HL Deb 02 May 1944 vol 131 cc551-73

LORD ADDISON rose to ask His Majesty's Government, what progress has been made on their investigation into housing costs, and the prototype of the temporary house, and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, it will be within your recollection that we had a very interesting and instructive debate in this House on February 8 on the subject of the provision of housing, when the noble Lord, the Minister of Works, made some statements which I think many of us, including myself, regarded as of a very promising character. It was understood at that time that at a later date the noble Lord would be able to supplement that statement and deal with the progress which had been made. It is in pursuance of that understanding that the Motion in my name has been placed on the Paper, and I sincerely hope that the noble Lord will be able to tell us something of a heartening character.

The observations which I have to make will consist mainly of a number of interrogations relating to the steps being taken with regard to the provision of temporary houses and to the progress which is being made with more permanent housing. With regard to temporary houses, your Lordships will remember that the noble Lord told us that he was engaged in getting together materials for temporary houses of an acceptable kind, and, as we all know, a house of this type is now to be seen nearby. I myself had the opportunity of looking at it this morning. These temporary houses are designed to be made rapidly in large numbers, so far as materials and labour will allow, to provide housing accommodation for those urgently in need of it and especially, of course, for ex-Service men and the newly-married, as well as those who have been bombed out of their homes and who want to have a home of their own again as soon as possible. I should like to offer my congratulations to the noble Lord on what he has produced. It gives rise to a number of questions. These houses are to be made in sections which can readily be put together, and the walls are apparently very resistant to excessive heat and excessive cold, being well insulated inside by, I believe, an aluminium sheet. The main fabric is what I believe is called pressed steel. When a whole house is made of pressed steel and you think in terms of tens of thousands, it will mean a great deal of pressed steel.

I myself think that when the housewives—and they are the most important people of all—see the cupboards which have been provided they will rejoice. These cupboards will save a good deal of furniture, and they are very conveniently arranged to take up the minimum of space. I should like to congratulate the noble Lord on having provided a draining board which will really drain. It is not in fact a board, being made of steel, but it drains. I notice, too, that it drains to both sides of the sink, which is a very acceptable thing. I well remember the struggle which I had in the had days with persons who had the artistic temperament better developed than myself in trying to persuade them that a simple thing of that kind would be very acceptable to the housewife. They had the idea that it would be all right if it drained on one side only. I am glad to see that the noble Lord has made provision for it to drain on both sides. He has made a great step forward in providing a refrigerator. We shall all be interested to know how much it is likely to cost, but that will be an immense addition to the amenities and comforts of a working-class home, and of any other home. One can have visions of the milk keeping fresh and of the fish—when we can get it—keeping better than it sometimes does now. I shall not enlarge further on the details of the house, except to say that I think the idea of turning on heat into the bedrooms by means of the flue or pipe which is provided is an excellent one.

I should be glad if the noble Lord could tell us in his reply what this House is likely to cost because, as we know, the last housing scheme was wrecked on the question of cost, and unless from the very beginning this question of cost is regarded as of prime importance, we may be in for very unfortunate experiences in the future. Then how are the houses to be made, that is to say, under what circumstances will they be made? I take it that there will be a number of expert, competent firms who are able to turn them out in large numbers. But a more difficult matter arises out of the question where they are to be placed, and I foresee that unless we can get the kind of arrangements which they have in Scotland—which is so often in front of us in so many respects—the noble Lord may hr ye difficulties in obtaining sites for these houses. It may well be that many authorities in their plans for rebuilding bombed areas will only think in terms of permanent houses, and will be reluctant to allow sites to be used for single-storey buildings of this kind. We know that the local authorities have acquired a considerable acreage of land up and down the country, but I want to know what arrangement will be made to secure that sites are available for building the houses in sufficiently large numbers and in the right places; because unless this can be undertaken as a large-scale project we shall be able to realize neither the economy nor the speed of erection necessary. Therefore the matter must be dealt with as one of urgency and on a large-scale basis.

