HL Deb 26 February 1952 vol 175 cc202-92

2.45 p.m.

THE LORD SILKIN rose to call attention to the housing of the people; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords. I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. This is the fourth time that the Motion has appeared on the Paper, and it is hard to believe, even now, that it is going to be taken. The first postponement was to enable the noble Lord, the Lord President of the Council, to acquire a well-deserved insignia of learning from a northern university, and I was very pleased indeed to facilitate that honour. We then had the unhappy death of our clear friend Lord Addison, and the lamented death of his late Majesty King George VI. I hope the House will not think me impertinent if I say a word or two about the well-known interest of his late Majesty in the subject of housing. I was for a time exceedingly well placed to judge of that interest. It was my duty and my very great privilege on a number of occasions to escort his late Majesty and the Queen Mother over a number of housing estates, and I know the tremendous concern that his late Majesty felt over the subject of the housing of the people. I know, too, the great pleasure it gave him to get amongst the people, to visit their homes informally and to see the progress that was; being made towards improving housing conditions. The present Queen is, of course, by hereditary and other reasons, equally interested in this vital subject.

Housing is the most vital and urgent of our social services. That is a sentiment which I know will meet with the approval of every one of your Lordships. There is a great housing shortage, due not to one factor but to a variety of considerations. The population and the number of separate families in this country are increasing; houses are becoming obsolete: with full employment more families want homes of their own and are no longer content to go on sharing a house, especially one which was never intended to be occupied by more than one family; and there is a greater need for rural housing for agricultural workers. More houses are required for mobility of labour. At the present time a great many of our economic difficulties are due to the fact that it is not possible to provide homes for labour where they are needed. This shortage has resulted in acute hardship, suffering and anxiety, as well as economic loss to the community as a whole. It was therefore very good politics to play on this need, to make reckless charges against the late Government, and to make flamboyant promises to the electorate, both before and during the Election. Now the time has come for the Government to redeem those promises, and we shall watch the position with interest and anxiety.

Already Her Majesty's Government are in a more chastened mood. Mr. Macmillan stated in another place on November 13 (OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons; Vol. 493, col. 850) by which time he had barely been able to acquaint himself with the problem, that the Government would not reach their target in 1952. He said they had more ambitious plans for 1953 and succeeding years. He went on: How far we shall succeed depends upon many things not in our control. That was a very reasonable statement, and I have no complaint to make about it. If the right honourable gentleman or his friends had made a statement of that kind before the Election it would have been perfectly proper. In view of the statements which have been made about the late Government's neglect to deal with the problem, I think it right to begin by putting on record the housing achievements of the late Government and the legacy that has been left to the present Government. In Great Britain, between 1945 and the date when the late Government ceased to hold office, nearly 1,500,000 houses were provided, giving accommodation for about 5,000,000 people. In other words, one person in ten now residing in this country has been housed by the late Labour Government. Site development had begun, when the present Government took office, for the provision by local authorities of a further 1,200,000 houses.

The late Government had taken a good many steps to increase efficiency and output. They had set up the Building Industry Working Party, and a Building Industry Team visited the United States under the auspices of the Anglo-American Council on Productivity. Both these Committees reported in 1950, and both the Reports were discussed during that year between the Ministry of Works and the National Consultative Council of the Building and Civil Engineering Industries. By the end of 1950, action had been taken on most of the recommendations, both by the Government and by the organisations concerned. That action resulted in simplification of procedure, mechanisation and a fresh agreement on incentives to building workers. Moreover—and this will interest the noble Lord, the Lord President of the Council—a good deal of research had taken place into new methods of construction, and two exhibitions were held shortly before the Election: one at Leeds, which was visited by 50,000 people, and another at Warwick, where mechanised plant and equipment and the use of electricity on the site were demonstrated. Further work had taken place in evolving a more economical type of house, yet retaining roughly the same area of living space. This was proposed to the housing authorities in April, 1951, by the late Minister of Local Government and Planning, and the present Minister has adopted these plans in his own circular of November 27, 1951, to local authorities.

All these things together indicate that a great deal had been done towards the solution of the housing problem, and that great achievements had taken place at the time when the present Government took office. I do not ask noble Lords to accept this testimonial from me alone. In April, 1950, the New York Herald-Tribune said that the British have perhaps the most successful housing record of all countries in Europe. Another journal in this country, the Economist, said in their issue of January 7, 1950, that, judged by the paramount test of numbers of dwellings completed, Mr. Bevan's housing policy had succeeded—and, I would add, judged by the quality of the house as well. It is obvious from what I have said that when the present Government took office the housing cupboard, at any rate, was by no means bare. The Government have inherited a going and very flourishing concern. Almost every house which will be com- pleted in 1952 will have been begun under Labour administration, and almost every house which will be completed in 1953 and 1954 will be on a site where preparatory work had started under Labour administration. That is very different from the circumstances in which the Labour Government had to begin their operations in 1945. Then they had to start absolutely from scratch.


If I may interrupt the noble Lord, is that quite right? There were a large number of sites already laid.


There were very few sites. When the Labour Government took office the war was still in progress and, indeed, they had to make application to the Services for the release of key men—architects, surveyors and so on. They had to build up their organisation. There was also a shortage of raw materials. Indeed, they had to start at less than scratch, because we were still operating under war conditions.

The Government have certainly set about their task with energy. The present Minister has sent out to the local authorities no fewer than nine circulars and two memoranda. He has also produced a Town Development Bill. I make no complaint about that. I think it is right that the local authorities should know the Minister's mind, as indicated by the circulars which he is sending out. But I hope that he will bear in mind that there is a limit to the digestive capacity of local authorities, and it would be a pity to give them mental indigestion. At any rate, if the output of houses is going to be as good as the output of circulars, we shall be doing very well indeed.

The Government are proposing to attack the housing problem under four main heads—a reduction in the total size of houses; an increase in the ratio of houses to be erected under licence by private builders; the sale of houses owned by local authorities, and the use of alternative materials and improved methods of construction.. I wish to say a word or two about each of those. First, I realise that the reduction in the size of houses is in accordance with the advice given by the Ministers predecessor in the circular of April, 1951, and, therefore, in a sense I suppose that I am estopped from making any criticism of it. In so far as it produces the same result and provides rooms of the same size, I suppose that in present circumstances it could be justified. But I am bound to say that I personally regret what amounts to a lowering of standards. I was very proud of the Bevan house. One has to remember that these houses have to stand for eighty, ninety or one hundred years. We hope—I certainly believe—that standards are continuing to rise. These were houses of which one could be proud, which looked ahead and which provided that improvement in conditions which we all anticipate and hope for in housing. But I make no serious criticism of what the Minister has attempted to do. I realise that it is an attempt to bring down the cost of housing, to reduce the amount of labour involved and to permit of the existing material being spread over a larger number of houses. So long as this is not a permanent condition but related to our present difficulties, I feel that it is legitimate.

I would ask the noble Lord whether he can assure me that this lower standard of housing—and it is a lower standard—is such that, if and when times get better, these same houses can be improved. For instance, the second w.c. is omitted: will it he possible at some future date to add a second w.c., and to add other facilities which exist in the present type of house but which are going to be omitted? I think that that would indeed be a wise precaution. I have in mind the case of a number of local authority fiats which are being built up to six and seven storeys without lifts, and the well is such that it will not be possible at any time to install a lift. With a little foresight, that well could have been made of sufficient size to permit the installation of a lift at some time when it became practicable, when people began to demand lifts and to refuse to climb six or seven flights of stairs. It is upon matters of that kind that. I hope the noble Lord will be able to give some assurance. In the meantime, I must accept, with regret, what I hope is only a temporary reduction in standard.

What I have said applies to local authority houses, but I should like some explanation about the houses that are to be built by private enterprise. I see that a maximum is established in terms of cost, but there is no minimum except the structural requirements laid down by the National House-builders' Registration Council. These, however, are structural requirements and not amenity requirements. The requirements of the Registration Council do not cover such things as the size of rooms, the lavatories and the ordinary necessities of a house. While I recognise that no builder trying to sell his houses would put up dwellings that would be quite unsaleable, nevertheless I should like some assurance that somebody is going to examine these standards to see that houses erected are not below the standards we have learnt to expect in our new housing, merely in order to be offered for sale at an attractive price. I say quite frankly that I recognise that we have to give the private builder rather more freedom than perhaps we should the local authorities. Nevertheless, I feel that there ought to be some minimum standards below which private builders should not be allowed to go.

In this connection, I should also like to make the point that houses alone are not sufficient. They must be homes; and by "homes" I mean they must be in an environment which people to-day are entitled to expect. They must be healthy and convenient places in which to live. Therefore, in addition to homes, especially on new estates, there will be a need for shops, open spaces, schools and all the rest of it. I should like the noble Lord to explain what will be the effect of the restrictions that have been announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the provision of these other things. If one takes literally the Chancellor's statement of January 29, there will be no shops, no offices, no new schools and so on. I should like to be assured that in the case of new housing estates, certainly, there will not merely be houses but the amenities that naturally go with them.

I come now to the second question, the increase in the ratio given to private builders. How is the Minister going to satisfy himself that his Party's promise, made in the Election manifesto—which, I may say, they will not be allowed to forget—will be carried out; that is, the promise that the number of houses built for letting will not be reduced? I put a Question down on this matter some months ago, and it was answered fully by the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd. From his reply, I understand that the position is this: that if 200,000 houses are built and if, on an average, only one licence in four is given to private builders, instead of the permitted maximum of one in two, then by process of arithmetic (I have not troubled to work out the actual figures: I take it the noble Lord's arithmetic is right) the number of houses for letting will not be less than it was.


I should like to interrupt for a moment on that point. I did say on that occasion that this was not a case of exact mathematics. What I said was based on previous experience, and that was, in the opinion of those who have had considerable experience, the probability.


I quite follow that, but, of course, the promise was an exact one, that there would be not fewer houses for letting than there are to-day. I understand that the licensing rests entirely with the housing authorities and that it is not intended to interfere with their decisions. But the fulfilment of the Election pledge is based on two hypotheses: one, that there will be at least 200,000 houses built, and the other that the estimate or guess (whichever you like to call it) that on an average one licence in four will go to private builders will in fact materialise. What if either goes wrong? The noble Lord has explained that this matter is not entirely in his hands. The licensing is in the hands of the local authorities. What is the Minister doing in case it goes wrong? What is he doing to ensure that it does not go wrong? I imagine that he is keeping his fingers crossed and hoping for the best, but is he doing anything else; and, if it does not work out right, what is he going to do then? I should be glad if the noble Lord could answer that point.

My main criticism of the increase in the ratio of houses for sale is that by this means there will be what is popularly known as "queue jumping." The ability to buy a house, or perhaps just to put down a deposit, will enable a person on the housing list to get a higher priority than others. After all, the provision of houses in existing conditions should be based on need. I am not one of those who allege that the only need is in one section of the community. The need for housing exists universally, and I know many cases where there is hardship among people who might be described as middle-class or even higher. It is just as great, just as serious, as it is among people of the lower incomes. None the less, I feel that it should not be the power of the purse that decides whether one individual or another gets a house. I have no doctrinal objection to home ownership; I want to make that abundantly clear. After all, the Labour Government accepted the principle of licensing, and it is merely a question of the numbers.

Nevertheless, with this increased ratio there is the great danger that people who are high up in the housing list, and who have the greatest need, will lose their claim. These fists have been prepared by local authorities, usually with very great care and based on points: an assessment is made of so many points for ex-Service men so many points for the size of family, health conditions, conditions in which they are living and so on. All these factors come into the points system, and, as I say, the persons who are high up on the list are the persons who have the greatest need. If this new factor of giving more private licences is introduced there will be the danger that people whose need is less will be able, under licence from the local authority with all the facilities that that involves, to buy a house to which they are not entitled. If so, it means that they will be given an advantage. I do not know what justification there is for this change. It cannot be a financial one, surely. However, perhaps the noble Lord who is to reply will enlarge on that.

I notice that the building industry regard this increase in the ratio of houses to be licensed for private building as a step in the right direction. I am not surprised that they are not completely enthusiastic. The building industry had been led to expect that they were going to be set free, free to build as many houses as they liked and under any conditions that they pleased. I have been fortifying myself by reading a certain amount of pre-Election literature, and if I were a builder I should be very disappointed that I had not been set free. What is the position to-day of a builder? He still has to obtain a licence to build; he still has to find a specific purchaser or a tenant before he obtains his licence; he has to get planning consent, by-law approval; he has to satisfy the requirements of the National House-builders Registration Council, and during the course of construction his work will be subject to periodic inspection. He has to comply with the regulations over the use of timber and steel, and at the end of his work there is a limitation on the price at which he may sell the house or the rent he may charge. That is hardly setting the builder free. But I imagine that among friends all is forgiven, and temporarily forgotten, and I expect that we shall not hear very much more about "setting the builders free" until the next Election.

I should like the noble Lord to explain how the sale of local authority houses is going to help the, housing problem, how it will add one single house to our numbers. I can see how it is likely to reduce the number of available houses. After all, every local authority house constitutes part of the pool. In the days before the war when I was chairman of a housing committee, we used to estimate that, on an average, a house became vacant every live years. To-day the local authority with which I was concerned have some 200,000 houses, and if similar conditions to those I have mentioned applied to-day, this authority would have 40,000 houses a year to let, merely from the pool. But I understand that houses are now occupied on an average for a longer period than five years. Putting it at ten years, that still gives them a pool of 20,000 houses a year for letting, which is substantially mom than the number that they can build. These houses are a very important factor in dealing with the housing problem—whether the total be 20,000 houses or even only 15,000. At all events, it is a larger number than can be built. If they were going to sell all their houses (which I sincerely hope they will not be permitted to do) none of these would be available for letting; in so far as a local authority is permitted to sell houses, surely that must reduce the pool of houses available for letting.

I should therefore like the noble Lord to explain what is the purpose of permitting the sale of local authority houses. Is it financial? Is it to enable the local authorities to make money? It can hardly be that, because I imagine that in a great many cases the local authority will be asked to lend the money for the purchase and therefore they will simply be taking money out of one pocket and putting it into another. Can the noble Lord who is to reply tell us whether any applications have actually been made by local authorities for permission to sell? Has there been any real demand from the local authorities for these powers? I understand that the power to sell has been on the Statute Book for some years; there is nothing new in that. Why have the Government suddenly brought it out into the open? Who is "putting on the heat" for this? It is not the local authorities; they could have done it at any time. Most of them do not want to sell their houses. Why then do the Government raise this proposal? Have there been any applications to sell; how many; has the Minister made any decision; and can the noble Lord tell us whether any protests have reached the Government? What are to be the Government's criteria as to whether they permit the sale of houses or not? What is to be the test?

On the last question, the use of alternative materials and improved methods of construction, I have explained to your Lordship that a great many of the recommendations of the two Committee set up have actually been put into operation. Is there anything more that the Government have in mind? I think we are almost at only the beginning of prefabrication. Have they in mind carrying out any further research or experiment in prefabrication and mechanisation, and are they going to give facilities to industries, particularly to builders, who want to mechanise their plant? I should like to suggest to the noble Lord one possibility of relieving the shortage.


Would the noble Lord mind developing the point? The noble Lord asked what facilities were going to be given; I am not quite sure what he had in mind.


Well, what I have in mind is this. I referred to the two exhibitions that were held just before the Election, and I think a similar one was held in 1945, where wonderful plant and equipment was shown which would reduce the amount of labour and simplify output in housing. But this equipment has to be produced and made available. It is no good showing these things if builders cannot get them; and they can get them only if the Government encourage their production. My question is: Are the Government going to encourage the production of this equipment and plant of special type, and expedite its availability to builders?

I want to make one suggestion—namely, the use of timber houses. I would say at once that these are not suitable in congested areas, but up and down the country there is a considerable number of them. Of course, on the Continent, in the United States and in other places there are very large numbers. Shortly after the First World War a number of local authorities, the London County Council in particular, experimented with various types of houses, and they built a number of timber houses. These have now been standing for some thirty years and it has been possible to judge whether or not they are satisfactory. I understand that they are satisfactory in every possible way. The maintenance charges are no higher than for the normal house. They have certain advantages, one being that they are not too hot in summer and not too cold in winter. The tenants like them very much, and I should imagine that such houses would be fairly easy to build. Indeed, in the last few years we in this country have developed an industry for the building of timber houses. The capacity exists, but we have been exporting them. I think that that is all to the good. But would it not be possible, in suitable areas and in suitable places, and with proper safeguards against fire risk, to encourage the production of a larger number of timber houses? I can assure the noble Lord that they would be well received by tenants. They would be cheaper than the normal house. They could be quickly mass produced, and there is no need to go to Sweden or Finland in order to import them; we can make them ourselves.

Before I sit down I should like to ask a few general questions. Will licences be given readily for the conversion of large houses into flats, maisonettes or small separate houses? At present these licences are being given. I should like to know whether this policy will be continued or perhaps even extended. A large house, which very often is a white elephant, can be turned to advantage and, if properly converted, can make a great contribution to the solution of the housing problem. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to assure the House that these conversions will be allowed to continue. What is the Minister doing to ensure that houses are being built in the right places, not only in conformity with town planning principles but also where they are most needed—I mean from the point of view of existing economic and strategic needs? There are the special requirements of agricultural workers, mine workers, of labour required for brickworks and, of course, of labour for rearmament. It is no use talking of transferring a half a million workers from peace-time industry to rearmament unless you can provide accommodation for them. Special priority will be necessary in many cases, particularly for rural housing. I need not emphasise the vital need for increased food production, but we shall not get is unless we can provide more accommodation for the rural worker. This will need a high degree of priority. If, however, local authorities are being encouraged to build as fast as they can, without limit, as I understand is the case, how will the Minister ensure that he gets this priority for houses where they are most needed? Will not the limiting factor always be labour and materials? Then, I should like to ask what the Government are doing to increase the supply of bricks, cement, timber and fittings, which are bound to be in short supply. Unless there is an even flow of these things, I can assure the noble Lord that housing will be badly held up. We must ensure an adequate supply of all these materials, and that will need a great deal of preparatory work.

