Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a further sum, not exceeding.£30, be granted to His Majesty, towards defraying the charges for the following services connected with Housing in England and Wales for the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1944, namely:
|Class V., Vote 1, Ministry of Health||10|
|Class X., Vote 6, Ministry of Health (War Services)||10|
|Class X., Vote 1, Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (War Services)||10|
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)
I beg to move, "That Item, Class V, Vote 1, be reduced by £5."
I think the Committee will probably agree that a full and comprehensive Debate on the subject of housing is long overdue. There are very many different facets of this subject. I am especially concerned with the question of housing in town and country and not, although I think it would come within the ambit of the Vote, the question of rents, though I would like to say a word on that, leaving to other of my hon. Friends on both sides the opportunity to discuss it more fully. I will deal with that by saying that I am not convinced by any argument the Government have yet used that the system of controlling rents in this country is sufficiently comprehensive, and I think that whatever our political views may be, whether we are in favour of public or private ownership, we all agree that during the war there should be no rise of any kind in basic rents where ordinary housing is concerned. The Government have passed legislation to ensure that that is so, so far as unfurnished houses are concerned. A great many of my hon. Friends on both sides of the House will be able to produce argu- 49 ments and examples, as I have no doubt they will do later, to show that in the case of furnished lettings there has in some cases been a state of affairs which can only be described as gross profiteering. I would agree with my hon. Friends on this side in saying that we should by all means prevent the landlord from profiteering in housing, but I would also say, and I hope they agree, that it is equally necessary to prevent the tenant from profiteering by charging excessive rent for letting portions of furnished accommodation.
I put down this Amendment for a reduction of the Vote because I was frankly dissatisfied with some of the answers to Questions which my right hon. Friend has given, and I have taken this course, not in any fit of pique, but as the best way to deal with the matter. I wish to make it clear that I shall not be putting the Committee to the trouble of a Division unless my right hon. Friend does not give satisfactory assurances on the points with which I am concerned. Nor do I wish to make any attack on my right hon. Friend which could be described as comprehensive. I would like at the outset of the Debate to say that if it were in Order, which it is not, to discuss other aspects of my right hon. Friend's administration—it is only the housing Vote—I should like to pay a tribute to what my right hon. Friend has done in looking after the health of the people. He may well be proud throughout his official life in the record, he has in that respect, and I would like to pay my sincere tribute to him.
But when it comes to the question of housing I am afraid the tale is a less satisfactory one, and I am sorry to have to say—if I might have my right hon. Friend's attention, because I am going to make a very direct reference which I hope he will not think discourteous; it is not intended to be—that I think his administration suffers from the fact that he has been too long in office, and too long in one particular office. I have noticed, by extended observation over a number of years, that when a Minister, however competent, has been too long in office, particularly in one office, he becomes very Civil Service minded. That is to say, he is more cautious than bold, more anxious to conform to precedent than to indulge in any innovation. It is not for any of us 50 on this Bench, or for anyone else, to suggest to the Prime Minister what promotions he should make, but I cannot but think that there are within this Government a number of junior Ministers who, if they were brought to this office, would apply to it the vigour which comes from new brooms, whose bristles sweep clean because they are young and tough. I do not want to embarrass my right hon. Friend by making injurious comparisons between him and other Ministers, but I cannot help thinking that if the right hon. Gentleman kicked as much against the pricks as the Minister of Agriculture would have done, his building programme would not have been of the miserable size that it is. It would more nearly have approached the achievement of his right hon. colleague, to whose administration I must not refer now except to say that the benefits of it can be seen everywhere throughout the countryside. We have a striking contrast between what has been done in agriculture and what has been done in this most important question of housing. I hope that if the right hon. Gentleman does remain at the Ministry, he will try to emulate his right hon. colleague, and will not be afraid to kick against the pricks but will make a nuisance of himself, and if he does not get what he wants will say, "I prefer to resign rather than remain in office on such terms."
I want to make certain constructive suggestions along these lines. Nobody denies that the most prominent feature of the landscape so far as building is concerned is the lack of men and materials. My speech will be governed by a complete acknowledgment of the priority which should be given to munitions, aeroplanes, ships and things of that kind, over the needs of civilians. It would be better that we should all live in holes in the ground, or under a piece of canvas stretched over four poles, than that any part of our munitions programme should suffer; but nothing that has yet been said convinces me that it is not possible to do far more in regard to housing without detriment to our munitions programme. First, let us take the question of housing in towns. I would ask the Committee to direct their minds to the serious situation from the point of view of repairs to both privately and publicly owned property. An enormous amount was done, despite statements to 51 the contrary, by municipalities and private enterprise before the war in rebuilding bad property, slum clearance, and work of that kind. The essence of that policy was to see that the new hats and houses were kept in the highest state of repair. A slum does not arise only from the structural condition of the houses, but from the condition in which the property is kept. I have not the slightest hesitation in saying that, as a result of the lack of men and materials in the building trade—for which the primary responsibility must rest upon my right hon. Friend, although the secondary responsibility, no doubt, rests upon the Minister of Labour and other people—it has become quite impossible for most private owners, and very difficult for most public owners, to keep their property in repair. You see it in London and everywhere else in this country.
How can the matter be dealt with? In the first place, there is what I might call the psychological approach. In that respect I think my right hon. Friend is behind some Ministers. Why does he not, at every meeting he addresses, say to the people, "We are faced with a serious situation. We cannot get the personnel we should like to keep houses, including municipal houses, in repair"? I would make an appeal to the tenants themselves and also to those who can spare any time from other national service work—such as members of the A.F.S. and A.R.P. Services—to form themselves into a corps of volunteer labour to deal with this work. There is a great number of houses in town and country to-day needing comparatively simple renovation, such as painting outside and distempering inside. In many cases—not all, I admit—the paint is available, but there is no organisation of a voluntary character such as is found in other parts of the national effort, no real encouragement to people to work as volunteers in that way. What is there, for example, to prevent the right hon. Gentleman going to the Home Secretary and asking for volunteers in London from the A.F.S. and other Services to assist municipalities and private owners in carrying out these repairs? It cannot be any question of trade union practices, because they are suspended during the war.
I come to the question of temporary rehousing. I want, with all the earnestness I can command, to impress on the 52 Committee the seriousness of the situation. We have had, fortunately, in the last year an increase in the birth-rate. We have an increasing population. That means more pressure on housing accommodation. There are many people in this country suffering from lack of public spirit and patriotism, who object to taking in lodgers with large families. Consequently, there is a considerably increased demand for houses. No attempt is made to keep pace with this by the provision of more houses. In normal times there is an addition every year to the number of houses in this country, although, as my right hon. Friend well knows, it was not sufficient before the war. We have had no such addition for nearly four years, and all the time there has been this increase of population. That is only part of the story. There are, in addition, thousands of houses in London alone which have been bombed and have not been repaired. I do not blame the War Damage Commission and other organisations which deal with the matter. They are doing all they can, but municipalities and private owners are crying out for materials to get these houses repaired.
Here again, cannot my right hon. Friend consider a comprehensive and well-advertised plan for dealing with the situation? Rightly or wrongly, we depend in matters of administration a great deal on publicity, on appeals over the wireless, by poster, and so on. We hear very little from the Minister of Health on this matter. Other Ministers make appeals on such questions as saving food, not squandering money, and the like; but this vast phalanx of Ministers concerned with housing—of whom I see many in the House at present, and of whom I understand there are more outside, such as the Minister of Town and Country Planning—make no such appeals to the public, pointing out that this question is priority No. 1. Why does not the Minister make an appeal in these terms: "Thousands of people are living under conditions in which they ought not to be living, and I want you, the people, to co-operate with me, the Minister, in order to get this remedied "?
I have made certain specific proposals with regard to repairs. I suggest that my right hon. Friend ought to consider the employment of volunteer part-time labour on these and that he ought to press the Departments concerned to release the materials such as paint. When it comes 53 to rehousing, I have an equally specific proposal to make, but before doing so I ought to refer to another point which I omitted earlier and of which my right hon. Friend must be well aware, namely, that all this time there has been no slum clearance. Houses which were practically fit to be scheduled for demolition before the war, indeed, in some cases, houses which actually were so scheduled are still being used. I would suggest, then, to my right hon. Friend that he can only deal with this question of rehousing in the first place by authorising or in the second place by putting every possible compulsion upon local authorities—I am taking for the moment urban or semi-urban authorities and not rural district councils, to which I shall come later—to erect temporary wooden buildings.
There has been for some years, indeed I think at all times in this country, what I would regard as a foolish prejudice against wooden houses. Incidentally, I may observe that the position is different in the United States, where to say that a man has been born and brought up in a log cabin is almost the highest tribute one can pay to him. However that may be, anyone who has seen, as I have, the huts—they are really more accurately described as houses than huts—that have been erected by the Services departments during this war, will agree with me that they afford excellent accommodation. Most of them have what I think is called an air course between the outer wall and the wooden interior, and through two very bad winters with a great deal of snow and frost, and through last winter with a great deal of rain, they provided excellent shelter and comfort for many thousands of troops. I give this comparison, which I think is a very unfortunate one, from the point of view of the right hon. Gentleman's administration, or perhaps I should, in fairness to him, say from the point of view of the Government. In a certain area of England with which I am connected and where I live, I have seen put up for a whole unit of the Army, in an incredibly short time, in something like ten days or a fortnight, huts with concrete foundations and with every convenience and comfort. When the unit has vacated that place, I have often seen—it seems a rather extravagant process, but I suppose it is necessary in the interests of the Service—these huts taken down and removed 54 bodily, the concrete foundations being left for the time being and the huts re-erected on another site. The celerity with which this is done is really remarkable.
Then we come to the case of the big towns. Within five miles of Westminster, with its large population and its bombed areas, there is not, I think, one single site where anything of this kind has been done. Yet people are living there in damaged houses, or else many of them have to travel long distances in order to get to their work. There is thus a great disparity between what is being done by the Service Department and what is being done by the right hon. Gentleman. What is the reason for it? [An HoN. MEMBER: "Lack of initiative."] I am afraid I must agree with my hon. Friend who makes that interjection. That, at any rate, is what it looks like. There again my right hon. Friend does not seem to have grasped the essentials of getting things done in war-time. He should, in the first place, have made an appeal directly to the War Cabinet. He should have said, "I must have some of these houses and, if necessary, soldier labour to put them up." Surely the right hon. Gentleman is not afraid either of the building trade employers or the trade unions in regard to pre-war practices and things of that kind. If he chooses to use soldier labour to erect the houses required for the civilian population, surely no one can object. Surely my right hon. Friend could have made an appeal to the War Cabinet on those lines; and, what is more, he could have told the public how serious was the situation and said to them and to the local authorities, "I can provide prefabricated houses which, at any rate, will provide housing for the next two or three years, and it is better that people should live in those houses than in badly bombed damaged houses, or have to go long distances to their work and suffer hardship and inconvenience as a result of the present state of affairs."
My last point on housing generally is this: I have no official information on the subject, and if I had it would be improper to give it across the Table of the House, but I have unofficial information that particularly in connection with certain armies in this country the construction of what they require is at an end or almost at an end. What steps has the right hon. Gentleman taken to go to the Departments 55 which have been doing that building and to say to them, "I must have the men who are working on these aerodromes and camps directed, whether they were builders before the war or not, to put up houses in order to meet the present need"? I would like a specific answer to that question. I must suppose, from what I have seen throughout the country, that the Air Force and the Army have got a lot of material which could be used for civilian purposes. I would go so far as to say that both the United States and Dominions and other Allied soldiers in this country as well as the men of the British Army would far rather for this slimmer and if necessary for part of next winter as well, live in tents than see some of the civilian population having to put up with hardship because nothing has been done to deal with civilian housing during the war. I would remind the Minister that as the war goes on there is always the danger that morale in some respects may be, not seriously interfered with, but affected, and if people have to go on, winter after winter, with nothing being done to deal with this question on a large scale, it may, eventually, do a great deal of mischief. So, not in any spirit of contumacy, but as an appeal to the Minister, I express the hope that he will be able to adopt some of these suggestions.
When it comes to the question of rural housing, the story is deplorable. We were told three months ago by the right hon. Gentleman that the only time he had blown his trumpet in connection with housing was in regard to the "magnificent programme"—those were not his words but the words of some of his supporters—of 3,000 cottages for agricultural labourers which was about to be carried out. This was after 3 years of war and something like 3 years of the right hon. Gentleman's administration. Those of us who are interested in this question were not impressed by the magnitude of the figure. Some of us suggested that a figure of 30,000 would be nearer the mark, but at least we hoped that these cottages would be built promptly. I will read to the Committee the answer which the Minister gave me on 22nd April last, when I asked how many houses under the scheme had been commenced and when the whole 3,000 would be ready for occupation. The Minister said: 56No building has yet commenced, but the preliminary work is under way in almost all rural districts concerned and covering 2,962 houses. By 9th April sites had been selected and approved for 2,054 houses and plans had been approved for 126. As indicated on 4th February in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Sir P. Hurd) the rate of progress will depend on the labour and materials that can be made available having regard to the requirements of other important schemes.There were no other important schemes in his Department. He was thinking of schemes in the Service Departments, and I have already suggested how that matter can be dealt with.
In view of previous experience of building in war-time conditions, I would hesitate to forecast the date of completion of the whole 3,000 houses. The local housing authorities will, I am confident, spare no effort to achieve the aim set before them.—(OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd April, 1943; col. 1814, Vol. 388.)
That is one side of the picture, and here is another side that I would like to put to the right hon. Gentleman. There is not the least doubt that this scheme, which in itself is a very meagre one, has not been "put across" in the proper manner to the rural district councils, and some of them at any rate are very much disappointed with what is being done. Here is a statement from a local paper in my own constituency where the condition of affairs is so ridiculous that, if it had not been made by an official of the Rural District Council, I could hardly believe it was possible. He is Mr. Percy Ayling, Clerk to the Clactonbury Rural District Council, which is very proud of the fact—and I apologise for referring to my constituency again—of having one of the largest rural cottage building programmes in the early days after the last war of any district comparable in size. He says:My own difficulties are mainly concerned with the amazing number of people who have to be consulted.I think I am right in saying that they are going to build only six new houses in this particular area.
Apart from our own architects, surveyors, builders, committees and so on, we have the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, the County War Agricultural Committee, the senior regional architect, the assistant land commissioner, the Directorate of Lands and Accommodation and others to approve plans and who require information.The building of these six cottages has not yet been commenced in this rural district. which requires scores of cottages, and the 57 whole of these people have to be consulted. So that this may not be thought peculiar to my own constituency, I find the Evesham District Council criticising the specification for the cottages as far below that of houses already built. There have also been complaints from other parts of the country. At Blyth, in Suffolk, the county surveyor said that the houses would have a room upstairs called the "bathroom," but the bath would be downstairs. It is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Lady to shake their heads. I am quoting what is said by a district council, and I would merely say to the hon. Gentleman the Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks), who is sitting on the bench behind the right hon. Gentleman, and who represents another building Department, that his Department has been at fault in seeing that these schemes are carried out.
Mr. De la Bère (Evesham)
The Evesham Council are quite right.
§ Earl Winterton
I would remind my hon. Friend that it is not at Evesham, where they would have had the assistance of my hon. Friend's powerful advocacy, but at Blyth, in Suffolk. He goes on to say that the "bathroom" would be useless as a bedroom. Yesterday I came across another example of the same sort of thing. A friend of mine who is a co-trustee of a very ancient charity, called Smith's Charity, and who is a member of the Dorking Rural District Council which owns a lot of land, at the close of a meeting asked if he might address his colleagues in an informal way. He said that his fellow trustees were responsible for a great deal of cottage property, that the Ministry of Health had insisted upon concrete stairs and floors in their designs sent to his council, and that in very damp parts of the world, like, for example, some parts of Wales or the South, people simply would not live in houses of that kind. The reason given to the rural district council, according to my friend, was that no material was available. It is all very well for the hon. Gentleman who is sitting on the second bench to say that sort of thing—
§ Earl Winterton
I am almost shouting, and perhaps the noble Lady cannot hear as clearly as she could when she was younger. There is, all over the country, 58 as anyone can see who goes to any of the Service Department areas where there are aerodromes, barracks or Navy establishments, a great deal of seasoned timber. If the Department represented by the hon. Member sitting behind the right hon. Gentleman would perform its mission as a liaison department between civil Departments and Service Departments, then they would be able to get the necessary material. They are not doing this at the present time. I refuse to believe, in a meagre building programme of 3,000 cottages for country districts, that it is necessary to put inhabitants to the inconvenience of having concrete floors and stairs instead of wood, to which they are accustomed, when this timber is available. I have a suggestion to make to the right hon. Gentleman about the question of rural districts. I have been criticising him and his attitude towards rural district councils. I am not prepared to say that there are not some rural district councils themselves which are free from blame. I heard the other day that in one district where a number of cottages were required the rural district council refused to build the cottages, and I say frankly that the right hon. Gentleman ought to take powers under the Emergency Powers Act to insist on these cottages being built.
§ Earl Winterton
I have forgotten the name, but I take responsibility for the statement. It was in a newspaper, and one would not think that a newspaper report of a meeting of a rural district council would be inaccurate. It simply said that the council were not prepared to build the houses. I have discussed this matter with at least one chairman of a war agricultural executive committee, and I believe that the most efficacious and the quickest way of getting these cottages built would be to make the war agricultural executive committees agents for the Ministry, and for the Ministry to finance, through Treasury funds, the whole of the building It is such a small programme and so essential to get these houses very quickly. There are so many authorities between the prospective and potential tenant, and a long period will elapse before the houses are ready. I beg of the right hon. Gentleman to consider that suggestion. I believe that agricultural war executive committees would be will- 59 ing to act as agents for the right hon. Gentleman in this matter.
But that is not the last point I want to put on the question of these cottages. Surely, the right hon. Gentleman is not going to tell us that these 3,000 cottages are the last of the cottages he is going to build. A total of 3,000 cottages is really completely inadequate. There are demands for at least 30,000 cottages in the country. I am deeply grateful that so many Members of this House should be present in Committee when a question of agriculture is discussed, as normally the experience is that when discussing agricultural matters we have a very small attendance. I am glad also to see hon. Members representing urban constituencies present in the Committee. I want to see decent wages and conditions for agricultural labourers, but if you are to keep the labourers in the country, you must provide houses.
Here is a tremendous opportunity for really vigorous planning; not this miserable 3,000. The right hon. Gentleman ought to go to his colleagues and, if necessary, say, "I cannot go on with my office if you cannot give me the necessary men and materials to do this job." I know that his reply will probably be that you cannot make bricks without straw. That is true, but when he sees what has been done by other Departments—the Ministry of Agriculture, for instance—I do think that his own Department might make a bigger effort. I was deeply disappointed with a reply he gave to a Question I put the other day and with the attitude of some Members who seemed to think that it was a small and trivial matter. My Question was about the scheduling of agricultural labourers' cottages for occupation by agricultural labourers only. The House laughed when I said that I had been dealing with this question ever since 1908, but it is true. Hundreds and thousands of cottages which ought to be occupied to-day by agricultural labourers have been taken away from them, bought up and occupied by weekenders and people who often contribute nothing to the life of the village in which they live and are unpopular with all classes. Whether the people in the village are Tories or Socialists, this type of immigrant is equally unpopular and is a very disturbing influence.
