend a large proportion are still faced with a housing problem. I therefore want to say to the Minister that I hope he will realise that, in spite of what has been achieved, there is still a great deal more to be done, and that the urgent need is, not to contract the housing programme, but to expand it.
I know his difficulties. I know the other priorities which have very serious claims on resources. However, I think he may be fortified by using the argument which was advanced by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot), that housing, which is the first of the social services, is the only one which has been cut down since the war. In the other social services there has been expansion, and in every other aspect of the national life one is expected to do more—and more has been done—than in prewar times; but in housing, which is a prime necessity, it is taken for granted that the economic position of the country is such that we cannot afford a programme equal to the needs of the people.
I wonder, however, how much longer we can afford, as a nation, to allow these deplorable housing conditions to continue. It is not only a question of the suffering which the people have to endure, but the real danger to the moral life of the nation; for family life is being broken up. There are many husbands who have to live in one place while their wives live elsewhere. When a new baby is born, instead of being the source of happiness it ought to be to the family, it is a source of worry, the family having to solve the question of where the baby is to be accommodated. There are many anxious people who live in furnished rooms who have to leave those rooms when they have babies. All this is having very serious effects on the whole life of the nation. I hope that my right hon. Friend, therefore, will bear this in mind, that the housing of the people ought to be pursued with every possible vigour.
What we must ask ourselves is whether it is possible to speed up the rate of house building. The question has been raised about the actual output of the builders themselves, which is a very important fac- 1280 tor. I am hopeful that as a result of the setting up of the Working Party for the building industry, which has been announced, there will be good results, and that we shall have in the building industry a more efficient instrument for the housing of the people. Even as things are at present, we find that some local authorities are able, in spite of the difficulties of the times, to be more successful in house building than others. Housing has gone on for three years since the war under these conditions, and so I ask my right hon. Friend whether there is any pool of experience in which the more laggard authorities could learn tie methods by which the more progressive and successful ones have been and are able to house more of their people. I am quite sure some good might be obtained from such a pooling of experience.
Now that the local authorities have been responsible for so long for building houses, I wish the Minister would have a little more confidence in them, and perhaps relax some of the control from Whitehall, which no doubt was necessary in the earlier stages. It is the experience of several local authorities that if they were given a freer hand—and I think the time has arrived when the Minister might give them a freer hand—they would get on more rapidly with the job. I know that he is as anxious as any of us to have as many houses built as possible, and I hope he will consider in what ways and to what degree local authorities may proceed with their building programmes without consulting his Department at so many stages, and see whether, by that means, the housing programme could be speeded up.
The question of the cost of housing has been raised, and the matter of the subsidy. I know that local authorities are very disappointed that the Minister is continuing the subsidy at the same rate for the coming year. That subsidy was fixed in 1946; and then it was estimated that, with the subsidy from the Government and the contribution from the local authority, it would be possible to let a three bedroomed house at 10s. a week. Owing, however, to the increases in cost, so far as my own constituency is concerned, a comparable three-bedroomed house now can only be let at about 17s. a week. That is a very big increase 1281 within two years. Part of the increase, of course, is due to the increase in the interest rate from 2½ per cent. to 3 per cent.
§ Mr. Lipson
Yes, but I am talking about the period when it was possible for local authorities to get money at 2½ per cent. Now that rate has gone up to 3 per cent., which has added something like 2s. 2d. a week to the cost of houses in two years. The cost of repairs has gone up also by 1s. 6d. a week. Now, it is unfair to put all this additional cost on to the local authorities They will not stage a strike and say that because of the increased cost and the burden upon the ratepayers they will not build houses. The Minister knows that. They will not, because they are alive to the needs of the people, and they want to see all their citizens comfortably housed. I ask the Minister to have another look at this subsidy. He has said that he expected that prices would fall and that the subsidy would prove in future to be adequate. Would it not be better to face the situation as it is, increase the subsidy now and to reduce it, if need be, when prices come down. In Cheltenham, the local authorities have a rebate system, and it is proposed to pool all the subsidies for all the houses and revise all the rents. That has caused trouble in some towns, and local authorities would be able to avoid that if the Minister would consider revising the subsidy.
The Minister has recently announced that he will allow private enterprise to build houses in the proportion of one to four. I think that the Committee should be aware that, so far as the local authorities are concerned, that will not mean any additional house building by private builders in the coming year, because the allocation has already been made. The zonal conferences took place in April and May, and local councils have taken up all their allocations; there is nothing left over for the private builder.
§ Mr. Bevan
As I may not be able to reply to all the points in detail later, I would point out now to the hon. Member that, as the Parliamentary Secretary has already explained, new approvals are coming out all the time. These approvals 1282 ought to go into house construction fairly quickly. For these, one in five will apply, and there is a refinement which I have mentioned in the Circular, and to which I would like to call the attention of the House, that where a local authority has not gone to tender for all its past allocations, it can include the one in five in those allocations.
§ Mr. Lipson
So far as concerns the actual houses going up, the important thing is that the councils are in a position to build all the houses allocated to them. If any go to private builders in the future, it will not be in addition to the council allocations; they will have to come out of those allocations. Cannot the right hon. Gentleman be a little less rigid, a little less doctrinaire concerning private enterprise in this matter, and show a little more confidence in the local authorities? In my own area, and no doubt elsewhere, nothing like a big enough proportion of the building industry is engaged in building houses. It is a fact that there are some private builders who, through their own resources, could put up a limited number of houses. Would it be possible, where the local authority is satisfied that private builders have those resources and can build the houses without detriment to the council's building programme, to allow them to get on with the job? I do not claim that this would make a substantial addition to the number of houses built, but it would mean that a certain number extra would be built. When the need is so urgent and there are builders in the area, who, if they were free to do so, could build the houses, I think that they might be allowed to do so.
It may be argued that when private builders build houses, they do not go to the people most in need of them. The practice of my own authority in this matter is that, where private builders wish to build houses, permission has only been given on condition that the names of the persons to whom the houses are allocated are approved by the local authority, who do not give that approval unless satisfied that the need is there. In practice, this means taking some people off the council's list and allowing the private builder to house them.
Everyone was pleased when it was announced that the amount of money that could be spent on repairs to existing 1283 houses was raised to £100 without the need of a licence. That has not worked out in practice in the way in which the local authorities thought it would. Under the existing system, my local council had a ceiling for repairs of £1,595 a week for the remaining six months of the year. They have now been told by the officer of the Ministry of Works for the area that their ceiling has been cut to £638 a week for the next six months, although they themselves have been allocating under the existing system something like £1,164 a week for this purpose. This means that the local authority will in fact have less money to spend on repairs over £100 than before. That is causing a great deal of disappointment to local authorities. Circulars come out and raise hopes in their minds as to what is going to happen, but, in practice, there are many snags.
While I appreciate what has been accomplished by the Minister, I ask him to agree that this is not the time for complacency about the housing problem. If much has been achieved, still more has to be done. We still have a long way to go before the right of every citizen to have a home of his own has been achieved.
§ 7.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Mackay (Hull, North-West)
I am glad to have an opportunity of saying a few words in this Debate, and I would like to follow some hon. Members opposite in the remarks which they have made. The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson) has congratulated the Government on all that they have done, but he asks them to do more. We have had many appeals to increase the housing programme and the number of houses to be built, but there seems to be little recognition by hon. Members opposite of the limitations in regard to additional building of this kind.
I have been amazed at the way in which they have failed to face this problem. The right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot), in opening the Debate, made an attack on the Government because they were now exercising a contraction in the social services greater than had even been done before, but he overlooked the fact that during the war we had no building at all. One does not get away from that fact. He said that we 1284 were not telling the country that we were prepared to exist on a level of 60,000 or 70,000 houses less today than we had each year for 15 years before the war. He went on in that strain without intimating the number of houses which he thought it was possible for the country to build today. I think that it is little short of dishonest for hon. Members to go on in this way in housing Debate after housing Debate, never facing, in the House or in the country, the atrocious conditions in which we and Europe are living with regard to housing.
When the hon. Member for Cheltenham painted a correct picture of the enormous need for houses in this country today, why not link up that with the fact that the need of European countries is greater than that of this country because of the bomb damage, and that a large part of our building needs are tied up with the requirements and demands of Europe. We are tied up in the E.R.P. programme as to what we can import into this country. The whole of the building programme of this country is defined and determined by what we are to be allowed. Hon. Members opposite smile at this, but I wish that they would face it in a more realistic way. Unless they do so, they are not doing their duty to the country.
I represent a constituency which is a part of the worst blitzed city in England, Scotland or Wales. In Hull we have, through the blitz, lost more houses than any other city. That is officially recognised. It is a most difficult problem, with 10,000 to 12,000 people wanting houses. It is a constant problem and a constant worry. I do not think that we as Members of Parliament do the Committee any service, or do our duty to the country, unless we have the courage and the honesty to tell the people that the houses which they require cannot be built in these numbers, because, we cannot get the necessary raw materials.
§ Mr. Platts-Mills (Finsbury)
Is the hon. Member suggesting that any bricks, or any cement, or any timber that might come to Britain from Eastern Europe can have anything to do with Western Europe?
§ Mr. Mackay
I am not suggesting that for a moment. If the hon. Member will bear with me for a little I will give him the facts later. What I am now suggesting is that timber is an element in a house 1285 Europe used to get two million standards of timber from Russia, and another two million standards of timber from Finland alone; and Russia and Finland between them provided 40 per cent. of Europe's timber requirements. In the years since the war, Russia has provided a very small proportion, and is now an importer in this year. I am not saying that is a wrong position for them to take up. I am only saying it is part of the devastation of Europe as a whole, which has resulted from the war. That is the argument.
Before coming to that argument let me just put the whole position with regard to what the Government have done in the last three years, because it seems to be still necessary that this point should be made to hon. Members opposite. We have had a comparison with the period after the 1914–18 war, and I shall not make that point. That position is quite clear. We have also had a comparison with America, and there again this country comes out well. The most interesting comparison which is available is that of the United Nations' committee in Europe which recently published a timber report. They have taken the figures for the 16 countries of Europe—not all; they could not get all; they have taken 16—which show the enormous devastation that has taken place. It was quite an eye-opener to me to know that France had over one million houses destroyed; it was quite an eye-opener to me to think that in the percentage of pre-war houses destroyed we are seventh on the list of those European countries. One would have thought we were much higher than that.
