HL Deb 03 December 1947 vol 152 cc1094-182

2.40 p.m.

LORD LLEWELLIN rose to call attention to the housing situation; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord s; nd: My Lords, I am convinced that there will be no one in your Lordships' House who will dissent when I say that, apart from the overriding problem of how we are to pay our way in the world, the question of how we are to make good the shortage of houses is about the most pressing question that we have. Indeed, whether we have an adequate or an inadequate number of houses has a direct bearing on how far we are able to meet our production problems, because those who are not properly housed do not give such a good day's work as those who are. Not only that; it applies particularly to the greater production of coal, and even more to the production of more food in this country. With the subject of more agricultural houses, I will deal in some detail later.

Apart altogether, however, from this question of increased production, sufficient and proper homes for our people are a vital necessity if we are to remain the great nation that we are. We have all, I suppose, deplored the increase in juvenile crime, and the growing size of the Divorce Lists. Both of these afford some evidence that the homes of the people are inadequate or, at any rate, that their home life is. Much of the increase in juvenile crime, of course, has been caused by the fact that so many fathers have been compulsorily away from their children during the war years, and, similarly, much of the increase in the Divorce Lists has been caused by the enforced separation of husband and wife through war circumstances. But both these things boiled down amount only to this: that there has not been a proper orderly home life during those years. Whatever "ism" we may mouth—whether it is Internationalism, Socialism, Capitalism, Communism, or Fascism—there are really three simple words which express what we need in order to have reliable, industrious and God-fearing citizens; they are "good home life." You cannot have a good home life without an adequate supply of decent houses.

So far, we are probably all agreed. How, then, have we got on since the end of the war to provide those housing needs? So far, in my view, progress has been pretty poor, and I hope that neither of the noble Lords who will reply for the Government will be complacent enough to assert that it is anything else. I hope, too, that neither of them will attempt to compare it too closely with what was done just after the First World War. From this new Paper Capital Investment in 1948 I see that this phrase creeps in: These figures may be compared with 5,500 new houses recorded as having been completed in England and Wales in the two years after the end of the First World War. I appreciate the reason why the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, is not here this afternoon. I know there is a very good reason why the noble Viscount is away—a reason which an ex-Minister of Food will certainly recognize—but I told him that I was going to make this reference to him and, so far as I can make out, he had no objection. What I want to say is that I consider it quite unfair that the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, should always be having this brought up against him in the continuous White Papers that the Government issue. After all, the noble Viscount was the man responsible for the housing of the people in this country for those two years and, if I may, I would say in his defence, that he was faced with a far more difficult position at the end of the First World War than was his successor at the end of this last war.

After all, the building industry had not really got into its stride before the 1914-1918 war. What was its position just before this last war started? I am not including any figures for large houses; these are for the ordinary house occupied by the ordinary weekly wage-earner or the man with a small salary. In 1935, 329,106 houses were built; in 1936, 324,860; in 1937, 346,053; in 1938, 357,602; and even in 1939, part of which was a war year, 332,360. So there is not the slightest doubt that the building industry itself was in extremely good heart and fine condition when the last war started. Again, no such adequate provision was made in the First World War as was made in the Second to keep the building materials industry and the whole industry going on a care-and-maintenance basis, nor were such provisions made as were made by the Coalition Government for training men to be bricklayers or plasterers, or to fill other occupations associated with building. I remember perfectly well Mr. Ernest Bevin, then Minister of Labour, coming to me and asking for one of my food stores—we had some food to store in those days—in order to use it as a training centre for building operatives. That was the kind of step which was taken in the days of the Coalition Government.

But, indeed, if you want to compare like with like, you cannot compare events in the two years after the end of the last war with what happened after the First World War any more, for instance, than you can compare the number of aircraft turned out in the two years immediately after the end of each war. Building technique had improved almost as much as the technique of aircraft and wireless production. Having said that in defence of the noble Viscount the Leader of the House, I hope that none of his colleagues will attempt to use an argument of that sort which might rebut what I have thought fit to say on this occasion.

Why do I say that I think the progress is pretty poor? The Coalition Government, after very careful thought, worked out a programme of permanent houses to be put up in the first two years after the end of the war—namely, 220,000 completed and 80,000 more under construction. I know that in a recent debate the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, said that that was a fairy tale, but when the Coalition Government's White Paper came out in March of 1945 Mr. Arthur Greenwood, on the other hand, said that it was "mere chicken feed" for a hungry nation. I must say that on the election platforms throughout the country most Socialist candidates were more inclined to follow the line taken by Mr. Arthur Greenwood, rather than that of the "fairy tale" later adopted by the noble Viscount, Lord Addison. At any rate, the programme was meant to be realistic. I cannot quite remember whether the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack was concerned with it, but four fairly influential people in the present Government certainly had a hand in it. There was the Prime Minister, the Lord President of the Council, the Chancellor of the Exchequer—I am talking about their present ranks—and the Foreign Secretary. They are not un- important persons in the present Government of this country!

That was the programme. How many permanent houses were set up in the time? 87,765—nothing like the 220,000 at all. But, if we depart from the Coalition Government's estimate and come down to the estimate of the Command Paper 7021, published in January of this year, we find that the programme was to complete 240,000 permanent houses in the course of 1947. Up to the end of October—November and December are not the best building months—97,960 were completed, and that was all. Our figures only go to the end of October in the latest return—I am not complaining of that as November has only just finished—but if we assume the October rate to be realized is the last two months of the year, which is an optimistic thing to do having regard to the fact that they are two of the worst building months of the year, and add another 28,000, we find that out of the 240,000 promised we shall probably have built about 125,000. So by the end of the year we shall get only just about half of the programme laid down by the present Government in January of this year.

Now I see in the White Paper, Capital Investment in 1948, there appears on the eighth page a reference to temporary houses; a programme which was well planned and started by the Coalition Government, and carried on by the Caretaker Government. The White Paper says: Some 460,000 houses have been provided since the end of the war, a substantial contribution towards the 750,000 which were estimated at the end of the war to be required to enable a separate home to be offered to each family who wanted one. I have never seen that figure of 750,000 before. We had 200,000 houses completely destroyed by bombing during the war; in addition 250,000 damaged houses had to be rebuilt; and all the lag caused by no building or very little building during the war had to be made up. It seems to me that if the Government really think that 750,000 permanent, temporary and reconditioned houses represents the needs of the people, they are really completely out of touch with what is happening throughout the towns and villages of the country.

When I speak about the Government's failure to reach their target of 240,000 houses, I remembered that the Minister of Health, Mr. Aneurin Bevan, in his election address, said that the job of providing houses should be tackled on a national scale, in the same way as the nation went about the task of making Spitfires, and I thought that if, when I was Minister of Aircraft Production, I had had a target of 240,000 Spitfires and had produced only something like 125,000 or corresponding figures, I should not have remained very long in the Government. I am quite certain I should not, if I had produced only half the target. I would suggest to the right honourable gentleman that he should look up his election address and try to do rather more in the future to produce houses on the scale that we were producing munitions—namely, up to our targets—for quite clearly he has not done that in the past. As I say, this figure of 750,000 houses rather confused me. It must have been put in for some reason; I suppose it was in order not to make the 460,000 look quite so bad as a lot of people think it to be. But I see no real reason to put it in at all if it is the ambition of the Government, as it clearly appears to be from this White Paper, to produce more than those 750,000. I am, therefore, rather surprised to see that figure appearing in the White Paper.

What are the principles that this White Paper lays down? The Government are going to try to produce over this next forthcoming period—they have, in fact, decided to complete—the 260,000 houses already under construction, and 90,000 houses approved but not yet started. That makes a programme of 350,000 more houses from the date when the White Paper was issued (that is, yesterday). Now, if we assume that in December, January, February, March, April and May, which are all bad building months, building continues at about the October rate, we shall then get only some 84,000 of these houses built by the end of May. That leaves 266,000—or 252,000 if we allow for November—still to be completed. What I would like to ask is. where, at the present rate of building, the agricultural houses, which are so urgently heeded, are coming in? Building labour, I gather from the White Paper, will get scarcer rather than more ample. Where do we start to make a real "go" of these agricultural houses which are so absolutely essential? I am told that it has been estimated that we need 86,000 houses solely for agricultural workers if we are to achieve the food programme in full. I should like to know whether that is so or not.

It is now some two or three months since county agricultural committees were asked to give estimates. Is this job being treated as an urgent job? Have the committees yet reported, and, if so, how many houses have they said it will be necessary to build in order to ensure the full carrying out of the food production programme, to which the noble Earl, Lord Huntingdon, amongst others, has set his hand? Clearly we must increase our agricultural production in this country if we are to survive. We are very soon to lose 100,000 or more German prisoners who are now working on our land merely to keep production at its present level. So we must have additional labour if we are going to have the increased production outlined by the Government last summer. I should think that my figure of 86,000 new agricultural houses is, if anything, below the mark. I am confident that it is no exaggeration. I simply cannot recount the number of times that we have pressed from this side of the House, during the last two years, for more houses for agricultural workers. This pressure has been applied in all the agricultural debates of which we have had a large number.

Frequently the Government have been urged to do something to replace the Housing (Rural Workers) Act which, so unfortunately, they allowed to lapse. I will not weary the House by restating what has been said on that subject, or by detailing the replies which have been given. I may say, however, that the replies have nearly always been sympathetic. But sympathy is not enough. I am going to refer to one particular reply. I know your Lordships will not mind, although the noble Viscount the Leader of the House is not present. Of course, I am going to quote him accurately. When I raised this subject in March, 1946, he said this: We are just as alive to the necessity of providing cottages in rural areas as any of our critics. Let me say that a long time ago now in your Lordships' House I myself expressed misgivings on the matter. Owing to the importance of additional labour in 1947, when very likely we shall not have so many prisoners of war and other people, houses are absolutely essential. I invite your Lordships to note those words "absolutely essential" and I ask what has been done. Since the end of the war 29,777 houses of one sort or another have been erected in rural districts, but of these—and we have the authoritative figure in this October housing return—only 3,075 have been let to agricultural workers.

As I say, sympathy is not enough, and really some action must be taken, if we are going to get the foodstuffs which we need, to see that these houses are built and are available for the agricultural workers. After all—it has been published as a White Paper, and I can properly refer to it—this Government inherited a document prepared by Mr. Hudson and myself, showing what was necessary, and what increased contribution British agriculture could make to the saving of foreign exchange. The document was produced in February, 1945. One of the main things dealt with in it was the need for the provision of extra houses to accommodate the additional numbers of agricultural workers. What I say now is, cannot anyone, cannot the Minister of Agriculture, cannot the Under-Secretary for Agriculture, or someone else, get our South-Wales-Valley-minded Minister of Health to do something about agricultural houses? It really is absolutely essential that something should be done, and done quickly.

It may be said that the latest circular to the local authorities has accomplished the thing for which I am asking. My first comment on that circular is that it is months too late. My second is that it really is a mass of words. You read through two and a half pages of this circular. I suggest that instead of all these words what was required to be said was surely something like this: Increased home production of food is essential to the very life of the nation. The Government have therefore asked all county agricultural executive committees to assess the housing needs of workers employed in food production in their areas. To the local authorities the Government should say: "You will be given subsidies and you will be provided with the materials to ensure that the houses so recommended are speedily built." Something quite short like that. Then the Government should see that the authorities get the materials and allow them to build in the way which they deem best and quickest.

If farmers or landowners farming their own land want to put up cottages, let them have the materials and the subsidies, so long as you have a provision that the cottages remain let to agricultural workers for a period of years and at a reasonable rent that such workers can pay. That is all we want in this circular. That would be giving a real preference to agricultural houses. Because houses for the people working on a farm are just as essential as a new cowhouse or bull pen or a new granary. They ought to be in the same category. The Ministry of Agriculture has dealt with farm buildings in one production category and that has gone forward not too badly; but the provision of houses for workers has been dealt with by the Ministry of Health and local authorities and this is the result—3,075 houses, when we need at least 86,000 more.

If I may return for a moment to this document, Capital Investment in 1948, my general comment on it, particularly as it applies to building, would be that you are treating men as though you could move them about like materials or machine tools, shifting them from one place to another without their having the training for the new job. In fact, you are dealing with men in a worse manner than you would with machine tools, because you would never send a drill to a factory which has asked for a planing machine. But if you take a bricklayer and put him in some other industry, you will find that he is not in the last trained for it. We see from this document that the labour now employed in housing is 569,000. That is to be reduced in June to 525,000, on the somewhat naive assumption that the 24,000 released from house building will be available at the right places and will be happy and content to work in factories or on the land. They may have no training for e:.ther of these occupations, and probably many of these 24,000 will, in the end, have to be directed to go somewhere, a method which, I must say, I greatly deplore and disapprove of in time of peace. And all this when, last September, we had 21,000 unemployed in the building industry who did not go anywhere else and who were on the books as "unemployed."

A lot of people are Lord in their praise of the Chancellor of the Exchequer (that is now his main title) and although, of course, he makes extremely good speeches, and is a most charming man to meet, he is really almost inhuman—I use that word in its right sense—and is not the man to deal with the very human problems, of shifting men up and down the country. I believe the whole Socialist programme is failing because it takes no account of the world of which these islands form part. So will this plan in this document fail, because it takes no account of human wishes and prejudices, nor of the skilled craftsmanship of the men and women of the labour force of this country. Particularly in regard to house building I think this Paper is all wrong. When the initial cuts in the import programmes were declared in this House, as those of your Lordships who were here will remember, many of us could not believe our ears when we heard that timber imports were cut. I myself interjected, "Timber," in rather a surprised voice, when the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, mentioned that commodity. I think we can still get more timber. I see the difficulty about getting it from the United States or Canada, but cannot we still get more from Germany?

I raised the matter in this Houses in March, 1946, in the debate to which I have already referred. From January to March we obtained a mere 378 standards from Germany. I am delighted to see—because one always likes to think one's words are listened to, although probably they are not—that 43,929 standards were obtained from Germany in July, 43,191 in August, and 43,788 in September. I see a regrettable fall in October, and when one realizes that the fall of 8,513 standards between September and October means the loss of 5,320 houses, at 1.6 standards a house, one very much regrets that reduction. I am certain that we can do better. After all, if we reckon between 800 and 1,000 trees per acre, 43,000 standards only involves cutting some fifty acres of woodlands. Everybody knows that there are masses of forests still left: in Germany. The Government have often talked about carrying out this housing programme as a military operation. Why do they not do it as a military operation, in Germany at any rate, and cut down more? There was a case where an airfield had to be built in one of these forests. Trees covering fifty to sixty acres had to be cut down and this was done and the airfield made in some seven and a half weeks. A lot more could be cut down if we organized the matter properly in Germany.

It is only right that Germany should provide this timber, and it costs us nothing—at any rate, in foreign exchange. Had it not been for the German action in making war, and the damage caused by their bombers, their "doodlebugs" and their rockets, we should not have this housing problem to-day. It is their timber that we should be getting, and it is their labour which should be cutting it. We should then help to provide those people who were deprived of their houses toy German action with the houses which they have every right to expect. What I would say to the Government is: Do not be content with the amount you are getting out of Germany at the present time. You can get much more if you organize it properly; you can double it, and probably treble it. If that is done, and if the Government will only take another step which I shall suggest later, I believe there is no reason why we should cut down our housing programme in this country at all.

A further matter is that before the war it was reckoned that for each man employed in the building industry one house was erected each year. That was a generally understood and recognized figure. If you look at the figures now you will find that only one house is built each year for every four men employed in the building industry. You have only to look again at the number of houses started but not completed to see that there is something wrong. Whereas before the war it took four months to build the ordinary type of house to which I am referring, and which we all have in mind, it now takes thirteen months. We can still give the men in that industry more incentives. I am not blaming all this upon the men, because they are mightily discouraged by the number of delays that take place. I remember quite well that when I went to the Ministry of Aircraft Production we had a whole lot of Wellingtons, and no propellers for them. It was thought right to leave the machines on the airfield of the factory where they were being made, but I was certain that psychologically that was all wrong. For that reason later I arranged that the pro-pellers which had taken away the earlier planes went back by road, so that the aircraft could fly off and the people in that factory could still keep their sense of urgency. The planes were flown to a maintenance unit, where they were kept, and nobody saw that they were there without propellers. After a while, of course, we put the propeller position right and the propellers were put on to the Wellingtons.

If we are to keep on with this housing programme, and conduct it as a military operation, as the Government have said, we must get some sense of urgency into the workers. During the war we did it by letting the workers in the factories see that there was a pile of fresh raw material waiting to be dealt with in order to encourage them to work. The discouragement to the building worker to-day is that he is kept hanging about, waiting for materials, nearly all the time. Before the war no builder would start to build a house until he knew he had the materials on the site, in his own yard, or in a neighbouring brickyard or timberyard. Why was that? It was because loss of time meant loss of money. It meant an extravagant use of labour in keeping the men waiting about for material with which to work. Now, the local authority, or someone else, pays. The builder is given a licence, and he assumes that that ensures that the material will come to him. So many licences have been issued in the last year, as can be seen by the uncompleted building, that there is insufficient material to keep pace with them. As a result, the material has not been produced along with the licence.

