§ Major Sir Basil Neven-Spence (Orkney and Shetland)
Before you call on the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) to move his Motion, may I raise a point of Order, Mr. Speaker? Scotland has a special interest in this subject, and Scottish Members generally feel that it might add to the value of their contributions of the Debate, and suit the convenience of hon. Members generally, if we could get some indication from you that at a certain stage of the Debate Scottish Members would find themselves more favourably placed for catching your eye.
§ Mr. Speaker
I do not think it is possible to do what the hon. and gallant Member suggests. Quite frankly, I do intend if possible to call such hon. Members, but I cannot guarantee they will have any special time to themselves. There are a great many hon. Members who wish to speak. I have the names of 34 hon. Members who wish to make maiden speeches, and a large number of hon. Members who wish to make speeches that are not maiden speeches. All I can do is pick out one or two from each area, as far as possible, and I am sorry that the others will have to be disappointed.
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
Is it not possible during the proceedings for the "usual channels" to meet and decide to suspend the Standing Order? Many Members are anxious to speak on the question of housing—I am not one of them; I am not going to speak, and I am not speaking for myself—which is so near to their lives and the lives of their constituents and I would ask the Leader of the House what he has to say on the matter.
§ 3.21 p.m.
§ Mr. R. S. Hudson (Southport)
I beg to move,That this House views with grave apprehension the existing shortage of houses in both urban and rural areas and urges His Majesty's Government to give continuous attention to the related problems of labour and material required for repair and reconstruction, as well as for the building of new houses.The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), speaking in the last Debate on housing in the late Parliament, said housing was one of the most vital human issues, and he went on to say that it was one, unlike foreign trade, which we could solve, if we chose, by our own efforts. The object of the Motion that stands in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) and others of my right hon. Friends is designed to give the opportunity for as wide a Debate as possible, and also to try to elicit from His Majesty's Government an account of the efforts they are making, and the results they have achieved, and of the steps, if any, they have in contemplation. I understand that the Government welcome this Debate because it will afford the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health an opportunity of making an early statement. We hope, when he comes to make it, it will be a full and frank statement and that he will face up to realities, and will not attempt to draw red herrings across trails, or put up smoke screens. In order to help the right hon. Gentleman and to remove any temptation he might otherwise have felt to avoid questions on any particular subjects, my remarks to-day will consist to a very large extent of questions, to which we on this side of the House believe hon. Members as well as the public at large are entitled to receive answers which are both full and frank. The subject is a vast one, and I know from what 1208 Mr. Speaker has said that a very large number of hon. Members wish to speak, and I will try to be as brief as I can.
Before I turn to the wider aspect I want to spend a moment or two on the particular part of the problem in which I am particularly interested, namely, rural housing. This has been the subject of more than one Report by the Hobhouse Committee, and in their last Report, the Hobhouse Committee say that theyfear that the less sensational though no less urgent claim of the rural areas may once again be pushed into the background.There have been signs recently that this fear may be well-founded, and I am not sure that hon. Members in different parts of this House, and indeed the public at large, fully realise how desperate is the rural housing situation, and not only how desperate it is, but how vastly more important it is to-day, not only to the individualsliving in the country—that human issue about which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield spoke—but for the nation at large, if this nation is to continue to be reasonably fed. Perhaps the House will forgive me if I dwell for a moment on this matter. Before the war, it was estimated that, in urban areas, one person in four was living in a house that had been built within the last 20 years. The situation in the rural areas is far less satisfactory and it is probable that the proportion did not rise as high as one in 10. The low standard of accommodation in the country was, undoubtedly, one of the contributory factors of the then drift from the country into the towns, and, although to the nation at large that might have seemed in those days a matter of comparatively small importance, except in so far as it contributed to increasing the problem of unemployment in the towns, I believe the nation to-day cannot view a recurrence of that drift with complacency if, as I say, at the same time it desires to continue to be fed.
I think it is common ground on all sides of the House, and in all parts of the country now, that during many years to come, we shall have to maintain the production of food at home at something approaching the global total which we have achieved in recent years. If there was any doubt at all in the minds of anyone as to whether that was so or not, the events of the last few weeks, the comparatively short interruption or disturbance of 1209 the regular flow of supplies through the ports, and the prospect of our maintaining our existing rationing are sufficient to convince anyone, if they doubt it, of the truth of what I have just said. In the last days of the Coalition Government estimates were made by the Ministries of Agriculture and Food from which it was clear that, if this level of production was to be maintained, a substantial increase of man-power over pre-war figures in agriculture was essential. During the war we secured that increase of manpower by prisoners—Italian and German—by members of the Women's Land Army and by volunteers in harvest camps. Clearly, those sources are bound steadily to diminish and eventually to dry up and we shall then be confined to our own resources. In order to obtain the manpower, we shall have to rely upon attracting into the industry substantial numbers of new workers—I hope ex-Servicemen. But no intake of new workers will be of any avail unless living conditions in the countryside are sufficiently improved to induce existing workers to continue to remain in the country, once the effects of the present standstill under the Essential Work Order is removed.
In my view, therefore—and I think it is the view of most people who have made any study of it—two things are necessary. In the first place, we have to build a very large number of new houses. My own guess, based on a considerable study at the Ministry of Agriculture, is that we require a minimum of 300,000 new houses in the countryside, of which we require at least 100,000 in the first two or three years in order to provide the accommodation for that new intake. But it is idle to believe that there is any possibility in any time that matters of re-housing in new houses the whole of the existing workers in agriculture, let alone the tens of thousands of workers in rural areas in the industries ancillary to agriculture. Therefore, the second essential—the first being the provision of new houses—is reconditioning on a very considerable scale as a partner to new building.
It will be rightly understood, therefore, with what feelings of consternation we on this side of the House heard of the decision of the Government to drop the renewal of the Housing (Rural Workers) Act. This action was defended on several grounds. It was stated, I think by the 1210 Lord Privy Seal, that the Act had been a dead letter. I should be the first to admit that the Act, in England, during many years, had not been made as much use of as many of us would have liked. It had, certainly, been made much more use of in Scotland, but the extent to which it was being made use of was steadily increasing in the last years before the war, and whereas, 10 years after it had been introduced, about 1,000 cottages were being reconditioned, that number had been more than trebled by 1938. If we look into this, we find that the Hobhouse Committee threw a very interesting light on many of the reasons why this Act had not been taken advantage of as much as we should have liked.
That Committee attributed, to a large extent, to local authorities the responsibility for failure to bring the conditions of using the Act permanently to the notice of the persons concerned. They said, further, that, in many cases, local authorities had adopted an attitude that it was a dole to private landlords which they were reluctant to encourage. But the Hobhouse Committee, at the same time, pointed out that this was based upon complete misapprehension. The Act was specifically designed, not to benefit the individual landlord, but to ensure that the whole of the benefits accrued to the occupier of the cottage. In any case, the Bill which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North Croydon (Mr. Willink) introduced in the Summer was specifically designed, together with a number of administrative acts which he had made, to make the new Bill, when it became an Act, workable.
The second reason which was given for dropping the Bill, was that it would divert building labour from building new cottages. Again, I do not believe that there is any substantial foundation for that belief. I am not suggesting for a moment that we should confine all our activities to reconditioning. Reconditioning, as the Hobhouse Committee pointed out, ought to proceed in partnership with new building. That Committee pointed out that conditions in different parts of the country varied radically—conditions of availability of labour, and conditions of the necessity for new cottages—because, in some cases, the emphasis had to be on new cottages, and, in others, on reconditioning. But one 1211 of the great advantages of reconditioning, over new house building, as I see it, is that it does enable the small local contractor, with a few building operatives, to make the maximum contribution, which he probably could not make if asked to tender for a local authority scheme of 10, 12 or 16 houses. Above all, it has the great advantage that it can be put into operation forthwith without waiting for the delays inherent, however good the administration is, in purchasing land, providing roads and sewers and so forth before you can start building any new cottages. In other words, you can get reconditioning going on a substantial scale, while you are getting ready to start your housing scheme.
I am very much afraid that the real reason for the action of the Government is a dislike on the part of the Minister of Health and many of his friends for anything that savours of helping private enterprise. [An Hon. Member: "Landlords."] I am glad that the hon. Member agrees that my diagnosis is correct. That brings me to the first of the questions which I would like to put. I would like to know, and I am sure large numbers of hon. Members on this side of the House and of people in the country would like to know, whether the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health consulted his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture before he made this announcement. We should be very interested to know that. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health would like to give me an answer now, because, if so, I should be very glad to give way for him. Those of us who have been in previous Parliaments will agree that the right hon. Gentleman was not always so coy when sitting on these benches. However, as the Minister of Health does not seem anxious to answer, perhaps his right hon. Friend who use to be my Under-Secretary will tell me? Did he agree to this? I think the House can draw its own conclusions. After all, the answer is "Yes" or "No." I am willing to give way, but neither of the right hon. Gentlemen will answer that question, and I think we are entitled to assume that the answer is "No. "That is the first example we have come across of carrying out the plans for national planning about which we have heard so much.
1212 Be that as it may, the effect of the right hon. Gentleman's action is twofold. In the first place, it is going to jeopardise the food supply of this country, because if you do not provide the houses for the new intake and do not make it possible to improve the existing houses sufficiently to maintain existing workers in the industry, you are not going to have the increased supplies of food, and above all, of milk, which the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Food are so insistently demanding. The second effect is to condemn thousands, or tens of thousands, of agricultural workers up and down the country to continue to live in houses built long before the present standards of amenity were settled. You are going to condemn thousands of young men and women coming back from the Services to living conditions far below what they need have been, and for far longer than is necessary. I hope that, despite what has been said, the Government will review their decision, and that the Minister will announce to-day a revival of the reconditioning drive alongside the drive for new houses.
In that hope, I would like to make a practical suggestion. I would suggest that rural builders and contractors should be asked, forthwith, for a list of men who used to be in their employ and who are now in the Forces, and that instructions should be issued for the release in Class B forthwith of these men, on the condition that they return to their previous employment. It is important, if we are to get the full benefit of this proposal that the small local contractor should not be compelled to drop all his agricultural work and all his work on private cottages. I am sorry to see, in one or two instances that have been brought to my notice, these instructions have, in fact, been issued, and have been made a condition of getting the men back. I hope the Minister of Labour will look into this point and see that the necessary instructions are issued. Very urgent as is the need for new cottages in the countryside, and the reconditioning of existing ones, it is equally important, and I am sure the Minister of Agriculture will agree, that we should make available a certain amount of local labour to make a start on the overtaking of arrears of maintenance and repair of farm buildings, if we are to get the increased food and safe and clean milk which we all believe is so important.
1213 So much for rural housing. Now let me turn to the general questions, to which we hope the Minister will reply. Last Spring, the Coalition Government announced a housing programme of 500,000 houses built or building in the first two years after V.E. Day, of which 300,000 were to be permanent. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield, in one of the speeches which he made here, described that programme as "chicken feed." Certainly, we, on this side of the House, and I think the public at large, expect that, with the sudden ending of the Japanese war, the Government would be able substantially to improve on that programme, and possibly, instead of chicken-feed, produce a lusty cockerel. We shall expect him to tell us what the new target is, and, in particular, how many houses he expects to have completed by March, 1946, and, still more important, by March, 1947.
Houses cannot be built without land, materials and labour. There are some signs recently that the right hon Gentleman may be going to try to ride off on the excuse that the land is not available. He will, no doubt, tell us what his new powers for local authorities are to be. When he comes to speak, I hope he will be able to say whether or not it is a fact that, as long ago as last March, local authorities actually owned land sufficient for 300,000 houses and were in process of acquiring land for another 350,000 houses, and that, as far as the central Government were concerned, clearance had been given for the acquisition of land for an additional 900,000 houses. It is very difficult for us, at all events, to believe that, if these figures are correct, as I believe them to be, land is, at the moment, the limiting factor. It may be, in isolated cases, but, taking the country as a whole, over the next two years, and looking at the global figures, that is not the bottle-neck. Is the Minister satisfied with the present output of building materials? If not, is labour the chief bottle-neck? If it is labour, we shall be very glad to know what steps he is taking, with the Minister of Labour, to direct more labour into the building material industry. So far as the building industry itself is concerned, the Coalition Government announced their intention of expanding it from 350,000 to 800,000 in the 12 months after V.E. Day. We shall be glad to know what the new target is.
1214 There are two sources of labour—one the Forces and the other industry, especially munitions industry. I will not weary the House with long quotations from speeches by the Lord Privy Seal, but, if the right hon. Gentleman were here, he would no doubt remember that, last June, he claimed that there was a very large number indeed of men in the munitions industry who could be released and who could be, quite quickly and easily, trained for house building. It will be interesting to know whether his colleagues, now in power, entertain the same views, and, if they do, what measures they propose to take for implementing his claim. We should also like to know the number of releases to date in Class A and Class B, and the target set for Class B. The last figure I was given, in answer to a Question about releases, was 4,000, which seems to be a pretty disappointing figure, and we shall be glad to know whether the Government have any plans for expediting releases.
Then we come to the important question of price control. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House will remember promising the country in a broadcast that we would get homes for the people at prices that people could pay and without bleeding the taxpayer to pay unduly high subsidies. We shall be glad to hear from the right hon. Gentleman what steps he proposes to take to combine those two admirable objects. We have heard rumours of tenders being received at very high prices for houses. We have heard rumours that the right hon. Gentleman has refused to accept those tenders. We shall be glad to know what steps he proposes to take to fill the gap, and to deal with the provision of houses that would otherwise have been built. We should also like to know what he proposes to do about controlling the price of building materials. Important elements in the price of building materials are coal and wages. Do the Government propose to take steps to maintain the price of coal or to prevent a rise in the price of coal and in the wage levels? If they do not, do they propose to allow the price of building materials to rise proportionately? Failing that, we should like to know whether they propose to adopt the only other alternative we know of, which is to give a subsidy to the building material industry; and how does 1215 he reconcile it with the promise made by the Leader of the House?
Then we should like to know what are the latest views of the Government about prefabricated houses. Again, in the Debate in June, the Lord Privy Seal expressed the view that he had a great belief in prefabrication, allied to traditional building. We wonder whether the Government still believe that, or whether they have changed their views. We have heard rumours that they have sent a circular to local authorities asking whether they prefer prefabrication to traditional building methods. It is pretty clear that if you put the question that way, local authorities will answer that they prefer traditional building methods. Are the Government going to rely on replies from that circular to justify closing down the prefabricated programme to small proportions? Then we shall be glad to know what the future of Swedish houses is to be. The former Secretary of State for Scotland, Mr. Thomas Johnston, and I were very interested in this matter. We pinned very high hopes on it. We hoped, at one time, to get as many as 50,000 prefabricated timber houses in two years, which would have gone a very long way indeed to solving some of the problems of new houses in rural areas and also in Scotland. To our great regret, in the end we only got 5,000 houses from Sweden as an experiment. There were difficulties in the way, difficulties of the supply of timber and of exchange, but we should be glad to know whether the Government are doing anything about them, and whether they are trying to overcome those difficulties because, clearly, prefabricated houses of that type, of a very good design and permanent, would be an immense contribution to the problem.
Before we went out of office, we were making preparations to send experts, and also the necessary machinery, over to Germany with a view to cutting German timber and using German labour on the spot for prefabrication of components for wooden houses. When I was in Germany in July, between the date of the Election and the announcement of the result, we were talking to members of the Control Commission out there in terms of delivery of these wooden houses starting next April. We would be glad to hear what is the present position. The re- 1216 ports I have received fill me with gloom. To the best of my knowledge, no machinery and no men have been sent and no start has been made.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Buchanan)
Could the right hon. Gentleman oblige us with the source of his information?
§ Mr. Hudson
It is in a letter from the Ministry of Supply dated 26th September. The last paragraph reads:However, the small team of experts now in Germany have gone there to plan the operation.I think I am entitled to say that I am disappointed to find in October that a small team of experts has gone to "plan the operation" when, last July, we were going to get the thing thoroughly under way. We shall be glad to know when the Government anticipate getting the delivery of these houses, if they do. We should also like to have some report—
§ Mr. Hudson
I must try to complete my speech. We would like to have some report on the progress of London war damage repairs. I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that the people of London are becoming exasperated at the delays, and I venture to think that the taxpayers of this country will be exasperated when they see the bill. In our view, you will never get the thing going really quickly and reasonably and economically, unless you abolish the system of cost-plus and until you try to get specific contracts by contractors to do the job.
That brings me to the question of labour output, for it is not merely a question of the supply of labour if you are going to build houses. Of equal importance is the output of labour. Before the break-up of the Coalition we were, I understand, in negotiation with the trades unions with a view to securing the adoption of an effective system of payment by results, which would have given the men concerned a definite incentive to higher output. I do not know what has happened since. We shall be very glad if the right hon. Gentleman, when he comes to makes his statement, will tell us what progress, if any, has been made in these negotiations.
I now come to the crucial question—or at all events the question which in 1217 our view is crucial—what rôle the Government intend private enterprise to play in housing. We believe it has an essential part. We shall be glad to know whether the Government agree. We believe it is essential that the private owner should make a start, even if only in a small way, in order to re-establish his organisation. That was the unanimous advice of a Committee containing not only Conservatives but also Socialists and Members representative of local authorities. Let me remind the House that at the outbreak of war there were belonging to private developers in this country 31,000 acres in the course of active development, with roads and sewers. Surely much the quickest way to get houses going again would be to see that those private builders should be encouraged to make a start? I hope the Government agree. If they do not, do they intend there shall be no appreciable output of houses built by private owners cither for sale or letting? We want to warn the Government, in all seriousness, of our view, which is, quite definitely, that if they intend to rely on local authority activity absorbing all the building labour in towns and villages throughout the country, then we shall very soon find ourselves in this paradoxical and appalling condition of having millions of people wanting houses and substantial unemployment in the building industry.
I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health will deal with Scottish housing, or whether the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland will reply. I hope we shall be told what the Government propose to do in Scotland, and I would like to remind the hon. Gentleman—although I do not suppose he needs reminding—of a Report by a Committee presided over by the present Secretary of State. He will remember that that report pointed out that local authorities had been more active and relatively more successful in building houses in Scotland than they had in England, but, at the peak of the house building activity before the war—taking local authority building and private building in Scotland—they never achieved more than 17,200 houses a year. Before the war, that Committee said there was a shortage of 300,000 houses. I understand they believe that the present shortage has risen to 500,000 houses. The 1218 difference between 17,200 houses a year and 500,000 houses is a pretty grim outlook, and we should be interested to hear what proposals the Government have to deal with this because, as far as we can see, it will mean trebling the best pre-war output of houses every year in Scotland in order to achieve a solution in any time that matters. The hon. Gentleman the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, for whom we all have the greatest admiration and sympathy, said in answer to a written Question, I think, that he hoped to achieve a rate of 30,000 houses a year. But 30,000 houses a year, although much better than 17,200, means that to erect 500,000 houses will take 16 years. I do not know what hon. Members representing Scottish seats feel, but I think that, to condemn the people of Scotland to wait 16 years before the existing shortage has been overcome, will not please them very much.
I apologise for having taken rather longer time than I intended, but I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give us the answers and I hope, for the sake of the nation, that he will be able to give satisfactory answers to the questions I have put. I do not think they are unfair questions. I think they are questions to which wearer entitled, and the nation is entitled, to an answer. The right hon. Gentleman and his friends and all hon. Members opposite raised very great expectations by the promises they held out during the Election. The country is still filled with good will towards them, but let them not forget that they have raised those expectations, they will be judged by a very high standard, and I think the House can rely on those of us on this side to omit no opportunity in the weeks and months that lie before us of giving the right hon. Gentleman an opportunity either of giving a good account of his stewardship—and I hope for the nation's sake he will liable to do so—or, possibly, as we fear, expose the hollowness of the promises he made.
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ The Minister of Health (Mr. Aneurin Bevan)
I am grateful to the Opposition for having moved this Motion this afternoon in order to give me an opportunity of making a statement about the housing policy of the Government. At the same time, I would like to congratulate the Opposition upon their courage and public 1219 spirit, because, obviously, only a very grave concern for the public weal could have inspired them to put down a Motion on a subject so embarrassing to themselves. I look forward to an increase in this spirit; indeed, I was so grateful to them for this state of mind that I said to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Works that we ought to help them by providing them with a White Paper on the temporary housing programme. I did not think they ought to be burdened with a long list of figures in which they would be showing their achievements in this field, so I thought that we ourselves would save them the trouble.
My hon. Friends on this side, who have read this White Paper, will be able to assess the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport (Mr. Hudson) at its proper value. Furthermore, I think hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite should remember this: that we could have sustained the malice of the enemy and repaired the injuries inflicted by him upon our cities if we had not, at the same time, had to bear the consequence of 25 years' neglect by their party. One would have thought, listening to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, that the housing problem is a direct consequence of the war; but the fact is that we on this side, who have been the victims of it, know that the housing problem for the lower income groups in this country has not been solved since the industrial revolution. There is no need for the right hon. Gentleman to impress upon me the need for building houses. I have experienced, in my own personal home life, the consequences of having to live in over-crowded houses as a direct consequence of neglect by Governments of the day.
We are now burdened, at the end of a war, not only with complications arising out of that war, not only with having to build houses destroyed by the enemy, but with the colossal task of having to repair that neglect. There are, as Members know, more than 4,000,000 houses in this country over 80 years of age. What is even more bitter to reflect upon is that, for very many years, we had millions of workers and unemployed who could have built houses. Therefore, I am almost driven into my customary Opposition mood when I have to listen to 1220 speeches such as we have heard from the right hon. Gentleman on this subject. It is a matter which they ought to evade as much as possible. We made certain promises at the Election, and we are going to establish a new fashion in government because we are going to keep them.
§ Mr. Bevan
I think I must ask for the indulgence of the House in this matter, because I have a very long speech to make and I shall intrude upon the House too much if I give way too quickly. It is not discourtesy; I think it would be more discourteous to the House if I had to make a longer speech because I had given way too readily to interventions.
Some questions have been asked about the organisation for housing. There has been some criticism that we have not carried out the exact letter of the promise to establish a Ministry for Housing. But I propose to show that we have, in practice, fulfilled the substance of our promise and have concentrated responsibility for housing in one Ministry, which was the substance of what we promised. What was the complaint before? It was that local authorities had to go to too many different Departments in matters of housing policy. That has been changed. The responsibility for housing design, for the housing programme and for overall housing policy, rests clearly with the Ministry of Health and, for Scotland, with the Scottish Office. Quite frankly, it would be impossible to extend the frontiers of housing policy beyond that. If I attempted to discharge the functions of the Minister of Works, who is responsible for buildings other than houses, if I attempted to discharge the responsibility of the Minister of Supply, who is responsible for providing materials and equipment for the Armed Forces, swell as for houses, I should be concentrating under one head far more functions than any one man could discharge. Moreover, those are executive functions, and the Ministry of Supply and the Ministry of Works stand in the relationship of suppliers to the Ministry of Health. I lay down, with the Secretary of State for Scotland, the housing programme, housing design and housing policy, and the Ministry of Works and the Ministry of 1221 Supply provide us with the equipment and materials necessary for carrying out the work. That is an arrangement which strictly follows function.