I have not the time now to give the Committee the whole of the figures, which I should very much like to do. One figure I will give, however, because it is terribly important. Between the end of the war—May, 1945—and the end of December, 1947, the whole of the new building units which we put up or made available for people to live in in the 17 countries of Western Europe, including one other country, Czechoslovakia, totalled 750,000: 750,000 houses for a population of 220 million—582,000 houses being built in this country. I find it difficult to understand how hon. Members opposite can, from the point of view of responsibility, go on thinking that the housing programme of this Government 1286 has been inadequate when it is compared with any of the 16 countries of Western Europe which are in a comparable position, and when in the same period of time we have built 20, 30, even 40 times more than anything they have built or made available. I ask hon. Members opposite to look at that position. The right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities said, in opening his case, that we were now going to plan for the building of four million houses over a period of years. He is planning for something quite fantastic if, over a period of five years—
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
It is a period of 20 years. I gave a comparison of the period during which the last four million houses were built with the period during which the next four million houses are to be built.
§ Mr. Mackay
I am sorry if I misunderstood. I did try to listen carefully to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, and I did not get the point as clearly as that. If it is to be four million houses in a period of 20 years, that is 200,000 houses a year, which is the rate of building in this country at the present time.
§ Mr. Mackay
Oh, yes: 200,000 houses a year. The right hon. and gallant Member cannot get away from that. The housing figures show quite clearly that, on the average, the building of new permanent houses in the last 12 months has been at the rate of 200,000 houses a year.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
The hon. Member's time is short and I do not wish to take it up, but I must point out that, with the wastage of houses, 200,000 a year is only just keeping pace and not adding anything to the expanding needs of the country.
§ Mr. Mackay
Oh, yes; he is quibbling away from the point of view I put to 1287 him. I put the direct question: over what period are the four million to be built? He replied, "20 years." If my arithmetic serves me aright, four million houses in 20 years is at the rate of 200,000 a year. That is what he said we were going to have in new building over that period. If he says the figure is higher, then he gives me the point I want to make. I want to know what the Opposition think this country should have and would have if the Opposition were in power. What number of houses would they contemplate building? I suggest to him that it would not be very easy for more than about 200,000 houses to be built in this country over the next five years.
§ Mr. Mackay
Yes, per year. And the sooner people face up to that, the better it will be. Again, this United Nations' report gives the very interesting figure of the sort of programme Europe needs: two million houses a year; that is what it needs; that is without wastage, and is for replacement. If Europe is to have that number we should be building about 400,000 houses a year. Just let us look [...] what that means in materials at the present time. It means that timber will have to go up 231 per cent.; our steel production will have to go up—this is Western Europe—350 per cent.; and the production of steel in Western Europe affects housing in this country, because it affects the steel exports and imports of this country; cement would have to go up 277 per cent.; bricks would have to go up 244 per cent., and we are not yet back to our pre-war production of bricks; glass, an important factor, would have to go up 344 per cent. I have the figures in millions of tons, but I give the percentages to save time.
The broad general point I want to make is that the housing requirements of Europe are so enormous that we cannot possibly compare the building of the number of houses and new units available in the last 2½ years in this country with anything done in Western Europe, for it is completely out of proportion. The hon. Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) said that the key to the whole problem was manpower. Not at all. Softwoods and 1288 timber importation to this country is the key—not manpower.
§ Mr. Marples
I said the key to the whole of our building efficiency was manpower—that manpower and the building programme must go ahead together.
§ Mr. Mackay
I was sitting here during the whole of the hon. Member's speech and took down the words as he said them; if he looks at HANSARD tomorrow he will see that he made that statement, which probably he has now forgotten. I quite agree that it is for his own benefit that he should have forgotten his statements, because most of them were not worth making.
The right hon. and gallant Member tot the Scottish Universities made a comparison with the' timber imported into this country in the prewar years. Two and a half million standards of timber in a year build, say, approximately 350,000 houses. Today we can get only 900,000 standards of timber for this year, next year, and probably for the year after—again looking at the whole European position. I wish I had time to give the Committee all the figures that appeared in a report which the "Economist" used, showing the change in the importation of timber in Europe. The fact remains that Europe, instead of having four million standards of timber, as in 1938, has not yet more than two million standards; and there is no suggestion that it will be more than two million for the next two or three years.
All these problems affect us, because it is important that timber should be brought into this country. In the days before the war—in the days thrown at us this afternoon—25 per cent. of the timber that came into this country went into building; the rest went into other things. Today about one-third of our timber imports go into building. We cannot expect to use more than one-third of our timber imports for building, because we have to have packing cases for exports and other things of that kind. In addition, there is the whole question of factory building. Therefore, we can expect to have 300,000 standards of timber a year available for building, and that is all, for the next two or three years. That is a factor which will limit the number of houses we can build. The rate of building in this country is 210,000 or 220,000 houses to that quantity of timber. In doing that we are getting a 1289 fairer share of the fundamental raw material as far as we are concerned, namely, timber, than any other country in Europe.
I should like to develop this point much further, but I know that there are many others who want to speak. All I would say, in conclusion, to Members opposite is that if they want to make any impression on the electorate in the next few years, they have to try to realise what are the facts, and the facts of this problem are that we depend on the importation of timber for the number of houses we can build, and that we cannot import more than a certain quantity of timber because it is not available in Western Europe, and because of the exchange and other problems we have not got the chance to get it from dollar countries. When one looks at the trading position in regard to timber in Europe, the outlook is not at all bright. What is left to us to do—and this is the problem of the future—is determined by the problem of softwoods. We have to look at Europe as a whole, and at E.R.P. and the material allocated to us under that programme, and translate that into housing material, realising that not only has this country done better than any country in Europe in its building programme, but that the plans which have been laid are plans that have had to be based upon what raw materials are available to us.
§ 8.13 p.m.
§ Commander Noble (Chelsea)
I do not want to keep the Committee long, but there is one point to which I wish to refer. It principally concerns the Ministry of Works, but because it involves a potential source of housing accommodation, is, of course, of great interest to the Minister of Health. It is, the need for derequisitioning the housing accommodation at present held by Government Departments as offices and for other purposes. The hon. Member for North-West Hull (Mr. R. Mackay) accused us on this side of the Committee of not considering the limitations and the facts of the case, but these buildings are here in this country and are not being used for the right purposes. As the Minister knows, I have always taken an interest, as a London Member, in this particular subject, and I first raised the matter on the Adjournment in February, 1946, when the Minister of Works, now the Minister 1290 of Education, told the House that he was concentrating his Ministry on the de-requisitioning of small houses and what he called "inexpensive flats." Since then a great deal has been done in the way of derequisitioning, but I think that perhaps a little more might now be done because I feel there is a danger, in view of the big drop that has taken place, of getting to the point when no more accommodation will be released without some pressure.
I will take flats as an example, as I do not want to quote too many figures. In February, 1946, the Government held in the United Kingdom for other purposes than housing 4,210 flats, in June, 1947, the figure had dropped to 1,546, and in March, 1948, to 1,340. I asked the Minister of Works, in a Question this week, to give the figures for June this year, but he told me that they were not yet available. In view of the small drop since last year, I doubt whether the figures of this year will show a very large decrease. Of the 1,546 flats in June, 1947, 1,431 were in London, and in London also there are 367 small houses held by the Government, which are very important, and 829 large houses. The Minister can see straight away what accommodation would be available to him for housing purposes if he could persuade his right hon. Friends to evacuate these premises, and that is what I am asking him to do. I ask him to make quite certain that his right hon. Friends can assure him that the accommodation which they have is absolutely necessary, and also that it is being properly used.
As I said just now, I do not know the current figures, but the small drop in last year's figures does not lead me to believe that the figures will be much lower. I think the moment has arrived when, unless the Minister puts some pressure on his right hon. Friends, he will not get any more accommodation released. The Minister should also find out whether permanent Ministry buildings are really being used to capacity. Some Ministries have taken upon themselves new duties and we might expect them to expand a little—for example, the Ministries of Food, Education, National Insurance, Health and, indeed, the Ministry of Works—but the two largest holders of requisitioned property in my constituency are the War Office and the Air Ministry, and I do not 1291 really see why they should have to expand into private houses.
The Minister should also find out whether a sufficient number of people are employed in each case in these requisitioned properties. From what I have seen I do not think that is the case. A little overcrowding in some offices would allow accommodation to be made available for housing purposes, which is very much better than the terrible overcrowding, which we all hear about, of families in houses. I ask the Minister to make certain that the bigger houses, which are probably less suited for people to live in, should be used by the Government wherever possible. There is no need for me, like the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Kinley) to invite the Minister of Health to come to my constituency because he lives in it, and I ask him when taking his Sunday evening walk around Chelsea, when he is not speaking at Manchester, to look at one or two places to which I would draw his attention.
First, he should look at Sloane Court where II houses are being used to accommodate A.T.S. personnel. The Secretary of State for War told me last November that these II houses each accommodated from 10 to 27 people which I do not think is very many. I should like the Minister of Health to ask his right hon. Friend why these people cannot be accommodated in huts, for as my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) has said more use could be made of hutments. The Secretary of State for War should also assure him that all barrack accommodation in London is being fully used, which again I do not think is the case. Why should not a wing of one of these big barracks be used for these A.T.S.?
When the Minister continues his walk I should like him to look at Sloane Gardens, Draycott Place and the Hans Crescent Hotel: he should also visit Lowndes Square, where some 28 flats are held by the Ministry of Works, and the Fulham Road Institute occupied by Gibraltar refugees. The Minister should not be misled by seeing the front doors of a number of houses locked up and only one house apparently being used by Ministry officials because these buildings are very often a rabbit warren, including about eight or nine houses on either side 1292 of the house with, say, "Ministry of Works" on the door. Finally, last year nearly 1,500 flats were held by the Government, which means that we have here 1,500 homes for the taking. I ask the Minister to consider the problem in the country as a whole, and also to look at the position in Chelsea.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Gibson (Kennington)
I hope the hon. and gallant Member for Chelsea (Commander Noble) will forgive me if I do not take up any of his remarks because in my constituency requisitioning, or de-requisitioning, is not so much a problem as the rebuilding of houses which were completely demolished by bombs. Almost one-third of the houses in my constituency were knocked down and we are, therefore, much more interested in the number of houses which can be built than in some of these other finer problems.
