§ 2.39 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ LORD HENDERSON
My Lords, I move that this Bill be now read a second time. Since I entered your Lordships' House, 598 there have been several debates on the housing question. These debates have invariably shown the practical sympathy and interest of noble Lords in all parts of the House and the desire to assist in the planned effort to grapple effectively and successfully with this most pressing social problem. I do not need to lay stress on the acute and urgent demand for new houses. We are all aware of it. I am confident, therefore, that the Government will be able to enlist the general good will and support for the Bill which is now before us. This Bill is, to put it shortly, the financial instrument of the Government's housing plan. Its main purpose is to settle the subsidy which the Exchequer will pay to local authorities for every house they build with the approval of the Minister and to fix the minimum amount which the local authority itself must contribute from the rates. The proposed subsidy and the rate contributions, taken together, will be sufficient to enable the houses now being built, in spite of high building costs, to be let at rents which the people can afford to pay without hardship.
In the standard case, an average rent (exclusive of rates) of 10s. a week, has been assumed and, with building costs at their present levelߞapproximately £1,000 (excluding the cost of land, road works and services), for a three-bedroomed house, 900 to 950 square feet in areaߞthis entails an Exchequer subsidy of £16 10s. per annum for sixty years and a rate contribution of £5 10s. per annum for sixty years, making a combined annual contribution of £22 for sixty years. The Exchequer subsidy, which is three times the size of the rate contribution, is very high. Before the war the Exchequer subsidy was only twice the rate contribution. In a standard case the figures were respectively £5 10s. a year for forty years from the Exchequer and £2 15s. per annum for forty years from the rates. As I will explain later, this very high Exchequer subsidy is a temporary measure to be reviewed as soon as building costs begin to come down. This subsidy—the general standard amount, as it is called—will be paid to the great majority of houses now going up. It is related to a three-bedroomed house, as that is the house most required, but it applies equally to houses of two bedrooms, four bedrooms, five bedrooms and so forth, and local authorities do in fact 599 provide all types. The Government do not impose uniformity; they seek to encourage diversity. As I have stated, the figure of 10s. a week for rent is an assumed average related to the three-bedroomed house. There is no direction to local authorities about the rents to be charged, and these will vary according both to the circumstances of their districts and to the size of the house.
Having dealt with the standard case, I now come to six special cases in which additional subsidy is being given to meet special needs. First, there are the houses built by county district councils for the agricultural population of their districts. In this case the average rent assumed for the three-bedroomed house is 7s. 6d. a week. The Exchequer subsidy will be the special standard amount of £25 10s. per annum for sixty years, and the local authority contribution will be £1 10s. a year for sixty years, with a further £1 10s. a year contributed by the county council. I should perhaps mention here that, under Clause 19, district councils are required to secure that a number of houses equal to the number for which they receive the specially high Exchequer contribution are reserved for members of the agricultural population, except in so far as the demand for houses by this population can be satisfied without such reservation. Noble Lords will, I am sure, appreciate that the very generous Exchequer subsidy, plus the county council contribution, will enable district councils to provide all the housing needed by the agricultural population without incurring an undue financial burden.
The second is the case of the county districts, both urban and rural, where tenants have a low rent-paying capacity. The Bill provides in Clause 3(2) that the special standard Exchequer subsidy of £25 10s. and the county council contribution of £1 10s. provided for agricultural houses are to be paid also in county districts where rates are substantially below the average and where the local authorities' expenditure on housing would be unduly heavy without special assistance. This type of area can be found, for example, in North Wales, and no doubt other areas will suggest themselves to noble Lords.
The third special case is that of the local government areas whose general rate 600 and housing rate are unusually heavy. These are areas where the general rate exceeds by at least one third the average general rate of comparable authorities and whose rate for housing is at least half as much again as the average rate burden incurred for housing by other local authorities of the same class. In such cases the Minister can increase the Exchequer subsidy by an addition up to half the amount due from rates, reducing the rate contribution proportionately. I might add that district councils who qualify for the special standard Exchequer subsidy given for agricultural areas and for tenants of low rent-paying capacity are not debarred from receiving this additional Exchequer assistance. Noble Lords will, I think, recognize that this provision in Clause 7 will be of real assistance in areas struggling with a heavy rate burden where a heavy housing charge has also been undertaken.
The fourth category is that of flats. A special subsidy is given for the erection of flats on expensive sitesߞthis is set out in Clause 4ߞsince a flat costs, on an average, substantially more than a house. In the case of flats an average rent of 12s. a week is assumed. The special subsidy is tied to the high cost of land for the reason that fiats are built in any numbers only in the centre of big towns, where the cost of land is high. The subsidy rises with the cost of the land. Where the cost is between £1,501 and £4,000 an acre the Exchequer subsidy will be £28 10s., and the rate contribution £9 10s., both for a period of sixty years. The total contribution from public funds will be increased by £1 for an additional £1,000 per acre up to £5,000; by £2 for the next £1,000 up to £6,000, and by an additional for each increase of £2,000 per acre beyond £6,000.
The ratio of three to one between the Exchequer subsidy and the rate contribution is maintained throughout the scale which is set out in Part II of the first Schedule. Noble Lords may be aware that there was a good deal of discussion in another place about the subsidy for flats, some members saying that the subsidy should be paid for any building on expensive land, whether houses or flats, their objection being to the effective compulsion of local authorities to build flats as distinct from houses on the expensive sites. The Minister pointed out that in the total sum of local authority building, 601 flats would form a very small proportion, and that it was necessary, if people are to be rehoused in central areas in any adequate numbers, that the rehousing should be done largely in flats. Noble Lords will be aware that a substantial measure of decentralization of population is contemplated. That is sound policy and we are all agreed about it. But even so, flats are necessary, and I do not think I shall be challenged when I say that in the discussion on the Bill in another place, although there was strong opposition from certain members, the view that flats were needed in built-up areas was generally accepted.
I wish to call your Lordships' attention to another point of importance. The same clause contains a provision, new to housing legislation, giving a special subsidy for houses built on a site with flats as part of mixed development, provided that the total accommodation amounts over-all to not less than three storeys. The same clause provides for an additional Exchequer subsidy of £7 a year per flat and an additional rate contribution of £3 10s.a year per flat where a lift is provided. To qualify for this a lift is provided. To qualify for this, a block of flats must include at least four storeys, that is, the ground floor and three storeys above.
Then there is a fifth special case which involves another provision new to housing legislation. Clause 6 relates to the case where the cost of providing a house is increased by the necessity for acquiring rights of support or otherwise ensuring protection against subsidence. In such cases the Exchequer subsidy may be increased by a sum up to £2 a house and the rate contribution may be increased by half the extra Exchequer subsidy. This clause will be of obvious value to local authorities in mining areas, where there is often great difficulty in finding enough land for building.
