HC Deb 05 December 1951 vol 494 cc2478-528

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Oakshott.]

7.58 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)

I am very pleased that we have reached the Adjournment early this evening because it will permit us to deal with what I believe to be a very important subject affecting a large number of ordinary men and women in this country, namely, the general policy of housing with particular reference to the difficulties now confronting the war damaged towns and cities.

A few weeks ago a number of hon. Friends and I placed a Motion on the Order Paper dealing with this subject. Within a very short time almost 50 signatures were added to that Motion and, strangely enough, within a very short period after that we found that some of the Government supporters put down a Motion somewhat similar to ours. As today we have had more or less complete unanimity on all the matters which have been raised, it would appear that in regard to this subject we may have the support of at least Government back benchers, if not of Government Front Bench Ministers.

I believe this is a really non-controversial matter. When I put this Motion down I tried to get the Leader of the House to permit time for a debate on it, but he explained that there was not time, so I put my name down for the Adjournment, which I have secured this evening. It is rather strange that the Leader of the House should say there was not time, because it seems that there has been plenty of time to discuss this important question of housing.

Even last night on the housing debate, I would point out with respect, only one hon. Member from a blitzed town, my right hon. Friend the Member for Poplar (Mr. Key), was fortunate enough to be called. I know there are a number of hon. Friends who want to put to the Parliamentary Secretary some of the problems that confront the boroughs and councils they represent.

I want to deal with the problems confronting West Ham, which, with my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, South (Mr. Elwyn Jones), I have the honour to represent. It is a county borough situated in the East End of London among the Royal group of docks, and there is a large industrial area situated on the Thames. Before the war it was very highly populated, and we had an enormous housing problem.

In fact, we have had a housing problem in West Ham, as in most of the boroughs of this country, for 50 or 60 years. I suggest that is mainly because of the neglect of past Governments to deal with the housing problem. Therefore, when I point out that in 1939 we had a grievous housing problem, I want the House to appreciate how more difficult that problem became when, from 1939 to 1945, West Ham unfortunately became the worst bombed borough in the whole country.

I have submitted certain facts and figures and certain matters I intend to raise to the Parliamentary Secretary. I want to quote to my hon. Friends on this side of the House, in addition to the few hon. Members on the Government side of the House, some of the difficulties with which West Ham were and are confronted. During the war the total number of all types of dwellings either destroyed or damaged was 56,700. Of that number 14,000 houses were completely and utterly destroyed; that is somewhere about 27 per cent. of the total number of houses in the borough. It is literally true to say that every dwelling, from a public house or shop to an ordinary private house, received damage in some way or another. Therefore, I think it can be appreciated what a difficult problem was left for West Ham Borough Council when the war ended in 1945.

We are very fortunate in West Ham in having a strong Socialist council which has been getting on with the job of dealing with this problem. Whilst they have been doing magnificent work, I am afraid that, because of a number of difficulties which are not of their choosing and over which they have no control, they have met almost insurmountable obstacles and the problem becomes worse almost day by day.

Excluding about 400 houses built by private enterprise under private licence—I am now referring to war damage repairs excluding the repairs by private enterprise with war damage licences under the private licence scheme—the West Ham Council have repaired over 11,000 of the properties I have mentioned, to the value of some £7 million. It will therefore be appreciated that the council have not been lacking in getting on with the job.

In addition, they have built 1,533 completely new permanent dwellings and they have been able to erect 550 ten-year bungalows and to establish 925 two-year hutments. That makes a grand total of some 3,008 units of accommodation both permanent and temporary. I am pleased to be able to tell the House that in addition the West Ham Borough Council have used to the full the powers they were permitted by the late Government and, by requisition, have been able to take over 1,691 other properties which has made available another 2,500 units of accommodation. That means that the West Ham Borough Council, by using every means at their disposal, have been able to make available a total of 5,748 units of accommodation. They also have under construction a further 421 houses and flats.

It may be asked why all this is being mentioned. It is because I wish to make this important point to the Parliamentary Secretary. After taking into account all those units of accommodation which have now been made available to the people of West Ham, the council are still about 9,000 houses short of the 1939 figure. In other words, they want 9,000 units of accommodation to bring them up even to the very low and inadequate housing position of 1939. That means that while the council have done a truly magnificent job, they have not built any new units of accommodation, if we take into account the 14,000 houses which were completely destroyed in the blitz.

I have not mentioned the problem caused by the fact that the majority of the 1,400-odd temporary hutments are becoming obsolete. They are out of date, because they were supposed to be used for only two years. It would appear that they will now have to be used for another 20 years. That is a very serious problem. Unfortunately I must add to the black picture I am painting by saying that over 60 per cent. of the properties in West Ham were built before 1895, and so most of the houses left are beginning to fall down. Because of the blitz and the bombing many houses which would appear to be in good order are having to be condemned as dangerous structures; and people who are apparently adequately housed are being taken out of these existing units of accommodation.

When I point out that the council also have an urgent priority housing list—and I would emphasise that it is urgent —of 14,000 which is growing at the rate of 140 families per month, it will be understood that this is a really difficult and sorry state of affairs for a borough such as West Ham. This problem is not raised because there is in office a Conservative Government. When we on this side of the House were in office it was continually raised by hon. Members representing Southampton Divisions and by Mrs. Lucy Middleton who then represented a Plymouth Division. They did great work on behalf of these blitzed cities.

That is what I would term the general difficulty of housing, but it is an easy problem in comparison with the other major problem of loss of rateable value. Because of the loss of dwellings, mainly through the blitz, the rateable value in West Ham alone from 1939 to 1951 has decreased by £237,000, which amounts to some 17 per cent. West Ham, which is mainly a working-class borough, has to carry the enormous rate of 25s. in the £.

But even with this enormous rate the council cannot pay for their basic services, and it is true to say that the council are on the deficit side to the extent of some £296,000 per annum. We do get a special grant in West Ham, and I would pay tribute to the late Government for that. They did assist us, not so well as we should have liked, but they did give us £85,000 a year. Incidentally, that will end this next current year, and I would suggest to the Parliamentary Secretary that the council are confronted with a problem which is almost unsurmountable.

I want to state quite categorically that I believe that the West Ham Council, and the councils of many of the bombed cities and towns, are being penalised year by year because of the fact that they were bombed. It is an awful thing that men and women who stuck through the blitz from beginning to end, and who were bombed, not once, but in many instances as many as 10 times, now find that they have to pay 25s. in the £ in rates because the council is impoverished and cannot provide the normal basic services. It is the fact that, from 1946 to 1951, the borough council lost the equivalent of £1,400,000 in rates.

The point I want to put to the Parliamentary Secretary is this. While the council are trying, as they are doing, to solve their great and grievous housing problem, they are, in actual fact, strangely enough, adding to their great financial problem.

Mr. Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough) rose

Mr. Lewis

If the hon. Gentleman will excuse me, there is plenty of time, and he will no doubt be able to make his own speech if he so desires. I want to put my case, and allow some of my hon. Friends, and probably the hon. Gentleman himself, to make their speeches if they so wish. There is plenty of opportunity.

I was saying that, in actual fact, by dealing with this housing problem, the council are accentuating and making more difficult their own financial problems, and I want to give two examples of this.

Included in the last two housing schemes of the borough council which were approved by the Ministry was one for 30 maisonettes. After acquiring and clearing the sites and making the arrange- ments for the building of these maisonettes, the council estimate that they will cost £73,190. That is an estimated cost of £2,430 per dwelling, and the annual estimated cost to the local rates of these dwellings is £26 per dwelling, which means that, even including the statutory subsidy payable to the council, they will be adding to the rate burden by that amount of £26 per annum per house.

The second example is from the latest scheme approved by the Ministry, in which the council have plans for 10 three-bedroom houses to be built at a total cost of £21,400, which works out at £2,140 per dwelling. Again, that lands the council into trouble immediately, because they have to find £24 per annum out of the local rates to meet that added burden. As they rebuild and make up for the 14,000 houses which they unfortunately lost through no fault of their own, they must gradually add to the financial problem and the rate problem, which at the moment is almost insurmountable.

I must now mention the very important effect of the increased interest rates, which is going to be a grievous blow to the people whom I represent, because the increased rates that will be charged by the Public Works Loans Board will mean an additional charge to the council of between £14 and £18 per annum. There again, they will have to pay for the unfortunate fact that they were one of the worst bombed boroughs during the war.

I want to point out to the Parliamentary Secretary how really serious this is going to be to my own constituents and to those of my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, South, who will bear me out when I say that many of the citizens whom he represents on the Keir Hardie Estate—a wonderful estate built by the local council—are already finding it difficult to meet the rather high rents which the council have to charge for the houses and fiats on that estate. With this new interest rate, we shall find that the tenants will be in the position—and I give them warning—because of the stupid and unwise policy of the Government, of having to increase the rents they are now paying by 5s. to 7s. per week.

I should like to quote from a letter from my own local housing officer, who deals with the increased rents which these poor people will have to pay, and I hope that hon. Members will not under-estimate what 5s. or 7s. a week means to these people who are already finding it difficult to meet their heavy burdens. The letter states: Although there are a number of workers in the borough at present earning high wages, they are by no means the majority. It can be said that, if the present rents on new properties are increased by this amount, they would be beyond the means of a high proportion, if not the majority, of the families on the Council's waiting list. I suggest that that is the direct answer to the Minister who made the statement in the housing debate last night that, in actual fact, there will not be any adverse effect upon those on the housing list who are in the most urgent need. Of course there will. The facts are these.

In West Ham, the people who are in the most urgent need are, in the main, those with large families, because they are overcrowded, and it is these very people who, even now, are finding great difficulty in meeting their rates. If they are to have this increase of between 5s. and 7s. per week put upon them, they will not be able to accept houses at all and will go to the bottom of the list. Someone else, probably not on the list or not in such urgent need, such as a young married couple not particularly needing a house, will go to the top of the list.

