HC Deb 20 November 1950 vol 481 cc127-56

8.8 p.m.

Mr. Keenan (Liverpool, Kirkdale)

I am glad that there is a little more time than usual tonight for the Adjournment Debate because there is a great deal of interest in the subject which I wish to raise. I have described it as "How to reduce housing costs." For this purpose I intend to deal in particular with two aspects of housing. I am not now concerned about the targets of our opponents or ourselves; what I am concerned about is the fact that the standards which have been laid down and very largely agreed to by the idealists, the housing authorities and others who posed as authorities on housing in the past, are rather extravagant in the use of land as well as in the use of material.

The two items with which I intend to deal are density per acre of housing and the need for terraced house building. Generally speaking, 12 houses to the acre has been considered the ideal for the past generation or more. I am informed that the maximum of 14 houses to the acre is now permitted by the Ministry.

For several years I was vice-chairman of my local authority housing committee and during that period I was faced with difficulties which, though perhaps not so bad as present difficulties, were certainly very bad. In 1928, 1929 and 1930 we had permission to increase the density per acre and in those years built up to 26 to the acre—[An HON. MEMBER: "Shame."] Someone said "shame." Well, we had about 14 more at least per acre than would have been possible with a density of 12 to the acre, because land is a factor in this matter. If we intend to continue with a density of 12 to the acre, or even 14 to the acre, there will not be enough land available in this country to re-house the people. Certainly to the extent which we spread over the countryside we will reduce agricultural opportunities for providing the nation with food. There is no doubt that all local authorities now have to use agricultural land for housing. No one can grumble, because the people have to be housed.

I suggest that what can be done is to build up to at least 20 houses per acre as against the 14 maximum now permitted. On an average, I suppose, that is rather more than 50 per cent. over the existing density. I repeat that 20 years ago I saw built 24, 25 and 26 houses to the acre. I speak quite frankly about this. I am not a builder, a bricklayer, or joiner, but I am capable of relying on others and using my commonsense in this matter as, no doubt, are other hon. Members who have had experience of local authority housing.

For some houses which are now being built under the density of 14 to the acre, not more than 126 square yards are being used for the ground in front, the house and the ground at the rear. That would permit of nine feet in the front of the house as a garden, 30 feet for the house, and 15 feet in the rear. That is a total of 54 feet, or 18 yards. If we allowed 21-foot frontage—seven yards—and multiplied the 18 yards by seven we would get 126 square yards and that is about the amount used now for three- or four-bed roomed houses. At 20 to the acre that brings it up to 2,520 yards, which is rather more than half the acre. So that leaves 2,320 yards for the backs and the fronts of the houses. I know folk are worrying about road frontages, but nearly half the acre is left, and I estimate that with 20 houses in a row we could allow 45 or 48 yards for pavement and roads in front of those houses.

What would this change of density from 14 to 20 houses actually save? It would reduce the cost of the ground rent per house. Twenty years ago we paid 5s. or 7s. a yard for land in an urban area, and today it is 10s. a yard. At that figure it runs at between £22 and £24 per acre, but if there are only 14 houses, it will amount to about £8 or £9 per year interest cost. According to the increase in the number of houses the ground rent is reduced. In addition, with an increased density of building there is a saving on roads. If I could persuade the Ministry, as quite frankly I would like to do, to build 24 houses to the acre, the saving would be considerable in road charges and services generally.

I know that semi-detached houses built at the rate of 12 to the acre or less look very nice, but it is costly and wasteful so far as the land is concerned. I want hon. Members to consider what it will mean eventually to the land if we continue to build at that rate. Terraced houses should be built as they have been built before, but I know this is not looked upon favourably by the Ministry.

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

If my hon. Friend will allow me to interrupt on a point of correction, may I say not only has terraced house-building been looked upon favourably by my Department, but over a long period we have been encouraging local authorities to build groups of houses.

Mr. Keenan

I am very glad that is to be encouraged. I know some local authorities are doing it, but I was not aware that they were getting any encouragement. I hope that it will be continued and that the Ministry will insist upon local authorities doing the same in cases where they do not appear to be responding.

I would draw a comparison between terraced houses and semi-detached houses. A semi-detached house has three walls. If there is a group of four there are five walls. If six terraced houses are put up there are seven walls; and if eight are erected there are nine or 10 walls, because usually there is a passage in the centre which necessitates another wall. I contend that that kind of change in the building programme, with terraced houses instead of semi-detached, provides at least an opportunity for saving in material and labour. People who live in terraced houses do not worry about whether there are six, eight or 10 or more. I am living in a terraced house which was erected a long time ago. It is one of the largest houses in Bootle. In fact most of the houses there are terraced houses and quite good property, and I personally am not opposed to the terraced house.

The Ministry may be worried about the increased density, because it does not provide sufficient space. But I think that on the communal basis which terraced houses are likely to provide there could be more economy in land than in the case of semi- detached houses. Even with semidetached houses, however, I should still insist upon 20 houses to the acre. I do not intend to say much about the question of supplies. We know that if supplies are arranged adequately so that there is no hold-up, and the job can go along smoothly, housing costs may be reduced.

One matter has been put up to me by builders, and concerns the question of houses built on built-up land. I know I am not likely to get much encouragement from the Ministry on this point, but I ventilate it because of its costliness. In some cases where houses are built upon built-up land it is necessary to build the foundations right up to floor space, because no timber is allowed for the floor. Builders tell me that in some cases this means spending as much as £60 or £70 to fill up. They suggest that this cost could be avoided if it were possible to get more timber. Those who have more knowledge of the subject than I, maintain that one-third of a standard would be all that was necessary to do this, and that would be a decided saving as compared with the £60 or £70 which the present operation frequently costs.

