HL Deb 21 June 1950 vol 167 cc875-986

2.45 p.m.

LORD LLEWELLIN rose to call attention to the Housing Situation; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I suppose there are few people in the country, and none in your Lordships' House, who are wholly satisfied with the present situation of housing. That is why I feel that we do well, not having done so for some time, to spend an afternoon discussing the matter. The only person satisfied with the present situation seems to be the Minister of Health. He has made so many speeches over the last five years saying that the housing position is satisfactory that I begin to believe that he has even convinced himself that it is. However, I do not think that is the opinion held up and down the country. Recently three Reports have been issued by His Majesty's Government—namely, the Working Party Report on Building, the Report of the Productivity Team which went out to the United States to compare their building methods with our own, and the Second Girdwood Report on the cost of house building. I shall refer to each of those Reports during the course of my speech, but at this stage I should like to refer to paragraph 49 of the Working Party Report, to which I think it is right to draw your Lordships' attention. It reads as follows: Immediately after the war a vast programme of building work was launched without adequate pre-planning. The Government's estimate of the load of work that the industry could sustain was over-optimistic and the programme fostered by official encouragement or direction made excessive demands on the available resources of labour, management, materials and professional services. The result was that these resources were very thinly spread, and the quantity of work started was only distantly related to the supply of building materials and labour then available. Hence building schemes were unable to proceed with the regularity which is essential to efficient operation. Subsequent efforts to adjust the building programme in accordance with the supply of materials and the size of the labour force were unsuccessful; and the drastic revision of the national investment programme led to still further disequilibrium in the industry. The uncertainty for which these changes were responsible gave rise to feelings of frustration both among contractors and workers. The campaign to 'finish the houses', and the capital cuts in 1948, both introduced with little or no warning, affected also the producers of building materials, who found that their assessment of the demand for their goods was liable to be upset by sudden changes of policy which they could not possibly foresee. That Committee reported on January 11 of this year, and yet, I regret to say, the Government still seem to be altering this programme. Your Lordships will remember that the statement on devaluation cuts announced by the Prime Minister on October 24 last included a cut of £25,000,000 in house building. That was elaborated later by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who said that it meant 175,000 houses instead of 200,000 houses in 1950. On March 13 of this year the Minister of Health said that there would be no cut in 1950, but that if our programme was adjusted to capital investments, it would mean somewhere between 175,000 and 180,000 houses in 1951. That is again different from what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said. A few days later we had the Government's Economic Survey for 1950, which said: …the level of housing constructed will be reduced"— that is in the year 1950— from the figure of approximately 200,000 at the beginning of the year to a figure of approximately 185,000. Finally, in his Budget speech, Sir Stafford Cripps said that the Government had decided that the programme would run at 200,000 houses for the next three years. This chopping and changing in a policy such as housing cannot be to the good, and I hope that the Government will make up their minds not to chop and change. All the quotations I have made are from members of the Cabinet or from the Government Economic Survey—they are all Government sources. There is therefore no excuse for the Government saying that it is an outside body butting in—the National Executive of the Labour Party, for example—because in this case they are all different Ministers talking and saying different things within the period of five or six months. I hope the Government will take to heart this recommendation of their Working Party and stick to a programme, although I must say that I hope we shall induce them to set their target rather higher than 200,000.

I could never see why—except for a possible increase in the price of imported raw materials which, after all, was very likely when we devalued—we had to alter our housing programme because of the devaluation crisis. If your Lordships recollect, when that announcement was made to this House by the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, and housing was mentioned as a cut, I exclaimed with real surprise, "Surely not housing." After all, it is one of the last things upon which expenditure ought to be cut at the present time in this country. Look at the crying need we have in all parts for more houses, and look at the largo replacement which, through no fault of the Government, they have to make up owing to the damage done during the war, and the lack of building during the war years. Indeed, an authority upon this subject has written these words: Let us look at a few facts before we find out what the Tories propose to do about them. Remember that during the past five years "— this was written in 1944— We have been building practically no new houses. I do not complain. Our hands were full dealing with the Nazis. Even before the war we needed a replacement programme of 200,000 houses a year. In addition to the cessation of building, the enemy has destroyed or seriously damaged more than a million houses. That estimate was made before the fly-bomb attacks. The position has become worse since then. Even to climb back to the housing position we had reached before the war started—and you know how far from satisfactory that was—we require a minimum of four million new houses.

However unsatisfactory the position was before the war, the fact is that 363,000 new houses were built in 1936, 358,000 in 1937 and 367,000 in 1938. 1939 was not a full year, so I am not quoting that.

The authority I am quoting is no less a man than the present Minister of Health, who said that 200,000 houses were not even enough to make up the replacement and the ordinary wastage before the war, and yet for the three years ahead this Government seem to be quite satisfied if they build 200,000 houses a year. For myself, I am not satisfied that sufficient drive is being put into this housing problem at the present time. We seem to be just drifting along, as though the present rate of building was adequate for our needs—which it certainly is not. On that I agree wholeheartedly with what Mr. Aneurin Bevan said in 1944. During this afternoon I hope that between us we: shall try and make some suggestions as to what can be done about it.

The first thing which gives me grave concern—and I hope that on this I am wrong—is the present softwood timber supply position. Our pre-war average of imports of softwoods was 2,250,000 standards a year. In 1948 we brought in 1,044,000 standards, and in 1949 1,080,000 standards. The Keith Price Report on the timber and plywood position reported in 1949 that our annual requirements, even on an austerity level basis, were 1,500,000 standards of softwood imports every year—excluding sleepers and crossings which require another 102,000 standards. So far, for this year, according to my information—and I gave the noble Viscount notice that I should raise this point, so perhaps he will give us the figures if mine are wrong—we have made purchases for only a little over 700,000 standards, as against the 1,500,000 which, according to the Keith Price Report, are our minimum import requirements.

It is true that we are getting timber from practically all over the world. Our imports from the United States and Canada are down to 160,000 standards. We have ordered about 130,000 standards from Yugoslavia, but I think we shall be lucky if we get all that. From Finland we have ordered 103,000 standards, and other countries are sending a small amount. Sweden is sending 31,000 standards. Russia, I understand, under the bargain now made is to send 153,000 standards—although it was hoped before the Timber Controller went out there that we might get 250,000 standards from that country. At any rate, the totals that I have amount only to 715,000 standards purchased; and this year we are getting nothing from Germany. Your Lordships may remember that I have pressed, during recent years, that we should get softwood out of Germany; and we did get rather more, partly, perhaps, as a result of my pressure. I said that if anybody ought to provide us with timber to help rebuild our houses, Germany ought; it ought to come from the Black Forest and other afforested areas in Germany.

Why is it, then, that we have purchased so little? The position, perhaps, is best shown by what has been happening in regard to Sweden. The Government made a trade agreement with Sweden that during the year 1950 they would let us have—that is to say, they would give us export licences for—250,000 standards. Our Government, for its part, said we were prepared to bring that amount in. It was not a purchase: it was an overall plan or an overall trade agreement which had to be followed up by purchases; and the purchases had, under present conditions, to be effected by the Timber Control.

Buying usually starts in September or, at the latest, in October. Did the Timber Control people start to buy in September or October? They did not. And the other people in the timber trade became more and more anxious to open discussions with the Timber Control. Finally, at a meeting with the Timber Controller Oil January 10 they stirred up the Timber Control to do something. But it was not until six weeks later, so I am told, that the delegation left for Sweden. I believe that when they left they had their price agreed with the Treasury: they could buy at January prices. But that was no good, because prices were rising all the time, and, as a result, of the 250,000 standards that we ought to have received, I am told that we have at present made purchases of only 31,000 standards of Swedish softwood, and that probably the most we can get now is another 50,000 standards. Meanwhile, the South Africans, the Dutch, I believe to a certain extent the Belgians, and I know the Germans (which is the "most unkindest cut of all") have been operating in Sweden through their private buyers and have bought up this timber, which ought to have come to this country. That, in my view, is all because under this state-buying policy, things are too slow. By the time Treasury consent and the consent of other Government Departments have been obtained, and the Timber Control have been chasing a rising market, they are a month or two late all the time.

It is not as though we had a good stock in this country at the present time. Our pre-war average stock at the end of June was, I am told, about 750,000 standards. It is now estimated by those in the know in the timber business to be down to something less than 150,000 standards. Although less is being used in the ordinary-sized house, the same number of distribution points have to be kept stocked up, and the minimum we ought to keep nowadays is, I understand, some 400,000 standards; otherwise builders are unable to get their stock sizes, and the very difficulty arises which is mentioned in paragraph 59 of this Working Party's Report. It says: One point we wish to stress particularly in this connection is that in allocating total supplies of materials and labour among the various users those responsible for the programme should make provision for reserves, since these are necessary to meet the inevitable defects of distribution; if, for instance, the allocations of timber are precisely equated to estimated supplies, a considerable number of schemes must go short because the necessary quantity to the right specification will not be available at the right place sit the right time. In the absence of reserves or stocks, local shortages are bound to appear. I am told that that is happening at the present time. Builders cannot get delivery of the sizes they want; and not only do they have in many cases to cut off lengths, but they have to cut down the widths as well—cutting down 2×7, or something like that, to 2×5 to meet their specifications. This means an appalling waste of timber, leaving many odd pieces which, I suppose, for the most part go on to the watchman's fire. The right course is to get sufficient stocks, and that is the duty of the Timber Control, so long as we have one. I believe I am right in saying that no other country in the world still retains a Timber Control, although a large number had one during the war. I think the time has come to put the buying of timber requirements back into the hands of the trade, and the sooner we do that the better supplied this country will be with the timber that it so sorely needs.

If the figures I have given are wrong, I hope the noble Lord will correct them, because, of course, he has the Government figures. I hope he will not say that it is not in the public interest to say what the figures are: I may tell the noble Lord that the timber trade, both in this country and throughout the world, has fairly accurate knowledge of what timber we possess, what we are buying, and where we are buying it. If the Government were to say that, therefore, they would be denying the information only to Parliament and the people. I hope, in fact, that these figures are wrong—or, if not, that the Treasury have squeezed out some dollars. At one time, I believe, they were thinking of trying to buy, even at so late a stage, some Canadian timber, so that our housing programme could go on uninterrupted. I believe that, unless something of that sort is done, we are liable to have a further breakdown of that programme.

I should now like to pass to a brief glance at the three Reports which I have mentioned. The first is this extremely interesting Productivity Team Report on the results of the investigations of these people, drawn from every section of the building industry, during their tour in the United States. The American house-building industry itself had difficulties just after the war. There, the ordinary sized house (and I gather that they are referring to a house of a similar size to that in which we have to house our weekly wage-earners) was taking eight to nine months to build. By December, 1947, the period was down to six months, and it is now back to the pre-war time level of between three and a half and four months. If those of your Lordships who have this Report will look at it, you will find that on page 15 it says: the output per man-hour on similar site operations is approximately 50 per cent. higher in America than it is in Britain.


Which paragraph is that?


That is paragraph 30, in the dark print. There is one other paragraph to which I should like to refer your Lordships. It is to be found on page 65. It is paragraph 11. There it is said: In regard to housing by private enterprise both for sale and for letting, the results achieved in the United States since 1945 confirm pre-war experience in Britain that the highly competitive nature of the market for such houses results in high productivity and continually lower costs. Freed from all controls, the American housebuilding industry can provide houses for a large proportion of the population at prices commensurate with their average annual family incomes. That is a thing which we are increasingly failing to do in this country, because the price of house building, as those of your Lordships who have studied the Gird-wood Report will know, is still going up. Indeed, in paragraph 125 of that Report the Committee say: We think it improbable that under present conditions there can be any substantial reduction in the general level of house-building costs in the near future and, as far as we can judge on present information, the indications are that it may be difficult to avoid a further increase. I very much hope that the Government will take every step they can to avoid further increases in the cost of houses. There are now a number of families who are refusing the larger council houses because they feel that they have not the means with which to pay the rent for them. One of the ways in which we can well cut down the cost is pointed out by the Girdwood Committee, in paragraph 113 of their Report: Considerable experience of operating incentive schemes has now been gained and, with the co-operation of both sides of the industry in all parts of the country, incentive schemes could he more generally applied and play an important part in securing further reductions in man-hours with some consequent reduction in cost. The Report of the Working Party points out, in paragraph 41: The conclusion which we draw is that during 1946 and 1947 productive efficiency in the building industry generally was about two-thirds of its pre-war level. If your Lordships will look at the last sentence of that paragraph, you will see: The London County Council have claimed that on certain of their Value Cost Contract sites where incentive schemes are operating, they have regained their 1939 level of productivity, but this experience is still exceptional. I think it is up to the Government to try to make that experience not exceptional but general over the whole country, so that we shall get back to faster and cheaper building, and much nearer to the rate of productivity at which the industry was working in the days just before the war. It has, after all, had sufficient time now in which to settle down.

Finally, I want to draw your Lordships' attention to one other matter. I do not know how many of your Lordships saw a paragraph in the Daily Telegraph yesterday, headed "Overtime Ban Appeal by Builder". In the paragraph three cases were cited. One was that of a Mr. Billings, at Grays, Essex, who is building seventy-eight houses for the Thurrock Urban District Council. His firm have done the terrible thing of starting, with the consent of their employees and everybody else, working in this lovely summer weather forty-nine hours a week, instead of forty-four hours, on a building site. They have been stopped by the National Arbitration Tribunal, and told that they cannot do anything of the sort. That means that seventy-eight working-class houses are set back by that amount. I am not the kind of person who wants everybody to slave right through from one week's end to another, or anything like that, but in the building industry in this country advantage has always been taken of good summer weather such as we are enjoying this June. That is just the time when, if the work-people agree as well, you can well work an extra five hours overtime a week.

Again, there is a Mr. Barden who is doing, or trying to do (I believe he is still doing it), much the same thing at Maidstone; but he has been warned that he must stop his overtime scheme. Another case, of which I think the noble Lord, Lord Douglas, may know something, is where 350 houses are being erected for the British Overseas Airways Corporation staff at Bristol. The builders made an application to the appropriate body to be allowed to work overtime, and this was supported by the Bristol Housing Committee. It has been turned down by the Joint Overtime Committee of Bristol, and so they are not allowed to work those four or five hours overtime that were quite normal in the days before the war. It is no burden upon a person to work that amount of time for a few favourable weeks in the summer; and surely in these days of good building weather and with this dreadful shortage of houses, this kind of obstruction is complete madness.

My Lords, I do ask what the Government are going to do about it. Surely this indicates that official circles, especially those circles in the Ministry of Labour which govern this kind of body, are not really alive to the urgency of the housing problem in this country. I ask myself what would have happened ten years ago if we who were then at the Ministry of Aircraft Production, had sat back and been content to have factories working only forty-four hours a week, if we had not driven on everywhere where materials, components, engines and aircraft frames were being made, or where they were being assembled together. The answer is that we should not have had enough fighters to win the Battle of Britain. Surely at the present time we must apply a similar drive to this urgent housing problem, so that we can win an equally essential battle for Britain—a battle for better health, for greater happiness, and for the higher moral welfare of our people. I beg to move for Papers.

3.23 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure we are all grateful to the noble Lord for bringing this subject of housing before us once again. He has a thorough and inexhaustive knowledge of the subject, not only of the broad details but of the more technical details. I am not proposing to follow him in his speech because I am anxious to dwell upon one aspect of the problem which, though implicit in his speech, he did not actually mention—namely, the magnitude of the problem concerning the slums. My argument is that the present policy of the Government is not reducing the population in the slums, and that year by year the slums are gradually increasing, both in number and in horror. I am not a critic of the Government's main policy in connection with housing. I think it was a very remarkable achievement to have built or made habitable over 1,000,000 houses, and I am sure that the Minister of Health was right in first building houses mainly to let rather than to sell. But my criticism, if it is a criticism at all, is that the time has come when we need some new departure in the housing policy of the Government which will bring influence directly to bear upon the slums, for until the people have been removed from the slums it is, of course, quite impossible to destroy any houses.

In this respect the position before the war was very hopeful. Then we had two great Ministers of Health. I look upon them as the greatest Ministers of Health we had between the wars. Mr. Wheatley, whose premature death was a great loss to all concerned with social reform, and Mr. Neville Chamberlain, who had the most remarkable mastery over all matters concerned with housing, laid down policies for housing which meant the gradual emptying of the slums and the reduction of the number of houses which were overcrowded. Their programme and policies were bearing valuable fruit, and I have no doubt at all that had the war not come we should at the present time probably have had no slums and a comparatively small amount of overcrowding.

That campaign, of course, was gravely interrupted by the war. When war broke out this policy of destroying the slums and reducing overcrowding had by no means been carried out to full realisation. There were then in existence a large number of slums in most of our towns, and a very great deal of overcrowding. The first effect of the war was to destroy some of the worst slums, through the bombardment from the air. But almost immediately new slums came into existence, for the people driven out of their houses had to find refuge in houses and tenements which were already overcrowded. The result was that when the war came to an end overcrowding was intensified. A number of houses and tenements which in the past could not have been described as slums had become not only over- crowded but insanitary, and, through lack of necessary repairs, a large number of other building were gradually deteriorating. In my opinion the position to-day is extremely grave. I doubt whether there has been any time in the last hundred years when overcrowding has been so grave and when the slums have been so disastrous as they are at the present time.

I could quote to your Lordships a number of cases illustrating what I mean. I propose to give you only three or four. The expert who was investigating the position at West Hartlepool reports that out of 19,000 dwellings, 2,700 are badly blighted and 5,300 are below standard. In another large town, Salford, the medical officer of health says that there are 20,000 slum houses which ought to be swept away. We must not imagine that slum houses are to be found only in the North or in the Midlands. I am told that in Brighton there are a number of families, five in the family, living in one-room apartments ten feet by ten feet, and that there are many houses thee which have no lighting or water laid on. To mention another set of figures, in Portsmouth in 1943 there were 7,513 families, not individuals, applying for houses. In 1949 that figure went up to 9,636, and this year the figure has gone up to 10,445. I think those figures by themselves are sufficient to show how grave is the present problem.

Of course, the housing problem affects almost every kind of social problem which is causing us anxiety. Quite obviously, it affects the health of the people. We are greatly concerned about the increase in tuberculosis. I am told that the greatest increase has taken place in many of these congested areas. We are trying to improve the education of the country, but a number of teachers and others to whom I have spoken tell me that the children from the overcrowded or slum districts are intellectually behind the children who come from elsewhere. In crowded homes, they have no proper opportunities of doing their home lessons, and often at night they are disturbed. They go to school listless, tired and unable to make full use of the education which is there given to them.

Juvenile delinquency—another matter which is causing us great concern—is closely connected with this problem of overcrowding. When a family which in- cludes a number of children have to live in only one or two rooms, the children are bound to spend their evenings in the streets. I was greatly interested to read the other day the Report by a Committee on juveniles and the cinema. They made a number of useful recommendations. Among other things, they recommended that children under a certain age should not be allowed to go to a cinema more than a certain number of times in a week. That is an admirable recommendation, but one which it is impossible to carry out in these days, when so many homes are so overcrowded that parents must send their children somewhere. Children go on to the streets, and very easily drop into some gang, out of sheer restlessness and the desire for distraction and amusement. Then some delinquency is committed, and so they start on the downward path.

Take another problem, that of broken homes and unhappy marriages. A very large number of the unhappy homes and marriages which have come to the notice of those who have special knowledge of the subject are due either to the long wait for a house, to overcrowding or—and this is very frequently the case—to the fact that young married people, in the country as well as in the towns, have to live with their fathers-in-law and their mothers-inlaw—an arrangement which does not always prove satisfactory. Let me give your Lordships one figure in connection with this matter. An investigation was undertaken—by amateurs it is true—in Liverpool into some of these unhappy marriages. Inquiries were made into 2,000 cases, and it was found that out of that total approximately 900 could be attributed to bad and overcrowded housing conditions. At the time of the first evacuation in the last war the country was horrified, and rightly horrified, at the large number of children sent out from the great towns who were unsatisfactory, both in cleanliness and in their habits. A great cry or horror was raised about that. If there was an evacuation tomorrow, we should find that the children from many of our towns were in a similar state. We cannot blame the parents. In most cases the parents are doing their best. We cannot blame the children. We have to blame the conditions under which, in so many instances, these children are forced to live. The continued existence of the slums is thus a problem of the first magnitude. Most of our social reforms will be adversely affected by it.

I go on to ask the question: Why is it that the people have not moved from the slums and overcrowded houses to those houses which are springing up in various parts of the country? A variety of answers can be given to that question. One is that a number of these people cannot afford to move far away from their work. Some would answer quite simply that they do not want to leave their familiar surroundings, yet I believe that most of those people would be thankful if they could move to a new kind of home and would use to the utmost the opportunities thus given to them. The real difficulty is that people living in these overcrowded conditions belong to the lower scale of wage-earners and, having large families, cannot possibly afford the rents of these new houses. I know that it is useless to ask the Government—and I am not doing so—to increase the subsidies which year by year are set apart for housing. It is impracticable to make such a request at the present time. But I believe there are many living in some of these subsidised houses who could afford to pay a higher rent, and that the subsidy could be gradually and carefully shifted over to help those unable to pay the present rents.

There was an interesting article on this matter in an issue of the Economist earlier this year. I do not find myself in agreement with all the proposals contained in that article, but the facts and figures which are given are of great value. The Economist stated that the increase of wages in the last ten years works out at something like 80 per cent. The increase of rents has been only 12 per cent., but it would, of course, have been very much greater but for the effect of the subsidies. Then the Economist went on to say: The State pays large sums to subsidise big new houses for some families and smaller sums, or no subsidy at all, in respect of smaller and older houses inhabited by no less meritorious families. The very poorest often get less help than those who are better off than themselves. I believe that is true, and while I commend the Government for their policy in building this very large number of new houses—ofter in circumstances of extraordinary difficulty, connected with the organisation of labour—I feel that the time has come when the Government should hake specially in their minds those living in the slums and in these overcrowded conditions.