That brings me to a question on which I would like information from the noble Lord, and that is the number of houses which it is anticipated will he provided on this basis. I notice a statement by a very important colleague of the noble Lord who spoke in terms of numbers which fill me with envy and with misgiving. I remember that in the last housing campaign I as Minister was greatly embarrassed by the over-enthusiastic people who said I was going to produce houses, like rabbits out of a hat, by the hundred thousand. I hope the noble Lord will not be similarly embarrassed. But at all events I would like the noble Lord to tell us, so far as he can, how many houses he thinks he will be able to provide of this character and in what period of time. From such inquiries as I have made, I believe that a demand upon the pressed steel producing capacity of this country of say 100,000 houses—taking that modest figure—would be a very considerable proportion of that capacity; and if the pressed steel capacity is not enough to turn out the requisite number of houses, one of two things must follow: either you must increase your pressed steel capacity, or you must diminish the number of houses you expect to get. I hope we shall not diminish the number of houses. I feel quite sure that when the wives of many of the men who would like to live in it see this house, they will want it.

I understand that the Secretary of State for Scotland, as usual, has got in quite early, and that Scotland has already said it wants a considerable number. I speak now as one who was once a Minister, and I know that it is quite the habit of our colleagues from north of the Tweed, when some laborious Minister in England has managed to get something arranged, to come along and say, "Very well, what is our share?" They generally get quite a good share, and get it early. Therefore I am not in the least surprised to find that the Secretary of State for Scotland has already said that he wants a considerable number of these houses. He possesses an advantage which the noble Lord does not. There are four departments in Scotland under one hat. In England it is quite different. The noble Lord will be confronted with the Minister of Health, who will negotiate with the local authorities on the question of how many houses they want and where they want them. The Minister of Town and Country Planning will be hovering in the background. What share he will have in the determination of the matter I do not quite know, but still he is there, and presumably will do something. Presumably he will have a share in saying how the houses shall be planned. That is a second Minister. Then there is the noble Lord (Lord Woolton) who sits beside the Minister of Works, and I suppose he will be in charge of the whole affair, but as long as he gives his blessing to pushing on with it I am sure that his colleague, the Minister of Works, will be only too delighted.

Well, there are at least three Ministries involved. There is also the 'Ministry of Agriculture and, of course, the Treasury in the background. So that the noble Lord will really have to negotiate with quite a number of people and settle questions with them before he can order a house to be put anywhere. It will be interesting to know who is going to acquire the land and things of that kind. It is very necessary to bear these things in mind if we are going to arrange for expedition and large-scale provision of these houses. If the noble Lord can give us any information which will remove our misgivings on that subject, I am sure we shall welcome it. Because I believe it fair to say that every one of us, in every part of the House, wishes the noble Lord to make this a great success. I wonder what he is going to call these houses. I hope they will not have some of the clumsy names that I have seen suggested. They ought to have a first priority, so you might call them "Portal's Priorities." At all events, let us have a name for them which will be acceptable.

May I just say a word about the progress made with regard to more permanent houses? The noble Lord told us that he was doing something towards developing alternative methods of construction, and before very long I believe we are to be able to see some of the houses built by various methods. I sincerely hope that the noble Lord will not be handicapped by the number of people surrounding him who will make the best the enemy of the good. It is very embarrassing sometimes to the Minister in charge. When the time comes his job must be got on with, and we shall not get perfection everywhere at the beginning. I sincerely hope, therefore, that the noble Lord and his colleagues will be willing to override a few prejudices, if need be. May I ask the noble Lord a question or two about how it is proposed—if anything at present is proposed—that the building of the permanent houses should be dealt with? My recollection is that there was a demand everywhere that local firms should build the houses, and everybody knows that after the war there will be need for the help of anybody who can come in. It depends entirely on what terms the local firms are made use of and how they are made use of. If you leave it so that in every district of the country it is insisted that this and that local firm shall build houses and put in their own plan of costs separately without any co-ordinated direction, it will inflate costs out of all reason. I should like to know what arrangements the noble Lord is seeking with the building industry with regard to utilizing the forces of that industry on some coordinated plan so as to avoid excessive increases of costs and to achieve expeditious work.

The same applies to agreements with labour. We know that it is anticipated there will be a twelve-year programme—a two-year programme and a ten-year programme. I can well believe that, but it is very necessary that arrangements should be made with the organized labour concerned as to the conditions of work and so on which will apply. I hope the noble Lord will be able to tell us something about it. Perhaps incidentally he will be able to say something about what progress has been made with respect to the repairing of bomb-damaged houses. I only put that in as an incidental question. Two vital matters which emerge as essential to the success of this scheme are control of costs and the harmonious and expeditious working of the Departments concerned. These are vital matters, and I hope the noble Lord will be able to give us some satisfaction in this respect. I have asked quite a number of questions in the course of my remarks, but I did take the precaution of letting my noble friend know that I should ask them. With that series of interrogations I beg to move for Papers.


