§ The Minister of Health (Mr. Willink)
I beg to move,That this House, being concerned at the hardship caused by the stoppage of house building during the war and recognising the urgent need to provide for families without homes of their own, is of the opinion that all possible steps should be taken, consistent with the paramount needs of the war effort, to enable house building to be resumed at the earliest moment.
§ Mr. Molson (The High Peak)
On a point of Order. May I ask whether it is your intention, Mr. Speaker, to call the Amendment which stands on the Paper in the names of my hon. Friends and myself? Before you answer, Sir, may I give one or two reasons which might weigh with you in considering this matter?
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member cannot make a speech now. As a matter of fact, I can give him an answer straight away. I do not propose to call the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member and his hon. Friends because I think we ought to have a general Debate.
§ Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)
Further on that point of Order, may I ask if it is your intention, Mr. Speaker, to call the Amendment in my name?
§ Mr. Maxton (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
II I should happen to rise in the course of the Debate, Mr. Speaker, is it your intention to call me?
§ Mr. Willink
In the circumstances of to-day, no Member of this House and, I think, no member of any local authority, would venture to speak on the subject of housing without a sense of grave responsibility. Of no one should that be more true than of a Minister of Health with so short a period of official responsibility behind him as mine. To me and to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has been committed Departmental responsibility for housing policy at a time when the problems of housing policy are perhaps of more vital importance than at any previous date. I am glad to tell the House that my right hon. Friend will wind up this Debate. I have 263 no need to stress the point of the immense importance of housing policy in this, the fifth, year of the war but the Motion which I am commending to the House is so drawn as to tell those who are suffering great discomfort—and worse—at home, and those in the Forces and the Merchant Navy, that this House is alive to their needs and anxieties and that the House is insistent that all that can be done shall be done.
Let not those who are serving in the Forces fear that we who are too old for this war forget what we learnt in the last. I, for one, as a Territorial officer, was very closely in touch in 1919 and 1920 with the men with whom I served from 1914 to the end of 1917, and the same is true of many members of the Government and Members of this House. In 1921–22 I lived in one of the worst housing areas in South London. We must do very much better this time than we did last. Moreover, as I have been twice reminded by my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell), I have given a hostage or two to fortune. Perhaps I may recall that 10 months ago I asked my right 'hon. Friend, who is now Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, whether he was satisfied that everything was, so far in train as it should be for speedy action when speedy action could be taken, but I little thought that I should to-day be attempting to answer my own question. I most genuinely welcome this Debate and such confidence as I have is derived from the fact that I know that of all social questions, and second only to the prosecution of the war with all our efficiency and vigour, this is perhaps tae question that interests the House most of all at the moment. The destruction of home life is one of the worst of all the war losses and its rebuilding must be a primary object in reconstruction. Nothing is more welcome to me that that I should be stimulated, encouraged and criticised in this field.
During three years as Special Commissioner I saw the war-time conditions of this great city and during the last four months I have had constantly in mind how much the lack of a home must mean to those hundreds of thousands who have not been able to enjoy one during the war and who are looking forward to the day when they can begin or resume family 264 life. My main task in housing is to see that a home is available as quickly as possible after the war for every family that needs one. There are many right hon. and hon. Members of this House with long experience in housing and this is the first opportunity that has been open to me to obtain their views. May I say that in my statement last week I was seeking to acquaint the House in advance of this Debate with the broad lines of the policy which the Government have in mind for the first two years after the defeat of Germany, in order that the issues might be discussed before the submission of legislative proposals?
Before coming to these particular points, however, I think the House will expect me to give some short account of my stewardship during these last four months. Just before my appointment my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in the House that my" Department does not, and cannot, in time of full war mobilisation, possess the facilities which are necessary for a satisfactory handling of the domestic housing problem. May I give one simple illustration of the truth of that fact? The number of men in the building industry to-day is, approximately, only 40 per cent, of the number in the industry at the outbreak of war. Not only is that so but, as in other fields, the men are, on the average, very considerably older. Thirdly, this very much reduced number is quite inevitably distributed and organised with a view to war needs and not to the social needs which are so close to all our hearts. We have to use it to meet the needs of building for war production as well as for the essential needs of civilian life and the building of new houses has become, to all intents and purposes, impossible.
I hope to persuade the House that in these last four months we have been able, by using our limited resources as best we can, to make some contribution to the most urgent priority needs and to take the best preparatory action available to us. In all these matters I have been very closely in touch with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour and National Service, my noble Friend the Minister of Works and the Chairman of the War Damage Commission. What we have tried together to do is to concentrate available building labour on essential housing needs, on the repair of war damage—quite a lot of it in recent weeks— 265 on essential repairs to other houses, on making requisitioned houses fit for occupation, on converting and adapting requisitioned houses and on the completion of some unfinished houses. The House will remember that last July my predecessor extended the power of requisitioning, given already to local authorities, to a new field—to the field of requisitioning to meet the needs of families inadequately housed. Among that very wide class my right hon. Friend called particular attention to families including a father discharged from the Forces and to families consisting of the wife of a serving man and his children. Since November last we have been able to go a stage further with the policy of repair. I had discussions with the local authorities and on 29th January I issued a circular to them authorising them to spend up to 500 a house in this repair work—not only up to £250 a house as before. It so happened that earlier that month I had been to Manchester and to Liverpool, and there I found that the raising of the limit in this way was really the first point on the list of requests they were making to the Government, and it was most satisfactory to be able to give them that authority.
We hope, and of course it can only be a hope, that during this year we shall really break the back of the outstanding repairs of war damage. And that is not only first aid repairs. First aid repairs have always had the highest priority, and always must. Speedy execution of first aid repairs after raids is an extraordinary encouragement not only to those who have been actually bombed out but to the whole community round them. I saw that for myself a week or two ago when I visited three Metropolitan boroughs. I made particular inquiry into the question how the cooperative arrangements between the various local authorities and between my officers and those of my noble Friend the Minister of Works and his emergency squads had worked; and from people quite unconnected with either of us I got the most encouraging reports of the flexibility of this organisation—in London at any rate, and that is the place of which I can speak from my personal knowledge, it is really most satisfactory. Scores and hundreds of men will come from one local authority to help another and I have no doubt that their aid is very valuable.
266 Now I come to a matter which was raised last summer, as I remember well, by my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton), and that is the use of labour no longer required for work on airfields. He raised the question whether that labour could not be used in the field of housing. That has occurred. The organisation, the labour and the plant used in the airfields programme is in course of being released from that work, and my Noble Friend the Minister of Works has arranged to make it available for the preparation of sites for housing.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)
Since the right hon. and learned Gentleman has been good enough to refer to me, and I thank him for doing so, may I say that I very much hope that he will bear in mind the point that was put at the time that it should not only be available for public housing but for private housing in order to carry out the valuable interconnection that goes on between private enterprise and local authorities.
§ Mr. Willink
I shall certainly bear that in mind and shall be saying something about it later. The work for which this organisation will be available is the construction of roads and sewers, in addition to the preparation of the actual sites for houses, and, where it is desired, electricity, water and gas services. The arrangements suggested by my Noble Friend have been discussed in my Department with representatives of local authorities, and I advised them on the 21st of last month of the action we suggested they should take in order to avail themselves of the offer of this labour and plant. The local authorities are working on this, under an elastic arrangement which involves the grouping of authorities for this special purpose, with a leader who will act for them all and enter into the contract. The sites which are to be prepared are substantial in number: and we hope they will be sufficient for somewhere between 200,000 and 300,000 houses. It is, of course, important that the sites should be properly chosen. On that point we have an established procedure under which consultations take place with the authorities responsible for planning and agriculture and we are taking as careful steps as possible to see that interference with food production, including, of course, allotments, is reduced to an absolute minimum. These two measures, the added range of 267 repairs and the preparation of sites, are both steps which might be called clearing the decks for action in the building of permanent new houses. The preparation of sites is something quite novel. Nothing of the kind was done in the last war and I believe it will be of most substantial advantage in getting a quick start.
§ Mr. Colegate (The Wrekin)
Have the sites been acquired? Are they in possession of the local authorities?
§ Mr. Willink
I shall be dealing later in detail with the sites already in the possession of the authorities and with the further sites which I hope they will be acquiring shortly.
I ought to say something now on the general size and scope of the whole problem as we see it. On a number of occasions there has been reference in this House to a programme of 3,000,000 to 4,000,000 houses. That figure is an estimate, an informed estimate, of the number of houses that will be needed over a period of 10 to 12 years. It is not, thank goodness, the number we need immediately the war is over. It includes the needs which we believe will accumulate during that period, and it includes the replacement over that period of a large number of houses w aid' we believe should be regarded as obsolescent, if not obsolete. But the immediate need is much less than that. We cannot give an exact figure but I think it is reasonable to put it in the neighbourhood of 1,000,000 houses. In that figure I include what we believe to be the number of homes needed for families without separate homes of their own, replacements of houses already marked for slum clearance, and houses required if statutory overcrowding—that is, overcrowding as defined 'by Statute—is to be abated.
May I turn now in the direction of the specific proposals on which I hope shortly to introduce legislation? The first special problem is this: Subsidy is at present limited to certain special purposes—slum clearance, abatement of overcrowding and the housing of certain classes 268 of agricultural workers. Our problem after the war is going to be to see that normal families without homes of their own—and of course a very special and large category of such families will be the families of ex-Servicemen—have houses built for them; and consequently we feel that in the period immediately after the European war local authorities must be able to provide for these general needs in the same way as they were providing far slum clearance and overcrowding before the war. We therefore propose to introduce legislation to make this position.
§ Mr. Willink
I think my hon. Friend should wait for the It is rather a detailed point he has raised. This proposal will be for a length of time, in the first instance for some period of the nature of two years or thereabouts. That is the major question with which this proposed legislation will deal, the widening of the scope of subsidy to meet our special conditions. On all questions relating to subsidy I am advised that it has always been customary for a Minister of Health to have preliminary discussions with representatives of local authorities, not discussions which commit him, but it is a great help and the procedure is, I think, well known.
§ Sir Herbert Holdsworth (Bradford, South)
Do I understand that this legislation, including subsidy, will be limited to municipalities?
§ Mr. Willink
Yes. In these discussions we Shall have to try to frame the best estimate we can of the probable cost of building and the probable rents obtainable during the period to be covered by the subsidy; but I cannot help thinking that at present it will be very difficult to go so far as that and I rather think that we may all prefer, and in that word "all" I include the local authorities, to postpone legislation fixing the actual figures until a later date. I feel pretty sure that will turn out to be right. Let me return to the question of numbers. The figure of 1,000,000 to which I referred is roughly equivalent to three years' output at the height of our building activities before the war. And that output, somewhere be- 269 tween 300,000 and 350,000 houses a year, was achieved at a time when the building industry contained more than double its present strength—
§ Mr. Willink
Yes, mostly by private enterprise—and I cannot think that at the end of the European war it will be any larger than it was then. The danger is that it will be smaller. We all know from the White Paper which has been published that the Minister of Labour and the Minister of Works are going to try to work up the building industry to 1,250,000 men. That number is designed to cover the full programme of 3,000,000 to 4,000,000 houses in 10 to 12 years; but we shall not get a large increase during the period with which I am particularly dealing, the period after the end of the German war while we are still at war with Japan.
§ Mr. Lipson
Is it not intended that of the 1,000,000 houses a very large number should be of the prefabricated type?
§ Mr. Willink
I stress the fact that there is no prospect of a building industry of the requisite size during the period with which I am dealing. We shall have to try to build it up, but I must put the immediate programme before the House on the basis that the building industry will have only a fraction of its proper strength and that out of that depleted strength we shall have to meet not only the claims of new house building but other new building of an essential kind. There will be, too, the claims of deferred maintenance and repair, and the House will no doubt think it right to bear in mind that maintenance and repair alone in pre-war days employed 300,000 men—something like the total we shall have available for all purposes. I should be delighted to come to the House with a larger programme of houses than that to which I referred last week, but I believe that I should be misleading the House and the country if I put forward any larger figure.
§ Mr. Willink
I am by no means excluding the training of men, but the training will not have reached very large proportions during the first year, or perhaps during the first two years, to which I am referring. May I remind the House of the figures I gave last week. We have looked at the position in the light of all the information that we can get and we have come to the conclusion that 100,000 built or building by the end of the first year and a further 200,000 built or building by the end of the second year is the most we can aim at. The number of houses my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State hopes to see building in Scotland is more, I am glad to say, than the proportionate figure of population; it is 50,000 out of the 300,000. Of course, if circumstances turn out better than we expect we shall review the programme. If anyone is disposed to suggest that these figures are less than the Government should be putting forward, may I ask him to recall what happened during the 28 months following the Armistice in 1918, a period when we were engaged in no major military operation? During that period of 28 months, the total number of houses built or building in England and Wales was about 100,000—as against my figure of 300,000 for a shorter period—and the figure for the first 16 months was less than 14,000.
These figures I have given relate to houses of permanent construction. Bearing in mind the considerations I have put before the House, I feel convinced that the House will approve of the fact that the Government have, in addition, been reviewing a number of alternative ways of supplementing the supply quickly. In the first place, my Noble Friend the Minister of Works has been most actively engaged on exploratory and experimental work in a number of directions. He and his Department have been giving me much assistance. He has already started on the building of a number of demonstration houses, all of permanent construction but intended to demonstrate the use of different materials and methods and, most important, to ascertain comparative costs. When they are ready they will be available for inspection by Members of this House and by local authorities and I think the House would like a summary of what is being built. There are two pairs of brick houses, one pair with a narrower and one with a wider front. There are also two pairs of brick houses 271 on lines accepted for this purpose by Lord Dudley's Committee, one pair of an urban and one of a rural type. I think we are going to know more after this war about the distinct types of houses appropriate to different areas. Then there is a terrace of four brick houses, of which two are being planned in the matter of equipment by the electricity industry and two by the gas industry. Then there are four pairs of materials with which I myself am not familiar, one pair of foamed slag poured in situ and one of foamed slag precast, one pair of no fines concrete and one pair of expanded clay light weight concrete. There are three pairs of steel-framed houses of different types of design and with different panel in fillings and one pair of all-steel houses. All of these will be 85o superficial feet except for the two pairs built in accordance with the Dudley Committee proposals, which will be 900 feet. I should add that in Scotland the Scottish Special Housing Association are going to carry out similar experiments.
There is one other experiment which is being made at my request, and in this I had the advantage of the advice of the sub-Committee of my Central Housing Committee presided over by my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Mr. Lewis Silkin). During my work as Special Commissioner an ingenious speeding up in the production of accommodation was effected by the temporary horizontal division into two small flats of a normal two-storey house. The flats, of course, are small, but so will be many of the family units, as they are called, immediately after this war is over. Consequently, I asked the Minister of Works if he would be good enough to build a pair of houses in order to experiment with this horizontal division and to ascertain their cost Two for one will, of course, be of immense advantage if it turns out to be an economical proposition. I am told that the first of these experimental houses will be furnished and available for inspection next month and their eventual fate will be that they will be offered to the local authority for occupation in the ordinary way.
I now pass to the second field of experiment. The Minister of Works is converting an industrial hostel into temporary houses to show what can be done there. I feel sure that nothing would be more irritating than for people to see accom- 272 modation of this kind and feel there had not been proper experiment or research into the way in which it could best be used after the war, and I understand that the experimental work of conversion is likely to be finished within the next few weeks. I shall look forward to seeing it and will arrange for any who are interested also to see it. The hostel accommodation provided for war purposes which may be available for housing after the war may ultimately give us accommodation for some 24,000 families, and if the experiment comes out well and if the conversion is satisfactory and economical that will be a very useful contribution.
Thirdly, and at my request again, my noble Friend the Minister of Works, cooperating with a number of local authorities, is carrying out experiments in the conversion of large houses of varying types into flats. Large houses, very often, are not of much use as they stand, but it may well be that they, too, will be able to make a useful contribution. These are not the only experiments going on in this field. Other local authorities are making similar experiments on their own.
Now I come to a question in which I know that the House and the public take a very great interest, the question of the possible use of a temporary prefabricated house. I think that if hon. Members accept for consideration the facts which I have already put before them, they will form the same view as I have and as the Government have as a whole, that anything we can do by way of permanent construction or by way of conversion which can adequately meet our needs during the period to which I am referring should be done. The essential point is, however, that we are doing everything we possibly can to shorten the period of waiting for those in urgent need of homes of their own and I believe that many newly married young people would choose the privacy of a temporary house rather than to go on living with other people, even their "in-laws." So we have been considering what can be done in this way, using methods which will not involve substantial interference with the supply of houses of permanent construction. It would be no good doing that. The investigation has been on the lines of inquiring in what way our present productive capacity in the war factories can be switched over to meet our housing 273 needs. One has to consider the suitability of the temporary house, the speed of production, the cost, the materials available and production capacity. The houses so produced will, essentially, be intended for use for a limited number of years and will be publicly owned and licensed for a period. There must he no more of temporary houses going on for 25 years, but we believe that there is a real possibility that a most substantial contribution can be made in this field until such time as permanent houses and flats can be provided in adequate numbers.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Can the Minister say whether his Department has formed any estimate of the number of temporary houses they can provide during the first three years and whether, if they have, this number is included in the 300,000?
§ Mr. Willink
On the first point I think it would be quite wrong, before one has the prototype complete and at a time when the switch-over of the factories is bound to be uncertain, to state any figure of that kind. On the second point, I thought I had made it clear that none of these prefabricated houses is included in the 300,000. Lord Portal's prototype will, we believe, be ready by April.
§ Mr. Willink
Yes, I said Lord Portal's prototype. When it is finished we intend that it should be made available for inspection by Members of the House, by local authorities and by the general public who were deeply concerned in this project and I am sure that there will be an opportunity for discussion of the matter in Parliament. I am in the fortunate position that the Sub-Committee under the hon. Member for Peckham is in being and is able to advise me on matters relating to temporary construction. I am sure that all of us should preserve an open mind until we have seen the result of the experiments. In another important field, not actually in the construction of houses, I should like to say that the Ministry of Works has, with the various industries and after consulting other Ministries, carried the standardisation of materials, fittings and equipment quite a long way. This will be of very considerable importance from the point of view of saving costs.
274 Now may I return to the question of sites? Sites are equally important, of course, for both permanent and temporary houses. I have already referred to the advance preparation of sites and we must make sure that we have enough land. I think the House should know what the position is. There are 300,000 houses in the programme and the general situation as regards the land for those house is not unsatisfactory. Local authorities already possess 16,000 acres, which is roughly enough for nearly 200,000 houses. Their proposals are to buy a further 14,000 acres, which would be enough land, approximately, for another 150,000 houses. An embargo was placed on the purchase of land at the beginning of the war. Now it is time that local authorities should be enabled to acquire land needed for their immediate housing needs and on the 8th of this month I issued a circular to local authorities asking them to take the necessary steps. I am of opinion that, taking into account the land in their possession and in process of being acquired, we should not be held up by the question of land purchase for this limited programme. But there is one other matter. We must not have any obstacles we can avoid in any individual case at the outset of the programme. We want to get a flying start and I am therefore going to propose that I should be authorised, as the Minister was authorised for two years after the last war, to confirm compulsory purchase orders without a public inquiry. It is a power which was given before and I want to make it clear that such a power would not affect, in any way, the compensation to be paid.
