HL Deb 08 February 1944 vol 130 cc689-734

LORD ADDISON rose to ask His Majesty's Government, what steps they are taking to meet requirements in regard to plans, designs and costs, and to alternative methods and materials for postwar housing; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Motion which I have on the Paper, as your Lordships will see, is particularly addressed to the noble Lord the Minister of Works. On November 30 last it was announced by Mr. Lyttelton that the Ministry of Works would be the Government authority to which the Ministry of Health and the Scottish Office would look on all matters concerning plans, designs, specifications, material, technique of construction and the costs of houses, and it is in pursuance of that Government statement that I have put this Motion on the Paper in the hope that the Minister of Works will be able to tell us something of what he is doing or proposes to do. It is evident, in view of the circumstances that must exist at the termination of the war, that large-scale housing provision will be necessary, apart from other building which will be called for by reason of the destruction of property during the war. So far as houses are concerned, people will expect them to be suitable, to be of the kind they are wanting, and to be built at a reasonable cost.

Your Lordships will see, therefore, that in limiting the form of the Motion as I have done I have deliberately omitted certain very important related matters, and I am only going to mention two of them because, while we are intensely interested in what the Minister of Works may have to say to us, it is quite impossible to think of housing and rebuilding without keeping in mind these other matters. I mention them in order that we may not get things out of proportion. The Motion makes no reference to where the houses are to be. We know that a great many will be required in the areas that have been destroyed, and we also know that local authorities from one end of the country to the other are estopped at the moment from going on with their plans because the necessary decisions with regard to land and planning powers, etc., have not yet been announced. I am sure the hope is in the minds of us all that when the Government do make their announcement governing where the houses are to be, we shall not be compelled after the war to look forward to a repetition of the stringing out of houses for miles and miles along main roads with all the accumulated inconveniences that that brings to the workers, involving in many cases the spending of at least two hours a day and often more in getting to and from work. Shall we have some provision for housing people in the kind of communities that they like to live in rather than being strung out for miles along a monotonous road? Nor does the Motion refer to the other fundamental matter—namely, who is going to acquire the land on which the houses must necessarily be built? On what terms is it going to be acquired? There are other essential matters upon which no doubt in due course, without, I am sure, hurrying him unduly, we shall look for enlightenment to the Minister of Reconstruction, whom we are glad to see here to-day.

Putting these fundamental matters on one side for the moment, I would direct your Lordships' attention to the equally important but more detailed questions involved in the Motion. It is quite evident that it would be very urgent after the war to get as far as possible rapidity of construction. Men will be returning home from the Forces, often to find that their homes have been destroyed in their absence, and hundreds of thousands of them not now married will, I hope, be wanting to be married and setting up homes for themselves. There will be on their behalf a very urgent demand for houses. And we must not forget that coincident with this there will be of course an enormous demand—quite rightly so—from industry in all forms for rebuilding and restoration owing to the destruction by the war. We have been told, and I do not think the estimate is at all an excessive one, that at least 4,000,000 additional houses will be required, apart entirely from the industrial and commercial buildings which are essential if people are to be employed, and also apart from the continuation of the effort to clean up our discreditable slums. It is a prodigious programme. It will require the complete mobilization of the building industry for many years. You will not get that mobilization unless there is some form of unified direction. That is why many of us were very glad indeed when the Government decision was made announcing the responsibility of the noble Lord opposite in regard to these vital matters.

We have before us one excellent illustration of how not to do it, and I have no doubt we shall be willing to learn from it. Something like a year ago we were told there were to be 3,000 houses provided in rural areas. As I know, in most cases at all events in England, the rural district councils had already acquired the land, so that circumlocution and preliminary arrangements involved in acquiring land, which sometimes take quite a long time, were cut out altogether. I well remember that, when it was my duty as Minister of Health to start a national housing scheme in 1919, there were at the end of twelve months more than a thousand local authorities which had not acquired an acre of land. In this instance practically all that was cut out. There were a great many speeches by the Minister of Health then, and much to-ing and froing between the rural district councils and the Ministry of Health as to what should, and what should not, be on the plans. It is now, as I say, about a year since the affair started and we were told that the programme was limited to 3,000 houses because materials and labour could perhaps be made available for that number. I do not know the exact figures, but I think it is likely that not more than half that number of houses have been completed and occupied. It has been a very remarkable example of what I might describe as loquacious inefficiency. Whatever method is adopted in future, I sincerely hope that will be avoided.

There clearly must be set on foot in the first instance work for the provision of suitable plans, for the collection of materials, for the provision of fittings and for an understanding with labour. However fast the Minister may wish to go, it will be impossible for some time after the war is ended to make rapid progress, and I hope no one will assail him when that time comes because he cannot produce houses in a night as a conjuror produces rabbits out of a hat. We know very well that time will be required. There will be, in the first instance, a shortage of some materials. The mobilization of the building trade will necessarily take some time and it may be necessary to provide houses of what one may call a more temporary character, which can be provided quickly, to meet some of the more urgent demands. I hope the noble Lord has that in mind. I hope also that we shall be willing to keep our prejudices in not too prominent a place. It often happens that seeking the very best is the enemy of the good. I know that is so in a case of this kind, and therefore I have no initial prejudice against the Minister setting out to make emergency provision even if the houses so provided are not all that we might want in our more expansive moments. If there is a scheme for the rapid provision of temporary housing, the question will arise as to who is to own the houses, and if the Minister has this possibility of emergency housing in mind perhaps he will be able to give us some guidance on that matter.

Some time ago I saw it reported that a very responsible organization had canvassed Service men and others to find out what people want. That is a matter which architects might bear in mind rather more nearly than they sometimes do, if I may say so with great respect to that profession. According to that census of 25,000 people or thereabouts, the great majority, some 90 per cent. I think, wanted a house rather than a flat. Sometimes that may not be possible; but that is what they want. It shows their inclination anyhow. There are certain things that people want in connexion with their houses. They want them to be light, and dry, and warm. I am sure we shall all agree with that. They want good washing facilities and cooking facilities, and they want something much better than they have had hitherto in the provision for keeping food. There arc other good, homely things which I remember having fought for in times past. They are often forgotten. People want a shed in which they can keep things, a place for storing coal and a place for hanging up wet coats when they come out of the rain. They want somewhere to keep boots, and odds and ends of that kind. In many places provision of these necessary day-to-day conveniences is extraordinarily skimpy. For my part, if I had to run a house, I would rather have better provision of this kind of thing and less room for the aspidistra pot. I think it much more useful. Therefore I hope the Government will bear these things in mind.

That brings me to another feature of this question in regard to which I think considerable expedition might be promoted. I refer to anticipatory work in the provision of building materials and of fittings. Some materials will be bound to be in short supply, for perhaps a considerable time, but I do not expect that bricks and cement will be in short supply. If we are going to have housing provided on a large scale that means standardization of fittings and of household requirements of all kinds. I hope the noble Lord, when dealing with that matter, will remember that it is the public need, and not the need of the building merchants, that we are talking about. I am thinking of things like cooking stoves and boilers, ironmongery of all sorts, windows and doors. I wonder if the noble Lord has thought of the possibility of having refrigerators made available on reasonable terms, because they are very useful for the keeping of food, particularly milk, in summer. That is a very important item which, up to the present, has been out of the reach of the ordinary small householder. I do not see why some of our mechanical ingenuity should not be turned on to this kind of thing just as it has been turned on to others. I do not see why there should not, possibly, be large-scale provision even for things like partitions and floors. It is wonderful what can be done, and I hope that the noble Lord will be bold in his anticipation of the requirements, for if these things are provided in advance an enormous amount of time will be saved.

We all know how delusive it is when you see a house apparently erected, the walls built and the roof on. You are apt to think that the house is finished, whereas, as a matter of fact, it is only about one-third finished. A great deal of hammering and knocking goes on inside for weeks and weeks before that house becomes a place in which people can live. In respect of such matters as that large-scale provision such as I have been speaking of can save an enormous amount of time. And I think this also necessitates that the noble Lord should make arrangements with the building industry in advance. I do not see why this kind of provision should not be tackled with the same spirit and vision as we have shown in the matter of providing planes and tanks. It is a postwar national necessity, just as those other things are war-time national necessities, and the same kind of imagination and drive and organization requires to be put into the work. If it is, then, I am sure, great good will result.

The minimum estimate I have been able to come across indicates that the work before the building industry for new housing, commercial and industrial buildings, slum clearance and so forth, means at least from ten to twelve years of work. And that is work which will occupy a building industry even larger in scale than it was before the war. The personnel of the industry before the war is said to have numbered, all told, about 1,050,000, and, in the year 1938, 350,000 houses were built. In the building of those houses about 40 per cent. of the personnel of the building trade were employed. I hope that the enlistment scheme that the noble Lord is working at will be carried on, and that in the course of three or four years after the war the personnel of the building industry will rise, perhaps, to 1,250,000. I understand that there would be work for a building industry with a personnel of that size for at least from ten to twelve years. If that is the case, it means that there should be a large-scale understanding with the building industry, and that security of work should be one of its ingredients. We all know how easy it is to look at a man working at a house and to complain of the small number of bricks that he lays. I have looked on such a sight myself with disappointment more than once. But I must say that if I were a man who felt that as soon as I had finished the wall on which I was engaged I might have to loaf about looking for another job I should not be in a hurry to finish that wall. It may be very unfortunate, but that is human nature. I do not say that that sort of thing is responsible for all the delay, but it is one of the essential ingredients. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord will bear this in mind and will try to promote an understanding with the building industry that will provide security of work for a considerable period. That there is plenty of work to be done cannot be in doubt.