For the benefit of the Ministry I have taken the trouble to obtain a few photographs of the kind of houses to which I refer. I know that in the part of Liverpool which I represent, like most industrial areas, there are 50 or 60 houses to the acre. I do not accept that in the building of terraced houses it is necessary to create slums. Slums are not created by the type of house into which we put people. The photographs which I have obtained indicate clearly what can be and should be done. In Bootle there is a site with 24 houses to the acre; one of 17, another of 16 and several of 20, which I think compare very favourably with anything I have seen elsewhere.

Other people may be able to suggest how housing costs may be cut in other directions, but I do not want to reduce the standard which has now been achieved, either in the capacity of the house, the space within, or in any of the fitments which it has been considered should be put into the modern house and which are an improvement upon what went before All I wish to say in that connection is that a builder suggested to me that 7 ft. 6 in. was high enough. I said. "I do not agree with you I think we should get up to 9 ft. as is generally demanded." He said, "That is all right but unless you alter the layout of the windows to correspond with it you may as well have the low ceiling." I quote that for what it is worth.

I believe that by this method of increasing the density we shall be able to reduce land costs. We would be able to reduce cost by building terraced houses. I do not think that there is any need to reduce in any way the standard of accommodation we provide, although I know there are a number of people who will say that there must be gardens at the back and at the front. Whilst I know that is desirable, the people today who want houses do not care whether there are gardens round them or not. What they are more concerned about is that they should get homes in which to live.

I know the difficulty, but I was talking in the same strain about this subject 30 years ago. The problem was not solved then, when the economic conditions were different and more favourable for its solution than they are now. By the means that I have suggested we may be able to make the cost of housing cheaper. How far that will be able to increase the number I cannot say, and I am not necessarily dealing with that side of the subject tonight. What I am concerned about is to get costs reduced, because it is generally agreed that rents are prohibitive largely through costliness of housing. If we can produce more by this means it will be a great contribution to the housing programme.

Another difficulty is land. If I had my way we should soon solve that problem. The land belongs to the people and they should have it. However, we are not concerned with that issue tonight. All I wanted to do was to recommend to the Ministry of Health a few ideas, which, though perhaps not put very well together, do suggest some way of dealing with housing costs.

8.30 p.m.

Mr. Baker White (Canterbury)

We should all be obliged to the hon. Member for Kirkdale (Mr. Keenan) for raising the subject tonight. Many Members want to speak on this vital issue and I shall be brief. I want to say a word or two about slum clearance. Looking back on the past, I do not believe that anyone wanted to build a slum. Many of them came into being through bad planning, and through trying to build too many houses per acre. It would be a great mistake if we fell into that same mistake again. I do not entirely agree with the hon. Member about gardens. The average person wants a garden about his house. People take a great deal of pleasure in growing their own flowers and vegetables, and perhaps keeping—I know how difficult it is to feed chickens—rabbits and that sort of thing. People want their own gardens.

I have only one suggestion to make. We want to get more houses quickly. I do not believe that any building worker, human nature being what it is, will work himself out of a job. If there are a lot of houses going up on a big site and a very small supply of materials on the site, a man will naturally say to himself, "I am not going to work myself out of a job." The same attitude is met in other directions. If we want to get houses erected quickly, either through the local authorities or a private builder, it is essential to ensure that at all times there are adequate supplies of materials so that a man can see that there is work for some considerable time ahead. We should not fall into the great mistake of trying to cram too many houses on to the acre, and we should have an adequate supply of materials on the job.

8.34 p.m.

Mr. Tomney (Hammersmith, North)

My hon. Friend the Member for Kirkdale (Mr. Keenan) is motivated by a very urgent desire to see as many houses built as quickly as possible. I agree with some of the points he has made, but we can see that, generally speaking, the rate of building progress is a most important factor in the reduction of costs. The cost factor enters into a contract and usually arises in connection with wages. Wages and cost contracts are causing the greatest concern.

We have to face the fact that, according to the Girdwood Report, productivity in the building industry is not as high as we should like nor as it should be. This is due in part to the past. The men employed in a trade have experienced conditions under which they were in and out of work, and it is natural for them to view the matter with a little apprehension despite the difficulties of the housing problem. Those local authorities which endeavoured to build houses by direct labour have experienced considerable success where a direct labour department was in being before 1939, but the picture since then is perhaps not so good. I am quite aware that Edmonton, for instance, has done a wonderful job, but I want to refer in a moment to what has been achieved by the Hammersmith Borough Council.

I know that hon. Members have this problem very much in their minds. In the big cities it is more acute than anywhere else, because there we have the added disadvantage of having very little land available. It is perfectly obvious that, in London, despite the advent of new towns, which are developing all too slowly, the position will have to be met by the erection of more and more flats. Industry is concentrated in London, and people will not willingly travel out of London away from their work. Therefore, it may be that direct labour, bulk buying and securing valuable discounts will achieve the greatest possible progress.

I should like to refer to a scheme which has been completed by my own borough, and which I think is a marvellous achievement by direct labour. The tender submitted by the Building and Maintenance Committee of the Borough Council for 32 flats was £62,228, and the next lowest tender by private enterprise was £65,312. The quantity surveyor's final cost was £57,705 12s. 4d., but the actual cost of the contract—and this is where the real improvement has been made—was only £56,377.

How has that been achieved. It has been achieved by two things. One is guaranteeing the workmen continuity of employment, and anybody in the building trade, if he looks at the position as he should, will know that there is at least 99 years' work in front of any building operative in this country on slum clearance alone. That position must be faced, but the important thing is that, in the building industry, we have to get away from the basic rates, and that is what we have done at Hammersmith. We have disregarded the Joint Industrial Council rates of wages and allowed a bonus system which has been applicable, not only to the bricklayer, the carpenter and the plumber, but to all the servicing men and the labourers who bring the materials. The bonus system was available on the same percentage basis to the men who did the carrying and fetching as to those men who completed the skilled operations.