I have explained some of the difficulties, and I hope that some of my hon. Friends will deal with the wider housing problem. I want to conclude by making a few suggestions to the Minister on how the right hon. Gentleman and the Government can and should deal with this problem, affecting not only West Ham but other war damaged cities and towns.

Firstly, I believe that it is absolutely imperative and essential that there should be a special war damage housing subsidy, and that it should be allocated to those councils now in the unhappy position of having been badly blitzed, to enable them to rebuild and rehabilitate the losses of houses which they suffered during the war, in order that there will be no charge at all upon the local rates. I believe that the national Exchequer should be responsible for helping these areas.

Secondly, I believe there should be what I would describe as a special distress grant in aid to assist those councils to re-establish their rateable income until such time as they have rebuilt these war destroyed houses under the special war damage subsidy grant to which I have already referred. Both these subsidies, of course, would end immediately the number of destroyed houses, had been replenished.

There must be some method of incentive payments via the councils to building workers in conjunction and after negotiation with their appropriate trade unions which would enable the workers to go to the areas where they are most needed, namely, blitzed towns and cities, to get on with the job of housing. I think it could probably be done on the basis of the completion of a contract. When a contract was finished there could be a share out of a special bonus paid, in the first instance, to the councils and in turn paid out by them to the building trade workers. I would emphasise that I do not suggest that should be done without the knowledge, consent and active approval of the appropriate trade unions. That money, of course, should also be paid out of the National Exchequer.

Lastly, I want to make a plea to the Parliamentary Secretary to see that the areas in most urgent need get the materials necessary for building both quickly and as cheaply as possible. I do not know what the short answer to this is, but I have been toying with the idea of allowing these councils to set up what I would term a special purchasing and supply pool of building materials to be made available to their building contractors. The councils could act as the purchasing agents and could allocate materials in short supply to those building contractors engaged on war damage repairs.

Unless something like this is done, and done pretty quickly, I am afraid there is going to be serious trouble in the bombed towns and cities of this country. The other day I heard an hon. Member speaking about Scotland and about the overcrowding there. I am not disputing the difficulty in Scotland, but I do not think it is fully appreciated what appalling suffering, misery and agony is going on in these blitzed towns just because these poor unfortunate devils stopped there from the beginning of the blitz to the end, bombed out not once, but 10 times. Now they find that the men and the materials, and, therefore, the houses will, in the main, be going up in those areas which never saw a bomb in the last war. They will be going up in what we term the safe areas, the respectable areas. If that happens, I prophesy that the so-called "hunger marches" of the interwar years will be as nothing to the marches that will take place of these homeless people from the blitzed cities of this country.

Mr. H Nicholls

Before the hon. Gentleman sits down, may I ask him one question? He made out a very formidable case, and I was most interested in what he said about the 25s. in the £ rate. Has he any idea of what was the rate in the £ before the war? If he has not got the information now, perhaps he can let us have it afterwards.

Mr. Lewis

I cannot recollect offhand. I said it was mainly because of the loss of rateable value, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that it was well below £1 before the war, so that there is something like a 5s. or 6s. increase because of the blitz.

8.30 p.m.

Sir Jocelyn Lucas (Portsmouth, South)

I am very glad to have the opportunity of speaking in support of the majority of what the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Lewis), has said because, quite apart from that, I have a Motion of a somewhat similar nature down in my name. I know West Ham quite well, as I was often down there in the early part of the war, as a fireman in the blitz, and I know the dock areas well.

Now that we have a Conservative Government, I hope they will show that they really mean to help our bombed cities. I want to plead for priority in building materials and for finance to help these areas, but, above all, there must be priority of building materials. In Portsmouth, we still have large devastated areas on which no building at all has taken place.

As rates have been mentioned, I should like to point out that Portsmouth, which has a Conservative council, has succeeded in keeping its rates stable since the war without cutting any of the social services. I think that has been due to good management.

Mr. J. A. Sparks (Acton)

But have the houses been built?

Sir J. Lucas

We have built over 2,000 houses.

Mr. Sparks

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that if, in fact, that had been done, the rates must have increased accordingly.

Sir J. Lucas

They have not, due to good management.

I sincerely hope that we shall get more houses and, particularly, smaller houses which are in such demand for old couples whose children have gone out into the world. This is not a party problem, and I think that all the people of the bombed cities are united in the hope that they will get assistance, and, above all, priority in materials and money.

8.34 p.m.

Mr. Ralph Morley (Southampton, Itchen)

It is appropriate that my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Lewis) should have raised this subject this evening, because it may enable us to get an indication from the new Government of the way in which they propose to give the much needed further assistance to the blitzed towns and cities of this country.

Everybody in this country, of course, made very great sacrifices during the war. Everybody suffered during the war, and, in many ways, we are still suffering today from the effects of the war. But I think that the inhabitants of the blitzed cities made sacrifices which, in the main, were much greater than those made by the inhabitants of the rest of the country.

The inhabitants of the blitzed cities lost their fathers, husbands and sweethearts in casualties in the Armed Forces. There were also many casualties in the Merchant Navy. It was remarkable that the most heavily blitzed towns of the country were the great ports and that many of the young men from those towns were serving in the Mercantile Marine. The sacrifices borne by the inhabitants of blitzed cities were not only additional sacrifices in life—because there were many civilian casualties—but also in very considerable material damage to houses, shops and offices.

In Southampton, we lost a rateable value of no less than £300,000 during the war years. Practically the whole of our main shopping centre was almost completely destroyed. That led to a considerable loss in rateable value because the big shops of any town are generally rated at a fairly high value and they do not have a lot of money spent upon them in the way of social services.

It is true, of course, that since the end of the war temporary shops and some dwelling houses have been built upon the bombed sites and the rateable value has increased from the level to which it fell in 1945. But even today Southampton has a rateable value of £190,000 less than it had in pre-war days. And in just the same way as in West Ham, though not at all to the same extent as in West Ham, this has meant a greater rise in the rates than would have been the case had not the city been so heavily blitzed.

It is true that we have had assistance from the Treasury in past years. The 1945–50 Government made special grants to blitzed towns to assist them because of their loss of rateable value. In those five years Southampton received altogether £720,000 from the Exchequer. But that sum by no means fully compensated for Southampton's loss of rateable value due to enemy action during the war. Last year those special grants to blitzed towns to compensate them for loss of rateable value ceased except in the case of West Ham.

The first question I should like to address to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government is this. Will he consider reviving the special grants formerly made to the chief blitzed towns with a view to compensating them for their loss of rateable value, since even today that loss has by no means been fully made up by new buildings?

When it was possible to start re-housing our people in 1945 the blitzed cities started from far behind scratch. During the war Southampton lost, as completely destroyed or completely unfit for habitation, no fewer than 6.000 houses. Since 1945 successive councils in Southampton have taken full advantage of the housing legislation of the two Labour Governments and I think the housing record in Southampton since that date is equal to that of most county boroughs and surpasses a good many.

Since 1945 we have provided the people of Southampton with over 5,000 new houses, but we lost 6,000 houses during the blitzes so that all our efforts have yet barely made good the losses during the war period. We have not been able to provide the new houses required to re-house the numerous young couples who have married since 1945 and many of whom now have small families. I should say that at least a third of my daily correspondence deals with houses; and every Sunday evening I have a queue of people waiting to see me, nearly all of whom have grievances about their failure to secure accommodation. I have heard of a good many family tragedies—of wives who have left their husbands because they did not have a house, or of wives who threaten to leave, their husbands if they do not provide them with a new council house.

Nearly all these people told me they could not possibly afford to buy a house. If they are to have a house it must be a house to rent. Therefore, the new housing policy of His Majesty's Government which is going to provide a greater proportion of houses for sale and a smaller proportion to let—[HON. MEMBERS: "I understood that was the aim of His Majesty's Government—that they were giving more latitude and opportunity to local authorities to build a larger number of houses for sale in proportion to the houses to let than they had been allowed previously.

We happen to have a Conservative council in Southampton at present. I hope they will be wise enough to continue building the majority of council houses as houses to rent and not for sale. If a bigger proportion of houses for sale are built it will postpone indefinitely the chances of thousands of people now on the waiting list in Southampton of obtaining a house in which to live.

Apart from the question of houses to let and houses for sale, there is a need in blitzed towns for labour and building material over and above that required in towns which were not blitzed. I do not think anybody could possibly disagree that there is a greater housing problem in blitzed areas than there is in other areas.

Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

My hon. Friend is drawing a very clear distinction between those areas which are blitzed and those which are non-blitzed. He seems to suggest that special treatment should be afforded to the blitzed areas. I do not contest that for a moment, but does his argument lead to advocacy of a special Minister being allocated to the blitzed areas? The present Government have introduced a Bill to increase the number of Ministers and to sub-divide the duties of Ministers and junior Ministers in many ways. Would my hon. Friend's argument go so far as to advocate that a special Minister should be allocated for the task of building houses in the blitzed areas?

Mr. Morley

I am not suggesting any changes in the composition of His Majesty's Government. I think the present Minister and Parliamentary Secretary could do the job if they were willing to do it, and if they were allowed to do it. I am asking the Parliamentary Secretary this evening if, by some means or other, he could give priority in building labour and building materials to the blitzed cities.

Then, of course, there is the question of the allocation of capital for fresh capital reconstruction in the blitzed cities. As I have already said, nearly all our shops in Southampton were destroyed, and at the present rate of reconstruction of the shops it will be at least 50 years before they are restored. Of course, I put the building of houses first, before the building of shops or offices. At the same time, while the building of houses is being continued we should like to see some capital reconstruction in the way of shops and offices in the centre of Southampton. The city fathers tell me that they could do with a bigger allocation of capital for reconstruction than they are at present due to receive. I wonder if the Parliamentary Secretary could deal with that point when he comes to reply.

