HL Deb 13 March 1946 vol 140 cc92-180

2.55 p.m.

LORD LLEWELLIN rose to call attention to the housing situation; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I suppose that there is no one in your Lordships' House who would think it was not right that we should have a discussion to-day on the housing situation. I suppose that work, food and homes, apart from their own personal good health, are the three most important factors in the lives of the people. There is no need to discuss work at the present time, because I think we all agree that no man or woman who can really give good work need be long looking for a job in these days. We discussed food very fully a week or so ago, and it seems to me right that we should now see whether the members of this House have any constructive suggestions to make towards the very urgent task of providing homes for our people.

Too many of the people of this country have of necessity been uprooted from their homes during the war. During that time the homes of many have been in ships, in Nissen or other huts and dugouts or, as our American friends call them, "foxholes." Too many families still have other families living in the same house, and those other families for too long have had no homes of their own. All this is inevitable at the end of such a war as that we have just been through. It should not be allowed to last for long in peace, and I suppose there is no one who can say that he is happy at the housing progress which has been made so far.

In England and Wales less than 2,000 permanent houses and only about 12,000 temporary houses have been built, and about 10,000 conversions have been made. In Scotland, only about 1,700 permanent houses and just over 700 temporary houses have been erected. In fact, the total amount of new accommodation provided is only about 6,000 more than the number of houses which Government Departments, chiefly the Service Departments, have now derequisitioned. This brings me to consideration of the quickest way in which to provide homes for the civilians to live in—that is, by further derequisitioning. I should like to know how many houses and flats are still under requisition by Government Departments. I am not now talking about the 86,400 odd that have been requisitioned for housing the civilian population; I am talking about those houses and flats which are used for civil servants to work in, or for the Navy, Army or Air Force personnel. I would like to ask the Government what steps are being taken to release the remainder; and further, what steps are being taken to use more huts.

Many camps, of course, are in quite inconvenient places from the point of view of civilian houses, but a number are quite accessible, and they have water, drainage, heat and light laid on. I see that only 2,985 huts in the whole of England and Wales, and apparently, unless I have overlooked a figure in this White Paper, none at all in Scotland, are being used for housing civilians at the present time. Considering the multitude of the armies —American and our own—which we had housed in this country just before D Day, there must be many more huts that could be used for housing in this emergency, and I would like to ask what steps are being taken by the Government as a whole to see that Service men—the soldiers, sailors and airmen—wherever it is possible move out to the more remote camp sites and leave the nearer ones for use in this vital housing problem. We must all be aware, in our different localities, that there are empty huts up and down this country which are merely deteriorating because nobody is living in them at the present time. Nobody is keeping them painted or keeping the windows and doors in proper condition, and they are deteriorating every week that they stand empty. I hope that something more active and strenuous will be done to use some of those for this very important need.

I come now to temporary houses. I dislike both these and huts as homes for the people, but in circumstances like the present they are better, of course, than no home at all. If anything, I believe the temporary house is the greater menace, because it is liable to stay much too long. I was told, and I believe this to be accurate, that the last temporary house erected after the Great Fire of London was finally removed during the 1930's.

These houses are much too liable to become permanent disfigurements of our landscape. They are also becoming expensive. The noble Earl who, I believe, is going to reply and I were both at the same school, and at that school you could either have a permanent tie or a throwaway tie. The advantage of the throwaway tie was that it cost very little more to buy than it cost to wash the permanent tie. Therefore it was possibly a good thing to use the throw-away tie, but if the throw-away tie had become as expensive to buy as the permanent one, then either one would have ceased to use it or the tendency would have been to use it too long and until it had got into a rather disgusting state. The same thing is likely to occur with these houses. They are becoming most expensive items to buy.

I do not know whether prices have recently gone up, but the figures I am going to quote are those given last November and December, by, I be- lieve, the Minister of Works. For a prefabricated asbestos house the price is now £1,020; and for the aluminium type of house it is no less than £1,365. I should like to know why prices have risen in this way. The houses are, after all, mass-produced. They have only one living room, two bedrooms, a scullery and a bathroom. If you compare the cost of a steel box containing that small amount of accommodation with the cost of a cottage before the war, the comparison is really quite ludicrous. I remember that at home we put up a pair of cottages, each of which had three good bedrooms, a sitting room, a kitchen, a scullery, a larder, a bathroom, and a water-closet. Incidentally, main water and electric light were laid on. The cost of that pair of cottages was only £750. The noble Earl says, "Cheap." That figure of £750 does not include the cost of the site, but that is not a very large part of the cost. That is, in fact, what we had them built for. Now we are paying three times as much for one of these inferior types of dwelling, and four times as much for the other. I should like to know whether we can be given any explanation of why the price of these temporary houses is so high as it now is. Next, the supply is very belated. There are many authorities still waiting for their first deliveries. I know that my own local authority have got the slabbing and draining done, but they have been told that they cannot expect any houses until the end of March. I should like to know why this delay is taking place in this temporary housing programme. One of the main advantages of temporary houses is that you can get something done quickly, but the longer the programme is delayed, the more they lose their value.

Now I come to permanent houses, which, of course, must provide the main solution. What are the main factors in the production of a house? Some may think that a subsidy is the main factor, but of course it is not. I am aware that in another place a Bill has just been introduced providing quite generous subsidies. Some subsidy is, unfortunately, necessary at the present time—I only wish it were not—but it is as well to remember that while subsidies may enable people to live in houses at rents they can pay once the house has been built, they will not of themselves build us any more houses. The three main factors are the site, materials, and labour. It would appear from the White Paper that there is little bother about providing sites, and indeed if there were any bother about sites, ample powers exist to deal with it. When we see from the White Paper that 616,000 sites have been acquired, and when we find that there are only 16,000 houses built, there seems to be no great difficulty about obtaining sites.

What about materials? I think anyone who has had any experience in production knows that the first thing you want to secure is your supply of materials. You look at that at the same time that you see whether you have got the productive capacity to produce the finished article. That is what we did in times when I had the honour to be at the Admiralty, then at the Ministry of Supply, and then at the Ministry of Aircraft Production. That was a task which it fell to my lot to perform for the first two-and-a-half years of the war when I was Chairman of the Materials Committee of the Government. It was through constant watch and through action being taken in time that during the whole of the war the munitions programme was never held up by a lack of raw materials. Nobody seems to be doing this work now and it is essential work in regard to the housing programme.

Everyone knows that there is now an acute shortage of bricks, and if house building progresses as we hope it will there will be an even acuter shortage unless some drastic steps are taken, and taken now. The brick industry of this country, I am credibly informed, is to-day producing only about 20 per cent. of the bricks which it was producing in the years just before the war. Many brickyards are not working at all, and in the main those which are working are not working to their full capacity. They are short of labour and they are short of coal. This is the fantastic kind of thing which I have heard has happened in at least one case. The manager of a brickworks goes to the labour exchange to ask for more labour. The labour exchange manager says to him: "If you are assured of the coal I might let you have some more labour." Then he goes up to the local Fuel Controller who says: "If you have got the labour I might try and let you have some coal." That, it seems to me, is the way in which the national plan, which the present Minister of Health said in his Election address would provide spacious houses for us all, is at the present time working in this country. To get these brickworks into full production is a far easier task than it was to build up our munitions potential before the war. The plants are there, although it may be some need renovating, but at any rate you have got the plants there. It is only a question of getting them started, getting the labour to them, and getting the coal to keep them supplied.

If we look next at cast-iron goods, that is, baths, sinks, drainage pipes and gutterings, which are needed for every house, we find that these are equally in short supply. I cannot help wondering how much of the material needed for these things is now being used by the million and a half people who seem still, for some very odd reason, to be making munitions in this country. Would it not be far better to take some of those people off making munitions, many of which are quite useless? I know of a factory which is turning out bayonets now in quite considerable numbers every week. Could not they be taken off that work and put to work on creating more of these essential goods for the housing programme, instead of using up material which is needed for that programme?

Timber, too, is still regrettably short, and I should like to ask how much we have got from Germany. The one reparation—perhaps with just the exception of hock, which I might put in the same category—which we could get from Germany, and which will do no harm to anybody but will do an immense amount or good, is timber. There is a mass of first-class timber in the British zone and in the American zone as well. When I was in Germany last July with Mr. Hudson, the then Minister of Agriculture who was concerned of course with our home timber supplies, we talked with our Army authorities and, indeed, sounded the Americans, as to whether some of that timber—the German forests have not been depleted anything like ours—could not be cut and sent to this country. I would like to know whether any has been cut for us and how much we have got. That timber, of course, should be seasoning now if we are going to speed up our housing programme in the way we all hope to see it. Are we getting any from Norway? I remember when I was arranging some supplies of food for the Norwegians they said they would have plenty of timber to send to this country, and I would like to know whether we have got any from that source. Are we taking any steps to try and get timber here front Russia, including, of course, the Baltic States, from whom we got timber in the days before the war? It is lovely timber.

I remember perfectly well, when I was Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry of War Transport, going to greet the first three Russian ships that came into Leith, and they had brought timber with them. The reason why I remember that visit so well was that it was six months later that a friend of mine said: "You were making a speech in Leith yesterday," and I said: "No I was not." He said: "Well, you probably make so many speeches you forget where you make them." Of course the news had not been released until the Russian convoy got back to Archangel. The point is it was superb timber, and just the kind of stuff we need for the housing programme. We really ought not to deplete our own woods and forests any more if we can help it. I know the Timber Control are still coming round begging for wood, but we have, out of our forests, made a far greater contribution during these years of war than any other country throughout the whole world, and I do hope the Government are taking steps to get timber from elsewhere.

I hope that the Ministers who are good enough to reply to this debate have at their disposal representatives from all the Departments concerned in this matter. This Ministry of Housing, about which we read in Let Us Face The Future, seems to have been still-born, and we still find that there is a good sort of game going on with the Minister of Supply holding the steel and timber cards and the Minister of Works holding the brick and concrete cards. The Minister of Health has, I think, all the forcing cards but he really does not know how to play them except against private enterprise. There is the Minister of Labour, of course, who has all the trumps all the time, with the two Ministers with double-barrelled names occasionally joining in, the Minister of Fuel and Power and the Minister of Town and Country Planning. They seem to be playing that all-time-consuming game of passing the buck, but we really want to see that action is being taken to get all these materials for the housing programme.

Now I come to labour, the third factor which your Lordships will remember I mentioned. Before the war there were at least 1,000,000 men in the building industry, and the estimate is that about one-third were on permanent house building, which means that some 330,000 men before the war were on the job of building permanent houses. It is a dreadful thought that to-day there are apparently only 34,000 people so employed in this country. That kind of number will not go far towards building the 4,000,000 or 5,000,000 houses which Mr. Bevin, the Foreign Secretary, promised us during the Election in very quick time. How well are the men working who are on the job? I am told that the builders reckon to get an average of about 60 per cent. of pre-war production from them.

I hope that the Prime Minister's broadcast appeal for increased production will have some effect, but I am sorry that, so shortly after it, strikes are taking place in the motor industry. In case it does not have effect, I should like to offer the Government a recipe which, I think, will certainly help, if they will adopt it. The Chancellor of the Exchequer can use it in his coming Budget, if he wishes to do so. If he is going to make any alteration in "Pay as You Earn," the simple and the orthodox way is of course to raise the exemption limit. But there is an ingenious and unorthodox way, which will I feel be a way that will have the greatest effect on production in the immediate year or a couple of years ahead. This is my suggestion: keep the same tax on the basic earnings, but let any overtime or extra work of that sort be completely free of tax, and let that apply also in regard to piece rates. If a man is earning the average piece rate, he pays tax upon it. But if he can earn in a week one or two pounds more than the average rate, I believe you will encourage production tremendously by treating that excess as a bonus free from all Income Tax. I believe that in these days, when we want all the production we can get, that would be a very good step for the Government to take.

There are other suggestions that I have to make, because it seems to me that the Government should use every available source of supply of houses. I know that the Minister of Health originally planned that the local authorities alone should be the building contractors as it were. That plan has been modified to bring in some of the housing associations. That is a wise step, if it is fully and properly implemented. But let the Minister bring in the builders, small and large as well, not only to work for the local authorities but to make their own individual contributions to this vital need. The Minister has, I believe, recently declared that he is going to try to restrict the number of licences which local authorities give. If that happens it will indeed be a confession of failure, a confession of failure to provide enough labour and to provide sufficient material, because it is quite clear that a step like that is stopping one source of supply of the new houses.

In this connexion, I think there are four things that we should beat in mind. The first is that independent builders are quicker and their methods are more flexible than the bureaucratic machine working through local authorities back to the Ministry of Health, where, sometimes, it takes months even to answer a simple inquiry. The second thing we should bear in mind is this: that whereas some local authorities are well equipped to build good houses and get the job done, many are not. They never did it before, and they are not equipped for this job now. So let the people who really are equipped get on with it. The third point to bear in mind is that builders who were engaged in housing schemes before the war had trained staffs, architects, quantity surveyors and similar persons, and those builders have a statutory obligation to take those of their old employees who have been in the Forces back into their employment. It is only, fair that the builders should not be deprived of the opportunity of having work for these men to do. The fourth thing to remember is this: that just as everyone likes to own the clothes that he wears—I think it is almost the prerogative of the convict not to do so—and most people like to own the furniture in their homes, so there are a great number of people (and these not exclusively the rich, either) who prefer to live under their own roofs and in their own houses. Masses of them have acquired their houses, either by saving their money or through building societies. Moreover, let us not overlook the fact that many of them, by going into houses which are their own, which they have bought, release others, at the same time, for letting. So let the Minister give an equal chance to all who can help in this vital job.

It is absurd in my opinion to say that in the early days after the last war the private builders did not make a contribution to the solution of this problem. It is quite true that up to September, 1920, the private builders, unassisted, built only about 30,000 houses. But if one looks at the table given in the Hansard report of March 11, one finds that private enterprise, unassisted, starting off in 1923 built 52,000 houses, next year 73,000, next year 60,000 and after that 65,000, 64,000, 71,000, 107,000, until it got up to the tremendous figures of 200,000 and 264,000 towards the time just before the outbreak of this last war. Those are all figures which are given here in this table. What we shall be doing if the Government pursues its present line is to hamper the people who made that tremendous contribution to the solution of our housing problem in the days between the wars. Further, let us remember that just after the last war the building industry was not of the size nor had it acquired the knowledge and the technique which it acquired in the years between the wars when it was making this tremendous contribution.

Finally—for I do not wish to keep your Lordships long, and I hope that I have not done so—I would beg the Minister to put his own house in order. The bylaws of many local authorities, which, of course, are approved by the Ministry of Health, lay down that an ordinary dwelling house, a five-roomed house, should have 1.7 standards of timber as the minimum. Now a manual recently issued by the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Works lays down that it should be 1.5 standards of timber. I know a case where this has happened: The Timber Control have been asked by a builder who is building houses to provide 1.7 standards according to the local by-law. They say: "No, according to the manual you can only get 1.5 standards." Then they go along to the Borough Surveyor and he says, "No, our by-laws lay down that it should be 1.7 standards as the minimum. You cannot build a house in this area unless you put 1.7 standards in it." The builder cannot get the timber; nobody will at the moment give way, and so that little bit of the housing programme is held up. In a large number of areas these by-laws need to be altered in accordance with the practice which has to be used in this emergency.

Until we find that the brickworks are in full production, that timber and other materials are corning in and are in ample supply, until we see the building industry in full swing, which it is not now, and until we are assured that the Minister of Health is using to the full every available builder to help him in this task, the Minister of Health will remain very much on trial. Despite all his eloquence in his own defence, I feel that the verdict is beginning to go against him. I beg to move for Papers.

3.33 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord who has just resumed his seat has delivered, if I may say so, a most constructive and comprehensive survey of the whole field. If I may use the language of the Housing Report, he has obtained possession of so many sites upon which no erection has yet taken place that, for my own part, I propose not to encroach upon the same housing estate, but to divert myself to sites developed but not yet slabbed, and to do a small amount of slabbing on my own account! This is not a question upon which any of us desire to score a partisan advantage, or to execute a partisan manœuvre. We have several times in recent weeks bestowed upon ourselves in this House, amidst general acclamation, the title of "Council of State;" and, as I understand the function of a Council of State, it is to state its counsel, and to state it as temperately, as constructively and with as much detachment as possible. Whatever our political allegiance may be, in regard to this particular question our simple and common purpose is to endeavour by any means in our power to see that the maximum amount of accommodation is made available; but not merely the maximum amount of accommodation—the maximum amount of suitable accommodation, of a character and at a cost which will make it available to those persons who most require it. It is no good on the one hand building acres of jerry-built slums for the accommodation of people; nor is it of great use in these days to build acres of Grosvenor Squares at the other extreme. You have to cut your bricks according to the means and requirements of the people who are going to live in these houses.

In this of all the problems which are confronting us at the moment, surely, in a phrase well-known to lawyers, "time is of the essence of the contract". We are also under a solemn obligation to those Service men and women who have been looking forward, during their period of absence from home, to returning to a certain amount of proper accommodation at the end of their service. We are under a solemn obligation to them to make every effort to see that the production of those homes is accelerated to the greatest possible degree. From that point of view, so far as I am concerned, I do honestly regret that the Minister of Health has set his face so adamantly at this stage against the policy of conversion of property.

