§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.47 p.m.
§ The Minister of Public Building and Works (Mr. Charles Pannell)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
This is a Bill not to reduce the output of the building industry but to redistribute it. It is a Bill to ensure that housing and other projects of top social priority get to the head of the queue. It has been my objective to increase the output of the construction industry, but when I came into office I found, what I had long known, that the industry was too small in the context of the nation's economy. Long before the Government took office the output of the industry had been insufficient, but little had been done about it.
I quote from a Report, dated March 1964, from the National Economic Development Council on the Construction Industry. It stated:What is clear is that there is no certainty, in present conditions, that the industry will be able to meet the demands upon it. And the possibility cannot be ruled out that by falling short it may hold back the expansion of the economy as a whole.I know full well that the then Minister thought that that was a rather pessimistic view, but I rather think that history has tended to confirm what that Report stated.
Demand has risen and will continue to rise faster than output. This is what creates restriction and puts up prices. Some of the demand cannot be met. The object of this Bill is to see that we put first things first.
When I took office I was at pains to find out what I had long suspected, and I was not too surprised to find that during the financial year 1964–65 capacity fell far short of demand. The shortfall was of the order of £100 million. Unchecked, it might have been £140 million this year. Projects essentially desirable and necessary had to be deferred. Others had to wait. Then we were getting restriction by price, not by licence.
434 It so happens that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry then, whom I see in his place, had something to say about this on a Private Member's Motion on 26th April, 1963, which was 18 months before we came into office. He said:We have now, as my hon. Friend recognised, reached a crucial stage in the affairs of this industry. First, I think that is because the resources of the industry are already overloaded; secondly, because the labour force in the industry is unlikely to increase to any significant degree; and, thirdly, because, as my hon. Friend said so very rightly, demands upon the industry will increase greatly during the coming years. Certainly, one can foresee the possibility that in the modernisation of our country, which is one of the greatest needs of the present time, the construction industries themselves could be a major bottleneck in that process."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th April, 1963; Vol. 676, c. 669.]
§ Mr. Richard Sharples (Sutton and Cheam)
I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way and also for giving me notice that he was going to raise this point. He will recall that in the six minutes which remained for me to answer that debate I went on to say what were the positive measures which we were going to take, in conjunction with the industry, to put this right, and also that we did take those measures with the industry in order to do so.
§ Mr. Pannell
Unfortunately for the hon. Gentleman there were another 18 months before we took over, during which things got worse, not better, and that is the answer to that. [Laughter.] All right. Let the record speak on the matter, not interchanges between us in this House. I want to put this thing in historical perspective.
This overload can be traced back to the "go" after the last "stop". After the "stop" of 1960–61, the Selwyn-Lloyd freeze, orders placed in 1961 showed no increase over 1960. The hon. Gentleman with his Departmental knowledge will know why—when we get a backlog it takes about 12 months to pull up. This is one of the evils of this sort of thing.
In 1962 orders increased 3 per cent. over the previous year. Then there came the usual pre-election boom—that is, when you advertise the jobs you are going to do if you get back with the object of countermanding them if you do get back. [An HON. MEMBER: "What the Labour 435 Party did."] I am afraid it was not. When all is said and done, we can hardly be responsible for the thirteen years before we came into office. We are talking about the legacy which we inherited. In 1963, still when the party opposite was in power, the increase of orders was 10 per cent. up; in 1964 they were up by 15 per cent. Perhaps the optimism had increased on the other side. Demand was galloping away; output was left at the post. A huge backlog of work was being built up.
Then came the election. By the end of 1964 all this was plain for those who had eyes to see. Building materials and skilled labour were at a premium. It was difficult to obtain bricks throughout 1964 and the first part of 1965. This is what a trade paper said at the time:Labour is not the only factor of production which is causing concern, for the pressure of demand on building will almost certainly create more material shortages before the year end, in addition to the current difficulties with brick and cement supplies. The nationwide building brick shortage is the severest for almost a decade and is resulting in delays and rising costs.That is from the "Cubitt Magazine", a firm of which Mr. Geoffrey Rippon is now a director.
Then there was the debate on 31st July about the shortage of bricks. It was against this background that I had to deal with the brick industry when I came in. Hon. Gentlemen opposite defended the position in the last debate of the last Parliament, and the hon. Gentleman defended it. He suggested that though bricks were short we could somehow stretch the industry to meet demand.
I could give him a long list indeed of what the trade papers said at that time. We were actually then in a state of chronic shortage, and it was even worse than it appeared. With my local authority connections—and this is also true of other people up and down the country—I know that because of the shortage they were just not embarking on all sorts of jobs which might have been done. I remember a local authority phoning me up and telling me—this was before I became Minister—that they had decided not to start a fire headquarters. There was a hold up at that time simply because of the shortage of bricks.
If we look at the whole of the building industry Press at that time we can see this. 436 This is the Building Industry News of 21st May, 1964: "Brick crisis delays jobs". And a week later "Brick shortage now acute". Later still:Brick shortage gets worse. … The black marketeers have moved in to the building industry, selling at handsome profit to hard-pressed builders.From the Midlands we read that Coventry builders were facing the worst brick shortage they had ever experienced. The Coventry branch of the National Federation of Building Trades Employers said that the combined shortage and a rising cost of bricks was putting the future of small firms in jeopardy.
The organ of the party opposite, the Daily Telegraph, said:Imports from Holland and Belgium are increasing. An architect employed by a building firm said yesterday that his company was being given delivery dates up to 12 months ahead by British suppliers. Deliveries from Holland were being received in four weeks.That at any rate was the background when I took office. Hon. Gentlemen who were responsible and making no complaint at a time when bricklayers were being laid off are now complaining because bricks are being stacked. When I took office there were scarcely two days' supply in the country. Now there is a howl of rage because we have got two weeks' supply. In that July a figure of 300 million bricks was bandied about as being a reasonable stock in this country to get a proper degree of flexibility. But, as I say, in some parts of the country bricklayers were being laid off because there were no bricks. Well, you can stack bricks, but you cannot stack bricklayers!
What about plasterboard? I ask anybody here to look at the list of Parliamentary Questions I had to face when I came in—not for something I created; this was not something I created; but not a day went by without somebody putting down a Parliamentary Question about plasterboard, to say nothing of questions in the Press. There was a delivery period of over a year. The plasterboard industry was in a state of crisis and I had consultations with that industry. All I am trying to make clear is that demand overreached supply all the time. In effect, the industry was too small.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)
Many of us see quite clearly why this Bill is a good and necessary one, but, 437 for these very reasons, why should permission have been given for the spending of £11 million on a new Stock Exchange when the money would have built 4,500 council houses?
§ Mr. Pannell
I am afraid that that is not a question for me. My hon. Friend can take some comfort from the fact that it will not be possible to build another one.
I now turn to the subject of cement, and I address myself particularly to the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain), who in the Adjournment debate of 20th November, 1964, said:I have never heard of a shortage of cement. If I am wrong, no doubt the Minister will correct me."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th November, 1964; Vol. 702, c. 856.]I am going to do so right now. By the middle of 1965 stocks were very low and the cement makers were scouring the world for imports at high prices. I was seeing them almost day by day. The shortage was so acute that the first permission given under the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act was for a cement works at Erith in Kent.
On 27th May, I opened the National Building Exhibition at Birmingham. A party of builders followed me all the way back to London in the train. They did not besiege my railway carriage, but they besieged me in the Lobby that evening. They complained that the motorways were taking up all the cement and that housing was being held up. They were all good members of the Tory Party. They knew the situation as well as did the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe, who has an honoured name in the building trade, but sometimes I think that he may have only a nodding acquaintance with it now that he is in the House. But that was what was said by the chaps on the job.
§ Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of the question and I am extremely grateful that after 12 months he has thought fit to correct me. When I used the word "never", I was wrong. I should have said, "I have not heard of a shortage of cement". If I am fortunate enough to catch Mr. Speaker's eye later, I will deal with the matter in some detail then and not interrupt the right hon. Gentleman now.
§ Mr. Pannell
That is rather poor. The hon. Gentleman says that I have taken 12 months to catch up. He has misunderstood the purpose of the debate. What I have given has been a quotation in the context of the time about which I was speaking. When he was saying that I was having all the trouble with the cement manufacturers and all the trouble about imports. I am not talking about challenging him now, when things are rather better because we have had 12 months of this Minister.
The situation was much the same with craftsmen. Take carpenters. There were five vacancies for every unemployed carpenter in the country as a whole and 10 in some areas. There were three unfilled jobs for every unemployed bricklayer and two vacancies for every plasterer. No wonder that the construction industry could not do all the work demanded of it. The jobs that got done were those whose sponsors could pay most. Holiday camps got priority over schools. I could give a specific example where a holiday camp competed against a training college because of the bonus offers made to the bricklayers, who went to the work on the holiday camp rather than on the training school for teachers.
House building was greatly affected by these shortages of men and materials, particularly council houses for rent. We have all seen building sites in our own constituencies obviously undermanned or held up through lack of materials. Work seems to go ahead at a snail's pace. Last year in Great Britain 426,000 houses were started, but only 374,000 were completed. The number under construction at the end of the year was 434,000. This year we expect to complete 390,000 houses, leaving 444,000 under construction. The building of houses over the years has been taking longer and costing more. There was no light at the end of the tunnel. Orders were pouring in at a rate of over 10 per cent. higher than work was being completed.
It is against this background that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced his economic measures on 27th July. They were primarily directed at the balance of payments problems and they are achieving their objective. The construction industry cannot and could not be insulated against 439 the climate of the whole economy. We must see it, as every other industry, in context. The Chancellor imposed a moratorium in expenditure in the public sector of the construction industry from which only work of high social priority was exempted. Further reduction could have been made only by cutting back still deeper into work of high social priority. This would have meant stopping houses and schools. It is against this background of the Conservative years that we have brought in legislation to control the starting dates of large projects in the private sector.
This is permanent legislation. It is not introduced to deal only with a short-term moratorium, because this is not a short-term problem. As far as I can see for all the years ahead—all the researches undertaken prove this—and, despite the productivity that we hope to get from the industry, it will probably not attract enough manpower to expand at the rate that we needed in the terms of the national economy. In parenthesis, I would say this. The industry is not all that attractive. One has only to look at the statistics to see that it is an industry in the wind and the rain, an industry in which men tend to look for the inside jobs when they are over 40. One therefore has wastage. In the context of another speech, I could make out the case made by the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe at other times about winter building.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)
In the context of this Bill and this industry and the difficulty of getting recruits, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the 6 per cent. of the industry which will be affected by the Bill is the 6 per cent. which operates the apprentice schemes and the section of the industry which goes to some trouble to make them effective, and yet it is this part of the industry which will be hindered?
§ Mr. Pannell
That just is not true. The hon. Gentleman had better hear the whole case. When he reads the speech in HANSARD he will probably be able to make a better speech next week. There are certain facts of life about this industry. [Interruption.] I do not want to get off the main theme. What seems too long a speech to the hon. Member for Orms- 440 kirk (Sir D. Glover) will seem an even longer speech to me when I have finished it. The hon. Member for Ormskirk usually makes sedentary grunts from the Opposition benches. However, I believe that he is listening to me with his own education at heart.
This is an industry which is not attracting half the apprentices that it wants. In effect, there is a great deal of background to all this. We need permanent machinery to regulate the flow of work in the construction industry. This is plain to all those who have suffered the results of shortages, Selwyn Lloyd and the build-up of stocks. This Bill is a very highly sophisticated and selective exercise. There is no blanket "stop-go" here. We propose to put the industry in a proper framework so that it need never again be subject to panic measures and blunt instruments and other mixed metaphors.
I believe that this industry, under any Government, is always first in the casualty list if there is a trade recession or a balance of payments problem. The only thing that Chancellors can do is to introduce blanket measures. What we are striving for is an economic regulator to enable us to send the industry to one part of the country, to withdraw it from another, to put a ban on some things, and to make the industry highly selective. This is what we are seeking to do, and as our consultations have proceeded with the building industry it has more and more seen the truth of this.
The licensing machinery is a flexible instrument. It will be aimed, to use the Prime Minister's words,not at restricting building work below capacity but at relating the total demand on the industry to what can be built on the basis of full employment in building and rising building output.The industry is expanding as the National Plan requires. If the whole economy is to achieve its target, this industry almost more than any other, must expand at a rate well above the average, because construction is the key. But it would be the negation of all planning to allow profits to determine priorities, and put at risk housing and vital industrial development. Permanent licensing machinery will ensure that we will never again have to impose control by the threat of retrospective legislation.
I turn now to the Bill.
§ Mr. Pannell
The idea of giving the past history is to show that there is nothing that we suffer today that better men have not suffered before. I am putting this in its historical context for the benefit of people as young as the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) who think that there is no past but only a future. We have to know where we have come from during the last 13 years to know where we are going, and I do not apologise for the fact that I have spent a few moments going over the history of the industry. I have done so to point out that the logic of the Bill is inescapable.
The Bill does not seek to control all privately sponsored building. It is highly selective. The objective is to provide a regulator of the total level of private demand on the construction industry. This can be achieved by controlling the starting dates; of a few large projects—in 1966 we estimate about 500, valued at £180 million. Over 90 per cent. of new construction will be completely exempt from control. I am speaking about 90 per cent. over the whole of the public and private sector.
Apart from the general exemption for projects costing under £100,000 there are other important exemptions. First, housing and industrial buildings are exempted, whatever their value. We regard work in these categories as essential, because we must have a viable and buoyant economy before we can do anything else in the social services. We cannot have industrial development delayed. Secondly, all work in development districts is exempt from control, any control.
The development districts have a long record of difficulties and unemployment. Earlier this year I toured the North-East. I visited Newcastle, Durham and Jarrow, and Jarrow is an evocative name in the history of this side of the House. Those who in their lifetime have experienced long periods of unemployment never get over that traumatic experience. They keep it in their minds to the end of their days.
I understand that the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark) is to follow me. Perhaps I might tell him that one of the things about which I am 442 sensitive in relation to Northern Ireland, having spent some time there, is the insecurity which has arisen from massive unemployment there. I am sensitive to the needs of the areas to which I have referred to grow and to prosper, and this is why all projects in development districts are exempt. This applies particularly to Scotland, because one of the things that I found when I toured the North-East and Scotland was that the raw materials about which people were complaining, such as plaster board and so on, were no longer being sent to the South-East. The mere threat of this legislation was enough to send them to other districts. Things are rather easier in the places about which I have spoken in the North-East and Scotland. Following the Chancellor's measures we clamped down on office building in London, we exempted the development districts, and we declared for regional development, thus giving the North-East and Scotland the chance to have a life of their own.
§ Mr. Edward M. Taylor (Glasgow, Cathcart)
Will the right hon. Gentleman explain why in Scotland this year the number of houses built will drop by more than 2,000, and why the road programme and many other public works programmes have been greatly slashed?
§ Mr. Pannell
I was speaking in the context of private building. Whatever other economies there are, the blame cannot be laid at the door of this Bill. Scotland suffered far more under the previous Government because of the drive towards the Metropolis and the South-East.
In the public sector, the Government can exercise control over the starting dates of projects financed directly or indirectly from public funds or where Government permission has to be obtained for another reason. To give examples, a project needing an office development permit, or a pipeline authorisation is exempt. I think that the philosophy underlying this can readily be understood. The Government will look closely at the social need for a scheme and at the state of the building industry in the area in question before allowing any such scheme to proceed.
The ban of 27th July applied to all projects being or contracted for after that date. The corollary of this is that all 443 projects for which contracts were entered into before that date must be exempted, and to put the matter beyond dispute I have taken the date following the Chancellor's statement as the operative one—28th July.
I have introduced one modification to the exempted categories, which I shall mention here. I had earlier envisaged, and announced on 30th July, that alterations costing over £100,000 would be exempt unless they entailed a change of use. It has proved unduly complex to provide a clear definition of change of use, and I have decided, after consulting my right hon. and learned Friend, to bring all alternations over £100,000 within the scope of licensing.
§ Mr. Costain rose——
§ Mr. Pannell
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to finish what I am saying. I cannot believe that many such schemes will arise, but if anyone, before today, has started such an alteration in good faith, I am prepared to allow the work to proceed. Maintenance and repair work is, of course, exempt from control.
§ Mr. Costain
The right hon. Gentleman has covered the point which is so important, namely, that work started between the two dates will be exempt.
§ Mr. Pannell
I would rather deal with one interruption at a time, but, as I am a tolerant man, I give way to the hon. Gentleman.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls
If the work is in hand by the architect, will it be exempt, or only if the work itself has started? The right hon. Gentleman will know that a lot of the expense of a building is taken up in preparation for the actual laying of the bricks, and I think that that ought to be taken into account.
§ Mr. Pannell
I am sorry, but the hon. Gentleman continues to betray the fact that he has not done his homework. A great deal of the work that is done on a drawing board never fructifies. This is one of the points that we discussed with the R.I.B.A. Every year about £60 million of the work done by the planners 444 never reaches the building industry. I think that people in touch with the industry will understand this. Certainly the industry itself is pretty well satisfied with it.
Clause 8, which is the one on which I think some people have had some difficulty, and which I think I must explain carefully, provides for changes to be made by the Minister by Statutory Instrument in the financial level at which licensing operates, either generally or for specific types of work. It allows the Minister, by Statutory Instrument, to vary the exemptions either for types of work or for different areas. For instance, other areas may become development districts.
§ Mr. H. P. G. Channon (Southend, West)
The Minister would not need Clause 8 for that. Is it not covered under Clause 7?
§ Mr. Pannell
I need Clause 8 for the purposes of the general argument. I do not wish to be interrupted in the middle of my explanation. It allows the Minister, by Statutory Instrument, to vary the exemptions either for different types of work or for different areas. An Order imposing more stringent control will be subject to an affirmative Resolution; an Order granting more exemptions will be subject to a negative Resolution. In short—and this is the point that I want to get over, because some Press comment has been singularly uninformed—where I relax I will go ahead unless the House objects, and where I tighten up I will come to the House for power.
Clause 8 contains the essential powers to allow for flexibility. These powers do not extend to making changes in the control fundamentally out of character with licensing as we now intend it. Licensing cannot be extended, without further legislation, to housing, or to repairs and maintenance or to work done by local authorities, new town commissions or development corporations. For this, an Order subject to affirmative Resolution would not be sufficient. Amending legislation will also be needed to extend licensing to work subject to office development permits or pipeline authorisations. In short, no radical change can be made without full deliberation in this House.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke
Is it not a fact that, in spite of what the Minister has 445 said, Clause 8 gives him power to make an Order—which must be approved by the House—which could bring within control every form of private building in the country?
§ Mr. Pannell
The interpretation that has been put on this Clause has caused me more trouble than anything else. Lawyers have entirely agreed the interpretation as I have given it. The Clause does not go beyond what I have said, and I have taken great trouble to ensure that my powers do not go beyond this point. The Clause was drafted with great care, and I read every word to make sure I was right. That is the answer to the hon. Member's question.
The penalties for offences under the licensing procedure are intended to be sufficient to deter a developer who might think it more profitable to press ahead without a licence. I will grant licences for starts up to six months ahead. The licences will be valid for a further six months, and by this time work on site must start. Licensing must march in step with capacity and we cannot, with sufficient accuracy, predict capacity for more than 12 months ahead.
I notice that an Amendment has been put down, declining to give a Second Reading to this Bill, in the names of the Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy Leader and two hon. Gentlemen opposite. I understand why the other two are not in their places, because these are the people who allowed the construction industry to fall into such a state that when I took office there were hardly three days' supplies of bricks in the country, and plasterboard was so scarce that orders were being placed for more than a year ahead.
The Bill does not apply to Northern Ireland. I must therefore raise with the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark), who is to reply, the question of his position here today. This matter was put rather well by the Prime Minister the other day, when he said:I would hope that Northern Ireland Members who are here and are welcomed here for the duties that they have to perform in matters affecting the United Kingdom and many matters affecting Northern Ireland would consider their position on matters where we have no equivalent rights in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. R. Chichester-Clark (Londonderry)
Let me put the right hon. Gentle- 446 man out of his doubts now. My position is the position of any other Member of this House. I am not the Member of Northern Ireland. I am a Member of this Parliament. Someone with the Minister's experience and interest in the traditions of this House should be well aware of that. If he does not like this position, let him look at the speech made by his hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State, Home Office, on 26th October.
§ Mr. Pannell
If I take him constitutionally, I had better take him on his constituency. There are matters occurring in Londonderry now in connection with building and licensing which exceed anything that we are doing.
§ Mr. Chichester-Clark
On a point of order, in view of the fact that the Bill does not apply to Northern Ireland, do we have to have this—[Interruption.] All right; I will allow the Minister to go on.
§ Mr. Pannell
I am under the impression that we are under your orders, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and not those of the hon. Member for Londonderry.
§ Mr. F. V. Corfield (Gloucestershire, South)
Is it in order in a Second Reading debate to have these divergencies, dealing with the position of my hon. Friend, simply because he represents an Irish constituency?
§ Mr. Pannell
We are discussing the principle of the Bill—but this is one of the difficulties. The hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe who is a man of honour, would undoubtedly declare an interest if he made a speech today. Presumably the hon. Member for Londonderry must declare a lack of interest in the Bill. That is the difficulty. I cannot speak about anything that happens in Northern Ireland, but the hon. Member presumes, from a pinnacle of pompous patronage, to come here and tell England how to proceed.
§ Mr. Pannell
I am addressing somebody under the protection of the Chair and I am not dealing with personalities. I am dealing with the question whether or not Members have an interest in the Bill. I therefore resent the suggestion that I am indulging in personalities. I am having to deal with the curious dilemma with which we are faced, namely, that the Bill is going to be led against by a Member who has no interest in it.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Any hon. Member of this House has an interest in any Bill that comes before the House.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls
Is it not unusual, to say the least, for a Minister at the Dispatch Box to rebuke the Chair in this way?
§ Mr. Pannell
I am trying to avoid a situation that applies in Londonderry at present. I quote from the Government of Northern Ireland White Paper on proposals for dealing with unfit houses. I am within the rules of order. I am making comparison between conditions in this country and conditions in Northern Ireland. If any hon. Member has the right to address this House, any hon. Member has the right to answer—especially a Minister in charge of a Bill. The Report says:The survey of houses in Londonderry showed a relatively large proportion of houses to be unfit—5,429 out of 10,236, or 53 per cent. Of these unfit houses slightly more than one-half are considered to be unsuitable for repair.
§ Mr. Stanley R. McMaster (Belfast, East)
Is not this a matter within the power of Stormont? In that case, is it in order for a Minister to quote it?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
We should not refer to anything which is a matter for the Northern Ireland Parliament, but the Minister is trying to explain the need For this Bill by a Northern Ireland comparison.
§ Mr. Pannell
I am afraid that Northern Ireland Members cannot have it both ways. If they are going to tell us that the Bill is not necessary and that it is doctrinaire—to use the old phrase—I am surely entitled to make a comparison with the conditions that exist in the places where those hon. Members come from. I am using Northern Ireland as a basis for comparison, just as if I were giving 448 certain vital statistics I might refer to the death rate in India as compared to the death rate in this country. It is perfectly in order in the context of the Bill, and I still say that it is rather pompous for people to have this sort of attitude—that we cannot reflect on the constituencies which they represent yet they can interfere when they are not affected by the Bill themselves. After all, this House and many people here have often called attention to the incongruity of hon. Members putting forward spurious interests. That is the line I am taking.
The Government of Northern Ireland census—[Interruption.]—I am stating the position over licensing and giving the example of Northern Ireland, where the building industry has gone awry and everyone gets in irrespective of regulations or controls. The Government of Northern Ireland census of 1961 shows that in Londonderry there is a considerable measure of overcrowding. The census states that 56 per cent. of dwellings have only four rooms and the average number of persons per room is 0.99. No wonder The Economist, in an article on 7th November, 1964, characterised Londonderry as:… the poorest as well as the most isolated of British settlements.It is against that background that I question this sort of attitude. This is the condition which we should be in if there were no Regulations. If we had the same sort of climate, we should get the same sort of housing—[HON. MEMBERS: "Order."] I do not know. I am under your protection, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I heard yells behind me and thought that you had risen to your feet——
§ Mr. Pannell
No. Nobody can complain that I have been unwilling to give way up to now. As a matter of fact, I like to give way to those people whom I know have an interest in the subject, but the hon. Member for Bristol, West whom I like personally and to whom I give way pretty often, tends to get more 449 and more frivolous as the debate goes on—[HON. MEMBERS: "Order."]
The Amendment goes on to say——
§ Mr. Pannell
I do not know why the ex-heavy weight champion is yelling out. Does the hon. and learned Member for Antrim, South (Sir Knox Cunningham) wish to rise to his feet, or has he been so often horizontal in the ring that he does not know how to do so?
§ Sir Knox Cunningham
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. Can the right hon. Gentleman say why, in discussing this matter, he is making such a vicious attack on the Northern Ireland Government in matters which this House, in its wisdom, has decided to leave to the Parliament of Northern Ireland?
§ Mr. Pannell
I am not. I am merely reflecting, in my usual calm way, on the incongruity of the hon. Member for Londonderry coming to the Box to move an Amendment to the Bill. To me, it raises a point of principle on representation. I like the hon. Member for Londonderry personally, and I know that he will not take my remarks as directed at him personally, but I am rather keen on these sort of points of order—[Laughter.] This is a matter of order. After all, the principle is that there should be no taxation without representation, including representation in Northern Ireland, yet we are presumed——
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I must ask the right hon. Gentleman to come to the principle of the Bill.
§ Mr. Pannell
I am only too willing to desist, but I am observing the courtesy of the House and submitting to interuptions.
The Amendment goes on to say that licensing will make no contribution towards restoring the confidence of the construction industry. The confidence of the industry had indeed reached its nadir under the previous Government, after 13 years of misrule, with "stop-go" policies, for which "Selwyn Lloyd" became a by-word——
§ Mr. Pannell
As a matter of fact, the words "Selwyn Lloyd" in that context have passed into history in the same way as "Gladstone" connotates a bag——
§ Mr. Pannell rose——
§ Mr. Pannell
Nobody knows where Wirral is, but they know who the right hon. Member for that constituency is.