60 The Minister could go to-morrow to the War Cabinet and say, "You must give me powers under the Emergency Powers Act to ensure that from now onwards every cottage occupied by an agricultural labourer will be scheduled only for that occupancy and not for occupancy by other people in different positions." Why does he not do that? He gave me no reason in his answer to my letter. The other day I was being driven by a taxi-cab driver, who said to me, "Members of Parliament talk about things in which men in the village clubs and pubs are not usually interested, but they were interested in the subject you talked about the other day. Why could not this have been done 3o years ago? Why should these men be deprived by the rich magnates in London of their cottages? Why are they being turned out?" I think that my right hon. Friend has been a member of so many Governments and Departments that he adopts towards this problem the official point of view. I ask him to turn over a new leaf and in housing policy show the same magnificent effort that he has shown in matters of health. If he does not do that, then I can assure him that this will not be the only Debate of its kind and that he will hear much more about our deficiencies and delinquencies in connection with rural housing.
§ Mr. Quintin Hogg (Oxford)
I rise with pleasure to support my noble Friend the Member for Horsham and Worthing (Earl Winterton). Like him, I do so without any feelings of censure or hostility towards the Ministry of Health but, also like him, I am animated by two main motives. In the first place, we desire to draw attention to a matter the importance of which cannot be denied, and, in the second place, we desire to record our opinion that this matter of housing, both in relation to our present needs and in its wider aspect, has been neglected of late, possibly due to the preoccupation of my right hon. Friend with his other duties and possibly to the enthusiasm of his colleagues for their different work. But it is of present needs that my noble Friend spoke. I do not want to go over the same ground again, but I would like to say that I can reinforce from my own experience what he said about the relationship of the present difficulty to our war effort. It is a mistake to suppose that there is no relation between housing and our war effort. On the contrary to 61 give an example within my own recent experience, there are two factories on the confines of my own constituency to which the Ministry of Labour is constantly seeking to direct more labour. The Ministry is meeting with a measure of success, but when the labour gets there it finds a billeting situation which is already intolerable owing to a. large increase of civil servants and compulsory and voluntary evacuees.
Although I have pointed out to three of the Ministries that the situation could have been eased at once by the provision of temporary hutments for unmarried workers to house only 400—that would have met the case—nothing has been done so far. The result has been that labour is lost to those factories; workers have drifted away because they cannot bring their families with them; billeting difficulties have arisen, and nothing has been done, because, as we suggest, insufficient prominence has been given by the Minister to the question of housing in direct relation to the war effort. But the point I wanted to raise during the course of my remarks is not so much concerned with our immediate needs. We have had Debates on various subjects relating to our post-war activities; we had a two days' Debate on economic policy, resulting in a Government statement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer; we had a three days' Debate on planning for social security; we are promised a Bill for education; we have had White Papers on schemes for international currency after the war; and I ask my right hon. Friend as a result of to-day's Debate to say, or give us the promise, that in the near future a clear statement will be made as to the future intentions of the Government with regard to housing as a whole, because it is our belief that this question is in danger of being neglected in our postwar policy.
We feel that it is a matter of equal importance to social security, finance and education, and we believe that on the whole it cannot be separated from these questions. The object of domestic policy is to create a standard of life, and in creation of a standard of life housing policy cannot be separated from the other aspects which we have been considering. I will refer for a moment to the financial aspect of housing policy. I am not one of those—nor, I think, are other Members 62 on this side—who put aside questions of the cost of schemes simply on the grounds that we cannot afford to be without them, but we do say that the narrow financial approach in the past is one that cannot be supported on purely economic grounds. We notice that it is a constant factor of political life that that which cannot be measured exactly is always in danger of being, under-estimated. Does the Committee consider how much money is lost to the country every year by the common cold, how much is lost by tuberculosis, and how much these matters could be affected or improved by a general improvement in housing conditions? We cannot measure these things—there are no means for our doing so—but we do say that on solid financial and economic grounds they are considerations which must be taken into account in estimating the cost to the nation of any housing policy. We have seen during the past 20 years houses grow up higgledy-piggledy because they were cheaper in a sense to build them in that way, but years afterwards the community has had to pay increased water, electric and gas rates for the cost of those houses and for the insufficient planning in design.
We consider that a good and progressive housing policy can be justified on purely economic grounds. But when we come to consider the political aspects of this matter we can make our point even plainer and stronger. We cannot estimate the political effects of bad housing, but we live in what we are pleased to call a democracy, and we say we are fighting for it. By that we mean that every few years every adult man and women of 21 and onwards is expected to exercise a far-seeing, balanced and wise political judgment on matters of great national and international importance. We do not think it fanciful to consider that if these people who are called upon to exercise that judgment live in mean, dirty, insanitary, over-crowded conditions their judgment will be permanently warped, and we do not consider it in the interests of democracy to flatter them by telling them that so long as they live in those conditions they will be free and equal citizens. If you want wise political judgment in a democracy to be exercised, it is necessary to put the child in clean, healthy and beautiful conditions and to give him room, privacy and comfort. Then, and only then, can we be sure of 63 our political future. If we do not do these things, we are condemning ourselves to class warfare for a long time to come, and we are committing our policy for the future into the hands of those who will riot be fitted to exercise a sane and balanced judgment.
I believe that the history of evacuation following the outbreak of war emphasised to a greater extent than has ever been realised before the deficiencies of our housing. At the outbreak of war we were faced with a housing problem which was universal, which affected quantity as well as quality and was not only confined to old houses in need of being pulled down. We met it in London, and we met it in the provincial cities, and my noble Friend referred to the rural problem which has been in existence for generations without any progress having been made. Scotland, too, had its grim and hideous problem—a problem probably worse than anything in this country. In London it was estimated that 70,000 houses were over-crowded. In Liverpool there were 11,500 overcrowded houses. In Shore-ditch only one child of 11 out of four slept in a bed and only one in three of the age of 15. We complained of dirt, we complained of insanitary habits, but over a survey of London houses of a particular type it was estimated that at least half had no running water, a great quantity had no internal or private sanitary accommodation, and we cannot but see in relation to these facts the relation of cause and effect, a relation which we must remove if we are to improve permanently the sanitary and social habits of the people. Malnutrition was a subject of complaint before the war, and it was found to be prevalent among evacuees. No doubt, that is a part of the general problem of poverty, but a recent survey points out that one of the major contributory causes of malnutrition of children was want of sleep and that sleep cannot be obtained in overcrowded or insanitary conditions.
All these things made at the outset of the war the housing problem a particularly ugly and pressing one, which we only came to realise in full when the population of the cities overflowed into the evacuation areas, although some of us had for years been emphasising its importance. The difficulty extended to new 64 houses almost as much to the old, because, although the standards exacted by my right hon. Friend are good, they are not by any means adequate at the moment. Is it extravagant altogether to urge that houses should be fitted with refrigerators? Is it not a fact that this article is one which in the long run saves both money and food? And yet the standard house at this moment is neither fitted with a refrigerator nor has a kitchen designed to take one. We complain of the fall in the birth-rate, but how large a family is it possible to raise in an ordinary two-bedroomed house? We desire to see houses kept clean internally, but can this be done without a utility room for storing perambulators, bicycles, and other dirty material which has to go outdoors? We want a constant supply of hot water. Does the standard house give sufficient attention to these? In the country something which some of us have regarded as a natural necessity throughout our lives, piped water, is not by any means universal. So long as these things continue, we cannot consider that our housing policy in respect of new houses is adequate. I am not one of those who regard these things as a blot upon our civilisation. The fact is that it forms no part of our civilisation at all. A proportion of our population is still living in the eighteenth century, with eighteenth century sanitation, eighteenth century houses and eighteenth century standards of behaviour inside them. So long as that is the case, we cannot rest content with what has been done or promised at present.
Upon that situation came the war. In some ways the war improved matters. It enabled certain evacuees to see, for the first time in their lives, better standards of housing and conduct. It enabled men in the Forces, even in the vigorous life which they have, to know more about the essentials of good living than they did before. But in the meantime it destroyed countless dwelling houses, shifted the population to places which were overcrowded, and in fact it led to the suspension of our housing clearance schemes and the suspension of all but the most necessary repairs. After the war it is essential that the people who return should not be allowed to lapse again into the conditions that were revealed by the evacuation surveys, and it is essential that my right hon. Friend should at this 65 moment take the Committee into his confidence and tell us something about what his real housing plans may be. His is not an enviable task. It is not only dwelling houses which must be rebuilt after the war. He will have to compete with various other types of building. He will have to do his work in competition with the widespread destruction in other European countries, which will lead to a world-wide shortage of material. These circumstances make it all the more necessary that an adequate start should be made or promised soon.
May I suggest some of the things I should like my right hon. Friend to say? Let him recognise the scope of the problem. Let him state boldly that there is in this country alone sufficient building to be done to occupy the building industry for at least 40 years, because when we have completed our minimum requirements there will be a large number to be demolished which have been saved and considered adequate at the moment. Let him deal with the question of priority. Let him say that what took place after the last war will not be permitted after this and that, so long as the dwelling houses of the poor remain unbuilt or inadequate, private building will be restricted or prevented altogether. Let him deal with the question of materials and living space. Let him say they will continue to be rationed after the war and that, so long as dwelling space itself is in short supply, some measure of billeting will be retained. Let him reassure us on the question of standards. Let him promise us that, although the temptation will be to substitute quantity for quality, he will not yield to the temptation but will seek the quantity by other means, that the quality is not merely not to be depreciated as the result of the shortage but is not even to be allowed to remain at the present standard. It must be improved. Let him reassure us on aesthetic design. Sir William Beveridge speaks of the housing problem in terms of abolishing squalor. I should prefer to refer to it in terms of creating beauty. Let him tell us that he studies Continental experiments in the standardisation of fittings, with good; and even beautiful, designs such as that undertaken in Sweden just before the war. Let him reassure us that he has adequately studied the use of plastics in building and design, and let him, above all things, promise that every home that 66 he makes will be a home in which the most fastidious and sensitive of us would be content to dwell and bring up a family and that there shall be no rest until such homes are provided for all members of our population.
Each civilisation in turn leaves its monuments. We have monuments in the realm of architecture of which we may well be proud. We have ancient monuments and ancient domestic dwellings, good in their time, although many of them are now obsolete, but as a measure of human achievement it has always seemed to me that one of the greatest monuments to which we could refer is Ely Cathedral, because it is an example of what can be achieved by faith and courage without a narrow financial approach. It was a building erected on ground rising out of a swamp, by a population which had not enough to eat, out of its current earnings and not on credit. We, too, have left our monuments, we the richest, or at any rate the second richest, nation in the world. They can be seen in our gas works and railways. They can be seen in the backwaters of canals, in acres of houses back to back, with insufficient sanitary accommodation and insufficient amenities or size for the bringing-up of families. We have not paid attention to our domestic architecture. I hope, as the result of this Debate, my right hon. Friend will give or promise us a statement that that state of affairs will not be permitted to continue but that the people of the country may look at last to make themselves habitations which are worthy of mankind and live therein in dignity, in comfort and in beauty.
§ Sir Geoffrey Shakespeare (Norwich)
I think the Committee has very much enjoyed my hon. Friend's speech, and I could not agree with anything more than I did with that part. of it in which he emphasised the evil effects of bad housing on the whole community. May I direct attention to one or two practical considerations which will arise after the war, because we have to prepare now for an advanced housing policy later on? We shall emerge from the war with nearly all the factors for an advanced housing policy favouring us—every factor but one. We shall, of course, have to deal immediately with the 3,000,000 houses which have suffered war damage. We shall, of course, 67 have large arrears in that there has been no house building during the war, and that will be well over 1,000,000 houses. In addition, there should be an annual output of between 300,000 and 400,000 houses a year. I should like to see more than that. But it is clear that the building industry is going to be fully occupied for the best part of 20 years at least.
Every factor is favourable. In the first place, I believe the building industry is better organised than it was, and there is a better spirit in it. Do not forget that 90 per cent. of the master builders are small men, employing under 20 workers, and any scheme must take account of that fact. Then there are vast accumulated sums in the building society movement which will be available to enable tenants, through thrift, to become owners. I have always believed that there is nothing that brings such security to the State and such contentment to the citizens as the chance for a citizen to own his house and land. All this can be done without costing the Exchequer a penny. The labour position, at least on paper, would appear to be better in that an agreement has been reached between the Office of Works and the Ministry of Labour whereby the normal labour force of somewhere about 800,000 building operatives will be increased over a number of years to 1,250,000. That should lead to a further increase in the annual output. The fourth favourable factor is that money rates should be reasonably low. The effect of cheap money on housing is tremendous. After the last war money was 5 or 6 percent. and every fall of 1 per cent. in interest means is. off the rent. I always like to approach the housing problem in terms of rent, because I feel that far too much of a man's income is spent on rent.
I would like to look at a concrete example and see what should be the rent of the houses we want to build after the war on certain assumptions. The first assumption I want to make is that prices will settle down in course of time to about 25 per cent. above 1938. I am taking the Beveridge assumption, and it may be wrong for the transition stage, but let us assume that it will be that ultimately. Then I want to assume that we shall build a slightly larger house. A non-parlour house of 860 superficial feet cost £400 in 1938. If we add 25 per cent., that makes it £500. I am allowing £100 for land 68 drainage and sewage which, I think, will be ample. The cost of this varies between £45 and £90. That means that the house of 860 superficial feet will cost £600. The Public Works Loan Board charge 3¼ per cent. at present on loans issued to local authorities. That is equal to just over a year. A sum of £5 10s. has to be added for repairs and maintenance. The net result is that the house we desire to build will mean a rent of just under 10s. To that has to be added rates. Let us take an average of about 4s. The house we want to build, therefore, will come out at 14s. The other, type we want to build is the parlour house, which will cost about is. more a week. It will be about 1,000 superficial feet.
Therefore, the rents of the two houses we require to build will, with rates, be 14s. in the one case and 15s. in the other. In my view, that will be too high. We want to aim at something between 10s. and 12s. Therefore, at first blush it looks as if during the transition period some sort of subsidy will be necessary in order to bring the rents down to a level that the ordinary man can afford. I am sure that a subsidy will be necessary for slum clearance and rehousing on expensive sites, but a smaller subsidy may be necessary for the ordinary house. These are all the favourable factors. The only unfavourable factor is that timber will be in such short supply. This is not the pigeon of my right hon. Friend. Unfortunately it is not. Unlike the noble Lord, I would like to see him with much greater powers. I hope that the Government are planning ahead so that the Ministry of War Transport can earmark ships to bring timber from Russia and the Scandinavian countries immediately after the war. Otherwise we shall be in difficulties. We shall have to use substitutes such as plastics until the timber arrives.
I want to issue this warning. In spite of the fact that practically all the factors are favourable, I am exceedingly dubious whether anything will be done. I do not think the central machinery is flexible enough. There are far too many Departments which have some sort of responsibility for housing. The noble Lord referred to six or seven men running about after six cottages. That must be so, because it is only a replica of what is happening up in Whitehall. I was stopping the other week with a farmer who wanted to add a couple of feet to 69 his cowshed. He had to get the permission of the medical officer of health, the war agricultural committee and the Ministry of Supply, and finally a planning expert had to go down. I need hardly say that he has not got his cowshed extended yet. We cannot have an advanced housing policy on those lines. I do not know whether the Committee realises that there are now six different Departments which have some measure of responsibility for housing. There are the Ministry of Health, the Office of Works, the Ministry of Supply, which controls timber and steel, the Ministry of War Transport, which controls ribbon development, the new Ministry of Planning, which is just digging itself in, and the Ministry of Labour, which is responsible for labour questions. These are six reasons why there will be a lot of delay after the war. I am alarmed at the machinery and the division of responsibility. I have a tremendous respect for the Civil servant, but when he is in a Department and has responsibility he naturally starts making regulations to justify his own job. I am sure that when the Prince comes to wake the Sleeping Beauty after the war he will be so tied up with red tape and barbed wire that the sleeping beauty will never be roused.
On paper this machinery looks good. You can criticise the policy for which we were responsible in my time at the Ministry, but then only one Department was responsible. It was the Ministry of Health, and I say that of all the Departments I have been in the Ministry of Health is as efficient as any. It has a very fine body of civil servants, who have a good knowledge of housing which they have built up over ' a long number of years. In my time the Ministry was responsible for the general supervision of housing policy and the subsidy and it had to arrange matters of labour. It was also the planning authority. That is one of the reasons why we got a speed on and broke all records. I am not going to criticise my right hon. Friend, but if I started to him, it might be said that I am a member. of. his party and cannot do anything else. Let me tell the Committee, however, that those who are watching the position of housing are delighted that he is there. There is one thing that he has done. He has revived the Housing Advisory Committee, which is looking into new designs and subsidies and consulting the 70 housewife who will have to live in the houses. I helped to start that committee, and I am delighted that it is working again. I do not think it fair to blame my right hon. Friend for all the weaknesses in our housing position, because in war-time he has not been able to remedy defects inherent in peace. I was delighted to see that he is trying to enforce the Rent Restrictions Act. I know the difficulties of furnished rooms, but the point is that he has to see that the powers are there, and if the powers are there, he can see that they are carried out. It is not really fair to compare the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Agriculture. The short answer is that we eat the products of agriculture, but we do not eat houses. The blame should be directed, not at my right hon. Friend, but at the War Cabinet. I agree with the noble Lord in much that he said as regards the need for building more houses in wartime, but I do not think it will be the slightest good getting rid of my right hon. Friend and putting in some inexperienced Parliamentary Secretary. It would help if this House created public opinion and brought pressure to bear on the War Cabinet, which is not showing that broad sympathy with housing that one would expect from it.
§ Earl Winterton
I was not suggesting that my right hon. Friend should be removed. I said that it sometimes happened that a young Minister was promoted and found ways of doing things which the Minister had not been able to do after three years in office.
§ Sir G. Shakespeare
I am glad that point is cleared up. My experience of my right hon. Friend is that he works quietly in the background and gets a lot of good things done. The point I am making is that after the war there will be chaos and division of responsibility among six Departments. I want to know why the Office of Works has been left with control of housing. Some time ago Parliament transferred planning powers to the Office of Works. I thought it a great mistake. Then we had to undo it and to bring the Planning powers back. We have left the Office of Works, however, with powers in regard to housing which should be with the Ministry of Health. The Office of Works does its job as well as any other Department in looking after Government buildings, but I do not see why it should have powers as regards housing, which 71 should be exercised by the Ministry of.Health. If it is the intention that the Office of Works should have a sort of general supervision of all buildings, I do not mind, but housing should come absolutely under the Ministry of Health.
Let me, in conclusion, say that the time to ensure an advanced housing policy is now. We are wasting time. Those who have followed housing know how long it takes to prepare ahead. Take my own constituency; a great store is bombed out of existence, and the owner would like to employ an architect and get his plans out. Can he do it? No. He does not know whether the road is going to be enlarged, he does not know what compensation he is to get, he does not know anything. The result is that architects are unemployed, and all over the country people who have suffered damage, local authorities too, have not the slightest idea of the conditions under which they will be allowed to build and where they will be allowed to build. Time is being wasted. The Committee may not believe it, but in the old days it used to take eight years for housing authorities to get through a big slum clearance scheme. We have cut down the period to two or three years, and I think that if we were to adopt some recommendations of the Uthwatt Report, the period could be cut down below that, but it would take at least a year or two to get through the preliminaries, make the plans and get rid of all the legal difficulties, and now is the time to do it. If we cannot build because the materials are not available, for heaven's sake let us get on with preparing the plans. I urge upon the Leader of the House to use his influence with the War Cabinet. I know his advanced views on housing, because I have heard him speak in the old days.