Next I should like to ask, what is the Government policy on development of new towns? I was glad to see that the Minister had spoken in rather enthusiastic terms about existing developments in the new towns. There are now fourteen new towns, in which, naturally, I have a paternal interest because they were all started during my term of office. But can the noble Lord say whether or not there are any more in contemplation? Every new town is started for a specific purpose—for dispersal, in order to pro- vide for a particular type of industrial worker, or for some special reason or other. There is still a need for more new towns in certain parts of the country. Does the Minister contemplate the setting up of more new towns where a good case can be made out? My last question is: What is to be the policy about slum clearance and areas of comprehensive redevelopment necessitated by bad or obsolete lay-out? Unhappily, as the noble Lord knows, we still have large numbers of slums and very large areas in the big cities which are in great need of redevelopment. Upon some of these work has actually been started. Will the local authorities be encouraged to go on with their slum clearance and comprehensive redevelopment schemes?

That concludes the questions that I want to put to the noble Lord. I realise that I have given him material for a very long speech. But I did give him some notice of what I was going to ask him, and no doubt he will have had a very busy time finding the answers. I have perforce had to leave unsaid a good deal that I think ought to be said in a debate of this kind, but I see that there is a very long list of speakers, and I am sure that any defects on my part will be made good. The Government will be faced with ever-increasing difficulties. The competition of rearmament is going to be very great and acute. But the Government have pledged themselves to give the highest priority to horsing, after rearmament. If they honour that pledge and proceed with the erection of homes with energy, determination and enthusiasm, in an imaginative way and not by depressing standards or spoiling the amenities of our towns and the countryside, they will earn a debt of gratitude from the nation—and for one, will not hesitate to acknowledge it. But if they fail, it will be the cruellest deception that has ever been perpetrated on those who are in need of homes and who have relied on their promises. And the nation will never forget. I beg to move for Papers.

3.30 p.m.


My Lords, I do not intend to follow the noble Lord who has moved this Motion by making a survey of the complete field of housing, but I want to put in a particular plea for one section of the community about which I have spoken to your Lordships on pre- vious occasions. I trust that you will bear with me if I once again put forward my plea on their behalf. The people I refer to are those who are growing old; people who are really in need of care and attention because of age and infirmity. I want to be very careful not to base my remarks on sentiment, but I think I have one or two points I can put before your Lordships which, you may find, afford convincing support to my argument that by making provision of proper housing for people in this category we shall be meeting a very great need and contributing largely to the solution of the housing problem.

The first point I should like to make is this. The experiment was tried in one London borough—I think it was Hornsey—about four years ago of providing a small group of special houses for persons of the sort I have mentioned. The local council built a series of about fifteen small houses for old people in the borough. Those houses were constructed on substantial lines and were extremely up-to-date and comfortable. By building them the council were able to arrange for the transfer from other homes of old people whose families had grown up and gone out into the world. These old people, in the circumstances, found smaller dwellings much more convenient for their purposes, and their transference meant that fifteen other and larger houses were made available for young couples and couples with families. That experiment was reported to the Minister—I think in comparatively recent times, possibly in the life of the present Government. I should like to know whether the idea has been followed up; whether there is any proposal for developments arising out of that kind of experiment.

It is necessary, I believe, to be careful not to put up houses for old people in too large colonies. It is not advisable to have great sections of the older members of the community living together in one area. Nevertheless, it is a fact that in the Scandinavian countries large colonies have been built. I do not know if any of your Lordships has recently been to Copenhagen, but if you have you may have noticed that there is there a very large section devoted to flats and apartments for old people. There must be several thousands of these folks living together. The dwellings certainly look pleasant, and they are obviously popular, for there is a long waiting list of would-be occupants. Nevertheless, I think that the general feeling in this country would be opposed to that system. Certainly, that is my feeling. I consider that what is needed is to get these old people, so to speak, split up, so that they can give help and comfort to their children and to young members of the community generally. It is, for example, a great advantage to a young married couple with, perhaps, two or three children, to have the wife's mother living close at hand so that she can take care of the children from time to time when, it may be, their parents want to go out to the pictures or to take some other form of recreation. If parents have not someone like that to come in and give them a hand, it means that the wife is going to be tied to the children and the husband is bound to go out by himself, and, doing so, he may get into all sorts of difficulties and troubles which may lead to a breaking up of the marriage. Therefore I think that when it can be arranged to have grandmothers living near their children and grandchildren, this will tend to prevent the breaking up of a good many marriages.

Another reason for making special provision of housing for these old people is that almost every day one reads in the Press reports of the rising cost of the National Health Service and of the great difficulty that is experienced in finding accommodation in hospitals for old people when they become sick. Now it is difficult to prove what I am going to say, but I think I can give your Lordships some evidence in support of it. If people are properly housed there will be a big reduction in the incidence of the chronic rather degenerating and crippling, diseases which sometimes occur in old age. One has seen this borne out by what has happened in two places where there are large colonies for old people—me near Mill Hill and the other near Weybridge. During the past fifty years from 5,000 to 6,000 people have been in occupation of cottages at these places. They are nice cottages but it is true that in one instance a number of the old people are a trifle isolated. I understand that over the past fifty years there have been at these places practically no cases of these chronic, crippling illnesses which attack old people, causing them to need hospital treatment and often to occupy beds for a considerable period, thereby making hospitals reluctant to admit them. I admit that that is rather a negative sort of proof of my contention, but I think more investigation on the same lines would show that what I have said is true and that we can cut down the incidence of these diseases in this way. We have succeeded in greatly reducing the incidence of infectious diseases during the past century by means of better and cleaner housing conditions, and I feel sure that we could cut down the incidence of these chronic complaints of old people by taking measures on similar lines.

One of the real tragedies of the present time, in my view, is the separation of housing from health. It was, I believe, wrong to separate local government housing from the other work of the Ministry of Health. Housing, properly directed, pan be of immense value from the point of view of both curative and preventive methods of treating illness. Furthermore, housing involves big medical and health problems. It is very difficult to prove that by having good housing you cut down long illnesses, but what I can prove quite clearly is that if you have bad housing you will greatly encourage such illnesses. A part of London in which I work and which I know well is St. Pancras, and in some districts of that borough housing conditions are distinctly bad. This, I think, is largely because so many of the houses were built in Victorian times to house families. They are often four-storey structures, and although when they were built they were very suitable for their purpose, conditions have so changed that now each floor and, maybe, each room has often become a home for a separate person or a separate family.

Because old people, as a general rule, have not much money, they tend to be pushed by economic pressure to the top floor. Rooms on the top floor are usually cheaper than those on the lower floors. Poor old people living in the top storeys are often without w.c. facilities, as these places are in a great many cases situated on the ground floor. There are even instances where to obtain water it is necessary to descend to ground level, as there are no taps in the upper parts of some of these dwellings. It is very easy to see how mental decay and self-neglect sets in when people, through infirmity, are unable to get down to the ground floors of these places. This leads to a very great amount of really serious illness which, again, requires patients to be kept for a long time in hospital. And when they come out after being treated or cured, the difficulty of re-housing them is enormous. I know that good and friendly local authorities do their best for these old people, but the accommodation just is not there, and they are confronted with the choice of keeping people in hospital after they are perfectly well or of sending them back to their lop floors, knowing full well that in six months time they will be back in hospital again. I support the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, in his plea for some encouragement for the programmes of slum clearance, as they are of as much importance to the people I am talking about as to their younger contemporaries. To come back to whit I said a moment ago, the important thing is to realise what a great amount of sickness and expense the country is caused by the present housing shortage. Everything that can be done should be done to build as many houses as possible and make them available to young as well as old people. I am not saying this in any critical way, because I am sure the Government have every intention of carrying out this work.

3.42 p.m.


My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, for bringing this matter before the House. He has a specialised knowledge of the subject and speaks with all the authority of great experience. I found myself in complete agreement with a number of his remarks at the beginning, most certainly so when he described this as a most vital and urgent problem. I do not think there will be any difference of opinion there. We all feel that, after the problem of defence, this is the most vital of all social problems confronting the country to-day. For, notwithstanding all that has been done, there are three undeniable facts. The first is that overcrowding in our towns is almost as serious as it ever has been. There are very long waiting lists, and in many towns these waiting lists are longer than they were the year before last. The second undeniable fact is that a large number of houses, running into tens of thousands, which were long ago condemned as unfit for human habitation, are still occupied. Slums cannot be swept away until some accommodation is found for the people who are now living in them. They would prefer to live under a roof in a slum, rather than have no roof to live under. The third fact, which I feel is not always recognised, is that new slums are being created by the deterioration of existing property, partly through neglect and neglect of repairs.

I also found myself in agreement with the noble Lord when he spoke in high terms of the way in which the late Government carried through a very great housing programme. I have always supported that programme, and I feel that the main lines of the policy adopted by the late Government were right. That statement, however, does not necessarily mean that I am critical of new experiments and new methods, which apparently the present Government intend to attempt. A policy which may be right for one period may need considerable modification later. Therefore, I am very willing to see the private speculator and builder having greater opportunities, within limits, than he had in the past. He claims that he will be able to build more quickly than the public authorities. Let him have a try—I am not so alarmed about the modifications in the standard as the noble Lord. His criticisms were obviously gentle because indications of the Government's modifications were suggested under the previous Government. I wonder whether this step really means anything like a lowering of the standard of building. My housing experts, to whom I often have to turn for advice, have urged me to distinguish between the standard of building and the standard of accommodation. They are strongly opposed to any kind of reduction in the standard of building. If we reduce the standard of the strength of walls and of the materials used, we are preparing slums for the future. On the other hand, I believe that there can be some change in the standard of accommodation, and that a number of minor changes can be made—dropping things which would be desirable but which, under the present emergency, cannot be afforded. I think it is right that experiments should be made in that direction to see whether houses cannot be built at a lower cost. If they can be built at a lower cost, more houses will be put up.

I hope very much that this matter may not be dealt with from a Party point of view. On the main principles there is agreement between the Parties. The noble Lord referred to a number of manifestoes and speeches made during the Election. Whether to my good fortune or to my misfortune, I was out of the country at the time and did not have the pleasure of reading these various manifestoes and I can express no opinion on them; but when I have discussed this matter with members of different Parties I find that substantially they agree. There are differences in detail, but they are at one in a determination to see that a large number of houses are built as quickly as possible. The target of 300,000 houses seems to me to be a somewhat ambitious one. I think there will be practical difficulties in realising it. But there is nothing like having a striking target. If we had a target of 300,000, we might build 250,000, which would be more than a target of 200,000.

I do not propose to say anything about the actual building of houses. I want to urge two points, which I think ought to be kept in mind. First, I hope the Government will see that existing accommodation is used to the widest extent and is not in any kind of way dissipated. For instance, I have been struck by the way in which a large number of dwelling-houses in different parts of the country are now taken over as offices of various local authorities, instead of being converted into flats, whether for old people or others. I know one town where only eight years ago there was a row of quite attractive houses, each occupied by a separate family; and in one or two cases there might have been two families in the one house. Now all these houses are offices connected with one of the local authorities. The demand of local authorities for new offices and new accommodation is becoming a dangerous mania. If a vicarage is now vacated, as it often is between the departure of a vicar and the arrival of a new one, there are local authorities who at once put in an order for compulsory purchase. I know a case of this kind in the North Riding. If they were successful, the work of the Church in that place would be hopelessly crippled, perhaps for years; there would be a search for accommodation elsewhere, while a vicarage which had been used for 200 or 300 years for the purposes connected with the Church would be turned, not into a number of houses out into a number of rather comfortable offices for a growing bureaucracy. If one ascertained the total number of houses which were once used for habitation but which are now used as offices, the sum total throughout the country would be very large indeed.

But I want to emphasise what the noble Lord who has just spoken dwelt upon—namely, that a good deal of space in houses is now not fully used. People are over housed in some cases, although in many more cases they are under housed. I am thinking, as the noble Lord was, of those houses which once were occupied by a family; where the children have grown up and gone out into the world, and the parents remain alone in a large house. I am told that the cycle of a family house is forty years, but that during that time it is used to the full extent for only fifteen years. This means that there are a number of houses, especially, I think, in the country, now occupied by two old people, although at one time they were occupied by a large family. The old people will not move away for two quite good reasons. The first is that if they move away from a house which is controlled they will have to pay higher rent elsewhere. The other reason is even stronger, and it is one in which I sympathise with them more warmly—namely, that they are afraid they will be moved right away from the village which has been their home for a number of years and find themselves among strangers. Therefore, it is of great importance that a much larger number of houses to accommodate two people should Le built for these old people. In that way the larger houses will be set free for those who have growing families. I hope that that matter will be kept carefully in Mind. The List document I saw on this matter showed that recently a considerable number of houses have been built for aged couples. That is a policy which, as the old increase in number, should be steadily pursued.

The other point I want to make is about the deterioration of good property into slums, which is taking place day by day. It is no doubt due to a number of causes, but one of them is the Rent Restrictions Acts—I am now touching on a very controversial matter, and I doubt whether any Government, even if they had a large majority, would cote to deal with this particular problem in a comprehensive way. I recognise fully that these Rent Restrictions Acts are necessary, and I would not for a moment propose their complete abolition. But they are acting unfairly in certain ways, and there are a large number of cases where the rent is nothing like sufficient to meet the necessary repairs. Of course the rent of houses is completely out of any kind of relation with the income of those who occupy the houses. Some of your Lordships may have seen a book called Poverty and the Welfare State recently written by Mr. Seebohm Rowntree. It relates again to investigations at York. He says that in York, of the working-class families he investigated, he found nine poorer families whose rent was 25s. a week, but 1,044 families at the highest rate of working-class income where the rent was only 10s. a week. There has been no readjustment between rent and wages for a long time.

The point I want to make, however, is not so much the general but the specific point, that in a large number of cases the rent received is not sufficient to meet the necessary repairs. Mr. Rowntree refers a case of a man he says he knows well. The house which that man owns is let at 4s. a week, and after necessary repairs the net receipts for the whole year at the end of 1950 were 1s. 8d. When that is the case, repairs, which may be substantial, cannot be carried out, and one finds a large number of houses gradually deteriorating into slums. That is one of the matters in connection with the Rent Restrictions Acts which ought to receive most careful consideration. Not long ago some interesting figures were published by the Royal Institute of Chartered Accountants which showed that the maintenance cost index for 1951 was 275, as against 100 for 1939. If that is the case, then the cost of repairs has gone up out of all proportion to the rents received.

I should like to ask one question of the noble Lord who is to reply for the Government. I have not given notice of the question, and shall not be at all surprised if he tells me that he must have further notice of it. As the noble Lord already has a large number of questions to answer, I feel that I ought to apologise for asking this. However, I should be grateful if he could give us any information about the progress made in connection with the new towns. Fifteen new towns are to be built, and they are to have a population of 440,000 people. I understand that at the end of last year only 3,000 houses in those towns had been completed, and that there were only 10,000 people in actual occupation. I do not know whether or not that is so, but I should be grateful if the noble Lord could give us any information on that point. Unless these new towns become strong and flourishing within a comparatively short time, the congestion and the spread of old towns will continue at an appalling rate. I believe that this housing question is one which we must solve, for unless the people of the country have good houses we shall not have a people who are contented and happy.

3.58 p.m.


My Lords, I will endeavour to answer the most reverend Primate as I unfold the case I have to put to your Lordships to-day. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has been most tolerant, not only in his speech, but in the length of time he has agreed to wait before addressing your Lordships on his Motion. I personally am grateful to him for the consideration he showed in postponing the debate, as he did on one occasion, for my convenience. I am also grateful to him in that before he let loose that rather long string of questions to me he was considerate enough to give me notice—thereby disturbing my week-end's peace in trying to find the answers to them. The noble Lord speaks not only with the knowledge of a person who has occupied high office in the Department concerned with the problems with which we are dealing to-day, but also as a man who hat had a large practical experience of these problems both in local administration and in industry. I am sure that we are all grateful to him for having given us this opportunity of expressing our views to-day on a problem which, if one looks back over the Parliamentary history of the last fifty years, has occupied a dominant place in the attention of every Government in peace time. I personally have no doubt that it is the most important of all the social problems which confront this country to-day. I have no doubt that, from the national point of view, it ranks only second—I am afraid it is second—in importance to the financial problems which engaged your Lordships' attention a week ago. It is true that different political Parties have different views as to how this problem could be solved; but there is no difference in any Party as to its urgency and importance.

As was his duty, the noble Lord told us of the accomplishments of his own Party when they are in office. Only to a minor degree do I dissent from any of his assumptions, but I am sure he will agree that it is profitless for us to pursue disagreements on this subject. The business of the present Government is to build on what they found when they took office, and I was delighted to hear the broad-minded statement which the noble Lord made just before he sat down, when he said that if we could do better, then he, at any rate—and I am sure all noble Lords opposite—would be glad for the sake of the country.

I have been interested in this problem for a very long time. It goes back to the days of my youth when I was doing social work. With the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, I had a great deal to do with this problem when we were both engaged in the Coalition Government on the problems of reconstruction and endeavouring to get some sort of blue-print for what might happen when the war was over. The noble and learned Earl will remember that at that time we were considerably concerned to find out what was the possible productivity and capacity of the building trade. In each of the five years from 1934 to 1938, the figures of house construction in Great Britain varied from a minimum of 338,000 in 1934, to 367,000 in 1938. Even in 1939, when the country was considerably engaged in the process of rearmament, the figure was 306,000. The interesting thing about these figures is that, during these six years, the number of houses built in England and Wales by local authorities varied from a "low" of 43,000 in 1935 to a "high" of 88,000 in 1938, whereas the number of houses built by private enterprise in this period ranged from 252,000 to 275,000. I should say that in Scotland the position was reversed; roughly speaking, twice as many houses were built before the war by local authorities as by private enterprise. I give your Lordships these figures because they form some justification for an estimate that some of us made and which will remain with us until, in the pride of accomplishment, people forget it.