I know there is anxiety about this question of price. It may be that in the large cities a part of the programme will be carried out by building on sites which have been acquired as a result of slum clearance action taken before the war, but the great bulk of the land required for the short-term programme will be undeveloped land, for one very good reason among others that it is on land of that kind that houses can be built most quickly. In my opinion it is unlikely that in these two years it will be possible or right to proceed on any substantial scale with the clearance of further areas involving the destruction of further houses. We shall not be able to spare existing houses. It is true that in a longterm housing programme there must be 275 clearance and reconstruction of these areas and the legislative basis for the acquisition of land for this purpose will be dealt with as part of the Government's proposals for the acquisition of land for public purposes. But housing, important as it is, is only one of the public purposes for which local authorities require and have power to acquire land.
§ Earl Winterton
It is no use telling us that it will be dealt with when we come to deal with these matters. Of course, it will have to be dealt with. What the country wants to know is when my right hon. and learned Friend is going to make an announcement on it.
§ Mr. Willink
My Noble Friend will hardly expect me to make an announcement of general policy on this matter. I have limited all my remarks to the consideration of the period of two years after the end of the European war, during which I was saying I did not anticipate difficulty arising on this point.
§ Sir H. Holdsworth
The right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about this temporary programme but you have to make arrangements for years ahead. We want to know what the Government have in mind for a long-term policy?
§ Mr. Willink
That is exactly what I was coming to. As regards the detailed application of what is known as the 1939 ceiling, the principle accepted by the Government is that compensation in respect of the public acquisition of land will not exceed sums based on the standard of pre-war values. To determine the best method by which the prinicple can be translated into legislative proposals has been an extremely complex task, as hon. Members who are acquainted at first hand with the subject will readily believe, but I am glad to be able to tell the House that the matter has reached the stage when my right hon. Friend the Minister of Town and Country Planning is at the present time engaged in drafting specific proposals. The legislation which it is proposed to introduce is intended to put the planning authority in a position forthwith to purchase and plan the whole of the land in reconstruction areas, together with any land required for the resulting over-spill of population, and to apply not only to the purchase of land required in connection with the replanning 276 of reconstruction areas but to determine the maximum amount payable for land required by public authorities for any public purpose. As the Bill will have to be considered against the wider background of the Government's general proposals about the future legislative basis of town and country planning, the Government will make the introduction of the Bill the occasion for a comprehensive statement of their policy in this field.
These issues go much wider than the question of the acquisition of the additional land required for the short-term housing programme with which I am dealing to-day. So far as such additional purchases are necessary it is essential to take immediate action and for that action we must rely, for the moment, on the powers which local authorities already possess, supplemented by the steps for expediting temporarily the procedure of land acquisition to which I have referred. I have little doubt that it will be possible to acquire such land on terms which will not conflict with long-term Government policy. As with the preparation of sites, there will be full consultation with the authorities responsible for planning and for agriculture.
§ Mr. Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
How can the right hon. Gentleman say that land for this extremely limited and inadequate purpose can be acquired on terms which are not in conflict with the Government's long-term policy if he does not know what the Government's longterm policy is to be?
§ Mr. Willink
What I meant by that was that I believe this limited amount of land can be acquired without infringement of the principle of the 1939 ceiling and in view of the fact that the great majority of the sites have already been acquired and have been selected in accordance with the best planning practice I think that principle, too, will not be interfered with.
§ Mr. Willink
No, Sir. Before house building can begin we also have to settle the kind of houses to be built, the general standards of accommodation and the equipment to be put into them; and I hope in the course of this summer, after consultation with my colleagues, to issue a manual for the guidance of local authorities—not to fetter their originality 277 but to stimulate them (Interruption.) I have seen much local authority housing, showing great originality and very great taste. We want to get the best brains we can and I am sorry that more architects have not in the past devoted attention to the problems- of cottage building which would provide many opportunities for the exercise of their professional skill.
I should like, in connection with this manual, to tell the House about the work that has been done by various Committees. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster two years ago asked his Central Housing Advisory Committee to consider 'the question of design and I have now received the report of Lord Dudley's Sub-Committee. There were a number of women on the Sub-Committee and they took evidence from a large number of women's organisations. I have, as I said, received their report and I intend to publish it. In the course of the visits to Liverpool and Manchester I have mentioned and by visiting ten or 12 of the best and most recent London County Council properties, I have been endeavouring to inform myself on the question of standards. Nor have I failed to visit specimens of the war-time rural cottages.
In addition I have recently received a very valuable report on rural housing from a sub-Committee under the Chairmanship of Sir Arthur Hobhouse. I am proposing also to publish that.
I have described the limitations in the field of labour and I have hinted at the limitations in the field of materials. Success in our housing effort must depend on the financial effect of the operations on the Exchequer, the rates and the tenants of the houses. In 1920 houses were costing local authorities £1,000 each and between April, 1920, and March, 1921, fewer than 16,000 were built. From 1922 until the outbreak of the war houses built by local authorities averaged between £400 and £500 and the total output of local authorities and private enterprise for a number of years before 1939 averaged over 300,000 a year. As we know from the agricultural cottages built in the last few months, costs are on the 1920 level. If we are to be successful in our housing efforts the cost of building and the rents of the houses must be brought into relation with the general price level.
278 I cannot say more at the moment with regard to rents. It is a controversial question but a fundamental one. It is being considered by a Committee under the Chairmanship of Lord Ridley at the present time. Incidentally the Committee is considering the question of rents for furnished lettings, on which there is considerable anxiety. I get returns from local authorities with regard to this matter at nine-monthly intervals. Between July, 1941, and September, 1943, there were nearly 1,100 complaints of excessive rents and these complaints were investigated. In nearly 400 cases reductions in rent were secured and out of 94 prosecutions 63 were successful. At the moment local authorities concerned are specially investigating complaints that excessive rents are being extracted in this City in particular from Members of the Forces of our American Allies. Where these complaints turn out to be well-founded, local authorities will prosecute unless the rents are reduced.
We shall look to many agencies to assist us in our great problem, not only to local authorities but to private enterprise, housing associations, building societies. There is a sub-committee under Sir Felix Pole considering private enterprise, and I hope to have their report soon. I understand that the building societies, two of whose leading representatives, Sir Harold Bellman and Mr. David Smith, are members of my own advisory committee, are considering what contribution they can make to the special problem of the provision of houses for letting.
§ Mr. Silkin (Peckham)
How many of the 300,000 houses to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred does he estimate will be provided by private enterprise, and how many by local authorities?
§ Mr. Willink
I anticipate that the vast majority will necessarily be provided by local authorities in the extraordinary difficulties of the two years we are considering.
§ Captain Duncan (Kensington, North)
Is not private enterprise, which did an enormous amount of work before the war, to have a hand in this great task?
§ Mr. Willink
I cannot go further at the moment. I am awaiting the report of Sir Felix Pole's committee, and it would be wrong for me to say more at the moment. I am, however, fully alive to the con- 279 tribution which private enterprise must make in this field.
I have tried to cover the ground fairly and fully and to give the House the fullest possible information. It is not only my Department that is concerned. It is one of those questions which the Prime Minister described as of primary importance—food, work and homes. With the other Ministers concerned I can truly say that I am working as a member of a team, with my Noble Friend the Minister of Reconstruction to tell us whether the team is working properly and to help us achieve our goal. Each of us has his part to play, and we shall play our several parts as one team with the single object of providing as many homes as possible for those who need them at the earliest possible date.
§ Mr. Greenwood (Wakefield)
My heart goes out in sympathy to my right hon. and learned Friend. He struck me as a brave man struggling with adversity. The picture he has painted is a very bleak one, not only for the House but for a very large number of people in the country. I am not so sure that we really ought to have had this Debate At all to-day. I think that the House has been led up the garden. I think it is being very badly treated. The real reason is that the Government have not made up their mind upon the major issue. It is really absurd for us to be fiddling about with 300, 000 houses when the conditions governing the building and the disposition of houses in future are still undecided. One does not want to mention the names Uthwatt, Scott and Barlow—[An HON. MEMBER: "Why not?"] They sear the souls of right hon. Gentlemen on the other side. Suppose we get the 300,000 permanent houses in the first two years after the end of hostilities in Europe; that will not be the end of the story. We shall want schools, shops, maternity centres, local health centres, churches and transport. That represents a pretty big programme of building. We all agree that we want 300,000 houses, but where are they to be put? The right hon. Gentleman says that a large number of authorities have got the land, that others can get land, and so on, but who knows yet where the major roads are going through this country? Who knows whether or not the Ministry of War Transport will not determine that a road 280 shall go bang across a site which is intended for housing and has been so approved by the Minister of Health. One does not know and—
§ Earl Winterton
On a point of Order. My right hon. Friend the leader of the Labour Party has been referring to matters which come very pertinently within the purview of the Minister of Town and Country Planning. The right hon. Gentleman has left the Front Bench. Are we not entitled to ask Ministers whose Departments are under review to be present?
§ Mr. Greenwood
May I say to my right hon. Friend, "Welcome, little stranger"? It is, I think, perfectly clear that if we are to handle this problem in the way it should be handled, we cannot chew off a piece and call it a two-year programme. The two-year programme, inevitably and quite rightly, must merge into the general programme of the rehousing of the people. We cannot handle even the two-year programme on a basis of emergency measures. Until the Government make up their mind about Uthwatt, about Scott and about Barlow, we are simply beating the air in these discussions.
What is wrong? I am tremendously impressed by the difficulties of the situation. The Government are overwhelmed by the difficulties of these problems, as I can very well understand. But why this enormously long delay in making up their mind? Is it because of the Prime Minister's dislike in war time of controversial discussions and legislation? At the end of Questions, Members of the House were invited to "wait and see." The late Lord Oxford made good use of that phrase. "Wait and see" on occasions is sound statesmanship, but there are occasions when, if you wait very much longer, you do not see at all. This is the situation in which we are now. I would rather have a bad decision than no decision at all. You can improve things afterwards, but the Government have dithered for over two years on this issue and it is beginning to exhaust the patience of many of us who have tried loyally to support His Majesty's Government. I hoped it would have been possible in this Debate to have a declaration of policy. My right hon. and learned Friend has some extraordinary side-stepping to do, which, as a distinguished lawyer, he is 281 able to do better than a poor dumb fellow like me could have done.
This discussion to-day really ought to have been a discussion on the principles of the major policy to be adopted. I hope that the House will express itself emphatically, more emphatically than I am able to do, on the importance of the Government making up their mind. It is quite clear that they have not made up their mind. If they had they would have come down to the House, thrown their chests out, and said, "Here we are, these mighty decisions have been taken." They obviously have not reached decisions and we must ask the Government really to sit down, thresh the thing out, and come to some kind of set of principles which will govern the building of houses in the future. My right hon. and learned Friend referred to team work. There seems to be somebody off-side. Whether it is the skipper of the team, or the board of management of the club, I do not know, but it is obvious that there are rifts in the lute. I hope that that situation may very quickly be modified and remedied. We are proceeding by slow stages. My right hon. and learned Friend made a statement last Thursday; we are having a discussion to-day; and then at some time we are to have some legislation. That is three bites at one cherry. I do not mind two, but I think that this procedure is getting a little too involved. We do not know when this legislation will come. We do not know when the other vital legislation will come, and many of us are getting into the frame of mind expressed by the children's game, "This year, next year, some time, never." Unless we face up to these problems now, woe betide the country when the time for building arrives.
On housing itself, the blitz presents a special problem. It is not a problem the cost of which should fall on the local authorities whose areas have been shattered. It is as much a war charge as any other kind of damage sustained in war time. It is an urgent problem, and the anxiety of the chief magistrates of blitzed towns and cities has been shown in a recent letter to "The Times" —not the first letter on the subject. These people are not without a certain measure of right on their side. One Dopes, therefore, that the blitz problem will be dealt with expeditiously. It ought to be used as a 282 magnificent opportunity for the replanning of many of those towns. Secondly, there is the time lag in building, now getting on for nearly five years. That represents a considerable accumulation of arrears. There is a real shortage which must be made up at the earliest possible opportunity. Then there is the larger problem. I would not accept the figure of 3,000,000 or 4,000,000 houses needed in this country. The number depends on the standard. If the standard is low, we would not need 300,000, let alone 3,000,000 or 4,000,000. I would say that on any reasonable standard England and Wales need alone 5,500,000 new houses. The North of England has still many semi-slums built three-quarters of a century ago when there were not any housing standards, and that problem has to be taken in our sweep.
Difficulties there will be about labour and material. On the other hand do not let us forget that new materials are being made available now for all kinds of purposes. One of the most important developments that will grow out of the war in the industrial field is that of plastics, which can be used for a thousand different purposes. Therefore, while there may be shortages of certain materials and of labour, it is undoubtedly true that there are new opportunities opening for us.
As to prefabrication, I agree with my right hon. Friend that it is an ugly word, and one that has several meanings. It opens the door, however, to a much swifter action than was possible before. The attempts at prefabrication at the end of the last war were, on the whole, a gloomy failure, but that need not be so now. The prefabrication of internal fittings could go a very long way towards reducing housing costs, with which the right hon. Gentleman is concerned. That does not necessarily mean that the inside of every house should look alike. As to the outside, I would be more cautious, in the absence of experience, before expressing a final opinion on the prefabrication of the shell of the house. If we have to put up temporary buildings, the whole of them may have to be prefabricated, but I would take a very conservative view of the life of those buildings. I would not like to think that they are to last too long. One point about prefabrication of internal fittings in the new houses, even the temporary ones, is that, when the time of the licence has 283 elapsed, all the internal fittings can be used in the new, permanent houses. There are ways and means of pushing the work on ahead.
I am a little disturbed about this figure of 850 superficial feet for the experimental houses. Is that to be the new standard for the future? It ought not to be. We have to think about the standardisation of housing and to remember that when we put up more or less permanent houses, they may be there for three generations. There are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of houses in this country, which have lasted four or five generations, and therefore we ought to have regard to proper standards both as regards size and accommodation, and also equipment inside the houses in orde:7 to enable the housewife to live as a housewife and not as a drudge. These things can be done, and it is important that they should be done. It has been said that the body is the temple of the human spirit; the home is certainly the temple of our national life. The homes in which our people live ought to be among the greatest glories of our land.
I have a fear that the Minister may be skimping the style by building houses too small, in his anxiety to save expenditure and also to put up experimental houses which seem a little shoddy. That is a mistaken policy. There are ways and means of reducing housing costs and of avoiding the extravagances of the building industry and of those who are concerned in the ancillary trades. We really ought to take a long view of this matter and not a short view, and certainly not only a 10-year view. The long view must be a standard of housing in this country worthy of people who have stood the stresses and strains and sacrifices of the war. Nothing we can do for the masses of our people in seeing that they live a decent, civilised and dignified home life, would be too much for so great a people.
§ Mr. Molson (The High Peak)
I should like to associate myself with the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman opposite and to express some sympathy with the Minister of Health that, on this first occasion that he appears before us as Minister of Housing, he has not anything better to put forward than he has been authorised to put by his colleagues. The House and the country have been awaiting 284 with increasing impatience some statement about housing, which is one of the biggest undertakings before the Government at the present time. The Government have to provide houses, not only for the increased number of married people, but to reconstruct the devastated areas according to a national plan. Here, on the first occasion when the Government come forward with a statement on this matter, it is obviously upon a most inadequate basis.
The history of this matter goes back to February, 1941, when Lord Reith said that he was authorised by his colleagues of the Government to say "that the principle of planning would be accepted as national policy, and that some central planning authority would be required." The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. A. Greenwood) was in the Government at that time, and we are indebted, no doubt, largely to him for the decision of the Cabinet that a national planning policy was going to be adopted. It was on 17th July, 1941, that the attitude of the Government upon the interim Uthwatt Report was announced, and that the Minister then concerned said:There are four main points in both the interim Report and the Government statement. The first is a standard of maximum values; the second a definition and appropriate special treatment, of reconstruction areas; the third, a general strengthening of planning control to safeguard the future, while plans for the full post-war planning system are being worked out; the fourth, a central planning authorityIt may be claimed on behalf of the Government that, in the course of the last 2½ years, they have given effect to the third and fourth recommendations. I see on the Government Front Bench the Minister of Town and Country Planning. I suppose his presence there is an indication that the recommendations for a central planning authority have been put into effect. There was also the Interim Development Act, 1943, which could be said to have strengthened the planning control to safeguard the future, but, as regards the other two recommendations which were accepted by the Government in July, 1941, nothing has been done.
In the King's Speech, we were given certain further promises. We were promised legislation dealing with the acquisition of land, and we were told:You will be invited to pass legislation conferring special powers for the re-development of areas, which, by reason of enemy action, 285 overcrowding or otherwise, need to be re-planned as a whole.That was in November. The Minister comes to this House in the month of March in order, in a modest way, to begin his housing programme, but no legislation has yet appeared. The King's Speech went on to say:My Government will lay before you the results of their examination of the reports which have been made, recommending the resumption of further powers to control and direct the use of the land of Great Britain.Of that there is still no sign, no sign whatsoever.
In December, the Minister without Portfolio made a very plain and straightforward statement. It was a downright statement no doubt, because it repeated what had been said by Lord Reith two and a half years before. I have sometimes criticised the Minister without Portfolio because his statements are sometimes not as clear and precise as one might have wished, but, greatly venturing, he did repeat, in uncompromising terms, the statement that had been made by Lord Reith two and a half years before. What he said on 7th December was:We will confer far wider powers to purchase the areas needing reconstruction, or which have become obsolete or out-of-date, to purchase them and deal with them as a whole. Finally, we have accepted the 1939 ceiling.''—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th December, 1943; col. 909, Vol. 395.]He was not the only Minister who, during the Debate on the King's Speech, was willing to take a great step forward. There was also the Minister of Production. He, weighed in too, and he was able to announce something else that had been recommended by the Uthwatt Committee, and which the Government had accepted. He said that the report proposed a number of easements. I am not sure that his choice of words was quite correct, but he said "easements,"—in the procedure designed to make the purchase by local authorities of areas for reconstruction more speedy than it is to-day.… In the main, the Government accept the Uthwatt Report upon this procedure."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th November, 1943; col. 317, Vol. 393.]If the Government had by now fulfilled their promises, this House would be considering legislation, first, to enable local authorities to acquire, second, by a speedier and simpler procedure than now applies, and third, at prices not exceeding 286 those of March, 1939, the whole of any area which needs to be developed as a whole.
Against those promises made by responsible Members of His Majesty's Government, I contrast the statement which the Minister of Health made last week. He is not proposing to simplify the procedure except by ending the preliminary inquiry. He is not proposing that the price to be paid for the acquisition of this land shall necessarily be that of 1939. He is proposing, as I understand it, that they shall pay the current prices obtaining in 1944. He only proposes that the land to be acquired by the local authorities is that which is to be required for the building of houses in the first two years. In case there is any doubt as to whether I am rightly interpreting my right hon. Friend's policy I proceed to quote from the circular which has been sent out to the local authorities. It says:It is not the intention at the present time to sanction the purchase of the large areas of land required for a long term housing programme. These suggested purchases must be deferred pending decisions on the major questions of planning which are still under consideration. Local authorities will, however, now be able, without prejudice to these considerations, to acquire as much land as is required for proposals which they are likely to be able to put in hand for meeting urgent needs in the two years after the war.
§ Lieut.-Commander Joynson-Hicks (Chichester)
May I ask the hon. Member the date of the circular from which he is quoting?
§ Mr. Molson
The circular, which is over the signature of Mr. Hearder, Assistant Secretary, Ministry of Health, is 8th March, 1944 So I contrast the promises, I will not say the extravagant promises, I say the reasonable promises, that were made even as late as the end of last year with the performance of His Majesty's Government in this spring. Is it any wonder that we find a letter of protest in "The Times" signed by Lord Astor and a number of other Lord Mayors and Mayors? How is it possible under procedure of this kind for the local authorities to prepare any really adequate schemes for the rebuilding of towns under a circular of this kind, so narrow in scope and so myopic in vision?