I know this from quite a small piece of building which is being done at my home. It is only an additional room to a house which previously had two bedrooms—which certainly were not enough. We obtained a licence for the work last November. Then, of course, we had to procure a licence for the timber, one for the bricks, another for the tiles, and so on. In the end some timber did arrive, but it was floorboard timber, and not for the joists on which the floorboards have to be placed, and which, indeed, have to be put down first. But the floorboards had arrived, and building was started. Then we had the very cold weather—it was non-building weather, or difficult weather in which to build—and work ceased for a time. Because of all that, it was found that the licence had expired. So we had to start afresh and get a new licence. Now, at last, we have the timber, and last week this room—a little room twelve feet by ten feet—was completed. The time it has taken to get one extra bit of timber after another to complete the work is typical of what is happening in the building industry. The Timber Control people will issue only part of what is wanted at a time, when what is needed is the whole of the materials. Once a man has been given a licence to build a house he ought to be allowed to draw the whole of the materials for that house. He can then plan the work; he can get the labour on the spot, and he will not keep the men hanging about.

As I say, nowadays it does not matter very much to the builder. The local authority knows that the builder is held up for the licence, but they say: "That is all right. You keep the fellows on." The builder keeps on the men, and they work a bit and rest a bit. I do not blame the men; they have nothing else to do; but the result is that the local authority pay more for the house, and we have a completely uneconomical use of labour, which is even worse in these times. That is why there is only one house produced a year for every four men in the building industry, whereas before one was produced for each man. If we are to economize in labour and reduce the price of the houses (and the way prices of houses are rising is frightful to contemplate) the only thing to do is to allow free enterprise to do more. By all means insist on the town planning consent. Building must be carried on only where it is proper, according to the town planning scheme, to do it. By all means, again, have houses built only in accordance with the proper by-laws. But after that let the man go ahead and build the house, even if the house is wanted afterwards for letting. If the local authority are the right people to have the houses, by all means let them buy the houses after they are built. But get somebody on to building the houses without all the petty interference now experienced from officials of local authorities who know precious little about the technicalities of house building. I am not blaming them, for that is not what they have been trained to do, but certainly most of them do not know much about this matter of house building.

Until the almost complete cessation of private building, which occurred after this circular of August 15—and which I suspect the Minister of Health has long wanted to bring about, until the economic crisis gave him the excuse for doing it—the private builder was building houses more quickly, and more cheaply, than they were being built by local authorities. He was still building his houses in the provinces for a maximum of £1,300 per house. Let us compare that with a semi-Government Department, if I may so term it—the Forestry Commission. I would like the noble Earl who is to wind up the debate to correct me if I am wrong about this. The Forestry Commission are now paying £2,000 for the cottages they are building on their forestry estates. I would like to ask why, when the private builder has been building houses in the same areas for £1,300 a house, the cost is £700 more per house for houses built for the Forestry Commission. How is this extra £700 justified? I would warrant that a great deal of it is used up in having labour hanging about, and not being fully employed on the job.

I warn the Government that, in my view, in this White Paper, they are tackling this matter in quite the wrong way. Noble Lords can deduce this by looking at the figures. They will have the building industry completely unbalanced by this time next year. Most of the men needed to complete the extra 360,000 houses will be the carpenters, plasterers, the men who put on tiles and people of that sort, because the idea is to finish off the houses that are half completed. Therefore practically all the men needed for the foundations and the original brickwork will become redundant; they will either be kept idle or put into some other industry—whether by direction or not, I do not know. But at the end of this year, if this plan is adhered to, we shall have a completely unbalanced man-power situation in the building industry.

It is, indeed, a gloomy picture for the people who are so much in need of houses: the unbalanced material position that we have seen during the last eighteen monthsmdash; which indeed could soon be remedied—and a year hence a completely unbalanced man-power position in the industry. I, for one, am not satisfied with the way in which this matter is being managed. I plead with the Government to think again. First of all I urge them to get more timber out of Germany and really organize that enterprise; and, secondly, to put this matter, or a great deal of it, back into the hands of people who know how to build houses, who built them well before the war, and who will economize in the use of their labour, so that we may get extra labour out of this industry without cutting down our housing programme. In that way we shall not only economise in labour, but we shall begin to cut down these mounting building costs. It is only in that way that we can give the people of this country the houses for which there is such a demand and which are such a necessity in the difficult times in which the people live. I beg to move for Papers.

3.35 p.m.


My Lords, it is more than a year since we last debated the subject of housing, and we on these Benches are very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin—whose genuine desire to help in this vital matter we all recognize—for providing an opportunity for a further discussion. It is especially opportune at this particular moment, when a certain definite stage has been reached in the housing programme and important decisions have been made about its future development. What I have to say on behalf of the Government falls naturally into two parts. First, I shall deal briefly with the progress which has been made to date in solving our vast housing problem, and then I shall go on to explain to your Lordships in some detail what is implied in the revision of the housing programme. I shall not attempt to deal seriatim with the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, because my noble friend the Earl of Listowel will be winding up. the debate, but by the time I have finished I hope I shall have answered at any rate the most searching of his criticisms.

On general housing policy during the past year I shall say very little. We dealt exhaustively with this aspect of the matter last year, and I need only say that our object during the period that has elapsed has remained the same; that is, concentration on the provision of houses for letting to those who need them most. I doubt whether in the last analysis many noble Lords opposite would disagree with that policy. I think they will admit that any Government in tackling the housing problem could adopt no other criterion, and I have yet to hear advanced from the Opposition Benches, either in this House or in another place, any effective suggestion as to how else that object could have been achieved except by the choice of the public housing authorities, not, be it noted, as the chief house builders, because that is the job of the building industry, but as the chief house owners and arbiters of housing need.

In dealing with housing progress, a Government speaker to-day is, I venture to suggest, in some respects in a very happy position. To begin with he is relieved of the necessity to reel off long lists of figures, because ever since the beginning of 1946 the progress of housing in this country has been publicly recorded in meticulous detail by the Ministry of Health and the Secretary of State for. Scotland. Never before have such detailed figures been provided. Never before have Parliament and the people been kept so closely in touch with the progress of operations. That is, of course, as it should be. Secondly—and this is an aspect of the matter which tends to be overlooked in these days and which I think it would do us all good to remember—I entirely dissent from the words used by the noble Lord, "pretty poor progress"—the progress which has been made is by any standards remarkably good.

I said that there was no need for me to reel off long lists of figures and I do not propose to do so, but I think it only right to mention one or two gross totals which I have extracted from the latest monthly housing return. At October 31, 1947, just over two years after the end of a catastrophic war which had utterly disorganized the house building industry, homes had been provided in Great Britain for over 480,000 families. About 300,000 of these homes were in new houses, almost 165,000 of them permanent and of a standard which can bear comparison with the standards of any other country in the world. Just under 350,000 more permanent houses and 27,000 temporary houses were at varying stages between the signing of the contract and the fixing of the last piece of equipment. In addition, not less than 751,000 houses which had been damaged by bombs but not enough to make them unfit for occupation had been repaired. We have thus, during these two years, not only made good a vast amount of war damage but have also come a considerable part of the way towards providing the 750,000 new homes which it was estimated—and here I might give my noble friend the source of the estimate: it was estimated by the Coalition Government—were needed at the end of the war to provide a separate home for every family in need of one. I repeat, this is by any standards a fine record.

I submit that it is manifestly absurd in the light of the facts which I have given for the Leader of the Opposition in another place to speak of the "collapse of the housing schemes" on the sole grounds, apparently, first that 250,000 houses were at varying stages of erection and secondly that the number of houses expected to be completed in 1949 compared unfavourably with the number completed in 1939. The noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, made some use of this point himself, The Leader of the Opposition in another place omitted to mention any of the figures which I have just quoted indicating the amount of accommodation already provided. Nor did he allow for the very great difference in our circumstances now, only two years after the end of the Second World War, during which all our resources had been mobilized against the enemy, and in 1939, twenty years away from the First World War, when the building industry had had ample time to achieve an uninterrupted rhythm and a rapid tempo. Moreover, I would ask your Lordships to reflect on the proportion of the houses built in 1939 which went to those in greatest need of accommodation, and on the number of needy families who were starved of decent housing in the midst of plenty, as compared with the situation during the last two years when housing need has been the key to the door of a new house.

So much for the past. I have dealt with it only briefly because there is a mass of detailed information covering not only progress with house building of all kinds but also production of building materials and the supply of building labour which has already been made public, and because I am sure that noble Lords would wish me to spend as much time as possible on our plans for the future. But what I have said should, I hope, be enough to remove the misunder- standing which seems to exist in some quarters about the extent of the Government's housing achievement.

With regard to the revised housing programme, there has also, I think, been a certain amount of misunderstanding. That programme is conditioned by two factors, one of which has perhaps been overemphasized in the Press and elsewhere, while the other has not been given its full weight. The first factor is, of course, the economic situation is a whole. Your Lordship debated this in full a short rime ago and are aware of in the considerations which have led the Government to make certain reductions in their capital investment programme. The crucial consideration is, of course, the need to redress our balance of payments and in particular to save dollars.

Because most of our timber has to be imported from dollar, or at any rate, hard currency countries, this means that we have had to reduce our timber imports. I will deal in more detail a little later with the supply of timber in relation to housing and the attempts which have been made to get supplier from soft currency sources. For the moment, I would ask your Lordships to accept my assurance that although everything possible has been and will continue to be done to obtain timber from Europe and elsewhere, our total imports will be limited by the amount of hard currency we can spend on them. This limitation will have little effect on the houses already under construction, for the completion of which most of the timber required is already incorporated in the houses themselves or in the hands of the merchants, but as far as we can see at the moment it will limit the number of houses we can complete in 1949 and we have to frame our programme on the assumption that 1949 completions may not be more than 140 000. We have also to take into account the special priority which the economic situation requires us to give to the housing needs of workers in industries, notably mining and agriculture, whose expansion is essential to our economic recovery. How we propose to do this I shall explain in a few moments.

The second factor which we have to take into account—and this is the one which tends to be overlooked—is the stage already reached with the housing programme itself. When we started our housing drive our aim was to get as much building started as possible all over the country so that jobs could be available for the building workers wherever they disposed themselves as they came out of the Forces. In the face of the universal and overwhelming housing need, and because of the uncertainty about the disposition of resources, we could not then frame a cut-and-dried programme of so many houses to be built here and so many there. We therefore asked all the local authorities to get on with acquiring sites and placing contracts for house building as quickly as possible. So well did they respond that by the end of September, 1946, the total number of houses in tenders approved and licences issued was over 300,000, nearly 200,000 of which had been started. The trouble, of course, was, as the noble Lord pointed out in the course of his speech, that these commitments were more than could be effectively handled by the building industry with the limited resources available, and since that time we have been trying to redress the balance. That we have met with some success is shown by the fact that the proportion of houses under construction to houses completed has dropped from five to one at the end of September, 1946, to slightly more than one and a half to one at the end of October, 1947. But it remains true that there are too many houses under construction in relation to resources. Our immediate aim must, therefore, be to wipe off as fast as possible the accumulation of uncompleted houses and to restrict the number of houses which are, as it were, fed into the already overloaded building machine.

It is the combination of both these factors, the need to save dollars and the need to relate commitments to resources, that has resulted in the formulation of the revised housing programme. I will explain now in more detail exactly what the new programme means. The first express aim of the Government is to secure the completion as quickly as possible of the 260,000 houses now under construction and the 87,000 more which are in contracts, but not yet started. The most important single factor in achieving this aim is obviously the supply of the necessary materials and fittings in the right quantities and at the right time. Most of the necessary timber is, as I have said, already available: overall produc- tion of the other chief building materials and components is adequate, as the figures in the monthly housing returns show. Our efforts will, therefore, be directed to securing the right distribution of the items produced, and in seeing that prejudices in favour of particular types of items are not allowed to hold up progress when alternatives which are just as suitable are available. Even when the alternatives are more expensive, as I admit they often are, the extra cost is more than offset by the quicker occupation of the house.

As regards distribution, we hope that some of the worst bottlenecks—the shortage of electrical components, for instance—will be cleared by the new statutory W.B.A. distribution scheme which was announced early last August and the details of which will, no doubt, be familiar to most of your Lordships. The reduction in the number of items which are included in the scheme and the statutory backing which has been given to it should make it possible to concentrate far more closely on getting essential materials into the right channels.

Given an adequate supply of materials, the next factors in the completion of houses are the incentives offered to the contractor, on the one hand, and the operatives on the other, to get the job done quickly. As regards the contractors, the normal form of contract, with its payment for work done rather than for completed houses, has, in the past, undoubtedly tended to inhibit concentration on finishing, particularly during the fine weather when contractors are not unnaturally anxious, above all, to get as many houses as possible roofed in order to provide sheltered work for their men in the winter. The Minister of Health and the Secretary of State for Scotland have now suggested to local authorities that they should see whether they cannot arrange for the payments to be made in such a way as to offer the greatest possible inducements, both to contractors and to sub-contractors, to get houses finished.

They have also suggested to local authorities a number of other ways in which the work of construction can be speeded up. In particular, it has been urged upon local authorities that all possible steps should be taken to finish quickly minor works which prevent houses from being occupied. The Minister of Health has also suggested that greater use might be made of sub-contracting in the finishing trades. We are also anxious that local authorities should, if possible, arrange with their contractors for work which has not been started and which it is clearly outside the contractor's capacity to finish in any reasonable space of time, to be given up, so that it can either be handed over to someone else who has the capacity available, or deferred for the time being.

On the operatives' side, an important development has taken place. The Defence Regulation which prohibited the payment of bonuses to building workers has been revoked, and the industry has agreed to the introduction of bonus schemes as an accompaniment of the recent 3d. per hour general increase in wage rates. Noble Lords will recall that my noble friend Lord Quibell strongly advocated incentive payments in one of our discussions, and told your Lordships that he himself had adopted bonus payments to his workers. It will be recognized, and by none more readily than by my noble friend, that it is one thing for an individual master builder to operate bonus payments, and quite another thing to persuade the building trades unions, which are craft unions, to adopt a principle which neither their craft tradition nor their craft psychology encourages them to favour. This has now been done, and the National Federation of Building Trades Operatives has accepted proposals for incentive payments, otherwise a system of piece work or payment by results. I repeat that this is a development of great importance.

I believe I am right in saying that, in fixing the rate, the incentive payment will be calculated to enable the workman "of average capacity" to earn 20 per cent. more than his normal wage: but there is to be no limit to what a man may earn if he exerts himself beyond that point. The completion of such an agreement for the building trades as a whole testifies to the spirit in which the building trades workers are ready to make their contribution to the nation's construction programme. The Government, for their part, heartily welcome this decision, and hope that full advantage will be taken of it to secure faster progress. By these and other methods we shall do our best to get houses finished as fast as possible, and there is every reason to believe that completions during 1948 will be more than during 1947. The immediate effect of the new programme will, therefore, be to produce more and not less houses.

I turn now to our plans for the future. I have explained that the limiting factor in the number of houses which can be completed in 1949 is the supply of timber, and I promised to deal with this subject in more detail. Noble Lords, as they have already been told, will find full details of the quantities of timber imported month by month, tip to and including October, in the monthly housing returns, which also show the average imports from each country in pre-war years. The figures reveal that we have succeeded in importing a good deal more timber this year than last, and that a much larger proportion of our supplies has been coming from Canada, the United States, and Germany than before the war. Our total imports from these three countries are likely to be in 1947 about 550,000 standards in excess of the 450,000 standards normally imported from them in pre-war years. This is an increase of 122 percent. but it will be observed that two of the sources are dollar countries and that they are providing almost two-thirds of the 1,000,000 standards thus accounted for.

Russia, the Baltic States, Finland, Poland and Sweden, on the other hand, together supplied to us nearly 1,750,000 standards annually in pre-war days. For 1947 we shall get from these sources less than 500,000 standards—an adverse difference of 1,250,000 standards. The quantity they can offer us is limited by their own requirements, which are immense in view of the vast war damage suffered in Eastern Europe and, in the case of Sweden, by the need to use timber as fuel. If we could send Sweden coal to use instead, we could have timber. But we in our turn, as noble Lords; are aware, need the coal, and until coal is available in sufficient quantities for export, our timber imports from Sweden will continue to be limited. From other parts of the Commonwealth than Canada we get no softwood; the timber they produce is mostly hardwood, and for softwood they themselves have to rely on imports.

Therefore, although 360,000 standards are being imported from Germany as against only 1,000 standards before the war, there has been a very considerable reduction in the timber imports from other European sources. We still need to rely-on dollar countries for a large proportion of our timber requirements, and to save dollars we have to deny ourselves some of these imports. Moreover, of the timber we do import, the amount that will have to be used for other purposes than housing—for example in particular, railway wagons and packing cases for export—must be increased, so that so far as we can see at this moment we shall not be able to build as many houses as we should like during 1949. The situation is to be reviewed in June, 1948, in the light of the timber supply position then, but for the present our plans are based on the assumption that no more than 140,000 houses may be completed in 1949.