There came out a very short time ago a most admirable report on the conversion of existing houses, the report of a committee which owed its appointment to the Central Housing Advisory Committee. It is a committee the history of which is not entirely without interest. It was appointed in January of last year. Its report is dated August 31 of last year. So far as I know, it first saw the light in February of this year, after an interval of five months. I am a very simpleminded and unsuspicious person, and I should be the last person to suggest that the ultimate appearance of this report, after a protracted hibernation of five months, had anything to do in any way with the fact that, just before it came out, one London evening paper was asking a series of pertinent and somewhat strident questions as to what had happened to it. Of course, it may be only coincidence that the publication of this report and the reiterated publication of those questions synchronized. On the other hand, of course, it is possible (and it is not for me to decide) that there was some element of cause and effect between the publication of those questions and the publication of that report.

However that may be, the first really operative sentence in that report is one of such general application and value that I would just like to quote it: it is in a chapter headed "Desirability of Conversion and/or Adaptation," and the sentence is this: It is generally accepted that during the period when vast numbers of families will be seeking homes, something can and must be done with vacant housing. Well, nobody would contend that the period when large numbers of families are still seeking homes is at an end, and yet the policy is not at this stage to do anything with vacant housing. Then the next sentence of that report is not without interest: Such hesitation as we have encountered is based solely on financial considerations. I pause there for a moment to ask: Who is meant by "we"? The Chairman was a gentleman called Mr. Silkin, who is at the present moment, to the best of my knowledge, the Minister of Town and Country Planning. One of the members of the committee was Alderman Key who, equally to the best of my knowledge, is now the Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Health. Yet this report is now looked upon, I gather, with some disfavour and there is a general tendency to push it into the background. Indeed, Alderman Key, speaking a very short time ago in another place, said: It is deliberately intended to delay such action"— that is, action on conversion— until new house-building on a sufficient scale is under way so as to avoid any risk of diverting productive capacity from its main task. The full development of productive capacity is bound to take a long time and surely the conversion of houses is one of those things which, in the interval while production is being brought up to its fullest point, might advantageously be put into operation with a view to producing at the earliest moment accommodation for numbers of people.

Some reference was made by the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, to the shortage of bricks. No doubt the full production of bricks may take a considerable time, but here again conversion has a great merit over the building of new houses because the amount of material—not only bricks but lead for plumbing, timber and all sorts of things in short supply at the moment—is required in very much smaller quantities for the purposes of conversion than for the erection of new houses. There is another point in favour of conversion and that is that this is the kind of work which very commonly is, and most suitably can be, undertaken by the small builder who is not prepared to tender for the bigger job which he feels himself incapable of carrying out. If we are trying to mobilize the entire building resources of the country, as presumably we are, here again is a field in which that might usefully be given scope. The committee itself points out another further advantage, that streets, sewers, public services, schools, shops, cinemas and so forth are already available on these sites and do not require fresh construction as if you were developing a new residential area. It also brings in the aesthetic argument, that by converting, for instance, same of the Georgian terraces in different parts of the country like those at Cheltenham and Bath, you can preserve these amenities both from the aesthetic and economic or tourist point of view and at the same time turn them to good account by providing accommodation for people to live in. That again I suggest is an advantage. It may be said that all these things will come, but that we do not want to do this at the present stage. Houses, however, like a good many other things, do not improve by keeping, and if these houses are allowed to remain indefinitely uninhabited (in a more or less derelict state, as many of them are), not only will it be a much costlier job to convert them when the time comes but it will require more material and labour in order to put them into a habitable condition.

I mentioned just now in passing the objection which the Parliamentary Secretary expressed to the suggestion of conversion in another place. The Minister himself took a different point, but he was equally hostile to the suggestion. He put it on what, if I may respectfully say so, really seems rather a startling ground. His ground was that when the war damage is over we want building workers to go on to the straightforward clean job of building new houses; that if you take them from war damage work and put them on conversion again it does not satisfy the craftsman's pride; it is dirty work, and we will not possibly get from the building workers the results we ought to get. Satisfying the craftsman's pride is a laudable object but a good deal of dirty work comes the way of a good many of us. Washing-up is one of them! But it is no good saying that it does not satisfy our craftsman's pride! Is that really a serious argument to put forward if, as every recommendation of this unanimous report urges, conversion is one of the effective ways in which houses can be produced for the people of this country?

Recently in London the walls have been adorned with a number of posters bearing upon them an ardent and alert figure pointing to the legend "Labour Gets Things Done." After a close and intensive inspection of that poster I came to the conclusion that the ardent and alert figure was the noble Lord who, I am sorry to say is not in his place this afternoon but who leads the London County Council. From that I deduced that the expression "Labour gets things done" had perhaps a more limited significance than my first glance at it had led me to believe and that it was confined not to labour in general but to the Labour Party in particular. However that may be, with the general proposition that labour gets things done I would entirely agree. In the end all these building operations, as in so many other instances, come down to two things: a pair of hands and the amount of work that pair of hands is prepared to produce.

If I might make a short autobiographical detour, during the war I had the novel and extremely interesting experience of being at least partially responsible for substantial quantities of military labour. That labour was engaged either in conjunction with the Royal Engineers or independently, in large construction work, on roads, camps, storage huts and so forth. I always found that there was no lack of kind friends or unkind superiors to tell me at intervals that my men were sitting about and not doing any work. Naturally I made it my business to go and inquire and in nineteen out of twenty cases I would find that it was neither original nor acquired sin which made them have an appearance of indolence but that either the technical direction from outside was not on the spot or, more frequently, the materials had not arrived. I think that some people when they go about London and criticize, sometimes in very bitter terms, those men who have been working in London on bomb damage repair do not realize that a man cannot work unless he has got the materials with which to work.

Very often when there is an appearance of, shall we say, a lesser degree of concentration than might be looked for, at the same time it must be remembered that is by no means always the men's fault. It has to be remembered that very often these men have been brought away from their own homes, and housed in derelict, bleak, and I should think very often unheated houses with the result that occasionally the balusters of the house disappear. They have very few amenities, with communal feeding often at a considerable distance from the place at which they are working. With these disadvantages the fact of their being transported to and from their work in a luxury coach is not entire compensation.

If I may say so, the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, rightly made a great point of derequisitioning. Surely it is for the Government to set an example in these matters and to free as much accommodation as is reasonably possible. I heard recently a rumour, which I trust is only a rumour (perhaps it might be possible for one of the noble Lords who is speaking for the Government to inform us) that arose from a rather tentative application by a gentleman who owned a house in London which had been requisitioned, but which he found to have been derequisitioned. When he asked whether he might now have it back, he was told, "Oh, no. You cannot have it back because it is going to be requisitioned again in order to house a contingent who are coming over for the Victory Parade in June." Well, that seems rather a long sighted view. After all, June is the month in which we nominally have summer, and there are still such things as tents if we have to accommodate persons arriving in this country for an occasion of that kind. What in particular I would like to impress upon the Government is that they should abandon a practice which I believe to be still in force, which had some justification during the war but in my submission has none now, and that Is the practice when one Government Department has finished with some particular premises of hawking them round to every other Government Department. There may have been a time when that was justified, when there was a long list of applicants and very little accommodation going. But one really hopes the number of candidates for accommodation amongst Government Departments is on the decline and that it is not necessary to go through this protracted process of offering to all and sundry any premises which are derequisitioned by one Government Department before the miserable owner has any chance of reclaiming them for his own use.

I would like to reinforce one thing that the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, said. Very little account is taken in the present organization of the housing plan of the man who wants to own his own house. It seems to me that whatever anybody's political affiliation may be, a sense of property and a sense of family are two of the deepest instincts in any member of the human race, and these instincts are perhaps best fulfilled in people of modest means by the ownership of their own house. I do suggest that not enough consideration is being given to those people and not enough attention is paid to the psychological value to the morale of the country as a whole of giving an individual that feeling of permanence and stability which comes from knowing that at least the house in which he lives and in which his family reside with him is his own property.

To return to the position from which I started, the criticism I have made, has, as I hope the Government will realize, been made in no unfriendly spirit, but merely in a desire to help. I think we all realize that the Minister has got a long, rough and uphill path before him before the time comes when he can pause upon the crest and look back upon his achievement. As far as we are concerned, we want neither to thrust obstacles in his path nor to make that road more difficult, but by criticism, by suggestion and by co-operation to assist in the task which is common to us all to provide the people of this country not only with houses but homes.

3.55 p.m.


My Lords, I believe that the Government and the House are equally indebted to the noble Lord opposite for this opportunity to survey the housing situation as a whole. The last occasion for a debate of this kind, as many of your Lordships will remember, was in the middle of November on the initiative of the most reverend Primate, the Archbishop of York, and the number of events that have happened since then more than justify a further review of housing policy and performance. I welcome particularly the general and comprehensive terms of the noble Lord's Motion. It will enable the House to range over more aspects of the housing problem and to discuss more thoroughly questions of broad policy than would have been possible in a debate limited in scope by a narrower Motion or by the specific proposals of a Bill. I should like at this point to express my very warm thanks to both noble Lords who have just spoken for the constructive and non-partisan tone of their speeches, which, if I may say so, started this debate at the highest possible level.

I had not the advantage, before preparing my remarks, of advance information about the points which the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin intended to raise, so that I fear that any correspondence between my brief and his speech will be purely coincidental. But there is one matter he dealt with to which I should like to address myself for a moment. He gave some figures relating to the size and distribution of the building labour force. I would like to add one or two more. In the last six months, the period surveyed in the White Paper, the building labour for temporary houses has risen from 14,000 to 36,000, while building labour on the work of constructing permanent houses has risen from 4,000 to 34,000 men.


That is the figure I ought to have quoted: I am sorry.


I am much obliged. This does illustrate that there has been a distinct improvement in the course of the last six months. Out of a total building and civil engineering force of just over 690,000 men more than 435,000 men are now engaged on housing operations of one kind or another.

What I said just now in relation to the noble Lord's speech applies equally to the speech to which we have just listened with much pleasure of the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, but I can make two brief comments on the subject of conversion. My right honourable friend the Minister of Health is now considering the report, to which the noble Marquess referred on this subject, from one of his advisory committees. He will decide on the long-term policy with the assistance and recom- mendation of this report and in the light of views expressed in Parliament and by those concerned with the reconversion problem. But for the time being, conversion is being carried out at a reasonable rate by the local authorities, which have ample powers to requisition empty houses for this purpose.

An immediate relief is being provided by the requisitioning of unoccupied houses and their conversion and adaptation for use by several families. Local authorities have already requisitioned nearly 100,000 unoccupied houses, and they have also taken over a number of huts and camps, erected, of course, during the war for different Government purposes. I should add that any point which I may have missed my noble friend Viscount Addison, who will wind up the debate, has kindly consented to do his best to answer.

I think there is general agreement on both sides of the House about two essential points. The first of these is the desperate urgency of the need for houses, both for the demobilized men returning from the Forces and for the thousands of families whose home conditions have always been below a standard we would accept for ourselves. The question at issue is how best these people can be provided with decent homes—what the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, called "suitable accommodation"—at a rent they can afford, and with the shortest possible delay. This question of method, of how most efficiently and effectively to set about the job, immediately raises sharp controversy between private enterprise and public control. But even at this stage there is a further point on which most of the adherents of both schools of thought would agree. It is that neither private enterprise nor public control should be regarded as an article of faith. Both political Parties appeal to public opinion for their justification, not by faith, but by works. Each knows that the verdict of the public will be decided by services rendered and goods produced, and that the best intentions, coupled to a theory that does not work in practice, will not reverse the verdict or even be treated as a mitigating circumstance.

That is why I propose to deal, in my remarks this afternoon, with what the Government has actually done, in the last six months, to produce and to prepare for the further production of flats and houses. I shall leave your Lordships to judge whether any alternative policy could have built substantially more houses in the time, or could have laid firmer foundations in preparation for the 1946 and 1947 building seasons. Your Lordships will have seen in the White Paper (Command 6744) that the number of new permanent houses completed by the end of January in England and Wales was actually less than 2,000. This meagre figure must of course be supplemented by the 12,000 temporary houses that had been finished by that date. It is indeed true that the figure for permanent houses looks extremely small. But as local authorities were only authorized by the Government to start building operations in August, a considerably larger number could not reasonably be expected by anyone who knows how long it takes to build a house. If the local authorities had been allowed to go forward in the spring of last year, then, no doubt, many more houses would have been standing at this time.

The decision to postpone building operations until after the war was a decision of the Coalition Government of which both the noble Lord opposite and I myself had the honour to be members, and no one challenges the harsh wisdom of its determination not to relax before Germany and Japan had been defeated. The fact is that the handful of new houses that have gone up since the war is one of the many tragic consequences of the war itself. Further proof of the accuracy of this explanation is to be found in the excellent record of Scotland, where more permanent houses have been completed to date than in England and Wales taken together. In Scotland, on account of the particularly bad housing conditions in certain areas, permission to start building was given during the war. That is why Scotland has taken the lead. But even this trickle of new houses is not a bad beginning, if compared with the few drops that were squeezed out of the building industry immediately after the last war. During the first year of peace, right up to November, 1919, there was a total output of only 124 new houses. And in those days, of course, it was not possible to supplement the traditional type of house by mass-produced factory dwellings.

I believe the real test of our housing achievement in the past six months is whether or not we have succeeded in making the indispensable preparations for a large and steadily increasing flow of new houses during the 1946 and 1947 building seasons. The figures in the White Paper show that most of the local authorities are now well advanced in the acquisition of sites, in site development, in requesting and placing tenders, and in the actual construction of houses begun but not yet completed. By the end of last year they had bought sites for over 400,000 permanent houses, and had started development with roads, sewers, and gas and water mains, on sites for 133,000 houses; 74,000 houses had reached what might be called the tender stage, and 17,000 were at different phases of construction on the same date. This means that, in the last six months, local authorities in England and Wales have settled the siting and the detailed plans for about 91,000 houses, of which half are already under contract for building. When the 1946 building season begins this April, over 50,000 permanent houses should be going up—in process of construction—with at least as many again coming along for contract as soon as the building trade can absorb them.

This is really rather a remarkable six months' record, when considered in relation to the difficulties most local authorities have had to face. It reflects a great deal of credit on the local authorities concerned. They began the period seriously short of trained staff, and they have shown much enterprise and determination in pressing forward with their housing schemes, and overcoming the many obstacles in their path. This spirit persists everywhere, in spite of the continuing shortage, in many cases, of technical assistance and advice.

The main criticism of the noble Lords opposite, which if not explicit is almost always implicit, is on the lines that the Government have not tried out the alternative policy of allowing private enterprise a free hand to get on with the job. They will say no doubt—at least one noble Lord has applauded my remark—that if private builders had been given a free hand to put up the houses, subject only to a maximum ceiling price, many more would have been ready by now, and a number far exceeding the plans of local authorities would be in prospect for 1046 and 1947. Private enterprise in the building field has in fact been tried out in the pre-war years, and the evidence at my disposal—I am afraid I must differ from the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, on that point—suggests a precisely opposite conclusion to his. A wrong impression may, I think, be given by the fact that private builders have completed three times as many houses to date as local authorities in England and Wales. The explanation of this is that these firms have been building in small groups of two or three houses, whereas local authorities have been building in fifties and hundreds. That private builders will soon be overtaken and outstripped is shown by the 5,000 to 6,000 houses they are now in process of building as compared with the 17,000 that have already been begun under contract with the local authorities. The enterprise of private builders working—


Are the private builders allowed to build? Can they get the licences?


I could, with notice but not from memory, give the exact figure of the number of private builders who have already received licences from local authorities. I should like to make it perfectly clear that the Government and the local authorities are extremely grateful to the private builders for doing this work under licence.


Could we have at the same time the number that have not received licences?


My noble friend Viscount Addison will reply to as many points as he possibly can. What happened during the time that private building enterprise was given a fair trial to show what it could do? Do not let us forget that this was in a situation very similar to and no less urgent than ours to-day. It could hardly have had a fairer trial because the Government in power at that time, immediately after the last war, definitely favoured free business enterprise. This meant that in those days the private builder was not only subject to no licensing restrictions but was actually encouraged to build by subsidy from public funds. What was the result of this social experiment? In the first year, up to November, 1919, the first year after the Armistice, not one house was built by private enterprise. In the second year, up to November, 1920, private builders only put up half the houses completed in the same period by local authorities. At the end of the building season in 1921, the third year of peace, private building still amounted to less than half the output commissioned by local authorities. It was not until 1923—I am very glad to see the noble Lord opposite is checking up on my figures because it assures me they are correct—that private builders started to forge ahead of local authorities and to become, as they ultimately became, the principal and most numerically successful agency for the provision of new houses between the wars.


May I ask the noble Earl a question? Is it not true that for the first year after the last war the brick industry was in a worse state than it is now, and in that year there just was not a brick for anybody to use?


May I say that according to the figures, given by the Minister of Health in an answer in another place, the number of houses erected by private enterprise, assisted and unassisted, was 73,000 up to the end of 1922. For public authorities it was 576 for one year, 2,926, then 47,000 and then 85,000.


I am afraid there is a direct conflict between the figures. Naturally I am inclined to claim that my figures (which also proceed from the Ministry of Health) are correct. I dare say the noble Lord will be so kind as to discuss the matter with me when the debate is over. After all, looked at quite impartially, what happened after the last war illustrates a simple economic fact, namely, that at a time when costs are high and may continue to rise, the expectation of profit is uncertain, and private enterprise becomes sluggish and inert. I refer of course to the building industry. But that is exactly the position, vis à vis costs, that we are in to-day. So long as labour and materials remain in short supply, a stampede by the would-be users of the industry after the men and building materials they want would soon push up costs above their present level. This would again result in the inflated housing prices we had after the last war. We cannot forget that between 1919 and 1922 housing prices rose by 200 per cent. This danger was noted by the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, in the White Paper he published in March, 1945.