I think that these things are all essential if the noble Lord is to do what is preeminently necessary—namely, to help us to get houses at a reasonable cost. All these things, understandings with labour, mobilization of effort, large-scale provision of parts and all the rest of it, are most necessary, and if we get them they should and must result in the provision of houses at much lower prices than prevail at the present time. I see that these 3,000 houses in the country areas have cost round about £1,000 apiece—some a little less, and some a little more. I am perfectly certain that a long-term building programme of houses costing £1,000 apiece is not a possibility because of what it would mean in rents. It would be self-destructive of the effort. Therefore, we must get houses built at a lower cost. That is why these things to which I have referred are essential, and why I have stressed them to-day. I am not going to enlarge upon them, or to keep your Lordships any longer, because I am anxious to hear what the Minister has to say on these various matters which I have, I hope, epitomized relatively briefly. That he will encounter lots of difficulties we all know, but I am quite sure that many of them can be anticipated and many of them can be overcome in advance by the use of vision. I am quite sure that unless we approach this question of post-war building with the same outlook and decision and the same concentration of national effort and direction as those with which we have approached the provision of materials for the war we shall reap only disappointment and distress. The noble Lord has a great opportunity, a very great opportunity, to learn from the lessons of the past. Some of those lessons arise in consequence of what I myself have suffered, as he knows. And now we wait anxiously for what he has to tell us. I beg to move.


My Lords, I have intervened in the debate after the mover of the Motion, my noble friend Lord Addison, because I think it will be easier for the speakers who follow if they know exactly what is going on. I will, with your Lordships' consent, afterwards answer any points that they raise. There are, as you all know, two Motions on the Order Paper, Lord Addison's and Lord Barnby's. I understand that my noble friend Lord Barnby will speak after me. Any new points that he raises, and that I have not dealt with on this Motion, I will try to answer at the end of the debate.

Before answering my noble friend Lord Addison, I should then like to say a word or two on the Motion standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Barnby. He asks whether the Government are now able to refer to any intended addition to the programme of 3,000 agricultural dwellings. That is a matter, as he will admit, of arrangement between my right honourable friends the Minister of Health and the Minister of Agriculture; and the Minister of Health has informed me that when the time conies for the resumption of house-building his Ministry will do its best to ensure that the agricultural population get their share. With the other part of Lord Barnby's Motion I shall be able to deal in the course of my remarks.

I should like to take the opportunity of thanking my noble friend Lord Addison for raising this subject. It gives me the opportunity of making a progress report on the work which my Department has been doing with regard to the matters which interest your Lordships to-day. First of all, I should like to say this. When my noble friend Lord Woolton took up his new and responsible position as Minister of Reconstruction, I sat beside him on the first two days on which he spoke in your Lordships' House, and he has paid me the compliment of sitting by my side to-day. I should like to say a few words about the position of Lord Woolton and myself. He and I are keeping in very close touch on all the broader questions of post-war reconstruction which affect my Department. I think that it is necessary to have someone like him who can see the complete picture, and who has the great advantage, from my point of view, of being a member of the War Cabinet. He has given me all the help for which I can possibly ask on all these questions. It is only fair to make that statement to your Lordships to-day. Somebody asked me the other day what I considered Lord Woolton's position to be, and I replied: "As he has just come from the Ministry of Food, I regard him as my sugardaddy." I suppose that that sums up the position as regards Lord Woolton and myself.

My noble friend Lord Woolton told your Lordships on December 10—and here I am only repeating what Lord Addison said just now—that the Ministry of Works have now become the central Government authority on designs, specifications, materials, building technique and costs. On all housing matters I am working in complete accord with the Minister of Health, whose Department alone deals with the local authorities, as it has always done. In the same way, the Secretary of State for Scotland, with whom I work very closely, takes full advantage of my Department for any technical service which he requires. The housing situation and local conditions in Scotland are somewhat different from those in this country, as many of your Lordships who come from that part of the world know better than I do.

I am going to speak to-day about what is being done as regards the future. I realize that the country, and quite rightly, is impatient to know what is being done about post-war housing. It must be remembered that the question which is uppermost in our minds is that of labour. The war effort is still demanding nearly all the available labour and materials in the country. Nobody knows the material position better than I do, because as Chairman of the Materials Committee I know what material is available. It is largely a question of timing. The Minister of Reconstruction and, in fact, the whole Government are alive to the vital necessity of getting on with this question of housing at the right moment, for they consider that it is all-important.

The Government consider—and here I am going over ground covered in a public speech by my right honourable friend the Minister of Health a short time ago—that as regards war-damaged and other houses the limit of expenditure on repairs should be raised to £500 for any one house, and the arrangements now in operation empower local authorities to concentrate available labour on war-damaged or incomplete houses. I should like to emphasize the important fact that privately-owned houses will participate equally in this, and the instructions to licensing officers have been adjusted accordingly. Local authorities should be in a position to secure the carrying out of the great proportion of these repairs, and the back of them should be broken by the end of this year. If we can break the back of this work by the end of this year we shall be getting an awkward job out of the way. I am not talking of the totally demolished houses, but, if people are permitted to spend up to £500, most of the houses which are worth repairing should have been dealt with by the end of this year. You cannot have tendering for this type of work, and we do not want it on our hands when the war is over; we want to tidy this position up. The Minister of Reconstruction, the Minister of Health and myself thought that this would be a good thing to do; the Government consented, and it has gone through. People sometimes talk about overlapping between different Ministries, but there is no overlapping on a question like this. When the decision is taken, the question of materials comes under my Ministry, and in this instance we have made arrangements, having regard to possible difficulties of transport, to have stocks available for continuing this work for the next six months. That is the first part of our work of clearing up in readiness for the post-war programme.

The next thing I wish to say deals with what I call the preparation of housing sites. The Government have decided that in the late spring and early summer arrangements will be made for the use by local authorities of plant and machinery, as they become available from airfield construction, for the preparation of housing sites, including roads and sewers and, where desired, electricity, water and gas services, sufficient for the maximum number of houses which can be built during the first two years after the war. Sites in England will be settled and approved between the local authorities and the Minister of Health, who will consult the Minister of Agriculture where the interests of allotment holders are concerned. I shall dwell on that for a moment. The allotment holders are doing a great work, and the Minister of Reconstruction and the Minister of Health are very anxious that wherever possible their interests shall be preserved. I wish to emphasize that they will be given consideration through their own Minister, the Minister of Agriculture. The Minister of Health will also, of course, have to consult the Minister of Town and Country Planning; while the Secretary of State for Scotland will deal direct with his own local authorities on this question.

If the sites are grouped by areas, the work can be carried out in the most effective and economical way. Local authorities in each area would, in such a case, draw up combined programmes, and the Government would make the necessary labour available as part of the Government building programme. Housing sites of over five acres would in the ordinary way be undertaken by the larger contractors, and those under five acres by the smaller contractors. This arrangement would not only enable one of the slow and uncertain parts of housing schemes to be carried out economically and quickly, but enable us to have everything prepared for the building of houses to start directly it is found possible to begin. Dealing with it on this scale we should ensure a material reduction in existing costs.

I should like to amplify that statement briefly, and to say that your Lordships will at once be alive to the fact that when I said that timing was the difficulty, here is a case where airfield construction grows less and we take the heavy plant off the airfields and transfer it to these sites preparatory to the building of houses upon them. That is very important. We have learnt a great deal about site preparation in this war. The great contractors of this country have learnt a lot in the process of building all the aerodromes and runways that they have put up. They have really done a mass production job. Let us therefore use their knowledge, and this is the time when we say the use of that knowledge should begin. That is, I think, an important preliminary step in housing.

I want next, if I may, to deal with demonstration houses; I am talking of demonstration houses of permanent type. The Ministry of Works are putting up a number of houses to demonstrate the use of different materials in permanent house construction, and to ascertain the costs. All these plans have been agreed with the Ministry of Health. I am only doing the experiments; the question of their suitability remains with the Ministry of Health. The plans have been agreed also by a panel of three architects nominated by the President of the R.I.B.A. They are not meant to illustrate the various types of fittings that can be used, as we want to obtain comparable costs in the methods of construction. The first thing we want to know is how much it is going to cost to build the shell of a house, as my noble friend described it just now. I do not want that to get entangled with the question of different fittings in different houses. The alternative materials to be used are those recommended by the Inter-Departmental Committee presided over by Sir George Burt, which was appointed by the Minister of Health, the Secretary of State for Scotland and my predecessor. I will speak of the question of fittings and the bulk production of fittings presently. So as to get comparative costing results these houses will be built to similar plans of 850 superficial feet, except for two pairs which will be built to plans approved by the Dudley Committee in advance of the submission of their Report. These two pairs will be 900 superficial feet. I wish to emphasize the fact that these are typical plans for getting comparative costs.