Now I come to the control of new contracts. In view of the large number of houses already projected and the need to reach a balanced programme as soon as possible, we must exercise very strict control on new contracts during the next few months. Various calculations have been made in the Press and elsewhere based on the figures announced as to the rate at which new tenders can be approved, and noble Lords have no doubt done some calculations of their own. So, of course, have the Government, but it will be clear that the rate of new approvals will depend very much upon the rate at which houses already under construction are completed, and we feel that it is impossible at this stage to lay down a hard and fast figure. All I can say now is that we shall watch the situation continuously and for the present, at least, restrict new approvals to the minimum. In considering whether a new contract should be approved in any particular area, we shall have regard to two main points: the balance of the existing local programme, that is the comparison between existing commitments, and known resources, and the need in the area for houses for workers in the priority industries.

Mention of the priority industries brings me to the third feature of the new programme: the arrangements for giving priority to the housing needs of miners and agricultural workers. There are, of course, two ways in which this can be done. First is the way I have already referred to, by giving preference to proposals to provide houses for the workers concerned in approving new contracts. This is not to say that unlimited numbers of houses will be approved for this purpose. In mining and agricultural areas as elsewhere, regard must be had to the balance of the existing programme, since paper contracts unrelated to resources are no more use there than anywhere else, but where in any area circumstances permit further commitments preference will be given to proposals which will provide houses for the workers concerned, as against those which will not. Detailed surveys have been made of the housing need in each mining and rural area by the National Coal Board and the county agricultural executive committees respectively, and attention will be focused on those areas where the need is most urgent.


I do not want to interrupt my noble friend, but would it be convenient to tell us what the results are?


I understand that the reports are being collated by the Department concerned, but at the moment I have no figures. It may be that my noble friend the Earl of Listowel may be able to add something when he comes to wind up the debate.


Do I understand that to mean that never before have the war agricultural committees bothered or made any effort to inquire as to the number of houses required?


No, I do not suggest that at all., The county agricultural committees and the local authorities have been in probably a looser association during the past year than they will be under the new arrangement laid down by the scheme to which I am coming in a moment or two.


There must be some figures somewhere.


I think we had better leave that point to be dealt with at the end of the debate. So much for priority in new contracts: but it must be remembered that there are 350,000 houses in existing contracts out of which will come most of the houses completed in the near future and it is obviously important that as many of these as possible should be let to miners and agricultural workers. Many of them will be in areas where there is no demand for housing for such workers and these will go to meet the general housing need: those built in the countryside and in mining districts on the other hand, can obviously play a big part in the expansion of the industries concerned and the Minister of Health has asked local authorities to pay special attention to the needs of miners and agricultural workers in selecting tenants.

It must be realized that this represents a decided change of policy for the local authorities. Hitherto they have selected their tenants on the basis of social need alone. They are not now being asked to throw this criterion overboard, but they are being asked to take into consideration an economic factor as well. This will complicate for them an already difficult task, but they are fully alive to the demands of the situation and are responding readily to the representations made to them. In rural areas the difficulty about letting houses to agricultural workers from outside the district has so far been the impossibility of, on the one hand, naming a prospective tenant until the house is offered and, on the other hand, of offering a house until details of the applicant's circumstances are known. This may account to a large extent for the comparatively small number of houses let to agricultural workers to date. That is a matter to which the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, has referred. The Minister of Health and the Minister of Agriculture, in consultation with the Rural District Councils' Association and representative organizations of employers and workers in the agricultural industry, have now outlined a procedure under which rural district councils can notify agricultural executive committees well in advance of completion of houses which they expect to be able to let to incoming agricultural workers.


May I interrupt the noble Lord for a moment? He said that the district councils can notify the agricultural executive committees. Is he sure that it is not "must notify"? Should it not be "must"?


I do not suppose it should be "must." That would be a statutory obligation. It will be as strong as it possibly can be short of being a statutory obligation.

I was saying that the rural district councils can notify agricultural executive committees well in advance of completion of houses which they expect to be able to let to incoming agricultural workers, so that the committees can suggest names of possible tenants for detailed consideration by the local authority. The important point to be borne in mind here is the fact that there is to be close association between the county agricultural executive committees and the local housing authorities. When this procedure is in full operation we should see a sharp rise in the number of houses let to agricultural workers. The actual selection of tenants will, of course, remain where it is placed by Statute—with the local housing authorities. I think I should say here, in reply to a point raised by the noble Lord, that the scheme to which he referred and which did not seem to satisfy him, certainly in its drafting, is covered by a letter which states that the object of the procedure outlined is 10 ensure that during the present emergency the largest possible number of houses shall be allocated to the agricultural population. I think it is clearly indicated that the Ministry have taken all proper steps to ensure that the houses for agricultural workers which we all wish to see provided will, so far as possible, be provided.

There is a further way in which priority is being given to mining and agricultural areas. There are being produced for erection in 1948 15,000 permanent aluminium bungalows, most of which will go to local authorities in mining districts on the understanding that a large proportion will be let to miners. Because these; bungalows make very little demand on local building labour and traditional materials, they are, as it; were, outside the ordinary housing programme, and represent a special supplement for the areas to which they are allocated. In rural areas 20,000 Airey houses are to be erected. The Airey house, as many of your Lordships are aware, is a very attractive two-storey permanent house of non-traditional construction.


Oh no; not very attractive.


Components for it are made under arrangements made by the Government, and the houses are erected by local builders for the housing authorities. Hitherto although all the houses have been allocated there has been some reluctance among builders to put in reasonable tenders for their erection, because of the novel form of construction, but the Minister of Health has taken special action, including film shows and a series of county meetings, to overcome this prejudice.


They have all been allocated?


They have all been allocated but they have not all been built. In Scotland similar special programmes of Weir, Atholl and other non-traditional types of houses have been arranged to meet the needs of miners and agricultural workers. By these and other means we hope to implement the Government's policy of giving priority to the housing needs of the industries which are so vital to the national welfare. As I say, this does not mean there will be no houses for anyone else, but where other things are equal, the miner and the agricultural worker must have priority.

I have described in some detail the arrangements which have been made for giving effect to the revised housing programme. I hope I have said enough to satisfy your Lordships that there is not to be a cessation of house building or a disruption of the organization of the building industry. For the immediate future we shall be building houses faster than ever: prospects for 1949 are not so rosy as we might wish but we hope at least not to drop below an output of 140,000 houses a year, and, taken with what has gone before, that will be a substantial contribution. To take new houses alone, the total number, temporary and permanent, which will have been completed when projects already in hand have been carried through will be more than 650,000, and while that figure is small in comparison with the long-term need of millions to make our housing conditions ideal, it does at least mean that the worst of the need is being met.

I will only add that neither of my right honourable friends, the Minister of Health and the Secretary of State for Scotland, is daunted by ill-considered criticism about "the collapse of the housing schemes." Bearing in mind, as we all must, the hard facts of the world economic situation with which we have been confronted since the end of the war and which continue to confront us, I do not hesitate to assert that any Minister of any other Government who might have been in power would have been proud to be able to submit such a record of housing achievement for the first two post-war years. We have still a long way to go. There is still plenty of work for the local authorities and the building industry, thanks to the store of houses projected which has been built up during the same two years. The tools for doing it are there, and I do not think we need to be despondent about the outcome.


My Lords, I rise only to ask the Government two questions which it will take me less than five minutes to put. I must apologize to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for not having given him previous notice of them. They both concern rural housing. Some four or five months ago, the Lord President of the Council, at a meeting in the Central Hall, Westminster, attended by representatives of all sides of the farming industry, said that agriculture was to have top priority. "We will give you aggressive support," he said. Now we know what has happened about steel and about ploughshares, and some of us are beginning to have a few doubts about houses. The only result of the Lord President's speech and of the fact that there is a serious problem in relation to the housing of agricultural workers has been this circular to which the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, has referred. I can only describe it as being very woolly and I am sure it will not have much effect.

Most rural district councils have schemes allocating their houses on points to those who need them most, and it will take a great deal of pressure to make them depart from their schemes. In spite of what the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, has just said, I am rather doubtful if his new scheme will work here. I think the county agricultural executive committees are quite the wrong people. I do not think they can possibly know what farmers require workers, and I think he will have great difficulty in getting the rural district councils to abandon their original scheme. One thing of which I am quite convinced is that if we are going to house the new recruits to the industry who are going to be found by the Government to replace German prisoners of war, this difficulty of allocation must somehow be solved. Perhaps it would be possible to allocate a definite percentage of houses to agricultural workers in agricultural districts. I do not know, but the first thing I want to ask the Government is what further positive action do they intend to take with regard to allocating houses to agricultural workers?

The second question concerns reconditioning, a matter which the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin. touched upon. On every occasion in this House when agriculture or housing has been debated, noble Lords on this side have asked what the Government intend to do about reconditioning, and we have never had a satisfactory answer. Just recently Sir Stafford Cripps announced that before the emphasis on building switches to agriculture, all the new houses under construction will be completed. This means that there will be a delay of at least eighteen months before we get any houses for agriculture. We cannot possibly wait so long as that. Surely the sensible thing to do would be for the Government to encourage landowners to recondition their houses. Before the war 22,000 were reconditioned and made habitable in this way, and there are many more thousands now which could be reconditioned. Therefore the second question to the Government is, what steps, if any, do they intend to take to implement the recommendation of the Hob-house Committee and subsidize landowners in reconditioning cottages. On these two questions a very great deal depends. I think to a large extent the success or failure of the Government's agricultural policy depends on them. If the answers are, "Yes," then we shall at least know that the Government, through the Lord President of the Council and the Minister of Agriculture, are acting in good faith; but if the answers are, "No," then the only solution—and I have suspected it for some time—is to find another Government.

4.25 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to take up a few minutes of your Lordships' time in emphasizing what the last speaker has said and in drawing the attention of the Government to the reconditioning and modernizing of houses. I ask them to reconsider their policy and to authorize local authorities to give the same priority for materials to those who have licences for reconditioning as to those who have licences for new houses. When I say "Government," I refer to the Government as represented by the Secretary of State for Scotland. I feel I almost owe your Lordships an apology for giving a Perthshire point of view after all your patience with noble Lords from Scotland.

What is the problem? As the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, has said, it is that of a serious shortage of food. We, the farming community, are anxious to make our utmost contribution to fulfilling the Government's programme, but we need, without further delay, to arrest the drift of men from agriculture. We need a contented farming community, and one of the greatest difficulties we have to face is the demand for modernized houses. What is the Government's policy to meet this problem? It is largely to build new houses to attract new men to industry, and to build houses that are not tied houses. I do not intend to emphasize the point whether houses are tied or not, because I understand that the Government have agreed that tied houses for key men are essential to the industry. It is a vital question, but I understand the Government agree, so I will leave the point regarding tied houses. But what we do need to consider is whether the provision of new houses for new men is the best policy. In my view, as I see it in Perthshire, it seems a good policy. At the present time most of our houses in Scotland are tied houses. We have too much flitting of men after a year or two on a farm, and I think it will be of tremendous gain to the country to have houses which men will regard as being theirs for life, to keep, to be proud of and to take care of.

I am all in favour of a larger number of free houses, but that is a long-term policy, and the problem we have to face now is a problem of food production. It will take a generation or two to bring in a new policy for the people who live on the land. How can we meet the problem? I submit that the reconditioning of houses should go forward a: the same time as the rebuilding of houses. It is even more important to keep the trained men on the land than to attract new men to the land. Men who have been trained in cultivating the land, in reaping the harvest, in taking care of food for man and beast after the harvest, in looking after stock and in rearing flocks—these men are essential to the success of the food production pro- gramme of the Government. I think also there is a moral problem here. Have you thought of what the country owes to these men who throughout the war have done such a magnificent job in food production? Is it right that all the new housing facilities and modern improvements should be given to new men? I think it is a moral problem, and I was very interested to read last week in The Times that the most reverend Primate, His Grace the Archbishop of York, spoke in no uncertain terms on the reconditioning of houses in Yorkshire and urged the Government to go in for a reconditioning programme now.

I understand there is some doubt that there is this difficulty about keeping trained men on the land. I can only say that for eight years I served in the Department of Agriculture, and it was felt that there is a steady drift. The first question a man asks now is: "Am I going to get a house with modern conveniences?" One finds a newly married couple looking for a new house, and the wife will insist upon a house with modern conveniences. The present Government plan just do not touch those. I would like to emphasize the need in the outlying districts—in the farms which are not near a village, in the shepherds' houses in the glens and so on—which are away from any of the Government schemes. At present the Government schemes do not touch these isolated districts. They have asked us at the present time to build houses in groups of eight or, in cases of emergency, in groups of four, where there are amenities, and so on. I grant that it is a good plan, but it does not touch the outlying farms and the shepherds. I think housing for shepherds is of vast importance in the food production of the country.

May we consider for a moment what is the Government policy? Mr. Fraser, the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, when addressing a meeting called by the new area agricultural committee, said: The Government have accepted the policy of giving grants to local authorities and proper persons for the modernization of existing houses, but it would be a mistake to give farmers power to go ahead in reconditioning when we are short of essential materials—timber, for example. Mr. Fraser added: To build new rural houses is far more important than to recondition existing ones. Mr. Fraser mentioned two difficulties. One was that legislation was necessary for reconditioning, which would cause delay. A further setback to reconditioning was the shortage of material. The noble Lord, Lord Henderson, on November 5, in reply to the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, added the difficulty of labour. So we have three difficulties in the way of carrying on with reconditionin—finance, labour and materials.

With regard to finance, I entirely agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, said about the need for bringing back the Housing (Rural Workers) Act. It has been promised but, as the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said, we cannot afford to delay. There are other ways of raising the money. For instance, we could raise the money under the Income Tax Act, 1945, and spread the expenditure over ten years. Under certain conditions the maintenance claim could be used. It is the fact that we in Perthshire at the present time have a large number of applications to the county council for modernizing. They are held up, not by want of finance, but by want of material—or, rather, because the local authority cannot at the present time give priority for this purpose. With regard to labour, the work of reconditioning the houses in Perthshire will be carried out by local plumbers, local masons, local joiners and slaters. It will not interfere for a moment with the work of the housing schemes.

The third difficulty of material is, I think, the crux of the matter. What I feel is that there should be a fair share of material for reconditioning. How can that be done? I wish to make a practical suggestion to His Majesty's Government. Will they ask the Secretary of State to refer to the Ministry of Works Circular B.M. 107, which lays down the emergency works for which local authorities will issue priority certificates, and get him to include in that paragraph "necessary repairs to agricultural cottages"? I am assured that by that method no delay would be caused to the Government building schemes, and in that way some priority for reconditioning could be given by the local authorities. Remember that this building problem can be solved very much more quickly if reconditioning is proceeded with at the same time. I think it would be fair to say that five houses could be reconditioned while one was being rebuilt. Moreover, infinitely less material would be used for reconditioning than for building new houses. If priority were given for certain necessary works, a great deal of local material could be used which is now lying idle—slates, timber, and so on. I would ask the Government to note that my suggestion leaves the discretion of granting priority certificates with the local authorities.

I have said that I am assured no delay would be caused to the Government programme, and I might well be asked who gives me that assurance. The people who have given me the assurance are the local authority of Perthshire—the county council. I happen to be a member of that council. I have discussed this with all concerned on the county council, and they are definitely of the opinion that the reconditioning programme should proceed now, and that it would not delay the Government housing programme. That is also the opinion of the area agricultural committee. If I may, I will read one sentence from a letter which I received on November 4 from the new Chairman of the area agricultural committee, Mr. Renton. He says: It is obviously essential, however, if the agricultural expansion programme is to be successful, that all existing farm cottages which are not sufficiently attractive or modernized should be reconditioned as soon as possible, to assist in maintaining essential key skilled workers on the land. That, in a sentence, is the reason why I am making this appeal to the Government. The Perthshire branch of the National Farmers' Union are also in favour of reconditioning, and I think one may say, without fear of contradiction, that the men and women who work on the land will be pleased to have their houses modernized. There is, therefore, quite a weight of opinion to back up my view that there is something to be said for reconditioning now. I have tried to make out a case that will not delay the Government programme, but which will enable it to proceed forthwith. I would only appeal to the Government to take this matter up again with the Secretary of State for Scotland and to ask him if he can do something to help us in securing priority for reconditioning.

4.30 p.m.


My Lords, with the best will in the world, I could not help thinking, on listening to the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, that his knowledge of housing and the housing programme was very slender indeed. For any Lord in Waiting to get up and describe the Minister's programme as having been remarkably good over The period of the last two and a half years can only have been done with his tongue in his cheek. The provision of houses during the last thirty-one months has, of course, not been a success and leaves a great deal to be desired. Indeed, at the existing rate of progress it will be many a long day before the British people are suitably and happily housed. This provision of the largest number of houses in the shortest possible time is the aim of every Party In the State, and differences which have arisen are cue principally to the methods which the Government have followed. There are, in fact, no differences whatsoever about the end we all desire to reach, but nevertheless there must be some radical disorganization in an industry which has utterly failed hitherto to meet the very many urgent calls that have been made upon it.