It is true that the Ministry of Health are responsible for health services, and that it can quite legitimately be argued that that is too great a responsibility for one Minister. But I must say, quite frankly, that I would prefer to have the additional responsibility for health as well as for housing, than to have the responsibilities of the Ministers of Supply and Works, as well as housing. The same thing is true about the Minister of Town and Country Planning. He decides where, and we decide how. It is a perfectly well-defined line of demarcation. Therefore, I have no complaint whatever either about the powers or the design of the instrument that the Government has put into my hands. If I fail, I shall fail because of lack of personal qualities, and not because the instrument itself is deficient. It may easily be that I shall fail; I am not under-estimating the nature of the task I have to perform, but I do hope that Members in all parts of the House will not insist upon following, to the extent of pedantry, this argument about a Ministry of Housing, which merely upsets things at the moment. [Hon. Members: "Oh."] I will say why. It is not political. Members opposite know very well—
§ Mr. Bevan
The right hon. Gentleman is rather exceeding his own importance in this matter. I have to reply to a very much larger number of things than those which he raised in his speech. I cannot be exclusively confined to answering the questions he put. Everybody knows that it would be very difficult to carve out from the Ministry of Health that section which is responsible for housing alone. It would be a major Departmental operation, and the consequence would be to delay housing for many months.
Now I want to explain, in answer to what the right hon. Gentleman said—because I anticipated that he would ask this question—the broad outlines of the 1222 Government's housing policy. Before the war the housing problems of the middle classes were, roughly, solved. The higher income groups had their houses; the lower income groups had not. Speculative builders, supported enthusiastically, and even voraciously, by money-lending organisations, solved the problem of the higher income groups in the matter of housing. We propose to start at the other end. We propose to start to solve, first, the housing difficulties of the lower income groups. In other words, we propose to lay the main emphasis of our programme upon building houses to let. That means that we shall ask local authorities to be the main instruments for the housing programme. If there are other agencies ready to build houses to let I am prepared to welcome them. [An Hon. Member: "The same grants?"] We will consider each scheme on its merits. It is, nevertheless, a principle of the first importance that the local authorities must be looked to as the organisations and source for the building of the main bulk of the housing programme. The local authorities are admirably suited for this purpose.
Each year before the war about 260,000 houses were built by private enterprise alone, for sale, while the local authorities were confined largely to slum clearance schemes. They built about 50,000 houses a year under those schemes, and about 10,000 other houses without subsidy. I would like to ask the House to consider the grave civic damage caused by allowing local authorities to build houses for only the lower income groups and private speculators to build houses for the higher income groups. What is the result? You have castrated communities. You have colonies of low-income people, living in houses provided by the local authorities, and you have the higher income groups living in their own colonies. This segregation of the different income groups is a wholly evil thing, from a civilised point of view. It is condemned by anyone who has paid the slightest attention to civics and eugenics. It is a monstrous infliction upon the essential psychological and biological one-ness of the community.
The local authorities had to produce what I call twilight villages. I call the attention of the House to this, however: when hon. Members go about the country they see that the housing schemes built 1223 by the local authorities were on the whole, aesthetically of a far higher standard than the houses built by private enterprise. You only have to look at the fretful fronts stretching along the great roads leading from London—belonging to what I think one cynic called the "marzipan period"—to see the monstrous crimes committed against aesthetics by a long list of private speculators in house building.
I think the House would like to know where our minds are moving in this matter. One of the consequences of this segregation was to create an insistence on uniformity. It is very difficult for architects responsible for the lay-out of municipal housing schemes to devise their houses in varied architectural compositions if they are all to be houses for the same type of people, and the same size of houses. The architectural composition to which we could look with delight must have much more variety in design, and, therefore, I am going to encourage the housing authorities in their lay-outs to make provision for building some houses also for the higher income groups at higher rents. After all, you know, a man wants three houses in his life-time: one when he gets married, one when the family is growing up, and one when he is old; but very few of us can afford three: very few of us can afford one. It therefore seems to me to be a perfectly proper conception that the local authorities should have more diversified designs in their housing schemes.
I should like to take this opportunity of saying, now that the local authorities are organising their schemes, that I hope that all age-groups will be found hospitality in their schemes, and that they will not be segregated. I hope that the old people will not be asked to live in colonies of their own—after all, they do not want to look out of their windows on endless processions of the funerals of their friends; they also want to look at processions of perambulators. Unfortunately, in the past, many of these community units have inflicted on the old people an outrage, compelling them all the while to live among themselves. The full life should see the unfolding of a multi coloured panorama before the eyes of every citizen every day. Therefore, I hope that local authorities will arrange their schemes in this fashion.
1224 As I have said, the main emphasis, in the housing programme, will be on the local authorities. I am fully aware there are certain forms of building organisations that may not be available for the public building programme. The local authorities are, therefore, allowed to licence private buildings for sale up to a limit of £1,200 in the provinces, and £1,300 in London. I want to make it perfectly clear that these licences are for the purpose of supplementing the main housing programme, and not for diverting building labour and materials that would otherwise flow into the public housing programme. If local authorities exercise these licensing powers too generously, and are too tardy in their own housing schemes, then I shall suspend the power to issue these licences for this purpose, because I want to emphasise again that the purpose of this licensing system is to provide us with a flexible instrument for providing houses in addition to the main stream of houses that will come from the local authorities.
I shall be asking Parliament very shortly to approve certain provisions to prevent these houses so built from being re-sold speculatively. There will be a limit of four years, by which time, I hope, the housing stringency will have been removed—that is a liberal estimate—and there will be no danger of these houses being speculated in at the expense of the buyers. I should like to point out to the House that the Ministry of Health take a very serious view of this necessity of using their housing powers generously and widely, because we have just sent to the local authorities asking them, when considering their tenants, to have regard to the needs of the applicant, no matter to what class or caste in the community he belongs.
We shall, of course, need certain assistance from the House. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport said that the local authorities had plenty of land for their immediate requirements. He even said that they had land for 900,000 houses, I believe, which had been cleared. What the right hon. Gentleman did not say was that it had been cleared with the Ministry of Agriculture. It has not been cleared in the sense that local authorities can now build houses on it. Obviously, the Ministry of Agriculture has to be consulted in this matter of taking 1225 agricultural land. We have lost very good agricultural land during the war, and we do not want to lose anymore unnecessarily; and therefore, when people talk about controls and delays in housing sanctions, they must bear in mind that the Ministry of Agriculture is perfectly entitled to make these observations as to whether a piece of land ought to be retained for agricultural purposes or alienated for housing purposes. What is true of agriculture is also true of planning. The Ministry of Town and Country Planning is entitled to say that these houses ought to go into a particular place for good-planning purposes. Therefore, when hon. Members read in the Press that housing schemes are being held up because of all sorts of controls that have to be operated, they must remember that many of these controls are absolutely essential if we are to avoid the mistakes of the Governments in the inter-war years.
I should like, if I may, to warn hon. Members against one aspect of this matter. There is a great deal of money available in this country for investing in house building, and it is politically very influential. The local authorities can borrow money at the moment at 3⅛ per cent. from the Public Works Loan Board. The rate of interest at which money is loaned by other agencies is higher than that, and there will be great pressure upon hon. Members in all parts of the House to let loose this hoarded-up pile of money on the housing shortage. The conflict will be—and I warn hon. Members of it—between public housing on the one hand and the moneylender on the other. Many of these agencies that started off as building societies are now nothing but money-lending societies. I do not propose, so long as I am Minister of Health, to let loose this vast mass of accumulated money on a scarcity market, and to encourage people to acquire mortgages that will be gravestones around their necks. Therefore, I say to the returning soldiers who are feeling the housing shortage acutely at the present time: Do not, if you can possibly avoid it, act hastily. Do not acquire mortgages at these high housing prices, but postpone buying until later.
It is not that we ourselves are against people owning their own houses. I am going to ask the House, almost immediately, to raise the limits under which local authorities can lend money under the Small Dwellings Acquisition Act. 1226 There is no desire on our part to prevent people owning their own houses. So long as the ownership of the houses is an extension, and expression of the personality of the owner, it is an excellent thing; but if the ownership of the houses is a denial of somebody else's personality, it is a social affront. [Hon. Members: "What does that mean?"] Well, I will put it in more precise language. If hon. and right hon. Gentlemen will go through London at the present time, they will see a large number of houses that cannot be used as flats or dwellings because the landlords have covenants in the leases preventing such use. In other words, it is the landlord's personality that is protruding itself over the tenants. Although it is perfectly true that the local authorities have land on which to build large numbers of houses, there are large numbers of local authorities who have not got the land.
The Leader of the Opposition, when he was Prime Minister, made a speech in March, 1944—and I regret very much that he is not here, and the reason why he is not here, and in my own person I can sympathise with that reason. I am bound to refer to what he said, because it is on the records, and he is a very important witness. He said that this business of housing was going to be treated as a military operation. I entirely agree with him. If you wanted land for an airfield during the war, you did not have protracted negotiations with the landlord. We are going to have no protracted negotiations with the landlord for getting houses. It is a form of control we are going to remove. We are going to ask the House to approve a Bill by which land for all public purposes, including housing, will be acquired by all those agencies which have powers of compulsory purchase under Act of Parliament, by the same processes that land is now being acquired for temporary accommodation. That is to say, a notice will be served on the land itself for a prescribed period of time, during which the interested parties may make representations and the local authority will then, if the Minister has approved, enter on the land and use it while negotiations about its price can go on. We propose to do that by Ministerial order and not by Provisional Order. If it is agreed, as it is agreed by the House, that land is needed for public purposes, there is no logic in 1227 those purposes being frustrated or held up because protracted negotiations have to go on with the owners of the land. It is much better that we should enter upon the land at once, and then the landlord can be compensated in accordance with the usual values. This caused a little controversy last year. I am expecting that the new-found enthusiasm for housing on the other side of the House will enable us to receive these powers without any considerable difficulty.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the Housing (Rural Workers) Acts. I am astonished at this argument—though I ought not to be after 18 years in the House. Was it not a fact that the overwhelming majority of houses built in rural areas before the war were built for urban dwellers and for well-to-do people? The fact is that although the rural population fell from 20 per cent. of the total population in 1919 to 17 per cent. in 1938 rural housing, although it should have been practically 20 percent. of the total housing, was only 13 per cent., because the rural district councils were often not permitted to build houses, or were not stimulated to build them. Most of those houses that were reconditioned were tied cottages. We want to build houses for the agricultural workers in which they are free people. We shall use the rural district councils, and I have already had plenty of assurances that they are only too anxious to be used, to build houses for their people.
The reason why we do not want at this stage to re-enact the Housing (Rural Workers) Acts is because we want to know first how the demobilised building workers will dispose themselves over the country before attracting them into a form of building which would give us no additional houses. I am not against the Housing (Rural Workers) Acts. Indeed, later on I hope I will give hon. and right hon. Gentlemen a better Act. [An Hon. Member: "How much later?"] It is necessary for hon. Members to realise first that there are in the various localities little clots of building workers—and hon. Members opposite know that the shortage of building workers in the country is acute—engaged in all kinds of operations. A man comes from the Army; he immediately attaches himself to those who 1228 are working, and so these little clots of workers grow; if they are engaged on reconditioning, the local authorities will have no workers to build their own new houses.
I want first to canalise all the available rural labour into the building of new houses. Later on, when we can see how the problem develops, I hope to come to Parliament to ask for an Act to enable cottages to be reconditioned. In any case, many of these cottages which have been reconditioned ought to be preserved. Many of them have great architectural value. It would be a disaster if they fell into ruin. Their facade, their exteriors, are often quite charming and ought to be preserved. The interiors, of course have to be brought up to date. I assure hon. Members opposite that I have no prejudice in this matter. All I want is for labour to go first to the best places in the immediate emergency. Hon. Members should bear in mind that the most expensive kind of labour is repair labour, and it uses that sort of labour which is most highly skilled, whereas we want that skilled labour to go into new house building and to train other workers alongside it. If that building labour is allowed to go into all kinds of complicated repair work where apprentices are not with it, there will not be the building force that we need to do our job.
I have been asked a question about building materials and components. We have made one decision of the utmost importance in this regard. We have decided to keep in being the Ministry of Supply, and the Ministry of Supply will be used by me to provide housing materials and components. We shall be placing orders through the Ministry of Supply, and the Royal Ordnance Factories which we are retaining will be used if necessary to supplement the output of private industry. Furthermore, I hope hon. Members will appreciate that there are some industries producing building materials which are extremely unattractive to the workers in them; they do not want to go there. Therefore, I have to consider, with the Minister of Labour, how these industries can bring up their standards to levels which will attract workers to them. We may have to use powers of direction, but it is not a good Socialist doctrine to use powers of direction because industries have too low a standard for workers to go into them. So we shall 1229 first raise the standards in those industries. Then, if the results are deficient, we shall have to consider the better mobilisation of the labour available.
I will not hide from the House the fact that I have very great anxieties in this. We shall need an additional 130,000 workers in industries producing housing materials and components. Here, I can confess with the utmost candour that the whole House and the whole nation are mastered by the rate of demobilisation. But the whole House has accepted the broad outlines of the demobilisation scheme; no one want to disturb it in any vital particular. It has been explained to the Forces, it has been accepted by the Forces, and any grave departure from it at the moment would cause a great unrest. Therefore, we are caught up in it, and I shall not know, and the rest of the House will not know, how this demobilised labour will dispose itself over industry until it comes out of the Army in full spate. We ought to know that by the end of the year, and by then we can see whether our industries producing housing components and materials are filling up to expectations and needs. It is too early to make any decision about it and I intend to make no estimates at all as to what will happen. All I am hoping is that the building workers, when they are released from the Forces, especially those workers making building materials, will realise how important it is to get going in those industries to provide the houses which we so badly need. Furthermore, local authorities have been held up because of lack of technical staff, and it would have been very much easier if hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite had insisted upon their release earlier.
§ Mr. Bossom (Maidstone)
Does the Minister remember how I pressed this point continuously in the last Parliament? There are any number of Members in this House who remember my doing so.
§ Mr. Bevan
The hon. Member is perfectly correct. I wish he had had more influence. But I refer not only to that. Earlier this year, even after the cessation of the Coalition Government, there was no proper insistence on the release of these men from the Forces. Now they are coming out in larger numbers.
There is one further matter on which I must ask the House to bear with me; 1230 that is, the emergency winter conditions. There is a very acute housing shortage, which will be gravely increased by the returning soldiers, and it will cause great suffering this winter. Nothing which anyone can do at the moment in the way of new house building will ease it very much. What we have to do is to make as much use as we can of available accommodation. I shall therefore look, first, to all persons with spare accommodation in their homes, to make that accommodation available to those who need it. I believe I shall be helped in that on all sides of the House. There is no greater source of domestic vicissitude than two women having to share the same kitchen—or two men for that matter. Nevertheless, this winter we have to bite on the iron. We have to meet it with what we have, and I, therefore, hope that everyone who has accommodation to spare will make it available. I wish to rely upon voluntary effort, and our people are always generous in these matters. If the facts are brought home to them, they will respond. But if there are people so anti-social, who have accommodation grossly in excess of their reasonable requirements and refuse to make it available in this way, it will be necessary to arm the local authorities with powers to requisition. I hope the powers of requisitioning will not need to be used except in very exceptional circumstances. Nevertheless, if has always been found that voluntary appeals of this sort are more useful if they are supported by some sanction in the background—as far in the background as possible I hope.
At the same time the local housing authorities will be empowered to do certain work, in houses where householders allow it to be done, in the way of providing sinks and cookers so as to try and make, as far as possible, two separate households. There are limits to this, because there are limits to the number of cookers available, but we shall do our best to try and help local authorities to get them. Of course, I would have liked to make the conversions on a larger scale, but conversions are always the sort of work that holds up new building. Eleborate conversions are impossible. In order that this may be facilitated the Government will waive the protection of the Rents Acts in these cases, and also enable householders to set aside any covenants which may prohibit them from 1231 letting apartments. There is a further category with which we propose to deal, that is the category of residences that are in danger of being converted into offices and other business premises. I am going to make a Regulation that will require anybody who is inclined to do so, first to have the permission of the local authority before the conversion takes place. My attention has been brought to a large number of instances in which we are losing residential property because of this conversion. That Regulation will be made as soon as possible.
Before I sit down I would like to say one word on the subject of prefabrication. Prefabrication has been exaggerated by almost everybody. There are systems of prefabrication or semi-prefabrication which are desirable. I have to-day sent to local authorities a circular telling them of the systems of prefabrication which have been approved. I came to the conclusion that the period of experiment alone ought now to end and that we should reach some firm decisions. So we have reached decisions, first about concrete types and second about types which contain steel frames. The right hon. Gentleman said the local authorities were being asked if they wanted prefabricated houses or traditional houses. That is not quite the position. The position is that local authorities have been asked to decide what forms of prefabrication they prefer. Once we know from them how many houses that amounts to in every particular system of prefabrication, we can then negotiate for the prefabricated portions with the people who produce them and, I hope, thereby get reductions in prices.
There are other projects about which I would like to tell the House, but I do not want to raise expectations because they may not be fulfilled. We have approved of a pressed steel house—although we were somewhat dismayed by the experience of the Portal bungalow—which is now going on to the drawing boards. It is a very good house, a beautifully designed two-storey house, and I am hoping that at some time it will come forward, but every hon. Member knows very well that factories have to be tooled up and it takes time, and I am making no promises as to when they will be forthcoming.
I now want to come to the main point which was made, namely, as to the pro- 1232 gramme. I want to tell hon. Members with the utmost frankness that I have inquired into the basis of the figures that have been quoted by hon. Members opposite. I can find no basis at all for their estimates—no solid basis whatsoever. It is true that they may have said that if they get a building force of a certain amount, we should then have one house for every building worker, and they may have based their figures upon that, but who in these days is going to predict the output of building workers when certain types of building workers are in very short supply? I tell the House, bluntly and frankly, that I am not going to do any of that crystal gazing. We have had too many programmes. It is time we had houses. All the programmes have come from hon. Gentlemen opposite. We, on this side of the House, have committed ourselves to no figures. It would be comparatively easy for me to state figures in excess of those that have been stated by hon. Gentlemen opposite. It would be demagogic. It would be as demagogic as those figures were. The fact is that if at this moment we attempted to say that, by a certain date, we will be building a certain number of houses, that statement would rest upon no firm basis of veracity; in fact, it would be as unveracious as the temporary housing programme of hon. Gentlemen opposite. All I can promise is this: I will treat the House with the utmost candour. I will give monthly detailed progress reports starting at the beginning of the new year, so that the House can see what progress is being made. [An Hon. Member: "But not now."] If the hon. Gentleman will put down a Question on the Order Paper he can have the exact figures, but I do not want to weary the House by reading them out now.
When the materials and labour have been provided to the local authorities, we will provide the local authorities with housing targets, but it would be foolish for any Minister of Health to give a target to local authorities unless labour and materials were ready for use, because all they would say would be that the Minister was passing the buck. When we have provided the materials and labour, the local authorities must be stimulated to reach certain definite figures of production. We shall do that. Furthermore, there are instances where the local authorities' own efforts will have to be supple- 1233 mented by other forms of building organisation. As a general rule, the labour force in the building industry distributes itself over the country in accordance with the needs of the building industry itself, but there are certain instances now—for example, blitzed cities, and places where there are new factories going up, and especially in the rural areas where there is an acute shortage of labour—where some other agency will have to be found to supplement and reinforce the efforts of the local authority. The Government are going to do that very shortly. It is useless for us to give precise particulars now because we are governed in the immediate few months by the over-all resources of labour, which is consequent upon the fact that there are in the Forces large numbers of people who will shortly be coming home. [An Hon. Member: "What sort of agencies?"] Agencies like flying building squads of the Ministry of Works, corporations and associations—all kinds of agencies of that sort. But I do not want local authorities to get the impression that if they do not build houses we will build houses for them. Otherwise, some of them are likely to fall down on their jobs.
§ Mr. Bevan
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will probably say a word about them in his speech later this evening.
In conclusion I would say this: I believe that this housing problem can be solved. I believe we are going to solve it and I believe the job is going to be done. As I said, I am not going to tie myself to figures because if you tie yourself to figures you become the victim of importunities by undesirable elements. I would explain who those undesirable elements are; they are those building contractors who want to hold the public up to racketeering prices, and if they know the Minister has committed himself to a certain number of houses, in a particular 1234 time, they will use that as a lever against him. I want the support of the House to resist tenders where those tenders are too high. I want to bring down housing costs. The building programme at the end of the last war was ruined by high housing costs. I, therefore, ask for the co-operation of the House in bringing down costs, and one of the instruments of that co-operation is not to ask the Government to tie themselves to precise ceiling figures for the housing programme, but to let us do the job as best we can. As I say, I believe it can be done. I hope that in the months that lie ahead hon. Members of the House generally, in all parts, will help the local authorities to face up to their responsibilities, and help us to face up to ours, because I am satisfied that, if we do so, in a very few years the back of this housing problem can be broken.
§ 4.58 p.m.
§ Brigadier Peto (Barnstaple)
This is the first occasion on which I have been lucky enough to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, and I take this opportunity of saying that I am fortunate in being able to speak on this housing question, because my grandfather was a builder, and not only was he a good builder, but he built this House of Commons.
There are certain aspects of the housing problem with which I would like to deal from a practical point of view rather than to generalise. Before the Recess, I asked the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health whether something could not be done to expedite the building of houses, in that local authorities should receive the approval of their plans in principle, without any further inspection on the site by Ministerial officials. During the Recess I asked certain local builders, the chairman of the local housing committee, the biggest architect in the particular town in North-West Devon in which I was—Bideford—and various others, to meet me so that I might ascertain their problems and discover why this feeling of absolute frustration in building has crept throughout England. At the end of a short meeting I decided that the reason was threefold.
Firstly, it is bad planning, right from above. I am not making a contentious speech. I am merely speaking as one who has come into this House from the Army, where I have been for more than 1235 30 years. I do know a little about planning. You have to get your priorities right before you make your plan. If you have any doubts, if there are any crossed wires, you will not have that plan. They will cause a change of plan, and change of plan causes delay and loses the battle. Secondly, it is uncertainty. There are far too many uncertainties. Builders are uncertain as to what labour and materials they will have and as to the price of the materials. As an example, I again cite Bideford. There is, or was, uncertainty whether the houses were to be made of brick or of concrete blocks. There is a perfectly good concrete block works within half a mile of where the houses are required, but it is requisitioned by the Army and is not available. The nearest brick works to Bideford is at Exeter. The difference on the cost of each house of building with bricks is £50 over what it would be if built of concrete blocks. I have taken steps to get that particular works derequisitioned.
Then, there is uncertainty about subsidies. Nobody knows what the subsidy is to be, or how the difference is to be met between the maximum price allowed to be charged for the present types of houses and the tenders which are received, and which are always higher, generally around £1,400. There is uncertainty in every direction, wherever you turn. Again, there is no standardisation of fittings. I would suggest to the Minister of Health that he should standardise fittings, and issue to all concerned the prices and costs of those standardised fittings so that local merchants can hold those fittings for each type of house and be able to supply them at reasonable prices. I welcome the statement by the right hon. Gentleman that he is going to introduce legislation to acquire land on the same terms as for temporary houses. In Barnstaple, Bideford and elsewhere they told me that that would be a most valuable Measure to get passed. Instead of three months, three weeks should be the maximum.