There are two or three things which must be done at once. First, local authorities must be told what are their rights as regards compensation and betterment. Until that is done, nobody will be able to make plans ahead. Secondly, some indication must be given to private enterprise of the extent to which controls will be maintained after the war. Here I am on controversial ground. I believe that the only way of getting an advanced housing policy is to sweep away controls. That is the only way of getting prices 72 down, the only way of getting those with a knowledge of building busy again. There are only two controls which should remain. The first is the control of standards. I plead guilty in this respect, because I think we might have done more in the past, but I am sure that public opinion is now behind us, and it would be much easier to do than one would imagine. It is quite easy to devise plans so that local authorities achieve a higher standard.
§ Sir G. Shakespeare
I think there has been a great deal of exaggeration about both local authorities and private enterprise in this respect in the past. I think I know the housing estates of local authorities as well as most Members, and it was exceptional to find that their productions were bad or shoddy work. I cannot say they were always as good as they might have been, but I have visited housing estates all over Europe, and in the main I would say that local authorities in this country had better housing estates than any cities in Europe.
§ Earl Winterton
Nobody is disputing that. What we dispute, and it is a patent fact, is that most local authorities have no sense of taste—there is no reason why they should have—and no architects to advise them, and some parts of the country have been ruined by hideous houses. It is intolerable.
§ Sir G. Shakespeare
That is not quite accurate, because most of the bigger authorities do have architects.
§ Sir G. Shakespeare
Not the small ones, but it would be quite easy to arrange that plans submitted by local authorities should at some stage be passed as regards elevation and design by a panel of architects. As regards local authority houses, there can be a check on standards. Similarly with private enterprise buildings, it should be quite easy to arrange, through the Building Federation and the building societies, for some method of certification under which a tenant should know that the house he was getting had been built of the materials in the specification, and if that proved not to be the case, there should be penalties. I am sure it would 73 be easy to arrange for that. If we do that, we shall remove an abuse the extent of which has been greatly exaggerated but which nevertheless remains an abuse and should be removed.
The only other control we want is a means of seeing that the prices of all materials used in building are reasonable. There must be some committee; I do not want control, because I think control of prices would keep up prices. In a well organised industry the greater the demand the greater the output, the greater the research, with the result that prices should fall. What we want is something to satisfy public opinion that industry is not profiteering out of building material. In my day we did achieve a great deal through the Building Materials Prices Committee. We want some sort of survey committee in order to prove that the prices charged are reasonable. If that were done, it would be a safeguard, incidentally, for the great industries that are producing these materials. I want, finally, to appeal to the Government to declare their policy now, so that plans may be made ahead; to devise some means by which the essential machinery is simplified and the division of responsibility is lessened; and to ensure that the Ministry of Health, which is the only Department that really has this knowledge of housing, is given once more the sole responsibility for all matters relating to housing. Having said that, I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to satisfy me with a reply on these points.
§ Mr. Martin (Southwark, Central)
I think we are all indebted to my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) and the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) for having brought this matter to our attention to-day. want to confine myself to a few remarks, not so much on the future of housing or housing as a whole, as on the condition of houses in badly affected areas, especially in London. The fact is that overcrowding is increasing and is certain to grow. That is due to the natural fact that people want to return to their work and to their families and to their homes. I think that a certain amount of damage was done, quite naturally, by the propaganda in favour of evacuation at the beginning of the war. Evacuation was successful only in patches, and it would be a good thing if we recognised that after four years of separation it is only natural 74 for families to wish to be reunited, for fathers and mothers to wish to see their' children back at home. There is also al rather deep-rooted prejudice in many districts against evacuation because of chance incidents. Many of them were no doubt unavoidable, and many were fortuitous, but at the beginning of the war evacuation was not entirely happy. A good many complaints were put forward, and there were two sides to the question. Emphasis was laid on the fact that children were evacuated in a condition of health in which they should not have been evacuated, and that has led to a belief in the country that the condition, of children in towns, especially in the large towns, is universally unsatisfactory. That has reacted upon people in districts like mine, a poor working-class district, and made them feel that they have been a little unduly aspersed. In consequence they have wished to see evacuation at an end.
However that may be, it is a fact that people are returning, and obviously they will continue to return. They arrive in the large towns and find a refuge for the night with relatives or friends and next morning go to the town hall and say, "Here we are. We have come back from Exeter, or Tynemouth, or wherever it is, and what are you going to do about housing us? At the moment we are living with another family, and there are five or six of us occupying a single room." There has been, too, a great and natural deterioration in the condition of houses. Not only have we lost a great many houses owing to the blitz, but a good many of the surviving ones are passing rapidly into a very inferior state. Many houses which were left empty, though not perhaps entirely uninhabitable, have deteriorated through there being minor holes in the roof and because windows have been blown out. The general standard of housing has tragically gone down. It has been impossible to get materials for all sorts of things like sanitary repairs which have been necessary.
In consequence of this the standards of local authorities and of sanitary inspectors have also greatly deteriorated. We had the other day a report from a sanitary inspector upon a house. It stated that there were a good many minor complaints to be made about the house. The damp 75 was rising to over four feet, the walls in two rooms showed moisture visibly when one entered, and the whole condition of the house had been somewhat seriously affected, but these were spoken of as minor points and minor disadvantages. The inspector was asked, "What do you call major complaints?" He replied, "I can assure you that this is not an exceptional case but is quite general in the whole of this area." One of the difficulties is that local authorities have not the staff, and perhaps the nation has not the staff, to make a proper investigation of the problem as it stands.
We have no reliable statistics and no means of obtaining them, but everybody who goes into the homes of the people is aware that the problem is very large and is increasing. Some of the repairs should be done, and I reinforce the appeal which was made by the noble Lord that the Minister should see that they are done. We are fortunate in having my right hon. Friend at the Ministry of Health. He has impressed local authorities all over the country with his desire to see present conditions improved and future standards raised, and with his resolution to carry out those objects. I gladly pay him that tribute; none the less, it is urgently necessary that the War Cabinet should take this matter up and see that the country is supplied with a standard of housing at least reasonable at present, as well as an assurance of a better standard in the future.
As to timber houses, the suggestion should not be left without some protest. Greatly as I agree with much of what the Noble Lord said on that point, there should be some protest from these benches. However it may be in rural areas, in large towns timber houses would be impracticable because of all sorts of sanitary difficulties, and objections on the part of the population to living in timber houses owing to the threat of a blitz. Moreover, there would be a great deal of difficulty in obtaining sufficient timber to construct houses on anything like an adequate scale. A great deal more could be done to render reasonably fit houses that at present are unfit or uninhabitable. I asked my right hon. Friend some time ago whether something could be done about improving windows. It is time that the attention of the War 76 Cabinet was drawn to the necessity that every house should now be supplied with window glass. The half blacked out or wholly blacked out windows filled with flimsy material make conditions intolerable and injurious to spirits and to health, and are causing the greatest complaint among the people. I believe the expenditure on glass, and the risk of having glass smashed and having to replace it, to be well worth incurring at this stage of the war.
On the question of fuel, I hope that the War Cabinet will consider, in conjunction with the Minister of Fuel and Power, the necessity for very careful consideration of the fuel and light for the people during next winter. My impression is that people have been very good in saving fuel and looking after consumption, but it is important that houses which are already damp and otherwise affected by blitz should be kept in as high a condition of liveability as is possible. I would remind the Committee that the war is bearing very hardly upon the ordinary citizen. Perhaps the War Cabinet do not sufficiently realise that fact. The ordinary member of the community has to stand in a queue for rations every morning or to get a bus to his work, may have to wait in the wind and rain for a bus to take him home again, and may frequently have an intolerably slow and tiring journey on the way, standing up. People cannot get the small household amenities they need. Perhaps they have to go out several times to buy a saucepan or to half a dozen shops to buy a tin kettle.
We are too accustomed to think that the little things of everyday life are below the attention of this House, but they are enormously important in the lives of people in their homes and therefore should be enormously important in this House. It is time that the War Cabinet took these questions into account. They should turn to the question of housing and deal with it on the basis of the life.of the people, joining up all those problems together into the problem of how to make life as tolerable for the ordinary people of this country as it can be under war conditions. The War Cabinet might well set up a committee to study the problem, especially in relation to' the repair and amelioration of housing conditions.
One word about the future. What the situation will be like after the war, in 77 badly affected areas like my own, I tremble to think. When the war broke out, we were just getting to grips with the housing problem. The Government and the local authorities had the situation to some extent in hand; although it was not solved, there was a prospect of its being solved in the not remote future. We have gone back 50 or 60 years in regard to this problem. We are deliberately creating a new slum problem now in order to solve the emergency of the moment. I ask my right hon. Friend, either to-day in replying to the Debate or on some future occasion to tell us that the question of priorities will be dealt with seriously and that we are not to have private enterprise running up large houses, cinemas or factories all over the country before the people are given their new homes. I appeal to the War Cabinet to pay attention to this problem of the authority which is to deal with this matter. It is not enough to leave housing in the hands of, it may be, the Ministry of Works, or the Ministry of Town and County Planning, or any authority which has no regard to conditions of health. Questions of housing and health must be linked. It will be urgently necessary to do so in the general planning of our industrial and economic life after the war. I hope that some statement of that association will be made when this problem comes to be dealt with.
It will be extraordinarily important to see that new standards are set up, and I trust that whatever authority is responsible in the matter is already studying the question of standards and that we are to have far better standards for our new housing plans than we ever had before. It is extraordinarily important in the development of personality that every adolescent should have a room to himself or herself. It will not be easy to build houses and flats, especially in crowded industrial areas, which will allow that. to be done, but the matter has to be studied in regard to any campaign carried on for the raising of the birthrate. It is a question of developing the personality of young persons by seeing that they have an individual and personal life, and are not simply regarded as units in a crowd, to be shunted in anywhere it is possible to get a bed into a room. Housing is an enormous and urgent problem, and I am glad that the Committee is giving it consideration. I hope that my right hon. Friend will give us, if not some detailed 78 encouragement to-day, at any rate some promise that a statement will be made in the future. I appeal to him and to the War Cabinet not to lose this opportunity of laying, in a very real sense, the concrete foundation of a better England.
§ Captain Cobb (Preston)
I join with the Noble Lord and other hon. Members in welcoming this opportunity to discuss housing, which will be perhaps the most important question of domestic policy which we shall have to consider after the war. In spite of the immense publicity which was given to the Beveridge plan, I am convinced that housing is of greater importance in the minds of most people than the question of social security. When the men come out of the Services and other war activities after the war, two main thoughts will be in their minds: "Am I to get a decent job?" and "Am I to get a decent house?" It is up to Parliament to satisfy those very modest requirements at the earliest possible moment. The hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) referred to the fact that concern is very widely spread in the country about our housing conditions as a result of the revelations during the time of the evacuation. It is no exaggeration to say that most people in the reception areas were horrified at the conditions and habits of numbers of adults and children who came to those areas from the built-up towns. Consequently many more people than one would have expected are deeply interested in housing conditions and are determined that in the post-war years something really effective shall be done to remedy them.
Of course, we know that the outstanding cause of these conditions is the shorttage of housing accommodation in many of our cities and large towns. The result has been that a great many houses which were originally built for the occupation of one family only have been filled with many families. It is no uncommon thing in these crowded parts of our towns to find families of four, five and six living in one room only, to find a comparatively small house occupied by four, five, six or more families, all these families dependent on one dilapidated W.C., on one tap in the basement for their water supply, no cooking facilities, no provision for storing food or for having a bath. When in addition to that one remembers that num- 79 bers of these houses are damp and verminous, the amazing courage of the women who are responsible for the upkeep of these poor homes seems to me a wonderful thing. It is not to be wondered of these poor homes seems to me a wonderful thing. It is not to be wondered at that a time comes when even the best of these mothers gives up the unequal struggle, that her family becomes dirty and verminous and acquires bad habits, and that the whole outlook of that family tends to be coloured by the miserable environment in which they live. These revelations have been a very great shock to the country, because most of us had imagined that, in view of the enormous amounts that had been spent on housing in the years between the two wars we had, generally speaking, pretty well broken the back of the problem, although it was recognised that a number of black spots existed. I am quite sure that the country generally is not going to stand for a continuation of those conditions after the war. They have had revealed to them facts which have horrified them, and they are not going to allow them to continue if it can possibly be avoided.
That brings me to the question of whether the Ministry of Health should be the agency for dealing with the housing problem. One recognises the extremely valuable work which successive Ministers of Health have done for housing, but when one remembers that the Ministry is responsible now, and will be for many years, for the creation and administration of a universal medical service, responsible for the whole administration of national health insurance, and in addition to that they have all the routine duties to perform in connection with local government, it does seem to me that it is not humanly possible for one Ministry to have housing tacked on to all those enormously important functions. I should be inclined to support a proposal that this work should be handed over to the newly created Ministry of Town and Country Planning. So far as I can discover, that Ministry is responsible for planning only. They are to say where houses are to be built and where open spaces should remain, but they are to have nothing whatever to do with the actual erection of houses. That seems to me to be an unfortunate thing. Some of us who are afraid that—
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Mr. Charles Williams)
I think we must not go any 80 further into this suggestion regarding the Ministry of Planning because it would probably involve new legislation. I have no objection to it as an idea, but it must not be developed into details.
§ Captain Cobb
I accept your Ruling, of course, Mr. Williams, and I hope I have given the Committee the impression that I think some other agency should be responsible for our post-war housing programme. It is essential, if anything effective is to be done, that we should start planning now and that we should, before the end of the war, have a complete housing programme which can be put into operation as soon as the war ends. If we are not to repeat the experiences of the period between the two wars, it is essential that the House should have periodical, say quarterly, reports rendered to it by the responsible Minister, reports for which facilities will be given for full discussion in this House. In view of what has happened it is important that every Member of the House should be in full possession of the facts as to housing progress.
Another extremely important thing we shall have to think about is the supply of building materials. Anyone who had anything to do with house building after the last war will agree, I think, that it was a very grave handicap that the producers of building trade materials were quite unable to cope with the immense demands. The result, it is no exaggeration to say, is that in a very large number of our municipal housing estates the only things English in those estates are the people who live in the houses. Virtually the whole of the material came from abroad, from Russia, from Belgium and France. Plans should be made now to see to it that existing plants for the production of building trade materials should be expanded and that there should be no shortage of those materials for the implementation of our building programme. Incidentally, it will help to keep money in the country which after the last war went to enrich numbers of foreign countries, and it will provide a much wider field for employment for our own people.
I hope there is going to be no question of any vested interests being allowed to interfere with our housing programme after the war. There are, as the Committee is fully aware, a number of vested interests. We suffered a great deal from 81 the fact that the building trade unions were unwilling to dilute their labour by taking on ex-Service men who could be trained in short-term courses and brought into the trade. There were difficulties with building contractors and also, of course, enormous difficulties with owners of property. It seems to me that, generally speaking, the owner of house property has in the pact been dealt with far too tenderly. There can be no possible excuse for allowing people to draw dividends, sometimes handsome dividends, for property which to all intents and purposes is completely worthless. We should demand that any houses which are left standing but which are scheduled for demolition in two or three years should be put into a reasonably satisfactory sanitary condition; or the owner should be obliged to hand them over to the local authority, who will do the necessary work. There will be a certain amount of hardship involved for landlords, but no hardship of that kind can compare with the cruelty of allowing people to live under the filthy conditions which exist in some of our worst areas.
When we have built the houses and filled them with tenants we have not by any means finished the job; we are only beginning it. Care and management are at least of equal importance. Numbers of people will come into these new houses from properties in which they have never had an opportunity of discovering how to live; decent living facilities have literally never been available to them as children or grown-ups. It is up to us to provide means for making it easier for them to learn. I hope that steps will be taken to raise a really effective corns of women house managers, who will undertake this enormously important work. I mean something like that done by that great woman Octavia whose work was probably more effective in raising the living conditions of the poor than anything which has been done before or since in this country. I should be glad to know that the Government were taking some steps to obtain really suitable people, well trained women who have a real vocation for this job.
After the last war we heard a good deal about homes for heroes, and we are now hearing a good deal about the new Jerusalem which is to be built after this war. I do not think that this country is 82 likely to stand a second disappointment. My hon Friend the Member for Oxford, in the course of the Debate on the Beveridge Report, referred to the possibility of a social revolution unless a great deal of social reform was initiated after the war. I do not believe in revolutions. The people of this country are far too intelligent to do anything of that kind, but I am quite sure that unless something really effective is done, there will be a rising tide of indignation throughout the whole country which will sweep away any Government which does not show itself sincere and genuine in the matter of providing adequate housing accommodation for our people. I am quite sure this work can be done, and that given good will on all sides, given a real determination by the Government to deal effectively with this problem we shall, sooner or later—sooner, we all hope—be able to give to the people of our country the means of living which they have every right to expect.
§ Sir Jonah Walker-Smith (Barrow-in-Furness)
The right hon. Member who opened the Debate has stressed, and not stressed too greatly, the urgency and importance, the scope and magnitude, of this housing problem. There are those who have expressed a good deal of impatience and have been somewhat critical of the comparatively small contribution that the Government appear to be making, under war conditions, to the housing problem. Critical references were made to the fact that the Minister of Health is proposing to provide only 3,000 houses for agricultural workers in circumstances where 30,000 are obviously desirable. I quite understand that feeling of impatience. These matters no doubt the Minister himself will deal with very effectively in the Debate. The extent of this problem is indeed enormous. Precisely how many houses are needed and how great the arrears will be at the end of the war, it is impossible to say. That will depend on a number of factors —for instance, the duration of the war; to some small extent only, I hope, the amount of air-raid damage that we may suffer later; and, to a very large extent, upon the standard which we are prepared to adopt as that below which any house once fallen shall be condemned to "Slums" is a relative term. The standard which is officially accepted is already far too low. There are literally 83 hundreds of thousands of houses which have been produced in complete conformity with by-laws over the last 60 years which are not satisfactory by any means. Hundreds of thousands of houses fall below the datum line and should be earmarked for demolition. But never mind the scope of the problem in specific terms. Whether the figure is 3,000,000, 4,000,000 or 5,000,000, there is an enormous amount of work to be done in the provision of these houses.
We have been advised not to sacrifice quality for quantity. I hope the Committee will bear that advice permanently in mind. It is most desirable that the new houses which are provided shall be of really good quality, pleasing in design, sound of construction, with ample accommodation, laid out with due regard to the amenities, and provided with all the available domestic facilities, to some of which the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) very properly referred. It may be, however, that such will be the urgent and clamant demand for houses after the war that we shall have to provide a considerable number of temporary houses. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am not so satisfied about the "Hear, hear." We may have to do it, but we should keep the number to a minimum. They will have to be built to a common monotonous standard of design, by mass production methods, with prefabrication. I have had considerable experience with temporary houses. I was induced under the conditions of the last war to secure the erection in Scotland of a considerable number of houses, which were intended to last only two years, but I regret to say that once they were up they remained, and continued to exist as slums for the following 20 years. Therefore, the question of quality should be kept in mind.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) referred to the fact that a number of Government Departments had to be dealt with before work on building proceeded. We ought to keep it clearly in mind that if we would solve this housing problem, the first essential is to have a clearly defined, undivided Ministerial responsibility, and that that responsibility should fall upon the Minister of Health, and none other. His shoulders are broad; his shoulders are capable; they are perfectly willing to carry 84 this burden. I know that at present the responsibility, in theory, rests upon them. I know that the Minister of Health has the overriding responsibility of utilising for that purpose each of the local authorities upon whom the duty devolves of providing these houses if the houses are not provided by other means. But I am anxious that that responsibility shall be clearly defined as the Minister's, and that he shall have full power to discharge the obligations imposed upon him. The hon. Member for Norwich (Sir G. Shakespeare) first reminded the Committee that there is in the Ministry of Health a vast accumulation of information in regard to housing matters, which has been gradually accumulated over a period of 60 years, and which is most invaluable. He also paid his tribute, as I was glad to hear, to that body of officials, particularly in the Housing Department of the Ministry of Health, who are extremely competent to do this work. I can say, from close experience of that Department, that not only is there great administrative and technical skill, but also great earnestness among those officials whose work it is to solve this great social problem.