There is another problem in our blitzed cities. We have a large number of blitzed and bare areas which have become the scenes of accumulations of rubbish heaps. Could not some assistance be given in clearing up these bare places, so that they can be made into playgrounds for children or pleasure grounds, or something of that kind?

As was said by my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North, this is not by any means a party matter. In the recent General Election my opponent said in his speeches and in his Election address that the previous two Governments had done nothing whatever for the blitzed towns. That, of course, is quite untrue. They have given a great deal of financial assistance to the blitzed towns. He also said in his Election address and in his platform speeches that he was sure that if a Conservative Government were returned they would do far more for the blitzed towns and cities. The Parliamentary Secretary will have the opportunity, when he replies, of proving that what my political opponent said in the Election campaign was correct.

Finally, I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to answer these questions: first, is he willing to renew the special grant to the blitzed cities to make up for the loss of rateable value?; second, will he give some priorities in labour and materials to the blitzed cities?; and, third, will he reconsider the capital allocations for new construction in the blitzed cities? I hope that the new Government will show that they are willing to come quickly to the aid of our blitzed towns and cities.

8.47 p.m.

Brigadier Terence Clarke (Portsmouth, West)

I am very pleased that the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Lewis), raised this subject tonight. I was only sorry that he did not give any credit to myself and other Members on this side of the House for having raised this subject many times before. One would have thought that it had only been raised by the Socialists in the last Parliament, whereas I think it will be generally agreed that there was more mention of our blitzed cities by the late Opposition than there ever was by Socialist Members.

However, that is controversial, and I will pass that over as we all now wish to rebuild the blitzed cities. I welcome the support of the hon. Member for Itchen (Mr. Morley). I did not get much support from the hon. Member for Devon-port (Mr. Foot) when I had an Adjournment debate on this subject. I merely got a lot of impertinence. However, if he wants to rebuild the blitzed cities I shall do everything I can to support him.

My own City of Portsmouth lost 7,000 houses, and they were all old houses, as most of them are in these ports. It is extremely difficult to deal with these matters from Whitehall. That has been my point from the very beginning when I first came into this House. There are hon. Members opposite who have said that Whitehall knows best. We know that is not true. Direction can be given from Whitehall, but the initiative in the rebuilding of these cities must come from the local council who know the way in which the cities are required to be rebuilt. For example, my own city is an island. It was very overcrowded, with narrow streets and terrace houses, and they cannot all be rebuilt where they were originally. That is impossible, with the new plans. Nor is it right that it should be so.

With that point in view, in 1942 we bought a large plot of land outside the Portsmouth area. Since 1942 we have been fighting for permission to build on our own land—to put up the number of houses we originally intended to put there. Until recently, we were successful in obtaining planning permission to build only 500 houses on this plot of land.

Just before the Election, most extraordinarily and after much pressure on the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton)—a matter of a fortnight before the Election—we were given permission to build up to 9,500 more houses on this piece of land. Previously we had been allowed to build only 500. That will be an excellent piece of land on which the present Government can build houses, and I hope the Parliamentary Secretary and the Minister will do everything they can to give us the facilities to put up the houses which we have not been allowed to build on that piece of land during the last five or six years.

In addition, we want to build on the island of Portsmouth—to fill in the bomb-damaged sites; and that can be done only by private enterprise. There are no large sites of importance which are not earmarked for schools or hospitals, and only private enterprise can build on the small sites, putting up small houses to take the place of two or three houses which were bombed. I have every confidence that if we set the builders free we shall get the houses built in our cities.

Hon. Gentlemen opposite are very worried about whether we shall get the houses in the wrong order. They are more interested in the queue—or in the ladder, if they prefer that. In my view, the people of this country want houses and are not interested so much in who is going to get them. [Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite may laugh, but we intend to put up the houses and the country will be adequately rewarded by the Conservative Government in the number of houses erected. Hon. Gentlemen who are laughing and criticising our plan will be in a different frame of mind after three or four years, when the next election is held. Let them sit tight for four years and watch the houses go up. They will enjoy it.

After all, hon. Members opposite want to see houses go up just as we want to see them go up; but they had six years in which to try to do the job and the country is not at all satisfied with what has been done in those five or six years. After the promises we heard in 1945, I am surprised that we had a debate on housing last night opened by the Opposition. I am surprised that they dare mention the subject. After all, in 1945, they said there would be no problem by the next election.

Mr. J. Kinley (Bootle)

Get back to the blitzed cities.

Brigadier Clarke

I will get back to the blitzed cities but hon. Gentlemen have got to hear this. They have had six years, as a Government, in which to build houses; and as a Government, they failed. The blitzed cities were the places which suffered most in their failure. If we have the building which I have every confidence this Government will do, then the blitzed cities will, I hope, receive the precedence they deserve after what they suffered during the war. [Interruption.] I warn hon. Members that I do not intend to stop speaking for quite a time, so they can relax.

The hon. Member for West Ham, North, gave a most harrowing picture of the problems of people in the blitzed cities, and I agree with him. I know the hon. Member for Itchen has exactly the same problem. People go to his "surgery" every week to tell him their problems—about how many children they have sleeping in the same room and so on. It is a tragic story. Every time I see my constituents I find that that is the problem, above all others, which is affecting the people, and that is the problem which the former Government failed to solve.

That is why hon. Members opposite are so worried. They are putting every possible obstacle in the way of this Government's effort to build houses. They are trying to tie us down to say how we intend to do the job and how we intend not to do it. We have had only four weeks in which to try to do the job. Why tackle us yet? Let hon. Members wait another year or two, and then they will be worried because they will see the houses going up—as they will go up.

I want to ask the Parliamentary Secretary a question mentioned by the hon. Member for Itchen concerning the problem of clearing up the mess. It involves a great expenditure to these cities which have bomb-damaged sites, which are strewn with perambulators, buckets and every sort of impedimenta. Last year Portsmouth spent over £2,000 clearing the mess away from the bombed sites. It is a lot of money, and it all goes on the rates, and yet, as the hon. Member for Itchen will admit, that amount of money is as a drop in the ocean when compared with the amount required for finally clearing up the sites. It is a national problem, and the bombed cities ought to receive some assistance in dealing with it.

The bomb damaged sites are not only unsightly but dangerous. There is a constant risk that children will slip down into the basements of ruined houses, and so on. It is, of course, the responsibility of the owners to see nobody does slip down, but when they have put railings around these places they are considered to have fulfilled their responsibility and there remains the danger that children may fall down them. Accidents have happened. Moreover, they are unhealthy. Flies breed in them, and they are used as tipping places for garbage. Many of the sites will never be built on again because planning permission will not be given for the building of houses on them.

I suggest that we build houses by somewhat quicker means than have so far been the practice. In our housing manual we have traditional and nontraditional ways of building. There seems to be a theory, however, that we must stick to the use of bricks. We can get on far quicker by modern methods of building. Hon. Gentlemen conversant with the building trade know how houses can be built more quickly than with bricks, and yet without reducing the standard, and while building them exactly to resemble traditional houses. I have seen some at St. Mary Cray and other places that are first class and are already five or six years old. Some of the materials used are not in short supply. I believe that cement is in quite reasonable supply. Indeed, I understand that we are exporting cement, and most of these houses I am thinking of are built with cement.

I come now to the question of rates. We were given a certain amount of money in the blitzed cities last year to help us rebuild, and to restore our rates, The amount of money Portsmouth got was adequate only for the building of one departmental store. Not that I wanted a departmental store there. In the last Government we had a Minister of Works and another Minister responsible for housing, and there was no co-ordination between the two. We could get a licence to put up a departmental store or a licence to put up houses, and although we did not want a departmental store but would rather had had houses instead, if we had not taken the departmental store we should have lost everything. I believe that under the new Ministerial arrangements and with a new Minister we shall see the bombed cities restored and the country once again reasonably well housed.

8.58 p.m.

Mr. Percy Shurmer (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)

I do not intend to keep the House more than a few minutes, but I think I ought to support my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Lewis) in his proposals regarding bombed cities. We hear a lot about the bombed cities. It is rather strange that in this connection Birmingham is seldom if ever mentioned, and it is strange because in Birmingham we had the largest number of casualties of any place outside the boroughs of London. We lost an enormous number of houses.

My hon. Friend's suggestion is that the bombed cities ought to have had separate allocations, apart from the ordinary allocations to deal with the housing problems, when we started house building immediately after the war. I have had some 28 years on the Birmingham City Council, and I live in the heart of a bombed area. We had a great housing problem before the war. Today our housing problem is great not only because of the many marriages and the demand of newly married couples for homes, but because it must have been aggravated by the loss of houses in the war.

We have 61,000 people on the housing register. According to figures which I received yesterday, there are 1,600 people waiting to be allocated houses for whom there are no houses yet ready. I do not want to be controversial like the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth. West (Brigadier Clarke), but there is one point I should like to mention. There is no doubt about it, that if we build houses for sale it cannot do Birmingham much good, because when Birmingham took a recent census of the people who wanted to build their own houses, 3,000 applied to the corporation, and only 1,200 were on the housing register. Out of that 61,000 on the register, 1,400 are waiting for re-lets of the old municipal houses because they cannot afford to pay for the houses which we are now building.

I believe that some separate allocation should be made to the bombed towns and cities for materials and labour for housing. The point I want to make specially has already been referred to by the hon. Member for Itchen (Mr. Morley) and the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth West. One of the greatest eyesores—six-and-a-half years after the war—is the fact that there are still bombed sites in the working-class areas where people have no gardens and which are used for the deposit of old perambulators and builders' rubbish. These are the only places in which children have to play. I think the Government should make grants to local authorities so that they can not only clear the sites, but make some arrangements whereby these sites can be made into little recreation grounds or, as we see in some parts of the country, cycle tracks for youths.

Last winter I spent several Saturday mornings with a number of youths from school clearing bombed sites and making them into cycle tracks, to keep young boys off the streets. They have become very popular, but local authorities are not prepared to spend money for this purpose or even for laying out gardens. I believe that if a grant were made the people in the district would take an interest in tending these gardens, because in a great city like Birmingham, where we have five new development areas, we cannot start to build on these small sites where houses have been demolished.