In these circumstances, the men are quite willing to work and to get the work done, because the general bonus level is uplifted. The average wage of the bricklayer on the contract has been about £9 per week, which, in these days, is a living wage for that type of labour, but the actual base rate is £5 12s. 0d., which is much lower. It is by such methods of raising the incentives in industry, together with the certainty of continued work, that further workers will always be forthcoming.

In regard to slum clearance, the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Baker White), stated that people do not set out willingly to build slums. We quite agree up to a certain point, but part of this country's industrial development came with an industrial revolution. There was a great need for houses for a certain income level, and certain building techniques and standards which applied at that time have now, I am glad to say, been left behind.

Although I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkdale regarding the urge to get on with house building, I can say as the proud possessor of a garden back and front that that is a privilege which should not lightly be surrendered. It is a heritage to which everybody should be entitled, but which only a few have been privileged to enjoy in the past. As I say, while agreeing with my hon. Friend on some of the points he raised, I do not think we should surrender the valuable intimate garden space which makes for a good and happy family life.

8.40 p.m.

Sir Richard Acland (Gravesend)

I, too, am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkdale (Mr. Keenan) for raising this question of the cost of building and also for our having had the good fortune of this Adjournment debate coming on at an early hour, thus enabling many of us to contribute to it. I put down a Question to the Minister of Health which, had it been answered satisfactorily, would have had quite a considerable effect on the cost of building houses or, more accurately, on providing accommodation units. But it was not answered satisfactorily; it was, indeed, the first of the Questions not reached on Thursday, and when the answer came on a piece of paper it did not seem to me to be a very sound one. Therefore, I gave notice to Mr. Speaker that I would raise this question again if I was fortunate enough to catch his eye, and I gave my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary notice that I should do so in the hope that he would elucidate the answer a little and perhaps be able, after considering it, to give a different answer from that given by his right hon. Friend.

I asked whether the Minister would consider altering the present system by which housing allocations are made to local authorities, by giving proportionately larger numerical allocations to those local authorities who wish to build a higher proportion of one- and two-bed roomed houses. That seems to me to be quite a sensible suggestion. The Minister replied that the existing system of allocations was sufficiently flexible to allow account to be taken of considerations such as those mentioned by my hon. Friend when the detailed building programme of an authority was known. Unless I am quite wrongly informed by officers of local authorities in my constituency, that answer really does not correspond with the present facts at all.

At intervals every local authority is told the number of accommodation units they may provide in the following 12 months. Let us take the case of where that figure is 80. That happens to be the number which applies to one of the local authorities in my constituency. The local council then has to decide what the size of the houses should be and whether they shall build 80 average size council houses or some smaller houses.

There are three main alternatives. They can build the two-bed roomed house, which in all other respects is similar to the full-sized council house. It has a front room, kitchen, two lavatories, a bathroom, and so on. There is no great advantage in that because 11 of the two-bed roomed houses are roughly equivalent to 10 full-sized council houses. That being so, there is not a great deal to be gained there, although I should have thought that if any council had decided to build 11 of those smaller houses, they could have had them in place of 10 of their allocation; that is to say, if their allocation were 80, they could have gone up to 81 by including 11 of the slightly smaller houses.

There is another proposition, which is to build old people's bungalows. That, again, is not very sensational in its effects numerically because, roughly speaking, as I understand it, five old people's bungalows are the equivalent of four full-sized council houses when it comes to labour, material, costs and time in erection and so on. So, again, I should have thought that if a local authority were allocated 80 houses for their next year's programme they could decide to knock off eight of those and build just 72 full-sized council houses, and then, instead of building the other eight, they should be allowed to build 10 old people's bungalows. One would have thought that the total amount of money, man-hours and building materials would be equivalent, and that it would be for the local authority to decide in what way their own local conditions would make it wisest to use this total of materials, money and man-power.

But, of course, the really important numerical effects begin to arise when we consider the Duplex house, a house which, at a casual glance from the outside, looks a good deal like an ordinary full-sized council house. In fact, it contains two accommodation units. One unit is of two rooms and the other unit of three rooms so designed that, if necessary, in five or 10 years it could be made into one house of three bedrooms.

Numerically, this Duplex house is a much more attractive proposition, because roughly speaking, seven Duplex houses give 14 accommodation units, is the equivalent of eight full-sized council houses. I would have thought, therefore, that, in an extreme case, any local authority allocated 80 houses for their 1951 building programme would have been entitled to choose to build, instead, 70 Duplex houses, which would mean 140 smaller accommodation units instead of the 80 larger houses. If they did not choose to go to the extreme limit they could have gone to a halfway position, putting up, instead of 80 full-sized council houses, 40 full-sized council houses and 35 Duplex houses, which would have resulted in 110 accommodation units of different size.

That is how I should have thought the situation ought to be, and my Question, which was not reached on Thursday, asked the Minister if he would consider altering the present arrangement so as to turn it into the arrangement which I have now elaborated at greater length than one possibly could do in a Parliamentary Question. I will concede to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health that he can shoot me down on the technical point that I did not elaborate my Question so as to include the Duplex house in so many words, because that would have made it as complicated as some of the Regulations which he and some of his colleagues have to defend from that Box. But I do not think he is going to take such a small point from me.

I think the general purpose of my Question is quite clear and the answer given is that the existing system is sufficiently flexible. That is news to me. It will be news to the chairmen of the housing committees and their officials, at any rate to those with whom I have talked. I have talked to only three or four but they have told me that if they are given 80 houses in their housing allocation for next year and if they decide that one shall be a Duplex house, that knocks down the total number of houses they can build to 78 because, in that Duplex house, they have two accommodation units. In other words, they are allotted not houses but accommodation units. If I am wrong, and if those who have been informing me on the subject are also wrong, the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to explain the position quite quickly and we shall know, in future, how we stand. If they are wrong, they will understand that, in future, if they are given an allocation of 80 houses, they can choose, if they wish, to build 70 Duplex houses and thereby get 140 units of accommodation.