But I am apprehensive lest the activities—in some cases, the inactivities—of other Government Departments may form a deterrent to the Minister of Health in the discharge of these duties. The particular Departments I have in mind are the Ministries of Town and Country Planning, Labour, and Works. I was always sceptical as to the advantages that are expected to accrue from the divorcement of town and country planning from the Ministry of Health. The Ministry of Health previously supervised, assisted and controlled local authorities, who are at the same time both housing authorities and town planning authorities. Those two functions are so closely related that I always thought that there was much to be said for keeping them under the same control. Other counsels—I almost said, "unwise counsels"—prevailed, and that divorcement took place. The powers which were originally held by the Minister of Health were put into the hands of the old First Commissioner of Works. That did not work at all. Now the Ministry of Town and Country Planning has been set up.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I have already reminded one Member that we must not 85 go into the question of the Ministry of Town and Country Planning. The hon. Member is now getting very close to it.
§ Sir J. Walker-Smith
I will try to keep away from that, but perhaps I may refer to the effects of planning on our town planning problem. From the first, when planning was accepted as part of our national policy—that was when Mr. John Burns introduced a Bill, between 50 and 60 years ago, to provide for planning— planning has always been restrictive and never constructive, always negative and never positive. It is full of restrictions—
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I must ask the hon. Member to come back to the Ministry of Health, and housing.
§ Sir J. Walker-Smith
I am particularly anxious that there shall never be any deterrent to the Minister's solution of this housing problem by any of the activities of planning or anything of that kind. If it should be found that there are any obstacles placed in his way by schemes of that kind, he should have overriding powers to review or to avoid them if they appear to prevent his providing the requisite number of houses. I hope I have not transgressed by saying that. Some time ago the Minister of Health was given powers to override by-laws which appeared to prevent the provision of workmen's houses. I would like that principle extended, so that he would have power to override anything of that kind—
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I ask the hon. Member to keep right away from planning. What he is suggesting would almost certainly require legislation.
§ Sir J. Walker-Smith
Perhaps I might refer to the next question, which is labour. If there is one thing of which the Minister of Health must be fully assured in the production of houses, it is labour. At present labour is very largely controlled and directed by the Minister of Labour, and I have no doubt that this control will continue for some time after the war. The Minister of. Labour will have a very large and troublesome problem. It will be his job to get into employment many millions of workers. No doubt he will look with a careful and, I hope, a benevolent eye on all this labour which it will be his duty to absorb into civil life. We shall end this war with a very serious dearth of crafts- 86 men in the building industry. I know that the Minister of Labour has a scheme for training, by means of intensive courses and by adult apprenticeship, whereby he will bring into the industry 200,000 skilled building craftsmen. Whatever control he may exercise, whatever the shortage may be in the industry, I would like it to be a matter of Cabinet policy that first priority of labour, so far as it is available in the building industry, shall be given to the Minister of Health for the production of workmen's houses.
I might then refer to the question of materials. There again a large measure of control is exercised by the Ministry of Works. I am myself never enamoured of Governmental control of the production of materials or commodities of any kind. My experience of the control of commodities by the Government is that it usually results either in the commodity disappearing for ever or in the commodity getting into short supply. However that may be, inasmuch as it is likely that a good case will be presented for the continuation of this control of materials, it should clearly be laid down in Cabinet policy that, whatever the deficiencies and shortages may be, the Minister of Health, for the purpose of enabling him to provide the requisite workmen's houses, should have first priority of any materials, and similarly priority should be given, as far as the Ministry of Transport is concerned, in the transport of those materials.
By what means are we to secure that these houses shall be produced? Who is to build them? It would not concern me in the least, so long as the end was achieved, as to the means by which that end was achieved. I am satisfied that we should let nothing whatever stand in the way of eliminating the slums and raising the standard of housing. I listened with very great appreciation to the most eloquent and thoughtful speech of the hon. Member for Oxford. I was a little astonished when he expressed the view that one reason why we should eliminate the slums was that in that atmosphere it was not possible to obtain wise political judgment. I cannot help thinking that if he had had the experience that I have had, day after day and night after night, in the worst slums of the City of Glasgow and of Greenock, and had seen the horrible conditions under which the people lived, he would say that those damnable slums 87 must come down, and the last thing he would think about would be whether or not that atmosphere was the right one for wise political judgment. There are no decencies of life, and they are breeding places for diseases of body and mind. There are no lengths to which I would not go to remove these slums and raise the standard of housing.
Therefore, it is of complete indifference to me how the houses are erected so long as they are erected in sufficient numbers and provided with sufficient expedition. I do not care whether it be by private enterprise or by local authorities or by direct contract. No question of political ideology would weigh with me for a moment in getting the requisite houses built. In saying that with that sincerity, I am entitled to ask the Minister of Health to reflect upon the great and benevolent activities of private enterprise in the past. I will not weary the Committee with any statistics of what private enterprise has done; neverheless, I will give this very simple figure. During the boom period of house production, the four-year period from 1935 to 1938, there were erected in England and Wales no fewer than 1⅓ million houses. Of those houses created during that record period no fewer than 1,100,000 were provided by private enterprise, that is, 83 per cent., without the cost of a single penny upon the funds of the State. I merely call attention to the fact and ask the Minister of Health to reflect upon it, in order that he may be doubly sure that it is undesirable that any discouragement should be put anywhere on private enterprise, and that whatever method be used, every encouragement should be given to private enterprise to pull its full weight. It may be said that private enterprise has not always produced the right type of houses and that on occasions private enterprise has been responsible for a certain amount of jerry building. [HON. MEMBERS: "We are certain."] I agree, but as the hon. Member for Norwich (Sir G. Shakespeare) reminded the Committee, the percentage —and I have investigated this myself very fully—is extremely small.
There are these difficulties with regard to private enterprise. There is a certain amount of jerry building, and that must be eliminated, but hon. Members should not labour under the illusion that every other agency is entirely free from criti- 88 cism. Far from it. I could point to a great number of cases where houses produced by local authorities are unsatisfactory and to cases where benevolently intended house-building guilds had started to work without profit, but, unfortunately, also without knowledge and discretion and had become complete failures. There are weaknesses in every method of production. I am not making the slightest excuse for private enterprise. Frankly, I admit that jerry built houses have been erected by the speculative builder; but here again I think I am entitled to call the attention of the Minister of Health to the fact that it is to the credit of the house-building industry that it has been making a real attempt to put its own house in order, and, in attempting to put its own house in order, to prevent and eliminate the possibility of anything in the nature of jerry building in future. It has had the assistance, readily granted, of the building societies. The hon. Member for Norwich reminded the Committee that we must have a continuance of the co-operation of building societies, which is absolutely essential for the success of the scheme. The house-builders have had the assistance of building societies, architects, surveyors and of the building trades unions, and every association and institution of which I know that is in any way concerned with the provision of houses has come to the assistance of the house-building industry to help to put it in order. There has been formed a National House Builders' Registration Council. This body has been formed under licence by the Board of Trade under the Companies Act, 1929.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I must ask the hon. Member to keep off the Board of Trade. A large number of speakers wish to take part in this Debate.
§ Sir J. Walker-Smith
I will not make any further reference to the Board of Trade, but perhaps I may continue my reference, because it is most important from my point of view and from the point of view of the Minister of Health and of the nation in the production of houses and the elimination of jerry-building. If I may have two or three minutes only, I will make this final point. The point I wish to make is that this particular National Registration Council has been formed for the purpose of enabling house builders to get admitted to a register 89 under conditions whereby they undertake always to build up to a certain standard and to guarantee that the houses they build are thoroughly satisfactory. Under that scheme it becomes impossible for a recurrence of those unfortunate conditions which are characterised and commonly known as border cases. An enormous amount of assistance in the production of these houses is provided by the Building Societies' Guild; power is given to the Minister of Health to give recognition to this composite body to work entirely without profits or difficulties of any kind. He is able to recognise them as a certifying body. I see every reason why he should do it, and I do not see any reason why he should not. I wish, finally, to call attention to the merits of that particular scheme in the hope and expectation that he will assist them to render an enormous amount of assistance which I am sure they can render in the solution of this very difficult problem.
§ Mr. Marshall (Sheffield, Brightside)
I am not going to follow the hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Sir J. Walker-Smith) into his rather expansive speech on the matter of housing, but I want to indicate one or two of the difficulties with which local authorities are faced to-day with respect to post-war housing. We would all agree that local authorities generally are eager and desirous of getting on with their housing programmes. I do not think there is the slightest dubiety about that question, but they are finding that they cannot get any clarification from the various Ministers. The raising of loans for the purpose of land for housing estates is practically suspended. When the war broke out local authorities were in the midst of a very big housing programme, and the war cut it off immediately. As one goes about the country one sees many estates that have been left unfinished. They own certain lands which cannot be developed, and I understand that they cannot even prepare for post-war housing by providing the lay-out of streets and for other services. They have no guarantee from the Minister that in post-war housing they will be able to use these patches of land for the erection of houses. I realise the difficulties, and I know that they are very great. It is necessary, before we can embark upon a very extensive postwar housing problem, that major decisions be taken.
90 I am not going into a dissertation upon the functions of the Ministry of Planning, but it is evident to anyone who has been watching the trend of events that now the new Ministry has been associated with the question of housing—and it certainly has to do with it—certain major decisions will have to be taken. We want to know whether the housing is to take place, as it did previous to the war, m an ever expanding circle round our cities, or whether the Ministry of Health or the Ministry of Planning or both are going to say, "This city is large enough, and we must adopt a policy of decentralisation and of satellite towns." We also want to know whether local authorities will be allowed to improve upon the green belts which had been created in the vicinity, and round the centres, of many cities. It is necessary that there should be a decision upon that point as soon as possible. We also want to know whether the Ministry of Health is going to pursue a planning policy with regard to general planning principles, which we hope will be adumbrated by the Ministry of Planning sooner or later. These things, and the lack of decision, are holding up local authorities who own certain pieces of land, which, possibly under the new dispensation and the new combination of Ministries, will be regarded as good agricultural land and entirely unsuited for housing. Has a decision been made on this line? Local authorities to-day own land, and the Minister of Health, we understand, win not allow loans to be raised in order that development can take place so that services can be ready after the war. I rather think that the Minister of Health does not contemplate allowing local authorities to make provision for more than one year's housing programme at this time, although on this point I speak subject to correction.
Again, there is the question of the compulsory purchase of land. The provisions surrounding this question have been practically suspended during the war, and we all appreciate the reasons, but I do not think there is any doubt that local authorities are now practically hamstrung. There is, too, the question of finance. Local authorities to-day have no guarantee that they will not be immense losers from the subsidy point of view in any building programme they undertake after the war. I have taken the keenest 91 interest in this question for a number of years. When we began after the last war, under the Addison Act, we built a parlour type house for something over £1,000. We were building practically the same kind of house at the beginning of this war at just over £400. That represents the difference in costs between the end of last war and the beginning of this war, although if anybody thinks the same kind of subsidy will serve in the two cases like that he is suffering under a grave delusion. It is absolutely essential that some responsible voice should tell local authorities exactly what their subsidy is to be with regard to their housing programmes after the war. The subsidy we enjoyed at the beginning of this war will be altogether inadequate to meet the situation at the end of the war, owing to building and labour costs generally.
Do not forget that local authorities are under a heavy obligation with regard to their housing programmes. A huge pile of debt has grown up, and clarification on this point is absolutely essential if local authorities are to try to meet one of the most urgent needs that will confront the country after the war. I am sure we all want to see an enormous number of houses built after the war. Personally, I should be very sorry if in this great building programme we did not introduce some degree of order, planning, grouping and architectural beauty. If for another 20 years there is development similar to that which occurred after the last war, then it will just about put paid to any ideas of physical planning of houses in this country. I plead with the Minister to give local authorities all the guidance they can to-day and to give some earnest that the great efforts they will be called upon to put forth will have the encouragement and reward of this Government.
Mr. Harry Thorneyeroft (Manchester, Clayton)
In addressing this Committee for the first time, I do so in the expectation of that kindly indulgence I hope to receive. I do not pose as a housing expert, but having served as a member of a large local authority for many years, and coming from a constituency where housing conditions are particularly bad, I could hardly let this occasion go by without saying a few words on the matter. So far as Manchester is concerned it has 92 been one of the most progressive housing authorities in this country, as witness the magnificent example of the development of the Wythenshawe Estate. But, as a result of plans being interrupted by the war, we have found that conditions among workpeople, particularly in the industrial areas of that city, are a great deal worse to-day than they have been for many years. In my division we have some small four-roamed cottages built 70 or 80 years ago during the worst period of the jerry builders' activity, and in them we are having to put to-day two or three families because no other accommodation is available. It cannot be expected that workers living in these conditions can put forth their best effort towards winning the war, and it is common knowledge among medical practitioners who live in those districts that a great deal of ill-health has resulted from the bad overcrowding which obtains there.
There are one or two ways in which the Ministry could give assistance to a progressive authority like Manchester. I think the Minister has already received deputations from the city, in which suggestions for development during the war years have been put forward. For instance, we have recently taken a survey of the whole of the property within the city, particularly of the 11,000 empty houses, and as a consequence, discovered that there are 2,000 or 3,000 houses which could be put into a condition where they could be occupied to meet the present emergency. It is not our intention to perpetuate slums, but we do recognise the growing need for houses in the city, and we should like some easement. Accordingly, we recommended the Minister to give power to the local authority to requisition these properties in the same way as they are permitted to requisition properties for housing evacuees, war workers and the like. Personally, I know something about bad housing conditions. As a boy I lived in a house with one room up and one room down, the other occupants of which were my mother, brother and sister, and consequently I have for a long time been untiring in my efforts to try and improve the housing conditions of the common people of this land. I am afraid that unless a courageous policy is entered upon now, which will give local authorities every possible encouragement, we shall see in the post-war years people living 93 in conditions similar to those in which my brother, sister and I had to live in in the bad years before the last war.
We have also another problem in Manchester. We have 10,000 people registered for houses, and there are many other thousands who will not register because they know there is no possibility or hope of obtaining houses, so that this figure of 10,000 does not really indicate the number of houses needed. As a matter of fact, it was submitted to the Minister in the form of a report some time ago that Manchester requires at least 76,000 houses, and at present we have 68,000 which are condemned and would not be allowed to stand in normal times when we could proceed with our housing policy. In addition to that, we have a very large number of Service men, 1,50o in round figures, who have married since the war began, and for whom there is no housing provision at all, and when they return from the high seas or the Middle East it will be too late. With overcrowded conditions, and mothers-in-law and fathers-in-law living with them, we shall experience the same trouble as at the end of the last war, when our police courts were filled with people on domestic summonses, simply arising out of bad housing conditions, being herded together two and three families in one house. I would urge the Minister to give consideration particularly to the point that local authorities should be given immediate powers to acquire empty houses capable of being reconditioned and that they should be given the opportunity of getting on with the job without delay during the war.
§ Sir Percy Harris (Bethnal Green, South-West)
I have the very great privilege of congratulating the hon. Member for the Clayton Division (Mr. Thorneycroft) on his really most attractive speech. He has the very rare gift in this Assembly of being remarkably brief, though his remarks covered a great deal of ground. His human touch and his personal knowledge must have impressed the Committee, and, if my right hon. Friend wanted moving—I cannot believe that he did—he certainly would have been moved to compassion by the hon. Member's effective statement. It is very appropriate that a Manchester Member should have intervened, because we know that in no area in the country is the problem more difficult, more serious and more pressing 94 and at the same time where more imagination has been shown by some remarkable experiments in housing development both inside the city and outside in garden suburbs. Manchester in many ways has given a lead.
In the Budget Debate the other day I took occasion to congratulate the Government on their success in dealing with two problems—food and clothing. I wish I could say the same about shelter. There are three essentials in life—food, clothing and shelter—and I am not sure that shelter does not come first. We can manage with extraordinarily little clothing, it is proved that we can get along with the minimum of food in war conditions, but we must have a roof over our heads. I am the very last person to quarrel with my right hon. Friend, because we know that the pressure of war conditions has been drawing into every Department the labour, material and supplies—timber and all the hundred and one things required in building houses—but now, in the fourth year of the war, we have to prod him and give him moral support to do his duty. Housing is probably the most difficult problem of all that we have to face. We cannot turn houses, like sausages, out of a machine. Even with the best will in the world there must be a hang-over between cutting the first sod and the completion of a building fit for habitation. That, of course, will happen when this appalling war is over. There must be a considerable lapse of time between the signing of the armistice and the production of houses. Meanwhile men will be returning, first in a steady stream, then in a flood, demanding homes, anxious to set up the houses for the patient wives who have been waiting for their return. There is bound to be a house famine. My right hon. Friend must know that. The demand will exceed the supply, and rents will rise, however much legislation we pass. There is the Act of 1939, which is unfortunately extraordinarily ineffective in its operation. Many cases have been brought before the courts, but the owner of the land or the house somehow always seems to get the better of the case.
We are getting some experience at present, and it is in the light of that experience particularly that I intervene in the Debate. There is already a black market in houses and flats more serious 95 than the black market in food and clothing because far more difficult to circumvent. The wickedness of man apparently can drive a coach and horses through the best machinery of rent control. We have discovered in London a new device. It is not by any means confined to London. I was at Chester over the week-end and found that the local authority there had to face the same problem. The ingenuity of man has devised a skilful way of circumventing the Act of 1939 and its predecessors. Ingenious people take a house or a flat, put in some nominal furniture—it sometimes makes it worse when it is nominal—and let flats which would be rented empty at 30s. for four, six or seven guineas a week. That is going on every day in London. If you look through the columns of newspapers you will see plenty of flats of one or two rooms at six or seven guineas a week, and none empty or at the ordinary controlled rent.
This matter has become accentuated during the past few months. Evacuees are coming back to London and other cities in steady streams from the countryside for various reasons, and that increases the pressure. Then there is the great flood of civil servants who are being brought back to the Metropolis by the Government for their own purposes, and a large number of staff officers from the Admiralty, Air Ministry and War Office. On top of that great blocks of flats in St. John's Wood and North-West London have been taken over by the Government, willy nilly. The Minister of Works is the culprit, but he is only the servant of other Departments. They are turning out tenants to shift for themselves and so increasing the pressure on the remaining dwellings. If everybody were good and virtuous and wanted to do the right thing, it would be possible to deal with the problem, and these land sharks and ingenious people who are anxious to make profits would not be able to take advantage of the house famine to run rents up. On top of all these things has been the blitz. In Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow and nearly all the big cities whole areas of houses have been destroyed by fire or bombs.
My right hon. Friend is not often cross with me, but he was rather annoyed the other day when I cross-examined him at 96 Question time. It is no use his saying that he has not any powers. In these days, under the Defence of the Realm Act, any Minister who means business can be as autocratic as he likes. Most of them are when they want powers for bad purposes. Here is a good purpose, and if my right hon. Friend wishes to tackle this problem, he will have the whole House behind him. We will give him the necessary legislative powers, which I prefer to Orders in Council. There is unanimous feeling on all sides. This problem to-day was raised by an old, crusted Tory who is proud of being a Conservative and boasts that he stands for privilege. To his credit he has demanded action from the Government, not only in the countryside but in the towns as well.