I believe that there are statistics in the Ministry of Health or some other Department with regard to grants that could be made to local authorities so that they could deal with these bombed sites once and for all, and not let the corporation just clear the rubbish off, and, in a few weeks' time, have them filled with rubbish again. I hope that the Minister will consider this question of finding out the number of houses lost in each of the bombed towns and cities and giving them a separate allocation for houses, so as to ease the situation and, at the same time, deal with this question of clearing up these bombed sites, so that they will not be an eyesore to the people who unfortunately have to live near them.

9.3 p.m.

Mr. Michael Higgs (Bromsgrove)

I am particularly glad to have the opportunity of following the hon. Member for Spark-brook (Mr. Shurmer), because it was my intention to make some reference to Birmingham, and, in particular, to show that the problem which we are discussing is not necessarily confined to the narrow limits of the areas which have been blitzed. No one could fail to have been moved by the cases which have been given by hon. Members on both sides of the House on behalf of those who now live and who lived in the areas which suffered most during the war.

I myself cannot fail to have sympathy with them because my constituency is very close to Birmingham, and such part of the war as I spent in this country was on anti-aircraft gun sites in and around cities which were blitzed, so I know a little about this problem. But the problem does not end at the city or borough boundary or in the area which was damaged by bombing. Local authorities whose areas immediately adjoin these boroughs and cities are themselves faced with a problem which, although it is not of the same magnitude, is, nevertheless, directly attributable to the bomb damage nearby.

Industry, just like private people, had to evacuate during the war when the factories themselves in the cities were blitzed, and very often the most convenient place to which industry could be evacuated was a small town or large village just outside the borough or city concerned. That meant that a factory went, and, of course, there followed the people who worked in the factory.

Other people in anticipation of blitzes which might come, or to protect their wives and children, or even when they were bombed out, either evacuated themselves on their own initiative or were evacuated by the authorities as a result of a prepared scheme into these areas around the cities. Many of them could not go far distant from the city because of their employment which was still in the city and, consequently, there was an increase of population and an increase of factories of higher proportions in those areas immediately around the cities than in the country further afield.

Another problem arises here, which is still with us. In a great many cases these people have not been able to get back into the cities because of the difficulties which have been described by hon. Members tonight. Many of them do not want to go back; they like the country. A great many of those people, because of the circumstances in which they came into the country or into these neighbouring towns, are living in much worse conditions than would be the case in the ordinary way. Therefore, we find in those towns and villages near the big cities a housing list greatly inflated by this move out from big towns.

There are other little problems which go to swell this difficulty. In the country areas round the big cities there were a great number of anti-aircraft and searchlight sites with their huts, and after the war those huts became the homes of squatters. Because those huts happened to be in the adjoining area, squatters going out from the cities to occupy them became part of the housing problem of the adjoining area and not of the city to which they belonged. All these things add to the problem of those urban and rural districts near to the big cities.

The trouble does not end there. Anxiety is increased now, because in solving the problem of the cities which have suffered so much, there is a tendency to expand. Here, again, care is needed in the solution of the problem of the blitzed city or town which is going to affect the surrounding country. Of course, when congested slums have been destroyed, rebuilding will occupy more space. Nevertheless, in the country areas which surround these towns and cities there will be great difficulty through the loss of agricultural land and in the loss of land which might otherwise be used for our own housing, if the exaggerated problem of blitzed places is going to mean that the large city is to bulge out into the surrounding countryside.

Therefore, I urge this one point in dealing with the problem in cities, that if help is to be given in rehousing their people, then we should be as economical as modern standards allow with the land available for building. Blocks of flats, as opposed to houses, could help in cities, and when we get outside London, into the industrial areas. I believe that a great deal more could be done than so far has been done in some cases to use up land which was derelict before the war and which is derelict now, because perhaps in times gone by it has been undermined.

I suggest that that land be used before we turn to agricultural land, because if it is not used for housing it will remain an eyesore for ever. Housing is the one purpose for which people will go to the trouble of levelling derelict land to make it suitable for building. When it is a question of providing houses there is sufficient incentive to the authorities tackling that which otherwise would never be tackled at all.

If this policy is carried out it will answer partly the very proper point which was made by the hon. Member for Sparkbrook that derelict land in cities, whether it be so as the result of mining or of bombing, is an eyesore and has a very depressing effect on the inhabitants, who, if we are to believe what we have been told in this House, have already plenty to be depressed about.

9.11 p.m.

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

I want to speak for only a short time about a special problem. The hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Higgs) referred to the use of land which is not wanted for agricultural purposes. The area from which he and I come escaped much of the evil from the blitz, but we have a great blighted area with its own special problems, and I want to say what the immediate difficulties are.

In many mining areas in this country, and particularly in North Staffordshire, there is much land within the city boundaries which it is very difficult to build upon, but which for obvious reasons we have to use. If we use this land, we are up against the problem of coal mining subsidence. Because this has been recognised by the authorities in Whitehall we have met with some success in getting a small allocation of steel which is necessary in the reinforcement of houses. There is a fall of ground of anything up to 21 inches a year in some districts, and it is essential that extra precautions should be taken.

It was realised that we had to build houses with some sort of concrete foundation and reinforcement, although it would add to the cost of the houses. That has been our policy, and we have had some slight assistance for it. Despite our difficulties, great progress has been made over the last year or two, with the co-operation of the workers themselves, and we are able to say that we are running at the rate of 1,200 new houses a year. We shall be unable to maintain this figure unless we get quick assistance from hon. Gentlemen opposite and their right hon. colleagues who are responsible.

In August of this year we were given priority for mild steel bars of a quarter of an inch or so diameter, very narrow strips which have to go into the reinforced concrete. They gave us 70 tons and we were very grateful because it enabled us to look ahead with some prospect of getting materials, as we must, if the men are to stay with us. We have had the utmost difficulty in keeping men and building up a labour force. Although promises were given by the predecessors of the present Minister for 70 tons of steel and although 13 licences or certificates were issued in this connection, we have not yet succeeded in obtaining the steel, and the good work which has been done by an excellent housing committee, under a fine chairman, and with the cooperation of the men, will be held up very soon. Instead of building 1,200 houses a year we shall be building very many fewer.

There has been a lot of correspondence between the Corporation, the Iron and Steel Federation and the contractors. The merchants do not know exactly where they are in this, nor does the Stoke-on-Trent authority. As the hon. Gentleman will sec from the correspondence, they have been referred from one place to another. They are told at present that under the new steel allocation arrangements which were announced they will have to wait until 4th February next before supplies are forthcoming. Thirteen certificates have been issued, but only one has been honoured, and so, for the most part, the modest amount of 70 tons of steel has not been forthcoming.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take this matter up, as he will appreciate its urgency. We cannot afford to stand men off and lose them or to delay work on housebuilding until February in these difficult times. I want him to give an assurance that he will take the matter up at once, explain the long delay and see that the steel will be forthcoming.

In addition to the general run of problems which all areas have in meeting arrears of housing, we have to provide houses for miners who are specially wanted in the district. We have been asked to provide some hundreds of houses for miners, and while we are willing to co-operate and do what we can to assist any Government to provide housing we cannot do it if we are not given the materials.

9.17 p.m.

Sir Edward Boyle (Birmingham, Handsworth)

I want to return to the subject of Birmingham. It is very suitable that the hon. Member for Spark-brook (Mr. Shurmer) should have taken part in the debate, for, as many hon. Members are aware, he played a very noble part in the blitz during the last war.

It seems to me that in a city like Birmingham one cannot dissociate the problem of the blitzed areas from the problem of redeveloping the central areas of the city as a whole. The two problems go hand in hand. It is just in those areas which were most heavily blitzed that there is the largest amount of shockingly sub-standard housing. During the next few years it will be impossible to do all the redevelopment which is so urgently necessary, because economic conditions simply will not permit it. But in all our emergency building operations, we must always bear in mind the kind of final solution that we wish to achieve. It would be very bad if, in hurrying over the rebuilding of blitzed cities, we left out of sight the picture of our cities as we should like to see them when finally rebuilt. There is a very great need for wise town planning during the coming years.

Secondly, while I agree with what has been said about the importance of rapid building methods, it would be a pity if we put up too many non-traditional houses in the centres of our cities. I agree that there should be non-traditional building on the outskirts of our cities where we are putting up new estates as fast as possible, but a large volume of non-traditional building in the central areas of our cities is surely undesirable.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Higgs) spoke about flats. There is a two-fold difficulty here. First, in a city like Birmingham flats are difficult to erect because of geological conditions; where there is a very soft subsoil, flats take a long time to erect and they are very costly, for it is necessary to lay concrete floats before any building can be done. Further, flats are often very unpopular. People resent being turned out of their existing homes and being compelled to live in flats instead. When we build flats we ought to explain to the people exactly why it is so necessary to build upwards as well as outwards. We must be very sympathetic with all who are suspicious about flats and do as much as we can to explain why they are essential.

These, then, are my two points. First, the House should appreciate that we must always keep in mind the importance of wise town planning and not build in a hurry so as to spoil the eventual design of our cities; and second, in recognising the need for flats, we must take the public into our confidence and make them realise that, although the new modern structures may not be those in which they want to live, it is very much better to have flats rather than a heap of non-traditional buildings in the centres of our cities.

9.20 p.m.

Mr. Richard Adams (Wandsworth, Central)

My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Lewis), is to be congratulated on being able to raise this very important matter when a fair amount of time can be given to its discussion. I hope that if I make my points very briefly, the Minister will not make the mistake of supposing that the points we are all making from this side of the House, although made very briefly, do not deserve very serious attention.

I propose to refrain from following the very provocative statements made by the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke). I only say that I should be happy to debate his housing policy at any time, whether in Portsmouth, Wandsworth, or anywhere else, so that the people of the country could understand what the new Tory housing policy is.

