HL Deb 20 November 1946 vol 144 cc220-76

2.38 p.m.

LORD LLEWELLIN rose to call attention to the housing situation, and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I do not anticipate that any of your Lordships will think it a waste of time to spend an afternoon taking stock of the housing situation. The last time we did this, in general, in this House, was, I believe, in March of this year, and I think that the time has come when we might well do it again and hear what reports the Government have to make to us upon the matter. I cannot help feeling that no one in his heart of hearts is really satisfied with the present housing situation. We do not see housing queues but if all the people who are on all the lists of all the local authorities for houses were to be formed up in line there would be such a long queue that it would really appal the conscience of the country.

I remember well a story about a popular Army leader of the last war, General Sir Aylmer Hunter-Weston, one of our Corps Commanders. When his Corps was on the Belgian coast he once went to visit a sentry stationed on the shore. He asked the man what he was, and the man told him his name. The General said: "I do not mean that. You are more than that. You are the left-hand man of the left-hand Battalion of the left-hand Division of the left-hand Corps of the left-hand Army of the British Expeditionary Force. What is more, if Sir Douglas Haig, the Commander-in-Chief, were to give the order 'Left form' to the whole of the British Armies, you know what you would be doing: you would be marking time here for six months until the Armies came round "There will be a lot of people in these housing queues who will be marking time, I am afraid, for much more than six months unless we get things going very much faster than they are now moving.

I saw in The Times this morning that one member of the London County Council has said that if the present rate of house building in the London County Council area did not increase considerably the waiting list for houses would not be cleared for a quarter of a century. When one realizes that many of the people who are waiting are people who lost their homes by enemy action, that many of them are men who served—it may have been in the desert or Burma or Italy or France or elsewhere—and who, now that they have come back, have a real claim, as good a claim as anyone ever had, to settle down in homes of their own; when one realizes, too, that in this category are men who gave up the homes they had in order to go out and fight and then had their homes requisitioned by the local authority or some Department in their absence, and still cannot get back into them, then one appreciates the wide repercussions of this problem and the urgent need to move as fast as we can to see that it is solved more rapidly.

In the main, to-day, I want to deal with permanent houses, but before coming to that aspect, I will, if I may, say a word or two on the situation as regards temporary housing. These houses are a very necessary stop-gap, but I must say, as I have said before in this House, that I hate the look of them, and I fear that many of them will remain in existence far too long. Yet they do provide homes. The fittings in them are good, largely, I think (if I may say so), owing to the arrangement made by my noble friend Lord Portal, when he was Minister of Works. In fact, speaking generally, but for the arrangements made by the Coalition Government of all Parties we should probably not have had any of these houses, or anything like so many of them, as we have at the present time. As it is, the programme that was then laid down has gone much more slowly towards its fulfilment than had been planned.

The plan was to have 150,000 houses completed within two years of the defeat of Germany. That period takes us to May 7 next year. I do not think that the October returns are yet out, but up to the end of September only 57,000 houses had been completed. There are only seven months to go, and only two-thirds of the programme has been achieved. And, my Lords, the seven months to go, from October to April, are bad building months—not so bad for temporary houses as for houses that need brick-laying; but at any rate they are not the best building months. So I would like to ask the Government, what is the delay, and how is it that the programme planned has fallen so much behind what was anticipated? I have read most carefully the Minister of Health's recent speech in another place on housing. It was a good debating House of Commons performance, but, if I may say so, there was really not very much more to it than that. You could not gather from that speech what were the real reasons behind the failure—or the comparative failure—of this programme which we are discussing to-day. I think we ought to be told, the country ought to be told, the large number of people waiting for homes ought to be told, what are the reasons for delay. We should be taken fully into the confidence of the Government.

I come now to the permanent houses. After all, they are the houses which, by general agreement, we want to see built in the greatest possible numbers, not only to make up for those actually destroyed during the war, but to make up for the lag in house-building that inevitably took place when everybody was called up for other, and at that time more urgent, matters. In the Coalition White Paper, issued in March, 1945, not: long before the break-up of that Government, the plan was to erect 220,000 new permanent houses within two years of the defeat of Germany; that is to say, by May 7, 1947. That was a Coalition estimate, As your Lordships will recall, that estimate was mocked at as being totally inadequate by a large number of candidates speaking on Government platforms, during the course of the Election. Yet when one looks at the performance, how dreadfully inadequate it is, compared not only with those promises—if they were promises—made on election platforms, but also with the actual plan which had been said to be too small.

If we look at the figures for recent months, we find that in June only 3,500 houses were completed. In July, the figure was 5,100, and in August, 4,900. In September, I am glad to say, it was up a bit—though not to a great extent—reaching 7,018. Those are the figures for the country as a whole. Thus, in the whole of Great Britain, only about 28,000 permanent houses have been completed in the last seventeen months. That is less than one-seventh of that programme of 220,000 houses. At the present moment it seems to me—I shall be glad to be told that I am wrong—that there is no hope whatever of getting the remaining six-sevenths completed in the seven months between now and May 7 next. We ought to be told why a carefully-worked-out programme is not going to be attained. Although it was said to be too small, was it, in fact, too large? That is one question that I should like to ask the Government. Or is it that materials, generally, are in short supply? I cannot quite understand the position with regard to materials. Speaking in another place, the Minister of Health gave some very satisfactory figures about the materials produced during the month of September, to which he was addressing his remarks. But when one comes to ask anybody engaged in the building industry, one finds that they all say that they are held up because of the lack of one material or another. I think it will be found that that is generally so with any builder, small or great, that you care to ask. No doubt, the figures that the Minister of Health gave are quite correct. If so, something has gone wrong with the distribution.

I would ask your Lordships to consider for a moment just what is happening with regard to houses at the present time. In the pre-war years it was reckoned that the time taken to build a house from the foundations to completion was from ten to twelve weeks. I understand that it is now taking from nine to twelve months to build a house. I am told that the main reason is delay in getting the materials. If there is delay with regard to some of the materials which one needs for the construction of the top part of a house, it may mean that the scaffolding for that house has to be taken down and transferred to the next house in order that that house can be completed to a certain height. No doubt I shall be corrected if I am wrong, but I am told that the material which is in shorter supply than any other at the present moment is timber, with regard to which I said something in your Lordships' House last March. I have been in touch with one firm engaged in several contracts for local authorities. I am told that they have applied to no less than fifty-eight different timber merchants for ordinary floor and carcassing timber. Every one of those fifty-eight merchants—and there have been more inquiries outside—have said that they have got no timber available. What happens is that a house is built up as far as the first floor, and then it is found that there is no wood to make the floor and no beams to take the tiles. Perhaps that is quite largely the reason why we see in the returns so many houses which have been started but have not yet been completed.

I presume that the Baltic is now closed for any substantial timber shipments. I believe that we are getting some from Canada and the United States. I should like to know whether we are, in fact, getting it from those countries and, if so, whether we are getting it in any substantial quantity. But I would again ask the Government: How much are we getting, or have we got, from Germany? I have been privileged on two occasions to go to that country. When one looks at the extent of the woodlands still standing in Germany one realizes that they have not had anything like the amount of cutting—I should think about one-tenth—that we have had in this country. I think that this is an extremely important question. When we are paying out of our Exchequer such very large sums of money to buy food from abroad, in order to feed the German people, we ought, at least, to get in return this essential commodity so necessary for our housing programme. I should like to ask His Majesty's Government how much timber we have obtained from Germany. It may be given in standards or tons or in any other measure.

I think the Government ought to tell our Control Commission that they have to take steps in this direction, to see that a considerable proportion of the prisoners of war whom we still have over there are put on to the job of cutting this timber, so that it may be shipped back to this country where it is so much needed. It rather horrifies me to find that because of the shortage of timber, the Ministry of Health has had to reduce the amount of standards allowed for the ordinary permanent house from 2 standards to 1.6 standards. The result is that in the houses which we are building to-day we have got to put in floors of concrete or something like that rather than the timber floors which we usually expect to find in our houses and which are far more convenient for the housewife than concrete floors. We must try by every available means to get this timber. I suggest that there is plenty of timber in Germany and when we consider the amount of money which we are paying in order to feed the Germans, we ought at least to insist on getting adequate supplies of timber, so that our houses may be built much more quickly than they are being built and, as soon as possible, we may have wooden floors and not the floors of concrete or other material now being put into the houses. One of the reasons why there has been this housing set-back is that a number of local authorities have sent out their specifications for the full standards of timber originally approved by the Ministry of Health and now the whole thing has to be altered because the amount has been cut down. In consequence a house, or part of it, has to be re-planned; and indeed in some cases houses will not be built at all.

With regard to bricks, I am glad to think that the situation is very much better than it was when we discussed this matter in your Lordships' House in March of this year. However, I am told that that improvement does not apply to facing bricks, which are still extremely difficult to obtain. I should like to know if anything is being done with regard to those bricks. If there is sufficient production, is anything being done to have the distribution rectified?

Another thing that constitutes a bottleneck at the present moment—perhaps that is the wrong word; I do not know—is dampcourse slates. We used to be able to provide in this country, mostly from North Wales, all the dampcourse slates that were needed. I am told now that we are having to get some from Portugal. There was an inquiry set up by the Rees Committee into the Welsh slate industry. I am told the Committee completed its work on October 22. I should like to ask his Majesty's Government what has happened to the Report of that Committee, whether it is going to be published and when we know what its recommendations are, what the position is with regard to getting slates once more in ample supply from that great Welsh slate industry. The other things which I am told are in short supply at the moment are wall ties. No iron strip has been rolled for this purpose, and the galvanized wire, which is an alternative, not so good, will not be accepted by local authorities, on the instructions perhaps—although I do not know—of the Ministry of Health. But, at any rate, something must be done to get proper wall ties if the substitute is not considered good enough.

I now come to castiron goods of all sorts, gutters, pipes, etc. According to the Minister's statement in another place, there were enough produced in September for 17,392 houses, but I am told that only 7,000 houses were completed. It therefore looks as though there ought to be enough, although my information is that the builders just cannot get them. The same thing applies to tiles for kitchens and for bathrooms, that orders placed twelve months ago are still not fulfilled. The same thing is happening in regard to roofing tiles, although there again the Minister said there were enough produced for 11,942 houses. Here again I would like to ask what is being done to see that the materials get distributed to the right quarters. The Minister speaking at Deptford on October 9 said: "It is no use grumbling at the Government; the bricks are on the site and the materials are there." As far as I know, the Minister may have been speaking about one particular site, but if you take sites by and large up and down the country these materials are not there, and that is the main cause of the lag in the building programme. At any rate, the Minister implies by his words that we are right to grumble if distribution is such that the bricks are not on the site and the other materials are not there either.

When the Government, having the immense powers that they have, decide to deal with this matter, whether rightly or wrongly, by overall planning from the centre they must be responsible right down to the details on the site. I wonder whether anybody is really energetically pursuing these different shortages when they come to light. I remember very well in the initial days when the Ministry of Aircraft Production was founded under the driving force of the noble Lord, Lord Beaverbrook, we had to go round to every available store and collect all sorts of things. We even sent across to France to get some Merlin engines out just before the Germans reached them, and we were picking up little bits everywhere while there was a shortage. I remember, too, that when I became Minister I found that we had no less than 200 Wellington bombers without a propeller between them. One of my first jobs was to go into that propeller production. I went down myself and addressed the men who were making them, and I am glad to say that they increased their production immensely. Within four or five months we got all those aircraft supplied with propellers and the propeller situation remedied. Some direct action is needed just as much now. At that time the crying call was for planes; now the crying call is for houses. Let similar action be taken in regard to these materials for houses wherever a shortage turns up.