The sixth, and the last, of the special cases deals with prefabricated houses. Under this clause, the Minister of Health may make a special contribution, additional to the Exchequer subsidy, towards the cost: of a house constructed with his, the Minister's, approval by a non-traditional method. The Government are arranging for the large-scale production of two non-traditional types of house. The first is the steel-framed house designed by the British Iron and Steel Federation, 602 which is a house particularly suitable for erection in urban areas in large groups. The Ministry is at the present time consulting with many of the larger authorities in order to arrange for the early erection of several thousand of these houses and it is hoped that they will make a substantial contribution towards the number of houses to be constructed during this year. The house can be erected with comparatively small demands on local labour, and for that reason it is particularly attractive to the local authorities of "blitzed" areas where the demands on building labour are especially acute. A prototype of this house can be seen at Northolt in Middlesex by any noble Lord who may desire to do so. The other type of house in respect of which the Minister is arranging large-scale production is the Airey house, a house of pre-cast concrete construction. This type of house is considered to be suitable for erection in rural areas and a design has been produced for this purpose. No prototype of the rural design is yet available, but this type of construction can be seen both at Leeds and at Chingford in Essex.
Both these types of house are estimated at present to cost rather more than the traditional type of house, and it is for that reason that the Government are taking powers to make a special capital contribution towards the cost. This power extends, however, only to proposals submitted to the Minister before the end of 1947, as by then it should no longer be necessary to provide special subsidies for alternatives to traditional methods. If the alternatives cannot by that time compete with traditional methods, there should then not be such need for them that additional cost ought to be incurred in getting them.
I stated earlier that the Exchequer subsidies provided in the Bill are very high, that this is intended to be temporary and that the subsidies will be reviewed as soon as building costs begin to come down. Claus 16 provides that the Minister may, by order, reduce both the Exchequer subsidies and the rate contribution in relation to new houses completed after June 30, 1947. I would repeat what was said in another place—namely, that it is the Government's intention that both Exchequer and rate contributions shall be reduced at the earliest possible moment. I feel there will be 603 general agreement that the financial provision which I have indicated is generous, that it covers all cases, and that no local authority should have cause to feel inhibited by financial considerations from a maximum building effort during the next year. It will be appreciated that the subsidies apply to all post-war housing, no matter whether it is begun or even completed before the Bill becomes law. Further, by Clauses 9, 10, and 11 certain classes of war-time houses built by local authorities or by housing associations will become eligible for the appropriate subsidy under the Bill. This provision is in fulfilment of promises given at the time by the Governments of the day.
There are one or two other points in the Bill to which I feel I should direct your Lordships' attention. I have referred to the contribution made by county councils to housing for the agricultural population and to housing for population with a low rate-paying capacity. A second subsection was added to Clause 8 during the passage of the Bill through another place, empowering a county council to contribute to the housing expenditure of any county district council if the Minister approves. There has been some criticism of this Amendment, which was moved without the normal consultation between the Minister of Health and the representatives of the local authorities. The Amendment was due to the fact that three county councils were promoting private Bills this Session, containing a similar power, and a decision had to be taken with regard to them. The Minister felt that if the power were appropriate to one county council it was appropriate to all, and further that it was a reasonable and useful provision. Fears have been expressed that under this power county councils will in effect undertake major building operations which may affect local government boundaries, but in the Minister's opinion these fears are adequately dealt with by the provision requiring his approval to any contribution. Should a major proposal be contemplated, full opportunity would be given to all interested local authorities to express their views, but it seems unlikely that major operations will be contemplated under the powers of this clause.
Clause 13 provides that a subsidy of £15 a year for forty years may be given to private persons building a cottage for an 604 agricultural worker. This is a repetition of a provision in the Housing (Financial Provisions) Act, 1938, with a substitution of £15 for the £10 then provided. It is the only instance in the Bill of a subsidy given to a private person, and the reason for it is that there are cases where a farmer needs to build an isolated cottage or two at or near his farm, and it is more convenient and economical for him to build it than for the local authority to do so. Subsection (2) of the clause, which provides that a cottage built with the subsidy must be let, if it is let, at a rent not exceeding the rent which would be appropriate to it if the house had been provided by the council, is included in order to bring the cottage under the provisions of the Rent Restrictions Acts, that is to say, to prevent the cottage from being "tied." The landlord will still be able to obtain possession of the cottage, if necessary, but only by a judicial process under the Rent Restrictions Acts, and this would protect the tenant from unreasonable eviction.
Clause 18 of the Bill contains a provision relating to a housing association established under arrangements to be made by the Minister of Health. Hitherto, the Minister has taken no active part in the formation of housing associations, which are ordinarily formed by charitable bodies, or employers anxious to provide houses for their employees, or by bodies of would be owner-occupiers and so forth. It is now contemplated that the Minister might arrange the establishment of a housing association which would either carry out all the functions of an ordinary association operating under Section 94 of the Housing Act, 1936; that is, would build and manage houses instead of the local authority, or, quite simply as architect-cum-contractor for a local authority which is in difficulties, perhaps owing to shortage of technical staff, planning and building the houses but handing them over to the local authority for management. It is impossible to say at the present time to what extent it may be necessary to use a housing association of this kind in supplementation of local authority efforts, but it is obviously useful that the Minister should have the power to supplement as may be needed.
As noble Lords will have noted, the Bill deals only with the provision of new houses. The Minister has made it clear that he does not want, at the present time, to divert building labour and materials to 605 the conversion and adaptation of existing houses beyond the very substantial efforts being made by local authorities in respect of houses which they hold on requisition. This does not mean that the housing programme will not be supplemented later by improved measures for securing reconditioning and conversion, but it is the deliberate intention of the Government to delay such action until new house-building on a sufficient scale is under way, so as to avoid the risk of diverting productive capacity from its main task. The overriding need is for new houses, and it is to that objective that the Government's main efforts are being directed.
I have covered the main features of the Bill, but I have refrained from dealing with a number of minor points in order not to encroach unduly upon your Lordships' time. I will add only one word in conclusion. The rehousing of the people is a national responsibility. The Government are determined, so far as they can ensure it, that the task shall be progressively discharged with speed, efficiency and in accordance with the sound principles of town and country planning. By this Bill the Government provide the local authorities with generous financial assistance, so that there need he no failure on the score of finance. The Bill is a necessary Bill. It is a sound Bill, and it is a Bill which should be welcomed and supported. I commend it to your Lordships, and I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Henderson)
§ 3.7 p.m.