My Lords, it is appropriate that a word should be said from these Benches in reinforcement of the speech which has been made by my noble friend Lord Addison in which first of all he congratulated the Minister, Lord Portal, on the production of the model house, of which we hope thousands, indeed hundreds of thousands, will be produced in the near future. Some of us on these Benches have been gravely concerned as to whether it is possible to provide houses, notably for returned soldiers, without unduly disfiguring the whole countryside. The noble Lord will remember that his distinguished father, who was an architect of some renown as well as being the principal man in his county, was equally concerned. I know that it is wrong to quote Latin in your Lordships' House, and I am going to dare to quote Greek and to say: That, received with loud applause, may be translated as meaning, "I hope this boy will be more fortunate than his father." Indeed we know he is, because those who have seen this house will have discovered that, although it is not much more beautiful than the bungalows which my noble friend Lord Addison remembers, it is infinitely more convenient.

On behalf of us all here, I congratulate Lord Portal on having got together so many people who had to do with the product on of all these different things—the plumbing and, above all, the refrigerator—so that, at what I hope he will be able to say is a modest cost, a house can be produced in which a man and his wife and two children can live and enjoy all kinds of amenities denied to nine out of ten of the people living in rural England to-day. That is a real advance, and I congratulate Lord Portal on his achievement. I do not go into the various points of great importance which Lord Addison has raised. The Minister will deal with these, but I thought it appropriate on behalf of my noble friends, and I am sure others, to congratulate the Minister on the real advance he has made in providing houses for the people.


My Lords, first of all I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Addison for giving me the opportunity of speaking on this Motion and also for the kind words which he used about my Ministry. I should also like to thank my noble friend Lord Mottistone for the sentiments which he expressed. Lord Addison has raised several questions; if he will allow me, I shall deal with the prototype of the emergency factory-made house at the end of my speech. I propose to deal first of all with the demonstration houses to which he referred and which were mentioned in our debate on February 8 and give him, as he wants, another progress report on what is going on. We began work on these different types of houses on February 1. These houses are for the purpose of demonstrating the use of different materials in permanent house construction and of ascertaining the cost—that is the important feature. Nine pairs of houses of different construction are in various stages of erection. Two pairs are already completed, and a further four pairs will be completed within six weeks' time. All of them, I can say, should be ready for inspection by those interested—as there will be many interested in these various forms of construction—in July.

While we are constructing these houses, we are taking great care to keep a record of the comparative costs of the various methods of construction and uses of alternative materials. I should like to mention to your Lordships one or two points. In a brick house, which before the war would have cost £461, the materials themselves for a similar house now cost £501, as against £313 before the war. That is because the three materials which constitute the greater part of this type of house—namely, bricks, timber, and cement—have risen in price. Bricks have risen by 45 per cent., timber by 160 per cent., and cement by 44 per cent. An ordinary well-built brick house before the war took worth of timber. Now it takes £130 worth. That is £80 extra. Your Lordships know the difficulties with regard to timber and how many markets are closed. One of the large elements in this increased cost of timber is the freightage rate to this country. It is better for us to know the cost of materials now so that we can deal with them. I should like your Lordships also to remember, with regard to the cost of bricks at the present time, that we are producing only 25 per cent. of the number of bricks we produced pre-war. Of course if your production goes down by 75 per cent. your costs must necessarily go up. Then as to cement, the cement used in the same house has gone up from £18 to £26 per house. In dealing with the cost of these raw materials I should like to point out that the fuel and transport costs have added very considerably to the higher prices; but I hope when we start full production in the building industry once again we shall be able to show much better figures on the materials that will be required.