The housing question should not be a contentious one. Housing is something that we all want to "put across" in the shortest time, and the most efficient way. Certainly, going on as we are it is not likely that our efforts will prove a success, unless the right hon. Gentleman deals with the third thing which I was going 1236 to say has caused difficulty. There are too many masters. He said that this matter is centralised under one head. That is not so. Before you can acquire land, you have to go to at least four different authorities, and in my district they all live in towns many miles apart. Each takes a month or two months to make a decision. Before you can get your housing lay-out scheme approved, you have to go to three authorities, all in different places, and each one takes a month. Before your final draft houses, your drawings, are approved, another month to two months has elapsed. You can add up the time taken before your housing plan is finally approved to 12 months. I reckon that in a good plan we should have centralised authority for the main plan. You would then decentralise to local authorities to carry it out and tell them what they can spend, what labour and materials they can count on, and what agencies they can use. Once you have taken your main decision, decentralise and leave it to them to carry out; but you must have somebody over them who will make them do it. You must have some power. The Minister of Health said that if he fell down on this matter he might lose the job; similarly if the local council fall down they should lose their jobs. They are doing their best now, but three things are holding them up, bad planning being one of them.
The local authorities are over-worked. They have not sufficient staff. In my area the architects consist mainly of one firm of three people, one of whom is still retained in the Services. He has been unable to get out of the Army, although he has been asking for release for over 12 months. I have a copy of a letter written for this purpose 12 months ago. This chap is an excellent architect in a firm which has a branch at Edinburgh and a branch in Bideford. He is likely to be retained in the Army, under the new rule for the retention of officers; yet he is a key-man in my constituency. It is necessary to have clear planning and to clear away doubts and uncertainties. You must have one master instead of five or six as now.
Finally, I would remind the House that the Minister of Health has said that we have to make do with what we have. I think he did say so, and I suggest that 1237 that should include all agencies, including the private builders. There is no reason why private builders should not be used as they are intended to be used, to build all the houses which cannot be built at the present time because the plans are not finished. There are many houses of many types in North-West Devon and those builders, if given a free hand, could have built 35 houses in the last 12 months. That is in one small district of Bideford. I was horrified to hear that in our plan for temporary housing we have at last reached a decision that there should be one type of house, which is now going into a blue print. Surely, from the outside point of view, not from purely a politician's point of view, one would have thought that would have been done. We have all known that the housing shortage was coming and that we would want some temporary houses. Why must we wait till three months after the war before coming to some decision about the pressed steel house? Those who know anything about tank design—I did know a little at one time—are aware that 18 months or two years will be needed before these houses are beginning to be erected, and probably two years.
In this emergency, we should use everything we have got and not be contentious about whether private enterprise—which is an expression rather than anything else—is good or bad, or whether the landlord is trying to make something or not. If you want houses quickly, you have to pay. You must have a loan at the cheapest rate of interest, not more than 2½ per cent., and if there are to be subsidies, let us know what they are to be.
§ 5.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Chamberlain (Norwood)
As the second of the 34 hopefuls, I must claim the usual indulgence which is granted to new Members of this House. As Member for Norwood, it would be strange if I were not interested in this matter of housing. For one thing, I had a serious difference of opinion with the late Minister of Works as to who should represent that constituency, and, for another thing, the borough of Lambeth, in which my constituency is situated, was seriously damaged in the blitz, and housing is one of its major questions. More than 3,000 houses were totally destroyed and more than 9,000 were more or less seriously damaged. At the moment, we 1238 have between 8,000 and 9,000 families on the waiting list for houses in Lambeth, and that itself is a serious matter. Beyond that, as the Minister of Health is aware, we have a little problem with regard to the erection of some 70 flats, in respect of which the tenders have been extremely high. We are torn between our wish to proceed with housing, and our desire to avoid those inflated costs. That is a matter which is in the keeping of the right hon. Gentleman at the moment.
There are two aspects of housing to which I am anxious to call attention. One is a matter which has been dealt with quite extensively this afternoon already, and that is reconditioning. I was glad to learn from the right hon. Gentleman that he has no prejudice in any way against reconditioning in principle. I have watched at close quarters the conversion and reconditioning of houses through many years, and I know that, in proper circumstances and with proper safeguards, it can be most effective and useful. I was glad to note that during the Debate on the Address the Prime Minister gave his blessing in principle to adaptation and conversion. I feel strongly on the point, because I have seen these processes in operation at close quarters. Whether in rural or urban areas, reconditioning, with proper safeguards and under proper conditions, can give a useful and valuable contribution to the housing of this country. I was also glad to note with regard to rural reconditioning that the Minister said he hoped at a later date to introduce some Measure which would cater for this important phase of work.
I am whole-hearted in this matter. I have seen it done excellently in rural areas. As the Minister said, there are fine old cottages which should be preserved, of which the interior requires renewing and reconditioning. I hope that he will see his way to introduce without much delay a Measure for rural reconditioning. It is not right to say that these houses are owned exclusively by landlords who squeeze their tenants. That is true in some cases, but I have seen reconditioning done to the benefit of the tenant in a large number of cases. There are a number of valuable non-profit making associations which have taken on themselves the onus of carrying out rural reconditioning. When the Minister sees his way to introduce legislation on this 1239 matter, I hope it will be under proper safeguards. That is most important and I insist on it all along the line. I hope, too, he will see that there is full publicity given to the meaning, powers and possibilities of reconditioning, because one of the difficulties with regard to the old Acts was that they were not sufficiently publicised.
Reconditioning in proper circumstances and with proper safeguards can be valuable also for urban houses. It is not true to say, as architects will know, that in all cases the reconditioning of large old houses is prodigal either in material or labour. There is a kind of old house which is prodigal in that way, but there are many types of valuable reconditioning which make additional good accommodation available, which are economical both of skilled labour and material. It should also be borne in mind that in this kind of work the small man can be employed. That is a valuable thing, because there are many of them whose type of work is such that they are not suited to new building and large-scale work. These men should be employed under proper safeguards. There is a further point that this is work which can go on all the year round. I commend to the Minister this policy of reconditioning in proper circumstances and under proper safeguards. I do not do so to buttress up old useless buildings, but, provided it is not exploited, it can be operated with great success.
There is another aspect of house building to which I want to refer. I was under the impression, but I am glad to say wrongly, that the Minister of Health did not look with a very kindly eye on the idea of housing associations. He has to-day disabused me, and I am glad to know that he is prepared to consider this kind of work with an open mind. I attach great importance to it, and I have seen and worked with it at close quarters. He said that there were other agencies, and he was prepared to welcome them. As he said, the main responsibility must necessarily rest with the local authorities. All housing associations and all advocates of association work agree on that. The best type of housing association work has been that which has been carried forward in the closest co-operation with the local authorities. I am 1240 a great believer in them, and I find that there is a considerable lack of knowledge of them and of their functions and powers. That is the basis of opposition to housng association work.
These associations have over the last 100 years, and more particularly over the last 50 and 25 years, carried out valuable work as a contribution to the pool of housing. Moreover, they have been recognised in all Housing Acts for the last 25 years. In the powers which have been granted to them in the way of subsidies, loans, guarantees, and so on, they have been put on a par with local authorities. That has been an acknowledgment of the value of their work. It is not always large and has not always been extensive, but one does not value work by its size. As the Minister knows, and as I hope will be more widely known, these are non-profit-making bodies. They are quite rightly obliged to operate for the working classes. They are virtually obliged to work through the local authorities, through which medium they are able to draw subsidies on an exact parallel with the local authorities. They are free from political influence, which so often enters into other spheres of housing work. They have for a long time been able to carry out mixed development, which the Minister referred to, in a commendatory way, and in many cases they have at their command technical staffs and a great variety of experience. They have also incorporated the co-operative principle. They adopt the voluntary principle, linked on the one hand to the local authorities, and linked also to the co-operative or co-partnership principle, under which the tenant is part proprietor of a whole estate through being one of many who are governing and controlling the housing association. That principle of marrying the housing association and the co-operative, co-partnership principle is steadily growing. I think that is right and healthy, and I hope to see a great development of it in the post-war era.
There are one or two other manifestations showing the importance in value of this type of work. As everyone will have seen in the Press, there is a proposal that one of the Abercrombie satellite towns at Meopham should be developed by a broad-based housing association. That is something which can be so wide and extensive that it can carry out work of 1241 the size and importance of a new town. The corporation of Merthyr Tydfil has seen fit to take the initiative in setting up a broad-based housing association strongly representative of the corporation and containing representatives of other important and influential bodies, such as employers, workers and co-operative societies, in that area. The corporation sees, and I see, in that type of development something that will aid and expedite the building of post-war houses. It is not, as I have heard it described, a shuffling off of responsibility. It is something which is set up, created, influenced and governed entirely, so far as it is desired, by the local authority. It can exercise its control not only through strong representation on the committee of management, but through the subsidy agreements which can be entered into, the arrangements in regard to guarantees, and other matters. There are many other phases of housing work, but I thought it was right to concentrate on these two. Both have their proper place in the scheme of things, and I want to commend both most strongly to the Minister.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Price-White (Caernarvon Boroughs)
I am sure the House will appreciate brevity on my part, and will forgive me if, on a day on which we are told there will be a spate of maiden speaking, I, in some degree, do not observe the historic conventions. One might be possibly excused for any such breaches in a Debate on a subject that is so wide, and is so indivisibly connected with many other spheres of the administration, industry and life of this country. I came here this afternoon, as did all Members, with a sense of lively anticipation to hear the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health fully tell us of his practical plans. We have heard much of large, general and revolutionary intentions. I believe that all logical, thinking Members must admit themselves to be disappointed in the complete absence of any practical promises in regard to housing. This House, on the occasion of its assembly, was gracefully reminded that this country had entered another D-day. We have also heard much of the will of the people. The will of the people up and down the country, particularly on housing, is now tending to have a slight husky rumble in its voice. In my small experience of 1242 invasions and D-days, I have learned one thing—that to hang about a beach is a very unhealthy practice. I feel that His Majesty's Government, as commanders in the field who have got ashore, are displaying a regretful tendency to hang about the beach, instead of going inland and proceeding with the invasion.
The right hon. Gentleman told us of his desire to ensure that there were no such thing as class colonies in housing, a sentiment to which hon. Members on both sides will fully subscribe. I would ask him to go to any local authority office in the country, and look down the waiting lists of those wanting houses, and he need have no fear of there being any class distinction in the matter of occupying groups of houses. The House will have heard the story of a cynical humorist about the two duties incumbent on the proud father of a child. On the first day of birth he has to register the birth; then he has to proceed to the local town hall, and put the child down for a house contingent on it reaching the age of 21. Members may feel that that story is in danger of becoming true unless something; is done.
I trust I can place before the House for its consideration two small points which may be of practical help to the right hon. Gentleman. The first is in regard to local authorities. We are told that the housing problem will largely be one of direct labour by local authorities themselves. I venture to suggest that throughout the length and breadth of this land, every properly qualified borough surveyor or engineer who is not handicapped by the political or other beliefs of his housing committee or council will tell you that the best value for money, and the best property produced, in what is technically known as the "cottage"type of house is that produced by private enterprise firms under the authority of the local authority. I should be glad to hear from the right hon. Gentleman in due course how many local authorities had, in fact, indicated to him that they had been able, under present building controls, to obtain the assistance of the small builders who have built so many houses for them in the past. By small builders I do not mean the very small builders, nor do I mean the large builders who erect these enormous and imposing-looking blocks of flats in London, in which certainly no 1243 hon. Member of this House can find a home.
I should like to congratulate the Government upon their refusal to go below the figure, recommended by the Dudley Report, of 900 superficial feet as a proper minimum for any reasonable and decent house. I am sure the Government are to be congratulated also on their insistence on the figure of 1,000 superficial feet. I trust that the Minister will not be hastened into any reduction in room heights, so that when these houses do begin to appear—and "when, oh when" is what we are asking to-day—they will appear as houses of a proper kind. It is well known that under one particular Housing Act, certain authorities rushed into housing, and produced a house in which the ceilings were such that on a Monday, when the unfortunate housewife was airing her wash on the rack, she could produce nothing else in any comfort, nor could she, for that matter, complete the laundry.
I would appeal to the right hon. Gentleman, in spite of the decision of this House the other evening, to do all he can, to ride roughshod if necessary, to overcome the fettering controls within the housing industry. I can cite two definite instances. One concerns a constituent of mine, renowned both forth type of building he produces and for the excellent relations he has always had with his employees, who was approached by the Ministry of Labour with a contract to build. He went to the Board of Trade to obtain the necessary licences, and when he found that the existing controls prevented his building, he applied to the Minister of Labour. He was told in effect, "You build; it is not for us to ask for your licences; you will have to go to the Board of Trade. They are a Government Department and you know what they are."If the Minister is going to fetter himself, and to allow other Ministries to fetter him, our promised houses will never be forthcoming.
I am interested, as is my hon. Friend the Member for Caernarvonshire (Mr. Goronwy Roberts) in one industry which is vital to the Minister's plans and to housing generally. The slate industry of Wales is ready and willing, subject to certain limitations to which I shall shortly refer, to produce a roofing material second 1244 to none in the world for every possible house that can be wanted in the country. There they are, waiting, but controls as now existing are preventing them from fulfilling the contracts which even to-day they are being asked to fulfil. For six years the industry has been under the benevolent control of the Ministry of Supply and no development whatever has been possible in the quarries. There has been no removal of the overburden, as it is technically known in the industry, and the slate is below ground waiting to be worked. The necessary labour to make it ready for production is still in the Forces. The industry, which in 1937 employed 7,900 men, now has only 3,600 and is crying out for labour to be released from the Forces to enable it to produce the slate which is vital to our houses. Will the Minister, with the energy and pugnacity for which I believe he is renowned, go to his right hon. colleague and insist that every rockman and quarryman in His Majesty's Forces to-day is promptly put into Class B and released, and that the labour necessary to enable the rockmen and quarrymen to get to work is also released? Unless and until the right hon. Gentleman can achieve that vital liaison in the matter of release he will never receive his slates or produce his houses.
It occurs to me that there is a feeling, not among all, but among certain hon. Members on the opposite side of this House, that this is a matter upon which there is a party dispute at present. Most certainly, no such dispute exists. It is a matter upon which the whole of this House is united, and concerning which the Government will find on these Benches the utmost support for a policy of forging ahead and implementing their promises. Promises without implementation have been, in my humble view, all too frequent. Housing is a matter connected with the well-being of our people, and I have noted a tendency on the part of certain hon. Members to seek to arrogate to themselves a monopoly of desire for the well-being of the people. May I say that a desire for the well-being of one's fellowmen is not the monopoly of an individual, and is certainly not the monopoly of a political party. It arises from something older than this House itself. It is as old as Christianity, and surely within this House, as elsewhere, it is present in full measure in the hearts of all.
§ 5.37 p.m.
§ Mr. George Hicks (Woolwich, East)
May I congratulate the hon. Member who has just sat down and my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Chamberlain) upon the very excellent speeches we have listened to from both of them. I would say to them: You have demonstrated wit and breadth of knowledge and a capacity for expressing yourselves very lucidly and we hope to hear more from both of you at a later date.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham)
On a point of Order. May I call your attention, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to the fact that the hon. Gentleman opposite has referred to "you." Having regard to your Ruling the other night should not his remarks be addressed to the Chair?
§ Earl Winterton
But is it in Order for the hon. Gentleman opposite to say "you"? I have always been under the impression that he could only refer to "the hon. Member."
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The Noble Lord with his long experience knows that our Rules are not always strictly adhered to.
§ Mr. Hicks
I thank the Noble Lord for helping us in the procedure of this House. He is constantly in attendance and I am certain we very much appreciate his strict observance of the Rules. What I was attempting to say was that we had listened to two very fine maiden speeches, and we much appreciated what the hon. Gentleman had to say. Having received his admonition I shall not refer to the Noble Lord again to-night.
I would like to thank the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health for a masterly Parliamentary performance. I think the way in which he presented his case was excellent, and if I ask him a few questions on certain things, I hope he will understand the reason. I understand that consultations have been taking place between the Minister of Works and the Minister of Health, and that they have presented us with a White Paper showing the progress made in temporary housing. I am glad to have that information and I am sure other hon. Members will also appreciate it. The housing problem is much too serious for any hon. Members or right 1246 hon. Members of the House to indulge in levity upon it. In my own constituency, and in quite a number of other places where there are people who communicate with me, two subjects are predominant—one is housing and the other is demobilisation. I have tried to the best of my ability to reply to their communications as kindly as I can, but I confess that now I am stumped for a reply. I was hoping to get something to-day which would enable me to convey a greater hope than I feel. I actually can after listening to the Debate. This applies especially to demobilisation. I am very anxious that the men in the Forces shall come back in sufficient numbers to produce the material and to build.
There have been many consultations, and the trades unions are entitled to gratitude and appreciation for the willing way in which they have met the demand to increase their personnel at least another 25 per cent. There were about 1,000,000 building trade workers before the outbreak of war, and that number was reduced to about 400,000 during the period of the war. Many protests were made and many requests that the number should not be reduced so swiftly. The matter was discussed with the trades unions, and they agreed to an expansion of their industry from 1,000,000 to 1,250,000, or 1,300,000 if necessary, to meet the needs of the building industry after the war. Hon. Members will understand that that acceptance had to be associated with some guarantee of continuity of programme. No industry has been more subject to casual labour than was the building industry between the wars. Many times I have led deputations to the Prime Minister of the day asking him to declare it a distressed industry having, as it had, anything between 200,000 and 300,000 unemployed for months on end. That was a very bad state of affairs, but it did exist. Therefore in the agreement for expansion there must be some guarantee of continuity of programme, in order that those who invest their lives in the industry may have a reasonable opportunity of getting a livelihood out of it. That was agreed. I say, then, that the expansion of personnel is a matter of very great importance, not only in the actual building but in the production of materials.
I was glad to hear the Minister say that extensive orders for equipment are about to be made. It is easy to get the 1247 shell of a house up, but the house cannot be used until the equipment is forthcoming. Before the war, we were producing in this country roughly 400,000 baths a year, and we were importing annually roughly 100,000 baths; that is to say, we were using approximately 500,000 baths a year. Let it be remembered also that 50 per cent. of the houses in the country are without baths. In the early part of this year, we were producing fewer than 40,000 baths a year and importing none. It will readily be seen, in regard to this one item, how important it is that the Minister of Health and everyone else connected with the matter should devote great attention to the question of equipment. I wish the Minister the very best of luck in his efforts.
At the end of the 1914–18 war I felt unhappy about the position of labour and equipment. One of the things that the Coalition Government did was to ensure that our brickworks should not be allowed to go derelict, as they did during the last war. We arranged a system of production and sale of bricks which added 3s. per 1,000 to the ordinary economic price, 2s. of that amount coming from the consumer and the 1s. from the manufacturer. By this means a fund was created for the purpose of seeing that the equipment in brickworks was properly maintained so that they would be ready to start again and not go derelict. I could give other instances to show that thought was given to the question of maintaining the equipment side of the industry so that it would be able to do its job. During the last war our equipment went out of gear altogether. I am very glad that some preparation has been made to keep it in gear on this occasion, and that the Government are making efforts to see that a greater amount of equipment is turned out than was the case before.
I would like now to say a word on the subject of a Ministry of Housing. I am certain that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for North Croydon (Mr. Willink), the former Minister of Health, will have something to say about that if he speaks in the Debate. I have heard it said many times that there are many Departments dealing with housing. As far as I know, there was only one Department dealing with housing in the Coalition Government, and that was the Ministry of Health. The Ministry of 1248 Works did not have anything to do with housing, except that it had the duty placed upon it of carrying out experiments. The Ministry of Works was never able to consult the local authorities or to build or sell houses. It relied entirely upon the Ministry of Health for instructions to carry out any work that it had to do. I feel it is necessary that the House should understand that. The local authorities are the initiating authorities all the time. The local authorities go to the Ministry of Health and after adequate consultation with other Departments, such economic arrangements as are possible are made. The Ministry of Health then give instructions to the Ministry of Works to give life and purpose to the idea. Never once did the Ministry of Works initiate any houses. The Ministry of Works was entirely concerned with experiments in the matter of getting prefabricated houses.
There is one thing on which I am sure the Minister of Health would like to make a correction. On the question of dealing with the arrears of housing, he said that he hoped in four years' time everybody would be able to have a house. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Town and Country Planning has stated the minimum requirement as being 8,000,000 houses. I am certain the Government will be congratulated if they produce 500,000 houses a year. Therefore, if the Minister gives four years as the time when arrears will be caught up, I wish him the best of luck. I am certain he will have to correct his figures later on.
On the question of prefabrication, I want to point out that prefabricated units for house building must be accurate in manufacture and the site on which they are put must be absolutely level. If they are a little bit out, the whole structure gets out of gear, and there is tremendous difficulty in putting it right. Prefabrication is all right for certain things. In the building industry there has been a great deal of prefabrication for many years. The brick is the greatest prefabricated unit that was ever made. If somebody had just thought of it now, instead of some years ago, we would have said that we had got the answer to the problem. Moreover, in our house building before the war, floor boards were cut to the size of the room, door frames, window frames, drain pipes, lavatory pans, flush pans, manhole covers and all 1249 sorts of other things were manufactured to size. There has been a tremendous amount of prefabrication in the building industry. I say this in order that the great building industry may feel that there is somebody who has been associated with it for some time who has some idea of the effort the industry has made in house building. I am not against prefabrication in buildings. Prefabricated parts may be eminently desirable. If they are desirable we shall be delighted if they are used, but it is not quite correct to think that there has been no prefabrication in the past.
I come now to the question of temporary houses. In the very competent and able report which has been issued to us as a White Paper, there is no reference to the Portal house. The idea of the Portal house was this. A large number of engineers were engaged in the munitions industry, and there was need to provide them with some work during the period between the ending of the manufacture of munitions of war and the time when peace production assumed its proper proportions. The pressed steel industry was selected for this purpose, and this purpose alone. To imagine that small firms could do anything of the kind is to imagine the ridiculous. We went to big firms, such as Briggs Bodies and Pressed Steel, and asked them whether they would co-operate. We had a guarantee that there would be plenty of sheet metal available for the purpose of manufacturing houses. Had this idea been pursued, believe me those houses would have been in production now. I am certain that, with all the qualities which they had, they would have been much cheaper than any other types that have been and are being used. They were thoroughly tested out at Watford and they stood up to the tests. One of the big things that was done by the Government was to see that private enterprise never owned one of those houses. It was laid down by the Government that every one of them had to be publicly owned and controlled, so that 15 or 20 years later they would not be available for exploitation after they had served their period of usefulness.