I desire, briefly, to reinforce what has been said by so many hon. Members by stating what has happened in Wandsworth, which, as you, Mr. Speaker, will know, is the largest Metropolitan borough in London—

Brigadier Clarke rose

Mr. Adams

Not tonight—and was probably one of the worst hit boroughs during the war. I have confirmed with the Town Clerk this evening some figures in view of this debate. The position in Wandsworth is that out of 100,000 houses and flats in the borough no fewer than 72,700 houses were damaged during the war. That number excludes the London County Council properties in the area, and, therefore, it would probably be true to say that Wandsworth suffered damage to about 75 per cent. of its properties. Of those properties, no fewer than 4,031 were either completely destroyed or subsequently had to be demolished. A further 5,850 had to be evacuated because of the serious damage involved.

What is the position since the end of the war? Out of those 4,000 houses that were completely destroyed 581 have been rebuilt by private enterprise, 102 have been rebuilt by the council, some 627 prefabricated houses have been erected, and the council has completed the building of 903 new houses and flats. If these figures are added up, it will be found that although just over 4,000 properties were destroyed during the war, only 2,213 have been provided since the end of the war, so that Wandsworth, the largest Metropolitan borough, now has less accommodation than before the war.

Lieut.-Colonel Marcus Lipton (Brixton)

Tory council.

Mr. Adams

As my hon. and gallant Friend remarks, that is largely contributed to by the fact that during the last few years we have had a Tory council—but I do not want to be controversial.

I turn at once to the problems to which the Minister must direct his mind if he is to deal with this problem. First, there are sites still empty which could be built upon if special provision were made by the Minister of Housing and Local Government. It is not an economic proposition for any council, out of the allocation which it receives from the Ministry, to build on isolated sites. Obviously, if a council can build a block of 60 or 80 flats, or a row of 50 or more houses together, that is a much better proposition than 40, 50 or 100 isolated sites on which only a single house or, at the most, some two or three houses could be erected.

We all agree, however, that those isolated sites must be filled in as quickly as possible and, therefore, the councils should receive a special supplementary subsidy in order to make the proposition a reasonable one for them. When the councils have done that, I should have no objection to them selling those properties to the sitting tenants. That would be a much better proposition than permitting councils to sell to tenants on council housing estates, which would present considerable administrative problems.

Secondly, there is the problem of the sterilised sites. Prefabs were erected on sites which could be used for building. In the Borough of Wandsworth, too, considerable parts of our commons and open spaces were taken away in order to have prefabs erected. But the people want those open spaces back again as soon as possible to use for recreation and pleasure. Unless the Minister is prepared to do something special to deal with that problem I can see our commons and open spaces will be adorned with dilapidated prefabs for far too many years to come.

I wish to turn to the problem of labour and materials. Places like Wandsworth and many other boroughs in London and other blitzed areas used their labour and materials on war damage repairs after the war. In Wandsworth, following the work of a Labour council, although before the war there were only 3,000 council tenants, as a result of their wise policy of conversion and adaptations there are today 11,000 council tenants. Because that policy was followed and we had large areas of bomb damage to clear up, we were late in making a start on rebuilding and have lost our previous allocations.

I urge the Minister to consider that those blitzed towns, which used their labour and materials in the early years after the war in dealing with the problem following the blitz, should now have an increased allocation of new housing in order that they may come into line with the more fortunate areas, which were able to start from scratch on new buildings immediately after the war. He will find that there is a very real point there.

Then there is the question of replacement of destroyed pre-war dwellings which cost more today than they would have cost before the war. An additional subsidy should be given to councils for the rebuilding of war destroyed dwellings. The loss of rates and amenities has been mentioned already and I shall not weary the House with that, but it is a problem which has existed since the war. Many hon. Members on this side of the House have continually pressed it and there is now a chance for the Minister to make a contribution, but so far he has made no useful contribution.

What are the three points in his plan? He has some designs which he filched from the previous occupier of his office. He has announced that the ratio of private houses for sale to council building is to be increased to 50–50. In connection with that, are councils to have the power to export their licences outside their own boroughs? If we are to be faced with the fact that in places like Bromley, which the Minister represents, there is to be a considerable amount of private building going on, men and labour, which should be used in places like Wandsworth in order to get on with council building, will be attracted away to work on houses for sale.

The third point the Minister has made is the sale of council houses. How is that to help in tackling the problem of rebuilding blitzed sites? Are mahogany doors to make a contribution to this problem? Is the increase in the public works loans charge going to help blitzed cities? I am sure that enough has been said on this side of the House to make the Parliamentary Secretary realise that there is a very urgent problem here and I hope that he will announce that something will be done about it.

I mention the five headings under which we would like a reply from the Parliamentary Secretary. We say that there should be a bigger allocation of licences to blitzed areas to help them to catch up with the more fortunate areas in providing post-war accommodation for their citizens; that financial help is needed because of the special problems confronting the blitzed areas; that the Minister must give his attention to supplying the materials required; that unless he makes a special allocation of materials the blitzed areas will lag behind all the time; that he must do what he can to help in regard to labour.

I know that labour is a local problem, and that the Minister cannot direct labour from other areas into blitzed areas where they are needed more urgently. But he can consider the point I have made, that he should not permit labour to be attracted away to residential areas like Bromley and other places on the outskirts of London when it could he more usefully employed on council work in boroughs like Wandsworth.

Finally, I hope the Minister will impart drive to those backward Tory councils who are lagging behind in the provision of houses. This is a serious and urgent problem. We are making our points briefly tonight, but we insist that the Parliamentary Secretary gives a very full answer on how his Government proposes to tackle this urgent and difficult problem.

Brigadier Clarke

I do not think the hon. Member wished to misunderstand me, although I think he did so. I said that the most important problem was the building of houses and it was a secondary problem as to who went into them. I still think that, but I was not for one moment suggesting that Members of Parliament should get a house before people at the top of the housing lists. They must come first. I do not want him to misunderstand me, or distort what I have said in any way.

9.32 p.m.

Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)

I shall intervene in this debate only for a few moments, because I recognise that there are a number of hon. Members opposite who represent war damaged cities and who ought to have prior consideration in a debate of this kind. I intervene because I do not believe that the question of the restoration and rehabilitation of war damaged towns and cities can, as hon. Members opposite have suggested, be dissociated from the general building and reconstruction problem of the country.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Higgs) referred to areas in the last war, generally called evacuation districts, on the outskirts of the principle industrial towns. My own large county constituency of Kidderminster, which lies directly to the west of Birmingham, has swollen waiting lists for houses in nearly all the rural districts, partly as a result of the exodus from the City of Birmingham and the Black Country towns. I do not believe there ought to be any special financial or material dispensation for war-damaged towns because surely, as the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) so often said during his period of office as Minister of Health, the limiting factor in the war-damaged towns must be the availability of labour in the town itself. Building labour in these places is notoriously immobile, and it is futile to talk of financial dispensations or special allocations of material when the controlling factor is the availability of skilled labour.

I would join issue with the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Itchen (Mr. Morley) who pleaded for the restoration of shops in Southampton. I am aware that practically all of Above Bar has been destroyed. So has one side of Lord Street, Liverpool, and Digbeth, Birmingham. But surely we must keep clearly before our eyes in this conflict of priorities to secure a measure of available materials and labour, that for re-building purposes the clear order of precedence is defence requirements first, and housing requirements second; and shops will come a very long way down the list of priorities.

Mr. Morley

I distinctly said that houses should have priority over shops.

Mr. Nabarro

I am grateful if the hon. Gentleman said that; I must have misunderstood him.

Let me make quite clear that shops should not come anywhere near the top of the list of priorities, in my view, in the next few years. There are far more urgent considerations than building shops. Indeed, the hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Shurmer), in the last Parliament made many complaints about licences given by a Socialist administration in the city of Birmingham for rebuilding shops in New Street. Houses must come above any consideration of that sort.

I want to speak about the materials position, in view of the comments made by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mr. Edward Davies) and his special reference to this matter. The building materials position is not what it was two years ago. It is immeasurably better. There is no great shortage today of softwoods, or of hardwoods.

Mr. Aneurin Bevan (Ebbw Vale)

Does the hon. Gentleman suggest that we should eat into the strategic stockpile of softwoods?

Mr. Nabarro

I am deeply grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. Perhaps I might quote some figures out of my head. [HON. MEMBERS: "Very appropriate."] Well, if they do not wish me to detain the House, hon. Gentlemen are perfectly entitled to go away and check the validity of these figures. Imports of softwoods in 1938, the last pre-war year, were 1,793,000 standards. Imports of softwoods during 1950 ran to only 796,000 standards. Our imports of softwoods this year, for the 10 months ended on 31st October, were 1,443,000 standards, and, in the full 12 months of 1951, will probably run to 1,650,000 standards.

We are consuming in softwoods this year approximately 1,100,000 standards. Therefore, there will be a surplus for stock, of 550,000 standards of softwood, which, when added to our opening stock of approximately 300,000 standards at the beginning of 1951, will give us an end of the year stock at 31st December, 1951, of approximately 850,000 standards.

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale will know, since he sat in this House on the 3rd September, 1939, that the stock on that date was approximately 900,000 standards. At the end of this year, we shall have 850,000 standards, so that we shall be nearly as well off for softwoods as at the beginning of the last war. Further, there is no difficulty about softwood imports next year, other than the difficulty of being able to afford to buy these softwoods from the sterling area.

Mr. Bevan

That is the whole point. The hon. Member has, of course, given concrete evidence of the providence of the Labour Government in stockpiling softwoods. What I want to know from him, and I think he will agree that this is a serious point, is whether he regards eating into the strategic stockpile as desirable in these circumstances, or would he rely upon such softwoods as can be bought in only two areas, unfortunately, at the present time, to a large extent—the Soviet Union and the dollar area?