I believe this is important because I think the House and the country ought to take note of the fact that, since the sharp worsening of the international situation in Korea is imposing quite new strains upon our economy, we are in a wholly different position as regards our housing prospects from anything which confronted us up to last May. Hon. Members opposite may perhaps be inclined to mock when I say this, but up till last May it was not unreasonable to assert that, contrary to all forecasts which the Opposition were making in another place 12 months ago, and contrary to all forecasts which they made at the General Election, the economic recovery of this country was absolutely astounding.

The increase in productivity, the improvement in our balance of trade, were amazing. Therefore, up to last May it was not unreasonable for anybody to suppose that a rate of building of 200,000 in 1950 could be increased to 400,000 in 1951 and could go higher than that in 1952; and that, therefore, within a measurable number of years—say four—we should be able to solve the housing problem by a process of building full-sized council houses.

I do not want to renew the prolonged debate which we had only a few weeks, ago. I thought the hon. Member for Anglesey (Lady Megan Lloyd George) pretty well demolished all the claims made by hon. Members opposite that they could, build up to 300,000 houses a year. I think we all have to face the fact that at any rate of building which is reasonably likely under any Government in the next two, three or four years we shall not shorten the housing queues very much simply by building houses. In the present international situation we are not likely to, shorten the housing queues very much in that way.

Mr. Nabarro (Kidderminster) rose—

Sir R. Acland

Let me finish. This situation is in very large part due to the fact that in some houses deaths and other incidents are giving large numbers of families more and more elbow room, while in other houses marriages and births are continually adding to the ranks of the grossly overcrowded.

Brigadier Clarke (Portsmouth, West)

There are some babies being born, too.

Sir R. Acland

That is the very point I was making. It appears to me, therefore—[interruption]—I am trying to make a completely non-party point which I feel hon. Members on all sides should note it appears to me that we shall not break the back of the waiting list in any measurable time unless we make better use of the housing accommodation which already exists but which is not fully used. Starting with the biggest houses in the land and working down to many which are not so large, we shall find house after house, in street after street, where the number of rooms is entirely disproportionate to the number of people.

Mr. Keenan

On a point of order. I raised on the Adjournment the subject of housing costs. We are now talking about something different—houses already in existence.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)

I fully agree, and I hope hon. Members will confine themselves to that subject, but I am afraid I cannot compel them to do so.

Sir R. Acland

This is very relevant to the cost of providing the houses, the accommodation units, which we need to break the back of the housing waiting lists within a measurable time.

Mr. Nabarro

Hon. Members opposite have had five years.

Sir R. Acland

I will not pursue this point further except to say, if the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) will allow me, that the first step in getting a better distribution of housing accommodation than that which we have at the moment is to build large numbers, the largest possible number—

Brigadier Clarke

Three hundred thousand.

Sir R. Acland

—of houses or accommodation units suitable for elderly couples or even for single people. As soon as we can provide the largest possible number of acceptable accommodation units for the families of one or two elderly people, so that we can offer them attractive dwellings, we can liberate for the use of the larger families existing houses of four or five or six rooms.

I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkdale for having strayed from the strict path of his argument, but I am coming right back to the very point, for by this means I have described we can lower the cost of making dwellings available to the people—on the one proviso, that local authorities, when they are offered an allocation of 80 houses, for instance, understand they are to be 80 full-sized council houses, and that they are entitled, if they choose, instead to put up 70 of the Duplex houses and thereby gain control not of 80 accommodation units but of 140. I hope that on that point the Minister will be able to say something more satisfactory than I heard in answer to the Question.

9.0 p.m.

Mr. Remnant (Wok ingham)

Had the subject of the Debate been other than it is, I should have been only too pleased to take up some of the points made by the hon. Member for Gravesend (Sir R. Acland). As the subject under discussion is how to reduce housing costs, I intend to confine myself to that point, because it is an important subject—quite important enough for us to discuss.

I feel that the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Tomney) was speaking words of wisdom when he talked about increasing the efficiency of the labour by bonus schemes or some system by which they would be paid by results. I do hope that all hon. Members opposite who have influence either with the unions or with the employers will endeavour to persuade both sides that that is one of the major means of reducing housing costs. The hon. Member also rightly said—and I should like to stress that and I am sure all hon. Members will agree—that we must sympathise with the man in wishing not to work himself out of a job. The basis on which production schemes or bonus schemes must depend for success is a full supply of materials sufficient for the job, and not coming in by dribs and drabs.

As I go about my country district I see one or two small ways in which costs have been raised unnecessarily. There are very nice housing estates with looproads with one entrance from the main road. There is a large patch of grass in the middle. When I inquire what is going to be done with that patch of grass nobody can tell me—except that it is thought that the Ministry of Health have insisted on there being a patch of grass. I have gone into this, and have asked the occupants of the houses whether they would be willing to have a row of houses on that little piece with a garden at the back and front, if it saved them a bob or two rent. The answer in all cases was, "Yes, certainly," partly because they want a reduction in rent and partly because they sympathise with those on the long waiting lists for homes.

They also wonder whether it is really necessary to have the roads made up to highway standards so that the county council can take them over, when all that goes round them are delivery vans of grocer, the baker or the milkman. A little extra expense is involved there. I understand that the Minister of Health is now giving sanction in some cases for buildings to be put on the grass, but it means ploughing up the roads for the sewers and the electric light mains.

There is one question I want to ask the Parliamentary Secretary. It follows on that small part of the speech of the hon. Member for Gravesend which did refer to housing costs. It is about the tendency of the present system of allocating accommodation units to tempt local authorities to build larger or three-bedroomed houses. The Parliamentary Secretary ought not to shake his head. I am going to tell him of a particular instance. If he will give consent to this I shall willingly withdraw the remarks I am going to make. The three-bedroomed house can be made into two flats, one up and one down, both of which can accord with the Ministry's specifications, at the same cost, except a very little extra cost for additional plumbing. By turning a three-bedroomed house into two flats it becomes two accommodation units. I think the same amount of material only is used.