§ Mr. Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
Does not the circular go further than 287 that? Is it not a direct prohibition on the local authorities from making longterm plans?
§ Mr. Molson
Yes, it is. It relaxes the previous restriction, which was to one year, to two years. Therefore by implication it does what the hon. Gentleman opposite says it does; it prevents them from undertaking these larger schemes. It says that they are not to undertake the larger projects, although at the same time it tells them they must bear in mind that what they do now is not to get into the way of what they may be allowed to do when the Government's long-term policy is announced.
What is the immediate effect of this going to be? It is not going to be purely negative, it is going to be positively harmful. I was interested when the Minister of Health actually stated in his speech that he anticipated that the result would be exactly what I had anticipated it would be. He said what they would be doing would be acquiring undeveloped land instead of the developed land that had been blitzed in the towns and land which is occupied or, overcrowded by slums. What is the effect of this likely to be? Because the promise still apparently stands that ultimately local authorities will be authorised to acquire land at 1939 levels, although the legislation has not been passed or even introduced, the far-sighted local authorities, presumably, will not be anxious to begin buying land now if later they are likely to be able to buy it at a lower level. Therefore they would only tend to acquire undeveloped land outside. There are, I believe, a number of local authorities whose vision I may say is broader than that of His Majesty's Government at the present time, who are beginning to plan the great redevelopment of the whole of their devastated areas. They will be very reluctant to acquire in the middle of their built up areas those comparatively small areas which alone are permitted to be bought under the right hon. Gentleman's Circular, which is what will be required for housing in the next two years. They may very well take the view, when they have great and ambitious schemes for the re-development of their towns, that they are not going to spoil the prospect of them in order to use part of that area for this short two years' term of housing.
288 How many of us during the last few years, in London or elsewhere, when we have looked back upon the old built-up areas with all their squalor and their congestion and their darkness, have thought that out of all the sorrow and the suffering and the sacrifices of this war something good might come, that in the place of that we might have something noble and spacious and bright. The reason I speak with perhaps some slight asperity to-day is because it seems to me that this piecemeal way of approaching the problem will defeat and disappoint the expectations we have all had. My right hon. Friend confirmed my impression that the result of his policy and his Circular is likely to be that all these authorities will tend to acquire undeveloped land. That means to say that there will be a continuation of the sprawling development of our conurbations out into the sadly diminished agricultural land which we still have in this country, and that is the very negation of all planning. What does my right hon. Friend the Minister of Town and Country Planning say about a policy of this kind?
Good planning is something which will use land in the general interests of the nation and all sections of the nation, and this unconsidered and unregulated and unplanned spread of our built-up areas out into the green belts, such as they are, round the towns, is not in the interests of agriculture. Far too much of our agricultural land has been taken and not taken for any good purpose either, but just wantonly destroyed—in saying "wantonly" I used the wrong word—but through lack of thought and lack of consideration, and in order to obtain a speculative advantage. What about the amenities? What about the real interests of the dispersed worker whose house is to be put out in the country far from the place where he works, and of the effect upon him of the long journeys up into the town, the effect of lengthening the hours he is absent from home, the additional cost of transport getting to and from his work? What about the economic aspect from the point of view of the town services, the sewers, lighting, roads and so on which will have to be developed? This Circular which is being issued, is a complete and absolute negation of everything in the way of town and country planning.
I must say quite frankly that far worse than this is what I believe this policy, this 289 statement by the Minister of Health today. really portends. My right hon. Friend would not have wished to inaugurate his career as a Minister of Housing with anything of this kind if he could have got something better. He has found himself unable to get anything better, and I wonder what the explanation is? There was one explanation given in the "Observer" newspaper last Sunday, a newspaper which is ordinarily very accurate and very reliable. It indicated that the Government had first of all turned down the Uthwatt proposals and then had turned down certain alternative proposals which had been worked out by the Ministry of Town and County Planning during the last few months. What the "Observer" said was that what my right hon. Friend had worked out was an alternative proposalthat land-owners applying for permission to develop their land should pay to a central fund a levy taking account of the difference between the value of the land for its use at the time of the application and its developed value; and that out of that fund land-owners who were refused permission to develop should be compensated.That is a very interesting statement. I should like to put one or two perfectly plain questions to the Government, and I hope that before this Debate concludes we shall have an equally plain answer. Were proposals of this kind put forward by my right hon. Friend and have they been turned down? I must say that these proposals appeal to me very much. They bear a certain resemblance to certain proposals for which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Stafford (Major Thorneycroft) and I made ourselves responsible, which we circulated to some of our friends last week, and which have met with a substantial measure of support.
§ Mr. MacLaren
Were the hon. Members' proposals put up as an invention of their own or did they derive them from a Government Department?
§ Mr. Molson
The answer to that is that this is a matter to which my hon. and gallant Friend and I have been giving long and anxious consideration for a considerable period of time, and I have discussed these matters with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Town and Country Planning. I can assure hon. Members that he confined himself to saying what were his difficulties in accepting the Uthwatt proposals. I have never had 290 from him or from the Parliamentary Secretary the slightest indication at any time as to what their own constructive proposals were.
§ Mr. MacLaren
Again, I persist in asking the question. I am not saying that the hon. Member got them from the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary. I ask him, as an hon. Member of the House, did he and his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Stafford (Major Thorneycroft) devise this scheme as their own original conception, or did they get it by way of inspiration from a Government Department?
§ Mr. Molson
My hon. and gallant Friend and I have discussed this matter with many people who are interested in it. I have discussed it with Members of the Opposition, I have discussed it with Members of the Government, in the general way that Members of this House do; and we put forward certain proposals, which we thought might be regarded as reasonable and constructive proposals which might commend themselves to reasonable and moderate men in all parts of this House.
§ Mr. Molson
The hon. Member gravely under-estimates the fertile imagination and constructive quality of the minds of my hon. and gallant Friend and myself. "The Times" to-day had a very remarkable article upon the whole of this matter. It said:There is ground for believing that the core"—I think it must have meant "cause," if "The Times" newspaper ever does make a misprint—of the delay"—which they have severely criticized—is the difficulty of reaching an agreed decision on the compensation and betterment proposals of the Uthwatt Committee. These proposals involve fundamental changes in land ownership. They affect powerful and well-organised interests, and are of correspondingly great significance from the standpoint of public concern.291 I should like to ask the Government, is it indeed the case that land-owning interests have defeated the proposals that were put forward by the Ministry of Town and Country Planning? If so, I would like to remind them of the promise that was made by them as recently as 8th December last, through the Minister of Reconstruction, when he said:The proper development of the land shall not be prevented or delayed either by motives of personal gain or other selfish reasons.My hon. Friends and I believe in private ownership of land so long as the private owner regards his ownership as being in the nature of a trust for the public. It was Mr. Asquith, I think, who said that Free Trade could not be expected to carry the old man of the sea—dumping—on its back. We take the view that private ownership cannot be expected to carry on its back the old man of the sea of unearned increment resulting from the efforts of the general public.
I am, I must say, frankly alarmed at the course of events. I regard the Minister of Town and Country Planning as being a good man facing obstructive and obscurantist colleagues. My only criticism of him is that I am not quite sure that he is a Minister of the resigning sort. I would say to him that I think there is no better stimulant to a declining political reputation than a well-timed resignation on a popular issue. I would like to see him come out and say, "I have resigned from the Government because my infant Ministry was hampered by the older-established Departments, in much the same way as in the earlier stages the so-called Ministry for the Co-ordination of Defence was hampered and handicapped by the old-established Departments, and my colleagues and the landlords were too strong for me, and rejected the proposals that I put forward."
I confess that the Minister of Health is also a little disappointing to me. It is not so long since he left the back benches. In those days there was a certain community of outlook between him and my hon. Friends with whom I work. On 26th January, 1943, he made a very vigorous and constructive speech on the Second Reading of the Bill which 'brought the Ministry of Town and Country Planning into existence. He was a little anxious lest it should only set up a machinery, and should not achieve any concrete results.
292 He asked the Minister without Portfolio whether the new Minister's powers were.intended to imply that purposeful, positive action which appears to most of us to be essential in this matter of town and country planning, or do they connote the continuance of a governmental policy which is merely regulating and restrictive."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th January, 1943; col. 436, Vol. 386.]My right hon. Friend went on:The whole of this structure depends upon one essential condition—the framing of a national policy. One must emphasise that the time is overdue for a clearer pronouncement about the plans it has been decided to make, and on many of the main matters which must be decided in relation to such plans."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th January, 5943; cols. 436–7, Vol. 386.]If it was overdue on 26th January, 1943, it is still more overdue now; and he has now some measure of responsibility if that has not been done. I do not see the Minister without Portfolio on the Treasury Bench. I have criticised him in the past, and I think he might be described also as being not of the resigning sort. I should be insincere if I said that I was surprised to find that he has acquiesced in what is now happening. It was on 7th December, 1943, that he made the explicit statement which I have just quoted, that the 1939 ceilings had been accepted. On 8th March, 1944, the Minister of Health makes his statement, which in the words of "The Times" leader to-daystudiously ignored the 1939 ceiling, and seemed to contemplate the acquisition of land for housing at current prices.If these three right hon. Gentlemen cannot assert themselves, I feel inclined to make an appeal to somebody of greater authority than they, the noble Lord who was appointed to the War Cabinet in order to ensure that reconstruction was really undertaken. He is pledged more explicitly than any of them. It was on 10th December, 1943, that he made a statement on behalf of the Government. He said:I agree that this is a matter of great urgency, and that until it is settled it will not be possible to proceed to specific development proposals…We will make a White Paper available that will give the full intentions of the Government on this matter immediately after Christmas…I do not know what the word "immediately" means. He went on:… legislation will follow the White Paper… The White Paper will cover the question of compensation and betterment in its widest sense, and will provide the back- 293 ground against which Parliament can consider the Bill when it is presented.If the Government intended carrying out these pledges, which have been given so frequently, by so many different Ministers, I think they would have had no difficulty in accepting the Amendment which I should have liked to move had the Speaker been willing to accept it. We should have liked an opportunity of dividing upon this issue, because that would have been—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Charles Williams)
As the hon. Gentleman has not got the opportunity of moving it, he cannot discuss it. It is out of Order.
I was only going to say that that would have enabled us to emphasise the point which I wished to make, that there is no hope for the Government of safety in adopting a timid policy, and certainly they are not likely to maintain the unity of the Conservative Party through adopting an attitude of subservience to speculative landed interests.
§ Mr. MacLaren (Burslem)
Since the outbreak of war, I have tried to put myself in the position—I give this personal explanation—that I would not intervene in Debates if I could possibly avoid it. But the Debate to-day comes on the question of reconstruction, or, at least, it involves that; therefore, one must intervene. I have listened to this Debate so far, and what have I heard? Very much the old game that has gone on in this House for years, of one man quoting another man and telling him to resign because he said something on such-and-such a date. I notice that it is the young ambitious men who are telling the old ones to get out of the way. Does this really take us towards a solution of this problem? That is the issue. The country outside is waiting for solutions to problems, and surely it is the function of this House to solve economic problems.
Never was the need for the solution of problems more pressing than to-day. This h not the time merely to go on playing the old Oxford and Cambridge debating society game across the Table. Things are too serious. We want to know what is the cause of these problems and how to resolve them. Now, we are faced with this question of how are we going to rehouse the people, not merely after the war, 294 but even before the war terminates. Last week, or the week before, we had a discussion on the Education Bill, and we see that millions are to be spent on new education. Ideal schools have to be built; the greatest care is to be taken to foster the growing mind and the development of public education, but there is not a Member of this House who will not agree with this—that you may have the most expensive educational system in the world, and yet it can be nullified or destroyed by the influence of the home. If our homes be defiled by poverty or slumdom, all our education is nullified. I should have thought that housing would have taken precedence over education. We have been dealing with education, and here we are now dealing with the things which, in my opinion, are clamant—the housing of the people. After all, it has been said here that the house is the temple of the family. It is the tabernacle of the family, for what your house is, will determine your nation. It is the house that inspires the mind of the child. It is the reflection of the circumstances of the house that finally determines the mind—and what are the housing conditions of this country, and how has this House behaved in tackling this problem?
From the old Public Acts of 1848, and the two subsequent Acts—the Shaftesbury Acts—right down to the last Housing Act of 1936, this legislation has been a farrago of nonsense that has solved nothing, and the procedure that has been adopted today will solve nothing. It is most appropriate that the Minister, standing in the most pathetic position in which I have ever seen a Minister in this House, should have remembered the word "subsidy." Yet you cannot cure the housing problem by subsidies. What is the cause of bad housing? It has three causes. The first is low wages, the second is the rating system, which penalises you if you build your house, or improve it, and the third is land speculation. These are the three causes, and I want, in all seriousness, to put them forward and to impress them, not merely upon this House, but, by using this House as a sounding-board, upon the people in the country who are wondering what is the cause of bad housing. I ask any hon. Member in this House, irrespective of party: Does subsidising housing attack any one of these fundamental causes? What have we done? We have been shovelling out millions in subsidising 295 houses. Does a subsidy increase the wages of a man who wants a better house? Does a subsidy for housing remove the unemployed man who competes against the man who cannot get higher wages because of his unemployed competitor? Does subsidising housing remove land speculation, which confines people into these dens called cities and prevents them getting into better planned cities? I will tell hon. Members what it does. It inspires speculators to get hold of undeveloped land and hold it up to the community because there are subsidies coming for future houses. At the end of the last war, all housing was held up by land monopolists because Dr. Addison was handing out housing subsidies. Subsidies aggravate the housing problem, and yet, while we are handing out millions, we have the pathetic picture of a Minister standing at that Box and adumbrating a policy of more subsidies.
I see in the Civil Estimates that, last year, housing grants amounted to £14,622,000, and, in the year before, £14,479,000. Year after year, we have been shovelling out these subsidies. I listened to-day to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. A. Greenwood) having a go at the present Minister. He himself has been Minister of Health, and what did he do about it? Subsidies. What did John Wheatley do before him? Subsidies. After all these millions have been poured out in subsidies, have we removed the cause of bad housing? Will any ion. Member of this House rise in his place now and say that, by squandering millions of public money, we have even touched the fringe of the problem of bad housing? No one dare say that these subsidies have affected the housing problem to the slightest degree, and yet it is clear that subsidies are again to be advocated.
Let me come to the other point about the rating system. If a madman had been recruited and asked to devise some policy that would make housing an impossibility, he could not have devised a better scheme than our present rating system—and it is known to every hon. Member of the House. Our rating system penalises anyone who dares to build a house. If he has a family, and needs more house room—more rates. If he says "I will have a better bathroom 296 than I had before"—more rates. "Cut him down with rates, if he dares to improve his house" seems to be the idea, and, while all these blithering Ministers of Health were gabbling about subsidies, we have been operating a rating system that makes housing an impossibility.
I used to think Glasgow was the place where one could find the worst slums in Europe, but I can say that places like Stoke-on-Trent can almost equal Glasgow. We had an area of the city where people were living in railway wagons and horse vans with no water laid on. I was a member of the Corporation at the time. These people were paying 10s. a week to live in places out in the fields. It was becoming a menace to Stoke-on-Trent, and anything that becomes a menace to the people of Stoke-on-Trent must be a pretty free operation! So I was asked to take the chair at a committee of inquiry into these conditions, and we had these unfortunate people before us. We asked them how long they had lived in these railway wagons or horse vans with no water laid on or any lavatory accommodation. We asked "How much do you pay per week?" The answer was "10s. a week." As all the members of the Corporation of Stoke-on-Trent at that time—most of them—were either subnormal mentally or Conservatives, and it was no use arguing with them, because they were beyond perceiving anything in the nature of an abstract idea, I thought the only thing for them was to take them through a course of experimentation.
What I did was this. I got a couple of houses built, and I supervised them myself. I always do that if I want an honest contractor. These two houses were built, with three rooms, kitchen and bath. When they were completed, all I required to cover the interest and capital on my houses amounted to 10s. per week—and these people were paying 10s. a week for these railway wagons in the fields. But, when the rates came on—and the rates of Stoke-on-Trent were 19s. in the £—it knocked the rentals just above the mark for the sort of people I wanted to put in. So we came down to the Ministry of Health for a subsidy, a subsidy drawn from taxes collected at much expense by the Chancellor, and passed to us to make good the deficiency caused by the rates imposed on the houses. I challenge any Minister to solve this problem, if he leaves land speculation free in its operation, or 297 continues this rating law which makes housing an impossibility.
There is another point that he cannot touch on. Low wages, as long as they are low, and other forces, are conspiring against your housing problem, which will drag on in futility to the bitter end. Until a person stands at that Box who is less concerned about his political career and more intent as idealist and a man of courage in solving this terrible problem—until such a person, imbued by the will to make man-made laws conform to God's eternal justice is there, little in civilised housing will be accomplished. Mere devices which make political careers leave devastation behind. I remember an occasion when it was said the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), who was an expert in devising expedients, would when passing out of life see little else than the ruins of his jerry built schemes on the horizon. There is this war dragging wearily on, but there will be an end to it. Is there an hon. Member of this House who will say that when these men come back they are going to stand and wait in this country for two or three years for a house? Are they? That is the challenge to us now? If we were going to work on the easy old way, we should use the old leisurely political methods, but now, there is the pressure of urgency that bids every one of us set aside the slow-going processes for something drastic, something that will cut through the scrubwood of precedent and open the path. I appeal to the House in all sincerity, not to offer something which is nothing more than a political compromise but to take this opportunity for dealing drastically now with the effects of land speculation and the rating system on housing in the country.
Is it to be said that when the men come back from the Forces, they are to stump the highways and byways trying to find a pillow where they might lay their heads? Will the House rise to the occasion and cut adrift from all the old conceptions, and get straight to the task of opening up the land of this country for the housing of the people?
I will not repeat the sorry story of what happened when in 1940 we appointed Lord Reith. But there is one detail which was extremely interesting. The Barlow Committee suggested that there ought to be a central planning authority. What happened? They appointed Lord Reith, who 298 was no sooner in office than it was discovered that he was not a planning authority at all. He could not move. If there is one man's memoirs that I would like to read later on, they would be the memoirs of Lord Reith of what he had to suffer when he was in the fortress on the other side of the river. He was not allowed to plan. He got his job on the understanding that he was going to plan, but suddenly, they found that he could get on better with works and buildings, and they converted the title of his Ministry. Meanwhile, he had a look at the very difficult proposition as to how to get rid of the landowners, so then they formed the Uthwatt Committee and handed them the great problem of how to get round the land difficulty. He was followed as we know, by Lord Portal. I would not mention the names of these gentlemen, except that they were involved in this problem. There is Lord Portal, sitting in his fortress with, I do not know how many million officials, and 50 or 60 committees, including the roof and tile committee, the cement committee, the committee for slates and tiles and the committee for this that and the other. Everything about the house has a committee sitting on it, but there is no house. If all the various committees were listed and put into the contractor's yard, we could build all the houses in London.
What are they doing? They are deliberating—on what? I see the hon. Lady the Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George) in front of me. She is on two committees. She will be able to tell us what goes on in these committees. There was the historic pressure of the landowners, and the Uthwatt Committee made certain recommendations, which to my mind, were fatuous in the extreme. Incidentally and in parenthesis, the Uthwatt Committee made two recommendations. One was that land should be taken for public purposes on the 1939 ceiling. Where is that ceiling? It does not exist. And what is more, a lot of hypocrisy has been let loose on the idea of the 1939 ceiling. There is no 1939 valuation, so that it is hypocritical for anyone to stand up in this House and talk about the 1939 ceiling, for you require a datum line and a valuation which do not exist. The thing to discover is that there is a floor. It was suddenly discovered that the 1939 valuation would not operate fairly because it would be too bad to take land for public 299 purposes under the ceiling of 1939 and allow private land sellers to get away with the speculative values.
