HC Deb 10 April 1952 vol 498 cc2987-3003

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

12.9 p.m.

Mr. Ralph Morley (Southampton, Itchen)

I am glad to have this opportunity, with other hon. Members, who represent such areas, of raising once more in the House the question of the blitzed areas and endeavouring to obtain from the representative of Her Majesty's Government a definite statement as to what their policy will be in the immediate future in order to help in the reconstruction of these areas.

The inhabitants of many towns and cities suffered considerably during the last war, but it would not be unfair to say that the sufferings of the citizens of the blitzed towns, and the dangers which they ran, were greater than those of the citizens of towns which were not subject to enemy action in the same way. The citizens of blitzed towns, like those elsewhere, lost fathers, husbands, sons and other relatives as casualties in the Armed Forces. Since most of the heavily blitzed towns were ports, they also had considerable losses in the Mercantile Marine. In addition to those losses, of course, they had great civilian losses from enemy action, and suffered very great damage indeed to the property in their towns.

Those losses and dangers were borne with considerable fortitude, because it was known that they had to be borne in the national interest. The women, particularly, were very brave in the blitzed towns during the heavy concentrated enemy raids during the night. I was at Passchendaele and on the Somme during the First World War, and I would rather have to walk the duckboards at Passchendaele again than sit in a shelter during an all-night raid wondering whether the next bomb was going to make a direct hit on that shelter.

As I say, these perils and dangers were very bravely borne, and these losses courageously suffered, because they were in the national interest, but the citizens of the blitzed towns were of the opinion that, as soon as the war was over, materials, capital and labour would be assigned to those towns to repair the damage done. In my own town of Southampton we had, during the war, 5,000 houses completely destroyed and many thousands of others very badly damaged. In addition to that, during three very concentrated night raids, the enemy destroyed practically the whole of the shopping and business centre of the town.

Since 1945, in Southampton—and I am only quoting Southampton because I think it is fairly typical of the other heavily blitzed towns—we have been able, by taking advantage of the admirable housing policy of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), which he carried through with such great administrative skill, to build just over 5,000 council houses, but that, of course, has little more than restored the losses we suffered during the war, and there is in the heavily blitzed towns a housing problem which is graver than the housing problems which still exist in other towns. So far as the damage to shops, offices and business premises generally is concerned, very little has been done so far to reconstruct them.

In one area in Southampton, the Compulsory Purchase Order No. 4 area, there is about £1 million worth of reconstruction waiting to be done, and only about half of that work has been started. The area came under the control of the council some three or four years ago, and, so long as the reconstruction of that area is not completed, that area will continue to be a liability, not only on the council, but also upon the lessees. In addition, the reconstruction of the damaged shops, office buildings and churches will be dependent upon obtaining permission for road works and drainage works.

These losses, of course, have meant considerable losses in rateable value to the blitzed towns affected. The loss in rateable value in Southampton, as compared with the pre-blitz year, is no less than £133,000. The loss of rateable value in Plymouth, I am informed, is £184,000, as compared with the pre-blitz. On the other hand, towns which were not subjected to enemy action in that respect have increased their rateable value since 1945 fairly substantially.

For example, Reading, which is no very great distance from either Plymouth or Southampton, has increased its rateable value by £239,000 since 1940 Of course, the rateable value of blitzed towns has been increased by the building of council houses, but council houses are not altogether an asset, so far as rateable value is concerned, because they receive a subsidy from the rates and also attract a considerable amount towards expenditure on the social services, such as health and education. On the other hand, shops, offices and buildings of that kind are highly rated as a rule; at least, they are considerably more highly rated than council houses, and attract very little expenditure for social services.

Therefore, until the shops and offices are reconstructed, the towns which suffered heavy blitz damage during the war are bound to suffer in the restoration of their former rateable value. It will be no good the Minister trying to ride off in his reply with the statement that towns like Plymouth and Southampton have rates which are not so high as those of some other county boroughs, and that their rateable value per head of the population is above the average of some other county boroughs, because, of course, the assessments differ very much from one town to another. In Southampton, we have always made our assessments at a rather high level, whereas those of other authorities have not been at such a high level, so that there is no valid comparison between one authority and another so far as rateable value per head of the population is concerned.

Although the actual rate poundage in Southampton may be less than it is in some other cases, because Southampton properties have always been fairly highly assessed, it is quite possible that, comparing a house in Southampton with one of a similar size in another county borough, although the actual rate poundage is less in Southampton than in the other town, the ratepayers will be paying a larger sum in rates in Southampton than is being paid in the other county boroughs.