I listened with particular attention to the hon. Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) because on one occasion I got into serious trouble for saying that the building industry was the most unethical industry I had ever heard of. What the hon. Gentleman said tonight has fully proved what I said then, because he suggested that it was quite impossible to control the way in which contractors did their job. Most of the simple people who come from my part of London believe that if they make a contract to do a job at a certain price, they must carry it out in accordance with the specifications. Apparently the hon. Member, who, I admit, has some knowledge of this aspect of the building industry, thinks it is quite ethical to do the customer down as much as possible. The hon. Member talked about technical people in the industry, architects, surveyors, and the like, who are looking for jobs. I myself know of several local authorities who would be gad to be put in touch with them, because they have been looking for such men for many months.
The hon. Member also spoke of apprentices. Up to the time I became a Member of the House I was a member of the Joint Apprenticeship Committee in London. Our trouble was not that we could not get boys to go to technical schools, or sign on as apprentices, but that no employers would take them. The building industry has a bad habit of not being prepared to stand the cost of teach- 1293 ing its own boys its own trade. I would remind the Committee that between the wars very few boys were taught to become craftsmen in the industry, not because there were no boys wishing to learn but because no employers would take the trouble to teach them through the apprenticeship scheme. Through apprenticeship committees we now have an improved situation. Although our technical schools in London are chock full of boys learning their jobs in the building trade, and all local authorities in the London area are taking on large numbers of them, up to the maximum permitted by the trade agreement, it is still difficult to get many employers to recognise their responsibility for the future standard of craftsmanship in the industry, and take on a proper number of boys as apprentices for training purposes. This was a very convenient camouflage; it avoided the necessity of dealing with the facts of the housing situation.
We have listened to Members of the Opposition talking about everything except what has been done by housing authorities and the Government during the past few years. My hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hull (Mr. R. Mackay) was quite right when he said that, without being in the least complacent, what had been done in housing in this country was better than had been done by any other country in the world, including America. It is wrong that Members opposite, in order to score cheap political debating points, should make the kind of dismal speeches we have heard today. Fortunately, however, our people can read and learn the facts for themselves, and I have no fear of what the result will be when the facts are put before them.
To have built more than 430,000 houses since the end of the war, in face of great shortages of labour and materials, is a fine achievement; but it is no excuse for not pushing on with the job as fast as we can. Many tens of thousands of people are living in badly overcrowded homes. As I know to my cost, there are tens of thousands of recently-married people who are compelled to live with their "in-laws" because of the housing shortage. I sometimes think that that is the most potent cause of family troubles in these days. Also, there are many houses which are ripe for demolishing. There is certainly a 1294 lot of hard work to be done in providing sufficient houses and sufficient accommodation for our people, but we can do it without throwing cold water on, or misrepresenting, what has been done already in difficult circumstances.
I was glad to hear the Parliamentary Secretary say that it was proposed to get away from the idea of building the same kind of cottages all over the country, that it was proposed in future that building should be related to the size of the family. We need small cottages for small families, and especially for old people. We want them to be built within the general community, and not as separate entities. We need to provide accommodation for the tens of thousands of single men and women for whom no provision is at present made in any of our schemes. I hope that when future subsidies are considered some encouragement will be given to local authorities to provide specially-designed and built accommodation for single people who are compelled to live away from their families, or who have no family. We also need a small proportion of large houses for large families. What matters most of all, however, is the need to increase output and reduce costs. We shall not get increased output unless there is a greater sense of co-operation between all sections of the industry.
I sometimes think that the contracting side of the industry is not trying to be helpful. Recently it agreed to a payment by-results scheme, but in many parts of the country no effort is being made to apply that scheme, although, where it has been applied, it is proving a great success. I hope the Minister will use his influence to encourage contractors who are engaged on municipal housing to introduce schemes of payment by results. This would encourage output, would reduce costs and also give employees more money to take home at the end of the week.
I am encouraged to say that by the experience of my own local authority. From an intermediate check over the last five months, I find that we have already secured an increase of 19 per cent. per man in output, and, at the same time, have enabled the operative to earn 14 to 15 per cent. more wages and have reduced the overall cost per house. If a bonus scheme, which is only just beginning to get into its stride, can do that in London it ought 1295 to be an encouragement to other local authorities to do likewise and, in so doing, to bring down the cost of building and considerably increase output. All that can be lost, and is indeed being partly lost already because the cost of materials still remains high.
My information is that during the past year prices have gone up by another 3 per cent. It would be tragic, if, in spite of hard work by operatives and directors in getting an increased output and reduced labour costs, that saving were swallowed up by the excessive price of materials. I hope the Minister will pay very close attention to the recommendations of the Simon Report on the distribution of building materials and components. There is not time this evening to quote from that report, but it makes it clear that the price of building materials is, in fact, controlled by a very closely organised combine of a kind, whereby prices have been kept up to a very much higher level than they ought to be. There is no free competition in the supply of building materials, and steps should be taken as soon as possible in order that the price of building materials shall be reduced in company with the drop in labour costs, thus effecting a very considerable saving in the cost of our housing schemes.
The other factor which I have not time to develop is the cost of land. Frankly, I get very angry when I find the enormous cost that local authorities have to pay for land for essential housing purposes. In London the average price per acre is over £10,000. In many cases we are compelled to pay £35,000 and £40,000 per acre. That seems to me almost inevitably to mean that either rents will be at a level which no working class family can afford or will place an excessive supplementary charge on local rates. This matter could be dealt with if there were time to develop it, but quite briefly I would say that I would place a stinging tax on land values, thus forcing the land on to the market, for by so doing the price would be reduced considerably, in addition to securing a greater income for the State. Something will have to be done if the larger local authorities are not going to be put into additional difficulties over sites.
The last point I want to make is that sufficient has been done in the housing line to enable us to look forward to the 1296 next stage in our work. I hope that during the coming year the Minister will encourage local authorities to begin to get ready for the resumption of the slum clearance drives of before the war. It will take the most efficient local authorities—and I have some connection with one of them—something like 12 months to prepare for it. I am anxious that we should get on with the job. In London there are 20,000 to 30,000 slum houses already scheduled as being unfit for human habitation, and I am quite sure that new surveys would show the number to be larger than that. I hope, therefore, that at the earliest possible moment, and certainly before the end of this year, the Minister will feel he can free the hands of housing authorities to begin to make preparations for dealing with slum clearance.
Finally, I should like to join with my hon. Friend the Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks) in congratulating the Minister on the success of his policy. It has produced houses for the people who most needed them. It has produced them in larger numbers than some of us thought possible when it started. There are now nearly 500,000 families in this country living in new homes which did not exist when the war ended. They are living happier and more comfortable lives, and I believe that the success secured in building up this number of new homes has had a tremendous effect in preventing any real social trouble in this country since the end of the war.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Derek Walker-Smith (Hertford)
The hon. Member for Kennington (Mr. Gibson) referred to the subject of slum clearance. I am cordially in sympathy with him in regard to that. As he well knows, the operations to which he referred are governed by the Housing Act of 1936, passed in a time of Conservative administration. On the taxation of land values, I think that when the hon. Member has made a closer study of the provisions of Part VII of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, he will find that there is no need for his proposal.
I must part company with him when he congratulates the Minister of Health. Any feeling that one might have of complacency in regard to the housing position must be destroyed—at least it is in my case—by the contents of my constituency 1297 postbag. One of the hardest things in my life as a Member is to get heartrending letters day by day from constituents who are unable to be housed properly, or indeed housed at all, to know that the local authorities are doing all that they can, and to realise the helplessness of my own position. Let me take another piece of everyday evidence. Nobody in my profession, whether habitually practising in the county courts or not, can fail to be aware of the enormous amount of time that county courts now devote to what are known as "balance-of-hardship" cases in claims for possession of a house.
The fact that emerges from them is that in almost every one of these cases the judge knows that whatever decision he comes to must impose great hardship on both parties. There is nothing that can be done in those cases by judicial decision, but only by the provision of more housing accommodation. We have heard a great deal about the place of housing in the national economy. For myself, I believe, and have always believed, that good housing conditions are indispensable both to industrial productivity and, to good citizenship generally. I believe also that good housing conditions will pay an enduring dividend to the community in both those ways.
Now I come to an argument used by the Parliamentary Secretary in regard to costs. These loomed very large in his speech and in the Debate. The argument of the Parliamentary Secretary amounted to what is known in law as a plea of confession and avoidance. He admitted that housing costs had increased but he said that this does not matter very much because everything else is increasing as well. That seems to be a most dangerous argument to put before the people of this country at a time when there is a great necessity for a disinflationary policy. I further suggest that the Parliamentary Secretary's figures were most unhelpful. From the tender prices which he put before the Committee it appears that they are at the rate of about £1,200 per local authority house. To that figure must be added the appropriate sum for the increase of the final account over the tender price, for the cost of site and services, and for professional charges. It is clear that these houses must be costing about £1,600 apiece now. Why that is not admitted by the Government is a little difficult to discover.
1298 It was verging on dishonesty on the part of the Parliamentary Secretary to put those figures before the Committee without explaining how much has to be added to an approved tender price. It is not only a matter of variations and extras under the contract but, as some hon. Members well know, because of the fact that the tender for every contract includes what are known as provisional sums and prime cost items. These are simply notional figures and the figure prevailing at the market rates is then inserted in the final settlement of the account. It is not right to put these tender prices before the Committee without making very clear the amount by which they may be exceeded, and normally are exceeded.
Time is becoming short. I suffer as a politician from the disqualification that I do not like repeating myself or indeed contradicting myself. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health smiles. No small part of his political success is, of course, due to the fact that he is free from both of those inhibitions. However, I will just say that I was in this Parliament something of a pioneer in the matter of drawing attention to high building costs. I made a detailed analysis of the position in the Second Reading Debate on what is now the Housing (Financial Provisions) Act, on 6th March, 1946. On that occasion I made it clear that the rental target then put before the House would not be achieved, at any rate without a rise in the rate contribution or the Exchequer subsidy.