I come now just for a moment or two—I do not want to delay your Lordships for long because a number of other noble Lords want to speak—to the labour situation. I should like to ask on that: Is there or is there not a shortage? The Government have the figures and should know. So far as I can make out, there are now in the building industry 1,010,000 people in Great Britain, and before the war there were 1,050,000 in the United Kingdom. Those figures cover Northern Ireland as well as England, Scotland and Wales. I presume that there are more than 40,000 in the building trade in Northern Ireland, so it looks to me as though by and large we have got about the building force now in the building industry in Great Britain that we had in the days before the war. It is lamentable to look at the rate of house production now and compare what was happening in the days before the war with what is happening at this moment. I do not know why it is. Do the Government know why it is? Do they know, for instance, how many bricks are being laid in a day by the average bricklayer in this country? I do not know, but I suspect that it is not nearly as many as were being laid in the pre-war days. The Government should know, and I ask them if they do know. If they do not know, I suggest that perhaps somebody had better find out.

I would also like to ask whether the Government have considered putting to the employers and to the trade unions engaged in the building industry the idea of working on an output bonus scheme. Whatever may be said by political idealists, the profit motive does work through every grade of society and with every man even down to the bricklayer, and if we could give an output bonus to the fellow who really lays more bricks than the average, then I believe we should see a great deal more use made of this labour and a larger number of houses erected. Government Departments are far too inclined to look just at the overall picture. I think that, overall, we may well have enough people in the building industry, especially if we can get the out-put up in some such way as I have suggested, but I suspect that there is an incredible shortage in most districts in the neighbourhood of London. I know places just outside the London area where the local authorities have gone to building contractors and asked them to build so many houses, 50,100 or whatever it may be, and have found after the contract has been arranged that there is no labour available.

It seems to me that one of the things that ought to be done by the Ministry of Health is to see that where the labour is available to build there the materials should go, and where the labour and materials have gone there licences should be given much more freely than they are at present so that the building can progress where there are people actually at hand to do it. This overall level planning is absurd. It cannot be right to tell one local authority that it has forged ahead of its neighbours and therefore ought to slow down a little bit. If the Minister is right in saying that there is no labour shortage, and if in saying that the bricks and materials are on the site he means that they can be made available on all the sites, then it appears to me that you can do away with this policy of restriction where there is labour to erect the houses. I am not talking about the control of prices of materials, but as soon as you get a sufficiency of materials, believe me, you will make far greater progress if you take off the controls with regard to the distribution of materials than you will if you leave them on.

Now I come to another matter. We have become a nation whose sports and pastimes include committees, as I think the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, said the other day, and we are also becoming a nation which seems to think that as long as enough forms are filled in something has actually been achieved. The surveyor of the Bridgwater Council has said that it is necessary to complete 37 different forms before you can start to build a house. I should like to know whether that is right or not, because if it is right I think it is too many. I heard the other day of a contract to build 100 houses. It is quite true there had to be 14 different bills of quantities, but do your Lordships know the number of sheets of paper which had to be filled in before a start could be made? It took 17,100 different bits of paper before they could get on with the building of those houses. Somebody really ought to look into matters of this sort.


It is not true.


I am only asking if the Government can tell me how many forms have to be filled. I mean, of course, for everything in the house. I do not mean just to get the licence; I mean all the different forms which are required before you get the rain-water gutters, the baths, the tiles, the bricks and everything else which goes into a house. Let us know how many you have to fill in, and then we shall see whether I am right or wrong.


It is quite right, of course, to ask the Government for information, but I understood the noble Lord to make a statement. He said it took 17,100 of these sheets, whatever they are. I should like to ask him if he will give us the source of his information and tell us who counted them.


Certainly. I have the document and I will give it to the noble Lord afterwards. I was saying that I had heard of this and I was asking whether it was true, and if not, how many really were required. To the best of my belief, my information is correct. If it is not, I would like to be told where it is wrong. At any rate, one does know that there are masses of these forms and I suggest they should be reduced. The number I have mentioned includes, of course—let us be quite accurate—a certain number of duplicate, triplicate and quadruplicate copies, but even those may be unnecessary. They take up paper even if they do not take up time, and they probably take up time as well.

I want now to deal with one other matter which has given rise to quite a lot of political controversy, and that is the question of this one to four ratio of independent builders to local authorities. There has never been any doubt that those of us on this side of the House who take an interest in housing—and this applies to the man who was Minister of Health in the Coalition Government—quite realize that you have got to have a considerable proportion of the houses built to let. There is no question about that. The only thing I would say is that where you get an overall formula of one in four, although it may be right in some industrial areas, though it may not perhaps even be the right formula there, it is not right all over the country. Take, for example, South Coast resorts and places of that sort, in which people normally come and settle when they have retired. They like to buy their own houses out of their savings, to settle down in them and to feel they are their own houses. It seems to me that where we are going wrong is in trying to have an overall plan for all parts of the country. I believe that one of the things that ought to be done is to look at it and see where the plan needs modification. If materials are beginning to be in ample supply, as the Minister seems to suggest, then I think the plan certainly ought to be modified where there are small builders willing to undertake these jobs, and especially in cases where they are not big enough to compete for contracts with local authorities.

Another matter about which I should like to ask the Government is where the trend of prices is going now. When the Subsidy Bill was introduced, your Lordships will remember, it was thought that the £22 per annum per house, made up partly from taxation and partly from rates, would be sufficient to bring the rents of houses down to an amount which it was thought the ordinary person should pay. One hears every day that prices are rising and that there have to be variations made in nearly every contract. At the time the £22 was put in it was felt that that would be the maximum, and I still hope it will be, because although these subsidies have to be given they are not good as a permanent arrangement and everybody would like to see them gradually diminished. I would like to ask the Government whether prices are, by and large, being held so that that £22 is still enough.

Of course, the main question—and I come back to that in my final word—is whether the Government are satisfied with the rate of house building to-day. I doubt whether either of the noble Lords who will reply for the Government will say that they are; that would be the kind of complacency I should not expect from either of them. But if the answer is "No," they have the full facts and they should tell us quite frankly why the rate is too slow and what are their difficulties. Men of good will of all Parties are out to help. We want to see the houses built. Are there shortages of material generally, or only of some materials, and if so which? Are there shortages of labour? Or is it that the materials are wrongly distributed? Are the local authorities acting quickly enough in these matters? Those are the kind of questions to which we should like answers. We should like to know the cause and what the Government, with all the vast power they possess, are going to do to get more acceleration in connexion with this most vital of our needs.

3.20 p.m.


My Lords, I do not intend to follow the noble Lord who has introduced this Motion, and to whom I am sure the whole House is most indebted for bringing up this most important subject to-day, into all the ramifications of his most interesting speech. What I wish to do is to call your Lordships' attention to one or two matters to which I attach importance. I think it is agreed that the real reasons for the delay in the housing drive are difficulties in labour, scarcity of materials and rising prices. The noble Lord gave a formidable catalogue of the difficulties which are being encountered with regard to materials. I think one's sympathy goes out to the Government in this respect. Where I think criticism lies is in the machinery which they have set up in order to overcome this. As one would expect in these days, all the expedients advised by the Government consist of controls. It is always, "You cannot do this," and "You cannot do that."

The two most important "cannots" which appear to operate in the building industry are firstly, that private enterprise cannot build more than one house to every four by local authorities; and secondly, that local authorities and builders cannot exceed the ceiling price. I must confess that I have always been rather puzzled about this four to one ratio. Why four to one? Why not five to one or three to one? Why have it at all? After all, what we want are houses and not ratios. I should have thought that any set of people who are prepared and able to put up houses to-day ought to be given every encouragement. Anyhow, the figures for September are rather significant. Out of the 6,291 houses completed in that month, 3,724—that is more than half—were completed by private enterprise, and at the same time the local authorities had many more houses under construction. It is not as if the local authorities were very keen to have this greatness thrust upon them. I have seen it said that there are a number of local authorities who have not yet completed a single house. I should very much like the noble Lord who is to reply either to confirm or deny that. I personally hope that he will be able to deny it.

Then there is the question of the price ceiling. I think it is common knowledge that the price ceiling is rapidly breaking down. It has not been mentioned officially, but I think it is sure to come out soon. It was a laudable attempt to keep down the cost of houses and thereby keep down the rents, but I am informed that it has become rapidly unworkable, and has become a discredit to those engaged in housing. All sorts of dodges and subterfuges are being used to get round it. I should have thought that the proper way was for the Government to control the price of raw materials and, if they dare, the wages of labour, rather than control the price of a house. It is, of course, part of a much bigger problem which the Government will have to face sooner or later if our industrial drive is going to have the success it deserves. But I do not think this price ceiling at the present moment is helping to solve that larger problem, and all it is doing is hindering building.

Now I want to say a few words on the subject of houses still requisitioned by the Government. There are, I believe, very nearly 100,000 houses, two-thirds of which are in London, still under requisition. At a conservative estimate, taking the large with the small, they would house at least half a million people if not more. One assumes that these houses are structurally sound, as Government Departments are not in the habit of allowing the rain to drip down the necks of their hard-worked staffs. If these houses could be released and reconditioned—and all they want in most places is a little paint and plaster—a contribution would be made to the housing problem as big as, or bigger than, that which has been made by the construction of new houses. The point is that the reconditioning of these houses does not affect very much the manpower of the building industry as such. Reconditioning of houses is the function of the decorating trade, and I am told that firms in that trade are having to turn away labour because they have not enough work for them to do. In passing, I may say that this is a human question as well as a housing question. There has been much correspondence in the Press lately from those unfortunate individuals who own their own houses; who eke out a meagre existence in boarding houses and hotels; and who cannot get their homes released. In many cases they are professional people whose livelihood depends on getting back to their homes. I suggest to His Majesty's Government that they should institute a searching inquiry into the whole question of the continued requisition of what are, after all, people's homes.

I do not intend to say more than a few words on the rural question, as there are other noble Lords who will speak upon that. But I cannot help saying this. Agriculture is our most vital industry at the present time, and it is in jeopardy for want of labour. What is going to happen when prisoner-of-war labour is no longer available nobody dares to think. One of the reasons why labour is so difficult to get is scarcity of accommodation. Now most agricultural labourers' cottages are built by private enterprise, usually by agricultural landlords and farmers. On account of their remote position they do not fit in very well with most local authority schemes. Yet again, the dead hand of the four-to-one ratio makes itself felt. If you happen to live in a locality where the local authority is slack in its housing programme you cannot build your agricultural cottages. If you do overcome those difficulties, there are exasperating delays in getting your necessary permission. In my own case I have at last re ceived a permit to build two agricultural cottages, but so far I have not been able to find a builder who will undertake the work. I have a feeling that the price ceiling has a good deal to do with this.