The types to be built will be two pairs of brick houses, one pair with a broader frontage; two pairs of brick houses on the lines of the type accepted for this purpose by the Dudley Committee—one pair to be for urban dwellers and one pair for agricultural workers. Two pairs of houses will be built of foamed slag, with one pair built in pre-cast blocks, the other pair to be made on the site (poured within shuttering). There will be one pair of houses made of light weight concrete (called "no fines"). These have already been experimented with in Scotland. There will also be one pair of steel-framed houses with brick panels, and three types of steel houses. The steel houses will be completed later than the others, as the various details are not yet complete. In order to ascertain comparative costs of a form of housing that may be largely used, we are also building one terrace of four brick houses. I think it may be of interest to your Lordships to discuss for a moment the question of foamed slag. As many of your Lordships probably know, foamed slag is made from the residue from blast furnaces, and was used before the war in small quantities mainly for internal partitions. I am glad to say that I have been able to arrange with the Iron and Steel Control to supply this product in large quantities and at an economical price. The price is a good deal lower than the one which prevailed before the war, and this I am assured by the building industry should be of great assistance. These houses will all be costed up so that we can compare the price with pre-war prices, in order to help the Minister of Health in deciding the standards that he will lay down.

The next thing I wish to come to is the question of temporary houses, and temporary prefabricated houses. The Secretary of State for Scotland has already carried cut experiments in the conversion of war-time hostels for temporary houses. The Ministry of Works are carrying out an experiment on an industrial hostel at the present time which, when completed, will be shown to the Ministry of Health and those interested in this experiment. It is intended, in agreement with the Ministry of Health, that if these conversions are successful and economical, only hostels constructed of brick, timber, or concrete will be considered for conversion purposes. The industrial hostels referred to will in every case be close to a town. The point I want to emphasize there is that these hostels should be converted in about two months' time from now, and then the Minister of Health, having seen them, will ask the local authorities to come and see them. The question will then arise whether we cannot make use of this method. I am full of hope about these plans, and I think you will find that this will make a considerable addition to temporary housing.

Now I come to temporary prefabricated houses. I know this is a question in which my noble friend Lord Barnby is very much interested and will speak about to-day. People get wrong ideas about this word "prefabricated." As I have said before it is a pity that the word was ever invented. It is just the same with "standardization." People think that because a house is prefabricated or standardized it is something dreadful, which it need not be. It is obvious that you can prefabricate or partly prefabricate in a factory the shell of a house, or you can prefabricate some of the fittings. That is what I want people to understand, because they talk about prefabricated fittings only, and forget that you can prefabricate the two. Total prefabrication—though I am not a technical man on this question—would, I suppose, be something produced from a factory that theoretically would not take one hour to erect. That is how I should define it, but I may be wrong. Total prefabrication in fact means the production of something in a factory, the erection of which will require very little man-power on the site. That is the essential point with regard to temporary prefabricated houses, as the difficulty is obvious of obtaining the necessary labour for permanent houses during the interregnum period after the war.

The Government have gone a considerable way in getting out plans for a type of temporary prefabricated house. In considering prefabrication on a large scale, the questions of materials and the capacity available for their manufacture are vital, if it is to be started before the war is over. You have to remember that at the present time every factory that you want to use for this purpose is taking part in the war effort. It should be borne in mind also that it is essential that building labour shall not be diverted from the provision of permanent houses in order to erect temporary houses. The point here is that the question of man-hours, materials, and costs are all important. If you can get a temporary house that takes very few man-hours to erect, you are not doing any harm to the permanent housing programme, for which the labour available in the interregnum period—that is, the first two years after the war—will be, as Lord Addison said, very difficult. I shall give an example of what I mean. If you have anything to do with materials in this country to-day you will know that in some cases materials are short, and in one or two cases the materials are there but the labour is short. That is all important in understanding this question of man-hours, materials, and costs. My Ministry, with the help of outside technical advice, have been dealing with this problem. It will be of interest to your Lordships to know that we shall have the first prototype (made by hand) ready at the end of April when it will be shown to the Minister of Health, the Secretary of State for Scotland, and others interested in this matter. This is a new enterprise in this country, and we are obtaining valuable help from the Building Research Station.

In order to avoid these temporary houses remaining in existence as they did after the last war—this is a very important point because, if you put up a temporary house, the question arises, when will you get rid of it?—the Government have decided that, if approved, these houses shall be publicly owned and licensed for a period. I would emphasize this. After the last war, if a private individual put up one of these houses, he might be ordered to take it down. We arc getting over this difficulty which faced us after the last war. The sites to which I have referred that are being prepared, or are going to be prepared, will be suitable either for permanent or for these temporary houses. At the request of the Ministry of Health, we are carrying out an actual experiment in the temporary division of new houses into two small one-bedroom and two-bedroom flats which, it is thought, may help to meet special problems in some cases. We are also, at the request of the Ministry of Health, exploring with certain local authorities the extent to which it would be economical and practicable to convert large houses in urban areas into comfortable flat dwellings.

A point I ought to have made while talking about experimental permanent houses is that we are working to encourage and stimulate private interest in the investigation and development of alternative methods and materials and of prefabricated equipment. I have established a Controller of Experimental Building with this object in view. Acting on the advice of the Inter-Departmental Committee, he issues certificates for materials and for permission to build, and assists in many other ways. There are a number of private developments in hand which should make important contributions to the solution of our problems; while local authorities themselves are also carrying out experiments. What I wish to explain to your Lordships' House is that there are a good number of private firms who are carrying out experiments, and they are getting licences to carry out these experiments as well as the local authorities. That means it is not all being done by one agency. Everybody is trying to seek a solution of this problem.

I now come to the point to which my noble friend Lord Addison alluded, and rightly alluded, and that is the question of fittings and standardization. The question of standardizing fittings in houses after the war is all important. I agree with my noble friend entirely. My Ministry, with the interests concerned, have been carrying out a considerable degree of standardization in fittings and components to see how far these can be reduced in types. It will be obvious that one of the most effective ways of securing efficiency and economy will be by far greater standardization of essential parts than hitherto. Some people appear to think that, by standardization, you are getting something less effective, but the fact is quite the reverse. I have heard it stated that if you have standardized fittings they are inferior. What some people do not realize is that if you had one hundred types of fitting, and you choose ten instead of one hundred, these ten will be better than the hundred you had before. I am perfectly certain a much better understanding of this question ought to be conveyed to the people concerned because, in my opinion, it is all important.

We have been able to obtain a degree of success in standardization. We have, for instance, reduced by approximately 80 per cent. the various sizes of metal windows—this is one point to which my noble friend alluded—to three basic types which can, without interference with the flow of manufacture, be produced in over 50 varieties. If you get three types like this—it does not matter how you break them up—it must be far more economical than making about two hundred types of these things. We have reduced the types of baths from 40 to 5; we have reduced water heaters, tanks, and cisterns from 272 to 100, and we are dealing with many other items on these lines. There is a host of these items, and I only give these as instances. My view is that if you are going to have, as you will probably have for the first two years, some form of subsidy behind housing, it is only right that the taxpayer should get an advantage out of this method. The Minister of Reconstruction, the Minister of Health, and the Secretary of State for Scotland can specify these types so that manufacturers will know what they are working to. If you happen to have been a manufacturer you will realize the advantage of having a few types only to work to.

I have dealt with most of the points, and several other noble Lords want to follow, and I shall try to answer them also. Now I come to the question of costs. I agree entirely with what my noble friend Lord Addison said about costs. You have got to try to give the people houses to live in at rents they can afford to pay. That is what we have to try to do. Your Lordships will have realized that the question of costs has not been neglected by my Department, and whatever the costs may be during this abnormal time, if you are going to estimate post-war costs you will have to take into consideration the differences that should then occur. High costs at the present time are due to many wartime factors, such as transport charges (which often entail double-handling), directed labour, travelling expenses and subsistence allowances, the loss of the younger men called up to the Services and munitions, the increased costs of raw materials, especially timber, which in the low-cost houses is a considerable factor in the total cost. In making our comparative costs we shall, of course, make due allowance for these abnormal features.

Steps have been, and are being, taken to ensure the supply of all building materials that will be required for postwar building. Timber is the only major material that has to be imported. The Minister of Production and the Minister of Reconstruction both realize the importance of making the necessary arrangements to deal with this problem of timber.

My noble friend Lord Addison referred to the post-war building programme. The Government's plans for a long-term building programme are, as your Lordships know, divided into two parts—an interregnum period of two years after the war and a further ten years after the interregnum period. My noble friend alluded to the question of labour to be employed, working up to a ceiling of 1,250,000. I realized that he had read the White Paper when he mentioned that figure. That is the figure we are working to. I should like to allay his fears as to continuity of work. I agree with every word that he said on this question. In the old days one went down to the Special Areas, and saw miners out of work one day and in work the next. That did not help to get the best out of men, and there was a great deal of unemployment in the building trade. If I were starting life to-morrow and I had to earn my own living—I do not know whether I do that or not!—if I were going to be an apprentice I would choose the building trade, because I can see more security in that trade at the present moment than in any other.