As I see it, the Government are in this dilemma. If rents are raised, it makes the new houses unattractive, especially in the rural districts; if, on the other hand, the rate contribution is raised, it acts as a social injustice because people living in old houses have their rates put up in order to finance the occupancy of new houses by their more fortunate fellow citizens. Either of those things is bad, and one or other of them necessarily follows from high building costs.
Last year, I put before the House and to the Minister certain practical steps which in my view would help the house building programme and policy. Some of those matters, I am pleased to say, have been the subject of improvement since that time. Particularly I laid emphasis on the scheme contained in Circular 1299 92/1946, and in that progress has been made. Progress has also been made in the relaxation of certain controls in regard to building materials, but very little progress has been made in one of the other points I made which has been referred to this afternoon by my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples)—the over-rigidity in specification of materials. I will not deal with that because he most adequately dealt with that part of the problem.
The last point I made was that private enterprise building could make a better contribution, if it were so allowed, to the housing programme of the country. The new policy contained in Circular 108/1948, which is the only new thing in the Minister's policy so far as I can see, is really of very little value in so far as its effect goes in the expanding of the housing production of the nation or in reducing building costs. It is so fenced about with qualifications and limitations that I think it will be seen to be a sham concession, as indeed it may perhaps be intended to be. I have here a list of the points to which I wished to draw attention in regard to that, but conscious as I am that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) will be anxious in a moment or two to take the Floor, I will refer only to one, and that is the one which I think is the most important. Paragraph 7 of the circular says that each licence should relate to not more than one structurally separate building, e.g., a single house or pair of semi-detached houses.
To impose these limitations makes it impossible for private enterprise building to deploy the technique which alone, from the point of view of rapidity and quality of construction and reduction of costs, makes it worth while bringing private enterprise building into the programme at all. Piecemeal licensing will not put, and cannot put, private enterprise productive capacity into gear; it prevents estate development, which is the form of housing construction for which private enterprise is particularly suited; and it prevents, so far as one can see, the building of a small terrace of houses or, indeed, even of four or six flats. As such, the concession is valueless. It would be equally reasonable to expect Messrs. 1300 Ford's to reproduce their quality of mass production if only one model were allowed to come off the assembly lines per day.
I do not know what motive the Minister had in making the apparent concession in this circular, but I am quite convinced that the concession as it stands will be of no practical value either in improving the rapidity or the quality of housing construction or in regard to this most vital question of lowering costs. It may be that it will serve the Minister's purpose because, of course, it will enable him to say—and I will be prophetic and say that in due course he will say it—that private enterprise has been given its chance in this circular and that it has failed. It may be for that reason that this concession has been given in this form and at this time.
I close by saying that in my view high costs and slow production are still with us in the housing programme, and there are no readily identifiable signs of hope that they will not continue to be with us in the future. So long as they remain with us, this country will not get full value in its housing programme out of the materials and manpower which are deployed in the task.
§ 8.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Henry Nicholls (Stratford)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith). He always makes quite a good speech and I am sure, if he only had a case, he would be devastating. So far, I have yet to hear a decent case from the Opposition, and on this subject I do not think they can make a case. I often wonder when they are attacking this Government, especially on such a subject as housing, if they see on these Benches, which they once occupied, any ghosts of their past colleagues and think of their attitude on housing. It must be terribly disconcerting for them if they do. It is an interesting point which I have no time to follow, and I would like first to congratulate the Minister on the national programme which has brought credit on the Government and on our Party, and despite anything that can be said by the Opposition, I am sure they could not even have approached anywhere near it in performance. They would not have had the good-will of the people in the industry.
What I am concerned about is not to ask the Minister to increase the total housing, because I do not think he can 1301 do that—so far as the nation is concerned, I think we are getting all we can—but to ask him to make special concessions to blitzed areas. Time and again he has heard that plea, and on each occasion so far he has refused to accept it. He says housing is housing, whether it is caused by blitz or by bad conditions, which are a legacy of the past. I plead with him to give priorities to the blitzed areas, which have a problem no other areas possess.
Let me indicate to him what our position is in West Ham. We have on our waiting list 20,000—not 20,000 people but 20,000 families. In case people say that our lists may be inflated or exaggerated let me put the problem in another way. We had 14,000 houses totally destroyed out of a total of 50,000. I know that hon. Members who represent Hull and other places consider their towns and cities were badly blitzed but if we replaced those 14,000 houses we still would not have given our people anything like decent accommodation.
What are our prospects? So far, with all the good will in the world, we have managed to release roughly 90 houses a month at our best period, or 1,000 a year. It would take us 14 years at this rate to replace those lost during the blitz. The sum total would not be too bad if many other houses did not fall down during those 14 years. Not only were those 14,000 houses destroyed, but many others were rotten to their foundations, were badly knocked about or had been badly neglected for many years by their landlords before the war. The prospects are very poor indeed. In many cases they cannot be made into decent, habitable accommodation. If we take merely the re-housing of our people in Nissen huts, 12 months' supply of houses would not be sufficient for them. Anyone who lives in a Nissen hut has the sympathy of hon. Members in any part of the Committee. These huts were never constructed for use as houses; they could never replace decent accommodation; not even right hon. Gentlemen opposite, whose party were responsible for Nissen huts, would agree that the price we pay is anything like their worth.
The Minister can persuade his colleagues and the rest of the country to give us special consideration. It is a moral responsibility not only of the Government, but of the country, to help the blitzed areas 1302 to rehabilitate themselves at the earliest opportunity. Present conditions are totally unreasonable. Not even Pontius Pilate would ask local authorities to clear up a battlefield out of the rates—which is what we have been asked to do. We have been very patient and it is now time that we had the practical sympathy not only of Parliament, but of the country as a whole, and I believe we could get it.
The cost factor has been mentioned several times, and the Minister is right in trying to keep costs down. It is unreasonable that people who will be living in 60 years' time should be paying rates to their local authority—if rates are paid in 60 years' time—to cover the cost of houses being built today. I wish we could face the problem bluntly and squarely and do what I consider is the right thing—abolish interest on loans for houses. There is surely no justification whatever for paying 3 per cent. interest for 60 years on houses which today are a necessity. I know that orthodox financiers will stand in their places and the dead ones will probably turn in their graves if such a policy is enunciated from our Front Bench, yet I believe it is the only sane way to deal with the problem. There is no other way of keeping down costs.
If the right hon. Gentleman can release houses a little earlier in the blitzed areas—that is to say, if, when proposals are put up by local authorities they are allowed to go out to tender earlier—it will enable local authorities to get the best possible price without any delay. In one case our scheme was delayed three months because the Ministry of Health were not satisfied with the price. They may be justified in asking us to go out for tender again but, because the houses were not released sufficiently early, we were not able to get in the new tenders in time. That is a matter I should ask the Minister to look into.
It will be a good many years before our people in overcrowded industrial areas are properly housed. We may as well face that fact. Meanwhile, in many small houses which were never intended to house more than one family, two families will be living. I cannot estimate the number of people who, as a result of such conditions, will become neurotic. There must be thousands of them. They have to share a gas stove or sanitary conveniences, or the sink, or front door, and 1303 deal with such problems as to whose turn it is to clean the passage. In many cases there are no proper locks on the doors. In many cases the people do not know their rights as sub-tenants. If this problem is not dealt with there will be many neurotics. I ask the Minister to issue a statement clearly setting out the rights of people sharing houses in such conditions. If he could issue such a statement it would be of great help.
§ 8.56 p.m.
§ Commander Galbraith (Glasgow, Pollok)
I suggest that so far the Debate has been on a very high level and I shin endeavour to maintain that level during my speech. I also think that the general sense of the Committee is that housing remains one of our greatest social problems. The position is very serious indeed. It is perfectly true, as the noble Lady the Member for Anglesey (Lady Megan Lloyd George) said, that many young people who have been married a considerable number of years and have families have no homes of their own and are forced to live with parents, relatives, friends or strangers, in most difficult conditions. To those conditions the hon. Member for Stratford (Mr. H. Nicholls) referred very accurately. These young people have little hope and no knowledge of when they can get a home of their own and settle down to normal married life. What the effect of that will be the future alone can reveal, but in terms of unhappiness, discontent and frustration, it may be serious.
It is unfortunate that for 18 months the right hon. Gentleman has been using the figure of 750,000 new dwellings in such a way as to give the impression that that number would provide a separate house for every family. The Parliamentary Secretary said that he did not accept that, but it is only recently that the Minister stated that he did not accept it, for not until as recently as 8th April did he say that it was not fully reliable. In the Return for 31st May, that figure is repeated. My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) has explained fully to the Committee how the figure was arrived at. It was presented in March, 1945, and has no connection whatever with the position as it exists today, particularly in view of 1304 the high marriage rate over the last three or four years. From such investigations as I have been able to make, I have been forced to the conclusion that even a million new houses would probably be insufficient to give a separate house to every family, which, I gather, is the first objective of the Government. Even when that is accomplished, we are only starting to deal with the housing problem. When each family is given a separate house we shall still be further back than we were in the year 1939. In that year the number of houses was approximately equal to the number of separate families and at least some progress had been made in the replacement of obsolescent houses.
My right hon. and gallant Friend dealt with this matter of replacement on the assumption that the life of a house was 60 years, and pointed out that that meant an annual replacement programme of some 200,000 houses. When we were building at an average rate of 330,000 houses a year, as we were in the five years before the war, such a replacement programme was possible, but for nine years now no replacements have been possible. So, it seems to me that we are faced with a situation in which we have 1¾ million houses in occupation today which, but for the war, would have been demolished and replaced. Those are the sober facts of the housing situation. We require another 300,000 houses before we can provide a separate house for each family and in respect of replacements we are 1¾ million worse off than we were in 1939.
