HL Deb 02 June 1943 vol 127 cc797-807

LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH rose to call attention to the White Paper Cmd. 6428 on training for the building industry and to ask His Majesty's Government whether they are prepared to make a statement amplifying the contents of that Paper; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, the White Paper, which is referred to in the Motion in ray name, is one which was received, I think I can say, with general approval from every quarter of the country. I very much hope that the noble Lord, Lord Portal, in replying to the Motion, will be able to give us some more information as to the progress of his plans for the reconstitution of the building trade. I think that is a section of post-war planning which does command universal approval. It must be right that the noble Lord should continue his creation of a great engine which will be ready for the reconstruction, at all events in a physical sense, of the better Britain. The White Paper foreshadows a building trade numbering in a few years no less than one and a quarter million operatives, and that is, I think I am right in saying, a larger building trade than we have ever had in this country. It will be capable of a tremendous amount of physical construction.

One aspect of the matter does afford me some concern, and I would like to direct the noble Lord's attention to it. This enlarged building trade, in addition to all the other building that it will have to do, will be capable, I have seen it stated in the Press, of turning out 500,000 houses a year. That is a very admirable thing and might well fulfil the prophecy of the Minister of Health of a house-building programme of 4,000,000 houses in eight or nine years. What fills me with concern is the fact that we have not yet been told by the Government where all these houses and where this great mass of industry is to be put. Your Lordships will hardly need reminding that in the years before the war, when a tremendous amount of building was done, all was not well with the direction in which the new buildings were put up. I think most of us will agree that our large towns were getting too large, and that a great deal of countryside was unnecessarily spoiled. Are we going to drift on into the same lamentable position?

Four years ago we had the Barlow Report, and, partly as a result of that, we have since had the Uthwatt and Scott Reports. The Uthwatt Report has been in the hands of the Government now for about a year. I really do view with great concern the lack of progress in arriving at a decision on these matters. My noble friend can, of course, reply to me that it is not his concern because he is no longer Minister of Planning. I venture to think that the noble Lord heaved rather a sigh of relief when the Ministry of Planning took itself off from under his wing and went elsewhere. But I venture to put the matter to my noble friend because, although he no longer has departmental responsibility for planning, he is one of the Ministers who really know something about location of industry. When he was concerned with what were called the Special Areas he really did locate industries. I doubt if there is any other Minister who knows so much about this matter, and I hope he will use all his great influence to secure that a decision is reached soon on these subjects.

I really do look forward with dread to the day when peace is declared if that is to come before the Government have settled and put into effect their policy about the location of industry. The time lag in connexion with matters of that sort is very great. It cannot be less than a year or eighteen months before effect could be given to the Government's policy, even were it decided now. The excuse that we have to win the war before we can attend to such matters as this, is, if I may say so, wearing a little bit thin. We are winning the war. Not only have we had the great victory in Africa, but even to-day we have been told that one of our great remaining anxieties, the U-boat campaign, is being very successfully coped with. It terrifies me to look ahead and visualize the chaos and frustration which will result if some effective policy is not settled and put into effect. These matters may be controversial matters, but if that is to rule out any decision then I feel that the war will indeed have been fought, not in vain, but with the result of bringing us much less substantial fruits than we might have hoped for. Demobilization will be upon us perhaps sooner than we think, and I cannot sufficiently press upon the noble Lord the need of an early decision on the matters underlying this big question of location of industry. My Lords, I beg to move.


My Lords, the terms of the Notice which my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh has brought before your Lordships' House are: "To call attention to the White Paper on training for the building industry and to ask His Majesty's Government whether they are prepared to make a statement amplifying the contents of that Paper." I know my noble friend will excuse me if, in trying to deal with his Motion, I keep to the part of it which concerns my own Ministry. The points he has raised on the question of the location of industry and the kind remarks he made about my experience of that, concern, as he knows, another Department at the present time. But I will say on behalf of the Government that I will see that his remarks are brought to notice in the place where these questions are dealt with.

The White Paper which is referred to in this Motion originated from the Report drawn up by the Central Council which was appointed by Lord Reith. I want your Lordships to realize that while there has been a great deal of praise of the White Paper—which was introduced by the Minister of Labour and myself—the Committee or Council whose work led to that Paper was initiated by Lord Reith. It consisted of representatives of the Ministry and members of the building industry outside the Ministry, while many others from the industry were invited to state their views. They were an advisory body. One of their chief problems was post-war building—namely, the consideration of the building force necessary after the war. This had to be related to two other factors: (1) work available; and (2) labour conditions. They, therefore, considered the entire organization of the industry for post-war programmes. Their Report covered the subject of recruitment, which, if your Lordships have read the Report, you will see they went into with great thoroughness.