The equipment in those houses included a wardrobe, cupboards, shelves, and a kitchen unit which is still the envy of housewives. I hope the Minister of Health and the Minister of Works will see 1250 that that equipment is maintained. It means a lot to newly-married people who have to buy utility furniture if such equipment is already in the homes. I want to see equipment such as there was in the Portal house made available and made part and parcel of the landlord's fittings. The hon. and gallant Member for Penrith and Cockermouth (Lieut.-Colonel Dower) referred to the cost-plus system. Some of my hon. Friends think that it was a bit of robbery. If one asked a contractor to go to a bomb-damaged house, unaware of the nature of the damage which it had suffered, and estimate the cost of repairing it, I guarantee that the estimate would amount to more than would have to be paid under the cost-plus system.
The suggestion I made was not that a firm estimate should be given in the case of a bomb-damaged building, but that there should be fixed a fee or profit which the builder would get on doing the job. He would then get the cost, which he had not been able to estimate, and he would get a fixed fee, and this fixed fee would be an incentive to him to finish the job quickly and get on with another job.
§ Mr. Hicks
I can assure the hon. and gallant Member that that point has not been overlooked. Some of the most competent firms in the country, efficient in every way, have put in tenders for bomb-damage repairs and the estimates they have sent in have been higher than the amounts arrived at by the cost-plus system. I am certain that no contractor would be able to give an estimate for repairing a bomb-damaged house unless he put in a big coverage which would make the price higher than that arrived at under the cost-plus system. That is my own experience in that matter. I am against the cost-plus system in principle, but not in this case where a house has been shaken by vibration or blast and where the damage is much more serious than is superficially revealed.
The hon. Member will realise that that is not the point I made. I did not suggest that there should be an estimate for the job, but that the profit on the job should be a fixed profit.
§ Mr. Hicks
The private contractor should see that there is proper and 1251 adequate supervision so that the work is carried out economically and not just handed on in order to get a larger recompense. The hon. and gallant Member talks about tender prices for houses. How can a contractor tender for a house in view of all the shortage of material, the difficulties of transport and the inadequacy of labour, and where very likely the equipment required for the House is not available? If he tenders for a house he must put in relatively high prices unless he wants to be a benefactor or to dodge E.P.T. It is practically impossible for him to tackle a house, with a feeling that he can carry out the work. I say that definitely having had experience in the matter. I make one suggestion. It may not appeal to the House. The hon. and gallant Member for Caernarvon Boroughs (Lieut.-Colonel Price-White) made a statement with regard to the work being carried out by direct labour. He said that it should be carried out by the local authority, but the local authority would have to carry it out through a contractor. I am in favour of both. I would ask my right hon. Friend to keep his mind fluid on the matter of prices. If he gets the cheapest price, he will be putting the Government stamp on jerry-building.
§ Mr. Hicks
No, not always. If my right hon. Friend picked out say a dozen or 20 of the big firms in the country, firms of experience and organisation, and gave them 50 houses to build, and put his own costings clerk in to see that no wool was pulled over his eyes, and find out what was the average cost, I am certain he would get better results by that means than by tender or from those who want to dodge E.P.T. by putting in a lower price. I congratulate the Minister on his enthusiasm, and I hope he will get on. In my relationship with the Prime Minister and Lord Portal, we had full consultation upon everything connected with the Portal house, and I am sorry that it was put off. Builders were only to be used on the assembly and the factories to be used in their manufacture. We had full consultation on the matter, and I was happy to think that we had made some little contribution. Anybody who knows anything about superficial area, might say 1252 that the houses only covered 620 feet. They would not be house of 950 or 1,000 feet, but would be very small in comparison, and yet the price is very high. I counsel the Minister to have no more pre-fabricated houses than he can afford to take on. It has been said that brickwork is responsible for all the costs, but brickwork never costs more than 20 per cent. of the building of a house. The building of the foundation, walls and everything is never more than 20 per cent. of the cost and the other 80 per cent. goes in other costs.
I would say to my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland and to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health that I appreciate their optimism but as a former Parliamentary Secretary, I wish to say that Parliamentary Secretaries have not always full knowledge of everything that is going on. They may be informed of a difficulty only when they are called upon in public to defend it. I hope that they will have an adequate opportunity of making themselves familiar with all that has to do with housing. I am sad, because we are far behind in the provision of houses and I shall be only too glad to do anything I can to assist in their rapid production. I ask the Minister not to fix a number, but to produce all the houses he can and that all the time he will be able to use material and labour in their provision because the country is in very dire need of housing accommodation.
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ Captain Marples (Wallasey)
I rise to address this House for the first time and I ask the indulgence of the House, particularly in view of the Parliamentary performance I have witnessed this afternoon by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health. I would say to hon. Members:Be to my faults a little blind.Be to my virtues over kind.Like a previous speaker, I have done a certain amount of building myself, and at present I happen to be living in a block of flats for the erection of which I was responsible. I am still the landlord. Here am I, a harassed tenant and a wicked landlord. In building, as in any other walk of life, it is much easier to be destructive than constructive. This is an imperfect world, with imperfect human beings. I desire to be practical and constructive really rather than political.
1253 The first point I would like to address to the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health is in regard to the middle classes. He has made a Regulation that no house shall be built costing more than £1,200 in the Provinces, and £1,300 in London, until 1,250,000 houses have been built in this country. The £1,200 does not include—as I understand it—the cost of the roads, sewers, and land. The 1,250,000 houses provide for more than the short-term needs of the lower-paid workers. The priority on building houses in this country should be, first, the short-term needs of the lower-paid workers, and, secondly, the short-term needs of the middle classes. We never hear anything about the middle classes in politics. They do not appear to be represented very strongly, but it is about time somebody spoke up on their behalf. The type of house they will need to live in will cost more than the £1,200 or £1,300 which the right hon. Gentleman has imposed as a price limit. I was wondering—I want to make this non-controversial—whether the right hon. Gentleman was interested in a sort of class warfare in building houses.
Another argument in favour of building houses for the middle class, after the short-term needs of the working class have been provided, is that in this country there are over 30,000 acres of land in respect of which plans have been passed, and on most of these acres the roads are laid and the sewers are in. It seems to be criminal folly to lay roads and sewers elsewhere, when you already have land, planned and built on apparently prior to the war, and the builders cannot get a licence to build and are held up by the Minister of Health. I ask the Minister of Health to consider granting licences in respect of sites where there are roads and sewers in existence. That is a practical point which might be dealt with in the reply.
The second point I wish to make is that I have always found the cheapest way to build is to prepare plans and specifications, and have a bill of quantities. I remember on one occasion I altered a bill of quantities at the last moment and—the hon. Gentleman the Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks) will bear me out—I moved the bath about six inches, and said in my innocence that that would mean an extra six inches of piping, and would not take the plumber 1254 long. What happened? The bricklayer, the carpenter and the plasterer were put out of gear, and all the prices were upset. Local authorities, once they have handed over a site and have had the plans and the bill of quantities and the specification approved, should, in no circumstances, make any variation. I think that the hon. Member for East Woolwich will agree that any omission or variation of the original contract causes untold expense to the community at large. I know that hon. Gentlemen opposite do not agree with private enterprise. The mistake I have mentioned of the alteration of specifications and quantities, is made by all sorts of people, local authorities and private enterprise, with this difference, that private enterprise makes it only once. I made it once, as I have said, in my innocence, and I did not make it again, because it cost me money. I know of a case, not far from this House, where the local authority not only altered the plans of the house, but the number of houses to be put on the site. They said, "We can take two houses from that end and put three in here." The whole progress schedule was upset. As a practical suggestion I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider making it a rule that, once plans are passed and approved, and specifications and quantities are passed and approved, there should be no variation by way of omission or addition to the bill of quantities.
Another practical point I would mention relates to the flow of materials. I heard on Monday night a very eloquent appeal by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Supply, and at the finish I thought he had the most efficient Department in the world. I did not think that from my practical experience. I know of a case where hulls for prefabricated houses have arrived on the site at 5, 6 or 7 o'clock at night when the workmen were going home, and of another case where the fittings arrived first, and the whole of the prefabricated house afterwards. I know of one case where the contractor insisted that the Ministry of Works should provide a large number of hulls on the site, and the carpenters, who were on bonus, received anything from £2 to £7 a week extra because they were able to erect houses above the target figure, and quite right too. As a back bencher I like to see them earning that money, because then I know that the houses are 1255 being erected. The carpenters thought it was the wicked employer, or the even more wicked Tory Government. I suggest that the flow of materials should be the entire responsibility of the Minister of Supply. I notice that a building trades journal of 4th August says:Fleetwood has decided to abandon the proposed erection of pre-fabricated houses because of the impossibility of getting materials. Foundations have been ready since July for the erection of 68 houses, but as no prefabricated material has been delivered by the Ministry of Works, the corporation is to proceed with the erection of permanent dwellings.It is quite clear that the flow of materials is not what it should be on these sites.
At present, permission has to be asked of the local authorities, and sometimes of the Ministries of Health, Supply, Works, Town and Country Planning and Agriculture and, indeed, of the Minister of Labour himself, and it is a bit confusing. I suggest that there should be one authority for passing the plans of individual contractors, and that it should be the responsibility of that Department to allow the necessary labour and material to be available. At present builders are going round to all sorts of Government Departments. I suggest that one central authority—make it the local authority if you like—should approve the plans, and see that the necessary labour and material are available, and should also be responsible for co-ordinating all those demands. The last speaker would agree with me that half the delay in building to-day is caused by the impossibility of co-ordinating those demands.
A further suggestion, regarding the question of applying for permission, is that under the Town and Country Planning Act a man applied for a licence, and if he did not receive a reply at the end of two months, it was automatically assumed that permission had been granted. At present, however, that is not so, and sometimes there is a delay of a great deal longer than two months. I remember, in the old days, it took me 18 months to get permission through the London County Council, but, since then, the leader of the London County Council is now the Leader of this House, and I think it is a little easier there. Although the law said an application should be made again in two months, what really happened was 1256 that I received a registered letter on the very last day, which said:If you will alter your window frames and re-submit your plans, we will look at it again.So I did that. Then, again two months later, dead to the exact day—the organisation was extraordinary—I received another registered letter saying:If you will alter the door frame, we will reconsider your application.And so it went on for 14 months, until I took someone out to lunch—and then all was well.
The Government have the control, and they should take the responsibility. At the present moment they are avoiding it. Unless you give private enterprise a fair chance, you cannot judge it. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health impressed me to-day with his Parliamentary performance. I should think he must be rather fearsome in Opposition, but I do not think he is going to be quite so fearsome in office. I think he has been destructive, if I may say so with respect, during the last 15 years, and I do not think it will be easy for him to be constructive now. But I would say that I wish him well. I think he ought to have a sporting chance, although I think his actions to-day have been rather disappointing. He wrote round to the local authorities putting a little "pep "into them, and really telling them to make bricks without straw, rather like a new Pharaoh. I would suggest that he wants more time and energy, like the Pharoah of old who kept his slaves up to the mark. What we want now is all the drive and energy of which we are capable. We need leaders, and I want to see the right hon. Gentleman concern himself with building houses rather than with giving Parliamentary performances. I know it is going to be a hard task, and a difficult one, but his settled purpose is to build houses. Disraeli said:I have brought myself, by long meditation, to the conviction that a human being with a settled purpose must accomplish it, and that nothing can resist a will which is prepared to sacrifice even its own existence in its fulfilment.
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ Mrs. Braddock (Liverpool, Exchange)
I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for the opportunity of making my first speech in this House. I am intrigued somewhat by the comments of the hon. Member who spoke 1257 last. His plea was that private enterprise should be given an opportunity. It is mainly because private enterprise has miserably failed, that we are in our present position in respect to housing in this country. Private enterprise has had every possible opportunity to meet our housing requirements, and only on occasions when there was plenty of profit to be made, has private enterprise considered in any way the housing of the working-class people of this country. I represent now—and I am proud to represent it—a Division in Liverpool which was the prize Division of the Tory Party. Because capitalism and the Tory Party have put people into living conditions that they would not allow their cattle to live in, I filched from them the representation of the Exchange Division of Liverpool. I am proud of that fact, because all my life I have been an agitator against the conditions, housing and every other sort, in which my class has been compelled to live, and I shall continue to agitate with every means and power I have, until the people whom I represent and to whom I belong are taken out of the miserable conditions in which they live. I make no apology at all for being an agitator. In fact, I am going to quote to the House some cases showing the conditions in which some people in my constituency have to exist.
Many a time we on this side of the House are accused of over-estimating or exaggerating the conditions under which the workers have to live. The cases I propose to quote are only five out of thousands which exist in the immediate vicinity, and will show how working-class people are now living, and have been living for many years. This problem of housing and overcrowding, and the inability of people to find accommodation, is not something that has sprung up within the last three months. It has been a gradual process and we have failed, either as local authorities, or as private enterprise, to meet the whole of the necessities. Housing has become a first-class emergency, and I was particularly pleased to hear the Minister of Health say that he was going to use every power that he possessed in order to see that there is no hold-up in the building of houses for working-class people.
This party won the Election and was given power by the people of this country 1258 because of the conditions under which working-class people have had to live for so long, and if we fail them—and we must not fail them—our fate will be that of the Opposition at the moment. But do not let the Opposition in any way take any comfort from that suggestion, because never again will this country revert to Tory Party policy and Tory Party tactics. They have had sufficient of the promises of the Tory Party, and they are expecting us to deal with the situation. If we do not, we shall be emptied out, and somebody will take control who will see that the job that is there to be done, is done as quickly as possible.
Let me refer hon. Members, then, to the living conditions of some of the people I represent and to whom, at the moment, I can give no comfort at all. In case it is suggested that I am making quotations which cannot be checked, I intend to give the names and addresses of the people concerned, who are all living in the Exchange Division. The first is a family named Tremarco, of 72a, Bidder Street. The man is an ex-merchant seaman, aged 46. He has his wife with him, a boy of 23, who is at the moment in the Royal Navy, but is often, or periodically, home on leave, a girl of 21, who was in the W.A.A.F. and has been discharged, a boy of 17, a boy of 15½, a girl of 13, a boy of 11, a boy of nine, and a boy of two. All those people sleep in one bedroom—every one of them—and yet two wars have been fought in the interests of freedom, and the rights of the ordinary person. It is only a two-roomed house or tenement. They all live in one room and sleep in the other.
The next case concerns a family named McCarthy, who live in the same street, 68a, Bidder Street. Here there is only one bedroom. The man is a discharged seaman who was torpedoed. He has a wife and their family consists of a boy of 14, a girl of 12, a girl of 10, a boy of eight, a boy of six, a girl of five, a boy of two, and a baby 10 months old. Ten people live in only one room.
The third family live in the same street. This street is full of families of this sort, living, and, in some instances, living, eating and sleeping, in one room. The address is 41, Bidder Street. There is a man and his wife named Ayres. Mr. Ayres has recently been demobilised from the Army. He is 39 years of age and 1259 his wife is 31. They have a girl of 14, a girl of 12, a boy of 11, a boy of six, a boy of five, a boy of two, a baby girl of 11 months, and the woman is expecting to be confined again. The eldest is in a sanatorium suffering from tuberculosis as the result of the conditions under which the family have been living for a number of years.
I now quote No. 6, St. James Terrace, in the Exchange Division. Here is an old house, for which, quite possibly, the landlord has been paid over and over again in rent from the tenants who have lived there. It is a two-bed roomed house. In one room, are a man, wife and one child and in the other bedroom are a girl of 19, a girl of 17, a girl of 15, a boy of 12, a boy of nine and a boy of seven, all sleeping together in one bedroom. I am quoting these cases to make it apparent that, unless something is done immediately, we shall not be able to hold the people of this country. I am surprised they have kept themselves quiet so long, in view of the circumstances to which I have referred.
The last case is No. 40, Chapel Street, in the Exchange Division. Here, a man, wife and six children are living, eating and sleeping in one room, and the children's ages range in both sexes from a girl of 18 to a boy of 10 months. These are things which, I say, are an indictment of the system of society which has been perpetuated by Members of the Conservative Party. Because of these conditions, and because of the situation in which we are, hundreds, in fact, thousands, of our youth in this country, who have married during the war and who are expecting, after their men folk have fought and won the war, to be able to set up a home, have, at the moment, no possibility at all of being able to get accommodation unless something drastic is done by this party. I sincerely hope that the Minister of Health—who, I know, will do everything in his power—will take exactly the same steps as were taken to deal with the crisis of war and the production of war machinery, and will bring those measures into operation immediately in the interests of the people of this country who are living in such terrible circumstances.
The cases I have quoted are only a few of those that could be mentioned. I could 1260 speak for five or six hours and give case after case in my own Division, and there are other people in Liverpool who could quote similar cases. At the moment, in Liverpool, there is no attempt to meet the housing situation. We need 100,000 houses almost immediately, so bad have the conditions been allowed to become—not because of the war, because we lost houses before the war. I can remember that in 1918 the Conservative Party won an Election on the cry "Homes for heroes to live in. "These are the homes the people have been given to live in, and, right throughout this country, and particularly in industrial areas, people are living in flea-ridden, bug-ridden, rat-ridden, lousy hell-holes which have been allowed to develop throughout the industrial areas of this country. The back benchers on this side of the House, and I think I can speak for most of them, will continue to agitate, and kick up a row, if necessary, until we are able to assure the people of this country, who have been compelled to live in conditions of this character, that this party has a policy to get rid of some of these evils that have been left to us as a result of having been represented for so long by the Conservative Party.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Byers (Dorset, Northern)
I must, on this, the first occasion on which I have addressed the House, crave the customary indulgence. I wanted very much to speak in this Debate because I represent one of the largest rural constituencies in England and in the rural areas we have some very bad conditions of housing. They have been wretched for many years. It was said by an hon. Member above the Gangway, during this Debate, that there was no principle involved in the question of housing. I do not agree. There is a principle involved, and one can choose according to one's political point of view. The Government can either provide sufficient houses to obviate serious social unrest, or they can regard the provision of houses which are real homes for every family in this country, at a rent within their capacity to pay, as a public responsibility and a national service. That is the principle to which I subscribe, and, without wanting to be contentious or controversial, I feel it only right to say that the responsibility for this serious housing position which we are facing to-day must be placed upon 1261 the shoulders of the Conservative Party. There is no question at all about that. I do not wish to make party political advantage out of that, but merely to make quite certain that, in future, we never again subscribe to that first principle which I have mentioned and that, henceforth, we shall regard the provision of houses for our people as a real Government responsibility, and a national service.
We are to-day facing an era of social rehabilitation. If we are not, then we jolly well should be, because the opportunity is here. Fit and proper housing conditions are absolutely vital if we are to succeed to any extent in obtaining the sort of social economy which we want to see in this country. What is the use of a doctor trying to cure a disease when he cannot deal with conditions of over crowding and eradicate the cause? The teacher has the full force of environment against him. The minister of religion is fighting a losing battle. The crux of all our social programmes of the future is the housing question, and I hope the Government will accept full responsibility for treating housing as a national service. The Government will be judged and the country will be served according to the boldness of the imagination, the courage and determination with which this problem is tackled.
There are many ways of sub-dividing the problem in order to appreciate the issues more clearly. The demand for houses arises from three causes: firstly, from overcrowding, secondly, from unfit habitations, and, thirdly, from a desire for better homes. I believe at least 1,250,000 houses are required to relieve the present overcrowding situation. The Minister of Health gave a figure of 4,000,000 houses required to replace those which, by virtue of old age and lack of amenities, were considered no longer fit for habitation, but he omitted to say that the computer had also estimated that, from 1939 to 1961, another 2,000,000 houses would, without enemy action, have become unfit for habitation, and that gives us a total of 7,250,000 houses to be provided in this country, to relieve overcrowding and to replace those unfit or becoming unfit. I do not think that any hon. Members will deny the evils of overcrowding or that many of our worst social problems arise from that cause. We have heard from the hon. Lady the Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Mrs. Braddock), in 1262 her admirable speech, some of the cases which she has to face. I represent North Dorset, a rural constituency, in which I have not a town with a larger electorate than 2,500. During last week, there has been brought to me a case, the details of which I have given to the Minister of Health, in which 13 members of one family are living in two bedrooms. There are the mother and father, five daughters ranging from 23 to 4 years and four sons from 21 to 11 years old—all of them living in two rooms. The 12th and 13th members of the family are the illegitimate children of the elder daughter. That is in the heart of the country to-day.
That is why I say that the relief of overcrowding is the first part of the task which we must tackle. Thereafter, we must see that housing is continued as a national service. There is no question in my mind that the problem we have to face is the provision of working-class houses. The middle classes were rehoused in the inter-war period. It is the working classes who have to be rehoused now and to whom first priority must be given. The whole point, to my mind, is that a working-class house is a house built to rent and not to sell. During the inter-war period, I believe I am right in saying that speculative builders built 70 per cent. of the houses and local authorities built 30 per cent. Broadly speaking, the local authorities built small houses to let, while the speculative builder built larger houses for sale. If I might summarise the 1937 report of the Rent Restriction Committee, I suggest that it gives the whole thing in a nutshell. The Committee said:The number of middle class houses in the inter-war period increased by 75 per cent. and the number of working class houses by 30 per cent. only. Of the houses built by speculative builders just under a quarter were working class and under one-twelfth were for letting. Of all working class houses built, the speculative builders provided just over one-third and the local authorities just under two-thirds.I think it is also true to say that, if you left it to the speculative builder—not just to private enterprise—you would get substantially the same results to-day. I am certain of that and I believe that the thing we have got to face up to is the correct relationship between private enterprise and public enterprise in this matter, I deprecate the tendency of hon. Members, on the one hand, to say that private enterprise can do everything, and, on the 1263 other hand, to say that it can do nothing. In the task which faces us of providing working-class houses, the speculative builder, if allowed to work on his own, will obviously not work entirely in the interests of the community. He has the profit motive, as a result of which we shall not expect him to carry out the task which we want carried out—the provision of working-class homes.
I would say, therefore, that while private enterprise has a tremendous contribution to make, and has the organisation, it must in the future work under the aegis of the local authority or the central Government, to carry out this plan upon which we are now embarked. We shall see, in the future, that Government action is very essential in many aspects if this plan is to develop as we would desire.
I wish to deal briefly with the aspects of the problem in which I think Government action is essential. First, may I make a plea that the whole problem shall be presented to the public, to the builders and the local authorities in a really imaginative way; that they shall be told periodically, at regular and frequent intervals, exactly what is happening and exactly what they are expected to do? It is absolutely vital that we should take them into the confidence of those responsible. In that connection, I should like to see a tremendous extension of the principle used by the Ministry of Food during the war, namely, advertising in the Press by Government Departments showing what is happening, what they expect to do, to whom people apply for various things, and so forth. May I also say that no scheme like this will succeed, unless red tape is ruthlessly eliminated, and the complexities of various Departments reduced? The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health, in a most excellent speech, said that these complexities have been reduced, but I am afraid he did not convince me that that was so. I agree with the hon. Member above the Gangway who said that one still has to go to far too many Government Departments, for far too many permissions, and I am certain that complexity must be reduced. One way of reducing it, surely, is to say that if the Ministry of Health rules that a plan for a particular house is good, then it is good, irrespective of the existing by-law. I am 1264 sure that a great deal could be done in that field.