In just over a year——
§ Sir Knox Cunningham
On a point of order. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, ruled that it was out of order to refer to a present Member of Parliament by his name. Would you, therefore, ask the Minister to withdraw?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I do not think that there is anything for him to withdraw, but I hope that he will in future refer to right hon. and hon. Members in the normal fashion.
§ Mr. Pannell
Very well, but if I refer to the "Wirral stop-go" nobody outside will understand what I am talking about. That is my point. We must refer to things as they are known. Hon. Members' names have often been used in the House in a wider context. I am not referring to him as a Member of the House. I am referring to him as an economic operation.
In just over a year, this Government have done much to restore the confidence of the industry to give it a certain future. The National Plan calls for an increase from £3,600 million to £4,700 million by 1970. We also want 500,000 houses a year by 1970. But if we want proof of all this, only last month, the International Building Exhibition was held and was opened by the Prime Minister. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and 451 Local Government and I attended the opening and the Minister of Technology attended later.
The Government's interest in the construction industry did not pass unnoticed in the technical journals. The Architects' Journal, a copy of which I have here, called attention to the fact that three Ministers were there and that the Prime Minister's address at the opening far over-shadowed any other Minister's speech in recent year in its knowledge and understanding of the industry and its problems. I find comments of this kind hard to reconcile with the view expressed in the Amendment, that the confidence of the industry has been undermined by the policies of Her Majesty's Government.
The Times this morning made three criticisms. I mention this because in the days when I was hard up for a brief for a speech I usually read the leaders in The Times, and I approve heartily of The Times when I agree with it. In case hon. Gentlemen had gone through that sort of laudable operation, I thought that I had better deal with The Times. They made three criticisms—[An HON. MEMBER: "Get on with it."] That is all right. I am not one of the most awkward Members of the House and so I think I may be allowed a little time. I have known hon. Members who have made speeches far longer than I am making, and with a lot less sense. Unfortunately, I got bogged down in that Ulster interlude. I am sorry.
As I was saying, The Times made three criticisms. Their first objection was the difficulty of deciding priorities between projects of the same class. This criticism is more obvious than real. We are finding out that the more frivolous applications are not now coming in. There is no question here of our stopping any kind of development "permanently and altogether", as The Times said. We are running this only from London and Edinburgh so that we can preserve a general view. There will be no control on a district level.
The Times also raised the question of preference of small schemes to planned development. I am afraid that this is nonsense. All larger schemes are not to be stopped, but will be taken, like everything else, in context. I have a 452 close liaison with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing to ensure that building licensing keeps in step with planning policy for the redevelopment of town centres. I recently licensed, in advance of the Bill, a building of this sort in Warwick.
The Times also referred to a multiplicity of controls. They say that in certain directions there may be three controls. This is a misunderstanding of terms which no hon. Member here with a knowledge of local government would make. The Times confuses the issue. Planning control is a local control for the use of land, while licensing is a central government control for the use of economic resources. I cannot abdicate my responsibility to any local authority. A local authority cannot give its view in the context of national considerations. There is no overlap with office development permits. It is one or the other. The Bill exempts non-industrial buildings which are to be used for providing facilities for industrial development. We must take a hard look at those buildings in mixed developments which have no real connection with the generous exemptions already granted under the Bill.
The Bill is a vital instrument for moulding the construction industry for the general good. Each element of the industry tends to look no further than its own horizons and to be unaware of other people's problems. It is a very personal sort of industry, with a great many specialists in it. I regard my Ministry, as I know my predecessor did, as the leader of the industry, best placed to see all aspects of the industry in balance. The architects, the builders, the producers of materials, and the artisans—all of these have their own problems, but they are all inter-related. This is not a question of the gentleman in Whitehall knowing best. Unless there is cooperation between the Government, the professional institutions, the trade unions and the trade associations, the resources of the industry will not be deployed efficiently. There will be shortages or surpluses. Planning in partnership can put this right. I am grateful for the co-operation of the industry in the preparation of the Bill and helping us map out the way ahead.
In conclusion, I commend the Bill to the House as an instrument which will 453 bring to a close the era of "stop-go" which has for so long beset this vital industry. Without legislation this industry is defenceless, as has been proved many times in the past. This industry had a chip on its shoulder about bad treatment long before I took over. We hope with this instrument to usher in a new age of confidence and prosperity based on the confident hope and the sure knowledge that demand and supply will march in step. [Interruption.] I thought it was the Member for Rhodesia grunting from below the Gangway.
Social justice can be realised only to the extent that we recognise social needs. In this field and in this Bill we place first the houses that shall be homes, the schools to safeguard our future, and the whole infra-structure of industry based on full employment and an increasing standard of life for our people.
§ 4.42 p.m.
§ Mr. R. Chichester-Clark (Londonderry)
I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:this House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which represents a permanent return to Socialist controls and makes no contribution towards restoring the confidence, already undermined by the policies of Her Majesty's Government, of the building, construction and allied industries.I do not propose to deal with the right hon. Gentleman's point about Londonderry, which is not included in the Bill, except to say that the people of Northern Ireland and the Government of that province are doing everything in their power to bring about an improvement in what as the right hon. Gentleman said, is in some places a tragic housing shortage. Indeed, I should have thought, if I may get away with being pompous for one second, that it was too serious a situation to use as a party political point across the Floor of the House, where nothing can be done about it.
At the beginning of the Minister's rather long speech—I shall try not to emulate it in length, because there are many hon. Members who wish to take part in the debate and I shall be as short as possible—he gave us a very gloomy story of all the various shortages he found—bricks, and even bricklayers. Incidentally, there has always been a shortage of bricklayers. He told us about 454 all the skeletons that he thought he found hanging in various cupboards, and all the rest of it. It was a gloomy beginning.
We can judge the Minister only by what he has said. He had something to say about this when he came into office. By then, to use his own words, he was not gazing into the crystal; he was in a position to read the book. What he said was that he found, in the industry which we are discussing, "a generally satisfactory state of affairs". I never thought to hear anyone speak of my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) as not having even a nodding acquaintance with the industry, but this expression trips naturally from the Minister's tongue. I find, on looking through HANSARD, that it is used on many occasions whenever the Minister gets into a tight corner. It is his last refuge. What I think we shall demonstrate before the end of this debate is that the right hon. Gentleman may have a nodding acquaintance with something, but it is not with what is going on inside his own Government. I shall come to that later.
I thought that, apart from many such agreeable passages in his long speech, the Minister's reference to the Amendment was a little uncharitable. But, of course, we expected that. What I thought wholly unconvincing were the reasons which the Minister gave for the introduction of the Bill. Depending on which way one looks at it, the Minister either gave none, or he gave so many as to convince no one. Was it lack of skilled labour? Was it shortage of building materials? The Minister has persistently said in the House that the last has not given him great concern, in recent months at any rate, though his hon. Friend said recently that there had been a shortage of plasterboard. Was it overheating? We will come to that. Was it—unworthy thought, perhaps—just an expensive sop to an over-eager Left Wing? Or was it a combination of that and a desire to begin an attempt to establish control over the industry?
The Minister quoted The Times. I do not know whether he has read it through. If he had, his confidence in his Bill and the reasons for it would have been a little further shaken, because the leader this morning says this: 455The purpose of the Building Control Bill, to be debated in the Commons today, is to equip the Government with the power to license 'inessential' private building projects in order to allow the limited capacity of the building industry to be employed on 'essential' projects. Put thus, which is the way it is put on political platforms, it sounds fine. Every rational person knows what to say if asked what should receive priority, the essential or the inessential. The snag isin thetranslation of the maxim into administrative practice …This is exactly the point.
I must confess that I felt that the Minister was a little unhappy with the introduction of his Bill. I did not think that he exhibited any signs of proud parenthood of this offspring.
I do not want to deal with the question of retrospection, nor with the apparently inappropriate penal sanctions which are in the Bill, as I understand that tonight we are to have the services of the Solicitor-General to tell us about those aspects of the Bill.
I want to go back and look rather more closely at the birth of the Bill and how it came about. We may perhaps doubt whether it is fair to hold the Minister responsible for its paternity, but we do want to know what happened between 19th January and 27th July which caused the right' hon. Gentleman to change his mind or have it changed for him.
Let us go back to November, 1964, those heady days of first and somewhat careless rapture—in fact, to 20th November of that year. I think that it was the 20th. If I am wrong, the Minister will correct me. In that period of post-election euphoria the right hon. Gentleman gave an interview to the Builder. Asked in that interview whether it was his intention to introduce further controls to go beyond what had already been announced he said—I can but quote him here—"No." and then:It is not the Government's intention to impose further conrols, because we see the industry in a positive not a negative way.Two months later he was back at it again saying the same thing, at a luncheon given by the London Master Builders 456 Association on 19th January, where he told a no doubt incredulous audience:This Government is all for free enterprise, provided it really is free as well as enterprising. Nor, are we in favour of controls for their own sake.The House would do well to note the words "for their own sake" because of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's grave statement on 27th July which followed the so-called third Budget.
It was in that so-called third Budget that the House, and a somewhat startled world, after the Minister's earlier pronouncements, heard for the first time that building licences would be introduced. The question which we must pose to the Government is what connection existed in their minds between the temporary crisis which brought forth those July measures and the permanence of this Bill. Surely the Government do not believe that the economic crisis is permanent, and for that reason I am waiting to hear some member of the Government telling us why this Bill is a permanent Measure. Temporary crises do not require permanent crisis Measures, but perhaps I am wrong and the Government believe that they have a permanent crisis on their hands. If so, I must repeat, we and the country should be told about it.
Is it the shortage of building materials which has caused this Bill to be produced? Is it the shortage of skilled labour, or is this in reality the first stage of trying to win control over the industry as a whole? One must have a certain sense of sympathy with a Minister who seems to have set out as a crusader against controls but has now succumbed, a Crossman convert, to the concept of controls for their own sake. We must presume that for some months the right hon. Gentleman padded round the Departments of Whitehall trying to persuade them—no doubt with all that tact and humility which we have come to expect from him in this House—that, firstly, they should be against controls and, secondly, if he could not prevail with that, they should be against the permanence of controls.
In one quarter at least, even if too late, the right hon. Gentleman seems to have had some success. For while the right hon. Gentleman in his speech to the quantity surveyors during the week ending 20th November had hauled down his colours and surrendered, the Chief 457 Industrial Adviser to the D.E.A., with commendable determination, was still fighting this Whitehall battle and telling the National Joint Consultative Committee thatThe Government do not want licensing and will get rid of it as soon as possible.Perhaps in his own small way the right hon. Gentleman got himself entangled in something a good deal bigger—perhaps in a struggle between the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the infant D.E.A. The right hon. Gentleman should go back and make common cause with the D.E.A. against the rest of the Government.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
I cannot be responsible for what Mr. Catherwood said. In the same publication it makes clear what I said about licensing. Almost in the first public speech I made as the Minister I quoted the £100 million shortfall in the industry and spoke of the industry being too small in the context of the nation's economy and the need to do something about it. I do not want controls for control's sake but this element of control is necessary in the interests of the country.
§ Mr. Chichester-Clark
That does not explain why it is permanent and I have not seen any early speech by the right hon. Gentleman which says anything about the introduction of these controls. As for the Chief Industrial Adviser to the D.E.A., I am sure that Mr. Catherwood does not want to be responsible for the right hon. Gentleman's speeches either. I am perfectly at liberty to quote what appears in a newspaper. I am most grateful that the right hon. Gentleman appears to nod assent and to have his assurance that I am still in order.
What then should the Minister have done? I suggest that he should have read and digested the very useful booklet produced by the Ministry of Labour, entitled "Manpower, Studies No. 3, The Construction Industry". Had he done so he would have noted from Table 1 that the total of new work done by contractors, at constant 1958 prices, rose from £1,330 million in 1955 to £2,219 million in 1964, an increase of no less than 66 per cent. I suppose that in the right hon. Gentleman's view that represents nine "wasted years". The right hon. Gentleman would also have noted that productivity on new 458 work over the past 10 years has increased at a rate of 5 per cent. per annum. The booklet attributes most of these increases to mechanisation, improved methods and techniques of construction, the introduction of labour-saving materials and improvements in organisational efficiency.
There is no reason why, especially if the Government are willing to help where they can, this progress should not continue. Indeed, with this approach and with the wider use of system building for which the industry is constantly seeking to provide, there is no reason why the rate of increase in productivity in the industry should not rise still more rapidly, that is if the Government's policy did not obstruct it. Unfortunately, as The Times pointed out some time ago—and the right hon. Gentleman is very fond of The Times—the efforts of the construction industry to improve its efficiency and to attract the necessary labour have received a severe setback in consequence of the Government's measures. As to the difficulties of getting labour, the industry has been taking vigorous steps itself by the reduction of the period of apprenticeship from five to four years, by the investigation into the occupational skills required in the future, which the National Joint Council for the Building Industry on its own initiative arranged to have carried out by the Building Research Station, and by the wholehearted support—and we are all glad of this—which all sections of the industry are giving to the work of the Construction Industry Training Board.
There are two specific questions which I should like to put to the right hon. Gentleman, without any barb of any kind. I do not wish to be dogmatic about it but is it really wise to have the Building Research Station, a former D.S.I.R. unit, spending about £1 million a year under the Ministry of Technology? I know the back history of this but it is a point to put forward for consideration.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
The hon. Gentleman can have the answer now. He will find that the practice with research stations now is that they should be outside the Ministry which they serve. The idea is to have a greater degree of objectivity from another Ministry. The Building Research Station is not the only one so specially treated.
§ Mr. Chichester-Clark
If I recollect correctly, the head of the right hon. Gentleman's Ministry was running the Research Station.
§ Mr. Chichester-Clark
Not at the moment. I am so sorry.
Another question which I should like to put to the Minister is whether there is something to be said for a "Comprehensive Council" with the standing, financial resources, and even possibly the independence of the Medical Research Council, to build up a firm co-ordination of research and technical information, if only on the technological side—the kind of thing which would have been possible under the Woodbine-Parish Committee which was appointed by his predecessor—for the whole construction industry which could help the dissemination of information on research and development, and not only the fruits of its own activities but those of the right hon. Gentleman's Department.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
There need be nothing between us on the question of information on research and development. The hon. Gentleman will remember that under a previous Minister it was agreed that we would give pound for pound. The only alternative was legislation which we did not want. I met representatives of the industry early in my ministry. In my view, the scheme which they put up was too small. I said that they must think larger if they were to get away from the possibility of a levy which nobody wanted. Obviously, I cannot go into it now but this has been going on for some time and we are bringing it as quickly as we can to a conclusion.
§ Mr. Chichester-Clark
I am grateful for that interesting reply and perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can come back to this subject on some other occasion.
Against this background of expansion and impressive determination on the part of the industry to improve efficiency, I will give some statistics. In 1959 the average index number of output per operative per month, excluding direct labour, in new housing was 108, taking 1958 as 100. The average for 1964, the 460 last year in office of the Conservative Government, was 142. This is what we mean by the confidence of the construction industry. What we further mean by the Government's undermining of the confidence of the industry is revealed by the relevant figure for the first quarter of 1965, that is, 145; and for the second quarter, 146. That is a one point expansion in housing. It really must be stagnation in any language.
From professional quarters, one after another, the most depressing statistics are coming in. From the Royal Institute of British Architects, we have the estimate of £546 million worth of work abandoned or postponed between 27th July and 18th September. I know that the Minister has certain doubts about that, and I do not rest my case upon it. More bad news came from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors—on 23rd October—which found that about £170 million worth of projects which would have been started before September, 1967, had been abandoned, postponed or modified because of the effect of the various Government measures. The surveyors further found that, out of a total of £183 million contract value of projects passing through their offices during the six months up to the end of September, 1965, £32 million had been cut back, and for the next six months up to 31st March, 1966, their assessment figure shows a certain disruption already apparent in 16 per cent. and a further 17 per cent. in doubt.
Perhaps the Minister does not believe in these figures. Perhaps he is still dubious about them as he was at Question Time on 15th November. If so, he ought to consult the N.F.B.T.E. state of trade inquiry. The N.F.B.T.E., in a real cry from the heart, said in the November edition of the National Builder,Building in progress has actually tailed offand thismust surely make some impression on policy-makers.The N.F.B.T.E. found that, as at the end of September, of the 515 firms taking part in the quarterly inquiry, 285 reported that they had fewer inquiries than at 30th June, 164 said that they had less work in progress, 254 had less work ready to start, and 175 estimated that 461 they would do less work in 1965 than in 1964. This, again, is what we mean by undermining the confidence of the industry.
To be generous to the right hon. Gentleman, as I hope I always am, let us ignore all those figures for the moment and rest the case upon his own statistics. The future of the construction industry, the great future promised in the National Plan, must depend—the Minister has virtually said this himself—on the orders for new construction being placed now. The Minister's latest figures, issued on 2nd November, show that, in August, the value of orders for new construction fell £63 million from the July figure. They further show that, with the exception of one freak month, there has been a steady decline since April this year. In the words of the Minister's own Department, slightly reticent perhaps,a downward trend does seem to have developed".This, also, is what we mean by loss of confidence.
The Minister may say that this is exactly what he wanted to happen, that this is the purpose of the Bill, to reduce overheating in the industry. He has said that sort of thing ad nauseum, but there seems to be a discrepancy between his intentions and the actual effect of what he has been doing. His intentions were, presumably, to take the heat out of the industry and to license 500 projects valued at £180 million. But he has done a great deal more than that. In his zeal to lower the temperature, he almost risks putting the future of the industry, in some measure, into cold storage.
This is an industry employing 1,800,000 people, with 90,000 firms, whose rate of growth has been second to none in this country. The various sections of the construction industry are among those which co-operated to the full in the production of the National Plan—we are for ever hearing from the First Secretary of State about how these industries cooperated in the production of his Plan—but they felt strongly enough about the controls announced on 27th July that they insisted upon having written into the National Plan thatthe changes proposed by the Government could have far-reaching consequences in capacity for building materials, on investment by contractors in plant and machinery, and on 462 recruitment and training of manpower of all types.The building materials producers went further than that. They were so angry with the Government that they stated that their confidencehad been weakened to a serious degree by the Government's announcement of new economic measures on 27th July, 1965.I suppose that I stand in some danger here of being accused by the First Secretary of State of being either a giggler or a saboteur for commenting adversely on his Plan, but I am merely quoting what is in the Plan itself.
On 28th September, the situation led the Financial Times to observe:There is air of crisis hanging over the building industry and its attendant professions, the architects, surveyors and estate agents".All in all, if the Minister had actually tried to shake the confidence of the industry, he could hardly have succeeded better during these last few months.
And, of course, we have been considering the situation before the brick fiasco, which I shall not go into now, and, notably, before the Minister of Housing and Local Government had sent out his notorious Circular No. 50/65 about direct labour departments, concerning which Mr. Kirby Laing said, rather unusually, in the presence of the Minister of Housing and Local Government,I am taking the somewhat unpredecented step of asking you publicly to reconsider the circular which was issued to local authorities. I ask you in the interests of fairness and, I must emphasise, in the interests of the restoration of confidence between the industry and the Ministry".I emphasise the concluding words,the restoration of confidence between the industry and the Ministry".
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that, before the issue of that circular, direct labour departments of local authorities were being discriminated against? The unfairness was that private enterprise employers had the advantage over direct labour departments. Those who believe in competition ought not to argue against that circular, which gives parity between direct labour departments and the private enterprise firms.
§ Mr. Chichester-Clark
Anyone who believes that will believe almost anything. I cannot deal with it now. Perhaps the 463 hon. Gentleman will have a chance to develop the point further, but I am sure that his right hon. Friends will not be particularly grateful to him if he initiates a discussion on the direct labour departments this afternoon. They will avoid that one as long as they possibly can.
Apparently, the Minister feels that the Bill will result in the building of more houses. But his proposals to license building projects are most unlikely to result in the building of a single new house. The specialists involved in this work, the specialist sub-contractors employed on the building of offices and town halls, are altogether different from those required in the building of houses. The Minister knows this perfectly well. The only possible "beneficial" effect of the Bill is that "casinos, gambling establishments and other recent excrescences"—if I may use one of the Prime Minister's latest expressions—could be built in development districts unless he uses the powers which he seeks under Clause 8(1,c) to bring even those areas under control. If that is what the right hon. Gentleman wants, it is time that he told us so in the House.
We have a new Labour Government, so new controls. Controls breed controls. Their effect is felt far beyond the particular sphere for which they are intended and far beyond the time for which they are intended, too. We have already had from this Government the control of Office and Industrial Development Act, which we did not oppose, the Statutory Instrument which applied the terms of that Act to the Birmingham conurbation as from 13th August, which also we did not oppose, the Statutory Instrument which lowered the permitted floor area for factory building and extension without an I.D.C. to 1,000 square feet, which so far we have discussed all too briefly, late at night, and, in addition, of course, we have had the other measures of 27th July.
On top of all that, we have the right hon. Gentleman's Bill, with its demand for sweeping powers of permanency and its provision in Clause 8 that the Minister may at any time extend control to work of any value, and substitute any other figure for the £100,000, subject only to Negative or Affirmative Resolution of 464 the House. We believe that if this legislation is to go through, at least—and I am not being dogmatic—it should be subject to annual review. We also believe that the limits of control should not be arbitrarily fixed by order.
Tonight we are not going to vote against one rather browbeaten Minister, who told us that his Bill would probably be the first legislation of this Parliament and in fact it is 21st in the queue, and who told us when taking over office that the building and construction industry was in a "general satisfactory state of affairs". He has now landed it in the doldrums. We are going to vote against a Government whose ineptitiude and lack of comprehension have led them to cause confusion, uncertainty and resentment in these very vital industries. Our charge is against a Government which for doctrinaire—I repeat "doctrinaire"—reasons have slowed down, are slowing down and will slow down the "generally satisfactory state of affairs" which they inherited from us.
This is a Bill which has sapped confidence still further. It is a Bill which will sap confidence—the confidence of the owner, who will be deterred from bringing forward for planning consent projects which he fears may not subsequently get a licence; the confidence of the builder, who may well be inhibited in the future from expanding and replacing his plant, his apprenticeship schemes and his staff; the confidence of the building materials producers, already revealed as damaged, as we have seen, in the Government's National Plan—we have had various other fiascoes since; the confidence of the purchasers as costs rise because of the waste of money on the preparation of plans for progress which are subsequently refused a licence; the confidence of the workers, for, as the curbs begin to bite, he may find that unemployment will start to rise.
This is an irrelevant Bill which will do nothing at all to build a single house. It is the worst economic regulator of the whole lot because of the time which it takes to bite. Its full adverse effects will not be felt by the industry for many months to come, by which time the Minister will probably want to put the whole process in reverse.
From 1945 to 1951 we were told that it was luxury cinemas which had to be 465 controlled. Now it is bowling alleys. Then, as it will be now, it was nearly all other construction work which suffered. This is a very bad Bill indeed. It is a rotten, Socialist Bill. For the reasons given in the Amendment, I hope that it will not tonight get a Second Reading.
§ 5.14 p.m.
§ Mrs. Renée Short (Wolverhampton, North-East)
The House has listened to a very extraordinary speech this afternoon by the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark). We have had what I would call a mean and doctrinaire attack on the Bill without one word of constructive policy being enunciated. Are the Opposition telling the House that they want to go back to what the country suffered during the last 13 years before the Labour Government were returned in October 1964? Can the Opposition be asking us and the nation to put the clock back and to suffer the intolerable disturbances and upsets which the building industry had to suffer then? The hon. Member seems to be oblivious of the past and ignorant of the future.
I should like to give him some good reasons, in addition to those which my right hon. Friend put forward, why we believe that the Bill is essential at this time. I welcome the Bill, and I am glad that my right hon. Friend is bringing it forward. If the Opposition wish to describe it as doctrinaire Socialism, I am nevertheless delighted to welcome it, for I make no apologies for my Socialism.
I should like to take the House back to the 1950 Conservative Party Conference, if I may take it so far back, when the target of 300,000 houses a year was set, amid a great fanfare. There was an election in the offing at the time, was there not? This target was, in fact, achieved. I must be fair to the Opposition. Let us not be unfair to the Opposition unless we have to be unfair. Between 1953 and 1957 this target was achieved. But they achieved it at a considerable cost, and we are having to deal by this legislation with part of the legacy. They achieved this target at the cost of local authority house-building, which had expanded steadily under the Labour Government until 1951. From 1953 onwards it began to fall, and it fell every year until almost the time of the last election. It fell from 221,000 466 local authority houses in 1954 to 98,000 in 1961. It rose a little before the last election, but the Opposition were building fewer local authority houses than the Labour Government were building when they went out of office in 1951. This is a deplorable record.
In addition to cutting the number of houses, they cut the standard of house building—and this is very relevant to the Bill. They cut housing subsidies and made it more difficult for local authorities to build. They introduced a dear money policy, which also made it difficult for local authorities to build. Rising land prices, too, made it difficult for local authorities to build. The Conservatives abandoned the fair allocation of building resources. For years during the period of successive Conservative Governments there was grossly unfair legislation by successive Ministers of Housing and Local Government in the matter of housing appeals. It was the private developer who succeeded in appeal after appeal after appeal all over the country. I was chairman of a housing committee of a local authority for many years, and I know how we suffered from successive Tory Ministers of Housing. Local authorities lost housing sites to private developers, and this made for enormous difficulties.
For all these reasons the numbers of local authority houses being built continued to fall, and people were compelled to buy houses at inflated prices, often buying unsatisfactory slum properties at high prices. Far from solving the housing problem, the Rent Act increased it. We had a lot of propaganda from hon. Members opposite when they were in the Government about getting the right-sized family into the right-sized house. Indeed, one million families who were tenants had to buy houses at inflated prices following the Rent Act, 1957. This created a great inflationary pressure on the economy without any additional productive effort.