Of course, many of the difficulties in the housing position come from the number of different authorities who are concerned, each of whom has separate responsibilities. I am told that as many as seven Ministries have a finger in the pie. One hesitates in these days to suggest that one more Government Department should be added to the large number at present existing, but would not one solution be a Ministry oil Housing or, better still, a Ministry of Housing and Planning, a Ministry which would take away from the Ministry of Health that side which deals with housing and combine it with the present duties of the Ministry of Town and Country Planning? Quite recently the Government have expressed their intention—I think with the approval of all Parties—of setting up a permanent Ministry of Defence. It seems to me that housing comes second only to defence in our national scheme to-day, and I think it is clear that you must include planning. We are desperately in need of houses, but equally we must have them in the right place if we are going to have a planning policy worthy of the name. The Liberal Party have long advocated this course, and 1. understand that at one time quite a large body of the supporters of His Majesty's Government were in favour of it.

I will not detain your Lordships any longer, but I would like to add this. The more one thinks over this subject the more one comes—or at least I do—to the same conclusion that so many noble Lords in this House have come to over so many different and important subjects. That is that the present Government are becoming entangled in their own ideology. Though no doubt well meant, their fanatical zeal for State control and nationalization in many cases is failing to find solutions for the most important day-to-day problems. I do hope that the Government will be moved by the plea so eloquently put forward by my noble friend Lord Reading from these Benches last week. It is the Lilliputians that are holding down initiative in this country, be it in housing or in anything else. I am quite certain that unless the Government adopt more common sense and less control their housing achievements will continue to be of a pedestrian character.

3.31 p.m.


My Lords, this is the first time since I gave up my position in the Ministry of Works that I have spoken on this question of housing. That was exactly two years ago, and I take the opportunity of speaking to-day because during that time certain statements have been made that are not always quite true in some ways about temporary housing. My noble friend Lord Llewellin started on the question of temporary houses, and I would like very shortly to explain to the House how they originated in December, 1943. At that date the Secretary of State for Scotland, Mr. Tom Johnston, who worked very closely with me, asked me to go up to Scotland and see some experiments he had been carrying out for converting Nissen huts and other huts into temporary houses for the people. Like all Scotsmen, he was a very proud man and talked of having something ready for the 51st Division when they came back from the war. He asked me to go back to London and see if anything could be done in the way of providing something before the permanent houses could be started. In January, 1944, the Ministry, and people connected with us, got hold of what was really the most sensible idea. We went to people who understood mass production, which is absolutely essential, and found two firms, Pressed Steel and Brigg's Bodies, who knew mass production better than anyone, and we asked them to make us a pressed steel house. The house was designed by an architect from the Ministry, together with an outside architect. When I was dealing with the Ministry of Works I always thought the best way was to have representatives from outside as well as from the inside.

We were not very long in getting out a design. I remember that the noble Viscount who now leads the House was extraordinarily kind to me in those days. He used to help me in every way he could, and he asked me when this would be ready. This was in February, 1944, and I gave him a promise that it should be ready on May 1. It was rather quick work, but the prototype was up by that date. Everybody went to see it; in fact, I think too many people went to see it. If anyone designed a permanent house to-day and asked everybody to come and look at it, you would have plenty of criticism. We had criticism in abundance. We left it for two months. My noble friend Lord Llewellin talked about forms, but the amount of paper we used in taking down complaints was very great. Whether the people liked this house or not, there is one point I wish to correct here and now. This house, first of all, was called after the late Prime Minister, Mr. Churchill. When it was found it was not a popular house it was quite rightly called after me. That is as it should be. You do not want a great personality like the late Prime Minister to be tarnished. Everybody who saw the house saw that it was an ugly house. They forget, however, that it was very comfortable inside. I would much rather be comfortable inside and ugly outside.

It really is rather ridiculous for people who are now undertaking housing to say the Portal house was stillborn. The Portal house is only a type of house. It was the super-feet, the fittings, and the size of the house for which we got out a prototype. The others, the Arcon, the Tarran, and the Uni-Seco, were all allowed to copy this because they all had to be identical to fit the foundations of the house. When you say that the Portal house was stillborn you mean the steel house. You take Northolt and these places and put up houses and cover them with foam slag, and bricks or what you like. If you are going to be responsible for the housing of this country you should understand that a type can be clad in a different form; even I, as Minister of Works, learnt that in two or three months. It was the steel house that was not proceeded with.

Let me take your Lordships on from there. In May and June it was open to the public, and in July it went to Scotland. There the present Secretary of State and I met some Scottish ladies who wanted an extra washing bowl put in, and we had to change it for these Scottish people. It is quite a usual thing to have to make changes when you take anything north of the Tweed. At the end of July, the Government brought in a Bill which covered 200,000 of the prefabricated temporary houses. That Bill was produced on the last day before the adjournment of the House of Commons. The noble Lord, Lord Quibell, and I sat in the House of Commons gallery when the debate was proceeding, but they had not long enough to discuss it and the Bill was adjourned until Parliament met again at the end of September. Before Parliament met again the Cabinet instructed me to get on with the houses and get the fittings. That matter was raised by the right honourable Member for Aldershot when discussions were started again in the House of Commons at the beginning of September. At that time the orders placed were as follows: In the first year there were to be 50,000 steel houses and the others were to be made by Uni-Seco, Tarran and Arcon. They were to be ordered to the tune of about 100,000. The steel houses were costed to the last penny. If you know anything about costing you will know that it is easy to cost anything on mass production. The other three houses were not mass produced. The advantage of the steel houses was that they would use different labour in the production and would not bite into the ordinary building labour. That is why that was started.

At the same time, they were offering to us—and this is something which the Government, possibly rightly, have agreed to since—the aluminium house. I turned down the aluminium house on two grounds: first on the score of expense: and secondly because we could not have got it into production as quickly as steel. If your read the report of a debate which has taken place in another place you will see that some remarks have been made on the question as to whether or not steel was available. I was in charge of raw materials for one and a half years. I knew the Steel Controller. He had to work under me and I was responsible to the Minister of Supply. Directly the question of steel houses was raised, I sent for the Steel Controller and asked what steel was available. At that time sheet steel was being produced in this country at the rate of 1,100,000 tons, or just over, a year. If you take it that with fittings about five and three-quarter tons was needed per house, that works out at a total need of just under 300 tons for approximately fifty houses. We also had the question of steel tallied up with the motor car trade and we saw that they had all they wanted.

I am telling your Lordships these things now to show you that we were not so foolish in those days as we have some-times been made out to be since. The point I want to bring out with regard to this question of steel houses—and this is something which the noble Viscount the Leader of the House knows well—is that though these houses pleased nobody by their looks, they did set a standard of fittings which in the permanent houses could never be depreciated. These fittings had nothing to do with me personally. But there were two architects who Lad much to do with it. Women will confirm it that for the first time an effort was made in such structures to give them what they really wanted. I do not need to go into details, but such matters as built-in cupboards and kitchen units will be in the minds of those of your Lordships who have taken an interest in these matters. There is therefore, I think, a good case to be made out in regard to the fittings. Orders for those houses—I think for 250,000—were given in September. They were to be of the three types I have mentioned—Tarran, the Uni-Seco and the Arcon. That took us up till September. The interesting point is that where I was wrong was that I suggested that these houses should be in production nine months after the order was placed for jigs and tools.

As I say, I was wrong, but other people have been wrong about timing during and after the war. The Ministry of Supply undertook that they would have steel houses in production in the autumn of last year. I was budgeting on it for June or July. They will tell you at the Ministry of Supply that that was the date specified by the order. As you know, I was warned by the noble Viscount the Leader of the House that to have anything to do with housing was very, very dangerous. He said: "Take my case as an example. See what happened to me." As usual, he was right. But see what has happened to him since he has had nothing to do with housing! Not only has he become Leader of the House but he is also Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs. I have gone back to the railways and I undérstand the Government are going to try to nationalize them; so soon I shall be out of another job. The noble Viscount the Leader of the House is now far better off than I, but I must admit that he warned me at the time. As two years have elapsed, I suggest that it is only right and fair that I should be allowed to explain my case. I do not know what the reasons were which led to the change, for I was out of the Government, but I think that if I had had my way I would have gone on with the construction of steel houses rather than aluminium houses. It is no good saying now that steel was not then in adequate supply; there is a far greater shortage to-day in the supply of steel than there was then. I could not have been very far wrong to order 50,000 steel houses then.

Now just a few words about permanent houses, which are the important factor to-day. The construction of temporary houses was to be carried on until such time as permanent houses were available and then the permanent houses were to take their place. We started in August, 1944, and built the first houses at Northolt. We were anxious to get on with permanent houses and, as a start, seven or eight of them were put up. I wished to try to start a costing department in my Ministry to help deal with the prices of houses and these houses were costed up. The average worked out at about £1 per foot super when they were put up in small quantities. If they were put up in larger numbers the cost would have been under that. They were, so far as I remember, about 850 feet super altogether and everything was fitted in that. That was a yardstick house. It was erected to use as a yardstick by which to judge the cost of the others. An order was placed with a large contractor for 40 houses of the same size as this yardstick house. I wanted to see what his costs would be. They worked out very close to our costs and thereby gave me a verification which I much wanted.

The noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, has asked the question: Where are the houses that were expected? My view is that much the greatest danger point is touched upon in the question, where are prices going to? The noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, knows what happened after the last war. To-day prices are soaring. It is no good now talking about what happened between the wars. We want to get on with the job to-day. But you will not be able to build the needed houses with prices at the level they are going to. We have got to remedy that somehow. I worked very closely with the builders and the operatives during the two and a half years I was at the Ministry of Works and I say that the real solution of all these troubles is to use the industry that under stands the business. You can control these people nowadays, but they must be the driving force, the brains of the building operation. During the war our contractors did wonderful work for various Ministries such as the Air Ministry, M.A.P., the War Office and the Admiralty. And when I say that the contractors did wonderful work I include of course the men.

To-day, as your Lordships know, the contract has been given to a great contractor for the work at Heath Row. You could not imagine local authorities doing that work. You may say that that is a different thing, but I say the way to solve this problem is to get the best contractors and men to work and put the responsibility on them. When I was handed over responsibility in connexion with outcrop coal by the Ministry of Fuel we had contractors made responsible for getting it. They will tell you that I, myself, as Minister watched the prices but they did the work, and they did it extraordinarily well. We had only 350,000 men left in the building industry at the end of the war and now the difficulty is in connexion with the balance of different kinds of workers.

Lord Llewellin has asked about prices. One thing which is helping to put up the prices is that we have not been getting the proper balance of building workers. You find yourself sometimes with one bricklayer for thirty houses. What disturbed the balance? One thing was the bombing of London. The Minister of Labour, who is now the Foreign Secretary, and myself know something of this. We were going to have 75,000 men in London. It is a very difficult subject. Another question is asked about tiles. Is it suggested that we were going to lose all the tiles that there were lying about after the bombing of thousands of houses in London? We have to catch up with events, and if we are genuine we have to try and get over the difficulties. We must be fair to this great building industry of ours. You can take any industry—I had better not mention any particular industries, or I shall get into trouble—and you will find bad people in it. When you talk about jerry-building you should remember that we have our standards to which we can make people work. What is happening at the present time is that because prices are so high authorities are doing a thing which is iniquitous; they are getting prices and they are negotiating. That means the builders have to leave out something here and something there. It is not a true tender. It gives the clerk of the works an opportunity to knock off something here and something there. I had great trouble with negotiating over 3,000 agricultural houses which were built, as the noble Viscount, the Leader of the Opposition, knows perfectly well. We must have fair and proper tendering for these houses to-day.