Apart from the complexities of the scheme, may I make one further suggestion? This scheme will not work, unless the officials in every Government Department concerned are imbued with a genuine and sincere desire to "get cracking"; that is vital. We are putting a tremendous amount of responsibility on the Government, responsibility which they accept, but unless the Members of the Government Departments are imbued with a new attitude, an attitude in which they are determined to see that this scheme is put through, then we shall not succeed. I am not making a destructive attack on the Civil Service; I know there are good civil servants, people who have rendered a tremendous and valuable service to their country over the last few years; but I am continually receiving complaints from local authorities and I am sure that other Members are also. We have in my constituency of North Dorset at least one progressive rural district council—we have other types too. I refer to the Sturminster Newton rural district council, and I am extremely sorry for them because they are not receiving the assistance which they merit from the Government Departments. They applied for German prisoner-of-war labour in early September. They were informed on 17th September by the Ministry of Health that the Ministry of Works would be getting in touch with them. Nothing was heard up to two days ago. I do not know whether anything else has been heard, but six valuable weeks have been lost, six weeks of the housing programme.
Again in that same area there is a much more scandalous dispute going on at present about the payment of transport costs for workers under the Essential Work Order. The workers are there; there is no question of shortage of labour; the material is there, but this dispute has been going on for six weeks, and we cannot get it settled through the Governmental Department. Six weeks lost. I ask what would have happened in the Army, if, on the occasion before D-Day, or the crossing of the Rhine, we had had to postpone operations for six weeks while the staff made up its mind. I wonder how many bowler hats would have been fitted by Field-Marshal Montgomery and his able and competent chief of staff. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman the 1265 Minister of Health will see that he and his colleagues try to inculcate into the Government Departments this new attitude which is required, an attitude which we had on many staffs during the war, an attitude that meant you had to "get on or get out." I am certain we must have that.
I had wanted to speak on research. However, I shall not detain the House on that subject, but I hope the Minister will take the golden opportunity he now has, to see that we have proper, co-ordinated research in this country into the problems of housing; that we have a qualitative and quantitative analysis made, a real national survey. If there is anything of which Governments in the past should have been ashamed, it is the fact that here we are faced with this most tremendous problem of housing, and Governments in the past have not taken the trouble to have a proper survey made of the conditions and types of houses in the country. I hope, therefore, that in the future we shall have such a survey to give us the full facts.
May I make a plea for the rural areas which I represent? There are many ways in which we in the rural areas require assistance. We have suffered from the most wretched housing conditions. We want assistance in the provision of labour. There is a tendency to-day to direct labour from the country into the towns, and I want to say to whoever is responsible, that we have much more pressing needs in the country districts in many cases than have many of the large towns. As regards my own constituency of North Dorset, I would say without hesitation that 40 per cent. of the houses and dwellings in that constituency are not, according to modern standards, fit for human habitation. There is no question about it. I ask that we shall be given, at least, equal priority in the matter of labour, and in that connection I hope we may be assured from the Government Benches that the Minister of Health is being given all the assistance he requires in getting the labour he wants. I am not convinced of it. One has only to see the tremendous delay which is taking place—the time-lag in the Class B releases—and to see some of the letters which we Members of Parliament receive written by people in Government Departments telling us that, although we have 1266 been very good to give the names of several people who are eligible for release, this application should go through the normal channels and so on. Do they want the labourers, or do they not? If they do want them, then they must reduce the time-lag in getting these men out of the Forces and setting them to real work. If the excuse is shortage of staff, then the priorities are wrong, and more staff should be brought in to make that release scheme work.
May I return to the subject of the rural areas? We have there houses which, I have said before, are unfit for human habitation but, apart from that, we want to see that the Government provide not only houses but homes. A house without amenities is not a home, and I hope we shall have within a short measure of time, not only the provision of real houses in our rural constituencies, but a tremendous extension of the amenities of electricity, water and sanitation, and that the cost of those things shall be spread equally over the whole country so that we in the rural areas shall not be the Cinderellas of the nation henceforth. We must have that.
I make one more plea. I hope that, in the near future, the Minister will remember that we are not as rich in the country districts as other people. I hope he will give us every possible assistance in getting modern labour-saving devices, in getting houses at cheap rents with a decent standard of comfort. I hope we may look to him for every possible assistance in getting those things at reasonable prices in order that we may look forward in the future to a healthy and prosperous countryside.
§ 6.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Davies (Burslem)
I must crave the indulgence of this House in rising to speak for the first time. I want to say a word or two about the financial implications of our housing programme. I listened with great interest to the masterly speech of the Minister of Health this afternoon, but I must confess that I was rather disappointed, as a member of a local authority, with the financial proposals which seemed to be implicit in the schemes ahead. The right hon. Gentleman said that local authorities could have money at 3⅛ per cent. for housing purposes under the Local Authorities Loans Bill. In my view, as 1267 a member of an authority confronted with the building of 20,000 houses, and in common with the position which generally obtains throughout the country in poor industrial areas, 3⅛ per cent. is no good to us. We have heard a great deal of talk from the other side about private enterprise, and the Minister has made it clear that whoever can assist in this problem will be welcome, but I venture to suggest that it must be enterprise which they must bring to bear on this problem. From my experience up to the present, as a member of a local authority, I have not found that enterprise. The Minister will be aware that the authorities in the area from which I come, Stoke-on-Trent, are most anxious as, indeed, are most local authorities, to get on with this tremendous problem. The conditions so admirably outlined by the hon. Lady the Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Mrs. Braddock) could be repeated from many parts of this House—we could underline them out of our day-to-day experience. We believe that these conditions are known to the Minister himself, and I want to say, in support of the view expressed by the hon. Lady, that it was largely upon the housing legacy, and the housing difficulties in which we find ourselves, that many hon. Members were returned to this House at the recent Election. If ever a Minister were given powers to dictate to the country, to take whatever action he may need to get on with the job, it is the Minister of Health.
There are several considerations we have to bear in mind in the problem of rehousing the people. I welcomed the statement which the Minister made this afternoon in respect of land. Land should be easy of acquisition by local authorities and reasonable in price. This has not been our experience in the past, and I was encouraged to notice that he is extending the same facilities in respect of permanent houses as we have enjoyed in the provision of temporary dwellings. This will greatly assist local authorities. With regard to the rate of interest, 3⅛per cent. is no good to local authorities. We were offered houses the other day in the region of £1,105, exclusive of services. Translate those figures into terms of weekly rent for the kind of people we are representing, and you will find that we could not provide houses at anything 1268 under 21s. or 22s. a week—and we should be doing well at that—if we borrowed money for a period of 60 years.
I was under the impression—indeed, I told my people during the Election—that when the Labour Party was returned to power we should expect that money would be available at cheap or nominal rates of interest to enable local authorities to get on with their job. If there is to be any departure from this definite promise then I should have some explanation to make to those who sent me here. Work out the cost of buying a house at 3½ per cent. interest. At £800 the rate of interest is 10s. a week before you start paying back a penny on the capital. I was hoping that the Minister would outline an economic framework in which there might be some sort of national fund, raised by whatever means he likes to devise, to ease the problem. With his great imagination and the support of the country I am sure that such a fund could be used so as to enable him to extend to local authorities facilities for getting on with the job, instead of being saddled with the weight of responsibility of the 3⅛ per cent. interest which he has mentioned.
I know some of the problems of local authorities in reference to finance. They are saddled with great social, educational, hospital and housing developments, and it is impossible for poor boroughs to pay anything like the interest rate my right hon. Friend put before us. It certainly will not enable them to build the houses which he is so anxious to see built. I therefore ask him to consider the matter afresh, and give us some encouragement on the lines I have suggested.
No word was said by my right hon. Friend, either, about the subsidy—if there is to be one—which is to be given to local authorities. I suppose he would argue that the price of houses is so unstable, so high, that he is unable to find, as yet, a satisfactory basis. But local authorities must have some idea of the economic framework within which they have to work. I welcome, however, my right hon. Friend's statement about housing components. I gather that it is his intention to use some of our great ordnance factories for the making of housing parts. It is an admirable policy, and will be welcomed in my part of the country where we have just finished war production. We feel that we have the labour, ability 1269 and skill to provide many of these components at prices which will enable a prefabricated house to be built for less than £1,105. In common with other Members I read last night the White Paper on the Government's temporary housing programme. If my arithmetic is right, I believe that the average cost: of such houses, for which the Minister may have to ask for some extended credit, is £1,158. That is not the sort of figure which we should expect. The price is exorbitant, considering the life of such houses, delivery of which has been too slow, which require experts to put them up and components which could very well be used in permanent houses.
In my view, the case made out in the White Paper condemns the policy of temporary houses. We want to build good, spacious houses. The other day I saw a house put on the market for £850, including services. If Members would like to see the details of it I will provide them with pleasure; they have been brought to the notice of the Minister. This house is an excellent job, considering what it is. Its area would not come up to the Minister's requirements, but contrasted with the price of £1,158 for some of the temporary dwellings which are intended to last for only 10 years, it is incomparably superior. I have seen the house, and it is a very accessible place, and many hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of our people would be glad to live in such a house, I am sure. The builder told me that it is possible for this type of house to be built throughout the country. The Minister must beware of racketeering. The builders' associations recognise, as shrewd business men, that the market is good and, in some instances, they are prepared to bleed the community. I want my right hon. Friend to exercise all his powers to reduce the prices of houses and materials, and make available labour and cheap money. I am sure local authorities will give him the support which he so earnestly desires if he does this and that we shall, in turn, back him up, because the people who sent us here are most anxiously awaiting his encouraging words.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Major Conant (Bewdley)
It is my pleasant duty to offer on behalf of the House our sincere congratulations to the four hon. Members who have just 1270 addressed us—the hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey (Captain Marples), the hon. Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Mrs. Braddock) the hon. and gallant Member for Northern Dorset (Lieut.-Colonel Byers), and the hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. Edward Davies). It is a melancholy thought that the maiden speeches to-day have improved out of all recognition since I made mine nearly 15 years ago, because personally I should have felt very proud and happy if I could have made a maiden speech half as attractive as any of the four to which I have just listened. I am sure the House joins with me in hoping that we may hear those hon. Members taking part in our Debates at very frequent intervals.
I do not imagine that I am the only hon. Member who feels intensely disappointed at the statement of the Minister of Health this afternoon. I had hoped for great things from him, and that we should hear just how the Government were going to improve upon the scheme—the target figures—of the Coalition Government. He told us, after saying that the Government intended to carry out their election promises, why he could not do so in respect to the setting up of a Ministry of Housing. He said that he, as Minister of Health, had full and comprehensive powers to deal with housing matters. He will remember that most of the letters—far too numerous letters, for which I apologise—which I have sent him lately have always been passed on to some other Department to answer. The Coalition Government gave us very carefully-prepared estimates of what they thought possible in the realm of housing. They told us how long we could expect a housing shortage in the country. It seems clear to me that a change of policy by this Government has resulted in a considerable reduction in the anticipated output of houses. If they expected an increase over the figures of the Coalition Government, then, of course, we should have been told them; but it could hardly be expected that they would give us lower figures than those which were described by the Lord Privy Seal as being so very insignificant at that time. If local authorities need a target figure to stimulate them in building, and I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that after Christmas he proposed to lay down target figures for local authorities, then surely 1271 the Ministry itself also needs a target, and I suggest it will not be many months before hon. Members on both sides of the House will be demanding from the Government a statement as to the future output of houses.
I want to refer to rural housing. It is quite impossible to-day to over emphasise the importance of this problem. The whole future of agriculture depends upon proper amenities being provided in the country districts, and I think the provision of houses in the country areas must be regarded as a different proposition, requiring different methods in many ways, from the provision of houses in the cities. I think it was the party opposite who first recognised that fact. It was their Act of 1924, I think, which first drew a distinction between houses for rural workers and houses for general use. I hope they will still appreciate that this is a special problem, requiring special methods. The provision of services, light and water, is, of course, infinitely more expensive and more difficult in country districts. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. R. S. Hudson) so eloquently pointed out earlier in the Debate, we depend now very largely upon an agricultural population which lives in hostels. We have the prisoners-of-war, the Women's Land Army, and the voluntary workers, and the time will come, sooner rather than later, when we shall have to get a permanent population back to the country districts. Plans are being made, or were envisaged, for training, I think, 100,000 new entrants to agriculture, and a large proportion of these will, no doubt, require houses. I think some progress is being made in the provision of electricity. So far as my own constituency is concerned, there are some 20 parishes which have not yet got it, but plans are prepared to provide it all around.
The water supply is a much more difficult problem. There are many parishes of course—we have all got one or two in our rural districts—where the supplies in summer are totally inadequate, where the wells run completely dry, and I hope that the Minister of Health keeps the names of such parishes in red ink on his desk. But the real problem in housing is that there are innumerable parishes where the supplies to-day are just enough and no more, and if you increase the popula- 1272 tion of the parish by one or two cottages this may increase the water requirements of the village by 20, 30 or 40 per cent. Whether we build houses through local authorities or private enterprise we must deal with the provision of water supplies first, and urge the rural local authorities to get on with their schemes of water supply. The number of older people living in the country districts who do not recognise the need for improved water supplies are far fewer than they used to be, but there are still some who say that the daily or weekly bath is not worth while if it costs them a glass of beer in extra rates. One can quite understand that people get used to a standard and cannot appreciate the need for change; the price may seem too high, and these schemes are very expensive. Some local authorities reflect the view of those who prefer not to pay the price, and I hope, because I am convinced it is necessary for the countryside, that the Minister will push on, as he has power to do under the Bill passed last Session, these local authorities who are lagging behind with water supply schemes.
I regret very much the Minister's decision not to continue reconditioning. I only hope that in his decision to discourage and prevent dwelling houses being turned into offices he consulted the Board of Trade, since he did not consult the Minister of Agriculture when he decided to put an end to reconditioning. Reference has been made to slum clearance, and, of course, the conditions have naturally been put at the door of the Conservative Party. If one honestly looks at the figures, one will find that the Conservative slum clearance scheme before the war was making considerable progress, and it is not unfair to say that, if the war had not come, the whole of that problem would now be solved. I hope that in the plans for new building by local authorities provision will be made for the wiping out of what remains of slum dwellings. They exist not only in the big cities. In a most respectable town in my constituency I have seen people living in appalling conditions, and it is not altogether the fault of the local authority that they have not been able to make plans to deal with the problem earlier. Government Departments have not been able to make up their minds. I feel that the problem is particularly urgent, and I am glad to find so many 1273 hon. Members to-day, who have made their maiden speeches, drawing particular attention to the urgency of dealing with these conditions in the towns and improving them forthwith. I hope the Government will get on with this matter as quickly as possible, and I wish them all success in their efforts.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Dye (Norfolk, South Western)
It falls to my lot to speak not only as a representative of an almost purely agricultural Division, but as one of the members of that great body of organised farm workers in this country, in the absence of my hon. Friend the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Mr. Gooch), who is in Canada at present on another job. I happened to go to the newspaper room just now, and saw a copy of our local paper in which I found, right on the front, a photograph of the first permanent houses which are being built in Norfolk. Just four weeks ago, my hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk laid the foundation brick of this first pair of cottages which are now ready to be roofed in. Therefore, where the local authorities, even in country districts like Norfolk, are co-operating with the Ministry of Health, they can get on with all speed in erecting permanent houses for the people to live in.
The problem of housing in rural England lies in the fact that most of the farm workers' cottages in this country were built over 100 years ago. They are getting old, they are very small, many of them are damp and they are without modern amenities. Therefore, we want to know the extent of the problem. I remember that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the former Minister of Health asked for a survey of the housing conditions in rural England. As a member both of a county council and a rural district council for the past 10 or 12 years, I have taken a great interest in this matter. We find that the rural district council of which I am a member has already carried out its survey for just half of its district. This is the kind of result we have had in the Swaffham rural district. Already 1,166 houses have been surveyed, of which only 330 are found to be satisfactory. There are 123 in need of repair, 90 in need of improvement, 317 in need of reconditioning, 1274 and 296 to be condemned as quite unsuitable. The percentages are, accordingly, about 25 per cent. to foe condemned, 27 per cent. in need of reconditioning, and only about30 per cent. that can be described as satisfactory. In that will be included for the whole district—these figures apply to only half—230 houses which the council themselves have built in the 30 years preceding the war, so that of the non-council houses a very small percentage can be classified as satisfactory.
This indicates something of the extent of the problem which is facing us, at any rate in the Eastern counties of England, for this particular rural district of Swaffham is typical of many others. I know that the problem in adjoining rural districts is much the same, and the proportion is much the same. This rural district council built 230 houses in the 30 years from 1914, but on the figures alone for those houses which are now to be condemned, about 600 houses will be required to meet the immediate needs. In addition to that, we all know of a large number of people who have married in these last five or six years, and who are still living with their parents and with families, so that for this particular district, as the Service people come back, if one adds to the figures for condemned houses, those which are needed by young married people, there will be an immediate requirement of 700 houses, although only 230 were built in a period of 30 years. That gives some extent of the urgency of the problem, and the need for speeding all means of meeting it.
The 317 houses in need of reconditioning, hon. Gentlemen opposite may say, are an argument against the decision of the Minister of Health not to continue the particular Act dealing with that. I do not think so. Whose needs come first? Obviously those who have no house at the present time, and who need a new house. Next in order of priority ought to be those in the houses which are to be condemned, those which cannot be reconditioned. Then we come to the problem of reconditioning these 317 houses in half our district. The inspector proposes that in many instances two of these houses will have to be turned into one. Therefore, there must be the new houses before a start can be made on this problem of reconditioning, so I say that the decision 1275 of the Minister is a very wise one. By all means direct all available labour and material into the task of building new houses, and see that we get our proportion of that in the villages of England, those which have been so sadly neglected in the past, where people, living in a land where they should be well fed and able to enjoy a healthy life, are often not enjoying that great privilege. In coming to his decision to concentrate on the building of new houses, the Minister has been wise. He is also wise in deferring his decision about reconditioning the old houses for some very solid reasons. Hon. Members will realise that town and country planning schemes have not yet come into full operation, and it would be very unwise to start reconditioning certain buildings if they did not fall within the plan of the town and country planning committee. That must be advanced a little further, before it can be decided on a large scale which houses should be reconditioned, and which should be pulled down.
Further than that, those people with whom I have been associated have very strong opinions on this question of reconditioning. We do not object to the reconditioning of a cottage which can be described as a free cottage, but we do object to the Government and the local authority being called upon to subsidise the reconditioning of tied cottages. I think our view is sound in that respect. The right hon. Gentleman the late Minister of Agriculture said that the whole of the benefit in these reconditioned cottages accrued to the occupant. That may be his point of view, but I know, and every farm worker in the country knows, that when money is spent on reconditioning tied cottages, it adds to the value of the farm or estate on which those reconditioned cottages stand. Therefore, you are subsidising and improving the value of the farms or estates on which they are being reconditioned. You are also making them of greater value both to the tenant and the owner, because in times of housing shortage such as to-day those who can say, "Here is a job and here is a house" can get labour, and those who cannot offer a house cannot get the labour.
It seems unfair to call upon the nation to subsidise the reconditioning of cottages the owners of which are very rich people and often own their estates because of the 1276 value of the shooting which they get from them. This is not simply a case of aiding farm workers to live in better cottages. There is a great deal more hanging on it. Therefore, not only do we object to the expenditure of public money on reconditioning tied cottages but we also make a plea for the freedom of the farm worker when he is in his own home. If there were only a few tied cottages in a village, it would not be much of a problem, but in village after village one finds 90 per cent. and in some cases 100 per cent. of the cottages are tied. When the occupant leaves his job and wants to change he has to change his house as well.
I have recently had brought to my notice a case of a person who was injured in the course of his employment on a farm. Because of that injury, he was unable to continue working on the farm. He had to seek lighter work elsewhere, with the result that legal proceedings are being taken in the court to eject him. This hardship operates not only in the case of a workman moving of his own accord to another employer and then being turned out of his house, but also possible when injury is sustained on the farm. On Monday of last week I, as a member of my rural district council, was called to go to the village of Beachamwell to inspect a pair of cottages which had recently been reconditioned and turned into one. When we had finished our inspection, we were asked to go to look at some houses which had been left by the search light station because the schoolmistress in that particular village had to be turned out of her cottage to make way for a milkman. Her husband had previously worked on the farm, and now that he is unable to do so they are not wanted in that particular house. It is a very undignified position in which to put a schoolmistress. You get these cases in which there is that hold not only over the man but also over his home.
I ask the Minister of Health, before he goes into any scheme for reconditioning rural cottages, to recondition only those cottages which can if necessary be transferred to public ownership, and in such cases to make sure that in all respects they are fit for human habitation. In the past, under the operation of this Act, I have known of many cases where grants have been given to reconditioned cottages, but when the job has been done they cannot by any stretch of the imagination be 1277 described in all respects as fit for human habitation for another 20 or 30 years. In fact, some of the cottages which have been reconditioned since 1933 have gone into disrepair and have tumbled down. Yet the Government and the local authority had to give grants. There are now others in addition to these figures which I have given to the House. Far greater consideration must be given to this particular problem, before we can be satisfied that the reconditioning of rural cottages is satisfactory in all respects.
I do not wish to take up too much time of the House, but there are other aspects of this problem of housing in the rural areas which I would like to bring briefly to the notice of the House. Not only would we like to see the speed of this house-building programme accelerated, but in many of the villages there is a character by reason of the use of local materials and the craftsmanship of the people engaged, and we want if possible, in this great task which means rebuilding more than half of rural England, to preserve that character as far as possible. I would like the Minister to develop more of the local resources for making bricks and for the use of flint and stone and other local materials. We do not want to see a standardised house built all over the country. Make use of local material as far as possible, and, if you can, make use of more of the Swedish timber houses which are being brought into the country. I have seen the specifications and have discussed them—
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State fofr Scotland (Mr. Buchanan)
Perhaps I might be permitted to intervene and say that in Scotland on Friday next I am opening the first Swedish house, which I hope will be a pattern to the rest of the country.
§ Mr. Dye
I am very pleased to hear it. If I could spare the time I would like to see it, and then we would have some better idea of what we are getting in our area. Reference was made by the former Minister of Agriculture to timber houses. In his speech this afternoon he said that in July he went over to Germany; he was in the course of making arrangements for the construction of prefabricated timber houses in Germany and they would be ready for erection in this country in March next year. I think it was a very good thing indeed that the General Elec- 1278 tion resulted as it did, for if there is one thing of which one should take notice concerning timber in the building of houses, it is to use seasoned timber. If the right hon. Gentleman was going to make arrangements for cutting down trees in Germany during this present season and using it to make wooden houses, they would have been very unsatisfactory indeed. There would have been draughts and all kinds of things. We do not want that kind of building. We want practical people in charge of this problem, and we want to know that when the job is finished we have really decent homes for the people of rural England.