When the Derating Act, 1930, was put into operation, there was a provision by which a block grant was made to every local authority to compensate it for the loss of rates due to the operation of that Act, and citizens in places like Southampton do not see why, because of their reduction in rateable value, they should have to suffer losses borne in the national interest but not suffered, in areas where no blitz occurred, especially as, in many cases, they also have to make a payment for repairs to damage done to other property during the course of the war, for which payment had not been made by the War Damage Commission because the notifications were received too late.

There is, therefore, still a very strong case indeed for continuing the assistance from the Government to the blitzed areas in their work of reconstruction, and there are two questions that we should especially like to address to the Minister, and with which we hope he will deal in his reply. The first question is: What is to be the capital allocation to the blitzed towns during the current year? Under the last Government, the blitzed towns knew what their allocations were to be during the year, and, in the last year, the total capital allocation for the blitzed towns amounted to over £4 million, of which I think Southampton had £250,000 and Plymouth had £550,000.

We have been trying to ascertain what is to be the capital allocation for the blitzed cities this year. We have put down Questions from time to time to Ministers on the point and we have received nothing but dusty, evasive answers. Unless local authorities know what their capital allocation is to be for the current year they cannot plan ahead and determine their priorities. Once one determines priorities one can inform the firms concerned and they can get ready with their plans, and contracts. While this allocation of capital expenditure is still uncertain there can be no continuity of work in the reconstruction of these areas.

We know nothing certain; no definite figure has been given to us so far. We have heard a number of rumours, of course, which may or may not be well founded. We have heard rumours that the capital allocation to the blitzed cities will be cut to the bone. We should like to know from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, when he replies, how much of the £100 million cut in capital expenditure which was referred to by the Chancellor of the Exchequer during his speech in the economic debate and in his Budget statement will be imposed upon the blitzed cities.

We put forward the plea that, in view of the sacrifices that were made by those cities during the war, in view of the long time which has elapsed since the end of the war, and in view of the fact that a great deal of reconstruction has yet to be done, the blitzed cities should have reasonable priority in capital allocation and that they should not share—or if they do share, they should share very little indeed—in the £100 million cut proposed by the Chancellor.

The other matter on which we should like to press the Minister for a reply is the allocation of steel. Questions have been put down by a number of hon. Members to the relevant Ministers asking for a statement on what are to be the steel allocations to the blitzed towns. There, again, no statement has been made. But, strangely enough, although no statement has been elicited from any Minister, the amounts of steel to be allocated to the blitzed towns have been published in the Press. The amounts have been stated in the "Western Morning News" and in the "Southern Daily Echo." I am aware that both those journals have very competent Parliamentary correspondents and that they are both important journals with considerable circulations, but I should have thought they should not have been given this news before it was given to Members of Parliament.

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

Is the hon. Member suggesting that a Minister has given information to a newspaper and is refusing to give it to hon. Members? Is that the allegation?

Mr. Morley

No, I am not making any allegation. I am stating a fact, that apparently newspapers have the knowledge of the amount of steel to be allocated to blitzed cities before hon. Members were informed by answers from Ministers. The Press obtain the news while hon. Members are denied it. According to the statement in the Press, Southampton is to receive 145 tons of steel in the second quarter of this year. My information from a very responsible member of Southampton Borough Council is that this quantity of steel will be nothing like sufficient to meet the immediate needs of construction in the area.

I understand that the steel supply position has been somewhat ameliorated. It has been stated in the Press that by the end of this year home production will be 16,500,000 tons and that we shall receive one million tons from the United States, making a total of 17,500,000 tons, which, I think, will be sufficient to meet our needs. We want an assurance from the Minister that the blitzed towns will receive their fair allocation of steel. By "fair" I mean that they will have some priority owing to their needs. With the prospect of 17½ millions tons of steel being available during the year, by the end of the year there should be enough to give an allocation to all the heavily blitzed towns to enable them to get on with their work.

I do not want to make this a party matter at all. It should not be considered a party matter because there are representatives of blitzed towns on both sides of the House and hon. Members on both sides equally are very anxious that the construction work in their constituencies should proceed as speedily as possible. But although I do not raise this as a party matter, and I hope it will not be considered to be so in this debate, there were Conservative candidates during the last Election who made it a party matter. I quote from the Election address of my own Conservative opponent: Southampton has suffered in two ways—(a) by the cessation of house building during the war, (b) by enemy action. Mr. Churchill said in March, 1945, 'Victory lies before us, certain and perhaps near. Of course, we must first concentrate on those parts of our cities and towns which have suffered most.' That was a policy of priority for blitzed towns, and my Conservative opponent in his election address promised priority of construction for blitzed towns if a Conservative Government were returned. I believe there are unkind people who are going round saying that the Conservative Government have not yet carried out the promises made to the electorate. That was another promise made—

Mr. Marples

In 1945.