I would therefore ask the noble Lords who are to reply for the Government—I do not know whether it will be possible for them to give an answer to-day—to state whether the Government have some policy to deal with those people living in the slums. Before the war, we frequently had to press successive Governments for their policy in this connection. It is not unreasonable for us, without embarking upon Party politics, to ask the Government to let us know how they propose to deal with this terrible and pressing problem of the slums. I sometimes fear that we may regard the problem as so complicated and so difficult that a sense of frustration sets in, and that in our hearts we come to the conclusion that very little can be done. That was the kind of feeling which I think overwhelmed many of us between the wars in connection with the problem of unemployment in the depressed areas. The nation as a whole deplored it, but there was a widespread feeling that the problem was so complicated and so difficult that nothing could be done. We look back with shame en those days. I am sometimes afraid that we may, almost out of despair, acquiesce in the existence of these slums and this overcrowding. So long as we have the slums and this overcrowding there is a terrible blot on our national life. I know that the Minister of Health has dynamic energy, and I hope that he will divert that dynamic energy to dealing with this problem of the slums. If he does that, I am certain that he will have the support of all Parties and all people of good will in this country.

3.39 p.m.


My Lords, I must in advance make an apology for what may he rather a long speech. Your Lordships will have realised by now that I am one of those who, like most of your Lordships, prefer short speeches. But on this occasion I must crave the indulgence of the House to deal with the many matters which have been raised and the many aspects of this housing problem. I could not help calling to mind as the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, was speaking, that it is just twenty-one Nears this month since he and I first entered Parliament. We both signed the book in another place on the same day. At the same time I thought of the many debates on housing we had listened to, and of the remarkable similarity of those debates. The most reverend Primate referred to the two men he thought were the best Ministers of Health of modern times. I think he is right. I think that the late Mr. Neville Chamberlain's brightest hour in Parliamentary history was when he was Minister of Health, not when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer or Prime Minister. The main similarity of these debates consists in the reading of statistics at great length, sometimes the same figures being quoted from different sides in order to draw different conclusions. I have looked up these debates for many years back, and I find that throughout there is a general agreement on many aspects of the housing question and I think it is worth while emphasising the points on which we agree, because I sometimes feel that we over-emphasise the points on which we differ.

We all agree that it is lamentable that there should be so many millions of our fellow countrymen without a house. All of us agree that whoever is responsible for housing—no matter who they may be, the Government, the local authorities, the employers, or the operatives—would be guilty of a criminal offence if they did not do all they could to provide more houses. We all agree that the long list we have under every local authority, large or small, of people who have need of a house—many of whom have been married many years and still live in the apartments of relatives—is deplorable. On all these aspects there is general agreement. We differ, and we are obliged to differ, as to the best way of handling this question. To-day the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, has put forward few constructive suggestions. At one part of his speech I hoped he was going to give us his constructive ideas, but I have jotted down what he said and I find he made only two suggestions—to remove bulk buying and to deal with the problem of overtime. These are suggestions worth examining and I shall have something to say on them before I sit down. But I expected a greater number of suggestions from the noble Lord, and I hope that other noble Lords who intervene in the debate will have many more, and that they will be anxious to get houses and not to score Party points. That is very easy. It is easy to tell us that before the war, in a different set of circumstances, so many more houses were being built than are being built to-day, but statements of that kind get us nowhere.

With his usual courtesy, the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, sent me a fairly long letter on the various points he was going to raise. I think that when he wrote that letter he was in a more critical mood than when he spoke to-day, because some of the points he mentioned in the letter were omitted from his speech—possibly in consideration of myself, or for some other reason. However, I have looked at the various points he has raised and, frankly, I think they are very good points. I think there are very good replies to them, too, and I hope the replies will be satisfactory to some, if not all, of your Lordships. I was pleased that the noble Lord kept off Party politics. He did not see an Election round the corner and try to get more votes for his Party than for my Party.

I heard a good comment on the Election question last week-end, after the all-night sittings in another place. It was to the effect that, having stood up to ten or a dozen Divisions in one Sitting, we can stand up to anything and there is no reason why this Parliament should not go on until 1955. Maybe it would be deplorable, in some ways, to think that the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, at eighty-five would still be Leader of your Lordships' House, and to think that in his eightieth year, Mr. Winston Churchill would be leading the Conservative Party and still doing his best to become an elected Prime Minister. There was also reference to the Liberal Party, to the fact that we shall have the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, in his eighty-fifth year, still leading what remains of the Liberal Party. That comment warns us to be a little sober-minded about an Election round the corner. If it is to be in 1955, we have plenty of time to get ready for the Election. In the meantime, we have this housing problem to deal with.

The noble Lord who introduced this Motion made reference to the Working Party Report, to the Anglo-American Report on Productivity and to a number of other reports. It is an advantage to have lots of reports before you, because you can delve into one section which suits you and make no reference to the rest, though, of course, your opponent can refer to other sections which suit him and not to those you have in mind.


But you cannot read out the whole report.


From what I shall quote, what has been quoted and what others will quote, those noble Lords who have not yet perused them will have the Reports read for them in this House, and, of course, our quotations will appear fully in the OFFICIAL REPORT later. These are good reports, which deal with every question of any importance in the building of houses. The "Big Three"—men, materials, and money—are raised many times. We are told that, as is the case with most industries, whether nationalised or not nationalised, what we need is a well-organised industry, well manned, well supervised and well paid. Sometimes we hear the objection raised to these reports that they are elementary. I agree; but as I become older I become more satisfied that the elementary is often the fundamental, and we cannot afford to ignore what is referred to as elementary.

I have jotted down a number of questions. Is the building industry responsible for house building as well organised as it might be? Is the industry as well manned, both as regards quality and quantity—and I would emphasise quality—as is required? Is it well supervised and are those who are responsible for supervision of the best type available? Is it well paid? Here I want to refer to a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin: Is it organised so as to get the best out of those engaged in the industry? I would emphasise a further question raised, and rightly raised, by the noble Lord. Are essential materials in good supply and readily available to the men on the spot? I think that was the gravamen of his whole speech, apart from the reference to timber supplies, especially of Swedish timber, with which I will deal later on. All these questions are dealt with in these Reports. But it would be difficult to refer to all of them in detail. The Reports are lengthy. The conclusions alone take several pages, and I have no intention of going into them all; but there are certain aspects which I think we need to look at. They divide themselves naturally into three divisions—the conclusions and recommendations with which the Government would deal; the conclusions and recommendations with which the Government along with those engaged in the industry would deal, and those with which only the industry itself could deal. In these divisions, those who are responsible for housing will find helpful suggestions.

But there are paragraphs to which I want to refer, as well as the noble Lord. In particular, I want to mention paragraph 3 of the summary of the Working Party Report, which refers to full employment. It there says: Full employment means the absence of the large reserve of unemployed labour previously available; the industry must adjust itself to this. I see nothing objectionable in that sentence, although the actual adjusting will be a difficult task. For myself, If feel that the Working Party deal with it in a most practical manner in paragraph 56 of their Report. This is a quotation well worth making: 'Full employment' as an objective of economic policy is not to be gainsaid;"— I hope your Lordships will accept that statement— but special measures will he necessary to provide substitutes for the harsh pressures which were once exerted by heavy unemployment. I should like to underline those words, because I have had personal experience of it. One way of providing such a substitute is by linking increased wages to increased output by means of incentive schemes. I agree with that. The Report continues: Greater interchangeability between crafts should be promoted by training in more than one craft. Arrangements to curtail the period of unemployment of operatives moving from one job to another are worthy of study.…It is important above all to re-establish the spirit of responsibility for good output which is traditional in the industry. Success in this direction "— here we shall get unanimity in your Lordships House— depends fundamentally on the recognition by the operative that his real interests and, not least, the maintenance of the state of full employment, which we all desire depend on maintaining a high level of efficiency in the industry, and that his wholehearted co-operation is necessary for this purpose. I have nothing to add to that quotation; I accept it in its entirety. However, I think it is necessary to remind your Lordships, and many people outside this House who are inclined to criticise the attitude of the worker on full employment, that the worker sometimes remembers how some employers—not all employers by any means, and not all employers in the building industry—were prone to use unemployment as a whip or scourge on those in employment. Speaking from my personal experience, I may say that it is not surprising to me if there are some workers who are inclined to feel that full employment gives them the whip hand, and who at times want to use it as unemployment was used by the employers. I believe it is to the credit it of the workers of this country that only a small minority adopt such an unwise and unpatriotic attitude.

There are references in the Report to another matter in which I am interested—namely, joint production committees, for which I am sorry to notice there is not much enthusiasm in this Report. The Working Party seem to find excuses, and not to give reasons, for not going forward with joint production committees. I know that industries differ. It was my responsibility for a number of years on leaving the other place, to deal with this very question in the coal industry. We met a similar attitude there to that which I find in this Report. It was said: "You must remember that it is difficult to make these universal. These are small collieries employing only a handful of men. One is not needed here." In the same way we are told that there are builders with only a handful of operatives, and they do not need joint production committees. However, I feel that the building industry, and building itself, would benefit immensely if the operatives were taken more into the confidence of the employers. We must appreciate, in this year 1950, that the man who has given twenty, thirty or forty years to the industry can, with his skill, mean much more to the industry than some of the men in charge who have learnt merely the theory. I hope that employers in industry will be more anxious to have these joint committees than this Report suggests.

The noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, dealt with the question of timber at great length. It is right that he should do so, because timber supplies will determine—not entirely but very largely—how many houses will be built in 1950, 1951 or any other year. There will be no difference of opinion in this House as regards the importance of building materials. It is necessary that they should be in good supply at the right time, in the right place. Let me say frankly that my right honourable friend the Minister of Health appreciates as much as anyone that we cannot build houses without having the materials available. There may be some points on which he may want convincing, but that is certainly not one of them. He and his colleagues, the Minister of Works and the President of the Board of Trade, have been scouring the whole world, particularly outside the dollar area, to get the requisite timber and, in particular, softwood. But let us be quite clear on this point: there are other materials needed to maintain the standard of life in this country, many of which are to be found in the dollar area. Any Government will have to decide its policy on these lines: Which is it better to take from the dollar area in the interests of the country? It is quite true that we have not been getting the quantity of wood we should like from the dollar area, and have had to concentrate on other areas outside.

We anticipated what would be said in regard to figures. The noble Lord is quite right, but my reply is that it is not in the public interest that I should give the figures for which he asks. That is not because they are not known to some people in this country—they are known to many. No embarrassment is occasioned us from the fact that the figures are known to the people by whom they are known; but, as the noble Lord suggested, we are daily compelled to carry on negotiations with various countries regarding supplies of timber, and, as he is aware, it would be most unwise and embarrassing were we to disclose day by day, week by week and month by month how the position stood in this country. That is the only reason why we do not want to give the figures. We do not say it is not in the public interest in the sense that no- body in this country should know, but in the sense that it would embarrass us in the almost daily negotiations which are carried on in regard to timber supplies, and particularly softwood supplies. There has been a tendency in some places—I am sorry to notice it—to refer to the recent contract with Russia a little cynically. I can understand the political mind behind those references.


I do not think that applies to me.


Not at all. I am sure the noble Lord would be the last to do such a thing. However, there is such a tendency, and I can only regret it. That is a firm contract for 150,000 standards, with the possibility of a further 50,000 standards, which will be nearly twice as much as we obtained from Russia last year. We should have liked to see a much bigger contract, but that is no reason for not appreciating this contract. Other countries were mentioned by the noble Lord. We have a firm commitment from the Finnish Sawmillers' Association to provide softwood in accordance with the Trade Agreement with Finland for 1950. The Agreement will be carried out in its entirety, and the figures are substantially higher than the figures given by the noble Lord. With regard to Sweden, we have brought certain quantities and negotiations are continuing, though somewhat protracted, but it is not possible to say with any certainty what the outcome will be. I hesitate to go into this subject in too much detail, because while negotiations are proceeding it is a little delicate, but I think in fairness to the noble Lord in particular, and to the House in general, one ought to give a little more information regarding the Swedish position. It is a very unfortunate position and it is not for me to apportion blame at all. However, let me make a statement on this issue.

This is the advice which I have been given. The answer to the point about Sweden is that the timber-buying season has not yet finished and we cannot, therefore, say how much timber we shall get from Sweden this year. It has been alleged that there was excessive delay in coming to terms with the Swedes. The noble Lord was good enough to mention this, and therefore I brought it to the attention of those who advised me. The facts are that informal contact was made with the agents of Swedish sellers last Autumn and continued thereafter. The prices asked by the Swedes were higher than we considered justifiable, and higher than we have subsequently paid for comparable timber in Finland, Russia or anywhere else in Europe. Certain Swedish sellers have appreciated this fact, and have concluded contracts with us on a more reasonable basis. It is not yet possible to say how far this process will extend. I think I leave the position with regard to Sweden there, and if the noble Lord has any further questions to ask at the end of the debate I will have them looked into. It will be some consolation to noble Lords to know that substantial purchases have been made from Yugoslavia, Finland, Poland, France and Russia, and considerable quantities have been and are being bought from North America. With regard to the question of unsuitability for building purposes of the timber from Russia, I should like to say to the critics that my information is that they have been very badly informed indeed.

The noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, was anxious to know—and I was not surprised—whether the Government think that 200,000 houses will he built this year. Prophesying is always a risky business, and never more so than when dealing with activities of an industry dependent upon so many factors. But the Government hold the view that, provided the difficulties are not exaggerated—and that is very important—that licensing departments, timber merchants, builders and operatives all co-operate, and care is exercised in using available stocks, the target of 200,000 houses can be reached.

The noble Lord said that housing is entitled to he given as big a share of the national resources as any other industry. I would say that if the Government have done anything they have tried to do that. I do not think the noble Lord was referring to it slightingly, but he referred perhaps a little critically to the fact that one day we said 175,000 houses, and on another day we said 200,000 houses, and he suggested that we were playing about with these figures. I agree that violent fluctuations of that kind are not good for the industry. Then why did that happen? The only reason for the fluctua- tion was the fluctuation in the national resources. There was an honest fear that things were not going as well as the Government expected, and therefore they very wisely put in the lower figure. They found out later that things had altered and they put the higher figure back. Should they not have done so? I agree with the noble Lord that the share going to houses should be a big share, but the total is bound to vary. That is the only reason, and I expected a little more gratitude for the fact that we are at the moment at the higher figure of 200,000. The noble Lord can rest assured that, from that aspect, the Government will always see to it that as much as can be made available from national resources for housing will be made available.

The noble Lord made one point in his letter which he did not underline quite so much to-day—that was with regard to the local authorities and private enterprise. I thought it was well worthy of inquiry, and I had it looked into as carefully as possible. This matter is raised in every housing debate, and it is proper that should be. It is a good question to ask: whether the Government policy that the majority of houses shall be built by, or for, local authorities, and also that they should have the power to grant licences for the building of other houses, is the best policy. Now the primary reason for that is that the Government consider that the local authorities are the people best informed as to the needs in their specific areas. There is no ether reason. The local authorities have been asked by the Minister of Health to consider the numbers and the needs of those who have applied for a council house and those who would prefer houses built under licence. The local authorities are given discretion to issue licences up to a maximum of one-fifth of their allocations, which I consider a generous allowance. The Minister of Health has gone further, and local authorities have been informed that applications for permission to exceed the figure of one-fifth will be considered if it can be shown that this course is necessary. These arrangements will apply to 1951 allocations.

May I add that, in order to help to secure the highest distribution of licences, provision is also made, for cases where an applicant who lives in one area wishes to build a house in another area? In such cases, local authorities may, by mutual agreement, arrange that a licence shall be issued by the authority for the area in which the house is to be built, but shall count against the total number of licences which can be issued by the authority for the area in which the applicant at present lives.

The noble Lord emphasised another matter—namely, the standard of houses. There has been much discussion as to whether it would not be better, in view of the circumstances and in order to get a larger number of houses, to lower the standards, and instead of building three-bedroomed houses to build two-bedroomed houses. I doubt whether that would save the proportionate quantity of material, although I agree that in that way we may get more houses. I am not so sure that it is sound policy. There may be some arguments that it would be a good short-term policy, but I doubt it. It can be a good short-term policy only in so far as it is fitted into a sound long-term policy, and I hope that all of us interested in houses would hesitate before we brought forward this suggestion of lowering the standard. I can speak for the present Government. They have no intention at this moment of lowering, the standards.

I was told that some noble Lords might raise a question after I sat down, and I promised to speak to it now. It was the question of rural housing. I have not given many figures so far, but may I give a few in this respect? Particulars of permanent houses, including war destroyed houses re-built, in the rural areas are as follows: Number of houses completed up to March 31,1950—council houses 94,145; private enterprise, 31,329; total 125,474. Number of houses under construction: Council houses 26,768, private enterprise 5,338; total 32,106. Houses on tenders approved but not started: Council houses 9,806, private enterprise, no figure given. Number of dwellings on licences issued (private enterprise) but not yet started 1,977. Number of permanent council houses let to agricultural workers: 22,102; private enterprise not known, but likely to be a large proportion of the 31,000 built under licence. Your Lordships will notice that the record of rural district councils compares very favourably with that of other types of authority. By March 31, 1950, 21.2 per cent. of postwar permanent houses had been built in rural districts, which contain only 18.6 of the population. Up to March 31, 1950, 22,102 houses have been allocated to agricultural workers. This represents one in every 4.25 of the council houses completed in rural districts up to that date. In many areas the need for houses for agricultural workers has been substantially met, but priority will still be given in districts where there is a large outstanding demand from agricultural workers without a separate home, or where there is a need for a substantial increase in the local agricultural labour force and houses are required for new recruits or transferees from other disticts.

As your Lordships are no doubt aware, a special subsidy is payable in respect of houses let to members of the agricultural population—£25 10s. from the Exchequer, as against £16 10s. for other houses—with a corresponding reduction in the contribution required to be made from the local authorities rate fund. This is intended to help local rates, as well as agricultural rents. It will no doubt interest many of your Lordships to learn that as regards rural water supplies—a subject which concerns many members of your Lordships' House—schemes to the value of £14,000,000 have been started, and further schemes to the value of another £38,000,000 are at various stages of planning.

On the question of slum clearance, I am sorry that there is not much I can say of an encouraging nature to the most reverend Primate. I had an intimation that he would be raising this question, and I asked for a considered statement. I need hardly say that I am most sympathetic, but it will be agreed that slum clearance must be considered in relationship to the general housing problem. Housing authorities are advised that while there is a shortage of houses they should not embark on the demolition of existing properties unless these constitute an immediate danger to life and limb or to the health of the occupants, and that before taking action in any particular case they should also satisfy themselves that the necessary rehousing accommodation can be provided out of their housing programme and that the work of demolition can be undertaken without serious diversion of building labour from new housing. No statistics are available of the number of demolition orders made on individual houses, as this is a matter for the local authority. I feel sure that, though we all feel very keenly on this question of the slums, this is in present circumstances the wise policy.

I now turn to the question of bulk buying, raised by the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin. I had a little difficulty in obtaining a reply ready for the noble Lord in time for this debate. But here again I pressed, because I am one of those who believe that when a noble Lord has been courteous enough to inform the Minister of his intention to raise a certain matter it is for the Minister to obtain as full a reply as is possible. I understand that the President of the Board of Trade has frequently stated that he has constantly under review the question of handing over the buying of timber to private traders. It is quite certain that over the years since the war centralised buying of softwood through Timber Control has kept down timber prices, not only for this country but throughout Europe. The result has been to make available to the building industry, and other users of softwood, timber at a lower price than would have been possible in any other way. The timber trade have explained to the President that under private buying it would he impossible for the selling price of softwood to be controlled by any statutory means. This fact, coupled with the rising trend of world prices since devaluation, has caused the President to inform the trade that he is not prepared at present to take a decision about the reversion of softwood to private importers. It has been claimed that the experience of Government buying in 1950 shows that it is not adapted to present-day conditions. There is no knowing what our situation would have been if private traders had been responsible for this year's buying. But from the observation of the operations of private trade in 1950 in other European countries, it is clear that in them at least, though the size of their imports has increased, the prices paid have been very much above those at which this country has bought.

I do not think, my Lords, that I have left out any points which the noble Lord raised. I agree with the most reverend Primate that housing is the most important part of the social policy of this country. Many of my best friends are still living in the industrial areas. Some of their children have married since I left the area, and many of these children are unable to get houses. They come to me and say "What earthly good is your full employment if we cannot get a house to live in? The only value of full employment surely is if it enables a man to live a full and complete life; and how can anyone live a full, and complete life if he has not a house in which to live with his family?" I agree with what these people say; I think it is a very realistic attitude. I would add—though this belief may not be accepted by noble Lords opposite—that it is that realistic attitude to housing which is the basis of the policy of the present Government.

4.18 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor need not apologise for having made what he calls a long speech. It was a very important speech, and my regret is that it was not a little longer, so that he might have told us a little at least of what the Government intend to do to cope with what is admittedly a very serious situation. I think everybody in your Lordships' House, and certainly everybody who is speaking in this debate, including Lord Macdonald himself, will agree that the housing problem is a very serious one indeed. In fact, it is probably the greatest social evil in this country at the present time.

The noble Lord, Lord Llewellin quoted the present Minister of Health as having said in 1944 that 200,000 homes were required every year to replace wastage. The Government's programme, therefore, if those figures are correct—and I see no reason to quarrel with them—is a static programme, simply to till the wastage that is going on over housing to-day, without improvement of conditions and without regard to the fact that the population is still rising and that families are rather smaller and that therefore more houses are required—that is to say, that more homes are required to accommodate the same number of people. In addition, we have had from the most reverend Primate a moving appeal with regard to the slums. So far as rural conditions are concerned, a great deal of improvement is certainly required in order to bring housing in many rural areas up to anything like modern standards. The Government's programme of 200,000 houses a year over the next three years apparently does not take into account that need. One of the things that I regret very much is that there has crept into the housing controversy an appalling phrase. Instead of talking about "houses" or "homes." there is a habit of talking about "accommodation units." I hope that somebody will in due course tell us exactly what is the definition of an accommodation unit. I am very much afraid that, in order to make the figures look a little brighter, it may well include those awful "accommodation units" which have been taken over by some members of the public—those people we know as "squatters," living in ex-Army camps in conditions which ought not to be allowed in a civilised country. They are mostly Nissen huts or wooden army huts, and they will not last very long as possible places for human beings to live in.

The noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, drew attention to various matters which are causing difficulty so far as housing is concerned. In general, they were shortages disguised largely under the headings of the national situation, the shortages of dollars, the shortage of timber (about which we know something) and difficulties of that sort. On Saturday evening, I happened to listen in to a Party political broadcast by Mr. Morgan Phillips, who was speaking for the Socialist Party. I took from that broadcast a phrase which he used, and I do not think I am misusing it in quoting it here. He said that "the best way of dealing with shortages is to end them." That will appeal to the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, as being one of those elementary things which he rather likes! Obviously of course, that is the way to deal with shortages. I think that Mr. Morgan Phillips rather prided himself upon the fact that a good many shortages had been ended by the present Government. We have had no hint as yet from the noble Lord as to the way in which the various shortages connected with housing are to be ended, including the shortage of houses themselves—which is another elementary fact which will appeal to the noble Lord. I hope that possibly subsequent speakers from that side of the House will give us some hint of what it is proposed to do, because undoubtedly it is a problem which must be dealt with if a great many other problems such as those mentioned by the most reverend Primate are in due course to be satisfactorily solved.

My real purpose in intervening in this debate is to say a word or two more particularly upon the subject of rural housing, of which I have a little experience and in regard to which I think the Government are not fully advised on the problem. Like all Governments, not only Socialist Governments, they are rather urban-minded and inclined to think in terms of towns rather than of country. The noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, gave us a number of figures with regard to rural housing which were impressive in themselves, but in fact they do not really touch the problem of rural housing as we understand it in the countryside. I do not want to enter upon the controversial question of tied houses if I can avoid it, although inevitably it remains in the background whenever you discuss rural housing and the housing of agricultural workers. But what I do want His Majesty's Government to realise is that it is not tied houses or untied houses, houses to let or houses to sell, that matter; it is houses which will be homes, whether they are to let, whether they are to sell, whether they are tied or whether they are free. We want houses and, even if we do increase the number of, say, tied houses, they are still houses and no doubt they release other accommodation which can be occupied in the form which possibly political theory regards as more suitable.

When we consider the problem of rural housing, we have to consider it in connection with the employment of the people concerned, and with the conditions of that employment. It is all very well to build houses in rural villages for the occupation of agricultural workers. The noble Lord gave us figures and I think he said that one in four of houses built in rural areas—


Council houses.


That one in four of council houses built in rural areas was occupied by an agricultural worker. I do not know how far the definition of "agricultural worker" is stretched with regard to these houses. I can give your Lordships an instance in my own village of four council houses, very nice houses, that have been built. I think they are let at about £1 a week. Not one of them is occupied by a true agricultural worker—that is to say, not one of them is occupied by a man working on the land, though I cannot say whether or not the men count as agricultural workers.

I do not believe, however, that the shortage of houses rural areas is nearly so great as is often thought, provided that those who do not work in the rural areas do not like in the houses which were meant originally for those who do work in the rural areas. Let me give your Lordships another case, again a local one, in a very remote village, where it was proposed that four houses should be built. The district council said that they did not want the houses (I am taking this entirely from what I read in the local paper), and they promptly received the reply: "You have got to have the houses." And those houses are being built. The noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, said that the licensing of houses was in the hands of the local authority because the local authority were the people who really knew the needs of the district. Here was a county authority turning round to a district authority and telling them that either the district council or the Ministry of Health—I do not know which—did not know their business, and that they had got to have the houses whether they wanted them or not. Those houses will no doubt be built, and equally, no doubt will be occupied by people other than agricultural workers.


I take it that the noble Earl agrees with me that local authorities do know the needs of their own areas?


They should know the needs of their own areas, but sometimes they are overruled.


But they do know them.


The problem is a more difficult one than that. As we know, the cost of houses has risen, and to get an economic rent for a house means charging something of the order of, shall we say, £1 a week. Even when subsidies are taken into account, the ordinary farmer or land, owner is limited as to the rent that he can charge to his men, and the ordinary farm worker is limited as to the amount that he can afford to pay in rent out of his wages.

This is the point that I want to make. Considerable concessions are now in force to assist and to encourage land owners and farmers to spend money on improving conditions both for human beings and for animals on their farms. There are a great many ordinary land owners who are willing to build houses, which almost certainly will be tied houses when they are built. They are prepared to build those houses, and, very often, to let them at an uneconomic rent in order to get them. When they have obtained control of those houses, it is worth their while to accept an uneconomic rent, because it enables the farmer to get the labour he requires in order to farm the land properly. On the other hand, even if he could get a house, he is not prepared to pay the high rent for a council house over which he has no control, because the man who took the tenancy of the house as an agricultural worker may get a better offer and go elsewhere, which means that the farmer has to start all over again. I hone the noble Lord understands the point I am trying to make.




It comes to this: that the Government ought to give to the private owner greater freedom to build than is necessary perhaps in the towns, in order to put right any housing shortage there may be in the rural areas.

My Lords, I turn to another aspect of the question. Suppose one wants to build houses. I speak now from personal experience. Five years ago I wanted to build a block of four cottages to go with a large farm which very much needed them. One way and another, it has taken quite a long time to get them built. In point of fact, two of the four are not yet finished; that is after five years. It took me a long time to get a licence. The plan was before the local authority for a complete block of four—rot two pairs, mind you; four cottages all together. After, I think, eighteen months or two years, I obtained a licence to build two of them, which was rather a difficult operation. However, as the local authority informed me that they were permitted to licence only four in the whole of their district, I could not complain about receiving 50 per cent. of their allowance. I went ahead and I built those two houses leaving the two at either end to be built subsequently. Of course, it has cost me a good deal more money than it would have done had I been able to build the four cottages straight off. However, I built the two and the other two are going up. But after five years I still have not got my four cottages, although I hope that by this Autumn I shall have all four.

It is that kind of difficulty which takes the heart out of those who want to improve accommodation in the rural districts and house their people properly. I may say—and I think a great many noble Lords know this—that in order to get the right type of man upon our land (and, if the Government are to be believed, it is essential that we should continue full production on the land), we have to offer him good and up-to-date accommodation, so far as lies in our power; otherwise he will leave the land and take another job. As I have tried to point out in the estimates I have given, we feel and are frustrated in almost every way.

I should like to give one other instance of a conversation on re-conditioning. There was a pair of fairly old cottages which obviously needed re-conditioning—they were wrong in every respect. The rooms that should face South were facing North, and vice versa, and the windows were low and small. In fact, those cottages needed a good deal of money spent on them—the estimate for re-conditioning was£1.000 for each. The decision was reached that it would be much better to build a new pair than to spend £2,000 on re-conditioning the two old cottages, which would still be old cottages even after that money had been spent on them. But the agent concerned said, "I think you might as well ask for the moon as to ask for two new cottages. It is much easier to get a licence to re-condition than it is to get a licence to build new cottages." My Lords, there is in that something which, in the present situation, I feel is wrong. If those two cottages are re-conditioned they will be occupied by the same number of people, it is true in greater comfort than at present; but if two new cottages were built the occupiers of the existing cottages could be moved into them and there would still be the two old cottages which would at least make accommodation units—I agree of a sub-standard nature, but probably better than some of the accommodation units now occupied. Thus the number of houses available for people to live in would be increased. In due course, when the housing situation is in hand, those old houses could be demolished.

I have given some idea of the difficulties that confront us in the country districts. There is only one other matter about which I want to speak and which has come recently, and very forcibly, to my knowledge, and that is in regard to houses of rather a better class in country districts. There are a number of people, more particularly in Government employ, for whom there is no housing provision. I am thinking of Forestry Commission employees, and I believe it applies also to people employed in the Inland Revenue Departments who are moved every two years, and those classes of people who are liable in the course of their duties or because of promotion to be moved from one country district to another. It is almost impossible for them to get houses. In many cases it means a long separation from their wives, with consequent trouble. In many other cases which have come to my notice these people have had to purchase houses at a figure far beyond their means in order to get a home of some sort. They have taken a gamble—because it is a gamble if you spend £3,000 upon a house which you know to be worth only £2,000, and when the probability is that if you have to move you will get only £2,000. No provision seems to be made in any housing plan for persons of that class, and yet they are suffering all the trouble, all the difficulties and all the social discomforts, with their consequent troubles, which are besetting all the ordinary working class people who are suffering from housing shortage.

The only suggestion I have to make, so far as the rural areas are concerned, is that we should be given much greater freedom to build our own houses and so solve our own problems, rather than be tied down to a limited ratio, a rigid rule, and not build what we want. May I conclude by giving one more quotation from Mr. Morgan Phillips' broadcast which I think is peculiarly apt to this debate— though somewhat political, which is, perhaps, to be deprecated? He said in the broadcast: We want to see more houses and schools, and we knew where we are going. My Lords, I am clear in my own mind as to where I should like the present Government to go, but I do not think the general public are in the least anxious to know whew the Socialist Government are going. They want to know where they are going to live.

4.41 p.m.


My Lords, as it is such a long time since I spoke in your Lordships' House, I venture to crave your indulgence for the few minutes of your time which I shall occupy this afternoon. I have listened to the whole of this debate so far, and I have been anxiously waiting to hear someone tell those of us who have spent our lives in the building industry how we are going to increase the number of houses and by what means. Not one word that provides the answer have I heard from any quarter of the House. I think the Minister was very well advised in qualifying his promise and saying that the aim was for 200,000 houses, but I very much doubt whether that target will be reached. I suggest that it will not be reached because of certain very important factors which in my view will have great effect. Among those factors is the extension in many parts of the country of steel works, power stations and other establishments of that character. Those extensions are using up thousands of standards of timber. It is all very well to keep calling for houses, but I sometimes try to pacify those who pester me about this problem by saying: "There is this timber which could be used for houses, but a wise Government is one that will look to the future and will say: 'Employment is important as well as housing. Therefore we must provide timber and encourage the extension of steel works, power stations and the like. By so doing we shall be assisting in the development of industry and maintaining full employment in the country.'"

I listened to previous debates in this House, and I recall that one of my noble friends said that the building trade was badly organised and that building costs were very high. I think we should all subscribe to the latter contention, and agree that it is true. But it seems to me that there is an implied suggestion that these very high building costs are due largely to the poor builder and to the men engaged in the building trade. I have had some little experience of this, and I have taken the trouble to get out some figures from actual invoices of materials from the year 1946–47 up to Saturday last. It was surprising to me to find that nearly all the increases in the cost of house building are due to increases in the cost of materials. I say that for this reason. Incentives (and I shall have a word or two to say about them in a few minutes) have resulted in such an increase in output that they have negatived the increase that was granted in wages on the last occasion. In short, increases in wages have had no effect whatever on the price of houses.

In the year 1946–47 facing bricks were 138s. per thousand. They are now 148s. per thousand. I have made inquiries from the manufacturers as to the reason for that increase, because the raw material of the bricks is there, and assuming that the plants are up to date, I could not see why there should be any great increase in prices. The answer I received from the manufacturers was that the rise in price was due to the increased cost of coal and transport. And my own experience in the building trade, so far as it goes, bears out that the cost of transport is responsible for no small part of the increase in building costs. Only a fortnight ago, I received notification from the biggest brick manufacturing combine in this country that an increase of 5s. per thousand in the price of bricks was due entirely to the increase in the cost of petrol and oil which had raised their transport charges. The price for common bricks was 103s. 3d. per thousand; it has gone up to 110s. 9d. And may I point out that the builder has no say in this matter? We have nothing to do with fixing prices; all we do is pay them. Some department of the Government have the responsibility for dealing with and regulating prices and then we have to pay them. There is no question of competition involved in this. We pay the prices and ultimately, I suppose, a level is found in the final account if the contract is an up-and-down one.

Now take timber. In 1946–47 the price of good building timber was £45 per standard. It is now £69 per standard. Taking the average amount of timber used in a house as one and a half standards—as a matter of fact it is a little over that—this means that the increased price of timber has raised the price of a house by £36. Your Lordships may well ask: Why are houses costing more? Who put up the price of timber? I should have thought—though perhaps this is due to my ignorance—that after the war, with insurance rates being considerably reduced because there were no longer the war risks, the tendency would have been for the price of timber to come down. That was our experience after the 1914–18 war. But this time the price of timber has gone the other way; there has been a big increase. When you tackle the suppliers about this increase they say: "We have nothing whatever to do with it. We are simply the agents of the Board of Trade in this matter." They say, further, that the importers' remuneration and profit is fixed and that all they (the suppliers) do is to invoice it to the builders. It does not matter where you get your timber, the story is the same and you have to pay the same price. There is no competition whatever in timber.

Cement has gone up 5s. 6d. per ton. I interviewed the man mainly responsible for cement to ascertain why there was this increase. It is not due to anything over which which we have control. Two factors only are responsible for this increase—coal and transport. The same thing has happened to the prices of gravel and sand, steel windows and metal, and of everything else needed for the building of houses. They are controlled by the Ministry of Supply and their prices have fluctuated so much that without a saving clause in the conditions of contract no contractor would know where he was, or would contract at all in the circumstances. Anyone who knows the building trade, or has any part or lot in it, knows that the trade is merely the servant—or, shall I say, the slave—of the rings, of price fixing, either by the Government or by organisations. We are handed the materials at fixed prices, and the only difference between one man's price and the other is the speed and efficiency with which he can put them together and erect a house. All the costs have been fixed. Labour also has the law behind it. I think it should, but there also the price is fixed. So the building trade as a trade should bear very little of the responsibility for this increase.

I do not know what noble Lords think of the Working Party Report but I should like someone to point out anything in it amounting to a practical suggestion for the building of more houses or cheaper houses. There is nothing, which I can see in it, and I have looked very carefully. The Report points out facts which are well known to everybody in the trade. It says that machinery should be used to the maximum. But, what machinery can you use on a pair of houses? You can have a mortar mixer, a concrete mixer and perhaps a little circular saw to help the joiners—and that constitutes the machinery. I know that many builders put these machines on the site to cut the labour costs and get on with the job, but that is all that can be done. The Report makes a big point about costing. What the Working Party suggest is not practical for the great majority of builders: they already have enough forms to fill in, enough work of an unremunerative character without adding much to it.

I believe there is a simpler way, and what I suggest is practical because it has been done. If a man is to build 76 houses, he should open a bank account for £2,000 and mark it No. 2 or No. 3 account, pay everything into it from that contract and pay out of it for all the material and labour. What was left at the end would be the amount of profit, and there he would have both the cost and the profit and a proper balance sheet for that contract. I should have thought that a simpler way of doing it. At any rate that is the way we do it. I know it is a simple way of finding what the costs have been for a particular job and giving the necessary information for pricing a job. I know plenty of poor chaps in the building trade, hard-working fellows, and I am not criticising them, who cannot understand this business of quantities. It is just a waste of time to expect them to fill them in. They are not accustomed to this and do not want it. Give them a plan, and a specification and they will price it out and build a house; but all these pages of quantities frighten them. In some cases they have sent the quantities back because they were no use to them. I am not complaining about it, because they are perfectly right. One local authority solved that difficulty by getting a firm which could tender for between 100 and 120 houses to send in quantities. They fixed the price and then let the small men have contracts for houses at the same price. That was a very sensible way of harnessing the whole building industry in that town to provide houses.

It is difficult to solve the housing problem while the authorities spend (40,000,000 on the erection of steel works and power plants over several years. These projects cannot do without building labour, and the consequence is that there are at present hundreds of unskilled men, and scores of skilled men, engaged in the extension of industrial undertakings. When those undertakings are completed, this labour will he released to increase the labour force in the building trade and enable local authorities to build faster—that is, if we can get the timber. But when the extensions to these great works are finished, that will also free timber they are now using. The amount of timber required for shuttering concrete in a mill may be a quarter of a mile long. An enormous amount of timber is being consumed in these works. Of course not only is housing required; we also require the extension of the great industrial concerns to give them a greater competitive value in the world's markets which we shall want before long, and to provide work for many men.

The Working Party Report talks of incentives. I do not need this publication to convince me of the value of incentives. I established a scheme of incentives in 1946–47 and I have continued it ever since. My firm has never had the slightest trouble in fixing a price which has satisfied the workman and the employer and has kept the building costs down. The men are laying between 800 and 1,000 bricks per day. It is the bricklayer who generally comes in for the greatest part of the criticism levelled against the slowness of building. This is a mistake. I am satisfied that the bricklayer is doing a great job of work. I have been a member of the Building Workers' Union for fifty years, and have a free card and medal. And two of my friends have now signed this Report. They say that incentive payments are essential if output is to be adequately increased. I entirely agree. When you fix a price and a man earns a good wage you must continue to give it to him; do not start cheeseparing, but encourage him to give a better day's work. The Report also mentions adequate costing. I think I have dealt with that, at any rate in my own way, because it is not practical unless it is done by a very large contracting firm, of which there are only a small number.

One of the things that costs a considerable amount of money is the contribution employers have to make to the Welfare State. I do not know whether noble Lords have sat clown and pencilled out every item that has to be covered for the employment of a man. There are the contributions to national health and unemployment, the holidays with pay and Bank Holidays, the payment of wet time and a guaranteed week, and so on and so forth. I have all those details, and it amounts to nearer El than 15s. a week per man. A man employing between 124 and 130 men has to find £100 a week, in one way or another, before a brick is laid. That has to come out of the other industries. One of the reasons why it has to be paid is that it must come in the price level.

Whatever may be said about the inefficiency of our industry, for a moment or two I intend to draw attention to a department of Government that can by no means be accused of being efficient. My noble friend who preceded me knows very well that I have consistently opposed the Ministry of Works' building our houses. They give a lot of advice here, but when I have finished your Lordships will be able to place your own estimate on the value of that advice. The prices that they first submitted were so high as to stagger us—indeed, I wondered whether they had made a mistake, and instead of one house meant two, because they work —or are supposed to work—on a nonprofit basis. I will quote some of these figures. At Grizedale the cost of a house was £3,496—which is getting up a bit. They taught me a lesson, anyhow, on how to make out a bill, though whether it would be met by the employer I do not know.


Is that for a forester's house?


Yes, for the Forestry Commission. At Hardknott the cost per house was £2,857. At Thetford, Santon Downham, it was £3,030 per house—and in this case there were forty-one houses, and it could not by any means be called a scattered or small contract. At Lyminge, Sole Street, it was £2,736 per house. At Dartmoor—and I will refer to that in a minute—it was £3,110. On top of that there is a sort of establishment charge—I suppose for coming to see that we are not going wrong in these forests —of 12½ per cent., which is not called a profit. I suppose that comes first. I have never heard a story like it. We have tried to get it altered. It is not the fault of the English Committee, I can assure you: I have registered my vote against the Ministry building a single house for us.

We had a report on this matter, and I will tell your Lordships about it. The chairman of the English Forestry Committee went down to have a look at these houses, and he was so impressed—depressed is perhaps a more suitable word —that he and others thought that I should go and look at them. So I went down to Bristol. Coming from Bristol, on my way to Exeter. I called to see some Woolaways houses that have been built for us at £1,750 or £1,760—they exceeded the original estimate of just under £1,500 per house. The following day I went to look at these houses at a place they called Believer—though you can take it from me that they will not be there for ever. There were ten of these houses. I had an architect with me, and the conservancy officer, who had frequently visited the houses and drawn attention to the deficiencies while they were being built. They were not in a very out-of-the-way place. There was a fairly good road leading to the houses—true, it is not a stone road like the main roads, but it was by no means a bad road, and the houses were easily approachable. The first thing I found was that there was a passage running right into the middle of them from the back. When we went it had been raining—I expect that was turned on for my benefit!—and the water had penetrated through the back door right to the fireplace in the front room.

We had a letter from one of the tenants (my noble friend can confirm this) complaining about the water supply. In this letter she stated that there was more water coming in through the windows than there was through the pipes for the water supply. When I arrived I found that there was more than an element of truth in her statement. The first tenant took us upstairs to look at the bed. The wall was sodden for three feet down, and they had to move the bed and put the head up against the fireplace; so they could not have a fire in that bedroom. I think the cause was that the frames had been lying out in the bad weather without being properly primed, had swollen and then been primed. The consequence was that when the weather improved the sashes had sunk and the water went through almost, as the woman said, like a tide. In the next house there was a bricklayer to find a flue that the tenants had lost. He had a staff of men in the kitchen and was cutting a hole out of the wall. I got up on the scaffolding to have a look, but could not tell where it led to—from what I could see it might have led to the drains. Whether the flue was found or not I cannot say, but if that is not an indictment of the inspection or supervision for which we pay 12½ per cent., I do not know what is. We have architects of our own on the job who know what is being done.

My grievance is this. I, and everyone of the Forestry Commission, are willing to pay a proper price for our people to have proper houses, and have them properly equipped and up-to-date. But the main purpose of Parliament in granting us money is to buy land and rehabilitate the forests of our country. We have demanded that these houses I have mentioned should be repainted, but do you know what the arrangement is? It is a wonderful arrangement. After making all the condemnations and writing out a whole list of work which should be done, the answer we receive is: "We will do it for you, but we shall charge it up to you and charge 12½ per cent. because of our shortcomings." An ordinary contractor takes on a job, and when that job is finished a list of deficiencies is given to him which he has to make good at his own expense. That is the regular method of dealing with it. A price is based on quantities, but in no single instance have they ever been checked with the quantities when the job is finished. The architect told me that a week ago to-day.