Before the war, Governments were concerned with a very different problem of housing from the one with which we are concerned. For the most part—and I am glad that it should have been raised again to-day—they were concerned with the problems of slum clearance and overcrowding. Only 33,500 unfit houses have been pulled down during the course of the last six years since the war. I was asked whether we shall continue slum clearance. I am sure that the most reverend Primate has given us the answer to this question. We must build houses before we destroy houses in which people are living, however much we regret that anybody should be living in such conditions. Of course, the deterioration of houses has been going on all these years, and in addition we lost 218,000 houses during the war.

I do not find it very easy to arrive at any sort of calculation as to the number of houses we shall require in order to provide a home for every family. However, I do know this—and I think it is important that we should say it in your Lordships' House to-day—that the problem is so great in its magnitude and is so important in its consequences that it calls for a united effort, not only from all political Parties, which I believe we shall have on this issue, but from all the people who are either directly or indirectly engaged in the occupation of house building. The building trades of all ranks have it within their power to hasten the day when every family in this country can have a home of its own. Every man in the trade is engaged on work of supreme national importance. To help in this work is to help the nation to health and to happiness. The demand is so great that no firm and no operative in the building industry need have any fear about there not being plenty to occupy his capacity and his time for years to come. No one need be looking round the corner wondering whether there is unemployment there. He might, indeed, look round the corner, when he will find thousands of people waiting for the homes which only the building trade can provide for them.

Governments may give encouragement or they may retard. What Governments cannot do is build houses: the glory of accomplishedment must belong to the building trade. The responsibility of the Government is a joint one. It is partly a national responsibility and partly a local one, but in this matter it is clear and defined. I can assure the House that the whole Cabinet are determined, within the limits of our capacity and second only to the call for defence, to do everything to encourage local authorities and those engaged in the industry in their efforts to meet the housing needs of the country. Obviously, the first task is to complete the 225,000 houses which are now under construction and the 86,000 houses for which licences have been given and which are awaiting a start. To get the best results—and here, of course, is where perhaps we have departed a little from the ways of the previous Government, and I hope we are right—it is quite clear to us that we must try to use all the forces that are at our disposal. The greatest need is for houses to let and we prescribe that local authorities must devote at least one-half of their programme to the building of council houses for letting. Your Lordships have so much personal experience of this problem that you know that there are widely varying conditions in different areas in the country. It is only after this 50 per cent. has been provided, that local authorities may use their discretion according to local circumstances as to the extent to which they will issue private licences. The other thing that we have said, and we say it with emphasis, is that virtually the only limit to a local authority's programme is the local capacity for building houses.

I realise that there are some people who doubt the policy of making it easier for people who want to buy their own homes to do so. I wonder whether there is not a little danger of being doctrinaire about this. Personally, I rather like living in my own house, and I think a great many other people feel just as I do about it. I remember that early in my youth I spent some time living in one of the cotton towns in East Lancashire. It was a matter of very great pride to those cotton operatives that they owned their own houses; and beautifully they kept them, in spite of the fact that the climate was not good. They washed them outside and they washed them inside. It was a matter of housewifely pride, and the husbands, too, were proud of them. They saved their money in order to own their own houses. I think that is a good thing. It will be a good thing if we encourage a lot of people in this country, if they have the means to do it, to own their own houses. I believe that, without causing any hardship to other people—this is the issue between us—it can be encouraged.

But there is another sort of house that we should like to see more widely licensed—and I am sure that those of your Lordships who live in the country will realise that this is a problem that is very wide in its application—that is, the house that is built by the small builder. There must be many small builders who could build two, three or half a dozen houses as a "hospital job" (as I believe they call it in the trade, although I do not know why), worked in with other tasks of essential repair and maintenance of existing properties. If they can do it, why not let them do it, and by that means increase the number of houses available in the rural districts?

I am glad to see that some local authorities are issuing what they call block licences for building a suitable number of houses, on condition that the occupants of the completed houses are approved by the local authority. I believe that that building on a large scale is the way in which we shall not only get more houses more quickly but also bring down the cost of houses. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, was concerned as to whether, in the process of this housing drive, we were likely to reduce the standards of building in this country. He was meticulously careful in asking the question about the standards of building. Your Lordships will remember that the noble Lord was a little hesitant in his speech about building, but not at all hesitant in his speech about amenities. I think that is the distinction. The answer about building is "No." We do not want to reduce the standard of building. Local authorities may reduce the standard of amenities, but I share with the noble Lord opposite the hope that, in the process of so doing, they will have the foresight to provide for the addition of amenities in better times. We have come to the conclusion that economy in reducing the size of corridors and unoccupied space is quite justifiable in these days. It will reduce the cost of the houses; it will reduce the demand on materials, and I think it will be a good thing from both points of view.

The noble Lord reminded your Lordships that the standards must be up to those laid down by the National House-builders Registration Council, and he wondered whether there was some danger of people building houses that were so small that (if I may use the vernacular) it would not be possible to "swing a cat round" in them. I do not think there is much danger of that, because at the present time the demand for the reasonable house is much too big for any private builder to be tempted to fall into that error. But I should be glad to see an increasingly large number of dwellings built for elderly people who perhaps have not the means to look after larger houses and certainly do not want the physical labour of doing so. I do not know whether I should say this but, speaking to the noble Lord as one grandfather to another, I am sure that he was right when he said it was important that grandparents should not be too far removed from their grandchildren, in order that they might on occasion act as "sitters-in" while the younger people went out and enjoyed themselves.

I revert to Lord Silkin's question as to whether the fact that building licences are to be given for the building of houses for owner-occupiers will involve a reduction in the number of houses that will be available for letting—I think that was the most serious question which the noble Lord put to me. My noble friend Lord Lloyd gave the Minister's answer to that question a short time ago. I have consulted my right honourable friend about this matter. He is confident that at least as many houses will be built for letting as before and that, whilst much freedom is given to local authorities, the proportion of council houses built to those undertaken for owner-occupiers will probably be in the region of one in four, in England and Wales, and one in five in Scotland. The noble Lord asked me this quite impossible question: what would the Minister do if the number of houses built for letting was not maintained. I dare not go so far back into history as to say: "Wait and see," but I will say that we are, in Parliamentary language, thoroughly seized of the problem, and that it will be our business to deal with it in the very early stages if we see that there is any danger of it happening.

Then there was the question of what is going to happen if people "jump the queue" and, because they have more money, are able to get a house earlier than those who have less money. Do not let us get confused about this issue. The noble Lord said that housing authorities had points schemes, schemes that indicated the relative needs for a house. A man can have need of a house, in spite of the fact that he has enough money to buy one; the two points are not mutually exclusive. I have here a cutting from a newspaper which says that a Government official earning £3,000 a year, will £500 expenses—I think that is rather good—is living in a Glasgow council house. I see no reason why the gentleman, had he been so inclined and if he had the need (as obviously he had, otherwise I am sure the Glasgow Corporation would not have let him have the house), should not have bought it and relieved the Glasgow Corporation and the country of the financial obligations that were involved.

Then I was asked, had there been any protests made? That was a question to which the noble Lord knew the answer. There nave been protests made about councils selling houses. There was a certain amount of demonstration in Glasgow a short time ago, but I am given to understand—and here I speak not of what I know but of what I am told—that the replies given by, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland went some way, at any rate, to satisfy local feeling in the matter, and the Glasgow Corporation proposals were supported.


I hope to be given the opportunity of being able to contradict that later.


You observe I chose my language with great care; said that I was so told. The noble Lord asked me why a local authority should sell a house. He asked me whether there was any real demand for this power to sell. Why is the noble Lord bothering about this, because if there is no real demand then the situation will not arise? Some people have said that they thought there was a great demand. I personally express no opinion about it, but I will say (and I am sure it will give the noble Lord much satisfaction to know it) that there does not appear to have been any very great demand made to the Minister for his permission in this matter. But if there is no demand nobody will be damaged.


I was afraid that the Government might be putting ideas into local authorities' heads.


But the ideas were already there and, as the noble Lord pointed out, this was not a new idea. The noble Lord asked me about questions of town planning—I am sorry to occupy so much of your Lordships' time on questions put to me. The noble Lord probably knows more about town and country planning than anybody else in this House, and I gather on great authority that the noble Lord understood the Act that he was administering. The noble and learned Earl and I spent a very large amount of time trying to understand it before it came into existence.


And succeeded, in part.


He asked me whether in fact the present occupant of the office dealing with town and country planning would see that the principles of town planning were adhered to and whether they would satisfy the strategic and economic needs of the people. I can assure him, that my right honourable friend is very much alive to the problems and concerned with them. I do not think the noble Lord need worry unduly about our use of the phrase "setting the builders free." We never said that we would set them completely free, and we had every intention of continuing to license as long as it was necessary to license. We certainly always had the intention of seeing that builders obeyed the by-laws. I am sure he thinks we are right in saying that we propose to continue to exercise a maximum size to which builders can build. I am sure the building trade will welcome his solicitations on their behalf.

May I revert to the question of the strategic and economic needs to which he referred? So far as we are concerned, they come under three headings. In the first place, we are extremely anxious to encourage the building of houses in rural areas and to encourage in particular the building of houses near people's work in rural areas. It is one of the most important things we have to do. Indeed, we must do everything we can to encourage farmers to produce more food. I believe we shall help them a great deal if we can get houses for the farm workers to live in. The other issue is that of miners, and there the Minister has made a special allocation in order that houses shall be built near to their work, because the need of coal is, indeed, probably the greatest need of the country. We are also endeavouring to make arrangements for increasing the provision of houses for people engaged on rearmament work and in the export trade.

Now I come to the question of new towns. Some time ago my noble friend Lord Gage asked me whether, living as I do within about fifteen miles of it, I would co and see the new town at Crawley in Sussex. So I went, and I was most impressed by the work that had been done under the previous Government in the building of that town. There are eight new towns under way around London. Here are the figures: 2,763 houses had been completed by January 31, and 4,351 were under construction. I do not think those figures would give a great deal of comfort to the most reverend Primate, but I chanced to get them out. I am told that progress is being made with the towns of Aycliffe and Peterlee. So far as the extension of this idea of new towns is concerned, the Government, generally speaking, would, before they embark on a very extensive enterprise of this nature, like to wait and see a little more clearly what measure of success will come from it. I was asked whether there was any proposals for further new towns, and the reply is that there are. The Manchester Corporation is proposing a new town at Congleton, and the Lancashire Development Plan is proposing a new town, I believe, at Skelmerdale.

My Lords, I have occupied your attention for a long time, much longer than I personally like doing. I hope I have answered most of the questions. In regard to substitutes we shall have to use all our ingenuity if we are to complete our quota. The noble Lord asked me a question which has intrigued me a great deal—namely, on the use of timber houses. I know timber houses and how good they are. Of course, we can use timber houses only if we can get the timber from this country, because the balance of payments makes it extremely difficult for us in these days to get timber from other places. My Lords, as the debate proceeds other noble Lords will raise questions. Let me assure your Lordships that Her Majesty's Government will give the closest attention to any such questions. There has been some doubt whether we were wise in saying that we should endeavour to build 300,000 houses. To-day I have given your Lordships the evidence on which we based our opinion: it was the capacity of the industry. But never mind whether we were wise or not. The truth is, that we have embarked on a bold adventure. We have been chided perhaps for putting the target too high. I agree it may be that circumstances that we cannot control may prevent us from reaching it. But let us face this fact: the target is not high enough to meet the needs of the people of this country, and we, as a Government, dare do no less than aim at the highest that is within the possible bounds of accomplishment; and we shall strive, without ceasing, to that end.

4.32 p.m.


My Lords, in asking for the indulgence of the House I hope I may be forgiven for pointing out that it is not the easiest of tasks for one who has been a referee for a good many years to return to the ranks of the players. However, I am greatly relieved by the assurances of my noble friends that, whilst there may be hard hitting, rough play is not favoured in your Lordships' House. But, lest I be tempted, I hope the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, will forgive me if, on this occasion, I do not follow him, though on one or two of his remarks I should very much like to do so. We are all greatly concerned about the problem of housing. As the most reverend Primate said, it is the most vital and urgent domestic problem before us to-day. I think my noble friend Lord Silkin was right in pointing out that the late Government had made a very good start; but the waiting lists are still increasing.

As a former housing committee chairman and a Member of Parliament for one of the Divisions of Leeds, I know that city and its housing problems perhaps better than any other. Notwithstanding every effort, year by year the housing lists in that city increase in number, and there are now nearer 30,000 than 20,000 applicants. Moreover, at least 16,000 houses were condemned long before the war as unfit for human habitation, but they look as though they may continue to be occupied for very many years to come. Therefore the proposals of this or any ether Government to relieve or solve this problem deserve full and fair consideration.

We are all aware that the present proposals differ from those of the late Government in two main respects: first, in the permissive use of up to 50 per cent. of the allocations which are made to local authorities for private building, and, secondly, the decision to encourage the sale of council houses. I am a believer, as I imagine most of your Lordships are, in house-ownership and in the activities of building societies and other bodies which help to that end, and I would welcome a greater measure of private building and house sale, subject to one principal condition—namely, that the letting of houses to the most needy cases and to those who cannot afford to buy a house is not thereby unduly prejudiced. Here, my Lords, I think the Government's proposals fail. Surely, it is clear, beyond peradventure, that if, out of any given number of completed houses, the proportion of houses sold to those who can afford to buy is increased, then the number of houses available for letting must necessarily be reduced. Similarly, if council houses are sold, surely it is clear that the pool of houses available for letting must be reduced, and in that way those who must rent a house will be put further back in the queue. In point of fact, in both cases the purchaser obtains an advantage over the prospective tenant, who is often, and indeed usually, because he presumably has less means, in greater need.

My Lords, the only justification for these changes would be the production of more houses. Apart from the possible reduction of standards of accommodation and, one gathers, some cessation of other forms of building, I have yet to hear from any Government speaker any substantial proposal which would result in the pro- duction of more houses. Surely this is the really crucial point without which the Government proposals get us nowhere. Indeed, as the noble Lord has said, the promise, or target, or aim, or hope, of 300,000 houses within a year, has already receded into the dim and distant future.


I did not say that.


As the noble Lord has said, he and no doubt many others would be glad if it could be forgotten altogether. It is no reflection on the last Government that they were unable to do more than in fact they did do. As my noble friend Lord Silkin has said, they succeeded to an inheritance of bombed premises and an industry which hardly existed at the end of the war; to a position where the majority of workers were in the forces, and there was a great shortage of materials, and other difficulties. Now conditions are different. Much of the really urgent work has been done. The building trade is better organised, materials are much more plentiful, sites are prepared and much construction is on the way.

The great difficulty is obviously that of labour. In Leers, in pre-war days, there were some 2,500 tradesmen. There are probably the same number now, but only 1,000 are engaged on corporation work. Why is that? I am advised that the reasons are several in number. There is much alternative employment under better conditions. A number of large firms now have their own building staffs. Some tradesmen are or have been, employed on repairs or maintenance or similar work, or on factories where cost is not the first essential and higher wages can be paid. Then in a large city there is always a call for workers to go outside the city, to smaller towns and so on, to carry out factory or other work on a more remunerative basis; and if a contractor can obtain non-competitive work, either outside or inside the city, he naturally prefers to take on work of that type.

Therefore it seems to me that the great necessity is to endeavour to bring workers back to the cities and to municipal work. Here, I am going to venture to make a suggestion and to give what I hope may be good though, perhaps, unpalatable advice to the Government. The only way to increase the labour force is to offer greater incentives. That may be a matter for regret, but I believe it to be a fact. I am afraid that local authorities must be allowed to pay higher prices than have been the case. At present, tenders are submitted to regional officers, who work on a ceiling of average prices and occasionally turn down tenders. These officers should, I suggest, be given a wider discretion, especially in large cities where the need and the difficulties are greatest. Incidentally, I should like to ask how the proposed regional body is to differ from the arrangement which is now carried out. At present, as I understand it, regional officers of the Housing, Works and Labour Department consult together. If there is to be a new body—as I gather there is—I shall be glad to know how that will differ from the old arrangement, and also whether local authorities will be represented upon it. If not, I think they ought to be.

Adverting to the question of prices, here, again, I understand, there is little or no liaison between the different Government contract-authorising Departments. The Ministry of Education, for example, allows much higher prices per square foot for the building of schools—which one would imagine to be simple work—than does the Ministry of Housing for houses; and the Home Office authorises higher prices, too. Houses, however, are clearly the first necessity, and I therefore suggest that consideration should be given to giving better contracts, thereby encouraging more contractors to compete and to pay better wages. That step, combined with the stoppage of other classes of building, would gradually bring contractors and tradesmen back into the industry and we should get more houses.

Finally, and speaking for myself only, I venture to suggest that the possibility and practicability of prefabricated temporary houses or bungalows be again considered. We are barely holding our own in the big cities, but if numbers of temporary houses were built, thousands would have a home of their own who have otherwise no hope for years to come. In the future, when we hope the building of permanent houses will have begun to overtake demand, the numbers occupying temporary houses can be reduced and transfers made, until the full complement of permanent houses has been built. With regard to what has been said by my noble friend concerning timber houses, though I think there are other forms of construction for temporary houses which will probably be more practical in this country than building with timber, the construction of temporary houses would, in any event, employ labour not normally employed on the production of houses; and they can be erected easily and quickly. This course may be expensive, but the need is great, and I know, from personal experience, that hundreds, indeed, probably thousands, of couples would prefer a temporary bungalow with reasonable amenities to continuing to live in overcrowded or slum conditions or, as in so many cases, with relatives. The proposal would have one great advantage. Houses could be built on sites which are too small for any estate of permanent houses, or are, perhaps, not fully developed, or are partly occupied by premises which, in due course, will come down. These sites frequently have drains, water, roads and other services near at hand, and this would avoid the necessity of having to provide those services at enormous expense, as is so frequently the case with new estates at a considerable distance on the outskirts of cities. I commend that suggestion to the Government.