In considering the extent of the housing problem, we find that five and a half million houses were built before 1900 and two million were built before 1850. Families in this so-called wealthy, industrial, affluent society of ours are having to live and bring up their children in that sort of property. What help did the local authorities receive from the 467 Conservative Government to tackle the problem of decaying property and slum houses? Very little. It is the Government's intention, however, to help local authorities immediately.
Let us consider as examples some of our large cities. Liverpool has over 80,000 slums and, at the rate of clearance permitted under the Conservatives, it would have taken about 72 years to get rid of them. Manchester has 58,000 slums, and it would have taken 44 years to clear them. Birmingham has 40,000 slums, and it would have taken 27 years to get rid of them. My own constituency has a large number of slums.
We find that Liverpool has nearly 50,000 families on the waiting list and that the average waiting time is ten years. Manchester has a waiting list of 50,000 with the average waiting time between seven and ten years. Birmingham has 45,000 families on the waiting list and the average waiting time is ten years. My own constituency contains over 4,000 people on the waiting list and the average waiting time is six to seven years.
That is the record of the Conservative Government in housing. Every capitalist country in Europe, except little Belgium and little Holland, has done better in housing than we have, and the Socialist countries of Europe, headed by the Soviet Union, have done far better because they have introduced industrialised building and have developed and organised their building industries. That is what we must do.
The Conservative Government issued a White Paper on housing in 1963 as an exercise in pre-election public relations. We have had these exercises before each election. They said that the aim was 350,000 houses a year but did not say how this number would be achieved. Yet the White Paper admitted that it was not high enough. Today we heard nothing from the hon. Member for Londonderry about how the Opposition would deal with the abominable legacy of housing problems left to us by the last Government. Our aim is 500,000 houses a year. I must say to the Government that that target is not high enough. I believe that we must aim higher because our needs are so very great.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke
I am sure the House is interested in the hon. Lady's splendid hopes of the Government, but how can the provisions of the Bill bring them about?
§ Mrs. Short
If the hon. Gentleman will hold his horses and possess his soul in patience I shall get to it eventually.
Part of our problem is to reduce the cost of building and of land and, by financial and fiscal policies, reduce the financial burden on the local authorities. As well as building a larger number of houses to reach the target of at least 500,000 houses a year, it is also the policy to build better houses and reverse the trend which set in under successive Conservative Governments, when housing standards were reduced. The Government have now adopted the Parker-Morris standard, which means that we shall build better, bigger and warmer houses. This will have a direct bearing on the building materials industry and make a greater demand on the supply of building materials.
§ Mr. Costain
As the hon. Lady appears to be dealing with subjects which are not the responsibility of the Minister of Public Building and Works, has she advised the Minister of Housing and Local Government that she would deal with these points? They all refer to his responsibilities.
§ Mrs. Short
These matters are very much the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Public Building and Works. He is responsible for the supply of building materials, and we cannot achieve the housing target and the other building targets I shall mention without an adequate supply of building materials. I am surprised at the intervention. I hope that I have indicated what I consider to be the main problems in the deplorable housing legacy the Government inherited.
I have not asked my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science to be present, but I want now to turn to the subject of education. In 1963, the National Union of Teachers produced a report revealing the scandalous neglect of our primary schools, with 43 per cent. of them having outside lavatories and one-sixth with no hot water. Half our primary schools were built before the First World War.
469 The Newsom Report showed a similar position for secondary modern schools—overcrowded classes, inadequate old buildings, inadequate training and sports facilities and derisory science accommodation. In 1960 the Albemarle Report drew attention to the drab, dreary and inadequate youth provision and called for a generous and imaginative building programme. None of that was forthcoming under the Conservatives. The building programmes of every local education authority while the Conservatives were in power were cut each year by about 41 per cent. Desperately needed schools were axed from every programme.
We have too few university places and too few teacher training college places, with a backlog of about £1,400 million to make up in schools and education building alone. The Government intend to increase the allocation for school building from £105 million to £138 million by 1970 and to double the expenditure on capital building for further education projects from £23 million this year to £46 mill ion by 1970. They intend to increase the number of teacher training places from the present 70,000 to 98,000 by 1970 and 122,000 by 1974. I hope hon. Members realise that, with this great backlog in education, we have to look forward to an expanding building programme over the next five to seven years to make good the deficiencies. That programme is very relevant to the Bill.
I wonder if hon. Members opposite remember the Guillebaud Report. The Guillebaud Committee was set up in 1953 and reported in 1956. Much to the dismay of the then Minister of Health, who had thought that it would propose severe cuts in the National Health Service, it urged more expenditure, particularly on hospital buildings. One-fifth of our hospitals were built before the Crimean War and two-thirds before the First World War. Here we have a similar legacy to those in housing and education. We have had continual reports about slum hospitals where doctors and nurses work in deplorable conditions, endeavouring to carry out modern techniques in ancient al most unbelievable surroundings. We have the terrible picture of a long waiting list for beds while thousands of beds are closed because of inadequate buildings and shortage of staff.
470 A ten-year hospital building programme was announced by the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) when Minister of Health, but it proved to be so much pie in the sky. There were no proper plans, no proper assessment of need, no proper costing. After 13 years of mismanagement by the Conservatives it is a miracle that the National Health Service is as good as it is. The Government intend to expand capital development on hospital building from £72 million this year to £115 million by 1970 and regional hospital boards will be bringing forward their building programmes soon. Here again there is an enormous backlog of neglect to make up.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Public Building and Works said that when he met the brick manufacturers last September he drew their attention to the fact that demand on the building industry in 1964 exceeded its capacity by £100 million. Hon. Members may feel that this is a comparatively small amount compared with the enormous output of the industry of £3,600 million in new buildings and repairs. Nevertheless, that small amount, as my right hon. Friend clearly demonstrated, is capable of upsetting the delicate market structure on which the industry is based and leaves out of account the imbalance between available resources and demands which occur locally. For example, in the South-East and the Midlands, where there is enormous pressure on industrial employment and on housing, there is even greater imbalance than there is in the country as a whole. It is clear that this imbalance must be remedied. If not prices will continue to rise and the whole industry will be exposed to the usual capitalist cycles of unreasonable variations in demand which it experienced during the 13 years when right hon. Gentlemen opposite were in charge. The hon. Member for Londonderry said that the builders had a great lack of confidence in the present Government, but he should talk to them about their lack of confidence in the previous Government when the industry was used as an economic regulator and they did not know what their situation was from one week to the next.
There are two ways in which we can remedy this situation. The first is that which has been announced by my right 471 hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government—that we are to endeavour to increase the productivity of the building industry and that we are looking forward to producing by 1970 at least 100,000 houses of our target, one fifth of the total, by industrialised methods. I hope that we shall be able to produce many more than 100,000 houses by industrialised or system building by then, and I know that the producers of industrialised building will get all the support and backing from my right hon. Friends to help them in this aim.
Secondly, we have to reduce the demands which will be placed on the building industry, and this is precisely what my right hon. Friend is proposing to do by the Bill. Harsh fiscal measures do not suit us as they suited hon. Gentlemen opposite when they were in power. We believe that they should be kept to a minimum and that within the building industry cuts should be selectively applied to those sectors of activity which are nonessential. I believe that we shall carry the country with us. The people want houses. They want decent homes in which to live and bring up their families. They want up-to-date schools for their children and, if they are ill, they want to be able to go to a reasonably up-to-date and modern hospital.
In the interesting Digest of Statistics which is produced by my right hon. Friend's Ministry from time to time, it is possible to find a lead of the kind of cuts which might be applied in the most effective way. The data in these statistics is very interesting. The figures for new orders received by contractors during 1964 show that out of £3,000 million worth of new orders—this is not output—about £500 million relates to non-essential building—shops, offices, entertainment buildings including "pubs", bingo halls, bowling alleys and the rest, garages and so on.
§ Mrs. Short
I am talking about shops generally, not shops in new towns.
A cut of £100 million would suffice to bring building capacity in balance 472 with demand, but a greater cut may be needed in some areas to rectify local imbalance. My right hon. Friend's proposal to restrict only non-essential buildings of more than £100.000 in value is intended to fulfil this purpose. Even if it should become necessary to administer this provision more strictly in order to safeguard our essential programme of building schools, houses, hospitals, new factories and so on, we should be in favour of doing so.
I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the danger that the Bill might be circumvented by unscrupulous developers building a number of projects each costting, say, £99,000, or £95,000, in order to escape the need to apply for a licence. Perhaps we can strengthen the Bill in Committee to make sure that that cannot happen.
Depending on the way in which the Bill is administered, it could—I am not saying that it will, because I am sure that my right hon. Friend is aware of the danger—encourage shoddy and inadequate building, again in order to reduce prices and discourage the creation of large-scale, well planned, well finished buildings. It could effectively block the construction of large multi-storey buildings where those are desirable and it could possibly hinder the redevelopment of town centres where multi-storey buildings are acceptable and very attractive and where the sites are suitable and where the shortage of land and the high cost of building make it absolutely essential to build as high as possible and to get the highest density. I hope that my right hon. Friend will bear that in mind.
It is absolutely essential that local planning authorities and the Minister responsible for planning, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government, should co-operate fully with my right hon. Friend to safeguard the essential interests of the community.
I have great pleasure in welcoming the Bill, and I hope that the House will welcome it. Judging from the kind of opposition put forward so far, my right hon. Friend need have no fear that the Bill will not be received with acclaim in the country.
§ 5.36 p.m.
§ Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)
It is often my privilege to follow 473 the hon. Lady the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renée Short) in debate. On this occasion I congratulate her on a very fine political broadcast with no mention of the Bill for 20 minutes and then only to criticise one Clause.
At this stage I ought as a builder to declare my interest. The Minister has already mentioned it. I thank him for saying that 35 years in the building industry may have given me perhaps a nodding acquaintance with it. The trouble with the Minister is that he does not nod enough. He is always saying, "No" and that is one of the things we have against him. However, before dealing with the Minister I should like to deal with some of the hon. Lady's comments. The debate could wander far with some of the issues which she has raised.
She said that the building of houses in other parts of Europe had been better than in this country, and she referred especially to Russia. We know from Questions which she put to the Prime Minister yesterday her interest in East Germany. But I ask her to be fair to this country and to ask herself whether the standards of houses are the same. I have had the opportunity to go to Czechoslovakia and to see the houses built there and I know very well—and the hon. Lady must admit it—that the houses there do not have the standard of construction or the standard of amenities to be found in this country. If she is to make comparisons, the hon. Lady must make comparable comparisons and not talk simply of the number of units.
§ Mrs. Renée Short
I made it quite clear that I was talking about numbers of units, and the fact is that the Soviet Union builds at the rate of 12 per 1,000.
§ Mr. Costain
I was saying that the hon. Lady ought to compare like with like and not unit with unit.
She said that the standard of building would be improved by the Bill. I will give way to her immediately if she will tell me by what provision in the Bill the standard of building will be improved. The Bill will put an enormous number of architects out of work and the standard of building will deteriorate. What provision in the Bill will improve the standard of building? That remark was 474 easy to make, but it was just part of the hon. Lady's political broadcast.
She spoke as though anything but housing was luxury building, but my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Sharples) asked her about shops. We must get these facts clear. The community needs more than houses if it is to be a proper community.
§ Mrs. Renée Short
The community needs schools and hospitals. It does not need so many pubs, shops and motor car showrooms.
§ Mr. Costain
I quite agree that we want schools and hospitals for the community. I am a little amazed that in this party political broadcast the hon. Lady has mentioned the question of hospitals. In my own constituency, hospital building has been cut down under the present Government, as has the school building programme. This is yet another pious hope. This Bill clearly shows that to resort to controls is the first bulwark of Socialist planning. It is a Bill to inject a dose of Socialist medicine and the whole question of Socialist control is as out of date as the Middle Ages practice of bleeding by leeches to overcome high-blood pressure.
I realise that I have as much chance of persuading the Minister—anyway he is not here, but I will try it on the Parliamentary Secretary—that by introducing control he will create more controls, as I would have of persuading a drug addict to stop taking drugs because he will need more of them. The Minister has referred to this Bill as medicine. Speaking at the Federation of Specialised Sub-Contractors he is said to have admitted that licensing was medicinal, and, to some, its taste was not pleasant. But, in his own words, its effect is the crunch of the matter. I am not worried about the taste; I am worried about the crunch.
I have listened to the Minister to hear him explain the details of the Bill and to hear him say what has made him change his mind. Reference has been made to this interview with The Builder on 20th November. Following the publication of that issue of The Builder, the industry came to the conclusion that here was a Minister who said that controls must be positive and 475 not negative. I welcome the Minister on his return to the Chamber.
That was the one time when industry had high hopes of the Minister, high hopes that he had thrown away all his Socialist, doctrinaire principles. The very first day of this Parliament, the day on which the Gracious Speech was read in the other place, I was fortunate enough to catch Mr. Speaker's eye. I then referred to the great inheritance which the Minister had taken over in his Ministry. It is an efficient Ministry and I was prompted to say that because I believed, under the previous Administration, the Ministry had been purged of unnecessary control. I went on:The thing that worries me most about the Labour Party's programmes is this. If something goes wrong, it feels that it can always blame the other chap."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd November, 1964; Vol. 701, c. 150.]How true that prophecy has been, almost from that very day. I do not think that the Minister really knows how much this Measure has sapped the confidence of the industry. But it has a great deal of sympathy with him because it realises that he does not have his heart in this Measure. When the industry comes to read his speech that feeling will be fully justified. [An HON. MEMBER: "I enjoyed it."] As a comedy act it was splendid and I enjoyed it immensely. But we would have liked a little more reference to the Bill. I believe that this Bill is a tranquilliser to some of the Left-wing back benchers.
§ Mr. Costain
At least I am avoiding a political broadcast. I would not say which wing of the Labour Party the hon. Lady occupies, but I note that she is very sensitive on this point. The Minister has said that the machine is being overheated. Any industry which has increased production by more than 50 per cent. since 1958—and this cannot be said too often—is bound to create heat. But one does not overcome that heat by putting the brakes on. One overcomes it by lubrication. The truth is that some of the bearings in the industry were beginning to run hot because of the speed of increased efficiency. We admit that. We know 476 that there were temporary shortages of bricks, plasterboard and copper pipe. We have been pressing the Minister on this. But when materials are in short supply the right thing to do is to introduce some positive planning, the sort of planning which the Minister had in mind on 20th November, 1964. This positive planning should have given the industry an opportunity to accelerate.
I would have no objection to the Minister saying that until a future date, because of shortage, no one shall use plasterboard for anything but domestic building without his permission. The Minister is surprised; but the purpose of this is twofold. First of all, it would encourage people to design other building materials in substitution for plasterboard and it would help the housing industry. If I could see anything in this Bill that would increase the building of houses I would give it my support. I do not see anything which persuades me to support it. The great problem in the industry has been that of a shortage of certain materials. Take the case of cement. I would see no objection to the Minister saying, if cement became short, that there should be not more than a certain percentage of cement used in anything but essential domestic buildings.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
I want a degree of licensing on work costing over £100,000; the hon. Gentleman wants rationing in penny packets.
§ Mr. Costain
The Minister has not got a nodding. The whole point about this is that the Minister's proposals are negative proposals, whereas my proposal is a positive encouragement to the industry to produce more. Can he really not understand that what we want in this country is not more controls but more production? If the cement argument were taken up and the Minister told industry that they could not use more than x percentage without a licence, as was done with scarce materials in wartime, there would be a twofold effect.
Let me explain. In many cases the cost of building a road in either metal, tarmac or concrete is marginal. But the cement companies have done their best to encourage the use of concrete roads. In many cases, concrete roads are the only economic roads to build. A builder 477 should have to go to the Ministry and say, "For these reasons, I need cement for a concrete road". He should have to prove his case. This would be only temporary, only while there were shortages. The cement company which had been building up its sales effort in respect of concrete roads would say, "If we do not get in on this, cement and concrete roads will go out".
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls
My hon. Friend is being a little ambiguous. In building operations, if plasterboard or cement is in short supply, the architects specify an alternative. It does not need the Minister to tell them to do that.
§ Mr. Costain
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention because it gives me the opportunity further to explain my point of view. If we are to have controls, we need positive controls, not negative controls.
There is no justification, except a glint in the Minister's eye for making the Bill permanent. The right hon. Gentleman has explained that he has power to lessen the control, or alter it in some other way or introduce other controls. The Bill will continue in force for as long as the Labour Party is in power. If anybody is naive enough to believe that this is not the case, let me remind him about the Bill which went through the House recently dealing with the control of offices. Almost before the ink was dry on the Bill, the Government were bringing in more controls. They cannot help it.
I turn now to the question of the shortage of skilled manpower. I am glad that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heifer) is here because I propose to refer to a Liverpool problem which he will know. It does not directly concern his constituency or I would have given him notice that I proposed to raise it. There have been isolated shortages of skilled labour in the building industry. In the Liverpool area there has been a shortage, in particular, of carpenters. One of the reasons for it is that the school programme, which the hon. Lady the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East derides so much, was making good progress. It was decided to use dry construction in school building which required an out-of-balance number of 478 carpenters. I hope that the Minister will get the balance in the industry right, because that is what will make it a success. There was a shortage of carpenters because the designers, not too cleverly, decided that the maximum of dry construction, which was quick, should be used. This absorbed more than the normal number of trained carpenters.
Then there was a strike at Cammell Laird's shipyard during the building—I am speaking from memory—of the "Windsor Castle". The strike suddenly finished and then there was an enormous demand for carpenters. The cost of paying more than the rate to carpenters, taken over the total cost of a ship, is relatively small. To get the ship launched, a large number of carpenters was needed. As the hon. Member for Walton knows, it is always a bone of contention in the building industry that the ship carpenters are trained by the building industry.
There is no power in the Bill to restrict the use of carpenters on ships. [Interruption.] Perhaps the Minister would contain himself in patience—a term which he often uses.
§ Mr. T. W. Urwin (Houghton-le-Spring)
While the hon. Gentleman is dealing with the transference of carpenters from the shipbuilding industry to housing, will he remember that during the years of office of his party there was a frequent movement of building craft labour, particularly joiners, into shipyards because of the economic stop-go policy of his party?
§ Mr. Costain
That might have been true in certain regions, but it was not true generally. Shipbuilders are funny chaps. They try to use carpenters only when they want them.
I have tried to explain why the Bill is not the right way to deal with the problem. If we have to have controls, let us have positive controls.
I should like to deal with the details of the Bill. I do not mean any disrespect to the Solicitor-General, who is to wind up, but a number of technical points arise from the Bill and it would be extremely helpful if we could have replies to them in Committee. We have had only seven days to prepare our speeches on the Bill, and I presume that 479 it will go through Committee quickly. I have done a great deal of homework on it in order to get the facts correct. If these technical points can be cleared up in the winding-up speech, the Committee stage will be speeded up.
In a technical Bill of this sort, the first thing for which one looks is the definition Clause. I looked with much interest in the Bill and found that the only reference to a definition Clause is Clause 11. For a technical Bill, this is a most remarkable Clause. Subsection (2) of it provides:In this Act references to the alteration of a building or of any works include references to the reconstruction or extension of a building or of any works, and references to fixed works of construction or civil engineering include references to a road.Whoever put in that reference to a road must have an extraordinary sense of humour. Why, in such a brief Clause, suddenly pick a road? If the Government define any item in the Bill, they must define the lot.
Turning to the question of "fixed works", surely the Minister, who got in rather a jumble over fixed works in his building regulations, has learned his lesson. Does not he realise that once we specify fixed works in a building, we do not know where it will finish? There is the question of chemical plant or any installation of that sort. Why does not the Minister discriminate in the Bill against technical and scientific buildings? If the Minister of Technology spots this —I doubt whether he will—he will be after the right hon. Gentleman.
Then the Minister takes power to authorise part of the works. This is a most interesting situation. Are we to infer from this that any builder can start to erect a building of £80,000 or £90,000 without a licence and two years later, as specified in the Bill, carry on and finish it? Can partitions be put in afterwards?
The penalty Clause is the most ridiculous Clause put in any Bill. The Minister is anxious to create a criminal offence under the Bill. There are so many technical offences which can be committed in innocence under the Bill. Why make these things criminal offences unless the Minister wants to scare the daylights out of the industry so that it starts nothing?
480 The first person to be penalised in the Bill is the building owner. A client may come along in good faith and say that he will get a building built for £95,000. Too often, however, clients find that the cost of a building exceeds the estimate. Will a building owner be guilty of a criminal offence if, in good faith, he has agreed to let a contract for £95,000 but the final figure is much in excess of this?
§ Mr. Heffer
I am interested in the hon. Member's comment that buildings often cost more than the estimate. Is the hon. Member referring not only to direct labour building but to private building?
§ Mr. Costain
Had I been referring to direct labour building I would have said that it cost astronomically more. Let the hon. Member look up the facts from Salford and see what "astronomical" really means.
Who are to be the guilty parties? Will a building owner who in good faith lets a contract for £95,000 but finds that it costs more go to gaol? Will the architect who designed the building go to gaol? I should be delighted to give way if the Minister would like to explain this. He has not explained it so far. I do not think that he has a clue about an R.I.B.A. form of contract. The R.I.B.A. form of contract binds the builder to carry out the work as designed by the architect. It gives the architect the ability to vary the form of contract and to deal with extra works.
Why should the building owner, and, indeed, the contractor, be in any fear of going to gaol for this? That is ridiculous enough, but when the Bill specifies also the quantity surveyor or a supervising surveyor, it gets stupid beyond words. The task of a quantity surveyor is to act as judge and jury between the client, the architect and the contractor. He has no power to alter the design of a building, and yet in the Bill he is specifically picked out to go to gaol.
The Minister has picked out all these chaps—the architect, the quantity surveyor and the builder—so that they can go to gaol and argue whose fault it was. I see no other reason for it. The Minister must put some reason and sense into this penalty Clause. What justification is there for it?
Having got the penalty Clause, we then find something most extraordinary in 481 Clause 1(6), which provides that prosecution may be commenced up to 12 months after an offence is committed. Is the offence committed when a sum of £100,000 and one penny is spent, when the building is completed, or when the final account is drawn up? Where in the Bill is this period explained?
The Minister has had evidence that contractors are getting short of work. What would be the position if a contractor, to keep his staff together, decided to undertake a £100,000 job for £90,000, considering it better to lose £10,000 on a contract than to sack staff who have been with him for a great number of years? Would that be an offence under the Bill? What is the determining figure, the cost of the work or the price which is contracted for it? What about the specialised sub-contractors? How are they dragged in? They are partly responsible for constructing the work.
To get a Bill which satisfies those who want controls, we have the most extraordinary mixture. I do not want to take up the time of the House with Committee points. I am raising only these most important ones so that the Solicitor-General may have time to think about them. If the hon. and learned Gentleman looks at Clause 2(5), he will see an extraordinary provision. This is a Clause which shows that the Minister responsible for preparing the Bill does not have a clue about this side of the industry.
So that there is no dubiety, I should like to read subsection (5) of Clause 2. It states:In computing, for the purposes of this section, the cost of constructing or altering a building or any works, there shall be left out of account—I welcome that; it is the right thing. Does not the Minister realise, however, that quite a lot of steel suppliers give a price for steel including design? Does he not realise that reinforced concrete bars are often designed by the person who supplies the bars and that the price includes the design?
- (a) the cost of the land on which the building or works are, or are to be, situated; and
- (b) any fees paid to an architect, engineer or surveyor or otherwise in respect of professional services."
§ Mr. Harold Lever (Manchester, Cheetham)
The hon. Member should leave to his legal colleagues and to the 482 Committee the arguing of what is essentially a legal point. The point raised by the hon. Member is an utterly bad one, but I shall not join in arguing it with him even though he has been courteous enough to give way to me.
§ Mr. Costain
I thank the hon. Member for coming to the aid of the Minister. He seems to know more about the Bill than does his right hon Friend.
We have here some fundamental points which must be settled. In the winding-up speech, can we be given answers to them? I will address six of them to the Minister. They are not legal points but practical points. If an owner wishes to build a building which is covered by the Bill, must he go to the licensing authority or to the planning authority? In other words, which is the chicken and which is the egg? If he gets a licence, can he assume that he will get planning permission?
If the Minister turns down an application for a licence, will he give his reasons for rejecting it? I suggest that he should. If he does, the architectural profession, which is very worried about this matter, will know the sort of building that finds favour in the Minister's sight and will know what kind of building to try to persuade their clients to have. If the Minister does not give his reasons for rejection, we shall simply find ourselves back in the dark ages.
If the Minister will not give his reasons, will he give general guidance? He has stated that he has given consent for certain jobs already because he found that the Bill would bite even harder than he thought. He has, therefore, already jumped the gun. The Minister said that he would not disclose the buildings for which he had given consent, but, being a gentleman, he told the House today of one of the jobs for which he had given a licence. That in itself will give an indication of his thinking. There is no reason, however, for him to be coy about it. He would not be doing any real harm. We want to get the industry properly phased.
If the Minister proposes that a licence shall be valid for only six months, he will set the industry back. The architects in his own Department, the good lot that they are, can tell him that he must allow 483 more than six months to start a job costing over £100,000, otherwise we will again have the nonsense of clients telling the contractor that he must start the job immediately or they will lose their licence. Much inefficiency is caused in the building industry if a job starts before its time.
There are many points which I should like to make, but time presses on. I would just like in conclusion to say to the Minister that this Bill has been brought about by exaggeration of the position. The Socialist Government once again have, for political expediency, exaggerated a straightforward and every-day industrial problem, the problem of a crisis of confidence. This is exactly the same thing as they did in a bigger way over the balance of payments. They broke down the confidence of other nations at a cost to us of £1,000 million and a 7 per cent. Bank rate.
This is a Bill to introduce controls. Controls do nothing to improve the efficiency of the industry. They will not divert labour or materials as the Minister wants. They will cause a great deal of unrest and unemployment—in the architects' department where they are planning their future programme—and it will eventually come down to the sites themselves, and could eventually, if this squeeze is kept on to its limits, finish up with unemployment in an industry which is trying to fill social needs of this country.
§ 6.11 p.m.