I do not know that many people would believe that to be the situation after listening to certain of the speeches and utterances which have been made today, but it is in the light of those facts that we have to look at the situation. I will give the right hon. Gentleman the credit for every stage of the housing programme since 1st April, 1945. He has converted 92,000 and repaired 138,000 existing houses, provided 122,000 temporary houses and requisitioned 48,000 premises of various kinds. He has also built 264,000 permanent houses. In my opinion it is in respect of that latter figure for permanent houses that the right hon. Gentleman falls to be judged. In that connection, I can remember the jeers of hon. Members opposite and the gibe of the Minister himself when the Coalition Government's target of 220,000 houses in the first two 1305 years was announced. The actual performance of the present Government in that period was 88,731 houses for the United Kingdom. I can also remember the promises which hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite made at the time of the General Election. It seems to me that a total in three years for the whole of the United Kingdom of 289,000 permanent houses, for 264,000 of which the Minister is responsible, is not a great deal to boast about.
Of course, hon. Gentlemen opposite have been saying that it is much better than the total during the three years after the first war. But would one compare the experience, knowledge and accomplishments of hon. Gentlemen and their material resources of 28 years ago with what they are today? If I were to do that, I think that hon. Gentlemen would say that I was being unfair and I was also being unrealistic. So it is unfair and unrealistic to compare the industry of 1920 with the industry of 1948. One has no relevance to the other. I am reminded that before the last war broke out, one million people were employed in the building industry. In 1946 there were 750,000 employed, in 1947 there were 972,000 and in 1948 1,088,000, so that in the last two years the Government have had at their disposal a building force equal to that of pre-war days. Therefore, I ask why it is that in these last two years the average number of permanent houses completed has amounted to only 139,000 against 330,000 houses for England and Wales before the war.
Hon. Gentlemen may object to my taking into account the year to May, 1947, even though there were one million men at the disposal of the Government, because in that year only 77,000 houses were completed whereas in this last year 200,000 have been completed. I would point out that that latter figure has been made possible only as a result of the work done in the previous year. Even taking the figure of 200,000, we are still 130,000 short of the pre-war average, and again I ask why? If the answer is, as I rather anticipate it will be, that there is a shortage of materials, then the labour force which has been employed has been too large and the Minister has been guilty of a misuse of manpower at a time when the whole economy of this country was being strangled for a lack of manpower.
1306 As regards materials, we know one or two things. We know, as the hon. Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks) said, that there is no shortage of bricks, but, as a matter of fact, we knew that long ago from the Minister himself. He said on 25th May, as reported in the "Birmingham Post"—and it is rather a curious statement to make and one to which I would draw the attention of the Committee:There never was a shortage of bricks. The explanation is that we raised a howl about bricks to guard against any possible shortage. That is the way in a democracy. You scream before you are hurt if you are wise.I suppose that really is a strict definition of what Socialists call a planned economy. At a time when there was no shortage, according to the right hon. Gentleman, he screamed, and in consequence of his scream brickfields were opened up, men were diverted, and then there followed a glut of bricks and brickfields were closed down again. In the meantime, labour had been removed from essential work. To that extent, at least, the right hon. Gentleman was guilty of sabotaging the economy of his own country. That I believe to be a typical example of the manner in which the right hon. Gentleman upsets the rhythm not only of the economy of the nation but also of the building industry.
After that example, I am sure we all wonder whether the shortages of which the Minister complains are merely the outcome of his desire to scream—and the right hon. Gentleman has been doing that a great deal lately. Be that as it may, shortage of timber is always referred to as the chief limiting factor in the production of houses, but that shortage is certainly not holding up the production and the completion of houses at the present moment. We know that from the White Paper on capital investment. We know it from the answer which the Parliamentary Secretary gave in the House on 9th February, 1948, when he said that timber was available to enable all the houses under contract to be completed, and that arrangements had been made to issue licences to meet the requirements of the programme. At the end of January—and I presume the hon. Gentleman got his figures about that time—there were still 350,000 houses under construction or under contract, and 1307 so we have got plenty to get on with, before timber can possibly hold us up.
The Parliamentary Secretary attributed the cut in the programme last year to the need to get the housing programme balanced. I had always understood from my reading of the documents that the reason was a shortage of dollars which prevented us from getting timber, but I agree that if that was so, it was a complete pretence, and that the real purpose was to get completions and commencements into some relationship—in fact, to get the programme into phase, the necessity of which had been emphasised from this side of the Committee very strongly in the Debate last July, and even before that by my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples).
However, I am struck by another thing. It seems to me that material shortages are used far too often by the Government. They are becoming a stock excuse to cover up their inept administration. [Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite laugh. They always laugh when they do not like something that is said. My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) dealt very fully with the grave position arising as a result of the phenomenal increase in the cost of building. On 9th October, 1946—as long ago as that—the Minister said, when he was speaking to a meeting of the National Joint Council of the Building Industry:Building prices must not go any higher. They have already gone as high as the country can stand.Since then, of course, they have gone a very great deal higher. The Parliamentary Secretary today estimated that costs were in step with the increase in prices of other materials. He certainly did not convince me. I doubt very much whether he convinced himself. I have his words. He said, "The trends of costs are keeping step with the trends of prices of other materials."
§ Mr. J. Edwards
Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman allow me to explain? I was at pains to show that, in fact, tender prices had not moved anything like as rapidly as prices in general.
§ Commander Galbraith
Well, perhaps, I mistook the hon. Gentleman. I certainly took his words down, and that was 1308 certainly the impression he gave me as to the whole trend of his argument. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Hon. Gentlemen say "No," but half of them were not in the Chamber at the time the statement was made. [HON. MEMBERS: "The Tories were not"] But, at any rate, the whole basis on which the subsidy was calculated in the Act of 1946 has gone. Mr. Woods' paper, which has been referred to on several occasions today, makes that clear. We know that the annual charges which were covered at the time when the Act was passed, by rent, by the Exchequer, and by rate contribution, are now no longer covered, and that there is actually a deficit, in the illustration which he gave, of £11 per year.
I should like to know how that deficit is to be met. Is it to be put on the rates? Or is it to be put on the rents? Has the right hon. Gentleman thought it wise to give any advice or directions to the local authorities on that matter? If it is to go on the rents, then, in the illustration to which I have referred, it will mean an addition to the weekly rent of 5s. 9d.; that is, of course, on the assumption that the present cost of the house to which Mr. Woods was alluding is £1,330. Many of my hon. Friends—and we have evidence for it—are of the opinion that it is very much higher than that. If they are right, and it is something between £1,500 and £1,600, and if the deficit is to go on the rent, the rent will rise to something in the region of 22s. 6d. a week. That is a figure two and a quarter times above that which was used in calculate the subsidy, and it is a figure which will be a very great shock indeed to those who took the Election promises of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite at their face value. It was the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. West) who said that new houses were being placed beyond the reach of many whose need for housing accommodation was greatest and for whom these houses were intended.
We know very well that at the present time the local authorities do not like placing additional burdens on the rates, and that, as a result, many of them are compromising by spreading the burden by raising the rents of all their pre-war houses, and that accordingly rents have increased from 25 per cent. to 35 per cent. I suggest to the Committee that that practice will become common throughout the whole 1309 country. As it does, it will do one good thing: it will bring to the knowledge of the community—of those, particularly, who live in the older houses—that they are paying by way of rent or rates for the increased cost of housing which has resulted from the policy of the right hon. Gentleman. I wonder how long it will be, as one hon. Gentleman has already asked, before those who are living in the older houses, for whom nothing is being done in the way of modernisation, kick against what must appear to them to be in many cases a rather unjust imposition, particularly when they happen to be worse off than those they are subsidising. There is general agreement on the reasons for the increased cost. It is agreed that they are due to increased size and better amenities provided, to the upsetting of the rhythm of construction due to the shortage of material on the sites, to the lack of balance in labour complements and, we must admit it with regret, to the much lower output of the individual operators.
I suggest to the Committee that unless there is a large decrease in cost and a large increase in the number of houses to be completed, there may well arise a demand from those who are homeless or living in obsolete houses for a return to houses of good pre-war design, particularly in view of the statement made by that unquestioned enthusiast on housing, Lord Simon, who has stated that the pre-war houses satisfied all the requirements for a full and healthy family life. [An HON. MEMBER: "Do you agree with that?"] That the pre-war houses satisfied the requirement of a full and healthy family life is the statement of Lord Simon, who, as I have said, is an undoubted enthusiast in regard to houses. If that is to be prevented, there must be every effort to increase output and reduce costs.
§ Mr. Percy Wells (Faversham)
Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman tell us what his opinion is about the pre-war houses?
§ Commander Galbraith
My opinion is that the pre-war house is a very good house indeed. The house which was built immediately before the war, I should be very happy and glad to live in myself, and so would millions of other people.
The incentive and bonus schemes introduced recently should, I believe, be encouraged and extended, for their results 1310 show that they give increased output and lower costs. I do not believe, however, that we shall obtain the results such as I consider to be essential unless real competitive building is introduced once more. Within the period of two years of the 1914–18 war, housing costs were reduced from £834 to £494 per house. The lessons of that war have been forgotten by His Majesty's Ministers of today. In that connection, I will quote from the report of the Departmental Committee on the high cost of building working-class dwellings in 1921. The Committee was known as the Holmes Committee. The report stated:The competitive spirit of the building trade has largely disappeared. Work would only be undertaken under conditions whereby the builder was safeguarded against possible increases in the cost of labour, materials, and railway freights, and upon terms which insured him against all other possible contingencies There was a great clamour for housing accommodation. The public and a Press criticised the comparative lack of progress. No one seemed disposed to count the cost.I think that those words are equally applicable to the situation which exists today. Until competitive enterprise is allowed to work, costs will mount or, at the best, remain on the existing high level. I can never understand why hon. Members opposite are so against private enterprise building. The hon. Member for Wallasey has pointed out that it is cheaper and faster, and he has not been contradicted by anyone. The houses could either be let or sold. Why it is that the hon. Member for Pontypool believes that free enterprise houses cannot go to those who need them most is something I cannot understand. In any event, what we want in this country is houses, no matter how they may be built.