My noble friend Lord Addison did not allude to industrial hostels but I should like to say a few words on the conversion of industrial hostels. I referred to this question in my speech on February 8. My Ministry undertook to have a specimen conversion of one of these industrial hostels, and I am glad to say that has now been satisfactorily completed. My noble friend the Minister of Reconstruction, my right honourable friend the Minister of Health, and myself hope to go down and see it during the next fortnight. I am glad to say that the conversion has been done at a very economical rate and if we can, after the war, use those industrial hostels we shall help considerably in adding a quota of importance as an ancillary to the emergency building of the first two years after the war. Another question that has been referred to is that of advance preparation of housing sites. The Ministry of Health have taken up this matter actively and with the co-operation of my Ministry and the local authorities generally, they have been preparing to put the scheme into operation. About seventy groups of local authorities are being formed in England and Wales and ten to twelve in Scotland. Twenty groups are already formally constituted and an early start will be made by ten. I should like to emphasize the importance of getting these groups going, I think the Minister of Health has done a very good job in regard to them, whilst we have given them the best help that we could.


Does that mean that the contractors will be able to start work on these sites?


They are to start on ten at once and they will follow on with the others. Now I come to the really interesting point, the emergency factory-made house. I spoke about this to your Lordships in my speech on February 8. My noble friend Lord Addison has asked for information upon certain points and in the course of my remarks I will answer them. I had, indeed, already proposed to give the information for which he has asked. I promised your Lordships in the speech to which I have just referred that I would have the prototype erected and on view at the end of April. I think your Lordships will agree that this promise has been fulfilled. It required some pressure towards the finish but it was ready on Saturday. We thought it better to open it on the first day of May instead of at the end of April. These houses are intended for the newly-married primarily. Your Lordships will also recollect—and this is an important point—that the Government have stated that this House, if approved, will be publicly owned and licensed for a period. I am not going into that question again because it was fully explained in this House on February 8.

The preparation of the prototype, I can assure your Lordships, has not been an easy matter as we were experimenting in a new and novel form of construction, but I must take this opportunity of telling your Lordships' House of the great help I have received from the firms who have assisted me with this prototype house, especially the two firms who have taken the leading part. The question of materials available is all-important. As your Lordships already know, the walls the roof and ceiling are made of pressed steel, as well as the kitchen unit and the inside of the cupboards. The inside lining is of plywood, but we may use an alternative lining to this. I think I men- tioned on February 8, and it has been mentioned since that time, that we have to make the houses of the materials that are available at the present time, or whenever the Government start on this scheme, but I can assure the House that whatever material is used it will not diminish the efficiency of the prototype house. At the present time, plywood is sometimes easy to obtain and sometimes not quite so easy.

Approximately five tons of steel are required for each house and we are using half a ton of timber for the floors. The form of insulation to be used, as the noble Lord has already said, is aluminium foil; there is a sheet of paper with foil on each side of it. The roof and the exterior walls are asbestos-sprayed on the inside to minimize sound. Any noble Lord who has taken the opportunity of going to see it will have realized that the same device has been adopted as is used in motor cars for the purpose of dealing with sound; a dull sound is produced by asbestos being sprayed on the inside of the walls. This prototype has been sand-painted on the outside wall. The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, alluded to my late father. My late father was an eminent amateur architect and his son still has his father's views. But there is no reason at all why the outside of the house should always be sand-painted. There are means which will enable us to improve the look of a house even of this type. On these questions I have been advised by an eminent scientist, Dr. Stradling, and the Building Research Station.

The question of man hours required on the erection of these houses is all-important because the primary object of having these houses is the saving of labour during the interregnum period after the war. That is why the Minister of Rreconstruction decided we should go on with this project. There is also the matter of the speed of manufacture in the factories concerned. That will be a matter of pressing need during the first two years after the war. I shall consult with the representatives of the building industry, both employers and operatives, as to the best method of erection. They are the people who are running the building industry and have been doing so for many years and I am certain that in the erection of these houses we can get very valuable advice from them. To quote the words of the Prime Minister in his recent broadcast in reference to these houses, your Lordships will recollect he said: The whole business is to be treated as a military evolution handled by the Government with private industry harnessed to its service. This house will be seen by many people but not by as many as one would like, because only a limited number can go round it at the same time. People may ask, why were not eight or ten or twelve of these houses put up to be shown? My noble friend who has submitted his Motion to-day knows that this house has been erected by hand before any jigs and tools were available. As your Lordships can imagine, when the second house is put up anywhere Scotland will ask for it, and in fact it has been promised that the second prototype shall go to Scotland so that people there will have an opportunity of seeing it. We are arranging not only that experts shall see this prototype but that it shall be seen by the young married women who will become tenants of these houses. It is most important that they should go over these houses. As I sat outside this prototype house yesterday, a very warm day, to listen to complaints and comments that were made, I only heard one thing by way of criticism. That came from someone who wanted to know why there is not a back door as well as a front door. Your Lordships will realize—and no one is in a better position to do so—that one Portal in a house is quite enough. That was the only criticism I had to answer.