I am perfectly convinced that there are two things at which we have to aim. We have to get the great building trade operating again, with the good will of everybody, and certainly we have to get the local authorities going. Before the war they were responsible for 25 per cent. of the production of houses. The actual operation, however, should be under the building trade itself. As the noble Viscount knows, we cannot do what was done after the first world war, when prices became too high. All that was done then was to stop building altogether. We cannot put men out of work for that reason. That would be wrong. What we can do, is to let the ordinary builders get going. They ought to be the yardstick on prices. Those who are running a local authority to-day, build as good a house as possible. We have not reached the stage of idealism when it means as much to you if you put one penny out of the rates on building, as if the money came from your own pocket. You look after the rates, but economy must come from the builder; and the builder must be the yardstick of the local authority.

For goodness' sake let us remember that ever-increasing prices will be the downfall of building. I have only made suggestions. I do not say they are right, but I do think they have some practical sense in them and, after all, the man who worked with me most loyally—Mr. George Hicks, my Parliamentary Secretary, who alone has fought my battles for two years, since I have been out of office—agreed with everything that I did. He was brought up in what I call proper building in this country, and for him to support me in the plan for temporary houses was a great feat for a man who might have been expected to be against me. He supported me in every word. I thought, after what he has said, that I might be allowed to make my few remarks here to-day.

3.55 p.m.


My Lords, we have just listened to a very interesting speech, with most of which I agree—particularly the illustration about a penny of your own or a penny from the ratepayers. That does remind me of a gentleman I knew, who once put up for a certain council upon which I sat. He issued his election address, a fully-worded document which required nearly a poster station on which to put it. And the last paragraph read "In conclusion, ladies and gentlemen, I shall always remember that it is your money I am spending, and not my own." Strange to say, he was elected.

I would not have taken part in this debate if I did not feel very strongly that, through one cause or another, our progress in housing has been hindered and hampered at almost every turn. I propose, during the course of my speech, to deal with some of the hold-ups which give to those of us engaged in this industry a feeling of almost complete frustration and hopelessness. First and foremost of the "headaches" is the supply of timber. From information that I have gathered—being engaged in the industry, and having taken on a fairly large contract of housing—I may say that I have been most anxious to purchase timber wherever it could be found, no matter whether it was far or near. Finally, I resolved that I would have one of the Ministry's officials from Nottingham to come and see me, and at the same time I would have one of the directors of the biggest timber importing firms on the north-east coast. The two gentlemen came. I told the Ministry official my difficulty, and asked him where the timber was, as I understood that it was lying in dumps. Of course, the official said: "The truth is, there is none. The timber is not there." I then asked the timber importer: "What can you do for us?" His answer was that so far as his firm were concerned, although they were quite willing to supply the timber, the fact was that they had not got it. Finally, I found that the only firm I could get to take up the contract was a firm who said that they could not supply the timber at that time, but would do their very best to help me.

My next step was to Bognor Regis, to buy four standards of second-hand timber, to make some progress, because we had sufficient bricks, sufficient men, and almost sufficient of everything else. There were two or three things in short supply, but we wanted to get on with our housing. The noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, said the estimate of the Coalition Government was to erect 220,000 houses; but the limit for them would have been precisely the same as it is for this Government. The number of houses finished at the end of September, or the end of October, matters very little. If there had been greater speed, then the national stocks available in different parts of the country would have been exhausted sooner, and the sooner we should have come to the slowing up process, because timber is one of the most vital products in our housing programme.

It is true that schemes are going slow. Those of us in the industry know why they are going slow. It is because the timber is not available. I took the opportunity of writing to the firm concerned to supply me with timber, and perhaps I may quote their reply, because it is essential that we should know, and face up to this very vital problem. Everything we can do to solve it, we ought to do. The letter I received stated: There is a very grave shortage of timber in England at the present time, and with the information as to future arrivals, as far as I have been able to ascertain there is not the slightest likelihood of the housing schemes that have now been started being completed by the middle of next year. This gentleman is one of the biggest importers of timber. The main type of timber which we require for housing purposes is 2 in. by 4 in., 2 in. by 7 in. or maybe 2 in. by 3 in. for spars and ceiling joists and flooring. This man goes on to say that there is only a certain amount of 2 in. by 4 in. and 2 in. by 7 in. which the miller can cut out of a tree to make the best economic use of it. The consequence is that there is a limited quantity of such timber. In addition certain specifications require seventeens in roof spars and twelves or thirteens in joists, and as a consequence the timber available for housing actually is limited not to the 220,000 standards which were said to be imported, but to the amount of building timber you can get out of the total amount imported.

Throughout last year, of course there was the reserve of the national stock which could be called on. But now there is no stock. Every standard of building timber coming into the country is required immediately for consumption so that there would be no benefit in trying to pile up a stock as that would only be further delaying the building of houses. I have succeeded in geting some timber. It has been divided between the builders. Very few of us have been able to do anything with it. It is only a mere handful that we have been able to get. This merchant says concerning timber imports from Canada, that Canada would seem to be the obvious place from which to increase our timber imports. There has, however, been trouble with regard to strikes in that country, and of course they have their own leeway to make up in building which lapsed to such a considerable extent during the war. The position is also dependent upon shipping being available, and it would seem that American ships are busy carrying their own goods. It is said that timber is not the only thing holding up the building of houses. The shortage of timber, is, of course, the main reason for the hold-up, but I have found another hold-up which I will mention in a few moments.

I have what I consider to be a practical suggestion which I shall make. Joseph Cowen, that great man who founded the Newcastle Chronicle, made a famous speech in another place on one occasion, in which he said that a man must serve his time to every trade save censure, but critics are ready made. He was a good old Liberal. No wonder the noble Viscount sitting on the Liberal Benches smiles. He was a great character. The practical suggestion which I have to make is this. I have been doing a considerable amount of building during the war. As a consequence of the difficulty of importing timber there has developed a system of making precast hollow concrete beams for roofs. They do not require one ounce of timber. I would commend this scheme to the Ministry of Works and the Ministry of Health. I may say that I made the suggestion to my own borough council and in turn to some members of the housing committee, and, within the last fortnight, I have taken some of their representatives with me to inspect it. It was dry, durable, strong, and there was no condensation. Some of these beams have been up for three years and show no sign of either dampness or condensation and they do not require anything done to them.


May I ask the noble Lord: Do they need steel reinforcement?


Very slight—they are really light beams. They are hollow. I think it is the hollowness of the beams that prevents condensation. The use of them involves no alteration in the design of the house. A roof can be put on without an ounce of timber being used, I would ask your Lordships to consider what it means so far as the housing programmes of the Government and the various councils are concerned. It will mean that twice the number of houses can be built with the same amount of timber. I do not see why you should not have flat roofs. Our hospital extension at Scunthorpe has a flat roof. The post office has a flat roof. It is true that there is perhaps not much architectural beauty about it. If any of your Lordships went to Scunthorpe you would not think that the building was a post office. You would think it was perhaps an Odeon picture house. Nevertheless the buildings can be made quite attractive with flat roofs. I would say to the Ministry concerned, "Thank heavens we have got the cement." We have got the raw materials. We can manufacture those concrete beams and, as I suggest they do, and indeed can prove, they make a sound job.

We cannot manufacture a tree. It takes sixty years to grow a tree. But you can manufacture hollow concrete beams in order to provide shelter over the heads of our people in a few weeks. We want houses to be built quickly and it is for that reason that I make that suggestion from my own experience. I have received instructions to put up twenty-four roofs—that is twelve pair—with these very beams within the last week. I commend this suggestion to the Government, because while we have not the available trees in this country we have got the raw materials for this type of construction and we have got the skill. I hope and trust that the Government will adopt what I have tried to put forward as a practical contribution to the housing problem.


May I ask the noble Lord: Does he make floors of concrete as well, because wood is not available for the floors?


It is a roof. There is no floor on top of a roof.


No. I say the floors of the rooms for which you require wood to-day.


No, the roofs. Wood is only required for the first floor and joists. No timber is required in the later stages, because for the greater part it is covered with concrete; then on top of this are laid two coats of roofing felt or rock asphalt. It is warm and durable and there is nothing unsightly about it. I hope that this suggestion will be adopted in view of the fact that timber is not available. Another advantage is that you only require half the amount of ceiling board per house. The underside of the beams receive the plaster and this forms the ceiling. You save considerably in down spouts which are in short supply. One of the difficulties in the building trade has been the question of castings, They are not available. We have to find a substitute for them. I think we have done so. I have done my best in this direction because I want to see houses put up to shelter the people.

We formerly got timber from Finland. Finland has now lost the island of Karelia to Russia. Russia herself is short of timber and is taking as reparations most of the timber which Finland has got to spare, so there will be little or no timber from that source. Russia's processing mills are chiefly in the Ukraine and White Russia, and her timber is not grown there. Most of it is grown in Siberia, thousands of miles away. So far as Russia is concerned I do not think there is any hope of our getting any timber from that source for some time to come. It seems to me that the remaining sources are Canada and Germany. I whole-heartedly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, when he says we ought not: to have any scruples whatever about getting timber from Germany. After all, Germany started the war and ultimately destroyed our great factories that: produced the building materials necessary for housing. In addition to that, Germany destroyed thousands of our homes and so made many of our people homeless. I should not have the slightest compunction about increasing the number of people employed in obtaining timber from Germany, if we had the labour available. The timber area of Germany in pre-war days was 25 per cent. of the total area, whereas our own is only 5 per cent. of the total area. Without the slightest hesitation I should say that from that source we could increase our supply and we should make a serious attempt to do so; indeed, I have no reason to doubt that the Government are trying their best to get as much timber as they possibly can from Germany, but I earnestly impress upon them some alternative method of dealing with the matter.

With regard to Sweden the difficulty is that she will not sell timber for money. Money does not matter; what Sweden wants is our coal. The consequence is that, so far as Sweden is concerned, she is not playing to the extent that she could play because, first of all, she does not want our money and, secondly, the people who were formerly engaged in the milling industry are now providing a kind of fuel out of their own wood for their own industrial and domestic purposes. One does not criticize them for that.

I do not want to detain your Lordships too long, but something has been said about prices. I was very pleased that the noble Viscount, Lord Portal, did have a word to say for the building trade. I am a member of the Operative Bricklayers' Society and have been since 1899. I have never been a member of an employers' organization. So I have had to stand and listen to members of the building trade and contractors condemned because prices were high—"it was a ramp; price fixation"—and they were making huge profits out of it. I have had a fellow who knows more and more about less and less come to me and tell me that my tender was too high, and, indeed, almost to say that I knew nothing whatever about it; I have been that long in it that I have ceased to know anything about it. You can take it from me that there has been no ramp and no price fixation in the building trade.

Let me give you an illustration. Some Government Department fixes the price of bricks, I do not. The price I have got to pay to the bricklayer is fixed; the price I have got to pay for the lime is fixed; I have not got anything to do with it. If you take joinery, some Government Department controls the price for timber and there the price is fixed at three times at least what it was pre-war. I have a list of prices here which I have got out from 1939 up to date. Some of these prices would be astonishing. I pay a price for the timber and all I have to do is reckon it up. If you go to the plumber it is precisely the same thing. There is a price fixed for all the sanitary goods. There is a price fixed per ton for lead; the plumbers' wages are fixed, and all I have to do is to reckon it up. If you go right through the whole price structure there is not a single thing that is not controlled in price from the first operation to the last. They talk about "making a ring" of it. Recently, in September, the Ministry of Supply allowed an increase in price for an article that I cannot even get. I cannot see how an increase in price makes rain-water goods available. It does not make them available at all. If they are not there it is no good increasing the price.