What I wish to stress is my view—which I have always stated since I have been Minister of Works—that it is essential to avoid casual labour, if possible, in that great industry, the reason being that if you are going to get good apprenticeship and choose the right people for the industry you must have an industry worth living in and an industry into which it is worth people's while to go. People must be able to go into it with the feeling that they will have a certain amount of security. That is why the authors of this Report show anxiety that casual labour should be done away with, if possible. The Report presumed that there would be continuous work. It recommended that there should be a guaranteed week, and that the intake of labour at all stages after the war must be scaled nationally on the basis of expectation of work ahead. It was thought that it was not much good arranging for 1,250,000 people to work in the industry unless work for them for the next ten or twelve years ahead was in prospect. The conditions mentioned, it was felt, would make the industry attractive to the best type of recruit.

The Committee asked for a national programming of building work in postwar years. In the White Paper, which was jointly sponsored by the Minister of Labour and myself, you will see that a guarantee for twelve years is asked for. I think that perhaps that twelve years can be divided into two periods, one of ten years, the other of two years. The two years would be a sort of interregnum after the war. I think you will find in this and other industries that controls will possibly have to go on for a certain time after the war. The interregnum period is the period you want to look at first. The White Paper deals with plans for building up the necessary labour force for the postwar years and suggests three main schemes. The first is for education in the industry, to enable up-grading to take place. The second is for intensive courses for training men, chiefly in the Forces, as craftsmen during the years immediately following the armistice. The third is for the permanent national direction of technical education and apprenticeship of boys. The second of those schemes, which relates to getting men out of the Forces, etc., and training them, is in the hands of the Minister of Labour, while the third, the apprenticeship scheme, is in the hands of my Ministry. That is the division between the two Ministries on the question of training.

The Minister of Labour, who has followed this Report closely and taken a great interest in it, suggested, in agree- ment with myself, that these proposals should be put up to the Government. This was done and the Government issued them in the form of a White Paper last February. This White Paper states that, on the basis of the facts available, a postwar building programme designed for ten to twelve years will require a labour force in the building industry of about 1,250,000 men. That makes no provision for civil engineering or public works; those men are entirely for the building trade. If there are to be 1,250,000 men in the building trade, it will mean that there will be about 500,000 craftsmen. The White Paper rightly points out that the expansion of the labour force must be planned in relation to a long-term programme of construction. It would not be fair to those who are already building operatives in this country to expand the labour force unless it is possible to see work ahead for them to do. The White Paper states that the nature and scope of guaranteed employment should be negotiated within the industry itself, and promises Government support. By this means casual labour will substantially be abolished. With Government support, the industry itself is now going to try to arrange a guaranteed week, and that, as I say, will substantially abolish the problem of casual labour.

The White Paper then outlines a plan for the special training of up to 200,000 men during the first three or four years, the training of the men to be under the Ministry of Labour, with a headquarters advisory panel and local advisory committees on which the Minister of Labour has given representation to the industry and to the Apprenticeship and Training Council and to my Ministry. The training of all those men who will come back from the Forces will be under the Minister of Labour, but he has arranged that these other bodies shall have representation. The Apprenticeship and Training Council will be under my Ministry. This Council is fully representative of the industry, and will secure that all parts and sections of the industry all over the country will be directly concerned. With these training schemes and apprenticeship schemes, with the training of the men who will come from the Forces by the Ministry of Labour, and with the regional committees which are being organized by the Minister of Labour, we shall have the whole of this industry tied up region by region or area by area, and that is something which has never happened before in the building industry of this country.

This Apprenticeship Council, which I have already appointed and which will be meeting during the next few days, will advise on apprenticeship in the building trade; but I have been fortunate enough to have, during the past six months, an Advisory Council of the Building and Civil Engineering Industries, which meets every Monday and which is representative of every element in the building industry—civil engineers, builders, operatives, architects, quantity surveyors and so on. There are sixteen of these gentlemen who meet every Monday and give advice on all questions of importance in the building trade.