My Lords, I should have wished to say a word or two on the subject which was raised by the most reverend Primate, that of the maintenance and repair of existing privately-owned property, but I think that, on this occasion, I will content myself by urging the Government to give close attention to the position in that regard and to provide the means of doing the work necessary. On the general question of providing houses for those who so badly need them, I will conclude by wishing the Government, and, indeed, all concerned in the work, God speed.

4.46 p.m.


My Lords, my first happy task this afternoon is to congratulate the noble Lord who has just made his maiden speech in this House, and I am sure that I speak for every noble Lord present when I extend a welcome to him. Although his having sat as a "referee," as he termed it, may have made it more difficult for him to make a speech, it certainly did not in any way incapacitate the noble Lord. Perhaps it made it easier for him to make the ideal maiden speech, which is one without too much controversial matter in it. At any rate, I am sure that we all welcome the noble Lord, after his great services in another place, to our deliberations here.

We are all indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, for initiating this debate to-day. I am glad that it had to be postponed from the date for which it was originally put down, otherwise I should not have been here to take part. One thing winch struck me about the noble Lord's speech was that he referred with complete composure and, I thought, with a little complacency to what the previous Government had done in the matter of houses. He accused the Conservative Party—and I suppose a certain number of us here were included in the category—of making reckless promises at the last General Election when we promised a target of 300,000 houses. It may be that none of us expected that target to increase from 195,000 to 300,000 in one year, but that, of course, is the target which (despite what the noble Lord who has just sat down has said) we hope, and still believe, we can accomplish within a measurable space of time. But if conditions when the Labour Government took over in 1945 were as bad as Lord Silkin made them out to be, what frightfully reckless promises we had at that Election!We were promised millions of houses within a short space of time. I do not believe that the promise to try to get 300,000 houses is an excessive one. After all, before the war, from 1934 to 1938, the number built each year never fell below 344,000, and in 1938 about 367,000 permanent houses were completed.

It is clear that, with the present rearmament programme to which we are all committed, this is not the easiest time to raise the housing target. But I hope and believe that we can achieve our figure. The first requisite, of course, is the land. It is true that there are a fairly large number of sites available. I believe—as I pointed out when I interrupted the noble Lord in his speech—that there were quite a number of sites available for housing in 1945. In my view, if we are going to have any considerable amount of private building, as contrasted with local government building, we shall find that the provisions of the Town and Country Planning Act will get in the way of acquiring the sites needed. Before long we shall have to try to secure from the Government some pronouncement on what, if anything, they propose to do in regard to the Town and Country Planning Act. If the Act is allowed to remain as it is, it will not be long before there has to be some Treasury scheme for the compensation to be paid. The assessments are coining in and are being agreed now by the district valuers, and it o ill not be long before it can be easily ascertained whether the £300,000,000 will be too much—which I doubt—or not nearly enough. Whatever a Communist Government might do about taking away a man's rights without payment, however near to that the Labour Government might have gone without the risk of attaching to themselves the label of Communist, I do not know; but I know that it would be fatal if a Conservative Government did not pay in full what its own officers had assessed as the proper compensation. I think this matter should be looked into pretty soon.

I have said that the question of sites would be more difficult for private builders because, of course, the local authorities have power to requisition land. The Central Land Board can requisition on behalf of private builders, but that is a far more roundabout way and we might find ourselves held up for want of land on which to build. The second thing required is adequate supplies of building materials. I believe that there is considerable delay in supplies of roofing slates. It takes about eighteen months to deliver after the order is given. I cannot think why that should be so. Perhaps the slate mines are undermanned, but there is still plenty of slate in Wales, and there are plenty of roofing tiles. Plasterboard takes rather long to deliver, but I am told that there is plenty of plywood, which in many cases can be a substitute. Although there is a shortage of facing bricks, there are plenty of common bricks, and if we reverted to the old practice of rough casting, we could use common bricks and meet the difficulty of the shortage of facing bricks.

Cement is sometimes difficult, and if we look round the countryside we can see the reason. The length of cement roads and kerbs which seems to be required for a modern school amazes me. It is quite unnecessary for education to have to walk the last part of the way down a cement road: one does not walk down a cement highway to get to the school. I believe that local education authorities are being frightfully extravagant in this kind of thing and are depriving the building trade of cement needed to build homes for people. I hope a lot of that extravagance will be eliminated. I like to see good new schools, but a school costing £200,000 for 500 pupils can have some things cut out without in any way depriving the children of good classrooms and a good school. I am thinking of the kind of school which has classrooms built only on one side of the passage. When it is a bungalow school there can easily be lights in the top of the passage, and classrooms on both sides. That would save a large length of walling. In some modern schools we have not only a gymnasium, but an assembly hall and large dining rooms as well. The assembly hall is not often used and it would do no harm if it were used at other times as a gymnasium. That would cut out one large part of expensive construction and would give us extra labour to build more homes. If we look round, we shall find many ways in which we can economise.

I am told that the soft woods position is good. Soft woods were slightly easier to get last year, and we imported the biggest supply since the war, 1,650,000 standards. In regard to substitutes, I am glad to see that my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government has brought in Sir Percy Mills to help him. I know what good work Sir Percy Mills did in the days of the war, and I am certain that he will get down to the practical task of seeing where substitutes can be used, and advising the Minister accordingly. Next comes the actual allotting of contracts to build. I believe that the Minister is right in allotting contracts for a number of houses to be built outside the purview of the local authorities. We can probably rely on the local authorities' keeping up the same rate as last year, which was 190,000 houses, and I believe that the rest have to be obtained by other means. I was delighted to hear my noble friend Lord Woolton say that he thought the small builders could build three or four houses a year. No doubt they could do that without needing extra men, because they could work them in on house building between jobs of repairs. When we look in local builders' yards, it is extraordinary to see the amount of material lying in them; if they could build houses, they could use some of that material and that would avoid their having to make demands on materials in short supply.

I hope that we shall go a little further than my noble friend Lord Woolton suggested and allow any builder to erect four houses a year conforming to local government building by-laws without having to procure a licence. We must rid the licensing authority of some of the burdens put upon them, and this would be a step in that direction. I would also relieve the licensing authority of the need to license repairs for houses. We must keep the existing houses in the best repair that we can. With the present cost of repairs, no sensible owner would wish to be extravagant and will want only to keep the house in habitable repair. This would also relieve the licensing authority of a further burden, and would enable them to deal more promptly with licences for new building and for the expansion or conversion of existing buildings. If we can relieve the licensing authority of these duties, we shall get other things through far more quickly.

I should also like to see some of the big building contractors put on large-scale constructions, particularly in some of the new towns. We talk of new towns as though they are something new in our midst, invented since the war. But, of course, they are not. I represented the constituency of Uxbridge, and anybody who has visited that district will know of the building that took place at Hayes and Harlington and Ruislip—a whole new town, that of South Ruislip, suddenly grew up. That was all done by some of the large building contractors: they knew they had a job to do, not of building ten or twenty houses but hundreds; they took down their cranes, their road-making machinery, and so on, and got on with the job. The whole thing was planned so that the bricklayers went from house to house, and were followed by the carpenters, the slaters, and so on. If we are to get these 100,000 extra houses something like that will have to be done. For my part, in these difficult times I should like to see more houses built in terraces. I do not know why everybody is so much against the terrace and in favour of the semi-detached house. In Sloane Square, and many other similar places, the houses are built in terraces—they are not called terraces, but nevertheless they are terraces—and being built in such a fashion they economise by saving a large number of walls. If they are well constructed, I see no objection to building houses in terraces. Probably some noble Lords opposite have seen the T.U.C. memorial houses in Tolpuddle, in Dorset. That is a very fine memorial: the houses are built in a terrace, and they do not look out of place, even in a delightful Dorset landscape. So let us economise in the outer walls—


And in land.


And in land, as I am reminded—by building some of these houses in terraces—although if the noble Lord means, by economising in land, not having so much garden, I must say that in the country I am all in favour of a man having a sufficiency of garden to grow his own vegetables.

I believe that by concentrating the greater part of house building in the hands of local authorities the late Government were instrumental in causing fewer houses to be built—I say that for this reason: local authorities are less adaptable, and if the materials were not forthcoming it was not easy to make a change. The plans had been approved regionally, and perhaps centrally, and to get an alteration for the use of tiles instead of slates involved so much correspondence with the regional office, or headquarters in London, that they preferred to wait until something came. That sort of thing does not go on where the private builder builds the houses. Another point which was greatly to the disadvantage of local authorities was this. Since almost nobody could get a house except through local councils the number of names on the housing lists included everybody who wanted a house; whereas before the war, when people could get houses outside the local authorities, their waiting lists were not half as big. By concentrating them all, it looked as if the late Government had done even worse than they had in regard to the housing situation—if noble Lords understand what I mean by that.

Finally, I should like to say a few words on the question of man-power. I believe that the noble Lord was right when he said that we have approximately the same number of people in the building trade now as we lad before the war. I have already said that I hope a great many more will be employed on building homes. I believe—some noble Lords will have heard me say this sort of thing before—that we can get more work out of the men by giving them more incentive. The incentive I continue to press for is not to pay them more, but to arrange that they shall not be taxed on their overtime earnings. I know that this raises difficult problem It will be said that by putting more money, untaxed, in the hands of the workmen, there will be still more money chasing fewer goods. However, my suggestion to overcome that problem is this: let them have their overtime, tax-free, if they put the money they earn in overtime into the cost of buying a house. Many people would work much harder if they thought they were working overtime in order to get a home of their own. I have not the slightest doubt that every pundit in the Treasury will "go up in the air" at a suggestion of that sort, but if we are to get more houses built, we must try new methods.

There is one other point that I wish to make on the man-power question. There are ways in which the building trade unions can help. At the present moment, when a new refinery or power station is being built, in quite a number of cases—either because the pipes are not laid out correctly, or because it is easier to build a straight wall and then cut holes in it for the pipes to go through—there is a great deal of cutting out of brickwork to be done. I am told that when a big power station was being built, 25 per cent. of the bricklayer's time was occupied in cutting out holes in the bricks, rather than in laying them. There are machines which can do this work, and I asked an experienced building contractor about it. I said, "Are they easy to work?" and he said, "Even you could work one after about half-an-hour." It is just a machine which will bore a hole in bricks in the same way as you have a hole bored in your tooth.

All that is necessary is to hold the machine steady, and yet the unions insist that it should be a bricklayer's job. It need not be a bricklayer's job. I know that talks are going on between both sides of the industry. As the noble Lord, Lord Woolton said, there is plenty of work for bricklayers to do, and it is the real work of laying bricks. That will go on for years, and they will not work themselves out of a job by allowing other people to take on these new tools. But they could then do the invaluable job of laying more bricks to build more homes for the people.

I am obliged to your Lordships for listening to me for so long. Of course I wish the Government well. I believe that they have started to tackle this problem in the right way. It will still need a great deal of drive and energy to complete it, but I am quite certain that the drive and energy will be forthcoming. I am one of those who believe that in one or two years, at any rate before the end of the lifetime of this Parliament, we shall have produced the 300,000 houses aimed at.

5.14 p.m.


My Lords, this debate appears to be a long-distance marathon race, so far as the number of speakers and the length of speeches are concerned. I will therefore try to be as speedy as possible. In a debate on the subject of housing, any attempt to cover the whole ground is likely only to lead to redundancy and a waste of public time, and therefore I will concentrate on a very few points. In the best sense this is a non-Party debate, and I am sure that all concerned will persist, whatever Government are in power, to carry out their building policies, even although they may not agree with all that the Government propose. It appears to me that, so long as the maximum number of houses are constructed at reasonable speed and at a reasonable cost, it is a matter of secondary importance whether the method employed is local authority building or building by private enterprise.

As your Lordships know, local authorities employ the contracting builders who make their financial arrangements and organise their business in one way. The private house builder, as distinct from the contracting builder, makes his financial arrangements and organises his business in a somewhat different way. In my view, it is a pity that the contracting builder or the private house builder should be asked or required at any time to do a job other than the particular job for which he is specially qualified. The only criticism which I have to make about the Government's policy is that they are taking up a somewhat modified attitude towards private enterprise. I always thought that when we had a Conservative Government back in power it would be the next best thing to a Liberal Government. I am not quite sure when the Liberal Party are coming back into power—I have not consulted the oracle on the subject recently—but I had hoped that the Conservative Party would be very much more in favour of private enterprise than they are showing themselves to be. A considerable number of people in the building trade are rather pained, to put it mildly, at the somewhat disappointing attitude of the present Government towards private enterprise.

I have said something about the difference between the contracting builder and the private house builder, and that leads me to make the suggestion that the general position would be greatly simplified if local authorities were allowed to build only for people who were unable to purchase their own houses—that is to say, if they were restricted to building for the purpose of letting. The private house builder—and this is a heresy with which your Lordships will not agree—should be allowed to build houses either for sale or letting, according to the desire of the builder. Where no subsidy is given, private enterprise should be granted licences without any control of price, or selection of purchasers or tenants. On the other hand, if a subsidy is given, say up to £150, then it is quite fair that the local authority should control the selling price.

Furthermore, private enterprise should not be penalised as it is at the present time. One has to be very careful when dealing with the subject of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, especially in the presence of the noble Lord the mover of this Motion, who is the architect, or at any rate the sponsor, of that Statute. I think that I am right in saying that, broadly speaking, local authorities are exempt wholly—certainly they are partly—from the payment of development charge. The matter is dealt with in the rather complicated provisions of Sections 82 and 83 of the Town and Country Planning Act. I will not go into them in detail, but they provide in substance that although the local authority is not called upon to pay a development charge, it may have to make a payment to the Central Land Board in lieu of that charge. The Statute then goes on to say that the Central Land Board may repay to the local authority the money which the local authority has in the first instance paid to the Central Land Board. How that conundrum works out in practice I do not profess to know. One thing I do know, and that is that the private house builder has to pay 100 per cent. development charge on any development which he undertakes within the meaning of that word in the Town and Country Planning Act,. 1947. I submit to the Government that they should look into the question of the imposition of development charges upon private house builders, because these charges are factors which militate against private house builders reducing the cost of building undertaken by them.

I will now say a few words about the control of building materials. I think the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, was the only one of your Lordships to refer to any of these materials in any detail. There are a great number of people in this country, some of whom are very ignorant, who say that controls ought to be abolished but fail to give any reason for their assertion. I am going to be rather more careful and ask the Government whether they consider that the control of building materials is necessary at all, or at any rate to the extent to which it exists at the present time. Let us examine these materials briefly in detail. So far as bricks are concerned, there are plenty of brickworks in this country to provide all the bricks required if enough coal is forthcoming. So far as cement is concerned, there is more cement than is necessary for our own use and, in fact, a considerable amount of cement is exported. As for timber, this has been partly freed from control, so far as hardwoods are concerned. All softwoods, which are the woods mostly used in housing, should be freed completely and handed back to the timber merchants, who will, as in pre-war years, get us all the timber we want at the lowest prices. I wonder how that statement will register in the minds of the Government, or indeed of anybody else.

One does not wish to be unfair but it is noticeable that softwoods for housing were approximately £10 to £18 per standard in 1939; now, under timber control, they are from £125 to £150 per standard. It does not appear that the control of softwoods has contributed at all towards any diminution in price, remembering all the time, of course, that prices have automatically risen in the last twelve years. As for lime, plasters, tiles and slates, these are produced by our own country and all that is needed is that the Government should provide coal, transport and labour for their production. I submit that no control here is needed. As for steel, very little is needed in housing; it is only necessary for rods in concrete—when I say "housing," I mean the construction of dwelling-houses; I am not referring, of course, to the construction of colossal Government offices.

Finally, may I dwell upon one miscellaneous but not. I hope, unimportant point? When the selling price of a house to-day is controlled by the local authority, the builder is often placed in a difficult position. In days gone by, if I employed a builder to build a house, I had to pay the builder instalments as the building proceeded. Now, where the selling price is controlled the builder is often kept out of his money until the house is sold—that is to say, he may in practice be kept out of his money for any period between six and eighteen months. Again—although I am quite sure that many of your Lordships will not agree with me on this point—the margin between the actual cost to the builder of building a house and the permitted selling price is often small. When it is remembered that in many cases the builder has to pay interest on money which he has been obliged to borrow for the purpose of building, this already small margin may be even further reduced. I have no ulterior motive whatsoever in making the suggestion, but I do say to the Government that the builder is entitled to more consideration in the matter of fixing the permitted selling price. These are only a few observations. They should not be strictly related to each other. They are meant to be, not criticisms of the Government's policy but merely suggestions which I hope will be considered.

5.26 p.m.


My Lords, in rising on this first occasion to address your Lordships, I wish to claim the usual forbearance which is given to new speakers and to ask your forgiveness and excuse if I make mistakes into which a newcomer may easily fall. It is not, however, the first time that I have had an opportunity of speaking in this Chamber. When it was occupied by the Members of another place, I usually spoke more or less from this particular Bench. Therefore in a way I am glad to be back again in this Chamber. But I do find a difference, and noble Lords who have recently been in another place will no doubt agree with me that the quiet atmosphere of this House, the seriousness of the debate—because we have had a very fine debate this afternoon and some excellent speeches—and the general tone are totally different from that which we often found in the other place.