This then is the problem before us in building our villages, and in many respects we ought to try to group them so that the houses can have the modern services of water, electricity and sewerage. I live in the middle of my agricultural division, and I am without any of these amenities. I share the difficulties of my constituents in that respect. We are asking not only that the Government should build houses, but that they should be grouped and planned so that all these services are available, and when the job is finished we can say there is no family in rural England which is not well housed with all the modern amenities for the wife and children, and that we have done our job exceedingly well. It is a big job. I say to the Minister: Do it well. I wish all power to him.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Mr. William Neill (Belfast, North)
I venture to crave the indulgence of the House while I am making my maiden speech. The housing problem is one which, we all know, is very acute, and I think that the Minister who is in charge of it requires our sincere sympathy. I cannot help thinking, after listening to the speeches made to-day, that some points should have been brought out which would help to give us a true picture and to explain why there is this shortage of houses. I have heard the reason described this afternoon as private enterprise having failed. Complaints have been made by hon. Members that houses were not being produced to let. We should go back a little, and find out why houses are not being produced to let.
Let us go back to the year 1909. I cite the example of my own city of Belfast, where 12,000 houses were vacant and this 1279 situation did not do away with overcrowding. It required extra police to keep the people from destroying those houses. Those were the conditions in 1909 and 1910 in the city of Belfast. Hon. Members may recall that in that year, a distinguished Member of this House brought in a Finance Bill in which he proposed to tax land values. From that moment, the building of houses ceased. During the years that followed until 1913 and 1914, the houses which were available were gradually occupied. Many landlords were out to increase the rents to the sitting tenants. As a result, the Rent Restriction Acts were, rightly, passed, but remember that that was Government control. Housing was thrown into the arena of party politics.
Yesterday, in the Northern Ireland House of Commons, a Debate took place initiated by a Labour Member, who blamed the Ulster Unionist Government for not proceeding at a satisfactory rate with housing development. To-day, in Westminster, we find a Conservative Opposition moving a Vote of Censure on the Labour Government for not proceeding with housing in a satisfactory manner. I feel that sincerity is very often not behind the effort to produce houses for people who are homeless. Hon. Members opposite have blamed the Conservative Party for the present condition of things. Surely the Labour Party have had an excellent opportunity, if the homes of the people were too dear in rent, or if they were not proper in construction. The trade unions have amassed millions of money from the working people, but have never spent one penny in producing a house to improve the conditions of the working people. That would have been an opportunity to show to the people of Great Britain that something could be done to improve the conditions under which they live. The investor in property has been chased from the investing market because confidence has been lost in Governments. Hon. Members will recall when £50 subsidy was paid to people who built a house which was far too small, of 650 superficial feet, on condition it was let at a standard rent. I was unfortunate in that I built 1,000 of these semi-detached villas. I thought when the reasonable rent was fixed that the position would be maintained, but since then there have been Schedule A, Property Tax, 1280 Excess Rent and War Damage Insurance, all of which have not been charged to the tenant but put upon the landlord. Not only that, but the cost of repairs has been increasing during the war. That illustrates the difficulty facing the people of this country. People who formerly invested in house property have no confidence.
We are, to-day, rightly trying to do away with the fear of illness, unemployment, poverty and old age, but there is fear in the hearts of the people who formerly invested in property, because Governments are not to be trusted. Why? Because housing has become a party matter and they are afraid that political parties will not do anything to disturb tenants in order that votes may not be lost. The reaction is the problem of which we have heard so much to-day. From 1915 to 1945 there have been 30 years of Government control. When the Government offer subsidies for the building of houses, they are only trying partially to cure the situation. We must get back to the time when we could offer to all builders adequate opportunities, so that houses could be produced at a rent which the people can afford to pay. We do not get the assistance from Government Departments which they ought to give. Suppose houses are built in a row and let at 7s. 9d. per week; they are given more favourable treatment than semi-detached houses built under the same subsidy and let at the same rents. What do we find? The Valuation Department says that the houses built as semi-detached dwellings are better than those built in terrace form and therefore the valuation is to be £2 more per house for the semi-detached over that of the terrace houses. That is very poor recompense to a person who wishes to improve the conditions under which people live.
I would plead with the Minister of Health that he should not close his mind to the granting of a subsidy to private builders as well as to local authorities. There was an arrangement under the last Government for paying £13 a year for 40 years to local authorities. I am afraid that many will not feel satisfied with that. It means that £13 from the Government is equal to the interest on £390. At the end of 40 years, that income ceases, and the builder of the houses has not been able to provide a sinking fund to redeem the 1281 £390. Therefore, those who try to come in at the moment in order to ease the housing situation, will be in for a tremendous loss. That is not the proper way to tackle the problem. The subsidy should be paid immediately in order to meet the decrease in the value of property which is bound to come in a few years' time. It has given me pleasure to rise and say these few words in the House, and I ask hon. Members to think over what I have said. I feel that I have made out a case that private enterprise met the bill up to 1913, and that since Government control, from 1914 to the present day, the shortage of houses arose and still exists.
§ 7.52 p.m.
§ Miss Herbison (Lanark, Northern)
In rising to make my maiden speech I realise that I have chosen a subject upon which one cannot be at all non-controversial. It is rather surprising, and not a little unreasonable, that hon. Members on the other side of the House should be showing such grave concern about the urgency of the housing problem. How long have we on this side been a Government? A matter of less than three months. Did this housing problem arise during that period? The answer must be an unequivocal "No." We are sometimes told that it is due to the war. Again, we must say that the housing problem is not in front of us today because of any conditions of war. In my constituency of North Lanark, where I am faced with a gigantic housing problem, we have suffered little or nothing from war damage. During the Recess I thought I would try making a survey of our housing conditions. Living in one of the biggest mining villages in the constituency, I knew beforehand that our housing conditions were very bad, but it was not until I made the survey that I found that those conditions were as dreadful as they could possibly be.
My people for a long time have been suffering deplorable conditions. That cannot be put on this Government; it is the results of Governments of Members on the other side not tackling this problem as it ought to have been tackled a long time ago. I want to give one or two instances of the conditions which are facing my people. In Shotts, one of the biggest mining villages, we have people who have been living in a room in somebody else's house for 14 years—living, eating, sleeping, bearing and rearing 1282 children in one room that is not even their own room. These conditions very often lead to unhappiness and to ill-health among the children. Until a few weeks ago, in a miners' row, there was a room and kitchen with no modern conveniences, and a miner and his family lived in the kitchen, and another miner and his family lived in the room. A man, woman and five children lived in the room, the walls of which were continually dripping with damp. At night the mother had to roll out mattresses on the floor for her children to sleep on. When her husband came home from the mine, which was not a modern mine with pit-head baths the tub had to be placed in the middle of the floor so that he could wash.
These are the conditions with which the Government are faced to-day. They are as deplorable as they could be. In another part of my constituency which I examined during the Recess there are two double-storied houses housing 28 families. There are no conveniences inside and not even water in the houses. There is one pump at the end of one of the buildings, and the water has to be carried into the houses and carried out again. One cannot possibly expect that children reared in these houses can have all those things that we so much desire our children to have. In many parts of my constituency and, I expect, in many parts of Great Britain, there are people living in houses in which the Minister of Health or the Minister of Agriculture would not allow cattle to live. They would say, "You must not house your cattle in them; if you do, we won't be willing to accept the milk for the children."Yet, our children and their parents have to live in them. I have great faith in the Minister of Health. I am certain that he will tackle this difficulty, and I am certain from his speech to-day that he has every intention of facing this great problem. I am just as certain that the Joint Under-Secretary of State who is attending to our difficulties in Scotland will tackle it in the same way.
There are one or two suggestions I should like to make. In 1940 this country was faced with a great shortage of the implements of war. The country tackled that problem and produced the implements that were needed. Nothing was done to prevent them being produced. The shortage of houses during the period 1283 of peace is just as serious as the shortage of implements of war was in 1940. The first suggestion I want to make to the Minister of Health and the Minister of Labour is that not one building operative should stay in the Forces a day longer than is necessary. We ought to see that every building operative is put into Class B and that those block releases about which we are told are hurried on. In my constituency the people know that I am interested in this problem, and a man who is a building operative brought to my notice at least five cases of young apprentice builders being taken into the Forces in the last month or two. If the shortage of labour is one of the things holding back housing we must see that not one building operative is taken into the Forces. Someone may say that the men in the Forces would object to asking for men to be got out under Class B release. I have spoken to a great many in the Forces, a large number of whom have no house of their own to come back to, and I am certain that if the Government explained to the Forces that these men were wanted to build houses they would have the good will of the men.
There has been some talk of prefabricated houses. There are many things that we may say against them, but when you are faced with difficulties such as the housing shortage to-day, I say to the Government, that if prefabricated houses will solve the problem more quickly then get on with prefabricated houses. I say that because I feel that if this Government tackles the problem of housing by giving us in the first place prefabricated houses, those temporary houses will not become permanent because the Government will be returned again at the end of the five years, and, when the prefabricated houses are no longer of use, they will be replaced by permanent houses by this Government.
There is one final point I would like to make. We are told that there are also financial difficulties. That was about the only part of the Minister's speech with which I disagreed. I felt that 3⅛per cent. was much too high. The Minister should take that matter up again and, when the next statement is made I hope that the 3⅛ per cent. will be reduced very much indeed. There are many industrial areas like my own where difficulties have been 1284 experienced. Our rates are very high because we suffered very much during the depressed years. Our houses were empty, not for the reasons given by the hon. Gentlemen on the other side, but because our people were unemployed and could not afford to pay the rents. By tackling this problem of finance, by saying to the local authorities, "Go on with your house building, we will give you the money at the cheapest interest possible," in a very short time we should see the local authorities tackling their problems. The problem is great, it means not only housing but health, happiness and prosperity for every working man, woman and child in the country. For that reason I plead with the Minister of Health and with the Under-secretary of State for Scotland to let nothing stand in their way in providing the houses which are so necessary.
§ 8.3 p.m.
§ Major Spence (Aberdeen and Kincardine, Central)
I ask the indulgence of the House in speaking for the first time, and account myself most fortunate, among the large phalanx of Members who have been waiting to make their maiden speeches, to have caught Mr. Speaker's eye this evening. My own constituency, which is in the North of Scotland, is primarily concerned with agriculture, and the most pressing problem we have at the moment is that of housing, and it is in this connection that I should like to speak to night. We have heard from the Minister of Health of his intention to stop the payments that have been made for the reconditioning of rural cottages. Mention was made of the unsuitability of many of these cottages and also of the cost involved. In my constituency many of the boroughs used this Act, which enabled them to recondition houses at a very reasonable figure and provide some most excellent accommodation. In the North of Scotland we have a system of living different from that in England. We do not have the rural workers living in a village; they live actually on the farms all over the countryside.
In Scotland we have made great use of this Act. Throughout the country some 35,000 houses have been reconditioned under it, and of that number Scotland can claim, I think, rather over 60 per cent. Many schemes are in progress now which have been brought into being during the last 12 months and many more are being 1285 planned—or were being planned until this Act was dropped—and I do wish to convey to the House the sense of dismay that is felt by local authorities, farmers and farm workers who cannot now see how their houses are going to be improved. When on 17th May the Bill to continue the Act for two years was brought in by the Coalition Government, it was estimated that fully 20,000 houses would be be reconditioned. That was based on what had been done in previous years, and, again basing my figure on previous years, we could have expected 12,000 of those houses to be reconditioned in Scotland. That is a large figure, and when it is realised that those 12,000 houses are rural houses it can be seen that it would have gone a long way to satisfy some of the more pressing needs that have been felt throughout the countryside, especially in the agricultural districts of the north east, where the population is widely scattered.
I want to refer to one other angle which may not have occurred to hon. Members on the other side and which is a reaction of this decision. Everyone will agree that the most pressing problem facing the nation to-day apart from housing is the production of food. Just at the time when we are asking our agriculturists for a maximum effort in the development and expansion of food production, we suddenly clamp down on housing. I am not overstating the case when I say it was a shock to the agriculturists, and, furthermore, it came at a time when they required reassurance as to the Government's intention regarding a long-term policy for agriculture. I earnestly appeal to the Minister of Health that he should reassure the agricultural industry by allowing it to carry on, in Scotland at any rate, with this most excellent Act, which has done so much good.
One other factor has been referred to in the argument for giving up this scheme, and that was that it was a bad thing to use labour for reconditioning houses because it would detract from the maximum effort in building new houses. Speaking again from personal life-long knowledge of the North-East and its very many small towns and villages, I can say that we definitely have workmen—skilled artisans—spread over the countryside, who are able to undertake these recon- 1286 ditioning jobs, but are not able to contract for a major building operation. The labour of these men can best be used on local schemes, and it would be a thousand pities if it were to be lost by a discontinuance, for any longer a time than is necessary, of this scheme. I wish to urge on the Government the very great claim of Scotland, and of my own part of it, for a continuance of the scheme, which will allow us to go on reconditioning the houses. Many of them are well built and after reconditioning make excellent dwellings in which anybody could be happy. I ask the Minister of Health to reconsider his decision, at any rate so far as Scotland is concerned, and see whether he cannot allow us once again to resume the many excellent plans which have been prepared both by local authorities and by private individuals.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Timmons (Bothwell)
I hope the House will show me the same kind and generous indulgence as it has shown to other hon. Members making their first speech in the House. In listening to the criticisms and attacks that have been made on the Government for their housing policy during the last three months, I felt that hon. Members opposite were stretching the matter too far. I have been a member of a local authority concerned with houses for many years. When I take my mind back to the Housing Act, 1919, and all the Housing Acts up to 1938,I find that the policy pursued by the present Opposition oh every occasion when they had power was to restrict subsidies to the local authorities so that for long periods no building whatever could be done. Consequently, hon. Members opposite must accept the blame for a good deal of the housing shortage that exists in this country.
As the representative of a mining constituency, I feel very keenly on this matter. I was one of a family of nine reared in a miner's cottage, so that I know the difficulties that exist. I could take hon. Members into the constituency I represent and show them miners' rows as long as they would care to look at, and they would find there nothing but squalor, overcrowding, and human beings living in most miserable conditions. We require an additional 8,000,000 tons of coal. I want to tell the House that one thing which is mili- 1287 tating against coal production is the housing conditions in which miners live in the miners' rows. I have in mind a place where there are 80 houses in a row; I wish the Press people would come and take photographs of those houses and put the photographs up in this House to impress the conditions on hon. Members.
As far as the Lanarkshire County Council is concerned, we have the plans all ready. We are ready for any scheme of house building. Between the two wars we have built 22,000 houses, and we completed 3,000 houses in difficult circumstances during the war period. We have a short-term policy for 3,000 houses which we hope to complete within two years. All that we require in order to get ahead is labour and materials. All our schemes are in conformity with the planning arrangements within the Clyde Valley planning area. My hon. Friend the Member for North Lanark (Miss Herbison) said that in 1940 we were in a hopeless mess as far as armaments were concerned. I maintain that in the matter of housing we require the same drastic action as was taken about armaments in 1940. I am prepared to go to the extent of directing labour in the same fashion as labour was directed for building up the war machine. I have not the slightest doubt that that could be done quite easily.
There is one other factor that operates strongly against house building. At the present time we have in Lanarkshire nine big sites for building. We cannot get the men to prepare the sites. There is a big number of unemployed men in Lanarkshire, but the wage of is. 8½d. an hour is hopelessly inadequate to induce men who have come out of munition works where they had been earning comparatively good wages to enter the building industry. A wage of is. 8½d. an hour for a 44-hour week, when one takes into consideration the chance of their having wet weather, does not enable us to get the men. I suggest that the Under-secretary of State for Scotland should try to get to grips with the building and civil engineering industries, and if it is at all possible get the wages question settled.
Another matter that concerns us very greatly in Scotland, particularly in the mining areas, is the question of land. I 1288 claim that land that is on the valuation roll at 25s. an acre annual value jumps up to £40 an acre annual value whenever we go to make a purchase for house building purposes. Over and above this, we are faced with the question of subsidence and underground workings. I ask the Under-secretary of State to pay heed to this matter, and I hope the Government will take some steps to protect local authorities in regard to it. Only two years ago my local authority came up against a colliery company which was working a seam that was uneconomic for the purpose of making us pay a higher price. I happened to be negotiating, on behalf of the Lanarkshire County Council, with the colliery people, and I know it was an uneconomic seam; and it cost the Lanarkshire County Council an enormous amount of money to get protection. I hope the Under-Secretary of State will see whether some legislation can be put on the Statute Book to protect local authorities from such attacks.
There is one matter on which I want to clear up a misapprehension, and to which I ask the Under-Secretary of State to give serious thought. The Scottish Special Housing Association was set up by Mr. Tom Johnston to assist the local authorities to get their housing programme forward, and use alternative methods other than bricks and mortar. The Association has built a big number of good houses in Lanarkshire. I believe that that body could be reconstituted and could do a serviceable job. They are going to build, immediately material becomes available, 500 houses in Lanarkshire. I hope the Under-Secretary of State will develop the Scottish Special Housing Association to assist local authorities to get ahead with housing. There is only one other matter to which I wish to refer. I wish that the Minister of Health had been in a position to tell the local authorities what is the Government's financial policy in relation to housing. We know what the subsidy was under the 1938 Act when it cost something like £530 to build four-apartment houses. To-day, the sum has gone up to approximately £1,200. So far the Government are prepared to meet only £100 additional cost. The result is that in Lanarkshire the housing rate has jumped up enormously and now represents a far too heavy burden. I hope that the Minister of Health will give a more generous contribution to the local 1289 authorities and so help them to solve the housing problem.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Major McCallum (Argyll)
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Bewdley (Major Conant),speaking a little while ago, claimed that he was achieving a record, in that it was his privilege to congratulate four hon. Members on their maiden speeches. Within a very short time, that record has been broken and it now falls to me to congratulate some five hon. Members on their maiden speeches. I would say to those five hon. Members on both sides of the House how very much interested the House has been in listening to their very informative and instructive speeches. I was particularly pleased that of the five maiden speeches to which we listened two were extremely able speeches from hon. Members representing agricultural constituencies. One of those hon. Members represents an English agricultural constituency and the other a Scottish agricultural constituency, and I am sure that hon. Members in all parts of the House will welcome, at any time, any and all of those five hon. Members when they are lucky enough to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, again. We hope that they will make their contributions to the Debates of this House as frequently as they can.
I do not want to detain the House for more than a few moments because time is passing and many more hon. Members wish to speak. I would come at once to what was said by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health in regard to the question of the Housing (Rural Workers) Act. It is true that we in Scotland—we may say, fortunately—are not beholden to the Minister of Health for the directions, regulations and policy for housing in Scotland. We have our own Minister for Housing in Scotland and I would like to pay my tribute to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland, who is unable to be here owing to illness. We sincerely trust that his deputy the Joint Under-Secretary of State, in replying to this Debate, will deputise for him effectively. I am sure that my hon. Friend knows full well that the decision of the Government to bring the Housing (Rural Workers) Act to an end on 30th September came as a great 1290 shock. As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Central Aberdeen (Major Spence) said, this Act was taken advantage of to a very great extent in all the rural areas of Scotland—and I am speaking particularly of the Highland areas, which in pre-war years were very nearly classified as depressed areas. I was also very shocked to hear the Lord Privy Seal say in one of the Debates on the King's Speech, when interrupted by the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher), that they had been over-generous to Scotland in this respect.
§ Mr. McAllister (Rutherglen)
Is not the hon. and gallant Member making heavy weather of a joke made by the Lord Privy Seal?
§ Major McCallum
I can only say to the hon. Member that what was said was a great disappointment. In his speech this afternoon, the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health said one reason why we could not continue with the Housing (Rural Workers) Act was the question of the building operatives coming back from the Forces. He gave the picture that as they came back they would form into little clots of building operatives, gradually increasing in size until they would be able to take up much more serious work than actual repair work. I know that when he said that, he was speaking of the situation in England, but, when one looks at our Highlands, I can assure him that in the countryside, on the glens and on the hills of Argyllshire, for instance, there is not, and there never will be a clot of workers of sufficient size to be any appreciable assistance in a burgh or a city housing scheme.
Therefore I can only conclude—and I hope that the Under-Secretary will refer to the matter later—that the intention is that those men, as they come back from the Forces and form themselves into a unit, two or three men in a village as building operators, will be taken from those areas and sent to the cities. That is what we are afraid of, and I say to hon. Members opposite who once sat on this side of the House, that I remember the hue and cry there was about the transfer and direction of labour from Glasgow to England. They will find the same hue and cry arising over the transfer of building operatives from the countryside of the Highlands to the cities. I trust that 1291 will not be so. I wanted to make that point and I hope I shall be given some re-assurance upon it.
§ 8.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Goronwy Roberts (Caernarvonshire)
I crave the indulgence of the House on the occasion of my first intervention in Debate in the House. I, like many other hon. Members who have spoken this evening, represent a predominantly rural constituency. I come from the county of Caernarvon and I have noticed how, from the very start of this Debate, the rural note has been struck, particularly as certain publications, during the last few days have suggested that this Debate would tend to slur over the undoubted difficulties of rural housing and of rural sanitation. It is pretty generally agreed on all sides of the House, that overcrowding and bad sanitation, or lack of sanitation, are not the melancholy prerogatives of the towns, but are rife and rampant in our countryside. My country of Wales is rapidly becoming the backyard of the Empire. As I listen to hon. Members from Scotland who plead their national cause in this as in other matters, I cannot help feeling, in view of the hearing which Scotland, like Northern Ireland and England, is receiving in various matters, that attention will have to be directed to the condition of housing and sanitation in Wales, particularly in rural areas where there are villages which, in the matter of sanitation and housing, can only be compared to Auschwitz and Belsen.
I ask the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health to keep in mind, when he deploys his long-term policy, the grave needs of the countryside of the several countries which form the union of the British peoples. The men and women of the countryside expect a long-term policy to be pronounced by the Government, but they also expect that my right hon. Friend will grasp every opportunity of using short-term measures and expedients and, in this connection, I must say that I think the Government might do well to reconsider their jettisoning of the principle of reconditioning—tied cottages or no tied cottages. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] I hope I have not finally compromised myself with my hon. Friends on the other side. We should deal, of course, with the tied cottages later on, but we 1292 must take the first objective, and house as many of our people as we can, and use every method that suggests itself to us, and not talk too much politics on regard to the housing of the common people. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] I expect that I am now finally compromised.
The next point I want to make is that, in dealing with rural housing, I hope the small rural contractor who, after all, exploits no one but himself, will be given the opportunity to show what he can do, and, more, that the village craftsman, as one hon. Member has already urged, should definitely be given every opportunity to show what he can contribute. I think that if we could revive the village craftsmen as a class of workmen that that would make not only an impression on the problem of rural housing, but would also go far to redress the mechanical moronry into which this country is slowly drifting, a process which is affecting the social health and structure of this country. If we neglect the resources of our village craftsmen, we shall be conniving at the depreciation of the moral of this country. I was very glad to see that before the Recess, my right hon. Friend showed a willingness to consider the use of Welsh slate in the housing programme. One hon. Member who preceded me this evening said that his grandfather was responsible for building this assembly hall. May I say that my grandfather probably hewed the slate that went to roof this assembly hall, and there is no better roofing material throughout the world. Therefore, I urge the right hon. Gentleman to help to make available this excellent roofing material by expediting the release in Class B, of those craftsmen and quarrymen.