Mr. A. Edward Davies (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

This is a very interesting point which the hon. Member is making, but has he not had experience of this experiment? Unless there is some insulation against noise, where families are very much together in one building there is trouble and there are complaints. Certainly that is my experience.

Mr. Remnant

That may be so. I am not an expert in building houses; I am the first to admit it. Therefore, I go to the experts, and the architect and surveyor of the district council concerned are the persons who have given me the advice for the suggestion which I am putting forward. I may be wrong: the hon. Member may be right; but that is the suggestion which has been put to me.

As a layman, I do not know the technicalities; but is there any real reason why the allocation should not be made on a super-footage basis? Can we not by that means, while maintaining ministerial control, which hon. Members opposite seem to desire, and which I accept for the moment as correct, give the local authorities elasticity to vary the size of the houses to suit their particular requirements. There may be a very good reason why this cannot be done, but I should like the hon. Gentleman to give me an answer.

It was suggested the other day in a supplementary question that the allocation should be by cost. The Minister turned that down rather flatly. I can see the reason for it. The basis of cost will vary between different parts of the country, and that might not be quite fair, but I cannot see what is against the super-footage basis. As a layman, I am very willing to be shot down, in flames if need be, if it is a wrong suggestion, but I put it forward as a possible means of adding to the number of accommodation units, without increasing the consumption of material. I believe that what we are all after, although we may approach it by different means, is the housing in their own homes of as many of our people who are on the waiting lists as we possibly can, with the materials and labour available at the moment.

9.7 p.m.

Mrs. Braddock (Liverpool, Exchange)

In taking part in a debate of this sort, one's comments are bound to be coloured by the type of constituency which one represents. I represent a constituency which has in it perhaps some of the worst slums in the country and which were left to us many years ago long before a Labour Government was able to take control. No attempt was made to solve the housing problem during those years, when unemployment pay was paid to building trade labourers and building workers to keep them unemployed rather than that they should be used to deal with the materials which were then readily available.

When we are dealing with the question of cutting costs or cheapening costs, our remarks, as I say, are bound to be coloured by the type of constituency in which we live. I took the trouble over the week-end to talk to one or two people about this matter. I am very conscious of the fact that we must be particularly careful not to build houses of the type which were built many years ago and which quickly became slums, but the suggestions have been made by various societies and technical people that some of the things now put into houses should be temporarily dispensed with until more materials are easily available. It is suggested that the necessary fittings should be put in, so that at a time when these things are more easily available they can be added to the houses. I am informed that in that way costs could be very considerably reduced, and I want to put forward one or two details which have been suggested to me.

It is not an easy problem at the moment to deal with the question of reducing housing costs, because it is partly outside the control of the Government. Building materials are in the hands of private enterprise; bricks, cement and practically everything necessary for building houses are in the hands of private enterprise. [HON. MEMBERS: "So what?"] It is all right for hon. Members to talk like that, but I was dealing with housing when some of them were being pushed around in their carriages. I was agitating against the Government which they represent to get something done about housing while their mothers were pushing them round in pushchairs.

Early in 1945, after this Government took control, it was necessary to threaten the brick industry when it refused to open brickfields to supply the bricks which were required for building. It was necessary for the Minister of Works to threaten the industry that he would take over the brickyards in order to make the bricks which the industry did not seem prepared to do. It was only after that threat was made that we began to get the necessary bricks. The brick makers would not pay the brick workers the rates which they wanted.

It is not very easy to reduce costs at present because of the factors I have mentioned, but suggestions have been made by the building trade organisations. The Opposition will not agree with me, but I believe that the building industry and all materials connected with it should come under State control immediately in order to prevent the profiteering and the switching of labour into private industry and private building which is happening at present.

The debate on housing convinced me that if I had any responsibility in the Government I would take up the Opposition's challenge to build 300,000 houses, because everything which would be necessary to build the extra 100,000 houses would be against the policy of the Opposition. There would be more bulk buying than there is at present. But we are getting away from the question of reducing costs. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am prepared to take on any hon. Member opposite on the subject of house building and private industry in relation to it, but this is not the moment for it. I shall have the opportunity some other time, and I shall be quite prepared to take them on individually or collectively.

The suggestions made by those who are mainly responsible for building corporation houses—

Brigadier Clarke

Will the hon. Lady tell us about her own army?

Mrs. Braddock

The hon. and gallant Gentleman knows more about armies than I do, although I know something about the unemployed armies during the years between the wars. These suggestions are made by directors of housing and others who are responsible for housing, and they are made purely to meet the emergency and are not proposed as permanent features. I understand that some of the suggestions have the full support of the technical colleges and those who are responsible for preparing reports about house building. The first suggestion is that the maximum use should be made of all available building land commensurate with good planning, good roads and good approaches. Many say that that is not being done, and that the best use is not being made of the available manpower.

There is also the question of making economies in road widths, and for the moment leaving out fitted wardrobes, which require timber, and one or two other amenities which are both necessary and useful. These things could be left over for a short time, and I am sure people would not mind if they were not put in. The next matter is the question of the outside lavatory. That strikes me as being a very peculiar position. Very many people in industrial areas have not known what it is to have a water closet. In the constituency I represent, people are living in houses built by those supported by Members opposite, with earth closets that have to be emptied every morning by the sanitary departments of the local authorities. The outside lavatory could be left out until we are in a better position to provide it for the houses. Space could be left for all these things until such time as they can be provided.

I understand that under a Ministry of Health regulation an outside shed, 7 ft. by 5 ft., must be added to every house. I am told that in the majority of cases these sheds are little used, except for gardening tools. [HON. MEMBERS: "And prams."] Prams are not usually put outside, but are left standing in the hall. [Interruption.] One thing I can teach Members opposite is a little bit of manners and decency. I think they were taught that it was very rude to mutter while others were speaking. These outside sheds could be left out unless a special request was made for one. This could be done quite easily, because it is known who is to occupy a house when the foundations are first put in, so bad are the cases.