What are the remedies? The first thing is more speedy repair of blitzed houses. In the London area and in most towns there are still hundreds of blitzed houses which could be made habitable by a very small expenditure. There was not the same pressure when evacuees were leaving London and other cities, but I suggest to my hon. Friends who represent the Ministry of Works, the Ministry of Labour and all the Departments concerned that they should now release as much labour and material as possible to make the blitzed houses habitable. Secondly I suggest that the onus of proof should be put on the landlord instead of the tenant to show that the house or flat is genuinely furnished and has not merely been furnished in order to extort art extra rent. If a man lets a house in which he has been living and can prove that the furniture is his, no one objects to his getting a reasonable return, but if it can be proved that it is merely furnished for the purpose of extorting extra rent, there should be power to protect the tenant against exploitation. I have another proposal, which applies particularly to London. In great parts of London like Kensington or Paddington there are hundreds of big houses with "To let" boards. They are empty, and tenants cannot be found because they are far too big for any family to occupy. Even if a man had the means, he would not be able to get the staff of servants necessary to run the house. The real difficulty is that while the owner of the lease is ready to let, the ground landlord has a restrictive covenant. This is a case that wants dealing with, first in the interests of the owner of the lease, who has to go on paying his ground rent 97 and cannot dispose of his premises, and second, and far more important, in the interests of those thousands of people who want somewhere to get shelter and who would be grateful if these houses could be converted into flats.
What I put forward is a short-term policy. I will not press what the right hon. Gentleman's long-term policy should be, but I agree emphatically that it is no use waiting until after the war to decide the Government's policy. Local authorities should be encouraged to prepare their plans now. Private enterprise and the building societies should be encouraged too. We want all of them to get ready to start work as soon as the war is over. I remember only too vividly the great hopes that were aroused after the last war. We were going to build houses for heroes and provide homes for all the returning soldiers. I am glad to see my. hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Sir F. Fremantle). He was for some years Chairman of the Housing Committee of the London County Council, and he will confirm what I am saying. He was not chairman immediately after the war, but he had tremendous enthusiasm and great driving force and the intention to do all sorts of wonderful things in providing houses to make up the serious shortage. Years elapsed, however, before we were able to deliver the goods, because all sorts of difficulties had to be surmounted. It was easy enough to buy 1,000 acres of land, but there were many other difficulties such as drainage, schools and other buildings, so that the interval between deciding where the houses were to be built and getting any result was enormous.
My right hon. Friend must not be merely a spectator. He must prod local authorities to prepare their schemes now. Even when they have their land and decide on drainage, water supply and everything else, all sorts of other difficulties arise with regard to materials. I remember the appalling shortage of bricks after the last war, and there will be the same difficulty again. There was a shortage, too, of timber and light castings. We had to pay in London, not £1,000, as was mentioned by another hon. Member, but £1,300 for an ordinary cottage dwelling which before the war we were able to build for £350, owing to the shortage of material and the exploitation by various interests of the public demand. The right 98 hon. Gentleman ought to be getting his plans out now and to be organising the production of all the materials required for building.
Then there is the difficulty of skilled labour. I have been a critic up to the moment, but now I want to congratulate my hon. Friend, the parent of this great scheme—either he or the Minister of Labour, or both, and probably both—for organising a large corps of labour, 1,250,000 men for 10 years, for the building trade. But however great their numbers may be, there will still be the need for key men, on whom much of the success of the scheme will depend—brick layers, plasterers, skilled joiners and others. However willing the men may be, if there are not what I may call the sergeant-majors, the technicians, ready to do the skilled work, all these fine schemes and policies will break down. That was the experience after the last war, and if we are not prepared we shall have the same experience again. So I say to my right hon. Friend that he should be imaginative, that he should anticipate, that he should show imagination, that he should tear aside red tape. He has the greatest opportunity of any Minister of Health and has the good will of Parliament and of the nation behind him. We all know what we require, and we have the experience. I ask him, first, to consider the immediate problem, the burning problem, the short-term policy, and see whether he can deal with those housing "sharks" who are exploiting the public, and, secondly, to show imagination and courage in thinking out the whole policy of our post-war housing problems.
§ Mr. Willink (Croydon, North)
I should like to add my congratulations to those of the right hon. Member for South West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) to the hon. Member for Clayton (Mr. Thorneycroft). I think we all feel that it is of great advantage when local authority experience is brought to us in this Committee, and when that experience is expressed in so lucid, so forceful, and so audible a manner. We all hope that we shall hear the hon. Member very frequently.
This opportunity for a general debate on housing is clearly welcome to many, and I shall remember that fact in the length of my observations, because I am sure there are many who wish to speak. It is welcome, because after nearly four 99 years of war it gives an opportunity to take stock of our situation on broad lines, it enables us to express very considerable anxieties in addition to our hopes, and it will enable my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health to make a statement which will, I hope, be reasonably confident and reasonably definite. He will, I am sure, not be complacent in the present situation. I was impressed by the suggestion made by the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) that we might be favoured in the reasonably near future with some comprehensive document on housing policy. I think I am right in saying that my right hon. Friend has promised a White Paper or something of the kind, on health proposals, and many of us would find it most valuable if he could issue a similar document on housing.
I am alive, as we all are, to the inadequacy both in numbers and quality of rural houses, and I am aware of the special difficulties in the areas of war industry, particularly the new areas; but I would not venture to speak of that of which I have not had an opportunity of personal observation. It is only of London and Greater London, in regard to which I have had special opportunities over the last 30 months, that I would presume to speak to the Committee. The situation in London and Greater London is, I am sure, no worse than in many other great centres of population, both cities and towns, and from all I read and hear is not as bad as the situation in parts of Glasgow and other towns on the Clyde.
There are really two elements to be considered. The first of these is that of war damage. So far as the direct war damage element is concerned, it is not, in total loss of houses, as serious as many of us would have expected it to be. I think the situation in London and Greater London is approximately that out of 2,000,000 pre-war houses the total lost, either destroyed or irreparably damaged, during the war is in the neighbourhood of 120,000. But although that percentage is not very large, it is surely a very serious fact that, in addition to all the problems we had at the end of the last war, we have now totally lost the prewar homes of 500,000 Londoners. That is a new and very serious fact, and Yet I do not believe it is as serious as the other 100 element to which I shall refer; but before I pass to that I would express some doubt on the suggestion made by my right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bethnal Green that there are in London a very large number of houses that could be repaired at very small cost. I have had the opportunity of consulting local authorities about that and I doubt whether it is the case.
Let me then pass from the first element to what, to my mind, is a still more serious matter. Here I would say how glad I am to see my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) in his place, because I know what close interest he takes in all matters concerning the London County Council, and I hope we may have an opportunity to hear him later. In spite of all that was done between the two wars, and a tremendous lot was done—particularly after 1931 there was an ever-increasing pace—there remained in London and around it many areas, some large, some quite small pockets, which were a scandal and a reproach and probably represented as bad a standard of housing as at any time in our history. The root trouble really is that our cities are so old. Our cities were born and built earlier than the great expansions in Continental cities, and as I go about London I am really horrified by the vast extent of building which is 100 to 150 years old, and is far gone in obsolescence, if not totally obsolete. Among the most embarrassing factors is the change of fashion as to where people choose to live, with the result that houses which were built in large numbers for people of quite substantial means have been deserted by those people if there are any such still alive—and can now be let and inhabited only as wholly unsatisfactory tenements, with quite inadequate sanitary, water and cooking arrangements. Their condition is already 25 years worse than it was at the end of the last war. That, in my humble judgment, is an even worse situation than that arising from war damage. The minor damage that arises from slight blast, and the deterioration which occurs so quickly in the first-aid repaired house, increase the problem.
Those houses not only had these grievous deficiencies before the war, but they were dingy to a degree over great areas of London. They were short of air and space and had no proper facilities for 101 cooking, washing or drying. They were very far from being proper places for the bringing-up of children. I expect many hon. Members have seen a valuable but disturbing book entitled "Our Towns, a Close-up." I am not referring to all of its recommendations, but, so far as it is factual, it is a most convincing document by most able and sincere people. Much of what it says.may be summed up in a comment made in another most interesting book published last year and written by Mr. John Watson, a gentleman with experiences of a perhaps unique character. He is not only a surveyor engaged in the management of two estates in poor districts of London, but is also chairman of the juvenile court in another poor area. His book is on the second subject and is called "The Child and the Magistrate." He says, in words that we need to take to heart:They are exceptional parents indeed who can successfully bring up six children in a four-roomed cottage in a London slum and make them all into good citizens to say nothing of instituting such refinements as nice manners and habits of personal cleanliness.One wants to know something more of the future to which we can look and the first question I would ask of my right hon. Friend is, What is to be the nature of the housing conditions in this great city after the war? I ask the question with special anxiety because of a passage in a newspaper which appeared on 29th March and which I have not seen contradicted in any way. It was there stated that the leader of the London County Council had told representatives of the newspaper on the previous day that no houses of the cottage type would be built in London because space and cost were prohibitive. He added that blocks of flats would be the solution to the problem. I do not know whether that report was accurate, but if it was, I hope that the Minister of Health will do something about it. I appreciate that there must be flats, but the richer classes who live in fiats on the seventh or eighth floor have a lift; I hope that the working classes will have flats with a similar convenience. Fourth or fifth floor accommodation for a family is very hard going. She must be a brave mother who goes on carrying young children up to the fourth or fifth floor in a block of flats. 102 I shall be most distressed if the population of the capital city of the Empire becomes almost exclusively a population of flat dwellers. Many of the finest people I have ever met lived in cottages with a little bit of land, of which they were extremely proud. There is not only room for cottages but for terrace houses of three floors, and I hope most sincerely that the Minister will prevent universal flat-housing. Flats are inevitably sad places in many ways. There have to be restrictive rules of many kinds forbidding the keeping of animals and all sorts of healthy things that you can do in a little back garden. I hope that the London County Council will not go too far in that direction.
Secondly, what is to be the character of the lay-out of our new residential areas? Is my right hon. Friend responsible for the widths and so forth of roads? How many roads will be designed to attract traffic, and how many to restrict traffic and so make some contribution to the reduction among our young lives of the casualties which are such a tragic feature of our cities? Is there a no-man's land in these matters between my right hon. Friend and the Ministers of Town and Country Planning and of Works? There are difficult borderlines about which many of us feel most uncertain. I hope there will be some improvement, because there is a vast waste of space in London on roads of roughly the same width, all designed to take two-way traffic. Surely more can be done to make a sort of enclave or precinct, through which traffic will not pass and which will have an atmosphere of far greater privacy than roads, or a rectangular lay-out of streets attracting two-way traffic.
Will my right hon. Friend see that proper provision is made for centres of social activity in the new lay-out of our residential areas? I am frequently shocked in many parts of London to find how impossible it is for the inhabitants to find a hall for a wedding party, a political gathering, or Scouts or Guides. I do not wish to see such things under the local authority but to see provision made for helping voluntary bodies. I hope that the Churches will play a very much larger part in this respect than in the past, and that these places may exist to a very much larger extent than before.
103 My fourth question is, Will my right hon. Friend do all in his power to encourage skilled management on the sort of lines that have been proved to be so beneficial? I have been studying the report of the committee on the management of municipal housing estates made to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he was Minister of Health in 1938. It is a most interesting document, and convincing. It is confirmed by my own observation. The 156,000 people in the London region who have been provided with new houses as a result of bombing have not, on the average, been the easiest sort of tenant, but they have been managed most admirably by trained women housing managers, who have shown particular skill in dealing with their many problems. The problems will require just as much tact and skill after the war as they do to-day.
And lastly, is the Minister satisfied that everything is as far in train as it should be for speedy action when speedy action can be taken? That is a matter on which many of us feel real anxiety because we feel that the situation immediately after what may be called the German war as opposed to the Japanese war may become very serious indeed. Local authorities are making some progress. I hope that the Minister will think not only of local authorities but will think of the needs of private enterprise. I would especially mention those useful bodies, such splendid pioneers, the Housing Associations. Something has been said about temporary buildings, and I share the anxiety about temporary buildings. I have been horrified to find survivals of the war of 1914–18 being lived in to-day. Nevertheless, I myself am convinced that we shall not get through our troubles immediately after this war without temporary buildings both for schools and houses. We have to face that fact and see that steps are taken that they do not survive too long. One step which will tend strongly in that direction is that they should be put, not on housing sites at all, but on open spaces and places of that kind where the public would insist on their being removed at the earliest possible moment, and would not regard them as houses on housing sites but as blemishes they were determined to get rid of at the earliest possible moment.
§ Mr. Kirkwood (Dumbarton Burghs)
The hon. and learned Member says they should be put not on present housing sites. That would mean that roads would have to be made and sewers laid down. It is a gigantic thing which the hon. and learned Member is proposing.
§ Mr. Willink
It may be so, but nevertheless I do not believe it will be possible to deal with the situation unless steps of that kind are taken with sanitary methods similar to those employed for camps and war-time nurseries. We shall have real difficulty with the schools in particular. Very large buildings will he required very early, and I cannot think that we shall be able to maintain the quality we wish if we say that nothing can be built until it is possible to build the best.
§ Earl Winterton
I think we are really in agreement on my proposal, and with what my hon. Friend behind suggested that temporary buildings should be built on bombed sites, with the clear understanding that the Ministry of Health should have the right to pull them down at any time.
§ Mr. Willink
It may be that with proper regulations it will be safe to put them on what will be housing sites, but it will be more difficult to get rid of them than if they were on a site where people would want to get rid of them at the earliest possible moment.
I conclude by saying this: I am very far from being one of those who think that either Beveridge plans or good housing can raise our people to the heights of which they are capable, but when we talk about equal opportunity let us not only think of education; let us remember the terribly unsatisfactory conditions under which millions of our people will live after the war if this House does not do its duty.
§ Mr. F. Anderson (Whitehaven)
I have the honour to represent a constituency which was one of the special areas, commonly known as depressed areas. This constituency has some of the most beautiful country in the whole of Great Britain. It has the sea, the mountains and the lakes. Nevertheless, it has the experience of having some of the most difficult housing problems, even in comparison with any of the greatest cities in this country. I want for a few minutes to 105 call the attention of the Committee to its position. I take two rural council areas, one partly covered by my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Cape), and one borough. Strange to say, although it is one of the most beautiful counties in the country, we have one of the highest tuberculosis death-rates in the whole country, including the cities and towns. I attribute that position of the high tuberculosis death-rate to the fact that there is a very serious shortage of housing and also very serious overcrowding.
During 1941, which is the latest period for which I can obtain published figures, there were 157 deaths in the county of Cumberland from T.B., and in the constituency I represent there were 54 deaths, which is about one-third of the deaths of the whole county. I submit that so long as there is the present situation in that beautiful area of Cumberland the position regarding tuberculosis will grow worse. As a matter of fact, the medical officer of health indicates that there has been an increased number of notifications. I ask that something should be done now, and not after the war, to relieve the situation that exists throughout my Division by building new houses. There are about 17,000 to 18,000 houses in my constituency, and there are no fewer than 2,600 to 3,000 additional houses required. One can understand that when there is that huge total needed in comparison with 17,000 or 18,000 houses occupied, something undoubtedly requires to be done now to stem the disease of tuberculosis and bring about a state of affairs that will be creditable to the nation as a whole. I would suggest that just as houses and hostels are being built for war workers, the people residing in those districts, who are engaged upon war work, are entitled to action now. They cannot wait until after the war. When they see large numbers of new houses going up for people who arc being imported into the district for the purpose of doing war work, the people in the locality cannot understand why they have riot an opportunity of occupying some of these new houses.
I know the problem is a difficult one, but I believe that something could be done as a short-term policy to improve houses that have been condemned. People who work in fumes the whole day in some of our ordnance factories, have to come home to a state of affairs which I think, to say 106 the least, is not creditable to anyone. At the same time we say to these people, "We provide you with beautiful restaurants, we give you the best of food, we provide you with all the welfare which it is possible to provide you with. We give you all that surrounding your working place." But when they go home they have to breathe filth and dirt that destroys everything that has been done. If we are taking measures, on the one hand, to save life in order to get better war production, something should be done to relieve the serious situation in some of the districts which were classed as special areas, and which had no houses built prior to the war because of their depressed condition. I feel that the plea which has been made by one or two local authorities should result in something definite being done now, instead of our having to wait until after the war.
In the last three months I have had the unfortunate experience of having to deal with a number of men in my Division who have been discharged from the Forces on the ground that they are not up to the standard required. A number of those men have come hack with T.B. They have to go into homes which are seriously overcrowded. How can those men who have come home be rehabilitated under such conditions? This week another case was brought to me. It relates to four adult women, who have only two rooms, and the mother and three daughters all sleep in one bed. Three of the women work at ordnance factories, which have all the facilities I have spoken of, and yet these women have to come back and sleep under the intolerable conditions that I have mentioned. A short time ago I was shown a bottle which contained no fewer than 120 beetles, all of which had been caught in a house in one week. The local authority has to admit that that house is beyond repair. They say to the tenant, "You must find another house." But it is impossible to find another house in the circumstances which exist in my division.
I suggest that something should be done to help the local authorities in letting houses. The local authorities have waiting lists, and in my division the waiting list consists of nearly 3,000 people. But still the private property-owner is allowed to make his choice of tenants. The local authority is confronted with scores of 107 overcrowding cases, and with scores of people suffering from diseases, and who cannot get the houses they need. I suggest that a pool should be brought into being, and that none of these houses should be occupied without the consent of that pool and of the local authority. Surely if it is right, under the Ministry of Labour scheme, to direct men and women for employment, it is not right to allow private owners to have the free choice of tenants.
I know of a number of cases of people who have come from outside localities into houses that have been let by private property owners, while hundreds of people have had their names on the local waiting-list since long before the beginning of the war. I submit that my proposal is one way of bringing everyone who requires a house on to an equal footing, and of giving equal opportunity for all. I hope that the Minister will consider the suggestion carefully. I think that any property-owner who wants to do the right thing will be agreeable to such a scheme in order to assist areas which are in a serious position. May I make one other suggestion? We ought, in this industry, as in other industries, to have our scarlet areas, our green areas, and so on, according to the extent of the problem. For the immediate present those areas which are classed as "very bad" in regard to shortage, ought to be given the opportunity of trying to alleviate their position. I could have said much more, but I have respect for the desire of other Members to speak. The Minister should give careful consideration not only to the big cities and the London boroughs, but to the country areas, where there are problems just as urgent as those of any of the cities. I hope that in the immediate future he will be able to say that the Government have determined on a short-term policy and on a long-term policy, and that as a result some of these areas will be rescued from the serious position which now confronts them.
§ Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)
I want to support the plea of the hon. Member for Whitehaven (Mr. F. Anderson) for some action to deal with immediate evils arising out of the housing shortage. Much of the Debate necessarily dealt with the postwar situation. The eloquent speeches which have been made will no doubt give 108 very great satisfaction to many people outside who read the Debate: the experts, the idealists, and the planners. But these are people who themselves are probably living in quite comfortable houses, and who can really give their attention to what is going to happen to the housing situation after the war. I think it is quite clear that all the suggestions which have been made will inevitably involve considerable delay in starting post-war housing schemes to any extent, unless definite steps are taken now to prevent that delay. I want the Committee to think for a moment of what comfort this Debate will bring to the many hundreds of thousands of people in this country who to-day are living under intolerable conditions. It is to their point of view that the Committee ought to address itself. Therefore, I would ask the Minister—though of necessity, in his reply, he must give a certain amount of attention to the post-war problems—also to realise that there are immediate evils arising out of the housing shortage to which he ought to give his attention. There may be some things with which, he may say, he cannot deal because of the war. The real trouble is that there is a housing shortage, and his answer hitherto has been that there is so great a demand for labour and materials for the war effort that he cannot do anything about the shortage so far as building new houses is concerned. I do not think that that answer is good enough.