There is one bright spot I will give to the noble Viscount, Lord Portal. If it were not in your Lordships' House I would have to give the noble Lord a glass of brandy or he would fall off his seat. It is that during this last month I got a shock when I had a notification that cement has dropped down 2s. a ton. But that is the only reduction I have known take place. I say that, so far as price levels, etc., are concerned, the ordinary building trade worker does not fix those prices; they are fixed for us and we cannot help ourselves. You either take it or you do not take it, and as there is a shortage the effect is that you have either got to pay and look pleasant about it or you cannot have it at all. I have had to be very diplomatic with the people who have come to see me. I have got the supplies.

I want to say a word about a matter on which I shall have a good deal of sympathy in certain quarters of your Lordships' House, because I believe the other side of the House nearly always steals the thunder out of this business. I am going to refer to the Housing (Rural Workers) Act. I have had this letter from a farmer who was a constituent of mine. He is a very good farmer; he farms 12,000 acres now and owns 12,000 acres, and he has been a wonderful farmer. There is no question about his qualities as a farmer or he would not be where he is to-day. Under the Housing (Rural Workers) Act he received a £100 grant for each of the houses he has reconditioned. I asked him about his houses when he came to our agricultural show and he said he would write and let me know. This is what he said: Re the 140 houses which I have reconditioned or built new. Most of them have the £100 grant, but there are 12 that I get £15 a year on, or £10 a year in the case of the first four. That is 16 out of 140. three of these have been built at Gard-ham (near Beverley, Yorkshire); the majority of them at Willoughton; a few at Coates, near Lincoln; some more at Horkstow; and one at Redbourne. This is all I have got to say about it. I wish the Minister could reconsider it. If there is a shortage of materials—and there is—then we have to admit it, and efforts should be made in the direction of enabling this man and others to find shelter for the workmen in the rural areas. That should be done. No preconceived ideas with regard to it are going to prevent me from saying that I think the Housing (Rural Workers) Act should be re-enacted to try and see if we cannot get more houses.

Then we have the Portal house. My only complaint about the Portal house—I do not know whether I put it down in the noble Lord's book of words; I should have done—is that I should have to get on my knees to get my shirt off. In these rural parts we first of all want sewage disposal. Every little stream in every village in my county has become polluted, and that will become intensified unless we get sewerage, which I consider to be even more important than immediate water supplies. How long are some of these people to wait before they get sewerage, water supplies, and electricity supplies? I know some of these cottages that want a little money spending on them, and if I had my way I should make it compulsory for them to be put into a proper state of repair. It ought to have been done long ago by the competent officers of the local authorities. There ought not to be the slightest objection to granting £100 so that you could insist on having it done, with the safeguard that the county council officer shall be the one who says it is either too bad and cannot be renovated, or that it can be renovated, and who approves of the work that is done, or sup posed to be done, before the grant of money is made. I consider myself that it would cost £100, and £100 at 2½ per cent. is a shilling a week. It may be a temporary expedient, but so are your temporary houses, which are supposed to last for ten years. If these last for ten years, they have cost £10 a year each, but if the temporary houses have to be destroyed they have cost £1,000 each, If there were an immediate alternative, I could understand it, but there is not. I therefore sincerely hope that the Government will reconsider re-enacting the Housing (Rural Workers) Act and give our people, where it is at all possible, the chance to put a shelter over the heads of some of the people in our rural villages.

4.23 p.m.


My Lords, my noble friend who initiated this debate said he felt it would not be regarded as waste of time to raise this most important question of housing this afternoon. I can certainly say, on behalf of those sitting on these Benches, that we welcome the opportunity which the noble Lord has provided for this discussion to take place. After all, the question of housing is not a Party issue; it is an overriding national problem. Members in all parts of the House unite, as they have done on other occasions, in showing a practical sympathy in the question and an anxious concern that our efforts shall be commensurate with the task and the results in keeping with our hopes.

There is no dispute as to the urgency and extent of the housing need, on which all Parties are in full agreement. The need is due not only to the effects of the war, to extensive bomb damage and destruction and the practical cessation of housing activities, but also to housing policy before the war, when houses were built in great numbers but nearly all for sale so that the needs of the poorer people, who could not afford to buy a house, were comparatively neglected. I rather felt, when the noble Lord was painting his picture about the queue and the effects it would have upon the conscience of the nation, that he had overlooked the fact that we have just emerged from six years of the most destructive war in history and that we ourselves have a special part of our housing problem which arises from that war. When the war ended we were faced with a gigantic housing problem. At the same time, other massive problems faced us—demobilization, the redeployment of labour, the changeover of industry from war production to peace production, the building up of a planned economy, the demand of large devastated and disorganized areas for commodities and materials which were not available in anything like adequate quantities, and, last, the general world political and economic problems which constitute the major part of the task of peace-making. It is against this background that the housing activities of the Government during the past twelve or fifteen months should be viewed and assessed.

Before dealing with the facts of the progress achieved, there are a number of matters I feel I should mention. As essential parts of their housing policy the Government made a number of important decisions. The first was that the principal responsibility for the production of houses should be placed upon the local authority. Let me say here that it is gratifying to have the view from an independent source that any Government would have had to use the local authorities as the chosen instrument for at least 80 per cent. of the post-war housing programme.

At this stage I should like to make reference to the point raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Wimborne. He asked if it were true that there were any local authorities who were not actually building houses. I think the record of the response of local authorities throughout the country is a remarkable one, but it is true that there are some who have not started to build houses. The simple fact is that they are fewer by over 300 than those who were not building houses in 1938, after twenty years of peace. The second decision was that the majority of houses built should be for letting to those in the greatest need. This entailed making the control of houses and the selection of tenants the responsibility of the local authorities and, as we all know, generous financial help has been given by the Exchequer to bridge the gap between the present high cost of building and the rents the tenants can pay. The third decision was that the proportion of new houses for private ownership should not exceed something like the ratio of one to four. This is necessary both on account of the enormous requirement for houses to let and of the shortage of building labour and of essential materials and components. The noble Viscount, Lord Wimborne, asked why the ratio should be one to four. The answer is that that is roughly the proportion of people amongst those in most urgent need of accommodation who are likely to be able to buy their own houses.

The criticism was made by the noble Lord who opened the debate that full use is not being made of the private builders, or at any rate that they are unnecessarily restricted in their operations. The actual building of houses for local authorities is being done, with very few exceptions, by the private builders.


I did not put it that way, if I may say so. I fully realize that practically all the building in the country has been done by the private builder. What I did say was that I thought the four to one ratio was not correct for the country as a whole. There are some areas where the proportion of people wanting to buy and live in their own houses is different from others. Where you have those areas, with a small builder who has not got a contract for thirty or forty houses, that ought to be reconsidered.


I did not intend to misrepresent what the noble Lord said, but I will, if I may, proceed with this point and deal with his point later. The local authorities give the contract, the builder builds the houses, and any attempt to differentiate between houses built for the local authority and houses built for private persons is a misconception. The business of the builders is to build houses. It is not their business to determine, in time of shortage, who shall occupy the houses when they have been built. That is a question of social justice and not of building technique, and the Government are determined that the control of the bulk of the houses must rest with the local authorities.

The noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, I gather was not so much resisting the ratio of one to four, but was complaining more as to its rigid application across the country. There is no rigid application; it is not a one in four that must always be maintained at every stage. The real question in a locality is the question of the supply of building labour. Let me tell your Lordships what is the machinery and the process for dealing with the labour supply in any given area. The main local problem is labour supply and its allocation between the various essential works schemes within the area. To ensure the proper allocation of the labour force, zonal conferences are regularly held between all the local authorities in a zone and the representatives of the Government Departments concerned. At these conferences figures are tabled showing the labour requirements for the next three or six months and the labour force available to meet them. The most effective distribution of the available labour force is arranged as between local authority permanent and temporary housing schemes, private enterprise building and essential maintenance and repair work. In this way it should normally be possible for the private builder to obtain his fair share of the labour, always provided, of course, that the local authority has not already issued so many licences as to over-balance the proportion between municipal and private building. As regards the furnishing of supplies to the private builder, where he is operating under licence he is in exactly the same position as the contractor working for a local authority.

I would just like to say a word about building standards. Local authorities are now building a better house than before the war. The most notable difference is in the size of the standard house, 900 square feet minimum as compared with a pre-war minimum of 750 square feet. Other improvements which delight the housewife are in the standard of heating and lighting equipment, in the fitting up of the kitchen and scullery, in the provision of fitted cupboards and in the inclusion of hot water to the bath. The noble Lord made a special point about housing costs. A pre-war house to-day would cost rather more than twice what it cost before the war, given the same standards. Since local authority houses are being built to a better standard they are costing considerably more than twice the cost of the pre-war house. During the year wages have increased and the cost of certain materials has gone up. As the supply of materials improves it is hoped that increases in output from building labour will balance the increase in wages.

The Minister is not unmindful of the effects of the trend which is showing itself. The cost of house building is already high, and it ought not to be allowed to go higher. It is recognized that the present control of prices is not altogether effective. The Ministry is keeping a close watch and the matter has been investigated and a Report dealing with building materials and components is now being considered by the Minister of Works. This Report has been prepared by the Costing Section of the Ministry of Works and Buildings. It was set up, I believe, by the noble Viscount, Lord Portal, when he was Minister of Works, and I think the noble Viscount was satisfied that it was an effective piece of machinery for this purpose. At the same time, I should mention that constant scrutiny over tender prices is maintained by the Ministry of Health. As regards the increased costs to local authorities, to which I referred, this has been offset by the reduction in the rate of interest at which they borrow money, which was reduced from 3⅛ per cent. to 2½ per cent.


That means that the Exchequer part of the subsidy at any rate, will not go up, and because they have to borrow money it may largely still remain at the £22 by and large.


I think I am right in my recollection that when the Housing (Financial and Miscellaneous) Act was passing through this House I stated that the subsidy of £22 would come up for review, speaking from memory, at the end of this year.


We hoped it was a downward one.


That is true, but what will be the action taken upon it up or down is, of course, a matter that must remain to be decided in due course, and. I am not in a position to indicate to the noble Lord what is likely to happen. Perhaps I ought to indicate, in view of the fact that it has been raised, the present position with regard to building labour. Labour actually employed on housing work increased by 75 per cent. between July 31, 1945, and September 30, 1946, from 343,000 to 603,900. Because of conditions caused by the war 147,000 are employed on war damage repairs. This is a diminishing problem, and as it disappears the workers will go on to permanent housing construction. One hundred thousand workers are engaged upon conversion, 124,000 on repair and maintenance, and 40,000 are engaged on the erection of temporary houses, leaving 191,000 on permanent house construction and the preparation of sites.

I now come to the question of materials, a matter which I think was raised by all the speakers who haw, taken part in the debate. Noble Lords may have seen the report of a speech delivered yesterday by the Minister of Works and Buildings, in which he gave figures indicating that a considerable improvement has been effected in the supply of certain basic materials and components. The noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, put to me a number of points on particular commodities. I am not in a position to answer them all, but I shall be able to refer to one or two of them. I will give, as examples of the increases, that the increase of building bricks is 300 per cent., of rain-water goods 143 per cent., of baths 75 per cent., of gas and electric cookers 83 per cent., and of facing bricks 500 per cent.