I wanted to get that matter "off my chest." I think it is the most scandalous arrangement that I have ever known—and it is not a laughing matter. It is our duty to build houses, and we want something like 2,000 at something like a reasonable price. In some areas the Ministry of Health are insisting on the price being about £1,300, yet you get some of these houses costing us over £3,000. The architect thinks that it is so hopeless to do anything with these that he has said: "We will finish with the system, and build the houses ourselves, instead of paying the Ministry of Works 12— per cent. "That will not be popular in many places but it is a fact, because all the figures have been got out by the Ministry of Works. I would not mind so much the price if it were not for the workmanship, and where the numbers of deficiencies are as great as they a7e at Believer. When you pay a big price and get a had article everybody has a right to complain, if you get a good article and are charged a good price you can say: "He has done a good job for me." But if it costs a very big price and it is a bad job, a job you all feel ashamed of, then I think it is time that steps were taken at Ministerial level. It is the worst arrangement that I have known, and the sooner it is brought to an end the better.

5.17 p.m.


My Lords, it was only after I came to the House this afternoon that I learned that one of my noble friends, Lord Amulree, who was to have taken part in this debate, had been prevented from doing so by circumstances beyond his control. Feeling, as I do, that some voice should be raised from these Benches in support of the action of the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, in bringing this subject before the House, and in support also of his argument, I venture to address your Lordships, though without the preparation which I usually seek to give before occupying your Lordships' time. Indeed, I feel able to sympathise with the young curate, very nervous and new to the parish, who found himself suddenly called upon to preach owing to the illness of his vicar. Having explained the circumstances to the congregation, he added: "Therefore I can only offer you to-clay whatever words God may place in my mouth; but on another occasion I shall hope to give you something much more worthy of your attention."

The noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, to whom I listened with close attention, spoke on this problem, but to my mind did not really touch the point and did not explain away the evident failure of the Government, the building industry, the local authorities—whichever it may be to whom the present housing situation is due. He mentioned that he and.the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, had both been twenty-one years in Parliament and had all the time heard of the housing problem. My own political memory in these buildings goes back over nearly fifty years, and I can testify to the fact that the housing problem has always been before the nation, but not always with so much intensity as now. It is largely a question of the sheer numbers of the houses and flats and cottages that are available. Probably all of us have known very distressing individual cases of poor people, or people not so poor, who go from place to place and street to street, struggling to find accommodation for themselves and their families, and failing to do so because the accommodation does not exist. The overcrowding is great and the slums continue. The most reverend Primate has pointed out the disastrous effects of those conditions upon the whole social life of the nation. The home should he the central consideration of our policy. Where the home is the nation is; and family life, as we all know, is one of the main factors in the welfare or lack of welfare of a people.

But even the best father and mother cannot make a satisfactory home in a hut or a slum. As we all know, there is continual deterioration going on; as fast as old slums are pulled down and superseded by better houses, new slums appear through lack of sufficient repair and maintenance. There is also the question of housing in the rural districts, to which the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, has drawn special attention, aid which we all know is a matter of acute difficulty in many places. The public opinion of the nation is well aware of this. Gallup Polls have shown themselves extremely accurate in the forecasts of elections and in gauging the trend of public opinion. Soon after the General Election a question was put to the "samples" from which they inquired, on this question: What is the most urgent problem facing the new Government? More people said "Housing" than mentioned any other question. The second greatest problem facing the new Government was given as "Staying in office." Only afterwards did we come to "Reduction in prices" and "The dollar gap."

As I have said, during the whole of the period of my own long political memory this question of housing has persisted. Almost all the great social evils which pervaded the land in the days of my youth have now been solved, or very nearly solved, owing to the movement of social reform and the general rise in the standard of living: sweated wages, excessive hours, frequent unemployment, illiteracy, destitution, drunkenness—conditions in regard to all these have greatly improved, but the evil of the housing problem persists; and, as Lord Radnor has said, it is indeed a great social evil that remains in our time.

The outstanding facts are very simple, and it is a mistake to allow ourselves to be fogged in a cloud of statistics. The speech of the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, was informing. It gave us a great many facts and it gave us a point of view; but it did not touch the central facts of the situation. We have to judge by results—and the results are that the people are not sufficiently housed, and you cannot get away from that. The noble Lord, Lord Quibell, said that there were many causes. He mentioned timber imports. He said that the fault was that, instead of the timber being used for housing, it was being used for all kinds of things, such as building factories and steelworks and other similar constructions. But what are the facts, the crude simple facts? They are given in the last Housing Return for England and Wales, published a few weeks ago. That Return says clearly that, comparing last year with pre-war, imports of timber from abroad have been halved. This is a monthly return, and the average monthly figure for 1935 to 1938 was 186,000 standards. Last year it was 92,000 standards. No allocating of timber to factories or other particular objects can counterbalance that grave situation.

Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor took credit for the fact that he hoped that this year the imports from Russia would be twice what they were last year. But the imports from the U.S.S.R. and the Baltic States for last year were 7,500 standards a month, whereas before the war they were 46,000 standards—six times as much. Even if the imports from Russia were doubled, we should still have only one-third of the amount of timber we used to get from there. As regards Sweden, last year the figure was 19,000 standards, whereas before the war it was 35,000 standards. There is the reason for the hold up of building arising from the lack of imports of soft timber. I do not suggest, of course, that purchases of timber should have no regard at all to price. Those who purchase must struggle to get the timber at a reasonable price. But it seems clear that the present system of bulk purchase by the Government is not so successful as might have been a system of purchase left in the hands of the trade merchants who have understood the business all their lives.

Then, with regard to costs, the Reports that we have are most informing. The Report of the Working Party, which represents employers, operatives and the associated trades and professions, is extremely important. Here is the salient paragraph: it is the first paragraph in their summary of conclusions. We do not want masses of statistics, but perhaps I may mention that the central fact is that during 1946 and 1947 productive efficiency in the building industry was about two-thirds of its pre-war level. The Report goes on: by the end of 1948 it was about three-quarters there are indications of a further improvement. Even if there were a further improvement, even if productivity were down by only one-eighth, that means a 12½ per cent. reduction in productive efficiency. The Report continues: The combined effect of lower productivity, higher wage rates and higher cost of materials was that building costs generally throughout 1948 and 1949 were about two and a half times those of 1939. Two and half times! Consider what that means, my Lords, not only for housing but for industry and all other purposes. It represents an increase from 100 to 250. There is the central fact on which we must concentrate our attention. And these costs are still going up.

We have had two Reports from the Girdwood Committee. The first gave us a number of factors which might be brought to bear in order to lower the cost of building. The second Report says that in spite of these efforts the cost of building has gone up even higher than it was when they made their first Report. They also say this: The average total cost of a traditional three-bedroom house completed in October, 1949, was £1,515, including the cost of land, roads and services and professional fees. The net subsidised weekly rent of such a house was 16s. 5d. and, of that, 8s. 5d. came from the taxes and rates in subsidy. One-half of the whole cost had to be met from the taxpayer's pocket or the ratepayer's pocket in order that the rents should he such as to be within the range at all of the people for whom the houses were intended. On those houses the local rate charges that the tenants had to pay were between 3s. and 8s. 6d. That is a very heavy charge for a wage-earner.

The Committee go on to say—and this is the most serious point of all from the point of view of the present debate: We think it improbable that under present conditions there can be any substantial reduction in the general level of house-building costs in the near future and, as far as we can judge on present information, the indications are that it may be difficult to avoid a further increase. That is the latest Report published this year. It was issued in February, 1950, and it shows that all these somewhat optimistic forecasts made by the Government when they are defending their case are ill-founded. In the opinion of this authoritative Committee it is more likely that the cost of puddings will be even more than two-and-a-half times what it was pre-war rather than that it will show any diminution.

Those are the few facts to which I would briefly draw your Lordships' attention. This House must judge by results. The noble Lord, Lord Quibell, told us that he had been listening to the debate and was waiting to hear some practical suggestion by which the number of houses can be increased and the costs reduced. But it is not the business of this House to make those practical suggestions. It is for these Committees who were appointed. Three of them have been dealing with the matter; they have taken evidence. They include technical men. It is for them to make suggestions, and they have done so.


Many of them.


Why does the noble Lord want more from this House? They are the proper and right people to make suggestions, and, they have done so. The responsibility does not rest upon this House. It is the duty of this House to express to the Government and to the country what it believes to be the facts relating to a grave injury and to express the voice of the people, so far as it can do so, as to the situation and the urgent need for a remedy.

The upshot of the whole matter is that the situation is a discreditable one. It casts discredit upon tie building industry as a whole for not having adopted long since the right methods of organisation, wage-paying and removal of restrictions. It casts discredit noon our methods of importing timber, since they have failed to achieve their object. It casts discredit upon the Government, who have indeed rendered many services to the nation in improving social conditions during the five years they have been in office for which the country and the people are rightly grateful. But in this matter of housing the Government must hear the blame for a failure which is evident, which is proved beyond doubt and which indicts the greatest injury upon the people.


May I raise this point at once? The noble Viscount told us that he was speaking for the Liberal Party on this matter. I wonder why he differs so much from the spokesmen of the Liberal Party in another place on this issue. When Members were comparing the production of houses before and after the war a leader of the Liberal Party in another place used these words: Are the circumstances comparable? Then there was no shortage of materials; there was plenty of labour available and there were none of the scarcities or economic conditions which always prevail in post-war periods. At that time the cost of housing was one-quarter of what it is now and, may I add, there was no acute dollar problem then. It would be interesting to find out who speaks for the Liberal Party.


This is a mere evasion of the whole problem. We are not comparing the rate of production of houses now with what it may have been immediately before the war. We are dealing with the present housing shortage of the people. Great destruction has been caused by the war, and it has to be made good. We have to make an intense effort to overcome it. Do I understand the noble Lord to say that, because the rate of building or the rate of production is comparable with that of pre-war, therefore there is no grievance at all?




Then what does he say?


I am appealing to the noble Viscount to recognise the facts, which he has not done in his speech.

5.35 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, said that from the Reports one can draw a great many different lessons. Personally, I rather regret that he did not appear to draw any. I suppose I could not very well have expected him to mention the competitive spirit in the American industry which was so favourably referred to in the Report. And I could not have expected him to recall to us that at the present time the American industry, which was so greatly admired in the Report, was still building at a slower speed per head of the population than the building industry was in this country before the war. That fact is to be found at page 59. I am, however, rather surprised that he made no reference to the opening passage of paragraph 65 in the Working Party Report, where it says: We have been told that the time taken in obtaining permission from the various authorities is excessive, and that the intending building owner is kept in a state of uncertainty and often growing exasperation. That is directly the responsibility, to a great extent, of His Majesty's Government.


If I may interrupt the noble Earl for a moment, I would point out !that later speakers from this side will deal with some of the later paragraphs. I think the paragraph now referred to will be dealt with by one of those speakers.


I am delighted to hear it. I hope that it will be dealt with successfully. All I wish to say is this: that we have to-day had an extremely impressive speech from the most reverend Primate and also from the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, who has stated that this is the greatest social evil of our present time. The most reverend Primate says that it requires a new departure. I must say that I think that future historians will look with dismay on this generation, who are not only competent aviators, who are not only moving from radio to television, who are on the very verge of the atomic age, but who cannot provide themselves with reasonable houses. That is a reflection upon our capacity and ability to run this country.

Before dealing with that point of the new departure, I wish to make one or two references to the special position of Scotland. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, feels that I have no right to speak about Scotland in this debate, but if he can indicate to me any material point in which His Majesty's Government's policy on housing in Scotland differs from that for England, I will never take part in such a debate again.


I take it that what the noble Earl is referring, to is my feeling that the Scottish position was so important that we were entitled to a debate of our own, and not merely to a part of an English debate.


That is all very well in theory, but the noble Lord knows what happens to Scottish debates in this House. The point I make is that the position in Scotland is, and has been, very much more serious than it is in England. In fact, every time an assessment has been made of houses required in Scotland the number has increased. In 1945, the figure was given as 518,000 houses. I do not think the noble Lord would suggest that there is one fewer to-day. In fact, I would go further and say that we have found it difficult to keep pace with the run-down of houses existing at present. I do not know what figure is given for Scotland generally, but I think it is between 12,000 and 20,000 a year, compared with the 200,000 mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, for Great Britain. At the present time there are nearly 100,000 applicants for houses in Glasgow alone. The present rate of building is about 4,000. That means to say that if anyone marries tomorrow and goes on the Glasgow housing list, the probability is that he will get a house in twenty-five years. As was mentioned yesterday by a supporter of the Government in another place, at the present time in Glasgow 380 houses have been completed and 440 have been condemned, which seems to indicate that the list is likely to continue growing and will not get shorter.

This situation must be viewed against the background of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's statement in the Budget speech giving housing a special and preferential place in our capital investment programme. He then limited house building in the investment programme to 200,000 houses a year. I should like to ask—and I think someone must reply to this question—what that figure means. Does it mean that builders are not allowed to go beyond it? if so, it is indeed a very powerful disincentive for people carrying on at the present time. Does it mean that if the price of houses falls, no more than 200,000 may be built; or does it mean that, whatever the availability of materials, not more than 200,000 houses can be erected? I consider the figure is ridiculous. I do not think we should try to limit to any number the houses to he built. The cost of those houses is about half what is spent in this country on gambling alone and probably one-sixth of what is spent or tobacco and alcohol; yet we are told officially that in a planned State we cannot Invest more than that amount of money in the housing programme at the present time. With respect, I think we are entitled to an explanation as to exactly what force that limit of 200,000 houses has.

Now I am going to accept absolutely that there must he a new departure in certain features if we are to 'meet the situation at present existing. I have given certain examples which refer to Scotland, but I believe they have many similar applications to other parts of the country. The noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, said that he would like simple and fundamental things. I think there are two things necessary to put this right. The first is that the taxation on housing is much too heavy and must be reduced; the second is that the building of house; must be made as easy as possible. I am quite aware that this is a long-term policy and cannot be reached immediately, but in about five years some of the temporary houses built just after the war will start coming down.

May I say, with regard to housing, that I believe the effect of rating is much more serious in Scotland than it is in England? I would not attempt to explain the complexity of the system of rating in Scotland. I will say only that in the West of Scotland, where rating is fairly high, the tax on houses is somewhere of the order of 100 to 150 per cent. of the economic annual value. That is an immense tax to put on what is a prime necessity to the country. We put purchase tax of only 100 per cent. on luxuries of a special nature, such as jewellery. Even on Rolls Royce cars the purchase tax has recently been reduced from 661 to 33⅓ per cent. because they were being driven completely off the export marker; and there has been considerable opposition to the imposition of a 33⅓ per cent. purchase tax on commercial vehicles, The retention of a tax of this character on houses will continue to act as a bar to their development and proper maintenance.

My Lords, I know the Government are not interested in this subject. They have had before them a Report which, while I cannot say it would resolve this problem, would help; and it is in fact cowardly of them to have failed to carry out or examine closely the recommendations which are there put forward. I believe the difficulties have been brought clearly forward by the development of East Kilbride, where, for the first time, the Government, who are the housing proprietors, have came to realise what the implications of the rating system in Scotland mean. I should like to appeal to the Government to look at this and provide a non-Party solution. The noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, mentioned this point earlier on. The subject of rating on housing is extremely delicate; it is political dynamite, avid it is quite useless for any Party to attempt to carry this except by agreement. I ask that on this matter, which everyone who has examined knows perfectly well is a vital issue, we should try and reach agreement.

The second course I should like to suggest is to simplify the building of houses. I doubt if anyone who has not built a house realises the amazing com- plexity which exists in doing so at present. If I may put it very bluntly, the position is that the contractor builds the house for profit. The easiest way is to make a firm contract for price and date. To-day that method practically does not exist. The contract has always a sliding scale in some particular, generally referring to wages or to materials, or it may be it has no reference to date of completion whatsoever. In many cases the result is that we are slipping back to the system of cost plus, because it is actually cheaper than that type of contract. I am sure that that is contrary to the interests of the building industry as a whole, and we must get back to a firm contract basis for housing. Furthermore, I would point out that the operative (that is the building operative) is in the business as a life profession, and naturally he wants to see it carried on. The standard form of remuneration is on a time rate. We all know that it should really be on the production and quality of the work; that is an essential element in building simpler houses. The noble Lord did not deal with the question of the Overtime Committee. I believe the Ministry of Works is appointing a Committee to examine productivity. May we have explained what are the functions of the Overtime Committee? What are the regulations by which they operate? Personally I am against overtime. I think overtime is a bad thing, and the American Report points out that normally a man works hard up to a full week and there it ends. I think that working a full week is much the better way. There may, however, be times when overtime is necessary and should not be too extensively curtailed.

My third point is that the Government wish to build houses to their specification, for the class of tenants which they themselves select. All the different parties concerned are no doubt perfectly laudably engaged in what they are doing, but I say that collectively they present almost an insuperable barrier against rapid, efficient and cheaper production. I suggest that instead of seeking to reduce control, we should start from the other end and decide what are the essential controls which should he maintained, and abolish the remainder. I suggest there are really only three things and it does not matter to society where or how a man lives except in regard to those things. The first is the siting of a house—it is undoubtedly right that every local authority should have proper control over that—secondly, the provision of healthy and sanitary conditions, and thirdly, the standard of building. There is no doubt that at the present time the variety of specifications is greatly in excess of what is required. The matter is referred to specifically in the Productivity Report. The continuance of obsolete by-laws is a serious restriction.

I am going to add only this, if I may: that I am certain that a fundamental approach to this subject is required, and I would say that it is of great importance to the Government and to the country that the Government should convince everyone that they are serious about housing. I say, with respect, that there are many in the building industry to-day who question that. I was myself asked the other day whether or not they were serious. I am going to suggest one or two points which I think would bring out or emphasise what they are doing. In the first place, why cannot we get the cement position cleared up now? While we are exporting a great deal of cement, Glasgow has had to import cement and pay an extra £3 10s. per ton for bringing it all the way from Germany. The story is that the cement is being diverted to the extensive operations which are in progress on the south bank of the Thames in London. I do not know if that is true, but that is the story. Seeing that we have a considerable export surplus in cement, I should certainly like to know why Glasgow is having to import it. The second question I should like to put is this: Are we really short of wood? I take it that the general answer is that we are.




There is a shortage of softwoods. It is true that the Secretary of State said on May 11: I do not think it is fair to say that timber is in short supply. I take it he was not correct in making that statement. Personally, I think it is the fact that timber is being used for purposes other than housing. It is being used, for instance, in the construction of railway carriages and buses. I think a considerable amount of this timber could more suitably be diverted to housing. I should also like to make a plea in support of my noble friend the Earl of Radnor with regard to rural housing. We have felt in Scotland that the repeal of the Housing (Rural Workers) Act was an act of betrayal. The Government still refuse to enable the, improvements to be made in rural housing which are essential. So long as the Government hold to a political theory, rather than concern themselves absolutely with the provision of adequate houses, people will continue to ask this question—Are the Government really serious about housing? If I may, I will briefly summarise what I have said. I am certain that in the long run the sacrifice of pet theories must be made if the Government are to convince the country that they consider housing to be a matter of prime importance. Secondly, I say that building must be made as easy as possible. So far as I am aware, there has not been any suggestion yet for making it easier. Thirdly, the taxes on houses must be brought down if provision is to be increased and existing houses are to be properly maintained.

5.53 p.m.


My Lords, I consider it a great privilege and an honour that I should he allowed to add my contribution to this most important debate. I do so because I still feel extremely perturbed about the present housing situation. I should like to begin by thanking my noble friend Lord Llewellin for initiating this debate. It has been well said by several previous speakers that housing is one of the most important social problems with which we have to deal to-day. It has also been said by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, that the business of this House is to examine results. It is not for us here to say how things should be done; that is the business of His Majesty's Government. Reference has already been made to three most interesting reports—the Second Report on Building Costs of the Gird-wood Committee, the Report of the Productivity Team of the Anglo-American Council on Productivity and the Report of the Working Party. I was greatly interested in all three of those Reports, and I have studied them most carefully. I have also visited many building sites and have talked to as, many contractors, archi- tects and quantity surveyors as I could. I do not profess to be in any way an expert on these matters, but I am extremely interested in them and I think this is a question which is of vital importance to the country.

In the Anglo-American Council's Report, paragraphs 25, 26 and 27 deal with applications for permits. Those concerned with, the Report were unanimous on this matter and they are very outspoken upon it. I take it that the Minister is well acquainted with paragraph 27 of the Report. In this it is stated: The importance attached in America to the complete pre-planning of every detail of the construction before work begins on the site has already been stressed. In Britain the operation of the licensing system adds to the difficulties of pre-planning in this sense. In the last part of the paragraph, which is a very important one, we find this: Thus in this respect, if in no others, over-planning by Government makes nonsense of the calls for better planning by industry which are frequently made horn high quarters. I read with great care the speech by the Minister of Works in another place. He said that in these Reports there was the basis for a lot of work by the Government and a lot of work by the in-dusty. It certainly seems to me that there is a great deal for the Government to do. As the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, has said, it takes months nowadays to get permits. If you cannot put through your application and, get your permit speedily, how can you properly pre-plan? An architect has to get out his plans and to work out prices. Those plans have to be detailed, and if they have all to be altered because it is necessary for them to go through three or four different departments a client is not going to pay for the working drawings until the last possible moment. It has been known to take as much as from six to nine months to get permits through, and under present arrangements with the Ministry a job has to be started within two or three months or you lose your licence. I saw it stated in the Press recently that this may be altered, and that may well be so. I think that the paragraph in the Productivity Team's Report dealing with applications for permits is ore of the most important in the whole Report. It is a very weighty Report. I suggest that it needs to be studied with great care and that every effort should be made to see whether we cannot get some of its recommendations put into immediate operation.