Mr. Nabarro

Really, the right hon. Gentleman displays an abysmal ignorance of the sources of supply of softwoods. He has just said—

Mr. Bevan

In the main.

Mr. Nabarro

The right hon. Gentleman did not say so. The sources of supply are not only the Soviet Union and the dollar areas. Evidently, the right hon. Gentleman does not recognise that we buy many hundreds of thousands of standards from Scandinavia. The right hon. Gentleman went recently to Yugoslavia. We even buy a large quantity of softwood, and shall do this year, from Yugoslavia.

But let me answer his main point about eating into the strategic stockpile. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said that we intend to maintain the consumption of softwoods next year at the same level as it has been in this year; that is, 1,100,000 standards. Out of that figure, we only need to consume 400,000 standards—just over one-third of it—in order to build 300,000 houses at one and one-third standards per house.

To listen to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale, one would imagine that the only purpose for which we import softwoods is to build houses. In fact, about one-third of softwood imports or less, is devoted to that purpose. I repeat that there is no great difficulty with softwoods, with hardwoods or with cement for house-building purposes. There is only one difficulty today in the raw material chain of supply for house-building or for rehabilitation in bombed cities, and that is steel. Our policy in the course of the next two or three years ought to be to substitute timber—in the shape of softwood and hardwood, obtained in very large measure from soft currency areas—as much as we can, for steel. That could make a direct contribution to rehabilitation in the blitzed areas.

Lieut.-Colonel Lipton

In blocks of flats?

Mr. Nabarro

The various technical organisations in this country have for the last 15 years been devoting their attention to this scientific problem, and there is no difficulty in the great bulk of house and general building work, other than reinforced concrete and that sort of thing, in the substitution of timber for steel.

Finally, one comment was made by the hon. Member for Itchen which I cannot allow to go uncontradicted. He repeated the propaganda fallacy once again, that the increased ratio regarding houses for sale would lead to a diminution in the number of houses to let. That was contradicted 20 times in the debate yesterday.

Mr. Morley

But no evidence was adduced to prove it.

Mr. Nabarro

Perhaps not. The hon. Gentleman will have to wait for a couple of years to see the results of this change of emphasis in ratio, and then, undoubtedly, he will eat his words. In the meantime, he has no right continuously to make the same statement which has already been contradicted repeatedly, by the Government Front Bench.

There are so many hon. Members opposite who wish to speak in this debate that I will draw to a conclusion, but, before sitting down, I would emphasise that there should not be any special financial dispensation or any special material allocations for blitzed towns, because the sole controlling and limiting factor is the availability of skilled labour. That, alone, will control the number of houses that can be built.

9.43 p.m.

Mr. Michael Foot (Plymouth, Devonport)

It would be very tempting to follow the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), in the matters he has raised in this debate, but I am sure that to do so would make me very unpopular with some of my hon. Friends who wish to speak on the subject. Therefore, I shall try to make my remarks as brief as possible and not follow the hon. Gentleman in his irrelevancies.

It might be thought by some who listened to this debate—and certainly no one who listened to it would underrate the problems of blitzed cities—that very little had been done in these cities. I am sure my hon. Friends would agree that that impression should be removed if it had been given, because in my own city of Plymouth we are very proud of what has been achieved since 1945 in the building of a great number of houses, fine schools, new factories, and in the reconstruction of our city centre.

I want to ask the Government whether they are going to allow the conditions to prevail for continuing the great work already done in the blitzed cities. Some of the indications we have so far received from the Government do not give us much confidence. Not only is there the question of the increase in the interest rates, which is a very big blow to the blitzed cities in particular, but there is also a shut-down for three months on the building programmes.

It seems a scandalous thing that in the last six weeks we have had no indication of what this means as applied to the blitzed cities and other parts of the country. Some hon. Members have mentioned the question of a special grant for blitzed cities. We have argued that out in this House before, and although, of course, we would like to have everything that is going, I do not feel very confident that we are going to get it.

I believe that the best hope of the blitzed cities in recovering their rateable value and the losses they have suffered as a result of the destruction of their rateable value is that we should be allowed to proceed as far as possible with rebuilding our city centres. It is all very well for people from Kidderminster way, who have probably never heard a bomb, to come and lecture us and say, "We have got to have houses" We must have houses, factories, schools and shops, and we must have an ordered plan to carry out a programme for the area. It is barely honest to suggest one can merely concentrate on houses.

If we were to build our great new estates many miles from schools, shops, and any kind of community life and take people out of the city areas to those places and say, "We are going to build houses only and you will have to wait two or four years for schools and shops" it would destroy the community life in those centres. It is a proposition that could only be advanced by a party that have made no study of the problem at all.

I suggest to the Government that the best thing they can do for blitzed cities is to give us every opportunity to go ahead with our reconstruction programme. That is why I ask the Government particularly whether they are going to carry, through the programme that was agreed to by the Labour Government. In September of this year in Plymouth we received licences for 11 new projects to cost £100,000 this year and £700,000 in the three-year period. Can we have a firm guarantee that none of those projects will be interfered with by the ban for three months on the starting of new buildings announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer?

Here, perhaps, I might make an appeal to the Government. They have always been saying they want to find economies. Here is one good economy they can make and it is probably the most practicable proposition the Chancellor of the Exchequer has received on this head. My city spent something like £4 million on the acquisition of land. This bears a reconstruction grant, and under the beneficent Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, some 90 per cent. grant is to come for eight years from the central exchequer until the area is developed.

Therefore, the greater the area that can be developed the less the Government will have to pay in expenditure on that grant. It follows that the Government should have an incentive to enable us to go ahead with our reconstruction as far as possible, because that will keep down the money they have to pay under that grant. Perhaps I might hold this as "a bait for Mr. Butler"—that he should do his duty by the new cities in ensuring that we get the licences for which we have asked.

Not only are we concerned that the Government should not go back on reconstruction projects to which the Labour Government agreed in September, but we are concerned in the City of Plymouth—and I am sure it applies to other blitzed cities as well—that we should have a statement at the earliest possible moment of the amount to be spent on the capital development programme during the next year.

In Plymouth we are ready to spend about £1 million altogether on various projects. The labour is available there. I am sure this applies to other blitzed cities. If indeed there is a lengthy gap between what was allowed by the Labour Government and what is to be agreed by the Tory Government in the matter of licences for reconstruction areas, it will mean the dissipation of that labour force which has been assembled on reconstruction schemes. What the Labour Government worked to secure, and did secure very largely, was that we should have an adequate amount of labour devoted to reconstruction purposes in city centres.

What we are afraid of from the indications we have had so far from the Government—in the clumsy three months ban they have introduced and their failure to indicate before the Recess their programme for the next year—is that they are going to interrupt that programme and dissipate that reconstruction force.

We have already had one bad example of it in the City of Plymouth. I refer to the proposal for the rebuilding of the City Library in Plymouth which was destroyed by Hitler's bombs. That was turned down, I gather, under the three months' ban. Hitler burned the books in a large number of our cities, and the first act of the new Government so far as the City of Plymouth is concerned is a Hitlerite act of condemning our library to continued destruction and uselessness. This is a perfectly feasible project, where we have cut down the amount that was to be spent in order to accommodate the plans of the Ministry, and this is the way in which this flat ban has worked. We want an indication of what the Ministry propose.

We all recognise, particularly representatives of the blitzed cities, that there is bound to be a difficulty about the capital investment programme, and our future is bound to be governed in some sense by the capital investment programme. But what we claim is that when the capital investment programme is considered, our position in blitzed cities should be considered in one sense separately from the rest of the country, because we believe we have a special claim with regard to that capital investment programme.

If we were to suffer severe cuts under that capital investment programme today it might set back the reconstruction of our cities for generations to come and they would be left in a half-demolished state for many years. That is what we want to avoid, and we want some first sign from this Government that they have made some attempt, at any rate, to understand the problems in these blitzed cities.

9.52 p.m.

Mr. Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)

I feel that the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) would not be very popular in his constituency if he went back there at this moment and said that he was prepared to give priority to rebuilding public libraries and shops before houses.

I believe that the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Lewis), who initiated the debate, and most of those who have spoken, have made a very substantial case. I feel that they have established beyond any shadow of doubt that there is a special problem attaching to the cities which had to withstand the main force of the bombing on this country, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will deal with this subject in a very sympathetic manner.

I am sorry that tremors of controversy have intervened in this debate, because surely this is an occasion, on an Adjournment debate, when we can all pool our ideas and our help in this common cause without having to go back to much of the "argy bargy" of full dress debate on this problem, such as we had last night. I feel that it is within the power of ordinary Members of Parliament to make a substantial contribution. I know that neither Members of Parliament nor local councillors build the houses, but they can go a long way towards creating the atmosphere wherein the houses can be built. The appeal that I want to make to hon. Members opposite is to resist the temptation to play the party game when describing the Government's proposals for house building when they go back to their constituencies.

The first point I want to deal with relates to allocations. It is very clear to some of us that political capital is being made out of the provisional allocations that have already been issued to many of the blitzed towns and parts of London, because it has been seen that the provisional allocation for next year is rather lower than last year. We had an example of Dartford, which was mentioned last night. We were told that last year the allocation for Crayford was 125 and that the provisional allocation this year is on record as being 75. Surely hon. Members ought to help their local housing committees by repeating what the Minister of Housing and Local Government has explained—that he is giving a provisional allocation; that it is not a full annual allocation; and that it is his intention to give further allocations later, once the local authorities have their first allocation under contract and the houses look like being completed.

I suggest that one of the reasons why the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) did not reach his target of 200,000 houses last year and the year before last, and this year, was that although he issued allocations for 200,000 houses those houses were not completed in the towns and cities. What the present Minister is trying to ensure is that the houses he allocates will be completed.