§ Mr. F. J. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
I am quite prepared to admit that the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) has good practical experience of the construction engineering and the civil engineering industry. I myself for very many years was engaged, not in a big way as he has been —or his firm, rather, has been—but in the somewhat smaller occupation, not of new building, but of reconstruction, improvement work. That was before the war mainly, and that is the only reason why I intervene for a very short time in this debate.
I feel bound to say that the hon. Gentleman himself, with all his knowledge, and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark) appealed to the House today not upon practical grounds but upon purely 484 emotional grounds, referring, as the Opposition do in their Amendment, to something which took place immediately after the war, when, as everybody knows, conditions were quite different from what they are today. The war had introduced all sorts of restrictions and rationing, and the Government of the day, of which I was a member, had to carry on those controls. Let us try to look at this picture, if we possibly can, as responsible legislators in a practical way.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Folkestone and Hythe amazes me. With all his knowledge, he is declaiming against control by the Government, and yet he knows very well that in his own industry, unless he exercises control in the phasing of contracts and so forth and in the gathering together of materials in short supply, he will soon be in Carey Street. Of course, he is assisted by all his expert staffs, and they do control the industry; but the trouble is that his part of the industry is a monopoly. It is hoarding labour to the detriment of the smaller builders, particularly in the maintenance part of the industry. Why does it do it?
§ Mr. Costain
Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that 40 per cent. of the total labour of the industry is used on maintenance by smaller builders? There is no monopoly. How dare he say that the industry is a monopoly? He knows very well that when he was in the industry there was strongly competitive tendering, and that is what still goes on. The only objection we have is to having direct labour—trying to eliminate all tendering.
§ Mr. Bellenger
All I can say is that conditions before the war were very different from what they are now. I say without fear of contradiction that the big constructional firms have a monopoly of the professional men and the skilled men, to the detriment of many of the smaller firms which, perhaps, cannot pay the inflated wages or keep their men going in inclement weather, and so on, as the big firms can. I am not alleging that against the hon. Gentleman himself. I am alleging it against that part of the industry—the big boys, as I may call them.
My right hon. Friend is dealing in a realistic way with realistic facts. Long before this Bill was introduced, as the 485 hon. Gentleman the Member for Folkestone and Hythe knows very well, the industry had more contracts than it could possibly hope to complete, and for two reasons. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls) has mentioned the short supply of plasterboard. Plasterboard is a very important part of the building industry, and plasterboard is still in short supply. Why is it in short supply? Because the building industry has bitten off more than it can chew. The brick industry, until my right hon. Friend dealt with it, was in the same way.
I do not like to give a personal experience, but I am engaged at the present moment in trying to undertake a little alteration to a house of mine. It is not in what I would call a congested area like London. I suppose it is a contract worth only about £2,500. In the days before the war there were two or three builders who would have been very glad to have had that little job. There were many jobbing builders on maintenance work who could keep their men fairly easily. But every hon. Member in this House knows that today the jobbing builders do not want the small jobs because there is not enough profit in them. Therefore they are going for the jobs which provide a bigger margin of profit. Therefore, the whole industry is inflated out of all proportion.
What I do say to my right hon. Friend is this. I think he is quite right to attempt to control this over-heated state of the industry as it is today. There is only a limited supply of skilled labour which can be got for the industry today, and we are importing Irish labourers, many of them getting skilled men's wages for unskilled work—and not only Irish labourers but many others, too. Of course we have to deal with this situation. Whether this is the right way to deal with it or not I do not know. What I do say to my right hon. Friend is this. I wonder whether he has not made too many exemptions in this Bill, because most of the Clauses of the Bill deal with exemptions. Clause 1 is the operative Clause. All the others mainly deal with exemptions. So I can truly say that my right hon. Friend has almost fallen over backwards to accede to the many criticisms which have been made by the 486 professionals, the architects, surveyors, and so on, in the industry, and also the builders, too.
I do not know whether my right hon. Friend could pay attention to this in Committee, but I wonder whether he is quite right in the penalty Clause. After all, a £100 fine for a builder engaged on hundreds of thousands of pounds' worth of work is chicken feed. Of course, my right hon. Friend does provide for penal imposition in as much as he says anybody breaking the provisions of the Bill can be sentenced to imprisonment. That is a very serious thing in a Bill like this, which is really a civil Bill—to control the economy of the country, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer does by fiscal means. I am quite prepared to admit that one should impose pretty stiff penalties. Therefore I would recommend to my right hon. Friend that he should increase the £100 penalty—but be very careful how he uses the other penalties. I suppose, I do not know—perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Cheetham (Mr. Harold Lever) here with his legal knowledge may know the answer to this one —but I should have thought a prosecution involving imprisonment would be brought under different procedure in the courts. My hon. Friend says not. Therefore it will be within the purview of the judges, whoever they are, to impose a sentence of imprisonment. If my right hon. Friend really means that, it will be a very severe deterrent. I think that he is probably right there, although I should have preferred a much bigger money penalty to the imprisonment penalty.
It is becoming more and more difficult to find professional men to undertake even the contracts which are already on the drawing board or are projected. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government has now dropped the quinquennial revaluation arrangements for the rating of houses because he cannot find the necessary professional men. It is becoming more and more difficult—the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe will confirm this—to get architects, quantity surveyors and other professional building men to carry out existing contracts, never mind projected ones which are being held in abeyance waiting for the finance. That 487 is another controlling factor in the building industry. The finance is not there as it used to be.
I believe that my right hon. Friend has done the sensible thing. I am surprised that the hon. Member for Londonderry should use such rhetorical arguments referring to the 1945 period, which bears no relation to the present period, and try to make our hair stand on end by saying that the Socialist Government with their small majority are now going to bring in controls for the building industry like the ones that used to operate in those days. In those days a licence was required for work costing only £100, not £100,000. I think that on the whole my right hon. Friend has been very generous.
I put my point of view forward not only as a practical Member of Parliament viewing the situation as everyone views it but also as one with experience of the building industry and aware of the shortages of skilled manpower and material. I believe that my right hon. Friend has done the only thing possible. If he had not done it, there would have been a situation of helter-skelter and laissez-faire such as there was in the days of the last Government, which was conducive to the inflation that we were rapidly going into.
I hope and believe that what my right hon. Friend will achieve, although he may not be aiming at this, is a reduction in building prices. Everyone knows that building prices are much too high at present, not only in the big contracts but also in the smaller ones. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on introducing the Bill, and I hope that he will get the majority tonight that he deserves. The Opposition must have had their tongues hard in their cheeks when they tabled their Amendment. They have offered no practical arguments to substantiate their case.
§ 6.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Richard Sharples (Sutton and Cheam)
The right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger), to give him his due, has done his best to support his Minister in a pretty weak case. I shall refer later on to some of the other points that he made, but there is one point that I want to take up straight away. He referred in somewhat derogatory terms to firms which use winter 488 building methods. That came hardly from a right hon. Gentleman who has some connection with the building industry and knows the hardship caused to many hundreds of thousands of men laid off by firms not able to use such methods.
§ Mr. Sharples
Introducing the Bill, the Minister said that he wished to achieve confidence in the industry. The method by which he proposes to secure that is the introduction of a Bill which imposes on the industry permanent controls capable of infinite variation. The reason, as he put it, is that the industry will never be able to bridge the gap between requirements and capabilities. But it is a Bill capable of infinite variation simply by Order in Council.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
There is another point which, in justice, the hon. Gentleman will not let pass. The powers given in the Bill include power to suspend the operation of the Bill if it ever gets to that point. All we are concerned about—the hon. Gentleman has close knowledge of this —is to deal with the situation of overload and never put the industry again at the mercy of the swingeing cuts which have occurred from time to time.
§ Mr. Sharples
If, as the right hon. Gentleman says, it is the purpose of the Government to introduce a Bill on a temporary basis, why has a permanent Bill been introduced without consultation with the industry?
§ Mr. Sharples
One of the reasons for the Bill put forward by the hon. Lady the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renée Short) was that it would help the industry and the Government to achieve their housing target. Perhaps one might draw attention to what has been said on this subject by the National Federation of Building Trades Employers and the Federation of Registered House-Builders in a memorandum which they submitted on 10th October, 1965. In their conclusions they said this about the Government's house building programme:The Federations welcome the adoption by the Government of an annual target of 500,000 489 houses by 1970 and regard it as attainable, provided that the Government is prepared to collaborate fully with the industry in facilitating its achievement. If the target is to be achieved, it will be necessary for free enterprise house-builders to make the maximum contribution of which they are capable.They did not ask for a licensing system or anything of that kind. They merely asked for freedom to be able to get on with the job.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
Just one moment. House building is exempted from the Bill —both public and private. What we are talking about here are projects over £100,000 in order to give accommodation to such things as house building and regional development. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman's argument is on the ball.
§ Mr. Sharples
House building is a part of the requirements which are put upon the building industry. If the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to make my speech for a minute or two I will come to how this fits into the National Plan.
Mr. W. Kirby Laing, who is a respected figure in the industry—he is the President of the National Federation of Building Trades Employers—had this to say in an article in the building and contracting supplement to the Financial Times on Monday, 22nd November, 1965:A planned building programme does not mean a controlled building programme. The first holds the prospect of orderly expansion; the second"—This is the controlled building programme which the Minister is now introducing:is disastrous for building efficiency, for productivity among materials producers and for the forward planning that simply must go on in the offices of architects and surveyors. This is the great lesson we have learned in the last 20 years and we should do well to heed it.I hope that the Minister will pay some heed to what the President of the Employers' Federation had to say on this matter, and on the controls which the Minister intends to introduce.
I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman accepts the views which have been clearly expressed by the industry about this Bill? One of the arguments which has been put forward by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite who have taken part in the debate is that the industry is overloaded. In a speech which the 490 Minister made to the chartered surveyors on 16th November he said:We are bringing in building licences to ensure that the resources of the construction industry are used to the best advantage. At present the demands placed on the industry exceed its capacity.That is the reason why he is bringing in the Bill. As I know from my own experience, it is not very easy to estimate the capacity of the industry. From the statistics available in the Department one can estimate the requirements being put on the industry, but the Minister in his wisdom has decided that the industry is not able to meet these requirements as it has not the capacity to do so.
The right hon. Gentleman went further than that in his speech on 2nd December to the Association of Specialist Subcontractors. He said what the gap was between the capacity of the industry and its requirements. He said:Demand on the industry at the moment exceeds capacity by about two per cent.Does the right hon. Gentleman believe that a gap of 2 per cent. between requirement and capacity is an adequate reason for bringing in a Bill under which, in combination with the other Measures which have already been brought in by the Government, he will have power to control the whole output of the construction industry in almost every detail?
§ Mr. C. Pannell
I am not trying to control the whole of the industry. We are speaking about 2 per cent. If the hon. Gentleman reads my speech tomorrow, he will see that I gave the percentage of the whole construction industry that comes within this Bill. The hon. Gentleman must take all the exemptions into account. He cannot merely speak about 2 per cent. If one takes 2 per cent. of the whole of the construction industry, that is the amount of the overload, but it is a very much bigger percentage if one considers it against the projects with which the Bill deals.
§ Mr. Sharples
With respect to the right hon. Gentleman, he is ignoring Clause 8. Under this Clause he is taking power to vary the Bill merely by Order in Council. He is ignoring the Measures which have already been taken by his right lion. Friends. Under the Bill the Minister will merely have to come back to Parliament to obtain approval for an Order. Because 491 of this, and because of other Measures taken by his right hon. Friends, the Minister and his colleagues will be able to control in detail every item of output of the building industry, with very few exceptions indeed. These are the powers which the House is being asked to give the Government.
§ Mr. Sharples
I draw the Minister's attention to Clause 8, and perhaps his hon. Friend will deal with this point when he replies to the debate.
The Minister says that the 2 per cent. difference between capacity and requirement is the reason for introducing the Bill. How has he assessed the capacity of the industry? As I said earlier, I know from my experience at the Ministry that this is extremely difficult to assess. It will expand and modernise itself to meet increases in demand, and I therefore ask the Minister to tell us whether he has consulted the industry about this figure. Has the industry agreed that there is a gap of 2 per cent. between requirement and capability? How was this figure arrived at? I hope that these questions will be answered in the winding-up speech.
§ Mr. Costain
I assure my hon. Friend that the industry never understood this £100 million overload about which the Minister spoke. It was the Minister's own mythical figure.
§ Sir Stephen McAdden (Southend, East)
On a point of order. Is it in order for all Members to make speeches from a sitting position, or only Ministers?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I do not think that we want to get too touchy about this. A certain amount of comment is allowed, but we do not want to have too much of it.
§ Mr. Sharples
This figure of 2 per cent. is the Minister's excuse for introducing the Bill. It is the only reason that he has given for bringing it in. Does he see this as a continuing figure? Earlier in the debate one of my hon. Friends gave us some indication of what is happening in the industry at the present time. New orders are falling rapidly. They fell by 492 more than £100 million between the first and third quarters of this year, and the architects' figures, which give us an indication of what is likely to be in the pipeline, present an even more depressing a picture of the outlook for the industry.
I turn for a moment to the question of bricks. The right hon. Gentleman and I have debated this subject on previous occasions, and the right hon. Member for Bassetlaw also raised it today. When the Minister took office, he made great play about the steps that he was going to take to encourage to increase brick production. On one occasion he said that he believed that the brick makers would achieve his target of 8,400 million bricks in 1965. What has happened as a result of the Minister's activities? This will be of interest to the right hon. Member for Bassetlaw who is concerned about the smaller builders. Brick production in October, 1964, when the Minister took office, was running at the rate of 711.5 million bricks a month.
What is the figure today, after the Minister's exhortations and after the confidence which he is supposed to have created in the building industry and among the material producers? The figure in October 1965, which is the last figure that we have, was 658 million, a fall of more than 50 million bricks a month as a result of the Minister's efforts to create confidence in the industry. That is what the industry thinks of him. The industry is able to judge the position for itself, and it has judged rightly, when one considers the mess that there would have been if it had taken the Minister's advice. Today bricks are being accumulated in stockpiles at the rate of over 50 million a month, according to the latest Ministry figures, published on Monday—and this right at the beginning of the winter. We know that there is always a fall in the demand for bricks in the winter, yet even in October, before the winter began, the stockpiling of bricks was building up at the rate of over 50 million a month. That is a measure of the Minister's achievements in this matter.
The Minister has not made out a case for the Bill. He has failed to to show that there is any need for a reduction in the capacity of the industry which would justify the introduction of so radical a Measure. The materials position 493 is satisfactory, according to what he himself said. The stockpiling of bricks is beginning to build up, to the worry of the brick producers. If we have a hard winter, the Minister will have to do a great deal of explaining to the brick producers in order to justify the situation which he has created.
I now turn to some of the provisions of the Bill. The Minister described it in somewhat extraordinary terms in his speech on 2nd December. He said:It is not a cage round the industry but a framework.It is somewhat difficult to see the difference. He went on to say:It is not designed to turn the tap right on or right off, but to regulate. Licensing will not be a collar to choke the industry but will allow us to apply different levels of control in those parts of the country where it is felt necessary and, indeed, to different types of building within a given area.That is the object which the Minister seeks to achieve, and we should consider how he can do this under the terms of the Bill.
Under what machinery will the Bill operate? We know that the Minister has a regional organisation, but that is not geared to assess the different social needs which exist between one building and another. We were told by the Prime Minister that the test of whether a building should be allowed or should not be allowed will not be profits but social need. How is the machinery inside the Ministry going to be able to assess social need as between one type of building and another? How would it assess social need when it has to compare, let us say, a bowling alley with a shop? If there are many young people living in a certain area there may well be a greater need for the bowling alley. Equally, in some areas there may be a greater need for a department store or a shop. Will the Minister turn down all applications? What machinery will he employ to decide these very difficult questions when the fact that one is going to make money and the other is going to lose money has no bearing on the situation, according to the Prime Minister's words. The question will not be easy to decide.
It will be even more difficult to deal with two buildings of the same kind. The Minister may have to choose between 494 two department stores, each costing over £100,000. Will the Minister decide that one should go ahead and the other should not, or will he say that both should stop, in order to get himself out of a difficulty? I do not see what alternative he has. The House, the industry and the public want to know how he will decide between one project and another. It is not an easy question, and I do not envy the Minister the task which he has taken on.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
I thought I made it clear in my speech that since July we licensed £6¾ million worth of projects. I can only tell the hon. Member—he has experience of the Department—that these questions are quite easy to decide. I do not want to labour this aspect, but I could show the hon. Member how this is done in the office. At the moment it is being done only in London and Edinburgh. I believe that I have said that 15 or 18 projects costing over £100,000 have been licensed. It is not a difficult exercise.
§ Mr. Sharples
The right hon. Gentleman says that it is not a difficult exercise. He has been doing this for a few months in London and Edinburgh. The public has not yet appreciated the effects of these measures. It is when he first has to decide a difficult case, and when he has to come into the open to do so and answer to this House, that he will find himself in difficulties.
Who will decide between one project and another? Will the Minister decide each case himself? So long as he sticks to the figure of £100,000 it may be possible, but if he varies the Bill, as he has power to do under Clause 8, he will become involved in every kind of detail.
Secondly, how will representations be made? If social need is to be the criterion, will those interested—the public, the local authorities and the developers—all be able to make representations, or will this decision be arrived at behind closed doors without any means of making representation by those interested in the project not only directly but from an outside point of view?
My hon. Friend asked, and I repeat the question: will the Minister publish reasons for his decisions?
§ Mr. Sharples
The Minister will not. Therefore, there is no protection, even that which exists under the planning Acts. This will be an arbitrary decision, arrived at behind closed doors, without any reasons being given. It will be taken by an official inside the Ministry. I hope that the House and the public realise what is involved in the Bill. Is there to be any form of public inquiry if there is a disagreement over the Minister's decision? Is there to be any form of tribunal to which an appeal can be made—or is this, again, to be a decision arrived at behind closed doors? Will there be any form of appeal from a decision—to a court of law or to anywhere else?
What happens when, perhaps halfway through the development of a project, it is discovered that although it was estimated as costing only £80,000 it will eventually cost much more than £100,000. I accept, of course, at once that this would be taken as a genuine mistake—there may be perfectly genuine reasons for doing so—and that there would be no question of everybody, the architects, the builders, the quantity surveyors, having to go to prison for two years.
What happens when the cost of a project is found to exceed this sum? The Minister will know, from experience in his own Department, that costs frequently escalate, wages go up for reasons quite beyond the control of the developer. Is the work to be stopped while an application is made? Are people to be laid off——
§ Mr. C. Pannell
The hypothetical case which the hon. Gentleman is putting to me lends itself to a very simple answer. If a man starts a project which is expected to cost £80,000, he starts without a licence, but, naturally, if he later comes to the conclusion that the cost will rise, within reasonable tolerance, to £100,000, he could apply for a licence for that amount, taking into account that it would cost £100,000. That would be received sympathetically. This notional case is a very simple one in our estimation.
§ Mr. Sharples
I am sure that the application would receive consideration, but these things take time——
§ Mr. Sharples
They do take time. The right hon. Gentleman knows quite well that, with the best will in the world, such matters have to be referred for regional consideration and have to go through the labyrinth. What is the developer to do while the application for a licence—there will be quite a number —is going through the machine? Is he to continue work and run the risk of penal sanctions against him, or should he stop work and lay off the men working on the site? We should like a clear answer on that point.
I want to be clear what the Minister is saying. Is he saying that, while an application for a licence is going through, work can automatically continue?
§ Mr. C. Pannell
We expect the contractors to behave responsibly as well, of course, assuming the thing is passed. The hon. Member is speaking about a project costing £80,000—I could have given more pointed examples, but that was his example. No decision would be taken in 24 hours, of course, but my Ministry is closer to the industry with which we deal than any other Ministry except Agriculture. I have no doubt that they will give us plenty of time and that we shall treat each other with mutual respect. In the case the hon. Gentleman has in mind, there is a 20 per cent. margin before it would be necessary to apply for a licence because the project will ultimately cost £100,000 instead of the estimated £80,000. This will cause no difficulties. We have, of course, discussed these contingencies in the Department, but the case the hon. Member mentions is not a difficult one.
§ Mr. Sharples
The right hon. Gentleman may have discussed these things in the Department, but the industry will want reassurance, not only that the discussions have taken place in the Department——
§ Mr. Sharples
I should be grateful if the right hon. Gentleman would allow me to continue without continually interrupting from a sedentary position.
They will want reassurance about what will happen when something of this kind occurs. I hope that we will be given a straight answer to this question at the end of the debate.
497 This Bill, in my opinion, is a thoroughly bad Bill. It has nothing whatsoever to do with houses or bingo palaces or anything else which was referred to by the Prime Minister. It is —as the hon. Lady the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renée Short) said, to do her credit—a Socialist Bill, designed, with other Measures, to be a step towards controlling the detail of the construction industry. This industry above all—here I agree with the right hon. Gentleman—needs confidence if it is to modernise itself, adapt to modern conditions and go ahead to meet the requirements which we place upon it.
Above all, it needs confidence. By introducing the Bill the Minister has struck a blow at the confidence of the industry. The industry itself has little confidence in the actions of the right hon. Gentleman. I hope, therefore, that the House will reject the Bill.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Lever (Manchester, Cheetham)
I hope that no hon. Member on either side of the House will resent it if I do not take too seriously the oratorical hyperbole into which they have been led. What we are considering today is whether a modest Bill is justified by the circumstances of this country's construction industry. I do not want to delve too much into the past, but I would point out that one of the errors of the Conservative Government when in office was that, in reaction to the post-war period of the Labour Government's Administration, they hoped to rely in guiding the economic and social destinies of the country exclusively on financial controls and, to a lesser extent, on fiscal controls, and virtually not at all upon physical controls.
What the House now has to decide is whether the Government are justified, to a moderate and sensible extent, in redressing the balance and bringing to their economic and financial planning a certain intelligent discretion in physical control, and if they are, is the Bill, broadly speaking, within that discretion?
The hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark) suggested that the Bill was brought in by a Minister maniacal for power, lusting to control the entire construction industry, and, at the same time,is intended to appease the over- 498 eager hon. Members of the Left, with which latter description I find difficulty in identifying myself—[Laughter.] This is harmless demagogic hyperbole, which closer examination of the matter may not justify.
The first question is, is there such an overload in the building industry as to justify a measure of physical control in addition to financial control, or is there no overload at all in the industry, actual or potential, which justifies such control? If there is such an overload, would we do better to rely on other controls than the physical control urged by the Minister?
If there is no overload or potential overload, there is no case for the Bill. If there is an overload, though not one which requires a modest degree of physical control but which could be dealt with exclusively by fiscal or financial control, there is still no case for the Bill.
This is the spirit in which the House would be well advised, I respectfully suggest, to address itself to this problem. The first thing to do is to stop imagining that this is a theological dispute between the two sides of the House. This is an economic and practical dispute. One may be just as doctrinaire in avoiding physical controls as in advocating them—
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls
The hon. Gentleman, as always, is arguing in a very sane fashion, but will he take into account in his argument that our main objection to the Bill is that this control will be a permanent one? If it had been a temporary one to meet the special circumstances of the day, we might not have opposed it. Will he keep that consideration in mind in his sane approach to this matter?
§ Mr. Chichester-Clark indicated assent.
§ Mr. Lever
That is very much in my mind. I am very interested in the concession—to which, I noticed, the hon. Member for Londonderry assents—that if it had not been a permanent control, but a temporary one, renewed annually, if the case for the permanence of these measures had not been made in the Bill, the Opposition might very well have taken a different view of the matter.
I wish to deal with both these points in due course, but I wish, first, to ask, do we need the Bill at all, is there an over- 499 load in the industry? Oddly enough, the cries of anguish which we have heard about abandoned contracts and the like seem to me—I can claim no experience of the building industry but some relationship to common sense and logic—to confirm the Minister's position rather than the reverse.
That is to say, if there are enormous cancellations of building contracts, with no sign of unemployment in the industry, this in itself is virtually conclusive evidence that the industry was overbooked and over-ordered, which is not a state of affairs conducive to the economic use of material, manpower or the technical and professional skills which we have all heard are in short supply in that industry.
The Opposition have challenged the Minister's claim that there is overloading. The power of most people's eyes rather tends to confirm the Minister, apart from the evidence of his Department and the facts I have just mentioned. If the Minister is wrong and he reduces building, the Opposition will be in a very strong position to claim that they were right if, in fact, unemployment or under-employment in the building industry results. No hon. Member opposite has ventured to pledge himself that this is a likelihood in prospect. Indeed, I should think that it is the most remote possibility that this Government are bent upon controlling the industry for controls sake, and still less bent upon the idea of producing unemployment in the industry.
The question is then asked: why not rely on the financial control or the impersonal impact of the market to reduce the demand to a size compatible with the industry? Again, we have had very prolonged experience over 20 years on this question. It is quite apparent that for the greater part of the post-war period financial controls were not in themselves adequate to produce a balance between demand and the capacity of the industry in such a way as to secure the necessary allocation of the work to social projects as well as to commercial and private projects.
I will not indulge in the attractive oratory about bingo halls, pin-table saloons, and the like, because, for one thing, there are not a great many of 500 those establishments which cost £100,000 to erect, and they are not very much affected by the Bill. On the other hand, it is perfectly obvious that rationing by interest rate is objectionable, and for more than one reason. Rationing by allowing scarce labour and materials to go to the highest bidder is also objectionable, for more than one reason. I will try to give some of the reasons briefly.
First, if there is reliance to a great extent upon the traditional rationing of capital investment by high interest rates, it seems to me that it is objectionable in the situation in which we find ourselves, in that it would not be to the advantage of our economy, precariously poised as it is, if we were to have to pay, say, 3 per cent. more interest in exporting industries and in all sorts of other fixed interest lendings simply because there is a scarcity in the building industry which requires the interest rate to be higher for the allocation of that form of capital investment. The second reason, which has been left out of account entirely throughout the debate, is that about half the capital investment of this country is undertaken on public account. It seems to me that the interest rate is not a satisfactory or an appropriate way of rationing the amount of publicly desired building work and capital work.