Moreover, however widespread the willingness of builders to face the risk of financial loss, the number of houses that can be built in 1946 is strictly limited by the expanding, but by no means fully expanded, physical capacity of the 'building industry. If houses were started sooner, and in larger numbers, there would be no increase in the quantity of materials or the supply of labour available this year.

The inevitable result of unrestricted building by private enterprise and local authorities all over the country, would be fewer finished and more unfinished houses at the end of the building season. It is to avoid these pitfalls, into which free enterprise has fallen once, and would certainly fall again, that the Government are controlling the allocation of labour and materials, and have decided to make the local authorities the senior partner in carrying out their housing programme. We should like to fix the contribution of the private builder to our programme at one in every five new houses built, because about four out of every five families in Great Britain need houses to let, and cannot afford, whatever their wishes may be, to buy their own homes.

Now I should like to turn from broad policy to certain salient features of the housing situation. I have already referred to the 12,000 temporary houses which were completed in England and Wales by the end of January. This is the first instalment of a programme comprising 130,000 temporary houses, and steady progress is being made with erection on sites in spite of the winter months. At the end of the period surveyed in the White Paper, 25,600 of these houses were at different stages in process of erection upon the sites chosen for them. By the end of February, to show the improvement month by month, the construction of a further 4,500 had begun, while 3,500 more were finished and became available for occupation. It is estimated that by the end of this month 19,000 temporary houses will have been completed and a total of 34,000 will be under construction. Your Lordships will see that we are now completing the erection of temporary houses at the rate of 4,000 to 5,000 houses a month, a speed of construction in the off-season that will undoubtedly be accelerated during the spring and summer months.

It is the time factor that is so exasperating about traditional building methods, and the Government intend to make the greatest possible use of the time-saving device of prefabrication. We have therefore arranged for the large-scale production of two types of prefabricated permanent houses, which will result in the addition of many thousands of permanent homes to those that will be built by traditional methods in 1946. These two types are a steel-framed house suitable for towns, and a concrete house for country districts. Both can be assembled quickly in situ, and require comparatively little skilled labour. There will be a special grant to local authorities to reduce the cost of these houses to the average cost of the traditional brick house in a particular area. My right honourable friend the Minister of Health will be explaining the arrangements for the erection of these houses to local authorities in the course of the next few days.

I will not go into detail about the housing subsidies proposed under the Housing (Finance) Bill which was read a second time last week in another place. That Bill will be discussed by your Lordships in due course, and in great detail. But I should like to emphasize that no Government has ever made a greater effort to keep down the rent payable for new houses by an average wage-earning family, in town or country, to a figure it can afford without having to give up any essential necessities. The generosity of the new subsidies, as compared with prewar subsidies, can be judged by their higher capital value. The capitalized value of the total subsidy under the new Bill, over a period of 60 years, is £594 per house in urban areas, and £770 per cottage in country districts. The capital value of the pre-war subsidy in the countryside was only £273 per cottage, while the urban subsidy at the same date was £187 10s. per house, both figures being calculated over the shorter period of forty years.


Could the noble Earl tell us what price they can afford to pay?


I cannot give an exact figure because, of course, it would vary from one area to another, but the subsidy is based on a calculation which would enable the average wage-earner to afford to live in these houses without hardship.

It is probably unnecessary for me to say that my right honourable friend the Minister of Health is anxious to enlist the services of every agency in the building industry that can help him to speed up the output of houses. He has therefore been discussing with the Federation of Registered House Builders how to enable the small builder to make his useful but peculiar contribution. The small builder has hitherto been unable to undertake the large contracts offered by local authorities, as his methods are not suitable for the simultaneous construction of a large number of houses. It is therefore hoped to arrange for the acceptance by local authorities of contracts with experienced private builders for the erection of small groups of houses. These minor building operations will not require the technical staff, the specifications, the bills of quantities, and the elaborate contracts involved in a full-scale housing scheme. Contracts made with the small man in the building industry will ordinarily be for two to six houses on a site. They will be based on a modern house already erected by the builder, and will provide for a lump sum payment. The essence of the arrangements will be that the local authority, having a good knowledge of the builder's pre-war work in a particular area, will have confidence in his capacity to satisfy present standards despite the absence of the usual paper guarantees and qualifications. The Minister of Health is also suggesting to local authorities that they should invite builders, large or small, to build for them on their own land, the land and the houses being subsequently purchased from their owner by the local authority. My right honourable friend expects to announce shortly a scheme acceptable to the local housing authorities and the small builders.

But however desirous public authorities and private building firms may both be to play their part in the present housing effort, they will be delayed and slowed down if the supply of building materials falls far short of their requirements. I will not disguise from your Lordships that shortages in a large number of essential building materials are causing the Government considerable anxiety. The Minister of Works is doing everything possible to step up the production of materials in short supply. Your Lordships will remember what my noble friend Lord Henderson said last month about special measures to increase the labour force in the brick fields. The noble Viscount, Lord Stonehaven, has made a special and close study of the brick industry, and I have no doubt we shall hear an interesting contribution from him on that subject later in the debate. The building materials industries hold the key to housing, and in no field of production should the Prime Minister's appeal for renewed and greater effort receive a more willing and immediate response in the national interest. In conclusion I would only say this. Until now our building programme has been mainly preparatory. The next six months will be the first big opportunity the country will have to secure new houses in large and rapidly increasing numbers. If full advantage is to be taken of this opportunity, there will have to be a maximum of co-operation and good will from public authorities and private firms alike, from labour and management in the building and ancillary industries, and from all the agencies and individuals on whose efforts in the coming months the homes of the future now rest.

4.26 p.m.


My Lords, everybody I think will agree that this housing problem is one of very great difficulty, and in the speech to which we have just listened the fact is, of course, very fully explained. I am glad to think that the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, who has considerable but not, I think, a very happy experience of the matter, will be able to tell us of his adventures in the enterprise of getting houses built for poor people. As my noble friend Lord Llewellin pointed out, there are several great difficulties, sometimes described as bottle-necks, connected with the supply of materials, in which bricks are the most important, and with which my noble friend Viscount Stonehaven will deal. Both labour and materials are at present in short supply, but we hope in the future things will be much better. I think the noble Earl who has just addressed us agrees that up to the present moment the results of building have been somewhat unhappy, but I am bound to say that he has given us reasons for thinking that the results in the future may be of a more pleasing character.

I am not going to attempt to roam over the whole of the subject we are dealing with to-night, but I want to say something on the subject of the handicaps which the Minister of Health and as I think, the Government have deliberately imposed upon themselves, which very seriously prevent their dealing with this question of building as efficiently as they might do. Three matters in particular I wish to mention, two of which I think have already been mentioned. The Government, for some reason or another, seem to have taken objection to any private enterprise in this matter. Secondly, they are equally opposed to any houses being built for sale; they want all houses to be built for letting. Thirdly, in one sentence, after complaining of the difficulty of poor men in the matter of housing, they are making attacks on the great building societies of the country, which have assets, I believe, amounting to £800,000,000. They are attacking these building societies and scoffing at them. They have applied to them the term "moneylenders," and have stated that their interests ought not to be taken into consideration. Why they should be called moneylenders" I do not know. The Bank of England is a money lending institution, and it now belongs to the Government—or to the country rather. There are vast numbers of enterprises in this country which lend money, and if they lend money at the reasonable rates to which building societies are compelled to keep, and enable, as they have enabled in the past, millions of people to acquire their own houses, it does seem to me rather invidious—if I may say so with all courtesy—and not wise to attack the building societies in connexion with this matter. That one could enlarge upon, but I do not want to say too much about it, because I think that I have enough to say on the subject of private enterprise and the matter of building for sale.

I am not in the habit of doing a thing that I regard as somewhat foolish and that is accusing people of something without having grounds for what I say. Mr. Aneurin Bevan on March 6 of this year said this: The fact is that the reason why we do not wish to stimulate the production of houses by private enterprise is because the Government have accepted a solemn obligation that we shall use our building materials and our labour first for the production of houses for those who need houses, and not for those who can buy them. The right honourable gentleman proceeded to say that honourable members on the Opposition Benches came forward with the old Tory clap-trap. The only remedy they had for every social problem, he asserted, was "to enable private enterprise to suck at the teats of the State." Of course, there is a different standard of courtesy in this House, and, for my part, I am not concerned to comment upon the Minister's language. But I should like to know from the noble Viscount who will finally reply to this debate when the Government accepted the solemn obligation that they should use our building materials and our labour first for the production of houses for those who need them, namely, houses for letting, instead of houses for sale.

The suggestion was borne out a little later by the assertion which the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, repeated only a few minutes ago, that four out of five persons living in Great Britain need houses to be let, and cannot afford to buy them. Four out of five! I should like to know where those figures come from. I confess that it is absolutely and totally opposed to any of the facts that exist, so far as I know, on this subject. It is opposed by the fact that before the war vast numbers of men were building houses and getting finance from building societies and from other institutions. So far as I know, there is only one instance of an inquiry made by direct investigation as to what people want in this country. A Mr. Arnold Whittick, a lecturer to the Forces on houses and planning, made inquiries in eight groups of people in the Army and the Royal Air Fcrce. These people were asked whether they would prefer to rent or to buy a house, and in order to have the matter quite clear, the question was divided to provide for two separate sets of circumstances (a) assuming economic and social conditions to be those obtaining in 1938, and (b) assuming an assured and regular income sufficient to provide the necessities of life. These were the answers. Under assumption (a), that is, with con ditions those of 1938, seventy-five people wanted to rent houses, 361 wanted to buy. Under assumption (b), that is, that they were to have an assured and regular income sufficient to provide the necessities of life, the answers showed that ten only wanted to rent, and 492 wanted to buy.

That is entirely different, ludicrously different, to the suggestion that four men want to rent as against one who wants to buy. It can only be made a statement approximating to the truth if the proposition is that these men for whom houses are required are men who have no money of their own, and who are not allowed to borrow either from building societies or other institutions. Of course, if you prevent a workman, a man who is just beginning his life, from acquiring money with the assistance of building societies, you may say that very few such men want houses, because they cannot afford to pay for them. But it is a most unfair and most unjust statement of fact, unless you explain that that is what you mean. I challenge the Government to prove their figures, and I would suggest to them with complete candour that the figures they have given, so far, are absolutely and entirely untrue. They are based on theories which cannot be proved.

Now I want to say something about private enterprise. The noble Earl who has just spoken would have us believe that the Government are not opposed to private enterprise in the matter of houses, and that the proof of it is that for every four houses built by the local authorities the Government are willing that one should be built by private enterprise. One in five! Of course, we know that so far as we can judge from the inter-war period, the position was rather the other way, and that private enterprise could and did build at least three times as many houses as the local authorities. But let us pass that by for a moment, and let us remember, firstly, that the houses built by private enterprise in the towns are not to have one of these extraordinarily generous subsidies, and that only some much smaller subsidy is allowed in the rural districts. Let us also remember that in order to build the houses licences must be obtained. The noble Earl opposite was challenged about licences for houses. I can tell him the answer. The answer was that, so far, from the end of the war, 28,000 licences had been given by local authorities to private builders. That statement was contained in a recent copy of the Economist as a leading statement of fact.

What do they mean when they say that they will allow one-fifth of the houses to be built by private enterprise, and why? I am not accepting that it can be just to exclude houses built with the assistance of loans. Most of the millions of houses which were built before this war began were built with the assistance of borrowed money. It is true that building enterprise is cheaper and more rapid if done by private people than if done by local authorities. But the real difference between the two sets of houses, those built by local authorities and those built by private enterprise, is this: that, apart from the question of subsidies altogether, the Government (with that strange objection they have to any houses being built by private individuals) are banking on the fact that when the private man has built his house it comes within the Rent Restrictions Acts at once, and he also cannot get a licence unless he builds for rent, for letting. On the other hand, the houses built by local authorities are free from the Rent Restrictions Acts. A private builder, contemptuously referred to sometimes as a speculative builder, has to be rather a bold speculator and must be willing to spend some thousands of pounds in building a house which can only be rented, and the rent of which may be reduced, as soon as he has put it up, by some tribunal over which he has no control, whereas the local authority is entitled to fix the rent and to raise it when they think fit.

But it goes further than that. The private house, the house built by private enterprise, and which is subject consequently to the Rent Restrictions Acts, is one in which the first tenant gets security of tenure for an unknown period. Even if he does not pay his rent, it is exceedingly difficult to eject him; you can only eject him by expensive proceedings in the County Court; and he is entitled to stick there, and his wife and his children are entitled to stick there, until the Rent Restrictions Acts come to an end. But the local authority house is in a very different position. There, the tenant gets a weekly tenancy—that is the practice all over the country, according to the best of my information—and after being put in there, after putting in his scanty furniture and getting accustomed to the house he is at any time liable to be turned out at a week's notice. Really the dies are loaded against building by private enterprise, as the Government know perfectly well. Mr. Bevan in his speeches has indicated perfectly clearly that his doctrine is: "No private person in this country is, if I can help it, to own a house of his own." You may think that is an extravagant statement, but I believe it is true. I have read his speeches and I cannot believe that there is any other explanation of the way in which it is made impossible for private individuals to build houses to any great extent or of the fact that even if they are willing to speculate they are held up by the stipulation that they must build only upon a licence and for a weekly rent.

The Rent Restrictions Acts have got a very wide effect. I am well aware of them and had to make a study of them for another purpose. I am quite aware of the security of tenure and the vast advantage of it, contrary to any contract which may be made at the time the tenant is put into possession, but I would observe that with regard to the houses which the local authority has built, the situation is a very curious one if one realizes the old doctrine of a home. You cannot have a home if you may be turned out in a week, and you cannot say any longer that "an Englishman's home is his castle," if it is a castle on a weekly tenancy. I would say that it is completely unfair and unjust to the ordinary men and women who desire to buy a house to be treated in the way in which they are treated by the Bill which is before Parliament and by the intentions which the Government have disclosed in speeches in the other place.

I do not know how far members of His Majesty's Government read the works of Karl Marx and how far they have great pleasure in the phrase "wage slaves"; but I would venture to say that for my part I think the phrase "rent slaves" would be, not quite as just, but about as just, as a description of the people who live in these houses erected by local authorities.

Perhaps I may conclude by telling your Lordships a little story about a case which I had when I was at the Bar, a case about the custody of a child. It was a claim by two working men, one on one side and one on the other. My client, who claimed to keep the child under his care, had been a working man all his life (he was not very old) and, as I knew, and as I elicited in the court, he had acquired, with the assistance of a building society, a house of his own and quite a substantial sum of capital. It was necessary to say that to show that he was a proper person to look after the child, to give it all it needed. The case was not a very easy one. I was very anxious for the Judge to appreciate what I had appreciated about this man. He was of the best type of English working-man and I for my part would say that there is no better type than that particular class of man. I asked him the question, "Now, Mr. So-and-So, how did you get all this money?" and he drew himself up and hit the desk before him and said "By work." There was a sensation in court. Everybody looked at him and I am sure they felt that by those two words he had indicated long years of thrift and labour in order to be able to build up a home and some means of supporting it and for looking after the child.

A good many years have passed but so far as I can see, and I am speaking absolutely with no political idea at all in saying so, the men who will strive and work and put money away are getting fewer and fewer. Everything is being done for them by the State. They are helped in every department of life until it comes to the time for their funeral and you will not find many men, in my belief, who will be inclined to save money under conditions as they are now where saving is almost useless. They cannot buy a house with it; they cannot buy clothes for their families. There is absolutely nothing they can do to make life enjoyable other than things like greyhound racing, the companionship to be found in a public house, and occupations of that kind. It will be a bad day for England if the Government do not, as soon as they possibly can, encourage these men to save. I am firmly of the conviction that one of the best ideas is that they should be able to earn sufficient to enable them to pay week by week or month by month sums by which they will acquire their own houses with such amenities as can be given at the present time.

I do not speak as a politician and care very little about what happened in the past. It leaves me cold to think that after the last war houses were built very slowly. It does not move me to much excitement to be told that during the last six months the Government might have done better. The Government have got to submit to criticisms, especially of a constructive kind. What I am deeply concerned with is that houses should be obtained for the working classes of this country and for those gallant fellows who come home from abroad whether they be soldiers, airmen or sailors. They should have not only houses in which they can live at a subsidized rent but houses which they can acquire in which to spend their time with their wives and families. These, I think, are among matters most desperately needed at the present time.

4.56 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to ask the Government for reassurance on two specific points. One of them in particular is causing me a very great deal of anxiety because it is fundamental to a successful housing policy. The first point on which I want reassurance from the Government—and I hope the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, who I understand is going to wind up this debate, will be able to give it to me—is on the question of what is the Government's policy on the problem of the great urban aggregations. This is fundamental to a proper housing policy and I should like to remind your Lordships of a debate which took place in your Lordships' House in November, 1944, when I had the privilege of moving that the decentralization, decongestion and redevelopment of the great urban aggregations should be a prime object of policy. Those were the days when my noble friend Lord Woolton was Minister of Reconstruction and after a debate which was, if I may say so, on a high level, in which noble Lords from all quarters of the House took part and during which there was no dissent, the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, accepted the Motion on behalf of the Government. I admit quite frankly that my noble friend while accepting the Motion was careful to say that he did not thereby commit himself necessarily to accepting all the arguments which I had put forward but as he had accepted the Motion I was quite content, and that stood as the accepted policy of the Coalition Government.