Just as it has been found necessary, as far as rural housing is concerned, to make some modest increase in the provision of houses, so, as far as urban communities and the ordinary civilian population are concerned, the Minister must make up his mind that after 3½ years of war some increase in the number of houses is required. Before the war we were building 350,000 houses a year and for 3½ years during the war no houses have been built, except about 135,000 which were in process of being built at the outset of the war. In addition to the fact that there has been a great drop in the building of new houses, there has been very serious damage as the result of enemy action. One out of every five of the houses of this country has been damaged in this way, and although a very large number have been partially repaired, it means that at present 2,500,000 families are living in them under 109 Spartan conditions. Many houses have not received maintenance during the war to keep them up to a reasonable standard. Obviously there is a great housing shortage. What is really upsetting the people, however, is that there are people in the country who are taking advantage of this shortage for their own financial benefit, and they arc not being stopped by the Minister or any other Government Department. It is well known that since the war there has been great speculation in house property. Prices have gone up considerably. It is impossible under Present conditions to rent a house because of the Rent Restrictions Acts. Many people are compelled to seek new accommodation. Men who have been directed to other parts of the country, members of families of serving men who want to live near their husband's station, people whose houses have been destroyed by the blitz—all have to find alternative accommodation. These people want to find houses and owing to the restriction on rent it is practically impossible for them to rent an unfurnished house. Either they must buy a house or rent a so-called furnished house. Speculators have been busy buying up these properties, and when the attention of the Minister of Health has been drawn to this he has suggested that it is only happening in certain specified parts of the country and therefore no special action by him is called for. If it exists only in one or two areas it ought to be stopped.
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Sir Robert Young)
I understand that the Minister has no power to deal with the sale of houses.
§ Mr. Lipson
It would be a good thing if the Minister could have power under emergency regulations to insist that the sale of all houses should be registered with the local authority so that some kind of control could be exercised over prices. What action would follow from that might be a matter for the right hon. Gentleman or the Chancellor of the Exchequer or some other Minister. The position cannot be left where it is at present because there is a considerable amount of feeling in the country at the fact that the Minister apparently neither has the power nor is willing to take the power. The country requires that the Committee should take cognisance of the 110 fact that the evil is extremely widespread. There was a series of articles on the matter in the "Daily Mail" a few weeks ago which showed that speculation in house property is not confined to any particular area; that it is to be found in Wales, in Scotland and in all our large towns and in many of our country towns. Therefore it is important that tire Minister should address himself to this particular problem.
I want also to draw attention to another evil arising out of the shortage of houses. It is the evil of the very high rents charged for so-called furnished houses or furnished lodgings. This is causing considerable bitterness. The Minister's reply, when his attention has been drawn to it, is that he has given certain powers to local authorities and it is for them to exercise that authority, and, if so, the evil can be dealt with. In answer to a Question in the House on 22nd April he said that during the last six months only 'or authorities reported having received complaints about excessive rents for furnished premises and that the number of such complaints was 202. Does he really think that these figures give a true picture of the number of excessive charges for furnished rooms throughout the country? If the Minister accepts these figures as a guide to the situation, I believe he will accept anything. The power which has been given by the Government to the local authorities is ineffective. When they take cases into court, as they have done in many instances, they find, through no fault on the part of the magistrate but owing to the law itself, that it is impossible, in a clear case of excessive rent, to get a conviction. Therefore, the law requires amending.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
The hon. Member cannot discuss new powers that the Minister might have to get.
§ Mr. Lipson
Then I would say that these figures show conclusively that the local authorities have not the powers to enable them to deal with the situation. One evil of the existing position is that if anyone who is charged what he thinks an extortionate rent for unfurnished rooms complains to the local authority, he is at once given notice to quit by the landlord. At present there is nothing to protect him, so, quite obviously, people refuse to give 111 evidence to local authorities which will enable them to take appropriate action. That is the explanation of the figures the Minister has given. I, therefore, hope that the Minister will address himself to the evil of the present housing situation which is causing a scandal in many parts of the country and real bitterness. People will put up with evils which they think are inevitable because of the war, and which they think that they have to accept, but they do object to their own needs being exploited by people with anti-social tendencies whose only concern during a war is to try to make money out of the needs of the community.
I have been told by house agents that they are ashamed of the prices they are getting for properties that are being sold and are equally concerned at the excessive amounts paid for furnished houses and rooms. The situation calls for drastic action by the Minister. This justifiable feeling of bitterness about the present exploitation of the needs of the people must be removed. I would also impress upon the Minister the need for building additional houses because large numbers of people are now living in houses which were condemned before the war. The situation has become such that there is a very serious danger to public health, certainly to public happiness and —if this evil is allowed to go on unchecked —to public morale. While I agree that it is necessary to take action in regard to the post-war situation, it is also necessary to solve the present problem. As one who has had some experience in local government I agree with what has been said about the difficulties of local authorities in framing their post-war housing policy. They do not know at present what their housing needs are likely to be, they would like some guidance on the location of industry because they want to know whether the industries which have come into their areas during the war are likely to remain, they are concerned about the cost of housing, about the rate of interest they will have to pay on money they will borrow, about the prices they will have to pay for land and whether the cost of housing cannot be kept as low as possible by use of standardised fittings and by bulk purchases. Those are some of the questions which are making it difficult for local authorities to come to a decision about their post-war programmes. 112 Therefore, I submit most strongly that more drastic action is necessary to meet the present and post-war housing position, and I hope the Minister will indicate in his speech to-day that he intends to take such action.
§ Mr. Silkin (Peckham)
The Minister has been treated to-day to a superabundance of information and advice, much of which has been conflicting and about which he could have said, had he been so disposed, that it was difficult for him to know what to do. But I am sure he will not say that. The Minister has been told in a wide variety of terms all about the housing problem, as if he did not know what it was. He has been told about the slums, about overcrowding and about houses which, originally intended for one family, are now occupied by a number of families. As one who has had a good deal of experience of the housing problem in London, I would like to tell the Minister that more unhappiness is caused to families by sharing houses, than by living in slums or in overcrowded conditions. I feel that too little attention in the past has been given to this terrible problem of living in houses with inadequate water supply, where the housewife has to go down two or three flights of stairs to get rid of refuse and to get water, where there are arguments about the use of the garden or the right to hang clothes on the clothes line and whether the children go too often to the lavatory. I can assure the Minister that that is the most awful purgatory which one can go through, and I hope that when he comes to settle priorities in housing, he will regard these questions as of prime importance, not forgetting, of course, that the slum problem in itself is an evil.
Various calculations have been made as to the size of the problem and how many houses will be needed. It depends, of course, upon what one regards as the housing problem. If one takes every house which does not comply with a reasonable standard and calls it unsatisfactory, then 9,000,000 out of the 12,000,000 or 13,000,000 houses in the country will have to be dealt with, possibly within the next 20 years. But if one takes as the immediate objective the provision of the necessary number of houses, so that every family has a separate, decent dwelling and not a slum 113 dwelling, then I imagine that 4,000,000 houses will be required, and it ought to be possible to provide this number of houses in a period of eight to 10 years. That is the size of the Minister's immediate problem. It is quite big enough to get on with, but the Minister will be able to assure the building industry, which he Will have to encourage to bigger efforts, and building workers, that there will be plenty to do at the end of that period as the housing problem will not have been solved even at the end of that time. The Minister's real duty is to see that immediately the war is over housing operations can begin.
A good deal has been said about what we ought to do, and I was surprised to notice hon. Members who are influential members of local authorities apparently forgetting that they have a certain responsibility too. There is a good deal that they can do, long before the Minister comes into the picture at all. But there is a task for the Minister too. A number of progressive authorities have done all they can to prepare for immediate activity after the war and they need the assistance and guidance of the Minister of Health. Local authorities and others can only go as far as marking out the sites that they need but at that stage they require the authority of the Minister to purchase those sites, and at present they are not in a position to purchase them. That is not a matter entirely for the Minister of Health. It is a matter for the Treasury, who, for good reasons, have imposed a ban on the acquisition of land during the war. I know that the Minister is doing his best to see that local authorities are able to go as far as they possibly can with their plans and preparations. I visualise a position in which the most advanced local authorities will have gone so far as to get out working drawings, but even then, there are possibilities of considerable delay unless the building industry is ready. As far as my knowledge goes the building industry will not be ready to undertake a large amount of work immediately the war is over, because their own reserves have been depleted. Many large building concerns have lost many of their key and other men. If the war were, miraculously, to finish next week they certainly would not be ready to undertake work on a large scale. Apart from all the other actions which the Minister has been advised to take in order to be ready when the war is over, he will 114 have to take some action as regards the building industry to ensure that they are ready to undertake work immediately.
The right hon. Gentleman has been given a certain amount of advice regarding temporary buildings as a possible palliative. It can only be a palliative at the best. He has had the advice of the Central Housing Advisory Committee and a sub-committee. We started off that was set up to consider the question. I am a member of that sub-committee. We started off with a bias in favour of temporary construction because we realised that something had to be done quickly. When we came to consider what kind of temporary construction should be carried out, we found that there was very little knowledge indeed of satisfactory temporary buildings. We would not entertain for a moment the kind of hutments that are going up at present, which are just a makeshift and probably will not last for ten, or even five years. We were looking for something that could be put up quickly and would be a home for a family during the period that it was necessary for the structure to remain up. We sent to America for information. We had people before us who had been there and who saw what had been done there. This business is in its infancy in America. They are not much more advanced than we are. In so far as any temporary construction is taking place there, it mainly takes the form of timber construction, and timber is going to be very short here after the war. In the result we were reluctantly driven to the conclusion that temporary construction offers no solution to the problem.
Apart from the fact that very little is known about it, we were not satisfied that, in the end, there would be any real speed. The speediest way of getting on is to be ready when the war is over to proceed with normal construction. The saving of a week or two in the construction of a temporary as against a permanent house—it would only amount to that at best—is not worth talking about. Then we found that, in so far as temporary constructions had been carried out, it was almost as costly as permanent construction and, if you are going to put up a building for ten years, which is going to cost almost as much as a permanent building, one hesitates about where the money is to come from. Furthermore, it would mean a diversion of labour and material 115 from permanent to temporary construction. We all realise that there will be a shortage of labour. Are we to use that scarce labour for temporary or for permanent construction? Finally, there was the point that, once you have put up a temporary structure to be taken down in ten years, if at the end of the ten years you have not the alternative accommodation available, as you may not have, you will be forced to allow people to remain in the temporary dwellings. Someone said that temporary dwellings erected in the last war were still in use. There were temporary dwellings erected at the time of the Crimean war and they are still being used. There are buildings which I could only call temporary dwellings erected 100 or 150 years ago which are still being used. The Committee ought to realise that temporary construction offers no solution to the problem and that the only way out is to go ahead as quickly as possible with permanent construction.
The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for North Croydon (Mr. Willink) referred to the nature of the building that would take place after the war. He dealt particularly with London, but I take it that his remarks were equally applicable to other large centres. I do not know whether people prefer houses or flats. It is all very well to ask the simple question, "Do you prefer one or the other?" People who are not very thoughtful may say, "A house." You ought to ask what sort of house and what sort of flat. There are many flats that are very much better than many houses. I agree that the answer might be in many cases "A house." Is that the end of the story? A house where? Take the case of London. My hon. and learned Friend referred to a statement of the leader of the London County Council that there would be no houses in London. That, of course, is an exaggeration. I believe I know the occasion on which he made the statement. He said that London would have to be largely a city of flats. So it will if we want to house something like the existing population in London.
After all, there is a limit to the amount of available land in London. If we have a population of, say, 4,000,000 to house in that area, we can either house them as we are doing now by making them share houses, by overcrowding and by compel- 116 ling them to live in slums, or we can house them by redeveloping the area, by providing an adequate amount of open space and then using the rest of the land for housing purposes. If we do that we are driven to putting up flats. One hon. Member referred to what the hon. Member for St. Albans (Sir F. Fremantle) had been responsible for shortly after the last war in the building of Becontree. Becontree was very much criticised, but I do not subscribe to the criticism. I think that it was a fine and courageous conception. Unfortunately, however, it meant that people had to travel long distances to and from their work. Their work was in London and they had to travel three-quarters of an hour or an hour each way, a most tiring and awkward journey, and spend seven or eight shillings a week in fares.
That is the alternative which my right hon. Friend will have to face if he wants to house the same population in London. When people are asked whether they prefer a house or a flat, they ought also to be told that if they prefer a house it may be at Becontree, or even further away, as it would have to be to-day because all the intervening land has been built on. If in an area like London we are going to house the people in houses, we shall probably have to house them something like 20 miles away from the centre. in many of the areas which will have to be cleared, like the East End of London, there are something like 50 or 60 families living per acre. Those families will have to be rehoused. Even by building flats we cannot decently build them at a higher density than 40 or 45. If they were nine-storey flats we could not go higher than 50 to the acre. Therefore, there will be a small number of families who cannot be rehoused on their existing sites. Moreover, many parts of London are grossly under-supplied with open spaces. The whole of the open spaces in Stepney or Bethnal Green would not be more than there is in a decent-sized garden in the country. In south-east Southwark, which I represent on the London County Council, my own garden was larger than the whole of the open space they possessed. We shall have to provide more open space, and that will further reduce the amount of available land for building.
The dilemma with which my right hon. Friend is faced, therefore, is, "Shall we build houses for the few and force the 117 remainder to go out, or shall we endeavour to build fiats, well planned and spacious, with lifts and all the amenities he would desire, together with open spaces?" I emphasise lifts, for no one ought to walk more than three flights of stairs. It is my belief that if you put that question to the majority of people, they would prefer to live in flats near their work and so avoid the expense and fatigue of travelling than have to go out many miles to a house with a garden, which perhaps in the abstract they might prefer. Indeed, that question was put to people before the war. It was possible to offer families that were displaced from slums the choice of having a house at St. Helier or Becontree or having a flat near their work. Eighty-five to 90 per cent. of the families that were dealt with preferred have a flat near their work. That is the unfortunate dilemma in which many local authorities will be placed. If any helpful suggestion can be made for dealing with this problem it will be much appreciated.
The only suggestion that has been made is that we should decentralise, that is to say, should take out or refuse to permit a large amount of industry in London. Industries should be taken right out, and with them the populations. That is all very well, but I have yet to find a local authority which is prepared to commit suicide. It is all right in theory. Every city is prepared to let the other city do it, but I have yet to find that Birmingham, Sheffield or Manchester are prepared to do it. Who is going to take the industries out and where are they to be taken to? It is easy to prevent an industry coming in, but it is not so easy to take out established industries which have been in existence for 100 or 150 years and force them to go out somewhere, where they may work with much less efficiency, where they may have no labour and where their transport difficulties may be greater, and require them to start again. Desirable as it may appear to be, no local authorities will be prepared to face or would long survive trying to face forcing industry and population out of their cities. Moreover, it would be a very slow process. In the meantime, families would have to be housed. We have to begin immediately war is over and our plans must be made before. On what basis are we to make the plans? Are we to make them on the assumption that for a 118 period of years industry will be forced out? What are we to do with the families in the meantime? Many of the large cities will be faced with the same problem, and it seems inevitable that we shall have to build flats mainly in the large towns.
§ Captain Cobb
The hon. Gentleman will agree, I think, that a large number of the people living on the Becontree Estate and who had to travel to London are now employed at the Ford works at Dagenham, but it was a slow process.
§ Mr. Silkin
It was a slow process, and the position to-day is that 40 per cent. of the inhabitants of Becontree are working within an area of two miles, but 60 per cent. still go to London. I have not referred to the cost, but that is an important factor. The average cost of land in London is £15,000 an acre, or it was before the war. If we were to build houses, the cost for land alone would be something like £1,200 per dwelling. It only needs a simple calculation to show that it would be quite impossible to let those dwellings at anything like rents which the people for whom they are intended could afford to pay. Such dwellings could be let at 30s. to 35s. a week, but houses at that figure are useless for the people for whom they are intended. Unless the Minister of Health is prepared to do something which will bring the cost of land down from an average of £15,000 to £1,500 an acre, and even that would be high, I really feel that we shall be faced with a position where, if we were to build houses, we could not afford to go on with the programme, just as in 1920 and 1921, when houses were costing £1,300 each. These houses would cost even more.
Therefore, I feel that it is just as well that the public and those who are concerned with housing in the large cities should face up to the fact that post-war housing in those areas will in the main have to be by fiats. If people want houses they will have to go out some distance. While I agree with the policy of setting up new towns, decentralising industry and so helping distressed areas, because I feel they should have a diversity of industries, and agree also with the policy of satellite towns, none of these things will help the immediate problem after the war. Those are things we can face up to in a more leisurely way than the problems that the Minister of Health 119 and the local authorities will be immediately faced with. I hope that research will still continue in the direction of temporary dwellings. Probably the last word has not been said, though so far as present knowledge goes it is quite hopeless to expect any solution from that quarter, but I do feel that some portion of the high cost of housing in the past has been due to the inefficiency—I do not want to say this in any offensive manner—of the building industry as a whole. I believe that houses and buildings generally would cost very much less if building work were better planned. Anyone who has seen the work going on at a building will have noticed the immense waste of time that takes place. At a guess probably only half the time of the men, certainly not very much more, is occupied in the actual work, and that not necessarily through the fault of the men but on account of inadequate planning of the work. I believe that here there is a big opportunity for increasing production of houses. If something could be done, and I am glad that it is proposed to do something, in the direction of training managers for the building industry, it would help considerably to solve our housing problem.
I think the Minister has had quite enough advice for one day, though if I had time I could give him more. A good deal is being said about the high rents of houses. It is important to remember that whatever the rents, whether high or low, they do not increase the total amount of accommodation. That does not excuse profiteering, but one must not be misled into thinking that if we do away with high rents we shall increase accommodation. We might decrease it, because people would not let. I wish the Minister every success in his efforts. I believe he is sincere in his desire to get on with the problem. I believe he is seized of the nature of the problem and its urgency, and I have every hope that he will in the near future be in a position to make a statement which will enable local authorities to get on with the job and to have no excuse for sheltering behind his back.
§ Major John Morrison (Salisbury)
I wish to say one or two words only, because there are several other Members who wish to speak. I find myself very 120 much in agreement with a great number of the things said by the speaker who opened this Debate, and I should like to thank the Minister first for the gesture, the token, of 3,000 cottages for agriculture. Although I fully appreciate his difficulties in implementing that undertaking, I should like to urge him to get on with the work with the minimum of discussion and red tape, so as to have people housed by the end of harvest time if that is at all possible with the labour and the materials available. Then I should like to see him consider providing another batch of houses for the agricultural community, although I do appreciate his difficulties in regard to the shortage of labour, which I am very well aware of, and of materials. In that respect he may well have to weigh in the balance the question of allowing more materials for essential maintenance work and structural repairs to many houses in the countryside, because after nearly four years of war there is a great deal to be done to keep houses in proper repair, apart from the ravages of bombing.
Another point concerns housing for war workers transferred from what were the more populated districts to places in the country where their services are required. I hope he will realise that saturation point has really been reached in certain places, and will not expect too much of some of these comparatively small towns and communities as regards the maximum accommodation they must provide. I would particularly ask him, when workers are sent to a district, to do all that is possible to see that the wives and families of men in the Services, particularly those serving overseas, do not suffer in the matter of their own accommodation. Sometimes they have had the greatest difficulty in keeping or finding adequate accommodation for themselves. My last point is one which has already been mentioned by the Noble Lord who opened this Debate—the problem of the week-end house or cottage in the country. It is a very big problem, and I hope the Government will appreciate that those engaged in agriculture cannot afford to have more and more houses taken by people who come from distant cities and other places.