My Lords, we are all indebted to the noble Lord. He covered all the essential parts of this Bill and, if he will allow me to say so, I think he did it very clearly and very succinctly. As the noble Lord has told us, this is a Bill which provides a very generous subsidy towards the building of houses. If one begins to work it out one finds that the standard amount of £22 for sixty years will work out at no less than £1,320 subsidy per standard house, or a capitalized value at the present time of £594 subsidy per house; the rural subsidy, capitalized, works out at £768 a house, and for flats on expensive sites as much as £1,400 per house. I think there is no doubt whatever as to the generosity of the size of the subsidies. I suppose we 606 all wish they had not got to be so high, but it is unfortunately necessary to provide them, and we are agreed upon that at the present time. It is as well to notice that if we were to build on those terms three million houses—and this is a figure often talked about—we should be imposing a burden on the taxpayers and ratepayers of this country of no less a capital sum than £3,960,000,000.
It is just as well to look at the broad background of proposals such as these, to pause for a moment to consider what other burdens there are upon the people of the country at the present time. There are the very heavy food subsidies, for which indeed I was responsible for some twenty-one months, which come to a sum of over £240,000,000 a year, and very heavy costs are to fall on the Exchequer and on the rates for the new health services. In addition there is the dreadful and wasteful burden of the expenditure on two world wars which we have to pay. We are actually piling upon this and future generations burdens which would make, and perhaps for all. I know are making, some of our predecessors who sat in Parliament—and especially, perhaps, Mr. Gladstone—turn in their graves.
Incidentally, it is as well to remember that the housing and the food subsidies are really direct subsidies to wages in this country. Therefore, perhaps one of the most important clauses in this Bill is one which was specially referred to by the noble Lord in moving the Second Reading—Clause 16, which provides for periodical reviews of the amount of the subsidy. This, as I understand it, is going to work only—and quite properly—in a downward direction. That will mean that local authorities will not have any ground for thinking: "If we hang back we may get an increased subsidy next year."
I noticed that the Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Health, introducing this Bill in another place, said that "costs must not be allowed to remain so high as to frustrate the fulfilment of our task." I should think that we all in this House would agree with him in that—the task, of course, being that of making up this serious housing deficiency. I must say, nevertheless, that I do not see how, under the present procedure, building costs are going to be most effectively brought down. The way to bring down building costs is to encourage competition in the building industry, and this, indeed, is not being done. 607 Private builders are not going to be encouraged under this Bill. They are not going to be allowed to put forth their utmost efforts towards the solution of this housing problem. A number of them, I quite sincerely believe, are shortly going to be put out of business altogether. Nonsensical as it may seem, I suppose what has been happening in this connexion is well known.
There are local authorities who have tried to get houses built by every possible means, one of them being by giving a large number of licences to private builders to build their houses. A number of such local authorities have, within the last few days, received circular letters from the Ministry of Health telling them that they are to give no more licences to private builders until such time as building by the local authority has caught up to the original four to one ratio which the Minister of Health has seen fit to lay down for the country as a whole. Indeed, in this same letter, the authorities are told that they are to consider cancelling some of the present licences if they have not yet been acted upon, or have only been partially acted upon. If they carry out this instruction, which, quite frankly, seems to me to be an absurd one, it will mean that in some cases the licences for houses the foundations of which have already been laid may be taken away for the simple reason that the private builders in that neighbourhood are building more than one house against the four of the local authority. This will immediately put out of business a number of small builders who have got sufficient manpower to tackle the building of one or two houses at a time but have not got adequate staff to enable them to tender for the large municipal contracts. They will have to get rid of their present employees, and those employees, at a period when they ought to be working hard building houses, will have to spend some time looking round for new jobs. Really, of all the odd things, when there is this clamant need for houses this seems to me one of the oddest actions one could expect from the Minister responsible for the building.
I gather that any competition by the private builders is to be eliminated, and that they are not, in future, to be allowed to show, in the Ministry's housing returns, 608 that they are, in any area at all, beating the records of the local authorities. That is to be done by this order from White-ball. As a result fewer houses will, in fact, be built. These private builders are not to be given any encouragement under this Bill. So their building will be restricted, and there will not be that competition occurring which I believeߞand which I think every man of experience in these matters well knowsߞis the one way in which to reduce building costs in the end, to save part, at any rate, of these subsidies, and to allow the Minister to be able effectively to reduce them when he puts Clause 16 into operation. We should, I think, do everything we can to see that these subsidies—if they can possibly be brought down—are not kept so high for too long. I believe one of the harshest and hardest things that is happening in this country at the present time is to be seen in the case of the retired person or the widow who is living in a respectable, modest and moderate way and who finds that he or she cannot manage to meet the increasing burdens, particularly of the rates, which we, from London, impose. It seems to me that we should try to relieve these people, to whatever extent is possible of these burdens instead of piling more and more upon them.
Another thing which is being done by the Government is illustrated by this episode. I was told of it by the builder concerned, who, to my own personal knowledge, is a very good and very efficient builder. He had a licence to build a number of houses and apparently he was restricted in that licence to working 45 hours a week. Now his men, as a matter of fact, were quite anxious to make overtime money, and they agreed with him to work 49½ hours a week, which is not an excessive number of hours in the building industry, in good weatherߞsuch weather, for example, as we are lucky enough to be enjoying at the present time. But last week this builder got a notice from some Government source saying that it had come to their knowledge that his men were working 49½ hours a week, and that if he did not restrict the working to 45 hours a week, in accordance with his licence, the licence would be cancelled.
Really, I ask, do the Government want to get houses? Are they really in earnest about this matter? Do they want to 609 bring down the cost of houses or do they not? The opportunities given to build more houses by these generous subsidies are all, in my submission, being whittled away by administrative actions such as the two which I have just described. It seems to me to be quite mad, if you have builders ready to do their work, to stop them doing it until the local authority catches up with them, and equally mad to restrict the hours of work where an employer and his men have voluntarily agreed to do these longer hours. It might seem from these different actions that there was not the clamant need for houses which we all recognize here. The fact is that by not including the private builders in this Bill, those who built three out of every four houses erected in the period between the two wars are not being given the proper encouragement to make the great contribution that they could make to the housing needs of the people of this country.
Even in rural areas, where there is a subsidy payable to the private individual, it is extraordinary to compare the difference in the amount of the subsidy paid to the local authority and that paid to the private individual. The local authority gets a subsidy of £28 10s. for sixty years for every cottage built; anyone else building a house, although it has got to be a house to let, only gets £15 a year for forty years. Whether that means the local authority cannot build as cheaply as the private person one does not know—nor what is the background for that very different arrangement for building similar houses in the same area between the local authority and the private enterprise builder.