It is in that light that I should like to approach this subject this afternoon. The business of erecting houses has never primarily been the duty or the responsibility of local authorities. Indeed, while some may be equipped to perform the work, the greater number of them had no knowledge or experience of it and were ill equipped to begin. The more thoughtful members of the community would have naturally concluded that His Majesty's Government would have discussed this urgent problem of housing in the first place with those who were best able to assist them, for surely the programme was quite big enough to embrace everyone. My noble friend Lord Llewellin mentioned to-day—and it has been stated again and again in this House and in another place—that His Majesty's Government have been anxious to maintain a balanced programme and avoid the dissipation of labour and materials over too many houses. Surely, then, to achieve proper planning and to avoid that dissipation the correct policy would have been to consult with the big building firms who were accustomed to this kind of work and acquainted with the snags and the pitfalls which might be found in the industry. The great business undertakings—I will mention only three—of Costain, Wimpey and Wates, all household names, began their careers as speculative builders in a highly competitive and cut-throat market. That they, made a commercial success of their venture there can be no doubt whatever, for they stand to-day in the front rank of the building industries and they have quite clearly a world-wide reputation. Their knowledge of the industry enables them to erect houses and commercial buildings with speed of action and with good design, and upon them, as my noble friend Lord Llewellin would tell your Lordships, the Coalition Government depended for many important projects during the war.

The experts of these firms were perfectly prepared to assist His Majesty's Government and to advise them, but at no stage whatever has the Minister of Health ever sought their advice. In point of fact, he has made it increasingly more difficult for them to build any houses at all. That terrible shortsightedness has not gone unnoticed overseas. Empire and foreign Governments have been very quick to seize and snap up the principal advisers of these firms to undertake their own building operations, and several of those firms are to-day operating on a large scale throughout the Near East, South America and South Africa. Two firms of whom I know are not only engaged, or were engaged, in building houses on Long Island and holding their own against the full flood of American competition, but they are at this very moment building houses for the American Government to let to the American people. At the same time there is another British firm set up in America now making steel windows for the houses which are being constructed. It can only be through folly and mismanagement that the ability and enterprise of these big builders have been temporarily lost to us.

They had, as we know, vast experience on the production side, because for the whole success of their venture it was decisive to secure steady and constant flow of materials and to ascertain that the productive capacity of the industry was such that bottlenecks and breakdowns did not occur. Before the war the building materials industry was responsible for gauging market requirements which naturally involved an element of risk, but by and large all that was done with conspicuous success. One would have thought that His Majesty's Government would have discussed production with those most intimately concerned, but in point of fact they have done no such thing. These firms to-day are not allowed to gauge the market requirements and can only produce at Government dictation. It would have been possible for the new bureaucratic organization to function efficiently and smoothly, and surely the first duty was to place large orders to circumvent the shortage and scrambling for basic materials if that was likely to occur. But now you have slap-dash methods of placing orders by those who are least fitted to judge the ebb and flow of the market, and by their action we have seen constant and continual shortages of certain vital products for house building.

That in itself has automatically necessitated the division of the materials on all the building sites throughout the country, as the noble Lord and His Majesty's Government know quite well. That is the main cause to-day of finding houses in all stages of construction and complete chaos reigning supreme all along the line. The noble Lord, Lord Henderson, never informed your Lordships this afternoon why this was allowed to happen originally. He told your Lordships only that it was now the belief of the Government that it should no longer happen. There should never have been competition for materials; materials should always be complementary to a proper plan. But the damage is done and we find too many houses in all stages of construction chasing too little material. If, as the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, stated, certain essential materials were short within the housing industry then it is pertinent to ask why they have all been frittered away in penny packets.

I turn now to deal with one subject which was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Llewellin in introducing this Motion to your Lordships—namely, timber. I understand—and I should like an answer from the noble Earl on this point—that it has never been the practice of the Department, except in the rarest circumstances, to grant a licence for all the timber that is required in any one operation. What invariably happens is that the builder is allotted a small fraction of what he requires and is advised to make a second application in due course. That reply may take a month or even longer to come, daring which time he is hampered in his work of construction and there are constant stoppages pending a reply to this inquiry, according to the class of work undertaken. This is not often realized. Application for timber must go to one of three Departments: the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Works, or the Timber Control. In theory there is said to be a central authority, but in point of practice there are three authorities, and each equals the others in delaying reply to any inquiry. If timber, as the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, said in the course of his remarks, is available for 347,000 houses, I fail completely to understand the reasons which have necessitated the builder applying on two separate occasions for timber to complete one job.

Just one other detail, and this is the last upon which I will touch. Your Lordships may be acquainted with the term "stack pipes." A stack pipe is the pipe going down the side of a building through which the rain water will run. To each length of pipe there has, since the days of the Romans, been attached a lug or ear which is a piece of steel casting necessary in order to fix the piping to the wall of the house. Somebody in the employment of the Government has now decided that these lugs or ears are no longer necessary, and numbers of these pipes are now being delivered on sites without anything whatever to hold them to the wall. Really, talk about Hitler's intuition …

I pass now to the question of rural housing, which is the most pressing one. We have asked again and again in the last two years for an indication of the proposals of His Majesty's Government for accelerating the production of houses for those engaged in the agricultural industry. The fulfilment of the rural housing programme depends largely on the rural district councils who have become the chosen instrument of the Government; and upon these 475 separate authorities rest to-day all the unanswered hopes and prayers of the agricultural community. Even so, it must not be assumed, as the Minister would like it to appear, that these councils are responsible for building solely for agricultural workers. On the contrary, they have seldom, if ever, discussed the matter with any mem- ber of the farming community. In many instances these housing estates are far, far distant from the farm lands, and it is common knowledge that, except for a small minority, the great majority of the employees must live in me vicinity of their work. If proof were needed of this lack of cohesion between the rural district councils, the Ministry of Health, and the Ministry of Agriculture, it is sufficient to point out that of all the houses erected in rural areas by the district councils, not more than one-fifth have been let to agricultural workers since April, 1945. But since April, 1947, a great many more have been let to members of the mining community. I wonder if the noble Earl in the course of his reply will be able to tell us how it is that a vast number of houses have been let to coal miners since April 1, 1947, while agriculture, just as important an industry, has not received anything like the same number of houses in the course of the last two and a half years.

I think we might have hoped that during this period of inactivity work would continue upon improving and reconditioning existing houses under the Housing (Rural Workers) Act which expired last September and of which mention has been made by one noble Lord to-day. That Act was a very valuable contribution to rural housing, and I believe that if generous reconditioning had been proceeded with it would have been found to be by far the most economical method of increasing the accommodation. But unfortunately the farming community have the worst of both worlds. That Act was not renewed. The Minister of Health stated that it would divert labour and materials from the new houses—houses which in any case have not been provided for the agricultural community by the rural district councils. The Minister of Agriculture, addressing the annual meeting of the Institute of Housing, said this: More houses mean more labour. More labour means more food. And more food means to a great extent the solvency of the country. The right honourable gentleman at any rate, as a member of the Government, did appear to appreciate that good workers can be attracted only by good houses, which in themselves are the greatest incentive in country districts, where so many of the urban amenities are lacking. The Minister was full) aware that for the success of his plan the provision of houses was the key to the whole situation.

Was it not then quite inconceivable that the Minister of Agriculture, knowing the facts of the case—at any rate he ought to have known them—better than anyone else, acquiesced in the expiration of the Housing (Rural Workers) Act, or did not ask for a better or more suitable Act? He assented as late as last August to the complete elimination of private enterprise for building houses for agricultural workers without the special authority of the principal housing officer, and finally surrendered his reputation and the reputation of the Department over which he presides to the Minister of Health, who quite clearly from the first has had no policy for giving cottages to the agricultural community, and who, to every suggestion made to him, has merely remained impressively intense and as bitter as vinegar.

As late as last October the Minister of Health circulated his directive to rural district councils, a directive from which the Minister of Agriculture did not dissent. Here, then, for the first time was a belated step to accelerate the building of houses for agricultural workers. A description of it was given by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, in the course of his remarks: Executive committees and county agricultural committees will communicate to the council their requirements for cottages, and the councils in their turn will inform the executive committees how many can be allotted—and so on and so forth. It is quite apparent that a great deal of paper is going to abound between these two bodies. But we are not going to be much further forward than we were six months ago, for it is distinctly stated in the document that no rigid rules are to be laid down for letting houses to the agricultural community.

I would make a proposal to His Majesty's Government. Surely the Minister of Agriculture must have some knowledge of the number of houses required in agricultural areas. He must be aware, and should have been aware for a long time now, of the numerical shortage of these houses. I cannot help thinking that the best course would be for the Cabinet to let the Minister of Agriculture have full authority for erecting a given number of houses in the more important agricultural districts in a certain period of time, and that the Minister should delegate powers to his executive committees to complete the job as quickly as possible. I believe that by that method the Minister would become responsible for solving a problem which is particularly germane to his own Department and to nobody else. I believe, at the same time, that, if some such scheme as I have propounded were followed, we should no longer have to abandon ourselves to a mere visual agricultural housing programme, but that houses would begin to appear in small blocks and on the more isolated farms. There is nothing revolutionary about my proposal. Exactly the same scheme is followed in war time. The Cabinet agree on the production of shells, the Commander-in-Chief finally gives a number of shells to his Corps Commanders, but the Corps Commanders do not have to refer back to G.H.Q. every time they fire a shell, any more than these agricultural executive committees would have to refer back to the Minister for approval to build once they had received his authority.

The noble Lord, in the course of his reply, told your Lordships that this Airey house was a most attractive house. For two years or more, 20,000 of those houses have been handed out with different varieties of threats to various local authorities, but I was interested to hear the noble Lord say to-day that they have all been allotted now. That, indeed, was quite a new departure, for only 191 have been completed in two and a half years. Perhaps the noble Earl could answer this. If these houses are so attractive and there is such a terrible shortage of housing accommodation in agricultural districts, why in the world should not the farmer or the landowner have been able to buy these houses? They would certainly have assisted considerably, during the last thirty-one months, in lessening the housing shortage in those particular areas.

I have been too long already, but let me finish as quickly as I can. I had hoped that we should be told by the noble Lord a good deal more about the future lay-out of the industry but, from the analysis of the plans in the White Paper and the remarks which the noble Lord did make to-day, it appears that at long last the Government are going to adjust the output of houses to a level commensurate with the prospective supply of materials. For two years it has been all the other way. It has taken His Majesty's Government two years to come to their senses and to the decision to bring the housing programme into proper relation to the output of materials. But have any instructions yet been sent to local authorities? Do the local authorities now know whether they are to continue acquiring sites upon which to build houses, or is that to cease? It really makes a great deal of difference to the finances of local authorities, and indeed of Government Departments. It is also vital that the industry should know whether, in the Government's view, the existing labour force is evenly balanced. If it is so evenly balanced, then to meddle with it by reductions now is bound to lay up immense complications and difficulties as soon as the crisis has passed. If it is not so balanced to-day, then the Government fully deserve censure for not acting before. But, in any event, the decision will be very unpalatable to the country as a whole, and it will cause an enormous economic loss to the nation.

Let me, if I may, sum up briefly what I have endeavoured to say. As a result of mismanagement, disorganization reigns supreme within the industry. The utter refusal of the Minister and of the Government to discuss the building programme with those best able to assist the cumbersome, bureaucratic machine which controls the building industry and the building materials industry, has resulted in gross inefficiency and procrastination all along the line. If, as my noble friend behind me has said, the efficiency of the organization to-day equalled that of prewar days, then every single building worker employed on houses during this year could have taken eight months' holiday and completed precisely the same number of houses in the other four months of the year. In conclusion I will remind the noble Earl of some promises of yesterday. Just over two years ago, four to five million houses in record time; a housing loan at the very lowest rate of interest; a Ministry of Housing to be set up forthwith. Where are these promises? Where are these pledges? We can only conclude, and rightly conclude, that Napoleon's retreat from Moscow was a better organized disaster than the whole of the Government's housing programme.

5.7 p.m.


My Lords, I have to begin by expressing my apologies to the noble Lord who opened this debate for not having been here to hear his speech, and also to the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, as I was not present to hear the beginning of his speech from the Government Benches. I have, however, a good explanation to offer as well as an apology, and it is that I am Chairman of a New Town Corporation engaged in building new towns, and, as such, at half-past two this afternoon I had to be at a meeting with the Minister of Town and Country Planning. I came away from that meeting as soon as I could. I have that interest in building, but I am not going to talk on behalf of that interest; indeed, to some extent, I am going to talk against it. As Chairman of a New Town Corporation, I am well favoured by the Government umbrella in all kinds of Government priorities. Indeed, I gather that my particular town is one with the highest priority, and the work is not only going to be allowed to go on but is to be encouraged to go on. Therefore, I am not speaking on behalf of my interest; indeed, I am speaking against it.

I want, from a slightly different point of view, to reinforce what has been said by the: noble Lord, Lord Llewellin—for I have been told what he said—in urging that the Government should try to give more opportunity to private enterprise in building and in housing. I 'wish to do that from a new point of view because during the last month or two I have, for a certain reason, not been as assiduous in my attendance at the debates in your Lordships' House as I should have liked to be. The reason is that I have been engaged in making a study of what I call voluntary action as a means of social advance. That means private enterprise not for profit but for improving the conditions of life for oneself by mutual action—through friendly societies, co-operation, and so on—and for others by philanthropic agencies of all kinds.

It so happens that what I have learnt in that study is much more relevant to this debate than I ever expected when I began that inquiry. From it, two points have emerged. The first is the way in which the shortage of accommodation of every sort in this country is laying waste all kinds of efforts for social advance and for improving the conditions of life of the people of this country. All of us know how old people are suffering through having no place in which to live, but we may not all be so familiar with the difficulties which are impeding those who are trying to deal with youth. One of the great complaints of people trying to organize youth movements is that they can get no club premises worth while. Some noble Lords may not be aware that in 1943 the Youth Advisory Council, in making a recommendation to the Minister, first of all said that they knew that thousands of young people were living in conditions making a decent life for them impossible. The Council therefore made their first recommendation a housing recommendation.

Turning from youth to middle age, I would remark that to-day one hears a great deal of talk about family disintegration, and of there being more divorces and unhappy marriages. Indeed, there are; but when a husband and wife, because they have no home, are unable to live together in a natural way, the remedy is not to send somebody to guide them in their marriage; the remedy is to find houses. I do not believe in this talk about family disintegration. I do not believe that the morale of the people of this country has suffered. The remedy is to find houses and, of course, another remedy is to avoid wars which separate families. The Citizens' Advice Bureau, for example, have a whole section of problems which are all rooted in housing.

If the House will bear with me, I would like to mention one aspect of this matter which probably few noble Lords realize, and that is the acute suffering which is inflicted upon physically handicapped people, such as cripples, by the lack of housing. I will illustrate this point by referring to a letter which came to me within the last few days; I have dozens of others like it. We have excellent methods of training cripples in order that they may enter trades, and institutions are run for them at considerable expense. Let me read an account of one man who has been trained. It relates to a man named John F …, aged 36, who is totally paralysed in both legs, and is being trained in the St. Loyes College for the light leather industry. It says: He reached a very high standard of work and when discharged was described as a really skilled leather worker … There would be no difficulty whatever in finding him a job"— indeed, he has had jobs offered him at a good rate of pay— but for the lack of a place to live in. Actually, this man, with a trade in his hands, with all the courage to overcome his awful handicap, has been living for the last two years, totally unemployed, in a Poor Law Institution, because that is the only place in which he can be housed at all. All he needs is a ground-floor room to save his going upstairs. He can move for himself; he has a self-propelled chair. He does not need any special treatment, but he cannot get his ground-floor room and, for that reason, this man who has had all that courage and has put all that effort into his training, is rotting in a Poor Law Institution. I can give your Lordships dozens of cases like that—I have ten in my hand now. I think it is worth while citing a case like that in order to bring home, by actual illustration, how desperate this housing shortage is, and, from that, to get something like a crusade for the maximum output of houses.

As to the question of getting all hands to the pumps, the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, told us that building operatives at long last had altered their old habits, had changed their minds, and had accepted a scheme for bonus rewards. I ask the Government to change their minds a little and accept rather more use of private enterprise in building. I want to say a word on private enterprise, but not the private enterprise that works for gain. I know that noble Lords opposite, or some of them, do not think much of it, but I want to say a word about it to illustrate what is, if I may say so, a wrong attitude on the part of the Government. I refer to their attitude to private enterprise in housing which is not for gain—the enterprise of bodies such as housing societies. Under the Act of 1936 there are something like 400 housing associations and societies in this country, none of which is able or allowed to make profit. Some of them are trying to house industrial people, some of them are interested in young people, and so on.

There are several hundreds of them and they are expected, in the provisions they make when they build houses, to do as well as public authorities on rents, and all the rest of it; but they are not given anything like equal terms with the local authorities. Although they are non-profit making private enterprises, they work under a number of unnecessary disabilities. I have already given the noble Earl notice of the points I want to raise on this matter and I wish to mention what I think are needless disabilities—careful devices which the Government operate for making the work of these societies impossible. First, there is the disability that practically none of these housing societies gets the rate subsidy as well as the Exchequer subsidy. I do not think they very much mind that, because if they receive the Exchequer subsidy they can probably manage, by more economic working, to get on without the rate subsidy. But it is a disability.