I come now to the question of the interregnum period which is obviously the more difficult owing to the questions of availability of materials and labour, and the problems of gradual transition from war conditions. That fits in with what has already been said, that if you have temporary houses you will have them in the interregnum period. That is the period when there will be the most difficulty about labour and materials. A great deal of time has been spent on this interregnum programme and it is now satisfactorily taking shape. At the same time the broad outlines of the longer-term programme are being settled, and in particular the priorities necessary to secure construction of the full number of houses that have been already announced as well as all the other necessary building.

I would like to take this opportunity to bring to the notice of your Lordships' House the Report of the Mission which has been out to America. The Report was issued on Monday of this week. The Mission consisted of Mr. Bossom, Sir George Burt, Sir James West and Mr. Wolstencroft. I would like to thank those gentleman publicly for the work they have done. I have read their Report with very great interest. I feel certain it will be of real value to all people concerned in building and to the various interests concerned with building. All of these interests ought to go very carefully into this Report because there are things in it which I have no doubt will help us considerably in this country. Then there is the Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee to which I have already referred, presided over by Sir George Burt. This is now in the hands of the Stationery Office and I hope it will be published next month. It provides an authoritative survey of all the alternative methods of house building that have been tried in this country the best of which are now being erected by my Ministry. The Committee is a most valuable advisory body to both the Health Ministers and myself in the technical aspects of house building.

I would like to end my remarks by emphasizing, as I said publicly some days ago, that the work of the building industry during this war has been very fine indeed. Workers in that industry have been directed from their homes, the employers have had an enormous amount of young labour taken away from them, and the workers have been living in great numbers in what in normal times we should call discomfort. When you realize, as I realize, the amount of work they have done in these circumstances, you see how great is the contribution that they have made in this war. But great as their work has been during this war, I am sure they will also do a great work in the future. I think they realize the problems of the future. I have found builders, civil engineers, architects, quantity surveyors and operatives, and indeed all concerned very helpful to me in the Ministry. They have come together and we have discussed these matters with them. I know they are alive to the difficulties. My noble friend Lord Addison mentioned that we could get a great deal of help from the building industry. I can assure him that we get an enormous amount of advice, both outside and inside the industry. The difficult question is what advice to take after you have gone through it all. Even those in the industry are not always harmonious in regard to the advice they tender. Their views do not always coincide. But we are endeavouring to battle with those difficulties and I am perfectly certain we are all alive to the great job that confronts us. I would like to take this opportunity also of saying on this question of building labour, that the Ministers of Labour and of Production have given us very great assistance.

Now, in regard to the post-war work that has to be done by my Ministry, I go to my noble friend the Minister of Reconstruction who was a friend of mine before the war and I assure him that we realize the task that is ahead of us and will do all that is possible to carry it out. I am often told "what the ex-Service man wants." I think I know what he wants. Those of us who had the opportunity of serving during the last war realize, as well as those who are always so pleased to tell us, what the ex-Service man requires. Many of us have some practical knowledge of the ex-Service man and we are quite alive to what he wants. I had the privilege of commanding a thousand for three years in the last war and of censoring men's letters. What was the dominant note through all the letters of these men then? They said "We want to get home, we are looking forward to getting home;" and what they want from this great country of ours is a home to live in. Whether we have mechanized warfare and whatever the new elements of strategy and tactics may be in this war you will find that letters coming from Service men to-day are couched in exactly the same language. I can assure your Lordships that my noble friend the Minister of Reconstruction and the Minister of Health and the Secretary of State for Scotland as well as myself are fully alive to what the ex-Service man wants and it will not be our fault if we do not give him what he requires.

LORD BARNBY had the following Notice on the Paper: To ask His Majesty's Government, whether they are now able to communicate any intended addition to the already announced programme limited to 3,000 agricultural dwellings of orthodox type; and, if so, whether they intend to include a programme of houses of shorter-life types; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the subjects raised in my Motion have been largely answered by Lord Portal and they were previously dealt with at considerable length by Lord Addison. For that reason, with the permission of the House, I do not propose to move the Motion that stands in my name. The remarks made by Lord Addison cover very fully the points that I intended to raise. This debate succeeds some six debates that we had last year in this House on the question of housing. On many occasions during those debates agricultural housing was referred to, and I think it is a pity that the Lord Privy Seal could not be present to-day because it would have brought him consolation to discover that a great deal that he wanted and asked for last year has now become the accepted policy of the Government.

In referring to agricultural houses, I should like to call attention in particular to the very impressive speech we had in this House last Thursday from Lord Maugham. Among the many matters he dealt with in what he had to say about the Rent Restrictions Acts, he spoke at some length on construction of agricultural housing. It was certainly disquieting to hear from him that out of a programme of some 3,000 houses (substituted for the 30,000 that were suggested to the Government some fourteen months ago) only 49 are as yet in occupation. Lord Maugham said—and this is a material point which has been dealt with by both Lord Addison and Lord Portal—that the cost was around £1,000 each and he went on to explain that no commercial rent could be paid by the agricultural community to meet so high a cost of building. The several debates we have had bring into greater relief the statement we have just heard from my noble friend the Minister of Works. I think it will be agreed on all sides that here we have a definite charter for dwelling construction, something that people can bite on, and I am sure there will be in the Press a wide recognition of the fact that at last we are on the move.

Some other noble Lords will have been struck, as I was, by the feeling that my noble friend's presentation in that forthright manner and clarity of the business man habituated to dealing regularly with business problems was in marked contradistinction to the traditional presentation of political considerations. Anyhow, I myself feel very much encouraged by what we have heard this afternoon from the Minister. He gave us much that will merit wide discussion. In the space of one debate there is little opportunity to cover it all, and in the case of one speech little opportunity to do more than just refer to the heads of the subject. I would remind your Lordships that my noble friend, as Chairman of the Raw Materials Committee as well as Minister of Works, is in a particularly happy position to cover the fundamentals of this subject and, in collaboration with the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, he will have the broad outlines continually in view. If I may have the indulgence of your Lordships I will refer to these points only for the purpose of underlining them, because that is the best way of emphasizing one's own belief that something really constructive is here put forward.

The noble Lord, first of all, amplified the statement published in the Press that by arrangement between himself and the Minister of Health, who has already made such a good start in getting on with his job, the increase in the permitted expenditure on war damage repairs from £250 to £500 would apply to privately owned houses as well as to other buildings. He said that this would permit considerable progress towards a finish by the end of the year, and that is important because it visualizes the adequate provision of labour. Then he mentioned the preparation of sites, which certainly is a big step forward, and he envisaged bringing into current active use the big tackle of the civil engineers and public works contractors whose work in connexion with the construction of aerodromes and other work of a war character is gradually drawing to a close, apart from open-cast mining which again is in the mind of my noble friend. He emphasized that this work would be done on a scale up to the requirements of the first two years of the contemplated post-war construction and that the work would be grouped by areas. That envisages the use of the tackle of the larger contractors on sites of over five acres while the tackle of the smaller contractors is employed on smaller sites. The result of that will be the mobilizing, to the advantage of the housing programme, of the vast experience gained by civil engineers and public work contractors during the course of the war in the use of large-scale tackle, which hitherto has only been used in the United States, and has been brought into use in this country for the first time as a result of the war.

He next referred to demonstration houses, and emphasized that these were being erected for the purpose of exploring the possibilities in the use of new material and new forms of construction. That has been widely dealt with in the technical Press, and indeed in the national Press, too. We now recognize what responsibility lies on the Inter-Departmental Committee under the chairmanship of Sir George Burt. He emphasized that these houses would have a superficial area of 850 feet, with two having an area of 900 superficial feet. When he was dealing with that matter I was reminded of the most impressive speech made by my noble friend Lord Dudley in February or March last year, when he foreshadowed something of the work of that Committee. The effect will be, no doubt, to decide what requirements the Burt Committee may lay down. He dealt also with the production of foamed slag, an essential requirement of the building industry. In that matter the large-scale nationally organized arrangements he has made must contribute towards a substantial lowering of the price of that commodity to the building trade. He dealt also with the conversion of hostels and industrial buildings to temporary houses provided they are close to towns. I was encouraged to hear that, with the information at his disposal, he was able to tell your Lordships that, in his judgment, this would be a substantial contribution to the provision of dwellings.