I do not want to interrupt the noble Lord too much, but I remember considerable concern in another place when, before the war, the Secretary of State for War said that there had been a 100 per cent. increase in anti-aircraft guns, and nobody knew whether that meant two or ten. It does not get us much further.


I am sorry, but I was trying to avoid giving too many heavy figures to your Lordships. For example, I gave the figure of 300 per cent. for bricks. The brick output in October was 442,000,000. The figure for facing bricks, one of the materials mentioned by the noble Lord, was 67,678,000 for September. I understand that that production is practically back to its pre-war level.


Could the noble Lord give us the figures for slates? Many buildings are held up by the shortage of slates.


The production of slates in December, 1945, was 6,773 tons. The production in July, 1946, was over 9,000 tons, an improvement of 33⅓ per cent. It was in order to avoid having to deal with rather a heavy mass of figures that I gave percentages.


Before the noble Lord leaves that point, could he tell me what proportion of gas and electric stoves is being exported?


I cannot answer that offhand without notice. To the noble Lord who raised the question of slates, I would say that the report on the Welsh quarry industry, which will shortly be published, makes certain recommendations for methods of improving output which are now under consideration. There is, of course, a substitute for the slate damp-proof course in bituminous sheet, and this is in good production.

Next I turn to the question of timber which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, and by subsequent speakers. The most crucial shortage is in respect of timber. The amount of soft wood available for housing is dependent upon the amount that can be imported into this country, and imports are limited by the heavy demand for reconstruction in the exporting countries and in other parts of the world. Meanwhile, the maximum effort is being made to augment present supplies and to find additional sources of supply. In the meantime, as the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, stated, it has been necessary to reduce the allowance of soft wood from 2 standards to a maximum of 1.6 standards per house.


Might I ask the noble Lord whether the figure for soft wood per house is still the same as it was in 1943 or 1944, when it was about £ per house?


I cannot answer that offhand, but if the noble Lord wishes I will see that he gets the information. The noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, asked me about the imports of timber from Germany. Some 10,000 standards were imported from the British zone in October, and the volume is steadily increasing. We hope for at least 100,000 standards during the first six months of 1947. In addition, more deliveries of timber are now being made from the United States zone under an initial contract for 20,000 standards.

I will just say a word or two about priorities. So long as the production of essential materials and fittings remains unequal to the expanding demand, it is clear that a system of priority distribution is necessary to direct supplies to housing and to other essential work. It is true that there have been some difficulties in the field of distribution from the factory to the merchant and the merchant to the site, but these difficulties have been eased by the Works and Buildings "A" Priority Scheme which was put into force last April. Although some leakages have occurred, this scheme as a whole is achieving the desired results. The special priority which has been accorded, within the framework of the W.B.A. Scheme, to outstanding demands for permanent houses which were up to eaves level at the end of August has thrown up much useful data about the incidence of shortages and the necessity for the further use of alternatives for the scarcer materials—quite apart from the effect it has had in speeding up deliveries. It has also brought to light some anomalies in the distributive system which the Ministry will seek to correct.

The limiting factor on the progress of building the houses has been the supply of labour and materials, to which I have referred. Nevertheless, a great deal has been accomplished. By the end of September, homes had been provided, whether in new houses or by the requisitioning, repair or conversion of existing premises, for 242,000 families or something like 800,000 persons. In addition, some 200,000 new houses, permanent and temporary, were under construction, and the total number of houses built, building and in contract was over 460,000. As noble Lords will remember, the Government have accepted that some 750,000 houses are needed to provide a separate home for every family which needs one, and I think it will be seen that in terms of houses built, building or in contract, substantial progress has been made towards this figure.

The noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, asked me especially about the position of temporary houses. The total programme amounts to 158,748 houses. By November 9, the latest date for which figures are available, the number of houses completed had increased to 62,150 in England and Wales and 10,387 in Scotland, making 72,537 together with a further 18,600 and 3,569, respectively, in the course of erection, giving a total of 94,706 temporary houses erected or under erection in Great Britain at the present time. The rate of completion has been stepped up considerably in recent months and for a number of weeks now it has been in excess of 2,500 a week. Every effort is being made to maintain this output. Aluminium houses, which are the last of the temporary houses, are now being erected at an increasing rate, and there is little doubt that the whole programme for temporary houses will be completed by August of next year. Where progress has been slow is in the completion of permanent houses, as Lord Llewellin has said. This is the part of the job which is entrusted to the private builder under contract.

One of the principal causes of this, as I have said, is the shortage of labour and materials. Only some 32,000 new permanent houses had been completed by September 30. To speed this up and to get as many people as possible housed before the worst of the winter, the Government launched the "Finish the Houses" Campaign, which has for its object the completion by the end of the year of all houses up to roof level by August 31—that is to say, about 30,000 houses. Thus, for the first time, a target was announced, but it is a realistic short-term target related to specific visible houses. Employers, workers, distributors and local authorities all undertook to give full support to the campaign. The rate of completion of houses has already begun to show a marked increase in spite of the fact that the weather is becoming less and less suitable for building. The administrative work has been done; the materials are available; it only remains for the builders to make a determined effort to finish the job.

This progress represents a period of about fifteen months coming immediately after a great world war. It represents a considerable effort, and the results are encouraging. The noble Lord has asked whether we are satisfied. I think he knew before he put the question the answer which he would get. Of course the Government are not fully satisfied. It is realized that we are only at the beginning of the task. The rate of budding of permanent houses needs to be stepped up. The building industry needs to recover its pre-war rhythm. We have still to achieve an adequate, balanced building labour force. We have still to overtake shortages, in the supply of certain materials, components and fittings and to improve distribution. But, at the same time, the experience gained in the past year will be of great value as we reach the second stage. Moreover, we are coming towards the end of the temporary houses programme which will then cease to make its demands both on building labour and on building materials. As a fair assessment of the position, against the background of exceptional difficulties and problems which I mentioned at the beginning of my speech, I think that what has been done across the whole field of housing is both satisfactory and encouraging. Not only must the effort be maintained, but there must be an even greater drive and larger output during the next stage, so that we may make the advance in housing that we all wish to see achieved.

4.58 p.m.


My Lords, I do not propose to keep your Lordships very long to-night, and I certainly shall not attempt to rival the excellent speeches which have been made to-day by people who are intimately acquainted with the building trade—a thing which I cannot profess for myself. If there is one matter that is absolutely agreed upon on all sides it is that the rise in cost of building has been alarming. The perfectly extraordinary figures given by the noble Lord who has just spoken show just how much those costs have increased, and I understand that to-day the Minister in charge of this matter has said that the rate of London building is too slow. He went on to say—and this should interest noble Lords who are connected with building—that if this were a military operation you could introduce discipline into the whole thing and shoot a few builders who did not toe the line. I am in hopes that the mortality in this House will not be increased having regard to that suggestion. At any rate, the noble Lord who has spoken to-day on the subject of his own building should be able to get such speed into the operation of building.

I will give your Lordships one more figure. After giving us a lot of figures, my noble friend Viscount Portal has stated that prices are being carried up, are soaring sky high, and that the rise must be stopped. How it is to be stopped, it was not for him to say, but the Government have got to take steps, because we cannot go on with the position as it is now. In 1933, building costs per foot super of a subsidized house were 7s. 10½d. (These figures were given in The Times by Mr. B. S. Townroe, a well-known expert in these matters.) To-day, he says, public funds are being used to pay for houses costing from 25s. to over 40s. per foot super. That is only in accord with what noble Lords have said to-day. Four million houses have got to be built. Prices are still going up, and it is terrifying to imagine the total cost to this country of providing these houses, reasonably fit for people to live in.

In view of the number of experts who have spoken on one feature of the problem, I had intended, after a study of the Acts and of the various pronouncements of the Government as to the subsidies which they were going to give, to calculate, and present to your Lordships the result of my figures, the enormous sum which already the various subsidies would amount to over a period of years. Instead of wearying your Lordships with my arithmetic, which would never be very enlightening, I am venturing to ask noble Lords opposite if, in due course, they will furnish the House, or furnish me separately, with an account showing what will be the result of the subsidies and other payments. I have phrased it as if it were a starred question, in two parts. The first part, which relates to permanent buildings, asks for a phased plan of expenditure by way of Exchequer payments in respect of the different types of permanent houses and flats, year by year, for the next ten years, including the annual rate fund contributions by the local authorities. I have studied the documents, and I know that the Exchequer payments vary in respect of different types of permanent houses and flats, and there are separate rate funds and contributions by the local authorities, The second part of my question is, would the noble Lord be so kind as to furnish a like phased plan, for the appropriate period, as regards Exchequer contributions, of the erection of temporary houses? I have said "appropriate period" because I am told that temporary houses are not to continue for more than ten years. For my part, I hope that the Government will be able to do without them, because they are not very satisfactory erections. The Government, I suppose, have some idea as to the period for which these houses will be necessary. I will willingly accept the estimated period, whatever it is—five or ten years—and I hope the Government will tell us the amount of the contributions on these houses.

Apart from these figures, of course, there will be the sum, which we on this side of the House can work out for ourselves, of the two totals. To this, to see what the Exchequer is being let in for, we shall have to add the number of houses in respect of which annual sums of either £22 10s. or £8 10s. a year have to be paid to the end of sixty years. We shall then know how far the Government and the local authorities are contributing, and will ultimately contribute, to the cost of the houses—2,000,000 in number in ten years—which are now being built, and which are so urgently required for the purposes of housing the people in this country. I need not say that I am far from suggesting that the case is not one which requires Exchequer contributions. The houses must be built, but it is desirable that the country should know how much the Government and the local authorities are being bound to contribute for that purpose.

5.8 p.m.


My Lords I rise to address your Lordships for the first time with a very great sense of responsibility, and I hope for the traditional indulgence which your Lordships are always kind enough to extend to those making an initial contribution to debates in this Chamber. We have heard many very good speeches this afternoon from noble Lords who are obviously experts in this field of building, and it would not be appropriate for anyone so young and inexperienced as myself to say very much at this late hour. I was very pleased indeed to hear the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Quibell, which was very interesting. He raised a point which I was going to raise myself—that of the Housing (Rural Workers) Act. I am very glad to think that I have a supporter opposite who thinks the same way as I do about this Act. It would be a great advantage, I feel, if His Majesty's Government would reconsider their decision and make this Act operative once again. It would enable many of us who would like to, to do something towards alleviating the admittedly bad conditions which exist in many of our villages, and it would enable us to recondition some of the cottages. At the same time, I do not think that it would very greatly interfere with the building of new houses, because the amount of material and labour required for this type of work is much less than that needed for building new houses.

Another point which I think is worth considering, is that we have some very fine old villages in England, and it would be a pity to spoil their character by pulling down some very nice old stone cottages which are quite habitable except that they need modernizing. I am sure the people who live in the villages would think the same way. The Housing (Rural Workers) Act, whose provisions are well known, has been spoken of a good deal. Many memoranda of evidence on its administration have been given by professional bodies like the Land Agents' Society and others, and I understand they have been submitted to the Government. If we are to retain and indeed to recruit the young men of intelligence and ability whom we very badly need in the agricultural industry, we must provide good accommodation, because, even if the men themselves do not mind living in poor cottages, their housewives will, and for that reason the young men are very often driven to seek work elsewhere.