I know that many people prefer the impersonal forces of the market because, if anything goes wrong, there is the feeling that that matter, like the weather, is not within the control of the Government. The unfortunate position they find themselves in—even the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) must find himself in this difficulty —is that the market is no longer the classical market of the nineteenth century. It is a market in which both parties have agreed, and are committed to, policies of public intervention in our economic affairs, which make nonsense of the argument that these affairs can safely be left to the market.
The market has already been rigged by public and Government intervention, agreed to by both parties, which absolutely dislocates any control based upon market forces. There is, for example, our incomes policy. Both sides of the House have been committed to 501 an incomes policy. Can one argue, consistently with the various incomes policies, that if there is a shortage of supply in building material and building labour, the remedy is the classical one—let them bid; let the highest bidder get it? Wages and prices in the building industry would then be bidded up. This is entirely inconsistent with the form of planning to which all three parties are committed, namely, the belief in an incomes policy.
One cannot talk about the impersonal forces of the market when the overall financial demand has always in the postwar period been controlled by the Government by deliberate policy. We say that the Conservative Government did not do it as well as they might have done. Some hon. Members even harboured suspicions that they did it at the wrong time or in the wrong way, but that the Conservative Government attempted to control the overall financial demand is beyond question, just as much as it is that the present Government are committed to it. It seems to me to be idle to talk about a free market being allowed to deal with this question.
Then there is the question of the balance of payments, another vital objection to this matter being left to the free market. If a Government are planning to balance our payments, regard must be had to a major industry of this kind in an effort to ensure that it does not run out of hand in the way in which it has been liable to do in the past. I say en passant that if some of our Commonwealth friends carry out their declared intention to leave the Commonwealth at short notice, our balance of payments difficulty may be materially improved, and then the case for the Bill may be correspondingly weakened. However, the possibility of this occurring does not seem to be as immediate as newspaper headlines sometimes suggest.
For all these reasons, it is clear that the Government cannot, if there is overloading, allow the so-called impersonal forces of the market to deal with it. The question is—ought we to have a permanent Measure of this kind? I go wider than this question and ask: ought the Minister to have taken to himself powers, in regard to which attempts have been made to make our flesh creep, not merely to control projects of £100,000 or more 502 but projects of any size less or more than that according to his decree?
As to the permanence of the Measure, I say this to the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Sharples) who, I know, asked the question in good faith. If the power is not taken now, when the Government come to reflate the economy after a period of contraction or financial restriction it will be too late to come to the House and set up their machinery or planning to attempt to control the industry or to deal with a surplus froth, or to release extra purchasing power in the industry. This must be done in advance.
I am one who has always said that there is often a tendency to underestimate the efforts made in good faith by the last Government to plan the country's prosperity. I thought that the Conservatives had a degree of success in their efforts, though they did not do as well as a Labour Government would have done and they did not heed all the wise advice which was given to them from time to time. However, they made a sincere and quite creditable effort to control the economy. One of their serious weaknesses was their tendency to leave everything to the last minute. It is of vital importance that this provision should be permanently on the Statute Book, because all our experience over the last 20 years has shown that the building industry cannot work to the satisfaction of our social and economic needs without some such control.
I do not have any difficulty as to the question of the range of power taken by the Minister. All that the Minister has taken power to do is to return to the House and obtain assent, without the formalities of Second Readings, Committee stages and Third Readings, to a mere point as to size and control. As the House is well seized of the principles of the Bill and as, before it parts with it on Third Reading, having considered it in detail in Committee, it will be even more fully seized of the principles of it, I do not think that the Minister should be obliged to return to the House merely to obtain approval to dissenting to £50,000 or to assenting to £200,000.
Let us be fair; the House has as much control over the Minister's powers in that respect as if he had to return with a Bill. It is up to the House. If the House 503 does not think this is a matter appropriately dealt with by an Order in Council, it will be able to say so should the Minister return and seek to extend his powers above those granted in the Bill.
Another objection which has been made is that mentioned in The Times. The Times becomes suddenly perfectionist when it comes to the Minister's exercising his power in attempting to control this excessive demand on the building industry. One might suppose that the market had itself been perfect in this respect in all the 20 years since the war. Nothing of the kind. We have a choice between two human imperfections.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will not mind my saying that I do not make the assumption in his favour that sometimes he may not be in marginal error, in good faith, in the decisions which he takes. This is a possibility that cannot be altogether excluded. The housebuilding work of the country has to be decided by the scrutiny not of the forces of the market but of the public officials in charge of public investment. What we are going to do is exceedingly marginal. We shall extend from 50 per cent. to 52.3 per cent. the demand made on our building industry. In those circumstances I do not think that the suggestion of The Times that this is a matter to deter us from taking action is justified.
Another point made, which I think is a bad one, is that the building industry has now to go through three controls instead of two before getting on with its work. This is an error of logic rather than of economic thought on the part of The Times. Those controls are as relevant to this Bill as are speed controls. Where we have planned control, builders are subject to all kinds of other controls in our economic life—in returns for tax purposes and things of that kind—and these have nothing to do with the kind of matters controlled in this Bill. The point made about the industry having to go through three controls could be added to by saying that it had to go through 300 controls before getting on with building, but it has nothing to do with the Bill.
Both sides of the House are agreed that it is the responsibility of the Government to ensure that social priorities are achieved in our economy. If hon. 504 Members opposite lay aside the colourful exaggerations and somewhat excessive apprehensions which they attempt to arouse I would ask them—and so far they have not offered any kind of alternative suggestion—whether they are satisfied that if social projects are squeezed out in pure price competition the Government should take no action of this kind, even in a marginal, modest Bill of this kind which it would appear is to be regarded as objectionable.
I believe that hon. Members opposite are as determined as we are on the priority of certain matters, housing being one of them. How can they therefore object if the Government take power to squeeze out excessive demand—and excessive demand only, as pledged by the Minister—if they wish to ensure that our housing programme and other social projects, such as schools and hospitals, are to be achieved? This is not a question of exaggeration. It makes sense to me that the Government, in an industry intermittently overloaded since the war, permanently and in good time should take powers when necessary to act to reduce the overloading. I would join the Opposition in criticising the exercise of these powers if they ever resulted in unemployment or underemployment in the industry, but I am confident that such will not be the case.
§ 7.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)
The hon. Member for Manchester, Cheetham (Mr. Harold Lever) decried what he called the demagogic approach of some hon. Members in this debate and he then sought to make some sly political points in the guise of what appeared to be a non-controversial and thoughtful speech. I shall try to answer some of the points that he made, because he has thrown that challenge at this side of the House. The hon. Member began by saying that Conservatives produced too much freedom, after the period of office of the Socialist Government, as a reaction from too much control.
§ Mr. Harold Lever
No, I said that the Conservative Government attempted to control the economy not so much by physical controls as by financial controls, after they came into office.
§ Mr. Cooke
I am sure that the hon. Member will agree with me that there 505 was a great deal of control from 1945 to 1951 and a good deal less afterwards, whatever shape those controls happened to take. The hon. Member chides us for that and says that now there seems to be some justification for some measure of control once more. He supports the Bill and suggests that the Opposition would support the Bill wholeheartedly if it was of a temporary nature. The hon. Member is quite wrong. In Clause 8 there are provisions which we would find most difficult to support in any Bill of this kind, because it would seem that once we have passed the principle of the Bill the Minister can do virtually what he likes by Order. The hon. Member spoke of dismissing the importance of those Orders.
§ Mr. Harold Lever indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Harold Lever indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Harold Lever indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Harold Lever indicated assent.
§ Mr. Cooke
I see that the hon. Member is indicating assent. I am glad that I am right on that. There has been an overloading, and the hon. Member says that there is no unemployment and therefore we have perhaps come to a state of balance now. I think that we have come to a state of near-balance. We have seen a turn-down in the abilities of the building industry. I have plenty of figures on that which I can quote later. This turn-down has been largely brought about by Government activity, but surely in accepting this Measure we shall not pre- 506 vent what may well be a catastrophic rundown of the building industry. We have seen the turn-down—the reduction in projects started and the lack of activity.
My hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain), who spoke with much skill and a great deal of practical knowledge of the industry, made the point that the industry is a delicate organism and that if one starts pushing it in one direction it will go on running in that direction for a considerable time and no Government activity will stop that. Certainly this Bill will not help in that respect. I have figures which will back my case that there is this rundown, that it will go on and that the Bill will be no help at all and therefore is clearly unnecessary.
Then we come to the much quoted reference by the Prime Minister to social needs, to bingo halls, bowling alleys and things of that kind. The Prime Minister apparently is against bingo halls and bowling alleys, at least if they stop other things happening, but the hon. Member for Cheetham says that there are practically no £100,000 bingo halls and bowling alleys. Therefore, the Bill will not help the Prime Minister in achieving his aim to cut down on those things. Perhaps the hon. Member for Cheetham is inviting the Minister to lower the limit. I think that that is the key of the whole thing.
§ Mr. Harold Lever
It is not the key. The hon. Member is using the wrong metaphor. It is the bogeyman whom the Conservative Party is anxious to bring out.
§ Mr. Cooke
One cannot have it both ways. Either the Bill will further the Government's policy—and we are told by the Minister that it will affect only a limited number of cases—or, if it is to go further, the limit to the Bill will have to be reduced. We shall have to come down from this figure of £100,000. All through this Government's conduct of affairs, there have been statements that this or that would be limited, but then everything, has 507 been changed. I must not digress into the unhappy subject of their activities over Rhodesia, but here, too, we have had Government statements gone back on almost within 24 hours of their being made in the House. There have been violent changes of policy after confident assertions made only a short time before.
We cannot give this Bill a Second Reading because it does not "come clean". The Minister has told us that the £100,000 limit is the really important thing, that it is the big projects he intends to deal with, but we all know that there is the pernicious Clause 8 which will give him an opportunity to bring practically anything within the scope of the Bill.
In introducing the Bill, with what, by any account, was a somewhat scrappy speech, the right hon. Gentleman made a lot of very provocative observations, and I shudder to think what people in the building industry will make of his remarks when they read them tomorrow. Although considerably provoked by the Minister, who went into great detail about a constituency case which had nothing to do with this Parliament at all but which concerned the Parliament of Northern Ireland, my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark) brought the debate together and made a number of salient and far-reaching points which, I hope, the Solicitor-General will deal with in winding up. We have not yet had an answer to the very big question about the provisions of Clause 8, and we must have an answer before the Bill goes further.
The Minister began by giving his usual diatribe against his predecessors, and he then preened himself about the piles of plasterboard and bricks which he had amassed as a result of his activities. In fact, of course, if the brick-making industry had carried out his instructions, he would now have 400 million surplus bricks piled up beside him. The figures are there: 8,400 million asked for, and only 8,000 million used. It is all very well to talk about a day's supply and try to fob us off with some other version of the facts, but the point is that the Minister, at the beginning of his term of office, had some very brave words to say about what the building industry could do and could except from this Government. That has all been gone 508 back on, but still the bricks have been made and there they are. No doubt, the same applies to other building components.
We must press the Government to reply to our question on Clause 8. I ask now the same question that I asked the Minister, but to which he did not reply, during his speech. Does not Clause 8 give power to the Government to make an Order such as could bring any private building project within the scope of the Bill? The Parliamentary Secretary shakes his head. I only hope that the Law Officer who is to wind up can explain why I am wrong. It seems to me that there is power to vary the £100,000 limit up or down, and it will therefore be possible to bring anything within the scope of the Bill.
§ The Solicitor-General (Sir Dingle Foot)
I am anxious to understand the hon. Gentleman's question. Does he mean that there will be power to bring any specifically named project within the Bill?
§ Mr. Cooke
No. The hon. and learned Gentleman has got it wrong. The figure of £100,000 is set in the Bill, but I take it that there is power to vary that limit by Order. If the limit is reduced to £10, £100, or any quite small sum, presumably every project of that kind will be brought within the scope of the Bill. I think that I have got it right.
§ Mr. Cooke
The hon. Gentleman says that, but we have heard that sort of thing before. Earlier in the debate, it was said that, once the principle is accepted and the Bill has gone through, an Order is more or less a matter of course. This has been the case so often. I have been in the House for only nearly nine years, but I have seen it happen many times. We all know how difficult it is to secure a satisfactory result on any of these Orders. I should like to have statistics—perhaps the hon. Member for Cheetham can look them up and give them to the House—of the number of Orders of this kind which have ever been upset. The fact is that, once the Bill has gone through, all is lost.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls
The only instance I recall is the occasion when we upset a cheese Order back in 1950.
§ Mr. Cooke
My hon. Friend has given the House the answer there. Although one or two trifling Orders of that kind have, on occasion, been upset, on a big thing like this, once the Bill has gone through, that is it.
I come now to the question of social need. My hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) made a very good point about this, but we have had no answer from the Government as yet. How will they assess social need? Presumably, this is how they will decide the question of which projects shall go through and which shall not. Is it envisaged that the machinery in the Ministry of Public Building and Works is to be as full as that which the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and the local authorities have for assessing the planning need for a project, or is the Ministry of Public Building and Works to do the thing in completely arbitrary fashion?
The Minister did not do very well on this when he told the House that it was really all quite easy. If only we could see the way things were handled in the Department, so his argument ran, we should realise that it was quite easy, there would not be very many of these cases, they all fell on one side of the line or the other, and there would be no real trouble at all. Even if that were so as regards the limited number of cases which, apparently, are to be affected by this Measure, what is to happen if the limit is varied and the number of cases is enormously enlarged? I cannot imagine the machinery at the disposal of the Ministry being able to cope with it. We have seen this sort of thing all along. We had it on the Finance Bill, with all its immensely complicated provisions but no machinery to carry them out. We are told in the Explanatory Memorandum that it is estimated that it will cost £36,000 to run the scheme. One wonders how the Ministry will cope if the scope of the Bill is enlarged as the result of the limit being brought down. It does not seem likely that the Department will be able to do it with that amount of money, and I see no provision in the Bill to increase it. There would have to 510 be an amending Measure. It is all most unsatisfactory.
The right hon. Gentleman tried to convince the House that there is need for this control. But this is not what he said not long ago in 1964. He was asked:Is it your intention to impose further controls or licensing beyond the halt of office building in the metropolitan area?and he replied:No; the building industry's position as a major factor in the national economy is well fixed in the Government's mind, and the proof of this lies in the fact that in spite of an anticipated £800 million gap in the balance of payments, we have not inflicted on the building industry any measure of a 'stop-go' nature. It is not the Government's intention to impose further controls because we see the industry in a positive, not a negative way, and we want to see it continuing to make its contribution to the needs of society".That quotation comes from The Builder of 20th November, 1964.
Having said all that, the right hon. Gentleman now comes to the House not with a little Measure for a temporary control to meet a temporary difficulty but with a Measure which has permanent provisions in it. One monders how he can possibly justify it in the light of what he had said such a short time ago.
In January, 1965, the Minister said,The Government is all for free enterprise, provided it is really free as well as enterprising.These are splendid clichés. In the same Press notice from the Ministry we read,The industry may tackle the challenging tasks before it in the knowledge that its endeavours will have the Government's unflagging support.I see even the Parliamentary Secretary smiling at that. We know that his boss is a most endearing Parliamentary character, who often says the strangest things. Many of the quotations which I have here from his various speeches and from interviews which he has given contain the strangest things. They simply do not tie up with the policy of other Government Departments. I am sure that it must require all the ingenuity of the great Ministry which he heads to sort out the Minister as the weeks go by and he gets deeper and deeper into difficulties. The only shame now is that this Bill simply will not get him out of them. It will only get him deeper into difficulties.
511 The Minister said that we are not to have stop-go. Is the Bill stop-go? If it is not stop-go, It is certainly stop. If one looks at the various aspects of the building industry one sees that this is true. The hon. Lady the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renée Short), who has now left the Chamber, gave us a thoroughgoing political speech which had nothing to do with the Bill, as she admitted three-quarters of the way through it.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman may criticise the Bill but he may not criticise, by implication, the Chair.
§ Mr. Cooke
I am sorry if I in any way appeared to criticise the Chair, Mr. Speaker. That is never my intention. I hope that I shall not trespass in that direction when I ask the House to recall that when the hon. Lady was challenged that she had not yet come to the Bill in her prefactory remarks she said, "No, but all these matters are matters with which we are deeply concerned". She said that in housing, schools and hospitals the Government have great plans for expansion, and in some way she attempted to link that with the Bill, claiming that the Bill would help in some way.
But in these fields which are so dear to her and to all hon. Members, all that the Government have achieved in a six-months moratorium on what were called non-essential local authority capital projects but which seems to have applied to many things which we regard as essential. I would also point out that the same circular of 6th August, 1965, from the Ministry of Housing, states,Nor must it be assumed that expenditure on such projects can be resumed in six months' time.All the way through we have a history of muddle and contradiction. Anyone who reads the Minister's speech tomorrow will agree, I am sure, that he did not justify the need for this Measure. There was a great deal of to-ing and fro-ing about all sorts of other aspects, but he did not convince the House that the Bill would help him in his difficulties, or help the country, or help in determining social needs. The slogan of social needs was invented by the Prime Minister and, like so many of these slogans, when we examine it we find that it is a very good way in which the Prime Minister can 512 get at big business and describe them as the enemies of the people.
These are the enemies who are apparently preventing the people from having what they need and from enjoying life. Therefore, we have the control of office buildings and of other big projects and we are back to talk about bingo halls and bowling alleys. By controlling all these, it is claimed, we shall get more homes, more houses. We have all this sob stuff which the Government produce when they attack these projects which they claim are preventing people from getting the houses which they need. But hon. Members on this side of the House who know about the technicalities of the building industry have nailed that lie. It is not the case that cutting down office projects and the other big building schemes which the Government are attacking will necessarily produce any more homes. Many specialist techniques are involved which are not applicable to building homes.
I believe that this is an irrelevant Bill. The Minister in introducing it described it as a flexible instrument. In fact, it is a very blunt instrument. There are two types of flexible and blunt instruments which I can recall; one is a bicycle chain and the other is a piece of rubber tubing with a piece of lead inside. Both of these are used to rough-up recalcitrant people. It seems to me that this is an instrument which the Government are manufacturing to rough-up a recalcitrant building industry in the hope that somehow they will get themselves out of the unholy mess into which they have got themselves.
§ 7.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Gregor Mackenzie (Rutherglen)
I take this opportunity of welcoming the Bill. I must tell my right hon. Friend, however, that I have one reservation, namely that I wish the Bill had been introduced earlier. It seemed to me about a year ago that the priorities which were so essential, both financial and physical, might then have been introduced. I do not, however, accuse my right hon. Friend. I appreciate that there is always a long queue. Many Ministers are concerned to put their Bills before the House. It may be that this Bill did not get the priority which many of us attach to it.
513 A measure of this kind is essential in a high investment economy, for in such a state there is bound to be considerable pressure on the building industry in terms of both men and materials. We therefore feel that a Bill of this sort is essential and that priorities must be preserved. Some kind of control should always be exerted at the centre in order to control investment. Building licences can be a very powerful weapon indeed in fiscal controls of this kind.
I live in a constituency in a development district, and my primary concern is that building licences represent a very powerful way of steering investment into the development districts on social and economic grounds, particularly into areas such as Scotland, where we have a high rate of unemployment or what is now regarded as a higher than average rate of unemployment. It was for this reason that some months ago I and my colleagues welcomed the opportunity of supporting the Control of Office and Industrial Development Bill and the action which was taken by the Board of Trade in bringing advance factories and extensions to Scotland and the north-east of England. In this year in Scotland 22 advance factories have been authorised by the Board of Trade, and over 200 industrial development certificates have been issued for expansion in Scotland. This means some 20,000 jobs, and we shall not let those 20,000 jobs slip through our fingers as a result of anything which might happen in the building industry.
For a considerable time we have suffered from serious shortages in the building industry in Scotland. This is often caused by emigration. I said a few weeks ago that when one wants to find a Scottish skilled tradesman today one is likely to find him here rather than in his native land. That is particularly true of plasterers and bricklayers and others in the construction industry. It is also true of professional people—architects, engineers and surveyors—who could be employed by the local authorities in Scotland.
I served for some time on a local authority, and we were always short of people in this capacity—people who had found it much more profitable to go to the more prosperous parts of the United Kingdom for employment. I am aware that even when we pass this Bill, it will 514 be difficult to encourage these people to go back to the development districts, but I hope that we shall have success.
I want to comment on the shortage of material as it affects the building of these advance factories and the expansion of industry in Scotland. It is not many months ago since some of our most important industrial projects were in jeopardy because of shortage of material. I do not want to weary the House by recalling the shortage of cement and bricks and so forth that we faced about a year ago. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Public Building and Works has answered questions about it time and again. But I would point out that, as a result of the representations which the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Russell Johnston) made to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, and with the co-operation of the Minister of Works—for which we were very grateful—we got enough cement to be able to carry on with the building of the Fort William pulp mill.
Right hon. Members opposite boasted a great deal about the pulp mill when they were in Government, but when it came to building it, there was a difficult time and, if we had not had some kind of distribution control by the Ministry of Public Building and Works, Scotland would not have got its fair share of the material and the project would have been in jeopardy. There is no point in passing Measures which give encouragement to Scottish development, as we did last night in giving Scottish industry the benefit of derating, nor of spending millions under the Local Employment Act, unless we are prepared to take the thing seriously and give a measure of control in this way.
The same thing applies not only to industry but to housing for those we want to encourage back to Scotland. We have often talked about the emigration from Scotland. People are leaving at the rate of 42,000 per annum. They do so not just because of the jobs but because they cannot get decent houses in Scotland. Those of us who come from Scotland and the North-East and elsewhere are obliged to live many weeks in London. We like London very much, but we are disturbed to see all sorts of very "fancy" buildings—office blocks, large hotels, etc.—that have been erected in 515 the last two or three years while back home in Scotland or the North-East there are so many thousands of slums.
In Scotland there are more than 500,000 slums. Very many families are living in one room or two rooms. We shall not make any progress in defeating the slum problem unless we have a much fairer distribution of manpower and materials. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has presented a White Paper in which he suggests new means of dealing with this extremely difficult problem. He says:A heavy additional load will be placed on the construction industry. It clearly will not be able, within the period to 1970, to secure a sufficient expansion of the skilled labour force to achieve the increased output required simply by employing more men.My right hon. Friend is pointing there to the need for better techniques and an improved supply position, and all these things are extremely important in this debate.
But it is not only a question of slum clearance. I have read the report of the Cumbernauld New Town Corporation. Cumbernauld is regarded in Scotland and throughout the world as a model in new town development but anyone concerned about shortages should be referred to the report for 1964, which expressed the serious concern of the Corporation about shortages of this kind. That is most discouraging to a development corporation which is doing a very useful job, particularly when one knows what is happening in the South-East, where buildings lie empty for a long time. I hope there will be much better distribution of materials.
There is only one more point I wish to make. It is about Clause 4 of the Bill. We in the Labour Party rather like Clause 4. Just as it is important to distribute materials and manpower throughout the length and breadth of Britain, so it is important to realise that, even within the development districts, there are priorities. It is important to the development districts that they get their factories, hospitals and schools. Many of us know how, in some places, particularly Glasgow and Edinburgh, very large buildings have been put up on a speculative basis at a cost of several hundred thousand pounds but 516 have lain empty for a very long time. I trust that the Minister will look at the distribution of materials and manpower within the development districts as well.
I notice that, in Clause 8, the Minister will have power to alter the provisions by order from time to time and this I hope he will do, for we do not want to kill the spirit of the Bill by allowing unnecessary and unjustifiable building even within the development districts. I hope that my right hon. Friend will examine this point. With these comments, I commend the Bill.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)
The hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. Gregor Mackenzie) put before us again the problem with which we all have sympathy—that of the housing shortage and the areas where slums still remain. The last Government, as have this Government, bent most of their efforts to trying to find, in a full employment economy, a way of dealing with the problem much more quickly. But the hon. Gentleman went wrong in trying to tie up that sort of argument with the Bill. It has nothing to do with it. His speech, which was a good one in terms of the problems we are all trying to face, was largely irrelevant to this Bill.
The hon. Member for Manchester, Cheetham (Mr. Harold Lever) made a similar mistake. I always like to hear his speeches, for he is one of the best House of Commons practitioners. He knows when to be demagogic and he knows when to have a sane approach, and tonight was one of his sane approach nights and his argument was worth examination. He said that this was a very timely Bill but that its effect would be marginal and we should not bother much about it. He said that the wider issues raised by the Opposition were just propaganda stuff and that we should treat the Bill for what it was worth, a sensible, practical, reasonable approach to a problem hitting us particularly hard at the moment. Then he went on to mention all our great problems—balance of payments, general financial stability, how to maintain our industrial pre-eminence—and suggested that this sane, rather insignificant and not very important Bill would be the answer to all that. One could see the contradic- 517 tion in an otherwise able speech. He said that the Bill would not affect the building and construction industry very much and that the margin which had been set was sensible.
What he does not understand and what the Minister does not understand and where the Government are at fault in this respect is that, marginal and small though the Bill's practical effect may be relative to many other issues, it will have an effect on the confidence of the building industry as a whole and that effect will run all down the line. One section of the industry cannot be separated from the other on the view that 80 per cent. will go gaily on with all the speed and vigour we want while the other 20 per cent. can be siphoned off to some sort of special control. Things do not happen like that.
If the building industry feels, as it does, that the Labour Party, which has always been predisposed to licensing, is using the Bill as a first step in that direction, it will lose confidence. The hon. Lady the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renée Short) frankly welcomed the Bill because it contained Socialist principles. As a Socialist Member of Parliament and proud of it, she welcomed the Bill. She is wrong, and her wrongness can sometimes do damage, but she was right to say that the Bill contains Socialism. Of course the building industry recognises that, and it is that fear which is undermining confidence and doing so at a time when we cannot afford to have this great section of the economy lacking confidence.
The Government should be the last people who should introduce such a Measure. Because of their pronouncements over the last 14 years, in addition to what they did when they were last in power, right hon. Gentlemen opposite have come to be associated with a sympathy for physical controls. Although people are told that this is only a small Bill and will not last for very long, they know from their past experience that if a group of men are doing something which they regard as moral and uplifting, the chances are that what they are doing will become permanent and will grow. The hon. Member for Cheetham was on a good point when he wondered what our approach was as an alternative.