Nor, in this Bill, is there any help to the landlord or farmer who wants to build a house for occupation by those working on the land, and working for him on the land. We had some discussion in this House on the last occasion in regard to tied cottages. It is quite true, of course, that a man who ceases to do the work in connexion with which the use of the home was given him, has to move out. But he has to move out because it is necessary for another man, who is going to do the job, to move in. It is exactly the same—and there is never any criticism about this—with the policeman who ceases to be a policeman in a particular area or district, who has to move out of the police house to make way for the 610 policeman coining to take his place. There are two great advantages in these tied houses. The first is that they house the man near his work; and the cowman who has to get up at the crack of dawn to do the first milking of the cows does not, believe me, my Lords, relish having to walk or perhaps bicycle two or three miles before he gets to his cows to start his day's job. He much prefers to walk from the farm cottage, perhaps 100 or 150 yards. The second thing about this—and it came out in debate the other day—is that these cottages are not used, as was said about a number of cottages built in rural areas between the two wars, for week-end visitors. They are kept for the people who really need them and who work on the land.
I suppose there will be no dissent at all in this House from the opinion that there is a crying need for more good houses for agricultural workers. During the war, we have had an immense return out of our farm land in country; we have more intensive cultivation than we had in the years before the war. But with more arable land we need more labour; and we cannot count on having the mass of prisoners of war to do a lot of our farm work, although they may save the situation for us this year. When these men go back, there will be this clamant need for houses in the countryside, and I should have thought it would be wise to try and get every possible person to build houses. Under the old minimum farm wages provisions, you were not allowed to charge, I believe, more than 3s. or 3s. 6d. for these houses, so long as the house was really provided for the worker on the land. No excessive rent was allowed to be taken for it.
The final matter on which I wish to say a word or two this afternoon is one that was dealt with by the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, when we had our last housing debate. That is the question of the conversion and reconditioning of houses. In this connexion, although I understand the noble Lord's explanation was that the Minister is determined to put his labour on to the building of new houses and to put back reconditioning and conversion for the moment—that is what it amounted to—I believe that he is wrong. After all, we have the advantage of a report by a Committee of the Ministry of Health, which, as it happens, was set up by the 611 Coalition Government, by the then Minister of Health. The Minister of Town and Country Planning, certainly concerned with our housing problem today, was Chairman of the Committee. And the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health was one of the members. It is as well to see what they said about this particular question of giving financial aid towards conversion or reconditioning of houses. They said:We have reviewed a number of suggestions, and discussed them, and dismissed them all except the following—namely, that a percentage of the approved cost of actual conversion should be payable to the owner, up to a limited amount, for dwellings provided.They go on in their recommendations to say that conversion will provide much-needed additional housing accommodation, and can be accomplished with less material in time of shortage than will be needed in the construction of new houses, and where the cost does not exceed £500 or the dwelling will need less skilled labour. They also go on to point out that social and other amenities are available without any extra cost, so that the answer there, my Lords, is that you do get with less cost more done by the small builders. But it can only be done in present circumstances, and with reasonable rents, if there is some subsidy. In spite of these recommendations by the Minister of Town and Country Planning and by the Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Health, any kind of a grant or help towards the conversion of buildings is curiously lacking from this present measure. So that in that respect again, in my view, this Bill falls short of what we should have properly expected.
To sum up, it falls short, I think, in three ways. There is not that encouragement that should be given at this time to the private builders to do their utmost to solve this problem alongside, but irrespective of, the local authorities. There is not sufficient encouragement to build houses by such private builders in rural areas. That subsidy should, in my view, be as large as that given to the local authorities in those areas. There is no encouragement to the farmer or landlord to build houses for his own workpeople, which could make another contribution to this problem. There is no encouragement to help on conversion. But let us be frank with regard to the matter. In all 612 these ways we in this House are powerless to improve this measure because, were we to do so, more houses would be built, and if more houses were built, a greater charge would fall upon the taxpayers. Therefore, we should be out of order in trying to impose such a charge. So there it is. In my view, this Bill deals generously with local authorities, but it falls short, in my opinion, in the three ways that I have indicated to your Lordships' House. But it is no good turning down a measure which will do some good because you do not think it will do so much good as another which might have been introduced. Therefore, your Lordships can rest assured that we shall not divide against this Bill, but indeed give it as fair a passage as we can through your Lordships' House.
§ 3.32 p.m.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
My Lords, like the noble Lord who has just sat down, I should like to thank the noble Lord who moved the Second Reading of this Bill for his exposition of it and the very clear way in which he has described the provisions of it to your Lordships. I rise merely for the purpose of asking for more information (or for information) on two points in respect of which I have given private notice to the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House. The first is of a rather general character. I think it is relevant on the Second Reading of this Housing Bill to consider the inter-relation of the Government's acceptance of the policy of dispersal, which they have just recently announced, and the interesting announcement about the new towns which has recently been made. I think it is relevant to ask for information, if any is available, on the bearing of that policy upon the future building of houses. Perhaps I may refer particularly to London. Your Lordships will remember that we have had several debates here about the increasing public anxiety as to the size of the urban aggregations, and, of course, London is the greatest urban aggregation in this country.
To put my question in the shortest possible form, I should like to ask His Majesty's Government if they can tell us to what extent the adoption by the Government of the policy of dispersal and the policy of new towns will have a bearing on the future development of housing, which will come under this Bill, here in 613 London. I will not detain your Lordships for long. I just want to recall to your Lordships that there has been great public anxiety about the policy of the London County Council in developing dormitory housing estates. It is not so very long since the Provisional Order was confirmed for the compulsory purchase of the Oxhey estate out to the north. There was a good deal of anxiety that that did make a great encroachment into the Green Belt, and many of us felt that it was a great misfortune. We were assured that it was inevitable, but we did feel that it was a great misfortune to see so much of the Green Belt disappearing under further suburban growth.
What I should like to be assured of first is that this acceptance by the Government of the policy of dispersal really will be of great assistance to the London County Council in the furtherance of its redevelopment plans and will enable the London County Council to avoid any more of these dormitory estates on the periphery. I am very glad that the noble Lord who leads the London County Council has found it possible to be present. It would be a great comfort to all of us if he could give us some assurance on that subject. I know there is no dissent in your Lordships' House, but I think we all feel that, if the rate of increase of London can be slowed down, that will be a great advantage. Nobody is sanguine enough to think that London will not continue to grow. All we hope is that it will continue to grow in the right places, and with the greatest regard to the amenity of its inhabitants. We are all devoted to London; we are all proud of London, and we want to see London grow in the way which will give its inhabitants the greatest possible chance of having the sort of life which they ought to have.