Mr. Morley

Surely, if a promise was made in 1945 and the Conservative Government were not returned until 1951, there is all the more reason why promises made six years before should be fulfilled immediately. I hope that this is not another of the Conservative promises which will be put in that wallet in which Time "puts alms for oblivion." I ask the Minister to deal firmly, in his reply, with what are to be the capital allocations for blitzed cities in the coming year and to tell us what amount of steel will be available for them. Those are the two questions which the local authorities of the blitzed areas are anxious to have answered and I hope that the Minister will be able to give us a favourable answer to them.

12.30 p.m.

Brigadier Terence Clarke (Portsmouth, West)

I am always glad, as a Member representing a blitzed city, to hear debates on blitzed cities in this House. We have had quite a considerable number of them, although when I was in Opposition I never noticed the same enthusiasm from hon. Members opposite as I have noticed since the change of Government. They are now even prepared to give up their holiday and to stay here and fight like anything. I gave up my holiday the whole time, both in Government and in Opposition, to fight for blitzed cities, and I will always go on doing so. The hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Morley) said that he did not wish to bring party politics into this matter, but then proceeded to do so for all he was worth. Obviously, therefore, he will not be surprised if I have my share of party politics also.

We all know what the present Prime Minister said in 1945, which the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen, quoted to us. Naturally, the Prime Minister would like to see the blitzed cities rebuilt, and he will. There is, I think, a very old saying which runs: One year's seeding, seven years' weeding. We have had six years of Socialist Government, six years of waste, rot and seeding, and by the same token it might take 42 years to get rid of that rot if the saying I have just quoted is true.

Anybody who knows anything about building knows perfectly well that it is much easier to destroy than to build. At the end of the war we saw men standing on the tops of blitzed houses knocking them down at a very rapid rate, even under a Socialist Government. That was quite easy. But it is far more difficult to build. Surely, we cannot as a party be accused of having no interest in this matter just because in six months of office we have not restored the blitzed cities to their former eminence.

I think we re-started these Adjournment debates on blitzed cities within six weeks of the Conservative Government coming into power, and we were then asked why we had not kept our promise. That is rather comic.

Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Test)


Brigadier Clarke

I cannot give way to the hon. Gentleman because I have only a short time, and I think Plymouth might want to have a word.

We were immediately attacked for not putting right within a few weeks the whole of the Socialist mismanagement and rot. We have now had six months, but it takes a bit of time to build a house. On taking over we found a steel shortage. It should be remembered that the steel industry was nationalised against the better judgment of the then Opposition. That should never be forgotten. Steel was imported into this country in the form of iron ore until the coal situation under a Socialist Government made it necessary to bring in coal instead. That fact should also be remembered. There was never a shortage of steel when private enterprise ran the industry. Is that another of the good things we can remember about six years of Socialist rule?

I know that the Prime Minister has tried to get the people of this country to pull together for the benefit of the country. That is a most laudable thing to do, but, unfortunately, owing to Socialist propaganda, he has been thoroughly misunderstood. It has been taken as weakness. It is not weakness; it is merely a desire to put the country's interest before party interest. If we have to go back to party politics, then do not let us pull any punches. We have seen enough obstruction in the House during the past few weeks simply because, as the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) said last night, the party opposite would not let the Government's Bills go through.

The Government were voted in by constitutional methods and will put through the Measures which they were returned to pass. The Conservative Party will do that and will build the blitzed cities just as soon as that can be done. We will restore the ravages of the Socialist Party which, so far, have prevented blitzed cities being rebuilt. My own City of Portsmouth would have been rebuilt to a far greater degree by now but for the silly restrictions placed on private building by the party opposite. Why should not a man who wants to build a house be allowed to do so? We have more council houses going up today than when the Socialists were in power, and, in addition, we are now getting private building as well. Is that not a good thing?

Would the party opposite wish to have fewer houses put up? Do not they think that somebody with £2,000 a year is just as entitled to have a house as a man who earns less than that figure? Those in different salary groups each have their troubles. Do not let us have class distinction in this matter. Let us build every house we can and always remember that, if a house is built by private enterprise, whoever occupies that house leaves another vacant into which someone else can go. Is not that what we are doing? What is the grouse about that?