In a maiden speech, I do not want in any shape or form to be at all critical of or antagonistic to anything which has been said. Some points were made by the noble Lord who has just sat down with which possibly some of your Lordships may not agree. We could certainly call to task on one or two points the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, who spoke a few moments ago. But it is not my province at this point to touch upon those matters. The most reverend Primate referred to the fact that during the Election he had the advantage of being abroad. That advantage was not mine and, contrary to the general experience of noble Lords in this House at the present time, I was an elector. As an elector, I received all sorts of literature and I noticed all sorts of promises which were made by the Conservative Party. The noble Lord, Lord Woolton, came into my own constituency and addressed a meeting in the village in which I used to live and in which I was well known. I was glad to hear what the noble Lord said this afternoon as to the intention and, indeed, the determination of the Government to tackle this problem; but on that occasion, so far as I can see from the reports of his speech, he was not very concerned about the question of housing. His main concern was to tell the Liberals of Norfolk that Norfolk was represented generally by a lot of wicked Socialists and it was high time that the Liberal Party joined with the Conservative Party. Be that as it may, many promises were made during the Election, and I think we, who were the electors—it is not my wish to tell your Lordships how I voted or whether I was persuaded by those promises—have the right, not at the present time but in the months or even in the years to come, to know whether or not those particular promises and suggestions have been carried out.

I want to give the Government a fair field. I think they are entitled to it, and if they can do as they hope to do, particularly in regard to housing, then the country as a whole will agree with me that a very fine job of work has been done. Noble Lords on this side of the House are prepared to give credit where credit is due; but I consider it is within our province to condemn if failure takes place. Both sides of this House are well aware, as has been said once or twice this afternoon, that the greatest domestic problem we have at the present time lies in the homes of the people. Like other noble Lords who have preceded me in joining this House, I come from a county constituency, and I am well aware of the tragedies, the anxieties and the distresses occasioned by the housing conditions of the people in some of the rural areas and in some of the small towns. My post-bag in the last six or seven years has been full of requests for assistance to obtain a house in some form or another. I have been told of the homes which have been wrecked. I have been told of the terrible conditions, the crowded conditions, the inability to rear families, the distress of living with "in-laws," which many hundreds of thousands of the people of Britain have had to undergo; and if we, in our generation, can solve this particular question, then I think history will say—I make no pun at all—that the people were wise in their generation.

I have noticed during the course of the afternoon that something which I thought had receded into more or less oblivion has cropped up again, and that is the housing target. My noble friend Lord Milner suggested that it had receded, and the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, in an aside, more or less told us that he had not said it. I want your Lordships to look at that target. It is well known that the Labour Government in the last six years built well over 1,000,000 houses, more or less at the rate of 200,000 a year—not quite that, on an average, but very nearly. The target of 300,000 is an increase of 50 per cent. That means an increase of 50 per cent. in regard to materials: of 50 per cent. in regard, I expect, to imported timber and such like; of 50 per cent. in regard to labour (unless this week we can develop some means of quickening things up); of 50 per cent. in regard to transport, and of 50 per cent. in regard to land areas, and so on. I hold the view that, whatever we may think will be the outcome of the next two or three years, under present conditions, or any conditions similar to those we have at the present time, that target cannot be reached. For the sake of clearness, let me break down those figures a little. If you divide 300,000 houses a year by twelve, you get 25,000 per month; roughly, 1,000 houses to be erected in Britain per working day each month; 125 houses per hour of an eight-hour day, or thereabouts, and two houses every minute. To do that presents a colossal problem and I do not believe it can possibly be solved, either by the present Government or any Government which may come into power in the immediate future.

We have heard of the building of houses prior to the war, but there is nothing comparable in Britain at the present time to the housing estates and the houses which were built under the Labour Government. I know that the private builders, if they can obtain the finance and materials, can build the small bungalows and small houses which we see as the creations in pre-war years of the private builders. But what we have to aim at for our people is not only the provision of the walls and roof of a house, but the creation of a home, with all the amenities, all the services, which we can provide. I was astounded to hear the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, suggest that the amenities could wait. What are those amenities? When we build our houses in country districts, can we wait for electricity; can we go back to the oil lamp stage? Can we wait for water? Can we wait for those little amenities inside the house which are so important for the housewife? Of course we cannot. When we create a home, we have to provide the amenities which the people want.

I desire, in passing, to talk particularly about the rural areas. Many noble Lords have expressed the desire this afternoon that private enterprise should build homes; but I say, I think without fear of contradiction, that the only people who can provide homes for the countryside are the local authorities. Where do you find among the working classes in the villages of Britain the people who can afford to buy or to build their own houses, in these times of high prices? I have a very considerable experience of rural housing in country districts and I say that we must provide houses to rent. It is important from the point of view of our farming industry because our men will not remain on the land unless they can have the choice of a house. It may be, or it may not be, that the problem of the tied house has been debated many times and oft in this House, but I say that the greatest incentive to keep our men on the land is to provide them with a reasonably-rented council house in the village. The days of the tied cottage are gone, and if we have to increase our production, as indeed we must, then we must in very truth supply the needs of the countryside so far as houses are concerned, and in my view the only people to do that are the local authorities. Figures have been given of the numbers of licences which are being issued, but I think it would be a tremendous mistake, at any rate so far as the rural areas are concerned, if a check were not kept on the local authorities in regard to the percentage of council louses to privately-built houses. I was astounded the other day to hear that one rural authority (I think it was in Norfolk) had said that their next allocation would provide for 50 per cent. private houses and 50 per cent. council house. The demand for privately-built houses will gradually diminish if this sort of thing goes on, because there is not the demand among agricultural workers in rural Britain to own their own houses. They want houses to rent. Therefore I hope that the Government will see to it that the local authorities are kept well up to scratch in regard to the erection of rural houses.

There is another point which has not been touched upon this afternoon but which I think we need to bear in mind.

During recent weeks we have heard requests that the Government would take steps to build on bombed and other sites. I hope that restrictions will be imposed upon anyone who desires to build houses in towns or elsewhere on sites which could be kept as permanent open spaces. There are many of these small areas in our cities and towns. We do not want to perpetuate the old system of slums, alleyways and backyards, which may easily develop if we go in for the erection of houses on inadequate sites in our cities and towns. I would far rather see these spaces kept open and be of benefit to the community in the densely-populated areas.

My final point refers to the purchase of houses. How are we to encourage the purchase of houses by young married couples with children? I am speaking now not of council houses but of privately-built houses. There should be some sort of control over the price of these houses. One has only to look in the papers at lists of houses for sale to be astounded at the prices which young people are being asked to pay for small semi-detached and other houses. I am sure that, although the prices of such houses are now being reduced (or so I understand), they are still much too high; and it is impossible for young people, in these days of high costs of living, to pay the prices which private owners are asking. I know the matter is a difficult one; I know that it is a problem the solution of which requires a good deal of consideration; but I am certain that the prices of these small houses are far in excess of the present-day value. If something could be done with regard to this matter I am sure it would be of benefit to all our people.

Perhaps I may be allowed to support what was said by my noble friend Lord Silkin in his concluding words. We want a solution of the housing problem in this country; and we on these Benches will give the greatest support to the Government if they succeed in the task before them. On the other hand, if they fail I am sure they will have to face heavy condemnation.

5.46 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure the whole House would wish me to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Wise, on the excellent speech which he has just made and also on accommodating himself so quickly to the atmosphere of this Chamber. The noble Lord has had considerable experience in the subject which we are discussing and I am sure that his views on these matters will always be treated with great respect in your Lordships' House.

I desire to speak on the question of housing targets but I shall do so from the comparatively limited point of view of the local authority: I do not intend to go into the global question. The housing lists which have been mentioned are not, perhaps, a very accurate indication of housing needs, but they are the only indication we have. If one compares the housing lists with the number of houses that have been constructed the results are rather disquieting. In many parts of the country the housing lists appear to be growing faster than the number of houses which are being built. Perhaps I may be allowed to give one or two figures from my own county of East Sussex. In the borough of Hove in two years there have been built about 300 houses. In the same period the waiting list has increased by about 50. Since 1947, the Uckfield Rural District Council have built about 730 houses but the waiting list has now 80 more names on it than when they started. All over Sussex a similar tendency exists: we have built over 6,000 houses but the waiting list is now over 8,500 and has gone up in the last two years. These figures are disquieting, because they show that we are not even keeping up with the housing problem, much less solving it. And this is despite the amount of agricultural land that is being used up: I believe that the equivalent of one good-sized farm is disappearing from our countryside every year. That might not be so bad if an end to the process were in sight, but unfortunately it is not. Already suggestions are being made that in order to safeguard our more fertile land we should use Ashdown Forest—a piece of country in which your Lordships were very interested a few months ago—or part of it, for housing purposes.

It is difficult, without an elaborate survey, to discover the reasons for this never-ending demand. I have no doubt that part of it is due to natural causes—increase of population and in the numbers of marriages, and so forth, which even the most rabid of planners may hesitate to try to control. It is also quite clearly due to migration from outside. We calculate that since the war in East Sussex we have had about 27,000 migrants from outside, apart altogether from the new town of Crawley. These migrants include very different classes of people. To begin with, they include no less a person than the noble Lord the Lord President of the Council, who has already spoken in this debate. People like the noble Lord are political and social assets, and they are also rateable assets. Then there are the increasing number of ex-Labour Ministers who, whatever they may do in the week, seem to find relaxation in our rather Conservative part of the world. They, too, are social and rateable assets, although perhaps they are a little more controversial.

There is no problem about people who come and purchase houses, and live there, but there are all kinds of other migrants who are giving rise to very serious difficulties. For example, there are the caravanners. I read somewhere that there are no fewer than 300,000 people in this country whose sole place of residence is a caravan. I do not know whether that is true, but certainly we seem to have our fair proportion of them in Sussex. We are continually getting new applications for caravan sites, and it is very difficult to know what to do about them. Despite the magnificence of some of these caravans, in some cases they are sub-standard dwellings; and though indirectly they pay a form of rates, they are not an asset but a debit to the rates. Moreover, unless special precautions are taken, the inhabitants of these caravans acquire a residence qualification for the area and thus in time, if they wish to exercise it, they have a claim for a new council house. It is very difficult to know what to do about these people. It is inhuman to attempt to send them away when we know that they have nowhere else to go, but at the same time it means our having to submit to developments which we do not want. We are trying to differentiate between our own indigenous caravanners and those from outside, but we do not know whether we shall succeed.

Undoubtedly, one thing is driving the people to seek new homes—the decay and obsolescence of their present homes. After the speeches that have been made to-day, I do not know whether anybody can contend that this obsolescence is not proceeding at a most alarming rate. I noticed that in their report for last year the Association of Sanitary Inspectors, who have great experience in this matter, state quite specifically that the rate of deterioration of existing houses in large towns is going on much faster than the rate at which new houses are being built. They also draw attention to the virtual breakdown of the pre-war system of compulsory closure of houses that are unfit for human habitation. In fact, my Lords, there seems to be a pressure of events under which houses tend to get worse and worse, but can never be demolished or replaced. It was the declared policy of the late Government to concentrate almost entirely on the building of new houses. In fact, one had a feeling in debates on housing that the answer to every question was really the same—namely, that that was the Government policy, and that the remainder was simply a question of mathematical calculation as to how materials, labour and capital should be divided between different authorities. It is true that they introduced the 1949 Act to give improvement grants, but it appears that the conditions and strings attached to that Act were such that it has not been of much practical value. Your Lordships will remember that the late Government excluded from its operation tied agricultural cottages. In passing, I should like to say, quite sincerely, that as an owner of agricultural property I feel that while I was given every encouragement by the late Government to improve accommodation for my cows, I received none to improve accommodation for my agricultural tenants. That is rather an unexpected result, but I think many owners of agricultural land would agree that that is so.

Reference has already been made to-day to the Rent Restrictions Acts. Your Lordships will remember that the late Government agreed that the Rent Restrictions Acts should be amended, but they were unable to tackle that matter. In the opinion of all the experts, those Acts are largely responsible for the decay and obsolescence which is going on. I do not pose in any way as a housing expert, and I have no doubt that there are many good reasons for these decisions. But when I see this migration of people seeking new homes for old, I can- not help wondering whether this legislative neglect of old, existing houses is altogether wise. I have seen some of the new towns and settlements, and I think they are extremely impressive; but, as your Lordships know very well, they involve a great deal more than the mere building of the houses. Certainly, they involve new roads, sewers and water installations, and probably schools and clinics—indeed, the whole apparatus of the Welfare State. All that is very expensive in capital outlay.

Then there is the further point that the people who get these new houses enjoy a considerable subsidy of at least £22 a year to enable them to have good housing conditions. It is, in fact, a form of social service. But people who are living in old houses cannot get a similar subsidy to improve their housing conditions. I know that already complaints are being made in my part of the world that at any rate some people are having to contribute, through the rates, to the housing of people who are considerably better off than they themselves. It may be due to some sense of injustice, but I have noticed that some rather ingenious ways are being tried out to get over this particular difficulty. The other day I heard of two cases which I must confess surprised me a good deal. The first was a case of a man who was summoned for being in arrears under a maintenance order. An inquiry into his means disclosed the fact that he was receiving from public assistance £6 a week, £3 of which was to enable him to keep a second family in a hired caravan. In the other case a man, without any apparent means, somehow managed to get the lease of a large house, the rent of which was £90 a year. He then also succeeded in pursuading the Public Assistance Board to pay for the whole of the rent, plus the rates, though certain conditions were imposed.

I believe that anomalies like this will increase if, over a long period of years, this distinction is drawn in the matter of rent subsidies between old and new houses. I therefore hope that the present Government will look very carefully into the 1949 Act, and see whether they cannot make it easier to work. I hope they will extend it to the tied agricultural cottage. I hope they will encourage in every way the conversion of existing buildings to suit modern needs, especially the modern needs of old people. I agree entirely with what has been said as to suitable accommodation being found for these old people. In the rural areas, particularly, if provision could be made for retired agricultural workers it would have a great effect. I believe that opportunities exist. As one small example, I notice that in one of their reports the National Corporation for the Care of Old People state that many of the existing almshouses could be made good and could attain quite a high standard at much less cost than the building of new houses. I hope, too, that the Government will face up to this chronic question of the Rent Restrictions Acts.

I should like to make a final point about agencies for building and converting, and to commend to your Lordships that form of agency known as the housing association. A housing association is simply a group of people formed for the purpose of building or converting houses. By agreeing to conform to certain statutory conditions they get certain facilities. Now a housing association is a form of private enterprise and, as such, should commend itself to the Conservative Party. It works for profit but at rates laid down by the Treasury; therefore, I think it should commend itself to the Labour Party. Many of these associations have long and honourable traditions which should commend them to all of us. During the last few years these associations have not been able to take on a great deal of new work because nearly all the work there was had to be done by local authorities. But now that Her Majesty's Government—with great wisdom, as I think—have given much wider discretion to local authorities, there is no reason why they should not undertake considerably more work.

I am not asking Her Majesty's Government for any new legislation or, indeed, any new finance. All I am asking is that they should give the housing associations a certain degree of moral encouragement. That ought not to be very difficult as it raises no problems with the Treasury. I feel that if the Government would do what they could to help the housing associations, it would be very much appreciated. It is possible for the Minister and his officials to make a lot of difference to voluntary bodies in a small way. In view of the amount which local authorities now have" on their plate," and having regard to the great experience which these associations have had, particularly in dealing with various Departments—notably those concerned with the care of the old and the care of various other classes of people—I believe that the associations can do a great deal to help the Government. They have in their methods a flexibility which is not possible to local authorities, and I think that they could very well do a great deal of the work which local authorities have been doing.

6.5 p.m.


My Lords, I rise towards the end of this great debate in your Lordships' House, and I hope that I shall detain you for only a short time. I should like, in the first place, to speak about references which have been made in earlier speeches to the standard of building, the standard of accommodation and the standard of amenities. I can only say how glad I was to hear from all sides how deep is the concern felt about the standard of building, which is, of course, one of the basic factors of all building schemes. As regards the standard of accommodation and the standard of amenities, I think there is still a great deal to be learned, especially in view of what happened under the late Government. As to the matters of rents and the size of houses which people really want, I have myself had experience in one or two housing schemes—especially rural ones—and I know that when it became time for the inhabitants to take over those houses, they were far from satisfied. They were dissatisfied with the number of things that had to be maintained. They considered that there were too many electric points, and there were more bathrooms than they really cared about. So I feel that there is still a certain amount to be learned in regard to the planning of building schemes by local authorities. In view of the larger part which the private builder is going to be allowed to take in the provision of houses, a great deal more elasticity will probably be afforded in regard to such matters as size and type of houses and amount of accommodation. In other words, there will be considerable progress towards meeting the full requirements of the people.

I am not going to say any more on that topic at the moment, but I want to come now to the picture of the housing situation of the country as a whole. I suggest that we might, for a few moments, look at that from the point of view of units of accommodation rather than entirely from the point of view of new houses. It seems to me that in any new housing programme there is still a large amount to be done with reference to repairs and conversions. This is a subject which has already been dealt with to-day, and I, myself, through my organisation and my office, have been requested to prepare for one of Her Majesty's Ministers specifications in regard to prices of materials and of labour for several schemes involving quite a large number of conversions. We have to consider very carefully this matter of the labour supply. Certainly more labour is taken in the construction of houses, whatever their size, than is required by conversions; and if the Government are going to start off with, shall we say, a first year's possible target of 200,000 houses, I think they might well consider how many more people still they would be able to accommodate if they turned part of their energies—and it can be done—to alleviating the present restrictions on conversions of all types. I do not want to go into technical details and figures, but let us assume that 190,000 houses are to be built accommodating an average of four people each—which would mean housing over 700,000 people altogether. I can assure your Lordships that if conversion schemes were properly handled nearly twice that number could be accommodated in the: first year, and in very considerable comfort too, with reduced prices of material and reduced usage of labour which might well be employed elsewhere.