To-day there is a recession from the old proposition of the 1939 valuation. Be that as it may, they had to pass the difficulty on to some one else, not having solved the problem. In order to deal with the rent question, and having an involved statement handed to them by the Uthwatt Committee, they said, "We must get on with planning." Then they set up Town and Country Planning. I heard remarks today which were repugnant lo me. If there is one man that I would like to see making a success of a job, it is the present Minister of Town and Country Planning, but, like other Ministers, he is being hedged around by some unseen hand. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Hon. Members should not make it any more difficult for him as they have tried to do to-day.
Town and country planning, as I say, was put into operation. These Ministries are literally packed with architects, as if this problem was an architect's problem or even a civil engineer's problem. It is nothing of the kind. The housing problem is an economic problem, and the last man on earth to whom I would submit an economic problem is an architect. The "Aribas" from Langham Place and associates of the Civil Engineers Institute are in every Department, in Works and Buildings, the Ministry of Town and Country Planning. The Associates of the Royal Institute of British Architects were scratching the ground and no seeds were coming up. That is to say, they had little or nothing on drawing boards and there was no chance of much work on buildings being done. The establishment of a Ministry of Works, Building and Planning was a virtual challenge to Langham Place. They forced a bridgehead right to the other side of the Thames, and when Lord Reith was on the top floor of the fortress they entered the basement and took it completely.
Having learned of a coming change which would lead to the institution of another Ministry of Town and Country Planning they were immediately on the alert. Here would be a place where their æsthetic emotions would not be disturbed by the laughter of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works. When the facts became more definitely known the "Aribas" foregathered. Yes, there 300 is to be a Town and Country Planning Ministry! Professor Abercrombie immediately drew his sword from its scabbard and shouted "Charge." What happened? The "Aribas" made straight for St. James Square. In every Department Of the new Ministry we find an architect. The whole outlook, and the very fact that these Ministries are packed with architects, clearly indicates that those who appoint them do not as yet fully understand that this is an economic problem and not a problem which can be solved by architects. The assumption is that all you want for the problem of rehousing and planning the nation is an abundant supply of architects, drawing paper, inks, pens and brushes—
The results of these architectural solutions in due course were appearing in books and exhibitions. These worthy planners took their masterpieces to the National Gallery. They covered the floor of the National Gallery with the future planning of London. I went to see it. I found a number of other competitors who had plans which they wanted me to see. When I had had a look at this mass plan on the floor, I met the promoter and asked, "Who did this"? He said, "Me." I asked, "Have you got the land yet in London" and he said, "No, that is your job." But they were being paid for this job. It is an old idea that because you can draw a map or plan you are solving something, and the House should take note that these maps and plans and architects are costing thousands a year.
May I recall a statement, most appropriate to this occasion, which was delivered by a Member of this House away back in 1918? How appropriate it is. It reminds me that, shortly after the last war, there were the same circumstances and the same course of events and the same arguments, not lacking the clarity I am interjecting into this argument now. This prominent Member of the House in those days said:We have Acts of Parliament running into hundreds of Statutes. We have had regulations that would fill a library. We have had the most effective pictures of model dwellings circulated, and we have had endless authority, but you cannot plough waste land with writing paper, you cannot sweep away slums with paint brushes; you cannot bind the gaping wounds of the people with red tape.That was said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon 301 Boroughs. That is what he said in 1918. It still holds good, and much more so now, when we are being littered with architectural designs and architectural reports. There is not an architect who will not try to oblige you with a most exhaustive report if you want it at any moment.
Were we not rather overshadowed by the fear of what is coming to us, we could derive much amusement from the fantastic efforts of the Government and its advisers in their preparation for the planned new world. But that would not get us nearer to the solution of this problem, and that is what is wanted. You must, first of all—and I say this to the Government, and some Members sitting over there used to jeer at me when I said it years ago—attack the present rating system before you can solve the housing problem. I would rather a thousand times relieve the people of £1,000 in rates than give them £1,000 subsidy. I remember in Glasgow when I was a boy—and the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland knows this—the two great fears which haunted the working woman in Glasgow was rent and rates—sometimes a doctor's bill but more especially the rates—because she knew that if her husband was unemployed for a short time and could not pay the rates she was immediately daubed a pauper. It is the same now. The home is the place where the woman has to bring forth her children and the place in which the little children touch the knee and ask the first question and receive the first answer. It is the home, as I said before, that marks the beginning of the spiritual development of the race. How is it that the tabernacle of the family should be burdened with rates and taxes. I challenge the Government to take these rates off the houses of the people rather than run along this prodigal path of subsidies.
Now with regard to land. Courage is wanted here. I would take the land by declaration of this House. Whose land is it? If the owners say "It is ours," good. How long would this war last, if you only had defended your own property? Who is defending it? The fighting men conscripted from slum factory workshops. They are there to-day, standing as a veritable barrier between the invading bands and those of us who are enjoying the privacy of our homes to-day. 302 Whose land is it now? Who is the landowner who would dare to say to me "This is my property, and after this war is over I will demand compensation from those who defended it"? I give this House fair warning—start that and I will start something else.
I believe in constitutional progress. I believe in Parliament. I am not altogether oblivious of the fact that this great institution of ours, Parliament itself, in its toleration is allowing me to give expression to these ideas now. I wish to preserve that. God forbid that circumstance should conspire with accident and make it necessary for a person like myself to tell these men as they come back from the bloody battle-fields, "No, you shall not traverse England as the landless men you were before you went. You shall go and take the land you have inherited." Some hon. Members sitting on the Government Bench may feel "He is airing his old ideas; they are not really statesmanlike. He is not even expressing himself in a statesmanlike way." I do not give one damn about that. What I am concerned about is this: that when these men begin to come back, they will get a home and, what is more, I lay it on this House, because I have heard so much nonsense about the pensions of soldiers. I do not want to put soldiers on monetary pensions. I want them, and their dependants, to he a first charge on the land of this country. It is theirs. I want them to draw their own food from the land of this country rather than go about getting a halfpenny here or a penny there, from either a State charity or a personal charity. That these men shall inherit this earth is my demand, and I would ask the Government, "If you really mean business, declare this land to be the property of the nation, and to those who own the land or say they own it, give a life annuity so that they do not come by the same vicissitudes as an unemployed man had to come through before the war. But whatever you give the landowners, give it with reference to their existence and comfort but divorced entirely from any relation to the land value which they forfeit." I see no other way than that—a quick and determined policy to save this country from bloody revolution.
I am sorry if I have said things that seem extreme. To me they are not extreme. Their extremity is in proportion 303 to the urgency of the circumstance facing us. As I said at the opening of my remarks, I did not wish to intervene in this Debate at all. I oftentimes see the Prime Minister sitting here and being subjected to criticism. I would not like to have his job. What is in front of him should make us a little careful in not plunging too far afield in purely domestic matters. But it was inevitable to-day, seeing that we had touched on this subject, for me to intervene in this Debate. My solution may not be acceptable to the Government, but, before resuming my seat, I say this. This war has uprooted men from all prejudices and forced them to look at fundamental ideas which heretofore they spurned because they had many possessions. But the necessities of the day are demanding that all of us shall face the basic realities of life and try to get our social actions into conformity with the eternal laws of God. That, indeed, is the real function of this House. It may be said that it is difficult because we have to compromise with old historic interests. Weigh these historic interests against the necessities of the moment, when these people come back from the war and, more, the necessities of the widow and the orphan who have been made such as a result of this war. Who is to defend her and her little children? We must do so. Therefore, is it not incumbent upon us to take bold action to cut away the undergrowth, and get a clear mind whereby we can, in some measure, help the building of a country worthy of the sacrifice that is being expended in its defence?
§ Mr. Bossom (Maidstone)
I think the House will thank the hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren) for the remarkable speech he has just made. He certainly called attention to a phase of our economics on which he is an expert. He touched upon the profession of architects and architecture in a way with which I do not believe everybody would quite agree. Architects have done a certain amount of helpful work in the course of the world's history but the hon. Member may have other ideas on that subject and is of course entitled to have them, and, in this democratic body, we rather appreciate hearing a man speaking as freely as he has just done. But the subject today is housing in the first two years after 304 hostilities have ceased in Europe and I do not wish to detain the House on the other point raised by the hon. Member. I want to thank the Minister first of all for calling attention to one most important point. That is, that we are having this Debate because we all want to get homes for the men and women when they come back from the Forces or from the fields or the factories, when the war is over. That is the reason for this Debate, which a good many of us feel is much overdue. But now that we have it let us try to make the most of it.
There is to be a short-term policy for those first two years. I think we all agree that we would like to see the situation of the land settled. We have had three remarkable reports, with which we may or may not agree, but we would certainly like to see a pronouncement upon them from the Front Bench and get the land question behind us. But if we are to wait for that we shall certainly not be able to get the houses ready in time for the men who will want them when they come home. It would take a miracle to enable us to get results if we are to wait for all the uncertain points to be settled before we decided on the land policy we are to have in the first two years after the war. Instead we must get on with the question of the houses. I think it is absolutely imperative that we concentrate on them in every way we can, for it is one of the most vital issues before the country.
I am sure the entire nation feels as I do upon this point, and a good many practical people believe that we have waited a little too long already to get all the houses that will be needed by the time the men will be ready to use them. I think we can have the houses, but to do so a certain number of practical steps have got to be taken. The Minister of Health promised to try to get 100,000 in the first year, and 200,000 permanent houses in the second year, either finished or started. He did not say he could get more, and I think he was very wise in not committing himself. The Minister of Works has promised that when the airfield runways are finished, he is going to turn over the heavy machinery that is available so that the roads on the housing estates can be created and the sewers along the sides of those roads can be laid. In addition he promised to provide temporary houses. I can assure hon. Mem- 305 bers that I have seen some temporary houses and they are quite satisfactory.
Not many months ago I was in the Tennessee Valley Authority's area in the U.S.A. where there are a large number of individual temporary houses. I went to see where they were being made—at Lafayette in Indiana. They were constructed on a unit basis, 24 feet by 8 feet, and after manufacture were put on to carriers made specially for them and carried 480 miles to the Tennessee Valley. Two units were put together making a small house 24 feet by i6 feet containing a living room, sitting room, two bedrooms, a kitchen and a bathroom. It may sound rather curious to us, but they were making these houses with stressed skin plywoods, and they were complete with carpets on the floors, curtains in the windows, pots and pans in the kitchen, and plates on the rack when shipped to the Tennessee Valley to be put on foundations prepared for them beside the roads that had been provided. Two sections were placed together and a waterproof sheet put round the joint making the two units into one complete house. Within four hours of arrival the wife was inside cooking food for the husband. We can do something similar ourselves if we desire it. I would say definitely that these houses are of good standard, and we must make all of the post-war houses of good standard whether my hon. Friend is keen upon the work of architects or not. They must all be well designed. In spite of the fact that we have a lot to do nowadays we must have good houses. Satisfactory to look at, comfortable to live in, and healthy and fit places in which to bring up a family. They must not he just pictures to look at but real homes.
If we have 100,000 permanent houses, what about the temporary houses? We shall need a good many of those. How can all this work be done? When hostilities cease in Europe, we must not, this time, leave the arrangement of these houses and their erection, to chance as was done after the last war. We cannot have a wild scramble in which the most energetic gets all the men and materials. We have to decide what we are going to do, where we are going to put these houses, when we are going to have them, and how they are going to be built. Those are fundamentals. With the 300,000 permanent houses, and a total of 1,000,000 houses altogether needed at the beginning 306 of that period, we must know where we are to put them, for they will not all be built in one place. How are we to settle this? It cannot be settled in a Whitehall office. We have to go right to the people who can give us the information where they are really needed. We must have the actual facts about the matter. That actual information can come only from people who can tell us where war damage has been done; how many people will come back to live in each particular area, who will come there into peace-time industry and will stay there to earn a living and what is the actual demand for homes existing at the present time.
Only local authorities can tell us this and it is important they should be brought into the forefront of this settlement for post-war houses at the earliest moment. If all the local authorities are asked to make their own estimates, many of them may well be rather extravagant and ask for more than they can possibly have. Therefore all these estimates must be very carefully analysed by some independent authority and obviously the Minister or his representatives are the authorities to do this. Therefore I recommend strongly to the Minister to ask all the local authorities affected, if he has not already done so, to prepare their best estimates right away and submit them to him by a fixed date of the number of houses they each consider they must have in the first year and second year after the war. These figures can then be divided up into the number of houses we can build at a time, for we are only going to have a limited number of men and limited amount of material, and these must be allocated to cities and towns where they will be most needed in appropriate sequence.
§ Viscountess Astor (Plymouth, Sutton)
Does the hon. Member think that the bombed areas should come first?
§ Mr. Bossom
I think all local authorities must give their full knowledge, as I said, giving the best estimate they can, and then the Minister must judge as to what is the best disposition. He should be most careful about priority. Everyone will want priority but it is the men returning from the Forces who must largely be the deciding factors determining priorities. They have been away fighting; when they return they will want a home and are more entitled to 307 get it, and this is the point on which to concentrate.
Once the local authorities have found out the number of houses to be allotted to them, they can then start to carry out their further arrangements. Once it is decided how many houses shall be built at each place, then there should be a national time and progress schedule so that we can use our building assets for the greatest benefit for all. If this is not done it will be impossible to prevent one local authority who is more energetic than another from getting more workmen and also trying to get more building material. Having the numbers of houses thus properly settled, on what sites shall they be erected? Most local authorities have already prepared plans. They know where they desire their new housing layouts to be. They no doubt have had conferences with the Minister of Health, and probably with the Minister of Works and the Minister of Town and Country Planning, and many of them have had all their proposals already examined.
§ Mr. Bossom
Yes, because I think the Minister of Reconstruction looks after his Department through these three Ministers. In spite of the absence of all decision upon the Scott, Barlow and Uthwatt Reports, upon new highways, green belts, and national parks, most local authorities are ready to designate at once the land they feel they will need. In the last two weeks I have been to half a dozen cities and towns, and always heard the same complaint, "Can we be authorised to go ahead and get the land we require?" Local authorities should, I agree with the Minister, be authorised compulsorily to acquire the land they will need. The Minister has told us this to-day and we all appreciate that it is an important step in getting forward. He should request that this acquisition should be completed by a fixed date. Having the numbers of houses, the land, and the sites decided upon—
§ Mr. Bossom
If the Minister carries out the proposals, which he has itemised today, giving authorities the right to 308 acquire the desired land, progress can be made. A short time ago I asked the Minister of Town and Country Planning whether subsidies are to be charged later with retro-active benefits and whether authorities that do go ahead will not consequently be penalised? The Minister said that he could not commit himself that they should be retro-active. This matter is important, for if a local authority goes ahead and provides houses they must not be made to suffer due to progress before later arrangements.
As to the arrangements of sites made in conferences with representatives of the Ministry of Town and Country Planning who were appointed some time ago, I take it the House is justified in assuming that they have talked with the local authorities and approved the lay-outs that have been put forward. Having hopefully anticipated that all other matters have been settled, how about the laws that will control the actual construction work? Members will realise that many buildings may be built of new materials and by new processes. But there are many anomalies in the present by-laws. I will give one simple example. If water pipes be made of copper, in one town they have to be of 17 gauge, and in the next town, 40 miles away, have to be 19 gauge. There is no earthly reason for such a differentiation. [An HON. MEMBER: "What should the gauge be?"] It is not for me to say what it should be; we have a Department for that purpose. That is not the only example of this trying situation. There is the trouble of carrying out the same by-laws in similar areas. It is not uncommon to find that when the same by-laws are applied by different officials, there were variations of costs in pre-war days that caused differences of £20, £30 or £40 in identically similar houses. This sort of thing should be stopped and I would urge on the Minister again to consult with the Minister of Works and with the local authorities and his own Department in order to cut out anomalies wherever they exist. Equally there are many improvements which can be made in the model by-laws and building laws generally to bring them up to date. As to the laws governing temporary houses, these certainly will call for many changes.
These different interpretations are serious and cause trouble and expense. As hon. Members know, permits controlling building often have to be granted 309 by different Departments. All remember the unfortunate 3,000 rural cottages which were built, and which suffered delays due to difficulties of permits for several months. We do not want that kind of thing to happen with post-war housing. Permits must not be permitted to delay or needlessly to interfere with this short-term programme. To satisfy this emergency programme we shall need 300,000 temporary houses in the first year after the war and 400,000 in the second year. To handle this whole programme there ought to be only one general authority. The Ministry of Works controls all research—with much beneficial result. The same Department controls materials, and further, they know about all the blitzed areas where repair work has already been done.
§ Mr. Bossom
On the contrary, a lot of work has been done to remedy blitzed property. I cannot itemise all of this but if my Noble Friend will travel round the country she will see a lot that has been accomplished. But to return to the question of the control of this short-term housing programme. Would it not be better to have one Department only responsible for all this, with the full energy and drive of one Minister behind it. He would alone be responsible to Parliament. All these controls should not be left to the several Ministries of Town and Country Planning, of Works and of Health. It is quite easy for them to pass the responsibility from one to the other. Why not let one Department approve sites and lay-outs and the new forms of material and methods of construction. Let them also approve and introduce any new regulartions which we must have and further approve the allocation of materials and finally give all the permits required. I know this sounds like a great change of our old procedure but we have seen the Ministry of Town and Country Planning moved three times during this war, and I think all will agree that if any private organisation had this work to do it would put it into the hands of one man, make him solely responsible, that being the best and most businesslike commonsense and practical way of getting the work done.
§ Mr. Bossom
I agree. If it is left to a number of Ministries there may well be the same kind of trouble as was experienced before. There may be a repetition of the confusion that followed the last war, when, between the end of 1918 and March, 1920, only 715 houses were completed. We cannot afford such a repetition this time. Other speakers have said there will be serious times ahead if we do not have ready within a reasonable time of demobilisation the houses that will be so vitally needed. I would strongly recommend the Government to consider putting all this work—may be only the short term programme—under the control of the Ministry of Works [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I know many will disagree, but it is in my judgment the best way to make it succeed.
Before the war there was a national building army of approximately 1,250,000. Now we have approximately 5,000, many of them old and many slow. As the Minister said to-day, he does not anticipate much change in this force by the end of the war, and I think he is justified in that view. There is already an education plan for creating more building trade operatives. But I do not think we shall get more than 600,000 to 700,000 first-class men in the first year after the war, or 900,000 to or,000,000 on the average during the second year. If we get these we shall be very lucky. Realise what this force has to handle. Repairs must be done everywhere to churches, schools and business buildings. Roads and new business buildings will have to be built. When the school-leaving age is raised by one year it will require an addition of 20 per cent. more schools than we have to-day. In fact the amount of work that will have to be done is almost unlimited. We should endeavour to get the whole machinery of house production speeded up. It is dangerous, as I see it, to let the situation continue unamended as it has been in the past. We have had a lesson once, we have had it twice, and we cannot afford to have it a third time. We must make the effort this time, and I am sure we can succeed if we take this programme and put it into the hands of one Department, and I believe the best Department would be the Ministry of Works and make this one Minister directly responsible to this House.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
The hon. Member is associated with a very informative report that has been published as the result of a delegation that went to the United States of America. That report shows that the proportionate costs of materials in America are low compared with labour costs, whereas in this country it is the reverse. The proportionate labour costs in this country are higher in comparison with the material costs.