The Socialists have brought class distinction into the matter the whole time. We are going to get the houses built, and the party opposite will have to eat their words and all the slurs that they have cast upon our efforts. I quite agree that the blitzed cities do not want party politics. They want to be rebuilt, as I pointed out time after time when we had a Socialist Government. Who are the best people to judge how a city should be rebuilt? The people living there, or the man in Whitehall about whom we have heard so much, the man who thinks Whitehall knows best?

Just before the council elections last year we had a debate on blitzed cities and the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren) made some astounding statements about blitzed cities and about why we could not get Portsmouth rebuilt. It all appeared in the Portsmouth "Evening News." It was a sop to try to get Socialists elected on the council. This year, in the L.C.C., they have been going round with bits of cheese and such like things bribing the people to vote for them. In three years' time the people who did vote for them will be very glad that they have got a Conservative Government, and in future they will not vote Socialist even on the councils.

We have heard a lot about the allocation of steel and of money—capital allocation—to blitzed cities. These cities, of course, need both, and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to tell us that no information regarding the allocation of steel was made to two sections of the Press while the House and the rest of the Press were not informed. I know of no announcement about an allocation of steel being made in my local Press anyway. It is probably more responsible.

As for money, we do not want money until we can get the steel. Nothing is more important than houses. We are not interested in large buildings being put up or in having enormous town halls and similar things put up till we have got houses put up. What we want are houses, and I hope the Minister will allow us to go on building to the best of our ability. The situation in the blitzed cities has been appalling. For the last five years I have watched people living in absolute misery. During that time we appealed to the Government time after time to allow these cities to build as they wish. They wished to build the houses. But could we impress them? Not a bit of it. They did nothing to help Portsmouth at all. That city could by now have been rebuilt.

In 1942 we bought land, but were obstructed from building on it by the Socialist Government. That fact should go on record. I asked the two ex-Ministers of Health to come to Portsmouth to see the situation for themselves. They would not come, but within six weeks of the Conservative Government coming to power the Conservative Minister came down and saw the situation for himself. He gave that council and the people of Portsmouth enormous encouragement. They will not be sorry that they voted Tory in the last council election, and they will do so again.

12.40 p.m.

Mr. Michael Foot (Plymouth, Devonport)

It is very tempting to follow the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke), but I shall only speak for a few minutes as I realise that the Minister wishes to reply.

I wish to deal with only one main point upon which we have had considerable argument on previous occasions, but on which we have had very little clarification from the Ministry. We have asked that the Government should state what is the allocation under the capital investment programme for blitzed cities, and the reply of the Minister has always been, "It is not worth giving you that figure." Only yesterday the Minister said, "We have a figure; it is a general guide, but we cannot tell you what the figure is." If it is a general guide for the Ministry, it might also be a general guide for hon. Members, including those who represent blitzed cities.

I ask again that the figures which are available to the Ministry, and which indicate to the Ministry how much capital investment they are allowed to allocate for blitzed cities, should be made public so that we can compare how much is being allocated for blitzed cities with the amount allocated, for instance, for reconstruction purposes in new towns, and also so that we can compare the allocation for blitzed cities this year with the allocations for previous years. That is a perfectly fair question.

The second answer which the Ministry have given on other occasions is, "There is no purpose in giving you this figure because the figure may be exceeded, and it may be that events will turn out better later in the year, which will enable us to give you a higher figure. So why should we give you the capital investment figure which we have as a guide in our Department?" It would be quite all right if they told us the figure; if they find that they can increase the allocation later, they can do so. That is what was done by the Labour Government in the case of my own city last year. They gave us a capital investment figure at the beginning of the year. The developers were able to go ahead and prepare their plans. In August last year, when it was discovered that more capital investment allocation and more steel would be available, an extra allocation was given over and above the original allocation.

Why does the Minister continue to conceal this figure? I suggest that the real reason is that the Government have cut the capital investment allocation for blitzed cities to practically nothing, and that it is that fact which they are trying to conceal from the people in the blitzed cities by saying, "This is an irrelevant factor." We know that there is still a general capital investment programme. The Ministry have admitted that they have a figure as a general guide. We say, let the public know what these figures are so that they can see what is the policy of this Government towards blitzed cities.