I should like to say that a good contribution can be made by landlords, big and small, if they use workers who are not really needed or in fact do not work in the building trade as such, to do this work. If some small financial help could be given it would make the undertaking an economic one for private people who carry out this work. It may be said that it is wrong for public funds to be used to increase the value of private property, but I do not think that it is really such a big thing when you consider how much good could be done by, if not the original Act, some similar Act in future. I hope that the noble Viscount who I understand is to reply may be able to make some statement that the Government will reconsider the matter. It has already been said much more forcibly than I can say it, by the noble Lord, Lord Quibell; so, along with him, I shall be very interested to hear if any statement is forthcoming.

5.14 p.m.


My Lords, I am very glad that, despite the imminence of a train which is due to take me to another engagement, I have the opportunity of saying what I know all your Lordships would wish me to say, and that is how very much we have enjoyed the maiden speech to which we have just listened. Very few noble Lords can have had the opportunity of addressing this House so early in their careers as the noble Earl who has just sat down. I am sure that we are all very glad that he had the courage and enterprise to take that opportunity and that he has made such good use of it.

For my own part, at this, by our standards, comparatively late hour, and with an engagement in the near future, I am going to venture very briefly indeed to submit to your Lordships one general consideration which has not so far figured in the course of the debate. The debate has very naturally and very properly confined itself predominantly to matters of interesting and important detail. But I hope that your Lordships will forgive me if I direct your attention for a couple of minutes to one very much more general consideration which does, I think, have a very direct relevance to our present discontents. I believe that the anti-climax of the housing programme, the startling contrast between what was hoped and what has happened, is significant of a fundamental and generally neglected dilemma which underlies the whole industrial scene to-day. We are living in a period of almost uniquely rapid transition, in what in a less happy country than ours would undoubtedly be a revolution, and we are approaching the phase of disillusionment which is inevitable in all such eras; inevitable because men will not shake themselves free of the age-old illusion which has haunted them through so many centuries, that what matters is how they organize themselves rather than how they behave. And so they start revolutions because, shall we say, they dislike Rolls-Royces, and the only result is that the Rolls-Royces are still there but are being driven by the Commissars instead of by the Grand Dukes. The process repeats itself incessantly throughout history. Men are for ever labouring to destroy old oligarchies and are for ever setting up new ones.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century the middle-class reformers overthrew the privileged feudal oligarchy of the landlord, only to set up the privileged commercial oligarchy of the capitalist, and now in the twentieth century we see the collectivist reformers engaged in overthrowing the old privilege of the capitalist, only to set up in due course the new privilege of the bureaucrat, the Party expert and the trade union boss. Against that back-ground the history of the building industry is not a very savoury one. It is perfectly true that up till the outbreak of war it was building houses very much more rapidly than under the aegis of the doctrinaire Mr. Bevan, but, if we look a little further back we see the early Victorian slum; we see the late-Victorian jerry-builder; we see the twentieth century ribbon development. We see large fortunes made out of the hideous and the unsanitary, with no regard for beauty in the countryside or for decency in the towns.

There must have been many, many future Labour votes ensured by the record of speculative building in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. And what did the Labour propagandists say? Here I think we are approaching one of the root causes of our present troubles. Undoubtedly some of the early Socialists said what they were very fully entitled to say. They said, in effect: "Here is the jerry-builder under-paying you, his workers, piling up a fortune for himself, and cynically ignoring the interests of the nation. Because your employer has neglected his duty, do not you neglect yours. Do an honest day's work and vote for us, who stand for decent wages and eventually a planned building industry." "Our aim," many of them undoubtedly said, "is service from all and fair rewards for all." Some undoubtedly said that sort of thing, but very many—and I am afraid more—said in effect what your Lordships must be familiar with. Your Lordships may have observed that in a debate in another place only a day or two ago extracts were read from a work by one of His Majesty's present Ministers in which he said what was said by many nineteenth century propagandists—in effect that industry only benefits the boss; only a fool would be industrious; take a leaf out of the rich jerry-builder's book and yourself aim at the highest possible reward at the least possible personal sacrifice! So what to-day must the building worker, who has been brought up on that sort of past history, think as he surveys the world? In many instances he sees that the men who have been telling him that industry only benefits the boss, that only a fool would be industrious, are his own bosses. He sees the vicious spiral of prices—and I may say that apart from those prices that are artificially restrained, and apart from the cost of tea in your Lordships' refreshment room, where I think the trick is done by a reduction in quality—




—in quantity then, my Lords; the only price which I can think of which stands at its pre-war level is the charge of £5 for improperly pulling a communication cord in a railway carriage. With all that to shake his faith and try his temper, small wonder that the building operative clings more firmly than ever to the now well-established tradition of seeking ever higher reward for ever less effort. So you find to-day—and some of your Lordships may have seen a letter roughly to this effect in The Times last week—that a number of building firms actually find it cheaper to pay on an average £16 per week on camouflaged piece work rather than £7 a week on time work; that is to say, as several noble Lords have said previously, that the motive of service has not proved sufficient and the profit motive has had to be invoked. But the Whole nationalization programme is surely based upon the intention of suppressing the profit motive and founding the industry of the future predominantly upon that service motive which has been so progressively undermined by a good deal of the trade union propaganda of the last century.

So it is that one of the chief bottlenecks to-day in the building industry is what is often called man-power. That is perhaps not an entirely accurate label, since man-power is usually held to denote numbers, whereas what is wrong in many areas of the industry is man-effort. I know that there are many other bottlenecks, and that there are in addition the doctrinaire interventions of the hapless Mr. Bevan. It was only last week that I had an opportunity of talking both with a small builder and with a surveyor under a local authority, and both of them said, almost in the same words, that they could build four times as fast if it were not for Mr. Bevan. But your Lordships have already dealt with the bottlenecks and to some extent with Mr. Bevan, and all I wished to submit to your Lordships was that fundamentally the inevitable disillusionment that awaits us is due to the age-old tendency, repeating itself all through history, to assume that what really concerns us most is how we can organize ourselves, and that we can afford virtually to ignore how we behave. I would even go further and suggest that in the era into which we are passing it is quite possible that there is much less reason to fear doctrinaire organization based upon new fangled Socialist theories than to fear restrictive practices based upon old-fashioned trade union traditions.

5.27 p.m.


My Lords, I want to intervene in this debate only for a very short time and to support the Motion of my noble friend Lord Llewellin. My only excuse for doing so is that I spoke last March on the supply position of the services for these new houses, a matter upon which I should like to touch again very briefly to-day. Before doing so I would like to deal for one moment with the permanent housing situation in London. As many of your Lordships have done, I made a tour of the East End of London last weekend, especially of the dock areas, and I must say that I was most disappointed at the progress that has been made in the last eight months in the building of permanent houses. The building of temporary houses has developed quite considerably, and I should like to congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Portal, and Mr. George Hicks upon introducing that scheme, which I personally have always been keen on as a temporary expedient. All over the dock areas you see these Portal bungalows and, as the noble Viscount, Lord Portal, quite rightly said, they are very comfortable inside.

What impressed me most was that you can go for miles and miles inside the dock areas and you do not see any preparation of sites. Stepney has a very fine block of flats nearing completion, and so has Hackney. I think that is borne out by these very disappointing figures in Appendix B showing that so very little is completed. Out of 5,000 houses started in the London County Council area only 425 have been completed; in Poplar only 40 have been completed, and in Woolwich, the constituency of Mr. George Hicks, only 34 have been completed. In these areas you see very little preparation. If it had not been for the temporary housing programme I do not know where we would have been in the dock areas. I would like to see very much greater effort made down there.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, in thinking that the private house builder is not being used sufficiently. I have taken a great deal of trouble in trying to educate myself in this. I think these contracts of local authorities are far too big; there is a lot started and very little completed. I think the small house builder should be brought in more, even if he only builds a few houses every few months. I know we want the numbers, but I think he should be brought in more in these areas to build his small number of houses. He has great experience and has done very good work in between the two wars, and I think he should be used more and in addition to the larger contractor who is contracting for local authorities. The private house builder would, of course, have to sell houses to the local authority in the proportion of four to one as laid down, but providing he is given a contract to build these houses in many cases he has got sites which are partly developed with roads and sewers already put in. I am not happy about the position in these areas, because it all ties up with the' new towns, how many people are going to be put into these new towns and the difficulty of finding sites, as they have got to go to the other side of the green belt. Anyway, a large number of houses has got to be built in these most important dock areas. One cannot move the River Thames or an important dock, although certain industries will no doubt be moved outside these areas. I think in the rural areas they are getting on fairly well and are having their fair share. I do not think the fair share is enough, but they are having their fair share and getting on pretty well in the rural areas. That is my main criticism of the London area, which I think is so very important.

Perhaps I may deal for a few moments with the services side. The raw materials position has become much worse since I addressed your Lordships in the housing debate last March. I then asked the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, if he would give special consideration to trying to get imports of more poles for electric cables. Lord Quibell today, quite rightly so, said it was very important to get on with providing electricity and water supplies to rural houses, but I tell your Lordships in all sincerity—and it is absolutely correct—that the poles are just not available. On the 1st October last the Commissioners allowed no more poles at all to the company with which I am connected, and we cannot get on. The same thing applies to copper conductors and lead underground cables. Lead cables are in very short supply and unless we can get more supplies of them I do not know really what we are going to do. You could use concrete poles for overhead lines, but that would mean reinforcing them because you would be up against stresses and strains. You have to reinforce them with steel bars, and you then come up against the difficulty of not being able to get steel.

I am authorized to say that in one important group of power companies they have got over a million pounds of work outstanding, in about 6,500 jobs, and if they cannot within a very few weeks get the necessary materials they will have to stand off about 1,700 men. That is a very serious thing and they have written to the Commissioners to that effect. I think we should bear in mind in relation to that, that where we can redevelop areas which have already got their services—their sewers, their electricity and their gas—we ought to do so, rather than to go on too rapidly, having regard to the shortage of raw materials, in these new virgin land sites which need a very large amount of services. With those few words I would like to support my noble friend Lord Llewellin.

5.34 p.m.


My Lords, not for the first time we have had an interesting and constructive discussion in this House on this subject. I am quite sure that not one of your Lordships will wish to hear me for any length of time on this topic. Not by any means for the first time it is my painful duty to be put up to wind up a debate on housing, and the only reason I can discover for my selection is that I have suffered much in the cause! I was extremely interested to listen to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin. I quite recognize that in the course of it he made a number of very penetrating and constructive criticisms, and I am quite sure that my right honourable friends who are concerned with the actual work will value those criticisms, will be glad that he made them, and, so far as they can, will be anxious to profit by them. But behind it all the noble Lord, I know, recognizes what we are confronted with—our physical limitations in man-power and raw material.

Meanwhile, I will content myself with dealing with one aspect of the noble Lord's speech which I could not fully understand. Noble Lords who listened to our previous discussions will remember that I was not in favour of setting targets. I always objected to setting a target for what you were going to do in this precarious business and under these exceedingly unforeseeable circumstances. At the beginning of the life of this Government I did my best to persuade my right honourable friend the Minister of Health absolutely to refuse to set a target, and he did so. I myself, being pressed in this House once or twice to state a figure, likewise obstinately refused to do so, and I think quite rightly, because there are so many factors involved that nobody can foresee what is going to happen any length of time ahead. That comment of my own is exceedingly appropriate to the imaginary target which the noble Lord blamed us for not achieving. He said the plan had been to build 220,000 permanent houses within two years of the termination of hostilities with Germany.