If we have 1,250,000 men who are to be allocated to the building trade after the war, it is imperative for us to see that there is work there for them to do. During the last three months, we have obtained from nine Government Departments their programmes, and we have put the work on a twelve-year basis. We are already able, from the first survey which we have made, to say that we have balanced the figures of men employed with the programme over the first twelve years, so that now all that we have to do is to go on breaking that programme down. We can already see that work is available for the first twelve years, as suggested in the White Paper. Having this programme, we have to remember that the first two years after the war—what I call the interregnum period—are going to be the difficult years, and for that period at least I imagine that we shall have to have priorities for the different types of building work required. If one takes the programmes which have been put in by the various Departments, almost half the work outlined is for housing, under the Ministry of Health. As soon as the war is over, there will be some essential matters to be dealt with; and therefore, during the first two years at any rate, and probably thereafter, it will be necessary to have some system of priorities which will ensure that the most essential things come first, having regard to the amount of labour available.

It will readily be seen that to reach a ceiling of 1,250,000 men, which means 500,000 craftsmen, the most intensive training will be necessary, and, even so, it will not be possible to reach such figures in two years. During this interregnum period, therefore, it will be necessary to see that the priorities are carefully allocated. I imagine that housing will come very high in the list, and the work of allotting the priorities will have to be done very much as it is done in connexion with the allocation of priorities for other commodities at the present time. In dealing with this programme for the next ten or twelve years, it is not a matter merely of saying that there is a certain amount of work to be done for different Government Departments; all this has to be turned into man-hours, so as to tally with the number of men employed. I am sure that your Lordships will agree that if any post-war planning is to be done at all, the most practical way of doing it is to tally up the work with the men who will be available to do the work after the war, and, if you tally up the men, you have to tally up the man-hours as well.

I should like your Lordships to understand that the question of materials is going to be very important after this war. All building materials at the present time—bricks, cement, roofing, building glass, sand and ballast and so on—are under the Ministry of Works, and they are all under different forms of control. Some forms of control are stricter than others, but all the materials come under our supervision. It will be realized that at the present time bricks are not being used as much in this country as in time of peace. Brickworks are continually being closed down, but we have to be ready to start them up again later, and steps are being taken to see that these brickworks are maintained in such a condition that they will be ready to start again as soon as possible after the war. We are keeping the wheels oiled, so to speak, for the brickworks to start up again. As your Lordships know, cement is still being used in large quantities, and there is still a large demand for building glass for certain purposes, and for sand and ballast; but the position with regard to these materials is being watched, because we do not want to be short of any material when building operations are started again after the war. I can tell your Lordships that no part of the enormous amount of Government building work which has been done during the war has ever been held up by a shortage of build- ing materials, so that from that point of view the position is satisfactory.

For more than two years my Ministry has been controlling the use of labour and materials, as well as being responsible for the production of war-time standards of building for all Departments. As far as actual building is concerned, we are responsible for the whole of the building work of the Ministry of Aircraft Production, for a large part of the work of the Ministry of Supply and the War Office, and for almost the whole of the building work of the Civil Departments. The Air Ministry and the Admiralty carry out their own building. All the building materials are allocated from the Ministry of Works. It will be of interest to your Lordships to know that the number of Nissen huts erected since the beginning of the war is over a quarter of a million. When timber and steel became in short supply, we had to change over to some form of hutting which did not take the same amount of timber and steel, and six or seven types were chosen and proceeded with. We call them pre-fabricated huts, and of these 53,000 have been produced by my Ministry. If you translate that into terms of Nissen equivalents, the figures would be approximately 100,000 Nissen huts. We have now found our standard but the most efficient and adaptable. This enables nearly every building material to be used—brick, concrete, asbestos cement sheets, plaster boards and so on.

As your Lordships are aware, the cost of building has gone up very considerably since the war commenced, both in materials and cost of labour. Before the war building costs consisted as to 60 per cent. of material and as to 40 per cent. of labour—the proportion may have varied a bit one way or the other. If you take the cost of housing now, you will find that it has gone up approximately by 105 per cent. over the pre-war cost. There are certain considerations which arise during war-time which should not arise afterwards, but that figure is approximately right. It is necessary therefore for us to look into the question of economies which can be effected. I say that because, as your Lordships will remember from the experience of the last war, high costs of building will kill building. If you have to look for economies you must not secure them at the expense of the operatives; you must do it by more efficient use of labour and materials.