The other point in respect of which I wish to ask information is more in relation to this Bill itself. I want to tell your Lordships quite frankly that I am very much disturbed with regard to Clause 4. Clause 4 is the clause which gives a subsidy for expensive sites. I want to remind your Lordships that this system of scaled-up subsidy was first introduced in the 1936 Bill. And of course the object is this. At that time particularly we were all very anxious, and still are, with regard to the need of housing people near their work. It was found necessary, where the cost of land formed 614 a very great proportion of the total cost of the dwellings, to give this extra subsidy. There has been a big change in the relative importance of the cost of the land and the cost of building, and I venture to say that that is a factor which has been overlooked by the Government in settling these subsidies, The matter is very difficult to discuss, because the language of the clause is so obscure. This is to some extent a Committee point, but I think it is so important: that I am justified in taking up a little of your Lordships' time now, because I think it affects the whole action under review.
Broadly speaking, the additional subsidy for expensive sites seems to me to be limited to flats. There is a proviso under which maximum development can attract the expensive subsidy but it is wrapped in terms of such obscurity that it is very difficult to understand. If I am right—and I would like to be corrected if I am wrong—I believe that the proviso means that no scheme will attract the higher subsidy unless it is developed to the extent of three-storeyed flats. If that is correct I should like know what density is really envisaged by the Minister as satisfactory. The Minister can allow the local authorities a higher subsidy if the development is satisfactory. In the Housing Manual of the Minister of Health there is a three-storey flat development which shows about twenty-five dwellings to the acre. I would like to know whether that is the sort of development that the Minister would consider satisfactory or whether he would like to go higher—thirty or thirty-six.
What is the lowest development that will qualify for the higher subsidy? This is a vital question, as the noble Lord who introduced the BM told us. The capitalized subsidy on the ordinary house on land up to £1,500 an acre is £594. The capitalized subsidy for a flat on land worth £1,500 to £4,000 acre is £1,024. From £5,000 to £6,000 an acre it works out at £1,105, and from £10,000 to £12,000 an acre at £1,2657. Now houses can be built up to a number of twelve to fifteen per acre quite satisfactorily and on a mixed development you can get up to twenty or twenty-five dwellings per acre. If you have a small proportion of houses, so many houses to so many fiats, it may be both practical and desirable to have a development of that sort even on land 615 of value of up to £12,000 an acre. I do not know why the clause is drawn to prevent the Minister, as I think it does, from allowing the higher subsidy for a desirable mixed development of that sort.
I am not saying I want to put houses in the middle of great towns which have got to be redeveloped. I know that flats are necessary on the most expensive land, but I do not agree with having the flats, or a development equivalent to flats, on land of £2,000 an acre. Although the noble Lord in introducing the Bill said the Government seek to encourage diversity I cannot see under the wording of the Bill that that is so. If I understand that provision aright, I do not think there is administrative discretion. I have studied it carefully. I think a great deal of money will be wasted, a great number of people forced into flats, and altogether that much better results would be reached if the Minister could use a little discretion and be enabled to give the higher subsidy for mixed development of housing and flats. If I have spent too long on a Committee point I apologize to your Lordships but I felt justified in raising it on the Second Reading.
§ 3.44 p.m.
§ LORD LATHAM
My Lords, I would like to support the Second Reading of this Bill. Its financial provisions have emerged after many months of consultation and consideration both by the Ministerߞindeed Ministers, as a former Minister, was concerned in the question of subsidyߞand between the local authorities associations. If one applies the word "generous" to the State subsidy, it must be understood that generosity is determined not by any excessive avidity on the part of the local authorities but by the temporary high cost of building at the present time, and indeed under the proposals now, although the proportion between Exchequer and rate contributions has been reduced from two to one to three to one, if, as we all hope, the local authorities get busy there will be a very large cumulative burden cast upon the rates in respect of the share borne by the local authorities. It is a proper circumstance that the Minister should propose to take power to review the subsidies in the light of what we hope will be the descending cost of building in the near future.
616 With regard to the point made by my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh, I have no difficulty myself in understanding what the Minister proposes in regard to mixed development. We, the local authorities, pressed for a special subsidy in respect of cottages where such cottages would be built on expensive land. It would not have much helped the L.C.C. because there is not much land upon which cottages can be built in London. But there are one or two fringe sites, for instance Kidbrooke, where we are pursuing a cottage development, and where the land at its present cost would have qualified for a special subsidy had it been applicable to cottages. The Minister has, I think for the first time, agreed to pay the special subsidy in respect of mixed development. I understand that to mean that according to the circumstances of the site and to the over-all conception of the scheme, it will be possible to build a number of cottages or terraced houses on a site which would be mostly used for the building of flats, and that if the over-all height is not in excess of three storeys and other things are appropriate, the houses, cottages, or terrace houses will qualify for the special subsidy applicable to flats.
Personally, as one not unconnected with an authority which perforce has to build mostly flats, at all events in the County of London, I must say I do not accept the suggestion which was emphasized in speeches in another place, that the special subsidy for flats will induce an authority to build flats because of getting a larger subsidy. Certainly that is not the case in London. The problem with which we are faced in London is not only the problem of expensive land, which is not unimportant, but there is not sufficient land upon which to build. If there were, then we should have to face up to the problem from a different point of view, and it is absolutely inescapable that most of the dwellings erected in London whether by the L.C.C., the metropolitan borough councils or private enterprise, will have to be flats. The County of London plan envisaged an over-all density of some 136 persons per acre in the built-up congested areas of Central London. Such a density can only be achieved by building two-thirds flats, one-third terraced houses or cottages. In other areas right in the centre, where under the County of London plan the density is zoned at 200 per acre, then the dwellings must be all flats.
617 I was interested in the remarks of my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh on dispersal. The County of London plan envisaged that by reference to the 1938 population, and anyone can see what the effect will be with the 1950 population—a dispersal or decentralization from London of about 618,000 persons. That is a pretty substantial number. I myself share the regrets of my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh at what we call the London sprawl. But the London sprawl is here, and we must be very careful that we do not proceed to excessive decentralization with the result of the devitalization of London. London is a great port, it is a great industrial and commercial city, and we must be careful that in decentralizing we do not dismember. We must also bear in mind that it is inevitably the young, virile sections of the population who go out of London when decentralization takes place. We do not want to remove from London too many of the young, virile men and women, leaving an ageing population here. Nor do we wish, I hope, to decentralize without regard to the fact that there is a substantial body of industry which must remain in London—industry associated with the great port of London, one of the world's greatest ports and one which we hope may become even greater and more busy in the future than in the past.