§ Mr. Bossom
That is a subject which I do not think comes into this Debate, but I should be pleased to answer the hon. Member some other time. When the Mission recently went to America we took with us certain approximate prices of 17 large buildings built in this country and the cost worked out in the neighbourhood of 55 cents per foot cube. We asked the American authorities for particulars of their last 17 buildings. The cost of those was the same, 55 cents a foot cube as near as we could find comparable buildings. But in the U.S.A. they were paying their skilled operatives about 6s. an hour whereas we were paying only is. 6d. an hour. Thus they could build at about the same cubic foot cost and yet pay their operatives about four times as much an hour as we could. They have been able to do this by speeding up the tempo of their work; not by making their men work harder but by better organisation and simpler laws, more team work, by giving the workers all the mechanical facilities possible and fullest information at the start and by putting the work under one executive control. If we put our work of housing under one executive control I believe we should have a far better chance of getting it finished at the right time and at the best price possible considering all circumstances.
§ Mr. Hynd (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
I think there is one aspect of the Government statement which will be welcomed by the House and endorsed by it in general. That is the recognition of the fact that this housing question is, indeed, one of first priority. Beyond that it is difficult for me, probably because I am a new Member, to appreciate exactly what the Minister has told us to-day that he did not tell us last week. It is quite obvious from the course of the Debate that whatever may be the difficulties of the Government, judging by those who have so far spoken from both sides, the Govern- 312 ment's statement is worth practically nothing. The whole position simply leaves a trail of misgivings that probably will not be exhausted in the course of today's Debate and I, as a new Member, do not propose to take advantage of my privilege to try to range over the whole housing problem.
But there are one or two aspects that I should like to deal with as the representative of a constituency where housing is and has been for many years in a condition which can only be described as terrible. It has to be recognised, of course, and this will be appreciated by every Member, that the circumstances with which the Government have to deal and will have to deal in the first few years after the war, will probably preclude anything like a real approach to the main problem. We have heard about the shortage of material, labour and so on, and the Government have, of course, taken these factors into consideration. They have also, presumably, obtained returns from the various municipal authorities and have calculated the statistical position and, by those means,, have reached the figure of 300,000. But I think it is rather important to consider what relation this figure of 300,000 has to the real needs, not necessarily of a longterm programme, but to the real, immediate needs of the country at the present time and not necessarily two or three years after the end of the war, and how these first ioo,000 homes are to be allocated. I hope that the Government will be able to enlighten us on this aspect. They seem to have made some progress since last week and I would like to know what they consider to be the basis of allocation of these 300,000 houses among the various districts.
Take my own district of Sheffield. If the allocation of the first ioo,000 houses is to be based, even broadly, on population, even taking into account the other factors of bomb damage, density of population and overcrowding, Sheffield, with a population of approximately 500,000, could not hope for more than 1,000 of, those houses in the first year after the war. The actual needs of Sheffield in 1939, however, were vastly in excess of 1,000 houses. Sheffield needed 10,000 or even 20,000 houses. The actual immediate needs of Sheffield to-day certainly represent no less than 30,000 houses. Obviously, 313 towns like Sheffield which have had their share of war damage, will be interested to know on what basis the apportionment is to be made of that first 100,000 Other towns have, presumably, also submitted their estimated requirements. They may have needs which they interpret as urgent and I hope that the Government, in assessing the allocation of these houses, will bear in mind that what might appear to be urgent needs in one district may have no relation to the immediate urgent needs in another.
In the case of Sheffield, for example, the 30,000 houses which I have mentioned, and which are assessed as the immediate needs of the town, are only the most urgent, and to meet the real needs of Sheffield at the present time would mean not 30,000 houses but the demolition of five or six times that number. The actual position in Sheffield is this. In 1939, that is, five years ago, there were already 12,900 condemned slum houses. Of these 6,100 had already been approved and confirmed in Orders for demolition and for replacement. The remainder, the balance of 6,800, represents arrears. That was five years ago when the authorities were condemning houses in Sheffield at the rate of 3,000 a year. Since that time more houses have fallen into a dilapidated condition so that the immediate minimum need of Sheffield in slum clearance alone can be no less than 20,000 houses. Add to that 2,000 to deal with the worst aspects of overcrowding and another 4,000 estimated to be needed to cope with the most urgent demand of young couples married during the war period and then add the war-damaged houses and those that have been destroyed and you reach a figure of over 30,000 houses immediately required.
I do not know whether the Government, or the House in general, appreciates exactly what that means outside the realm of statistics—what it means in real, stark, human misery. I have been in some of these slums. In one of them the family live in one room on the bottom floor and they have a bedroom upstairs. When you enter the living room the first thing that strikes you is the leg of a bed protruding through the ceiling. You reach the bedroom through a narrow staircase of rotted steps, on which you have to climb on all fours in case one of the steps collapses. The living room is also a scullery. It has a stone sink which was once a deep 314 sink. The edges have worn down flat, so it does not hold water and the floor is permanently wet. In another house the family are compelled to live in one room because they cannot get upstairs. The stairs disintegrated long ago. If you could get upstairs, the rooms would not be habitable, because from below you can see the sky in the gap between the ceiling and the walls. These houses are many hundreds of years old and they are only standing because they are propped up by beams. If you multiply that situation by 13,000 or 20,000, which is the minimum requirement of Sheffield for slum clearance, you have something like 23,000 or 25,000 families trying to exist in these conditions. The parents, where both survive, are coughing out their lives in front of the children, upon whom we place such great store for the future of the country. The most euphemistic description of the situation that I have heard was set forth in the words used by the Minister of Reconstruction yesterday when he said this kind of thing was out of harmony with our consciousness of national greatness.
How do the Government propose to deal with this problem? That is the question to which the whole House is awaiting an answer. Every speaker who has followed the Minister has made that clear. It is also clear that the whole problem hinges on the question of land purchase. I wish it were as easy as is made out by the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. Bossom). He said the Minister had indicated that he has given instructions to local authorities to acquire this land, if necessary compulsorily, and, having got the land, we could then proceed on that assumption to say that this Debate is entirely redundant, because the Minister also mentioned that our needs after the war would be something like L000,000 houses. So we can say, having got the houses, "Why bother over the issue?" But we have neither the land nor the houses, and, though it is true that Sheffield, and other progressive authorities, already have enough land, not for Loco but for 3,000 or 4,000 houses, which they are prepared to build, not in two years but in one if they can be given the labour and the materials, I believe the Minister suggested that something like another 14,000 acres would have to be purchased—I should have thought much more. These authorities have to get that land, unless 315 the whole thing is an attempt to build castles in the air.
The question which we are always asking, and which has not yet been answered, is: having told the authorities to acquire the land, having recognised that you cannot build houses effectively unless you have land, by what means is the land to be obtained? There is no burking the importance of this. Unless the land can be obtained on advantageous conditions, that is going to have an influence on the enthusiasm of local authorities for siting, the dispersal of housing estates, and so on. They are not likely to be very enthused at the idea of breaking up densely packed central areas with high noting values and buying expensive land on the outskirts on the best sites in order to erect low-rated working class dwellings, unless and until they know on what conditions the land is to be obtained.
According to "The Times" yesterday the Government can be presumed to have rejected the Uthwatt proposals. Again, the question is asked "Why?" Is it for the same reason that the Uthwatt Report itself rejected the more satisfactory solution of complete nationalisation because it might arouse political controversy? In these days that means arousing the opposition of certain interests which are in support of one section of the Government. It is always very striking to observe that, immediately there is a question of reconstruction or anything else raised which might be opposed by certain groups of interests, the bogy is raised of national unity, but when there is any question of concession from the progressive forces we are at once asked to compromise, whether it is on health, housing or education. That is becoming quite a common thing. You will find the same thing when the health scheme is introduced. We shall be asked to make further concessions to the B.M.A. and voluntary 'hospitals. Whether or not the question of political controversy is involved here, whether or not it might frighten 'sections of Government supporters, we have to accept the fact that, if it is a priority, it is not only a priority in Parliamentary discussion but a priority in the real needs of the people and, if it is to be recognised as a priority as such, the steps to be taken for acquiring the land and solving the problem must also have priority. We are told that private 316 interests are not going to stand in the way of reconstruction but, when any reconstruction proposal comes forward, we find that they are barring the way all the time.
The policy of this party is quite clear. It is nationalisation of the land and the letting out of the land by the State to local authorities or whoever else requires it in the national interest for national purposes. I know that the Minister of Production and others favour another system, which is based upon the earning of the maximum profit, in other words, a system which should be allowed under that philosophy to extract the maximum profit out of the needs and misery of the people. But if nationalisation as a policy is to be ruled out by this Government because of the war situation, or their desire to avoid political controversy, or for any other reason, what is their alternative? The proposition has often been put forward that the land should be obtained, not on any indefinite 1939 or any other ceiling—there is no 1939 ceiling—but on the basis of compulsory purchase at the assessed value for rateability and taxation. What is there against that proposition? I have not been a Member of the House very long, but I have studied the Debates, and as with the question of the acquisition of land for the 300,000 housing scheme, I have still to wait for the answer to that question.
The question of prices and rents of the houses has also been mentioned in the Debate and was mentioned by the Minister. Here, again, we are left in the dark as to the approach that should be made in order to maintain prices and rent at a level which can be afforded by the working classes. Are we to understand that there is no alternative in the Government's mind to the perpetual policy of subsidies? Subsidies, in my estimation, represent very little more than subsidies to the maintenance of high interest rates. It will probably be recalled that in 1924 the Minister of Health, Mr. John Wheatley, analysed the rent of the working-class house or the house built at a cost of £500. He found that the cost of labour amounted to 13 per cent, or Is. 3d., the cost of material to 19 per cent. or Is, 10½d., and the cost of interest payments was no less than 66 per cent. I have made a calculation on the same basis for a house built in 1938 and costing £869. In that year the interest rate on 317 housing loans was appreciably lower than in 1924. I find that the interest charge in the weekly rent is still over 5o per cent. of it.
This suggests to the Government a way in which houses can be made available to the working classes at a rent which has a relation to their incomes without the necessity for any subsidy. If interest rates cost 5o per cent. on a house the rent of which would clearly be £1 the rent would be reduced considerably if the interest rate was reduced by one half. If we could dispose of the interest charge altogether we could make the house available at an economic rent of 10s. Even if the Government themselves had to raise the loans in order to lend the money free of interest to the municipal authorities, and themselves had to pay interest at 2½ or 3 per cent., that would be a much cheaper proposition than paying subsidies to the local authorities and private enterprise. I have heard that there is in the mind of the Government the possibility that the local authorities can raise the money by borrowing from their existing reserves. This may be some advantage, but it must not be forgotten that some of these reserves are very old funds and are still paying rates of interest which are out of relationship to present day conceptions of interest rates. There are still some of these funds paying, 5, 5½ and 6 per cent., and if local authorities were to use them for this housing programme they would have to repay to the fund, not only the capital borrowed, but the interest rates to recoup them.
I mention one or two of these points, not because I think I have anything particularly original to submit, but because they are among the points which are most pressing in the district I represent. Sheffield is in a fortunate position in regard to this 300,000 housing scheme because it has already the land on which to build the first 3,000 houses. It will not, however, be allowed to build the 3,000 in the first two years. It will probably be allowed to build 1,000, or 1,500, or possibly 2,000, over three years. There is no questioning the fact that it is quite appreciated that that may be an inevitable restriction imposed by the facts of the situation that will follow the war. There is one aspect of the obligation that the Government are seeking to impose on the municipal authorities that I would 318 like to mention. The Minister mentioned that a certain amount of labour, by which I presume he meant manual labour, has been released from work on aerodrome construction in order to assist in this new development scheme. There is, however, a grave shortage of technical assistance in the service of the local authorities. The great majority of the civil engineers, architects' assistants, surveyors, and so on have been called up for military service, or service with the War Damage Commission, or for some other direct war activity. I would like to ask whether the Minister of Labour has been consulted on this point and whether he has found it possible, if not to release some of these men, at least to curtail or to restrict in some way the termination of deferments which has caused a serious problem for local authorities. Unless the technical staffs are available local authorities will not be able to proceed with the preliminary work of surveying and so on, and when the skilled labour is released from work on the aerodromes they will not have much to do.
I have said enough to endorse what has already been said by other hon. Members, that the Government's scheme, in relation to the actual immediate needs of the people, is meagre. It may be said that that is inevitable in the circumstances, but it is equally clear that the Government have not given the House to-day the slightest amount of satisfaction or the answer to any of those burning questions that are occupying not only the House but the country in relation to the housing problem. There is the question of how prices are to be pegged, because you will be up against the same interests that are making you side step and dodge on the issue of the purchase of land. There are also the questions of how we are to get the land, and of when houses are to be available, and so on. The country is just as interested as the hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren), even if they cannot be so expressive. I ask the Government to appreciate that not only on the Benches of this House, but throughout the country, there is a demand that not only shall an immediate programme of whatever may be found to be necessary be carried out in the first two years, whatever may be the restrictions, but that the real problem of housing shall be tackled by the Government in a way that represents a much bolder approach than we have seen today.
§ Mrs. Tate (Frame)
I am very glad that it should fall to me to congratulate the hon. Member upon his maiden speech. We all know what a terrifying performance, what an ordeal, it is, and I think that only the terrible housing conditions in his own area must have enabled the hon. Member to accomplish so successfully what is always a nerve-racking, undertaking. I hope that we shall hear from him on the subject of housing on future occasions.
I feel that the Minister's announcement to-day falls into two parts and that a great deal of what he said on the actual policy of post-war housing has been forgotten, or largely overshadowed, because of the general and justifiable dissatisfaction in the House that there has been no pronouncement as yet on Government policy—if the Government have a policy —in regard to the Uthwatt, Scott, and Barlow Reports. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. A. Greenwood) said he thought there was a rift within the lute. I do not know whether he was referring to the Minister of Town and Country Planning as a lute. If he was, it was a most unfortunate comparison, because the Minister of Town and Country Planning never produces a tune. I very much doubt whether he ever will, because the Minister of Town and Country Planning, when he is faced with a difficulty, is very much in the same position as a jerry-building when faced with a bomb; he crumbles. I only wish it went a little bit further and that he would disappear.
I am not one of those who are always complimenting the Government, but far too little praise has been given to the actual housing policy which has been announced to-day, and which shows very great imagination, courage, and constructive ability. The Minister of Health is one of the most generous-minded of men, and I am sure that he would be the first to agree with me that he owes a tremendous debt to the Noble Lord the Minister of Works. I agree with the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. Bossom) as to the desirability of having our whole housing policy under one Ministry. I should like to see it under the Ministry of Works. I should very much deplore any change of Minister, because I think the Minister is one of the ablest we have had, and one with the most drive, energy and imagina- 320 tion. No one in this House who is aware of conditions in his or her constituency does not know the appalling tragedy caused by the lack of accommodation and the lack of housing at the present time. There has been a great deal of talk about what women have done and have had to put up with in this war, but one of the main irritations that women have had to suffer has been the sharing of their homes and kitchens, and the hopeless lack of any form of privacy.
We know that there is bound to be a terrible shortage of houses for many years, but surely this House will be sufficiently generous to acknowledge that, in view of the difficulties there will be with materials and labour, the programme of the Government is very generous. The Minister has promised us a large number of permanent houses and a large number of temporary houses, and also a large number of converted buildings, and that is leaving out any contribution which may be made by private enterprise.
§ Mr. Silverman
We are all trying to pool our ideas on this subject. Surely the lion. Lady heard the Minister say that, on a conservative and moderate estimate, there would be an immediate need when the war had finished in Europe for 1,000,000 houses, of which he proposed to supply 300,000 in the fast two years. Is that a generous policy?
§ Mrs. Tate
The hon. Member's hearing and mine are evidently not the same, but as I do not wish to think like the hon. Member in any way, I almost always differ from him. I still maintain that the actual housing programme is extremely good if it can be lived up to and I believe it can. The figure given by the Minister incidentally was not that which was mentioned by the hon. Member. Also the Minister left entirely out of account the temporary houses and the converted houses, and any houses which may be built by private enterprise. Anyone who goes forth and lets the country believe that we can produce the number of houses required immediately after the war is simply deceiving the public. There would be nothing more cruel or criminal than to pretend it is a problem which we can solve in a year or two, because that is not possible. Nevertheless some Members are too nervous as to the difficulties which will arise from the shortage of building operatives. We can easily have too little 321 imagination about the possibilities of modern methods. There are extraordinary inventions available to us if we have the courage to avail ourselves of modern scientific invention.
For that reason, I should particularly like to congratulate the Minister of Health, and also the Minister of Works, on the experimental houses which are being built by private enterprise by the Government, for permanent houses, temporary houses and converted buildings. They are being built in war-time in spite of all the very great difficulties. In the course of a very short space of time, hon. Members will have an opportunity of inspecting them. I believe they will be houses of a quality to satisfy, and even more than satisfy, any reasonable requirements. All of us agree that, however great the need for houses, the very last thing we wish to see is shoddy and shabby building making for slums in the future. The imperative need, however, is for quantity in houses. The phrase "prefabricated house" has unhappily been most misleading to many people. I think it would be far better to say "Factory-produced houses." I believe that we can and shall and must have factory-produced houses not only for temporary buildings but for permanent buildings as well. I believe that there are excellent materials which will be available, that the exteriors of factory-produced houses can be suited to the localities in which the houses are built, and that they could be indistinguishable externally from the best buildings of the past. The cost need not be excessive. I believe that standardisation will be the main factor in reduction of cost. What is vital is that if we are to have experimental houses they should be seen by local authorities in the country and that, when they have been seen and approved, existing by-laws should be changed to conform to modern invention. It would be lamentable if new methods were to be hampered or impeded by by-laws which were applicable to buildings of the past. I would stress the point made by the hon. Member for Maidstone, that the by-laws should be nationalised and not localised as at present.
I would support the tribute which the Minister paid to the building operatives of the country, for the magnificent way in which they have co-operated one with another, and for the great rapidity with which they have often turned out and 322 restored blitzed buildings. In regard to that, we again owe a great deal to the Noble Lord the Minister of Works because of the happy spirit he has engendered in the industry. I beg that this vital question of housing should be placed under one Minister, that the laws governing housing should be flexible and changed in accordance with modern invention and, above all, that the control of building, specification and byelaws should be nationalised and not localised.
§ Miss Lloyd George (Anglesey)
I think the Debate has shown clearly that there is a great deal of anxiety in the country on this matter of housing and that it has by no means been allayed, indeed will be increased, by the statement we have had to-day. There is no aspect of reconstruction which has such far reaching repercussions as housing. It has been said to-day by a great many hon. Members, quite truly, that failure to tackle it effectively will no doubt have very serious consequences. On the other hand if it is dealt with with imagination more employment will be provided than by any other single means we can think of at the moment. Estimates of all kinds have been put forward, both outside this House and in the Debate to-day, as to the number of houses that will be needed after the war. The Minister himself gave what he called an informed estimate of 3,500,000 to 4,000,000 houses. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) spoke of a figure in the neighbourhood of 5,000,000 houses. I should be inclined to think that the latter will probably turn out in the end to be the more accurate of the two. At any rate, the programme, whatever the estimate may be, will provide an opportunity to rebuild this country. It will give us the opportunity to arrest, as the hon. Lady said, the shoddy, slipshod development of our great cities, and it will give us another opportunity to protect the countryside which has been invaded and despoiled so largely by the vandals of this generation.