§ Sir Percy Hurd (Devizes)
I wish especially to emphasise the rural aspect of the housing question, and I do not apologise for so doing. Agriculture is, 121 in the minds of all of us, one of our prime industries, and in war-time it is parallel in importance with the munitions industry. After the war it will assume an even greater importance. The Minister of Agriculture has told us that unless we produce far more from our own land we are bound to be considerably short of food in the years immediately succeeding the war. Reference has been made to the emergency programmes which the Ministers of Health and of Agriculture have issued. The Noble Lord the Member far Horsham (Earl Winterton) asked, almost with contempt, "Why only 3,000 houses?" The question is a natural one. The need of houses in the rural areas is beyond all question. It existed before the war, when we had an enormous programme of house-building in front of us. The war has held it up. if we caught the Ministers of Health and of Agriculture in an expansive mood, they would both agree that 30,000 houses, or even more, should be provided. The obvious reason for the figure of 3,000 is that there is a war on. We are at the most critical stage of the war.
§ Earl Winterton
Does my hon. Friend really seriously suggest that it is less necessary to provide houses for agricultural labourers than for munition workers?
§ Sir P. Hurd
I do not think the Noble Lord needed to interrupt me on that point. It is in the minds of all of us. A very great strain is being placed upon the man-power of the country, and it is our duty and our life to see that every available man is given to the Fighting Forces and to munitions manufacture. We cannot help ourselves. It is no good saying that there are many men available and that there is seasoned timber. If the Noble Lord has knowledge of stores of seasoned timber, why does he not inform the authorities, who would be only too glad to know about it? It is no use talking in that vague way. We must face the problem as an urgent reality. I would remind the Committee of the difficulties which have to be tackled in solving the rural problem. The first of those difficulties is the departmental obstacles which are being put in the way between programme, decision and achievement. I make no complaint against the Minister of Health, whose business is to look after housing, nor against the Minister of Agriculture, who has to see that the 3,000 122 cottages are put in those parts of agricultural England where the need is greatest. I ask myself what the Minister of Works is doing in this business. What place does he occupy in the picture? I cannot conceive of the necessity for his regional officers to impose themselves. Why are they put there at all? There is no occasion for it. It seems to me that the Minister of Works is trying to dig his toes in, and to peg out a claim for after the war, in defiance of all the principles of local government that have been held by the people of England for very many years.
§ Mr. George Griffiths (Hemsworth)
The representative of the Ministry of Works is not here to reply to the hon. Member. Do not hit him below the belt when he is not here.
§ P. Hurd
We have to face the problem in its reality, to find out whether it is possible to eliminate many of these intermediate stages which delay production. I have made inquiries in the rural districts and I am told that, despite difficulties, progress is being made with the 3,000 houses programme, which will enable a considerable part of them to be completed by the harvest time, despite what the Noble Lord said.
§ Sir P. Hurd
The Noble Lord said it would take a very long time to realise this 3,000 houses programme, but the major part of them will be available about the time of the harvest. The Noble Lord suggested that this work should not be entrusted to the rural district councils. Why not? It is the business of rural district councils to deal with rural matters. Unless you get local knowledge and experience, and local co-operation in the work, you will never carry forward any housing programme that is worth while in this country. There has been an enormous awakening of interest in the country-side and an enormous influx of voluntary aid. Are we to deny these people their proper place in local government? Do not let us imagine that we can serve the interests of England and our traditional representative forms of government, by abolishing that form of it. The people would not stand for it. There is plenty of work for all classes of local authorities 123 in tackling the housing problem and intricate problems of local government, without treading on each other's toes. The sooner we learn to work together, as English men and women, the better we shall be and the sooner we shall be able to harness that great body of local voluntary effort which is so enormously the strength of England, in times of crisis and of peace alike.
A question has been raised as to the quality of the houses. What kind of house arc we likely to have? That question has been the anxious care of the local authorities as well as of the Minister. In rural England we have many fine specimens of cottages built by rural district councils. In the period between the wars the councils erected 155,000 houses, but it has only been since 1938—except for the Wheatley Act—that there has been an Exchequer grant. What about design? The purpose is to provide houses of good site, design and quality with ample accommodation. We have raised agriculture to a high standard of efficiency, thanks to the energetic policy of the Ministry of Agriculture. We have now to see that housing accommodation is raised to the same high level. I believe it will be done, and I am glad to pay a tribute to the way in which the Minister of Health and his Department have been helping the local authorities.
I would relate a little incident to illustrate the demand that exists for a superior kind of house. A farm labourer had two daughters, who were comely maids and were educated in the village school. They went on to the county secondary school. When they came home, one, wishing to advance herself, went to a big town and took an engagement in a millinery shop. Shortly after she fell in love with the driver of a motor-bus in the town. They married and settled in a council house with very good modem accommodation. Her sister, when she was 21 years of age, fell in love with a tractor driver on a farm, and when they came to discuss marriage she said, "Yes, but what sort of a house are we going to live in?" He said, "Mother is going away, and we will live in her house." She said, "That is not good enough for me. I want a modern cottage. I want a sink. I want a copper. I do not want to share a copper with the woman next door. I do not like her 124 and she does not like me. I want a bathroom. I do not want to have to throw my slops out on to the garden. And I want a spare room where my sister can come and spend a week-end when she wishes. Also the time may come when we want room to put a perambulator." All these things imply the village spirit of to-day. The future mothers of the race demand something more than has been given to them in the past. Conditions in the countryside enable that to be done. They have not enabled it to be done in the past, owing to inaction on the part of the House of Commons, but they enable it to be done now, and I wish the Minister of Health every success in his splendid effort to make the life of the countryside far better than it has ever been before.
§ Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)
We have had a very interesting and informative Debate, and once more I think it has been very clearly revealed that in this House of Commons upon matters of this kind there is a wealth of knowledge and experience. I think that one of the major defects about the Parliamentary system is that this wealth of knowledge and experience is not being used as it should be used, in building up programmes of reconstruction. To-day we have had several hours of debate. Every speech has been worth while and has contributed something towards the solving of this problem. Having finished this Debate we shall go away, we shall not get another Debate on this subject perhaps for six months, nine months or 12 months, and in the meantime the collective opinion of this Committee is not being brought to bear as closely as I think it should be on this problem. I hope that more frequent opportunities can be provided to allow this Committee to give the benefit of its advice to the Government. Further, I believe that there is enormous energy and drive inside and outside the Committee for real reconstruction which we should be very happy to believe is paralleled in Government Departments.
Two things have emerged from this Debate and two aspects of the problem have been dealt with. Almost without exception, in the speeches that have been made, concern and dissatisfaction have been expressed that we are not doing everything we ought to do and can do to deal with the existing situation. Frankly, this country will grow rather tired of 125 Members of Parliament talking about what we are going to do in the sweet by and by, if we do not, first of all, give our attention to doing something tangible about existing problems. Obviously, the priority in the housing situation is that we should deal with the existing situation now. We should show that we are capable of dealing and are determined to deal with existing conditions, and if we have not enough powers let us ask for more. The Government have never asked us for powers without getting them. If the Government have not got adequate powers to deal with the existing situation, they cannot blame the House of Commons or the country for that. They have only themselves to blame. All the power they asked they have been granted readily.
Secondly, the major part of most of the speeches has been devoted to the problem of post-war housing. I wish to begin with the existing problem, because as has already been said, we began this war with a serious housing problem. Several speeches were made which seemed to indicate that in 1939 we had nearly solved our housing problem. Had we? There were 200,000 families in this country in 1939 living in houses that had already been scheduled as slums. There were some 200,000 living in other houses overcrowded according to the very low standard of the 1936 Act. Everyone will agree that the standard of overcrowding laid down in that Act was far lower than it ought to have been. We began the war with our housing problem far from being solved and there were portions of the country— I think this includes most of the rural areas—where housing conditions at the beginning of the war were absolutely intolerable. One of the last Debates before the war, in which I took part, was raised by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) on a report upon the problem of tuberculosis in rural Wales. I think the whole country and the House of Commons were shocked by the revelations of housing conditions in which our rural population had to live, and it is no, wonder that in the 20 years between the two wars, we in rural Wales were losing our agricultural population at the rate of 20,000 a year. As the hon. Member for Devizes (Sir P. Hurd) said, the young woman of to-day will not marry an agricultural labourer and go to live in a cottage of the kind to 126 which some of our people have been accustomed in the past.
To that problem war has added the problem of destroyed houses and damaged houses. Numbers have already been given. This factor in itself has created a serious problem and we do well to remember that people who were living in houses which have been destroyed or have been so badly damaged as to be uninhabitable, must now be living somewhere, and it is certain that they are all living in overcrowded conditions. Let me put the position simply. If we began with the overcrowding I have described and if we have lost 250,000 houses, together with some hundreds of thousands which are not occupied, where are those people living? It is clear that that has added enormously to the overcrowding in this country. I want to supplement something said by the Noble Lord who opened the Debate. I think the Ministry of Health have not acted with real power about this matter. When it has come, at any time in the last four years, to the requisitioning of houses, all the Service Departments have been active. They have requisitioned and used their powers. How much power has the Ministry of Health used? How many empty houses, mansions and other premises have been made available for people bombed out? This is the simple question: How many premises have the Ministry of Health requisitioned to house people who have lost their homes in this war? What is the use of giving the Minister all these marvellous new powers if he has not used the powers he already possesses?
I would emphasise one other aspect of this matter. There has been during this war an enormous movement, very largely uncontrolled, of population. There has been a redistribution of industries. Thousands of men have been transferred from my constituency alone. When deciding upon the location of our war-time industries, one thing ought to have been considered much more than it has considered. When you decide that a certain factory, employing 5,000, or perhaps 20,000, people, is to be moved to another place, and that thousands of workpeople will be brought with it, the question arises: where are they to live? Does anybody decide that question? If so, they have not given the right answer. Industries have been piled on top of one 127 another in this country. Everybody knows where they are. This is something quite senseless, of which we ought to be ashamed. From my area thousands of men have been transferred and are living in lodgings in overcrowded conditions, with no real comfort or amenities. The Minister of Health should have exercised his influence with other Departments, with a view to distributing industries in places where the population resided, instead of compelling people, in this difficult time, to move about as they have had to do.
Last week I read with pleasure—and I want to congratulate the Minister and the Department—of the further steps which are to be taken to bring help and relief to the increasing number of men and women in our country who have fallen victims to tuberculosis. But really we are beginning at the wrong end. One of the greatest contributory factors to tuberculosis is bad housing and overcrowding, and no generosity, in the form of coal allowances and sanatorium treatment and the rest, when people have contracted tuberculosis, will compensate for the fact they they have the disease. It is a disease which can and should be prevented. It is largely a housing disease. The Ministry's scheme is designed to allow these people, without suffering undue hardship, to be isolated from their families and given treatment. And what then? To go back to exactly the same conditions. Every doctor that I have talked to has one concern from the health standpoint. During the war we have made a pretty marvellous job of health. The Department has played its part in that. But I am told that the fact that we are at tension is one of the factors which maintains good health, and what every medical man is concerned about is the question of what will happen when the nation comes to relax at the end of the war. There may be great danger then of epidemics. Therefore, it is very important to do everything we can now to reduce overcrowding.
Is it impossible, in the fourth year of the war, to release some material and some labour for this very urgent task? We do not complain that they have been taken away from civilian construction in the years gone by; we know that was building had to stop, because it as necessary to concentrate on other forms of production to win the war. But surely, in the 128 fourth year of the war, all the major building tasks of the war machine are completed. All the big factories and camps must be now completed. They ought to be finished by now. Then, surely, some building labour and materials could be released for dealing with housing problems. There are still many damaged houses which could fairly easily be repaired. The people who will be reading this Debate to-morrow are more concerned about that problem than about the problems of 10 years hence. One of my hon. Friends asked whether it was not possible to do something now with houses which are partially damaged, and in which not only the people who used to live there but others are now living. The average house which has been damaged now contains more occupants than it did formerly. Many of these houses have no windows. The hours of black-out determined by nature are bad enough, but there are many people living in houses with no windows, who get no sun in them, and very little fresh air. Surely it is possible for building material to be now released if, as I assume, the major tasks of war construction are completed.
Let me say a word about the building of new houses, in addition to the rebuilding of damaged houses. I have listened to what has been said about rural houses. I am glad that we are building 3,000 of them—I believe we should be building many more. But there is very acute concern about the kind of houses which are being put up. I have had resolutions from all over Wales protesting against the designs of the houses, against the specifications; in particular, against pre-cast concrete stairs and bedroom floors.
§ Mr. Griffiths
Frankly, I do not believe that you cannot get the timber for 3,000 houses. If the Minister can convince us, very well. If we cannot get timber we are driven to substitutes. But the greatest concern, even more than the immediate concern, is this. Here are the first new houses to be built for several years in the rural areas. Are these to set the standard for post-war rural houses? If the shortage of material makes this design and this kind of specification inevitable, if the present type of house is conditioned by the material which is available, will the Minister tell 129 us, what the country wishes to know, that this kind of house is not considered as the standard for the end of the war?
Let me now say a word about something which has not been referred to much in this Committee, and to express my disappointment at the fact—with all respect to the Noble Lord—that this Debate has not extended to the discussion of the inadequate protection given to people against profiteering in houses. We would like a wider Debate because we would like to point out the kind of legislation which we believe ought to be adopted by the Government. But if we put forward demands of this kind and prove that it can be done by the Minister, by the exercise of the Emergency Powers Act, we are in Order in doing so. In these days Ministers can do things without the necessity of an Act of Parliament at all; they have powers over all property and persons. I believe it is in Order to ask whether the Minister should not consider taking powers to take over all vacant premises suitable for house accommodation and let them to people who need the accommodation most. At present accommodation is not let to people who need it most but to people who can take it over by all kinds of evasions.
I have previously called the attention of the Minister to this and he promised to take action with the local authorities on the question of key money. This question has taken on a new form. I condemn both forms. The examples that I put previously were those of landlords demanding key money before letting vacant houses. Now so desperate is the housing problem, the impression is created that you cannot rent a vacant house merely by applying and it has become a sort of competition. You must offer more than the other man for the key. I have here something of interest to the Minister. It is a bundle of newspaper cuttings. Here is one of them:Fifty pounds reward. House wanted. Two or three rooms.The sum of £50 is offered as a reward in order to get into a house. There are also rewards of £10 and £5. Shall I tell the Minister where many of the advertisements appeared? In a town called Leith about which I believe the Minister knows something. It is the Minister's own constituency. That is a breach of the law. The Minister has said that it is illegal.
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Mr. Charles Williams)
I must remind the hon. Member that Scotland is outside the purview of this legislation.
§ Mr. Griffiths
With great respect, the Minister has told us that the Rent Restrictions Acts as they exist at present make it illegal. Therefore, am I not entitled to call attention to the fact that in this country there are people who are deliberately breaking the Act by offering rewards for houses?
§ The Deputy-Chairman
In England but not in Scotland. I was not ruling out anything that the hon. Member said about England.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I only mentioned Scotland because my eye happened to fall on Leith and when I asked who was Member for Leith I was told it was the Minister of Health.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
With all respect to you, Mr. Williams, the Minister of Health is a Scottish Member, and these things have occurred in his own constituency, and surely it is within the right of the hon. Member to draw attention to the fact.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
Not on this Vote, but on a Scottish Vote. The fact that the Minister is a Member for a Scottish constituency has nothing to do with his being Minister of Health.
§ Mr. Griffiths
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman as Member for Leith, will make representations to the Secretary of State for Scotland. The Minister did promise to consider this point. It is agreed that the existing Rent Restrictions Acts are inadequate, particularly in the matter of furnished apartments. There is gross profiteering at the expense of men and women who have been called to new places. They have had to remove from old to new homes at our call and we cannot avoid our responsibility of preventing thesis from being exploited. The Minister should consider setting up a Select Committee to consider what changes should be made and made urgently to enable the Rent Restrictions Acts to afford adequate protection to our people and particularly to people who have been removed to new homes at the call of the nation. I hope that he will give attention to that matter.
131 There has been a good deal of discussion, and some very informative speeches have been made about our future housing programmes. Are we to decide our longterm housing programme on the basis of the distribution of population in Britain in 1939? That is very important. I thought that we were making up our minds. A Commission had been appointed and had reported. The Barlow Committee had reported that one of the essentials of reconstruction was for the nation to take powers to control the distribution of population in this country. London, which contains 20 per cent. of the total population of the country and whose buildings represent 25 per cent. of its total rateable value, has urged it, and I urge it now, because it is fundamental to the problem of reconstruction. We really ought to make up our minds, if we are to build a new Britain at all, to control the distribution of population. If not, in 25 years some 75 per cent. of the population will be living in five cities. I Day tribute to the excellent speech of the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin), but I disagree with him about one thing. He said, "Are you taking industries out of London?" Why did they come to London? It was not because they love London. They came here because they thought they were going to make greater profits. Is the Report of the Barlow Committee to be completely shelved and put out of the way, or are we to distribute industry and population sensibly in this country?
What is happening? Every large city in this country is growing. The smaller towns are decaying and the villages are dying. If the population of the country continues to move in the direction in which it moved in the last 25 years, we shall get a complete city population in this country in 25 years' time, and that will be a disaster to this nation. I do not believe that you can build healthy men and women completely cut off from the soil of the country. A friend of mine, a teacher, told me a story that I shall never forget, and I would ask hon. Friends who are Members for London to bear this in mind when rebuilding London. A boy from Bermondsey, 11 years of age, was evacuated with other boys to a lovely part of the country in the Towy Valley. After a long journey from London to Wales he was taken out of the village to the square overlooking the Towy—a marvellous landscape. He 132 said, "Blimey, Bill, haven't they got a big sky here." It was the first time he had seen the sky, and he was amazed to find that there was such a sky. He had been brought up, as millions have been brought up, in sordid conditions.
I hope we shall be careful about this temporary building. In my area there are miners' cottages which were built as temporary buildings by colliery companies Too years ago and are still occupied. Why should we have temporary buildings? While we are about the problem let us aim at giving a home to every family in the country, with adequate room for the family to grow up. Do take note of the need of adolescents, boys and girls of 16, 17 and 18 who have no privacy at all. I am told that the hon. Baronet the Member for Norwich (Sir G. Shakespeare) has been talking about the non-parlour house. Are our men to come back after the war to have the non-parlour house?
§ Sir G. Shakespeare
I was talking about two types of houses in which there was a shortage—the bigger non-parlour house and the ordinary parlour house.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I hope we shall deliberately set our minds against the non-parlour house and that we shall have rooms in houses into which people can retire. In conclusion, we have been saying all along, "We must do this job," and. we have done it. Let us say about housing and its problems that we must do that too. If we make up our minds to do it, I am certain that we shall do it.
§ The Minister of Health (Mr. Ernest Brown)
I am sure that the whole Committee has found this Debate of absorbing interest. It was natural that it should be so, and since my Noble Friend the Member for Horsham and Worthing (Earl Winterton) referred to the holding of the Debate, I would like to tell him that I put no obstacle in the way of it, and, indeed, I should welcome another as early as it could be arranged, if the usual channels so desired. My Noble Friend had a misconception. I will not refer to personal comparisons, which are always odious, but he drew a distinction between my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture and myself. May I point out that both the Minister of Agriculture and myself are each, in our 133 respective offices, carrying out a clearly defined Government policy? What are those policies? The task of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, with the backing of every force that can be given to him, is to get the maximum amount of production from the land, and right well he is doing it. The Committee knows that no one rejoices more than I over the successes of my colleagues and that no one is more willing than I to stand shoulder to shoulder with a colleague in hours of difficulty when he most wants help. Therefore that comparison was an odious one, but the issue was a profound one. My task, and the task of my predecessors since war broke out, has not been to build houses. Indeed there was a ban on such building, and there is a ban now unless the War Cabinet give direct instructions for particular purposes. There is a ban not merely from the point of view of labour and materials, but, when the war started, there was another element—capital issues.