So much for the general problem. I am sure your Lordships will accept my statement that the London County Council would be the last body to desire to build excessively on what is now open country outside London. I think this is shown by the step it took in initiating the great Green Belt project, by its willingness to contribute a sum of no less than £2,000,000 to the acquisition of assets which it did not possess and which were outside its own areas, and by the earnestness and the assiduity with which it has pursued that project, so that we already have some 25,000 acres, free for all time to be enjoyed by the people of Greater London, while a further 50,000 acres have been approved for acquisition, which will make a total of some 75,000 acres—an extent as large as the whole County of London. This is a project which I say, I hope with all due modesty, was entered upon at the initiation of the London County Council.
We are deeply concerned not to impair the dwindling open spaces, the glens and 618 dells, which exist in the Greater London area. On the other hand, however, we are faced with a very acute housing problem. It was estimated in 1942 that London needed 50,000 dwellings in order to remove the slums and to abate overcrowding, and 50,000 to replace those which, up to that time, had been destroyed by enemy action. It is now estimated that the 50,000 destroyed by enemy action has gone up to 70,000, and we therefore need, on a minimum basis, 120,000 new dwellings. The situation in London is desperately acute. We have received up to the present 70,000 applications for dwellings and the borough councils have received among them 160,000 applications. It is the case, of course, that there is some measure of duplication of applications between ourselves and metropolitan borough councils, and between the metropolitan borough councils themselves. We are now taking steps, in co-operation with the metropolitan borough councils, to eliminate, if we can, this duplication. That will reduce the number, but even so the number will remain terrifyingly large, and it has not reached its peak, if I may use that phrase. Applications are coming in, I suppose, in London as a whole, at the rate of something like 2,000 a week. When we envisaged our immediate post-war housing activities and programme we had many consultations with the then Minister of Health and later with the Minister of Town and Country Planning, and we pointed out that we should need large sites within a reasonable distance of London and with considerable transport facilities to rehouse some 200,000 persons. That, on the present density of occupation, would mean some 55,000 dwellings outside London.
The Greater London plan, and indeed those who were concerned with its formulation before it was published, agreed that we should use what are now described as seven quasi-satellite towns. Three of them were sites which we had acquired before the war, and in respect of two of them some building had begun but it had to stop owing to the needs of the war. Of the others Oxhey was one; and although there was a great deal of fuss and bother about Oxhey, it has never yet been objected to on town planning grounds. It is not disapproved in the Greater London plan; it is in fact, approved. So were the proposed sites at Loughton and at 619 Averley—I think Averley was approved almost at a Cabinet level. Therefore as regards those sites we cannot be charged with offending against the proposed greater metropolitan Green Belt, or of doing anything against good planning outside London.
But those seven quasi-satellites, plus a relatively smaller site in Kent, amount to about 2,100 acres and they are totally insufficient to provide for the immediate pressing housing problem of London, leaving aside altogether the question of the later long-term decentralization of London and its industries. It is estimated by those responsible for the Greater London plan that those quasi-satellites would provide for a population of 125,000 persons. Well, if the new demands are to be satisfied for ancillary purposes, such as, for instance, larger playgrounds for schools, community centres, provision for churches, provision for clinics and for other social and statutory purposes which are insisted upon and, in my view, properly insisted upon by the local authorities in whose areas the land is, then so far from providing accommodation for 125,000 persons they will provide accommodation for only 78,000 persons, a reduction of very nearly 50,000. I am not complaining of this, but it has now become the fact that if you want to acquire one acre of land for housing purposes outside London you have, in fact, to acquire two, because the other acre will be needed for ancillary social, public and general purposes. And so we are at the present time, according to our estimates, short of some 3,750 acres to provide for the immediate needs of cottages for the people of London outside London.
It is no good saying that we must wait for the new towns, the satellite towns. That is a long-term policy. However active the Government may be, however energetic the national co-operation to sponsor new towns may be, it will be a long time before a satellite town is available to take the population of London or indeed of any other centralized urban area. The people of London need dwellings now. We must, therefore, I submit, with proper regard for amenities and open spaces outside London, find adequate sites to provide living accommodation for the people of London who are so desperately in need of it. The Greater 620 London plan has not yet been approved by the Minister or by the many planning authorities who are concerned in the Greater London area. It is, I understand, at the present time under consideration by the Advisory Committee for Greater London Regional Planning. I say with all respect to my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh that I hope we shall preserve a proper balance between the serious and grave need for places for people to live in and the need for preserving amenities.
I take second place to no one in my desire to see as much as possible of the Green Belt in Outer London preserved. But the people cannot live in the Green Belt; they must have somewhere to live. We may, therefore, have to submit proposals which will appear to be in conflict with some of those contained in the Greater London plan. I hope that none of us seeking good planning will take up the point of view that the proposals contained in that plan are inflexible. We have never taken that view as regards the County of London plan; we have sought to make it abundantly clear that as new circumstances and new conditions arise, some of the proposals, and indeed some of the principles, of the County of London plan will have to be adjusted. The only way in which it is possible to plan is on a basis of reasonable flexibility, without sacrificing the main principles of the plan.
That is the situation so far as London is concerned. We need more land for our cottage estates. We contemplate providing 50,000 dwellings in the County of London to replace slum areas, and that will be a long job, because we shall have to find what we call decanting accommodation for those who are in dwellings which will have to be pulled down, but no one contemplates pulling down any dwelling at the present time. However bad it may be and however overcrowded it may be, we cannot contemplate pulling it down, thereby reducing the available living accommodation when it is so perilously short as it is at the present time.
I want to end by giving my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh the assurance that even when these 100,000 dwellings have been provided there will still remain the problem of the decentralization of London. It seems to me it is in connexion with that problem, which will be a long-term problem to be worked out gradually, 621 that the consideration of satellite towns or new towns can take place. For instance, we have recently promoted a reconstruction scheme in connexion with Stepney and Poplar, embracing 1,960 acres, an area three times the size of the whole Borough of Shoreditch. In that reconstructed area in order to provide for adequate school sites, proper open spaces, adequate roads, and the appropriate needs of industry, which in that particular part of London is largely tied to the Thames, we shall have to displace, if I may use the term, some 23,000 persons. As we go on with our reconstruction schemes, there will be thousands of other persons who will have to be provided with accommodation—a small proportion of it in London, but the hulk outside. In that connexion it seems to me that satellite towns will come into the picture.