Getting the prototype erected is only part I. The noble Lord, with his usual energy, went on to part II and part III and asked what is going to happen about them. Part II will be the process of going over the whole prototype to see what economies and improvements can be made. The prototype is erected, and we have now to consider whether we are using too much steel and if in any way we can introduce improvements or increase efficiency. That will take about a month. Then, if the Government approve the prototype, we have to arrange for jigs and tools to be got ready and that will take another six months. That means seven months—taking into consideration any alterations which have to be made and the provision of jigs and tools—before we can start on this great effort. Then we have to consider when capacity, material and labour will be available from the war effort. Your Lordships will realize that in the time facing us the war effort must come first. Once the tools and jigs have been got ready we can start production directly the Government consider that the necessary capacity and labour can be made available from the war effort. It will take approximately three months to work up to full production, which would be in the nature of from 2,000 to 2,500 houses a week manufactured from these materials.

There is, too, the question of arranging for the materials, both as to capacity and labour, required for these houses. One must remember that the war effort, as I said just now, has first call on all production in this country, and the timing of the commencement of manufacture must necessarily depend on all this. My noble friend Lord Addison has helped us by calling this a priority house, but we have to consider whether the necessary capacity is available to enable us to start. I am going into all these questions with my right honourable friend the Minister of Production, and he will go into it and report to the War Cabinet. It means obtaining the necessary capacity for sheet and pressed steel, the timber required for the floors, the manufacture of baths and other essential fittings. Some of the industries concerned have been concentrated clown to a very great extent, and we have to help to build them up again. This will have to be studied with the help of the Minister of Labour and the Minister of Reconstruction to see how quickly we can develop them. That we are ready to do. Part III will be the allocation, the transport and erection of these houses, once they are complete.

I have purposely kept to the last the question of fittings in this prototype house. Whatever else we may accomplish by the manufacture of these houses, we shall have helped to initiate and popularize the type of fittings which I think your Lordships will all agree should in time be incorporated in all the permanent houses in this country. I am not going to elaborate these, but I imagine the kitchen unit will be one which will commend itself to all the young married women who will occupy the houses. The same could be said of the partition wall consisting of large cupboards and drawers, all built into the wall, made of steel with wood used as an outside. This will mean a great saving of space as well as a great saving in dusting and cleaning, which is a very important point. If you take the area of these houses as 617 super feet you will get an additional benefit equivalent to some 40 feet by putting cupboards in the wall.

If this prototype is approved the Government will settle how many of these houses are to be manufactured with the materials and labour available and allocate them to the various localities. My noble friend Lord Addison asked a question about that and wondered where the houses would go, I imagine that my noble friend the Minister of Reconstruction and others concerned are already looking into that question but they could not settle it until they had seen the prototype, until what my noble friend has called the priority house had arrived safely in London and had been put up—it might not have been a success. That point I can assure your Lordships will not delay matters. The question of sites is already being dealt with by the Minister of Health and the Secretary of State for Scotland. They are alive to the question and I can assure your Lordships they will press on with it so that there shall be no delay. I think your Lordships will agree that this type of house may prove of great value for exporting purposes after the war both to our Dominions and Colonies and to other countries. If not the house, the fittings should find a ready market. We have to look for export trade and this should be of great value. At the same time we have to organize an industry of very large dimensions in the refrigerator trade in this country. If we can do that on a large-scale we shall be able to get refrigerators at a price which will enable every working class house to have one.

Now we come to the question of costs. Your Lordships will realize that at the present time the costs of ordinary building materials, as I stated at the beginning of my speech, have increased very much. You will also realize that to cost out a house of this kind, which is to be produced by mass production and is of a type which has never been made before, is a very difficult task. To ascertain these figures in these times, when factories are working on Government orders for the war effort and before the actual proto- type is erected, makes the task even more difficult. I have personally been dealing with the approximate costs, and I am aiming at a figure of £550 per house manufactured, delivered and erected with the necessary services of water, drainage, gas and electricity laid on. If I fail in keeping to that figure I will tell your Lordships. Whether I succeed in keeping the cost to that figure remains to be seen but I am aiming at that figure. It is always best to aim at a figure.