He then turned to the question of temporary houses, and I think he used the expression "temporary prefabricated houses." He emphasized the need for some clarification of terminology in this matter. It is clear that there is a real need of that. We have had in your Lordships' House during past discussions disparagement of the suggestion to adopt new methods, that is to say, non-orthodox methods of construction in this country. I was very glad that my noble friend, in dealing with the term prefabrication, gave a clear definition that would include the shell as well as the fittings. I cannot resist referring to what my noble friend Lord Dudley said on May 16 in dealing with this because I hope that he has already changed his mind. My noble friend suggested that prefabricated dwellings might become a permanent feature of the countryside. I am sure his view has changed since then. There is, therefore, need for clear understanding of what is meant by the term prefabrication. I understood my noble friend to indicate that it means a factory-produced article of low man-power requirements. I would suggest that it should mean assembly line unit construction which would permit of factory-production and require low craftsman-hour work in erection.

That digression on the question of terminology rather led me to overlook, in connexion with the temporary type of building, the essential point of my noble friend's remarks. This is a very happy solution of what hitherto has been a temporary problem which has led to much controversy in the country. He told us that all buildings of this character would be publicly owned and temporarily licensed. Presumably the licence would be of short duration and capable of renewal. That is a great step forward. It will meet the criticism that any introduction of dwellings of other than orthodox construction is a menace because, having once been erected as a temporary or transitional measure, they would be allowed a long life. He has effectively laid that bogy. I am sure he deserves, and will get, great credit and admiration for having done so. He then referred to the matter of fittings and emphasized what was possible in the way of cheap industrial production by standardization permitting large-scale production. This is fundamental to the solution of the whole housing problem. There must be cheap industrial production, and that can only be obtained by assembly line procedure developed for peace-time purposes. It has been much developed here for war purposes, and it had been developed to a very great extent in the United States long before the war.

To return for a moment to the matter raised by my noble friend Viscount Maugham, and touched upon to-day by my noble friend Lord Addison, it is obvious that the cost of houses must be such that it is within the means of the occupiers to pay for their occupation. That cannot be made possible except by the utilization of some such methods, or by some other departure from tradition in the building trade such as has been outlined to-day by the Minister. Lord Portal has said that timber is the raw material required in building which, so far as imports are concerned, holds first place. May I, with the indulgence of the House, draw attention to the tremendous advance which has been made in the use of plywood? Those who care to study this matter will be astonished to learn that if, for example, you have two beams of equal size one made of solid wood and the other of plywood strutted inside, while the weight of the plywood beam is substantially less, the tensile strength and resistance of it is very little different to that of the solid wood. These factors, indeed, are almost equal. That indicates that our imports of timber can be substantially cut down by the increased use of plywood. It opens tremendous prospects of assistance in solving the problem of dwelling provision.

My noble friend the Minister referred to the Mission which he sent out to the United States. He indicated its composition, and I would strongly advise members of the House who are interested in housing, and who have not yet obtained and read a copy of the Committee's Report, to do so without delay. There is no time available now even to refer to its many impressive reflections, but it does bring into prominent relief the fact that building practice in the United States is appreciably in advance of our own. The Minister is to be congratulated on having taken the initiative in this matter. Although ray noble friend Lord Woolton is not now in his place I would suggest for his consideration that this Report be recommended to the attention of other industries so that the fullest advantage may be derived in this country from what it states about current practices in the United States.

In a debate like this it would be a mistake to omit reference to the fact that building by-laws require some revision and to point out that trades union practice requires review. It would be a pity if under either of these heads, through insistence on too much rigidity, there should be any impediment to the carrying out of the building programme. And now if I may return for a moment to the matter of prefabrication, I cannot sufficiently emphasize the need to allay, to disperse for ever, the prejudice existing here against what that system may involve. I hope that we may perhaps have a contribution to the debate by my noble friend the Minister which will help to clear away the traditional prejudice.

There is a social problem to be dealt with in connexion with housing. Unless, as Lord Addison said, there is a reasonably adequate provision of dwellings at an early date after demobilization serious social unrest will break out in the country. That brings me to the industrial problem, on which I will dwell for just one minute. The component parts of that problem come under two heads. First, as has been said, there is the necessity of finding employment for the large war-developed factories which are capable of line production and of unit contribution towards unit constructed dwellings. There is great scope for the utilization of these factories in this direction—and this in its turn will help in providing employment for the labour which on the conclusion of hostilities must be released very quickly and in enormous numbers—since the trend of war production has gone from the requirements of the Ministry of Supply to that of the Ministry of Aircraft Production. Secondly, there is the question of getting quick employment in a diverse range of industries and a big production. Great assistance can, undoubtedly, be given in that respect in the plans of employers if they can rely upon a rapid disposal of their production in the normal direction. That suggests that the provision of the shells of houses quickly will mean a tremendous absorption of consumer goods of all types, paints, textiles, hardware, washing machines and innumerable other commodities. It is understood that about one-sixth of the national income is normally expended in the provision of housing accommodation. If the post-war. figure be taken at £7,000,000,000 one sees what a tremendous problem is involved in this annual expenditure on housing.

I see my noble friend Lord Latham in his place. I hope that he is going to speak in this debate, for he has a wide knowledge of these matters and speaks with great authority. On the occasion when Lord Woolton addressed the House on matters of reconstruction, he took the opportunity to make most disparaging statements, accusing the noble Lord of an anti-expansionist policy. I am sure that in view of what we have heard from the Minister to-day that will not be Lord Latham's tone in this debate. I hope that as a result of what my noble friend has said the noble Lord will modify his hitherto-expressed prejudice against untraditional practice, and will recognize that the construction of the shell of a house by factory-produced components is not necessarily something to be excluded from consideration.

That brings me to the traditional outlook of the Labour Party. As I understand it, there is some doubt in their minds about what may be called prefabricated construction; the fear is that this may encroach on employment in the building trade. If it does, it can only be by giving increased employment in the factories, so that it requires a careful balancing of advantages. There is need for a change in the traditional outlook and practice regarding the provision of dwellings. We hear talk of the horror of rows of little brick houses erected in the Victorian era and desecrating the appearance of town and country alike. One disadvantage of those houses, apart from their appearance, has been the solidity of their construction, and that disadvantage has been experienced by the low-wage-earning classes who have been and are their tenants. Had these houses been constructed with less solidity, they could have been replaced much more quickly, and therefore there would have been a greater tendency for our housing to keep pace with the progress in the development of amenities which is a natural concomitant of the development of science and the growth of a desire for a better standard of living. It is the misfortune of the solidity of its housing which has led to one of the great blemishes of this country so far as this matter is concerned. When I was in Russia at the time of the expansion of the industrial programme there, ten or more years ago, I was impressed by the obviously temporary character of many of their structures. It is obvious that that arose from the conviction that it is better to build for a short life and have continuous progress and give continuous employment in the building trade.

The use of prefabricated methods of constructing the shells of houses does not exclude the employment of architects; indeed, the very flexibility of this method of construction gives full opportunity for the architect to use his skill. It is a method of construction which allows the employment of unskilled or semi-skilled labour in the factory, and calls for fewer man-hours on the part of craftsmen in erection. These things, together with the possibility of demountability, give it great advantages. There is in addition the fact that already such a large roof-coverage of prefabricated buildings exists in this country that advantage can be taken of the experience so gained. And it should be recognized that only in this way can the cost of dwellings be brought down. Take the case of the motor car. In the early days of motoring the cost of a low-priced car was much greater then that of a low-priced house. Henry Ford recognized that cheap transportation was a necessity for increasing the convenience and amenities of the world,, and that this demanded a cheap car; and so in the course of time it came about that a good motor car—not a cheap "tin Lizzie"—cost much less than a low-priced house. That suggests that the building trade has missed its opportunities; but it has a great opportunity now before it.

All these considerations compel us to glance at housing finance. It is recognized that a stupendous financial figure is involved in the provision of 4,000,000 houses in ten years. The building societies in the past have done a wonderful service to this country, and they have now a great opportunity; but a shorter life for the shell must involve a revision of the amortization tables as a result of more rapid obsolescence. The social problem compels us to arrange for the provision of houses on a big scale, and I believe that what we have heard to-day gives us the best hope that we have had up to now of a recognition of what should be done. I have sufficient confidence in my noble friend the Minister of Works to believe that it will be done. If it is not done, the Government after the war will be faced with political dynamite. It is for that reason that I welcome what my noble friend has said. I feel sure that your Lordships will be much encouraged by what he has told us, and I hope that my noble friend Lord Addison, who moved this Motion, will feel that he has every reason for satisfaction.


My Lords, this House and the country are indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Addison, for initiating a discussion which has resulted in the clarification of some questions relating to post-war housing. We are also indebted, if I may say so, to the noble Lord, Lord Portal, for his lucid, constructive and interesting speech. It is generally agreed that before the war ends the Government should have clear and definite housing plans backed by the approval of public opinion. It must be borne in mind that twelve months to two years must elapse between the inception of a building scheme and the completion of roads, drains, public services and housing where there are now green fields. The building societies of this country alone, quite apart from the housing associations, local authorities and other agencies interested in building, have large sums of money available, and they are anxious, as soon as they know the Government plans, to play their full part in this great national effort. That readiness to help applies to all concerned; it is for the Government, however, to utilize in good time this willing spirit in definite plans and in action. But the noble Lord, the Minister, will agree that there is no dispute about the urgency and the complexity of the question. There is, however, considerable public disquiet, which appears to arise from the absence of Government pronouncements on the principles to be followed. The Government, it is true, cannot be expected to announce a detailed housing programme at this stage, but principles and main conceptions should be settled and announced.