That is the first question I want to put to the noble Viscount who I much regret to see is not in his place, but I hope that means will be found to communicate to him the question I am asking. I have not thought it necessary to give him private notice because I understood that the policy of this Government is in accordance with the principle I have enunciated, but it would be highly satisfactory to me, and, I am sure to the House, to have an assurance on that point from the noble Viscount. It is really fundamental to get this right because without a deliberate policy of decongestion of the great towns we shall never get the houses we want in all the right places. To get the houses in the right places, which I am afraid we signally failed to do between the wars, is, in my opinion, a fundamental part of a successful housing policy. I began by saying that I was apprehensive about this. I want to tell your Lordships why. I am apprehensive because a sine quâ non for a proper policy of decongestion is a proper land policy. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, is not here because no one knows better than he the difficulties of getting an agreed land policy. I regret very deeply that it was not found possible, and I know that Lord Woolton made very great efforts in that direction, but the regrettable fact remains that it was not found possible to get an agreed land policy in the Coalition Government. Nevertheless, the present Government before they came into office announced their policy and gave pledges as to what they were going to do.

It is very unfortunate that nothing yet has been done. We have the promise of a Bill. I think Mr. Silkin, the Minister of Town and Country Planning, has definitely indicated that a Bill will be forthcoming some time this spring, and the sooner the better, because what is happening now is that all the local authorities are proceeding with their housing programmes and building new houses and flats and almost entirely extending peripheral development. In other words, the housing machine is getting well started off again on the old bad track. Big cities are getting bigger and bigger, and there is no organized dispersal. I do not want to anticipate the discussion on the Housing Bill, which will be coming up before long, but I do want to say to your Lordships that if the noble Viscount is going to tell us (and I do earnestly hope that he is, and I anticipate that he is) that the Government do adopt a policy of dispersal and decongestion, well, they really must think again about the financial provisions of the Bill which is now in another place.

The rules of order in your Lordships' House I think are sufficiently elastic to allow me to refer very briefly to what is going to happen, and, although it would be quite improper to anticipate a discussion, to give your Lordships very few figures. The capital value of the subsidy for houses is £594; that is on land up to £1,500 an acre. Now here is the point. On land over £1,500 per acre the local authority has got to build flats; there is no option under Clause 4 of the Bill. The subsidy for flats on land over £1,500 an acre runs up by steep stages and on land of 18,000£20,000 an acre is £1,482 per flat or £1,764 per flat if there are lifts. That compares with £594 for a house. Of course one can make an easy calculation of how many millions will be saved by building houses and not flats, and that would be nicely to beg the whole question, because quite clearly you have got to have some flats towards the centre. But if the Government really do intend to have a policy of decentralization, then they must be prepared to arrange for the dispersal of a considerable proportion of the people who are living highly congested in the central areas. I find from working it out that even on land up to £13,000 an acre, if dwellings were provided three houses to one flat, you would save £11,000,000 in capita] value on every 100,000 people of whom 50,000 were dispersed. I do not expect the noble Lord to grasp the figures which I am giving him just like that, because we will return to the matter when we get the Bill here, if it has not been amended. The point I want to make is that as at present arranged on land over £1,500 an acre the local authorities are not allowed to build houses at all; they have got to build flats. Those flats are going to be far more ext pensive than the houses, and the cubic space is going to be lower, and they are not what the people want. What the people want, of course, are houses with gardens. I do not intend to enter into the competition in arithmetic which we have had between the two Front Benches. I was deeply interested to find the two noble Lords, one on each Front Bench, each with perfectly watertight figures derived from the Ministry of Health, and, of course, the fact is I am quite sure that both sets of figures are perfectly right, because, of course, statistics prove anything.


There was—


I think I can anticipate the noble Viscount. I think he is trying to tell your Lordships about a return, also from the Ministry of Health, giving the average age of death from a certain disease. That is quite right, isn't it?




The average age of death from this disease was 45, but when you looked into the return you found there were only two cases. One was a new-born baby, and the other was a nonagenarian. So I have not any doubt whatever that all the figures given by both my noble friends are perfectly correct. That is the first point. I would like the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, to give me a reassurance that the Government are determined to give effect to a policy of decongestion and dispersal and redevelopment as expected by this House, the absolute essential for which is suitable land legislation. I do not embark on the form which that land legislation is going to take; we will argue about that when the time comes, but land legislation there must be, and I do hope to hear that the Government really are determined to give effect to the policy of dispersal.

The other point is the question of what use the Government are going to make of the housing societies. I did ask a question some months ago, and I was given an answer of what I can only describe as very modified rapture about the housing societies, and I was at the time a little disappointed. But on examining the Bill—again I do not want to anticipate the Bill—I was not altogether reassured but I believe the answer again is a modified affirmative. I want to ask the noble Viscount to give us something more than a grudging affirmative about the use of these societies. I am not going to follow my noble and learned friend who has just sat down on the question of houses for sale or houses to let, except to say one thing in passing. I accept the fact that it is the policy of the Government to produce houses to let. I am not embarking on merits when I say that I would beg the Government to consider whether it would not be wiser to approach people in the building societies and the building trades and try to see by what means they could be encouraged to build houses to let, if that is what the Government want (and there is a case for it) instead of calling them a pack of cutthroats, and really putting them off by accusing them of being rapacious. There are two sides to every question. I am quite certain in this housing matter the great building societies and the great contractors in the building trades want to co-operate, and I am quite certain that the Government will get a better and a more speedy result by trying to secure co-operation, by saying frankly, "What we want are houses to let. How can private enterprise co-operate?" I think they will in that way achieve the speedier result, which we all want, than by a process of antagonizing the building societies.

Of course they will have to do something about the Rent Restrictions Acts. I will come to that in a moment. There is one more point on the question of the housing societies. My noble friend the Earl of Listowel said that neither public control nor private enterprise should be regarded as an article of faith. He also said that they wanted to enlist every agency to speed up house building. I know that is true, and I accept that absolutely on its face value. Even if the Government are absolutely determined to have nothing but houses to let, then the housing societies really are down their street. They are non-profit-earning bodies, and they do precisely parallel work to the local authorities. I do beg the Government to give an assurance that there will be real cordial co-operation and a real whole-hearted attempt to get these people to work with the local authorities. There is a very good reason for that. I am not disputing the need for houses to let, but I do dispute the advisability of a situation in which every house to let, or the great majority of them, are owned by the same owner, and that owner the local authority. That really is putting the population in a very invidious position. A monopoly of landlordism in the hands of local authorities surely must be admitted to be a bad thing. You cannot defend it by any possible argument whatever. Here are these housing societies willing to offer alternative accommodation to that of the local authority, on similar terms, if they can get the assistance to which I say they are entitled under the Housing Act.

Those are two points on which I want reassurance: one about the policy of decongestion, and the second about real co-operation with the housing associations. Thirdly, I want to ask the noble Viscount something of which I ought to have given him notice; consequently I do not expect an answer to-day, but perhaps we may expect it when the Housing Bill comes up for consideration. Have the Government a policy with regard to the question of local authorities raising the rents of their houses? These low rented houses are under the Rent Restrictions Acts for every owner except the local authorities. The houses of local authorities are not under the Rent Restrictions Acts and, to my knowledge, some local authorities are raising rents. I would like to know, without arguing merits, whether or not the Government are proposing to lay down a policy for local authorities in that respect.

5.12 p.m.


My Lords, while being in complete agreement with the questions and the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, I do want to get back to this matter of the licences for private builders to build houses. I had put down a starred question on this point for to-morrow, but I put it down anticipating that this debate would take place in a week's time. I have since withdrawn that question and I want to bring it into this debate. This statement that the number of licences issued to private builders for building houses is going to be reduced, is really very disturbing. When one looks at the progress report which has recently been issued—the White Paper which the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, quoted and criticized so ably—in spite of what the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, said about it, one finds that it does show one thing which is sticking out a mile, and that is that a great number of local authorities, for some reason or another—probably a perfectly genuine reason—are not yet in a position to provide the houses which we all want so badly. It may be lack of staff, it may be inefficiency—I do not know the reason—but the fact remains that there are a considerable number of local authorities who are not yet carrying out the Minister of Health's programme.

Are we going to take the pace of this housing programme entirely from the slowest people? That looks to me as if it were the threat implied. If various local authorities, for probably a perfectly good reason, cannot start building their houses, you are going to limit the licences issued to the private builder in a ratio to the houses supplied by the local authority. You are going to limit the private builder. You are going to slow down the pace of this house-building programme to that of the slowest people in the whole scheme. I believe that in certain cases—not in house building—you have to adjust your pace to the slowest moving element. You have to do so in ship convoys, and things like that, where they have all to be kept together. But I do suggest that that is a very bad policy to adopt as regards the provision of houses. Why cannot you turn it into a race, instead of a convoy? This really is causing a great deal of concern and discouragement to the private house builder.

The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, said that the figures of houses which were being built by private enterprise would decline. If this policy of limiting the licences is going to be carried out, it is bound to decline, and the Government policy will be pushing it down. It is the greatest discouragement to private enterprise and the private house builder that they can possible offer. At the same time the noble Earl referred to the necessity of having the local authority as the senior partner. He said that we want a partnership in which the local authority must be the senior partner. I agree thoroughly. But, for heaven's sake, do not let us get to that position where the senior partner reduces the junior partner to such an extent that he becomes completely non-existent. I was rather surprised to hear the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, saying that the private builder will shortly become inert and sluggish.


I do not think so.


Yes; look it up.


I do not like interrupting the noble Lord because I know how tiresome interruptions are, and also because of the time, but I used those words in a different context. I was referring—I am speaking from memory—to the attitude of the private builder when he is faced with a high cost and the prospect of a further rise, as he was after the last war.


I appreciate that. I should have said that in certain circumstances he is likely to become inert and sluggish. That is not the kind of encouragement for which the private builder is looking. He is not inert or sluggish now. He is trying to do his job, and all the Government are doing is to assert that he is becoming inert and sluggish, and that they will immediately cut down the number of licences for which he may apply.


I apologize for interrupting again, but I applied that expression, "inert and sluggish," to what happened after the last war. The noble Lord is, I think, suggesting that I am describing private builders at the present time in those terms.


I am afraid I am not impressed with what happened after the last war; I am worrying about what is happening after this war. Are the conditions the same as they were after the last war? And what happened after the Zulu War and Boer War? To my mind that has just as much bearing on these cases as what happened after the last war. Were all these houses destroyed by bombs in the last war? Is the situation the same in any way? I do not think the noble Earl's argument has anything to do with it. Anyhow, I do want to point out, without getting hectic over this matter, that the whole position of the private builder is getting more and more bewildering and confused. I hope that the Government do not intend to enforce too strongly this four to one proportion of building houses, as has been stated. I want to ask the Government whether they do intend to adhere strictly to this policy, and if so, can they give an assurance that in cases where the private builder is in a position to build a house, where he has the materials, the labour and the site, a licence will not be withheld because the local authority, through inefficiency, lack of staff or any other reason, are unable to do their part of the job?


If the noble Lord will forgive my interrupting, I can say that as far as Leeds is concerned the policy is to take in the small builder. That is definite.


They will issue a licence?


That is right. They are going to allow them access to specifications and to help them in every way.


That is extremely gratifying. Perhaps the Government will follow the lead of Leeds. I want to put in an appeal for the mobilization of all forces to get these houses built. It is no use saying that the local authority will do this and that private enterprise will do that. You have got to get the whole thing together because otherwise you will not get the houses built. I am going to tread on ground now of which I am completely ignorant, and that is the Ministries. We are always blaming the Ministry of Health, but surely it is a whole conglomeration of Ministries which is concerned—the Ministry of Works, the Ministry of Supply, the Ministry of Transport and the Ministry of Labour. There is not a single Ministry which is not either directly or indirectly concerned. I hope that they too will get together, because only in that way will we get these houses built.

5.21 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Earl the Postmaster-General said he considered the record of Scotland to be excellent. He gave some explanation to show that it was not quite all it appeared to be from the paper, but he did not say that what it amounts to is that the figures are entirely illusory and will not give any satisfaction to Scotland at the present time. Indeed I will say that a very page in the history of rhetoric has been lost by the fact that the Under-Secretary, Mr. Buchanan, cannot denounce this result in the passionate, vigorous and vivid manner of which he is such a consummate master. The fact is that last July Scotland had 4,000 houses under construction and had actually built 600. Not only did she have a flying start but she had actually chalked up a score before the whistle blew. Last October Mr. Buchanan said there were 5,000 houses under construction and that construction of 3,000 would start shortly. Since that date the construction of only some 1,800 houses has been started. I think I have some idea as to why that is; I think it is due to slowness in approving tenders. The figures give that impression, and that impression has been amply confirmed by a contractor, who told me that a tender he, had submitted last October was only approved a few days ago. That is a delay of five months. That was not a local authority; that was the Scottish Special Housing Association, which is directly under the Department.

I am going to speak on the position of housing in Scotland, because it is fundamentally different to that which exists in England. In the first place, we have not suffered the bomb damage that England suffered; we had a mere 7,000 houses destroyed. But our problem is much more serious than that which exists in England and it is of an entirely different nature. I regret very much that no noble Lord who is familiar with the situation is speaking in this debate or, as least, is not shown to be speaking at the present time. Things which work in England do not necessarily work in Scotland. The first thing that occurs to me is the Housing (Rural Workers) Act. That was a very great success and a most valuable Statute in Scotland, but I understand it has not been quite so valuable in England. That may be due to the fact that our farmhouses are of a different style; they are more isolated and they are made of stone, which is a more suitable subject for reconversion and redevelopment than brick. We certainly do not use lath and plaster as is done in some parts of England. In any case the repeal of that Act constitutes an act of surrender conforming to English requirements and not to Scottish requirements.

The second point I have to make concerns what is called the speculative builder. Why he is called speculative because he anticipates the requirements of his customers I do not know. You never speak of a speculative haberdasher or a speculative ironmonger. The speculative builder has not been a success in Scotland. Whereas in England he built three out of four houses between the wars, in Scotland two out of three houses were built by municipalities. I do not mind telling you that we have looked with some envy and some greed at the very rapid development in England which has taken place between the wars. We have wondered why it is that our housing has not progressed to the extent which housing has progressed in England. The difference can be shown by the figures of overcrowding which were recorded in the report of 1935. In England 3.8 per cent. of the houses were recorded as overcrowded, whilst in Scotland the figure was 22.6 per cent. None of the English towns reached the Scottish level, and none, of course, even approached the appalling figure of 44 per cent. which exists in such places as Coat bridge and Greenock. To us it is the midsummer night of madness to strangle the goose that has laid the golden egg. If I may venture as a mere Scot to express an opinion on a purely English matter, we cannot understand why you are being so foolish as to throw over the instrument which has performed no less than a miracle between the two wars.

It is no blind chance that the speculative builder has not been successful in Scotland; there are very definite reasons for it. The first reason is the incidence of the rates, on which I will say something in a minute. The second is the tradition of low rents which is very closely connected with the incidence of the rates. The third is the fact that local authorities in England have been more generous to the speculative builder than they have been in Scotland. They have assisted, for instance, in the construction of roads, which has practically never been the case in Scotland. On the question of rates I will read to you what Mr. Tom Johnston, formerly Secretary of State for Scotland, is reported to have said in a recent broadcast: It is true that we have built more municipal houses in proportion to England, but even in our best year we were never anywhere near the English figure, and the cause was the rating system which manifestly discouraged the building of houses to let. Unless that issue can be taken out of the scrimmage of party politics in Scotland we shall continue to suffer from a disadvantage from which England and Wales are free. The outstanding points of the rating system—and I will be quite shod, because it is complicated—are, firstly, that vacant houses, whether furnished or not, are liable for rates, and, secondly, that the unfurnished rent is automatically the assessed value. That means that the annual values in Scotland are higher than those of comparable properties in London. To compare the poundage, an increase of 25 per cent. is correct or approaching correctness. Thirdly, there is a division of the rates between the occupier and the owner. In origin that was intended as a form of Income Tax but as the course of centuries went by it became removed from its original intention.

As a result of these factors the ownership of dwelling houses to let is an unattractive proposition and a thing which no one willingly undertakes if he can possibly avoid it. I do not know whether this example is common in England, but it certainly is quite common in Scotland, where I have seen an example of it quite recently. A block of about 100 houses was up for sale and nobody wanted to buy it. It was virtually to be given away. The houses were not new houses but they certainly were not derelict. Those houses constituted to the owner a pure liability which no one was willing to undertake, and when I say "no one" I include the local authority, which refused to take the houses as a gift. In these circumstances it is not possible to expect that private enterprise, as it is called, will solve the problem of housing in Scotland until the rating system has been put right. We do not expect it, but I must emphasize that the subsidy as suggested at the present time imposes a very heavy burden on the local authorities. It demands by Statute a bigger payment per house from the local authority than any Act for the last fifteen years and any Act at all of which extensive use has been made since 1919. In Scotland, in very hard and severely hit areas, £6 10s. per house has to be paid, whereas in England, in such places as Bournemouth or Brighton, £5 10s. has to be paid. The rates at the present time in these areas will not stand that incidence, and it will mean, provided that the cost of houses does not go up and provided the rents are obtainable—both of which contingencies are uncertain—that there will inevitably be a 10 per cent. increase in rating on burghs which are badly placed to-day. It is a burden which they can only bear with very great difficulty indeed.