Mr. Bevan

The hon. Gentleman should spend five minutes examining the problem before he talks such arrant nonsense. It has always been the case that a national figure could only be approximately realised, and that was done by continuing to re-allocate the local figure in accordance with the progress made. It has always been part of the administration of the Minister of Health to withdraw an allocation from a local authority which is backward and to give it to a local authority which is forward. Otherwise, we should never have achieved a national figure. The hon. Gentleman is wasting the time of the House.

Mr. Nicholls

It is no good the right hon. Gentleman sounding so hurt. The truth is that last year the then Government built only 192,000 houses and, this year, only 185,000; and the reason lies in what he just admitted—that they had to withdraw allocations which had been given because those allocations were not being carried out. The present Minister is seeking to avoid giving allocations and then taking them back, by issuing them, instead, in such a fashion that the houses will be built on a conveyer belt system. [Laughter.] My fears are well founded, and I am sorry that it is so. It is quite clear that, led by the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale, the Labour Party intend to misrepresent the provisional allocations.

I make this last appeal to them. The Minister made it perfectly clear that the smaller allocation is purely the first one and that when local authorities have these houses under contract, and likely to be completed, then if they come back to the Minister there will be more. I am asking hon. Members opposite to help their local housing committees to have this explanation, because I know from personal experience that some of them are under a misapprehension at the moment.

The next point on which I want the help of hon. Gentlemen opposite is in stopping all this talk about, "A Tory council did not do this and a Socialist council did that." We know perfectly well that, whatever their political complexions, local councils have not been able to make their full contribution to house building because the local council system is not the right agency for building houses. I welcome the decision of the Minister to bring the private builders into this problem to a greater extent, because I believe that that is the best way.

All of us with experience of local government know about the inevitable delay which any local council have to face. They have to get their grants approved, and their plans approved by the regional officer; and they have to wait for their monthly meetings and the meetings of the housing committees, which report back; and there is a great delay even in making a start, which is never met by a local builder making a direct decision with the contractor.

I am not abusing Socialist councils or Tory councils. I am suggesting that the councils are not the best agency for getting houses built. We are doing no service in uttering this abuse purely for party reasons; the local councils are doing their best. It is a necessity that they have to be slow to be safe; they are spending public money and they have to face an investigation by the district auditor at the end of the year. Because of their other great problems, I should not like to ask local councils to give very rapid and speedy decisions on spending public money which might cause a great deal of waste in other spheres. I appeal to hon. Gentlemen opposite to help blitzed cities as well as the housing problem generally by helping the local authorities and by holding back abuse.

They can also help by paying due credit to the private builders. We have often heard from the hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Shurmer), "Why are you talking about private builders? Private builders are already building the house."

It being Ten o'Clock, the Motion for the adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Heath.]

Mr. Nicholls

The hon. Member argues that it is already the private builders who are building houses for the local authorities, but we all know that that is not really private building. We know that a builder working for a local authority has to work to rigid specifications. He has got to fill in bills of quantity; he has got to meet the architect and surveyor who, in turn, has to report back to the council.

It is no good the right hon. Gentlemen looking so hurt about this. He has been out of local government for quite a number of years. Some of us are still in it, and we see every day what this problem is like. We have seen many cases in which the private builder on the site has been in difficulties in getting the materials required by the specification. If he were left to private enterprise he would get alternative ones just as good, but, as things are, he has to report back to the architect and surveyor, who has to report, in turn, to his local committee, and has often to wait for the committee to meet. We cannot really say that building under rigid contracts for the council we have got the private builder working at his best. It is the private builder in a straitjacket with a chloroform pad on his nose.

I am asking hon. Members to help the building industry to get on with the great task we are entrusting to it by stopping this abuse, and by stopping twisting the difficulties the trade has to face when working under local government. I believe hon. Members can do a good job of work by interpreting to their constituents and to the local housing committees the speech made by the Minister of Housing and Local Government.

The message I am taking to my local authority is this: "Make quite certain that next year you build more houses to rent than you built last year or the year before. When you have as many houses—and slightly more—under contract and on the way, then look to your housing list to get some private licences to hand to the one or two on the list who are prepared to build" I am advising them them, first of all, to look at the top of the list—as we all would—and to get private licences in addition to what they have under contract; and if there are not sufficient at the top of the list, to go half way down, because in that way they will be helping to face up to the problem.

The only restriction I feel we ought to put on at this stage is, that we ought not to give licences to people who have already got houses unless they are prepared to hand their houses over to the pool to be rented by the local council or to somebody in a position equivalent to that of the people on the local housing list.

I believe that the blitzed cities' problem is, perhaps, at the top of the queue of housing. But there is a queue, and the answer to their problem is also the answer to many other problems, and my appeal is for all of us really to play our part as Members of the House of Commons as a whole, and not as Members on one side or the other of it. I believe that if we interpret the new instructions given by the Minister of Housing and Local Government we can help by creating the right climate for the new house building we want.

Things are not quite so easy as my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) would have us believe. All of his figures were correct and significant, but there was one figure that I feel we ought to refer to once again. He mentioned that softwood imports in 1937 were 1,700,000 standards.

Mr. Nabarro

My hon. Friend must get his figures correct. The year I quoted was 1938, and the figure I quoted was 1,793,000 standards—that is, 1.793 million standards.

Mr. Nicholls

I beg my hon. Friend's pardon. The year he quoted was 1938 and the figure was 1,793,000 standards. It was from that datum line that he went on to suggest that we had more or less overcome our softwood difficulties.

It does so happen that the years 1937 and 1938 were the worst years pre-war for the actual import of softwood. The average figure of import before that was about 2,200,000 standards. So, while we have got very far along the road and are much better off now in that respect than we were two years ago, the softwood position is not quite so rosy as the hon. Member would have us believe.

My appeal—and one which I believe we all ought to accept—is that the housing problem should be treated by all parties as a matter affecting the whole nation, and no attempt should be made to make party capital out of it.

10.5 p.m.

Mrs. E. M. Braddock (Liverpool, Exchange)

I have no time now to enter into an argument with the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Nicholls). All that I want to say in reply to him is that the time when there are so many people in desperate need of houses to rent is the wrong time to allow private builders to build houses for sale. Listening to his speech reminds me of the situation before the last war, when many people, in desperate need of housing accommodation, had mortgages on houses, and, when the slump in employment came, were unable to continue the repayments on those houses, and had to give them up.

I want to refer chiefly to the situation in Liverpool. Liverpool had a very bad housing situation before the blitz, and the blitz made it very much worse; and we still have a very big slum clearance programme which was interfered with at the outbreak of war. In my own constituency, there are houses which have no water closets at all—they are trough closets which have to be emptied every day by the public health department. That was at a time when we had had a long series of local government Conservative control which, I must admit, showed some concern with this problem.

The blitz brought us a very much bigger problem. We have on the housing list in Liverpool at present 45,000 families, who are desperately in need of accommodation. The point that has been referred to less than any other tonight is the number of building trade workers available to build houses. All building trade workers are not house builders; some of them do not take part in house building at all. What we need is an assessment of the actual number of houses which will be permitted in blitzed areas to be built in the next 12 months and the years following, so that an attempt can be made to hold in the area the type of building trade worker definitely engaged in the house building industry.

In the central area of Liverpool, no attempt has been made at all—with the exception of a very big building owned by a gentlemen in another place—to redevelop the central area of the city. Last year £100,000 was allocated to Liverpool simply because Liverpool had not prepared and submitted a programme of their projects for the central area. This sum was placed at the disposal of the local authorities in spite of the fact they had put up no project to the Ministry of Health for rebuilding in the central area. Now Liverpool has a number of projects for the central area, and no indication has yet been given of what will be allowed by way of finance and building trade labour so that Liverpool can develop its central area.

I am one of the Members for Liverpool who, when my own party were the Government, took strong exception to the fact that licences given for building did not come into the housing programme, so that no one can now accuse me of turning tail. I say that housing should be No. 1 priority and that defence should be second. We are desperately in need of houses for our people, so that they may be decently housed to carry out their way of life. I would not, as the Government have done, put defence as No. 1 priority. Housing is No. 1 priority, and everyone of us, no matter what party we belong to, should be helping to house those people who are in desperate circumstances and who come to us each week with accounts of their family circumstances and the distressing way they are housed. There can be no doubt that defence should come second and not first in our list of priorities.

The position would appear to be now that building trade labour used in housing is to be moved to defence work, so that we are to have a smaller labour force and fewer materials for housing. For that reason I cannot for the life of me see what is in the terrific argument which is passing between one side of the House and the other as to whether we will be able to build more than 200,000 houses. I believe that it is inevitable, with the change-over of labour and materials, that we shall not be able to meet the 200,000 houses target laid down by the Labour Government. But time will tell, and I believe that our estimation of the situation will be the right one.

There is one other matter which want to raise. I should like to speak longer, but I know that the Parliamentary Secretary is very anxious to reply to the many points which have been made in the debate. I hope that he will take into consideration the question of clearing debris from blitzed sites. If the Parliamentary Secretary looks at this question he will see that there is no law either under local government or nationally by which a local authority can compel a person to remove any debris from any site at all. This is a very grave omission in our law. Unless public danger from the sanitation point of view can be proved by the public health department there is nobody who can insist on the debris being removed.

A building may fall down or the local surveyor can say that a place is dangerous, that it has been blitzed, that it constitutes a danger for the family living within it and they must be got out because it has to be pulled down, but when it is pulled down and made into a heap of rubble it can be left there. No one can compel the owner of the site or the owner of the building to remove the debris or level it so as to make the place look decent, especially if it is in a central area. That is a very serious omission in our law which I hope will be rectified.

I had hoped that in this Parliament I would have had the opportunity, under the Ten Minutes Rule, of moving a Motion for consideration of this problem. I hope, however, having referred to it to-night, that the Parliamentary Secretary will look at it seriously. If he goes into it thoroughly, he will find that what I am saying is true. It is something which needs attention so that local authorities can insist that buildings which are pulled down because they are dangerous must be cleared away and not left to become a public nuisance.