I would especially draw attention to a passage in which it is stated that: The great speed of American constructional jobs and their low cost—in relation to the average rate of wages—must make an extremely strong impression on any observer. The team then make a number of recommendations, and I should like to ask His Majesty's Government if they are intending to implement any of those parts of the Report. Some three weeks or a month has elapsed since the Minister of Works said in another place that he was looking into the matter. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary or the noble Viscount the Leader of the House will be able to give us some information upon this. I think it is most important for the industry. We cannot blame the industry entirely for the present state of affairs, if it is not possible for those in it to do their work efficiently.

The next point with which I should like to deal very briefly is one on which other speakers have already touched. I was extremely depressed about the apparent ceiling of 200,000 houses. We are now told, as I understand it, that all we can afford to invest on housing, including repairs, is £475,000,000 a year. This is the amount of expenditure which is to produce 200,000 houses with a labour force of 230,000 men working on new houses and a force of 251,600 working on repairs and conversions. We have therefore reached a position in which there are 1,000,000 in the whole of the building and civil engineering industry of whom only about 500,000 are engaged in the house-building section. Some five years have elapsed since the war ended, and, as we know, there has been a great accumulation of building jobs to be done —repairing bomb damage, conversion, making up arrears of maintenance work and so on. But surely a few more of the 251,600 men to whom I have just referred could be diverted to new house construction. If we can afford to spend £9,000,000 to £10,000,000 on the Festival of Britain, is it too much to suggest that we can afford to spend more on housing?

Look at the present position in some of the big cities. In Birmingham there is a waiting list of 56,000 people. Manchester has a waiting list of 27,000, and Glasgow, as my noble friend Lord Selkirk has pointed out, has 94,000. With an estimated waiting list for the whole country of nearly 2,000,000 people, at the present rate of building, 200,000 houses a year, it will take us nearly ten years to clear this off. Some areas—Glasgow, for instance—are worse than others. I was up in Glasgow last year on a Joint Committee and took the opportunity of looking at some of the houses; and there is no doubt, as the most reverend Primate said, that the slums are very bad. Glasgow has a tremendous job not only of building, but also of slum clearance. In setting the limit at 200,000 houses a year, I doubt whether the position will ever right itself. It is a position which worries me tremendously.

When we look at this question we are always confronted with the problem of how to finance it, both from the external point of view of dollars and from the internal point of view. My noble friend Lord Llewellin has dealt fully with the timber position, and I would add that I entirely agree with him. I feel that if softwood timber were handed back to the trade and they were allowed to buy it with a limit of dollars set by the Treasury, and if the system was worked by the trade, we should get on a great deal better than we do now. I understand that the Government's negotiations broke down because they could not control timber at the other end. If building is controlled and there is a very small black market for timber, I cannot see how we get to that position. I should like to see control completely taken off building up to, say, a house of 1,200 square feet. I should like to see all agencies allowed to build as many houses up to that size as they can. Everybody agrees that there should be some control in the size of houses; it was even included in our Party programme at the last election. I suggest, for my own part, a maximum of 1,200 square feet. On that basis I cannot see why we could not let the timber trade go back to the industry. I think that should be done, because they can do it much better and more economically.

We have another great problem in labour. If the private builder had a better ratio than one in five, or the ratio were taken off altogether, we should find many more people who are doing unnecessary jobs going in for building small houses. My experience, and I think this has been the general experience of local authorities, has been that the small builder to-day is under-employed. The local authorities building fifty or a hundred houses do not me the small builder capable of building five or six houses. His organisation is nor, big enough, as the noble Lord, Lord Quibell, said, and he does not understand costs; but he does know how to build two, four or six houses if he is given a chance. To-day, he is not liven a chance, and he has not been for the last two years. I was much perturbed, when this ratio was altered from one in ten to one in five, to see that this Ns, as not to start until next year, because local authorities have already planned their contracts for this year.

In connection with labour on the sites, I have taken a good deal of trouble to find out the figures. I am not certain that they are accurate, but I think they are. The position is approximately this. The Working Party Report, in Chapter 1. paragraph 22, on page 7, says that in July, 1948, there were 110,370 insured bricklayers out of the total building and civil engineering operatives of 1,128,000—or approximately 11.6 per cent. As bricklaying in house building represents something in the neighbourhood of 40 per cent., a percentage of 11.6 bricklayers in the industry is too low. If we look at painters and carpenters, we find they are 14.5 per cent. I went a little farther in my investigations and found that on March 31 there were applications for nearly 10,000 bricklayers in Great Britain, with only between 500 and 600 unemployed. On the other hand, there were between 5,000 and 6,000 painters unemployed on the same date, and 2,000 vacancies. That is the reverse. The point I am trying to make is that it is necessary for the Ministry of Works and the Government, through the schools, to try to encourage more young men to go in for bricklaying. It is a job as well paid as any other, and it is a vital one. If nearly 42 per cent. of the labour on house building consists of bricklayers there will be for some years to come a definite lack of bricklayers. As the noble Lord, Lord Quibell, said, there are many big power stations and steel works going up but that is no reason why we should not try to balance the industry better.

There is no reason why we should not go in for more prefabricated permanent concrete houses. I have seen very good models the Airey house, the Easiform and others, some of them of poured concrete and some of pre-cast concrete, but all well designed. All have passed the necessary tests. I notice that the programme of production of these houses of 110,000 is on the decline. For some reason local authorities do not like them. I agree that they do not look so nice as the traditional brick house; but they are houses, good houses, and can be erected to a large extent on sites by semi-skilled artisans under the supervision of skilled labour. I hope the Government will look into this aspect because the position is far from satisfactory. We are building only two-thirds of the number of houses we built before the war. It is a gloomy prospect to me that in the next few years we can deal with this frightful waiting list only at the rate of 200,000 a year because we are told that this great country of ours cannot afford any more. I hope the Government will give early attention to this question. It is one of vital importance to the future welfare of the country.

6.10 p.m.


My Lords, I have listened to this debate since the first word was spoken, and it has been very interesting. I do not know whether it is a coincidence that the debate should have been chosen for what is usually called the longest day of the year, but it looks as if we had chosen the longest debate of the year for to-day. The debate has been much less political than I expected it to be. I came here this afternon thinking it was going to be just a general onslaught on the Government. The reason why I thought that was that the Party of the noble Lords opposite have lately not been going too well on this issue in another place—or on any other issue for that matter. I thought that perhaps they had sent out a signal of distress, calling upon the noble Lords opposite to see what they could do to help them out of their temporary difficulty. But, much to my pleasure, there has been very little Party politics in this debate. We are all agreed that this is a great problem, and that we should do our best to see what can be done about it.

The noble Lord, Lord Wolverton, has made some interesting suggestions. Several of them, to use an expression popular nowadays, I "could not agree with more." On the question of the small builder being given a chance, however, I feel that one of the suggestions made by Lord Quibell was quite interesting—it is one that I have heard in other quarters—that where a large contract has to be given out, although the large contractor will get the bulk of it the small man might be offered the job of building a few houses, providing he is able to put them up at the same price. One thing the noble Lord said I could not follow. First, I gathered that he said the Reports were outspoken. Of course they are outspoken. Judging by some newspaper articles one would think the Reports were simply a condemnation of the Government. They are not. They are very constructive and valuable Reports.


I did not intend to say that. I say they are very critical of the Government in certain parts, and especially on the question of the permit. I feel that the industry has much to learn. I have been privileged to go to the United States and see what they have done since the war. However, they are not doing better than we were doing before the war, and we can do as well again if we are given the chance.


The only point I want to make is this. If at any time the noble Lord's Party comes into power and a committee of this sort is set up, I am sure he would not want the terms of reference to stipulate that the committee must not criticise the Government which appointed them. We rejoice in the fact that this committee has been outspoken, and we hope that all committees similarly appointed will be the same. I should like to have one further tilt, if I may, at the noble Lord who has just sat down. He thought that 150,000 men could have been diverted into the building industry. Later on he said that there is a tremendous shortage of bricklayers. I do not know what he means in using the word "diverted." I always understood that his Party were in favour of "setting the people free" and not ordering them into different types of work. The Ministry of Works, to which the noble Lord referred, are doing all they possibly can. If the noble Lord knows of anything more that can be done to get the building trade into a more balanced position, so that we have enough craftsmen in each section of the industry, I shall be glad to hear it.


I said that if more licences were given for small builders to work, you would have more men from the jobbing and repair side assisting in the construction of new houses. We still have 250,000 men on the repair side.


I will not put the noble Lord to the trouble of rising any more. I will now pass to the interesting speech of the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk. We always know when he gets up that he will make a thoughtful and interesting speech, and to-day was no exception. The noble Earl dealt with the tremendous over-crowding in Glasgow. I suppose he can go back about twenty to thirty years —I can go back much longer. The overcrowding in Glasgow was even worse fifty or sixty years ago; certainly the housing conditions were worse, and the people were more badly clad in Glasgow than they are to-day. I mention that because it seems to me that one of the things we forget is that it is no good singling out a place like Glasgow. The housing position is bad not only in Glasgow, but in London, Paris, Dublin, New York, Washington and all the large industrial cities of the countries of the world. The last time I was in Washington, after five days in a hotel I received a not too polite note from the manager asking me if I would go somewhere else. When I went to the office and asked for an explanation, I was told that the shortage of housing was so acute in Washington that an arrangement had been made by hotel keepers that they would not allow anybody to spend more than five days in a hotel, because they were pestered with families squatting in the hotels and making it difficult to carry on business. This problem is not confined to one country.


Was the noble Lord's experience with that hotel in 1943?


No, later than that: it was in 1946, just after the war finished.


Surely the noble Lord does not suggest that there has been a waiting list for twenty-five years in Washington. That was what I was saying about Glasgow, although I did not claim that Glasgow was unique.


In the first part of the noble Earl's speech he used the words that this is a "long-term problem." We all agree with that. If we start from the basis that it is a long-term problem, let us see where we get. I suppose there are roughly 1,000,000 in Glasgow. The French people have a proverb that goes something like this: What one always sees, one never sees. Perhaps noble Lords who live most of their time in Scotland do not see so much as I, who go there only occasionally. The housing problem in Scotland, as I see it, is partly due to the fact that in the county of Lanarkshire the population is something like 1,600 to the square mile, and in the Highland counties it is seven to the square mile. Therefore, on the long-term policy—l: am sure the noble Earl will agree—successive Governments go out to support vast hydro-electric schemes, in order to bring power and light to those sparsely populated areas, in the hope that, having done so, industry will follow, with the result that people will also follow, the de-population of the Highland counties will come to an end, gradually the people will be brought back there and a better re-distribution of the population will be brought about That, is the position, as I understand it.

What are the Government doing about this long-term policy to which the noble Earl referred? They have not only set up the hydro-electric schemes to which I have referred, but have started on new towns; they are endeavouring to bring about a better distribution of industry, to improve road construction (an announcement was made only some ten days ago of a further sum of money to be spent on new roads in the Highlands) and transport—all in an endeavour to check the de-population of the Highlands and to secure improvement in the distribution of population. Following this long-term policy, or even short-term policy, it is almost inevitable that we shall sometimes run into temporary shortages. It has caused a certain amount of slowing up of building and under-employment, but, despite certain sensational Press reports, se, far as my information goes there has not been any unemployment at all in Scotland from this cause.

The noble Earl mentioned cement. The pre-war delivery of cement in Great Britain was approximately 7,000,000 tons per annum. By the end of this year it is expected to reach 10,000,000 tons. In another place yesterday, a Scottish Member suggested in a Question that Scotland was not getting its fair share of supplies of cement. Well, we hear a great deal about Home Rule for Scotland, and Scotland being in a position to be entirely independent and stand on its own legs. So far as cement is concerned, the total output from Scottish cement works is 4,700 tons per week, while the consumption of cement in Scotland is running at the rate of 18,000 tons per week. Delivery has been at the rate of 17,300 tons per week, and within the last few days has been stepped up to 18,000 tons. I think that is creditable to all concerned.

With regard to bricks, the production of bricks of all kind; for the first five months of last year was 2,025,000,000. For the first five months of this year it was 2,380,000,000, an increase in brick production of 355,000,000 bricks. With regard to the deliveries of bricks, the figures are somewhat smaller. They show an increase of 238,000,000. Despite these encouraging figures, I am bound to point out that the monthly production of bricks is still approximately 200,000,000 less than pre-war. I could go into the reasons for that. Many of these brickfields are in isolated places, and it is difficult to get labour to work there. Before the war it was one of the worst. paid industries in the country, and I am perfectly sure that no political Party represented in any part of this House would be in favour of some system of compelling people to go and work in brickworks.

The noble Earl asked me what the figure of 200,000 houses meant. My answer would be that that is a figure which has been fixed taking into consideration the difficult position of the country and the fact that our available resources must be distributed to the best advantage. As the noble Lord, Lord Quibell, said, vast industrial undertakings are being built and fitted up. The whole question of how we are going to secure the well-being of the population of these Islands is at stake and has to be con- sidered as a whole. The noble Earl also asked me a question about a Committee on Overtime, and I am sorry that I cannot answer that. I have been unable to find any trace of such a Committee.


That is not the point. Apparently there are local overtime committees which decide whether overtime can be worked. I do not think we have them in Scotland, but my noble friend Lord Llewellin made reference to Grays and Bristol.


I think they are joint committees of the industry.


Both sides.


Probably working under the auspices of the Ministry of Labour.


Yes, certainly, and we are doing all we possibly can to encourage these joint production committees. I hope to show that we are going to extend that to the recommendations of the two Reports which have been under discussion this afternoon. It has been pointed out that the recommendations can be broken down into three—the first which the Government should implement; the second which the Government and the industry should implement, and the third for which the industry alone should take responsibility. I am coming to that in a moment.

The noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, suggests a simplification of building procedure. Many controls instituted in the period of shortage of materials have already been eliminated. He mentioned that some timber is being used for railway carriages and bus bodies. I have inquired about that, and I find that the greater part of the timber used for that purpose is not of the specification required for housing.


No, but it has to be bought with dollars.


I think the noble Earl will find that most is hardwood, about which there is not the same difficulty. In the field of simplification, I may say that local authorities can now acquire housing sites and adapt layout plans and designs for new houses without submitting their designs to the Department for approval. The number of statistical returns has also been reduced. The noble Earl mentioned the Sorn Report. I do not think the fact that the Government have not given effect to the recommendations of that Report has in any considerable way affected the provision of houses by local authorities. I am sure that the noble Earl does not desire to return to the bad old days of small, jerry-built, over-crowded houses, but to keep up the standard of building. With a view to the production of still more houses without increasing capital expenditure, local authorities have been asked to introduce economies by increasing the number of three-apartment houses in their schemes to 50 per cent. as against a former maximum of 25 per cent. and to save £50 per house by any other means which would not lower standards.

The noble Earl then went on to refer to the restoration of rural houses. I think he had in mind the absence of grants to owners for what are called tied cottages. This matter was debated during the Housing (Scotland) Act, 1949, when it was urged strongly from the other side of the House that grants should be made available for this purpose. The position is this—I explained it before, and I repeat it. The Scottish Farm Servants' Union held equally strong views in the opposite sense. They objected strongly to public money being spent on tied cottages. In those circumstances, Parliament decided that grants should be paid only if the cottages were untied. I can assure the noble Earl that if both sides can come forward with an agreed scheme, His Majesty's Government will give it their careful consideration. Finally, I am sure the noble Earl will be pleased to know that 26,000 houses were completed in Scotland in 1949. It is hoped to improve upon those figures in 1951 and 1952. It compares not unfavourably with the years 1912 to 1930, when the figures ranged from 8,000 to 20,000 per annum.

It is unfortunate that my noble friend Lord Quibell, having delivered one of his brilliantly refreshing and invigorating speeches, is missing, because I wanted to endeavour to make some reply to him. I should like now to carry out the promise I made when I commenced speaking. I said that the House would like to know what the Government suggestions were for dealing with the recommendations in the Reports which have been discussed. I will cover them very briefly, because I know that noble Lords would not desire me to continue for too long. A new general development order, providing for certain relaxations of the controls under the Town and Country Planning Act, was laid before the House on May 9. With regard to building research, the recommendation that research should be conducted in the main by organisations of primarily scientific character has already been achieved by the transfer, as from April 1, 1950, of responsibility for sociological and economic research in building from the Ministry of Works to the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. A standard form of contract for Government contracts has been in use since 1941. For local authorities further steps will be taken to secure the wider use of standard forms of contract. For other contracts, the matter will need to be taken up by the R.I.B.A. and the employers' organisations. Then there are the recommendations and by-laws for standardisation and codes of practice. The Government will continue to develop the existing machinery for reviewing existing standards and initiating fresh standards in building. As final codes are produced, the Ministry is developing publicity for them.

With regard to professional training, these recommendations are mainly for the attention of the architectural institutions. In the matter of higher training for management, the part played by the universities and technical schools in improving managerial standards in building is under the closest examination of those concerned. As regards the indenturing of apprentices, these recommendations require the co-operation of all sections of the trade— and, I might add, and I know Lord Wolverton will agree with me, also of the parents. It is very awkward, when you have sufficient boys and have given them a choice, to find that most of them want to be carpenters and very few want to he plasterers. In Scotland there is at present a great shortage of plasterers. We shall be very glad of any suggestion to help in this matter.


The schools teach carpentry but none of these other trades. Perhaps more could be done in the way of evening classes and the like.


Handicraft training is not given to teach boys to become carpenters; it is a form of education to teach people to think by doing.


But it does lead them to think of becoming carpenters.


I quite agree. As regards increased flexibility in craft training, greater interchange between adult craftsmen is a matter for the industry to consider, as is the present lack of balance in the building labour force. The shortage, especially in certain districts, of particular trades, is a point we have been trying to cover. The employers' and employees' organisations and the parents can, make a contribution to this question. With regard to the qualitative registration of building employers, the Ministry accept the recommendation of the Working Party that the present registration should continue for the purpose of securing statistical information only. There are some recommendations about safety and welfare and the Ministry consider that these are largely for the industry. As far as pre-planning is concerned, responsibility rests primarily upon the architect. The question of management of building operations for reducing the amount of wasted time is again a matter for the industry. As regards costing systems, the Ministry of Works have already published booklets and arranged exhibitions and lectures to deal with them.

The question of incentives is now under review. The noble Lord, Lord Quibell, has paid considerable attention to this, matter. Briefly, the Minister of Works, although he appears to have no great confidence in this, will welcome any extension of the system of incentives. The present position is that the large contractors have found it fairly easy to adopt a system for reasons which the noble Lord knows better than I do, but the smaller men have found it much more difficult to get a model scheme to work. That is because such a system varies so much among the smaller firms, whereas the large contractors employing thousands of men have a much better system. At any rate, I know that the noble Lord would not blame the trade union or the workmen. They passed a resolution at their Annual Conference in 1947 in favour of incentives. They may have been against: it before that time, but they have now—owing, no doubt, to the propaganda of the noble Lord—agreed to the making of incentive pay-merits. Discussions are going on, and the Minister of Works is giving all the assistance he can; but it is largely a question for the industry.

That brings me to a point on which I am not so ready to agree with Lord Quibell, and that is the way in which I thought he pooh-poohed the idea of mechanical aids. The Ministry of Works have taken a very active part in this matter. Not only have they published literature, made experiments, obtained models from the United States, and engaged in other activities of that sort, but they are running exhibitions of mechanical aids. I have opened several myself and am going to open another on Warwick Racecourse next Monday. If the noble Lord cares to take a day off from the House of Lords to go there with me and see the mechanical aids, I shall be very glad to see him. He will see demonstrations of mechanical aids which I believe will change his mind in this matter. These mechanical aids are very useful, at the expenditure of no great capital cost. Moreover, the exhibition which I opened in Edinburgh was so successful that people even paid for admission, and a profit was made out of it.

With regard to new materials and techniques, again I should be surprised if anyone suggested that the Ministry of Works had been inactive in this matter. I may say that there is a recommendation on the subject of the building industry overseas, and the Ministry will be glad to co-operate with the industry in helping all they can. So far as joint production committees are concerned, the Ministry will be glad of any proposals for joint consultation, locally or on the site. One of the most important paragraphs, and one that impressed me most, is a report of the delegation to America about morale and the question of reestablishing the spirit of responsibility for Rood output which is traditional in the industry.

As the noble Lord, Lord Quibell, has now returned, he will, no doubt, expect me to say something about his onslaught upon the Ministry of Works Mobile Labour Department. Before I do so, perhaps I may say that comparisons that have been made on the cost of building show that the level of costs in building has, since the war, been moving broadly in line with that of other industries. The hourly wage rates of building operatives, which are related to the cost of living index, are between 75 per cent. and 80 per cent. above pre-war, and weekly earn- ings have risen steadily. I should like to reinforce a point that Lord Quibell made: neither wage rates nor average earnings reflect fully the increased cost of labour; there are, in addition, elements such as holidays with pay, more liberal travelling expenses and allowances for travelling time, lodging and subsistence allowances, a higher standard of welfare, and higher National Insurance payments. I believe the noble Lord quoted something like £1 a week.




I can only say in regard to that that the Girdwood Committee estimate them at 14 per cent. and the Laidlaw Committee at 12 per cent. of current labour costs. If the noble Lord will allow me, for the purposes of the record, to go back to the question of incentives, I should like to confirm what I have said. In 1947, the National Federation of Building Trades Operatives arranged through its affiliated trade unions to take a ballot vote of its membership on the question of the adoption of a system of incentive payments. The result of the ballot showed a large majority in favour of the introduction of incentives. Most of the large contractors are successfully operating bonus schemes. Smaller contractors are finding greater difficulty. The national agreement provides for the operation of bonus schemes on individual sites for an experimental period. It was clearly the desire of the industry that the experiment should be carried out in an atmosphere as free and unrestricted as possible. The Ministry of Works have, therefore, respected this attitude, and do not interfere over much. Successful schemes are being operated, and they are on the increase. The results that we have so far been able to ascertain are highly satisfactory.