The task of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland—who has also to deal with agriculture—is, of course, like mine, to carry out the Government's housing policy. He has to do both, and I had to do both when I was Secretary of State. What is that policy? It is that, with the ban on new building, we are to make the very best use we can of the accommodation that is available. I want the Committee and the Noble Lord to get quite clearly that that is the policy. I think we will take it away from personal grounds and put it on the basis of clear Government policy. In the last resort it can only be the Government that can judge as to what the nation needs at any given moment in the shape of labour or materials or effort, either in this direction or in that. So much for the general issue.
Personally, of course, I do not need any exhortations to imagination about this matter. Any curious Member who likes to ask what I said in my maiden speech can look up the OFFICIAL REPORT of 23 years ago, and he will find that I rose from the third bench over there, at about 20 minutes to 9 one night, and made a little speech of six minutes on rural housing. It has been and it is one of my passions, and if I succeed in this small effort now, with the sanction of the War 134 Cabinet—[Interruption.]. That may be, so, but, whether frustrated or not, a man may have his dream and his vision even when he cannot do all that he would do. Since the Noble Lord talked about the length of time I have been in office—I have had 11½ years in some very difficult offices and I have never yet sat down to make out a list of the reforms for which I have been responsible, but when I do, it will be a very long one.
But let us get down to this issue. No Minister could do anything less than welcome the most intense feeling in the Committee about housing. The hon. Member who spoke last is perfectly right. There are two problems. They are not separate problems—there he is wrong. There are two problems, but they are utterly woven together —the present and the future—for what we do in the present will affect the future. For instance, take that particular demand for extra control. Let him not forget that every step that is taken for control in war-time will make it harder to get back to natural conditions when the war is over. If a Minister is to recommend control affecting post-war policy, he has to have regard to that fact. No Minister will shrink from control if control is necessary, but he has to have it fully justified in his own mind before he recommends it as Government policy. You cannot draw a clear distinction between the present and the future. I cannot go into the wider background, for there is a wider background to all this, outside my own Departmental responsibilities. I have been grateful to the Chair that Members have been allowed to make their general points, because it is difficult to keep within the Rules of Order when responsibilities are in various Departments.
The issues are these. First, are we making the best use of the present accommodation; and second—and this was put in a most forceful and admirable speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg)—are we taking time by the forelock, so that if the war came to an end quickly we might make the earliest start? Let me begin with the latter point. My hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) complained that not sufficient use was made of the knowledge of the Members of this House. On this I am more fortunate than some, because one of the first steps 135 I took when I entered my present office—after dealing with the condition of shelters and arrangements for the homeless in the bombing period—was to restart the Central Housing Advisory Committee. This is a statutory committee, and it had not met since before the war. Two or three members had died, and we filled their places and added to the committee up to the maximum permitted by Statute. I am fortunate in having the assistance of three Members of the House on the committee. There is a Conservative Member, my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Sir F. Fremantle), a Labour Member, my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin), and a Liberal Member, my hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George). Far from having been complacent about this business, we have been regularly active on the problems that really matter. I am sure the Committee is glad to know that, and I am glad that the hon. Baronet the Member for Norwich (Sir G. Shakespeare) has been watching what has been happening. We have a series of sub-committees making reports on the issues we shall all have to face. In answer to my friends who ask when I may be able to tell the House something about what the views of the Ministry are, I shall certainly consider at the earliest moment when I get the reports of the various sub-committees how best they can be made available.
We were all glad to hear that admirable speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Clayton (Mr. Thorneycroft). I am glad not merely to congratulate him on his maiden speech, but to thank him for the admirable local work he has been doing on this subject in Manchester for many years. He will be glad to know, as will those who paid a tribute to Manchester, that the chairman of the committee which is considering the lay-out of the future is Sir Miles Mitchell, who has done so much in Manchester. I ought to get good views from a committee under that chairmanship. The chairman of the rural subcommittee, which is working on all the problems with regard to rural housing, including one on which it is working jointly with another sub-committee on design, is the chairman of Somerset County Council, a former Member of this House, and a most experienced administrator—Sir Arthur Hobhouse. There is 136 also a sub-committee on design, which is presided over by the Earl of Dudley. It has a strong membership and includes working women. More than that, its sub-committees have added to them representatives of the great women's organisations, so that it may be told not merely what idealists think about housing, but what women really think is the kind of house they would think worth living in in a better world after the war.
On design, may I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly that he had better come to the Ministry where we shall also welcome any other Member, to have a look at the plans of our cottages before he takes it for granted that the resolutions he has had are well founded? I will only say that, on the advice of the designs subcommittee of the Central Advisory Committee, we did send out to the rural district councils, who could take them as guides though they were not made slavishly to use them, designs for parlour houses. They have one feature which I am sure will be particularly welcomed in the rural districts, and that is adequate out-houses at the back of the cottage. That is a new feature in plans for houses drawn up by Government Departments, and I think my hon. Friend had better look at the plans. The cottage also has three rooms upstairs, with a bathroom. There has been some talk about the bathroom. The Noble Lord raised the point, asking why it was necessary to have provision for a bathroom upstairs even when we had—temporarily, because of the lack of a piped water supply—to put the bath downstairs. If a particular rural district council does not wish to provide for it upstairs, we will look into the matter and see what is necessary, but I was anxious that when these designs went out they should be a kind of general guide, and I am certain that the women of this country will want to have bathrooms. When you are planning a parlour house, unless you are going to distort the downstairs rooms and do away with the parlour, on which the hon. Member for Llanelly laid so much stress, the proper place in a properly constructed five-roomed house is upstairs.
§ Mr. Brown
I am afraid I cannot give way. I have been very generous in leaving myself the very minimum of time 137 in which to deal with this vast subject, and there are one or two things which I am anxious to make clear. I have written down what is my conception of the general design of the rural house we want. It is this, and I think the plans carry it out. The house we have in mind is one with sufficient accommodation for an average family. It will be planned to enable the housewife to keep it clean and tidy with the minimum of labour and will not require the addition of masses of fitments and gadgets. In addition to adequate arrangements for cooking and keeping food, there will be ample provision for washing and drying clothes and for storing perambulators, bicycles and fuel. We aim to supply a simple and practical house which will be a comfortable, healthy and happy home for parents and children. That is my ideal, and we have put the actual plans on the table. Now it is for those concerned and for the country to tell us whether my Advisory Committee is right or not.
When it comes to the materials, I am not the master. I am bound to make it clear that it is not the desire of the Central Advisory Committee to have concrete stairs or concrete window surrounds or concrete floors upstairs, but we have got to have them. That is a flash of light on all the cool assumptions that the words "difficulties about labour and materials" are just a cliché. They are inescapable facts in the present situation. I am giving the Committee my judgment on behalf of the Government, and that is the fact. It is not true of concrete, and it is not true of bricks, but it is vitally true of timber; we are really up against it for timber. All who have watched our beautiful forests going know perfectly well that we are cutting down our soft timber at a rate which may very well jeopardise our reserves for many years after the war. This is not a cliché; it is a fact. If I could get enough timber from my right hon. and Noble colleague to put in wooden stairs and wooden floors, of course I would do so. That is no complaint against the design—it is a matter of construction, a question of labour and material. That also answers my Noble Friend when he asked, "Why not have log cabins?" They need timber. If I could get the timber for log cabins, I could get the timber also for houses.
§ Earl Winterton
There is one question I should like to ask. The right hon. Gentleman has not answered any of my points yet. Will he deal with the question of timber which has been put in camps and which is no longer to be used? Will he ask the Service Departments to give it up?
§ Mr. Brown
I will certainly ask my Noble Friend to make inquiries. The Noble Lord appears to have information which I have not got, and I cannot be expected to give an answer upon it, but I will certainly pass it on. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works is present and will have heard what the Noble Lord said. So much for that.
As for the method of procedure, the case has been out by my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Sir P. Hurd), who has done such admirable work with regard to the rural districts of this country, not only locally but nationally. Of course there is a certain procedure. This House has decided to plan the country. It is part of my duty to the Government and to this House to see that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Planning is consulted if we are doing any construction on the health side. He must be consulted. We must make it clear that in anything we do which may affect permanently the lay-out of any district, he must be consulted.
Let me say two or three other things We also have a sub-committee of the Central Housing Advisory Committee which deals with that most important subject, but a most difficult one, the place of private enterprise in post-war housing. The chairman of that sub-committee is Sir Felix Pole. It is vital. If we are to do what we must do in the post-war world, we must not be left in the first year after this war with building 720 houses, as was the case after the last war. We must consider not merely how local authorities can best do their task, but how the State can help, through its great central organisations. We must see in what spheres all the agencies can work, and especially that great agency which, the Committee hardly needs to be reminded, helped in building nearly 3,000,000 of the 4,000,000 houses of various types built between the wars, the great building societies. I should consider that any Minister who failed to go into that question would be sorely lacking in imagination. I am grateful to these committees for the work they are 139 doing. As soon as the picture becomes plainer about the future, I will do my best to see that I give the House and the country such guidance as I can.
There are two problems on which I was glad to hear stress laid to-day. The first is the completion of the slum clearance programme. The second—and it will bulk large within about five years of the end of the war—is the problem of what has been called to-day the obsolescent house. All the figures given in totals must be conjectural and, of course, subject to any major decisions made by the Government about the location of industry and the general plan, which are not my immediate responsibility. These obsolescent houses will be a very subtle and difficult problem to deal with, not so clear-cut and simple as the slum clearance problem. I think I have said enough to show that this Ministry is alive to the need of surveying the ground fully before the end of the war and tackling the major detailed problems. It is working in the closest harmony over this great field with the other Departments which are concerned.
My Noble Friend put one or two questions about which I should like to try to help him. The first question was whether or not voluntary labour could be used with regard to repairs. Of course, as the Committee knows, one of the great achievements of the war was the handling of the first-aid repair situation at the time of the heavy bombing. There is no doubt about that. Since I am on that point, may I take up the point put by my hon. Friend the Member for Central Southwark (Mr. Martin), who put in a plea which struck a chord in my own heart, having lived in a house for more than a year with little but the fabric and no glass, when he asked whether it would be possible for a local authority to go further with that. I say that where the glass is available we will now authorise 100 per cent. I hope that will help any local authority which has reserves of glass in store.
There were three stages in the repair work, the first being the actual stage of first-aid repair, namely, making the houses water-proof and wind-proof. That was done in a very remarkable way, for the local authorities had made their plans. My predecessors had looked far ahead. I pay them a great tribute about that. They 140 had advised the local authorities to lay in stocks of all kinds of things, and all sorts of other arrangements were made. My colleague the Minister of Works had a special emergency service. I was very grateful to him that in any particularly hard case, where local arrangements were not sufficient, he gave me some thousands of workers to come and help with immediate repairs. There were 2,750,000 houses damaged, and we did that work with the utmost elasticity. We gave local authorities power to go ahead on their own judgment according to the situation, without the application of a formula. I think it was that application of common sense that helped the situation in the difficult months.
In the second stage, the War Cabinet has authorised a move for the further repair of the houses to which one or two hon. Members have referred, those which, if they had some more repairs done to them, might be made habitable. We are going forward now, up to an average of £200 per house instead of the £100 which was the old level. At the moment we are working on 40,000 houses, starting in what I think somebody called the red spots. They are the 24 towns where the pressure on accommodation, in the judgment of the Ministry of Health, is the hardest. Labour and Material have been made available because the Government have come to the conclusion that that step should be taken.
§ Mr. Brown
Not now, but I will see whether I can circulate them in the OFFICIAL REPORT. I am not sure—I think it may not be possible, but if any hon. Member would like to have the names of the towns, I will see how best to make them available without publication.
Now, as to voluntary labour, this is the problem as I see it now. As regards first aid repairs, the occupants of houses are encouraged in times of raids to do for themselves simple patching-up jobs and often, of course, are supplied with materials for the purpose. The second thing I would like to say to the Noble Lord is that for extended repairs that 141 kind of labour is not generally satisfactory. When you come to the difficult and dangerous problem of roof work it may not be suitable at all, but for ordinary repairs and maintenance there are different classes of operatives required, some of them skilled. I say that on first reflection, though I will think it over and discuss it. [Interruption.] I will come to that. If the Noble Lord does not mind, and he will allow me, I will do it in my own way. I am making him a reasoned statement, and if he is not satisfied, he can come back again. I want to say this, that for some jobs-[Interruption]—My Noble Friend must admit that I have listened all day—
§ Earl Winterton
But the right hon. Gentleman has not answered the questions. He has told us a lot about what he is going to do.
§ Mr. Brown
If the Noble Lord would let me have the opportunity to do it in my own way, I would like to do so. After all, this is a free Assembly. I will say now, to relieve the Noble Lord's anxiety, that it is quite possible that some jobs of distempering and painting might be done by voluntary labour. I will go further. Civil Defence workers are already being employed part-time on some A.R.P. building work, and it may be possible to utilise them on other work. I will undertake, in consultation with my colleagues the Minister of Home Security, the Minister of Works and the Minister of Labour, to see how far we can go to meet his natural desire; because, with him, I regard the deterioration of the upkeep of houses now as among the most serious of the first problems in the period of reconstruction.
The only other point I have to answer from the Noble Lord is this. He put to me, by way of Question, and repeated to me again, a point which has for a number of years disturbed rural hearts. As I said to him in answer to his Question, I have every sympathy with him and with the people in rural areas on the subject, but it is one thing for a Minister to have sympathy and another thing to see a way of doing something without the most serious practical difficulties. I am asked to schedule agricultural cottages, which means that I am to schedule everything in the country which might conceivably have been at one time an agricultural labourer's cottage.
§ Mr. Brown
That is not the point which was put to me the other day. Even there, it seems to me that a very elaborate machinery would be wanted, but I will look at that side of the problem again.
We come to the problem, which was raised by several Members opposite, the rents of furnished lettings and of the position of houses and of unfurnished lettings under the Rent Restrictions Acts. I cannot, of course, discuss alterations in the Rent Restrictions Acts, but I can tell my hon. Friends who suggest that I might do certain things under emergency powers that my legal advice is that I could not, and that I should have to come to Parliament for legislation. We may find an opportunity of debating that when we can discuss the merits and demerits of the problem without any limitations at all.
§ Mr. Brown
Perhaps my hon. Friend will let me continue. It seems to be thought that the Ministry of Health has not done any requisitioning. That is not so. When I am asked the number of houses requisitioned by the Minister of Health, the answer is that for dwelling purposes we have requisitioned 51,000, and for other purposes, such as residential nurseries for children, we have requisitioned about another 13,000. So we have used our powers very extensively. I am speaking of the requisitioning of ordinary dwellings. We have gone further. I have issued orders under emergency powers closing various towns, so that no one can go into them except those who are authorised as being industrial workers who are necessary for the production of war materials or for certain other essential reasons.
§ Mr. Brown
I think the Committee will agree that I have treated the Noble Lord very well. Let me say a word about the Rent Restrictions Acts. I was very grateful to the hon. Member for Llanelly for raising this matter some time ago, because it gave me an opportunity of making it clear that neither the Ministry nor local authorities have been inactive 143 about this matter. The Rent Restrictions Acts provide that the standard rent of a house which has not been let before shall be the rent at which it is first let. The great bulk of the houses in the country now are under rent control, and the principle of the Acts has always been to fix the standard rent of a controlled house at the rent payable on a certain day. But there is a problem to which my hon. Friend has drawn my attention and which I am giving my consideration. It is the problem of the house which has not been let before. This is a real trouble for some people in some parts of the country. It is clear that we have enforced the provisions of the Rent Restrictions Acts throughout the land with great pertinacity, and when the question of key money was raised I made it clear, as my hon. Friend acknowledged, that it is illegal under the Acts. I have issued a series of very simple and direct posters, calling the attention of the whole country to the fact that it is illegal, and asking those who are being asked for key money to give the necessary evidence to the local authority. The Committee will understand that unless you get evidence that the law has been broken, it is of little use for Parliament to pass laws for the protection of the citizens.
§ Mr. Brown
I would not like to say anything at the moment with regard to that matter. It looks on the surface as though it might be a case through which a coach and four might be driven. All the complaints I have about these problems are very uneven in their incidence throughout the country. That is specially true of the problem of furnished lettings. This problem has been brought before Parliament many times for many years. Parliament has always taken it seriously. It is not a trivial issue, especially in wartime. Lord Salisbury was Chairman of one Committee which considered this matter, Lord Marley, a Labour peer, Presided over another Committee subsequently, and Lord Ridley presided over a third Committee, but these three separate Committees, for various reasons, found that they were unable to recommend action about it in the terms of legislation. They said there were so many categories of furnished lettings that it was 144 impossible to formulate satisfactory rules for the guidance of the courts in stating a reasonable rent. Secondly, they said that the control of rent without protection from eviction would be ineffective and that it was not practicable to give security of tenure to furnished lettings, for the following reasons: first, that it would discourage short lettings when the occupier of the house had to remove to another district for a short period; second, that letting part of the house would only create great friction and injustice if the householder had to retain in the house a subtenant with whom he was at loggerheads; third, that it was frequently impossible to distinguish between the owners and tenants of furnished lettings.
Parliament passed an Act under which action is being taken now in England and Wales and which, I may say, has been the subject of dispute North of the Border. They passed an Act making it an offence to charge for this class of letting extortionate rents. In answer to a Question on 22nd April, I gave the House some facts that I have had from returns made by 1,468 local authorities. These returns were made at my request and were not the first I have had; there has been continuous action on the part of the Ministry and local authorities. These returns showed that there had been 202 complaints and that on investigation 115, or more than half, proved to be unfounded. The returns also showed that in 75 of the 87 remaining cases the local authorities secured reductions of rent by negotiations with the landlords, and that 11 prosecutions had been undertaken, of which eight were successful. While I do not deny that in one or two areas there is a good deal of pressure and difficulty, the trend of the returns showed that there was not a general case for action.
§ Mr. J. J. Davidson (Glasgow, Maryhill)
Would the Minister indicate how many landlords and factors there were on these local authorities?
§ Mr. Brown
The 1,468 local authorities are democratically elected bodies, and they are doing their duty. To suggest anything else would be a reflection on them, because after all they are doing difficult and strenuous work in war-time. However, I shall continue to watch this matter with the greatest care, and if there is no case for general action, there may be a 145 way of dealing with particular areas if we can get proof that the condition is acute.
§ Mr. Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
Is not the real difficulty about this furnished letting problem that while the Act makes it an offence to charge an extortionate rent, it in no way purports to define what is an extortionate rent, with the result that nobody feels safe in undertaking prosecutions?
§ Mr. Brown
I am not in order in referring to the affairs of my colleague the Secretary of State for Scotland, but I think the Committee may take it for granted that the question of extortion will not only come before him but will probably come before me before very long.
I want to thank the members of the Committee for putting their wealth of knowledge at the disposal of those responsible for the administration of the Housing Acts during the grimmest situation we have ever had to face. I can assure the Committee that we shall do everything in our power to make the best possible use of the accommodation that is available. 146 The moment when, in my judgment, it becomes possible to have new construction, and labour and materials are available, the happiest man in the country will be the Minister of Health.
§ Earl Winterton
I understand that it is the wish to keep the Vote open, so I beg formally to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment, in view of the fact that the Minister, with one exception—which I regard as an important one and to which I shall refer again—has promised to give consideration to the points we have raised.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again," [Major Sir James Edmondson] put, and agreed to.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon the next Sitting Day.