518 The approach which we ought to adopt is not to rely on physical controls such as these, but to use the power of persuasion and leadership, short of controls, which the Government can use. I was in the Ministry of Works for two and a half years before it had its new title and I know of its various advisory committees and of the Ministry's contacts with leading representatives of the industry in all its sections and I know that the Ministry has a great power of persuasion. The Minister already knows from his advisory committees and the collaboration and guidance of experts that he gets the co-operation of the leading firms of architects and surveyors and others who voluntarily are only too delighted to give him guidance and the benefit of their experience. This help has not been used to the full.
Ministers know more than hon. Members in opposition can hope to know about the figures and trends and the Minister may believe that the issue has gone past the point where persuasion could put matters right. Even if that is true, it is a grievous mistake for a Labour Government to make such legislation permanent. It could have been renewed every year. If it is permanent, it will be a demoralising general outlook on the economy in the months ahead, for the Government are giving the impression through the Bill that things are so bad and will remain bad for so long that they have to take these permanent powers to deal with the situation.
I would have thought that from the public relations and psychological point of view this was the last thing which the Government would have wanted to do. They have produced this "phoney" alibi about the inheritance which they are supposed to have taken on and they should have used it if it gives them any joy—even though it is not true. But if they say, "This great Labour Government will not get out of the great morass we have inherited and the problems will go on and so we have to have these permanent powers", they will undermine confidence in the industry, particularly when the Government are supported by a party with a predilection for controls and licensing which they have been threatening for so long.
The Minister said that 90 per cent. of the industry would be exempt from any 519 interference from the Bill. However, that is only in theory. The figures may show that only 10 per cent. of the industry will be affected, but the effect on confidence will spread well beyond that 10 per cent. The Government have made it difficult for the industry to believe their protestations that there is no ideology behind the Bill by the way in which they have moved on the subject of alterations.
When the Minister produced his Bill, he said that alterations to buildings would be among the exemptions. But this afternoon he said that it had been found so difficult precisely to define alterations that his original statement had had to go by the board and that alterations exceeding the limit of £100,000 would have to come within the licensing provisions. It is sad that he should have made his first statement, because his change of mind adds to the feeling that the Bill is a creeping approach to full control.
His reaction to my intervention on this subject was not helpful. He said that any alterations exceeding £100,000 which had been started would not be included, but that alterations starting from today would come under the restrictions. I asked him whether he would exempt projects already in the hands of the architects, projects which would be fairly well advanced. It is a fact that a big part of the expenses of a project are in the planning, architectural and quantity surveyor stage and I asked the Minister to exempt projects which could be shown to be in that stage. His answer showed a lack of knowledge of the industry, for he said that it was a known fact that many projects which got on the drawing board at the architectural stage were not proceeded with. Of course that is perfectly true, but if they are not going to be proceeded with they would not need to have to ask for permission and get the licence. But it is those which are on the drawing board and are far advanced and which will be proceeded with that I would like to ask the Minister, even at this late hour, to include in the exemptions. Unless he does I do not think that it can be true, as the right hon. Gentleman said, that he is moving away from stop-go. It means that he is sounding the bugle for a full-time retreat so far as building is concerned.
What is the point of this permanent control of licences? What are we out 520 to achieve? Is it more housing, because in order to make a good propagandist speech several hon. Members on the Government side have rather suggested that this is going to be the magic wand that will allow all building power to be turned to housing, thus enabling them to say in their constituencies that their support for the Bill has brought extra housing? Anyone who knows the industry knows that the projects which will be affected under this Bill are carried out by firms that have hardly anything to do with the provision of houses. It is quite a different type of labour, with quite different materials, and I doubt whether it will have any effect at all.
I want to argue the point that one cannot separate any section of the building industry from the overall success of the industry. If the things which we are wanting to restrict are successful, then, by and large, housing is successful. I have figures here giving the money spent on housing over the years 1962–3–4. This has gone up from £293 million to £323 million, to £424 million for public authority housing. Private enterprise housing has gone up from £445 million to £461 million to £571 million. Taking these figures together, housing has gone up from £738 million in 1962 to £784 million in 1963 and to £995 million in 1964. At the same time as that has been going on we have seen the spending by public authorities, private enterprise and industrial and miscellaneous building go up from £708 million in 1962 to £764 million in 1964. One could go down the lists of work carried out and it will be found that where the industry overall is being successful, then the housing section—and this applies to schools, too—is successful.
In support of this argument I bring in the architects. They had a survey made within their profession, and they say that the effect is likely to mean that there will be a fall-off of £546 million in the work which would have gone through their offices and eventually come to fruition. From their investigation 30 per cent. of the work abandoned relates to housing and out of the £546 million, £76 million represents housing, £66 million represents private owners and developments, and £10 million represents public housing. I am producing this as evidence in support of my view that one cannot 521 use the surgery of cutting off one section of the industry and expect the other section to move at the same pace as before. Once confidence is undermined then the opportunities of the building industry to provide things we need are also undermined.
I do not think that the Minister believes that this restriction will reflect automatically an amazing increase in housing, such as some of his hon. Friends have tried to persuade the House will happen. Do we wish to see the balance of trade held? Under the Bill, only about 500 projects amounting to £180 million are envisaged. This is about 6 per cent. of the total building output. Is it worth demoralising the whole industry, is it worth risking an industry which has a great contribution to make to our industrial health and buoyancy for this small amount of 6 per cent. or 7 per cent.?
This is not just a member of the Opposition chiding a Government. I do not want to take up the time of the House, but one could quote the considered views of the architects, the surveyors and the building industry who have said, after having circularised their members and received replies from 50 per cent to 55 per cent. of their members, that this Bill is likely to affect the overall confidence of the industry. Why do it this way? We have all the planning powers we need if we want to prevent office building or the building of bingo halls. I cannot quite understand the attitude about hotels because there is nothing very attractive in terms of profitability about hotels. It may be that people want to get into the bingo game and things of that sort because it is another licence to print money. I do not know. But I do know that there is no licence to print money when one builds an hotel. I know that the risks and the economics in the hotel business are such that it is not easy money which is being earned. The only places where one wants to build hotels is in the busy areas, where foreign buyers are coming in, where executives meet and need servicing and looked after. I have a company building a couple of hotels in the Midlands. It is going all right but I have a feeling that the money could have been invested to much better effect, in terms of a very quick profit that might come out of it. 522 We did this in the Midlands because there are foreign buyers and people coming in who have to be looked after and they form a good or bad opinion of this country from the sort of service they receive.
Under this Bill the very places where we want to build hotels we cannot. The places where they will have the most beneficial effect upon the country are not open to us. I hope that when this Measure gets to Committee we shall have one or two more exemptions taking into account the overall effect which it is going to have. My final word is on the supply of raw materials for the industry. It is here where this lack of confidence, which is the basis of my real objection to this Bill applies. One sees the logic in the argument of the hon. Member for Cheetham. The theory is all right if one disregards all the surrounding effects on the general morale. It is these effects which I believe will do very great damage.
I do not say this from instinct or feeling only. The Parliamentary Secretary is occupying a seat which I once occupied. One of my first jobs was to deal with the shortage of bricks problem. I went round the country trying to persuade brickyards to build extra kilns to meet the extra demand for housing projects and other things which he had in mind. I remember the brick manufacturers saying that they wanted to help and to build the kilns and extend their output in the way that we wanted, but that it meant a lot of money had to be invested. They said they had had so much experience of receiving encouragement from the Government composed of hon. Gentlemen opposite—and we were at fault in the early stages too—to spend the extra money and get themselves into debt to make this great contribution, and finding the minute they spent the money and got into production in order to get a return on the investment, the damper was put down again and all their efforts were lost.
That is the sort of thing which they remember and which makes them reluctant to accept the suggestion that it will be all right in the end. I beg the Minister to bear in mind that unless he can mitigate this lack of confidence in the building industry and among the suppliers of the raw materials he will not get the wholehearted support of the people who 523 supply the materials, not because they would withhold their efforts out of malice, but because, from past experience, once they get the idea that they will not have this sustained support—and this is the sort of Bill which gives the impression that they will not get that support—they cannot put everything into it.
Small though this Bill may be, I believe that it will add to the feeling of defeatism now running through the industry and the suppliers of raw material. What it will achieve, even if we accept the argument put forward by the Minister, bears no relation to the damage which it can do. Unless the Government pay attention to the actions which they take and the way that they take them and the lead-in to the actions, they will not only put themselves in trouble—that does not matter much; they are expendable and can be replaced by something better—but they will put the country in trouble.
I therefore beg the Government, even now, because of the ideological feeling which surrounds this matter—the words of the hon. Lady the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East—and the feeling of the industry because of the past record and pronouncements of the Labour Party, to add to the exemptions and to do their best to ensure that the power is taken for only a limited period and is not permanent. I trust that they will use the power of persuasion and influence which Ministers still have before they turn themselves into a millstone which may drown us all.
§ 8.13 p.m.
§ Mr. T. W. Urwin (Houghton-le-Spring)
I listened with interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls), who clearly displayed a good knowledge of the construction industry and its many and diverse problems. I remind myself of the words of the right hon. Member for Bexley (Mr. Heath) shortly after his election as Leader of the Opposition. He said that it was the Opposition's firm intention to mount severe attacks against the Government at every conceivable opportunity. I think of the manner in which this threat was applied in the recent censure debate on housing which was opened by the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter). I am sure that my right hon. 524 Friends must have quaked in their shoes when they heard the ominous words of the Leader of the Opposition.
The only signs of an explosion, even a verbal explosion, in this debate have been the numerous interruptions in the very good and objective speech of my right hon. Friend the Minister in introducing the Bill. It is to his everlasting credit that he maintained his equilibrium with a good deal of equanimity and refused to be drawn into being discourteous to right hon. and hon. Members opposite, which I am sure he could easily have been. My right hon. Friend was the acme of courtesy in the way in which he conducted himself.
A good deal of unnecessary fuss has been made about the Bill by right hon. and hon. Members opposite. We have heard alarmist talk about the future of the industry being threatened and that the employers in the industry will lose confidence in the Government because of the policies which they seek to introduce. The hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark), in opening the debate on behalf of the Opposition, used the old clichés about political dogma, Socialist ideology and doctrinaire politics. These phrases are somewhat overplayed. He went on to say that the Bill is intended as a sop to the Left Wing of the Labour Party.
I find it difficult to determine what is implied by references to the Left Wing of the Labour Party. I have always had difficulty in trying to define what a Left Winger is. However, I am sure that a real Left Winger in the Socialist Party would not address himself very long to a Bill of this kind as being the best instrument for dealing with the manifold problems of the construction industry and housing. My right hon. and hon. Friends, in unofficial discussions, express themselves in much the same way. The Bill has no bearing on this subject. I am no arbiter with any authority in such matters as this, but my opinion, for what it is worth, is that the private sector of the construction industry, to a very large extent, coupled with the mismanagement of right hon. and hon. Members opposite when they were in power, has been responsible for the failure to meet the pledges made during election campaigns about housing progress.
525 The hon. Member for Londonderry went on to ask, "Why treat an economic crisis which is deemed to be temporary by introducing a permanent Measure?". Is it a temporary situation? We can be optimistic in feeling that the economic situation is temporary, but the situation in the building construction industry is certainly not temporary. What a fallacious argument this is. Anybody with any knowledge of the industry accepts that there is a marked shortage of craftsmen. Figures have been quoted showing the shortage of skilled carpenters and bricklayers.
We know the difficulty concerning the supply of materials which my right hon. Friend the Minister faced when he took office last October. There has been reference to the proliferation of firms. I use the word "proliferation" deliberately because I know from practical experience of the industry that there are far too many employers in it. The hon. Member for Londonderry said that there were 90.000 of them. My information is that there are 85,000. These are the people who are using and eating up the valuable resources of the industry on expensive projects.
I wish that the Bill went further and controlled building of a value less than £100,000 because this is where a good deal of wastage takes place. The hon. Member for Londonderry also said how unfortunate the Bill would be for some employers, especially as they would have difficulty in recruiting and training apprentices. May I refer to what I said in col. 450 of the OFFICIAL REPORT during the debate on 11th November when I spoke about the same problem? I said that there were 85,000 contractors in the building industry and that on this basis each contractor would be responsible for four houses a year. I pointed out, however, that of the 85,000, 20,000 were only what might be called one-man firms, which could not make any financial contribution to the industrial training board for the construction industry because they employed fewer than five men or had an annual wages bill of less than £5,000, and of course many of them do not employ apprentices.
What is the reason for the crocodile tears which we have had from hon. Members opposite? They tell us that it is our intention to reintroduce controls as part 526 of our political philosophy and ideology. But is not almost every Act of Parliament to some extent a measure of control? Are not the lives of almost every man, woman and child controlled very largely by Statutes? What about the controls that right hon. and hon. Members opposite imposed upon the people during their 13 years of Government? What about the controls they introduced in the White Paper of February, 1961, Cmnd. 1290, when they revolutionised the whole system of housing subsidies as it had existed for many years?
Remarks were made this afternoon about the inference of the circular recently issued by my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government on direct labour tendering. Did not the Minister of Housing and Local Government of the Conservative Government, when he introduced his White Paper, impose a large measure of control on direct labour departments?
Among the many that I know, I could quote a very efficient labour department. I refer particularly to my own local authority, which consistently, not merely since the war, but since 1919, has carried out building by direct labour. In latter years, because of the insistence of the Tory Minister of Housing and Local Government to put out every third contract to tender, the first result was that a quantity surveyor had to be employed.
A quantity surveyor must be paid a professional fee, even for small contracts. The increase in rent as a result of the employment of a quantity surveyor had of necessity to be borne by the subsequent tenants of the council houses.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls
Is the hon. Member suggesting that direct labour contracts would not have the assistance of a quantity surveyor?
§ Mr. Urwin
Yes, that is what I am suggesting. Many local authorities build traditional houses of repetitive design. After the first contract, therefore, it is not necessary to employ a quantity surveyor. This was the experience of my authority, as, I am sure, it has been of many other authorities. Because of the insistence of a Tory Minister, however, the practice of using a quantity surveyor had to be followed. Until the most recent tendering prior to the issue of my hon. 527 Friend's directive, my local authority, despite the fact that it had proved beyond doubt that it had eliminated the possibility of being defeated at tender by a private contractor, was still compelled to follow the practice of paying out fees to quantity surveyors.
What is the difference between us? Right hon. and hon. Members opposite accuse us of being dogmatic. We are entitled to make the same accusation against them. If we have a vested interest for the people whom we represent, many right hon. and hon. Members opposite also have vested interests.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North East (Mrs. Renée Short) was accused by one or two hon. Members opposite of not addressing herself to the Bill. Very few hon. Members have addressed themselves to it. Was not my hon. Friend completely justified in talking as she did? If we are properly to utilise the resources available within the industry for the major social considerations that are before us, first and foremost among which is the achievement of a big enough target to satisfy the demand for housing, we can do this only by conserving resources which, throughout years of Tory Government, were applied to luxury office-building, petrol filling stations and the thousands of betting shops that were constructed throughout the country as a result of another piece of legislation emanating from the Tory Government. These things have eaten up valuable and vital resources which should be available for housing.
Whilst we are on this subject, we should pay special attention also to the requirements of development districts. I remind the House of the importance of the northern region in this matter. Three years ago, the hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg), who was then Lord Hailsham, took part in a belated attempt by the Government of that time to address themselves to the problem of under-developed areas—our neglected areas. We in the localities in the northern region—I speak as a member at that time of a local authority —looked forward to an indication of faith from the Government in recognising the long-overdue necessity to provide something better than the lot which we had 528 to endure for very many years. Indeed, I do not recall a time when the northern region, as must be the case also with Scotland and Wales, has not felt the effects of indifference from successive Conservative Governments. The economic suffering which has been endured throughout almost all my life time has been particularly hard in the northern region.
Belatedly, as I say, the Government of that time—I think, perhaps, because there was an intention to have a General Election in 1963 instead of 1964—began to think of the advantages of planning, and the result was that that ebullient right hon. and learned Gentleman was sent as the ambassador for Toryism to us in the northern region. I may say in his favour that I am sure he is a much cleverer man than his Press agent made him out to be. I have a photograph of him from a local newspaper, and in it he appears somewhat sartorially inelegant wearing a cloth cap. He alone will be able to explain why he resorted to that kind of tactic in coming to the North of England, because people in the North of England are not so easily deluded and he did not do his cause very much good by resorting to this kind of thing.
§ Mr. Urwin
No. He left the bell—and the flippers—behind him at Brighton or somewhere.
I should not be speaking about the right hon. and learned Gentleman in this fashion. I do not intend to be in any way derogatory of him because I recognise in him a really sincere politician, and, to his credit, even though he was rather late in the day, in a relatively short time he produced Cmnd. 2206,"The North-East, a programme for regional development and growth"—although it did not go far enough for us. There has been a good deal more impetus given to the economic recovery of the North-East since my right hon. Friends took office in 1964, and I am sure that, having regard to the existing situation, the requirements of our region for industry will receive a good deal more attention in the future even than they have even in the last thirteen months.
529 However, we cannot dwell in the past altogether, and we should dwell on the future for a moment or two, although I certainly do not want to take up much more time of the House, but speaking of the present and the future, I remind the House that we are to lose some 24,500 miners by transfer from our County Durham to other collieries. The economic recovery of the North-East has been for too long retarded, and as a result of the migration of these people we shall, of course, be in much worse straits, and as the economic development of the region depends in the first place on a successful, thriving, properly planned construction industry I think it is all the more necessary to have a Bill of this kind, which at least favours the development areas, as they are completely excluded from the terms of reference of the Bill. That industry has responsibility for providing new industry as well as having its fair share of the available resources to provide houses at the same time.
There have been other questions raised on the other side of the House, and against my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East who spoke about the standards of housing. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) I thought made a rather unnecessary criticism of my hon. Friend in this regard. He asked her to make a comparison between the standards of houses in this country and those of other countries in different parts of the world to which she had referred in her discourse. We can properly and proudly claim that our building standards are the best in the world, and I am proud to say this as a practical building trade craftsman. The hon. Gentleman might have reminded himself of the misdeeds of his Government at the time when they built up the number of houses for sale —using exactly the same resources as were available before they came to power, for there were no more craftsmen, there were no greater supplies of materials, and the only way they could achieve what they did was by reducing standards in this country—not in East Germany or Russia, but in this country.
§ Mr. Costain
I am sure the hon. Gentleman wishes to be fair. I was referring to the fact that in some Eastern European 530 countries craftsmen were not used for the same purposes they are here, and there are differences of construction and of units of construction. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to make comparisons he must compare like with like.
§ Mr. Urwin
I am referring to the fact that progressively from taking office the Conservative Party deliberately reduced the housing standards of this country. That was the only way the Conservative Government could achieve a better output of houses than that of their predecessors, the Labour Party between 1945 and 1951. For instance, they reduced ceiling heights from 8 ft. 3 in. and in some cases 8 ft. 6 in. to 7 ft. 6 in.; the second toilet was eliminated. Less cupboard space had to be provided. Densities were considerably reduced compared with those in operation before the Conservatives came into office.
I firmly believe that my hon. Friends who have spoken have been fully justified in drawing attention, as I have tried to do, to the effects on housing in particular and, in addition, industrial development that the Bill will have if it is operated properly. I spoke earlier about planning and the necessity for it. I am pleased to belong to a party which also firmly believes in it. It is no use my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government, with the abundant energy which he has brought to the job in the last 13 months, producing a White Paper and legislation for the building of 500,000 houses a year—as I have said, this is not by any means the fullest extent of our ambitions in housing—if the other side of the industry for which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Public Building and Works is responsible is not planned on a similar basis. The one is a necessary corollary to the other.
I am satisfied that the Bill will serve to deploy to a very large extent the technique of building involved in projects to which the Bill relates. There are, nevertheless, quantities of materials which will be used in projects of this kind which can be diverted to housing. For these reasons, I welcome the Bill, and I trust that it will have the effect that my right hon. Friend desires.
§ 8.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Russell Johnston (Inverness)
I shall try to be short and relevant, if that is possible. I know that at this time of the evening the House tends to become a little flat—I almost said flatulent—and I should not like to contribute to that.
As a relatively new Member, I feel that we have had a very short time to examine the Bill and the problem. Over the past year this has been an increasing tendency on the part of the Government. The same applied to the Rating Bill. We have had only five or seven days in which to examine the Bill now before us. It is all very well for the Government Department. It has had plenty of time to discuss the subject with the industry and other experts, and it comes here thoroughly briefed with a clear argument. We Members of Parliament are elected by the people to be legislators, and we have to examine the arguments and try to be fair about them. It is not proper that we should be rushed in this manner.
The object of the Bill is relatively limited, and there seems to be some disagreement as to how limited it is. I noticed that the hon. Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls) varied the emphasis from time to time in his speech. He began by saying that the Bill would demoralise the whole building industry. A little later he said that it would merely add to the feeling of defeatism in the industry. I felt that there was some difference between those two remarks. I hardly think that a Bill of this kind would demoralise the whole building industry.
The hon. Member also said that the architects were not in favour of this sort of Bill. Of course they are not. If I were an architect I would be opposed to any kind of control which might prevent me from erecting the more interesting or more profitable kind of building. This is not basically a valid argument, because, for social reasons, the Bill is designed to counter certain kinds of building, and one cannot expect architects, who after all, are individuals trying to make their own way in life, to take account of that factor.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman took my point. I was not making the point about whether architects were in favour of the Bill or against it. I said that through their 532 members they had carried out an investigation throughout the country to see what effect the Bill would have. Whether they liked it or not, their investigation showed that £546 million worth of building would stop, and that one-third of that would be housing. Their likes and dislikes did not come into it. That was the result of their investigation.
§ Mr. Johnston
That was the result of their prognostications, to be more exact.
The Bill is designed primarily to have two effects: first, to take the heat out of the industry and to divert labour and, to a lesser extent, materials away from what is described as non-essential building to essential building. Secondly, it is designed to encourage still further regional development in that development districts are excluded from the exemptions, and therefore, implicitly, there is the possibility that there will be a movement into those areas. In this respect the Bill is somewhat similar to the Act dealing with office building, which was not opposed by the official Opposition on Second Reading.
We in the Liberal Party accept both the objectives to which I have referred as being desirable. We are not by any means entirely satisfied with quite a number of the provisions of the Bill—I shall refer to these later—but at this stage we feel that it ought to be given a Second Reading. This will not in any way prevent us from seeking to amend it considerably, and possibly even voting against it on Third Reading, but the line that we take on it might be said to be directly comparable to that taken by the official Opposition on the office building Act, namely, that in intent it is a desirable Measure, though perhaps some of its provisions are not what they could be.
I say that for a number of reasons. First, I echo the remarks made by a number of hon. Members on the question of permanency. We are in grave doubt about the need to make this a permanent Measure. I doubt whether it is feasible, or practical, to have some sort of annual review, as was suggested by the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark). I am not arguing strongly about this, but I think that this would inject a considerable amount of doubt and uncertainty into the building industry in that people might postpone 533 making decisions in the hope that they might get something better in the future. I would not have thought that the Bill would be effective unless it was to run for at least 10 years. Even if it were to run for four or five years, I think that it would make people postpone construction in the hope of a change of policy by the Government.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
When we speak about permanence, we mean having it on the Statute Book. It will be something that we can reinvoke to stop the sort of business that we are experiencing now. There is nothing to stop the Minister, in the light of economic circumstances, suspending the operation of the Bill at some future date. The point is that the Bill will be there and it will not be necessary for the Chancellor to move in and take action.
§ Mr. Johnston
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention. It is a valid point to say that he can suspend the operation of the Bill altogether, but one would have thought that if he had approached it from that point of view he would not have felt it necessary to lay such emphasis on it being a permanent piece of legislation.
I am not quite clear about what degree of co-ordination there will be in the regulation of demand. What the right hon. Gentleman is trying to do is to prevent building capacity from being used in a certain sector and to divert it elsewhere. I would have thought that if there was co-ordination between his Ministry and the Ministry of Housing we would have seen some reflection of it in the forecast of house building. Do I take it from his nodding that it is a factor in the figures in his housing forecast? Does he admit that it will increase by a certain proportion? He evidently expects that as a direct result of the Bill it will increase. This is not clear. I hope that there is definite co-ordination in this matter.
Thirdly, I am concerned about the Ministry staff. As I understand it, the right hon. Gentleman is allowing for the expenditure of an additional £36,000 in a full year. One of the great criticisms of the building industry is the criticism of delay. I would have thought that for £36,000 we would have got at most a dozen or 15 extra people. Or will the extra work be done in his Department without any great increase in staff? I 534 would be surprised to learn that in view of the fact that there will be a considerable number of applications. The Minister does not know how many applications.
§ Mr. Johnston
Then it is obvious that he also looks into a crystal ball. I would have thought that this would tend to slow things down somewhat. People are often more concerned about delay in taking decisions than in actually obtaining a firm detention yea or nay.
I want to take up what was said by the hon. Member for Manchester, Cheetham (Mr. Harold Lever) and his formidable logic: It seemed to me that The Times was right, and that it was quite wrong of the hon. Member to drag in the question of driving licences and to say that they were just as relevant to delay as were planning controls. That is not so. We are adding one more control or brake in the process of constructing buildings of a certain kind. The hon. Member was wrong. Nevertheless, I am glad to hear that the Minister feels that there will be no great delay.
I hope that the Solicitor-General will be able to tell us something about the Government's attitude to the problem of urban renewal. This legislation will be seen at its most difficult in the renewal of city centres, when there may he necessity for buildings of a non-essential kind. That type of building is presumably covered by the Bill, but it is nevertheless essential in the context of the renewal of a city centre. I would have thought that the Minister would be sympathetic in such circumstances.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
I have licensed certain things. For obvious reasons I cannot refer to particular cases at this stage, but I have already pointed out that I am well aware of the sort of circumstances of which the hon. Member is talking. That is the sort of consideration we take into account. We understand these matters. We are not hog-tied.