I come next to the part upon which, to use the noble Lord's own expression, he "let himself go," and he said he felt better after having got it "off his chest." I am handicapped in this sense: that I have no first-hand knowledge of the cases he cited. The cost of the houses which the Ministry of Works are building for the Forestry Commission is admittedly higher than that of local authority houses. Local authorities generally build houses in some numbers—


If the noble Lord will excuse me for interrupting, that could not apply to the two cases I mentioned. One is at Santon Downham, where forty-odd houses are being built, and the other case that I mentioned was Believer. Santon Downham, in particular, is a case in which no such explanation is justified.


The answer to that is the same answer that I was going to give to the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, hut as he has left the Chamber perhaps the noble Lord, Lard Quibell, will pass this on to him; it is that it is always difficult to deal with specific cases when one is not given any previous notice of them. If the noble Lord had mentioned these cases to me in advance, I should have had inquiries made or probably gone to see for myself. I can only say now that these sites are generally in very remote positions, for purposes of proximity to forests, and labour has to be transported considerable distances daily. Generally no services of any sort are available, and water and sewerage have to be specially provided. Proximity to the forests again often means difficult hillside sites. All these factors drive up costs. I do not know whether that statement applies to the instances which the noble Lord gave.




All I can say there is that, in relation to the cases he has cited, I will make closer investigation and perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to communicate with him when I have done so.


I thank the noble Lord.


As there are a number of other speakers to follow, perhaps I may be allowed to make this brief summary. We are all agreed that there is no quick solution to the problem of finding 'adequate housing accommodation for all in need of it. At the same time, neither this Government nor, I venture to say, any other Government are in my opinion likely to treat housing in a spirit of complacency. Public opinion will see to that. Noble Lords opposite are impatient at the slow progress. So are we. I live in a highly industrial area, and the nearest member of your Lordships' House lives miles away; and I know at first hand how acute the housing difficulty is. As I left my house this morning, one of my neighbours said to me: "I see the House of Lords is going to debate housing to-day." I said: "Yes." I was on my guard and awaited his next question. He said: "I suppose they will hand out the usual stuff?" I said: "What usual stuff?" He said: "You know—blame the building industry for bad working, blame the Government, blame anybody but not propose anything for improving the position." I said: "What is wrong will that?" He said: "If you are going to speak, tell them: 'Let us have suggestions. It is houses we want, not politics.'"


If the Minister of Health would follow that advice, we should get very many more houses.


Is not the question of tied cottages purely a political one?


I am attempting to get noble Lords on to my side. This is a problem in which we are all concerned. I am sure there is no noble Lord on that side of the House who could lay his hand on his heart and say that, if by any fortune of the ballot his Party came into power, they would he able to solve the housing problem within the lifetime of the youngest member present. The older ones have experience of what happened before. Some of the younger ones might make such a claim, but not the older ones.

We are all impatient at the slow progress and we welcome your impatience. Somebody—I forget who it was—once said "Impatience solves more problems than patience." Whether or not that be so, we welcome this debate. Every constructive suggestion made to-day, and others that I hope will be made from now on, will be examined again—as lawyers say, "without prejudice." Both the Reports are being closely examined, point by point, by each section of the industry —singly by each section and in co-operation with the whole industry, employers and workmen sitting together. I think that steady progress will be made. I am not throwing out any prophecies of sensational progress, but I think steady progress will be made, not so fast perhaps as impatient noble Lords including myself would wish, but rapid enough to gain the confidence of reasonable people.

6.49 p.m.


My Lords, I have felt very gloomy about this subject from time to time, but when the noble Lord who has just sat down suggested that only some of the youngest and most temerous of noble Lords would suggest that a solution could come in their lifetime he filled me with still further gloom. Frankly, I do not believe that at all. I believe that the matter can be revolutionised within five years. His Majesty's Government are a Government of planners and, therefore, when the plans go wrong they must be prepared to stand up to criticism and to be told that they are not delivering the goods. It is not really an adequate defence to come and say: "Well, will you tell us your ideas of how to do it?" They are at the wheel; they are the masters of the plan, and it is their job to deliver the goods. In my opinion, they know they are very vulnerable on this subject because they have put up three of their biggest charmers tonight to deal with the opposition, and when they do that you must know that they are vulnerable.

I was going to take up one point of the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, because it is one of which I have some personal experience. I wish that Ministers who listen to advice in favour of what is colloquially called bulk buying but which I call State buying would go and talk to people who have done this sort of thing. In my experience, State buying must ultimately mean Treasury control, and on a rising market it is quite impossible to buy when you have to refer everything to somebody in London. That is a very good thing on a falling market, when one can say "I must refer back," and the market goes back as you are doing so. But in a rising market you must have the power to close on the spot for the price which you think is the best you can get. His 'Majesty's Government have "missed the bus" time and time again through the non-acceptance of that principle. In 1945 they took an entirely wrong view of the course of international commodity prices, and that was ultimately reflected in the very low imports of raw materials during the first half of 1946. As a result, industry was caught seriously short. I think the same thing has happened over devaluation. His Majesty's Government accepted advice which may or may not have been bad. But at any rate they took the view that commodity prices were going to rise a great deal less than in fact they have, which I think accounts for the fact that they have "missed the bus" in timber. The only place where there is timber now is on the west coast of Canada where it is to be obtained in quantity.

In all these great enterprises such as housing and so on the factors of the spirit come in, as well as the factors of the flesh—the drive, the imagination and so on, on the one hand, and the men, the materials and the money on the other. Of course, housing must be a great enterprise. We have our long waiting lists, and the moving speech of the most reverend Primate drew attention to the tragedies which those lists represent in the way of slums, broken marriages, broken homes and so on. Once upon a time His Majesty's Government had the drive. We heard about 4,000.000 houses in ten years, and so on and so forth. That was the right spirit. That was the spirit on which to set off on a crusade—which this was. But now that seems to have evaporated into a sort of groove, from which we may expect something under 200,000 houses to be put into the clan, with the Opposition prodding the Government up to 200,000 or thereabouts. The steam has gone out of the drive, and all we are left with is the rampageous speeches of the Minister of Health, which can seldom stand the cold light of reason. In fact, they rather remind me of a circus. When the lights are up, there is the glitter of the spangles, but when the lights are turned down there is nothing but a tawdry emptiness. So much for the things of the spirit.

Then there are the material things. We have a planned economy, and the planners put first things first. Surely, houses ought to be first. Let us see, in fact, where they have been put. In the Economic Survey one sees that roughly one-sixth of our resources are being devoted to so-called fixed investments. A fixed investment is a "mixed bag," which contains everything from atomic plant, through cowsheds to painting one's own front door. Of this one-sixth, approximately one-fifth is devoted to the building, repairs and maintenance of houses. That means that one-thirtieth of the national resources are devoted to the building, repair and maintenance of houses. The Economic Survey is shy about breaking up these things into the component parts that are worth while knowing—namely, new construction, repair and maintenance—so we have to turn to other calculations. We know that a programme of 200,000 houses a year would cost somewhere in the neighbourhood of £300,000,000, and we know that that figure approximates to about 2½ per cent. of our total national resources.

My Lords, I submit that that is not enough. To devote 2½ per cent. of the national resources to the righting of this terrible social evil is not sufficient. One might ask: Does 2½ per cent. of our total national resources seriously tax the capacity of the budding industry? For an answer to that we have to turn to the Report of the Working Party, and we find that in 1948, the last year they gave (it was a good year, for over 200,000 houses were completed), only 31 per cent. of the building and civil engineering resources of the country was devoted to new housing. So we find that the building and civil engineering industry accounts for about 7½ per cent. of our total national resources, but only about one third of that is devoted to new housing.

It is difficult to get a really correct comparison with pre-war figures, but that same Working Party Report points out that before the war 48 per cent. of the resources of this industry were devoted to new housing. Knowing the figures of houses completed and so on, I have not the slightest doubt that a much larger proportion of that industry was on new housing before the war than it is to-day. Of course, if left to nature there is no doubt that building resources would flow into the most profitable channels. But these things are not left to nature. We are living in a planned economy and the Minister directs, by controls and so on, where these resources are to be employed. Of course, he has to do this; otherwise how can we expect the private individual who wants a small house to be able to afford it? The level of his purse cannot possibly compete with that of a Government Department, with a nationalised industry or with trade and industry itself, which has much more money in the bank. So the Minister redresses the balance. He it is who directs the resources of our building industry, and therefore it is his will that only one-third of these resources should be devoted to new housing.

What is the explanation of this? Can it be that materials exist for the 31 per cent. of the industry devoted to new housing, but that there is no surplus to allow of a larger percentage being turned on to new housing? So far as home-produced materials are concerned, we have had a planned economy for five years. It is inconceivable that there cannot be enough of our home-produced materials to increase this percentage. The only imported raw material used in any quantity is, of course, timber. His Majesty's Government do not plan the growth of timber, but they do conduct its buying. So, what we arrive at is this: either His Majesty's Government think that 2½ per cent. of our national resources is the right amount to devote to housing or they have made such a mess of timber buying that they cannot devote more than 2½ per cent. to housing—or, of course, the whole of this planning and so on is a complete myth. What is it to be? In view of these facts, one might infer that the present situation has been brought, about by callousness as to the size of the problem, incompetence in producing timber or the Government's credulity in believing in the efficiency of their planning of the national resources.. Surely it must be one of those three things. But whichever it is, it is a matter of very small satisfaction to those unfortunate people whose names are on housing lists and are likely to remain there for years.

Mr. Herbert Morrison is alleged the other day to have produced a definition of Socialism as being an assertion of social responsibility for the things which are properly of social concern. That was obviously intended to be read "as you like it" by different people. I read it as meaning that His Majesty's Government have a duty to provide houses, and they had better get on with the job.

[The Sitting was suspended at four minutes past seven o'clock and resumed at half past eight.]


My Lords, I feel it would be more suitable at this time to be telling after dinner stories, but as I fear I should be ruled out of order before I was half-way through my first story, I think I had better get on with the subject of housing. I admit that I am no expert on housing, but I venture to come and speak to your Lordships to-night because I feel I have some information about a certain type of building which would be of interest to your Lordships and to all those who are concerned with the relief of the housing shortage. We have been asked by the Government to be constructive and I am going to be constructive, though I should like to say that one of the most destructive speeches I have ever heard came from the Government Benches this afternoon. However, all Parties want to do what they can to help in this question.

One of the explanations that always crops up when it is necessary to excuse the failure to keep promises on housing is the shortage of timber and of bricks and the restrictions on skilled labour. Recently I heard of a building operation which was going on at Orpington, in Kent, where houses were being built without the use of bricks, with very little timber and without any skilled labour. I was so interested that I went down to see. The firm concerned have contracted with the London County Council to build 100 houses in 100 days with only forty-five people working. Your Lordships will excuse me if I go into details, but I feel I should tell you about this work. The houses are built of cement blocks made of a mixture of shingle, sand and cement. They are made in moulds of any size that is needed to build a house, and the rate of making of these blocks by one man in one day is the equivalent of 2,000 bricks, if not more. I think that compares favourably with the trade union rate of bricklaying, which I believe is one-third of that figure. What is more, it takes only three weeks to train a man to use one of these moulds. These facts are so amazing that I thought it was worth while going down to Orpington. I was greatly impressed. It was an exhilarating experience to see these houses at various stages of construction being built by people who were untrained, and I felt that here was something which could be considered by the Government. These mould operators are paid bricklayers' wages.

In regard to timber, I may say that there is in fact no need to use timber at all in these houses, because the floors can be made by using these moulded blocks; but the houses which I saw had timber used on them because of the London County Council's specification. If no timber were used, there would be a saving per house of a standard of timber, which costs about £80, and a saving to the country in hard currency, I should have thought, of a good deal more. A further point about these houses is that they are cheaper to build than the normal prefabricated house: they cost round about £1,200 to £1,300. A further point is that when they are built they cost much less in maintenance than practically any other house that is built. Lately we have heard many complaints about the enormous sums that have been spent in excess of the estimates on maintaining prefabricated houses: in fact, the estimate for prefabricated houses is £260,000,000, and that has already been overspent by £31,000,000. In another case I heard of a block of 3,900-odd houses where £900,000 had already' been spent on repairs and remedial measures in the first two years. These houses at Orpington conform completely to the by-laws, which is more than can be said for the prefabricated houses.

I want to ask the Government this afternoon why it is that these houses have not received more encouragement and have not been more widely used. The prefabricated type of house has been put up all over the country, and I am sure your Lordships will agree that some are most unsatisfactory. Here is a house—to go over its advantages again—which is cheaper, quicker to build and four times as strong as a brick house when built. Why is it that it has not received more encouragement from the Government? This house seems to be the answer to all the shortages which are so troublesome in these times. The Minister of Works in another place said on May 25 last that he would like to encourage the use of machine aids for building. A firm wrote to him and asked whether he could elaborate his statement. He wrote back and said that he was very interested, but he had to leave the promotion of all such schemes to the sponsors. That was not very encouraging. I feel that the Minister "smelt a rat," and that "rat" was private enterprise.

Ever since this system started in 1945 the promoters have found great difficulty in getting contracts from the various councils. I should have thought that the least the Minister of Health could do would be to inform councils of this system of building, so that they could use it if they wished. I am not asking for any sort of aid to be given to this sort of building as is given to prefabricated houses. What I ask is, first of all, why this system has not received more encouragement; and secondly, why it is that prefabricated houses, which have State aid, are so unsatisfactory and cost so much in maintenance. I am not trying to push a certain house but merely trying to extend a system which can build anything from a two-bedroomed 850 cubic feet house up to a factory in the most satisfactory way; and that house is stronger (if one is talking about bombing) than any other house that is built at the present time. I hope your Lordships will forgive my going into detail, but I felt it was well worth while, as this is something which I feel sure merits further encouragement and investigation by the Government.

8.40 p.m.


My Lords, the debate this afternoon has covered a very with: range, but there is one specific aspect of the housing problem which I think has not been referred to—namely the special problem of London. I ask your Lordships to allow me to take up your time for a few minutes with specific reference to the housing problem in London. London is the greatest city in the world, the capital of a great Empire and one of the greatest ports, if not the greatest, in the world; and the size of London's housing problems is commensurate with her greatness in every other respect. The greatness of London has been made a subject of reproach for a very long time. Much more than a hundred years ago, William Cobbett spoke of London as "the great wen" I suppose that was a term of abuse. We have invented an even more opprobrious term of abuse in modern days. Whether it was the 'invention of the gentleman already referred to who invented the term an "accommodation unit" I do not know, but it is fashionable now to call London a "conurbation." It is a dreadful word, but it means a dreadful thing. London has become a conurbation because of its tremendous pull on people from all over these islands. London is a tremendous market, both for labour and for goods, and the more people who come to work in London, the more services are required to look after them. And so the snowball gathers, and the great aggregation increases with its own momentum.

I wish to make it quite clear to your Lordships that I fully realise the force of the pull. It is this terrific pull of attraction of population into London which is the fundamental cause of the difficulty of dealing with the London problem. I am happy to think that it is now common around that even pre-war London was too large, and I should like: to pause for a moment to consider the grave social consequences of this vast: urban aggregation. Ninety per cent. of the people who want to be re-housed ask for a cottage and a garden. If they go into flats it is because they are forced to, because of their need to live near their work and their inability to get what they really want. I would remind your Lordships of what the most reverend Primate said about the social perils of the slums. Flats in London lead to children in London. I do not believe that children have the same chance if they are brought up in London flats as they are brought up in the country. I do not believe that the consequences of urbanisation of the population have ever been properly estimated. The children have to play in the streets, with no contact with the country, and after a generation or two the children are little "townies"—and, on occasions, they are lost souls.

I desire to speak not only with great respect for London but with great affection of London. To many of us, London is our second home. It does not have the same claim on our affections as our Scottish home, or whatever it may be, but nevertheless those of us who spend our working lives in London have a great affection for the Capital. But London is an octopus, and London has us in its _rip, which it will not readily relax. This pressure is bound to meat more and more flats. Before the war, 1: used to describe flats as a necessary evil. I still think they are a necessary evil, but I am prepared now to amend the phrase and say that these great blocks of flats in London are a terrible second best.

That is the best I can do for them. I believe that all this is common ground, common ground too, I believe, is the correctness of the policy of dispersal. I wish to give full credit to the Government for their good intentions in the matter of dispersal. The Ministry of Town and Country Planning was set up, I believe, by common consent, and I do not think anybody will dispute the advisabiliy, from the national and social point of view, of a policy of dispersal. There is the fear of a diminished agriculture. On balance I am quite certain that proper town and country planning could solve that problem, and that planned dispersal is infinitely preferable to this cramming of people into London.

I regret to have to say that the Government's policy of dispersal is not succeeding. May we just look at what is happening? The 1946 Act established the terms of subsidy, and there was a sliding scale for flats on expensive land. Many of us had misgivings then, and I am going to give your Lordships one very short quotation from the Second Reading debate in 1946. The noble Viscount, the Leader of the House said this: My noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh quite rightly expressed his misgivings as to the effect of the subsidy for flats on very costly land, and we all sympathise with those fears. The temptation will be to build more flats than we should like to see, and I am sure we all realise that is a danger which has to be guarded against. I read that passage now, my Lords, to make it clear that I am sure the noble Viscount the Leader of the House is at one with all of us in his appreciation of the danger. He allayed our misgivings on the Second Reading of the 1946 Act by telling us that there would be an overriding density of thirty-five flats to the acre—I am not suggesting that the noble Viscount gave a pledge that there would be a regulation or anything of that sort. And he made it clear that there must be exceptional densities for exceptional cases. His sympathy with our misgivings was proved by the fact that he was good enough to accept an Amendment which I moved, which dealt with the technical language of the Act—which I thought indicated a definite preference for flats. I was assured that there was no such preference, and the noble Viscount omitted the provision. But the fact remains that the 1946 scale was framed on the basis of the erection of flats at a density of thirty-five to the acre; and the subsidies were supposed to be such as to enable the dwellings to be let at rents which the tenants could afford to pay. The target of rent was 10s. for houses, and 12s. for flats—exclusive, of course, of rates. The higher density was to be exceptional. But these hopes have been falsified by events. What was to be exceptional has become the common practice. Everywhere these great blocks of flats are going up because the local authorities are under this tremendous pressure to cram everybody in that they can possibly find room for.

I desire to express my fullest sympathy both with the Government and with the local authorities. The responsibility for housing is divided. The Government provide three-quarters of the money, while the local authorities undertake the housing and find a quarter of the money. Local authorities are the people who feel the pressure. It is to the housing offices of the local authorities that people go with stories, only too well founded, of frightful hardship. They cannot find anywhere to live, and as a result of their pathetic stories the local authorities feel that they must cram people in, even if it means unlimited ten-storey blocks of fiats. Consequently, if I appear critical —and I am going to be critical of the Government—I hope they will realise that I do understand the difficulty. I am critical only because I want to try to be helpful. I am certain that we are going wrong and I think it is important, believing as I do that we are heading straight for disaster, that I should utter a word of warning. The basic fact with which we have to deal—and this ought to be trumpeted from the house-tops—is that more people want to live in London than is possible without a gross overcrowding That is fundamental.

What is happening? Look at what is actually happening under the 1946 Act. I will give your Lordships an example of what is happening in Holborn. The Holborn Borough Council built on land which cost £60,000 an acre—they had two acres which cost £120,000. On this site they put flats at a density of eighty flats to the acre. I am going to give your Lordships the actual costs because I think they are really startling and shocking. The actual cost at £60,000 an acre and eighty flats to the acre is £740 per flat for the site. Building costs, in addition, £2,440. The actual cost of those flats in Holborn is £3,180 per flat. The subsidy payable under the 1946 scale is: Exchequer, £78 5s.; local authority, £27 5s.; total £125 10s. for sixty years. Capitalised at 3 per cent., this is equal to £2,919 per flat. Your Lordships will understand that I am not giving you the amount of money that is to be spent, because by multiplying £125 10s. by eighty for the flats and by sixty for the years, you arrive at something over £500,000. I can give your Lordships the capitalised cost at 3 per cent., which is much smaller: it is £2,919 per flat. Even so, multiplied by eighty it works out at £233,000, the capital value of the subsidy' of public money on that one block of flats. In addition, of course, there is another concealed subsidy because the Government are lending money to local authorities at 3 per cent. which they are having now to raise at 3½per cent. So there is ½ per cent. concealed subsidy in addition to this downright subsidy from public money.

Your Lordships may like to know the rents which are payable for those flats. The average rent in this block of flats is 15s. 5d., and the rates for 1949–50 were 9s. So rent plus rates is 24s. 3d. En addition there is a charge for heating and water which works out at 7s. 8d., so the total that the perhaps fortunate tenants pay for these flats in Holborn, including heating and water, is 32s. 1d. a week. That scale was amended by the 1949 Act. A clause was specifically introduced because the density was higher than the Government intended and it was recognised that the thing had gone wrong—in other words, that the misgivings which some of us had expressed had turned out to be right. The 1949 scale reduces subsidies for flats of a density of more than forty to the acre; increases subsidies for flats at densities of under thirty-five to the acre and gives increased subsidies for houses on expensive sites. Holborn, or anyone else, can still get—or rather not "get" because they pay some of it themselves, but still erect flats in London on land at £60,000 an acre with a subsidy capitalized at £2,919, but only if the flats are at forty to the acre. If they go up to eighty to the acre, the subsidy goes down to about £2,100. It is still, in my view, far too high, and I am quite sure that the new scale still unduly favours flats as against houses and therefore militates against dispersal.