Some such principles have recently been submitted to the Government by the Joint Conference of the Royal Institute of British Architects, the National Housebuilding Registration Council and the Building Societies Association. The main object of that conference was to explain and amplify the four points of a building charter. That charter provided for site planning—of which we have heard to-day—design of houses, revision and enforcement of local by-laws and—more important than all—the certification of quality, workmanship and material by a properly constituted body fully representative of the interests concerned, and having statutory powers. I do not desire to embarrass the noble Lord, but if he can tell us what his view is on the question of certification of quality, workmanship and materials, it will be a great help. The aim of this charter and the joint report is that all houses should be pleasant in appearance, soundly constructed, and should satisfy an adequate standard of performance and comfort. It is a source of great encouragement that these broad principles, with such details as are necessary to implement them, should receive the enthusiastic adherence of those who are connected with designing (the architects), building (the builders), and financing of housing (the building societies). Let me commend them to the Government and to your Lordships.

The Motion mentions the question of cost, and it is upon this matter that some of the greatest difficulties arise. Here again the Government cannot be expected to prophesy what costs should be, or at this stage to say that they will keep prices at any particular level, although if the noble Lord had anything of that sort in his mind—the keeping of prices at any particular level—it would be a welcome announcement. Certain things, however, are apparent. Houses after the war will cost a great deal more than they did in 1938.




I think so. We will see who is the better prophet.


Not necessarily. May I interrupt the noble Viscount? When I interjected "No," what I had in mind was that they would cost more if the same methods were pursued, but not if the right methods were pursued.


Let me explain. The noble Lord was a little previous. I said that houses will cost after the war a great deal more than they cost in 1938, but the noble Lord did not wait for the reason. These young men of course are so anxious to get their point in. The price of materials will go up after the war, the remuneration of labour will, I hope, go up after the war. Our people will desire and deserve a higher standard of equipment, fittings and comfort. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Addison, will agree with me there—or perhaps he does not want a higher standard of equipment, fittings and comfort. It is certainly not putting the matter too high to say that the cost of a house will be somewhere between a third and a half above the pre- war level, and I would like the noble Lord to signify if he agrees with this statement: that where a house cost a local authority or a private investor £600 before the war the figure will be £800 or £900 after the war. I pause for a reply. I get a dubious shake of the head.


It is not dubious, certainly not.


This does not constitute an insoluble problem, but if the noble Lord remembers his experience after the last war—and I know he has not forgotten it—he will realize that we have also to face the possibility of high prices in the period immediately after this war; and those high prices will probably be followed by a slump, and subsequently prices may fluctuate violently. If the noble Lord has not forgotten what followed the last war he will not disagree with that. Who, in these circumstances, is going to build houses, which will be required in such vast numbers? The postwar housing programme calls for an annual rate of building higher than has ever been known in this country, and this can only be achieved if all the agencies engage in building work at full pressure and with good will. The Government, I would remind the Minister, should earnestly consider measures for avoiding those delays in their programme which will be certain to occur unless they give security against price fluctuation in the years immediately following the war. Here again I do not desire to embarrass the noble Lord, but I should like to ask him whether there is any thought of giving security against price fluctuation after the war. The money expended upon houses may be charged upon the security of local rates, or it may be privately invested money. In either case the urgent need is that those responsible for building shall know that the local ratepayer, the housing association and the building society will be protected against abnormal risks.

If this matter can be adjusted, if the Government will announce their position on the Uthwatt, Scott and Barlow Reports—particularly the Uthwatt Report—and if the adoption of principles can be formally announced, with sufficient detail, we may be sure that the local authorities, the building industry, the housing associations and the building societies will ensure that the building of houses in great numbers commences immediately after the war and proceeds just as quickly as land, materials and labour can be made available. None of those concerned need compulsion, but they are crying out for leadership from the Government. We have had some indication to-day; I hope the noble Lord in his reply will be able to go farther and tell us rather more of what his plans are for the future.


My Lords, I regret I was not able to hear the opening remarks of the noble Lord who spoke for the Government: geographical difficulties made me late. But what I did hear—I heard the greater part of his speech—filled me with encouragement. I understood that he and his Ministry are making the most careful inquiries and investigations into this great question of post-war housing, and that a great deal of progress had already been made. I am sure that your Lordships will have felt that the noble Lord himself is enthusiastic on this matter and is determined to do everything in his power.

Of course the question is a most urgent and difficult one. I am not quite certain if the country as a whole appreciates how urgent and pressing this housing problem is to-day. Before the war there were two campaigns carried on, one against the slums and the other against overcrowding, and both these campaigns, I think, were proving on the whole very successful. If they had been carried on without interruption the position to-day would have been very different from what it is; but at the outbreak of war some two hundred thousand houses still needed to be built in connexion with the slum clearance scheme and some two hundred thousand houses to reduce overcrowding. I would add here that that two hundred thousand, which I believe is the official estimate, is an underestimate, for the definition of overcrowding was a definition which dealt with the total number of rooms in a house and not with the number of bedrooms. It might be possible to have very great overcrowding which would largely increase the number of houses required to reduce this terrible evil. Since the outbreak of war the position has become worse. A very large number of houses have been destroyed by the "Blitzes," and it has not only been the slums which have been destroyed. Large numbers of new housing estates hive been reduced to ruins. This has meant that the people who had to leave their ruined homes have gone into other houses or tenements in the neighbourhood, and that means additional overcrowding. Where you have overcrowding, there you have the deterioration of the building, and the building becomes after a time hardly distinguishable from a slum.

There was one statement which the noble Lord made, speaking for the Government, which was full of encouragement. I understood him to say that most of the houses worth repairing will be repaired by the end of this year. That is a very important and encouraging statement But there are a large number of houses which, quite apart from war conditions, would deteriorate in any case. Year by year houses need a great deal of repair, after they have reached a certain age, to prevent their becoming slums. That kind of repair has had to come to an end during the war, and this means that many houses which were sanitary and healthy before the war are now in a state of very grave disrepair. The condition of housing through out the country is to-day so grave that it is really impossible to exaggerate it. I had the other day sent to me the report of a small conference held last November at Islington on "Home and School" by a number of welfare workers and others who are in the closest touch with conditions of life in the poorer parts of London. The descriptions they give of many of the houses in large areas are simply appalling. We have got back again, on a very large scale, those old evils which we thought we were overcoming before the outbreak of war—verminous, insanitary, overcrowded dilapidated houses which are ruinous to the health of the children and harmful to all who are living in them. There is no one to blame for these conditions. It would be unfair to blame the Government, it would be unfair to blame the local authorities. The necessities of the war must have the prior claim. But the moment the war is over, as the noble Lord has fully recognized, the demand for housing will be overwhelming. I admire immensely the patience with which the people are living in these houses without complaining, making the best of a most unsatisfactory situation, because they know that this is part of the sacrifice they have to make during war-time; but the moment peace comes, the demand for better houses, especially by those who have recently been married or who have come back from the front, will be loud and overwhelming.

I was very glad that the noble Lordspoke about prefabrication and the steps which are to be taken to meet temporarily this demand for new houses. I often think there is a great deal of confusion between prefabricated houses and temporary houses. Many people imagine that a prefabricated house must be a temporary house. That, of course, is not the case. I dislike intensely temporary houses. As a rule, a temporary house is a house which is supposed to last for ten years, which begin to show signs of decay after five years, and remains in existence for twenty or thirty years. Now and again temporary houses have to be put up, but this is a very unsatisfactory way of dealing with the position. A prefabricated. house, if the right method of prefabrication is chosen, may last for a very long time. There are in existence in some of our cities quite excellent houses for which prefabricated methods have been used. I was very glad to hear that the noble Lord has been inquiring most carefully into the different kinds of prefabrication which might be used. May I, in passing, say how glad I was to hear one statement that he made about these temporary houses, and that was when he said they would be put up under licence and that the licence would define the time of their existence? That will make the whole difference in the attitude of many of us towards these houses. I regard that as a very important Step forward.

If we are to launch a housing scheme immediately the war is over, three prerequisites are necessary. I shall touch on them quite briefly. First of all, planning; and by planning I mean planning which is both central and local. That was one part of the noble Lord's speech about which I was not entirely happy. It may not have come within his terms, but as far as I gathered he said nothing about any central planning authority. If there is to be a comprehensive scheme of building throughout the whole country there will have to be some central planning authority which will survey the whole country. I am not sure whether the noble Lord will be able to say anything about that in his reply. We want all the local authorities to be ready with their plans so that they may act on them at the end of the war, so that there need not be a great deal of time spent in correspondence with Whitehall, and so on. They should know the kind of houses they are going to build, the kind of people they are going to build them for, the kind of materials they are going to use, and where these houses are going to be built. I should like to refer to the importance, in this planning, of building houses for different types of people. You get the elderly people without any children—they need quite a different kind of house from the house needed by a man and his wife with two or three children. There has been a great deal of waste in some of our housing schemes in the past because provision has not been sufficiently made for the different kinds of people who require houses.