There is a second disability, which has only recently been imposed upon them. These bodies have to borrow money, and they do so through the Public Works Loan Board—through the local authorities. They are not allowed to borrow in that way more than go per cent. of their need and they can only do so by mortgaging the whole of the property concerned. Then they have to raise the remaining 10 per cent. without any security whatever. The Government are not content with imposing that difficulty. With regard to the additional 10 per cent. they have now said, under a decision of the Minister of Health, that these societies may not pay more than 2⅔ per cent. interest. In other words, they have to find somebody willing to lend that money, without security, at the same rate which is applicable to money advanced on full mortgage. What is the sense of that? I have seen the correspondence and I know the answer which is given, and it is almost comic. It is that it is necessary to secure the benefit of the subsidy to the tenant. I am afraid that if a tenant could get a house quicker, he would not mind paying more rent. In any case, the housing society cannot possibly make a profit, as it is a non-profit making concern. I suggest that this is an absurd restriction. There are, I believe, a number of bodies, societies and others, with money which they would be prepared to invest in housing societies, but why should they be compelled to be philanthropic in lending money to these housing societies when they can go elsewhere?

I come now to a third point. A housing society will have to pay Income Tax on what it receives, and it is not allowed to take that into account in fixing the rents. The ground on which that restriction is imposed is that the society probably will not have to pay Income Tax in the first year or two because it will have charges going out, and that thereafter there is quite certain to be an amendment of the Rent Restriction Act which will enable the society to deal with the matter. How is it certain that there will be an amendment of the Rent Restriction Act? It is a perfectly ridiculous argument, and one which I hope that the noble Earl is not going to use in answer to me. None of these societies is profit making. They have put in a claim, and I think it is an unanswerable claim, that, like local authorities, they should be freed of rent restriction, at any rate so that they can keep their houses in repair, which they cannot do now owing to the extremely high cost of repairs.

I have one final point, which I will make very briefly. It is another illustration of the pinpricks which are inflicted and of the Government's dislike of private enterprise, even when it is not working for profit. A great number of these associations have charitable status. They adapted their rules so that they might have charitable status and not pay Income Tax. For ten years they have had the advantage of charitable status, but now it is being challenged on some new ground. The loss of charitable status to one of these institutions which may exist for the benefit of the old, the physically handicapped, or other most deserving people, is most damaging. It is damaging, not merely because of the loss of Income Tax but because they now cannot get he assistance of such bodies as the Nuffeld corporation which has been established to assist in the housing of old people. I do not think there is any real defence to be advanced for these detailed pinpricks and restrictions. I wonder whether the noble Earl, when he replies, is going to say that the absence of these restrictions will not matter because anyhow the housing societies cannot do anything as there are no materials and no priority. I hope he noble Earl is not going to say that.

I suggest that when you are in great difficulty and have no materials it is very useful to try as much ingenuity as pos- sible—the ingenuity of private enterprise, the ingenuity of business firms, who know that if only they can obtain houses they can get labour and develop exports at great service to the country. I am sure, too, that there are many philanthropically-minded people who can scratch around and somehow get means for reconditioning a house or otherwise making it habitable for old people in their locality. As I have said, if you have not materials you should try to use ingenuity—use the ingenuity of private enterprise, of housing societies and even of private enterprise for gain. The difficulties, undoubtedly, are desperate. This Government's dislike of private enterprise in every form, whether profit making or non-profit making, is really not necessary. I do not think that it is a deliberate dislike. I think it is, to some extent, due to failure to recognize what are the real priorities. Housing, next to exports, is a first priority, and, indeed, housing is one of the ways of maintaining exports. A house is more important than the precise rent which is paid for it. Housing is more important to the people of this country than crabbing a business firm and preventing their getting ahead with housing. Housing is really a first priority. Therefore I ask the Government to reconsider their whole attitude towards private enterprise in housing, whether profit making or non-profit making, abolish unnecessary control (they must have some control, of course) and give up the pinpricks which I have mentioned in regard to such matters as housing societies.

I am not accustomed to search for examples for action in this country from that great country Soviet Russia, but in this matter I think there is one example we might take. Even Russia sometimes nods. There was a time when Soviet Russia, finding itself in a desperate economic difficulty, abandoned its previous economic policy and introduced what was called a new economic policy—N.E.P. I suggest that if the Government believe, as they should, that this housing shortage is really a desperate need, that it is not merely something that is inconvenient but is a thing which is causing unhappiness, and, above all, un-happiness to the weakest and most unfortunate people in this country, they should be prepared to adopt a different attitude towards private enterprise in building and have a new economic policy different from the present one.

5.25 p.m.


My Lords, I was most interested to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, especially when he said, in the course of his preliminary remarks, that he had just come from a meeting about a scheme for building a new town, to which, as he said, he was going to be hostile. I was indeed interested to hear him say that, and I respectfully suggest that before the day is out Lord Beveridge should send in his resignation, because this is an example of someone backing a scheme in which he does not believe. A workman in that position ought to resign, and if that applies to a workman it also applies to Lord Beveridge. I trust that when I see my morning paper, my Daily Worker, I shall see an announcement of his resignation.


I regret that the noble Lord will be disappointed. I think he ought to give me an opportunity of saying that I propose to work as hard as possible. It will be a case of "all hands to the pumps." I am going to put my heart into the scheme and to work all out for it.


In that case the noble Lord has my absolution, and I give him all the moral support of which I am capable. Later in his speech the noble Lord made a plea for youth clubs, and he spoke as if this country were not encouraging such clubs to the fullest possible extent. I would point out that interest is not confined to one Party. Never in the history of this country has so much been done for youth or so much been provided for them in the way of premises. Some of us are inclined to think it high time that His Majesty's Government implemented their promise that the aged should be looked after better, by the provision not of barracks but of guest-houses so that they may be cared for. I for one hope that His Majesty's Government will take that into consideration.

The noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, talked as though the erection of houses without the incentive of profit was something he had invented. Has he never heard of the Sutton Trust, which came from my own old constituency? Has he never heard of the work done by the late Mr. Neville Chamberlain, when he was Minister of Health, to encourage the building of rest houses? I pay my tribute to him and to his memory. Things are not so bad as the Cassandra—I do not know how to pronounce the name, but I mean the supreme pessimist of the Liberal Party—is apparently trying to make out. I am sorry that the noble Earl, Lord Munster, is not in his place. He accused the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, of speaking with a delicate aristocratic tongue in his cheek when he made the statement which he made this afternoon as to what His Majesty's Government have done and what they are trying to do. The noble Earl also made the astounding assertion that the Ministry of Health had never consulted Messrs. Wimpey, whom he described as among the principal speculative builders in this country at one time, or Messrs. Costain or Messrs. Wates. He will be told that these three firms, as well as others, have been consulted and have actually produced some thousands of houses. Although they are big firms, and I prefer perhaps smaller ones, they are doing a good job of work.

I know the difficulties these firms have. There is the firm of Airey, and the firm of Tarran, about which I know a fair amount. I would point out to the Government that there are times when some of these firms, owing to the phenomenal rise in the cost of raw materials, have actually had to default on their contracts. Then comes along the local authority and black-lists them for three years. I think that in such circumstances there should be an advice from the Ministry of Health, and where default is unavoidable these firms, whether big or small, should not be blacklisted in that way. I am sorry that the noble Earl, Lord Munster, is not here, but I do put it as a matter of fact that much has been done by the big firms. And in reply to my noble friend of very long standing, I hope, as Lord Kinnaird has said this afternoon, that more use will be made of the small contractors. This Government are ready to make use of both large builders and persons who, as we say in the North, can build a block of four. We are doing it, but noble Lords opposite get their dope from the Tory Headquarters and repeat it ad infinitum until they actually believe in it.

I now turn to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. I was interested in what he had to say. He appealed to the Government to reconsider their policy with regard to the reconditioning of rural houses. I do not tare whether it is orthodox or unorthodox, but where there is a good landowner—and I thank the Lord that there are many good landowners in this country—the Government ought to make it possible to use these people where a house can be reconditioned. I was delighted with the way in which the noble Lord finished his speech; what I have to say is said in the true spirit of Christian charity. He finished by saying, "My Lords, what shall we do? Change the Government." Then he sat down. I want to say to my noble friend that if the present state of Tory attrition continues, there is going to be a Labour Government' for the next thirty years. They will have to alter their minds at Tory Headquarters if they want to make a difference.

The noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, in opening this debate, very properly emphasized the essential value of good home life, and therefore the necessity that the Government should see to it that as soon as possible the people are decently housed. He mentioned the spate of divorces. As one whose job has been since the beginning of 1942, and is still, that of a welfare officer in His Majesty's Army, I think many of these divorces started where a woman had a home of her own and where the husband was abroad. That, of course, is no excuse for any impropriety. Lord Llewellin knows more about juvenile delinquency than I do. I am glad to see, so far as I can read the statistics, that juvenile delinquency is on the decline, at any rate in England. But that does not excuse us for indulging in any complacency, of which the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, has a greater monopoly than I have.

This Government and this Party, unlike members opposite cannot afford to be complacent when we are faced with the difficulties before us. We realize what the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, said, that until we provide decent houses for the workers of this country, we shall be faced with a moral problem that will increase in intensity. That is why we are not complacent. and why we are worried—especially members of our Party, which has to bear the terrific responsibility of implementing the policy of providing houses. Lord Llewellin, very properly, denounced direction of labour. I do not like direction. But I remember that the day I had the great privilege of being introduced to this House in 1945, the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, had a Motion down denouncing the Government on demobilization. I particularly remember that speech, because I wanted to make my maiden speech after that, and the Whip said, "No, keep your lips sealed." Lord Llewellin "went for" the Government because only 13,000 from Class B had been directed. I mention that, in passing, because if what he had proposed had been adopted by the Government, demobilization would have been one of the greatest catastrophes this country had ever faced.


May I interrupt on that point? The men getting out under the Class B scheme were getting out in advance of the people who ought to have been released before them, because they had promised to work in particular industries where they were needed. That was the only reason they got out of the Army. Otherwise they would have had to wait their turn for demobilization. They came out under the promise to take on a special job, and I was only saying that having come out under this promise, they ought to have taken these jobs.


If the noble Lord will refresh his memory, he will see that he said that only 13,000 had come out under Class B. This is out of order, I know, but he went on to say that there ought to have been many more ready to come out and be directed. I feel inclined to quote him that song of the war before the last: When the soldiers were not under marching orders, they refused to be mucked about—only the word was not "mucked." In spite of all our difficulties, and they have been almost insuperable, this Government and this Party have been able to find families a roof over then heads in two and a half years. Such a record has never been touched before.

The noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, cannot make a speech without referring to the noble Viscount the Leader of the House. This afternoon was no exception. He deplored the absence of the noble Viscount, Lord Addison. He said, "I know the reason," but from the smile on his face I thought he felt it was not a good one.



I made it quite clear.


I am saying this in passing. When Lord Addison, as Christopher Addison, M.P., took office at the Ministry of Health, with a Tory majority behind him, there was not a single house built in this country except under the auspices of the London County Council. The London County Council did build some houses, and I give all credit to them, even if there was a Conservative majority. I am not here to make Party capital. During his tenure of office Lord Addison was surrounded with difficulties. I pass hundreds of houses in my own home town—we still call them "Addison houses"—built at £1,100, because the Conservative Party borrowed money at 6 per cent.—as they did in Sheffield—whereas in my home town it was borrowed at 5 per cent. £1,100 was thought to be an enormous figure. Then under the Geddes Axe the Minister of Health, Mr. Christopher Addison (as he then was), was sacked, and Sir Alfred Mond took his place. There was some "axeing" going on then.

We are not going to put on a white sheet on this side of the House. When I go round London and see the houses and flats that have been reconditioned, I think of the men who came from the north and pooled their resources to try and find shelter for these people. What we have to do to-day is not to cramp these things but to put them in their proper perspective. We should try to do more than we are doing; we should not be complacent. The noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, referred to Sir Stafford Cripps and his personality, but I will not touch on that. I want to finish. I want to emphasize that there is opportunity for any builder to be helped with finance, if he wants it, and to be helped with plans in order to build houses. When I compare the achievements of the present Minister of Health with some of the achievements of the past, I think that Mr. Bevan should have wings and become an angel—



Certainly he is deserving of a scintillating halo for the work he has done at the Ministry of Health.

543 p.m.


My Lords, I hope I shall not be castigated by the noble Lord, Lord Calverley, as a super-pessimist if I associate myself to some extent with the remarks made by my noble friend Lord Beveridge regarding housing associations. Having had something to do with that movement, I feel sure that the housing society movement will be greatly encouraged by the powerful support of the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge. The truth is that it is not the policy of the Ministry of Health—or it has not been hitherto—to give these housing societies anything but a very minor role. I did not come prepared to say much about this, because I really thought it was hopeless to expect any change of policy. However, perhaps the noble Lord's eloquence may produce that change.

I want to revert to the main subject which we have been discussing this afternoon. As I understand it, the Government's housing policy is now based on three successive allocations of material and labour. The first is the allocation, so to speak, that the Cabinet make to the Ministry of Health; the second is the allocation that the Ministry of Health make to the different local authorities; and the third is the allocation that the local authorities make to the individual. We have had in this White Paper a certain amount of information about the first allocation, which the Cabinet make to the Ministry of Health. Those, of course, are figures of absolutely basic importance, but I venture to think that their significance is more appreciated by Front Bench speakers, economists, and other very intelligent people, than by the public at large. These figures in themselves do not give any local authority very much indication of how many houses they will be able to build; still less do they give to any individual a very clear idea of whether it will be possible to get a house or not.

I wonder if in his reply the noble Earl could say anything about the allocation of material and labour that the Ministry of Health will make to the different classes of local authority. I am aware—and I am very grateful for the fact—that in the last few weeks the regional officers have been interviewing housing authorities, and have given them a certain amount of information about what they can and what they cannot do. So far as my part of the world is concerned, I think we are very satisfied, but in other rural districts I have heard to my surprise that their programme has been considerably cut down, which has put them in some difficulty in regard to their building labour, and so forth. Whatever the information the local authorities may have had, I do not think it can refer to more than a very short period, of perhaps two, three, four or five months ahead. There seems to be very little information available about a long-term programme. I listened carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, said on this point, but he was so guarded about by provisos and caution generally that I could not really understand what the Government's long-term programme was likely to be. The White Paper does say that preference will be given to houses for agricultural workers and miners, but that is about all. If possible, I should like to be given information about how materials are to be allocated in future as between the different local authorities, and possibly the noble Earl could give us some information about the different regions.

Finally, we come to the last stage, where the completed houses are allocated by housing authorities to individuals. Here we are fortified—il that is the correct word—by this circular about which a good deal has been said this afternoon. If a potential agricultural worker or miner were to read this circular, which I think is very unlikely, it is probably true that he would be able to gather from it that there was a rather better chance of his getting a house if he took up employment in one of those industries than if he did not. But unless he knew how many houses were to be allocated to his particular district, and how his district council would interpret this circular, I do not believe that he would find the information of much use. Nor do I believe that he would fee] very much incentive to enter these industries.

I frankly do not know whether it is or is not the Government's policy to try to tempt people into agriculture or mining by giving them preferential treatment in the matter of housing. If that is their policy, I venture to think it will not succeed unless it is expressed in far less ambiguous terms. I am not in the least surprised that in this circular there is a certain amount of ambiguity. I believe that this policy of giving preferential housing treatment to agricultural workers and the miners is the right policy, but, let us make no mistake: it is going to be a terribly tough policy. I am surprised that this point has not been made more often this afternoon. If We give this preferential treatment to certain classes, it means that other classes have to go down in the scale. It means telling people who may have been living for months and even years in horrible and over-crowded conditions, and people who have had their names down on housing lists for a very long time, that they must go on waiting. They have to be told that their place at the head of the queue is going to be taken by somebody else—it might possibly be a much younger man who has been living in comparative comfort with his parents and now wishes to get married. It may even be a European displaced person who is going to get a house in preference to an Englishman. Queue jumping has never been a very popular sport in this country since the beginning of the war and this is not going to be popular.

Some reference has been made to the very few houses which have so far been allocated by rural districts to agricultural labourers. The hardships that are being endured now are very obvious, but the needs of the agricultural population are not nearly so obvious unless you are actually concerned with the administration of these local authorities. Although in my opinion the circular does contain some good points, I think it has far too many escape clauses, if I may so put it, to make it effective. To begin with, a great deal of emphasis is placed on the independent discretion of local authorities, a sentiment which I would normally welcome very warmly if it were not for a sneaking impression that the only time Whitehall plays up, as it were, local independence is either when it is trying to put over something very unpopular or when it does not really know its own mind. Again there is the phrase in the circular "agriculture and ancillary industries." When we come to subsidies, the term "ancillary industries" has a very definite connotation, but if the interpretation is to be left to local authorities I think it may quite logically be argued that the vast majority of village buildings, from the village shop downwards, are industries ancillary to agriculture. What I would call another escape Clause 1s provided in the last sentence, which has already been quoted by a previous speaker.

Extraordinarily little has been said this afternoon about the important and extremely difficult job, not of creating a pool of agriculture cottages, but of maintaining it when it has been created. I suppose that if a man is going to get preferential tenancy as an agriculturist, if a man gets a house under that condition, he ought to be ejected if he changes his profession. Local authorities have power to eject such people, but I am not quite clear how private enterprise stands in regard to houses that are built, under subsidy for agriculture and the mining industry. We do know that if the tenant of a house built under the agricultural subsidy by private enterprise ceases to be employed in agriculture, the subsidy will stop, but I would like to ask the noble Earl whether he is satisfied that an owner of such a cottage would, under existing law, be able to obtain an ejection order in the circumstances I have described. If he cannot, the owner will be landed with a tenant he does not want, a house that would be quite useless to him, which would be an annual loss to him, and possibly find himself liable to pay a development charge under the Town and Country Planning Act. I wonder if the noble Earl could give me an answer to that point. If owners cannot have that control, I think it would be very foolish of them to build any agricultural cottages at all.