Our charge against this Government is not that in six months they have not been able to achieve tremendous things. Our charge is that within a month or so of coming into office they cut the capital investment allocation. They stopped the issue of licences. If we do not have an early issue of licences this year for blitzed cities, there will be a general hold-up in the whole of the reconstruction programmes.

12.43 p.m.

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

If I may mention cuts, the eloquence of the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) has made some inroads into the time at my disposal for answering the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Morley), who was fortunate enough to open this debate.

We all have a great deal of sympathy for the blitzed cities and their inhabitants. During the war they undoubtedly suffered a great deal, and the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen, was quite correct in saying so. No one would suggest that this Government or the previous Government or any Government would dare to ignore the legitimate claims of the blitzed cities. Therefore, if I do not spend much time in developing the theme of our gratitude for blitzed cities and our sympathy with them, it is merely because time is short and not because my sympathies do not lie in that direction.

But sometimes it is possible to do the blitzed cities a dis-service by overstating the case and making party capital of it. Here I make no allegations against hon. Members on either side of the House, but it does not do the blitzed cities any service at all to make party propaganda out of what this Government has done or what the previous Government did. The great thing is to find out what can be done for the blitzed cities in the present circumstances.

I will not follow the point which the hon. Gentleman made about the present Prime Minister's speech in 1945, seven years ago, when he said, "We have just won a great victory, and in the years ahead the blitzed cities must be reconstructed," except to say that the decision of the nation did not give him at that time a chance of carrying out that promise. We had a Socialist Government for 6½ years and they had a fairly good chance of coping with the blitzed cities.

I should like to deal with one or two of the hon. Member's specific points before I come to the main issue. First of all, he said that since 1945 over 5,000 houses have been built but there is still a great housing problem. Here, I can relieve his anxiety in some respect, because if Southampton have the materials and resources available to build more houses they can apply to the principal regional officer of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government in the area, and they can get a further instalment in order to build those houses. If any labour is redundant in the central area through lack of steel, that labour can be diverted to the very important task of building houses for the inhabitants of Southampton. I hope that when the hon. Gentleman goes back to his constituency he will make that point with great force—that if men and materials are available in Southampton, then by making application Southampton can have a further instalment.

The hon. Gentleman's second point was that there was a loss of rateable value. He said that the rateable value of Southampton was £133,000, and that they had not got back to their pre-war figure.

Mr. Morley

I said that it was £133,000 less than before the war.

Mr. Marples

I am sorry—£133,000 less than before the war.

He compared the rateable value with that of expanding towns. Surely the correct basis on which to calculate rateable value is rateable value per head of population. The Exchequer equalisation grant makes up to the poorer districts—county councils, county boroughs, and so on—any loss which they have when they are below the average in the country. So the richer county councils and county boroughs do not get this grant. It is interesting to see that only 28 out of 83 county boroughs have a rateable value per head of population greater than the average in the country.

The average is about £6. For Portsmouth the figure is £6.3; Plymouth, £6.774; and Southampton is the richest of all, with £6.868. Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the Exchequer and the poorer local authorities should make a contribution to the richer authorities? In any case, this is not the place to discuss the Exchequer equalisation grants because that has been decided upon. It was introduced by the previous Government of which the hon. Gentleman was a supporter, and it was accepted by him as being fair and equitable.

Having dealt with those two or three specific points, may I now come to the thorny problems of steel and capital investment? In 1951 there were two limiting factors. The first was the capital investment programme, and the second was steel. In the earlier part of 1951 the controlling factor was capital investment, and it was only later in the year that steel really became the limiting factor. By 1952 the position was radically altered. Although the two limiting factors were still present, the controlling limiting factor—the one which dominated everything—was the shortage of steel.

Therefore, steel took the first place and capital investment took the second. The reason for that was the re-armament programme. I make no complaint about that; but hon. Members on both sides of the House must remember that this rearmament programme was hurriedly superimposed on an already overstrained economy without the care and diligence which, under normal conditions, would have been devoted to it. It was done quickly and the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) and the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) said it was calculated only in monetary terms, and those monetary terms had not been broken down into the physical resources of men and materials.

In September, 1950, we started with a re-armament programme of £2,400 million which rose, in October to £3,600 million and in February, 1951, to £4,700 million. That was translated very hurriedly and not very accurately into materials and it meant that in 1952 the legacy which this Government received— and I am making no complaint about that legacy—was a shortage of steel right throughout our economy.

The hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen was wrong in imputing that any Minister had given to the Press any information about steel allocations before it had been given to the House. It was rather touching to hear the reliance he placed on information in the Press, and I hope that future Press Commissions will notice how he relies upon the Press for his information. The information referred to came from a paper to which his hon. Friend the Member for Devonport does not contribute, which makes his touching faith all the more remarkable.

What did we do when we were faced with the shortage of steel? The first thing was to get more steel from the United States of America. The Prime Minister got one million tons of steel, which was described by the other side of the House as the worst bargain ever made. But if he had not done that the blitzed cities would have had even less than now. The second thing we did was to ration it. In that connection, I want to make clear one or two points. The first is that the rationing was spread over four periods of this year, and the reason for spreading it in that way was that the Government could not be quite sure what would be the available supplies in the third and fourth period. They are not sure for a variety of quite legitimate reasons. There may be shipping difficulties in getting the steel from America, and we have read in the Press recently that there may be strike difficulties.

Mr. John McKay (Wallsend)

Will the hon. Gentleman make that point clear? I understood him to say a moment ago that the steel had been secured from America. Now he seems to be explaining that the steel has not been secured.

Mr. Marples

A contract has been entered into by the Prime Minister whereby the United States of America gives us one million tons of steel this year. The actual delivery date of steel is the thing that counts. It may not arrive because of shortage of shipping or because it is not exported from the other end on the due date. If there is a strike in America and no steel is produced they cannot send it. But as far as we can see the steel should be here during this year. It will be coming in in these four periods in different tonnages, and so it is not possible to forecast accurately what tonnage will be received in the third or fourth periods.

Therefore, we have this flexible system of allocation of steel in four periods. It is not possible to give the hon. Member for Devonport a neat and tidy figure in regard to steel which can be allocated to blitzed cities from the 1st January to 31st December inclusive. A rigid system of planning is not of much use when it comes to the question of reconstructing these blitzed cities. We must have a more flexible plan.

Mr. S. S. Awbery (Bristol, Central)

Could the hon. Gentleman tell us how he determines the amount of steel for blitzed cities? Does he take into consideration the amount of damage done and allocate a quantity of steel according to the damage, or does he allocate the same amount to all the blitzed cities? The amount in Bristol has been reduced from 135 to 100 tons.

Mr. Marples

The hon. Gentleman makes a great mistake by comparing the allocation in one period with that in another period. If one has a building project which is to take 12 months to complete it may be that one requires all the steel in the first and second periods and nothing in the third and fourth periods.

If the hon. Gentleman's city requires so much steel in the first six months and nothing in the second six months, how can he come to the House and complain that in the third period he had got nothing? The point is that he does not need anything. He must take into account the technical requirements of steel in a particular building project. It depends on what is to be built in a particular city.

If we had allocated the steel for the third and fourth periods and had raised the hopes of these cities, and then it had been found that the steel could not arrive owing to a strike in America or owing to a shipping shortage, what would hon. Members opposite have said? What would they have said if their entire programme for the blitzed cities had been based on paper allocations which could not be honoured? There would have been many Adjournment debates in the House, and it would have been a most unwise procedure.

Dr. King


Mr. Marples

I should like to give way, but I have over-run the time and if I do give way I shall not be able to deal with all the points.

Passing to the question of capital investment, we have allocated capital investment to particular areas to match the steel allocated to those areas. If steel suddenly floods into the country—and I do not think it will flood into the country in the quantities expected by the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen—we shall revise our capital investment allocations accordingly.

At the moment, however, the restricting factor is not capital investment but steel. As I have said before, I hope that the blitzed cities will plan their forward programme as far ahead as they can, using the minimum quantities of steel, using reinforcing rods and reinforced concrete in place of structural steel, thereby halving the amount of steel for a given building, or using high tensile wire or pre-stressed concrete in place of the heavier steel sections. I hope that the blitzed cities will proceed on those lines.

The real difficulty in the past—and we have to face it—has been that we have had an inflationary period in our economy when more money was created than we had resources to match. Then we introduced the system of licences and the licences were not always given with reference to the resources. What happened in the last six years—and I do not complain or make any criticism—was that we had the money flowing freely, the licences granted reasonably freely, but not the resources.

We have had an overstrained economy and the best thing that we can try to do is to get the money and the resources in more correct perspective. If we can get the steel I give hon. Gentlemen my word that my right hon. Friend and I will fight as hard as we can for a bigger capital allocation, even if it means a big increase in the capital investment programme. We both have our hearts in this; and I am not saying this to fob off hon. Gentlemen. If we can get an increased supply of steel, we shall do our best to see that it is matched in every other way.