Next, it is important that full arrangements should be made so that building materials will be available. It should be arranged where it is to be sent, where it is most needed. Most of us remember how, after the last war, we found in different localities that the labour was there, the plans were there, but some of the essential materials were not there, and the building had to be held up quite unnecessarily. Thirdly, there must be the labour ready for the building. I know that the noble Lord has already been going into this question of labour. That really is essential. It is essential that men who know the building trade should be demobilized in good time so that they may be able to take part in this great national effort. Throughout all this period for a very long time there must be Government control, control of prices, control of priorities and control of the general planning. Without that control there will be chaps. I understand from what has been said there will be this control, at any rate for a considerable period.

The noble Lord ended his most powerful speech with a reference to the homes of the people. That is behind our minds in speaking on this subject. The men who come back from the front will be longing for homes of their own after this time of endurance and hardship through which many of them have been. We want homes, too, so that the children may be able to benefit through the better education which we hope they will have in years to came, and it is for the health and the happiness of the future as well as the present generation that we hope the Government will have their plans ready so that they may be able to launch a great housing scheme the moment the war is over.


My Lords, we are this afternoon discussing most important elements of the most acute social problem facing this country—namely, housing. And I regret the more, therefore, that the necessity for my being elsewhere on public duty prevented my being here when the mover of the Motion spoke and also that I should have missed a considerable part of the statement made by the noble Lord, Lord Portal. The noble Lord, however, was good enough to give me some indication of the main lines of his statement, and I think we shall all agree that this does show that he has pursued a commendable measure of endeavour and has to his record and his credit a gratifying degree of achievement in tackling the many problems which are inseparable from the problem of housing after the war.

I hope, in the remarks which I have to make, that I may not, because of my absence, traverse fields which have been adequately dealt with by other speakers, but I would like to make one or two references to certain of these proposals which are in the minds of the Government. I think that those of us who now know of the difficulties which exist to-day will, on the whole, approve the proposal which has already been given effect to, to raise the limit for war damage repairs to £500. I would only like in that connexion to offer one word of warning, and it is that it may be that under the cover of this larger permissible sum properties which really ought not to be repaired will be repaired and properties which, but for their repair, would be the first to be demolished as slums will acquire, if I may say so, a new lease of life. I can well remember, very soon after the first attacks on London by the enemy, that the problem of housing was acute, but perhaps not so acute as it now is, and responsible local authorities were very concerned that repairs were being done to property which really ought to be demolished as slums. And that was at a time when the War Damage Commission limit was not £500 but £100. I agree that there are difficulties and one must balance the advantages and disadvantages, but I do hope the noble Lord will see to it that that point is not missed by those responsible at the War Damage Commission, for it really would be very unfortunate, to use no stronger word, if property which really ought to be pulled down as a result of these conditions should acquire a new permanence.

I think one of the most encouraging directions in which the Government are proposing, as I understand, to take almost immediate steps is the diversion of road making and sewer constructing machinery from places where, happily, it is no longer needed for war purposes to the provision of roads and sewers; at sites where building will be commenced as soon as possible. The dominant factor in that arrangement must be, I suggest, that that machinery and the man-power to utilize it, must be used to the best advantage and that no local or other narrow considerations should be permitted to operate against it. At the same time this must be borne in mind—and I do not doubt the Minister has it well before him—that the progress that will be made by building the roads and laying the sewers will be helpful; but there will still remain the public services to be laid on and connected so that as soon as building commences delay will not occur as a result of their absence. I think that all of us in normal times would view with some misgiving the proposal to adapt hostels for living accommodation, but we are not living in normal times and we shall face most abnormal conditions. I only want to urge upon the Minister, if that be necessary, that in adapting these hostels as dwellings, or as flats I suppose, he should do his best to secure that the people who are to occupy them may feel that they are living in a home and not in a barracks, to induce a feeling and create an atmosphere of personality and homeliness so that those who occupy them may feel that they are coming home and not coming to a hostel. Unless that be done, with appropriate amenities, I am afraid that the adventure is not likely to be so successful as it would otherwise be.

I will not at this stage go into the vexed question of prefabrication. I would only like to enter this caveat against the noble Lord, Lord Barnby, and it is that criticism is not properly described as disparagement and disagreement is not correctly described as prejudice. In regard to temporary houses it may well be that we shall have to resort to that expedient, but if the expedient be safeguarded toy the proposals for public ownership and for licence, then the dangers resulting from it will (be very seriously diminished, if not completely removed. I was amused, as many of your Lordships were, at the description by the most reverend Prelate of what is a temporary dwelling. It is precisely true. Temporary dwellings were erected for war workers at Woolwich Arsenal in 1916. In 1936, if I may use a colloquialism, we had the devil's own job to get rid of them, and I am not sure that we wholly succeeded. We do not want these temporary houses to be the witnesses to our lack of adequate provision in twenty-five or thirty years' time.


On a point of order, may I just take up that point with the noble Lord? He has just emphasized that as regards prefabrication licences should be limited to houses of transitional short-time life. I want to make clear to him that I developed a plea that assembly-line construction of unit types of shells is capable of application to both short-life transitional type dwellings and to houses that may be recommended, for instance, by the Burt Committee as capable of what would be called longer life.


How far that interruption is a point of order those who have had longer experience than I have in your Lordships' House will be best able to say, but I do beg the noble Lord, Lord Barnby, not to become so devoted to prefabrication that he confuses it with temporary accommodation. I was not referring at that stage to prefabrication at all, but to temporary housing, and, if I may be permitted, I will go on. I was about to say that it is important in selecting the sites upon which these temporary houses are to be erected that care should be taken to see that they will not hinder the building of permanent houses and will not be in conflict with permanent planning. I hope that the noble Lord will realize that there is a danger that we may, in the stress of the clamant demand, put up temporary houses all over the place without reference to the fact that on some sites they may prevent permanent building or may hamper proper planning, even though they be temporary dwellings remaining only for ten years. It is essential also to ensure that there is not diverted from the corps of labour otherwise available for permanent building any large number of workmen to be engaged upon temporary erections. There is a good deal of experience as to the labour time saved in the erection of temporary dwellings. I understand that the major part of the labour cost of the dwelling is not in the shell (but is inside the building. Whether the shell be temporary or whether it be permanent, the inside still has to be provided. It has been estimated by persons much more capable than I am of making an estimate that not more than 10 per cent. of the labour expenditure is saved by the erection of temporary dwellings. I give that as an estimate of somebody else. I have not been able myself to check it.

I would now like, if I may, to make one or two passing references to the Report of the Mission which has recently returned from America. I am sure we all would wish to join the noble Lord, Lord Portal, in appreciation of the work which that Mission has done. I hope that it will be possible for the Minister to arrange for an exhibition in London of the plans and working drawings, the tools and the materials which have been discovered and examined by this Mission. I think that the exhibition could, with advantage, be taken into the provinces as well. I would like to make another suggestion of perhaps a more far-reaching character. If we are to have, as I hope, a properly planned building research department in this country—and it is indeed overdue—then we ought to have a permanent exhibition of the results of that research expressed, so far as it can be, in physical exhibits to which those interested in building, local authorities, people in private enterprise and everyone concerned, would be able to go and see the results of inquiry and invention. We have a number of museums showing what was done in the past. Let us have one to indicate what can be done in the future. I would like to urge that the recommendations of this Mission should receive immediate consideration.

Strange as it may seem, I am in agreement with my noble friend Lord Barnby on one thing at all events. I believe there is a case for the revision of by-laws. They have grown instead of being planned and formulated, until in some places there is a body of by-laws concerning buildings which it is difficult not only to understand but also, I gather, to interpret. We are not unaware that in London itself there is a body of by-laws which is formidable, and any simplification which could be brought about would, I think, help the expediting of building. I am not against trying out new methods. I am not in fact against prefabrication. What I am against is the exaggerated claims which are made for it. I count it no disadvantage to be wary when new methods of building and of construction are advocated with such persistency and in such quarters as is being done in the case of prefabrication at the present time. It does not follow that what is appropriate to the United States of America is necessarily appropriate to this country. We really must be careful not to rush to alternative methods of construction until we are abundantly satisfied that they will do the job.

There are many other directions in which new methods can be tried out in addition to prefabrication. There can be, for instance, new methods of producing the materials that we want. There are new materials which can be prayed in aid. One of the most important things is the standardization of components and equipment and of fittings. The number of different sizes, different brands, different types of fittings which go to a house is really staggering when it is placed before one. We should aim at a standardization of equipment and fittings so that they are interchangeable by whomsoever they may be made. All the essential features of them are common. By that means we could get line production probably with a greater measure of success than line production of prefabricated shells. Until you get down to standardization you cannot have mass production, and I am convinced that one of the principal ways of reducing the cost of building after the war will be the application of mass production to as much of what goes into a house as possible. Mass production must be very largely dependent upon standardization.

