§ 3.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Duncan Sandys (Streatham)
On the occasion of his first Debate as Minister of Works, I should like to express my best wishes to the right hon. Gentleman opposite. We sincerely hope that, with the vigour and practical experience which we know he possesses, he will be able to infuse a sense of urgency and reality into the handling of the building problem by the Government. The importance of today's Debate is greatly heightened by the fact that we have now in our hands the recent Reports of the Working Party on Building set up by the Minister of Works, and of the Anglo-American Productivity Team set up on the initative of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. There has also been published this morning a new Report on the Costs of House-building. I hope that we may have a separate occasion on which to Debate that last and most recent Report.
These objective technical reports confirm in the plainest fashion the grave criticisms which have been made in 1665 Debate after Debate from these benches. In one paragraph after another, the Working Party tell of the confusion, exasperation and loss of output which have resulted from the manner in which the Government have misapplied their powers over the building industry. It is, in fact, a grave indictment of the Government's whole administration in this vital sphere. The Working Party's Report is dated 11th January. It is a pity that the Government were not able to publish it before the last General Election, but we can comfort ourselves by the thought that it will be all the more fresh for the next, and, after his week-end at Dorking, the right hon. Gentleman will perhaps be able to tell us when that is going to be.
The broad verdict of the Working Party's Report is that the building industry is running at a level of efficiency which is 20 to 25 per cent. below the pre-war standard, and that this sorry state of affairs is attributable to factors which are to a very great extent within the Government's control. Since building and civil engineering amount to nearly 60 per cent. of the gross fixed investment of the country, this loss of efficiency is very serious indeed. Apart from the direct effect upon the rate of house building, it adds, of course, to the cost of production throughout the whole range of the building industry and is a contributory factor in the general rise in the cost of living.
From a recent remark made at Question Time by the Minister of Health, it would seem that the Government would like to hide behind the building industry and to put upon it the blame for anything that is not going well. I say straightaway to the right hon. Gentleman that it will be no good his trying to pass the buck. The industry must do all in its power to raise efficiency and output, and I am glad to know that the Minister of Works has already asked those concerned to consider what action they can take, but we cannot get away from the fact that the building and civil engineering industry today come under the very closest Government control. The Government lay down the building programme for the whole country. The Government and their officials decide what may be built, when it may be built, who may build it and with what it may be built. At every stage, the Government have a finger in 1666 the pie. If the conditions are such that the industry is prevented from producing the output of which it is capable, I say that the Government cannot escape the main responsibility.
If, after five years of peace, the building industry has not yet got back into its old stride, it is in large measure due to the fundamental changes in the building programme which have necessitated frequent and disruptive alterations in the whole planning of the nation's building. The Opposition have constantly stressed the importance of maintaining a stable overall building programme so as to give the industry the assurance of continuous work ahead, and the Report of the Working Party makes precisely the same point. This is what it says in paragraph 60:A programme of future building work, if it can be depended upon, is of the greatest value both to the building industry proper and to the manufacturers of building materials. Unfortunately the building industry, more perhaps than any other, has in the past suffered on account of recurrent failure to implement announced programmes.The Report goes on to say:… we greatly hope, therefore, that in the interests of efficiency it will be possible to avoid further abrupt and violent changes in the programme.It is quite incredible how much chopping and changing there has been. Immediately after the war, as we can remember, the Government launched out on a programme of building which was obviously beyond the capacity of the industry. Far too many projects were started and far too few were completed. Rather belatedly, the Government made some hectic attempts to adjust their plans, and the Working Party remarks that these efforts were unsuccessful and only led to still further disequilibrium in the industry.
A little later, the building programme underwent another violent change, when, in December, 1947, the Government issued that deplorable White Paper called Capital Investment in 1948. This announced, with little or no previous warning, that owing to shortages of building materials, building work of all kinds was to be severely restricted and that the labour force was to be cut. This plan, like many others, proved to be quite unworkable in practice, and after a few months it 1667 became a dead letter. In fact, £130 million worth more building work was done in 1948 than was done in 1947. That is an example of Government planning.