May I ask the noble Lord a question? Many people will want to know whether that cost includes the land? That will be a small matter I dare say.


No, it does not include the land but that does not work out at very much. It includes the necessary services for water, local drainage, gas and electricity and for the erection of the concrete slab or piers, whichever is used.


I think the noble Lord gave the approximate size but perhaps he would state it again so that we may have it clearly in our minds.


617 square feet.


To avoid misconception may I ask a question? I understood the noble Lord to say cost included the laying on of services, water, drainage, electricity and so on. Does he not mean that these costs are excluded except for joining up?


Joining up with the main sewer is included in the cost. I hope that the Government will have succeeded in bringing about one very important result. The Prime Minister in his broadcast stated that we were giving the tenant £80 in furniture in the cost. I feel certain that any of your Lordships who have seen this prototype will agree that if you take the refrigerator, the gas or electric cooker and other fittings, which are always counted as tenant's fixtures, the amount we shall be turning into landlord's fixtures will be in the nature of £100 off the figure I am aiming at of £550, which reduces it to £450. This price would work out, as your Lordships will agree, very favourably with the present-day building costs. I would ask your Lordships to bear in mind that the whole object of erecting these emergency houses is to make a substantial contribution to the interregnum period, using as little site labour as possible, to enable cur labour force to build itself up for the permanent building programme. I reiterate that once more.

I, myself, have always thought this in connexion with the furnishing of a house. When a newly married couple go into it with limited means, one of their chief difficulties has been for them to have to buy fittings which should be part of the fixtures of the house and which they can ill afford to buy. This difficulty will be removed for those who live in these houses, so that when their first child comes into the world they will neither have had to bear this capital charge nor will they be paying for many of the things which should be an integral part of the fixtures of the present-day house. By including these fittings in the house the Government have, I suggest, set an example, for which in years to come mazy of our younger people will be grateful.


My Lords, I am sure the House will be grateful to the Minister for making himself so clear in what he has told us with regard to the short-term or emergency type of house, quite apart from the general information on housing matters which he foreshadowed on February 8 would be given at a later date. Today he has dealt particularly with the short-life house. I suspect that to-morrow or later in the week, when there has been an opportunity for wider comment, following the inspection of the house which has been erected on the site near the Tate Gallery, there will be many remarks to this effect: "Well, here is a Minister who has done something on time." That is cheering and I think the House will agree that when it is borne in mind that the powers which he has required for this were only handed over to him at the end of November, it is clear there has indeed been swift action.

The noble Lord, if I may say so, showed a praiseworthy openness of mind. He invited suggestions; criticism, we realize, will be equally welcome, because we know his temperament, but suggestions are what he particularly seeks for as he said this prototype house is one which it is contemplated will have the advantage of improvement. He said, if I correctly understood him, that it was only one of the prototypes which may be evolved. I think the House will agree that the earlier debates in this House and another place really have helped to stimulate action by the Government, because these discussions go back to a long time before the appointment of the Minister of Reconstruction. I would, in this connexion, recall the debates which we have had on civil aviation on the initiative of the noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry. He raised this matter time after time, and there were grounds for believing that had he not done so matters might have been allowed to drift along without attention until a much later date. I think that while giving due regard to the encouragement given by the Prime Minister to the vigilance of Parliament, it is right to say that this House has taken an active part in stimulating the achievements of which we have heard to-day, achievements which are largely the result of the conferring of the requisite powers on my noble friend.

He used the expression: "If this prototype is approved." That suggests, very naturally, that there may still be consideration by the Government of such an issue as the types of materials which may best be used for dwellings of this sort. From that it is to be assumed there is to be further investigation. I say this because those who follow closely what appears in the Press in connexion with housing note how widespread is the conviction that unless housing accommodation is available at an early date after the termination of hostilities a serious social situation will develop. I know that many of the leading municipal authorities hold that view very strongly. For instance, the city of Birmingham have gone on record as believing that they will need twenty thousand houses very quickly; they will want some even before hostilities cease. Naturally, only the Cabinet can decide what action be taken before the end of the war, but if the view generally held in the country that the need for houses is going to be urgent is right, must we assume that the time-table, with December as the earliest date at which a start can be made, is sufficient? If one pays heed to the seriousness of what has been said by various municipal bodies, one must have doubts about that.