I submit to your Lordships that we cannot in Londonߞand I believe this to be the case in other urban areas, especially the "blitzed" areas—wait to house the people who are without homes until the satellite towns shall have been brought into existence. We want, the Minister wants, and the nation wants, decent dwellings, built in appropriate areas, as rapidly as they can be built. People are clamouring for them. The living conditions of thousands upon thousands of families in this great City are appalling, so appalling that one hardly dare contemplate them. I submit that in any proper balance between the demands of houses and the demands of amenities, the demands of houses cannot be overlooked.
§ 4.7 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
My Lords, I had not intended to take part in this debate, but its scope has gone far outside the terms of this Bill, and the speech to which we have just listened from the noble Lord, the Leader of the London County Council, is one of great gravity, requiring, I think, the immediate attention of your Lordships, because it is obvious from that speech that the situation that has now arisen is precisely that which was foreseen during your Lordships' debates in the course of the war. Many of us then said that unless while the war was still continuing adequate legislation was passed to enable local authorities to proceed then with the completion of their housing plans, an impossible situation would be created when the war was over. 622 Many members of your Lordships' House—I myself was among them—foresaw and foretold that the moment would come after the war was over when there would be a conflict between providing houses and accommodation of all kinds in a manner which would be worthy of this country, and preventing the repetition of quasi-slums; and not merely preventing the repetition of quasi-slums, but preventing the repetition of the dull, crowded and miserable accommodation which has been the shameful environment of the masses of our working population in this country ever since the Industrial Revolution.
We foresaw that there would be a conflict between the claims of proper town and country planning on the one hand and the immediate and urgent need for houses for the people on the other hand. We foresaw and foretold that many local authorities, if they had not been enabled to make proper plans in advance, would, as after the previous war, immediately be obliged to set to work to build houses wherever it would be quickest or cheapest to do so. From what the noble Lord, Lord Latham, has sad, apparently that is the situation in which the London County Council now find themselves. They are going to infringe upon their own admirable County of London plan and abandon in certain cases the principles of the Greater London plan, sacrificing the future to the present. They are going to give to posterity badly planned areas, again with insufficient amenities, infringing the admirable Green Belt proposals which have been previously laid down, because they are under the urgent necessity of providing for the people here and now. That seems to me a most lamentable situation. I do earnestly trust that in this House, and in the other House, pressure will be brought upon the Government to go no further than the absolute minimum and urgent necessities of the case require in sacrificing the planning of the country to the needs of our time.
Let me add one further point. In all these discussions, and in the speech of the noble Lord himself, inadequate attention has I think been given to the question of transport. The housing question is very largely a transport question. When we are discussing matters of whether a person should live in tome vast block of flats near his work or, alternatively, whether he should live some miles away, 623 and have to undergo perhaps three-quarters of an hour's or an hour's travelling to and fro every day in great discomfort and at great expense, the answer is that there ought to be no such dilemma. If our transport from the centre of the cities to the outskirts were twice as good as it is; if we had twice as many buses; if we had express bus transport; and if we had twice as many tubes, then obviously that situation would be solved; and, per contra, if we had no tubes in London at all, if that device had never been adopted, obviously the whole situation would have become an impossible one. Therefore, it appears to me that in this question of planning, in the Bill which is supposed to be before your Lordships' House these elements are undoubtedly very largely transport problems, and if the Government would fix their minds more upon transport and bring in the Ministry of War Transport into closer relation with the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, they might find that by doubling or trebling the facilities for transport to and from the outskirts you would not be imposing upon the workman an hour's travelling. He might spend twenty minutes, and he need not be overcrowded and uncomfortable. He might go to and fro with ease and rapidity, and at one and the same time he might be able to come within a reasonable time to his work towards the centre of the town, and also enjoy the pleasure of a house of his own with a garden in agreeable surroundings.
I apologize to your Lordships for having developed this theme, but I was led into it by the speech of the noble Lord who represents the London County Council, for it is so important coming from him, and dealing with matters of such moment and such urgency, that it seemed to me it ought not to be left in your Lordships' House without immediate reply.
§ 4.13 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
My Lords, I am sure every one of us will agree with the noble Viscount who has just spoken that my noble friend Lord Latham—who, I know, is under dire necessity to leave us just now—has contributed a very significant and important speech to our proceedings. I say this because, as a matter of fact, it was at my own personal and urgent request that he altered his engagements 624 for this afternoon in order to come and take part in our deliberations. As the noble Lord who has just spoken said happens not unusually, the debate in this House has wandered rather far from the Bill we are supposed to be considering which really deals with financial aid for housing almost from first line to last. For all that, I think we are all glad that the discussion has taken this wider range, and I myself share the views of the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, on the dangers inherent in the situation, namely, the extent to which the terrible pressure for accommodation is likely to, or may, jeopardise Town Planning. We are all painfully conscious of it, and it was evident when my noble friend Lord Latham was speaking, that it was in his mind also all through. But I do not think things are quite as bad as the noble Viscount seemed to forecast. For example, I do not know whether he has made himself acquainted with the scheme for reclaimingߞbecause that is what it amounts toߞthe Stepney and Poplar areas, but I think myself that it is a very significant and a very fine example of the improvement of a terrible area under exceedingly difficult circumstances. I have no doubt that that kind of example will be followed, so far as it is physically possible, and so things are not quite as bad, in my view, as the noble Lord perhaps seemed inclined for the moment to suggest.
I think it is almost inescapable that housing provision must be made in these urgent circumstances and it will necessarily, to a great extent anyhow, take precedence over the provision of new towns. That does not in any way depreciate from the validity of what the noble Viscount said as to the need for improvements in transport and all the rest of it. That has been a headache to a considerable number of Governments for a long time past, and I am not going to pass beyond the bounds of housing to discuss transport, however tempting the prospect. I am afraid the noble Lord must excuse me if I stop short of discussing that. I will say just this—and I think he knows us well enough to know this—that more effective dealing with transport is one of the projects which we mean to prosecute, and that in no half-hearted way.
My noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh quite rightly expressed his misgivings as to the effect of the subsidy for flats on very costly land and we all 625 sympathize with those fears. The temptation will be to build more flats than we should like to see, and I am sure we all realize that that is a danger which has to be guarded against. At the same time, I think it is inescapable that there must be a large population housed in London and that it is impossible to divorce that population in many areas over London from the industries of the City. Therefore, it is inevitable that some of this more costly land must De used to build flats because it is the only way in which you can get room enough for the people to live in.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
I am coming to that point. We, of course, recognize to the full desirability that young people who hope to have children shall have space for their children to grow up in and gardens for them to play in. At the same tune when you have said that, there are multitudes of people for whom it is appropriate to provide flats, and as a matter of fact flats must be provided. And while that is the case, it is clear that there must be this special provision to enable them to build.