§ Mr. Sandys
The harm done by this White Paper was considerable. The severe and sudden cuts in the industry undermined the confidence of both employers and operatives, and the effects lasted for a long time afterwards. The policy of the 1948 White Paper was very properly reversed in the Economic Survey for 1949. This provided once more for the expansion of the building programme, but devaluation came along a few months later and the policy had to be reversed once again. This time, the building programme was reduced by £70 million, including a £35 million cut in housing.
These cuts were confirmed in the Economic Survey for 1950 issued by the Chancellor of the Exchequer last March, in which he announced that houses would be built at the rate of 185,000 a year. Only three weeks later, in his Budget speech, he told us that all this had been changed again. The Government, he said, had now decided to fix the house building programme upon what he described as "a more stabilised basis," whatever that may mean, and he reverted again to the previous programme of 200,000 houses a year for the next three years. Having seen the Chancellor change his programme without explanation in three weeks, how can the industry place the slightest reliance upon his plans for the next three years?
The complete state of insecurity and uncertainty created by these constant reversals of policy has made the smooth running of the building industry and its material-producing industries quite impossible. As the Working Party say in their Report:If building is to be looked on as a 'tap' which can be turned on and off for economic reasons, then efficiency cannot be expected.As in the factory, so on a building site, the aim must be to secure a smooth flow, without hold-ups or dislocation. Both the Report of the Working Party and the Report of the Anglo-American Productivity Team stressed the importance of 1668 a high degree of pre-planning, but that is only possible if the builder can rely upon the materials needed being available in sufficient quantities and in good time.
The Working Party consider that the factor which, perhaps more than any other, has lowered the productive efficiency of the building industry has been the constant shortage of building materials. The recurrent shortages of bricks in the last few years could, with a little forethought on the part of the Government, have been avoided. There need have been no brick famine in 1946 if the Government had not, by an extraordinary oversight, forgotten to demobilise the brickmakers until several months after the end of the war. [Interruption.] It is perfectly true, but hon. Members opposite do not like to be reminded of it. If there was again a shortage of bricks in 1949, it was due to the cutting of the building programme in 1948. Manufacturers, naturally, reduced their capacity and their labour force. It has taken two years to build up again the labour force of the brick works to the strength at which it was before the cuts. One cannot expand a large industry with the same ease that one can change a paper plan. If only the Government will now give the industry an assurance of a stable and continuing programme, they will get all the bricks they need.
As frequent Questions on the Order Paper show, there are at present in many districts shortages of cement which are slowing down house building and building of all kinds. These shortages are due to the fact that the estimate of requirements for the last few months turned out to be too low, but that is certainly not the fault of the industry. The Minister of Health laughs, but it is not the fault of the industry. The Government which plans the overall building programme of the country tells the cement makers the amount of cement required for home consumption. During the last four months of this year, the industry actually supplied the home market with 140,000 tons of cement more than the target set by the Government. I have no doubt that the Government will blame the warm weather for their miscalculation; when in difficulty the Government usually blame the weather. These temporary or local shortages of cement, damaging as they are, will no doubt right themselves before long.
1669 What is much more serious is the outlook for timber. Before the war, with a building force very much the same as it is today, our stocks of softwood at this time of the year rarely fell below 700,000 standards. It appears that at present our stocks amount to no more than 170,000 standards, lower than they have ever been in our history before, and, possibly they are even below that figure. The position is, in fact, becoming precarious. We have already reached the point where the timber trade is finding it almost impossible to supply builders with the timber they require for current contracts, including important local authority housing schemes. To keep some of these jobs going, the Timber Control has had to release timber from the Government's own small emergency reserve which at this rate will very soon be exhausted.