Lastly, I understand that the Ministry have been advised by the institute responsible for advising them that ceiling heights could be quite easily reduced to 7 ft. 6 in. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary could tell us; I understand the Ministry have been advised by technicians and those responsible for advising that that can be done quite comfortably. That is the height in the prefabricated house, and no one in a prefabricated house has ever yet complained about the height of the ceiling. Slightly to reduce the height would save two or three layers of bricks and would save stairs and electrical equipment. That may not be right, but when we are in an emergency we ought to look at every aspect. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Coming to the question of labour and materials, perhaps I shall not get so many "Hear, hears" from hon. Members opposite.

Brigadier Clarke

Does not the hon. Lady like it?

Mrs. Braddock

Not from the hon. and gallant Member. I believe far too much building other than housing is going on, and there are too many additions that are not housing additions going through councils, involving the use of bricks, mortar and cement. It ought to be possible for the Ministry to say that the very minimum of other work is to be done while we need to supply so many additional houses. Picturedromes—in fact, I would say every type of building—should stop completely for a period of two or three years, with the exception of factories for the purpose of getting full employment and houses for the housing of the people. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hospitals and schools?"]

I would include everything. Do not ask me questions. We should have accepted the challenge of the Opposition, because the things we would accept would not be agreed to by them. Many hospitals are being used for people who would not have to go into them if they had decent houses. Extensions to mental hospitals would not be so necessary if people had decent houses. Of course, I am criticising the conditions because I am a realist and I have to live amongst them. Every week of my life I have to see people who have lived under bad conditions. If I talked of how people have lived under Tory control in Liverpool for the last 20 or 30 years I would make hon. Members' hair stand on end.

I quite agree that the question of the continued and guaranteed supply of building material on the site is of fundamental importance and that local authorities should be given good notice far in advance of what they are able to build. They ought to know over a period of two or three years what houses to rent they are to be allowed to build. If a building trade worker knows there is continuity of employment he will remain on the job, but if he feels that it might stop when the particular contract is finished and that there is nothing else to go to in the line of housing, he will look for a job in some other form of building.

Perhaps I have dealt with this matter rather longer and in more detail than was necessary, but these points are of desperate interest. I think that from whatever side of the House a suggestion comes, nothing should be left undone to help us to meet in the cheapest possible way, in the shortest possible time and without lowering our standard, what I consider to be the number one priority problem of this country.

The building trade worker has no security of tenure—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] If hon. Members on the benches opposite get in, they will have no continuity at all. The difficulty is that while hon. Members opposite say they will build an extra 1,000 houses, they do not say who they will build them for, and they do not say if the houses will be cheaper than the ones we have at the present moment. They will not be. They will be dearer because, in the main, they will be for sale.

Mr. Nabarro

How does the hon. Member know?

Mrs. Braddock

I do know. I have had experience of hon. Members opposite. I believe that the tears of hon. Members opposite are crocodile tears. At the moment, when there is a corporation house-building job going on alongside a job of building private houses, it is always the corporation house which is short of material—

Brigadier Clarke

Ten of yours to one of the others.

Mrs. Braddock

It is not the privately built house which is short of material. There are other places in this building where the hon. and gallant Member who has just interrupted would be better employed than in making the comments he is making at the moment. However many suggestions and however much advice is given to the Minister, he ought to look at it carefully. If it is a question of additional money from the Treasury to get extra timber, the Treasury ought to know that if we want people to increase their productive capacity, the necessary finance for houses must be available. Let it be remembered that many of the building trade workers are waiting for houses themselves, and if we want them to work as hard as they can, we must give them a guarantee that nothing will be left undone.

Finally, I believe this is the only party which can find the solution to the housing problem, but if we continue building at the present rate per acre, it will be impossible to solve it. This is an island, not a continent, and we need land for many other things. So that, in addition to reducing the price of house building, there must be a complete review of the programme, and everything possible must be done, even if it means re-imposing many of the controls which I believe were taken off far too soon. We must be certain that labour and materials are in the main directed into house building, even if it means leaving some other things undone until we are assured that people have decent conditions in which to live.

9.30 p.m.

Mr. Redmayne (Rushcliffe)

I should like to thank the hon. Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mrs. Braddock), for putting so clearly so many of the arguments previously put by my right hon. and hon. Friends on this side of the House. She must of course have her political blows, that is well understood but I am certain that she has put the thing in a nutshell and I hope the points she has made will at least be given attention by the Minister of Health—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where is he?"] Where indeed? It is said that truth will out and I could wish that this small debate might run to its fullest limit and that we shall have put forward in the sober light of this minor occasion all the points which we on this side of the House have made previously. We have had reference to the lowering of standards, density, terraced houses, and lower ceilings. All these points have been put seriously and are points which were turned down the other day with such venom and scorn.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Exchange, made one rather ingenuous suggestion. She proposed to reduce the cost of building by nationalising the building industry. I would merely say that that optimistic hope is perhaps not borne out by the present examples of nationalisation. She wished to confine building to houses and factories and she would cut out schools and technical colleges. I have a vivid recollection of sitting in this House a short time ago and hearing with what scorn that suggestion was received.

I turn to the opening remarks of the hon. Member for Kirkdale (Mr. Keenan) in regard to density. He made some sound and sensible suggestions. In the matter of density we should keep our sense of proportion. It is no use sticking to one figure through thick and thin and saying it is the only figure which will ever do. I think the hon. Member had that in mind. Quite clearly and very often the effect of a higher density would be more valuable from a housing point of view.

In speaking of terraced buildings, many of us think of mining terraces and we think with nothing but disgust of that type of building. But if we regard some of the finest types of terraced architecture we see what can be done in that direction. One of the biggest faults, and one I think which is encouraged by the Ministry today, is that we have gone the wrong way about things with regard to symmetry. We have cast aside any sort of symmetry and planned our housing land so that houses face in every possible direction. I believe in another 50 years when our sons look back on what we have done they may well think that we are daft in our planning.