§ Mr. Johnston
I am not suggesting that the Minister does not understand; I am merely trying to get an assurance from him.
I want to deal quickly with some points arising from the provisions of the Bill. Clause 1(3) deals with punishment for people who break the law and singles out 535 architects, engineers and surveyors. As the Minister will be aware, in many building projects non-professionals are now often employed to supervise. It would appear that they will get away with it, while the professionals, who are subject to a much more exacting code of behaviour, will be put in the dock. This seems wrong.
I also want to refer to the speech made by the right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger). The Solicitor-General would probably agree that wherever possible it is desirable to avoid imposing prison sentences for this sort of civil breach of the law. We are all in grave doubt as it is about prison sentences and their effect and to introduce them here is undesirable. If necessary, the financial penalties could be increased, but I am doubtful about the suggestion to introduce prison sentences.
Clause 2 was mentioned by the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain). Could Clause 2(2), which deals with the two-year provision, mean—I am asking for clarification because this will be useful to hon. Members on the Committee—that people could get away with it by constructing buildings up to a value of £100,000 and then pausing for two years and starting again?
§ Mr. Johnston
The right hon. Gentleman has that well tied up.
What exactly is this period of two years? Where does it stem from? Is it from the signing of the contract, the architect's certificate of completion, the commencement of works or the occupation date? What is the guide line? A number of starting points could be taken, all of which occur over a period of 18 months. We need clarification here.
I was glad to hear the Minister assure the hon. Member for Londonderry about repairs and renovations since July and I would support the plea of the hon. Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls) about those projects of renovation which are well advanced on the architectural drawing board, and on which there has been a fair outlay of money.
My last point is an important one and concerns the churches, from which we 536 have had some representations. Could the Minister give some assurance that building licences will be granted for churches, church halls or residences—manses, as we call them in Scotland—for ministers where these buildings are in effect replacements—
§ Mr. Johnston
Yes, they could. It is possible. After all, we know that the figure of £100,000 can be altered at any time. In any event a building can consist, I understand, not only of a single building but of buildings on adjacent sites. Therefore, I should have thought that a church, church hall and residence for a clergyman could together cost more than £100,000.
§ Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
Would not my hon. Friend have in mind the case of a church, a church hall and a minister's residence all forming part of the same scheme, to a total cost of more than £100,000, although the church itself or the manse or the church hall individually do not amount to more than a fraction of that sum?
§ Mr. Johnston
Yes, that is right. The point I am trying to make is that, as the Minister is aware, these buildings, which are in the centre of the towns are, on occasion, taken over compulsorily. The churches want some assurance that they would be granted a building certificate for a replacement. As I understand it, a claim for compensation following the exercise of compulsory purchase powers is normally related to the nominal cost of replacement and it could legally be argued—you will appreciate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, how complicated legal matters are—that if licences were refused, this would indicate that they had no intention to build. This would therefore affect the question of compensation. I hope that the Solicitor-General will be able to clarify this point.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)
The opening exchanges in this debate were marked by strong feeling about the presence on the other side of the House of so many hon. Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies. It was of course, a curiosity of the early stages of the debate that so 537 many Northern Ireland Members were present. Indeed, at times they even comprised the majority of hon. Members opposite. For my part notwithstanding the sense of mystery expressed by my right hon. Friend, the Minister. I now entirely understand the position. After the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark) had concluded his speech, we saw much less of the other hon. Members from Northern Ireland. What I think they were doing was to give moral support to the hon. Member for Londonderry in his trying task of answering the opening speech made by my right hon. Friend.
One of the points which the hon. Member for Londonderry tried to present as one of substance was that we were using controls for their own sake, after the Minister had categorically denied that this would ever be allowed. The hon. Member knows very well that the controls provided for in the Bill are not controls for their own sake. Nor is the Bill one designed merely to deal with a temporary crisis. Its intention is to avoid the periodic crises to which we have grown accustomed and which are bound to occur if we do not proceed with the measures now proposed. I am sure most hon. Members will agree that planning is a permanent necessity when there is such tremendous pressure on our limited resources and the certainty of continued pressure. Moreover, it is no use having a national economic plan if we are not prepared to adopt the instruments of planning.
I believe that even hon. Members opposite would agree that, when the construction industry cannot meet all the pressures put on it, demand must be cut to what can be done and the cuts must be made in the least essential works, so that housing and other socially vital work can forge ahead.
What are the exemptions from the Bill? Housing is completely exempt. So is industrial building, including adjacent building which will provide services for industrial building. All work in development districts is exempt. I was surprised that the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Russell Johnston) did not welcome Clause 5 for that reason, coming as he does from a part of the country which is so much in need of its benefits. There is also exemption for work in the public 538 sector: that is, work done by local authorities, nationalised industries, universities and grant-aided educational establishments and any body which derives most of its income from money voted by Parliament.
I must say in the very few minutes still available to me that I rejoice most in the benefit that will derive from the Bill in the matter of advancing the pace of house building and of ensuring that social building will be given clue priority. I would remind the House of the document entitled "The North-West: a Regional Study", which was written by Government officials and published in July of this year. It states that the first and lasting impression of the visitor to the North-West is one of astonishment that the housing conditions he sees around him can still exist in a relatively prosperous part of an advanced industrial country. The Report says that some 440,000 dwellings in the North-West are already unfit or will be unfit to be lived in or will be unfit for human habitation by 1981.
A more generous standard of minimum needs would bring the number of obsolescent houses up to well over 500,000, or about a quarter of the region's present stock.One-fifth of the poorest dwellings of the country are in the North-West, and three-quarters of that region's slums are in the "Mersey Division"—the Report's new title for the area dominated by Manchester and Liverpool. Our problem in the North-West is described as probably without parallel in Britain today.
Speaking specifically of Manchester, I would remind the House that out of a total of 201,627 dwellings in my native city, some 54,700, or 27.1 per cent., are estimated to be unfit. It is for this reason that I welcome the imposition of physical controls. I represent a constituency where year after year since the war projects for providing social amenities have been put back because of recurrent credit squeezes. I warmly welcome the assurance by my right hon. Friend that there is now to be preference for social building and in particular for housing and social amenities.
I said earlier that I was certain that the hon. Member for Londonderry had been joined by other hon. Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies 539 because they wanted to give him moral support in a trying task. I understand that the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) will wind up the debate for the Opposition, and I take it that he will be joined by all the hon. Members opposite who represent seaside constituencies to give him moral support in the equally difficult task of trying to anticipate what I know will be a firm and compelling answer from this side of the House.
§ 9.3 p.m.
§ Mr. H. P. G. Channon (Southend, West)
I am most grateful to the hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris) for his kind suggestion that my hon. Friends from seaside constituencies should come and help me in this task. I was sorry not to see other hon. Members from Manchester helping the hon. Member.
§ Mr. Channon
That has nothing to do with what the hon. Member was saying. In the course of my remarks I I hope to cover the points that he raised and I hope that I will have some reply to them from the Government Front Bench.
It would be fair to say that discussion outside the House, and to some extent inside it, has proceeded along the lines of whether or not we limit luxury buildings, bingo halls and swimming pools when the economy of the country is under severe strain. I shall hope to show that that is not the sole issue in front of us tonight, because the criticism which we have of the Bill, echoed by the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Russell Johnston), speaking on behalf of the Liberal Party and, as so often, speaking against the Government's Bill but intending to join them in the Lobby at the end of the debate—
§ Mr. Lubbock
The hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) has been in the House long enough to distinguish between a Second Reading point and a Committee point.
§ Mr. Channon
I am quite willing to allow the hon. Member any publicity 540 that he can get in view of the falling Liberal support in the country.
As I was saying, our criticism of the Bill—and I am glad to be joined by the Liberals in this—is that the Government are taking permanent powers to control an enormous proportion of the building in this country. No one denies this. The Minister has not denied it, and, of course, he cannot. But, if the Bill goes through all its stages in its present form, he will be able, by Order subject to affirmative Resolution, to direct that any figure, either higher or lower than the present limit of £100,000, shall become the limit above which his licensing system will be imposed. This is one of our main criticisms of the Bill, and I shall come to the detail of it later.
Our second criticism is that there is no time limit upon the Bill. A time limit was put to the Control of Office and Industrial Development Act, which went through the House earlier this year. It will expire in 1972. Why no time limit for this Bill? When the Control of Office and Development Act expires in due course, will control of large office projects come within the ambit of this Bill instead? It seems to me that it will, and, if I am right, it is a clear breach of the assurances given to the House on the Second Reading of the Control of Office and Industrial Development Bill.
I shall examine the Bill in two ways: first, as it stands at present, if the Minister does not change it at any stage; second, if he does decide to change it in certain respects. What does the right hon. Gentleman control at present? He does not control housing, and he can never control housing under this Bill. There is no question of a licensing scheme for that. He does not control industrial building. He does not control building subject to office development permits.
At present, if someone in my constituency of Southend, or in London or Birmingham, wants to go ahead with an office scheme, he has to obtain an O.D.P. If he wants to build a large office block in another part of the country not covered by the London and Birmingham Orders, he will have to secure not an O.D.P. but a building licence. On the other hand, in the unlikely event of someone wanting to build a £100,000 bingo hall in Glasgow, the project will be totally exempt.
§ Mr. Channon
Apparently, it is not a point of criticism with the Liberals, but the Prime Minister has made a few remarks recently about the undesirability of bingo halls. I shall come to that later.
I want an assurance from the Government tonight about how the various systems will work. What will the Board of Trade consider when it comes to the granting of an O.D.P. for a large office project? Will it consider the same points as the Minister of Public Building and Works will consider for offices outside the London and Birmingham areas? Will the Board of Trade be equally concerned about the alleged overheating in the construction industry, or will it direct its mind only to the specific Board of Trade matters in respect of which it was given powers under the other Act? Further, if the Board of Trade will concern itself with a building industry questions in operating its own O.D.P. system, under what powers will it do so?
Local authorities are to be exempt from the provisions of the Bill, and exempt for ever. On local authority building the sanction is not a licence from the Minister of Public Building and Works but loan sanction by the Treasury and control by the Minister of Housing and Local Government. Are these two latter Departments to have the same considerations in mind when dealing with these questions in that connection?
The nationalised industries are at present to be exempt. What assurances can the Minister give that they will behave in a way compatible with the principles which he outlined?
§ Mr. C. Pannell
Let us clear up the points of agreement and get them out of the way so as not to waste time. We have looked at that, of course. All matters of that sort are subject to the direction of the Ministers.
§ Mr. Channon
I did not quite understand that. Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that powers already exist to control these other things, or is he saying that, if necessary, he would cause a general direction to be issued if other people were behaving unsatisfactorily?
§ Mr. Channon
The powers are already there? In that case, why does the right hon. Gentleman need the reserve powers in his present Bill to include nationalised industries within its scope? I may be confused, but if I am confused, so is the House, and we are entitled to an answer.
I have a few specific questions to put to the Solicitor-General—questions which I hope he will think are fair, which are reasonable and to which the industry ought to have an answer tonight. First, what information will the Minister require to decide whether to grant a licence? Will he require full working drawings or only outline plans? We ought to have some statement of the Minister's intention as to what will be required before a building licence is granted. Secondly, is the Minister prepared to give outline permission in principle before calling upon people to provide full working drawings? In certain cases it may be necessary to make sure that applications are bona fide, but no doubt some method could be arranged to safeguard that position.
Is the Minister in a position to say to an applicant for a building licence, "You cannot have your licence now because conditions are not appropriate, but you will be able to go ahead in a year's time"? It would be reasonable for someone to be told that. The Minister, we all know, is extremely keen on pre-planning in industry, and if he were prepared to act in that way it would be of help to the industry.
I must press the Minister or the Solicitor-General on one matter in particular. The Minister said today that when he granted a licence, one condition of the licence would be that people would have to start work within six months, and the licence would be valid for only a further six months, making a total of only one year. The Bill deals only with projects of over £100,000. Is the Minister satisfied that in a project costing £250,000 it is reasonable to expect that work will begin within six months of the date of the granting of the licence? My information is that in such a project it would be totally unrealistic to expect that. All I want the Minister to say is that he will have another look at this matter. Is he prepared to be flexible in dealing with a case in which it is obviously unreasonable to expect people to get ahead within 543 six months? I challenge the Minister to say whether in his own Ministry, in a project of £250,000, the work begins within six months of the outline stage. Of course, much depends upon the stage at which the licence is granted, and that is why it is important for the man to know at which stage he may expect a licence.
My next question was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain). When does one get planning consent? Does one get the planning consent before the licence or the licence before the planning consent? The House will be aware that in many parts of the country it takes a very considerable time to get planning consent anyway, and there may be a considerable delay in several authorities in getting planning consent in the first place. We must know whether one gets planning consent first, imposing a considerable delay, and then gets the licence, or what are the arrangements.
Is the Minister prepared to have further discussions with the industry and the professions about these points and about the details of the licensing system, about the duration of the licensing system and—a point on which the Minister did not touch —how one gets an extension of a licence? These are all important matters on which the industry and the profession are not satisfied, and the Minister ought to be prepared to have further discussions with them on these points.
A number of other detailed legal points have been raised in the debate and no one is more qualified to answer them than the Solicitor-General. As a layman I would refer to the phrase "reasonable grounds" in Clause 1(4). The Solicitor-General knows a great deal more about this than I do, but "reasonable grounds", as far as I understand it, has always been interpreted extremely narrowly by the court. I hope that the Solicitor-General will tell us whether the Minister was right today in his interpretation that "reasonable grounds" as defined in the courts of law would generally include someone who started with a scheme costing £80,000 but then found the costs mounting.
§ Mr. Channon
The Minister says, "Yes". I hope that he is right. Any 544 reasonable man would assume that that was likely often to be the case. He could scarcely have reasonable grounds for saying that an offence would be committed in such cases. This is a legal point and I hope that the Solicitor-General will tell us what the position is.
Another detailed point, but nevertheless also one of principle, is that in Clause 1 we are told that licences… may be issued subject to conditions or limitations, and in particular may be limited so as to authorise the carrying out of some, but not all, of the work …I hope that we shall be told that this provision will be used very sparingly. What happens when the Minister licences some but not all of the work? Will the person putting up the building have a guarantee that he will be able to finish it? Would not the Solicitor-General agree that, if provisions like this are included, they will inevitably cause rising costs and considerable inefficiency on occasion? I appreciate that the Minister has said that he will administer this provision in a lenient, humane and sensible manner. But the words imply that partial licensing is something he is keen to do and it would be a pity if, on many occasions, he were to give licences only to carry out some of the work.
I must point out, particularly to the right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) that, so far from the fine being only up to £100, according to Clause 1(5,b) the penalty on indictment could be…imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, or to a fine, or both.This seems to imply an unlimited fine within the discretion of the court.
§ The Solicitor-General indicated assent.
§ Mr. Channon
The hon. and learned Gentleman agrees with that interpretation. The penalty is very heavy, but perhaps the heaviest penalty for the person putting up the building will be to have his licence revoked. What happens? Does the building remain half finished? If a building is half constructed when a licence is revoked, what happens? Does it stay as it is?
§ Mr. C. Pannell indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Channon
It is no good the right hon. Gentleman shaking his head. These are practical points. The Parliamentary Secretary may laugh, but one of the 545 troubles is that the Bill will depend almost entirely for its workability on the way in which it is administered, and I have every right to ask about points of administration before the House decides whether or not to give the Bill a Second Reading.
I have a complaint to make which the Government have heard many times. Not only do we have retrospection in the Bill but Government by Ministerial statement —something that we have had too often from the Government. From 27th July to 1st November, until the Minister answered a Question from the hon. Lady the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renée Short), no information about emergency applications was given to us. Even when it was given, it was inaccurate. The provision about alterations was subsequently changed between 1st November and 30th November.
What happened to the Bill? Why was it not the first Bill of the Session? Speaking at Durham on 3rd September, the Minister said that it would be the first Bill of the Session. So it should have been. If there is to be retrospection it should have been sooner. I do not complain, as the hon. Member for Inverness complained, that we are debating it too soon. We should have had at least another fortnight in which to consider the Bill's implication before Second Reading, especially on the retrospection aspect. But why is it the 21st Bill of the Session and not the first, as was promised?
I want to move now to what might happen in the future. In spite of what the hon. Member for Manchester, Cheetham (Mr. Harold Lever) and others allege about the Opposition not being genuinely against the Bill and exaggerating fears, I am astonished that hon. Members who can read the Bill and who presumably have studied it should say that what my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clarke) and I have been worried about could not take place. Apart from control over housing, the Minister is to be given practically unlimited powers—and not necessarily the present Minister, for this is a permanent Bill and his successors are to have permanent powers to extend the Bill practically as wide as they like, provided that they do not take in local authorities, 546 Government Departments and housing. These are very wide powers.
Reference has been made to the Minister's speech at the Federation of Associations of Specialist Sub-Contractors a few days when he said:Licensing will not be a collar to choke the industry but will allow us to apply different levels of control in those parts of the country where it is felt necessary and, indeed, to different types of building within a given area.Just what does that mean? Was the right hon. Gentleman referring merely to the fact that development districts are exempt from the Bill, or does he intend to have lower limits in any part of the country so far as he can'? We are entitled to an answer.
We are also entitled to know under what principles Government Departments will act. When the Control of Office and Industrial Development Act went through the House, the President of the Board of Trade gave a specific assurance that although Government Departments were not included in that Bill—I do not think that they should have been—nevertheless they would have to apply to him and would be treated in the same way as private people. What are the provisions for Government Departments in this Bill? Do they have to go to the Minister of Public Building and Works and put their schemes to him? If not, why not?
I think that the right hon. Gentleman will agree with me that if we are to achieve the housing target and to achieve an expansion of house building, it is absolutely necessary that confidence in the building industry should be retained. Some hon. Members opposite tonight have disputed the claim that confidence in the building industry has been shaken, but my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry showed very clearly that it has been very severely shaken. The National Plan says that what the industry needs is steady expansion and no stop-go. The industry was promised steady expansion and no stop-go by the Minister some months ago, but it did not get it.
What is the real purpose behind the Bill? Is the Minister seriously contending that if a few casinos—if there are any—costing more than £100,000 are postponed in the next few months, we shall get a largely increased housing programme? Instead of encouraging house 547 building, the Government have not even reached their own target of 400,000 houses. We have heard another figure from the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon about the likely level of housing. Originally, we heard the figure of 400,000 and then we heard from the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, that it would be between 380,000 and 390,000. Is it a firm Government figure that it will be 390,000?
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) did not get an opportunity to speak, because he would have been effective about the one-in-three tendering rule. He intervened in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry, but, triumph though this may be for Tribune and the hon. Member for Walton and the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot), this is one more blow to the confidence of the building industry.
§ Mr. Heffer
For the information of the House and the hon. Gentleman, I intended as a building operative and Chairman of the Direct Works Department of Liverpool for many years to discuss the basic problems of increasing productivity and recruiting labour in the industry.
§ Mr. Channon
As I said, I was sorry that the hon. Gentleman did not have the opportunity to speak, because no doubt he would have been instructive but I am sure that we shall have the benefit of his views on the Bill on another occasion. But that does not alter my view that the decision of the Minister of Housing and Local Government has been most damaging to the confidence of the building industry. I do not want to regale the House too much with quotations from the Minister of Public Building anti Works but he must have had a very convivial lunch when he went to the London Master Builders Association a few months ago.
§ Mr. Channon
It may have been a short speech but it has provided plenty of quotes. The Minister said in March:We shall not pursue a policy of stop-go because it is incompatible with our policy of economic expansion.548 What happened to his intentions between January and July? What happened to the alterations under this Bill? We were told in July, in a Press release from the Ministry, that alterations were not to be included in the Bill. We were told on 1st November that they were not to be included. Now we find, when this Bill is published on 30th November, that they are included. What has happened? What has been the cause? In the Press release issued by the Ministry it was said that the reason they were included was that they were simple and more easily understood. If any Bill has been more full of legal complexities than this one I have yet to see it.
On the 2nd November we were fortunate enough to have from the Ministry the orders for new construction in August. On 5th October we were given the orders for new construction in July. Why today, when we have a debate on the construction industry, are the figures for September not to be released until tomorrow morning? [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] I do not claim that there is any sharp practice in this. My hon. Friends know perfectly well that we have, in this Minister, someone who is determined at all costs to oppose the rights of the House of Commons. Perhaps, if the figures are available—and they must be available if they are to be published tomorrow morning—we can have some details this evening in the winding-up speech.
I must now refer to a few remarks, made in a calm and statesmanlike manner by the Prime Minister at Bletchley on Saturday, when he implied that those of us who opposed this Bill were preferring casinos to houses. He referred to "the excrescences of the dolce vita society." This was a test of sincerity, we were told by the Prime Minister. I am sorry that the Prime Minister cannot be here this evening, but perhaps the Minister of Public Building and Works at least realises that construction of entertainment buildings in 1964 amounted to merely 2 per cent. of the work—a minute amount. Let us have from people who described that as sincerity no more of this emotional rubbish to which we were treated by the Prime Minister.
The Minister has already licensed eight emergency compulsory schemes in advance of the application of this Bill, and I am delighted that he has done so. He 549 has shown, by the categories of building which are included, how serious and how difficult a problem this is. These categories include an old people's home, offices, and private redevelopment in a town centre scheme. I should like to ask the Minister why an old people's home is not covered as a dwelling or residence? Why does it have to be licensed? I certainly did not get the impression from his speech that old people's homes are to be included. I am pleased he has licensed those schemes, and it is interesting to note that those are the sort of things covered.
I should like to examine the test of sincerity that we are asked by the Prime Minister to bring to the contemplation of this Bill. I wonder if those who talk about a test of sincerity will recall what they have done to help the building industry. Have they forgotten the Chancellor's statement of 27th July? Perhaps the Minister this afternoon recalled the failure of the present Government to reach their boasted 400,000 target. Did not the Prime Minister read the earlier speeches of the Minister of Public Building and Works—I am sure that he did not—about no stop-go, or his interview with The Builder when he said that there would be no controls in the building industry? He has totally misled them. Have not those who talk about a test of sincerity not understood the concern of the surveyors and architects? Have they not heard of the moratorium on school building and university building starts? Has not the right hon. Member for Bassetlaw indicated that under this Administration housing prices have risen faster in the last few months than at any period since records have been kept? Who are they to talk about a test of sincerity, as if they have been helping the building industry?
The Bill will not help the housing programme. It imposes a permanent Socialist control on building which can be widely extended. We know—it has been quoted in debates often in the past—what Aneurin Bevan said about private building. He admitted that there was honest disagreement in the Labour Party about whether any private building should be allowed. The tone of the Prime Minister's remarks this Saturday show that 550 he is indeed a willing disciple of Mr. Bevan.
§ Mr. Channon
It is not for me to say what is wrong with it. I am glad to know that the hon. Member still thinks that the Prime Minister is a disciple.
We know the history of this Bill. We have had constant denials from the Minister that he wanted to introduce controls at an earlier stage. I claim that what has motivated the Government in introducing the Bill and what, above all, motivated the Prime Minister at Bletchley is the feeling that the public sector is always right and that the private sector is always wrong. That is the spirit which the Bill has created, and I ask all hon. Members who agree with me to join me in the Lobby.
§ 9.32 p.m.
§ The Solicitor-General (Sir Dingle Foot)
No one can suggest that the Bill has not been subjected to a most thorough examination. I make no complaint of either speech from the Opposition Front Bench, or of the way in which the Bill has been examined Clause by Clause, or of the questions put to me. They are questions of very great importance and I shall try to answer as many of them as I can. However, hon. Members will appreciate that a very large number of points have been raised, and if I cannot answer them all at this stage I ask for the indulgence of the House.
Very few hon. Members opposite have addressed themselves to the case for the Bill. The case for the Bill is that this industry is overloaded, and has been overloaded since 1963, and that circumstances will almost inevitably recur in which it will continue to be overloaded in future. It is for that reason—and I come at once to the point made by the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Russell Johnston) and others—that we ask the House for a permanent Measure. As was said by the hon. Member for Inverness, nothing could introduce more uncertainty into the building industry than if we were to have a temporary Measure, renewable perhaps from year to year or after a very short time. We are dealing with a long term problem, and for that reason we ask that the Bill be put on the Statute Book without any time limit.
551 The hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark) referred to the work which had, he said, already been abandoned or postponed. He gave the rather terrifying figure of £546 million. That was a figure supplied by the R.I.B.A. My right hon. Friend the Minister has had the opportunity of analysing the answers to the R.I.B.A. questionnaire. It has been possible to agree with the R.I.B.A. the breakdown of that figure. Out of the total figure, only £66 million worth of work was abandoned after it had been begun. [Laughter.] Yes, £66 million. Some £480 million was postponed. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] The hon. Member used the words "abandoned or postponed" without going into particulars. Of the £480 million, £300 million was at sketch-plan stage, which means that a large part of it would probably never in any event have come to fruition. That is no more than might be expected from the measures which were rightly taken by the Government in July.
Since a reference has been made by the hon. Member to the Royal Institute of British Architects, I should like to quote from this month's issue of the R.I.B.A. Journal recording a meeting between my right hon. Friend and the professional societies of architects. It states:The meeting on 25th October between representatives of the R.I.B.A., the R.I.C.S. the N.F.B.T.E. and the N.F.B.T.O. and the Minister of Pubic Building and Works to discuss building restriction was a private one but the R.I.B.A. representatives took away the impression that the Government is trying to do the right thing to get priorities right and supply into balance with demand. Equally, Mr. Pannell and Ministers from other Departments who accompanied him cannot have retained any idea that the criticisms levelled at their measures were inspired by any hostility to the Government. There is, in fact, a basis for real understanding and the controls now introduced should be given a chance to work.We have had a good deal of synthetic indignation from the benches opposite about the supposed enormity of the Bill. The hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) said that it was some kind of plot to impose permanent Socialist controls. Another hon. Member referred to control for control's sake. The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Sharples) said that this was a step towards control in detail of the whole construction industry.