I want to turn to the industrial side of the problem. My noble friend emphasized the contribution which this plan is going to make to the post-war industrial situation That is important, but it suggests the merit of alternative prototypes. Those who have taken the trouble to read through the very good booklets issued by the Inter-Departmental Committee on Housing Construction and Planning our New Homes by the Scottish Office will realize what a number of prototypes and materials have been advanced as appropriate for dwelling construction. My noble friend has chosen steel as the basis of his recommendation. As many others have done, I have viewed the house which has been erected, and I have been very favourably impressed, as I think every layman must be, by the conveniences which it affords; and, after all, conveniences inside are more important than appearance outside. As regards the appearance outside I have no doubt that architects will say that the best possible has been done. At any rate the inside undoubtedly has great merit.

To return to the point which I am making about materials, if this plan is to be a contribution to industrial employment in this country we must have regard to the type of factory mentioned in earlier debates in this House and up and down the country—aircraft, aircraft component, woodworking factories and so on. These are not going to be assisted by a steel prototype, which requires a different class of factory entirely. We are told that the aircraft industry is to-day the biggest in the country, and it is there that we shall need to alleviate the problems of changing over from war production to peace production.

I come now to the question of exports. My noble friend will have delighted all industrialists in that his breadth of vision included a forecast that this industry of house construction might contribute to our exports. All the more strongly on that ground do I urge that supplementary prototypes be considered. I cannot refrain from asking, in some spirit of misgiving, whether on the export side steel is really the material which gives the best prospect. Timber has to be imported, but so to a considerable extent does the ore used in making our steel. I have not had an opportunity of working out the sort of tonnage required, but in the past a great deal of ore came in from countries outside the sterling area, whereas a great deal of timber might come from countries within that area; plywood, for example, might come largely from Canada. From the point of view of long-range export possibilities, therefore, I hope that the noble Lord will proceed to explore, as he has foreshadowed, the possibility of having additional prototypes.

He has referred to the question of sites, and has given us a further report on the progress of their preparation. He did riot actually say—although I do not doubt that he intended it to be inferred from what he did say—that of the large number of sites which will be prepared forthwith under the scheme which he has planned, some of those used for short-term houses will eventually be used for the long-term types, so that immediate need can be met on some of the longer-range sites. In previous discussions in this House emphasis has been laid upon the need for additional agricultural dwellings. I realize that this is not a matter for my noble friend, nor is it one, I think, for the Minister of Reconstruction; it is the concern of the Minister of Agriculture. I find, in going about the country, that a great number of prominent agriculturists believe that agricultural production could be increased now were additional labour housed more conveniently for their work. For that reason I hope that a short-term dwelling may be available before the end of the war for erection on sites where it will give the biggest help to increasing agricultural production. There is also the question of auxiliary buildings of various types for agricultural purposes. No doubt my noble friend has already turned his attention to that matter. There is great need for a quickly-erected and low-cost building which can meet these urgent and often temporary requirements.

In dealing with exports, I omitted an important point. In choosing steel as the material for our domestic requirements—which are the requirements, of course, to be borne most prominently in mind—it is well to remember that with the rising cost of coal and in spite of the subsidy which the State is paying on steel to-day, the cost of steel compared with the pre-war cost is now very high. That will not make it easier to export after the war. My noble friend gave us the relative costs of bricks, timber and cement to-day as compared with before the war, and I regret that he did not include the relative costs of steel.


My Lords, I gave the costs of cement and bricks because they come under my Ministry, and of timber because I happen to know that the cost of that has gone up more than anything else. The other Controls are not under my authority. They were for two years, but when I went to the Ministry of Works they disappeared from my ken.


We are accustomed to regard my noble friend, in his position as Chairman of the Raw Materials Committee, as being so intimately concerned with the control of so many materials that we are apt to assume that steel is one of them. Lord Addison raised the question of agreements with labour, and that is a point which requires frequent emphasis. In speeches made in the country, by prominent officials connected with the building industry in particular, we hear that there will be trouble if craftsmen are not solely employed in the erection of whatever emergency houses may be devised. That causes misgivings. It should be remembered that if the workers are to have houses quickly and at a low price, there must be no unreasonable insistence upon traditional practices.