We have no idea of the proper artistic and economic use of land. I support what the hon. Member said about the saving in cost by using more sense in the planning and lay-out of land. It is a strong point that if we plan the land a bit more in straight lines and put the terraces together, we save the road costs and so on. I suggest also that we save such expensive things as shopping centres and the cost of housewives' shoe leather, as well as such things as milk-rounds and other overhead costs, which do not affect the Ministry of Health, but do affect the trade and industry of this country. I ask therefore that the Ministry should drop some of its more high-falutin' ideas about housing, adopt some of those sensible ideas expressed by the hon. Member for Kirkdale, and try to get away from a paradise of Socialism into planning common sense.

9.35 p.m.

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

We have had a useful and not too lengthy discussion upon the question of housing. It has ranged over a pretty wide field but I do not complain of that because the contributions made this evening have been sober and useful; though some of the interruptions have, I think, been a little less useful.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kirk-dale (Mr. Keenan) was anxious to raise a point about the density of housing in relation to housing costs. He, like other hon. Members, seems to have got it into his head that there is one overall density figure which is imposed centrally upon all authorities. Of course, that is just simply not true. The density rates vary from one part of the country to another in relation to the type of area which is being considered.

For example, there is a very wide difference indeed between the densities approved in our redevelopment areas and main industrial areas and those approved on the outskirts of our cities and in rural areas. Even within those particular groups there is a wide variety of figures approved for densities. My hon. Friend the Member for Kirkdale, has referred to various figures for density as if they were figures imposed by the Ministry of Health. In fact, of course, the density is largely decided by the planning authorities. In deciding what should be the proper density for the development of a particular area, account is taken of the type of area and of its needs. We deal rather with habitable rooms to the acre than with houses or accommodation units. We work upon a reasonable average, and we give to some parts of London a very much greater density than any of the figures that have been mentioned.

Mr. Keenan

The figure that I gave from the provinces is a maximum of 14 houses to the acre. I can appreciate the fact that in areas in London the figure will be even greater.

Mr. Blenkinsop

I am talking not only about London but development throughout the country as a whole, and, in fact, there is no density figure for houses to the acre at all. We work upon the basis of habitable rooms to the acre, and figures by the planning authorities up and down the country vary enormously from one part to another. It is very desirable that they should.

May I say a word about the general problem of standards? It has been stated by my hon. Friends and hon. Members on the other side of the House that the minimum standards laid down by the Ministry in the Housing Manual are in some way extravagant. There are in fact housing authorities up and down the country who build at considerably higher standards than those we laid down as a minimum, and in the last year we have drawn the attention of local authorities to the desirability of getting their plans nearer to the minimum we have laid down in the Housing Manual itself. That does not mean. as the hon. Gentleman the Member for Luton (Dr. Hill) suggested in the earlier debate on housing, that we propose to reduce the standards below the Manual standards, but we are encouraging places like Luton and elsewhere to consider bringing their proposals more into line with those laid down in the Manual itself.

I warn hon. Members on both sides of the House—I do not think it is in any sense a party issue; there are divisions of view about it—that there is a very great danger indeed in attempting as it were to sell the future for the apparent benefit of the present. I realise the pressure that there is from people who are wanting houses, but in trying to meet their need as rapidly as we can we must be very careful not to fall into the mistakes of the past. Up and down the country one of the greatest worries that most local authorities have to face is that the vast proportion of houses built about the turn of the century are now rapidly becoming uninhabitable, and we must be very careful to make sure that we do not lay on the backs of future generations another heritage of that kind.

I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkdale was anxious to insist not on a return to bad standards, but on examining carefully the standards of today to make sure that they are reasonable and not the somewhat idealistic standards that some hon. Members think they are. The minimum standards which we have laid down have not suddenly been created out of our imagination. They are arrived at only after very careful examination and discussion. First came the report of the Dudley Committee during the war, and then later the report of the sub-committee of the Central Housing Advisory Committee under whose authority the new Housing Manual of 1949 was produced. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House seem, indeed, to be putting forward suggestions which have been recommended by the Ministry to local authorities over a considerable period of time.

Let me take, for example, the point which my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkdale raised about the building of terraced houses. As I mentioned in an interruption while he was speaking, we have been pressing upon local authorities for some considerable time the urgent desirability of including many more groups of houses in the development of estates, both because of their value from an economic point of view, and also because of amenity considerations as well. We believe that we shall not get a well planned estate if we are going to pepper-pot the whole place with a mass of semidetached houses. Apart from the waste of land and frontage and the cost involved, there is the fact that, unless a reasonable proportion of varied types of house are included within the estate, there is not going to be either that community feeling in the development of the whole nor the most effective planning.

We are therefore urging that every local authority throughout the country, where practicable, should take into account, both on the grounds of economy and amenity, the need to build not only terraced houses but also blocks of flats, especially in those areas where in the past they have not been considered at all. We want to see a balanced development in the estates going up. It does not please myself nor my right hon. Friend to see development of continuous semi-detached buildings, as has been found in many local authority estates. My right hon. Friend and I have mentioned this at countless meetings, and it has been a regular subject of discussion with local authorities. We have done our best to bring it to the attention of local authorities time out of number.

I would go further than my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkdale and say not only do we want the development of properly planned terraced building, but we should also like to see blocks of flats as a natural part of estate development, always keeping in mind the peculiar needs of an area. We are also anxious that local authorities should bear in mind the need for hostels for old people within the confines of an estate—if possible, providing accommodation for a number of old people—as well as the need for old people's bungalows.

Dr. Barnett Stross (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)

Before my hon. Friend leaves that point, could he give us any information on the question of sound-proofing of flats, and particularly of Duplex houses? I ask him on that point because we are receiving complaints of inadequacy in the city in which I live.