As to the question which the noble Lord asked me about the density of building. I have made an inquiry and, so far as I am informed at the moment, the proposal is that the density should generally be about 35ߞor the equivalent of 35—flats per acre, and, on the arrangement forecast, it might be 28 flats to 7 houses—that is, a proportion of four to one. I am afraid that I cannot give any further information upon that point. But it is quite evident that, if you are going to provide these flats, you have also to provide extra money in order to build them. The thing that I should think is at the back of the mind of every one of us to-day is the appalling size of these subsidies. As one who has suffered in this cause, I do not envy my successor in having to begin on houses contemplated to cost £1,000 each, apart from land. But there it is I That is the position at present, and I am sure we all welcome the provision which will enable this scale to be brought downward in the course of time.
I have done my best to obtain answers, to some of the more important points which have been brought before us to-day 626 by my noble friend Lord Llewellin, and I will now endeavour to put before the House the effect of those answers. With regard to the case which ray noble friend cited of some builder who had been informed that his men were not to be allowed to work 49½ hours a week, and that if they continued doing so there would be some question of withdrawal of the licence given to the builder, I have this to say: We have no information at all of that particular case. It seems a very surprising case, I must admit, and perhaps the noble Lord will be kind enough, alter the sitting of the House, to provide me with such details of it as he can. My right honourable friend has promised that it shall be looked into without delay. Obviously, I cannot say more about this matter now.
As to the rest of my noble friend Lord Llewellin's remarks, I think they were a little—shall we say coloured by his prejudices? The Government is really not so inimical to persons building houses for themselves as he, perhaps, seems to suggest. I think that the fact, for example, that the subsidy for building cottages in rural area? has been put up from £10 to £15 for 40 years is at all events a useful indication of the absence of prejudice in this matter.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
Yes, but in the case of the individual who builds, the house belongs to him in the end. In the other case, it belongs to the community, which is a rather different matter. I would remind my noble friends opposite that they only made it £10 but we are putting it up from £10 to £15. So we are making it a bit better. I agree, of course, that the extra costs of building go to wipe out the difference, and I do not seek to make anything of that particular increase, except to say that we are doing a little bit better.
With respect to the position as between private builders and local authorities and the matter of the possible withdrawal of licences, to which my noble friend Lord Llewellin also called our attention, I understand that the Minister has directed about 100 local authorities to issue no more licences without consent. This direction has been given in cases where the local authority has already issued licences for more houses than can possibly be built 627 with the labour available. That would seem to be, on the whole, a fairly sensible proceeding. It will apply in those cases where it will not be possible to get any more houses for people of small means. The Minister has not said that the licensing is to stop until the position as between the local authorities and private enterprise is in the ratio of four to one. He has merely called a halt in such cases for the time being.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
I hope that that will go out, for there is a very universal impression abroad that four to one is an absolute rule which no local authority may alter.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
I am trying to correct that impression. According to my information, the Minister has only stopped this building until the local authorities' building gets going. About twelve local authorities have been told to consider cancelling the licences where too many have already been issued for the building labour available. Noble Lords will note that the total number of local authorities who have been so instructed is only twelve, and the stoppage of the licences applies only to houses the building of which has not actually been begun. It will be realized, therefore, that the picture that Lord Llewellin conjures up of a house with walls and no roof being left in that state owing to stoppage of the licence, was quite an imaginary one.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
Perhaps I put a wrong construction on the words "which have only partially been acted on." Those are the actual words. If that means, merely, that the stoppage applies only in a case where someone has, as it were, just thought about a house and nothing else, then that is quite all right.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
Yes, I think it is quite right that the noble Lord should have called attention to this matter, and I have been fortified by an authoritative statement, which I am now reading. About twelve local authorities have been told to consider cancelling licences, where far too many have been issued for the labour available to build. Only in the case of houses not begun will the licences be stopped. If we hear of work on any houses in which work has been begun being stopped, we will immediately take the matter up. That is 628 an undertaking from the Minister. I hope that, so far as it goes, that statement will be some comfort to those who may have had some misgivings on this matter. I think that, at any rate, that statement deals effectively with the particular misgiving to which the noble Lord, quite properly, gave expression. I assure him that my right honourable friend is not being governed by some preconceived antipathy to the private builder. The number of licences issued shows that. It is only where my right honourable friend finds that he is being governed by the physical limitations of labour and building material that action of this kind is to be taken.
I am afraid that I am bound to give expression to some misgiving on this subject of material. I must say that the country, I think, is by no means out of the wood with regard to the shortages of building materials. We have a long way to go in the matter of providing bricks and other supplies before the advice can confidently be given to everybody: "Get along as fast as you can." Unless this sensible kind of regulation is applied, in face of the existing shortages of many building materials, it will mean a hopeless scramble and the position will be worse than before. So I do respectfully ask the noble Lord to have a little more consideration for us, and not to be quite so ready to attribute our actions to political prejudices. I ask him not to attribute to political prejudices steps which have had to be taken owing to shortages.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
May I correct the noble Viscount to the extent of pointing out that I was commenting upon the statement that the position will be reviewed in the light of the progress made with the local authorities' own house-building programme?
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
I would remind my noble friend that that house-building programme is contingent upon there being available the necessary labour and materials to enable them to get on with the job. I am sure that when there are adequate supplies of labour and materials for the local authorities there will be more licences for others. I know that that is the intention of my right honourable friend. But he is limited all the timeߞso are the local authorities and so are the private buildersߞby shortages of men and materials. If we had not these shortages we should be only too glad to go ahead 629 as quickly as possible. With regard to conversion the same limitations, particularly in regard to the employment of labour, have induced the Government to take the action they have taken. At the same time, I think it is fair to bear in mind that local authorities at the moment are in possession of 88,000 premises which are undergoing conversion and adaptation. Of these 58,500 are in. London, and are being converted as quickly as possible. In these cases the cost is being borne wholly by the Exchequer. Within limitations, progress is being made. But I am quite sure every one of the criticisms of the noble Lord was worth making and I do not complain that they should have been made.
My plea is that full and continual recognition shall be given to the governing factors of this situation, which are that there is not sufficient labour available to do as much work as we should like; nor is there sufficient material to get on as quickly as we should like. These, as I have said, are the two governing factors and, as far as I can see, it will be some considerable time before we have dealt with either or both of them. As to the rest, these comments of mine, like many of the speeches, are entirely outside the Bill, and I was glad to recognize that the noble Lord, at the end of his remarks, realized that that was so, as well as I do. So far as the Bill went, he was glad of it. He recognized that it was generous and would make the best use of it.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.