It is an extraordinarily difficult thing for an ordinary Back Bencher to form an opinion as to the real urgency of expansion in agriculture and the real urgency of getting more houses built to house rural workers. In their circular the Government say that both these matters are very important, and I have heard people who know a great deal more about agriculture than I do say that unless agriculture is expanded and unless more houses are built, we shall be in real danger of starvation. Starvation is a big word. I think that anybody without local knowledge cannot really form an opinion, but I do know that expansion in any form to any farmer is a big business and a long-term business. I cannot see how a farmer, in planning an expansion of his farm, can afford to gamble on the housing position. Therefore, whatever the intentions of the Government may be, for the reasons I have given I cannot believe that this particular intention will be realized until they give both policy and information in far more specific terms than they have done so far, and until they have put them over to the public in a much bigger way.

6.0 p.m.


My Lords, it is not at all easy to intervene at this stage of the debate without going over at least some of the ground which other noble Lords have so very adequately covered. In fact, the time has really come for action rather than words. Nevertheless, as an agriculturist, I am very concerned regarding the Government's housing policy and anxious to see the agricultural workers of this country properly housed in homes adequately equipped so as to preserve and develop all the great advantages of English rural life. All noble Lords in your Lordships' House have agreed that it is of vital importance to protect the atmosphere: of every British rural home. That is in the interests of our national character, if only to attract more and more workers into the important rural industries. The trouble is that we have different approaches to that problem and different ideas as to how we can reach that high standard.

I join with noble Lords who have said something about the reconditioning of the present houses by their owners, and the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, took up the point I was going to make. Ever since I have been in your Lordships' House I have heard noble Lords on all sides repeatedly hammering away at the Front Bench opposite for some word on the re-enactment of the Housing (Rural Workers) Act, or some alternative. No one who has taken any active part in the matter would be bold enough to say "Yes" or "No" to this question. I have an extract from The Times of a few weeks ago giving some replies by the Minister in another place. The Minister said that he did not intend to produce a Bill this side of Christmas for improving and reconditioning houses occupied by agricultural workers. Several members got up, including Mr. Hudson, and it transpired in the end that no legislation ever had been pro- mised for reconditioning rural cottages. Mr. Bevan went on to say that he thought that if such legislation were to be introduced it would be at the expense of getting on with the new housing programme, and that in any case the majority of agricultural workers would rather that all labour was concentrated on building new ones, rather than patch up the old, and that they would rather live in a new house than in the miserable houses which the Conservatives have built for them.

That is not so; it is rather unfair. In my experience I have only to talk to farm workers, old and young, where I live—which, incidentally, is in the same area as the noble Lord, Lord Calverley—and they all tell me the same thing. They do not want to be uprooted; they would like to go on living in the house where their fathers and grandfathers before them had lived. They only want to get the modern amenities which they have been lacking so much in the past. In that respect they are far more conservative than I am. Another point is rent, which is another reason for farmers wanting to remain where they are, because they would rather try to save the money.

In any case why cannot we adopt both policies? In the desperate times in which we are living, we must try desperate remedies. Is it not better to have two strings to your bow? It is better to do so than to have only one which is not equal to the calls upon it at the present moment. Get the public utilities out to the present houses, such essentials as electricity, sanitation and water, otherwise you cannot possibly get labour enough to enable the agriculturists to grow more food. I do not see why these old houses should not be made habitable. It should not be done simply as a matter of tradition or principle, or for sentimental reasons; but many existing cottages could be reconditioned. We are told that agriculture. is to have the highest priority as regards the share of materials for building and repairs. Ironically enough, I could give your Lordships the example of a new sports goods factory near my home the owners of which, within the last two years, have put up acres and acres of new sheds, asbestos and steel, in fact a wonderful show. In case any noble Lord should interrupt me with the remark, "What about your exports?" I would retort "What about your food?" Is not home-grown food just a little more im- portant still at the moment, food for the worker—for he cannot work without it? Dutch barns would be of great value.

I want to say a word about the siting of these rural houses. They should be built on the spot where stockmen can be near their stock. I know this is a controversial matter, but it is my point of view. Again I do not think it is going to work if you put the farmers and agricultural labourers side by side with the industrial five-day-week men. The fact that miners have to work only five days a week and that farmers cannot do so, may well cause some discontent. I hope the housing authorities will give this point their very careful consideration—always bearing in mind the desirability of maintaining a proper balance of social understanding between urban and rural communities. As regards local authorities, the Government, as the noble Earl, Lord Munster, stated, have made local authorities their chosen instrument for housing construction. By and large, these housing authorities are very reasonable in the issuing of licences for domestic building, but I feel that there is need for closer liaison and co-ordination between the various Government Departments and some of these local authorities.

I am against the fact that private building has been stopped altogether, because I think that in this crisis it should be a case of all hands to the pumps, to whatever Party or Department one belongs. The present Minister of Agriculture is very much on the side of his Department and would willingly stick up for the farmers whom he represents. I believe him to have their interests very much at heart in any problem which arises between the Ministry of Agriculture and any other Department. But what is deplorable is that in the past agriculture has always taken a back seat. If a problem has to be settled between two Departments, whether it is a problem of housing or of open-cast mining, the Minister of Health or the Minister of Fuel always wins. That has gone on long enough. It is up to the Minister of Agriculture to do more about it, and to ensure that at any rate rural housing is going to get a much fairer crack of the whip, so that it may look forward to a more prosperous era and a far more vigorous and broad-minded housing policy.

6.8 p.m.


My Lords, I want to turn to a rather different aspect from that which has been emphasized in the debate so far. I wish to speak as a member of the council of a small town. I speak only for my own town, but there must be many members of borough councils with similar experience. We have a definite responsibility to our own people, both for their health and their well-being, and a primary condition of that is that they shall be well and adequately housed. We still have to deal with many cases of desperate overcrowding, of families who must have separate bedrooms, for medical reasons, including some—to whom the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, has referred so feelingly—who are physically crippled, and also of young married couples living with their parents. I will quote only one instance. In a four-roomed flat belonging to a housing society in London live an elderly man and his wife, their two married daughters with their husbands, a grandchild and an unmarried son. The young couples each have a bedroom., The young man has a small room to himself and the parents use the family living room. But as the old gentleman suffers from asthma, and is restless at night, he has a bed to himself; his wife, aged sixty-nine, sits up in a chair all night. The young couples, whose rooms are stacked with the new furniture which they hope some day to move into homes of their own, search continuously for such homes, but without success: I am told that in one borough in the East End of London the waiting list amounts to 7,500. On this point of the need for more houses, I do not think I can do better than quote some of the words used by the noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Chancellor, with whom I feel sure that noble Lords opposite will agree. At the end of the debate on rent restriction on November 18, he said: It is a trite saying, but obviously there is only one satisfactory solution of this problem, as we should all agree, and that is to build more houses. At present there are married couples who are not able to get a house of their own and are living under difficult conditions. The social trouble and social disadvantages of this situation are frightful. But while I agree that the landlord, in the cases that have been mentioned, has a real grievance in the matter of the cost of repairs, there are other and more serious grievances and consequences which come from the shortage of houses. It is those more serious grievances that I would urge His Majesty's Government to do much more to remedy.

One of those grievances, though not the most serious, arises from the slow progress of housing, to which reference has already been made, and the time it has taken to finish off the houses which have been begun. Houses which formerly could be completed in four to six months are now taking between ten and thirteen months, as the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, has already said. Moreover, whereas the housing society to which I have referred used to be able to build one flat a week, it has now taken them over a year to provide eleven flats. In my own small borough we were urged to complete preparations on the whole of a site for about 220 houses, which we did at very considerable expense by the end of 1945. In 1946, owing to the slowness of building, only six houses were completed. There have been completed eighteen more, and ten pre-fabricated bungalows, up to date in this year 1947. We now have thirty-two houses under contract, so that after three years or more we shall be drawing rent from only fifty-eight houses, or something like one-quarter of the number which the site would hold, and which, on the analogy of what we were able to build before the war, we expected we should have been fully able to complete. Indeed, we do not know whether we shall be able to contract for any more houses till next year.

Not only do the people lack these houses, therefore, but the bulk of the interest on the loan for the preparation of the site has fallen upon the general rate, and has amounted to rather more than a tenpenny rate. I believe that very many more houses could, and should, have been completed in these last two years, when we had the dollars to enable us to import such materials as were necessary. These delays affect also the building industry. I have been able to consult some of my friends in that industry, and have learnt that, according to the public relations officer of one of our largest contractors, 30 per cent. of his jobs, which are situated all over the country, are held up at one time or another for such items as baths, pedestal pans, cast iron rainwater goods and various internal fittings. Yet apparently quite enough of many of those fittings are being made, as the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, has admitted, and the trouble is really due to faulty distribution rather than to under-production. In other words, it is an administrative fault rather than actual shortage.

I will take just one example, that of baths. According to the housing returns published by the Government, there were completed, up to the end of September, 1947, 506,972 new, permanent and temporary houses, flats and other family units. This figure includes conversions and adaptations—of which not more than two-thirds would probably require new baths—and also repairs to war-damaged and requisitioned properties, where only about 10 per cent. would require them, temporary huts and Service camps. Thus a careful estimate gives slightly over 330,000 new baths required, against over 590,000 produced in that same period. Even with a very liberal allowance for ordinary day-to-day replacements, the supply should have been far in excess of the known demand. Again, the monthly rate of bath production for September was 33,900. Even with an allowance of 20 per cent. for export and other requirements, this is much more than enough for the 20,000 houses which were completed monthly in the same period. Yet a report received from five of the leading builders' merchants in London early in November showed that they had on order with their works 9,470 baths, of which 4,012 were required before the end of the year to prevent jobs standing still.

After the most strenuous efforts to obtain delivery promises from works, all that could be anticipated by the end of the year were some 300 baths, as against 4,012 most urgently needed. Where, then, are the baths that have been produced going? The Ministry of Works admit that there must be a tremendous number of baths somewhere, but do rot seem to know how to get the distribution tangle straightened out. Although they have imposed endless forms, certificates and controls on manufacturers, distributors and builders, as we have already heard, the surplus as shown in the Government return is still not available at the point where it is required. Then, too, the Government urge us to export. We have received about £8 each for the baths we have exported, while we have imported some 3,000 to 4,000 baths from France at about £14 each plus duty, which does not seem very reasonable.

Other materials, details of which I have before me, are in a similar position.

No doubt, as has been pointed out, some materials, such as timber, are in very short supply. It has been suggested that better use could be made of such timber as we are able to import if greater care were taken to see that it came in usable sizes and in usable lengths. Steps have been taken to reduce the amount of timber required per house. I believe that both the architects and the local authorities will be very ready to reduce this figure still further and to assist in putting into effect any alternative methods of building.

The real remedy, as I have suggested, lies in skilled phasing. It has been suggested that for every contract there should be worked out a schedule showing the quantities of the various materials and fittings required, the dates of delivery, having due regard to the various types of labour available, and a realistic estimate of the probable progress of the work. Such a procedure, if insisted on, would go far to make our supply available for the urgent need when called for. It would obviate locking up considerable quantities of supplies on sites before they are really required, it would assist the contractors to obtain their supplies when they are ready to use them, and secure the utilization of available supplies to the greatest possible advantage. It was emphasized that the enforcement of such skilled phasing would cure fifty per cent. of the trouble. I trust that those concerned will pursue this suggestion. This would entail Government Departments and the industry working together continuously. Occasional consultations are not enough.

The present proposals put forward by the Government, if carried out, would cause serious disintegration of the building industry, as Lord Llewellin has already pointed out. With properly balanced gangs, trades follow each other in carefully planned sequence. If much less work, or, in many cases, no work at all, is started, whole trades would be thrown out of employment, beginning with the excavators. Men thus lost to the industry could not be brought back at all easily. However great the need may be to reduce building now, we shall surely require a large and efficient industry before long, not only to complete houses for the people, but to build schools, hospitals, churches and other buildings for public purposes. The people who are seeking houses, the local authorities and the building industry, are suffering from a very deep sense of frustration. This will be increased by these new proposals for reducing capital expenditure when they are brought into effect, and if and when those in the towns see that no houses are being built in their areas. I have spoken mainly from the point of view of public health and urban authorities, but I fully realize the need for houses for agricultural workers. However, I believe that both needs can be met. So I would urge strongly that housing should be given a much higher priority for capital and materials, even for timber, which I believe is one of the first materials that we should press for in return for such coal as we hope very shortly to be able to export, and that I believe would really yield abundant fruit. Men and women surely cannot do their best and persistent work unless they are well and comfortably housed.

Finally, my Lords, we heard a great deal about housing at the General Election. We were promised, if I remember aright, rapid progress by the Party of the noble Lords opposite. Mr. Churchill called for a crusade in housing, and a call for such a crusade has been repeated tonight by the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge. Sir Stafford Cripps, in that speech on the Address which called forth such general approbation, called for a deep draught of our Christian faith. One of the fundamental Christian virtues is hope, and it is hope and encouragement that I believe our people need in housing and in other matters. So I would urge upon His Majesty's Government that an adequate and steady programme of housing, skilfully phased, would be of great advantage to the health, family life and general production of our people, and above all would spread a spirit of hope and encouragement among them.

6.25 p.m.


My Lords, I shall be very brief at this late hour as I know other noble Lords wish to speak. I should like to say, following my noble friend, that I quite agree with him that housing as so far completed in the urban areas has been most disappointing. Only 106,400 houses have been built in ten months, and I do not think we shall get more than about 125,000 this year. They are coming off the production lines at something like 10,000 a month and 260,000 were to be built! I think we must concentrate very much on getting these other 240,000 houses completed at the earliest possible date. I am perturbed that local authorities in the urban areas do not seem to know what further houses they can plan for the future, as the brake seems to be completely put on at the commencement of the housing drive. If you are not very careful you will have a large number of people in the finishing trades in about eighteen months, but very lew people: in the commencement trades. I am happy to think that His Majesty's Government are going to reconsider the matter next June, and perhaps we shall know then—because it is a very serious consideration for local authorities—what is going to be done.

What I want to deal with is the rural side. The Government believe in fair shares all round, I understand, and I do not believe that they have really given fair shares to the rural areas. For instance, 20,000 houses built in the last two and a half years in the rural areas and only 4,000 allocated to rural workers, is really not at all good enough. If you would just: bear with me for a moment and look at this return of prefabricated permanent houses, on those I think rest most of the hopes for the rural houses in the next twelve months. The noble Lord, Lord Henderson, told us to-night that 15,000 aluminium bungalows would be allocated to the problem of the mining areas and 20,000 Airey houses for the rural areas. At page 32 of the latest housing manual for the end of October it is stated that only eighty-one per month of those rural Airey houses are being completed. We were told that 20,000 were allocated, tenders approved for 6,900, but so far they are only coming off the production lines at 81 a month. It is suggested that is not a good house. I think the Airey rural house is quite a good house. I saw it some eighteen months ago at the invitation of the Ministry of Works. It was on an experimental site at Epping. A lot of people say it can be put up in two-thirds of the time of an ordinary house, and it is a permanent house. The only criticism is that the pitch of the roof is a little too high, but it is a good house. Now we have the British Iron and Steel Federation house, with only 1,600 coming off the production lines per month. The Laings easy-type house, which is a simple house to construct—it needs a little shuttering—has only 264 coming off the production lines a month. If we really are going to make this great drive to relieve the housing problem, surely we can do better than these figures suggest. I am not at all impressed by them.

The only other point I should like to say a word or two on is on the supply of services. I do happen to know a little bit about that, being a director until next April, when it will be taken over, of a power company. A great deal has been said about the services for these houses; and the service of electricity, as noble Lords will know, depends on wooden poles, conductors, transformers, and all that type of thing. I would like very briefly to tell your Lordships something, if I may, about the wooden pole position. For the quarter which ended on September 30 this year, 30,000 wooden poles were allocated to supply authorities. They wanted 50,000, so there was a deficit of 20,000. Applications for this last quarter were something like 50,000, and the allocations were only 29,000. For 1948, it is estimated that something in the neighbourhood of 200,000 to 250,000 wooden poles will be required. Allocations are made because they have to be equally divided between the Post Office and the supply authorities. I am informed that for the first half of the year, only 60,000 poles have been allocated, and that so far no fresh contracts have been decided upon for the second half of next year.

I am very much perturbed, also, about the cutting down of electric generating plants, especially in the years 1951 and 1952. There is considerable cutting down indicated in the White Paper, but I will not bore your Lordships with the detailed figures. It takes anything up to four years now to build a power station. We know that in London this winter we are running something like 2,000,000 kilowatts short. During the recent cold spell, in rural areas, such as East Anglia, they have had to make cuts of anything up to 20 per cent. between eight and nine o'clock in the morning and five and six o'clock at night. If there is to be the indicated cutting down in the latter part of the programme, in 1950 and 1951, in view of the fact that, as I say, it now takes approximately four years to build a power station, instead of about two and a half years as formerly, I consider that this will be a very serious matter. I hope that His Majesty's Government will give very careful consideration to this point. We might easily find ourselves extremely short of power in the years which are ahead, and not better off than we thought we were going to be in 1948 and 1949.

