HC Deb 30 November 1953 vol 521 cc776-80
The Minister of Works (Sir David Eccles)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I will make a statement about the building licensing arrangements for 1954.

The free-limits in force are £2,000 for industrial and agricultural work and £500 for all other work including housing. The Government wishes to stimulate investment in productive enterprise. The free-limit for industry and agriculture will therefore be raised as from 1st January, 1954, to £25,000. The free-limit for all other work will be raised to £1,000. Secondly, a further degree of freedom will be given to the private house builder which will enable him, without detriment to the local authorities' programmes, to play an increasing part in the provision of houses for general needs.

From 1st January, 1954, local authorities will give licences automatically for houses up to 1,500 square feet in size and for not more than 50 houses at a time. They will also have discretionary powers to issue licences for houses up to 2,500 square feet. Proposals for houses in excess of that area will be referred to my right hon. Friend. Applications to build more than 50 houses at one time will be referred by the local authority, with their recommendation, to the regional office of the Ministry of Housing for consideration in consultation with my Ministry since building plans of this size may affect the programmes to be carried out in an area wider than that of the local authority immediately concerned.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has asked me to say that these arrangements for private house-building will also apply to Scotland.

Thirdly, as a further step towards simplifying licensing procedure, from 1st January next applications for building licences for all classes of buildings except housing should be sent to the regional licensing office of the Ministry of Works. If in any area the load on the building industry appears likely to become excessive, my regional officers will operate the starting date procedure and thus preserve a balance between building work in the private and public sectors of the economy.

Mr. Bevan

Whilst welcoming the decision to increase the licensing ceiling for industrial and agricultural building, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to explain whether it will be possible for him to raise the superficial area automatically to 1,500 feet for certain houses and to give local authorities power to issue licences up to 2,500 superficial feet without, at the same time, taking labour from other forms of building? Is he making preparations to increase the overhead building force in the country in order that all these operations can go on simultaneously?

Sir D. Eccles

We have, of course, studied that question and we consider that there is ample labour to make this increase in freedom. If the right hon. Gentleman will allow me, I propose to make a statement about that tomorrow, if I catch Mr. Speaker's eye.

Mr. Bevan

But will the right hon. Gentleman inform the House, because we are to have a discussion on housing immediately, how many unemployed building workers there are?

Sir D. Eccles

That point does not arise. There is at the moment an increasing capacity in the building industry, and this freedom will make only a very small demand upon it.

Mr. Langford-Holt

Can my right hon. Friend say what is the limit within planning permission for industrial premises, which are not factory space, inside the Metropolitan area but not inside the City of London?

Sir D. Eccles

That is quite a different question, and perhaps my hon. Friend will put it on the Order Paper.

Mr. Bowles

Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is a great shortage of bricks in the Midlands, although he denied this in an answer to me last week, and that the shortage of bricks is holding up even council houses? I have written to his right hon. Friend about this. Is he quite sure that there are sufficient bricks in the country to carry out this building?

Sir D. Eccles

Yes, I think the increase in bricks which is coming will be sufficient.

Mr. Swingler

If there are ample building resources available, may we have an immediate increase in the school building programme?

Sir D. Eccles

That is another question.

Mr. Woodburn

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether the Board of Trade will still enforce restrictions on building on industrial estates, or whether this freedom will be extended to industrial estates in the new towns, so that they can go ahead with the building of factories?

Sir D. Eccles

Yes, in fact the sponsoring arrangements whereby the building owner who wants to put up a factory goes now to the Board of Trade or to the Ministry of Supply, will cease, and only in cases where the area is in danger of a severe overload will the Ministry of Works now apply to the Board of Trade or the Ministry of Supply to know whether the building is of vital importance.

Dr. King

What steps is the Minister taking to see that the raising of the industrial ceiling does not interfere with the permits which his right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government gives for the more important building and rebuilding in blitzed towns?

Sir D. Eccles

This raising of the industrial limit to £25,000 will not, I think, make much difference. We have refused no licences since last April.

Mr. Gibson

In view of the fact that the total labour force within the building industry is no larger now than it was before the war and that the supply of apprentices for the skilled industries is still much below the numbers required, how on earth does the Minister expect that the increased amount of free-limit, work for all sorts of other building than housing is to be done without taking labour away from house building?

Sir D. Eccles

If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, it is rather a long story, and I shall try to tell it tomorrow.

Mr. Gaitskell

Since the right hon. Gentleman has assured the House that he has gone carefully into the matter of the overloading of the building industry, will he tell us how many new additional houses he expects will be built as a result of this proposal, and what the increase in; the total value of industrial building is estimated to be?

Sir D. Eccles

I cannot possibly answer the first question, since it depends on the initiative of private persons, but I am confident that we have the resources for it. The second question was how much extra factory building there will be. I cannot tell that either. It is extremely foolish for a Government, as some Governments have done, to try to prophesy what private people will do.

Mr. H. Morrison

How does the right hon. Gentleman know that his conclusions are right when he himself admits at the Box that he has no knowledge of the fox—[Laughter.]—the facts. Well, there is a lot to be said for the use of the word "fox" in this connection; but if the right hon. Gentleman admits that he does not know what the facts are, how can he stand there and make assertions as to conclusions based on facts of which he is ignorant?

Sir D. Eccles

The answer to the right hon. Gentleman is that every time we have increased freedom to build the resources have come forward, and we think they will do just the same in this case.

Captain Waterhouse

Is my right hon. Friend aware that this House and the country trust his judgment?

Sir R. Acland

If building conditions are imposed upon local authorities, such as being obliged to use breeze blocks on the inner sections of cavity walls, will the same conditions be put on private builders, or are private builders to be allowed to build how they like, whilst the Ministry of Housing is imposing all sorts of unfavourable conditions on local authority building?

Sir D. Eccles

Private people usually build quicker and cheaper, but in any case the hon. Baronet will realise that with the taking of timber off the ration many of these restrictions are finished.

Mr. Foot

Does the last part of the right hon. Gentleman's original statement mean that the allocation of licences for blitzed cities is now to be transferred from the Ministry of Housing and Local Government to his Department? If so, does that mean that the local auhorities themselves will be deprived of the right of deciding which projects shall go ahead inside their own area?

Sir D. Eccles

No. It means that the amount of work done in the blitzed cities will be in relation to the building resources in the particular city and under that system my right hon. Friend will be able to sponsor—if that is the word—considerably more this year.

Mr. Bevan

How can the right hon. Gentleman say that, when in his own original statement he has stated that certain building is to be automatic, that local authorities are not to be asked permission at all for houses up to 1,500 feet and local authorities may give permission for houses up to 2,500 feet? How, therefore, can he say that he will be able to allocate the building resources within any particular area when he cannot deny licences to private builders?

Sir D. Eccles

We have done these allocations so much better than our predecessors that I think we might be trusted to carry on.

Brigadier Clarke

Does my right hon. Friend realise that the blitzed cities are very satisfied with the arrangements made by the present Government compared with those made by the last Government?