For comparison, take the case of the subsidy for a normal house which is to be put up in the country, and more of which will be put up to make dispersal effective. The normal house has 1,000 square feet, which is half as big again as the flat that I am talking about. The building costs about £1,400, land and sewers £200, totalling £1,600. The subsidy is: Exchequer, £16 10s. Od; local authority, £5 10s. Od; total £22 Capitalised et 3 per cent., that is £594. My Lords, 10,000 dwellings house somewhere between 35,000 and 40,000 people, and on land at £60,000 an acre it costs in subsidy £30,000,000. If you say that is exceptional, what shall we take in London—£30,000 an acre? At £30,000 an acre, 10,000 dwellings cost in subsidy £20,000,000. At £10,000 an acre (which is a very common price for London boroughs to have to pay), it will be £16,000,000. That compares with the country town at £6,000,000. It shows the fallacy of the argument that houses in the country are more expensive because of development charges, rents and sewers and so on. There are ample millions available to look after that without the country building becoming anything like as expensive as the town.

My Lords, the comparison of the two scales is, I recognise, perhaps a matter for discussion between experts round the conference table, and I am not going to bother your Lordships with more figures. I repeat my assertion that the new scale is still pushing local authorities unduly into building flats rather than houses on medium priced land. There is the question of the Ministry of Health ceiling for approval. Every local authority scheme has to get the approval of the Ministry of Health, and as an average flat costs about £450 more than an average house, the ceiling has to be fixed higher for the flat scheme than for the house scheme. Therefore, you can get an excellent: scheme for houses a little bit over the ceiling for houses, which is miles under the ceiling for flats, but the local authority will not be allowed to put up houses, and will be forced to put up flats, possibly in spite of an inclination to the contrary. I am quite convinced that on marginal lands local authorities are being unnecessarily pushed into flats, swayed, of course, by their sympathy with all the hard cases which come to their notice and this pressure to re-house everybody that they can.

My Lords, I say that the 1949 scale retains the extravagance of the 1946 scale. The exceptional is becoming the normal. Economic and social considerations are abandoned. The sole defence of this scheme is the pressure to cram people into London to the greatest possible extent. It is interesting to recall that formerly, before subsidy days, the distribution of houses or flats depended upon the cost of the land, and no doubt social considerations were sometimes overcome by financial considerations. Now economic and social considerations point the same way, But both are being disregarded because of the pressure to cram people into London. Moreover, as my noble friend, Lord Llewellin, said this afternoon, this subsidy scale is not producing dwellings at rents that people can pay. It is only tolerable because the local authority has the power to equate the rents of the old and new houses.

So, my Lords, that dispersal policy is failing, and if your Lordships doubt that, may I give you some figures recently published by what was the London Passenger Transport Board? There is a pamphlet called Social Aspects of Travel. This shows that passenger-miles are up 45 per cent. compared with the pre-war record. The Londoner now makes 510 journeys a year, compared with 436 in 1937; and the journeys are longer. The average journey to work costs 4s. 1d. a week, and takes forty-two minutes from door to door each way. Two and one-third millions of people make their daily work journey by public vehicle, and the cost of that is £24,000,000 a year. I know there is no such thing as the average man, but these are formidable figures. These work journeys use up 800,000,000 man-hours a year. That is worth, if you take average pay as 4s. an hour, £160,000,000 a year. That is a lot of money to pay for getting accommodation in London which, socially, is nothing like so good as accommodation dispersed throughout the country.

I believe that there are four reasons for the failure of the dispersal policy. First, there is the scale, as I have explained. In the second place, I do not think that there has been enough push behind the new towns policy. At Welwyn Garden City, for example, very little building has been done in the last five years. Of course new towns have great difficulty in that they have fewer pre-war houses to equate with the post-war ones, and consequently their rents are very high. Thirdly, I think there has been failure to check the tendency to come into London. I do not know what has been done about industry, but I cannot help thinking that there should have been a policy whereby when some light industry, some factory or business, came to an end, other industry could have been prevented from going into that place. The Government have immense powers in the matter of allocation of industry and planning, and I think that perhaps those powers should have been used in that connection.

Fourthly—and perhaps most important of all—there is the general inflationary policy which the Government have followed. In 1945—these are official figures—the purchasing power of £1 was 20s. In 1950 it is 16s. 1d. That means that the cost of living is up to that extent, and that has a double effect on the housing situation—it both increases the demand for houses and renders them much more difficult to erect at rents which people can afford to pay. I feel that these high subsidies on expensive sites are themselves extremely inflationary. It is that spiral operation which is going on now and which makes me so anxious. I believe that it is rapidly leading to a serious financial position—I would almost say to financial ruin—though I agree that it is entirely contrary to the Government's intention that that is what is happening. Proof of how contrary it is to the Government's intentions I can give to your Lordships in the form of two very short quotations from the speeches of Ministers.

A few years ago Mr. Key, who I think was then Minister of Works and Building, said: Costs must come down; high subsidies must not be an incentive to maintaining high costs, and since we are determined that high costs shall be temporary high subsidies must be temporary too. Lord Henderson, speaking in your Lordships' House in a Second Reading, debate, said: I stated earlier that the Exchequer subsidies provided in the Bill are very high, that this is intended to be temporary and that the subsidies will be reviewed as soon as building costs begin to come down …. It is the Government's intention that both Exchequer subsidies and rate contribution shall be reduced at the earliest possible moment. That makes very sad reading when we see that the purchasing power of the pound has fallen by 20 per cent., and rents and costs are going up each year.

What are we to do about it? Lord Macdonald, speaking earlier to-day, urged us to be constructive. Consequently I am going to do m best to indicate to your Lordships what I think is the only possible way of dealing with this really terrible situation. In the first place, the dispersal policy should be pursued with greater vigour. Surely the right thing to do is to cut to the root of the trouble by reducing the great pull of Landon. Is it not possible to have less centralisation in London of Government Departments with enormous likes and enormous staffs, and to take rower to prevent new industries coming into London? I do not know how many there are, but I am sure there are a great many new light industries in London. More important than anything perhaps is to reduce inflation. That means spending less. Do we mean to spend less on houses? Well, I am an enthusiast about housing and I do not like to spend less on it, but it is for the Government who are responsible for financial policy to tackle the priorities. I think it is clear that the Government, with the best will in the world, have been trying to do too much. It is clear that at the present time increased subsidies would do more harm than good. If that is agreed, it would be a wonderful thing if the Government could convince their own supporters of the fact that higher subsidies would do 'farm and not good. That would be the first step to the education of a large part of the electorate, and would perhaps convince them that the way to easier living is not by increasing expenditure but by reducing it. Surely the decrease in the purchasing power of the pound since 1945 is extraordinarily eloquent. I never knew of any medicine or any treatment which was intended to cure a disease which was not either nasty, in the case of the medicine, or painful in the case of the treatment. I do not know how many of your Lordships have had manipulative treatment. As we get older many of u; do and we go through a great deal of pain and discomfort in order to get our joints made supple. We shall be flattering ourselves if we think that we can get out of our complicated condition without having to endure a great deal of discomfort and even pain. I fear that fact is not adequately realised.

If we cannot afford a greater investment in housing we must make the most adequate use of the three M's: men, money and materials. If we have only so much, it is folly to spend more than we need on these terribly expensive flats—a quarter of a million for one two-acre housing scheme in Holborn, for instance —when we could build five times the number of dwellings, better houses which people want more, oat in the country towns. I think the London borough councils, with whom I have a great sympathy, might be authorised by some central body to close their application lists. It is foolish to go on receiving new applications for houses. I understand that the real reason is that each London borough receives a small allocation of houses from the London County Council and that they have been told, by what power I know not, that if they close their application lists they will not be given an allocation of L.C.C. houses. I suggest that that is a minor point into which the Government might look.

I have one final suggestion to make which I venture to press on the Government. It has to do with rent restriction and subsidies. We are getting into a frightful tangle of rent: restriction. When rent restriction began, the position was that the better-off people were helping to subsidise the less well off, by the restriction on increases in rents. The same thing applies to subsidies. When subsidies began they came largely out of the pockets of the better-to-do for the benefit of the less well-to-do. The re-distribution of the national wealth has gone a long way since then and has made great changes. There are now immense anomalies covered by the Rent Act. The cost of building varied largely during two wars; and, more important than all perhaps, the Government, quite rightly, have now abandoned the principle that local authorities are to build only what they call working-class houses. Local authorities are now allowed.aid encouraged to build houses to make balanced communi- ties. It means, taking one thing with another, that one large section of the public is privileged and sitting in subsidised houses which are paid for by another large section of the public, without any regard to which section has most money. People I know a good deal about, the black-coated workers—the sort of people who work in banks—are terribly hard pressed at the present time. They are having to pay out of their meagre margin large amounts for subsidies for people who in many cases are better off than they are.

A local authority can build a house up to 1,500 square feet in size, costing £2,500, and it will be subsidised, and a middle-income person renting such a house is subsidised. But the man who builds or buys his own house is not subsidised. I am fully aware of the value of houses to let. I know the importance of mobility of labour and I have never ceased to advocate that a large number of houses should be owned by local authorities and let at low rents in order to enable labour to move about. But, surely, ownership is important, too. It must be important to have a man with a pride in his own house. The one is not exclusive of the other but if the present system continues house ownership will be killed. At the present time, if you are a house-owner and your houses are let under the Rent Restrictions Act, you can sell those houses only at the investment value. If the occupier can succeed in buying his house he can at once make a large profit by selling it with vacant possession. Moreover, private rents are more or less pegged at values which reflect pre-1914–18 war building costs.

The point I want to press on the Government is that the time has now come when a very strong, high-powered Royal Commission should he appointed to go into the incidence of the benefit of subsidies and the whole question of rents and rent control. Every Party agrees as to what we want in housing: we know that the aim of policy is a decent home for every family at a rent they can afford to pay. It would be a tremendous advance if we ceased to bicker about it from a Party point of view and really settled on a policy which would give us some hope of achieving that. The most reverend Primate came very near to what I am suggesting when he said that perhaps we ought to have a shift of subsidies. He referred to anomalies which had been quoted in the Economist. Two tremendously important new factors point in that direction. One is the fact that we are not building now at a cost which will allow current wages to pay the rents. That cannot go on, and it is possible only because the rents can be equated. Some day we will have to get down to bedrock and build houses at rents which the people can afford to pay. The other tremendous new factor is the Government's wise decision not to limit local authorities to building working-class houses. Surely there is room for a new high-powered examination of this question, under some wise chairman, possibly a great Judge who is accustomed to hear evidence, and an endeavour to put on record a new policy upon which all could agree and which will give some hope of release from the terrible difficulties with which we labour.

The noble Viscount the Leader of the House always winds up our debates with great urbanity and courtesy. I hope he will forgive me if I say that sometimes I think he does fall a little into complacency. I am sure he is not complacent about the housing situation, but I am a little afraid that he may not take as seriously as I do the dangers of this scale of high subsidies and the dangers of inflation. I have some experience of two things, and one is London housing. I have been watching London housing for thirty years, and I think it is tragic that after all the effort that has been made and the money that has been spent we should be further off than ever from our objective. The other thing I know a little about is finance, and I beg the Government not to be so carried away with the easy benefits of inflation that they neglect the terrible dangers which are lurking in the background and which I am convinced, unless they are checked, will lead us soon to ruin.

9.17 p.m.


My Lords, I intervene to refer to two speeches made this afternoon. My first intervention is to let the noble Lord who opened this debate know that there is some person other than the Minister of Health ready to say a good word for the Minister of Health.


I am glad to hear that.


And my second is to try to follow some of the points made by the most reverend Primate the are bishop of York. I share his great interest in the slums and the slum problem. Indeed, my entry into the Labour Party as a youth of eighteen arose out of church work, in the course of which I saw many tragedies in, the slums of Lambeth and Kennington which left a deep and lasting impression on my mind. At that useful age I went into houses and found whole families crammed into each room, with a communal lavatory for all the families in the house. I saw a situation which called for practical Christianity and for Government intervention of high priority.

I went also to Scotland. I took tea in Scotland in a one-roomed house, and only those of your Lordships who have been into a one-roomed house in Scotland can know the horror of it. I took tea there, and I hated taking it. First of all, I had seen my hostess go to fill the kettle at the little place on the landing where six families shared the only lavatory and the only tap. To take my tea I sat at the table underneath the bed, and when tea was over we moved the table and the chairs, in order that, by turning the handle on the wail, the bed could he wound down to the floor and the family might sleep.

My memories of thirty years are very relevant, because those same places still exist and it would be wrong for us to forget that. They exist, not merely after five years of Government action, but after thirty years of Government opportunities to deal with those matters. I went to other places in Scotland where there were no lavatories inside the buildings; the only lavatory accommodation was the communal lavatory across a yard, where one went and queued. Those places are still there to-day after thirty years of Government opportunity to deal with them. I have been to Wales and seen the miners' cottages. They are still there to-day. I have been to Liverpool, to Cardiff, and to places all over the country to see what it was that Governments had to do. I took part for years in the agitation to get Government action to deal with houses through the roofs of which dripped water, houses which had never known a bath and do not know one to this day. They are still there.

The most reverend Primate suggested that the problems of the slums and of overcrowded properties were well in hand when war came in 1939. I am sorry to disagree with the most reverend Primate, but when war came we had hardly started to tackle the majority of these problems. In order that my memory might he refreshed and that I might give authoritative information, I have looked at the OFFICIAL REPORT of the last main pre-war debate on housing in the other place in July, 1938, when it was admitted that old houses were still occupied and that large-scale rebuilding: and replanning of great industrial centres had not commenced. Mr. Walter Elliot, the Minister of Health of the day, admitted that building progress had been mainly concentrated on getting rid of unfit houses in a five-year programme. He said that the tackling of the problem of overcrowding had not yet been started—and I would remind your Lordships what overcrowding means. It is a technical definition, and not what Your Lordships would call overcrowding. It is not counting the number of rooms in which people could sleep; it is counting every room including kitchen and scullery. Any definition of overcrowding that your Lordships would offer would be a much heavier one. Mr. Elliot said: The programme is not within sight of completion. He went on to say that he hoped that there would be a progress report within the next four years; so that by 1942, if we had not had a war, we might have had a progress report. In that debate also it was admitted in regard to agricultural housing—I quote the exact words: The lack of these houses is a potent factor in the difficulties of agriculture. The Minister went on to remind the House that they could not expect too much; after all, this great National Government had only got the Act through in March, 1938. He added: I cannot point to visible results hut progress in actual building will follow. Hopes—not completion, as the most reverend Primate thought.

If we go on to read the debate, we find that the L.C.C. Labour representatives sitting in the other place were very clear what the problem in London was. It is no new problem to which the noble Lord. Lord Balfour of Burleigh, has referred. They pointed out that many working-class families in London shared a house in 1939. Two out of three, I believe was the number. It was common for four or five families to be in a house where there was need to go through someone else's scullery or kitchen whenever one wanted to get water or to proceed to the lavatory. There were no facilities for food storage, or for cooking, except the gas stove on the landing. There were 50.000 underground illegally occupied rooms in London. That was the kind of situation which was still in existence in 1939—when the most reverend Primate thought that great progress had been made.

On the Minister's admission, that was a shortage which, at the existing rate of building, and if there had been no war, it would have taken anyone sixteen to seventeen years to overcome. How right the right reverend Primate was when he went on to say that there is deterioration in slum conditions! It was said in that debate by the representative of the London County Council that it was reckoned that, without anybody taking any action at all, 3,000 further houses a year would fall within the definition of slums in every year by the natural process of things.

When I looked a little further in the OFFICIAL REPORT and came to November 8, 1938, the date of the last King's Speech before the war, I saw the words: My Government will press forward with better housing.… The Prime Minister, Mr. Neville Chamberlain, dealt with this in the course of his speech. The better to inform your Lordships, I took a note of the words: The work of clearing the slums will go on. said the Prime Minister: but it is not to be expected that we can at one and the same time embark upon an enormous armaments programme and vast projects of social improvements. Your Lordships see the great difficulties of embarking at one and the same time upon housing and other great projects. May I ask myself: What was the position at that time? In just over twenty years there had been built 4,334,000 houses—let us say, roughly, 200,000 a year. It is in the light of the historic picture which I have tried to offer your Lordships that I must judge whether the Minister of Health can offer an explanation of his stewardship which I, as a Socialist, can find acceptable.

What are the criteria on which I must judge it? First of all, what were the facts of the position in 1945? What obstacles, if any, were there? There had been no repair or maintenance for five years. Houses destroyed or substantially damaged by enemy action numbered over 1,000,000. Of those, 210,000 had entirely disappeared and 250,000 more were completely uninhabitable. There had been during the war 2,500,000 marriages—2,500,000 additional couples entitled to look for new homes. Whatever noble Lords may think about the short supply of goods to-day, they will not deny that in 1945 timber, steel and bricks were it very short supply. Nor will they deny—because many noble Lords on both side of the House, including the noble Lord who moved the Motion, whose valuable services during the war we all recognise played important parts in the war effort —that the labour force of this country was re-deployed and that in 1945 less than one-third of the labour force of the building trades was there available.

There were factories to be rebuilt; there was the demand, the quite proper demand, that there should be an export trade, and factories were wanted for that. The Government, in dealing with housing, had to overcome all those difficulties. No man and no Government can perform miracles, but only a miracle can surmount the aftermath of the war and can cure in one period of five years the neglect of twenty-five years—indeed, fifty years before the war, longer than I have lived. If my criterion of judgment is by comparison with things abroad we have nothing to be ashamed of. America has not come so well out of the picture. America has had to abandon private enterprise in order to get on with some housing. Mr. Truman last year had to deliver a message on this. I see the noble Lord stretching for the report, but let me tell him that the message can be read by him in the Library. Mr. Truman in his message had to say that there had been a failure on the part of private enterprise to play its due part in housing, and that subsidies must be provided to help municipalities to provide houses.

It has been said by Australia that if only there had been such effort to rehabilitate in housing in Australia—where with one small exception there had been no war damage—as there had been in the Mother Country, of which they were proud, they would not have had so many difficulties as they have had to face. The United Nations Economic Survey shows that Sweden alone, which has not known a war for 130 years, is a country which has beaten Great Britain in the production of houses since the war. So I say to myself: Am I, as a critical Socialist, satisfied? My answer is, of course: No, I cannot he satisfied until every family has its own house in this country. But on the criteria I have indicated, which I suggest are reasonable, I am more than satisfied with the results of the first four years at which I look in regard to the slum and housing problem.

The four years after the First Great War saw 220,000 houses built. In the first four years of the Government which I have been happy to support in recent years 550,000 have been built, to say nothing of the adaptation, conversion, repairs to war damage, and erection of temporary houses. Of course I am not content. I cannot be fully content until this country is completely conscious that the whole of the fabric of this nation's existence revolves around housing. How right the most reverend 'Primate was when he said that other things are mixed up with housing! Of course they are. There is our education, our health programme, the size of the police force we want to cope with the growth of juvenile delinquency. There are the problems relating to people who are driven into the streets became that is a better place for them, compared to the slums in which they have had to live for years, or who are driven to the pictures for warmth or comfort. Those things, I know, create additional problems which must be tackled firmly by all of us.

The Report of the Royal Commission on Population, showing us, as it does, the new longevity of the population owing to its better health, presupposes yet additional burdens to be thrown upon those responsible for housing the com- mutiny of this country. The greater prosperity of the workers, many of them now knowing full life for the first time in fifteen years, means that they believe that they have a right to that which prosperity should bring them—namely, a better home than the one room in which they have been packed foe so many years of unemployment. These things bring new demands.

I should delude not only your Lordships but myself if I suggested that there were not grave and difficult problems to solve. While I do not agree with much that my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh said, there is no doubt about the difficulty of London, and no doubt about the difficulty of finding land on which to put houses or flats in some parts of London. There is the problem of the mobility of the people; there is the problem of moving industry and all that that means into the newer areas. My Lords, the Minister of Health and the Government of the day have nothing of which to be ashamed in the record that they can offer to the 'public, and I, as a critical Socialist who does not agree on a large number of occasions with the Minister of Health, am ready to say that I think the account of.the stewardship that can be given to me is one that I can accept. We are all indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, for initiating, this debate. I am grateful, if only because it has given me the chance to show him that the Minister of Health is not quite alone.

9.35 p.m.


My Lords, in a prolonged debate in your Lordships' House, the last speaker before the Government reply, which I understand is to be given by the noble Viscount the Leader of the House, must necessarily be short. I do not intend to detain your Lordships for any length of time, but as one who can very seldom attend the debates in your Lordships' House, owing to the calls of administrative local Government work in the North of England, I feel that I can make some contribution to this debate on housing., and particularly in regard to housing in the rural areas.

In view of the provisions of the Housing Act of 1949, as your Lordships know, a study of conditions in rural areas is appropriate to any district—except perhaps those to which my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh referred, the Metropolitan area, the large industrial areas and our great cities. Except in those areas, all housing authorities have now been vested with the functions that were previously, under the Housing (Rural Workers) Act, the exclusive province of the rural housing authorities. The noble Lord, Lord Crook, has given us a personal account of his knowledge of the housing conditions which have existed during this century. I could give your Lordships similar information, for I started work in social service as a probation officer, and to-day I have close contacts with members of that profession. Moreover, as one who deals with many of the mental hospitals and institutions of this country, I can fully and thoroughly support what he has said. I also support what the most reverend Primate has said by way of indictment of some of the conditions which exist to-day, and of the Government's inability to provide enough houses. Looking at this matter from a non-Party angle, as one who is engaged in social work, I would remind Lord Crook that in the last twenty-five years there has been slow but steady progress. In the case of those areas which can best be described as rural, it was the present Government who repealed the Housing (Rural Workers) Act, an action which the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, has rightly described as a betrayal of trust to many agricultural workers, who at that time were suffering from similar conditions to the slum conditions which are unfortunately only too well known in some of our larger towns.