With reference to repairs, I desire to make a point concerning the present licensing system. The noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, suggested that repair licences should be wiped out altogether, but I do not think that is feasible. But if we said that repairs up to £500 would be allowed, we should be going a long way towards dealing with the disastrous decay of houses. With regard to both conversions and repairs I must refer to the Town and Country Planning Act. I request the Government to give earnest consideration to this matter. I am not going into the matter in detail, because I know that the time of the Government is fully occupied on priority matters such as rearmament, but I should like to suggest that it would be of great value to approach a recognised corporate and technical body, such as the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, which could help the Government by producing a factual, detailed scheme of reconstruction, not from the financial side, but from the legal and technical side, which would enable them to alleviate the effect of that Act in no far distant time, so that we could bring this accommodation problem "up to scratch."

In regard to repairs, I wish to refer to the Rent Restrictions Acts which were passed in 1937 and 1949. Both Acts were of use, but were hamstrung. Here, again, it is a question of technical advice to a heavily-worked Government. I feel that if, from the conversion point of view, the effects of the Town and Country Planning Act could be alleviated, and if, from the repairs point of view, the effects of the Rent Restrictions Acts could be? technically alleviated, in a very short space of time we should see what looks like a far distant object coming towards us at a greater speed than we ever even hoped for.

6.13 p.m.


My Lords, at this late hour I feel I should follow the excellent example set by the last speaker, Viscount Portman, and cut my remarks to a minimum. I can do so easily since most of what I wished to say has already been said by previous speakers. But there are one or two points about which I am not entirely satisfied. I should like to say at once that I agree with previous speakers that in certain circumstances it is most desirable for people to own their own houses. May I follow that up by saying that the encouragement now given to people to own their own houses is entirely misplaced? I think the time is most inopportune for that. The noble Lord, Lord Woolton, has not been able to reassure me that there will not be what has been called "jumping the queue." I cannot see how local authorities can be compelled to put people who are not able to buy houses but who wish to rent them on the same basis as those who come forward and say they are prepared to buy a house. It has already been said that this would save the taxpayers' money. It has also been said, possibly not in this House but elsewhere, that encouraging people to buy houses by instalments would be a contribution toward anti-inflation. These two things are certainly admirable. We wish to bring down the expense to the taxpayer and to bring about anti-inflationary measures. But before we do this, we should ask at what cost we are going to embark on these ventures.

I believe that to encourage people to buy houses at the present moment is not a good thing. Let me tell your Lordships what I have in mind. A man may be able to save a couple of hundred pounds by thrift or otherwise. He may be earning enough for him to calculate that he will be able to pay the instalments to buy his house. But does he know what the future is holding for him? He is not necessarily a good business man, and in his effort to get out of the agony of overcrowding or living under bad conditions he may be willing to embark on an enterprise which is going to land him in disaster in the very near future. The head of the family might fall ill, or his industry might move to another part of the country, or he might fall out of work and be unable to pay the instalments. He may not be able to calculate exactly what the upkeep of the house is going to be. So that, in addition to his being worried, his wife and children may have to go short of food or of the comforts which make life really worth living. That is the danger which looms very large in my mind. I think that to encourage people to buy their houses at the present moment is bad, because we are faced with a big migration of labour. We are all aware that at the present moment some industries are less important than others, and we are trying to take workers from the less important to the more important industries, which are often in different localities. Probably it is easy for people who are buying houses by instalments to get rid of their houses; but would it be easy for them to get other houses in a new district?

I should like to comment on two other matters. It has been stated this afternoon that housing should be subservient to finance and rearmament. I agree that finance and rearmament loom very large, but I want housing, to some extent at least, to be brought into organic relationship with those two priorities. By cutting down housing or by not giving as free play to housing as we may, are we not making a bad mistake? I allude to the health and the hospital services. Everybody who is connected with them knows the amount of physical and mental illness and moral dislocation which occurs through insanitary houses and over-crowding. I need only draw your Lordships' attention to the terrible toll that tuberculosis takes of the people of this country. I ask, is it not cheaper and more economical—leaving out all consideration of human happiness, which is, of course, very important—to spend money on the prevention of disease, mental, physical and moral, rather than to pay more for medical service, hospitals and juvenile courts? I maintain that the financial considerations have not been fully calculated by Her Majesty's Government.

Now take the question of rearmament. That, again, is connected with the health of the people. I believe that a great deal of absenteeism is due to ill-health. If we can bring about conditions under which the workers of this country are better housed, then I feel we shall cure an appreciable amount of absenteeism. I would go further and say, without fear of contradiction, that a man who is healthy in mind and body and is not worried by overcrowding and the horrible condition;; attendant upon it, will be a happy and efficient worker. That is most important at the present time. Also, with regard to rearmament, it seems wrong to give all our attention to the production of arms and munitions and not to think of the people who have to go through the awful stresses of war, should war come. I feel that part of our rearmament drive should be earnestly concentrated on rehousing, because through better housing we shall get a healthier population and people who are more capable of bearing the arms that are being made and standing up against the horrors of war, should it come. It is the morale and health of the people that will count, should war come. I believe this scheme for encouraging people to buy more houses at an inappropriate moment is wrong, particularly as the people who have the means to buy new houses are usually also the people with the knowledge and ability to mitigate the worst horrors of these conditions.

6.24 p.m.


My Lords, I wish to emphasise what my noble friend Lord Kenswood, and practically every other speaker, has said—namely, that housing has got to be our first priority. I would put the production of houses even in front of the production of atom bombs. I also agrees with Lord Kens-wood when he say;; that if you house people decently that is the best way of keeping up their morale. In this respect, I was pleased when I read the speech of the Prime Minister, Mr. Winston Churchill, to Congress, in which he paid a well-merited tribute to this nation for what we had done between July, 1945, and the end of December, 1951. He mentioned how we had spent our money in what he called "unrequited exports," and went on to say: This, added to the cost of turning over our industry from war to peace, and rebuilding homes shattered by bombardment, was more than we could manage without an undue strain upon our life energies, from which we shall require both time and self-discipline to recover. Sometimes I think it is as well to remember the mandate which was given by the people to the late Government, based upon the experience of the Coalition Government. Speaking from memory, I believe the Coalition Government decided that it was necessary to build 750,000 houses in five years. I well remember the day when Mr. Churchill, as war Prime Minister, told us that Lord Portal (whose absence I shall continue to regret, as I considered him one of our most able Ministers) had a scheme to build 500,000 prefabricated bungalows, as they were called, at a cost of £650 each. I remember, also, that the present Leader of the Opposition in your Lordships' House, the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, was deputed by Mr. Churchill—and later, I believe, by Lord Woolton—to go into the whole problem of housing. I went one afternoon with the noble Earl to Northolt (it was about the third time in my life that I had been in an official car and got something for nothing, which always appeals to a Yorkshireman) to see some prefabricated houses—not bungalows—which could be built in three months, given decent weather. I remember the noble Earl, Lord Jowitt, saying: "Why should we spend £650"—this was later increased to £1,500— "in building these prefabricated bungalows which by law can last for only ten years" (I think that is the time they were intended to last) "when we can borrow the money to build on a forty-years' basis, instead of a ten-years' basis?" All the local authorities with which I am in touch in the North of England agree with that. I am glad to say that they ceased building prefabricated houses when the total was 246,000 and went on to build traditional and untraditional houses. I mention untraditional houses, because the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, has been talking as if none had been built. I know of one firm in Leeds who have built 20,000 untraditional houses which will last for a good many years. I am glad that many of these houses are being built in the countryside, as well as in the industrial districts.

Altogether, including prefabricated houses and permanent houses, the late Government built 1,500,000 dwellings. But this is the problem that Her Majesty's Government will have to face if they are in office in 1955—which I very much doubt. When the Labour Government were in office it was the first time since Walpole that a Prime Minister had been in office for six years and never lost a by-election, and I am ready to take a wager with the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, who seems sceptical about this, that they will not go three years without losing a by-election—


What are the odds?


I will give you twenty-five to one.




Either in cigars or nuts. Again you are making me digress, and I am sorry. I am not here in a white sheet to apologise for the late Labour Administration. I think we should have an illuminated address, on vellum, suitably inscribed and presented to the former Minister of Health, Mr. Aneurin Bevan—though I am certain he would not thank me for suggesting it—thanking him for the drive he put into building houses and for succeeding in implementing twice over what the Coalition Government said should be built. That is "something to write home about." I went down to my old constituency of Hull on one occasion when Mr. Churchill was there and on another occasion when the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, was there. Both of them were deeply moved when they learnt that 88,000 houses had been damaged or destroyed. I was very proud of the fact that in a few weeks 30,000 houses were restored, to some degree, making them fit for human habitation. Hull has a very honourable reputation regarding the number of houses it has built since 1945 in comparison with its population. Nearly 7,000 houses have been built there. I am sorry to see it, but I notice that Hull, which is typical of the bombed areas, built 2,500 of these blots on the landscape, these prefabricated bungalows. I warn Her Majesty's Government that many of them are already turning into slums. The most reverend Primate referred to slums, but I am afraid that we have not been able to tackle them a great deal. That is a problem which faces any Government, and that Government, whatever its colour, is entitled to the support of the nation in endeavouring to solve one of the greatest problems of our time.

I do not want to talk too much about the past. I wish the noble Lord, Lord Brand, were here to speak about cheap money. I remember the City of Sheffield having to borrow money at 6 per cent, in order to build houses during the First World War. No wonder it was a ghastly failure. To-day, the Government have a flying start compared with the Labour Government in July, 1945. Then we were literally like the Children of Israel. We had the straw, I agree, but the brick kilns had only a skeleton staff to keep them going, and they had to be started up again. In addition, we had to get timber in the most difficult circumstances. The noble Lord and the Government have no excuses. They have plenty of soft timber, and there is plenty of cement to build these untraditional houses. They are good to live in, and I should not mind living in one myself.

No political Party can afford to be complacent. I think I heard Lord Woolton say that the Government had pondered over the problem of 300,000 houses. I am sorry that he is not here, because I seem to remember that the target of 300,000 houses was inspired by the bracing air of Blackpool. I think a poltergeist had got into the Winter Gardens, and a mischievous sprite had inspired a man—-I hope he came from the North, because he did a good turn—to get up and say, "We want 300,000 houses," and the whole of that vast audience of Conservative delegates took up the cry. The lady in the Chair did not know what to do. The honourable Member for Melton also did not know what to do. He was the Chairman, but he handed over to the Vice-Chairman. Lord Woolton saved the situation, and I pay my weed of praise to him. I can see him now, in my mind, walking to the edge of the platform as the whole of that mighty mass of delegates were in rebellion. It looked almost as if it were a Labour Party Conference. Lord Wootton said, "This is magnificent!", and saved the situation. Soon after, he plastered the hoardings throughout Great Britain with huge posters saying, "There are going to be 300,000 houses." No wonder the billposters look upon him as the billposters' friend. All the while, the man who refused to allow anybody to write the programme of the Conservative Party and who had rebuked both Mr. Butler and Mr. David Eccles for trying; their hands at it, was in seclusion in the Jockey Club at Newmarket. But he had to accept the facts when he came to Blackpool on the Saturday, and that is the reason why we have the slogan from the Party opposite, "We are going to build 300,000 by a mass meeting production"—because it seems to me that that is what it amounts to. I think we are entitled to get a little bit of our own back on occasions in a nice. Christian sort of way.

The new Minister, the right honourable Mr. Macmillan, has to implement the figure, or try to implement it, and if he tries very hard he will find that many people of good will are ready to support him. I have followed Mr. Macmillan ever since he entered Parliament in 1924. I remember him when he was a member of the Y M.C.A. group. The hard-faced people in another place did not like him because they did not know whether to call him a member of the Young. Men's Christian Association or a member of the Young Men's Conservative Association. I have had a great admiration for him ever since. I hope that he will be able to produce houses and not merely rabbit hutches. I also agree, with him that we should have more elasticity, which I believe he mentioned in a speech last week. If a small builder with a small plot of land can build a block of four houses, let him do so. There should also be more flexibility, without too many restrictions, so that people can get on with the job of building what I hope will be decent houses. In talking about satellite towns Mr. Macmillan said yesterday that if they could not move along they would have to hop along. If we have to call the Minister "Hop along Harold," it will not be in terms of disrespect. We shall be hoping that he will be able to implement the pledge and provide what this country must have—houses—and we can assure the Minister that he is banking on a very large credit of good will if he will provide them.

6.40 p.m.


My Lords, at this late hour I do not feel able to try to emulate Lord Calverley's flights of rhetoric, but I very much like the conclusion of his speech. I am bound to say that the constructive suggestions coming from the Benches opposite this afternoon have been remarkably few. I had hoped that we should hear some suggestions of how the present Minister's plans could be improved, how more houses than his figure could be built; but we have heard nothing. We have been told that we cannot build 300,000 houses. There seems to me, at any rate, to be no wish from the Benches opposite that more than 300,000 houses should be built, and I think that is lamentable. I believe that the Minister's use of all possible agencies for building houses must be an improvement on the late Government's policy of using nothing but local authorities. Local authorities—I meet them every day of the week—are admirable people, but they have many other things to do besides building. They have a whole mass of statutory duties that absorb a large part of their daily work. They cannot go "all out" on housing because they have their other Acts of Parliament and other duties to carry out. Therefore, to restrict the building of houses merely to the local authorities means to say that you are fighting with one hand tied behind your back.

I am quite certain that if the Government use the housing associations and the building societies—and there are 4,000,000 members of the building societies; I repeat, 4,000,000—a very large number of additional houses can be built. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Kenswood, who rather advocated that people should not save and try to buy a house of their own.


All I said was that at this present moment it is inopportune for them to do so.


I am obliged to the noble Lord. I would not agree on that point, however, for this reason: that all Parties in the State advocate saving, and what better object can there possibly be? I think the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said this afternoon that he advocated one man owning one house. Why should the noble Lord, Lord Kenswood, say that it is a bad time to save? All the political Parties advocate saving.


I am so sorry to have to interrupt again. I think the noble Lord has misunderstood what I said. I gave the reasons why I feel that at the present moment there is a great danger in encouraging people or making it possible for people to buy their own houses. My main reason was that in order to get out of their present misery, the awful misery about which we are all agreed—for instance, overcrowding and living in insanitary houses—people will often be prepared to embark unwisely on house-buying by instalments, thus making themselves less efficient and causing the country as a whole to suffer.


Of course, if you never risk anything you never gain anything. If you never do anything because you may make a loss, surely that is a pessimistic attitude. I do not wish to labour the point. I think there is a good deal to be thought about in it.

I want briefly now to refer to the question of the building which has taken place in the past by Government Departments. It is this building which has detracted from the total amount of labour and materials available for housing—there is no doubt about that. There is only one pool of labour and materials, and the more that is taken out for extra building, for Government building, the less will remain for houses. To the minds of many of us, the use of labour and materials for other pur- poses has been extravagant. I want to cite only one case—that is, the Home Office. The Home Office have had designs, and very good they are, for new police stations and new magistrates courthouses. They cost over £100,000 apiece. Quite recently, in my own county the Home Office—I will not say insisted, because a Government Department cannot insist, but certainly they suggested, that if this court and police station were not built in my own county, it would be built in another county. That was only a suggestion, but it has to be taken for what it is worth. The result, however, is that this building is now going up and, in consequence, there is that much the less labour for building houses. Your Lordships will agree with me that at the present time that is all wrong. We cannot afford, when we want houses so badly, to waste—or perhaps I should say expend—our materials and our labour on that sort of refinement.

The Ministry of Education, in their building regulations, also have a very high standard. We all agree that high standards are good, but their high standards are based on the development of schools in urban areas. They insisted that these standards be carried out exactly the same for schools built in the country as for schools built in the most congested part of the most congested city in the Midlands, or in any other part of the country. That again is wrong. Surrounded, as those country schools are, with fresh air, there is nothing like the same need for corridors and passages and things of that sort. I hope that the Minister of Housing will in this case confer with his colleagues in other Departments which control building—that is to say, principally, the Ministry of Works—to see whether they cannot agree during this period to hold their hands and so make more labour and materials available for building houses.

My noble friend Lord Gage, who I see has left the House, referred to immigration into the county of Sussex. It is the immigration problem in parts of the country that leads to the increase on the waiting lists at the present time. My own county has built 10,000 houses since the war, which I think is the greatest number in the South-West of England, according to population, except for the county of Gloucester. We now find that, through immigration and for other reasons, we shall probably have to build 20,000 more houses. So we have gone only one-third of the way in the last six years—and that does not take into account sub-standard houses that will have to be replaced when building conditions become easier. And those houses will have to be considered, in addition to the 10,000 new houses already built. So many noble Lords have already referred to the question of houses tumbling down for need of repair that I do not wish to press that point. It is evident to anybody who lives in the country that many houses are now being lost because at the existing standard of rent they are unable to bear the burden of repair.

I should like finally to refer to the point that, for the provision of housing by private enterprise, many new building sites will be required, building sites not bought by the local authority but to be acquired either by a builder or by the individual with a licence. The effect of the development charge is a very great deterrent. I am glad to see in his place the noble Lord who initiated this Motion, because he knows as well as I do the effect of the development charge in deterring land coming into the market: it is very grave. And now that dead-ripe and semi-ripe land is becoming exhausted, owing to building having taken place on it, there remains only the land which will be subject to the full development charge.

I have looked up the figures in the last three Annual Reports of the Central Land Board, and I find that the average development charge on what is called a dwellinghouse has varied in those three years between £150 and £120 per house. That obviously is a very heavy tax, and it makes the price the individual has to pay for the individual site a very heavy one, because he has to pay the existing use value for the land and then the development charge. Even if he pays £5, £10 or £15 for the existing use value of the land you then have to add the development charge, and what you find is that for quite a small plot he is paying £150, £160 or even £170. If you reduce that to pounds per acre you will find he is paying an astronomical figure for one acre of land. Of course he will not buy an acre; he will buy only a quarter. The late Minister, I see, takes the point that, instead of land becoming cheaper, which we were given to understand would he the result of the 1947 Act, it has become much more expensive.