Finally, I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider the larger issue, whether he is convinced that the present system of attempting co-ordination between a haggle of Government Departments to deal with housing can succeed, or can last. I have a feeling that unless a decision is reached which constitutes, formally, the Minister of Health as a Minister of Housing, with overriding powers and control, we shall find that our local authorities in the matter of housing, will be clawing their way through a jungle of regulations into a desert of non-achievement. Therefore, I say to the right hon. Gentleman that there are hon. 1293 Members behind him who look to him for the recrudescence in a Ministerial capacity of that exuberant courage which served him so well when he was in Opposition.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Maude (Exeter)
I have to beg for the indulgence of the House like so many other speakers to-night. Perhaps I may be allowed to say, at the outset, that although I have on many occasions, even where people's lives hung in the balance, waited for hours in the greatest anxiety, I have never known anything so appalling as waiting, hour after hour, to speak here to-night. All I can do, by way of trying to show my gratitude, is to be as short as I can, but I must say that I shall speak with warmth and vigour.
I am deeply grateful to see the right hon. Gentleman the Minister here, because 1 have two points to make. I believe the prayer which will go up from our hearts, when we have an opportunity to speak in this House, is that those things which we are urging will be understood and remembered. I propose to speak with warmth, because any hon. Gentleman or hon. Lady who has seen the hell that I have seen—and I have only learned of it since I did my electioneering—as the result of overcrowding, must feel a passionate desire to do away with such conditions as exist. They are simply nauseating. The five senses teach me, and my own work has taught me, the misery of broken homes, and I passionately long to make a plea for the people for whom I find myself working—not rich people. Like all hon. Members, I have a mail day after day, and night after night, from the poor people, and it is on their behalf that I am going to speak on these matters about which I feel so extremely strongly.
I represent in this House a blitzed city. May I beg the House, for a moment, to imagine that we are not here in this rather false atmosphere, but are in a country town which had 70,000 people before the war? The Germans, by May, 1942, had done their foul work. The result was that not one house or five houses, or 100 houses, or 500 houses, but 1,800 houses were utterly destroyed. In addition to that, fearful damage was done to 2,700 houses in Exeter. The result has been that we have not only the miseries 1294 that hon. Members know personally, not only the miseries of 1939, but the additional miseries, which were referred to by the right hon. Gentleman of what I think I may call the "battle of the sink." This misery is no longer a music-hall joke about the landlady and the lodger. There is the misery of fighting for the stove, the misery of the mother-in-law, and they are no longer laughing matters; they are intolerable.
I hear the right hon. Gentleman say that this is going to be a terrible winter. I can assure him the winter is already upon us. It is a winter of national discontent. I sympathise deeply with him in the task he has to perform, because there is a rising storm of discontent, at any rate so far as my own part of the world is concerned, and I believe it extends throughout the countryside. So far as his proposals are concerned, it is indeed a grand thing to get rid of the covenants which prevent people having any lodgers. I welcome that, but if we are to look forward to further billeting, even though it be voluntary, this will involve misery in homes, and then, I fear, the storm will break. I do not believe anything but misery will come from these cities all scrambling for housing. When the right hon. Gentleman referred to preventing dwelling-houses being turned into offices I thought that was splendid, but I say, "Please clear the dwelling-houses of the civil servants first."
This is not a party matter; it has nothing to do with party or with the admiration which I feel for the Civil Service. I have been privileged to work under one of the greatest civil servants—Sir Edward Bridges—and I have also worked for the Home Office, and I say that civil servants are excellent—but they are in our dwelling-houses and they should not be there. May I shortly describe what I have undergone in connection with this matter? I wrote to 14 different Ministries in order to find out where they were and when they were going. The results, in my humble opinion, are deplorable. There is no sense here to-night of the urgency that is necessary in this problem.
I warn the House of what happens when hon. Members try, like myself, to restore to the people their own homes, or, at any rate, other homes into which they may be placed. I wrote on 28th 1295 September to 14 Ministries. It is now 17th October. This, surely, cannot be without a lesson attached to it. The Ministry of Agriculture is bringing it to the Ministers' notice at the earliest opportunity. The Minister of Education will reply shortly. The Minister of Food has "passed the buck" to the Ministry of Works. The Minister of Fuel and Power has passed it to the Minister of Health, curiously enough; I do not know why, because the Minister of Health himself has told me it is receiving attention. On 12th October, he wrote to say that he had "passed the buck" to the Ministry of Works. The Minister of Labour writes on 3rd October that the matter is receiving attention, but, on the 10th, that he has "passed the buck" to the Minister of Works. The Minister of Pensions is guiltless; he has not got any requisitioned property. The Minister of Works wrote: "Your letter will be shown to the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State." I do not know what has happened, or whether it has been shown to him, but nothing has occurred. The Ministry of War Transport says: "Inquiries are being made." Of the two other Ministries, in one case the noble Lord who presides over the Air Ministry sent me a most detailed reply of a most courteous kind, and, in the other, the Minister of Supply also gave me a most courteous and detailed reply. There is no reason why these other Ministers should not have answered. The Minister of Works on 1st October said, "The points you raised will be looked into."
The winter winds are whistling through the telegraph wires that are taking the news of desperation for the homeless. We need 2,000 houses in my city. There is a waiting list for 2,000 municipal houses. Does the House know how many prefabricated houses we have received? It is something in the neighbourhood of 20. If we get 300 in the next 12 months, we shall be very lucky, but it does not end there. There is a college in Exeter for training teachers—an admirable thing that we all desire. It is St. Luke's College, Exeter. On 20th September, I wrote to the Minister of Education and the War Office. I will not go into the extraordinary diplomatic negotiations which are necessary to induce the pressure of one Ministry being put upon another. On 22nd September, the private secretary in 1296 the War Office wrote his usual reply that he would show my letter to the Undersecretary of State—who has now got two of my letters without a word of reply. I wrote again to the Minister of Education on 26th and received an acknowledgment that "Miss Wilkinson will reply to you shortly". I complain bitterly that this answer has not even seen the private secretary; it does not even have a rubber stamp. I wrote again—and I hope hon. Members will realize that this is no party matter, though we back benchers working for individual constituents, are "agin the Government"—I wrote again on 11th October to the War Office, and from then until 17th October I have had no reply whatever. That is why I say that there is no sense of urgency here. We must get these Civil Servants out. It is not because I do not appreciate that they are doing excellent work; it is that they have to get out of our houses.
The second point is this: I can tell the right hon. Gentleman where they can go. That has not been mentioned yet. The place must not be mentioned to-night, but an alternative is provided by something about which, I believe, the House feels rather delicate. We have a great naval base that belongs to the United States, with many huts. The Americans are still there, but they will be going. I drew the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to this fact weeks ago, but he "passed the buck" to the Admiralty. The Admiralty have really not made up their minds what to do, but they propose, probably, to use the naval base for their own purposes. Why the Admiralty come in, when they never put a penny into the place, I do not know, but the Admiralty or the Ministry of Works have requisitioned the site and it has been leased to the United States Government. When the Americans go, I beg the Government to see that this place is looked into and carefully surveyed so that these huts may be available for housing. They have water, heat, sanitation, four or five cubicles and a sitting-room. My people would fight for one of them. My people are going into the workhouse because they cannot get homes. They are tramping the streets to find homes, and I want at least one of these houses.
If, in fact, some surveyor tells us—and we must take somebody's word for it—that they cannot be converted, that they 1297 cannot get the three-ply wood or the workmen or something else, then I beg the right hon. Gentleman to see to it that the civil servants who are now occupying our dwelling-houses are required to go and work in these huts. We have had to do it; all who have been in the Civil Service have had to do it, and these are admirable huts. If the right hon. Gentleman makes inquiries in my constituency, he will find that I backed up the Ministry of Labour representative, who is doing a splendid job there. So are other officials, but they must not be in our dwelling houses.
Finally, I beg the right hon. Gentleman to tell us this. I noticed that he mentioned the question of better houses, and then he rode off by saying, "Well then, there are the cookers." How many cookers are there available? Can we have cookers? I am not looking to 1947 or 1948 or 1949. How many cookers are there available now to put into the divided houses? I beg the right hon. Gentleman to tell us. When figures of this sort are not given, then I am afraid I must begin to think that they are not available. I shall return to-night, deeply grateful to the House for listening to me, to a place which has nothing to look forward to beyond what I have heard during the last 12 months, except for a few prefabricated houses for which people are fighting desperately. I shall return to a stricken city where there is only the possibility of lodgers being taken in voluntarily where there is only one kitchen. In fact, not one word has been thrown out to me, or to any of us here to-night, to show that in fact 1,000 more houses are on the way or some new factory is being put up. The facts are against the right hon. Gentleman and the storm is rising.
§ 8.51 p.m.
§ Commander Shawcross (Widnes)
I rise, Sir, with more than the usual diffidence which besets a maiden speaker in this House, because not only have I to follow the eloquence of the hon. and learned Member for Exeter (Mr. Maude) but I have to compress into about three minutes what I could only say normally in about 20 minutes. Further, like the hon. and learned Member for Exeter, I not only feel very deeply about this subject but I am hampered by some technical knowledge of the difficulties concerned. My constituency is partly agricultural but it is largely industrial. There are nearly 1298 100,000 electors on the register. Housing conditions in that part of Lancashire are, I think, worse than in any other part of the United Kingdom. Let me mention another difficulty. I do not understand what really is meant by controversy—a rule which I must not infringe. If I were to say, for example, that hon. Members opposite and their party are directly responsible, not only for the conditions which existed before the war, but for the war itself, I should regard that as a plain statement of fact, but hon. Members opposite might think it highly controversial. We have heard about the repair of blitzed houses. There have been no houses blitzed by the German enemy in my constituency, but there have been many thousands blitzed by 25 or 50 years of the system and policies supported by the party opposite. Let me give one typical example of a very large number of houses—slum property. The slates are off the roof; not only is there no glass in the windows, there are no window frames in them; there are outside lavatories without any doors; often there are no doors at the entrance or at the back. In those conditions people are dying.
I welcome this Motion particularly because we have heard in this House and elsewhere such a lot recently about the sufferings and the appalling conditions existing on the Continent—about the Germans, the Poles, the Czechs and the Jews. I suggest to this House it is high time that the appalling plight of the large sections of the population of Britain was given serious consideration. Let me give one example of an actual case which occurred at the end of last January. A small child in one of these slum cottages died of pneumonia. The mother told me that within a few minutes the corpse was "alive," she called it, with the cockroaches and vermin which invest these hovels. Feeling was so strong in the district that a Roman Catholic priest, greatly to his credit, called a public meeting at which another priest went so far as to describe the owners of those properties—who draw rents for them—as "blood suckers. "I should hesitate to go so far as that for, as far as I am aware, they are all highly respectable supporters of the party opposite. The result of that public meeting, which, of course, was communicated to the local authority and the Minister of Health, was that they were told 1299 that nothing whatever could be done until the end of the war in Europe because there was no labour and no materials. Be that true or not, the fact is that now, when the father of the child who died returns, he will find exactly the same conditions: slates not on the roof, no windows, the vermin still enjoying life, and the landlords still enjoying the rent.
I have three proposals to make to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health in regard to that type of property which exists throughout Lancashire and probably elsewhere. They are, first, that he should obtain powers by legislation—no doubt necessary in this case—to make it illegal for the landlords to draw rent from property which has been unfit for human habitation for 25 or 30 years in many cases. Secondly, he should direct the authorities to exercise the powers which they have under existing legislation to carry out the necessary repairs—to put the slates on, as has been done wherever it has been found necessary in London, put the windows in, put the doors on the lavatories. Thirdly, in regard to these properties, let him give some hope to the people who live in them, who have been living in them in many cases for years. They are told that they will have priority for new houses, but then soldiers come along and they are told that these will have priority. Let him give some hope to those wretched people in those hovels.
I must cut myself short now, but may I suggest three constructive things—and I hope my right hon. Friend will forgive me if I summarise them very shortly. First, he has told us, and there seems to be general approval throughout the House, that the costs-plus system of contracts is bad. I hope I shall not unduly startle hon. Members when I ask them to consider whether they are not completely wrong. What is bad is the letting of contracts by tender and accepting always the lowest price, which causes delay, and in the end you get scamped work, and, almost invariably, especially in these times, you have to pay more. I am not suggesting for a moment costs plus percentage profit. What I ask my right hon. Friend to consider is a system of costs plus a fixed fee, a fee which may vary in favour of the contractor if the costs are lower than they have been estimated.
1300 My right hon. Friend said, and made a considerable point of it, that he had the powers, or was going to obtain them, to requisition the land and start building before the agreement had been made with the owner and they would argue about it afterwards. Why cannot he do that with the buildings? He cannot, if he insists on letting the contracts and always accepting the lowest tender. It is no good having the land, however you get it, if you cannot start to build immediately. I would ask him to read again a publication of the Ministry of Works called "The Placing and Management of Building Contacts," and to read very carefully between the lines. He will find that the system at present in force is utterly wrong from the point of view of getting the thing done quickly.
The second point I wish to raise is in regard to prefabricated houses. I know all the arguments against them, but I ask my right hon. Friend to consider combining the building of houses by traditional methods with the building of prefabricated houses. I have 1,000 temporary houses in my constituency, one floor, brick-built bungalows, which are very good. That sort of building can be combined with temporary prefabricated unit, which can be placed on the top of one-storey brick-built dwellings, thereby giving the advantages of both with very few disadvantages. This has been tried in America. Lastly, I am a little worried about the position of the Minister. I have long been a great admirer of his undoubted qualities, but when I consider him now, in relation to the functions of his office, I cannot help recalling what Lord Baldwin, when he was Prime Minister, once said about a prominent newspaper proprietor who was, and still is, a tower of strength to the Party opposite. Lord Baldwin compared this proprietor to a harlot, and said he had power without responsibility. It seems to some of us behind my right hon. Friend that he may be in the unfortunate position of having responsibility without power. Has he power and authority to go to the Chancellor, or to his other colleagues in the Cabinet, and say, "The building of houses is just as important as was the manufacture of tanks and other weapons during the war, and no consideration of expense or organisation, or whatever it may be, must stand in the way"?
1301 I conclude by appealing to Members opposite, particularly to the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Exeter (Mr. Maude), of whom I think some of us who listened to his opening remarks can say that we are counting the days when he may find himself on this side of the House. I ask Members opposite to consider the fundamental gravity, the appalling seriousness, of this problem. Nothing else matters; pensions, social security, everything, go by the board unless we can house the people of Britain in the way in which they deserve to be housed. My right hon. Friend is faced with a tremendous task. He is a tremendous man, but if he fails, we fail. If we all help not only shall we not fail but we shall make this Parliament famous in history.
§ 9.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Willink (Croydon, North)
It falls to me to make from this side of the House the last speech in this most important Debate. I hope the Government will accept this Motion, which was drafted in terms intended to achieve that result and, that being so, it may not be inconvenient if I give the reasons why it was put down by my right hon. Friends and myself. The first reason is this: We felt—and I am sure the whole House will agree with me—that it was fully time that a full Debate, on as wide a basis as possible, should take place. To-day, we have had the advantage of a very considerable number of speeches, all, I think, of most reasonable length, including a very large number of maiden speeches among which none have been more attractive, more able, or well-delivered than those of the three Members who have just preceded me—the hon. Member for Caernarvonshire (Mr. Goronwy Roberts), my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Maude), and the hon. and gallant Member for Widnes (Commander Shawcross). All three were practical speeches. I make, and I hope this will not be considered unusual, one comment on the last of these three speeches. If the things which the hon. and gallant Member described are exactly as he described them in Widnes then the local authority cannot have been fulfilling its statutory duties.
The second reason why this Motion was set down was because we felt that it was time the Government made known, 1302 at any rate in general outline, its policy and programme in this vitally important matter. I did suggest in August that the whole of the plans and policy in outline might have been made available before the House returned, so that they might be studied, and it appeared possible that the Government were desirous of delaying any statement. The Minister of Health suggested that this Debate was embarrassing to those who sit on this side of the House. I can assure him it is not so. I am bound to say that the more I listened to the Minister the more I felt that he was finding it embarrassing to himself. He committed himself to the position of never making a promise that was not kept, and, within two minutes, attempted to give reasons why a definite statement on policy made by the Labour Party on going to the General Election had already been abandoned. There was a definite statement that there should be a Ministry of Housing and Planning, combining the powers of both Ministries. We heard in August that that promise was in cold storage. We heard from the hon. Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks) that the position was really exactly as it was when he was in office as a Minister in the Coalition. From what I hear, not one department, not one officer, has been transferred from the Ministry of Works to the Ministry of Health.
On the question of embarrassment, I would also make one comment on another most able maiden speech, that of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for North Dorset (Lieut.-Colonel Byers). I would ask him to read the history of housing, and he will find that far and away the most disastrous period in our housing was in the years from1907 to 1914, exclusively a Liberal period, and the other most disastrous period—and here the party opposite are concerned as well as the Liberal Party—was the four years succeeding the last war, when the Prime Minister was the late Lord Lloyd George and the Minister of Reconstruction, subsequently the Minister of Health, was the noble Lord who now leads the party opposite in another place. There is no doubt whatever that the greatest housing progress in the whole history of this country was made during the years of a predominantly Conservative administration. Those of us who, in association with those who are principal Ministers in His Majesty's present Gov- 1303 eminent, were responsible for housing policy during the war, became accustomed to statements, particularly from the lips of the right hon. Gentleman the Lord Privy Seal, that our work and our policy were inadequate, and accustomed to being told what was essential if any reasonable policy was to be evolved. We were told that it was necessary to have a national development authority accompanied by a national development board for housing—all sorts of things. I am not going through Election speeches but through carefully made speeches in this House. Although I am greatly looking forward, as we all are, to the speech which the Joint Under-secretary for Scotland will make in winding up this Debate, I must admit that I am a little surprised that the Lord Privy Seal has not seized this occasion to make, for the first time, a constructive statement on housing.
I am afraid that we on this side of the House were disappointed by the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health. We all recognised that he is under very great difficulties, but he is in a position far more favourable than any Minister of Health could have hoped to be in to-day. What an opportunity. It was, I think, in March last year that, on the authority of the right hon. Gentleman the present Foreign Secretary. I was able to tell the House that the building force would have risen, twelve months after the end of the German war, to 800,000, a far better figure than we had ever anticipated. The present Foreign Secretary was able to give that figure for a period during which we expected the Japanese war to be continuing. Have we been given any indication of what improvement His Majesty's Government intend to make now that the whole war is over? We were told that our programme was hopelessly inadequate. We were told that by everyone except the right hon. Gentleman who is now the Minister of Town and Country Planning, who seemed to think that it was optimistic. Surely it should be possible for the Government to throw some light on their programme for the next two years. We have been given no indication whatever. Is it that they do not think they can do as much as we stated was our target? Perhaps it is. No wonder they do not like to say so after all they 1304 have said in the country and in speeches in this House.
I hope the House will not think I am shortsighted or anything of that kind if I say that at the moment I am not particularly interested if people tell me that they will build 4,000,000 houses in the next ten years. I am not particularly interested when they tell me that they are looking into the most important question of how to create new towns in new areas, though I am glad that that is being carefully examined. I would say to the hon. Member who spoke last, and who should give credit to those on this side of the House for being as anxious as those on the other side, that what we were anxious to hear before this Debate began—perhaps the Joint Under-Secretary will cheer us up a little—is what the Government is doing now. We have been told practically nothing on that subject during the whole of to-day. I want to know how the terrible problem of this winter, so brilliantly described by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Exeter is being tackled. I did not hear in the whole of the right hon. Gentleman's speech one single idea which was not familiar to me before 3rd August. There have been no signs of imagination at work on this great problem, and it is worse in one way because the greater the speed of demobilisation the greater the problem that arises.
I would divide this topic under two heads: first, the policy and work of an emergency character such as we should not contemplate, and certainly should not enjoy setting our hands to, but for the very special situation in which we find ourselves; and secondly, the policy so far as it concerns work of permanent value. What we all wish to see is a policy which will lead on quickly to a long-term development on the great scale which both the Party opposite and we desire to see. For the immediate future surely the criterion of success must be, to a very large extent, the number of additional homes—decent, even if small—that are made available quickly. Have we had one jot or tittle of information on that from the right hon. Gentleman?
Comparatively little reference has been made to the temporary house programme which, of course, was one of the main ideas in order to increase the number of homes quickly. Here I would like to pay a tribute to the local authorities. I think it is a remarkable achievement in these 1305 difficult months—and not many months have passed since the Measure became law—that the local authorities have sites approved for 135,000 of these houses, that they have acquired 104,000 of these houses, and that 60,000 sites for temporary houses have been fully developed.
§ Mr. Willink
I am sorry. That is a remarkable achievement, and should enable the right hon. Gentleman now to make rapid progress with the temporary house programme. What is essential is that this emergency programme should be carried through speedily. We do not wish to see temporary houses put up two or three years hence. I must confess that I am troubled by the cost, and most of all by the cost of the aluminium house, which was the very special pet of the present President of the Board of Trade. There is something fantastic, is there not, about orders for 54,000 temporary houses at a cost of £1,350 at a time when the private builder cannot get a licence to build a house to last for 60 years if it costs more than £1,200?
Very little has been said about war damage. Apart from the able speech from the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Chamberlain), we have had few speeches from hon. Members from the London area. It is an area I know fairly well. I have no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman will be most anxious to put out statistics of the number of new local authority houses which have been built—a laudable ambition; but I am certain that during this year the biggest contribution to the number of homes made by the building industry has been by the repair of damaged houses, in particular the seriously damaged but repairable houses. I do hope that His Majesty's Government are adhering to the intention that we announced, to fulfil what really is a duty to those who have lost their houses altogether, those who had bought their houses with their savings and whose houses were totally destroyed by the enemy. They have paid their War Damage Contribution and our policy was 1306 —and I hope it will be adhered to by the present Government—that unless those houses were large houses every effort should be made to get them rebuilt in the course of the next few years. It in the course of the next two years. And it is not only the seriously damaged and the destroyed houses; the people of the great Metropolitan area are still in grave discomfort. The higher standards must be achieved.
The third point on this emergency period and this emergency work, is that we simply cannot afford unnecessary waste of existing houses, and I hope the hon. Gentleman who is to wind up the Debate can give us the assurance, which has been impliedly asked for by so many, that the Government are determined to make all housing accommodation available for its proper purposes. There are far too many cases still where residential space is being occupied for office purposes, particularly, I regret to say, by Government Departments. I know it is so in London. Only this morning I heard of a case in which the Board of Trade occupy 12 flats in Leicester. The Board of Trade should not occupy 12 flats in Leicester or in any other town. [An Hon. Member: "Who put them there?"] In war time, things have to be done. [Laughter.] Do hon. Gentlemen opposite not agree that in war time things have to be done which are intolerable in peace? Do they not agree with the idea that all residential property in this country should be returned at once to its proper use?