There is an enigma about Scottish housing which is difficult to explain; it is rather like the widow's cruse in reverse. When the Royal Commission reported in 1917, the demands were 121,000 houses. By 1919 it had risen to 131,000 houses; by 1935 it had risen to 250,000 houses; by 1939 it had risen to 260,000 houses, and to-day we are faced with a demand for 500,000 houses. You cannot say nothing has been done. In fact, 350,000 houses were built before the war, three times the original figure given by the Royal Commission in 1917.

There is one other very significant thing, and it is just a word, the word "tradition." Brick is now called the traditional method of building in Scotland. No one could conceivably have called it that 25 years ago, when stone was the traditional method, and everybody viewed with scepticism the introduction of brick into a dwelling house. I only mention that to show that quite a revolution has already taken place.

This constant increase in requirements has taken place for two reasons. First of all, there has been a rise in standards. Secondly, there has been no allowance for routine replacements, because houses as built to-day do not last for ever. In regard to standards, may I just tell this story for what it is worth? In 1938 I went to Berlin, a city which at that time had no slums, and I asked to be shown their housing sites. I was taken to three of their newest housing sites, and not one of them would have been up to the standard demanded by the Department of Health for Scotland.

In regard to replacements, I would like to put it this way, if you will bear with me for a moment in a little simple mathematics. In the report which has just been issued, the number of houses in Scotland is given as 1,200,000, to which it is stated a net addition of 400,000 is required, making a total of 1,600,000. Giving those houses a sixty years' life, which I think is not ungenerous, that means that 28,000 houses a year are required to replace the present numbers. In other words, with 28,000 houses a year, we are merely marking time, not losing ground. In the whole history of recorded building in Scotland, only once have 28,000 houses a year been built and that was in 1876. In 1938 and 1939, 25,000 houses were built. That means that the building force in Scotland, which was about 60,000 before the war, requires to be doubled or trebled, and the question I should like to ask the noble Viscount who will reply is: What arrangements are being made to double or treble the building industry in Scotland? Are training centres being built? Are there organizations for putting under training new men who can build up the industry as it now stands? To-day housing is by far the most urgent problem in Scotland, a problem which I think is even more urgent than it is in England, and there is no section of the populace at any point who would not give the fullest and utmost co-operation that they can if the way is open for them to do so. Housing is a task which should be taken right out of the scrimmage of politics, and put into the realm of administration, so that it is dealt with apart from politics just in the same way as we deal with water or with roads. I have much pleasure in supporting the noble Lord.

5.35 p.m.


My Lords, perhaps it would be as well if I come in at this moment in order to reduce somewhat the task of the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, in summing up the debate. I have always looked upon it as a mere convention to express gratitude to the noble Lord who opens a debate on occasions like this, but I think I can quite honestly say that it is not mere convention on this occasion, having regard to the importance of it and the manner in which it has been discussed by noble Lords with the desire, as I see it, not to score points, but rather to endeavour to find a modus vivendi to solve the housing problem. In that the noble Lord who opened the debate gave us an admirable lead. He will not mind my saying that some people do not like the temporary houses, but it all depends on the people. I know a good many people who live in them who do like them. It all depends on what your contacts have been, and the social circle in which you move. I know a good many people in these houses who have got considerably better housing accommodation than they had before, particularly with regard to the amenities which are supplied in this particular type of house. It is not that I am approving of them altogether, but that has to be borne in mind. As a woman said to me the other day, "One thing, during the coal shortage we are not feeling it like the other people because we have one fire which manages to heat the whole house." There are, therefore, some things with which we can say that the people are very well satisfied. I heard a woman in a train saying that she had never had such a house in all her life, and the car was then passing some of the temporary houses in the Vauxhall Bridge Road.


You can take that either way.


Among the questions that were asked was this. The noble Marquess, Lord Reading, asked how many houses had been derequisitioned. The number released from requisition between January 1945, and January 31, 1946, was 33,800. He then asked how many un-derequisitioned houses there were. The number is 18,000, including 7,000 very large houses of the mansion type. The noble Marquess then went on to ask what steps were being taken with regard to those that are still requisitioned. They are being released as fast as possible, but it is as well to note that it 'has a little different bearing on the housing problem to what is borne out by the ordinary figures, because when a house of twelve rooms or less becomes derequisitioned it is reported to the local authority, who then use it to house people who are overcrowded under the peculiar circumstances that have arisen in various districts, and that is pretty considerable.

I think probably some noble Lords, and many other people, do not know exactly how far that has gone. For instance my own borough has got 40,000 houses in it, and only 400 of them escaped damage during the "blitz." Bermondsey and Stepney have suffered even more. That will give some idea of the tremendous trouble which is involved not only in the actual building of the houses, but in repairing houses in order that people may find accommodation in the meanwhile.

The noble and learned Viscount, Lord Maugham, wanted to know what was the objection to any private enterprise, and then he quoted, of course with his usual accuracy, a certain number of quite accurate figures of persons who had ob- tained private licences. That indicates that there may be a limited objection, but that it is certainly no real objection. I propose dealing with that at greater length when I answer the noble Lord, Lord Chesham. But there is a little more to it than that. The Government are prepared to give a subsidy to country builders, so that if a farmer wishes to build a cottage for his labourer he will get the subsidy and can proceed with the work, provided he can get a private builder to do it.


A smaller subsidy than a local authority would get.


Yes, but a subsidy. I am dealing with the point about not calling in the private builder. This is a case in which he is helped in the way that I have stated. I, for one, am not inclined to decry or to depreciate the work done by the building societies. I happen to be Vice-President of the Metropolitan Building Societies' Association. But I am not blind to the fact that a good many people have bought houses, more or less under a kind of compulsion, and that they have found them a burden weighing very heavily on their shoulders in later years. They have found the onus of keeping up the payments a very weighty one. No one who has been in contact with working people who have been labouring under that difficulty can fail to understand that that is a position which must be taken into consideration.


But it has been improved very much by an Act which I helped to draft and put through myself.


Has it not been improved still more by the present policy of inflation which is reducing the value of money in terms of goods?


Well, whatever the causes I am willing to admit that there has been improvement. I am certainly not attempting to decry any efforts which have been made to bring about improvement. I would remind the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Maugham, that the licensing system was brought in by the Conservative Caretaker Government, so you must not lay your complaints on this score wholly at the door of the present Government.


Nobody complains of licences. The complaint is that they are not being granted.


The noble and learned Viscount said that you cannot have a home if you are liable to be turned out in a week's time. Most of the working class are in homes for which they pay weekly rent, and in that sense they may be liable to be turned out. But I have had a good deal of experience in helping people in difficulties of that sort, and I can tell your Lordships that it is very hard to find a magistrate who is going to turn a man out of a house immediately simply because he owes one week's rent or is in some other monetary difficulty. It is true, however, that most of the working-class population labour under this disability due to a weekly tenancy. But it is also true, and it is much to the credit of whoever is concerned, that it is not implemented. Therefore, I do not think the noble and learned Viscount is entitled to make any capital out of that.

He also challenged the Government as to the estimate of one in five relating to the building arrangements with regard to the private builder versus the local authority. There are no exact figures but I think the noble and learned Viscount will agree that it is worth while to consider on what this estimate is based. It is based on the proportion of the population who are wage earners receiving from £5 to £7 a week—that is, of course, leaving out all considerations of inflated wages. It is recognized, in making this calculation, that there are many people who buy houses through a building society and find them subsequently to be millstones round their necks for the rest of their lives. Figures are also worked out by the Income Tax people. It is found that such wage earners as I have mentioned make up 70 per cent. to 80 per-cent. of the population. Whether the noble and learned Viscount thinks that is an adequate explanation or not I do not know, but that is how the figures are arrived at in this particular case.


I am awfully sorry to interrupt again, but I should be very glad if the noble Lord would elucidate how the different figures have any bearing on the proposition which he is trying to establish.


The noble and learned Viscount wanted to know how the figures were arrived at. I am just giving him the answer, showing how they are arrived at in regard to the proportion of those who want to buy houses and those who want to rent houses. It is presumed that the people who pay rent are in the proportion which I have already read out to the noble and learned Viscount. I hope, therefore, that even if I have not satisfied him I have made the point which I am trying to make quite clear to him. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, asked what is the Government's policy with regard to great urban aggregations. The policy is that of dispersal and an endeavour to set up a system of zoning and so spread out the population thereby breaking up very large aggregations. Of course, a difficulty arises in that connexion as the noble Lord will readily realize, owing to the fact that in the urban districts where land is so very much more expensive there will be a good many more flats than in other districts because of the cost involved. I am afraid that it is impossible for anybody to give the noble Lord an answer at the moment as to what is the position of local authorities with regard to the policy of rents. But that no doubt will be taken notice of and will be considered by others. I cannot give an answer to the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, on the point which he has raised with regard to Scotland. I can tell him that with regard to the Housing (Rural Workers) Act, the Minister has had an interim report on it from an advisory committee. He is giving consideration to it and no doubt a statement will be issued before very long.


Do I understand that you are reconsidering the Act still?


Yes, that is the position now.


That will give great satisfaction.


Next, I want to turn if I may to the particular point raised by Lord Chesham regarding the private builder as against the local authority. His suggestion was that putting the building in the hands of the local authority slows down the pace. There is no evidence to bear that out, and in spite of what the noble Lord may have said in his efforts to pour scorn on what was done after the last war, may I say that experience between the wars rather shows that when private enterprise had a free hand it did slow down things considerably. It slowed down the numbers of houses built and increased the cost by as much as 200 per cent., and it was only when local authorities started building, and did build, that the pace of building quickened very much. Perhaps my noble friend the Earl of Listowel's phrase, in which he used the words "inert" and "sluggish" was not altogether unmerited. He is, I think, afraid that inertia and sluggishness might supervene again unless there were a certain amount of compulsion behind the building effort.


Will the noble Lord tell us how much the price of building has gone up now? He used the figure of 200 per cent. Perhaps the noble Lord will tell us how much it has gone up now.


I have the precise figures for the cost of a house at the present moment, which I will give the noble Lord.


As compared with 1938?


The noble Lord will be able to compare them with any period.


Really these figures that were given in the House of Commons by the Minister of Health do not bear out what he said at all, because up to March 1920, local authorities built 576 houses and private enterprise built 159 houses. Then in the next period, which is to September, local authorities built 2,926 houses, and at the same time private enterprise built 2,486, apart from 30,000, which you cannot apply, because the figures are all bracketed. The result was that up to 1922 the local authorities had built a total of 137,000 houses and private enterprise 73,000; they were not slacking off at all.


May I reply? I think I have this advantage over the noble Lord, that he has not consulted the Ministry of Health as to the accuracy of his figures. I think it is possible that there may be a misunderstanding and that the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, may be right in the sense that figures may be used in different senses. I do not want to prolong the argument, but I should very much like to have an opportunity of comparing my figures, which were passed as correct this morning, with the figures just quoted by the noble Lord.


These are not my figures at all I am reading from column 162 of the House of Commons Report of March II. Mr. Bevan said: "I regret that no complete information is available of building in each of the years 1905 to 1919. From January I, 1919, to March, 1945, the following figures are available"—and those are the figures I was reading.


I accept what the noble Lord has said of course, but I should like to have an opportunity of comparing notes.


Those figures were raised in a speech before by Lord Llewellin and answered by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. I have been dealing with a set of circumstances which have arisen since then. In the first place, I want to tell the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, that it is the Government's firm intention that the greater part of the building work must be done by local authorities. But, nevertheless, regarding the issuing of licences, the limitation that has already been put on of four to one is an overall one. That means to say that it must have regard to the demands in different districts and to the different types of houses. Therefore, there may be an excess in some cases of the use of private enterprise, and in another a deficiency; and that will be evened out over the whole. It is an overall figure and may vary in different areas according to the type of houses required. This is done because in the main the houses built by private enterprise have been and are mainly for those who are able to buy them. As I have already said, the majority of people cannot afford to buy a house. I have given figures, which have been worked out, from the Income Tax authorities as to the proportion of people who rent houses compared with the proportion of people who do not, and I have given some indication of how some people are forced, by economic circumstances and according to the conditions of their employment, into buying houses in that connexion.

Particularly it will be found that it applies to the case of what I would call the black-coated workers. They are often in great difficulty in that connexion. I have known of people (clerks and that sort of people) who, when they wanted to get promotion, have been shifted to a different town and have had to get rid of their houses, often at a considerable loss to themselves, in order that they might get the necessary accommodation. So that it is only the local authorities, under the present circumstances, building with the Government subsidies, that can afford to provide the houses at a rent commensurate with the pockets of the persons who desire to live in them. Private builders have not private sources of labour and materials and could not build houses by absorbing labour which would be required for building in other areas. I can say this, that where it is found to be necessary labour will be directed to local authorities' housing. If a local authority, as some people have suggested, is slack or dilatory in these matters, then the Ministry will step in and take over the functions of the local authority and proceed with the building. Clause 18 of the Housing (Financial and Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, which is now before the House of Commons, also empowers the Minister to set up housing associations to do the work of local authorities. That, I think, meets the question that was raised by someone in the debate.


It does not meet my question. I believe these are new housing associations. I should be very interested to know why they are going to be set up. Is the Minister going to make use of housing associations which have their place under existing housing legislation? That is quite another matter.


In regard to the question of whether there is any difference between new housing associations and old ones, I cannot answer that. But the Minister is prepared to use new housing associations if the local authority fails in that particular respect.


Only if the local authority fails to do so. That means he is not going to use existing associations for providing houses between the wars at low rents, but is he only going to use these new housing associations set up under the Act?


I am not advised on that. With regard to the small builder, there is a scheme under consideration whereby he will be encouraged to co-operate with the local authority; that is, having regard to the fact that some of these small builders are not able to prepare specifications and bills of quantity, they will get the necessary assistance from the local authorities in certain cases in order to carry on that necessary work. That I think will give some small comfort to my noble friend in that connexion. There is one other thing that I would like to call attention to before I sit down and that is the fact that in discussing the housing question I think there has been a great deal of unfairness, both in the criticism, which has not always been intentional, and in the fact that people have not always realized the tremendous difficulties involved apart from the mere shortage of houses. I suppose that there is no industry which makes such great demands as that of the building of houses. There is so much involved apart from the mere assembling of the house itself and its construction. Having regard to the grave position which the country finds itself in in regard to labour and materials that must be given due weight in all our deliberations.

I feel convinced that before long noble Lords will begin to recognize that the Government have followed the right policy by carefully building up their plans and organization in order to proceed steadily forward, and not by jumps and jerks, in their housing policy. In their decision to use local authorities to a greater extent than private enterprise, I am sure they are well advised, having regard to the fact that the people who are most concerned are those who find it very difficult indeed to meet the cost of buying houses and even to meet the cost of rents. I remember saying many years ago that the time would come very shortly when you would never be able to build houses for working people unless they were subsidized, and I think we have now reached that point. I have endeavored to answer the questions which have been put, and I hope that I have satisfied noble Lords, although it is not always in human nature to do that.

6.3 p.m.


My Lords, I do not propose to detain the House for any length of time, but there is one matter to which little attention has been directed. I suppose we are all agreed that however great is the shortage of houses in the urban areas, that shortage is just as great in the rural areas. It is one or two remarks under that heading that I propose to address your Lordships. We have got before us the proposals for agriculture put forward by the Government, which I think most of us have welcomed. It is the intention, I hope, to implement it completely, and that cannot be made a success unless you can induce men to remain on the land and also to go to it. You cannot direct men and women to the land unless you are prepared to bring the homes and dwellings of those people up to the standard of the amenities which are necessary under present conditions. Those houses must be adequate in numbers and must possess eventually, as the great schemes which confront us are worked out, adequate pipe-line water supplies and electricity.

I do not know if I need elaborate in this House the urgency of the need for rural housing. It is perfectly obvious, I imagine, to every one in the House at this moment that it is of the utmost importance in the national interest that this policy of vigorous encouragement of building—of new cottages in the first place, of course—should be pursued with the utmost vigour of which the Government are capable. There is one point which has emerged owing to the way in which the planning has been done in the country. There seems to have arisen in certain parts a good deal of misconception as to the disposition of these buildings. There is a danger, apparently, which has emerged in different parts of the country, of concentrating the building of cottages into large villages at the expense of smaller ones. That has been adopted, I am sorry to say, by some planning authorities, and in a very interesting article the other day there was a very good instance of this.

A village in West Sussex, with a population of 450, applied for a number of new houses. It was an old village; the houses were not modern, and not up to the standard one would wish at the present time. Permission was refused to build cottages in that village. The planning authority said that they were only prepared to allow houses to be built in another and rather larger village about twos miles off. There was a protest against this by the people of the village, and their protest was backed up by the rural district council involved, that of Midhurst. They badly needed cottages in this place, and they certainly did not wish to have their populations foisted on to another village where the men would be more remote from their work, and where it would prove extremely bad for the men, very awkward and inconvenient, and to the farmers who employed them. The planning authority were again approached, and the only answer finally was that they might allow farmers to build a few houses provided that they were in the group of farm buildings, with no separate access from the road.