The Minister has decided to license private building, but under conditions which will deprive private enterprise of those characteristics of competitive efficency wherein lies the whole advantage of private enterprise. The price is to be tied to the local authority cost, which means, of course, that the builder will only quote the same price as for local authority building. There is to be no element of competition whatsoever; the purchaser is not to have any choice, for licences are to be granted only where the person is identifiable; builders will not be permitted to build in any quantity, but will have to build one house at a time. 1311 As my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey has pointed out today, that puts these builders in a quite impossible position, if costs and prices are to be reduced.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham)
Would the hon. and gallant Member allow me, as a private enterprise builder who a week ago signed a contract for 82 houses, to say that there are no such regulations? Though I am not passionately devoted to private enterprise, my right hon. Friend has really given every encouragement to every competitive private builder who wishes to build at reasonable prices.
§ Commander Galbraith
The hon. Gentleman cannot see the difference between private enterprise building tied down by a local authority and private enterprise building free. I ask the hon. Gentleman what opportunity has private enterprise of securing an unbroken, planned sequence of jobs, of minimising idle time, and of enabling team work to go forward without interruption—the conditions which private enterprise must achieve if it is to produce efficiently—when it is the servant of a local authority, or is restricted by conditions laid down by the Minister of Health? The consequence of these conditions will simply be that this concession will fail to provide any standard by Which the work of local authorities can be judged, and it will be utterly valueless so far as the reduction of costs is concerned.
These things, of course, the right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well. I do not think he really wishes private enterprise of the kind I have in mind to have any chance whatsoever. I doubt very much if he desires people to own their own houses either, because he has stated that that renders them immobile. He, of course, wants to be able to order them about. I should like to know what creates a greater degree of immobility than the existing housing shortage. If, as I claim, free private enterprise would increase the number of houses, it would also increase and not reduce the degree of mobility of the population.
The right hon. Gentleman is going to increase the repair allowance to £100 a year. I welcome that, though we must remember that for a long period it has been altogether impossible to conduct repairs of any kind, and in consequence many buildings are in a very bad state 1312 of repair, in which circumstances it may be that the increased allowance is all too little; it allows nothing whatsoever for reconditioning, the need for which was stressed by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Scottish Universities, while my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) stressed its importance so far as the rural areas are concerned.
Conditions in the countryside must be improved, as several hon. Members have stated, if the Minister of Agriculture is to get the output for which he is looking. The rate of building there is far too low, and I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, in view of the need for houses in the countryside, he is taking any steps to prepare for a real housing drive in the rural areas. We are told that it is the intention of the Government to facilitate the improvement of existing houses. We have been told that now since the very first days of this Parliament. What we want to know is what the right hon. Gentleman has got in mind. Let me say this to him, that if it is merely an increase in the amount of money to be expended in any one year, it will in no way meet the situation.
Regarding the whole housing programme as objectively as I can, I cannot but feel that even the most ardent of the Government's supporters must be disappointed with the progress that has been made; certainly the Government have fallen far short of the promises and hopes that they held out at the General Election. The number of houses which have been completed in relation to the building force and to the material available has been much lower than it could have been, and costs have been allowed to rise to an unprecedented level, indeed, to levels which this country cannot afford. I say further, that in the carrying out of this programme there has been a lack of foresight, a lack of planning and a lack of drive, and that there has been muddle and interference almost beyond belief. On all these points the evidence is perfectly clear for all to see, and I am quite convinced that nothing will persuade those who are so much in need of housing, and nothing will persuade the country and Members on these benches, that the right hon. Gentleman's' policy has not been a costly and dubious experiment.
§ 9.27 p.m.
§ The Minister of Health (Mr. Aneurin Bevan)
The Committee is unusually full at this moment. It has been comparatively empty all day. I hope that members of the Committee will not assume that the atmosphere which the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) has just generated has been characteristic of the whole Debate. On the contrary, and I think that perhaps his speech would have been a little better if he had spent all the time listening to the Debate and less time writing out his speech. The arid artificiality of the speech to which we have just listened was due, of course, to the hon. and gallant Member having written it out, and it therefore has no relationship at all to the atmosphere that has existed right throughout the discussion, which has, on the whole, been a reasonable, studied and detailed examination of the housing problem.
The hon. and gallant Member started his speech by saying that it must be admitted on all sides that the housing problem is still the foremost problem of the day. Well, we all agree with that, but the Opposition are very naughty. Why have they not had a Debate before? Really, this is shocking neglect on the part of the Opposition. It is a year since we had a Debate on housing, and we have had it now only because the Opposition have been taunted into it. This was the very last subject they wanted to discuss. They had hoped that their ration of Supply Days would run out before they were faced with the embarrassing necessity of having to discuss housing. But when they came to discuss the task of having a housing Debate they again selected a new figure. It is really an astonishing series of speakers that we have had from the Opposition on housing. And, may I suggest with all respect, not wishing to be condescending in any one little degree, but having had some experience of the House of Commons, that it would have been so much better if in 1945 they had taken one of their Members aside and said: "Now you concentrate on housing. It may be in a few years you will know something about it." By now there would have been on those Benches a person who would have been able to make a speech which had some relationship to the facts.
1314 We have had a whole series of speakers one after another. They have walked up to that Box with some hesitation, delivered themselves and gone away. It is true that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) is the only one who has stayed the course. He has spoken twice. That is pretty good going. It is quite true that he has made all the mistakes that he made the last time he spoke on the subject, but, nevertheless, I congratulate him on his fidelity and upon the confidence that the Members of his party unfortunately repose in him.
I should like to know once more from the Opposition—I have asked it on several occasions and I am bound to add that it is in the interests of the nation as a whole that we should know it—the case we are now supposed to answer. Is it that we are building too few houses or have we built too many? I admit that my mind is confused. I try hard to follow what the Opposition wishes in the matter, and I am only too anxious to ascertain their views. For example, there is a gentleman who has attempted to organise the Conservative Party in the country, a very expensive gentleman he is, too—Lord Woolton. In September, 1946, he sent a message to Mr. Bevins, the Conservative candidate in the Edge Hill by-election, and in the course of his message he asks himself the rhetorical question, "What has happened?" Answering it he said:Failure to build the promised houses: failure to produce a higher standard of living: failure to gather all the resources and good will of our Empire to help to feed us; failure to use the American loan to buy 'time'; failure to give encouragement to home agriculture.In October, 1947, the same gentleman said:I ask in these days of over full employment for the postponement of all works of a public nature and for the discouragement of all capital expenditure whether by Government or by private industry.We are entitled to a reply when I say that we should like to know which position is the Opposition now taking up. Is it that of Lord Woolton, that we ought to build fewer houses, or the rhetoric of the speech to which we have just listened that we ought to build more? This is a serious matter, because we know that in the country as a whole the Tories have been running two horses at once. Their tame economists are talking about the 1315 huge load which is put on the resources of the country through carrying a housing programme which the country cannot bear. It appears in the "Economist" almost every week. At the same time, when they come to make speeches to the country, they taunt the Government with the fact that there are still people who have no homes of their own. Only Dr. Goebbels could equal it. They say directly opposite things at one and the same time.
The Opposition are going into the Lobby tonight on this Vote. We are entitled to know what their vote represents. Are they censuring the Government for building too many houses—with Lord Woolton—or because we are building too few—with the hon. and gallant Member who has just spoken? Really, the Opposition ought to answer, you know. I know that it is an embarrassing question to ask. I do not ask it for the purpose of embarrassing the Opposition at all. After all, one of the purposes of democratic discussion is that the alternatives should be exposed so that the country should know what is available for them and when they choose should know what they have chosen. They will not know what they have chosen, if they ever do choose the Conservative Party. However, I will leave that point, because it is too painful to the Opposition to continue it any further.
In opening the Debate, the right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities made a number of statements that I am again anxious to have clarified. We would like to know exactly where we are in these matters. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman stated that it was now the policy of the Opposition—see how they have moved—to build half the houses on what he called private account and half for renting. I would like to be clear. Is that now the policy of the Opposition? Is it that they want half the houses for renting? Is this the considered policy of the Opposition, or is it a mere animadversion of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman? He stated that he wanted half for renting and half for owning.
I would again like to know; when did the Conservative Party reach that decision? Indeed, I would like to know 1316 from the right hon. and gallant Gentleman whether he did consult his hon. and gallant Friend who has just replied for the Opposition, when he was about to make his speech. We have just heard fall from the lips of the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok that it does not matter how the houses are built. Is that not a fact? Does the hon. and gallant Member repudiate the 50 per cent. of his right hon. and gallant Friend beside him? The fact is that they wobble about all over the place. They just want—this is painful for me—to make the speech which is most demagogic at the time they make it. Those two Members obviously cannot agree between themselves and they both disagree with Lord Woolton.
Lord Woolton has also made a pronouncement on this subject. He has gone a distance since Blackpool. In Blackpool, the Conservative Party did not care two pence who owned the houses so long as they were built. Everybody in Great Britain knows very well that if we had let loose the building industry on the housing shortage in Great Britain without any controls, restrictions or directions, hardly any houses to rent would have been built at all. The Conservative Party for three years has carried on the most immoral propaganda against controls knowing very well—or they ought to have known—that if their policies had been carried out the ex-Service men to whom they had pledged their support would have been walking homeless around the streets of Great Britain. They said, "Away with controls." That is what they said at Blackpool. That is what the hon. and gallant Gentleman has said today. That is what he said when he spoke before, but, of course, his right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities is more cautious—although they had both written out their speeches.
However, Lord Woolton, who is in charge of the Election and who, therefore, will be judged to the extent to which he can seduce the voter into the Conservative camp, said the other day that in his opinion private enterprise ought to be allowed to have one in four. See how we are educating them. Lord Woolton says three houses to rent for every one house to sell. Is that the policy of the Conservative Party? I would like to know. After all, the local authorities of the country want to have guidance. Have 1317 we brought the Conservative Party along so far that they now believe that for every three houses to rent there should be one to sell? Because ours is one for five. So by next year we should have brought them to where we stand—on the eve of the General Election, of course! By the time 1950 is reached, we shall have brought them away so far from Blackpool that they will not be able to distinguish their own housing programme from ours. They are slowly being educated, but it is a tragic spectacle for a party which have been in office for so many years that on this, which on their own statement is the most important political problem of the day, they have not yet made up their minds about their policy. The people of Great Britain, if there was a General Election next week, do not know today what would be the housing policy of the Conservative Party of Great Britain. A more disgraceful exhibition of political bankruptcy has never been seen in this country.