Lord Addison descended to minor details of this house, and I presume to follow his lead. I hope electricity will be laid on to as many of the houses as possible. From the fact that an ice-box is included we may assume that that will be the case, though, of course, it might be possible to fix it with gas. We know the past regrettable competition in so many municipalities between gas and electricity and, as electricity is more in line with modern progress, one hopes that provision will be made everywhere for electricity. There are two other small points; first the sink, to which Lord Addison referred. That is a very important thing for the housewife, who has to use it so many times every day. A swivel tap, such as is very common in America, would be an advantage. Another point which deserves mention is the drying cupboard. That shows exceptional foresight, and I suspect it is entirely my noble friend's own idea. It shows the degree to which he has personally supervised every minute detail of the production of this house. I do not quite see, however, how the damp air is going to get out of the drying cupboard. Perhaps a fan is going to be included, and I hope it will be an electric fan, because it will consume more electricity.

For the rest, the house seems to provide the intended occupant of it with all the requisite fitments, and I would conclude with a word on the complete plumbing unit. The device which my noble friend has introduced of complete manufactured segments of plumbing and the two sets of cupboards for the two bedrooms, indicate real progress in the service which these houses are going to give. I take it that the large-scale production of these fitments, which is contemplated, will bring the cost down so low that they will be available not only for these short-term houses but also for the other types of houses which will be included in the building programme. The cost, which my noble friend has indicated to-day, will be the subject doubtless of very wide discussion in the Press, and I will leave that to others better qualified who are more familiar with prices. The tribute which my noble friend paid to the assistance he has from the Building Research Station shows the value of that institution. Let us hope that that will be regarded as additional evidence of the usefulness of these institutions which receive help from the Department of Industrial and Scientific Research, and will encourage the Government in their policy of assisting these research stations, which the Chancellor of the Exchequer last week showed was the wish of the Cabinet as a whole. I conclude by repeating my conviction that what the Ministry of Works has done in producing this house will give very great encouragement. It will be a stimulus to many who are anxious to assist with the longer-life prototypes, and it shows that the Government, under my noble friend's direction in this particular work, really mean business.


My Lords, I think this discussion has been well worth while, and that we are all exceedingly gratified at the statement that the Minister of Works has been able to make. There are two small points which I would like to mention, though not in a spirit of criticism. I was not altogether comforted by what the noble Lord told us about the provision of sites and the location of houses. I take it that the provision of the jigs and tools and so forth, if the house is approved, may take six months. I think that is very reasonable; considering it is war-time, I regard it as extraordinarily expeditious. I was not very satisfied with what the Minister said on the question of where the houses are to be built; it was a bit too vague. That, however, is an absolute sine qua non; you cannot build a house unless you have got a bit of land to build it on. I was very glad that the Minister of Reconstruction was here. He is in charge of these matters generally, which affect in this case a group of Departments. I am sure he will have taken note of what has been said, and I believe we can rely upon him to see to it that when the time arrives the question of sites will have been determined. I was bound to mention that misgiving which I felt.

Another question is, who is to live in the houses? Later on perhaps I shall ask the noble Lord to give us a little more guidance on that point, because I foresee that if this thing "catches on," to use a familiar phrase, you will have a very large number of applications. For instance, when talking to one industrialist this morning, I was told that most of his men on the job said that they wanted one of these houses, and I can well believe that that may be so. No doubt, too, a very large number of retired people who want to live in a small house which they can manage by themselves in a country district, when they see it, will want one also. I can quite believe that when these houses have served their term of ten years as an emergency provision in a town there will be plenty of applicants if you can move them in sections and re-erect them in the country districts, because I feel as sure as I am of anything that, properly looked after by a decent housewife, the life of one of these places will be vastly more than ten years. It might easily be inhabited forty years hence, if it was well looked after. We have, therefore, to consider the question of who is to have these houses. However, I promise to raise that the next time we discuss this subject, and I hope we shall get some guidance. I would conclude by expressing my appreciation of the noble Lord's statement, and my most sincere congratulations to him on the work he has done. It must have meant a tremendous lot of labour. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.