I want to-night to use the time available to me in a manner which I hope may be regarded as constructive. We all know that since 1944 the emphasis in relation to housing has been upon new houses. There has been a lapse of some ten years in which, owing to the lack of major repair work, a gradual and inevitable deterioration has occurred in the structure of property. This period, after all, is a good slice out of the life of any house. I am informed that the latest figures available for rural England and Wales—omitting those houses built in rural areas in 1944—show that there were more than 1,500,000 people living in rural houses which were built more than thirty years ago. Therefore, that figure taken with the figure that has been mentioned to your Lordships of an overall building of 200,000 a year, must necessarily be significant. I would remind your Lordships that as long ago as 1944 the Third Report of the Rural Housing Sub-Committee of the Central Housing Advisory Committee, under the chairmanship of Sir Arthur Hobhouse, made some important recommendations. I am not going through these recommendations, except to say that one of them initiated the plan subsequently adopted by the Minister of Health, that every county should make a further and comprehensive survey of housing conditions on a long-term basis.

That survey has been completed by the greater number of county authorities in the country. Your Lordships must be aware of the terms on which the survey was made and of the classification of houses. Category I covered houses satisfactory in all respects; category 2 houses which had only minor defects; category 3 houses requiring repair, structural alteration or improvement: and category 4 houses appropriate for reconditioning. The last category covered houses unsatisfactory for habitation and beyond repair at a reasonable expense. Thirty-four counties have now completed that survey. What do they find? They find that out of the total number of 1,268,000 houses to be surveyed, of which already 777,000 have been surveyed, 421,000 or 54 per cent., fall within categories I and 2, requiring minor repairs and suffering from minor defects. Categories 3 and 4 (houses requiring structural alterations and houses suitable for reconditioning) number 33 per cent., and those unsuitable for habitation are 11 per cent.

There are provisions in Part II of the 1949 Act which enable local authorities not only to obtain but to grant to a private owner improvement grants for the reconditioning of houses. I have reason to think that so far as the northern region is concerned very little advantage has been taken of that provision since the 1949 Act found itself on the Statute Book. I should be glad if the noble Viscount would give me some indication of the number of authorities that have permitted private owners to make application for grants under this provision. The figures represent a simple picture. I submit that unless major repair work is executed in order to arrest further deterioration many houses now classified as requiring structural alteration will soon be relegated to the unfit category. If that is permitted to happen, instead of having 11–14 per cent. of the total number of houses in rural areas issued with demolition orders or closed as unfit for habitation, the proportion will be very much higher.

That leads me to say that the problem facing a rural local authority is not merely the deficiency in the quota of new houses. Even if the quota were increased by, say, 25 per cent, as my noble friend Lord Llewellin and other noble Lords have strongly urged—and they have substantiated by sound argument that it is possible to do it by improving the supply of labour and materials, in particular softwoods from abroad—there would still be a great number of persons in the lower income groups unable to pay the rents, which average 19s. to 20s.

Your Lordships will be aware that in many country areas and market towns there are Agricultural workers, and others engaged in kindred industries, who are at present paying from 6s. to 7s. a week for their cottages, as opposed to 19s. or 20s. I found in my own area that the average rental of my cottage property is 6s. a week, or £14 a year. The average rental of property owned by the local authority of which I am chairman is now £29 10s. 0d. a year. In my case the average rateable value is in the neighbourhood of £6 a year, and in the case of the council houses £14 a year. The consequence is that, although I have not been permitted by Statute to do the repairs that otherwise I would do, and my houses cannot he compared favourably with the modern council house, I have as many applicants on my private estate list as are on the council's list, if not more, because the houses are cheaper. Moreover, often in those structually well-built houses, which are deficient in bathrooms and sanitation, there is an outside shed which 'permits one from the country-side to keep chickens or pigs. So the problem is not one merely of raising the quota of new houses, but also of reconditioning old houses in rural areas.

The section of the Act relating to this point stipulates that not less than £100 and not more than £600 can be expended on such a dwelling. The average cost of putting in a bath- room with sanitation is approximately £200. Many houses of the type for which one wishes to take advantage of this section also require some other improvement; or if not improvement, they require repair. But the Act lays down that the total overall cost of improvements must not exceed the ceiling limit of £600, which includes the cost of any repairs that may be necessary to the roof, the architect's fees and the development charge. The result, in my experience is that time after time the local authority do not receive the assistance of private owners who are willing, and often anxious, to take advantage of this Act, simply because the sixteen points required to bring the house up to a standard required by the Act are such that it cannot be done within the £600 ceiling. If this reconditioning is to be complementary to tie new housing, as noble Lords have emphasised it should be surely it would be a sound economy for His Majesty's Government to consider at an early date raising that ceiling for subsidy. That would enable more effective improvements to be made at a time when, if they are not made, the houses will fall into the lowest category of being "unfit." That is the main point I wish to make to your Lordships on 111.s occasion. The others I will not press at this time, because your Lordships will be waiting for the Leader of the House to reply.

9.52 p.m.


My Lords, I think this is the fourth time that I have been called upon to reply to a debate on housing. That speaks for itself. But that is by no means comprehensive so far as my own painful experience of this problem is concerned. It is more than thirty years ago since I embarked on this enterprise. This debate does reveal, I think, the changing character and the extent of the problem, and I will refer to some of those features in a few minutes. There are really two questions before us. The first is the magnitude of the problem and the various devices which may be required for dealing with it. The second question is whether the Government have done as much as they could in this respect. Now that is quite a different question. The noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, has addressed himself manly to the second question, but you cannot deal with the second question without having some recognition of the first. I remember that in the year 1919, before I became accustomed to derision on this subject (because foolish people expected that houses would grow up like mushrooms in a night) I incurred much derision in the House of Commons one day when some Member, not of the noble Lord's mind but of his Party, asked me when I thought I should get the slum problem cleared up, or words to that effect, and I replied: "If we have made a good start in twenty years, I shall be gratified." In their various ways different Governments have been doing something or other—some of them more than others. Some have left it largely to private enterprise, and some have done more themselves. Yet we are still here, thirty years after, with all these stories before us—and they are true stories.

But it is not quite the same problem; it has changed its character. I will come to that in a moment. I want to refer to what the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, said. He is not quite correct in his review or summary of the position in London. I was Member for the Hoxton Division of Shoreditch in 1910; and in 1907, 1903 and 1909 I had been engaged with some others in ascertaining the housing conditions of the people in that district. A report was published. It was an appalling document. It revealed that in many streets of large numbers of houses there was an average of six families per house. Bad as it is in Holborn, it is not as bad as that—nothing like so bad. I am not in the least minimising the matter; but I believe that the density per acre in these London boroughs has been much reduced in the last thirty years. But in one sense that does not affect the point raised by Lord Balfour of Burleigh. He said, and quite rightly, that there is a demand by people to live in London. Partly, of course, that demand is intensified by the expense of living out of London if their work is here. But living in London has its attraction, unfortunate as it may be and though Cobbett wrote of it as he did. For all that, however, the population of inner London, as we know, has very much declined.

But what I was interested in—and I am not saying this in the least in any Party spirit—was that the noble Lord wanted to know what the Government can do to, shall we say, inhibit the development of minor industries in particular, in districts such as Holborn. Well, my Lords, we have done a great deal by encouraging financially, at great cost, the building of factories in development areas all over the country—inhibiting expenditure even on bombed areas because of the necessity of using building labour in other ways. I should like noble Lords opposite to bear this in mind: that if they want the Government to prevent industries, great or small, coming into centres of population such as London, they cannot ask us to do that one day and then complain of controls the next. That simply will not do. You cannot achieve that object unless you are prepared to exercise very drastic controls. I am not drawing any conclusion: I am stating a fact.

But we have done a great deal, I think, in this connection, though it has not gone very far yet. The noble Lord did not think that the dispersal programme was making as good progress as it ought. I am not prepared to contradict him, because I do not know the facts; but the New Towns Act was passed only in 1946. You cannot start a new town, survey it, plan it, make the roads, and all the rest of it, quickly—though some no doubt get on more quickly than others. But it is not a question of a year or two; it is going to be a question of a considerable number of years, at the best, before this process of encouraging new towns can have a material effect upon our great centres of population. I am not in the least denying what the noble Lord said. Very likely the programme is not making as rapid progress as he or we would like. Perhaps not—I do not know. In any case, however, it will take a considerable time.

Then I turn to what he said about rent restriction and subsidies, and his important and valuable suggestion upon that subject to which I know he will not expect me to reply now. But I will say that we will certainly look into it carefully. I want to make one or two remarks regarding a point which has been dragged into this debate—namely, that the pound has declined in value to 16s. The dollar has gone down more than the pound and, so far as the franc is concerned, that coin has just sky-rocketed; and good- ness knows where the lira is! Do let us be fair, even to a Socialist Government. We are entitled to some measure of fairness. When we find that the purchasing power of the dollar has diminished even more than the purchasing power of the pound, I am entitled to point out these facts. At all events, so far as this particular debate is concerned, I suggest that that matter has very little relevance.

I will now come closer to the subject. We have had some rather interesting statements. I believe, though I am not quite sure, that it was the noble Earl. Lord Selkirk, who accused us of complacency. Then somebody else said that we could have a revolution in method in five years. It was also said by the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, that a change of attitude was required. Those are disconcerting phrases, but I wonder what on earth they mean. What is this change of attitude? I will come to the facts in a minute. This kind of statement does not take us forward at all. I am quite sure that if the noble Earl opposite had been on this Bench he would not have beer able to do any more. I am absolutely certain of that. Only a small contribution is being made to the solution of this immense task. I know it will take many years to complete it at this rate of progress, or even at a little faster rate. It is no good burking the facts. That is true. I will never blame any Government for not solving the housing problem in a year or two. If this present rate of progress continues at 200,000 houses a year for the next generation, then we shall really have begun to make a considerable impression upon the problem. That is the kind of problem it is. Do not let us take too narrow and small a view of it. You cannot blame this Government or any other Government because they have not solved this problem in a year or two. Let us look at the facts for a minute. The general case of the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, was—and he knows that I am the last person to try to misrepresent him—that we had not put enough energy into solving this problem.




And that we were displaying complacency about it. Let us have a look at the facts. The figures have been given me since this afternoon, and I find that, up to April 30 of this year, there were 231,000 building workers with 22,000 others—engineers and others, associated therewith—employed in building houses. That is, there were about 253,000 employed in building houses. In August last year there were 252,000 employed on repairing houses. Does the noble Lord want us to take any of those people off the repair work? The figure given to us was that a million houses had been destroyed or very badly damaged, and, I believe, nearly 500,000 completely destroyed during the war. One has only to go along any street in London to see what is required in repair work. Everywhere you go you will see scaffolding and painters, or workmen of one kind, and, looking at any rate at'. He outside, I must say it is marvellous how they transform the appearance of some of these places which have not had a touch of paint for Um years or more.

Large numbers of these houses are damaged. If noble Lords want us to devote more labour to building new houses, I want to know whether they wish is to take away labour from repairing and making good damaged and neglected houses? My Lords, the answer to that is silence; of course they do not. They would not dare to suggest it. These poor people have been wanting for years and years to get their houses touched up and repaired, and we are at last making some progress. As we know, there is much more to be done; miles of streets have still to be repaired. We have 252,000 workers employed in that sort of work.

What else is being Cone? There is the building of new factories, new power stations, schools, hospitals and all kinds of other work. Last year the capital investment programme of this country was £2,200,000,000. What are noble Lords going to chop off? Are they going to have fewer power stations and more houses? Are they going to have fewer factories to make goods for export to the United States? Are they going to build fewer factories in the development areas? What are they going to do? I am entitled to ask that question, because we are accused that we are not doing the job properly. I contend that the noble Lord himself will not dare to suggest that any of these power stations are superfluous. He will not suggest that we do not need these new factories improve our methods of production. He will not suggest that we do not need new plant in the mines, and all the rest of it. He will not do that, because he knows perfectly well that these things are all required. Houses, too, are required. They are all required as a result of a long war; and, if I may say so sotto voce, one reason why we require some of these factories is because we had twenty years of Tory government before the war. That is another of the reasons why all these things are required.


That is just what we did not have. The noble Viscount often forgets that the Labour Government were in power for three of those years before the war.


I was in the House of Commons and I knew who ruled this country from 1923, except for two short hiatuses. It was for more than twenty years. Perhaps I ought not to pursue that subject. It was just a little friendly gesture, and I know the noble Lord will not take it amiss. As a matter of fact, we should not now have to do all this work at the mines, the power stations and other places if an enlightened policy had been followed in these matters during past years. These things are required now—that we shall all agree. There are these bodies of building labour to which reference has been made—253,000 men, more or less, employed on building houses of one sort or another, 252,000 employed in repairing, and the rest working on the building of factories, and so on. I ask noble Lords opposite which of the latter two forces they would reduce in order to put more workers on to new housing. I am entitled to ask that question, but I am perfectly certain there will he no reply to it. All these men are required for their jobs. That is the reason why there cannot be a diversion. It will take us years and years to catch up. I would not blame any Government just because they did not catch up quickly. After all, in one way or another, taking into account new houses, prefabricated dwellings of different kinds,' and so on, more than a million new homes, I am informed, have been provided since the war. That is a substantial contribution to the solution of the problem.


That figure includes Nissen huts, I take it?


About 170,000 homes are included in that figure which are called temporary. The figure does not include Nissen huts unless they are in permanent use as dwellings.


It does include Service camps, does it not?


If noble Lords want the figures I have them here. The figure for new houses in England and Wales is 612,859, and for Scotland it is 73,160. Then the balance—various other kinds of houses—is made up by 165.000 in England and 29,000 in Scotland. So your Lordships will see that there is a very substantial number of pre-fabricated or temporary houses. This represents a great effort of new house building. That is the number of homes of one kind or another which are being provided, but I want to say at once that it is nothing like enough.

I come now to the point I was going to make. There has been a remarkable change in the demand. What would have satisfied the demand fifty years ago will not satisfy it to-day. What would have satisfied the demand twenty years ago will not satisfy it to-day. Those people who used to Eve six families in a house in Hoxton will not be satisfied with such conditions to-day—of course they will not, and we do not expect them to be satisfied. We should be ashamed of ourselves if we did. Young men and young women who get married to-day do not like to live with their "in-laws." If they can afford it they like to have a place of their own. But these new standards of life have completely altered the character of the demand. That is why an estimate made several years ago, of, say, a million houses required, is now clearly seen to be out of focus. The demand has grown even more quickly than the supply, and I think it will continue to do so for some considerable time.

The noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, raised a question about prejudicing some new method of building houses. I should think that the fact that the London County Council appear to have given a contract for a hundred dwellings of this sort is very encouraging. I would tell the noble Lord frankly that I myself have had rather painful experience more than once of these exceedingly promising methods of fabricating houses. On the whole, they have not been as satisfactory as we should like. I think that is what lies behind the question the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, put just now, but he knows as well as I that people do not like these houses so well as they like a permanent house, although that is no reason why any method should not he looked into and given every facility it justifies.


My Lords it is a completely permanent house that is being built. This system has been in operation for the last five years and the London County Council have just begun to realise it.


I do not wish to decry these houses but I exhort the noble Lord not to.3e too sanguine. If they are as good as he says, I sincerely hope they will be encouraged. I do not think that a case has been made that the Government have been neglectful. We are spending an unprecedented amount of money on housing. I wish we did not have to spend so much. I think that high costs are the worst feature of die problem—I frankly admit it. If we could devise anything to reduce costs, that would be the greatest contribution to the solution of the housing problem. Everybody wants to deal with it. I have listened to all that has been said and undertake that any suggestion made will be carefully considered.

Taking one thing with another, I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, has made a strong case about the neglect of the Government. Considering where we started from in 1945, I think that on the whole a very great effort has been made. Any suggestion he or 'anybody else ea make for improving or expediting our progress will be gladly welcomed. In the meantime, I am not in an apologetic frame of mind.

10.18 p.m.


My Lords, we have had one of those typical "windups" from the noble Viscount the Leader of the House. He finished by saying that he is not in an apologetic frame of mind. So far as I can understand his speech, he expects this rate of 200.000 houses a year to go on for a generation—and no more. That absolutely appals me.


I did not say "and no more." I said that it will go on at least for a generation. I did not say "and no more." That remains to be seen.


The noble Lori said neither "at least" nor "and no more." I want to put things in their right perspective, and I put those words into the noble Viscount's mouth to draw from him whether he contemplated 200,000 or more than that. I am delighted to get from him this last admission that he will not be content with a rate of 200,000 houses a year going on for thirty years and that he has ambitions to get more. The only difference between us is that I want more now; I do not wart to wait for ten, fifteen, or thirty years to get above that 200,000 target.

I was not surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Crook, rose to speak to-day. It was clear that, having heard the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Quibell, the Government had to get someone else up from that side of the House.


The noble Lord will be aware that my name was on the list of speakers as long ago as yesterday.


Yes. But I knew before then that the noble Lord, Lord Quibell, was to speak, and I have no doubt that the noble Lords who are Lords in Waiting were equally well informed. I am sure that they were delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Crook, was in his place. He seemed to be quite content with the present rate of progress, and I presume that he still is. Yet he got up and described himself (if I may so call it) as tie "Lord Critical Crook." I must say that after his speech I was more inclined to entitle him the "Lord Conforming and Complacent Crook." At any rate, the noble Lord, made a good speech from his point of view.

The noble Viscount, Lord Addison., has challenged me as to what I would de away with. He mentioned, somewhat. extraneously, if I may say so, mining; machinery improvements. That subject. does not seem to me to have a great deal to do with house building. However, I will tell the noble Viscount that one of the main difficulties about some of the improvements to the coal mines (the noble Viscount, Lord Hall, knows this well) was that of persuading a large number of mineworkers to have the machinery in the mines. That is at any rate one of the matters with which, I am glad to say, we are keeping pace. The noble Viscount then talked about electric power stations. We had all the electric power we wanted before the war, and it is only because greater uses have been made of power since the war that we need this additional programme. However, I am not saying that we ought to cease building these electric power stations. The noble Viscount did challenge me as to what I would cut out, and said that he did not expect to get an answer. He will get one here and now. I say that we should cut out the large bureaucratic buildings, the vast Government offices that are going up near Earl's Court and near Guildford, and elsewhere over the countryside, to house officials to look after forms. I say that the people building them would be far better occupied building houses for the people of this country.

I hope that as a result of this debate full inquiry will be made by the Government into the softwood timber position. I am certain that if something is not done we shall run into trouble in that respect.


If I may interrupt the noble Lord, I was given a note which I should have read in relation to the noble Lord's inquiry. It is to the effect that the timber stocks were given in the last number of the Housing Return of March 31.


The noble Viscount has anticipated me. I knew that the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, could not remain, and he asked me, if I intended to be critical of him, to say what I had to say. I said that there was one thing about which I was going to be very critical, and I asked for certain figures. The noble Lord said that it would be against public interest to give the figures for which I asked. I was then completely unaware that the figures of our timber stocks, and the amounts we get from each country, are given every quarter in the Housing Return, and that it would be only three weeks after the end of June before we had the quarterly figures down to the end of June, on which I was asking for advance information to-day. I ask the noble Viscount the Leader of the House to take this quite seriously. Too often the quick answer is given that the figures cannot be given because it would not be in the public interest. I was not asking for anything which is outside the public interest, be- cause they are given every quarter, and in a month's time we shall get the very figures for which I asked. I should like an inquiry made as to why the noble Lord was advised to give that answer to me to-day, when I think I was entitled to the figures.


I will certainly inquire.


With a departmental brief it is too easy to give that answer. In some cases it is perfectly right, but in a case like this I submit it is completely wrong. I hope that a searching inquiry will be made by the President of the Board of Trade, under whom the Timber Control comes, as to how they are getting on. I believe that the only way may be to spend some extra Canadian dollars—it would not be many —so that we may be able to see our way through.

It is true that the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, prides himself that the Timber Control bought more cheaply than the foreign buyers buying against them. I want to see the timber bought as cheaply as possible, but I am told by the timber trade that the timber is sold in lots, and that the lots with the better sizes go for more money. In many cases I believe that is what the foreign buyers have bought, and we have come in for the tail-end lots. As this is so vital to our housing problem, I hope that a Minister will inquire what the Timber Control have bought, because I am pretty certain that we have not bought enough this year. I hope that somebody else will look into the question of whether the Forestry Commission ought not to be allowed to seek free tender between the Ministry of Works and some outside firm when building their houses, in order to keep a better check than appears to be done on the Ministry of Works mobile labour force.


To the best of my information, the mobile labour force of the Ministry of Works has built houses for the Forestry Commission only when no other contractor, either local or national, could be found to put in a tender.


I may be wrong, but I understood that it was by Ministerial decision.


The point which my noble friend Lord Quibell took was that he thought the: Forestry Commission ought to have its own housing department to built its own houses.


I see. If his figures were right—,and I have not the slightest doubt they were—it seems that that mobile force is not setting a very good example of cheap building to the ordinary,builders of the country. Perhaps the noble Lord who is at the Ministry of Works will take an acute, and, if I may say so, a Scottish look, into that particular problem.

The other thing that I hope will be followed up as a result of this debate is the question why these employers and employees who want to work overtime are being stopped by some national or local body. The noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, said that he wanted the greatest amount of consultation between the employers and the employees. I am all for that myself. But in the case that I raised in fact the employees were consulted, because they were interested in the subject and they wanted to work this extra time an the site I mentioned. Now they are saying, "What is the use of these consultations if, when w have gone through them and agreed, someone from above damps it all down?" That is the kind of thing that the Government, if they are really in earnest about pushing forward this programme, should see is properly dealt with by means of the influence that they can bring to bear—and a very strong influence it is—through the Ministry of Labour and others.

One thing at least think we have done to-day has been to make noble Lords opposite, even if they will not go into a white sheet (although I never asked for that), deny the imputation that they are lacking in energy, or are in any way complacent about this housing problem. I think we have given much food for thought to noble Loris opposite, and I hope that they will bring these things home to their colleagues who are in charge of the Departments concerned. If they do that, we shall have achieved something by our debate to-day. And if I, for my part, have achieved something, I am content now to ask leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.