After doing what can be done to reduce the cost of materials, I trust the noble Lord will give attention to the fact, of which I do not doubt he is aware, that there is too wide a margin between cost of production and the selling price. In the same way as production for the building industry needs to be rationalized, so does distribution. I would invite him to look into the question of the distribution of building material and its cost and the margin between cost of production and the price at which material is sold. I think that there is room for considerable saving in that direction, and additional saving would result from the zoning of distribution. Before the war goods manufactured in the south were sent to the north, whereas goods quite as satisfactory were on the doorstep in the south. Transport is becoming an increasing factor in the cost of materials and in production costs. It seems difficult, therefore, I suggest, to avoid the conclusion that the distribution of materials should be zoned, so that they will travel the least possible distance and, in consequence, incur the minimum transport costs.

I would also like the noble Lord to consider the encouragement of bulk purchases in respect of these temporary dwellings; through his Ministry or, otherwise, through local authorities. The Council with which I am associated has had some wide and fairly lengthy experience of bulk purchasing, and we have found if to be in every respect satisfactory. It has saved us money, it has enabled us to arrange deliveries at the proper time at the appropriate place. The most reverend Prelate made a reference to control. We were encouraged to hear from the Minister of Reconstruction that the control of user is definitely intended. I think he graphically put it that materials would not be permitted to be used for a cinema when they were needed for houses. I am sure that is a step, an encouraging step, forward.

I do hope the Government will soon make a declaration as to what they propose in regard to prices. I submit that unless there is control of prices the difficulties referred to by the noble Viscount, Lord Sankey, as having existed after the last war, will recur after this war. Whatever be the other factors, there will be such a demand for these goods that unless there is control we shall get a rocketing of prices, and nothing more disturbs and upsets the housing programmes of local authorities than the continuous up and down of costs and of Government subsidy. We know that after the last war—in 1921 I think it was—as the result of the Government refusing to give my noble friend Lord Addison powers of price control which he asked for, housing was shut down, and local authorities actually paid out to contractors sums of money, not for building houses, but for refraining from building them. Those sums were paid out as damages for breach of contract. Then we had the 1923 slum clearance proposals which really did not meet the case at all. Next we had the Wheatley Act. Local authorities got busy and planned large schemes, but within two or three years the Wheatley subsidy was changed. Down came the local authorities' plans—they were all revised. In 1931 we had a crisis. Plans for housing by local authorities were revised again, and it fell out that in 1932 in this great County of London not more than one hundred dwellings were erected because of the. conditions which then prevailed. The best way to get the results of a ten years' programme is to have a level line. I would rather have it basically somewhat lower than this business of valleys and peaks which embarrasses and discourages local authorities and causes fluctuation in the use of labour and fluctuation in prices.

I would like also to make this point, which is made in the Report of the Mission which has been referred to to-day. There must be improved organization of the industry at the job. As I have heard a well known trade union leader in the building world say many times, there is so often no organization at the point of production, that is to say where the actual building is going on. Materials are not scheduled and progressed to arrive at the proper time, labour waits about or is stood off and it gets disheartened. Building must be time-scheduled and progressed, in my view, in the same way as work in any other industry. By that means you would avoid irritating delays and discouragement to the workers. If, at the same time you mechanize the industry, give the operative the tools and equipment to aid him in his work, and if, in addition to providing good conditions of employment, you can somehow interest him in the job, you will get the output. That is one of the great problems facing us in the (building industry—and, in fact, in many industries. Owing to the progress of mass production and large-scale production you get this terrible impersonality of the job. If anything can be done, by way of education or otherwise, to give a personality to a job, even though it is a repetitive job, and to get the workpeople interested, I think you will find that the industry will be adequate to the demand which will be made upon it.

Finally, I would like to say this about labour. It is obvious that a good deal of constructional work required for war purposes has, happily, come to an end, otherwise this machinery would not be available for use on housing schemes. I would ask the noble Lord to consider therefore whether there is not a good deal of supervisory and other labour which can be released from Government service or from Army service at home to local authorities and others who are badly needing technical and supervisory labour to prepare for housing. There are architects, surveyors and quantity surveyors, for instance, as well as others who, I think, are generally under the C.R.E. staff, who have been employed in the building of aerodromes and other necessary work for war purposes If they are now available, or can be made available, they should be made so as quickly as possible to local authorities and others.

In conclusion, I would like to ask the Minister of Works to do what he can to finalize the scheme of training building labour. It is no good having the material and having the machines unless you have the labour, and we may find that the problem of materials, difficult though it is, will prove to be more tractable than the problem of labour. We on the L.C.C. have taken steps to train, so far as we can, technical staff within our own staff organization, training them, we hope, to be surveyors, architects, quantity surveyors, valuers and persons of that kind. We have extended that instruction, by postal courses, to those who are in the Army, and also to those who have the misfortune to be prisoners of war. We can do that without impinging on the schemes which the Government have in mind. We are also training skilled men to be instructors of the new labour coming in, and we are giving refresher courses to existing skilled men. What we want to do is to train the partly-skilled men to be highly skilled, and to train labourers to be skilled men, but we cannot do that until the Government announce what their scheme is to be. I understand that that scheme, when it is decided upon and published, will be one which has secured the agreement of the trade unions of the building operatives. If the Government could announce the details of that scheme at an early date, much could be done in carrying out the training of skilled men in the industry.

I repeat my congratulations to the Minister for the encouraging programme which he has been able to submit to your Lordships to-day. I assure him that whatever steps he takes, however drastic they may appear to be, and however much they may cut across sectional interests, if those steps are calculated to aid the solution of this terrible problem which is facing us they will receive the support of all men and women of good intention.


My Lords, with your Lordships' permission I should like to answer the points which have been raised. My noble friend Lord Barnby dealt with the question of prefabrication. Prefabrication, if it is satisfactory, can be used either for temporary or for permanent housing, subject to price and other comparisons being favourable. That is the view of the Government on this question. The remarks of the noble Viscount, Lord Sankey, concerned the Ministry of Health more than my own Ministry. Legislation to set up a body to issue certificates was passed just before the war; the steps necessary to implement this have not yet been taken, but the matter is under consideration.

The most reverend Prelate, who made a most interesting speech, learnt his housing knowledge in the best county of all, my own. No doubt he finds things rather different in the north. The point which he raised with regard to priorities is one which was also mentioned by my noble friend Lord Latham, and is being dealt with. We have been going into the matter of maintenance for houses other than bombed houses. There will be an apportionment of labour available between the maintenance of these houses and the other priority matters to which I have referred. We are alive to that situation. The most reverend Prelate also referred to difficulty in getting materials to the various sites. Not only do I have to dispense materials but during the war my Department has had some responsibility for the materials getting to the sites, and I thought that that was one of the few things which we could say that we have done fairly well, in spite of all the transport difficulties. With the three Service Ministries as well as others to deal with, we should soon hear about it if we failed! My noble friend Lord Latham also referred to this question of getting the materials on to the sites—equally important after the war. There must be a progressing system introduced similar to that which exists in a factory.

My noble friend Lord Latham made a very interesting speech, and touched on many subjects. I should like to thank him for suggesting that the Mission which went to America should hold an exhibition. That idea had already been mooted and we shall certainly adopt it. I think it will be very helpful, particularly if the exhibition is held also in the provinces. He raised the question of availability of technical and supervisory labour, which is important, because if local authorities are to get sites prepared for building they will want a certain amount of staff which is probably not yet available. Both the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Health are considering this matter, and I must therefore not prejudge it. My noble friend apologized for not hearing the speech which I made earlier. I can assure him that one of the points on which I did dwell was this question of distribution and standardization, and my noble friend Lord Addison will agree that I was just as anxious about it as Lord Latham himself. One point which I did not mention in my earlier remarks is that if we standardize baths, for example, by reducing the number from forty to five, the problem of distribution is greatly eased, because there is no dead stock at all. By standardizing on a big scale the question of dead stock, which is one of the reasons for higher distribution costs, does not arise. We are quite alive to that matter.

I have spoken to ray noble friend Lord Woolton on the very important question of compensation for war damage being spent in the right direction, and the Minister of Health and I, together with the chairman of the War Damage Commission, will have a talk and see what we can do. It is very important not to perpetuate something which ought to be abolished. I have noted the point which my noble friend Lord Latham makes about hostels and barracks, and that will be taken into consideration. I had something to do with hostels when I was at the Ministry of Supply. They have various assets in the form of gardens which can be provided, and central buildings which can be used as stores, and the front doors are not too close together. I am told it is very important that the front doors should not be too close. That is not an architect's point but a domestic point. On the question of finalizing the scheme for training building labour, I have made a note of what the noble Lord said. I should like to have a discussion with him about prefabrication, which can be applied both to the shell of a house and to the inside; many kitchen fittings, for example, might well be prefabricated, thereby decreasing the cost still more.


There still remain the services.


Yes, I noted that you made that point. I have tried to answer all the questions which your Lordships have raised.


My Lords, I am sure the House will agree that we have had a thoroughly useful discussion, and I am very glad that it has brought from the Minister the statement that it has. What he has said makes me feel that we are really getting a move one. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.