Of course, I think that anybody who is accustomed to the country will agree that there is a degree of concentration which is highly desirable, such as the provision of central village schools. In fact, many villages do provide those things for various purposes, such as the provision of the playing fields. But it must be realized, and it is, I think, important for the planning authorities in the countryside to realize, that small villages form natural centres near a farm. After all, I need hardly remind your Lordships that some of those working on the farm have to be up very early in the morning. Take, for instance, the case of the cowman, who also has to deal with cows which are in trouble very late at night. I venture to suggest that it is an exaggeration—it has been both said and written in the Press—to say that there is no necessity for men of that category to live near the farms where they are employed.

I was very glad to see that this matter was raised in another place when Mr. Silkin answered in a way which Will commend itself to your Lordships. He said: … I do not consider that there should be any bar to the replacement of outworn houses and the improvement of services in the majority of smaller villages, to which the inhabitants are attached by long-standing ties and associations. Nor, of course, would I seek to discourage the building in such smaller villages of new houses required by persons, for example, agricultural workers, who have to live near their place of work. I think it is not out of place in a debate of this kind that attention should be drawn to this kind of thing which is going on in the country, and it is most important that it should be corrected. I need not elaborate this matter, especially after the discussion we have been listening to, and the knowledge we all have of the extreme, real, major need of new houses being built. We do remember that the figures between the wars show that out of 871,000 cottages erected in the countryside, no fewer than 700,000 were built under private enterprise. I do not wish to elaborate that; so much has already been said in this debate on that point.

Apart from the agricultural point of view I would emphasize the great need of reconditioning houses. Of course this should be complementary to the building of new houses. I would point out that from the point of view of the rural landowner it would naturally be to his advantage that these new houses should be built for letting. This need for reconditioning, great as it may be in the case of some urban areas, is very vital in most parts of the country. If official encouragement were given, it could be carried out in accordance with the circumstances of the localities. For instance, the small-scale builder is really, more often than not, more suitable to deal with matters of this sort than to deal with new construction. The labour that is available locally is more suitable for reconditioning than for employment on new buildings. In cases where there are estate staffs which include men whom one can describe as handymen, there again there is scope for dealing with this question of housing on the lines of reconditioning. Many small builders in the countryside work themselves and employ two or three other men. Frequently nowadays, owing to the war, those who are at work in those small firms or businesses are either very young or else very old men, and they would be much more suitable for dealing with reconditioning of houses than for dealing, with the construction of new dwellings. I think it is notorious that it is a slow and expensive business for big firms with directed labour to deal with questions of this sort, and so I would urge the Government to give every encouragement to the reconditioning of these houses that need it so very greatly in the country. If this was carried through in the way in which it might be, quite a great step forward would be taken in providing adequate houses in the country.

I would like to say one word with regard to the subject of tied cottages. I am afraid that has become partly a political subject, or rather a matter of political controversy, which I think is a very great pity. In many forms of employment, not only in agriculture but in coal mining and elsewhere, we have service occupation. Generally the service occupation arises as a mutual convenience both to the workman and to his employer, and, as I have already pointed out, there are certain specialized workers in respect of whom it is really essential that they should be near their work. Therefore I would suggest that the solution is not to free all cottages, as has been suggested, but to have an adequate overall number of cottages so as to ensure freedom of choice between tied and free cottages. I would also venture to suggest from a certain amount of personal experience that there are quite a number of workmen who prefer tied cottages because of the advantages of being close to their work, and also because of the very low rental and relative ease of transfer from one job to another, as opposed to the difficulties of transfer in the case of rent-controlled cottages.

There is another point I should like to mention. That is with regard to the provision of small cottages for aged people. There again it is a waste to build cottages for such people of the size and standard that is laid down for the ordinary construction of new dwellings. I observe that the Government are prepared to give subsidies and encouragement to the local authorities to build those, but I would venture to suggest that that is a limitation which is really not sound and that the subsidies for the provision of houses of this nature should be available to others than the local authorities. Of course in the background is the overwhelming need for new construction, and I would like to see landowners and private enterprise given an opportunity to take their part in this vast programme that it is essential should be done. I must say after listening to this debate that I am not satisfied that private enterprise is being given that scope (I will not go into figures like many others have done) to which I think their record entitles them, and which would be of the utmost value, particularly in dealing with the rural aspect of the case. As I view it, the future welfare of this nation largely depends on the provision of adequate houses and homes for the men occupied in this great basic industry of agriculture. It is not really an industry; it is a way of life, and it is one which we want to encourage in the country to our utmost ability if we are to expect and hope for sound reconstruction of industry and the welfare of the inhabitants of our country.

6.15 p.m.


My Lords, there is one point I think which has not been touched upon yet except almost obliquely in the opening speech of my noble friend Lord Llewellin namely with regard to efficiency in the building industry itself. We know that our costs are, roughly speaking, up by 100 per cent. (I am speaking subject to correction by my noble friend on the Front Bench) on what they were in 1939. I think it was Lord Llewellin who said there was something like 60 per cent. efficiency in the building trade at the moment. I do not know exactly what he meant by that phrase.


I was referring to the output of the worker. That was not referring to the cost of material.


That was what I understood him to mean. The late Christopher Turner writing in a book called Yeomen Calling, which was published just before this war, pointed out that houses of an equal or substantially better quality with regard to specification and so forth and amenities could be built at half the price in certain countries in Europe which were not very far different in wage levels and so forth. I do not think we can burk this issue. Sooner or later we shall have to tackle the fact that we must have a better efficiency not only in output per man but probably in due course in the assembling of material at the right time, which is so difficult to-day when everything has to be got hand to mouth and piecemeal, but we shall never to my mind get a satisfactory solution of the housing problem until we can tackle that particular side. One has great sympathy with the trade unions who have a rule that a man should lay a certain number of bricks per day and no more. As was pointed out in a letter to The Times on Monday by Mr. Anthony Vickers, they refused to have quicker methods of laying bricks by various new appliances. That is all right, very understand- able and very reasonable—I have every sympathy with it—so long as we do not have an expansionist monetary policy. But if we know that for years ahead we have got certain wants which will never be fully satisfied and know that at the same time it is possible by a sensible financial policy to keep almost all the people who are employable always in work, then I think the fear which inspires that attitude falls to the ground. But it is a thing which we cannot overlook.

One often is told that if English farming is not efficient we must go abroad for our food. One has heard that again and again, and it was, until famine loomed across us, the popular thing to say. If that is true, then we must go abroad for our houses, and all live abroad all live in imported "pre-fabs." This brings me to the point my noble friend Lord O'Hagan has already brought up—the very serious position in regard to rural houses. The position to-day—and I think this is probably true of a great many other sections of the population—is that the housing needed per worker in the countryside is much greater than it was before. That is due not only to smaller families but to the fact that even if there are two or three working people in a family, one goes to the town and another somewhere else. The result is that in that cottage there is only one person working in the countryside. It is fair to say, from what I have been able to assess in my own county, that probably a cottage to-day houses only 1¼ it persons working on the land, as against two persons thirty years ago. There are probably 300,000 more cottages needed on the land than are available.

We shall not get our food unless we have cottages. For two years, perhaps, we shall be saved by German prisoners, but they will not be here for ever. Unless we start building adequate cottages, in two years' time we shall not have our food produced. On economic, quite apart from sentimental grounds, building cottages for rural workers is absolutely as important as building cottages for workers in the export trades. It is probably true that the rural district councils and other local authorities will do their utmost. I am not going to argue the question of private enterprise in urban districts. It may be that in a "blitzed" district there is a very good reason for giving the urban authorities a very high priority, but in rural districts the boot is very much on the other foot. That is shown not only by the figures my noble friend Lord O'Hagan quoted lust now, but by the fact that in the rural districts it is the private owner, in conjunction with the private builder, who, for the most part, will build houses where they are most needed. If he does not get encouragement there will be a tendency to concentrate houses in large villages and leave the districts which need them most absolutely unprovided for.

The noble Lord, Lord Ammon, I think said that provisions were being made so that the farmer could employ the local builder to build a cottage for him. I did not interrupt him at the time because he was very much harassed by other noble Lords, but I should like to ask him this question: Is the farmer who is going to build that house going to be able to reserve it for one of his workmen, or must it be for general use, should his workman leave his employment?


I said it is for his labourer.


Yes, but suppose his labourer decides to leave him. Is he going to be able to have that house as a service cottage, and will he get the Government subsidy?


It is a very important point.


We are well aware of it.


There are a great many owner-occupiers, men with a farm, who probably need two or three extra cottages. The rural district councils are not going to cater for them. If those men can get a licence to build and if they do build for their own farm, they will not get any subsidy if they want to keep the houses for their men. It is a very serious problem in many cases because, as my noble friend Lord O'Hagan suggested, the real remedy for the tied cottage—and I have lived long enough in the countryside to know the insecurities and the difficulties of the tied cottage and very often the sad cases that arise—is to provide ample cottages for all.

In the Bill which is now being debated in another place there is, I think, no stable provision for rural district councils to build cottages for rural workers with the increased and very generous subsidy. In that Bill provision is made to ensure that those cottages are tied, not to one agricultural worker, not to one particular service tenancy but to agriculture as a whole, but I think it is a very weak clause. The intention is all right, but the wording is weak. We all know how, between the wars, district councils built cottages for agricultural labourers which, in three months' time, were being used by artisans from the local towns. Therefore I believe we must have some provision whereby there will be a minimum number of cottages tied to particular farms, but a great many cottages tied to rural and ancillary industries. After all, 10 Downing Street is a tied cottage, and, if one can judge anything at all, one would say that there are at least 600 applicants in another place waiting for it.

There is another point which I think is most important. Week after week in my own county I sit on a committee to which ex-Service men come as applicants to be trained under the Government's Land Training Scheme. I invariably ask them, "Are you intending to set up on your own and to have a little holding of your own in the end?" I should say that ninety per cent. of the people who come to us say they do. Very often, after five years under Majors, they do not want to be bossed by anybody else in future; they want to become master men. That is a very healthy and sound instinct, but there is no provision to-day for housing for the small man who wants to set up on his own, and after all, by far the most expensive part of creating a smallholding is the dwelling house. So far as I can see, there is no provision for the intending smallholder (whether he is going to rent from a private landlord or whether he is going to become independent) to get the same assistance in the building of his house as he would get were he a labourer. I think that is something we ought very seriously to consider now.

I turn to the question of private building and public building in the country districts. The Minister of Health said in another place that he could only plan with the plannable. Nobody doubts his sincerity in wanting to get houses built, and indeed nobody could be a Minister in his position and know that his job was going to go on for very long unless he thought he could get the houses built. However, with all due respect to the Minister, so far as my knowledge of rural conditions goes, that is nonsense. Having regard to all the Departments through which you have to go, to get anything done through ordinary licensing channels is more difficult than getting the camel through the eye of a needle. You can plan with the assistance of private owners just as you can with the assistance of rural district councils, and that way you will get cottages built where they are most urgently required at the present moment.

Reconditioning has already been fully debated in your Lordships' House, and there is only one word I would like to say on it. Some of the old cottages which have been condemned but which are still repairable, and some of the small ones that will have to be reconditioned if they are going to be made fit, should be set aside for the older people, with a guarantee that they will not be condemned in a year or two, so that while the present housing shortage lasts the older people will at least have somewhere apart from the workhouse in which to live in a locality where they are near their friends and relations, and where they can be happy.

I am going to turn—and I apologize for detaining your Lordships at this hour—to what I think is the most important point, namely, the housing problem in general. To my mind, the present method of subsidizing building is something which will lead us to State bankruptcy, unemployment and higher cost of houses. The higher you push your subsidy, the higher your taxation rises, and the greater becomes the snowball of unemployment and distress. It is a deflationist policy to do it by that method. In fact, you borrow money from outside sources and then provide a subsidy to pay the interest for another sixty years or more. That is, to my mind, a most dangerous way of trying to finance the building of houses. Since it is credit which has got to be written into existence, spent into existence, surely the sounder way is for the Government (which, after all, has nationalized the Bank of England) to create a certain credit for building and to say that only amortization and upkeep charges are required for rent. If you work out the figures, you will find that on a £1,000 house you pay £30 at 3 per cent. per annum, which is a pretty low interest today, £17 per annum on a sixty-year amortization, and £10 for upkeep. If you wipe out practically the whole of the £30, and leave just enough for the book-keeping entries which are necessary, you get a house, even at £1,000 capital cost, which will be within the reach of practically every class of workman in the country. That is very important when it comes to people wanting to own their own houses, because people are not happy and contented until they have a chance of owning some genuine stake in the country and until they have something that they can call their own and in which they can take a pride. A £1,000 house with interest, plus amortization, plus upkeep is going to be beyond the reach of the vast majority of people as full employment becomes less certain and as we get back to the more normal post-war conditions. If we do not provide some means of allowing people to take a pride in themselves, and to avoid their becoming a homeless shifting proletariat, this country will never have stability, and housing is one of the tap-roots of stability in this country.

6.37 p.m.


My Lords, I think this debate has been notable for many things, but for two in particular. The first thing is the practically universal offers of, shall I say, encouragement and help to the Government in this problem. The other thing is the fact that, as I see it, somebody at the Ministry of Health gets two out of ten for mathematics. The figures just do not agree. Later I shall produce a few figures, but I hope they will not be "phoney"; I hope they will be genuine. I want to offer my assistance, help, or whatever you call it, to the Government, and to assure them that I criticize in no Party spirit. On the other hand, if I do criticize, I hope they will accept it in the spirit in which I offer it.

I have mentioned before the necessity for a programme and the answer has been that the Government have a programme. Very well, the Government have a secret programme. Who can imagine any military leader embarking on, say, an invasion without having a programme, and without seeing that that programme is accessible to every single person concerned on his side? The only people from whom he would try to keep it would be the enemy. At the recent election the Government received a terrific mandate, and in those circumstances it is odd that they should now say to the people of this country: "You are the enemies; you cannot know what is going to happen." That is only by the way, but where it really comes in is in this way.

However inexpedient, politically speaking, a programme may be—and I admit you will find it is a stick used to beat you with—it is a first-rate method of keeping you up to scratch. In dealing with a subject which is so involved as building, I maintain, and will always go on maintaining—you can call me a stubborn Scotsman if you like—that a programme is essential. You can have provisos and get-outs if you like, but it is essential to have a programme so that everyone connected with the industry—and there are thousands—knows where he is going. Even if you do not keep to your programme—and, of course, you never do—the whole thing is done in a logical sequence and you do know what you are aiming at. Recent events lead me to believe that something in this secret programme, this target for the housing drive, has miscarried. To get any building done at all, you have, as has already been pointed out, to deal with practically all the Ministries, with the Ministries of Health, Labour, Works, Supply, the Board of Trade, the Ministries of Fuel and Power, Town and Country Planning and Transport. It is only owing to the fact that modern technique now enables us to make bricks without straw that the Minister of Agriculture does not come in.

With the best will in the world, if you have got to deal with all those Ministries and they have all got to have a say, it will be a month before you can get an answer. It really is an urgent problem, and a thing about which everybody wants to know what they are doing. According to the figures, the Ministry of Health is certainly adrift with itself somewhere. There is no official with a salary just below Ministerial level, so far as I can see, co-ordinating all these people. If somebody was appointed with a salary commensurate with his job to take the kicks, then you could pass the buck as much as you liked, and there would be somebody to whom you could say: "Right, you are buck king, all bucks go to you." It would be somebody you could count on. I do not suppose he would have a long life, but he would be there. I do think that is an important point.

I will just quote very quickly my reasons for this. On October 29 the Minister of Works said in another place: The number of closed brickworks is 753 and when these works were working to capacity they employed 20,000 men and the number of bricks manufactured was 1,100,000,000. Now this is the important point— Provided always that the necessary labour is forthcoming, I anticipate no shortage of bricks for housing and the other essential work. About that time I said something to the effect that it would be silly to bring back a lot of building trade labour and not be able to make bricks at the same time. The next thing that happened was that on October 30 the Minister of Works said: Meantime the stocks of bricks in hand provide a reasonable safeguard against any general shortage for some months to come. On November 13, the Minister of Labour, talking about the brick industry, said: Every effort is being made to provide the necessary labour which the industry needs. In answer to a question in your Lordships' House the noble Lord who replied to me—it was the same question as put in the other place two months earlier—said that 860 brickworks were still not producing and that normally they employed 29,000 people when working. The stocks of bricks amounted to 976,826,000. That in point of fact represents a consumption of 61,000,000 bricks a month, or the equivalent of 3,000 houses, but that is beside the point. The answer, two months before that, was that 117 more works were operating. Am I to take it that 117 works were closed down and 9,000 persons left the brick industry in those two months? That is the way it reads, and I did give the noble Lord notice that I would spring this on him. I have used that to illustrate how you can apparently go adrift with your secret programme, because under the vows of secrecy, apparently, the brick trade has not been taken into it.

Up to about Christmas the general inference from the replies was that there is no worry about bricks and the stocks will carry us on. The Government did not say that in so many words, because any Minister producing an answer to a question is always safeguarded, but that is the general tone. The next thing that occurred was that shortly after Christmas apparently somebody woke up with a jolt and said: "Good heavens, there is going to be a famine in bricks." That seems to me wrong, because a target would have thrown light on that long before, or even avoided it altogether. The question is whether there is going to be a brick famine, and what steps His Majesty's Government are taking to prevent this. If they are taking steps, are they satisfactory ones in everybody's opinion and could anything more be done?