I should have thought that we should take hold of such a chance as this which is rarely offered to any generation, and take hold of it gladly. What, in fact, are we going to do? It is quite obvious that the Government have come to no decisions on all the major questions which underlie this great problem. It seems to me that 323 the Government are in danger of throwing away this opportunity, are in danger of making all the same old mistakes again, because they will come to no decisions on the location of industry, which is fundamental, on compensation, on development rights, all matters which have been raised by many hon. Members to-day. The failure to come to these decisions is holding up local authorities in every way. How is it possible for local authorities to make any co-ordinated plans for their areas? They may make plans for a few houses. A number of houses for Sheffield was mentioned, but it is quite impossible for Sheffield to make any plan which will be of any use for the future. The local authorities do not know where they are to-day and they have no idea where they will be in a few years' time. The Association of Municipal Corporations sent specific recommendations to the Government in 1942, over 18 months ago, and nothing has happened as a result. The right hon. Member for Wakefield mentioned the letter that was in "The Times" only this week, signed by the Lord Mayors of 13 of the great cities of this country, in which they point out that the delays of days and months which will mean in the end a delay of years, because they cannot get on with the preliminary work which is essential before they can make their plans. I would like to read one sentence from that letter. They say:Since 1941 the Government have repeatedly promised local authorities fresh legislation to enable them to prepare for demobilisation by planning towns without being held up to ransom when purchasing property or blocked by sectional interests or by cumbersome procedure.Nothing has happened. We have had no decision on that matter from the Minister to-day. He has told us that he will expedite the procedure in one or two particular cases. He said that local authorities were to have compulsory powers to buy land without inquiry, that is for the 300,000 houses and a little more besides. What is to happen after they have made these plans? The local authorities do not know. The only thing they can possibly do at the moment is to make their plans on the old r939 basis. They have no other information to go on. What will be the result? They will build their 300,000 houses. When they come to build the next batch the probability is that when they 324 want to buy the adjoining land they will either find it has gone up in price as a result of the development they themselves have been responsible for or that the land is no longer available.
The local authorities have been told—I think this was the first stage of this process—that legislation was being foreshadowed. Now we have got as far today as being told that legislation is being drafted. But upon what assumption has the local authorities to work? Will the Minister, or the Secretary of State for Scotland, who is to reply, tell us on what assumption they can proceed? Is the Barlow Report to be implemented? Is London to be allowed to grow indefinitely, and Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow, Cardiff, all the great cities? Is there to be direction from the Government? Is there to be any control? Are we going to have even the negative control which has been suggested in the Uthwatt Report? The President of the Board of Trade said some time ago that there are to be more industries in distressed areas. Is that wishful thinking or is that a declaration of policy? We do not know. It seems to me, and as far as I can gather from the Debate, that Members in all parts of the House hold the view most strongly that unless we can get these decisions now we shall have the same overcrowding, the same scramble, the same chaotic and unregulated industrial and housing development which we have had for years and which we all wish earnestly to avoid in the future.
There is no doubt that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will be faced with a very difficult and dangerous situation immediately after the war. He has spoken of some of the problems with which he will be faced, the rebuilding of blitzed areas, accommodation for returning Service men and their families, those who want new homes; also, might I add, the resumption of slum clearance and action regarding overcrowding. He is going to meet these demands by several Measures, but, first of all, there is the question of temporary housing. It is quite obvious that we shall have to try any and every means available. A great many views have been expressed in the Debate on the value of prefabrication. There are some who think that it is the new dispensation. On the other hand there are some who think it means wooden wigwams, as far as I can 325 make out. I think that the truth lies somewhere between the two. After all, prefabrication is nothing new. It has been tried extensively in Sweden for years. There are houses in this country which have been imported from Sweden, there are houses in Wales and in Scotland which have been there for years and have been most successful. Certainly in America prefabrication has been tried out on an extensive scale. We have an example in this country to-day of a very remarkable hospital belonging to the Red Cross which was prefabricated in America, brought over to this country and set up by British labour in the West of England. We must not close our minds. Prefabrication should be of immense value in the years after the war. I do not see why we should not adopt the Kaiser method for building houses.
There is one suggestion, however, that I would urge the Minister not to adopt. I know it has been put to him. It is the suggestion that some of these new houses which we are going to build should be sub-divided into flats for two families. Even if the Minister adopts the recommendation of the Dudley Committee, which he mentioned, and those buildings are of the highest standard, the accommodation will still be far too cramped. It is said, "After all, you are going to put only small families into these subdivided houses; there is no need to worry"; but it seems to me a most dangerous proposal. To begin with, you do not know how long those families would be there. You would be creating new slums, new overcrowding conditions. I beg the Minister to set his face most strongly against such a proposal; it is far too reminiscent of the old Victorian houses, which have become some of the worst slums in this country. We know only too well that temporary accommodation will have to be resorted to if we are to meet the problems arising after the war. We have to face that. But if there is to be temporary accommodation, it must be made clear that it is to be the property of the State, and rigorous time-limit must be adhered to. I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will not divert too much labour from permanent to temporary accommodation, because I think that by so doing he would lose in the end.
Materials will present difficulties, but the main bottleneck will be labour. What 326 is the Government policy with regard to this? I would like to say quite frankly —and I do not suppose it is a very popular theory—that I do not believe that if we are going to abide by the Minister of Labour's policy of "first in, first out," the right hon. and learned Gentleman will get his 100,000 houses in the first year, or his 300,0000 houses in the first two years. The rate of demobilisation, at any rate, is going to be slow, with the war in Japan continuing, with the occupation of Europe. The situation is going to be very serious. The age of labour in the building industry is very much higher than the average in other industries—that was the case before the war.
§ Miss Lloyd George
I am coming to that point. The building position will be very serious. Since 55,000 of the men in the building industry before the war were 65 and over, and they were skilled men, or most of them were. Unless we have an organised scheme of training in this country, it will be impossible to carry out this programme. I hope we shall have a great deal more drive and energy put into the training scheme than seems to be indicated at the moment. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will see that women are employed in the building trade. If they can be employed in building aeroplanes and guns, why, in heaven's name, cannot they be employed in building houses? There is another matter, which has been raised by, I think, only one hon. Member in the Debate and that is the question of rural housing. Rural housing is sometimes left out in the cold. It seems to me absolutely essential that the Government should make it clear that the people in the countryside must have as good comforts and amenities and as high standards as the people in the towns, and, in order that that may be achieved, the first need is obviously an extension of public services, electricity and water, and sewage disposal. I hope that the Minister will see that a housing survey is undertaken in the rural areas. May I also ask him to see that there shall be a fair allocation of materials and labour as between the town and the countryside immediately 327 after the war, so that the rural population does not suffer, and we do not get this drift from the countryside to the towns starting immediately after the war.
A final word on standards. I am delighted to hear that the Minister is to publish the Report of the Dudley Committee. Great changes have taken place in this generation in the design and equip-merit of houses, and I believe that these amenities and comforts should be made available immediately to all. I cannot see why they should not be extended. There should be labour-saving devices, better cooking facilities, better arrangements for washing and drying and storing, constant hot water, and more efficient means of heating houses, as well, of course, as more living space. I hope that the Minister will accept the standards which have been set up by the Dudley Committee. And may I beg him not to be persuaded, cajoled or stampeded by temporary considerations into debasing those standards, because once he does that, it is going to be extremely difficult to regain the previous standards. The Government have a tremendous opportunity; they have a great responsibility; they have a chance to be the architects of a new Britain. I hope they will take that chance. If they do, they will earn the gratitude of their fellow-countrymen.
Mr. Donald Scott (Wansbeck)
We have listened to-day to a large number of very interesting speeches. Some of them have been somewhat long; I am going to set a new fashion by dealing with one or two points in 5 or 10 minutes. First, I would like to congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Health on his speech. At the same time, I must admit to a certain feeling of disappointment. I do not go so far as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), who said that we were being led up the garden. Perhaps that does not matter so much, provided there is a house at the end of the garden. Nevertheless, the country as a whole has been looking forward to this Debate, and has been hoping, and still hopes, for a further statement on the subject. After all, we are dealing here to-day with one of the most fundamental, if not the most fundamental, questions of post-war life. In the past, we have been proud, and at times justifiably proud, of the progress of our social 328 services, and to-day we are planning vast changes in our health services, educational system and, indeed, in the whole set-up of the lives of our people. The danger is that, as so often in the past and, maybe, again in the future all our work and money may be wasted by bad housing conditions. No matter how excellent our schools, or the teaching therein, no matter how efficient the health services, part of their effect is lost and nullified owing to the fact that so many of our citizens have had "o pass their lives in those festering sores of civilization—the slums. This is not, however, merely an opportunity of paying lip service to decent housing, and therefore I am going to try to make one or two concrete suggestions.
The Minister to-day mentioned the immediate post-war shortage, and the policy of overcoming it by means of temporary houses. I must confess that, in thinking of this policy in the past, I have been rather worried, because it seemed to me that it was going to be very difficult to work without some safeguards. The 'Minister has relieved our minds to-day to a very considerable extent, I believe, but we have to remember that these temporary houses will have to last for a year or two, and must be looked upon as temporary homes and not just temporary houses. In other words, we have to get away from the idea of providing just so many cubic feet of living space, and they must be considerably 'better built than was the case after the last war. One is tempted to think that, when the immediate urge is over, people will say, "These are good enough to last just a little bit longer." We may be afraid that people might say that, with a little alteration here and there, they could be made into permanent homes. In spite of the safeguards, I hope the main drive, from the word "Go," will be towards a new and permanent house. The essence of the whole matter, after the war, is going to be speed.
I am quite sure the House was very interested, as I was myself, to hear of the interesting housing experiments which the Minister has caused to be carried out—experiments in prefabrication and steel houses—but I was a little surprised when he described these houses, that he did not say anything about the all-timber house as a permanent structure, because I feel that it is well worthy of exploration. In 329 the past, the all-timber house was often a very ugly construction. Again, there was a prejudice against it because of doubts as to its lasting qualities in our very uncertain climate, and there was also the danger of fire, which was, probably, very much exaggerated. But those who have studied the problem and learned from actual experience, as I have, know that ft is possible to build economic, artistic, convenient and lasting houses entirely by this method. So far as the question of fire is concerned, I would only remind the House that insurance companies offer insurance at the premium charged for a normal building of brick or stone.
At the risk of wearying the House, I would like to give hon. Members my own experience of these timber houses. In 1934 I built a six or seven-roomed house of timber, prefabricated, in one of the bleakest parts of the country. It took exactly eight weeks to build, and, because there was no drying-out, which you normally associate with stone or brick buildings, the occupier (my mother) was able to move in on the very day that the workmen moved out. In the course of 10 years, in spite of a number of very bad winters and gales and all the rest, that house has not cost more than 2s. 6d. in external up-keep and repairs. I am excluding the actual painting of the window frames. I do not suggest that these houses are necessarily much cheaper to build than by the ordinary methods of construction, but I do submit that their great merit lies in the fact that they can be built extremely quickly, they are as good to look at and just as capable of lasting. I do not suggest that they are the answer to the problem of the town and the crowded areas, but I submit that they can make a contribution to the problem as it affects suburban housing, and, particularly, the country district.
Here let me remind the House of some-think which has only just been mentioned to-day by the hon. Lady for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George) and that is this problem of the country districts. Let me remind my hon. Friends who sit for town and industrial constituencies that we in the country have a housing problem just as acute as the towns albeit not so spectacular. It is time we realised that the agricultural worker has the right to a decent house. It is a thing we have not 330 seemingly realised before. If he cannot have, because of his vocation, some of the amenities associated with the towns, he must have a dwelling worthy of his high calling, and modern sanitation and an ample piped water supply.
In closing, let me say to the Minister of Health that, in his plan for getting rid of this dragon of overcrowding and housing shortage, he will have the whole nation behind him, always provided that he is pressing and bold enough. When the people in the services, men and women, return to civil life, when those who have been bombed out return to their old homes, when we return to something like peace-time normality, there will be two righteous demands which we will have to meet. The first will be for a decent job, and the second will be for a home to which a man can return with pride after a day's work, in which a woman can exercise her womanly qualities and in which she can take a pride, and, above all, I think, a home in which future generations can be reared to a healthy, happy, responsible citizenship. It is a high aim, but this country will accept nothing less.
§ Sir Herbert Holdsworth (Bradford, South)
I want to thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Minister of Health, and explain to him that all my criticism is not levelled at him personally. Nobody knows better than I do the difficulties he faces in his new office, but I am bound to say that, over a period of almost 13 years in this House, I have never been more disappointed than I was with the statement he made to-day. A lot of people have run away with the idea that there are to be 100,000 houses built in the first year after the war, and 200,000 in the next. Nothing the Minister said to-day, and nothing he said last week, justifies that assumption. What he really said is that they shall be built or be in course of construction.
To imagine that in the first two years, even if there were the whole of the 300,000 houses completed, it would give any satisfaction to those interested in this problem means living in a fool's paradise. Housing is the greatest social problem of our time. The conditions of housing in this country, both in urban and rural areas, are disgraceful. They are a blot on our social structure. It is the need of every person to have a decent house in which to live; a 331 house with modern conveniences, labour saving devices and designed to give full advantage of air and sunlight. There is nothing which so contributes to good citizenship and good health as good housing.
To my mind there are three partners in this problem of housing. First, the Government, second, the local authority, and third, private enterprise. When I criticised the statement made by the Minister, I should have said that I put the whole blame upon the Cabinet. Neither local authorities nor private enterprise can do anything at all unless this issue is made a major policy by the Government. There has been a good deal of criticism of certain Ministers, but I do not subscribe to it. They are absolutely circumscribed, because they can get no vital decisions from the Government on major policy. [An HON. MEMBER: "They can resign"] You cannot expect the right hon. and learned Gentleman, after being only four months in office, to resign.
§ Mr. Silverman
Surely, the constitutional principle is that the Minister in charge of a Department, as long as he remains in his Department, is responsible to this House, and if the House does not like his policy, the remedy is to attack the Minister. If he is not personally but only nominally responsible, and does not want to carry that responsibility, then surely, his remedy is clear.
§ Sir H. Holdsworth
Certainly, I do not dissent from anything that the hon. Gentleman said on that particular point, but to-day we are discussing a Motion moved by the Minister of Health, and I would be the last to be unfair to him. He has not had sufficient time for us to start being too critical. I am sorry that there is not a member of the War Cabinet on the Front Bench so that I could ask what they are doing about the Barlow, the Scott and the Uthwatt Reports. I trust that the Secretary of State for Scotland, who, I undersand, is to reply to the Debate, will give us some information on that point and tell us if he has suggested to his colleagues that major decisions should be reached. How can municipal 332 or private enterprise plan unless decisions are made on these Reports? What is the view of the Government on the location of industry? Are great cities to be allowed to extend still further or is there to be some limitation? Another very vital question that has to be decided is, Are places where ordnance factories or any kind of factory for Government purposes have been built, to be developed after the war? Until this question is answered how can we plan for more housing? The siting of industry—which is very important—should precede the launching of a national housing programme. There are problems of transport which cannot be solved or formulated until decisions of the Government are known.
Much has been said about land to-day. I do not want to be dragged into that particular controversy, but I want to make a factual statement. A good deal of exaggeration is talked about the difficulties and the price of land and its effect upon rent. It can be proved that the average price of land for the building of houses, from the end of the previous war to the beginning of the present war, was £25 per house. I think that we exaggerate that particular problem. I would like to know the attitude of the Government with regard to the acquisition of development rights in land as propounded by the Uthwatt Report. I have seen it stated that since the publication of the Uthwatt Report no house-building concern of importance has run the risk of acquiring in readiness for house-building immediately hostilities cease. How can either private enterprise or municipal enterprise plan unless the Government make decisions on these matters? No one recognises more than I do the difficulties of the Government in announcing a detailed housing problem, but there are decisions which can be made on the main problems which will govern that problem.
I do not think that it is sufficient at this period to have a conception bounded by two years; we should be thinking of a long-term policy. Have the Government made any arrangements with regard to the imports of building materials, particularly timber? I am informed that one-fifth of the earth's surface is covered with forests and that there should be no shortage of timber after the war. That is not a mere problem of housing. It solves two 333 things. If we make arrangements to import timber there is the opportunity for the export of textiles or other manufactured goods and so provide employment for our people. It is a two-way traffic. It is very important to know whether there is to be any price control and, if so, for what period. One of the difficulties as far as private enterprise is concerned will be tremendous fluctuations in value. How are the finance institutions interested in providing loans for houses to know what to lend if, after the war, houses have doubled in price compared with pre-war days, and if in five, six or seven years' time they come down by £300? How are they to fix the loans and the security for them? Are we to have fixed prices, and if so, for how long? In my view, the price of houses is bound to be high after the war. But there may be a fall after a few years, and again, I repeat, there are tremendous difficulties involved in longterm planning if there are to be tremendous changes in values. This not only applies to builders but to those interested in financing the building of houses. Another problem on which it does not seem to me any decision has been made is the demobilisation of key workers and other workers in the building industry. Is there to be a priority, so far as building is concerned, in the building of houses after the war?
I want to mention one particular subject, and I hope the Minister will give me his attention on this point, because I do not think it has been raised to-day at all and I am certain that hon. Members on those benches will not be surprised when I raise it. The Minister's statement last week, so far as I could understand it, related solely to municipal housing. When are we to have a decision on the building of houses by private enterprise? Building by private enterprise should start at the same time as municipal building. Since the last war we have built 4,000,000 houses in this country and 3,000,000 were built by private enterprise. There were 2½ million houses built by private enterprise without any assistance by way of subsidy from rates or taxes. The cost of building by local authorities is indicated by the fact that between the wars £270,000,000 was expended by the State in subsidies and a further £50,000,000 paid out of rates. These subsidies continue in some cases until 1974, at a cost of £4,000,000 per annum, and loans for 334 municipal houses have amounted since the last war to £750,000,000. Whatever our views may be about private or municipal or national enterprise no one can deny this. During the period between the two wars private enterprise was the biggest factor not only in the acceleration of house-building but also in bringing down the cost of houses. Millions of pounds were wasted after the last war in municipal housing, and I want to suggest to the Minister that the returning soldier ought not to be faced merely with accepting a municipal house. He should be able, if he wants to do so, to purchase his own house.
Most of the finance for building by private enterprise was provided by building societies. As I always believe in being quite frank with the House, I should say here that I happen to be a director of one of the large building societies. There are large funds available for post-war housing and I want to remind the Minister of what he said in his speech to-day, that the building societies are prepared to co-operate in the provision of houses for sale and of houses to rent or to let. One of the leaders of this great movement only last week made it quite clear that there is a sum of £150,000,000 per annum to finance the building of houses either to let or to rent. Can I ask the Minister whether he is taking steps to see that these facilities are used? Is private enterprise to be allowed to have its full share in the provision of this great social need? Without private enterprise a sound and healthy move towards home ownership cannot be resumed, and I do not think there is an hon. Member here, of whatever party, who would challenge the statement that the great building societies have developed among people a great sense of proprietorship and a great sense of satisfaction in the possession of one's house. It is one of the greatest movements of all time. Are we to neglect this great incentive to individual thrift and independence? In the Prime Minister's speech last March he gave us the number of people who will possess certain amounts after the war. Millions of people will have post-war credits and war savings. What better way could there be than to use those savings in the purchase of a house? I should like to see everybody a property owner and a landed proprietor. That is the way of advance and it is the way of 335 security for old age, and we can achieve this by making full use of the great mutual self-help societies.