Mr. Blenkinsop

That is a point to be dealt with, and there are other special measures to be considered when dealing with flats. The hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Remnant) raised the matter of the building of flats, but it just is not true, of course, that we can get two flats at the same cost as one single house

Mr. Remnant

I did not say the same cost, but very nearly the same cost, with merely an addition for plumbing.

Mr. Blenkinsop

Sometimes experiments in using non-traditional types of building seem to meet with great success, but there is always this very real problem of securing noise insulation in blocks of flats.

Many hon. Members have raised detailed points about ways in which economies could be obtained. I think I have dealt with terraces and our desire to see terraces developed, but we have also had comments about various alterations and fittings of one kind and another. I would remind hon. Members that Appendix iv of the Girdwood Committee's Report listed some 65 suggestions for economies in respect of houses, which are being operated by our own regional officers. In a circular issued when we were sending out the copies of the Gird-wood Report, we drew the attention of local authorities to the value of considering some of the 65 suggestions, which included many of the points which my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mrs. Braddock), raised.

I do assure hon. Members that many, if not all, of the points they have raised have been very much under our consideration, and that very many of them have been put into operation some considerable time ago. For example, there was the point raised by one hon. Member concerning the height of rooms, which is a very arguable point. Very many authorities and very many architects—I think the majority of architects—would insist today that a 7 ft. 6 in. ceiling would not reduce the amenities of the house, but this is not a matter in which we impose a view on the local authorities. In fact, we have to examine this possibility and experiment, which is what many local authorities are in fact doing today. That is what we would wish; we do not wish to impose this point of view upon them.

Mr. Marples (Wallasey)

Does the method of making an allocation of houses to the local authority encourage them to build more small houses? In other words, is the method of allocation such that it does not encourage local authorities to carry out these recommendations?

Mr. Blenkinsop

Not at all. Hon. members must realise that one of the most potent forces that affects the decision of the local authority is bound to be its ability to erect houses at a reasonable rental. We all know that. What is more, of course, local authorities are attracted to building smaller houses in the normal circumstances because of the extra value of the subsidies they receive. There is no doubt about that either.

But it would be most unfair to insist that every local authority, irrespective of its needs, should concentrate its attention upon building one- or two-bedroomed houses. No one, in point of fact, has done more recently than those at the Ministry of Health in trying to encourage local authorities, where desirable, to build more one- and two-bedroomed houses. Circulars were sent out over a year ago drawing the attention of local authorities to this need, and, what is more important, as hon. Members know, they have produced the desired result.

When examining either tenders approved or completion figures we notice a steady growth in the proportion of small houses being built by local authorities. Naturally, local authorities started off by concentrating upon the three-bedroomed house, which most of them thought was then the-most urgent need. At the same time, they were providing smaller houses in the form of temporary prefabricated houses. But as the housing campaign has gone forward, most local authorities have turned over a good deal to the building of smaller houses, with the result that today there is a very large proportion of such houses being built.

We do not want to press local authorities into going too far because one pertinent remark of the Royal Commission on Population some months ago was that we not only needed smaller houses, but that, in some cases, more of the larger houses, larger even than the three-bedroomed type. Therefore it is vital that we should not press the authorities too hard to provide too big a proportion of smaller houses, if, indeed, their own need is more for the larger house. I assure hon. Members that the position varies very much from one part of the country to another.

Mrs. Braddock

Am I to understand that if a local authority prepared plans leaving out some of the things suggested this evening and submitted them to one of the regions, the region would return those plans and insist upon the things left out being included in them?

Mr. Blenkinsop

I do not propose to go through the whole list of the 65 proposals made by us. I can only say that they cover most of the proposals made tonight by hon. Members on both sides. None of these proposals, however, impairs the proper standard of the house which we still insist should be maintained at the levels mentioned in the Housing Manual.

One hon. Member raised quite properly the question of the size and width of roads in developing estates. That, again, is a point which we have raised with local authorities, and which we are very anxious to discuss with them. We sometimes find that we have to impose a cutting down of the size and width of roads against the wishes of local authorities and after a certain amount of discussion with the planning authorities concerned. Our aim has all along been to try to ensure a reasonable width of road. In fact, the Housing Manual says: Housing authorities should aim at securing the most economical design and lay-out of roads consistent with amenities and the demands of normal estate traffic only, which is the vital point.

I think I have said enough to show that we are by no means adopting some sort of fantastic idealistic standard and imposing it throughout the country. Indeed, there is a very great variety of work being done in different parts of the country. We do insist upon certain minimum standards that we believe to be right, but, within those standards, we wish to encourage the greatest possible flexibility in meeting what are obviously our most urgent needs. I assure hon. Members that we are very willing to consider any practical proposals, but at the same time, I assure them that nearly all the points raised in this House tonight are suggestions which are in operation in one part of the country or another, and which we have brought to the attention of the local authorities on numerous occasions and are perfectly willing to discuss with them.

Finally, let me repeat this warning: we quite appreciate the ease with which pressure can be developed for a reduction of standards that would merely be a steady slipping down the greasy slope into the conditions of the past. I hope we all want to make a stand against that. Subject to making that stand, upon what I believe to be the reasonable, practicable minimum standards laid down in the Housing Manual, I believe that, in cooperation with local authorities, we can do much to tackle the cost of housing at a time which is perhaps the most difficult of all. We all know that the pressure of defence and of every other kind of demand—whatever we can do about it—is tending to force up the cost of the very materials we must have for re-housing.

I urge hon. Members, on both sides of the House, to co-operate in insisting that whatever we can do to increase our struggle for better housing in this country we should not do anything that will leave us open to bitter attack by our successors. Let us not repeat the tragic record of the past and leave to future generations such tragedies as we have inherited.

Sir R. Acland

Would the hon. Gentleman say a word on the question of whether, if local authorities chose to build smaller accommodation, they can—

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Baronet has already addressed the House. He cannot address it twice.

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