6.33 p.m.


My Lords, I came to your Lordships' House this afternoon without the slightest intention of intervening in this debate, but I am now doing so because I happened to have the good fortune to hear my noble friend Lord Beveridge telling your Lordships about the dilemma in which housing associations are finding themselves owing to this new ruling, whereby they are only permitted to borrow at 2¾ per cent. I was greatly shocked to hear what the noble Lord said. I have been connected with the housing association movement for a good many years, and I had not previously heard of this blow which has descended upon the devoted heads of these societies. I would recall to your Lordships briefly the point which the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, made, but let me preface what I have to say by reminding your Lordships that these societies can borrow from the Public Works Loan Board at 2½ per cent. plus an overriding commission of ¼ per cent. to the local authority through whom they get the advance. That makes the total rate 2½ per cent., which is, of course, a very agreeable rate for the housing associations to be able to borrow at.

In the case which the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, quoted you have the position that the Public Works Loan Board lend up to 90 per cent. So the association get 90 per cent. of their capital at 2¾ per cent., and they have to get the remaining 10 per cent. somewhere else. It is unreasonable, and indeed impossible, to expect people to lend money practically unsecured—because there is only the equity left—at 2¾ per cent. That, of course, contrasts with the old arrangement whereby these associations could borrow money from building societies at houses built, particularly for the poorer 3½ per cent., for, say, forty years, and still qualify for the subsidy. If this rule is to be administered with complete strictness, housing associations will be prevented from carrying out their building operations in a great number of cases. To use the language of the golf course, it will be a "dead stymie" or, if you prefer the language of the billiard room, it will be a "dead snooker." In many cases they will not be able to build a single house.

I understood my noble friend Lord Beveridge to say that the Ministry of Health had advanced this ruling on the grounds that it is necessary to keep rents down. Of course, we all agree that rents should be kept down. But. just consider what difference it is going to make to rents to allow this 10 per cent. to be borrowed at a fractionally higher rate of interest. Say that a house is going to cost £1,300. Whether Lord Calverley likes it or not, these associations can build a house at that figure. Now suppose the house is built for £1,300. Of that sum 10 per cent., that is to say £130, has to be borrowed at 3½ per cent., instead of 2¾ per cent. That means a difference of three-quarters of one per cent. on £130. In the rent that is a matter of pennies per week. Would it be to the disadvantage of a working-class family to get a house at pennies per week higher rent rather than not to get one at all? I know what the choice would be, if they were given it.

I ask what has given rise to this ruling. Of course one's first thought is that this Minister, who is not a believer in private enterprise, may have sought to prejudice the operations of societies working by private enterprise in comparison with local authorities. I acquit the Minister of that charge, because I have reason to know a little bit about his attitude. When he first came into office he expressed himself in a hostile manner towards these housing associations. He made speeches in which he definitely said impolite things about them. Fortunately, wiser counsels prevailed. Surprising though it may be, there are some wise people even in the Socialist Party. This is a proof of it. As I say, wiser counsels prevailed, the Minister altered his attitude and expressed himself accordingly. We do know one thing about this Minister, and that is that, whatever his faults, he does want to get people. I am quite sure of that.

He changed his attitude and therefore one must fall back on some other explanation. I think I can hazard a guess upon it. In the 1936 Housing Act, which regulates this business, it is laid down that these societies may borrow at a rate approved, for the time being, by the Treasury. I am almost sure this comes in Section 188. I used to know these Acts rather well. The rate was, at that time, 5 per cent. I have no doubt that it is in order to make the rate conform with the current day cheap money policy, that that rate has been slashed to 2¾ per cent. It may well be that the nigger in the wood pile, in this instance, is not the Minister but the Treasury. If so, the whole result was not foreseen. If that is the true explanation, I hope that the noble Earl who is going to reply will be able to hold out a little hope that there will be some reconsideration of this matter. It is clear that you must not let the best be the enemy of the good to the extent of insisting upon such low rates that you do not get any houses at all. It is the old story of the man who cut down his horse's rations until he had got them to one straw a day and then, unfortunately, the horse died.

If I am right, then surely the noble Earl will hold out some hope of reconsideration. All that is wanted is that the 10 per cent. balance of capital required should be allowed to be borrowed at a higher rate. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge; I do not think that these associations should be so rigidly limited. I see no objection to their getting the subsidy. So long as they are properly managed and controlled—and the Minister has every means of assuring that—let them borrow from a building society at, say 3½ per cent. and still have the subsidy, if they can get it. Do not make 2$ per cent. a rigid rule, but give the societies some reasonable latitude. While I would not expect the noble Earl on behalf of the Government to agree to this right away, I do expect him to say—if that is the explanation—that some reasonable arrangement will be come to. At any rate, I sincerely hope that he will give it his best consideration.

6.40 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure your Lordships will agree that we have had a long and interesting debate and a great deal of ground has been covered. You will appreciate that my reply must necessarily be limited to some only of the many searching criticisms and valuable suggestions that have been made by different speakers. At this rather late hour, I think this proposal is one with which every noble Lord will heartily agree. I am grateful for all the constructive proposals which your Lordships contributed during the course of the debate. I can assure you that everything that has been said will be carefully studied by the Ministry of Health, with a view to deriving the maximum benefit from the fund of knowledge which many of your Lordships have acquired from long familiarity with the housing problem. Now I will try to deal with some of the points that have been raised.

The noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, asked me for information about the surveys that had been made in connexion with the housing of the mining population and of agricultural workers., The survey; of housing requirements, made by county agricultural executive committees have now been received by the Ministry of Health and are being collated and considered in consultation with the Ministry of Agriculture. The survey made by the National Coal Board has already been dealt with at the departmental level and the programme of designating certain mining areas has already been sanctioned by the responsible Minister.


I am sorry to interrupt, but is that all we can be told? I should have thought mining areas were pretty well designated as it is. We do not want any further information about that point. The whole question is, how many houses are there to be in those areas and how many for agricultural workers? Could we be told either of those things?


I imagine that the number of houses in a particular area is precisely the information that is provided. I cannot give the figures at the moment. The noble Lord did not give notice of that question, but I will gladly see that whatever figures are available at the moment are provided for his information. The second question he asked was about the possibility of getting more timber from Germany. That really would be a most valuable source of supply because we would not have to pay for the timber in dollars. I can only tell the noble Lord that I will explore the possibility of getting this timber from Germany, and that this suggestion will be most carefully examined. Another point Lord Llewellin made was that the Forestry Commissioners were, he said, paying as much as £700 more per house than was being charged by local builders in the same area. I understand that, fortunately, the premises of the noble Lord are not completely correct. The cost of these cottages of the Forestry Commissioners is less than £2,000 per cottage. They are, however, somewhat more expensive than the cottages that have been built by the local housing authorities. This additional cost is explained partly because they are better equipped than the average country cottage and partly because, by reason of the remoteness of the fastnesses of England, Scotland and Wales in which they are built, the transport costs in connexion with their erection have been very heavy.


The noble Lord obviously has figures when he says they cost less than £2,000. Is it £10 less than the £2,000 I quoted, £50 less, or £100 less? Could we have the figure?


The noble Lord shall certainly have the figure. I will see that it is provided. As again I did not have notice before the debate, it was impossible for me to get the precise figures which I would otherwise have been able to offer. But he shall have those figures.


I apologize for interrupting, but this is really a very important point. Cottages have been built for the Forestry Commissioners and now we are told they do not cost £2,000 each; they are something less. I quite understand the noble Earl not having the figures. Other people are limited in the amount they pay. Why should a Government Department be allowed to exceed the normal figure? There are plenty of other houses scattered over these remote districts. They could be better furnished and they could be better provided for. There should be some reason. Can the noble Earl tell me, or must we put down another question?


If the noble Earl is not satisfied, perhaps he will be good enough to table a question which can be taken at another Sitting of the House.


The noble Earl has had four hours' notice. It is a long time since my noble friend made his speech. Surely the noble Earl could have ascertained the actual price of these houses? The Ministry officials could surely have told him over the telephone.


The noble Earl will appreciate that I had a number of points to investigate besides this one. May I refer to something said by the noble Lord, Lord Kinnaird, who obviously spoke with considerable knowledge of the housing problem in Scotland? I will certainly, as he asked me, draw the attention of the Secretary of State for Scotland to what he said about agricultural housing in Scotland. I am sure my right honourable friend will sympathize with the noble Lord's desire to give an immediate stimulus to further production by providing good homes for the farm workers, whether they live in the Lowlands or in the remote glens of the Highlands.


At extra cost?


There is, of course, nothing at this moment to prevent the noble Lord, or any other landlord, getting a licence to recondition his property, and a licence will be granted if labour and materials are available for the purpose. The question of priority for re-conditioning, to which he attached special importance, is one that will have to be considered in relation to the sum total of our housing requirements. I need hardly remind the noble Lord that one has to be very careful about priorities. If there are too many priorities, the currency gets debased. But this issue will certainly be considered in relation to other priorities. The noble Earl, Lord Munster, complained that some of the biggest building firms in the country, with their ample knowledge and experience of housing, had not been drawn into the housing effort and had somehow or other been pushed out of the housing field by the policy of the Government. I am very glad to be able to inform him that that in fact is not the case. All the big firms—I think he mentioned Wimpey, Wates and Costain—are making a substantial contribution to the housing programme. Wates and Wimpey are now building 50 per cent. more houses than they were building before the war. What they cannot do as compared with pre-war, of course, is to provide houses for sale to those who can afford to buy them.


You said 50 per cent. more houses?


I said," provide houses for sale for those who can afford to purchase them."


But the noble Earl said 50 per cent. more houses.


Those are the figures with which I have been provided.


In number?


What these firms cannot do now is to choose their own tenants. That is a matter for the local authorities, who allocate accommodation according to the needs in their particular area. The noble Earl also sugges: ed that we might make progress with the rehousing of agricultural workers by the Ministry of Agriculture undertaking a programme of direct labour. I would point out to the noble Earl that that would involve a large increase in the staff of the Ministry, which has not the organisation at the moment to deal with house designing, house building, or house management. I have some faint recollection of many criticisms that have been levelled at the size of the Civil Service, and I am certain that any increase would be deprecated by quite a number of noble Lords opposite. I also feel bound to point out that if such an organization were set up it would lead to very considerable delay. It would take time. I think our method of approaching this rural housing problem will prove quicker.

The noble Lord, Lord Addington, described, I think at the start of his speech, some deplorable conditions of overcrowding, with which unfortunately we are all familiar, which oblige large families to live in circumstances detrimental to health and which prevent young couples from finding homes of their own. I can assure the noble Lord that we are still firm in our determination to provide a separate home of adequate size for every family in this country. The noble Lord also referred to the importance of phasing procedure. This procedure is, of course, normally adopted by building firms in the pursuit of their building operations. If any firms are lax in this respect, as the noble Lord suggested, I very much hope they will pay attention to what he has said. But that is a matter rather for the builders than for the Government or local authorities.

The subject of rural housing was mentioned by several noble Lords. It was mentioned by Lord Wolverton, Lord Carrington, and also, I think, by Lord Gage, who was good enough to notify me in advance of what he intended to say on this subject. I can as-sure all those noble Lords that we have always attached the utmost importance to the provision of cottages in rural areas but the immediate necessity of replacing imported foodstuffs by home-grown food has made rural housing more urgent now than it has ever been in the past. We are well aware of the urgency of the position. I will come in a moment to our future plans but, in view of what some noble Lords have said about our past record, I feel I must point out certain facts which, to my mind, show that we have not done quite so badly as their account would perhaps suggest. These facts do not bear out the inference that we have done less in the past for housing in the countryside as compared with housing in the towns. On the contrary, we have made better progress in rural areas than in most other parts of the country. I apologize for wearying the House with more figures, but I think they will be the last. At the end of October, just over 30,000 new permanent houses had been built in rural districts of England and Wales. The number of temporary houses was just over 8,000, and the number of homes provided by conversions and adaptations, and by the repair of war damaged houses, was over 9,000. An even larger number than this of new houses has been begun and is on the way to completion.


The inference is that those are for agricultural workers. Is that so?




The noble Lord did not actually say it, but that is the only purpose in saying "in rural areas."


The noble Earl has been misled by what I said if he drew any conclusion of the kind from my words. I shall soon get to the point which I think he has in mind. An even larger number of new houses has been begun, and is on the way to completion. There were 40,000 permanent houses under construction, and another 10,000 houses had reached the contract stage, though they had not been started at the date I gave, in October of this year. But the total figure for new homes is less important in itself, I think, than the relation it bears to the size of the population these new homes have been built to serve. In proportion to the population of the county areas, the figures I have just given represent a better achievement than that in any other part of the country, save only for the small towns with a population of 25,000 inhabitants or less.

It is, of course, true (I should like to bring this out clearly, in case any other noble Lord should be under the misapprehension which I think momentarily the noble Lord, Earl De La Warr, was under) that only a comparatively small number of the cottages provided in rural districts have so far been let to farm workers. This has been largely due to the difficulties pointed out earlier in the debate by my noble friend Lord Henderson, to which I shall not refer again. The new arrangements which he mentioned (with which again I do not wish to weary your Lordships, because it would be repeating what he said) and which we have suggested to the local authorities, are designed to overcome these difficulties which in the past have prevented the letting of rural cottages to workers connected with food production and the land. The Government are fully satisfied that the rural district councils are keenly aware of the importance of letting to agricultural workers as many houses as possible. These authorities, of course, must bear in mind their statutory obligation to consider also the housing needs of every individual applicant. I believe that lettings to farm workers will show a considerable increase after the new arrangements have had a reasonable time to be tried out and worked.

The noble Viscount, Lord Gage, asked me (I do not think he put it in his speech, but he certainly has put the question to me) for a definition of the expression "industries ancillary to agriculture in connexion with the choice of tenants." We have not attempted to give any general definition of this expression, because we do not consider it desirable to lay down hard and fast rules. I would remind the noble Viscount that a definition is always exclusive as well as inclusive, and that the right people are more likely to get into the cottages if the hands of the local authorities are not tied by a ruling of this kind. It is, surely, wiser to leave it to the local authorities to deal with each case on its merits, in consultation, if they so desire, with the local county agricultural executive committee, which will contain members who know exactly what the applicant is contributing to the food campaign in the area. The local authorities realize, of course, that the new arrangements will be applied to many workers, such as mechanics, saddlers, and so on, who cannot be regarded as farm workers in the ordinary sense but who are helping in one way or another to produce food.

The noble Viscount, Lord Gage, also expressed some apprehension about the future of housing in the rural areas. I would like to emphasize to the noble Viscount, and in reply to other noble Lords, that neither in rural nor in urban areas is there any question of houses already under construction or under contract being stopped. On the contrary, we want to speed as quickly as possible the completion of all these houses. The considerations which will govern new contracts have already been explained by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson. He made it clear that rural areas, so far from suffering any cut or being worse off than any other part of the country, would in fact be getting preferential treatment in two respects.


I apologize for interrupting the noble Earl, but in my own particular area we have been cut very considerably. We were cut from a little over 290 houses to 34, for which we had to get the certificate of the local agricultural committee. Under the latest regulations we have now been cut to eight which, if we complete them, will be below the standard of our local building by-laws. I think that is a cut.


I am obliged to the noble Marquess, but I was on a slightly different point, because I was dealing with the future and with the approval of the contracts, rather than with what has already taken place.


I meant future contracts. These are what we are contracting for at the moment.


In the next few months and subsequently, the rural areas will get these two advantages as compared with the towns. First of all, there will be the allocation of the 20,000 prefabricated Airey houses; secondly, there will be the preferential treatment of new contracts. This, of course, does not mean, as the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, rightly pointed out, that rural authorities will be allowed to enter into a vast or unlimited number of contracts, because the overriding consideration must always be the possibility of securing sufficient resources to finish the houses once they have been started. But where such resources are available—and this is where the preference will come in—and there is a choice between schemes which will provide houses for agricultural workers and others which will not, preference will certainly be given to the former.

I think that answers the question of the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, as to whether cottages in the country will have to wait to be completed with the rest of the housing programme. The noble Lord will observe that that is not the case. I turn now, to the more controversial issue—


I do not want to interrupt the noble Earl, but I under-stood that in new claims preference would be given to agricultural schemes rather than to others. But the whole of that will come after the 350,000.


As I understand it, this preference to new contracts in rural areas can be given at any time in the future. It is not dependent upon the completion of the existing number of houses that are at the present moment in different stages of construction.

I turn from this issue to the even more controversial issue of reconditioning, which was raised by a number of noble Lords. It was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Savile, by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, by the noble Earl, Lord Munster, and I think also by the noble Lord, Lord Kinnaird I listened with great interest and the closest attention to what was said by these noble Lords in favour of the re-introduction of legislation to provide grants for this purpose. I must confess that, in spite of their arguments, I have yet to be persuaded that labour and materials can be diverted to reconditioning without lessening the number of new houses which can be built. The Government's view is that, for the time being at least, as much labour and materials as possible must be concentrated on the actual construction of new homes. We intend eventually to include in the housing programme provision for the improvement of existing houses, but we do not feel justified in doing so at the moment, while materials and labour remain in extremely short supply. We have, of course, accepted the principles of the Hobhouse Report and we hope to introduce legislation when the time is ripe.