I said that was the Coalition plan. I was not attributing it to the noble Viscount or to the present Minister of Health.


I understand that. I am quite sure that if my colleague the Minister of Health had been tempted to indulge in such folly he would have found me to be a most vehement opponent. I was not in the Coalition Government and I speak with bated breath of the great men who were. At the same time, I would say that to set a figure of 220,000 houses to be completed within two years of the termination of the war with. Germany, when you had not the remotest idea of what was going to be the position with regard to the supplies of bricks, light castings, timber and all the rest of it, was an act of superlative folly. I really cannot feel any sense of guilt at the fact that this Government have not lived up to the fairy programme of the noble Lord and his colleagues of the Coalition Government. It was a fairy idea; it was not a reality.


I must remind the noble Viscount that all the leaders of the present Government were parties to that programme.


That does not alter the fact that I was not a member of it. All I have to say, and I say it without a word of modification, is that it was a fairy-like idea and that it had no relation to reality. Let us take the case of bricks as an example, 220,000 houses would have required so many bricks. It was not difficult to calculate in the ordinary way what would be required. But, so far as I have ever been able to ascertain, there were no arrangements accompanying that to secure that there would be the necessary supply of bricks—none whatever. There were no arrangements made to secure the necessary supplies of baths, cisterns, drain pipes and all the rest of it. It was a fairy thing; it was a house of cards.


I do not think it is quite fair to say that about bricks.


I am entitled to give my view of this strange proposal. I said at the time in this House that it had no relation to reality, and it had not—none whatever. My point is that, whatever may be the criticisms to which that programme of 1944 may be quite legitimately exposed, this Government cannot be blamed for not having realized a fancy figure for which they themselves had no responsibility whatever.


The noble Lord must allow me to interrupt him. The present Prime Minister, the present Foreign Secretary and the present Lord President of the Council were all parties to the decision which he now says was a fairy tale. What is the attitude of those members of the Government to the proposals that were put forward at that time?


I expect they were otherwise engaged. The fact is that as soon as this Government, which happily is concerned with reality, got down to dealing with what the problem really involved, the first decision that was arrived at was that there should be no target set in advance. I put it to the noble Lord that that was one of the first things which was said in the first debate on housing in this House after the Government came in. We refused to give a target.


I recall that most of the Government's supporters said that this fairy-tale programme was grossly inadequate.


I have no doubt it was so far as meeting the needs of the community was concerned. So far as that is concerned we could put another nought at the end of it. So far as meeting the needs of the community is concerned, of course they will not be met by 220,000 houses. I should not think they would be met by a million, but it will take a long time to build them. What I am criticizing is that these houses were to be built within two years after the end of the war. Nobody knew the actual circumstances which would then exist or made the slightest provision whatever for securing the necessary licences. That is my criticism, and I do not withdraw a word of it. What I do object to is being blamed because we did not realize it when we were not parties to it.

Having relieved my mind of that let us look at realities. While I would not under-estimate for a moment all the difficulties to which the noble Lord has referred—and particularly those mentioned by the noble Lord behind me—at the same time the achievements so far have been good ones. Let us just look at what the actual figures are. We were confronted at the end of this war by the fact that before we could start building any new houses we had to repair vast numbers of damaged houses, which was not the state of affairs after the last war. I understand that more than 4,000,000 houses in the country were damaged by enemy action. Think what that means. It subtracts all that amount of labour and materials from your new constructional work. My noble friend gave the actual figures, and they were to this effect, that the men taken away from the building trades labour supply for repairs to war-damaged houses, reconstruction of damaged houses and all the rest of it, left rather less than one-third of the total labour supply available in the building industry for building new houses, which is a fact which should not be lost sight of.

Now let us come to the state of affairs of construction on September 30. The number of permanent houses built or building was 198,000—I am leaving out the odd figures—temporary houses built or building 83,000, a total of 282,324 by September 30. In those completed there were 31,000 permanent houses and 57,000 temporary houses. Under construction at that time there were 166,000 permanent houses and 26,000 temporary houses. I must say, speaking for myself, that I think to have done that within fifteen months after the end of the war, notwithstanding our difficulties, is an exceedingly creditable performance, and nothing to be apologized for. Of course, we have got to do our best to remove the difficulties and to do better, but I must repeat that I think it may quite fairly be claimed that in comparison with the trivial showing of new building made within the first eighteen months after the last war, this is a remarkable achievement. That is true, and I say it to my own disparagement if you like—I do not mind, because it is true, that is all. Of course, there are many reasons why that should be so. At that time we had not got a local authority except in two or three of the big cities who had any surveyor staffs or had any staff which could deal with building. Even a year after the war there were still 1,000 local authorities who had not acquired any land. It was an entirely different set of circumstances; but for all that—and although what I say is to my own hurt—I think that the comparison of the first fifteen months after this war, with what was achieved after the end of the last war, shows an exceedingly remarkable achievement.

I would like to say with what pleasure I listened to the noble Viscount, Lord Portal, and I am sure that every one of us was glad to hear him. I think we are indebted to the noble Viscount in a way that few people have yet recognized, and I would like to say so. It is true that we paid a visit together to the little standardized house nearby, and I remember myself making some criticism about it. But the thing which remained in my mind particularly was the standardization of the kitchen equipment, the convenience of the arrangements, the handiness of it all to the housewife who did not have to walk far to the draining board, table or the tap because they were all quite handy. It was a very great contribution towards increasing the standard amenities of the people's houses; and whether the houses are called Portal houses or not given any name at all, we are largely indebted to the noble Viscount for making a great step forward in that respect. I recall that at the time I warned him that very likely, notwithstanding his transient popularity, he might catch it later on. Of course my own experience no doubt gave rise to my remark, but for all that I do not think that he has anything like as much to complain of as I had. However, I would like to take this opportunity of repeating that we are indebted to the noble Viscount's initiative in increasing the standardization of convenient equipment. We are indebted to him for the work he did and the equipment remains in other houses apart from those which bear his name.

Although I was unfortunately not in my place to hear him, I would like to join in congratulating the noble Earl, Lord Gainsborough, on his maiden speech, and to say how glad I was that he expressed his solicitude for better progress of housing in rural areas which is entirely near my own heart. To a considerable extent I think we can say that the progress in rural areas has been remarkably good, and in many ways rapid, as compared with what it was in time past. I am quite sure noble Lords appreciate the rural problem just as much as I do. They know perfectly well that increased accommodation for agricultural workers is the key to the whole problem, and that we could even now get many more workers in our rural areas if there were cottages for them to live in. Nothing can overstate the urgency of this problem. It is absolutely fundamental to the supply of workers in agriculture. For the present I find that the houses built or building by rural councils for rural and agricultural workers show a total of tenders approved by local authorities of 29,478, and tenders approved for building by private builders of 15,917, making a total in rural areas up to September 30 of 45,395. That is a long, long way from what we shall need to achieve, but at the same time I think I can fairly claim that it is at least an encouraging start.

Some of my noble friends have asked about the action to be taken with regard to the suspension of the Housing (Rural Workers) Act. I would refer them to a statement made by the Minister of Health in another place with reference to the report that has now come in from the Committee he appointed to recommend what should be done to help in reconditioning in the place of that Act. He referred to it the other day. The Committee has already reported with certain recommendations, but that report was only received by my right honourable friend on October 18. I can assure the House it will not be very long before we become acquainted with the proposals of my right honourable friend to give further help in that direction. His Majesty's Government recognize its necessity very clearly. I do not know that I need reply to many of the other points; my noble friend Lord Henderson has dealt with them in very great detail. I should, however, like to correct one statement made, no doubt by accident, by Lord Wimborne, with regard to the number of houses still requisitioned by the Government in London. He gave the figure as 200,000 in London alone. I made inquiry, and found the actual figure. The actual figure—it is still a lot—for London is 57,572, a little more than a quarter of the figure stated, I think that correction should be mde.

Finally, I do not think you will expect me to deal to-day with the suggestion that there should be a Ministry of Housing and Planning. It raises big questions of Governmental organization and so forth, and I do not expect that your Lordships will expect me, or wish me, at the end of this debate to say what I think on that subject. It is exceedingly complicated. It is nothing like so easy as it seems, and for my part I do not think the case for it has been anything like established. At all events, we have not that project immediately in mind. I think that having the present machinery well started we had better encourage it to press on and remove all the difficulties we possibly can with a view to getting progress made very quickly. In conclusion, I should like to thank all the noble Lords who have spoken for the constructive way they have brought the difficulties into the light, though I fancy we were painfully aware of every one of them before. I can assure the House that it is our earnest intention and desire to make as rapid progress as we can in this matter of housing, for none recognizes its urgency more than His Majesty's Government.

5.54 p.m.


The noble Viscount who has just addressed the House started his remarks by asking why he was selected. Let me say we were all delighted, as always, to hear him address this House. I was one of those who thought he selected himself and decided whether he spoke or not from the Government Front Bench. There are two very good reasons why he should be selected. The first is that he has no responsibility whatever for the programme of the White Paper of 1945. It might have been more difficult for some of his colleagues in the Government to have taken the independent line the noble Viscount has just taken. He said it was a "fairy-like idea". The people most involved in it were the Prime Minister, the Lord President of the Council, and that fairy-like figure the Foreign Secretary. They certainly went into great detail on these things, and nobody thinks that they just chose a figure out of the blue. There were consultations between the Minister of Labour and everybody else as to whether labour could be made available. This figure was quite fairly reached after these matters had been discussed by the Government of that day. I do not happen to have been one of those directly concerned in the matter as were the Prime Minister, the Lord President and the Foreign Secretary, but I was on the fringe.

I quite follow why this Government have not put down a target. Had they put down a target which, according to the noble Viscount, would have been less than 220,000 houses, all the supporters of the Government in another place would have said that a target had been put down which the Party had said was hopelessly inadequate at the election. It is quite clear that they were very wise not to put down a target. But I still maintain that if you want to achieve results you must know what you are aiming at. I am quite certain that was in the mind of the Minister of Works because he has stated his target. It is quite true the Minister of Health said afterwards that that was only Mr. Tomlinson's own idea. At any rate, you do want to know your target when planning materials and everything else. This is the first time in my whole life I have heard of one of these overall plans, for which the present Government have so much affection, that is not based on any known target. However, that is their business and not mine.

I must say I think we have had quite a useful debate. I was particularly glad to have elicited the statement from the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, about the amount of timber we are getting out of Germany. I am not satisfied with that amount, but I am delighted to think we are getting some. We ought to press for more out of the United States zone, and also keep our own people up to the mark in getting more cut of our zone. As Lord Quibell, to whose speech we all listened with great interest, said, these were the people who knocked down our houses and it is just as well we should have some of the timber from them to build them up again. I was also extremely pleased to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, that the anomalies in the distributive machinery are going to be looked after. I am quite certain that is where, at the moment, the difficulties will be found. Although production may be good, the distribution is bad.

I am obliged to the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, for saying that some of the suggestions which I and other noble Lords made will be considered by the appropriate Departments. I cannot agree with him in one thing. He said he thinks the results have been unexpectedly good. I do not take it that he meant unexpectedly good having regard to the hands in which Government happens to be at present. Had he meant that, perhaps I could have agreed with him. I think it is unexpectedly bad, and we might have expected a great deal more. At any rate I shall go on hoping for a great deal more, and I shall go on pressing for a great deal more. As it is, I beg leave now to withdraw my motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.