As the Minister knows, the importers of timber have recently warned the Government that in their opinion, if things go on as they are now, there will be a complete dislocation of our timber supplies in the course of the next few weeks. In view of the anxiety which exists, I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to tell us precisely what is the state of our present stocks of timber and whether he is satisfied that the full requirements of the national building programme will be met during the next three months. Apart from the Government's reluctance to spend dollars upon Canadian timber, our present difficulties are largely due to the breakdown in the negotiations with Sweden. These have been hopelessly mishandled by the Government's bulk buying organisation.
Last November, the Swedish timber industry informed us that it was ready to sell to Britain up to 250,000 standards of softwood. Despite the warnings that other large buyers were in the market, the Government delayed sending any mission to Sweden until the end of February. When they got to Stockholm, they found, as they had been warned, that large purchases had already been made by Germany and by other countries, and that these purchases had been made at prices about 12 per cent. above the November level. The mission decided not to buy any timber at all at these prices and came back empty-handed. Last month the mission was obliged to go back to Stockholm to try again. They found 1670 that, meanwhile, further large quantities of timber had been bought by other countries, and they only managed to obtain a small lot of some 30,000 standards.
Under the Anglo-Swedish Trade Agreement we could have had 250,000 standards this year, but owing to the extreme slowness and inept haggling of the Timber Control's buyers it now seems that even if we are prepared to buy at the highest price, the most we can hope to get from Sweden this year is about 80,000 to 100,000 standards. Of that—and this is perhaps the most serious part of it—the greater part will be in sizes which are unsuitable for housing since the more useful sizes have already been sold.
While all this has been going on, the ample supplies of timber which could have been obtained a few months earlier from Canada have also, in large measure, been sold to the United States, so that, even if we were now willing to spend the dollars, it is not by any means certain that we should be able to get all the timber we need. That, I submit to the Committee, is a measure of the failure and futility of the Government's bulk buying methods.
On the subject of bulk buying, the Working Party's Report could hardly have been less enthusiastic. It points out all the difficulties and drawbacks of this system without advancing any single argument in its favour. Amongst other things the report says:The expenses of storage and additional transport might well exceed any saving which could be made in the purchase price quite apart from the difficulties of getting goods to the site at the right time.The report concludes with the damning remark:When the materials concerned are in short supply, bulk buying tends to accentuate the shortage.In view of the conclusions of this report and of the Government's own experience of failure, does not the Minister consider that the time has come to hand back the business of buying and importing timber to experienced traders who can operate with greater speed and flexibility than this cumbersome Government machine?
So far, I have referred mainly to building in general, but it is, of course, house building which gives us the greatest cause for concern. All through the election we asserted that many more houses could be 1671 built, and we said that the cut in the housing programme introduced last autumn was entirely unnecessary. We repeated our complaints in the Debate on the Address in March. The only answer we got from the Minister of Health was:The amount of the national resources that we have given to housing is what we consider in the circumstances that we can afford."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th March, 1950; Vol. 472, c. 864.]He argued that if house building was to be increased, some part of the national investment programme would have to be cut, and he asked in a jeering fashion whether the Opposition intended to cut schools or factories, or power stations or old people's homes. He added that the Opposition lacked "the intellectual and moral discipline" to say where the cuts should fall—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] It is all very well for hon. Members to cheer.
Today, our positions are reversed. The housing cut of which we complained has been restored in the interval. It is we who ask the right hon. Gentleman to tell us whether this increase in the house building programme has been made at the expense of some other part of the national investment programme. Will he tell us whether he intends to cut schools or factories or old people's homes? When he replies will he show that, at any rate, he has "the intellectual and moral discipline" to explain how it is that we can now afford some 20,000 more houses than we could a few weeks ago? I hope he will answer that point.
In Debate after Debate speakers from this side of the House have urged the Government to make much fuller use of private enterprise house building methods which, in the past, though hon. Members opposite do not like to admit it, proved fast and economical. It is significant that the Anglo-American Productivity Team make precisely the same recommendation. In paragraph 65 they say, in regard to housing by private enterprise that:… the results achieved in the United States … confirm pre-war experience in Britain that the highly competitive nature of the market for such houses results in high productivity and continually lower costs.