On the suggestion that houses can be shared I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will admit the parentage of that idea—at least I hope he will. I think there is a very great deal in what he says. I cannot put it better than it is put in a letter which appeared in the Press and from which I would like to read this passage:My husband is retired. Our children are married and are living away. We have a comfortable house with four bedrooms. In normal times I should prefer the roominess of it, with plenty of bedroom accommodation for my family when they came to visit us, but in the present emergency my husband and I do not feel happy to be occupying such space while thousands of demobilised soldiers find it impossible to get a roof over their heads.After a little, she says:I believe it might do more than anything else to help the country over the immediate house shortage.1307 An hon. Member opposite said the shared kitchen is a misery. The production of cookers and sinks for this purpose is an urgent necessity.
If there was one thing above all others which depressed me in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman it was the passage in which he appeared to say that it would not be until the end of the year that he would get any idea of how the labour force in the building materials industry would stand. He could not tell us anything about how large it would be, how production was going forward and how the industry was being built up. It is very much more urgent than that. The Government must look at the building materials industry at once and not at the end of the year, because there are shortages in every direction.
§ Mr. Willink
The right hon. Gentleman is well aware that that was not within my particular sphere. The hon. Member for East Woolwich gave an example of what had been done by the last Government with regard to bricks. It is a useful example of what we were doing. Very great efforts were made to increase the building materials industry, and those efforts must be continued, because I am informed—and I have had this from many quarters—that one of the real dangers with regard to the housing programme arises from the risk that there will be the greatest shortage of bricks, slates, what they call rain-water goods, cookers and components of many kinds.
May I say a word about costs? Many Members, I dare say most Members, will have observed and read an informative answer given by the Minister of Works on Monday. In it he gives the relative costs in 1938 and to-day of the principle materials needed and used in a 900-foot house of traditional construction. The worst is timber, but, if one takes the rise in cost over-all for a 900-foot house, it is from £274 to £472, a rise of 72 per cent. That is a serious rise, but it is nothing 1308 like the rise in the total cost which is being given in tenders to the right hon. Gentleman, if I understand the position correctly. I understand that tenders are up well above 100 per cent. and 150 per cent. sometimes, above pre-war. What is the explanation of that? It must, in view of the answer given two days ago by the Minister of Works, be in the labour cost.
I see no escape from that conclusion, and I am bound to say that I cannot believe we shall achieve a satisfactory rate of output in the building industry until there is adopted for all building contracts an effective system of payment by results which would give the necessary incentive to the men. It is a fact that, while the Coalition Government were still in existence, the right hon. Gentleman, then the Minister of Labour and now Foreign Secretary, was engaged in negotiations to that end. It is most important, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman who is to reply will tell us whether those negotiations are proceeding, and whether, what would be far better, a satisfactory conclusion has been reached. Of all matters that cropped up during the course of the General Election, what struck me most of all in the ordinary citizen in the London area was that he was gravely dissatisfied with the output of the building industry as things stand at present. I think that that is admitted on all hands. After the last war output was very bad, and it looks like being very bad after this war. I hope that, whether by the Minister of Works, or the Minister of Health, or, indeed, the whole Government, for the matter is so important that it is their concern, this question will be most constantly watched.
I must pass from these emergency works and these consideratons as to labour and material to the other half of the Government's programme—the problem of getting going in the quickest possible manner work which will develop and be of permanent value. I feel some concern at the general outline—for it is no more—of the Government's policy that was given to the right hon. Gentleman. He has spoken of 4,000,000 houses in 10 years, an average of 400,000 a year for 10 years.
§ Mr. Willink
I thought the Minister referred to it. At any rate, it was in a public statement by a distinguished officer of his Ministry within the last week that that was the intention of the Government. If it is less than that, perhaps the Minister will interrupt me and tell me so.
§ Mr. Willink
We on this side of the House, at any rate, hope that 4,000,000 houses will be built in the next 10 years. But that would mean an average of over 400,000 per year. That average will not be reached in the first two years, so it means a good deal more in the third, fourth and subsequent years.
I am concerned about the extent to which the Government appear to rely on the local authorities to carry through a programme of that size. The average production of the local authorities in the very good building years just before the war was about 60,000 a year. I do not myself believe that the local authorities, for whom I have a great admiration, can as at present constituted carry through or even launch a programme of those dimensions. I am afraid the Government are disregarding what I regard, and have regarded for years, as the best advice of all, namely, that in this emergency we need to call on all agencies. I fear that there is a doctrinaire adherence to the belief that all the best progress is made by public authorities.
The right hon. Gentleman has told the local authorities that they will be his chief executive instrument. He has told them that they need to be able to acquire housing sites. That is another matter on which I was puzzled by the right hon. Gentleman. As long ago as March the local authorities in England and Wales owned over 300,000 housing sites, and were in course of acquiring another350,000. The last Parliament had given them quite exceptional powers; how comes it—perhaps the hon. Gentleman who is to reply will be able to inform me—that the Minister of Health considers that the local authorities at the moment, or indeed within any period that we can foresee, require more power for the acquisition of housing sites? When you consider the temporary housing as well, it seems to me that they 1310 have been acquiring housing sites very rapidly and very satisfactorily.
Some indication was given of a new Bill for the more rapid acquisition of housing sites. They can at present be acquired without any public inquiry over the next two years, but we on this side will have to watch, and shall watch most closely, these new proposals, because in the excessively speedy acquisition of land grave injury may be done to both private and public interests. Grave mistakes may be made. We have all seen the gravest mistakes made by local authorities in acquiring housing land of an unsuitable character, and it is by no means certain that the best method of acquisition is the most speedy. But the right hon. Gentleman has given us no information as to progress in this local authority field. How many plans for local authority houses has he approved up to now? For how many have tenders been approved? How many contracts have been let, how many houses have been started? Surely these facts could have been given us in order to convince us that he was right in believing that local authorities over the next10 years would be able to rise to this enormous task?
My overmastering anxiety with regard to the next 12 months is this: Unless the right hon. Gentleman gives proper encouragement to all agencies, amongst whom I include those most competent people, the house builders, the speculative builders, and those most competent units, the very small builders, there is a grievous risk of unemployment arising. There is also grave risk if he adheres to what he said to the Association of Municipal Corporations that all this must be done on competitive tenders. I do not understand how employment is to be found for all these men who return to their old firms if that is to be the policy.
With regard to private enterprise builders, I could not help feeling that the right hon. Gentleman's remarks were more than a little malicious. It really is not the fact that people in low income ranges do not desire over a period of years to buy and own their own house. All of us on this side of the House know hundreds who would like to own their own house and look forward to it as something which will be their own in their old age. Nor is it true that building contractors hold up the public, or 1311 are attempting to hold up the public at the moment for racketeering prices. Does the right hon. Gentleman say that it is possible to make a large profit at the present figure which is the overriding maximum for private enterprise housing—£1,200, compared with £1,350 for the temporary aluminium house? My information is that the Minister is approving tenders for local authority houses, not covering architects' fees, the land, sewers, or services, which are at a higher figure than the maximum to which he is apparently adhering for private enterprise houses which has to cover all those services. If that is so, private enterprise is not being treated fairly. The real fact of the matter is that those who were building, to the great advantage of this country, from 250,000 to 300,000 houses a year over the five years before the war are most anxious to get their organisation going again, whether there is a profit or not in the early stages.
The position is this. I have heard from a large firm of builders in the North of England, one of the first to get one of these licences, that the first 100 houses that are to be built have all been sold at £1,190, that they have had 1,000 applications for the remainder of their programme, and that out of the 1,000, 600 applications were from returning ex-Servicemen. The returning ex-Servicemen are most anxious to buy their own houses, and the present policy of the Government is going to condemn any returning ex-Serviceman who wants to buy his own house to this position, that unless he has the available cash to meet the gap between the cost of the house and what a building society can lend at a time when quite obviously values are going to fall, he cannot buy a house of his own. That is not fair, in the view of hon. Members on this side of the House, at a time when the municipal tenant is going to be very highly subsidised indeed. Nor do I believe for one moment that a programme of the size that we need can possibly be carried through without the aid of those who are most experienced, whose administration is most flexible, who are free from the inevitable delays which arise in local administration, however well it is managed. Local authorities are not creatures built for speed, and never can be. Their projects are bound 1312 to involve argument and delay, whereas the private enterprise builder can adapt his plans and his materials to meet the circumstances in a way that a local authority scheme cannot achieve. I would like to ask the hon. Gentleman the Undersecretary of State for Scotland—I doubt whether he will answer this question—whether he is confident that the Glasgow City Council over the next five years will meet the needs of that great City?
I must give the hon. Gentleman time to answer some of these questions. I will not stress the points that were made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. Hudson), except to say that I felt that it savoured of levity when the Government decided, within a fortnight of the right hon. Gentleman's appointment as Minister of Health, to overthrow and reject entirely the advice, which had been unanimous from all quarters, that the reconditioning of rural houses should find a place during this emergency period. Many of such houses are not occupied at all at present because they are not fit for use. The advice of the Hobhouse Committee was so unanimous and convincing that I was shocked by that decision.
There is another aspect on which I would like to ask a question of the hon. Gentleman. Early in this year a most powerful committee was appointed under the chairmanship of the right hon. Gentleman, now Minister of Town and Country Planning, to consider the conversion of large houses generally. I recall that the Central Housing Advisory Committee for England and Wales was going to consider that Report on 21st September. I also recall, with regard to the temporary houses, that I put before the House a report of such a committee before it had even been to the Central Housing Advisory Committee. I ask the Government whether they propose to let us know what the advice is that has been given on what I consider a most urgent and important question, namely, how to make the best use of the larger houses in our cities and towns.
The Motion expresses grave apprehension over the housing shortage and that feeling is shared by us all. What I am bound to say is that we on this side of the House feel that we have been given sadly little in the way of facts. We have been given what has neither inspired us nor given us confidence, and I hope that 1313 the hon. Gentleman will satisfy our longing better than has the Minister of Health.
§ 9.42 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Buchanan)
I share with the Prime Minister and, I think, the Minister of Agriculture the honour of being one of the longest serving Members of the House in this Government. It is 23 years ago almost to the day since I first entered the House of Commons. Since that time I have made many speeches. On one occasion, at the end of the year, I found, in the publication that told us how many speeches we had made and how long they were, that I had even beaten the Prime Minister over the 12 months. If I say that to-night I feel worse than any of the hon. eight Members who have made maiden speeches, they will understand my feelings. May I say at the outset that my responsibility is for Housing in Scotland. The Secretary of State ought to have wound up this Debate and I am certainly speaking for everybody when I say that we all wish my right hon. Friend, who is deservedly so popular, a speedy return to the House. I have no right to claim clemency from this House. I am, as one hon. Member called me, a battle-scarred warrior. I have attacked others and I would be the last to complain because others attack me. If I say hard things about other men, then other men are entitled to say hard things about me, but I do claim for my Scottish colleagues, who are comparatively new comers to the House, a little more toleration than would be granted to me.
I want to deal with what I think is a record of achievement and progress in my native country. I do not want to take responsibility either in this Government or in any future Government in a sphere in which I have no control. May I make a confession. It may well be, that in my speech I will make some slight contradiction of some other member of His Majesty's Government. In these matters, if you are going to watch carefully every statement you make, then you will be gagged. For my part, so long as I am in this Government, I will say the things that come naturally to my mind. Having made that frank confession, I want to add that these matters are important and I do not want to treat this thing as anything like a joke. Housing is the most 1314 serious human problem that we know. Who could represent the Gorbals Division of Glasgow, with its teeming millions, its overcrowding, and its hell on earth, where I have lived all my life and within a stone's throw of which I even yet live, without feeling the urgent need? Had one wanted to dodge office, the last job a man would have entered would have been that of the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland in charge of housing.
We are accepting this Motion in the spirit that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) announced earlier. He said that it was a Motion for the guidance of the House, and all of us could accept its general underlying spirit. I have been asked a number of questions and a number of issues have been raised, but I should like to say a word or two on the Scottish issue because that is my responsibility. I should like to give some record of what has been achieved there and to say a word or two on one or two issues raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Mover of the Motion. He raised the question of temporary houses, and, indeed, if I may say this without cracking jokes or without lowering the tone of the Debate, he also raised the question of past speeches made on this subject. I confess that when I took office in this Government nobody looked worse on his past speeches than I did. I had made plenty of speeches on housing, and when I entered this Debate I wondered what would be cast up at me. I have read and re-read my speeches, and I find I have not said very much that could be very easily cast up at me to-night. For that I am truly thankful although, of course, I may find that this will arise again later. I would say to the right hon. Gentleman who raised the issue of the temporary house, that I was one of those who did not attack it; indeed, I subscribed to it when I could have attacked and criticised it. So clamant was the need for human shelter, that the people would almost accept caravans in order to get cover for the time being.
When I entered the Scottish Office I found that the record of temporary housing—and I entered it wishing to quarrel with none and, indeed, that is my position in this House to-night—showed that one temporary house had been completed in Scotland. Is that a record of achievement? Does the House 1315 want me to give programmes and figures for building thousands of houses and then, months afterwards, when I enter this House to be asked why I gave figures which could not be carried out? [Hon. Members: "How many are there now?"] I will give figures for Scotland, to show what is happening, but let me say this to my right hon. Friend, I have never in this House imputed motives to anyone because I have too many flaws myself to say much about others. I want to say, to the people who make claims of that kind, in view of the short time between their holding of office and their present criticism, that they ought to look a little nearer at their own record. One of the things that we shall have to watch is that, in order to get out of difficulties of a certain kind, we do not start making promises to carry us over for the moment—promises which, in the end, we have no intention of carrying out. I warn the House that I am not going to give figures in that sense.
Let me, then, take the Scottish position. One house was built. One company which had contracted had not even provided the first hull of a house. One firm had a factory in Scotland that had produced nothing, while another had produced next to nil, and the situation was very serious. I could have said "It is the Ministry of Works," but this was Scotland, my own country, and I actually flew to the works to insist that they should start to produce the houses we wanted. To-day, slight progress has been made. It is true that, in the first week, there was one house, but in the second the number went up to three; in the third week to eight, and it is still going up. My record is not brilliant, but, at least, now it is moving up by twenties and thirties, and I hope that, by the end of the year, it will be up in the hundreds. Is not that achievement?
In reply to the maiden speech of the hon. and learned Member for Exeter (Mr. Maude)—a member of a profession for which I have always had a high regard—I would suggest that, when he comes here in future, he should treat us, in this sense, as he would treat a court of law, and treat us to argument. It is true that, if he wants a series of letters, he can always get them, but I say to him that, if he has half the equipment that a Member of 1316 Parliament ought to have, he does not need letters but can fix the responsibility at an early date. One word about requisitioning. So far as I am concerned, I want every Department now occupying the homes of the people to get out, unless their occupation is absolutely essential in the national interest. The Minister of Works constantly reviews the position. In Scotland I am regularly meeting the Services chiefs—War Office, Air and Navy—and the Civil Departments to see how far we can make these houses free. One hon. Gentleman claimed it as a virtue that the Civil Service were occupying them. I found, when I took office, that, under the control of a noble lord, certain well-equipped, beautiful specimens of men were occupying houses. I do not want to say what their nationality was, because I might be looked upon as being prejudiced, though I rather like the race—perhaps I might as well say that I refer to Polish soldiers. The problem had been neglected by my predecessor, but I asked that the Poles should go and live in Nissen huts, because they were equipped to do so as soldiers, while soldiers' wives and families obtained the houses which the Poles were occupying.
I turn from that to say a word or two in connection with the farm workers. I must confess that to one who understands the facts, this is rather heavy going, but I make this explanation quite candidly to the House? I am of a touchy nature. My parents were of the North of Scotland type, and that type is always slightly touchy. Those who knew the late Ramsay MacDonald knew that was one of his failings. That is not deregatory—it is a characteristic of our race. I was touchy lest somebody might say something about me—for instance, that I occupied a town council house. I was dead scared of that. So the first thing I did—this may cause a laugh—was to get out of it. Quite frankly, for the first time in my life I have become a capitalist and bought a house. I bought it because I did not want anybody to say anything that would reflect on the Government or my work. One of the things I am constantly hearing in Edinburgh, that great and brilliant city, is "Buchanan is Glasgow, he will give them bricks." Frankly, I am not prejudiced against the country; I like it. But when hon. Members talk about the Housing (Rural 1317 Workers) Act, they should have their facts right, at least in some degree. I did not take the decision about the Act; it was taken by my right hon. Friend before he became ill, and if there was one man who devoted time to making that Act a success, it was the right hon. Gentleman the present Secretary of State for Scotland.
The Hobhouse Committee report has been quoted. Those who quoted it cannot very well reject the report of another Committee that was more actively associated with this problem even than the Hobhouse Committee—the Scottish Housing Advisory Committee. This Committee, with all the knowledge that the Scots had got more out of the Act than anyone else, inquired into the position. There was one Labour member of the Sub-Committee, and everybody will agree that he is a friend, not only in Scotland but in Britain, of the farm worker—Joe Duncan. They went into it from beginning to end. What conclusion did they reach? They said that from their investigations—particularly the representatives of the Farm Workers Union—the money had not shown anything like the value it should, that much that had been spent had never raised the houses to the desirable standard, and they recommended, in, 1937, that the maximum period for which this Act should be allowed to go on was 1939, and that then the Act should definitely finish.
§ Major Guy Lloyd (Renfrew, Eastern)
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would allow me to interrupt him on a very important point. He would not deny the fact that this Act has resulted in 35,000 reconditioned houses?
§ Mr. Buchanan
I am dealing with a point on the Hobhouse Committee report and saying that the most intimate rural committee ever set up reported in favour of ending the Act. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport (Mr. Hudson) and I used to have a respect for each other. He fought the means test regulations, and so did I, when grants were made to people who did not need a penny of public funds to put their houses right. They were made to rich people who did not really need the money. During that time the Government were trying to persecute some of our poorest people, by inquiring into their miserable 1318 incomes. There are, in Scotland to-day, men who can put houses in good condition without making any inroads into a comparatively comfortable standard of living. It is said that the Housing (Rural Workers) Act is for the farm worker alone but he only stays so long as he is allowed, leaving the house with an in creased capital value. I had intended to refer to aluminium houses. Let me just say this that I hope to get some for rural Scotland—
§ Major Lloyd
Before the hon. Gentleman passes on to his next point, would he accept the statement that 35,000 houses have been built in Scotland under the Housing (Rural Workers) Act?
§ Mr. Buchanan
I gave way once and the hon. and gallant Gentleman must not encroach on my good nature. [Hon. Members: "Answer."] I am answering. Thirty-five thousand houses were not built; they were reconditioned. I accept that but the Hobhouse Committee said that they were not reconditioned to any thing like the standard they should have been—
§ Mr. Stewart
It is true that the Committee condemned as inadequate the reconditioning of some of the cottages, but if the hon. Gentleman will read the Report he will find that it gives the highest praise to some of the cottages.
§ Mr. Buchanan
That is true, but they recommended that the Act should come to an end. The main reason was that most of the money expended was never put to its proper use, that is, to make houses decent for occupation. [Hon. Members: "Oh!"] I hope hon. Members opposite will give me a patient hearing.
Now, may I say a word or two about housing progress in Scotland? I was going to say a word about aluminium houses and others but I will pass that over for a later time. For the housing programme in Scotland I am indebted to my predecessor, Thomas Johnston, for some of the work done. We have today in Scotland—[An HON. MEMBER: "One house"]. What I did say was 1319 that when I entered office, one house was built. Actually, those who charge local authorities with not being capable, should remember that the local authorities in Scotland, particularly in Glasgow, are building permanent houses faster than temporary houses. To-day in Scotland there are over 5,000 permanent houses being built, and a start will be made any day on a further 3,000. When I entered office, the only prefabricated house that had been approved, and the only prefabricated house that so far holds the field, was then before the Scottish Office. The maker of that steel house was Lord Weir. It was a good house, and within three weeks, through Lord Weir's efforts, we had the contract signed and in less than one month the Coatbridge factory opened in full production of houses. To-day we are negotiating with another firm of steel house contractors. [Interruption.] Why cannot we deal with Scotland? When has it become necessary to be ashamed of Scotland?
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham)
If the hon. Gentleman was referring to me, I was merely saying that he has had to rely upon the greatest capitalist in Scotland.
§ Mr. Buchanan
This is a case where you get it both ways. [ Interruption.] The first of Lord Weir's houses will be delivered before the turn of the year. May I say a word or two on the progress regarding prefabricated houses? I have come to the conclusion that, much as I admire the building industry, and its capacity for production, I do not think it can be the only method used in the solution of this problem. As my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health announced to-day, we have examined the pressed steel house, which is commendable in itself, and will make a valuable contribution. As regards other prefabricated houses, I want to go ahead with them. One has to be careful in this sense. One must enter into contracts for prefabricated houses in terms of 50,000, 60,000 or 100,000. One cannot do that, without being sure beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the houses are well-designed, properly built and capable of withstanding the weather of this country. Last night my predecessor was attacked because houses had been provided in Scotland that could not withstand the weather. It was his keenness 1320 about housing that led to those houses being provided. If it is a matter of building 100,000 houses, we cannot be rushed into that without taking every possible step we can to see that the house, when it is made, is a decent and proper house for the people. The other day I sent my engineers into England to examine these houses. I told them to watch every joint, to see that everything was right, and said if they were good we would look at the project favourably and be ready to take further steps about it. In these matters I cannot take the responsibility, just because someone is clamouring for a house, to provide one, if in a few years time I shall feel ashamed of the conditions under which those people are living.
I would add one other word on the general housing situation. I am not ashamed of my record in Scotland. I set myself a figure of 10,000 houses in the first year. I did not arrive at that number on the basis of a Government figure; I did it in my own rough Glasgow way. If I include the Swedish houses, the first of which in this country I shall open on Friday next, and also the Weir and permanent houses I have to-day building, or have tenders in for, 11,000 houses for my native country. I would say in regard to the housing programme that I do not intend to be a party to fixing figures easily. I used to say of unemployment insurance that I would sooner be promised a shilling by someone who would give it to me than be promised 5s. which I knew I would not get. I do not propose to-night, with all my limitations, to fix figures which I cannot guarantee. I want to see figures reached, and I want them to be the maximum possible. I often say to my officials, "Fix a figure but do not tell anybody. Keep it in your mind as a figure to which to work, because if you tell people what you have fixed, it may raise false hopes. "I have fixed my own figure in this way and I propose to work to it in the best possible way.
Might I refer to my particular job in Scotland? We have these houses proceeding, and we have to-day got tenders in from local authorities covering 90 per cent. of the population of Scotland. Some smaller towns and one or two other towns are in a difficulty, not because of any fault of their own. A question was raised about the city of Glasgow. I do not want to boast about it, nor yet detract from it, 1321 but I can say, speaking with knowledge of those whom I have met in Glasgow, particularly its housing manager, that I am sure I will not be ashamed, provided this Government give them the help they need, of that city's record in the future. I conclude with these remarks. Housing is the greatest social need. I come from a great country—Scotland. It has great scenery; it has produced great men; it has done almost everything. In only one thing has it failed—housing for the common people. I propose, though possibly with little ability, to give the only country I know—my native country—the decency I think it deserves.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That this House views with grave apprehension the existing shortage of houses in both urban and rural areas and urges His Majesty's Government to give continuous attention to the related problems of labour and material required for repair and reconstruction, as well as for the building of new houses.