I have recently appointed a Controller of Experimental Building Development, whose business it will be to co-ordinate all the ideas and new methods put forward by any firm or individual interested in building or the manufacture of building materials and equipment. He will have the advice of an Inter-Departmental Committee on House Construction which was appointed by the Minister of Health, the Secretary of State for Scotland and Lord Reith, who was then Minister of Works. The importance of that is that it will link up the people who are experimenting with those who are actually engaged in building operations, because if you want to reduce the figure of 105 per cent. above the pre-war cost of housing to, say, 50 per cent. you will have to do it either by working at greater speed or by different methods. I understand from people who have been to America that this same question arose in America some time before this war, and they adapted themselves to the situation there. In the same way we must adapt ourselves to the situation. Now that we have a Controller of Experimental Building Development we hope that everybody will know where to come with his new ideas and by this means a great step forward can be taken. My view is that the results of the work of this Controller will have to be measured by the use that is made of material and labour, and to effect this check a costing section has been established with practical experience to form what I term a yardstick. Your Lordships in the conduct of your own businesses would have a costings section which would use a yardstick to show exactly where costs went up or down as the result of the use of alternatives or substitutes. No new proposal will have the backing of my Ministry unless it shows an improvement.

I come to the question of alternatives and substitutes. I have had a good deal of experience of them because of the work I have done, first of all with raw materials and then with allocations and priorities. There are two different sorts of alternatives and substitutes. There are those which are being used in this country to-day owing to the lack of raw materials. They may not be the best possible alternatives or substitutes, but during the war they are the only ones you can use. That is one kind. There is the other kind, the alternatives or substitutes which in any case will make for greater efficiency. Take the question of timber which has been one of the foundations of the building trade. At the present time we are short of timber. You may have to find a substitute for timber, but while doing that, unless you can get something more efficient, you must not rule out the question of timber ever being used again. Those two points are totally different from one another. We do not want people in this country who are interested in the commercial side to obtain an advantage over rivals who cannot at present obtain the materials they require or who have been engaged in producing other things for the war effort.

This is the second war that some of your Lordships have experienced. You will probably never beat the old Nissen hut. The soldiers and the Admiralty are used to it, but at the present time you cannot get Nissen huts, and you have to have plaster board and standard huts. When the war is over the Nissen but will probably still be preferred, and your present alternative is only an expedient which you have to adopt. I have spoken of the control of new building development. We already have all the help and assistance from the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, of which the Building Research Station forms an important part. Even closer co-operation is being arranged with them on all scientific aspects of building. With a view to obtaining greater efficiency in post-war building, an investigation is taking place into the methods of placing and managing contracts.

The word "standardization" is a very distasteful word to many people, but standardization need not mean a limitation of individual expression in anything that matters. When you are building a house you may save a great deal of money over such things as central heating, plumbing and taps by standardizing them, which will make a vast difference to the total cost of the house. I am not speaking of the outside of the house, but if you look at the costings of the inside of the house you will find that it is there that the cost mounts up. Besides the word "standardization" there is another word which ought never to have been invented—"pre-fabrication"—but I am not going into the question of pre-fabrication to-day. I wish somebody had thought out a better word; it might have helped us to get over our difficulties. All the elements of building under the supervision of the Ministry are making a concerted investigation in their respective spheres. We are dealing with paint, plastics, heating, ventilating, plumbing, steel structure, timber structure—all these and many more. Some of the reports have already come in, some will be coming in, and in about three months' time they will be available and will be translated into standard codes of practice. In this way we shall be able to take advantage of all these reports, which study the important elements in building.

I am very glad that my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh brought forward this Motion because I did not feel there was any great use in having a White Paper unless we showed we were making that White Paper into a practical proposition. That is what we are here for, and that is what my Ministry is striving to do. We are able now to see signs that the building industry will come into its own and receive fair treatment after the war. It is obvious that it will have a great role to play in the future of this country. If we are going to make a success of it, we must see that efficient, economical, and practical measures are taken so that high costs do not kill building. It has happened in many industries in the past that there were two things which were cut down directly there was a slump. One was wages and the other was paper. I was only concerned with paper in the past. To-day I do not mind what happens to paper, but it will be necessary after this war to show that we can adapt ourselves to the situation and bring down costs in such a way that we shall have a thriving building trade which will be alive to the situation that faces it.


My Lords, I should like to express my warmest thinks to my noble friend for his statement, which has obviously greatly pleased the House, and beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.