§ Mr. MacColl (Widnes)
The right hon. Gentleman does not seem to observe that each chapter begins with a paragraph 1672 numbered I and therefore it is difficult to follow which paragraph he means.
§ Mr. Sandys
I am referring to page 65, paragraph 11. The Report goes on to make its recommendations to the authorities in Britain. This is what it says:The responsible authorities are urged to take all possible steps … to ease or remove the existing onerous restrictions on private enterprise housebuilding, for sale and rental.That is the considered opinion of a team of experienced and practical men, which includes operatives and employers in equal numbers. I realise, of course, that this recommendation must be exceedingly unpalatable to the Minister of Health. He, perhaps more than any of his colleagues, has nailed his colours to the mast on this issue; but let that not deter him. The issues at stake are the happiness and health of countless families in this country and I ask the right hon. Gentleman for their sake, if for no other reason, not to be too proud to allow private enterprise to come to his aid.
In the Debate in March the right hon. Gentleman taunted the Opposition for not specifying what proportion of the houses should be built by private enterprise.
§ Mr. Bevan
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman does not want to misquote me. If he will look back over that speech, he will see that, over and over again, I said that practically all the houses were being built by private enterprise. What is at issue between us is how many should be built for sale and how many for rent.
§ Mr. Sandys
What I said was that the right hon. Gentleman has taunted us for not giving our view of what the ratio should be for private enterprise.
§ Mr. Bevan
No, may I be permitted? It is rather important to be clear on this matter, because it seems to me the trouble is that hon. Members opposite continue to believe the headlines of their own newspapers. The issue between us all the time is how the resources of private enterprise should be shared as between the building of houses for renting, by local authorities in the main, and for sale to private citizens for their own 1673 occupation. That has been the issue all the time and not whether it should be private enterprise or public enterprise.
§ Mr. Sandys
I think the right hon. Gentleman is trying to draw a red herring. He gave the answer himself. He said:Oh, I am giving the answer—one in 10."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th March, 1950; Vol. 472. c. 865.]for houses to be built by private enterprise. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] That is the proportion to be built by private enterprise under licence.
§ Mr. Bevan
Under licence, yes. It is exceedingly important to understand this. The term "private enterprise "is being used all the time tendentiously. I have always used the phrase," Housing to be for sale or housing for rent." Private enterprise builds both categories. The right hon. Gentleman came near to me in the last sentence in which he said, houses under licence for sale.
§ Mr. Sandys
We are getting back to the same point. These are houses which are being built by private enterprise. I really do not know what the right hon. Gentleman is complaining about. The right hon. Gentleman said that one in 10 should be allowed to be built by private enterprise under licence. The great majority are built for sale. That is not the argument. What I was saying was that the proportion which the right hon. Gentleman laid down in that Debate was that one out of every 10 should be built or might be built under licence by private enterprise. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that even so, he considered that to be unduly generous for private enterprise. He referred to the case of Birmingham.
§ Mr. Porter (Leeds, Central) rose——
§ Mr. Sandys
I think we have exhausted the matter now. A few weeks later, to everyone's surprise, the right hon. Gentleman came back to the House and told us he had scrapped the one in 10 ratio and had gone back to the earlier proportion of one in five.
§ Mr. Sandys
Of course he did, in his statement the other day to the House. This is the fifth time that this ratio has been changed, and we cannot help gradu- 1674 ally coming to the conclusion that the fixing of the ratio has more to do with the right hon. Gentleman's state of digestion than with any statistical estimate of needs. Experience has shown that it is quite impossible to fix for the whole country a ratio which has any meaning at all. The Minister in his announcement the other day—and we are glad of it—said that he would allow more flexibility in the application of this new ratio.
§ Mr. Bevan rose——
§ Mr. Sandys
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to explain what I mean. In some places—and the right hon. Gentleman will agree with me—very little private enterprise house building is needed. In other parts of the country the ratio could, with advantage, be very much higher. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that local authorities should be left free to propose how the building resources in their area should be allocated as between council work and private enterprise and that the Minister should normally accept their recommendation.