§ Sir H. Holdsworth
I have not mentioned the name of the particular Society with which I am connected, but if the hon. Member speaks to me in private I will tell him. I do not believe you are going to house the people of this country if housing is to be limited to municipal housing.
§ Sir H. Holdsworth
If I had time I could give the House the figures of the years between the wars and show how housing was accelerated when private enterprise had a chance to function. I do not want the Minister to limit his vision in terms of pure municipal housing. The great essential is speed, and that could be accelerated if there were fewer Departments to deal with and less red tape to unravel. I believe it is a fact that seven Departments have to be contacted before one can build a house. Many people have suggested they would like to see one Department, and so would I, and that would be the Ministry of Health. Having dealt with this problem for 20 or 30 years I cannot understand why it should have been taken from that Department. I could not but smile when I heard the right hon. and learned Gentleman say he was a member of a team. We know something about teams in Yorkshire, and we know how to play as a team, but in my view this is not a question of a team at all. I do not want to use that unfortunate word "dictatorship" but I would like to see one Minister with power—a captain if you like—who could say what is to be done. For the life of me I cannot see why we should surround a Department which has dealt with this problem for 20 years with what the hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren) mentioned, the officials in the Ministries of Works and Buildings and so on. In my judgment, that is not going to help solve the problem. The more Ministers we allow to have a hand in this pie, the less result are we likely to get.
I do appeal to the Minister not to be shoved down to the position of eleventh 336 man. If he is in the team let him bat first, because his Department has always had the first innings, so far as housing is concerned. I believe that the problem of housing our people in a worthy manner can only be solved by the Government, municipal authorities and private enterprise having complete confidence in each other. That confidence can only be achieved when the Government make it clear to those involved what are their plans and decisions on major policy.
§ Mr. McKinlay (Dumbartonshire)
I do not intend to follow the hon. Member for South Bradford (Sir H. Holdsworth) because I am quite satisfied that in due course we shall get a pamphlet from the Halifax Building Society—
§ Mr. McKinlay
I understood the hon. Member to say that he was a director of the Halifax Building Society.
§ Mr. McKinlay
Well, then, of some building society. I would rather he had spent more of his time telling us exactly what is meant by the term "private enterprise." It would appear that private enterprise is quite willing to co-operate, not with its own money, so long as somebody else puts up the money. Is a building society private enterprise? Is there a building society which has ever built a house? Is it not true that building societies have financed "spec" builders and that cases have come before the courts of people having been badly let down by private enterprise by paying building societies money for something they did not get?
§ Mr. McKinlay
I am prepared on another occasion to prove that it is true. I am prepared to prove that building societies have advanced money for houses for which three coats of plaster were specified but only two coats were put on. I am also prepared to prove a building society's connection with a house in Glasgow through the walls of which a boy, when asked by the foreman whether he could hear him, replied, "Yes, and your tie is squinty." The boy could not only hear the foreman but he could see him 337 as well. As I have said, what is meant by private enterprise?
§ Mr. McKinlay
Yes, I know, but what is meant by private enterprise in the building of houses? Do hon. Members opposite want an authority to plan areas and bear all the initial costs and then step aside for the private speculator, who is not risking his own money? The major aspect of this problem is in the provision of houses to let. Private enterprise has made a substantial contribution towards this problem, but I remember in 1931 being privileged to be in attendance on my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland who, with my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), was in consultation with Sir Tudor Walters. If I mistake not, my right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) was also there.
§ Mr. McKinlay
Then a member of the party which my right hon. Friend represents. The conference was on rural housing, after which there was an agreed Measure. Those who are doing some of the shouting now about this problem were responsible for scrapping the only Measure ever placed on the Statute Book which provided decent rural accommodation at reasonable rents. [Laughter.] I do not know why there should be this humour. I know hon. Members in this House who substituted the Act of 1933 for the Wheatley subsidy. It was not the cessation of building caused by the war which created this problem. It was the deliberate policy of those who controlled the House of Commons between 1931 and 1939. They said "Leave it to private enterprise."
§ Viscountess Astor
Is it not true that in this country more people were taken out of the slums and more houses were built during that time than in any other country in the world, including that paradise, Russia?
§ Mr. McKinlay
When I want to choose a paradise I will choose it for myself. But 338 supposing I admit that what the Noble Lady says is true, it is in relation to the problem as a whole. Does she tell me that in her constituency, apart from bomb damage, the housing problem is something which has been created by the war?
§ Mr. McKinlay
Is the Noble Lady trying to tell me that the houses which were built in the West of Scotland 100 to 125 years ago—
§ Mr. McKinlay
No, but the Noble Lady is a fair example of the descendants of those who did create those conditions. I want to protest on behalf of Scottish Members that this Debate is covering England, Scotland and Wales. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] I will tell you. The unfortunate English people have to deal with six different Ministries in connection with housing. We in Scotland have to deal with only one.
§ Mr. McKinlay
The hon. and gallant Member can argue that with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.
§ Captain Duncan
May I explain to the hon. Member—because I have had to deal with it—that if you want timber, you must get it from the Ministry of Supply in London?
§ Mr. McKinlay
Yes, and I suppose that if I wanted screws from Nettlefolds in Birmingham, I would have to get a permit from the Iron and Steel Control. It is proposed, even during the war, to use a labour force created for the construction of aerodromes. There is something about this that I do not understand. Here are building trade craftsmen who were reserved because it was essential that not only aerodromes but hutments should be prepared for soldiers—to get soldiers out of the country. One would think the reverse policy would be to prepare some place for soldiers coming back. But by the end of next month there will be a redundancy of a very considerable number of men, including designated craftsmen, who are working on the roads, putting in drains and laying bricks. If the designated craftsmen are not needed in 339 the Fighting Services you are wasting their time and their skill in using them for the construction of roads. There is bound to be a considerable force of labour, normally employed on road construction, available for road construction and you can use your designated craftsmen in the work they are best suited to do, namely, building houses. I put forward this suggestion in the hope that, if the right hon. Gentleman cannot get agreement with the six Ministers responsible, he will go into conference with his Under-Secretary and agree to apply it to Scotland.
I am satisfied that the "nigger in the woodpile" is going to be the same old nigger who was always in the woodpile—the Treasury. Everyone is agreed that building trade costs must be reduced. How are they to be reduced? By the usual methods—cost of production methods. On many occasions costs of production have been cut down by reducing wages, but there are one or two things the Government might do in the interim. Will they let us have any information as to the cause of the abnormal increase in the cost of timber? Surely it is not a question of saying that the supply is restricted. I understand that even the restricted supply is controlled, yet the figures given by the Parliamentary Secretary to-day would suggest that there has been a ramp in timber. I have received letters of protest over the week-end saying that it is not so. When the war broke out, bricks in the West of Scotland were priced at 34s. per 1,000. In 1939 the price jumped to 77s. The workmen's wages increased by about ⅛d.
§ Mr. McKinlay
I am talking of the period between 1937 and 1939. The Government have the machinery to analyse the figures. We know that bricklayers in the early stages of the war entered into contracts which they never had any intention of fulfilling, because Government Departments were offering bigger prices than anyone. I do not think you can build a four-apartment house costing £950, plus £60 for roads and services, and let it to a member of the working class unless the Government have substantial financial proposals up their sleeve in the new housing legislation. On houses built in the West of Scotland 340 and completed last year the annual loss amounts to £54 odd per annum. What do the Government propose to do about it? Unless the local authorities know what their financial position is going to be, not only in the immediate post-war period but for a considerable number of years afterwards, I am satisfied that the optimistic estimates of even 50,000 houses in Scotland in the first two or three years will fall short of the output. Unless local authorities know where they are likely to be placed in connection with financial assistance, I say, as a member of a local authority with considerable experience in this line, that local authorities, who have to withstand the pressure of houseless persons even more acutely than Members of Parliament, cannot be compelled to go ahead with large-scale developments.
§ Mr. Wragg
I do not often speak in this House. The last occasion was a coal Debate, when the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) congratulated me on coming forward and said that, though I had been in the House a long time, it was only when, like the silversmiths of Ephesus, my trade was in danger that I rose to my feet. Similar circumstances do not arise to-day. I have risen to express sympathy with the Government's point of view with regard to the housing problem. How can they decide what subsidies are to be given to local authorities and to private enterprise when they do not know what houses are going to cost? In my constituency there are agricultural cottages which cost between £900 and £1,000, apart from the little bit of land. There is much talk about the cost of land, but that is a fleabite. In agricultural parts of the world the land on which an ordinary cottage is built costs about £10. This is only history repeating itself. After the last war working class houses cost £1,000 under Lord Addison's Ministry of Health, and it was only when Sir Alfred Mond became Minister of Health that he said, in effect, "If cottages are going to cost £1,000 something has to be done or there will not be any." There will not be any houses if they cost £1,000, unless the value of money is going to be altered altogether from what it is now. Why are houses costing £1,000? Of course it is due to the war—demoralisation of values altogether and demoralisation of labour. See how bricklayers work to-day compared with the way they worked 341 before the war. See the way men mix concrete compared with the way they did it before the war. The reason is obvious. When the war started the Government, having learned nothing from the last war, began to make contracts on the basis of time and percentage, and that continued for a certain time. Naturally, if the contract was based on time and percentage it meant that the longer the contract lasted the more the contractor got out of it, and that is the reason why the Select Committee on National Expenditure found out that our ordnance factories and aerodromes are costing two or three times the estimate. It was then decided that there must be a sort of target for bricklayers, and a target even for contractors. Take the target for bricklayers. For 4½ inch work it is something like 225 bricks a day, or for 9 inch work 350. I was brought up as a civil engineer and I know how many bricks a man ought to lay.
§ Mr. Wragg
In my opinion 600 or 700 a day on nine inch work on housing. Of course the retaining walls of railways or reservoirs is a different proposition. The amazing thing to my mind is that it is costing more to-day to lay bricks than it is to produce bricks. The hon. Member for Dumbartonshire (Mr. McKinlay) talked about 77s. per 1,000. I should be glad to supply millions of bricks at that figure, because the price to-day is 60s. and it is controlled. It is no use saying that the price of building materials is going up in every direction, because it is controlled. You cannot increase prices at all without the consent of the Ministry of Supply. [Interruption.] I do not know about timber. That is different, because it has to be imported. I am talking of building materials manufactured in this country. How is it that houses are costing so much? The reason is that it costs 100s. per 1,000 to lay bricks. All the processes of manufacturing bricks, including the transport and the burning of the clay, can be done for 60s., and bricklaying costs 100s. per 1,000, whereas before the war it cost 44s.
§ Mr. Quibell
The hon. Member alas been telling us about the difference in the price of bricks and the cost of bricklaying; can he tell us why we used to be able to buy bricks at 22s. 6d. and you are now charging 70s.?
§ Mr. Wragg
I thought that might arise. Before the war of 1914 bricks could be laid at 20s. per 1,000, and to-day it costs 100s., which is five times as much. Before the war of 1914 you could buy bricks at 20s. per 1,000, and to-day you can buy them for 6os. Therefore, owing to various war costs, the cost of bricks has gone up three times and the price of labour five times. All this shows the almost impossibility of the Government deciding what subsidies shall be allowed. It will be very difficult unless the price comes down. The price of a house came down from £1,000 in 1919 to £400 in 1924, and history will repeat itself. I hope that on this occasion it will not repeat itself by strikes or by unemployment, but by sweet reasonableness and compromise among people meeting together. The price is sure to come down, because I cannot see any substantial number of houses being built if the working-class house costs more than £600. That is about 50 per cent. over pre-1938 and is a reasonable price.
I would like to make one or two suggestions with regard to contracts for housing in the future. Fixed contracts should be entered into and not contracts based upon quantities. The contractors would take out their own quantities and there should be specifications and a fixed price. The Government should use the opportunities they have to buy materials in bulk. They might save a considerable amount in that way. I would also suggest that the workmen in all the different departments should be paid by results, because there is nothing like paying people according to results. Then they can get the benefit of their own energies. I hope that what I have said may be useful, because it is to my mind essential that, apart from prefabricated houses, which may for a short time get over part of our difficulties, we should have substantial, well built houses for the comfort of our people.
§ Mr. Silkin (Peckham)
Almost every speaker in the Debate has impressed upon the House the immense responsibility with which the Minister of Health is faced and the tremendous difficulty of his task. Various difficulties have been quoted indicating the size of the ultimate task with which he will have to deal, and it is difficult for an ordinary Member to make up his mind between the different figures that were given. My own impression is 343 that ultimately my right hon. and learned Friend will have to deal with an even higher figure than any of those that have been mentioned. If one looks up and down the country at the quality and condition of the houses, one will find that the vast majority, apart from those that were built after the last war, are really not up to a standard of which we should approve to-day.
For instance, in one of the larger Metropolitan boroughs of London I had the opportunity of talking to the town clerk and various officers of the council, and I was told that, with the exception of a few hundred houses, every house in that area would be condemned as not up to modern standards. That is an indication of the size of the task. It is a tremendous task with which the right hon. and learned Gentleman is faced. Housing conditions have had a set back of, I should say, at least 25 years, as a result of the war. Conditions to-day are roughly what they were about 1914. That is an indication of the leeway the Minister will have to make up. I think he said that the public were probably more concerned about housing than about any other social service, and I believe that that is true. The future of democracy in this country may depend upon whether we can solve this problem of housing successfully, and show the necessary qualities of energy, efficiency and imagination.
A great many speakers have complained of the lack of decision on the part of the Government in failing to arrive at conclusions in regard to the Uthwatt, the Scott and the Barlow Reports. I would associate myself with those speakers who complained, some of them in the very strongest terms, about the failure of the Government, particularly in relation to housing. I fully agree with all those who have spoken that it is difficult for housing authorities to make up their minds about their housing programmes until a decision has been come to by the Government and legislation introduced on the various matters dealt with in the Uthwatt Report. In passing, may I say that I read with very great interest, and a considerable measure of agreement, a document issued, to my surprise, by the Tory Reform Committee, in which they make a very strong case along the same lines?
I do not want to labour that point, which has been put remarkably well by a 344 number of speakers, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. A. Greenwood) and other hon. Members. I hope that local authorities will not use what has been said here and outside on this point as a pretext for not doing all that they can to make preparations for carrying out such housing work as is within their power. I agree that it is essential that we should have a ceiling regarding the cost of land. One has to be fair in this matter. A great deal of land can be acquired for housing purposes at prices below the ceiling and in those cases the local authorities can have no complaint that the ceiling has not been fixed. There are other cases in which speculation has taken place in land, and in which local authorities may be in a difficulty, but, at a guess, I should say that, in the majority of cases, land can be acquired at prices below the 1939 ceiling.
As has been pointed out, a good deal of land is already in the possession of local authorities. It can be said also with a great deal of truth that it is difficult for the local authorities to decide exactly on the siting of their housing until they know what is to be the content of the national plan and until such questions have been determined as the location of industry, the size of their towns, and what will be their requirements generally as to open spaces, roads and so on. I agree that there are difficulties of that sort. On the other hand, in a great many cases local authorities can determine where their housing operations shall take place, whatever the nature of the plan may be. I know London best of all, and I think it can be said that there is enough housing work to be carried out for two or three years at any rate, regardless of whether any particular plan is settled or not, because we know that, whatever plan may be settled and whatever may be done, even about the location of industry, we shall always require housing in certain areas and on certain sites which are already possessed.
Therefore, while I do not wish in the least to derogate from the strong words which have been addressed to my right hon. and learned Friend—I am sorry for him, because it is really not his fault that he merely happens to be the target that presents itself at the moment, although any other target would be equally welcome—it is right to point out that local authorities must not make the failure of 345 the Government to arrive at an early decision an excuse for not proceeding as rapidly as they possibly can.
§ Viscountess Astor
I know that the hon. Member speaks for a blitzed area. Does he mean that in London the authorities will get on with replanning, without waiting for the Uthwatt Report to be adopted?
§ Mr. Silkin
I tried to make my meaning clear. What I said was that we could get on for a time. We should have no excuse for sitting back and doing nothing, merely because the Government have not adopted the Uthwatt Report. I should feel that we were strongly to be censured if we did that. My right hon. and learned Friend has given us an indication of what he regards as a short-term programme. He is in agreement with the Labour Party. We have issued a short-term programme and a long-term programme, and we have made it a condition of our short-term programme that it should fit in and harmonise with the long-term programme, and that nothing should be done in the short-term which would prevent the long-term programme from being carried out. I know that many hon. Members are somewhat disappointed with the number of houses which my right hon. and learned Friend has promised in the first two years after the war. I understand his promise as not necessarily meaning that all those houses will be completed. Personally, and with some experience of building to a programme of housing where there were very few difficulties and no problems of finance, I realise how difficult it will be to achieve even the figures which he gave. I do not say at the moment that we cannot do very much better than we did after the last war, but it is right to remember that it took us seven years after the last war to reach an annual output of 200,000 houses. That is not to say that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has not done well, but I should like to remind the House that 4,000,000 houses were built 'between the wars, by private enterprise and the local authorities, and of that 4,000,000, nearly 2,000,000 were built in the last five years before the war.
§ Mr. Silkin
I will say a word about private enterprise later on. I am not going to burke that issue. I think we have to face it. As I say, even those 346 figures which my right hon. and learned Friend has put forward can only be attained by the most energetic action, and therefore I hope he will see to it that the sites really are cleared and made available and suited for housing, that plans are prepared—you have to be behind the local authorities, to be at their back all the time, to see that the plans are prepared—and even, so far as is possible, provisional contracts entered into, so that the moment the signal "Go" is given building operations can be commenced. I think if he does that there is a chance, at any rate, that his figures will be attained.
The question arises, What part can private enterprise play in this short-term programme? My right hon. and learned Friend has assumed that they will not be in a position to play a very great part. I want to say here that the housing problem is so urgent that we ought not to let any political question stand in the way of housing people as rapidly and efficiently as possible. If private enterprise can do the job let them get on with it. I should not stand in the way. But private enterprise will in any case be carrying out a great deal of the work. The work will be contracted. The contractors are private enterprise, and to talk foolishly about private enterprise against municipal enterprise seems to me to be lacking in clarity. The work is really a partnership between private enterprise and municipal enterprise.
As a matter of fact the great bulk of the housing that will be required in the short-term programme will be housing that will have to be let at low rents, at rents which are uneconomic, and of course private enterprise is not interested in uneconomic rents, and it is for that reason, I imagine, that my right hon. and learned Friend took the view that there was no place for private enterprise, as it is generally understood, in the programme of the early years. Private enterprise only comes in at the time when profits can be made, and I am afraid those will have to wait. But I would like to suggest to private enterprise, Why not come in and take a hand in this particular type of rehousing? Private enterprise would, of course, prefer in the main to build houses for sale, but the great demand will be for houses to let. Why should not private enterprise come in, have a good try, and build houses to let at rents which those 347 who inhabit them will be able to afford to pay?
§ Sir Harry Selley (Battersea, South)
May I ask the hon. Member whether, if private enterprise came in to build houses to let, he would agree that they should have the same conditions, such as the subsidy, as the local authority?
§ Mr. Silkin
I shall face all the issues. Let them come in and carry out their housing on the same terms as the local authorities, that is to say, let them charge the same kind of rents, let them be subject to the same strict methods of management, and carry out repairs and maintenance in the same sort of way. If they do this, if they are willing to be in the same position as local authorities are, I see no reason why they should not get the same subsidy as the local authority.
§ Mr. Colegate
Would the hon. Member also include the right of compulsory acquisition of land which the municipal authorities are to have?