It has been urged by some noble Lords that there is plenty of building labour available in the countryside which cannot be used for new housing contracts. I would suggest for the consideration of those noble Lords that such labour can be fully employed on the no less important work, from the point of view of the prosperity of the countryside, of essential repairs and the maintenance of houses and farm buildings.


But you are cutting the building force down.


Before I leave this subject, I should like to answer a point raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Gage, about the tenancy by agricultural workers of houses built by private owners with Government subsidy. The noble Viscount said that a landlord nowadays was in grave difficulty when the tenant of such a house, who had been installed there because he was an agricultural worker, and upon whose continuance in agricultural employment the payment of the subsidy depended, chose to leave agriculture to take up some other occupation. Of course, to obtain possession of a house in those circumstances would involve recourse to the courts. But I would point out to the noble Lord that the Rent Restriction Acts do provide a special procedure for obtaining possession when a house is required for occupation by an agricultural worker. The Government feel that this method of getting rid of a tenant in these particular circumstances should give the landlord as much control of his property in the public interest as he can reasonably expect.

I would like to say something about the housing labour force and the effect on it of the future developments in our housing programme. In the White Paper, Capital Expenditure in 1948, which was published on Monday, it was stated that we intend, by the end of June of next year, to have 210,000 houses under construction—a figure which will probably fall to 140,000 by the end of June, 1949. These figures mean that we envisage an eventual decrease in the labour force, for housing purposes, but the process will be gradual, and it will be spread over a period of months, during which the present size of the labour force will steadily diminish. The completion of the temporary housing programme, and of outstanding war damage repairs, will be among the factors that will release a certain amount of building labour for other purposes. There will be an abundant outlet for any labour that is made available in the under-manned industries, or in the replacement of workers who leave their present employment to fill vacancies in such industries. I would remind your Lordships that the housing programme is to be reviewed again in the middle of 1948. But completion of houses already under construction should provide enough work to occupy for the present most of the men engaged on permanent housing.

I should like now, if I may, to refer to some of the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, who was good enough to give me advance notice of his intentions. He was particularly concerned with the part played in the housing programme by housing associations. Let me say at once that I am as close a friend of housing associations as he is. I have been personally connected with a housing association in Stepney since before the war. I have always admired its work as an example of what housing associations can do, and I still believe that a well-managed housing association can teach certain lessons to some local authorities. Having said that, I am afraid I cannot go much further in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge.

In the first place, I must point out that whatever restrictions and disabilities may have been imposed on these associations—whether they have been imposed or not, the noble Lord suggested, quite vehemently, that they had—it is not the work of the present Government. We are completely innocent. The arrangements governing the housing associations date back to the Housing Act, 1936. We have not altered them, and I cannot help feeling that the censure of the noble Lord should have been directed to the Conservative administration of that date for its discouragement of private enterprise rather than to his unfortunate victims on these Benches.


If it were a Conservative Administration I should address my censure to them, but as you are the Administration you are the only people that can put it right.


We have not yet been able to put right everything that was done during the war.


It is wrong to say that they did nothing. They have altered the rate from 5 per cent. to 2¾ per cent. That is the act of this Government, anyway.


But the rules and arrangements governing the rates of these housing associations were laid down before the war. Of course, within the framework of those rules there are matters that can be dealt with by the Government of the day. Before I deal with some of the handicaps to which the noble Lord complained that housing associations are subject, as compared with local authorities, I must point out that it is not the case that these bodies are required to charge the same rents as the large public authorities. In fixing rents housing associations, when acting in agreement with local authorities, are entitled to take into consideration three important differences in the conditions under which they operate, as compared with the large housing authorities.

These differences are, first, the slightly higher rate of interest which they have to pay on their capital; secondly, the substantially higher allowance which must of course be made for repairs, maintenance, and management; and, thirdly, the amount of subsidy they eventually receive, bearing in mind that they do not necessarily obtain a contribution from the local authority from the rates. I can assure the noble Lord that there is a wide discrepancy between the rents charged by housing associations and by local authorities at the present time. It is, of course, optional for a local authority to pay a subsidy to a housing association out of local rates. That is the present position. I think the noble Lord will agree that it would not be in the interests of these associations that such payments should be made compulsory. If they were it might easily have the effect of discouraging local authorities from making agreements with housing associations for the building of houses, even when these associations would otherwise be admirably qualified for the job.

I should like now to say. something about the rate of interest at which housing associations may borrow. That was the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, and by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, who has probably a unique knowledge of the voluntary housing effort. He attaches, very rightly, considerable importance to the matter. In most cases, these associations borrow go per cent. of the cost of the work undertaken from the local authority, who in turn borrows the money from the Public Works Loan Board at a rate of interest of 2½ per cent. for sixty years. The local authority lends to the association at not more than 2¾ per cent. on a sixty-year basis, the additional ¼ per cent. being charged to cover administrative costs. The rate of interest allowed for the remaining 10 per cent. of the cost is, it is true, no more than 2¾ per cent., but I would like to give noble Lords the reason for this.

I must say that I do not agree, with the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge. It is not unreasonable that as the aim of a subsidy is to enable houses which to-day are being built at very high costs to be let at low rents, it should be one of the main objects of housing associations to raise money at low rates of interest. When an association of this kind is promoted by an industrial concern, the firm ought not to charge more than 2¾ per cent. interest. Other associations could surely raise money at this rate of interest from public-spirited investors, such as the people who brought them into being, for the continued support which would enable them to carry on their excellent work. I know that the capital of the housing association with which I am connected, which was subscribed before the war, was provided at a nominal rate of interest by philanthropic people.

The noble Lord also referred to the fact that houses owned by the housing associations are subject to the Rent Restriction Acts. To remove these houses from the scope of existing legislation would require fresh legislation. This question was raised recently in a debate in your Lordships' House, when my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack said in his reply that: there was no early prospect of legislation to deal with rent restriction. At the same time he made it clear that the Government had accepted the recommendation of the Ridley Committee, which includes, I believe, a recommendation to cover this whole problem, when the time comes, in a single measure. I think it would be asking rather much of us to take up heavily congested Parliamentary time by handling housing associations separately from other property owners whose premises are at present subject to rent restriction.

The noble Lord also raised the question of the charitable status that has been granted to housing associations to give them exemption from Income Tax. I would like to point out that the adoption of a particular set of rules, even on the model devised by the National Federation of Housing Societies for a charitable housing association will not necessarily exempt that association from Income Tax. The Inland Revenue Department have to consider each case on its merits, and the view of what is a charity for the purpose of the Income Tax Acts tends to change with changing social conditions. But I can assure the noble Lord that although the Inland Revenue Department have lately been examining with much care a number of particular cases, there has been no reconsideration of the charitable status hitherto accorded to bona-fide non-profit-making housing associations.

I would ask your Lordships to view our housing programme as it has been recently revised in relation to our policy for the economic recovery of the nation. This is a policy to which housing, like other forms of capital expenditure, must make its proper contribution. The reductions that we are contemplating in the resources used for housing purposes are part of a carefully-balanced long-term plan for filling the gap in our balance of payments. Our proposed alterations in the housing programme can be rightly judged only in the broader context of the national economy. I need hardly remind your Lordships that the possibility of improving our standard of living at home, and of retaining our influence abroad, depends on a quick and effective closing of the present critical gap in our trade balance. This requires a rapid expansion of production for export and a similar contraction of imports from dollar countries. But some of the key industries which would enable us to achieve these objects—agriculture, mining, and textile—are acutely short of labour, and at a period of full employment they cannot find the recruits they need without looking to other occupations less vital to the welfare of the nation. There is, therefore, ample scope and opportunity in the service of the country for anyone not directly employed in an industry producing goods for export or for immediate consumption at home.

My noble friend, Lord Henderson, has spoken of the reduced quantity of timber we shall import next year as a factor that will limit new construction in 1949. This is a further contribution of the building industry towards the wiping out of our dollar indebtedness. He also said that we might still be able to get the timber for sterling by means of bilateral trade agreements. This surely justifies the review we mean to make of the whole housing programme in June, 1948, by which date we shall know whether non-dollar sources of timber can be made available in time to sustain the pace of new construction. There is a further reason, no less important to our economic recovery, why we are obliged to postpone as much capital investment as we can dispense with in the near future. The only hope of keeping a stable price level, and of preventing an upward movement that would cripple our exports and cause much hardship and industrial unrest, is to concentrate the maximum amount of our resources on production for current needs. This will necessitate a diversion of man-power and scarce materials from many uses designed to meet future requirements. Noble Lords who complain that we contemplate a slowing down of the pace of our housing programme must also be prepared, I think, to say that this particular reduction in capital expenditure is unwarranted by the grave economic situation with which we are confronted to-day.

I would remind them that a number of distinguished economists, and The Times newspaper in a leading article published yesterday, take the view that we are not nearly drastic enough in applying the axe to our programme of capital investment. The Times—and I think that on matters of this kind everyone on both sides of the House reads The Times with great attention—doubts whether the total reduction of our capital plans is sufficient and whether it is rightly distributed between productive and non-productive investments. Whatever the respective merits of the austere doctrine of The Times, as compared with the more lenient proposals of the Government, I have heard no one suggest any way of surmounting our economic difficulties without cutting to a greater or lesser extent a capital programme which was drawn up when our dollar assets from Canada and the United States seemed likely to last for a considerably longer time.

I make no apology for any alteration in our housing policy that is due to the post-war poverty and indebtedness of our nation. This has come about as a result of world events entirely beyond our control. It can be overcome only by acceptance of sacrifices that must be made now if we are to avoid much heavier sacrifices later. We have already accomplished more than any other Government in a comparable period before the war, in building flats and houses to let at low rents for the people who are in most urgent need of decent accommodation. Our policy has made housing, like education or medicine, a welfare service to meet the needs of those whose need is greatest. We have converted it from being, as it was before the war, a mainly profit-making enterprise, regulated like other businesses by monetary demands, into a national service for providing one of the prime necessities of life. This policy aims at giving, as we still hope it may do early in 1949, a separate home for every family in the country. Everyone wants us—I am sure that this is the case, whatever our political opinions may be—to reach this target at the earliest possible moment. We share the same objective; we shall need all the support we can get if this objective is to be attained without delay. But I am sure that it will attract the co-operation and support of all men of good will, both in this House and outside, who are in a position to forward its fulfilment.

7.26 p.m.


My Lords, let me, in concluding this debate, first put right one personal point. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Calverley, misunderstood my reference to the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House. I think everybody else realized, especially when I said that I had had a talk with that noble Viscount beforehand, that I was making no sort of insinuation about his not being present to-day. I should like to place, that on record, because no such thought occurred to me. Secondly, let me say that I entirely disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, when he says that we have made remarkably good progress with housing since the war ended. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, who has just sat down, put it a little more mildly and said that we had not done quite so badly as some noble Lords would say. That is a matter of opinion, but, when the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, spoke of "remarkably good progress," I realized that he was reflecting the views of the Government and particularly those of the Minister of Health who, at any rate, was preening himself on being equipped with those angelic wings which the noble Lord, Lord Calverley, suggested he should have, and which some of us thought the sooner he had the better for the housing programme of this country.

What has clearly gone wrong over the last two and a half years—and in this the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, was quite frank—is that local authorities have been encouraged to develop without regard to the supply of materials. He said he hoped this position would now be remedied by a new system of W.B.A. priority. I have had something to do with priorities myself, and the one thing that is fatal is to give more priorities or more licences than there are materials to cover them. If you once do that, the whole thing goes wrong, and I hope, at any rate, that the Government have now learnt their lesson.

I now must say one or two words about the speech to which we have just listened. If the noble Earl will forgive my saying so, the last part of his speech I fully recognized as having been composed before this debate started. It was beautifully composed in charming English, but it was certainly composed before this debate began. The noble Earl said that no one could suggest that we could in any way dispense with cuts in our capital programme. I did suggest what I believe to be a very good way. The first thing to do is to get more timber out of Germany. We are getting 43,000 standards a month—that is the maximum which we have obtained. Actually, without cutting into the capital reserves of the German forests, we could annually take 3,000,000 standards from Germany, without in any way departing from the proper cutting of those forests.

Even if that were not so in regard to German timber, I would not necessarily be hedged about by right tree felling, because during the course of the last war we had in this country a lot of tree felling for the emergency, when trees were cut before their prime. So I suggested to the noble Earl a way of getting more timber, and I believe it is a way in which we can get more timber. Secondly, I showed him a way, I hope, whereby we might somehow get back to our pre-war custom, and not have only one quarter of the production of the manpower in the building industry—for that is what we are down to now. We are producing only one quarter of the man output that we were doing before the war. If we explore both those avenues, we can keep up the house building programme in this country without in any way departing from the general basis of the drive for exports and for getting more man-power into export production.

I must say that I was not at all satisfied with the noble Earl's answers in regard to the Forestry Commissioners It is easy enough to find out. There is a telephone; the Government telephones are still working, even since the noble Earl ceased to be Postmaster-General. He could easily have got through, and I would pretty well warrant that somebody who gave him the answer that they are under £2,000 could give him a pretty near figure, and far nearer than the £1,300 at which private enterprise has got to do it. However, there we are. I will put the question down, as invited by the noble Earl, and we will see; but I still do not see why one set of people is allowed to build these houses at this increased cost when you are getting houses built by private enterprise restricted to £1,300. I still see no reason for that.

Having regard to the other two matters, I will also put down questions to see what are these returns of the houses for agricultural workers and for mine workers. I will put them down in about a week's time, because either this is an urgent matter or it is not. If it is an urgent matter, somebody in the Department ought to have collated these returns, which we know are in, within a week from now, and if an answer cannot be given it just shows that the Government are not treating the provision of houses for the miners and agricultural workers as the urgent problem that it is.

Let me finally say that I, at any rate, rather deplored two of the statements which the noble Earl made in this regard. On another matter I am going to commend him, but I will start with these two. He said: "We think that our circular to rural district councils and local authorities ought to produce a considerable increase of houses for agricultural workers after a reasonable time." Is the production of extra food for this country an urgent problem, or is it not? His reply indicated, not all the houses they required as quickly as possible but just a considerable number within a reasonable time. Is that urgency? It certainly is not, and I really do ask the Government to treat this as the urgent problem it is. He used another phrase, that each case will still be dealt with on its merits. If you get an ordinary worker who is carrying on a less essential job, with, perhaps, three or four children, and you get an agricultural worker with two children, they are dealt with on their merits. But is it not realized that the less we get of agricultural production the more likely is it that the other worker and his four children may go short of food? Now we are right up against it, and it is a question of giving absolute priority to those who really will work on our food production. We really ought to get away from the kind of phrases which the noble Earl has used in this regard.

But when he comes to answering my questions about the 350,000 houses, and whether some of the agricultural houses would come in before all those were finished, I was delighted with his answer, which I gathered was that they would. I am delighted and I congratulate him on having contradicted the White Paper of last Monday so quickly. The Government have decided that the 260,000 houses under construction, and the 90,000 houses in tenders approved but not yet started, should be completed as quickly as possible. If they are to be completed as quickly as possible, they obviously cannot be put behind some of these agricultural houses, but in my view they should be put behind some of these agricultural houses.


May I interrupt? A good proportion of the houses for agricultural workers will come out of the 350,000 houses that are in contract and building. As they come forward they will be for letting, and part of the circular directs the local authority to give a priority of letting to agricultural workers.


Yes, that is some of those 350,000, but you may find houses still needed in areas which are not in this 350,000 programme, but which will be vitally necessary for agriculture. My question to the noble Earl was whether some or all of those would have to wait until the 350,000 are finished, and I understood him to say: No, they will not.


That is so.


And I was delighted with that.


They get priority of approval.


The final thing that I would say before winding up is that I really thought he made too much play in blaming the housing association point on pre-war Governments and on conditions in what the noble Lord opposite seemed to think was a terribly bad old world. As a matter of fact, we built many more new houses than anybody else had ever done, and in the bad old days the housing associations could get 5 per cent., and when the interest went down to 2¾ they went down to 2¾. But as I understand the question of these associations, they could still raise the money when they were on 5 per cent., and now they are down to 2¾ they are having the greatest difficulty in doing so. One of the things that you ought to do when you alter your rate of interest is to see that, in essential cases like these valuable housing associations, the interest rate may be altered so that they may still be able to carry on with the good work that they do.

In conclusion, all I seek by this debate is to stir the Government to build more houses. In the course of the debate there has been not merely destructive criticism, but a number of constructive suggestions having that end in view. We certainly do not want more Papers. We have got an extremely full housing return. I fully agree with the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, that there is a mass of detail, and very valuable detail in it. In regard to other Papers, we have these licences and I should like to cut down the amount of paper in them. That being so, I have no hesitation now in withdrawing my Motion, although I am not satisfied with the progress of housing, nor, indeed, with the noble Earl's reply. I am, however, quite content that we may have done something to help those who have to solve this problem. With the leave of the House, I propose to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.