I cite one case because I think it is apposite. A quarter of an acre in the countryside was sold for £50 for a housing site. The development charge imposed by the Central Land Board for one house was £150, making a total of £200 for one quarter of an acre. If three other houses were built, the price of that land would have been £800 an acre, which in the country is a fantastic charge. Any noble Lords who have to deal with these matters know that £800 an acre for land in the country on which to build a house is a usurious charge. In the old days, £200, or perhaps £150, was a reasonable amount to pay for an acre of building land in the country. The figure has now risen to perhaps as much as £800. I do hope that very shortly the Government will be able to produce an improvement in the system of assessing the development charge, even if they use unable to abolish it completely. I have occupied, I am afraid, too much of your Lordships' time, but we all wish the Minister well and I am quite convinced that if all the possible agencies work together it will not be impossible to reach the Minister's target for housing.

6.55 p.m.


My Lords, I am very reluctant indeed, after so many speakers have tried your Lordships' patience, to take up more of your Lordships' time, but because one particular aspect of to-day's debate has not yet been touched upon I thought that perhaps you would care to hear what is the position in Scotland and in Glasgow particularly, of whose Town Council I happen to be still a member. Therefore, trying to confine my remarks as much as I can, I had better say that, first, I shall try to give an indication of the problem in Glasgow and partly in Scotland; secondly I shall try to say a word or two about the demonstration of protest to which the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, referred, and finally I shall try and say a word about subsidies which are, I think, at the moment matters under discussion between the finance officers of Scotland and the Scottish Home Department.

Without indulging in any emotional rhetoric, I will bluntly state this: that as late as 1950, 50 per cent. of Glasgow's houses were of one or two apartments, many of them without individual sanitary conveniences; that as late as 1944 the standard of accommodation in Scotland was lower than that in England; and that when the Royal Commission, which reported in 1917, tried to discover the number of houses needed for Scotland they reported that on the basis of three persons per room, the number of houses needed in Scotland would be 121,500, but that if the English standard of two persons per room were adopted the number required would be 236,000. It seems to me unfair that that lower standard should have been adopted and accepted officially in England. In 1925 more than 50 per cent. of the houses built in that year were houses of two apartments, and the senior deputy officer of health for Glasgow tells me that those low housing standards compelled the utilisation of the living room as the bathroom. Until 1944, the occupancy standard for new houses still necessitated that practice. On that basis, since infants were not included at all and children under ten were reckoned as half an adult, it was possible in an extreme case to house some eleven human beings in a two-roomed house. This practice, of course, has now ceased. The living-room is now excluded and the standard is two persons per bedroom per house.

Further, in Glasgow alone there are to-day 40,000 families without a house of their own, and that position must of necessity grow worse because the rate of increase in families is greater than the rate of increase in the population. Although some 75,000 houses have been built in Glasgow since 1919, there are still on the waiting list over 100,000 applicants, some of whose names have appeared on that list for more than twenty years. That, I think, is very much worse even than in Leeds, to which my noble friend Lord Milner referred and upon whose maiden speech I should very much like to offer my congratulations. There are 400 properties officially designated as dangerous in which people are still living. These are exclusive of the dwellings which are described as unfit for human habitation, and they have no bearing on the initial number of houses which are overcrowded. It is not surprising, therefore, that the tenements in Glasgow collapse—as happened very recently, when one tenement containing eighteen families collapsed and some seventy-four human beings were rendered completely homeless. That tenement collapse was not due to the gales which we later suffered; it was just one of the collapses of which we have had so many in Glasgow. Considering such conditions, is it surprising that the incidence of tuberculosis is the highest in the country, taking the average over the last five years? The infant mortality rate in Glasgow is the highest in the country.

But, disturbing and depressing as are these facts, I confess that they do not move me as much as did a recent personal experience of my own. At the pressing request of an occupant of a tenement in a ward of which I happen to be a representative, my two fellow representatives and I went to visit that tenement. I will not describe it in detail. The walls were not in plumb; the windows which were closed could not be opened and other windows could not be shut. It was a terribly dilapidated tenement. But it was a very great shock to me to see affixed on each door and the landing of the tenements metal discs containing figures. In one case—I have the figures here—the figure was 1,300, and underneath "3 adults." I had heard of ticketed houses, but I thought that they were a relic of the dim past. It seemed incredible that in this mid-twentieth century there should still be living in these places people whose houses were ticketed in that way. Thirteen hundred cubic feet of air is supposed to be the allocation for three adults. When one has seen inside these so-called dwellings, as I have, one wonders how anyone could live in them and remain healthy.

Why are these conditions tolerated? Why have they been tolerated? I can only answer that, so far as Scotsmen are concerned, they have, for far too many generations, been reared in the mental atmosphere of the but and ben—that is, the two-roomed house in which one of the rooms serves for living, dining, washing and other purposes and the other is kept for ceremonial occasions, and, in the country, for housing the occupant's cows and sheep and other agricultural possessions. We have gone beyond that, and the outlook to-day is changed. But if I think of Glasgow alone and ask what the solution is, I am almost bound to say that the problem is insoluble. The problem is insoluble for this reason. Recently, when the Corporation were considering submitting their planning scheme to the Department of Health in Scotland, our city architect explained that assuming, first, that the population remained stationary, secondly, that the acreage of the city would not alter, and, thirdly, that the density of building remained the same, the number of additional houses necessary to rehouse Glasgow would be in the region of 200,000; but that, taking the land available and the land already purchased, there was room for at most only 45,000 houses. How it is possible to fit in another 500,000 population into that space, I do not know. Local action cannot de it, and the question is whether the Government can do anything to relieve that situation.

The noble Lord, Lord Woolton, referred to the demonstration of protest. I have already explained what happened on a certain Thursday recently in connection with a letter which the head of the Department of Health sent to the Corporation. I should like now to refer to what prompted that demonstration. I think it is important to consider what the possible effect of the action taken by the Secretary of State in prompting the sale of these houses might be. I am not concerned at the moment with the question of whether letting houses or selling houses is the better way. I am concerned purely with this one scheme of 622 houses, which were originally intended to be built for letting—that is the important point: the houses were intended originally to be built for letting. After some were completed, the Housing Committee of Glasgow decided that they would sell. Immediately, there was a spontaneous outburst on the part of the people of Glasgow. When the matter was raised in another place, a Member interjected to ask whether the demonstration was organised or not, and if so who organised it. I think it is better to answer quite definitely that of course it was organised but the significance of the demonstration lies not in the fact that it was organised but in the fact that this was a spontaneous reaction by two or three bodies—first, the local Labour Party, secondly, the trade union workers, and, thirdly, that embarrassing group of camp followers who always try to make capital out of a public grievance. But it was a spontaneous reaction; and some 3,000 people on that damp Thursday afternoon marched round George Square in Glasgow protesting against the decision of the majority party in the Glasgow Corporation to sell these houses.

The Secretary of State has had this matter before him. I suggest that he has not been well advised in agreeing to the sale of those houses, and that his attempt to modify the conditions originally laid down by the Corporation, however well meaning, did not at all meet the situation. The Labour Party members of the Corporation feel that a trust has been betrayed, and there is no question that the workers on that scheme feel that they have been betrayed. However unreasonable it may be on the part of the general public, they feel that, in spite of the fact that there are 100,000 applications for houses and that there is no chance of these 622 houses satisfying the demand, they have been deprived of an opportunity of getting a house.

My Lords, the undertaking to buy these houses is one which ought to give considerable anxiety to those who contemplate doing so. In my view, although these houses are good value, as prices go to-day, one expects that they are at their peak figure, and that I hose who buy them will, in the best of circumstances, have to commit themselves for a period of thirty years to a considerable annual or semiannual outlay, to an initial sum which a great many people might pay at great inconvenience to themselves, and, to the thousand-and-one cots of maintenance involved. And one wonders whether, as the noble Lord, Lord Kenswood, indicated, a great mans thousand honest people may not, in their desperation, undertake obligations covering this long period which they will never be able to fulfil. Therefore, I think it would have been very much wiser, on the one hand, to allay a feeling of considerable indignation and, on the other, to avoid the possibility of causing ultimate hardship to people who are anxious to obtain houses, if the Secretary of State had said that in this particular instance he would prefer not to allow the houses to be sold, but that if at any other time it was desired to build houses for sale—there is no reason why that should not be done—the council should go ahead and build them. But do not give the people of Glasgow the feeling that they have been deprived by the sale of these houses.

Finally, my Lords, I should like to say a word about subsidies. As the noble Earl, Lord Home, will know, there have been discussions on this question, and I have wondered why, in the Press, there seems to be so widespread a feeling that the arrangements made have satisfied the situation. Personally, I do not think they have. Consider the purpose of the review of subsidies. Since local authorities have found the burden upon them too great, and since it is an accepted principle that the Government will share a proportion of that burden, one would have expected the Government, now reviewing the subsidies—indeed, having pushed forward the period of review—to relieve local authorities of this additional burden. What, in fact, has happened? It is true that the Chancellor of the Exchequer in another place indicated that the additional charge of interest would be taken into consideration when reviewing the question of subsidies. That has been done, but he has done nothing more. Instead of relieving the authorities, he has simply, as it were, said that the amount of additional interest that will fall to be paid is so many pounds, and that the subsidy will be adjusted in order to meet that extra so many pounds; and there the bargain is finished. I regard that as unsatisfactory.

What, in fact, was supposed to be the position is this. It was understood that the Government would share the burden in the proportion of 3⅓ to 1. Before the war I think it was 2½ to 1; I do not know. Now I understand that the Government say "We can have only a 3 to 1 ratio"—that is, the Government will share three parts of the additional burden, leaving the local authority one part. However, when they come down to negotiate the actual figures, we find that the Government officials insist on a certain figure as the cost of the house, a figure which the finance officers equally insist is an impossible one—first, because it takes the tender price, and secondly, because it takes the tender price at a time when it was obviously below the price ruling to-day. One example is that during the period of negotiation the extra wages that had to be paid to workers were, I think, 1½d. per hour, in the case of two sets of workers, or perhaps it was 3d. on two occasions to the same set of Workers—I am not quite sure. That has been ignored. The Government have deducted for what they call low-cost houses, an amount which is in excess of what the finance officers say should be the charge. They have ignored the fact that local authorities must provide such things as fireplaces, washing boilers, and necessities of that kind. The Government officials say that they cannot be allowed in these low-cost houses. They have said that, owing to the increased supply of timber, a certain number of houses can now be built more cheaply by the use of timber, so saving steel. In calculating the saving to be made, they have taken £30 when it should have been £15.

Generally, the outcome is this: that whereas the extra amount of interest on a house would be £19 6s. 9d., the increase in subsidy compared with the increase in interest is only £19 5s., so that the local authorities are worse off to the extent of 1s. 9d. per house per annum after the so-called adjustment of the subsidy. When you remember that over the last five years in Scotland deficits have been incurred amounting to £5,500,000, in addition to the annual burdens which the local authorities would bear, your Lordships will agree, I hope, that the subsidies have not recouped local authorities for their losses. I should very much like to see the Government improve the figure if they can, because at present it works out at only 1.1 to 1, instead of the 3⅓ to 1 or, as the Government now say, the 3–1 ratio that they had before. My Lords, that is all I wish to say at this late hour.

7.19 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, gave me no notice that he was going to raise this question to-day, so he will forgive me if I make only the briefest reference to his speech. However, I feel that I must say something—


It was purely an oversight on my part, if I may say so.


Thank you. The noble Lord began his speech by referring us to the condition of houses in Scotland, in the city of Glasgow in particular, as compared with those in England. Of course, as long as he and I can remember, housing conditions have been worse in Scotland than in England, and Glasgow has always been a very bad spot. I would recall to him that before the war we had got to the stage when we were making successful inroads into the slums in Glasgow. We were doing a lot of slum clearance, but, of course, in the war years that was brought to an end. Between 1945 and June of last year, 15,723 permanent houses were built in Glasgow by the Corporation. That is far short of the need, but all the figures which the noble Lord has given this afternoon seem to me to reinforce the need to better the performance of the Socialist Government in the last six years, and to reinforce the need to stick to and, if conceivably possible, achieve the target of 300,000 houses which has figured in our discussions. The noble Lord has surely taken, and I think that his Party have taken, a defeatist attitude this afternoon. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, that we have heard from them very few constructive suggestions as to how we might build more houses. The noble Lord has said, with regard to Glasgow, that he considers the problem there to be insoluble. Her Majesty's Government will not and do not admit that. He complains that it is hardly possible to build more houses in Glasgow, but let me remind him that there is the new town of East Kilbride which should absorb a good many Glasgow citizens. Shortage of land is no obstacle to new building.

The only other question with which I want to deal is the question of the Glasgow Corporation selling 600 houses on what is known as the Merrilee Estate. That proposal, of course, as the noble Lord will admit, is perfectly within the powers and the rights of the Corporation, but certain objections were made by reasonable people, and the Secretary of State took the greatest care to consider those objections. The fear has been expressed in this debate that some people might "jump the queue" as the result of the arrangement which has been made. As the noble Lord himself put it, some people might be deprived of houses who would have a reasonable expectation of getting them. In order that your Lordships may judge whether or not the conditions are fair, let me tell you what the Secretary of State laid down to the Glasgow Corporation in respect of the selling of these houses. The first condition is that sales should be made to existing tenants. For every house that is sold to an existing tenant a vacancy is created for people or the Corporation's waiting list. The second condition is that the houses should be sold only to people on the Corporation's waiting list who would normally get a house within the next year. Further it was laid down that they should be sold only to people in bad health who, again, would normally be given houses by the Corporation. Those are the limitations linden which these houses may be sold. Surely they are eminently reasonable conditions to lay down, and they have been accepted by the Corporation. Of course, it is impossible to restrain people whose agitation is designed for political, ends, but I suggest most strongly that these conditions laid down by the Secretary of State, and accepted by the Corporation, are reasonable in these particular cases, and will mean that no one who might expect to get a house will be unjustly deprived of one.

The last point which the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, raised was one about subsidies. I cannot say a word about that, and I am not very sure that the noble Lord ought to have done. So far as I know, this muter is still under consideration and confidential. I think that the less anyone says on the subject to-day the better. I conclude this short intervention by saying that I hope the noble Lord will forgive me if I have not been able to take more trouble about my reply, but, as I have said, I did not know that he intended to raise this particular matter of housing in Glasgow.


I hope there is no suggestion that there has been any breach of confidence on my part. I was given documents without any sort of intimation that they were confidential, otherwise I should not have referred to their contents.


I would not for a moment suggest that the noble Lord has said anything that should not have been said, but these matters have been under discussion until a very recent date and I should not like to add or say anything, in case I divulged any matter which should not be divulged.

7.26 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to join with other noble Lords who have participated in this debate in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, on initiating so interesting a matter for discussion in your Lordships' House. I wish to submit a few observations on the production engineering aspect of house construction. It is essential that this specialised branch of engineering be understood. Once its considerable potential is measured, then the application of its techniques will bring great advantage, with the result that more houses will be built for the same man-power and at less cost. As your Lordships will remember, the Industrial Revolution which transformed so many of our industries left the building industry almost unchanged. This state of affairs in Britain is not unique; it is to be found in other countries, too. The first sign of a welcome change in the building world comes from the United States of America. It was made evident in a very interesting paper delivered at the Building Research Congress, held in London last September, by Mr. Christenson of the Federal Housing Administration of the United States of America. He stated that science and engineering knowledge were to be brought in in the most complete fashion and applied in practice. In other words—there is to be a production engineering approach for the United States housing programme. It is really not to our credit that we are becoming so accustomed to the United States making many of these important technological advances. We can, I am sure, and I suggest that we should, do more.

It is well that we should remember that the building and civil engineering industry employs some 1,500,000 people, with a further 400,000 in the building materials and components industries. This is some 8 per cent. or 9 per cent. of the working population, and is more than there are in agriculture and about equal to those in the engineering, shipbuilding and electrical groups of industries. The capital invested is large, since buildings and construction work generally account for some 60 per cent. of the total gross fixed investments. This compares with 50 per cent. in the United States of America. The figure for Sweden is about the same as that for Great Britain—about 60 per cent. What is happening with these vast resources in action? The Girdwood Committee estimated in 1950 that the man-hours needed to build a given type of house in 1949 were 26 per cent. above the 1938–39 level. This was an improvement on 1947, but it represented a 20 per cent. drop in productivity compared to pre-war days.

In industry, as your Lordships know, productivity has risen appreciably since 1938. The cost of a house, expressed as a fraction of the national income, is nearly one-fifth more than it was in 1938. There is a close relationship between productivity and the use of machinery. The average American used three and a half times more electrical power than his British counterpart—one of the reasons for higher American productivity. As your Lordships are aware, we increased the available horse-power for agriculture three times in eight years. We must have an increase of the same rate, but much more rapidly, in the building industry.

I have said enough to show the tremendous importance—no, the vital need—of our building industry applying, and without delay, all that is to be learned from science and engineering; in other words, production engineering technique. It is not sense, in these days of mechanisation, when two small semidetached houses have to be built, that much of the material is moved more than once and some 1,200 tons of material are moved on the site by hand. Nothing is so expensive as "cheap unskilled labour." The small building firms—and there are more of these than there are bricklayers—will have to be helped, like the small farmers who now can hire equipment as they require it. In this matter of the more efficient use of man-hours and materials in building, a remarkable work has been done on research and development by the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. The Permanent Secretary of that Department, Sir Ben Lockspeiser, a man of outstanding ability, with the courage of conviction born of wide experience, delivered the closing address, entitled "Research and the Building Industry," at the Building Research Congress in September, to which I have already referred. I suggest that this paper should be considered a directive to the industry, and I beg to suggest to the noble Lord who will reply for Her Majesty's Government that this paper be given close consideration and a wide circulation. It richly merits it.

7.34 p.m.