§ Mr. Silkin
Municipal authorities do not fare particularly well from a financial point of view out of compulsory acquisition of land, but arrangements have been made in the past between local authorities and private enterprise to lease land to enable them to build. I should myself not oppose any such arrangement provided that private enterprise could deliver the goods. The predominant consideration must be the provision at the earliest possible moment of housing of the kind that is needed.
I want to say a word about standards of construction. I think this is most important. On the next Sitting Day my right hon. and learned Friend will probably be telling the House of the great improvement in health that has taken place among the people of this country in the past 20 or 25 years, and I think we are justly entitled to be proud of that achievement. But I wish to claim that in a very great measure this improvement in health is due to improved standards of housing accommodation, and probably in another context my right hon. and learned Friend would be claiming the same thing. I think it is very true that housing standards largely determine the conditions of life in which people live, and therefore, whatever happens, I want an assurance from my right hon. and learned Friend 348 that we shall not lower our standards, whether in permanent construction or temporary construction. Indeed, great pressure will be put upon him to improve our standards, and I hope he will succumb to that pressure. There must be no excuse for compromise along those lines. The report of the Dudley Committee has been referred to. I do not think the Dudley Committee is the last word on housing, but at any rate this is a Report which was made by a large number of people representing all types of opinion. They unanimously arrived at the decision that considerably improved standards of housing are necessary. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will not lightly disregard the recommendations of that Committee.
My right hon. and learned Friend has, since last November, given local authorities and private enterprise considerably increased powers of carrying out repairs and maintenance and adaptations and conversions of certain types of houses. I wish it were possible to carry out all the arrears of repairs and maintenance during the war, so that when the war ends we can go right ahead with the work of new construction. Unless we do that we shall be faced with an enormous burden of arrears, and to that extent the undertaking of new construction will be interfered with. I should like my right hon. and learned Friend to be energetic and approach the Minister of Labour, and see whether he cannot get the necessary labour, much more than he has got at the present time, to carry out this work of repair and maintenance and conversion and get that out of the way. Otherwise he will find himself with perhaps two years' work. I think the figure of two years' work has been mentioned as representing the arrears of maintenance and repairs.
But when all that is done, when he has carried out all this temporary work during the war and made all the preparations for the 300,000 houses he proposes to build in the first two years after the war, he will still not have gone very far towards solving the problem which he himself has placed before the House, of providing 1,000,000 houses which he says are urgently needed during the short-term period. I think he has somewhat understated the requirements. If, in fact, the proposal is to provide every family that 349 needs it with a separate house during this first period, then these requirements will be substantially greater than 1,000,000.
I should like to remind the House that in London alone two families out of three are sharing houses which in the main were built for occupation by single families. If the Minister is going to spread out these large numbers of people at present sharing houses in London—and I think these conditions are prevalent all over the country at present—he will need far more than 1,000,000 houses. So he is proposing to put up a certain number of houses with a limited life. I think it is useful to put it that way rather than to call them temporary houses, because a great deal of the other work that is being done, such as conversion, will be of a temporary nature. The Minister has asked the House to retain an open mind on this, subject. I want to ask him to retain an open mind on the subject, because I gathered from his remarks that the Government were more or less pledged to the provision of these houses with a limited life.
While no one who realises the size of the problem will lightly reject any solution, we are entitled to set out certain conditions which must be observed if these houses with a limited life are to be provided. I would ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman to bear these points in mind. First, these houses must not be sub-normal. They must be provided with the normal amenities, and the rooms must be of the normal size. In fact, they must be normal houses, but built less strongly with a shorter life than the normal life. I do not know whether you are going to get that type of house. My own view is that if you can get a house which will stand up to the normal wear and tear of houses for 15 years—and you have to reckon on 15 years, because you will not be able to dispense with these houses until you have an adequate supply of permanent houses—you will have a house which will stand up for 50 years. You have to find a house which will have a normal life of 15 years and not much longer, and it must be a normal, not a sub-standard, house. The second thing is that it must not be built on a site where permanent houses are to be built. I have been told that these temporary houses will be put on the sites of bombed dwellings. In so far as this will not interfere with longterm housing progress, I should have no 350 objection, but you must not put them on sites which will be wanted for permanent housing. That will limit your choice. I am told that these temporary houses will be built in one storey, and, therefore, they will take up more space than normal houses. Having regard to the fact that you cannot put them close together, because they are not insulated against sun, you can get only a few houses.
§ Captain Duncan
Does the hon. Member think that in the London area there is really any scope for that type of house?
§ Mr. Silkin
I do not close my mind to anything, but that is the way my mind is working. Thirdly, my right hon. and learned Friend must look at cost. It is a regrettable necessity, but I am told that these temporary houses will cost just as much as permanent houses, if not more. My right hon. and learned Friend may doubt it, but a short time ago I had a reply from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. He has been carrying out some experiments, turning Nissen huts into temporary accommodation. He has converted them into three-apartment and four-apartment dwellings, and the cost of converting a Nissen hut into a three-apartment dwelling was £790, and of converting it into a four-apartment dwelling £890. I want to be quite fair, as I hope I always am. My right hon. Friend did say that, as time went on and he did the conversion in numbers, he hoped that the cost would come down.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. T. Johnston)
Did I not also say that it was a rush job, that double time had to be paid, and that there were other allowances of that kind which had to be made?
§ Mr. Silkin
My right hon. Friend did not actually say, in the answer to the question, that it was double time, but I do not dispute that. If we are to spend money on that scale, I think the case for the temporary houses breaks down. It can be justified only on the basis that it is substantially less costly than a permanent house. Moreover, I am told that these houses cannot take the ordinary coal grate, and that heating and cooking have to be done by gas and electricity. In areas where the cost of electricity is high, that will be a very great burden on the people who have to live in them. Taking all these factors into account, it looks as if there is some doubt whether it will be 351 really practicable to adopt a policy on any scale of providing houses with a limited life.
I want to say a word on building costs. That is a subject with which several hon. Members have dealt. It looks as if at the end of the war with Germany building costs will be 75 per cent. above pre-war —it may be 70 per cent. or 80 per cent., but I think 75 per cent. is roughly right. On the basis of letting such houses at existing rents in London—which I think is a fair example—the loss per annum will be £30 over a period of 60 years. That is the amount which will have to be made up out of public funds. In other areas where rents are lower the deficiency will be greater. I want my right hon. and learned Friend to face up to that fact. How long are we to carry on paying per £30 annum in respect of the houses that have been put up? Therefore, something must be done about building costs. I am not going to attempt, in the few minutes left to me, to apportion the blame for high costs, as between labour, the builder, and the cost of material. It is a technical question which requires a great deal more investigation than I have been able to give to it. In a normal house the cost of material represents 55 per cent. and the cost of labour represents 45 per cent., in the case of direct labour. If the cost of building is to come down, all parties will have to make a contribution; and I do not rule out the fact that labour will have to make a contribution. It is stated—and this will have to be investigated—that the output of labour is not altogether satisfactory. I do not deny that men who are guaranteed a reasonable week's work should be required to produce a reasonable week's output.
I think it is a profound mistake to assume that, having got a reasonable output from labour, you have thereby solved the problem of cost. You have done nothing of the kind. You have still to deal with the cost of materials, and you have still to deal with the fact—it is, unfortunately, a fact, in spite of what has been said about private enterprise—that the t building industry is not altogether the most efficient industry. I can think of a great many industries more efficient than building, and the building industry has a great responsibility in this matter, too.
I began my speech by referring to the difficulties and responsibilities of my right 352 hon. Friend, and I want to end it by referring to his great opportunity. He has an opportunity which many will envy. I hope he will seize this opportunity and take advantage of it and show courage. I think courage is probably the quality that is most needed. May I say to him that I believe he has shown it by coming to this House and not holding out glamorous promises of what he hopes to be able to do? He would have had a much easier passage in the Debate to-day if he had been able to tell the House that he had a proposition to build a million houses in the first two years, but these promises would have come back to him in the end. I think he has shown courage, at any rate, in facing the storm to-day and not promising to the House more than he can carry out. May I wish him, as this is the first occasion on which he has addressed this House on such an important matter, the very best of success?
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. T. Johnston)
I am quite sure I am expressing the views of every Member of the Government who heard the speech to which we have just listened, when I say that we are extremely grateful to the hon. Member for it. It was a constructive statement and will be of very great assistance to us. I entirely agree with the hon. Member in the first proposition he put. The size of this problem is so great that no previous predilections should stand in the way of any honest attempt to remedy, at least partially, the difficulties with which we are faced. In Scotland, we have, according to the last census, 300,000 houses without separate lavatory accommodation. What that means can better be guessed than expressed. We have areas where there are 40 per cent. of our householders living in over-crowded conditions, and this state of affairs, unfortunately, has been accentuated and aggravated by the war. Building has stopped, repairs have had to be postponed, there were blitzing and bombing in particular areas, and the nation, the Government and all parties in the State must face up as best they can to remedying the present parlous state of affairs. My right hon. and learned Friend and I were in this dilemma. We could not afford to wait any longer in making the initial preparations for a mass attack, within the limits of our power, upon this housing problem. We could not afford to wait until all the 353 niceties and intricacies of the Barlow Committee Report, the Uthwatt Report—
§ Mr. Johnston
We are in this unfortunate position that we had to decide whether or not we could afford to wait. That is what we had got to decide. [Interruption.] Perhaps the Noble Lord will permit me to continue.
I was cheering. Are not cheers now permitted by the Government as well as "ironical cheers"?
§ Mr. Johnston
I always respond to a cheer but, in the limited time at my disposal, it is an embarrassment rather than a help. We had to face the fact that action within the limits of our power was urgent and we made up our minds that we would press forward at once with the servicing of sites in areas of the local authorities, particularly in the more blitzed and the difficult areas. We discovered that there would be a labour reserve force, with machinery, such as bulldozers and so on, available in the late spring of this year, and we asked that this force should be put at the disposal of the Health Departments so that it should not be allowed to be dispersed but would be diverted to the local authorities to ensure that drainage, water supplies, sewage, paths, roads, should be prepared this year for what possibilities of construction later on could be secured. No hon. Member, as far as I have heard to-day, has objected to that step, but hon. Members say, "What about the prices of land? What are you paying for land? Are you not going back on your pledges about Uthwatt?" To the best of our knowledge and belief, as my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) confirmed from his wide experience in the London area, we are paying now for land, substantially, March, 1939, prices, and in some cases we are paying less than those prices. That is the report given to me by the Chief Valuer in Scotland, and it is, I believe, the experience also even in the large industrial areas in England.
The local authorities have now, by and large, one year's land in their possession. 354 We are urging them to double it and informing them that this can be undertaken and the land can be acquired without in any way violating the pledges of the Government about accepting in principle the Uthwatt, March, 1939, ceiling. Members to-day have expressed some considerable apprehension even on that point. They say, "What about land? What about these prices that you are paying?" I have no predilections in favour of paying high prices to landlords for land, but do let us get this thing in its proper focus. The hon. Gentleman the Member for South Bradford (Sir H. Holdsworth) said that the average cost of land per house, in the' period between the two wars, was about £25. In my part of the country that price is too high. The average price with us was about £20 or £200 per acre. May I put this to the House, without any desire to make a scoring or debating point, but simply to get the facts square.
Two hundred pounds per acre, ten houses to the acre, means £20 per house, and the current Public Works Loan Board rate is 3¼ per cent. A 60 years annuity at 3¼ per cent. is £3 16s., giving a cost per house of 15s. 2d. per annum, or, including interest, 3½d. per week. I am not saying it is too high or too low. That is all there is in it, and even if it could be knocked down to 3¼d. or 3d. I, for one, would not allow that figure to stand in the way of making what immediate preparations I can to get some kind of large scale housing development.
The hon. Member also referred to what might happen in the lowering of standards of these emergency houses. I put this to him—that he would do better to take to himself the advice he gave to the Minister, to wait. He will not have to wait long. In about another month we shall see the prototype house which the Ministry of Works have, after long negotiations and adaptations and discussions with various sections of the building industry, been able to prepare as their recommended type of emergency house. I believe that this will be ready for inspection by Members of this House, in London, in about a month's time. I have seen the first attempt. I have been inside that house, which struck me as splendid. The gadgets, the health conditions—everything is splendid. I thought some improvements could be made to the outside appearance, and I believe 355 the Minister is making them. I would strongly urge the hon. Member whose experience and knowledge of this problem is very great indeed, to await its inspection before he decides to criticise. If it be the case that these emergency houses can be rushed up at great speed—this is the point—then there will be a very considerable augmentation of the programme of which my right hon. Friend gave figures this morning. In my view, therefore, it is of the highest importance that we should use what labour force we have to secure the erection at the earliest possible moment of decent sanitary accommodation for our people.
I will accept a great deal of what the hon. Member said about standards, but I do not accept it all. I think that if we can ensure, at all events, hot and cold water, separate sanitary conveniences, a bath, decent air space, living space and, provided that the accommodation is limited to tenure of occupancy by licence, provided that all these houses are owned by the community for that licensed period, then I am sure that the hon. Member will do the cause which he has so much at heart the very greatest service, if he will aid and encourage the early provision of the maximum number of these houses. What is the limiting condition to housing?
§ Mr. Johnston
It is labour. It is not money. We can deal with that at other times and in another way.
§ Viscountess Astor
The re-organisation of Plymouth depends entirely upon the power to acquire land.
§ Earl Winterton
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman a friendly question? Surely he cannot contend that the question of the future attitude of Parliament towards land in built-up areas, such as Plymouth, is not the most considerable factor in the situation at this moment? Surely the Legislature must decide before we take action?
§ Mr. Johnston
I intended to come to that point in a moment but in case the limitation of time prevents me I will try to deal 356 with it now. His Majesty's Gracious Speech, at the opening of this Session, contained the words:You will be invited to pass legislation conferring special powers for the re-development of areas which, by reason of enemy action, overcrowding or otherwise, need to be re-planned as a whole. My Government will lay before you the results of their examination of the reports which have been made recommending the assumption of further powers to control and direct the use of the land of Great Britain.
§ Mr. Johnston
I do not know what he said, or what Mr. Gladstone said; I am dealing with the King's Speech and with the pledge of His Majesty's Government. That pledge stands. Legislation will be introduced in conformity with that pledge but I submit that it does not arise on this discussion to-day. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] We were not asked to come to this House to-day with our proposals about the Uthwatt Report; we were not asked to come forward to-day with our proposals about the Barlow Report. We were asked specifically in this House to have a discussion on housing, arising out of a statement which was made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Health recently.
§ Mr. Molson
As far back as the time of the King's Speech the Government made a promise that they would introduce legislation to deal with this matter on comprehensive lines. The point of the criticisms which have been made, and to which we would like an answer, is that it is putting the cart before the horse to deal with this on piecemeal lines, when there is a promise of comprehensive legislation.
§ Mr. Johnston
I am trying to make the point that the pledge has been made and will be kept. What we decided to do was to see whether we should deal with the mass servicing of sites, have negotiations with local authorities and get what we could now until legislation following the Government's promises on the Uthwatt Report, the Barlow Report, re-development and the rest of it had been implemented. The hon. Member thinks we are putting the cart before the horse. [HON. MEMBERS: 357 "Hear, hear."] Well, we think otherwise. We think that the local authorities, so far as we have contacted them, will agree with us. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I said so far as we have contacted them.
§ Sir H. Holdsworth
The local authorities have been pressing this matter for many months. I happen to be vice-president of the Association of Municipal Corporation and I know their attitude.
§ Viscountess Astor
Is it not true that until the Government take these major decisions it will mean delaying the provision of houses?
§ Mr. Johnston
The point I am endeavouring to put, under conditions of some difficulty, is that in our judgment we decided, and we think rightly—and the Association of Local Authorities in Scotland think rightly, for I have discussed it with them—that we should, immediately, set about using the opportunities which will come to us this or next month, in the labour force which will be available for the mass servicing of sites; that we should not allow it to be dispersed and that we should not await legislation on the Uthwatt and Barlow Reports or anything else. The hon. Member for South Bradford (Sir H. Holdsworth) said that he wanted to await Barlow and the location of industry. I disagree entirely. I do not desire to await decisions about the location of industry.
§ Mr. Johnston
I beg the hon. Member to believe that that is how he will be reported to-morrow. This is a matter of considerable importance. If we had allowed the dispersal of this force nine-tenths of the Members of this House would have risen and shouted epithets at us and said, "You are ill stewards and have failed in your duty." We decided that we would not allow that chance to go. We have discussed with the local authorities the question of the mass servicing of the sites, and a large number of the major local authorities are in entire agreement with us—Glasgow, for example. This is 358 the first step we have to take. It meant taking the land and clearing the land. It meant doing it now, without waiting precise definitions and decision about Uthwatt, Barlow and the rest.
§ Mr. Johnston
May I say a further word about the emergency type of houses? We have been exploring, with the Swedish authorities, the question of the provision of timber houses. We are exploring also with the Canadian Government the question of timber houses. Experiments are being made about steel houses. Alterations and adaptations of war-time hostels are being made. One has been highly successful outside Glasgow at a cost of £206 per house—very much cheaper than the figure quoted earlier. There are any number of other possible adaptations, and I will cheerfully do my best to facilitate all of them. Like the hon. Gentleman, I would not allow any previous theories of mine to stand in the way of the immediate provision of some kind of decent sanitary dwellings. The needs are great, and the announcement by the Government in the House last week that we were in favour of producing legislation to amend the law regarding subsidies, so that they will be widened for general needs and not confined, as they are now, to the provision of houses to replace slums or overcrowded houses, will, I think, commend itself to all sections of the House. Hundreds and thousands of the troops will come back expecting to get a decent home. The young fellows cannot get a decent home if the subsidies are confined to the provision of houses to replace slums or overcrowding. Therefore, the Government have decided to promote legislation to widen the subsidy arrangements.
§ Mr. Johnston
I understood that the point about private enterprise had been pretty fully and reasonably put in the statement that private builders and contractors will certainly be employed and used as sub-contractors during this two-year programme. I do not pretend to see a long distant future. I cannot see it. What we are dealing with here is the immediate programme for two years' provision of houses. If there are theories about private enterprise, I am not going to quarrel with them. I say, let them fit themselves into this proposal for the mass servicing of sites, the mass provision of houses and the greatest possible production of houses. More than that, I do not think it is possible for any Government honestly to say at this juncture. We have still very difficult months ahead of us, and I. submit that we are taking the only steps possible to us, to prepare the way for the large programme of housing—
§ Mr. McKinlay
Will the new subsidy conditions be as indicated by the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. Bossom) and be retro-active for the authorities who are building now so that the subsidies will apply to houses completed during the war?
§ Mr. Johnston
We hope to enter into discussions with the local authorities. There are two or three options that they may have. One is that they defer the question of the rate of the subsidy until prices are more accurately ascertained and stabilised. There were cases two months ago when we were presented with tenders for £1,650 per house.
§ Mr. Johnston
They were by private enterprise. They compared with tenders for £950 in neighbouring counties, and we would not agree to them. They would mean inflation and a repetition of the disasters that befell the housing programme under the Addison Act, and we were not in favour of them.
§ Earl Winterton
As I asked for this Debate, and have not taken part in it, I should like to make one observation. We are most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his speech, but I want to say to 360 him and to the Government, that no Government will survive for long if they come before the House with such an inadequate policy as they have presented to-day.
§ Viscountess Astor
Can the Minister give any answer to the mayors and corporations of the blitzed towns?
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That this House, being concerned at the hardship caused by the stoppage of house building during the war and recognising the urgent need to provide for families without homes of their own, is of the opinion that all possible steps should be taken, consistent with the paramount needs of the war effort, to enable house building to be resumed at the earliest moment.