Of course, what is now happening is a grievous disappointment to the Tory Party. They can see the houses going up all over the country. It is no longer possible to pretend that they are not there; it is no longer possible to deny the fructification of the housing plans; and they are disappointed. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson), a former Minister of Agriculture, at Crewe on 12th April last year predicted—we know very well how much insight he has—that "the total number of houses completed this year would be the lowest in our peacetime history" and said that "the stocks of timber were now so low that the distribution of houses was sure to break down in the next few months."
Well, of course, in the consummation we know what has happened. The facts are that we are now building houses, permanent new houses, at the rate of over 20,000 a month—at the rate of 240,000 houses a year—and the vast majority of them to let. And we know the consequence of the policy which we have followed consistently right throughout ever since 1945—and it has not been easy! We have carried it out against a barrage of misrepresentation from the party opposite and from their Press supporters who have not scrupled to use any means in order to try to disintegrate the 1318 popular will behind the programme. We were prepared with Lord Tennyson to await the far-off interest of tears.
And now we have the houses, and it ought to be for everybody—whether he be a Socialist, a Conservative, a Communist or a Liberal—a source of national pride and pleasure to see our people going into decent homes all over Great Britain. It should be a matter of national pride and not party polemics that the men who fought in the war are now living in decent homes more and more and more. I would like to claim that, here and now, as a contribution and an achievement of all the members of the community, no matter to what party they may belong, because this job is a vast job of social co-operation and could not have been accomplished except by all kinds of person in all walks of life. [An HON. MEMBER: "Vermin."] Yes, I do not put it beyond you to promote yourselves in time.
Now the right hon. Gentleman made some references to housing prices. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, in what I thought was a most excellent and reasoned speech, dealt with this in some detail, but he appeared to have been unable to make himself clear to the hon. Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) who speaks with great authority on housing. The point was made—and it is one to which I hope the House will pay some attention afterwards—that housing prices had risen less than the prices of any other finished product. Now this is a most remarkable position. I know it is almost impossible for the Party opposite to believe it, but the fact is that the wholesale index has gone up since 1945 by over 30 per cent. and housing prices by 13 per cent. In other words, that part of the economy which has been under the most direct control and has been most planned is that part of the economy where inflation is least.
I hope that Members opposite will like that. One would have expected a rise in prices because, after all, a house is as my hon. Friend says, an end product. Every single industry in society makes its contribution to the completed house. Yet we have been reproached by hon. Members opposite for this increase. Now indeed it would have been remarkable would it not, if the price of everything that went into the house went up, and 1319 the price of the house went down? But that is what we have been asked to do. I know we have achieved some most remarkable performances but we cannot compete with that. I cannot build houses more cheaply if everything else goes up in price; but what we have succeeded in doing is this: in the actual operation of house building, despite the emotional pressure, despite the public pressure, despite the chaos of the building industry immediately after the war, the rise in house prices is 13 per cent., while the general wholesale price index is up over 30 per cent. That is remarkable.
The hon. Member said that we ought to compare the price of a finished house with the actual final cost. We have not yet got from all over the country sufficient information to be able to make a proper comparison but we have all the relevant figures relating to that 13 per cent. I would like to ask the hon. Member a simple little question so that he may educate me. I know that he knows a lot about the building industry. Take the level of tenders in 1945 and the level of tenders in 1948. It is reasonable to assume that the man who tenders in 1948 will have taken into account the P.C. items he had to find from 1945 to 1948, is it not?
§ Mr. Bevan
It is very simple. It happens that a building contractor has a building tender; the price of that tender, we know, is not the price of the house, as the hon. Member has been explaining to us. He has been explaining how peculiar are the habits of the building industry, saying we must not take that as the price of the house because a lot of other things will have to be added. But we shall know what the price of those other items would be—they would be building materials of the same sort and, therefore, the new price in 1948 will have reflected the movement in general of building material prices. If, therefore, it is a fact that between 1945 and 1948 house building prices have gone up by 13 per cent., then that percentage of increase will not be materially different between the finished houses of 1945 and those of 1948. That, I should have thought, is simple logic, and it is necessary to use logic even in the building industry.
1320 I have been asked a few questions about the building of houses in agricultural areas. I would like to have this explained also: will the right hon. Gentleman tell me, if house rents for agricultural workers are so high that they cannot afford new houses, how can agricultural workers buy houses? I would like to know because, apparently, we are supposed to solve the problem of providing houses in agricultural areas by selling half our houses there. How will it be possible? Or do hon. Members opposite wish that most of the houses in the agricultural areas should be built for renting and that the right hon. Gentleman's 50–50 should not apply to the rural areas? I would like to know, because if half the houses which are going to the rural areas are for sale none of the agricultural workers will be in them. Therefore, it is the policy of the Tory Party to deny half the rural houses to agricultural workers. We have had a whole evening's Debate and have not yet been told. I am doing my utmost to elicit this information now.
I am convinced that on this matter of houses the Tory Party should avoid further Debates. We on this side of the Committee, however, although we are not satisfied with the case put by the Opposition, are also not satisfied that sufficient progress has been made in housing, because we know what housing means. We know what a deep tragedy it still is for hundreds of thousands of people in Great Britain. We are determined, therefore, to go on to the utmost, as far as our national resources will allow us to go. Towards the end of the year we ought to be able to get a far more realistic picture of the housing needs of the country.
I would warn hon. Members not to pay too much attention to the housing lists because the housing lists are not now an expression of the housing needs. Those lists are swollen by four factors. One factor is that in London, in particular, and also in some of the other congested areas, an applicant will put his name on more than one list and that causes duplication at once. Then there will be two families living in the same house both applying for a house where one house would relieve the two families. Then there will be individuals in houses merely applying for a council house because they would like to have a council house. That is an ex- 1321 pression of housing desire, not of housing need. Then there is the person who has satisfactory accommodation, but has not taken the trouble to remove his name from the list. Those four factors have swollen the housing lists abnormally. I am going to ask the local authorities at the end of the year, when we have another six months' building behind us, to "vet" their lists, to examine them carefully so that we shall have a realistic idea of housing needs—more realistic than we have now.
I have all along held the view that the 750,000 target was too low. I always said that, and not only recently. The 750,000 target was fixed by the last Government and who am I to disagree with it? I said I would accept that target and by October we shall have achieved it, but we shall not stop building houses. We are going on building and we have decided that we are going to keep 180,000 houses under construction in England and Wales and the rest in Scotland, making about 200,000 new permanent houses in all. But we may not be able to go on at that rate. It depends on a number of factors which we are not able to predict. Therefore, I am
§ not going to say at this moment how many houses we shall build in 1949 and 1950. All I am going to say is that what we have done is an earnest of the seriousness with which we regard the housing problem. We shall keep 180,000 houses under construction for as long as our resources will permit. Of course it is obvious that we have other things to do as well, hospitals to build, health centres to build, schools to build and many other demands of that sort upon the industry. But as far as we have gone, I say there is hardly an hon. Member in any part of the Committee who would have said in 1945 that by 1948 we would have had this record behind us—hardly any. I am proud of it. I am not content with it, but I am proud of it and I believe that if we have a few more years at our disposal we shall have the best housing record of any nation in the world.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
I beg to move, "That Item Class V, Vote I, Ministry of Health, be reduced by £5."