It is on those lines that I tried to explore the brickwork position and get a rough idea of the brickwork industry to try and stress the point. I think the question is vitally important. Obviously it does not matter who is going to build these houses. I would like to say in passing, that after the last war everyone said that private enterprise built no houses. There was not a brick to be had, because the brick industry then was in a shocking state. You can say that is our fault and it may have been, but it was a fact. That is one reason why I think it is important. I must say I welcome the extremely good publicity which I think is being given to this matter by the Evening Standard. I think they are being very fair and remarkably accurate.

Bricks have always held a fascination for me, and if I may say so, they should be a fairly fascinating subject to members opposite, because they produce the first recorded instance of a strike. If you like you can say Moses might have been classed as a trade union leader; I do not know. Anyway they have the advantage of an historical background, and the subject has an attraction for me because I still retain from my youth a strong mud-pie instinct. To try to get at some reasonable angle on this subject, as I am not an expert myself, I consulted the National Federation of Clay Industries; I read the three Simonds Reports on the brick industry; I consulted the managing director of a very large combine of brickworks; I consulted sundry small brickwork manufacturers, directors and operatives, and went round a few works just to try and ensure I would not say anything which was completely foolish. I apologize for going into this rather deeply, but I think it is very important and a few very general remarks, I hope, will help to explain the whole subject. Of course they are very rough and very far-embracing. At the moment there are four chief methods of making bricks. There is the hand method, which comprises 2 per cent. of the total output. There is the wire cut method, or plastic method, which takes into account 31 per cent. of the total output. There is the stiff plastic process which takes in another 31 per cent., and then there is a semi-dry or Helton process which embraces 33 per cent. I had a question down which I shall take off because it will not be of any value, but my technical information on this subject is that the coal consumption in those main branches of the brick industry in 1938 when they were producing roughly speaking 8,000,000,000 bricks in the year was for the wire-cutting method 1,500,000 tons, for the stiff plastic process 600,000 tons and for the semi-dry or Fletton process, which produce 33 per cent. of the total, 300,000 tons. I am not trying to produce dead accurate figures but just an idea.

The labour allocation in the industry was somewhere of the order of 56,000 employed and the 33 per cent. represented by the semi-dry or Fletton process was produced by something in the order of 56,000 operatives. Your Lordships will see that a very small number of operatives with a very small consumption of coal produced 33 per cent. of the bricks and you will see the importance of that in a moment. I do not think handmade bricks can play a very important part in the housing drive, but they should not be just brushed aside. The handmade brick is almost invariably a facing brick and for your rural housing in this country, unless you are going to put up some hideous structure, that is just what you want. You do not want them in enormous quantities and they are made in small units dotted about the country and can in that particular branch play their part. Another point to be noted about them is that generally the chap concerned is an operative himself; give him a lad or a couple of lads, and in a very short space of time he will have them trained. So there are aspects of the handmade process that are not to be ignored.

The wire-cut process is important because it is applicable to almost every clay. Practically any clay can be worked on that process. It is extremely simple, and transport charges do not enter into it. Amongst the disadvantages of the process are that it takes a lot of coal for pre-drying the green bricks and firing the bricks in the kiln afterwards. The average quantity of coal used is 10 to 12 cwt. per 1,000 bricks produced. Brickworks are designed more or less in units, and a unit is designed with a capacity up to 5,000,000 bricks per year. In bigger works you get multiple units of 5,000,000, 10,000,000 and 15,000,000 capacity. That is the layout of the brickworks. The size of the works depends on the local market which, in the past, has been the near-by towns very largely. The capital in the industry is about £4,000 per million of brick output. That is to say, that for an output of 5,000,000 per year the capital would be in the order of £20,000. What I have endeavoured to show out of this mass of figures is that in this industry there are a lot of small enterprises with small capital involved. The proprietors are very largely small men, in fact, with the notable exception of the big semi-dry people near London. A 10,000,000 output of bricks is required, near enough, for 500 houses a year.

The stiff plastic process is only applicable to hard shales and hard clays, and is generally found in conjunction with the collieries, very often as one of the offshoots. One of its merits is that it does not require anything like as much coal as the wire-cut method. You can cut out nearly all pre-drying, and the consumption of coal is somewhere in the order of 4 cwt. to 6 cwt. per 1,000 bricks. These figures are rough, I admit, but they have an important bearing owing to the coal position which exists to-day, and that is why I am venturing to trespass on your Lordships' time by going into detail.

The Fletton process is only applicable to one particular bed of clay, which I believe is called Oxfordshire clay. It is found, I understand, at Bedford and Peterborough. That is the only bed of clay that can be operated by this process. The bricks do not need any pre-drying. They are made in the press and they go straight into the kilns for firing, and, as the clay contains a high proportion of carbonaceous matter, the bricks, once the firing process is started, practically fire themselves. That gives you this great advantage. First of all the process is relatively new. The works are large and they have been laid out with plenty of capital to back them up and on modern lines. Therefore the potential output is terrific. Their requirement in coal consumption is in the order of 1½ cwts. per 1,000 bricks, which is the figure to compare with the 10 to 12 cwt. for wire-cut and 4 to 6 cwt. for the semi-stiff. Broadly speaking, with regard to the cost of production, if you take the wire-cut as unit cost, the stiff plastic is two-thirds and the Fletton is one half.

Where there is a big combine, there are facilities for large canteen and welfare arrangements, for housing of the workers and all the rest of it. On that score you find that the brick industry, in that particular part, has comparable if not better arrangements than the arrangements to be found in any other industry in the country. They are big chaps, these particular producers, and if they did not do these things properly someone would make them do so. The other man, the small man who has only a capital of £20,000 is in a different picture altogether. I conclude from these facts that if we are going to be short of bricks—which we are—the proper thing to do in a short-term policy is to man up the big combines, that is to say, the Fletton people, who have a total capacity of 33 per cent. of the output of the country, and are now working at the proportion of 15 to 20 per cent. of that capacity. Their total labour requirements in this particular group of big works is in the order of 7,700 operatives when working to capacity. At the present time they require somewhere in the region of 5,000 to be manned fully in order to give their full capacity.

A very large number of these works have been and still are taken over. The weekly output of these would not be less than 35,000,000 bricks. This represents about 1,700 houses a week for a matter of somewhere in the order of 2,600 tons of coal a week. These figures, my Lords, are rough, I do not pretend that they are anything other. These works of which I have been speaking could be rapidly manned. The figure of 5,000 workers that I have mentioned is very different to the figure of 29,000 which we have been hearing about.

And now a word on the subject of requisitioning. I have found out the details over the telephone only to-day relating to one particular works—the Coronation Works of the London Brick Company. When working, they have a weekly production of 12,000,000 bricks. These works were requisitioned by the War Department. After a time the War Department had no further use for them. And here let me say that I gave a wrong impression when I said that the place was derequisitioned and immediately requisitioned again. It was never derequisitioned. What did happen was that the War Department without derequisitioning it handed it straight over to 'the Ministry of Works, and it has not returned to producing bricks. It has been, as I said, handed from one Department to another, and that is a practice which has been commented upon already in this debate.

What has been done by His Majesty's Government in order to help this industry on? So far as I know—I shall be corrected if I am wrong—His Majesty's Government have said definitely that they are worried about the position, and that they have done their best to produce prisoner-of-war labour. I understand that that is so and that this labour is now going into this work. There is now no difficulty about getting a licence to open works. Licences are being doled out, and people are being encouraged to open works. Requisitioning I do not know about, but I think that it is a problem which will have to be faced.

As to conditions in the industry—I am not speaking of the Fletton group but of the rest of the industry, the small men. In order to get production out of the small man who has had a thin time during the war there was a contribution scheme for care and maintenance work, on a levy principle, for brickworks closed down compulsorily by the Government. But, owing to time-lag and things coming in one way and another—if you read the Simonds Report there was a time-lag of six months during which nothing was done—a very large number of brickworks closed themselves down voluntarily; the labour had gone and they shut down. They did not qualify for any of these small grants. The levy was 3s. in a thousand, or something of that sort, up and down on one man's excess production and one man's loss of production. But a large number of these small men without big capital behind them have had a thin time, and now, without any definite knowledge or any programme ahead of them, there is the main statement: "One day there are plenty of bricks, and one day there is a brick famine." Figures are bandied about; you get all sorts of absurd figures of what is going to happen, and they are never contradicted. It is very easy; if you want to talk about bricks, you divide the total bricks by 20,000 and that is the number of houses which can be built. That is presumably why this secrecy hits the brick people.

Confidence must be restored Ito the small man in the management of the industry. Personally I should say: Give the brick industry a target for ten years, and let them know definitely they are going to have ten years' steady work without fluctuation. That is a thing which affected the brick industry before to a great extent. Supposing your new housing drive wanes, then the Government will undertake slum clearance. We should try to keep the definite market steady. There is another fear the small men have if they put their own house in order with much additional mechanization and so on, if capital is available. A lot of them say, "Ah! This Government love something which runs itself. They will come along and see this beautifully running industry and nationalize it." I do not oppose nationalization because it is a Party matter, though a lot of people do. What I do maintain is that an undertaking, if possible, should be given by His Majesty's Government that they do not intend to nationalize that industry provided the output is forthcoming. That would go a long way towards restoring confidence.

Another growing need, as far as I can see from my very brief glance at the industry, is that an independent technical adviser, an expert, or what you like to call him, should be appointed by the Government to go round to these brickworks and certify whether or not they could have a loan or anything else to help them to get back into production owing to their deterioration due to the war. We do not want a committee for that. The total amount of money involved would be very small; if you take the total capital of the whole industry, it is very small. But if this expert could be appointed to go round and give quick decisions, and the money were forthcoming in a fortnight you would get somewhere.

Then there is the matter of labour. The brickwork industry is still under direction. Personally I disagree with direction. But you have got direction, and I do not expect anything I say will alter that very much. But if you are going to have direction, let us have efficient direction. At the present moment His Majesty's Government direct one man here, one there, and one there; that does not really affect the output of bricks at all. It merely means that where someone is working harder than they would have been they are now not working so hard because they have another man to help them. If you adopted one of these three schemes of direction, you would get a good improvement. One is to direct key men; eight key men will open up any brickworks in this country with local labour, prisoner-of-war labour, or any other labour. The second alternative is to have a complete production unit, eighteen men of the correct balance of trades, who would get any brickworks producing again, provided the state of repair is reasonable, in three weeks to one month's time. Then there is the third method. I am broad-minded, and if it makes anyone happier I will call it the "working party" method, that is, a mobile unit of experts. Four experts, directed to closed brickworks that have been reopened, could get the brickworks going with prisoner-of-war labour, military labour, or any other labour in the same way. Those are three methods which are not being adopted at the moment, all of which would give far greater results than directing an odd man here and an odd man there, which does not help production very largely, though I admit it helps the labour problem.

The other matter I would like to mention is the question of amenities or welfare in the industry. The first shout, headed by the Daily Mirror, is, "Oh, it is a filthy industry; it is hard work, and conditions are shocking." I do not agree. It is not particularly dirty, or, if I may say so, it is "clean dirt." Its conditions are not bad; all these works have a statutory obligation to provide a canteen, and they have done so. But the men do not necessarily use them, because a man would far sooner sit in the warm, near the kilns, to eat his snack. I have no hesitation in refuting that. I would say definitely that conditions in the industry are no worse than in any other industry. The grounds that there are for saying conditions are bad, or rather the grouses that the men put up, are that quarry workers get an additional cheese ration. The union argument is that if a quarry worker gets it, why should not the man working in a clay pit get it? In a brickworks employing eighteen or twenty-five men, you have two men in the clay pit. So yon can wash that out. Incidentally, they are driving a navvy or tending a navvy, so that the point does not really arise at all; it is just a quibble. There is one way of tackling it with which I do agree. During the war there was a great deal of admirable work done by mobile canteens, which were run by various people—the W.V.S., the Y.M.C.A., and other institutions of that sort. There are unrationed things such as vegetable pies, meat pies and hot tea. I suggest that instead of these earnest ladies driving around twice a day to air stations, so that airmen can fill themselves up, it would be better for them to direct their endeavours to the needs of the brick workers. By that method the men could purchase extra food which they could not get otherwise. It is pleasing, there is someone to talk to, and the men can get cigarettes and other things which they cannot get in a works which cannot go in for a catering licence. These people could help quite a lot.

Another complaint is that the men want extra allocations of soap. That is a matter for the Government. If the Government want to give them soap, well and good. I have already dealt with the cheese ration and P.A.Y.E. has been dealt with by others during this debate, but the remarks made apply very much to the brick industry. The other point is this. It is essential that the proper priority should be given to housing. You cannot produce a lot of labour for brickworks if there is nowhere for the men to live. There is one matter which rather impressed me. When I was going round I said to all the small men I met that the obvious thing was that if His Majesty's Government wanted bricks quickly the big combines must get going first. Universally they agreed with that, whether it was in their interests or not. I think that shows a kind of spirit in the industry which is worthy of note. It shows that they are trying.

I have here a few figures not without interest having regard to the fact that the Prime Minister has given a production drive speech. The minimum wage in the brick industry, including the good timekeeping bonus, is 82s. a week. In point of fact a large proportion of the industry is on piece work and the average wage that is earned anywhere in the south varies from six to eight guineas. But that is by the way. In the north, where the trade unions are dead against any payment by results, they brought pressure to bear on a certain works to combine this good time-keeping bonus with the minimum wage and this is what happened. Before they did this they lost in this works, owing to absenteeism, twenty shifts and fifty "lates" in one week. These men, of course, forfeited their three shillings. As soon as they combined the bonus with the minimum wage so that a man could come and go as he pleased they immediately lost 130 shifts and 102 "lates" in a week, which shows exactly how the operatives are backing up the unions in a production drive. The normal output per man has now dropped to about two-thirds of the pre-war figure. That of course is practically universal. Recently the unions and the industry negotiated a wage agreement which would cover the ensuing year. Just after that the building trade got a rise of, I think, 3½d. or 4d. Immediately, agreement or no, round came the unions asking for the increase in the brick trade. That kind of thing does not help anyone, so far as I can see.

I hope I have not been too long and bored your Lordships and I hope I have produced one or two good arguments about the brick trade because if you do not get bricks you cannot lay them. The labour figure is roughly 30,000 on permanent housing building, but it is an established fact from past records that one man built one house per year. That is averaging the thing out. Therefore, the number of houses you can build in one year is dependent on the labour you can provide. There are 190,000 men on bomb damage repairs and I quite agree that that should be tackled first and the sooner the better. But there is a lot to do still and until you can draw from that labour you cannot build up your labour force for permanent house building. So I maintain that with the best will in the world no one will be able to build more than 100,000 houses in the nine months remaining in this year. I think that if they do that they will have done very well. The point of that is that it represents 2,000,000,000 bricks per year output. By taking away the figure of the houses built from the number of bricks produced in the peak pre-war production year, 8,000,000,000, the number of bricks left over for other purposes amounted in that year to 2,000,000,000.

An estimate to cover the likely requirements of bricks in the ensuing nine months would be 4,000,000,000 bricks. If you have a figure of that kind to aim at you will not be in the position which apparently may arise from going from no bricks at all to over-production of them. You might easily do that without a programme, but by this means you could sort the thing out on a reasonable basis. If that figure is not denied it will stand and it will do just as much harm as any other figure. Therefore, I hope His Majesty's Government will produce some reasonable estimate to put people out of their pain, as it were. Let them know what they intend to do. Another point is the question of roofs. You have perhaps, got the walls of the house up and then you have to put a roof on. The total stock of tiles at 1st January was in the order of 47,000,000. I made a calculation and the result was that, taking a roof as requiring 5,000 tiles. There were on 1st January enough tiles for 9,400 houses in stock. I said to begin with that the Minister of Agriculture would not come into this but perhaps he will, because someone will want some rick sheets. I think that is perhaps all I can say about this problem and I hope it has been of some use.

7.9 p.m.


My Lords, at this late hour when we are all wishing to hear the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, I hope we shall all be very brief. I only wish to touch on one point and that is on the services side of these new houses. They need services of water, electricity and gas, and it is on the electrical side that I should like to say a word this evening. I have here a letter which I have got permission to read to your Lordships and to hand over to His Majesty's Government. If I may read it, it will show the seriousness of the brick situation which we have heard described at some length. It does show some of the difficulties of these big power stations and this letter deals with a very big power station at Stourport in the Midland area. The letter is from the Himley Brick Company, Limited, Kingswinford, Brierley Hill, Staffs., dated the 4th March, 1946, and is addressed to Frankland Dark, Esq., F.R.I.B.A., of Messrs. Farmer & Dark, Terminal House, Grosvenor Gardens, London, S.W.I. It is in the following terms:

"Dear Sir,

Re Stourport Power Station.

I refer to our conversation of Saturday, 2nd March.

The highest allocation of facing bricks that I am able to give from current production is 10,000 per week.

It is obvious that this quantity will be entirely inadequate to meet the increasing tempo of construction on this most vital contract.

These works have the capacity for meeting your requirements given a speedy return of labour and fuel to pre-war proportions.

Of the two bottlenecks the fuel situation is the most disturbing.

We have been in touch, since speaking to you, with the South Staffordshire Collieries Association (the fuel distributors to these works) and have asked for an assurance that they will meet such demands as necessary to enable us to increase output as labour becomes available to start up idle portions of the works.

We are told that no such undertaking can be given and we are therefore in a dilemma as to the wisdom of engaging more labour. Indeed, unless supplies are increased immediately, we shall be in the absurd position of having to curtail output rather than increase it.

We have been drawing on our fuel reserves until now we have only three days stock in hand—a most dangerous level even for current output.