10.15 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Ernest Marples)

We have had a long and interesting and, on the whole—with one or two exceptions—very good-humoured debate. In reply to the hon. Lady the Member for Liverpool, Exchange (Mrs. Braddock), I share her anxiety about the sites which are left in a derelict condition. As she knows, I am her neighbour in the north-west. We are divided by the Mersey. My constituency had some war damage, and we suffer in Wallasey from precisely the same problem. I should like to consider the point which she made. One cannot promise anything on the spur of the moment, but I promise that the point will be looked into.

Hon. Gentlemen will be grateful to the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Lewis), for raising this subject and allowing so many other hon. Members to take part in the discussion. I am grateful to him for giving me adequate and comprehensive notice of the points he wished to raise. In fairness to him it would be as well if I dealt with his points first, and then dealt with as many of the remaining points as I can.

The remarks of the hon. Gentleman can be divided into two parts. The first part concerns financial assistance to the blitzed areas, and the second the question of special financial assistance and allocation of housing. On the question of finance, there are three ways in which a blitzed city can receive assistance. The first is by equalisation grants for rates. The poorer of the blitzed towns are assisted by equalisation grants which bring their resources up to the average in the country. I looked at some of the figures this morning very carefully. I found that the average in the country is £6 per head. Southampton—the hon. Member for Itchen (Mr. Morley) spoke—has an average of £6.86 per head, so that Southampton's average is higher than the average for the country. The same is true of Portsmouth and Plymouth. The average for Portsmouth is £6.3 and for Plymouth £6.774.

The second method of giving financial aid is the War Distress Grants. Blitzed city representatives ably and very tenaciously argued that loss by blitzing has reduced the rateable value and therefore the financial resources of their local authorities, who are less able to meet the cost of housing in their areas. That was true in the past, but it is not as true now as it was in 1945 because to some considerable extent local authorities have replaced their rateable value.

Hon. Members are right when they say that local authorities are poorer now than they were in the past, but they are wrong in saying that they are poorer in relation to the rest of the country. It is a question of what we compare them with. That applies to all the blitzed cities, with the exception of West Ham.

Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Test)

Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that the new rateable value is largely for new houses which demand vast services?

Mr. Marples

In some cases, yes, but generally speaking the amount of rateable value is divided by the number of inhabitants, and a certain weight is given in respect of population in the area. That is taken into account in the formula on which were computed the figures I gave to the House. West Ham is an exception because they had more population driven out by bombing than rateable value was destroyed. Therefore, West Ham is a special case, and they are getting £85,000. [An HON. MEMBER: "So is Salford a special case."] Salford was not brought up in the debate. If West Ham makes a further application it will have to be considered on its merits. [An HON. MEMBER: "Favourably?"] Surely the hon. Gentleman would not want it considered favourably if it was not on its merits.

Mr. Frederick Elwyn Jones (West Ham, South)

When West Ham, which I represent with my hon. Friend, makes this application, will favourable consideration be given, because the increase in interest rates has increased the financial problem of the local authority? Will consideration be given to an amendment and an adjustment in the Government subsidy?

Mr. Marples

The question of Government subsidies to the local authorities is being discussed next week, and the Association of Municipal Corporations will be representing West Ham and can, no doubt, bring that point forward then. I do not think that the matter of the subsidy can be connected with this financial assistance; it should be dealt with next week when all the local authorities are dealt with.

Mr. Lewis

In relation to the £85,000, which comes to an end next April, do I understand that if the council make a fresh application it will be considered on its merits?

Mr. Marples

Yes, Sir. If the council make a fresh application, it will be considered on its merits. But the late Government told the hon. Member several times that sooner or later it must end, and I must repeat that West Ham must face up to it that it has to end sooner or later.

Mr. Lewis

Later rather than sooner.

Mr. Marples

That was laid down by my right hon. Friend's predecessor, and the Government will carry on with that policy; but if West Ham applies this time the application will be considered favourably.

The third method of financial assistance is that to re-develop blitzed areas as a whole. That method was referred to by the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot). The more violent he became the less convincing he was Exchequer grants are given under the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, but this is primarily for the redevelopment of blitzed centres as distinct from housing. In the case of a blitzed centre, the procedure is that the land is acquired compulsorily and then cleared, and then, as the second stage, it is planned. That is relatively easy. The third stage is the actual building, and this depends largely on material resources and less on monetary resources.

The hon. Member for Devonport was right in saying that the Government are bearing 90 per cent. of the cost until the actual building has taken place, and, therefore, the Government have in mind an incentive to secure speedy building. But the actual amount which will be invested must depend upon the resources of the country as a whole, and at the moment they are grievously strained, especially in regard to steel. The rebuilding of the centres of blitzed cities—it is not normal housing—requires a certain amount of steel for reinforcing bars and for structural work. The capital investment programme for 1952 is now being considered, and the amount which will be allotted to that type of expenditure will be announced as soon as possible by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Mr. Foot

Can we have an indication of the date? We should like to know if we can have it before January.

Mr. Marples

I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a date at the moment, but the matter is under consideration now and it will be announced.

The next subject is housing. The hon. Member for West Ham, North, raised several points, and the first was that war damage repairs amounting to £7 million were carried out in West Ham. That was paid by the Exchequer.

Mr. Lewis

I think the hon. Gentleman misunderstood me. I was explaining that the council had tried to get on with its job. I was not suggesting that the council had had to meet that expense.

Mr. Marples

As regards housing assistance for the repair or rebuilding of war-damaged or war-destroyed houses, this has been done at the expense of the Exchequer and the cost has not fallen on local authorities. For new houses there is a normal subsidy of £16 10s., and if housing is costing more in West Ham than in other places it can only be for one of two reasons. Either the site is expensive or the building is expensive; it may be a combination of the two. I can assure the hon. Member that the cost of building in West Ham is not out of line with comparable building in similar districts. Therefore, if it is not the cost of the building which is raising the total cost, it may be that the cost of the site is high.

If the cost of the site is high, I would refer the hon. Member to the Housing (Financial and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1946, Part II of which shows how an extra subsidy can be granted in respect of sites which cost a great deal. In some cases this amounts to just over £40 a flat, where flats have lifts. If the hon. Gentleman has any point on that, he ought to get the local authority to look at their sites in relation to that part of the Act.

On the question of the subsidy, which has been raised by almost every hon. Member, I want to reinforce what my right hon. Friend has said. The negotiations start next week and all the local authorities, such as the county boroughs, will be represented by the Association of Municipal Corporations. As far as I am concerned as Parliamentary Secretary, all I can do is to say that the matter is sub judice and that I would rather await the outcome of this.

There were one or two other points which were mentioned during the debate and with which I should like to deal in the five minutes remaining to me. The first is the question of housing allocations. The hon. Member for West Ham, North, asked that special materials and labour should be sent to the blitzed cities but the housing allocations, as the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) knows, because he started them, are based on a number of houses for a particular local authority area.

That, incidentally, makes nonsense of the right hon. Member's statement yesterday that more houses would be built in the west or the south of England than in the mining districts, because the allocations are given by the regional machinery on the basis of so many houses for a particular areas.

Mr. Bevan

The point I made yesterday—I thought it was quite clear—was that if the local authorities gave more licences for houses for sale, that would reduce the number of rented houses in the immediate hinterland of the urban fringes.

Mr. Marples

I should like to argue that at another time, because the right hon. Member's actual words were: A rich spiv in the south of England will be able to get a house, and a miner in the north and Midlands and west will not be able to do so."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th December, 1951; Vol. 494, c. 2268.]

Mr. Bevan

That is quite right.

Mr. Marples

No, not if the allocations are made according to a geographical area. It is quite impossible for that to happen under the system started by the right hon. Gentleman himself.

Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

They have stopped us building for miners now.

Mr. Marples

No; I think the difficulty is the question of the reinforcing bars for the rafts.

Mr. Smith

That is the same thing.

Mr. Marples

I find it difficult to follow the logic.

Mr. Smith

The Parliamentary Secretary ought to know that in the City of Stoke-on-Trent we cannot build a house—not one—unless we are allowed the steel to reinforce it. As for talking about blitzed areas, our area has been blitzed for 80 years.

Mr. Marples

I shall deal with the question of steel, if I may, because that has been raised. On 4th February there is hope of the new allocation of steel. Until then, we have made special requests that steel should be given for that type of reinforcing bar which is wanted for mining areas. I tell the hon. Member who raised the question, and who has been kind enough to send me details, that we started inquiries on this about three weeks ago and are hopeful of producing something, especially the mild steel bars of the smaller diameter. The trouble is that the smaller diameter—those with a diameter of less than one inch—are harder to get than the large diameter.

Housing allocations are made according to the needs of the area in comparison with other areas. That is the first rule. The second concerns the capacity of an area to build. It is no use giving large allocations to a local authority which has a number of outstanding houses. We had experience in 1947—I say this in no party sense—of starting too many houses. That was disastrous. It is completed houses which count, and not houses which are only started.

The third point is the size of the programme already in hand. All areas have enough houses on hand to occupy their own labour force. If we disregard the resources of the blitzed areas and overburden them, if we allocate houses on the question of need alone, we shall run into heavy weather and will have heavy commitments in areas where labour is scarce. Therefore, we must take into account the labour that is within the blitzed city.

There is no direction of labour; therefore, labour cannot be directed. If labour is taken into a blitzed city, there may need to be, as somebody suggested, an incentive. If labour is moved from one part of the country to another, a subsistence allowance has to be paid. This is very expensive, and is a most uneconomical way of using building labour. With resources strained and extended as they are, it would be folly to move labour about at heavy cost at the present time.

Brigadier Clarke

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that there is no shortage of labour in Portsmouth?

Mr. Marples

I listened with interest to my hon. and gallant Friend's contribution. If his local authority can prove that they have built their full allocation and have the resources and materials available, they will be given an additional allocation.

The Question having been proposed at Ten o'Clock, and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at Half-past Ten o'Clock.