§ 2.38 p.m.
§ [The Question was as follows:
§ To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have considered advocating the building of a limited number of specially designed prefabricated houses of a type suitable to meet to-day's requirements, which could be erected with great speed in definitely selected locations, to ease the present serious housing hardship now being endured by a considerable number of our people, and, if not, what solution of this important problem they propose.]
THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF HOUSING AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT (EARL JELLICOE)
My Lords, I assume that the noble Lord may have particularly in mind the recent increase in the number of homeless families in the London area. Serious housing difficulties of this nature are highly localised in a few areas and the local authorities concerned are best able to judge whether emergency action needs to be taken. One of the measures adopted by the London County Council for dealing with their problem of homelessness is the use of prefabricated dwellings of a limited life which can be quickly erected. Several makes of this kind of dwelling are already available on the market. My right, honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government fully supports the action taken by the L.C.C., and if any other authority faced with a similar problem would think it right to provide this type of dwelling he will be willing to give loan sanction.
My Lords, I think that would depend upon whether the prefabricated house in question was of a temporary or a permanent nature.
Not necessarily, my Lords. When my right honourable 654 friend received a delegation from the L.C.C. recently to discuss this problem of homelessness, the question of finance came up. My right honourable friend told the delegation that he would be willing to entertain representations with regard to subsidy if they were made. They have not yet been made.
§ LORD LATHAM
Otherwise, my Lords, I am sure the noble Earl would agree that the financial consequences and effects of the Rent Act would be cast upon the local authorities.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, is it not very desirable, in view of the present figures, which are not confined to London—they affect certain other districts as well—which show an enormous increase in the number of people being forced to adopt the cheaper method of living in caravans, often in very unsuitable circumstances, that the Government should, as a matter of initiation by themselves, do all that they can to encourage better housing, including the use of prefabrication?
My Lords, I would certainly agree that the Government should do all within their power to encourage better housing, and that is what the Government are doing. I think there is a distinction to be drawn between permanent and temporary prefabricated dwellings.
§ LORD BOSSOM
My Lords, while thanking my noble friend for that rather comprehensive Answer, I should like to ask about two other points connected with it. Does he not feel that it is appropriate for the Government to advocate the use of prefabrication in places other than London? Because I believe he will agree that that is a way by which we can get houses quickly. There can be permanent prefabrication or temporary prefabrication. Is he aware that the Army have been working on this matter for the last seven years and have obtained certain quite satisfactory results, and that certain of our big contractors and manufacturers have also been doing it? And could he not advocate that to the authorities which are not looking after the situation as it 655 should be looked after at the present time?
My Lords, may I reply to my noble friend in this way? The Government are, of course, keenly interested in the possibilities of applying prefabrication techniques to all forms of housing, not only to the individual dwelling but also to flats. That is a matter which my own Department not only have a keen interest in but to which they are giving deep thought. I think I made it clear in my original reply to my noblefriend that the Government are prepared sympathetically to entertain representations made to them by local authorities in this regard.
§ LORD BOSSOM
My Lords, is my noble friend not aware that all local authorities do not know as much about this matter as his Department know? Therefore, why do not his Department actually advocate the use of these forms of construction that are available to them? His Department have a great deal of information about them, but local authorities have not that information.
My Lords, I think the answer to that question is that local circumstances vary very greatly; and the information available to my Department at present is that, so far as permanent prefabricated houses are concerned, the saving in time gained through quicker erection is not counterbalanced by the saving in price. They tend to be rather more expensive.
§ LORD BOSSOM
I dislike, as it were, badgering the Minister on this subject, but I do think that if he were to look into it a little further it would be possible for him to find out more than is apparently known to his Department at this moment.
My Lords, I assure my noble friend that he is not badgering me on this matter. My Department, or the Department for which I am answering, have in fact looked into it very thoroughly, and are continuing to look into it very thoroughly; but I have given, to the best of my ability, a broad picture of the information available to the Department at present.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, is it not extra- 656 ordinary that this statement should now be made about the costs—the fact that prefabricated houses actually cost more although taking a shorter time to erect? Would the noble Earl's Department have a look at what is going on in, say, the erection of supermarkets, and so on, by the use of concrete and prefabricated parts, in half the time and at very nearly half the cost in some circumstances? What is wrong with the planning of prefabricated houses? Cannot someone look into it? Perhaps he can lay a Paper for us.
My Lords, I think the technical problems with regard to houses and with regard to large areas like shops are, in fact, rather different. I was merely making a comparison on the price of existing types of permanent prefabricated houses. Through investigation and experiment there may well be possibilities of price reductions inthe future.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl whether it would not be possible for the Government to prepare a White Paper and issue it in time for the debate on housing which we are having on February 7 next, so that we may have the facts fully beforeus? To put this interrogatively, is he aware that my information on the cost of prefabricated houses is quite different from that of the noble Earl and indicates that in fact a large number of authorities in the North of England have carried out the erection of their houses by prefabrication in a competitive way—that is, in competition with traditional houses? If we could have all this information before us in a White Paper, it would be, I think, useful in the debate which we shall have after we come back.
§ BARONESS WOOTTON OF ABINGER
My Lords, the noble Earl said in the course of his answers that the Government are giving deep thought to these matters and are doing all that is within their power. Are we to understand that the thought of the Government is ineffectual and their powers are limited?