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 131; Noes, 303.1325
|Division No. 260.]||AYES.||[10.0 p.m.|
|Agnew, Cmdr. P. G.||Fraser, Sir I. (Lansdale)||Morrison, Maj. J. G. (Salisbury)|
|Amory, D. Heathcoat||Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir D. P. M.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cir'cester)|
|Assheton, Rt. Hon. R.||Gage, C.||Mott-Radclyffe, C. E.|
|Astor, Hon. M.||Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D.||Neven-Spence, Sir B.|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Gates, Maj. E. E.||Noble, Comdr. A. H. P.|
|Barlow, Sir J.||Glyn, Sir R.||Odey, G. W.|
|Baxter, A. B.||Grimston, R. V.||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir H.|
|Beamish, Maj. T. V. H.||Hannon, Sir P. (Moseley)||Orr-Ewing, I. L.|
|Beechman, N. A.||Hare, Hon. J. H. (Woodbridge)||Osborne, C.|
|Bennett, Sir P.||Harris, F. W. (Croydon, N.)||Peake, Rt. Hon. O.|
|Birch, Nigel||Harvey, Air-Comdre. A. V.||Peto, Brig. C. H. M.|
|Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C. (Wells)||Haughton, S. G.||Pickthorn, K.|
|Bossom, A. C.||Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir C.||Pitman, I. J.|
|Bower, N.||Henderson, John (Cathcart)||Ponsonby, Col. C. E.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.||Hogg, Hon. Q.||Price-White, Lt.-Col. D.|
|Braithwaite, Lt.-Comdr. J. G.||Howard, Hon. A.||Prior-Palmer, Brig. O.|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Hudson, Rt. Hon. R. S. (Southport)||Raikes, H. V.|
|Bullock, Capt. M.||Hurd, A.||Ramsay, Maj. S.|
|Butler, Rt. Hn. R. A. (S'ffr'n W'ld'n)||Hutchison, Lt.-Cm. Clark (E'b'rgh W.)||Reed, Sir S. (Aylesbury)|
|Carson, E.||Hutchison, Col. J. R. (Glasgow, C.)||Reid, Rt. Hon. J. S. C. (Hillhead)|
|Challen, C.||Jarvis, Sir J.||Renton, D.|
|Channon, H.||Jennings, R.||Roberts, P. G. (Ecclesall)|
|Clifton-Brown, Lt.-Col. G.||Kerr, Sir J. Graham||Robertson, Sir D. (Streatham)|
|Conant, Maj. R. J. E.||Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Ropner, Col. L.|
|Corbett, Lieut.-Col. U. (Ludlow)||Langford-Holt, J.||Ross, Sir R. D. (Londonderry)|
|Crowder, Capt. John E.||Law, Rt. Hon. R. K.||Scott, Lord W.|
|Davidson, Viscountess||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.||Shephard, S. (Newark)|
|De la Bère, R.||Lennox-Boyd, A. T.||Smith, E. P. (Ashford)|
|Digby, S. W.||Lindsay, M. (Solihull)||Smithers, Sir W.|
|Dodds-Parker, A. D.||Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral)||Snadden, W. M.|
|Drayson, G. B.||Low, A. R. W.||Spearman, A. C. M.|
|Drewe, C.||Lucas, Major Sir J.||Stanley, Rt. Hon. O.|
|Dugdale, Maj. Sir T. (Richmond)||Lucas-Tooth, Sir H.||Strauss, Henry (English Universities)|
|Duthie, W. S.||McCallum, Maj. D.||Sutcliffe, H.|
|Eccles, D. M.||McFarlane, C. S.||Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)|
|Elliot, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Walter||McKie, J. H. (Galloway)||Thorneycroft, G. E. P. (Monmouth)|
|Erroll, F. J.||Maclean, F. H. R. (Lancaster)||Turton, R. H.|
|Fletcher, W. (Bury)||Maitland, Comdr. J. W.||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Foster, J. G. (Northwich)||Marples, A. E.||Wakefield, Sir W. W.|
|Fox, Sir G.||Mellor, Sir J.||Walker-Smith, D.|
|Fraser, H. C. P. (Stone)||Molson, A. H. E.||Ward, Hon. G. R.|
|Wheatley, Colonel M. J. (Dorset, E.)||Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|White, Sir D. (Fareham)||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord||Mr. Studholme and|
|White, J. B. (Canterbury)||York, C.||Brigadier Mackeson.|
|Williams, C. (Torquay)||Young, Sir A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Acland, Sir Richard||Edwards, John (Blackburn)||Kinley, J.|
|Adams, Richard (Balham)||Edwards, N. (Caerphilly)||Kirby, B. V.|
|Adams, W. T. (Hammersmith, South)||Edwards, W. J. (Whitechapel)||Lawson, Rt. Hon. J. J.|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V.||Evans, Albert (Islington, W.)||Lee, F. (Hulme)|
|Allen, A. C. (Bosworth)||Evans, E. (Lowestoft)||Lee, Miss J. (Cannock)|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Evans, John (Ogmore)||Leslie, J. R.|
|Alpass, J. H.||Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury)||Lever, N. H.|
|Attewell, H. C.||Ewart, R.||Lewis, A. W. J. (Upton)|
|Austin, H. Lewis||Fairhurst, F.||Lewis, T. (Southampton)|
|Awbery, S. S.||Farthing, W. J.||Lindgren, G. S.|
|Ayles, W. H.||Fernyhough, E.||Lipson, D. L.|
|Ayrton Gould, Mrs. B.||Field, Capt. W. J.||Lipton, Lt.-Col. M.|
|Bacon, Miss A.||Fletcher, E. G. M. (Islington, E.)||Logan, D. G.|
|Baird, J.||Follick, M.||Longden, F.|
|Balfour, A.||Foot, M. M.||McAdam, W.|
|Barnes, Rt. Hon. A. J.||Forman, J. C.||McAllister, G.|
|Barstow, P. G.||Fraser, T. (Hamilton)||McEntee, V. La T.|
|Barton, C.||Freeman, J. (Watford)||McGhee, H. G.|
|Battley, J. R.||Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N.||Mack, J. D.|
|Bechervaise, A. E.||Ganley, Mrs. C. S.||McKay, J. (Wallsend)|
|Belcher, J. W.||George, Lady M. Lloyd (Anglesey)||Mackay, R. W. G. (Hull, N.W.)|
|Benson, G.||Gibbins, J.||McKinlay, A. S.|
|Berry, H.||Gibson, C. W.||Maclean, N. (Govan)|
|Beswick, F.||Gilzean, A.||McLeavy, F.|
|Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)||Glanville, J. E. (Consett)||MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles)|
|Binns, J.||Gooch, E. G.||Macpherson, T. (Romford)|
|Blackburn, A. R.||Gordon-Walker, P. C.||Mainwaring, W. H.|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Granville, E. (Eye)||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)|
|Blyton, W. R.||Greenwood, A. W. J. (Heywood)||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield)|
|Boardman, H.||Grenfell, D. R.||Mann, Mrs. J.|
|Bowden, Flg. Offr. H. W.||Grey, C. F.||Manning, C. (Camberwell, N.)|
|Bowles, F. G. (Nuneaton)||Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley)||Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping)|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M. (L'pl. Exch'ge)||Griffiths, Rt. Hon. J. (Llanelly)||Mathers, Rt. Hon. George|
|Braddock, T. (Mitcham)||Guy, W. H.||Mellish, R. J.|
|Brook, D. (Halifax)||Haire, John E. (Wycombe)||Messer, F.|
|Brooks, T. J. (Rothwell)||Hale, Leslie||Middleton, Mrs. L.|
|Brown, T. J. (Ince)||Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil||Mikardo, Ian|
|Bruce, Maj. D. W. T.||Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R.||Mitchison, G. H.|
|Burden, T. W.||Hannan, W. (Maryhill)||Monslow, W.|
|Butler, H. W. (Hackney, S.)||Hardy, E. A.||Moody, A. S.|
|Byers, Frank||Harrison, J.||Morgan, Dr. H. B.|
|Callaghan, James||Hastings, Dr. Somerville||Morley, R.|
|Carmichael, James||Haworth, J.||Mort, D. L.|
|Castle, Mrs. B. A.||Henderson, Joseph (Ardwick)||Moyle, A.|
|Chamberlain, R. A.||Herbison, Miss M.||Murray, J. D.|
|Champion, A. J.||Hewitson, Capt. M.||Nally, W.|
|Chetwynd, G. R.||Hobson, C. R.||Neal, H. (Clay Cross)|
|Cluse, W. S.||Holman, P.||Nichol, Mrs. M. E. (Bradford, N.)|
|Cobb, F. A.||Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth)||Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford)|
|Cocks, F. S.||Horabin, T. L.||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. J. (Derby)|
|Coldrick, W.||Hoy, J.||Oldfield, W. H.|
|Collindridge, F.||Hubbard, T.||Oliver, G. H.|
|Collins, V. J.||Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, W.)||Orbach, M.|
|Colman, Miss G. M.||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayr)||Paget, R. T.|
|Cook, T. F.||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Paling, Rt. Hon. Wilfred (Wentworth)|
|Corbet, Mrs. F. K. (Camb'well, N.W.)||Hughes, H. D. (W'lverh'pton, W.)||Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)|
|Corlett, Dr. J.||Hynd, H. (Hackney, C.)||Palmer, A. M. F.|
|Cove, W. G.||Irvine, A. J. (Liverpool)||Parker, J.|
|Crawley, A.||Irving, W. J. (Tottenham, N.)||Parkin, B. T.|
|Crossman, R. H. S.||Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.||Paton, Mrs. F. (Rushcliffe)|
|Daggar, G.||Janner, B.||Paton, J. (Norwich)|
|Daines, P.||Jay, D. P. T.||Pearson, A.|
|Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.||Jeger, G. (Winchester)||Peart, T. F.|
|Davies, Rt. Hn. Clement (Montgomery)||Jeger, Dr. S. W. (St Pancras, S.E.)||Perrins, W.|
|Davies, Edward (Burslem)||Jenkins, R. H.||Popplewell, E.|
|Davies, Haydn (St. Pancras, S.W.)||Johnston, Douglas||Porter, E. (Warrington)|
|Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)||Jones, Rt. Hon. A. C. (Shipley)||Porter, G. (Leeds)|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Jones, D. T. (Hartlepools)||Pritt, D. N.|
|Deer, G.||Jones, J. H. (Bolton)||Proctor, W. T.|
|Delargy, H. J.||Jones, P. Asterley (Hitchin)||Pryde, D. J.|
|Diamond, J.||Keenan, W.||Pursey, Comdr. H.|
|Dobbie, W.||Kendall, W. D.||Randall, H. E.|
|Dodds, N. N.||Kenyon, C.||Ranger, J.|
|Donovan, T.||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Rankin, J.|
|Dugdale, J. (W. Bromwich)||King, E. M.||Rees-Williams, D. R.|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Kinghorn, Sqn.-Ldr. E.||Reeves, J.|
|Reid, T. (Swindon)||Sparks, J. A.||Wells, P. L. (Faversham)|
|Rhodes, H.||Steele, T.||Wells, W. T. (Walsall)|
|Richards, R.||Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)||West, D. G.|
|Roberts, Emrys (Merioneth)||Summerskill, Dr. Edith||Westwood, Rt. Hon. J.|
|Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)||Swingler, S.||White, H. (Derbyshire, N.E.)|
|Ross, William (Kilmarnock)||Sylvester, G. O.||Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.|
|Royle, C.||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)||Wigg, George|
|Sargood, R.||Taylor, Dr. S. (Barnet)||Wilkes, L.|
|Scollan, T.||Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Scott-Elliott, W.||Thomas, George (Cardiff)||Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)|
|Segal, Dr. S.||Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)||Williams, J. L. (Kelvingrove)|
|Shackleton, E. A. A.||Thomas, John R. (Dover)||Williams, R. W. (Wigan)|
|Sharp, Granville||Thurtle, Ernest||Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)|
|Shawcross, C. N. (Widnes)||Timmons, J.||Williams, W. R. (Heston)|
|Shawcross, Rt. Hn. Sir H. (St. Helens)||Titterington, M. F.||Willis, E.|
|Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.||Tolley, L.||Wills, Mrs. E. A.|
|Shurmer, P.||Tomlinson, Rt. Hon. G.||Wise, Major F. J.|
|Silverman, J. (Erdington)||Turner-Samuels, M.||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Silverman, S. S. (Nelson)||Ungoed-Thomas, L.||Woods, G. S.|
|Simmons, C. J.||Usborne, Henry||Wyatt, W.|
|Skeffington, A. M.||Viant, S. P.||Yates, V. F.|
|Skeffington-Lodge, T. C.||Wadsworth, G.||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Skinnard, F. W.||Walker, G. H.||Younger, Hon. Kenneth|
|Smith, C. (Colchester)||Warbey, W. N.|
|Smith, H. N. (Nottingham, S.)||Watkins, T. E.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank||Watson, W. M.||Mr. Snow and|
|Mr. George Wallace.|
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.