My Lords, at the end of a long debate I am sure your Lordships will wish me to keep you for only a short time. I should also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Silk in, for initiating this important debate, because it is nearly two years since we had a debate on housing in this House and because, as many noble Lords have said before me, this problem is, after the defence of the country, the most important, and we have to tackle it. Listening to many of the speeches from the other side, I thought, like the noble Lord, Lord Sempill, that they struck a defeatist attitude. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Calverley, is not in his place, and I do not like to play Party politics, but I should like to quote a significant paragraph front Command Paper 6794, the Second Interim Report on New Towns, issued in April, 1946. The Committee which made this Report was under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Reith. On page 12 the Report says: The Government's housing programme contemplates the building of 4,000,000 houses by local authorities and private enterprise in a period of from ten to twelve years from the end of the war. This involves expanding the building industry to a personnel of about 1,250,000 by the fourth year and the civil engineering industry in proportion. Under this programme building is expected to work up to a peak production of between 400,000 and 500,000 houses a year six years to eight years from the middle of 1949, in addition to repair and other building work in that period. Presumably, the late Government accepted that Report, because there it is on record. I thought noble Lords opposite adopted an extremely defeatist attitude this afternoon in condemning us for putting forward a programme of 300,000 houses a year.


My Lords, is the noble Lord suggesting that because a Government causes a Report to be printed they thereby accept it? Because that is a very interesting doctrine.


The first words I quoted were: The Government's housing programme contemplates… I imagine that if they "contemplated" such a programme, then that was the Government's idea. I leave it at that. I do not wish to pursue the subject, but I thought I should like to answer that attitude.

The only point I want to make is on building costs, which have gone up very much in the last few years. I welcome the statement by my right honourable friend the Minister of Local Government and Housing, in a speech at Nottingham, that local authorities could give block licences to builders to build in blocks. I should like to give the facts about two experimental houses which were built last summer at Ipswich. The final cost of these houses, which were put up as an experiment by the Eastern Building Federation, was £1,106 per house, or 26s. 11d. per cubic foot. They are three-bedroom houses of 820 cubic feet. On top of that has to be added the road charges, development charge, cost of the land, architect's fees, legal fees and so on. I should think it is not unfair to add for these another £435, making the total cost in the neighbourhood of £1,541. Thus, to buy one of these houses over a period of twenty years, borrowing 90 per cent. from a building society and allowing £10 for repairs and £15 for local rates, would cost £2 9s. per week. Although that is a large sum compared with pre-war prices, it is within the limits of a large number of people. I do not say it is within the limits of the lowest paid, but I hope that these prices will be brought down so that the lowest income group can afford to buy their own houses. If that can be done with two houses, and if the Government are going to allow within the pet milted limit a certain amount of block huddling by private builders, I submit that we shall be able to bring the prices down, as was done so successfully between the two wars, when houses were being sold at £450.

In conclusion, I should like to say a word about London. Glasgow has been mentioned to-day, but I think that London has nearly as big a problem. It is estimated that on the housing lists of the L.C.C. and the twenty-eight Metropolitan Boroughs, there are 320,000 names. Some 61,672 houses and flats have been built since the end of the war. I do not say that that is not a big contribution, but we must make a much bigger one in the next few years. Therefore, I welcome the Minister's new statement. I believe it gives a breath of fresh air which is most welcome to people interested in housing, and I wish him the best of luck. I thing it will be possible to do something a good deal better than has been done in the past, particularly if we are more careful with other types of building, as we must be, because we have spent something like £30,000,000 in the last five years in Government building alone. I believe the Minister said in another place that that would provide houses for 100,000 people, or 25,000 families. With those few words, I should like to wish the Government success in their new policy.

7.41 p.m.


My Lords, at this exceptionally late hour I do not think your Lordships would wish me to do other than try and deal, as briefly and expeditiously as possible, with what has been a very long debate. I feel, however, that it has been a valuable one. So far as the Government are concerned, we recognise that this is a great national problem and a very difficult one. All the help, advice and constructive criticism we can get we shall certainly welcome. Before I go further, I should like to say a word of appreciation of the two maiden speeches made this afternoon by the noble Lords, Lord Wise and Lord Milner of Leeds. I hope that we shall hear them often again.

A number of points have been put forward, and a number of criticisms have been made of the Government, which is only natural. Before I deal with our differences, I should like to say a few words on something on which we can all be satisfied—namely, that our object of procuring a great many more houses is unanimous. There were some doubts as to the practicability of what we want to do, and some criticism of the methods which we propose to adopt. But we are agreed on the one point, that we must have more houses. As I said, some doubts were expressed as to the practicability of what we propose to do. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, suggested that we had made some rather flamboyant promises at the Election; and I think that suggestion was echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Wise. I do not think I need say more about that matter than has been said by my noble friend Lord Llewellin. I should have thought that the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, who was a housing expert, and I believe a great expert on non-traditional houses, would know enough to appreciate that those who live in glass houses ought not to throw stones. I will not weary your Lordships to-night by repeating a little dossier of promises made in 1945—I will leave that alone.

Let me say that we believe this target to be possible; we believe that it is essential, and we are going to do our utmost to achieve it. It is true that we shall not build 300,000 houses this year. I know of no production drive in the world that ever produced results in the very first year. While we recognise the formidable nature of our task, we believe that if we approach it in a spirit of determination and in a spirit of enthusiasm, and if—which is equally important—we can transmit that determination and enthusiasm to the people whose help is so essential to us, we can succeed. I felt, as I listened to the debate, that some noble Lords opposite thought we had made radical changes in our approach to housing. Nothing is further from the fact. The basic skeleton organisation of the whole housing drive still depends on the co-operation between the central Government, on the one hand, and the local authorities and the building industry, on the other. That is absolutely unchanged. The task of the Government is to provide the over-all plan, the finance, the land, and an adequate and even flow of labour and materials. But, as has been said, we cannot build the houses. The houses have got to be built by the local authorities, with the local builders, because they are the only people who know what is needed locally; and equally, when the houses are allotted, it is clear that the local authorities must be the people to allot them. Who in Whitehall can say who should have a claim on a certain house? Only the local authority can do that.

I should like to pay a tribute to the local authorities for what they have done. It has not been an easy or a pleasant job for them to deal with the urgent and tragic human needs with which they have had to deal for the last six years. Although they may not have succeeded in every instance, I believe that on the whole they have responded magnificently to the heavy burden that has been imposed upon them. In my view, they deserve not only our confidence for what they have done, but also all the encouragement and help we can give them. We felt that the best way to show our confidence in them was to give them a greater measure of freedom to run their own affairs. That is why we have allowed them to decide, within certain limits, how they should use the allocations that have been given to them. We think that change is going to have three advantages. We believe that it will attract back the small house builder who is capable of building a few houses a year—reference has already been made to that aspect by several noble Lords this afternoon. We also feel that it will introduce a competitive element of both design and price, which I am sure is essential. In the long run, the competitive house will be the cheaper house. The noble Lord, Lord Wise, regretted that the prices of houses were so high: this is one way, we believe, of trying to get them down. As has been said, we also intend to give builders a chance to build block terraces, which in its turn should do something to reduce prices. It means that the local authority will be set against the private builder in competition, and we hope that this will produce cheaper prices. We believe that it will also satisfy a genuine desire for people to own their own homes.

The criticisms that have been made about "jumping the queue," and about standards, have been effectively answered by my noble friend Lord Woolton, and I do not think there is a great deal more that I need say on that subject. The noble Lord, Lord Kenswood, said that it was bad to encourage house ownership at the present moment, but I rather felt that all his arguments would apply to encouraging house ownership at any time. He said that a man had to be prudent; that he had to consider what he was "letting himself in for." That does not apply more to-day than at any other time. In particular, I really cannot accept that as a valid argument against the principle of house ownership. On the other hand—one is always between two fires—the noble Lord, Lord Meston, who I am sorry to see is not here now, said that we were not doing nearly enough, and that we ought to let the private builder build as much as he wanted without any restriction of any kind. I always feel that when one is criticised, on the one hand, for doing too much and, on the other, for doing too little, one is pretty nearly right. Certainly that is the position we are in to-day.

The noble Lord, Lord Milner, suggested that local authorities ought to be encouraged to give greater incentives to contractors building council houses. I was not quite clear what he meant by that, but I would say this. I do not think that greater incentives are any good unless there is greater production. In the past there has been no possibility of greater production because there was a fixed target. But to-day I believe that we can have greater incentives, and I should like to say another word about this in a moment. Of course incentives and production must always go together. Let me, first of all, say a word about incentives to local authorities themselves. As I have said, there are two things we want to give them. The first is more freedom, because we believe that they are responsible bodies; secondly, we want to give them greater encouragement. Unless they can be given some, incentive, I do not see that they have a great deal of encouragement to build more houses. They have had a fixed target in the past, and have been allowed to build only a fixed number of houses a year. In many cases that must have acted as a disincentive. Perhaps the local authority was rather reluctant to use up its year's allocation too soon and lose its contractors because they had no more work. The contractors felt that it was no good expanding their organisation if there was no prospect of further contracts and thereby working themselves out of a job. We hope that in the future there will be no such limitation. The programme in future will be an expanding programme, and we hope that that will give incentive to the local authorities.

May I next say a word or two on the question of maintenance of existing houses, about which a number of noble Lords spoke, I thought with considerable effect, this afternoon? Of course, the Government realise that, whilst we should make every effort to speed up the building of new houses, we have to repair and maintain the existing dwellings which are soundly constructed and which, given the opportunity, would have another useful term of life of, perhaps, thirty years or more. The noble Viscount, Lord Portman, said something on that matter, as did the noble Viscount, Lord Gage. There has been a complaint that the allocation of materials and labour for this purpose is inadequate. In the present difficult situation it is very hard for us to allocate a great deal more labour and materials to maintenance work. Rearmament has to be considered and, at the same time, there is the housing drive. All I can say on the point of maintenance of existing houses is this. The Government are very sympathetic to the problem, and we can promise that there will be not less resources available in the future than in the past and, furthermore, that regional officers will be prepared to consider any schemes which are put up to them, particularly schemes for conversion where additional allocation might be justified because greater living accommodation would thereby be provided. I cannot go further than that at the present moment, but I hope that that may go some way to satisfying the noble Lords, if not with regard to the practical steps, at any rate with regard to the general attitude of Her Majesty's Government.

Various noble Lords were concerned about the provision of land—clearly that is a vital consideration, because without land no houses are possible—and particularly about the implications of the Town and Country Planning Act in stopping building land coming forward for development because of the incidence of development charge. The first thing I would say is that of course the development charge does not apply to local authorities, nor does it apply to those who have either dead-ripe or near-ripe land. In any case, at the present moment there is a considerable amount of dead-ripe and near-ripe land still available for building.


I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but I think he will find that development charge is assessed on local authorities.


I could enter into discussion on this particular point with the noble Lord, but the Town and Country Planning Act is an extremely complicated affair, and I think your Lordships might well be here until half past eight if I embarked on an argument of that point at the moment. May I say that there is a considerable amount of ripe and near-ripe land which is still available for building and, therefore, we are not concerned immediately with the problem of a shortage of land? We recognise that such a shortage might arise because of the provisions of the Town and Country Planning Act, and the Government are considering whether parts of the Act relating to compensation, to depreciation of land values and to development charges should be modified or altered. It is a very complicated subject and there is no easy solution. Even if the Government were to decide to introduce amending legislation, I do not think there is any prospect whatsoever of its being introduced in this Session.

I now come to the question of materials. Various noble Lords expressed concern on this point, and asked us what we were doing to boost the supply of materials. Of course the position has always been difficult. It was difficult in 1945, and it has been difficult ever since. Except for steel, in some respects it is easier to-day than it has been for some time, but that does not mean to say that the situation is as yet satisfactory. All I can say is that Her Majesty's Government are doing everything in their power to increase the production of materials. For example, we are now building houses (they were started by the late Government) in the brickfields, in order to try to increase the production of bricks. We are doing everything to encourage production of materials, and not only the production of materials but the flow of materials to the building sites, which is absolutely essential if greater production is to take place. The noble Lord, Lord Milner, asked me how these new production boards differed from the previous arrangements. These new production boards will supplement the existing machinery, and they will bring into existence a body in which all the main interests are represented and which can give its whole attention to the problem of solving the flow of production—breaking down bottlenecks and getting the materials more quickly from the site of production to the job. Local authorities will not be represented on the boards, for the simple reason that it is desired, in order that the boards shall be fully efficient, to keep them as small as is reasonably possible.

Let me turn now to the question of economy. Of course, whilst we will do everything we can to increase production, in our present situation it is no good deluding ourselves into thinking that we can achieve our aim unless some economy is made, especially with the demands of rearmament and with the need for keeping up our export trade. I was very interested in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Sempill, and thee suggestions that he made. I am sure that my right honourable friend the Minister will read with interest what he said, and I dare say that he may take some further action about it. I also noted the remark s of my noble friend Lord Llewellin about economy in the building of such items as schools. Personally, I agree with him that economy is needed in every kind of field, and that is a course which the Government are endeavouring to pursue. So far as new houses are concerned, of course, the building of smaller houses is one of the greatest methods of achieving that. Equally, the Government are interested in developing any successful non-traditional types of building. There are various difficulties over the timber houses which the noble Lord was discussing and with which my noble friend Lord Woolton has already dealt. But we are interested in developing nontraditional houses wherever this is possible.

Finally, there is the question of labour. As has already been said this afternoon, the labour force is approximately the same as it was before the war, but it is distributed somewhat differently. A greater amount of labour was engaged on new housing before the war than is the case to-day when, owing to the ravages of war and to the long period of lack of maintenance, a considerably greater labour force is occupied on repairs and maintenance. I do not think that it will be possible immediately to switch a large amount of labour from the maintenance and repair side to new housing. I am sure that those noble Lords who spoke about the maintenance and repair problem will agree that, until we overcome that problem, we cannot switch too much labour away from it. Therefore, any additional labour that will be available must come from build- ing other than new housing. As your Lordships know, certain schemes and certain economies are being made in that field to enable greater production for housing to take place.

I am conscious that I have dealt but rather sketchily with the many speeches that have been made this afternoon, but I felt that at this hour your Lordships would wish me to be brief. May I add only this? We, as a Party believe—and I think noble Lords opposite will agree with this—that the family is the basis of the nation, and that a free nation is a community of families. We believe that part of our greatness as a nation has been due to the importance which we have always attached to family life. Certainly not the least of the qualities, if I may say so, which earned for his late Majesty the respect and the sympathy of his people was his own genuine love of family life. And yet a family without a home is like a fish without water. It is our sincere intention to do everything possible to provide homes for the homeless. We shall use all the ingenuity and resources that we can muster for this purpose, and certainly, if enthusiasm and determination still count for anything, we may hope to succeed in our task. If we all succeed, we can feel satisfied that we have made some contribution to the happiness, the stability and the greatness of this country.

8.4 p.m.


My Lords, this has been a very long debate, but I hope that you will feel that even staying up to this late hour has been well worth while. We have had a number of memorable speeches. I should like to congratulate the two noble Lords who made their maiden speeches, Lord Milner and Lord Wise. They both spoke in the high tradition of this House about subjects with which they are familiar. I am sure we shall he delighted to hear them again. If he will not think me impertinent, I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, on his masterly summing-up. It is exceedingly difficult to try to put together so many loose ends over such a long debate. I think he has done very well.

That does not mean for a moment that either he or the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, have completely satisfied me, or have replied to all the points that were put, but I did not expect it, and it would have been too much to hope for, because a great many points have been put which obviously they could not possibly have replied to on the spur of the moment or even after the short notice which they had. All I would ask is—and I hope that this is not unreasonable—that they will give careful consideration to the things that have been said in the debate from all sides of the House. There have been a great many useful contributions. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, will read the speeches from this side of the House and refresh his memory, because I think he will find that a good many positive contributions were made from this side which, if accepted, would be of great value in the housing campaign.

I never said that it is impossible to build 300,000 houses in a year. I should like that to be put on record. I have never said so. On the contrary, I said that it is possible. Of course it is possible to build 1,000,000 houses a year. All you need do is to use all your labour and materials for the purpose of building houses. It is all a matter of priority. I do not suggest for a moment that this Government will not do it. What I have said was that they did not put forward a target but a promise, and I thought that the promise was rather rash. I doubt very much whether, assuming that there is a three-year life for this Government, which is about what most people give them, they will reach those 300,000 houses in the third year; but it is quite possible, and I, for one, certainly hope that they will.

There are two things I want to say. One is that perhaps I can in a very few words resolve the conflict between two noble Lords. As usual, they are both right. The noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, is quite right: there is no development charge in respect of land which the local authorities held at the time of the passing of the Act, but there is a development charge on land which they subsequently acquired. But, since they can acquire it at existing use value, in theory at any rate, and I am sure in practice in their case, they are paying no more for land than they would have paid if the Town and Country Planning Act had not come into operation at all. The aggregate of the existing use value and the development charge value represents what they would have had to pay before the Act. They are no worse off. So the difficulty that the local authorities have about obtaining land is non-existent. The Act is not a deterrent to them, whatever one may say in the case of private persons. But this is not the time or the place to discuss that matter. I would gladly join issue with the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, or anybody else on this question of deterrent. The noble Lord must not interpret my silence as agreement with what he said.

There is one other point I should like to make. I should like to support the most reverend Primate in what he said about repairs to rent-controlled houses. This is a problem, and it is no good saying it is such a difficult problem that no political Party will face it. If my Party had been in office now they would have had to face it. We cannot just accept the position that hundreds of thousands of houses are to be allowed to decay while we are building new ones because the landlords do not get sufficient return in their rents to allow them to carry out these repairs. That is a position which has to be faced. I hope that this Government will have the courage to face it. I am not going to make any positive proposal to-night as to how it should be faced, except to say that in my view if you relate any increase of rent directly to the payment out in respect of repairs, no reasonable person can object. However, I feel this is a matter the Government will have to face in the near future, and I hope that when they do they will face it courageously and not be worried too much about the political consequences.


And we shall have your support?


In a reasonable proposal, certainly. I shall decide what is reasonable. I think we have all been here long enough, and I have great pleasure in withdrawing my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.