There seems to be no link up between Ministries, as we have on the one hand the Minister of Health stating that output is to be increased by the more liberal use of German P.O.W. labour, and the distributors on behalf of the Minister of Fuel and Power starting that delivery of fuel to meet the increase of output cannot be assured.

We are willing and anxious to get back to pre-war output and improve upon it. It is surely the responsibility of the appropriate Government department to see that these embargoes on supply should be lifted at once, and the brick making industry given the priority in available supplies that the urgency necessitates.

Yours faithfully,


(sd.) R. YATES,

General Manager."

That shows the seriousness of the situation in which these companies find themselves in trying to get up these new power stations to deal with the increased load. There is a very grave shortage of power plant in the country. Noble Lords will know that last winter there was a great shortage of electric power. If we are to increase rapidly this power production to meet the housing need it will be vitally necessary in my submission to give high priority to power stations, gas undertakings and water undertakings to get their works going, otherwise the power, gas and electricity, will not be forthcoming.

There is another very vital need to which I should like to refer. Underground cables are extremely difficult to get for these new housing estates. I am told the difficulty there is lead. That means foreign exchange. Then there is the situation with regard to the poles, which mostly come from the Baltic countries. That is also very bad. If we cannot get further supplies, I am told, stocks will run very low. I would suggest that His Majesty's Government arrange for foreign exchange and shipping facilities to deal with those matters. It is of vital importance, because all rural electrification is carried by overhead wooden poles. I am told some consideration has been given to concrete poles, which are used a great deal on the Continent. They are heavier and more costly to make. Being heavier, they need more labour to put them tip, and the labour is not available.

The other point I want to make is with regard to the supplies side, which is very difficult from the point of view of electric appliances and wiring equipment. The stocks are very low even now, and, unless they can be increased rapidly, you will find you will get terrible bottlenecks. At this late hour I will not say more than that. I wanted to bring that aspect of the supplies side to your Lordships' attention, because it is absolutely vital that that marches in time with the actual production of houses.

7.25 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will agree that we are indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, not only for introducing this subject to your Lordships, but also, if I may say so with great respect, for the substance and character and temper of his speech. It was what we should have expected from one of his experience. It was full of constructive suggestions and recognized the inherent difficulty of the situation. I was rather comforted that the debate was not an echo of many others that have taken place on this subject, namely, an assailment of the Government because houses could not be produced quite in the same way as mushrooms grow up in a night. That is the kind of experience from which I myself suffered quite repeatedly many years ago. I think if my right honourable friend the Minister of Health had been here to-night he would have derived considerable comfort from the fact that the discussion to-day has been much more informed and sensible. I feel that tins is due to the fact that it is recognized that it was only last August that the war ended, and we have still vast forces (I wish we did not have to keep so many) all over the world. It is not for me to give the numbers, but a Defence Paper was issued the other day which shows that many men will still be required even at the end of the present year. That of course means that we are deprived of these men in industry, apart from the immense dislocation which the war caused to all forms of industry.

The debate has also shown that there has been recognition of the fact that you cannot suddenly turn round from war industry to peace. Just as it took a couple of years or more to turn from peace industry to war industry, so it will take a long time to turn from war industry to peace-time industry. I am very glad that my right honourable friend the Minister of Health has refused to give a target. We shall do our utmost and nobody can do any more than that. In view of the lateness of the hour I shall be as brief as I can. I assure you I shall not give you a long discourse, such as the noble Viscount, Lord Stonehaven did, which showed great industry, labour and interest, for which we all respect him. I shall not be three-quarters of an hour on bricks. The noble Lord referred to the deficiency in the supply of certain parts and of the urgency of taking steps to deal with the matter. I entirely agree with him. We all know how critical it is.

Every now and then, as is inevitable, we come across shortages such as those to which the noble Lord who has just spoken referred, which hold up this or that. I can, however, assure him that my colleague, the Minister of Works, is tackling this problem on a very large scale, and, judging from what has happened in the past, I think so far he has made surprisingly good progress. I will not put it any higher than that. I see that some progress has been made in respect of timber. May I just say that I have received one slight correction with regard to the difficulty to which the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, referred about somebody not being able to obtain timber in accordance with some special by-law. I think it had to be 1.7 or 1.5 standards. I am informed that by-laws do not normally include provision about the amount of timber, as a by-law. It may be given as a guide in some by-laws, but the standard allowance which the Government is making is 2 standards, not 1.5. If that local authority has further difficulty and the noble Lord will send me particulars, I shall be glad to have it inquired into.

With regard to the force of labour employed, I think that the noble Lord who moved was not quite fair to us. It is true that the labour employed on building permanent houses at the present time is a very small figure, and seeing it is only six months or so since the war ended and anybody was able to get any sort of a start, I am not at all surprised. But may I draw your attention to the figures on page 6 of the White Paper on housing, which give the numbers employed on different branches of house building and repair? They show that on war damage repairs 203,000 men were employed in England and Wales. We did not have that prodigious job before us, happily, at the end of the last war.


That was on 31st July. The number at 31st January was 197,000.


I beg your pardon, 197,000. I am very glad it has declined a bit since July; they are getting on with the job. But 197,000 is a large figure. Then there is preparation of sites, 15,700; erection of temporary houses, 32,000; erection of permanent houses, 28,000, and conversions and adaptations. One noble Lord made the suggestion that we were not doing as much with regard to conversion and adaptation as we ought to do, but I would point out that there are 60,850 men employed on that work. Therefore it shows that, whoever is doing it, a considerable amount of work is being done. In fact, including 70,000 men employed on repair and maintenance work, there are no less than 404,000 men at present employed on building operations connected with re-housing. Therefore, to give the comparatively trivial figures employed on building permanent houses is, if I may say so, not quite a fair guide as to what is going on. It is certainly more sensible to deal with the repair of damaged houses and get habitations of some sort as quickly as you can, than to absorb too many men too soon on building. Anyhow, I think it is an exceedingly creditable figure. Seeing that the war ended only last August, to have 404,000 men now working, in one way or another, to provide houses for the habitation of the people, is an exceedingly creditable achievement. I know there are lots of snags—we are all painfully conscious of them—but, taking the effort as a whole, it is a very good one.

The noble Marquess, Lord Reading, referred to the question of the number of flats released from requisitioning. I have been supplied with the figures, and they are as follows:—Between January 1 1945, and January 31, 1946, 33,800 houses and flats were released from requisitioning. The number still held under requisition at that date was 18,000, but 7,000 of these, I understand, are large houses, such as country houses, which are scarcely in the category of those that will be released in our cities for reconversion. With regard to conversion, I have given you the number of workmen employed, and if noble Lords will consult the White Paper they will see, on page 5, that there have been 9,945 conversions and adaptations carried out, and they are still going on. Repair of unoccupied war-damaged houses (which is much the same) amounted to some 70,000 houses. Therefore there is a vast volume of work which is going on in all these other directions, and unless fair account is taken of it one does not get a faithful representation of the effort that is being made.

Then the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, told the House that there was a refusal to restore some requisitioned premises on the ground that they would be needed to accommodate visitors on June 8. I have not been able, between the making of his statement and the present moment, to confirm it, and all I can say is that if the noble Marquess will give me particulars I will have them looked into; but the statement occasioned some surprise, so I understand. However, that is the best I can say about it.

Witty regard to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, I can give him every assurance that the Government are fully seized of the necessity for a policy of dispersal. He need have no misgivings about it; we are not departing from the faith that is in us in the least. I know that the delays and complications arising out of questions of compensation and betterment are of an appalling character, but I would like to assure the noble Lord that we have no intention of shirking—none whatever. We welcome the effort, too, of housing associations so far as their work can be supplementary to the local authority's programme. But we must have an understanding that they are prepared to build houses to let of a comparable character. That must be part of the arrangement.

We concur also with him in his recognition of the fact that people, taking them in the mass, prefer houses to flats, but of course the condition with regard to flats is imposed upon us by the immense cost of the land upon which they are built. So far as I am concerned, being a countryman in my blood and bone, the more cottages we can have the better I shall be pleased. However, all I can say is that I do not think the noble Lord need have any apprehensions on that subject, or think that the provision of flats will be carried any further than is forced upon us by the circumstances of the case. Certainly we shall not allow it to prejudice the dispersal which we all recognize is necessary.


Then may I ask the noble Viscount to look carefully at Clause 4 of the present Housing Bill?


I am aware of it, and seeing that the noble Lord has called my notice to it again, I will give it renewed attention.

Just let me say a word on some of the things said about private building. Really, what is at the back of them? As a matter of fact, what was said about what happened after the last war is true, and there is no discrepancy between the bulk of the figures used by the noble Lord opposite and those given by my noble friend. The figures in the Paper refer to round about 30,000—That is the approximate figure given—houses built by private enterprise after the last war up to 1923.




That is right. The facts are, I understand, that in the first year there were none, in the second year there were 5,645, in the third year—up to September, 1921—a further 17,000, and the balance up to the beginning of 1923. That is how the total figure is made up. I am not blaming private enterprise in the least; private enterprise builds houses to make profits out of them. I am not blaming them for it; it is self-evident. Private enterprise builds houses in the main to sell. It was not until after 1923 that large-scale private building got under way, and the houses, as we all know, were built to sell. If same of the noble Lords are proud of the record of some of the companies that: built houses for sale in those years, all I have to say about it is that they are satisfied with a poor record. The prices that were paid by the people who bought those houses week by week and the character of the houses that were provided when they had paid for them were shocking in a large number of cases. Certainly that is not an example which my right honourable friend is disposed to imitate.

The real reason is that at the present time, owing to the immense shortage of materials and labour, it just is not possible to relax restrictions. In the present shortages we are bound to have priorities and to ration, so to speak, as best we can. Without a doubt the overwhelming need of the people is for houses which they can have at a weekly rent and which they are not required to buy. It is because of that outstanding need that we are bound to give the highest priority to this class of house. When the position becomes easier and more materials and labour become available, then of course it will be quite possible—and everyone desires to do it—to remove restrictions. But having said that, I would point out that from page 4 of the Housing Return you will see that licences have been issued to private persons to build 28,250 houses. I think myself that that is a remarkably generous figure. It is not possible to suggest, with a figure like that before us, that the Government are trying to snuff out building by private enterprise in one form or another.

Let me turn for a few minutes to rural housing. I entirely agree with the aspect of it as put before us by the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan. We are fully conscious of the urgency of the problem. The only reason why we cannot let things go as we should like to in the rural areas—and the same applies to the towns—is that now and for some time to come we are confronted with great shortages both of men and materials. As soon as ever it becomes possible I am quite sure much more will be made available in the country districts. At the same time, my right honourable friend is at this moment in the course of negotiations which will, we hope, bring in the full possibilities of the small builders in the villages and in the country districts. We are fully alive to the necessity of harnessing what capacity they have got to the enterprise and my right honourable friend is at this moment engaged in discussions with a view to that object being attained.

We are just as alive to the necessity of providing cottages in rural areas as any of our critics. Let me say that a long time ago now in your Lordships' House I myself expressed misgivings on this matter. Owing to the importance of additional labour in 1947, when very likely we shall not have so many prisoners of war and other people, houses are absolutely essential. Having said that, let me say that the warnings which are addressed to us to secure that cottages erected with the aid of subsidies are not diverted from agricultural labourers are entirely superfluous. We have every intention of securing that where subsidies are provided so that houses may be let to agricultural workers, they are let to agricultural workers. We have no intention of departing from the spirit and intention of that plan.

Here I would draw attention to the somewhat acrimonious speech which was addressed to the House last week by the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr. I do not know whether he was infected with the enthusiasm which recruits sometimes possess, seeing that, after a considerable period of indecision, he appeared for the first time as a Conservative on the Front Bench opposite. I am not blaming him for his enthusiasm, but I do blame him for his acrimony, and still more I blame him for his inaccuracy. It was suggested, almost as if it were some fault of this Government, that cottages for agricultural workers had been mopped up by week-enders and other people. Let me quote the noble Earl: What steps are the Government going to take to ensure that the houses that are built in the villages are in fact let to agricultural workers? My own personal experience is that they are generally let to everyone but the agricultural worker. What about it? When did this experience of the noble Earl arise? It has not arisen since last August; it cannot be the fault of this Government. It has arisen during the last twenty-five years; it is the noble Earl and his friends who are responsible for this disgrace. It is a disgrace to every village in England and nobody knows that better than the noble Earl and myself. Time and time again during the war I was applied to by farmers who wanted cottages. In many cases there were farms with half-a-dozen cottages and those cottages were let to all kinds of people, to anybody but agricultural workers. That arose from the decline of agriculture and there were all kinds of reasons for it, but it was not the fault of this Government. There is no reason why the noble Earl's admonition should be addressed to us; he had better address his admonition to his friends behind him. They are the people who are responsible.


At this hour I do not like to interrupt the noble Viscount. It is quite true that my speech was exceedingly critical of the handling of the food situation, and in spite of everything that has been said I continue to be critical of it. However, the noble Viscount's discomfort at what I said on that subject should not lead him into trying to read into my words about this question of cottages built by district councils in villages any criticism at all. Of course those words related to the past; I said "My experience in the past has been." There was no question of criticizing the Government.


That is all very well, but the noble Earl cannot get away from the context. This was part of a general onslaught upon this unfortunate Government. If this had no relation to the noble Earl's onslaught why did introduce it? No, I cannot let him off with that. Let me carry it a little further. Here is his remedy; this is what the Government are to do. I hope the noble Lord opposite who has a realistic impression of what really is required will address some observations to the noble Earl in private. This is what he says: this is the remedy: "Let him"—that is the Minister of Agriculture—"drive his colleagues. Let him drive the Minister of Labour to give him more workers. Let him drive the Minister of Health to give him more houses." Really, I can understand a fourth form school boy saying that sort of thing but I find it rather difficult to believe that it is a contribution to the solution of our difficulties at the present time.

May I turn to one other thing which was a challenge to the Government, and that is the suggestion which was made by the noble Lord, Lord Cornwallis—I am sorry he is not here, but I had not an opportunity of securing his presence—as to what is behind the Government's policy of requiring local authorities, for the reasons I have stated, to build houses. I want to read it to your Lordships. It is a very serious matter. "He must"—that is, the tenant of the house—"be a tenant of some council, and then he will have less chance of deserting the Socialist faith. That is the feeling that is gaining ground, and it is believed that is a definite thought out policy." I only hope to heaven it is not. All I have to say is that to suggest that the Government is directing local authorities to build houses in order that there may be at the back of it some obscure Socialist propaganda to tie people to the Socialist faith, is something which ought to be protested against most vigorously. It is almost an insult to suggest a thing of that kind, and it ought not to pass without contradiction. I feel very very hurt that a thing like that should be said, because it ought not to be said, and I take the first opportunity that is open to me of repudiating it. You must excuse that little exacerbation, but when I am confronted with statements which are so profoundly unjust as that, I think occasion should be taken to remedy it as soon as possible. We are desirous, of course (and we are doing everything we possibly can) of getting houses built for the people. We take no cognizance of anything but their need; that is the only test there is, and we hope that all the building capacities of the country, as materials and all the rest are gradually developed, will be brought to our assistance.

Nobody has mentioned the fact which, to my mind, is one that causes us the greatest, anxiety of all, and that is the high cost of these houses. To me it brings back painful personal recollections which I will not endeavour to enlarge upon, but the figure which is now before us is dreadful, and I think I would like to assure the House that the Government has every intention using every legitimate means within its power to get these prices reduced. I think it is absolutely essential that we should do everything we can to do that, and I am sure nobody will support it more heartily than the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin.

I would like in conclusion, as I said at the beginning, to thank him very sincerely for the character, substance and temper of his speech. It has been a most valuable contribution and for my part I think that my right honourable friend the Minister of Health, considering he has only been on this job for about seven months, has made remarkably good progress so far.


My Lords, perhaps I might be allowed to thank the three noble Lords sitting on the Front Bench for being courteous enough to reply to the debate which I had the honour to initiate. I think perhaps I stand rightly corrected in having only quoted the figures for the permanent houses. At any rate, the figures which the noble Lord just gave only show an increase, since demobilization started, of 77,000, and I hope we shall very soon get more. A considerable proportion of the figure he gave of people in the building industry were in the building industry as at July last, and I hope we shall get far more. There are only two other points I would like to comment on. He said that private builders and these building societies and associations are building entirely for sale. I think, if the figures are looked up, at least a third of those were for letting in the years between the wars.


I did not say housing associations, only building societies.


Then the noble Lord made some comment that some of the houses that were built for sale were shocking and that in some cases they were pretty bad. My only comment on this is that each of those had to be passed by the chosen instrument, the local authority, which the Government are trusting now, because the plans had to be passed by them and the house had to be passed by the local surveyor. In regard to the last few moments of the noble Lord's speech, perhaps I may be allowed to comment that around one of the cages in the Zoo there is a nice little notice, "This animal is dangerous, and if irritated he attacks," and the noble Lord seemed to be following very much that line. In regard to his comments upon my noble friend who sits beside me, I would only make just this one comment, that the noble Lord opposite was making the best defence I have yet heard of the tied cottage because they have been kept by the landlords and the farmers for the agricultural workers, and I thank him for that.

I think it has been a useful debate. My Motion was not, unfortunately, a Motion for houses, otherwise if they could have been given, as Papers might be given, we should have unanimously voted for it. Since it was put down we have had all the Papers that anybody reasonably could require, and in these circumstances I have no hesitation in asking the leave of the House to withdraw it.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.