552 The Bill, as was observed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) and my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Cheetham (Mr. Harold Lever), is an extremely modest Measure. It is entirely different from the sort of building controls which we had at the beginning of the war and continuing until 1954, when practically every form of building needed to be licensed. We deal here with only a modest category of building. We have all the exemptions: first, the exemption up to £100,000, a very considerable exemption indeed, and the specific exemptions which are set out in Clauses 3, 4 and 5. They cover by far the greater part of the construction work.
In passing, in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen (Mr. Gregor Mackenzie), we attach the greatest importance to Clause 4. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Most hon. Members opposite have only just come into the House and were not here when my hon. Friend spoke, otherwise they would be aware that he emphasised and underlined the significance of Clause 4. Clause 4 in this context applies to development districts and it is the intention of the Government that the Bill should inure to the benefit of the development districts.
§ Mr. Sharples
The Solicitor-General has referred to what I said about the Bill being a step towards detailed control by the Government over the whole construction industry. Will he, therefore, say what is the purpose of Clause 8, which allows indefinite extension of the Bill?
§ The Solicitor-General
I will come presently to Clause 8, because a number of questions have been put to me about it.
If I might take the various points more or less in the order in which they were raised, the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) addressed the House with his special knowledge of the building industry, for which we are indebted. The hon. Member really suggested, however, that we should go a great deal further than we are doing in the Bill. He wanted us to introduce a complicated system of rationing building materials and even, as far as I could gather, building labour as well.
§ Mr. Costain
I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman does not want to 553 misrepresent me. I was advocating a progressive system of controls and not a restrictive one as is proposed in the Bill.
§ The Solicitor-General
The hon. Member said that we should have specific controls, in relation, I gather, to all building projects, over certain building materials. That would be to introduce the most complex possible system of licensing. Here we have a perfectly simple system in which we merely determine what is the price of the building involved.
The hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Southend, West put to me the same question. They asked what would be the relationship between building licensing and planning control, and they asked which would have to come first. I would say that planning permission would have to be obtained first. The developer will have to seek planning consent in the normal way and later he will have to name the starting date. It would be in that order.
Then there was the particular point which was raised by the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe and that was the point in Clause 1(3) where there is a reference to persons who commit an offence if the amount of the building licence is exceeded. He referred in particular to any architect, engineer or surveyor, and he pointed out that a quantity surveyor has, after all, no control whatever over the amount of building. He merely acts as a sort of arbitrator between the building owner and the builder. Of course, I accept that definition of the quantity surveyor's function, but the quantity surveyor is not covered by this. This refers to anarchitect, engineer or surveyor employed in a supervisory capacity.That would cover a building surveyor but it would not cover a quantity surveyor. So I hope that on that point I can set the hon. Gentleman's mind at rest.
Now I come to the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam and I will deal with what I think were his principal points. He asked what was to be the machinery for operating this Bill and he asked how the Minister was going to assess social need, and my right hon. Friend the Minister intervened to say that he did not 554 think it would be a very difficult exercise. Of course, there are a number of factors which will have to be taken into account. If pressure of demand makes it necessary to defer some work the Minister will have to decide the respective priorities of projects in the public interest. He will have to have regard to the load on the construction industry in the area where the project is; he will be concerned with the project's relevance to economic development and efficiency, to housing development, and to the implementation of the Government's general policy, such as, for example, dispersal of conurbations. Those are all, obviously, factors the Minister will have to take into account.
Then the hon. Gentleman went on to ask, how are representations going to be made? I would not have thought that that presented any considerable difficulty, because I am sure that, with his experience, he will agree that we have here a Department which is very close to the industry; there is no great difficulty about those concerned in the industry getting in touch with the Ministry, either themselves or, it may be in certain cases, through their Members of Parliament.
Then the hon. Gentleman asked, will reasons be published for the decision? The answer to that is, "No". The answer is that we are not here dealing with any sort of judicial or quasi-judicial process. We are dealing here with a licensing system, and I think it would be entirely novel, when we are dealing simply with a licensing system, if a reason had to be given as to why a licence was granted or withheld.
I think the same consideration applies to the other questions which the hon. Gentleman put to me. He asked, will there be any kind of tribunal, or would it be possible to go to court on appeal against refusal of the licence? I am bound to say that that would be wholly inappropriate. We are not dealing here with a question whether there is a claim based upon any particular right. That is the sort of issue which a court or tribunal has to decide. We are dealing here with a question of policy, a question of policy which has to be decided by the responsible Minister who is answerable to this House for what he does.
555 My right hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw and the hon. Member for Inverness referred to penalties. This is not our first experience in this field. The provision is based on Defence Regulation 56A, which came into force in 1940 and remained in force for the next 14 years. The penalties here proposed are considerably less than those which were included in the Defence Regulations. [HON. MEMBERS: "That was in wartime."] It was not only in war but after the war, and it was a Regulation which continued in force for three years when the Conservative Party was in power. We are proposing lesser penalties in the Bill. I think it extremely unlikely that imprisonment would be imposed except in the most extreme cases. I would certainly expect that the summary procedure would usually be adopted and that it would be thought sufficient to impose a fine not exceeding £100. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw queried whether we should have any sanctions at all. I would reply that this is something which has to be enforced. It would be an absurdity to have a licensing system of this kind and no way of enforcing it.
The hon. Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls), in particular, raised the question of Clause 8, and the hon. Member for Southend, West also put some questions about it. I invite the attention of the House to the way in which the Clause is framed. It is perfectly true that the exemptions cannot be altered by Order where it is proposed that there should be a fresh exemption—that is to say, where the law is being made to bear more easily on the subject. All that is required is that there should be procedure by negative Resolution. But if it is proposed to abolish or invade any of the exemptions, then we have the provision in Clause 8(5):Any order under this section whereby any work will cease to be exempt from control under this Act shall cease to have effect at the end of the period of twenty-eight days beginning with the day on which the order is made (but without prejudice to anything previously done under the order or to the making of a new order) unless before the end of that period the order is approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.So the Order ceases to have effect after 28 days unless there is an affirmative Resolution by each House.
556 I do not think it would be possible to give a greater degree of Parliamentary control. It was precisely this form which was adopted only a few days ago when we passed through this House the Southern Rhodesia Bill. The House rightly attached the greatest importance to the Orders in Council which would be made under that Measure. It was the Conservative Party which suggested that this form should be adopted for Orders in Council under that Bill, and the Government were very willing to fall in with that suggestion. There we were dealing with something of even greater importance than Orders under this Bill, and if it was thought to be a sufficient safeguard in that case, I suggest that it is quite sufficient here. It may very well be that this power may never be required to be used, but if it is used, there will be the fullest Parliamentary control.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke
Will the hon. and learned Gentleman confirm that it is possible under the powers given in the Bill by affirmative Resolution to control all forms of private building by reducing the £100,000 figure, except those specifically exempted by other Clauses?
§ The Solicitor-General
Theoretically that might be possible, but I cannot imagine any Minister bringing such an Order before the House.
There are one or two other specific points with which I want to deal. There was the specific question put to me by the hon. Member for Southend, West—and I think that this may be of interest to many people outside—about the form of the applications, and whether, normally, plans, specifications and drawings would be required. The answer is that in the ordinary case it is not intended that they should be required, but there may be special cases in which they will be asked for. It will not be the normal procedure to ask for them.
The hon. Member for Inverness asked me about churches, and in particular where a church had been acquired under a compulsory purchase order. I am authorised, on behalf of my right hon. Friend, to give the hon. Gentleman an assurance that if such a case were to arise a licence would be granted for the building of a new church.
Those, I think, were the chief points raised with me in the course of the 557 debate, but I want to come back to the main purpose of the Bill. I think that everybody must have realised how necessary it is when they heard the striking speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renee Short). She reminded us of the sort of experience that we have had in every industrial town in this country, the experience of having slums which it will take many years to clear. My hon. Friend gave the example of Liverpool, where it will take more than 40 years to clear the slums. We have cities with enormous waiting lists for houses and it will take a long time indeed in many urban constituencies to meet the present housing requirements.
We all know—I certainly do in my constituency—how great is the need for improved hospital accommodation. We know that as industry develops, and, indeed, as populations are spread out under the various schemes which we now envisage, we shall need fresh industrial development. This is a question of priorities. If we are right—and we clearly are on the evidence—in saying that this industry is, and has been for a long time, and is likely to be for months or years in the future, very much overloaded, we have to choose between the sort of building which is struck at in the and the sort of building which I have just mentioned, that is to say, housing, hospitals, roads and schools. That is the choice which has to be made, and that is the issue which is raised by the Bill.
§ 9.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)
Having heard both the winding-up speeches, all I can say is that I hope the House will reject the Bill.
Until a short time ago this country—perhaps not quickly enough—was building its houses, its schools and its hospitals at a rapid rate. During the last 12 months that rate has been reduced, until now in my constituency we are told that we cannot build any more schools. The hospital programme has been slowed right down. Ministers knew that this Bill was coming forward. They knew that these controls were to be introduced, yet with that knowledge they deliberately stopped what they call social building, and what we call necessary building, the construction of hospitals, 558 schools, and so on. I tell them, in the few minutes left to me, that as a result of this Bill the position will get steadily worse—[Interruption.]—because a building industry which is attacked in this way cannot hold its labour, cannot hold its designers, and cannot properly employ its architects. The whole system under which buildings are constructed must of necessity slow down if it does not break down in the course of the next year or two, unless the method is changed—and the way to change it is to change the Government.
Together with many of my hon. Friends I know of many cases where new schools are required. We are told that the Government are slowing the programme down. Hospitals are required. The Bill will not provide them. This is merely doctrinaire Socialism—control for control's sake. [Interruption.] I am not attacking the Minister's sincerity but——
§ Mr. C. Pannell
The hon. and learned Member has hardly been here during the course of the debate—[Interruption.] He was here for——[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Doughty
I gave way because I thought that the right hon. Gentleman was going to ask a question. I can understand his indignation; his conscience must be troubling him very much. I warn him that if he or his successor—because he will not hold the job very much longer—
§ Mr. Doughty
Not half as much as we shall call him to order, Mr. Speaker. We all know the air of sorrow that he puts upon his face when he says that unfortunately this must be reduced to £50,000 and £40,000 and that we must have fewer hospitals and fewer schools. That is what Socialism means, and that is what it will mean in the course of the next year or two. If he says those things he must expect the strongest attacks to be made upon him and the strongest criticism to be levelled against him, because that 559 is what we feel in our minds is most certainly going to happen.
I hope that the House will reject the Bill. If hon. Members opposite, in their Clause 4 doctrinaire manner that we have heard about before tonight, are going into the Lobby to vote in favour of the Bill, they must take the consequence of seeing our building industry run down and houses, hospitals and schools not built. The consequences for them will be fatal in the course of the not very distant future.
§ Mr. Sydney Irving (Treasurer of Her Majesty's Household) rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.
§ Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.
§ Question put accordingly, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 292, Noes 269.563
|Division No. 11.]||AYES||[10.0 p.m.|
|Abse, Leo||Donnelly, Desmond||Hunter, Adam (Dunfermline)|
|Albu, Austen||Driberg, Tom||Hunter, A. E. (Feltham)|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Duffy, Dr. A. E. P.||Hynd, H. (Accrington)|
|Alldritt, Walter||Dunn, James A.||Hynd, John (Attercliffe)|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Dunnett, Jack||Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Edelman, Maurice||Jackson, Colin|
|Atkinson, Norman||Edwards, Rt. Hn. Ness (Caerphilly)||Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||Jeger, Mrs. Lena (H'b'n & St. P'cras, S.)|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||English, Michael||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)|
|Barnett, Joel||Ennals, David||Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford)|
|Beaney, Alan||Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.)||Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)|
|Bellenger, Rt. Hn. F. J.||Evans, Ioan (Birmingham, Yardley)||Johnson, James(K'ston-on-Hull, W.)|
|Bence, Cyril||Fernyhough, E.||Johnston, Russell (Inverness)|
|Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood||Finch, Harold (Bedwellty)||Jones, Dan (Burnley)|
|Bennett, J. (Glasgow, Bridgeton)||Fletcher, Sir Eric (Islington, E.)||Jones, Rt.Hn.SirElwyn(W.Ham,S.)|
|Bessell, Peter||Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)|
|Binns, John||Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)||Jones, T. W. (Merioneth)|
|Bishop, E. S.||Floud, Bernard||Kelley, Richard|
|Blackburn, F.||Foley, Maurice||Kenyon, Clifford|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Foot, Sir Dingle (Ipswich)||Kerr, Mrs. Anne (R'ter & Chatham)|
|Boardman, H.||Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)||Kerr, Dr. David (W'worth, Central)|
|Boston, Terence||Ford, Ben||Leadbitter, Ted|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur||Fraser, Rt. Hn. Tom (Hamilton)||Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick (Newton)|
|Bowden, Rt. Hn. H. W. (Leics. S. W.)||Freeson, Reginald||Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)|
|Boyden, James||Galpern, Sir Myer||Lever, Harold (Cheetham)|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M.||Garrett, W. E.||Lever, L. M. (Ardwick)|
|Bradley, Tom||Garrow, Alex||Lewis, Arthur (West Ham, N.)|
|Bray, Dr. Jeremy||Ginsburg, David||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Gourlay, Harry||Lipton, Marcus|
|Brown, Rt. Hn. George (Belper)||Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Lomas, Kenneth|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Glasgow, Provan)||Gregory, Arnold||Loughlin, Charles|
|Brown, R. W. (Shoreditch & Fbury)||Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||Lubbock, Eric|
|Buchan, Norman (Renfrewshire, w.)||Griffiths, Rt. Hn. James (Llanelly)||Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson|
|Buchanan, Richard||Griffiths, Will (M'chester, Exchange)||McBride, Neil|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Grimond, Rt. Hn. J.||McCann, J.|
|Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||Gunter, Rt. Hn. R. J.||MacColl, James|
|Callaghan, Rt. Hn. James||Hale, Leslie||MacDermot, Niall|
|Carmichael, Neil||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Mclnnes, James|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||Hamilton, William (West Fife)||McKay, Mrs. Margaret|
|Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara||Hamling, William (Woolwich, W.)||Mackenzie, Alasdair (Ross&Crom'ty)|
|Chapman, Donald||Hannan, William||Mackenzie, Gregor (Rutherglen)|
|Coleman, Donald||Harper, Joseph||Mackie, John (Enfield, E.)|
|Conlan, Bernard||Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||McLeavy, Frank|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Hart, Mrs. Judith||MacPherson, Malcolm|
|Cousins, Rt. Hn. Frank||Hattersley, Roy||Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.)|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Hazell, Bert||Mahon, Simon (Bootle)|
|Crawshaw, Richard||Healey, Rt. Hn. Denis||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)|
|Cronin, John||Heffer, Eric S||Mallalieu, J.P.W. (Huddersfield, E.)|
|Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Herbison, Rt. H n. Margaret||Manuel, Archie|
|Crossman, Rt. Hn. R. H. S.||Hobden, Dennis (Brighton, K'town)||Mapp, Charles|
|Cullen, Mrs. Alice||Holman, Percy||Marsh, Richard|
|Dalyell, Tam||Hooson, H. E.||Mason, Roy|
|Darling, George||Horner, John||Maxwell, Robert|
|Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)||Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Mayhew, Christopher|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||Howarth, Harry (Wellingborough)||Mellish, Robert|
|Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Howarth, Robert L. (Bolton, E.)||Mendelson, J. J.|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Howell, Denis (Small Heath)||Mikardo, Ian|
|de Frietas, Sir Geoffrey||Howie, W.||Millan, Bruce|
|Dell, Edmund||Hoy, James||Miller, Dr. M. S.|
|Dempsey, James||Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Milne, Edward (Blyth)|
|Diamond, Rt. Hn. John||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Molloy, William|
|Doig, Peter||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Monslow, Walter|
|Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)||Richard, Ivor||Thorpe, Jeremy|
|Morris, Charles (Openshaw)||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)||Tinn, James|
|Morris, John (Aberavon)||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)||Tomney, Frank|
|Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick (Sheffield Pk)||Robertson, John (Paisley)||Tuck, Raphael|
|Murray, Albert||Robinson, Rt. Hn. K. (St. Pancras. N.)||Urwin, T. W.|
|Neal, Harold||Rodgers, William (Stockton)||Varley, Eric G.|
|Newens, Stan||Rose, Paul B.||Wainwright, Edwin|
|Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)||Ross, Rt. Hn. William||Walden, Brian (All Saints)|
|Noel-Baker, Rt. Hn. Philip (Derby, S.)||Rowland, Christopher||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Oakes, Gordon||Sheldon, Robert||Wallace, George|
|Ogden, Eric||Shore, Peter (Stepney)||Warbey, William|
|O'Malley, Brian||Short, Rt. Hn. E. (N'c'tle-on-Tyne, C.)||Watkins, Tudor|
|Oram, Albert E. (E. Ham, S.)||Short, Mrs. Renee (W'hampton, N.E.)||Weitzman, David|
|Orbach, Maurice||Silkin, John (Deptford)||Wellbeloved, James|
|Orme, Stanley||Silkin, S. C. (Camberwell, Dulwich)||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Oswald, Thomas||Silverman, Julius (Aston)||White, Mrs. Eirene|
|Owen, Will||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)||Whitlock, William|
|Padley, Walter||Skeffington, Arthur||Wigg, Rt. Hn. George|
|Paget, R. T.||Slater, Mrs. Harriet (Stoke, N.)||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Palmer, Arthur||Slater, Joseph (Sedgefield)||Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick|
|Pannell, Rt, Hn. Charles||Small, William||Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)|
|Park, Trevor (Derbyshire, S.E.)||Snow, Julian||Williams, Clifford (Abertillery)|
|Pavitt, Laurence||Soskice, Rt. Hn. Sir Frank||Wiliams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)|
|Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd)||Spriggs, Leslie||Williams, W. T. (Warrington)|
|Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred||Steel, David (Roxburgh)||Willis, George (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Pentland, Norman||Stonehouse, John||Wilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton)|
|Perry, Ernest G.||Stones, William||Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)|
|Popplewell, Ernest||Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R. (Vauxhall)||Winterbottom, R. E.|
|Prentice, R. E.||8ummerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley||Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.|
|Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)||Swain, Thomas||Wyatt, Woodrow|
|Probert, Arthur||Swingier, Stephen||Yates, Victor (Ladywood)|
|Pursey, Cmdr. Harry||Symonds, J. B.||Zilliacus, K.|
|Rankin, John||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)|
|Redhead, Edward||Thomas, George (Cardiff, W.)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Rees, Merlyn||Thomas, lorwerth (Rhondda, W.)||Mr. Sydney Irving and|
|Reynolds, G. W.||Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)||Mr. George Lawson.|
|Rhodes, Geoffrey||Thornton, Ernest|
|Agnew, Commander Sir Peter||Chataway, Christopher||Giles, Rear-Admiral Morgan|
|Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash)||Chichester-Clark, R.||Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, Central)|
|Allan, Robert (Paddington, S.)||Clark, Henry (Antrim, N.)||Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife)|
|Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead)||Clark, William (Nottingham, S.)||Glover, Sir Douglas|
|Amery, Rt. Hn. Julian||Clark, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.)||Glyn, Sir Richard|
|Anstruther-Cray, Rt. Hn. Sir W.||Cole, Norman||Godber, Rt. Hn. J. B.|
|Astor, John||Cooke, Robert||Goodhart, Philip|
|Atkins, Humphrey||Cooper, A. E.||Gower, Raymond|
|Awdry, Daniel||Cooper-Key, Sir Neill||Grant, Anthony|
|Baker, W. H. K.||Corfield, F. V.||Gresham Cooke, R.|
|Balniel, Lord||Costain, A. P.||Grieve, Percy|
|Barber, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne)||Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds)|
|Barlow, Sir John||Crawley, Aidan||Griffiths, Peter (Smethwick)|
|Batsford, Brian||Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. Sir Oliver||Gurden, Harold|
|Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton||Crowder, F. P.||Hall, John (Wycombe)|
|Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay)||Cunningham, Sir Knox||Hall-Davis, A. C. F.|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos. & Fhm)||Curran, Charles||Hamilton, Marquess of (Fermanagh)|
|Berkeley, Humphry||Currie, G. B. H.||Hamilton, M. (Salisbury)|
|Berry, Hn. Anthony||Dance, James||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.)|
|Biffen, John||Davies, Dr. Wyndham (Perry Barr)||Harrison, Brian (Maldon)|
|Biggs-Davison, John||d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)|
|Birch, Rt. Hn. Nigel||Dean, Paul||Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)|
|Black, Sir Cyril||Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F.||Harvie Anderson, Miss|
|Blaker, Peter||Digby, Simon Wingfield||Hastings, Stephen|
|Bossom, Sir Clive||Dodds-Parker, Douglas||Hawkins, Paul|
|Box, Donald||Doughty, Charles||Hay, John|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. J.||Douglas-Home, Rt. Hn. Sir Alec||Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel|
|Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir Edward||Drayson, G. B.||Heath, Rt. Hn. Edward|
|Brewis, John||du Cann, Rt. Hn. Edward||Hendry, Forbes|
|Brinton, Sir Tatton||Eden, Sir John||Higgins, Terence L.|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt. -Col. Sir Walter||Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)||Hill, J. E. B. (S. Norfolk)|
|Brooke, Rt. Hn. Henry||Elliott, R. W. (N'c'tle-upon Tyne, N.)||Hirst, Geoffrey|
|Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)||Emery, Peter||Hobson, Rt. Hn. Sir John|
|Bryan, Paul||Errington, Sir Eric||Hogg, Rt. Hn. Quintin|
|Buchanan-Smith, Alick||Eyre, Reginald||Hopkins, Alan|
|Buck, Antony||Farr, John||Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hn. Dame P.|
|Bullus, Sir Eric||Fell, Anthony||Howard, Hn. G. R. (St. Ives)|
|Burden, F. A||Fisher, Nigel||Howe, Geoffrey (Bebington)|
|Butcher, Sir Herbert||Fletcher-Cooke, Sir John (S'pton)||Hunt, John (Bromley)|
|Buxton, Ronald||Foster, Sir John||Hutchison, Michael Clark|
|Campbell, Gordon||Fraser, Rt. Hn. Hugh (St'fford & Stone)||Iremonger, T. L.|
|Carlisle, Mark||Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton)||Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford)|
|Carr, Rt. Hn. Robert||Gammans, Lady||Jennings, J. C.|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Gardner, Edward||Johnson Smith, G. (East Grinstead)|
|Channon, H. P. G.||Gibson-Watt, David||Jones, Arthur (Northants, S.)|
|Jopling, Michael||Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles||Spearman, Sir Alexander|
|Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir Keith||Munro-Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Speir, Sir Rupert|
|Kaberry, Sir Donald||Murton, Oscar||Stainton, Keith|
|Kerby, Capt. Henry||Neave, Airey||Stanley, Hn. Richard|
|Kerr, Sir Hamilton (Cambridge)||Nicholls, Sir Harmar||Stodart, Anthony|
|Kershaw, Anthony||Nicholson, Sir Godfrey||Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir Malcolm|
|Kilfedder, James A.||Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael||Studholme, Sir Henry|
|Kimball, Marcus||Nugent, Rt. Hn. Sir Richard||Summers, Sir Spencer|
|King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.)||Onslow, Cranley||Talbot, John E.|
|Kirk, Peter||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Kitson, Timothy||Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian||Taylor, Edward M. (G'gow.Cathcart)|
|Lagden, Godfrey||Osborn, John (Hallam)||Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)|
|Lambton, Viscount||Page, John (Harrow, w.)||Teeling, Sir William|
|Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Page, R. Graham (Crosby)||Temple, John M.|
|Langford-Holt, Sir John||Pearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe)||Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret|
|Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry||Peel, John||Thomas, Sir Leslie (Canterbury)|
|Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Percival, Ian||Thomas, Rt. Hn. Peter (Conway)|
|Litchfield, Capt. John||Peyton, John||Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)|
|Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey (Sut'nC'dfield)||Pickthorn, Rt. Hn, Sir Kenneth||Thorneycroft, Rt. Hn. Peter|
|Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone)||Pike, Miss Mervyn||Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.|
|Longbottom, Charles||Pitt, Dame Edith||Tweedsmuir, Lady|
|Longden, Gilbert||Pounder, Rafton||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Loveys, W. H.||Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch||Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hn. Sir John|
|Lucas, Sir Jocelyn||Price, David (Eastleigh)||Walder, David (High Peak)|
|McAdden, Sir Stephen||Prior, J. M. L.||Walker, Peter (Worcester)|
|MacArthur, Ian||Quennell, Miss J. M.||Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek|
|Maclean, Sir Fitzroy||Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James||Walters, Dennis|
|Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain||Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter||Weatherill, Bernard|
|McMaster, Stanley||Redmayne, Rt. Hn. Sir Martin||Webster, David|
|McNair-Wilson, Patrick||Rees-Davies, W. R.||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Maddan, Martin||Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David||Whitelaw, William|
|Maginnis, John E.||Ridsdale, Julian||Williams, Sir Rolf Dudley (Exeter)|
|Maitland, Sir John||Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley)||Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)|
|Marten, Neil||Robson Brown, Sir William||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Mathew, Robert||Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)||Wise, A. R.|
|Maude, Angus||Roots, William||Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick|
|Maudling, Rt. Hn. Reginald||Royle, Anthony||Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard|
|Mawby, Ray||Russell, Sir Ronald||Woodhouse, Hn. Christopher|
|Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.||St. John-Stevas, Norman||Woodnutt, Mark|
|Meyer, Sir Anthony||Sandys, Rt. Hn. D.||Wylie, N. R.|
|Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.)||Scott-Hopkins, James||Yates, William (The Wrekin)|
|Miscampbell, Norman||Sharpies, Richard||Younger, Hn. George|
|Mitchell, David||Sinclair, Sir George|
|Monro, Hector||Smith, Dudley (Br'ntf'd & Chiswick)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|More, Jasper||Smith, John||Mr. Martin McLaren and|
|Morgan, W. G.||Smyth, Rt. Hn. Brig. Sir John||Mr. Francis Pym.|
|Bill accordingly read a Second time.|
|Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).|