§ Mr. Sandys
I like that, coming from the right hon. Gentleman! We are prepared to have our standards of firmness judged in comparison with the standards of the right hon. Gentleman.
Finally, I should like to speak of the new house-building target. We are naturally gratified to see that, in response to the pressure of this House—for that was the reason—the Government have restored the cut in housing needlessly introduced by them last autumn. But that, of course, only puts us back to where we were before. According to the Chancellor's latest announcement, the rate of house building is to be frozen at the hopelessly inadequate level of 200,000 houses a year for the next three years.
1675 It should be remembered that houses do not last for ever and that each year large numbers become obsolete and have to be condemned. The Minister of Health himself, in a most readable book, entitled, "Why not trust the Tories?" which I commend to the Committee, estimated that before the war obsolescent houses required replacement at the rate of 200,000 a year. As a result of the stoppage of house building during the war and the lack of adequate maintenance, the rate of deterioration has greatly increased, as I am sure he will agree. It will be seen, therefore, that in setting a housing target of 200,000 houses a year for three years the Government are, in fact, according to the right hon. Gentleman's own estimate, stabilising house building at a level which may not even be sufficient to keep pace with the rate of deterioration.
The Government are, in fact, budgeting for a housing deficit. This new three-year plan is nothing else but a public confession not only of failure but of despair. It means that the Government have abandoned hope of making any improvement in the housing situation for at least three years. We on this side of the Committee refuse absolutely to accept such a position. The need for homes exists as never before; all are agreed that it is the most urgent of our domestic problems. What, then, is keeping the house building target down to this pathetic level of 200,000?
The Minister of Health gave us the explanation, which I have already quoted—… that the amount of the national resources that we have given to housing is what we consider in the circumstances that we can afford."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th March, 1950; Vol. 472, c. 864.]What he says in effect is that it is all a question of priorities. If the Government were to give higher priority to housing we should get more houses. The Government say that they have given to housing as much priority as they think it deserves and that if there are not enough houses then the people must lump it. That is, in effect, what the right hon. Gentleman has said.
§ Mr. Sandys
The Working Party Report has a good deal to do with housing and the Government failures which are brought out in practically every paragraph of the Working Party Report are the reasons why we are not getting the houses.
Is this situation really necessary? The labour is available and our industries are capable of producing all the materials needed, with the exception of timber; and it seems that rather than spend a little more foreign currency on timber the Government prefer to let the building industry go on running at low pressure. I submit that to build up a large labour force and then to starve it of materials is one of the silliest forms of economy.
In the Debate on the Address the Minister of Health, whilst admitting that timber was the immediate bottleneck, argued that even if we had more timber we should still find ourselves up against labour difficulties in the housing field. Those were his words. But the right hon. Gentleman seems to overlook the fact that labour requirements have to be measured not just in numbers but in output. It is impossible to exaggerate the damaging psychological effect which shortages of materials have upon labour output, and the reverse is equally true.
If adequate supplies of materials were made available, the whole morale and productivity of the industry would undoubtedly improve. Employers would be able, as the Report urges, to plan their work in much greater detail and to eliminate wastage of manpower which now causes delays and uncertainties. When the operatives see sufficient materials on the site they will be more willing to exert themselves to earn the incentive bonuses. At present many of them hesitate to do so for fear of working themselves out of a job.
We say: Let the Government provide the money to buy the timber needed. Let them lay down a long-term building programme and give the industry, for the first time, the confidence which they need to stick to it. Let them mobilise the energies of private enterprise as well as of the local authorities and they will soon find that, with the same labour force, they will be able to achieve a large increase in the rate of house building. It is no good the Government telling us that houses cannot 1677 be built. It is a question of how they go about it. The Government's policy stands condemned by their own technical inquiries as well as by the common verdict of the people. Unless they rapidly and radically alter their methods the homeless families throughout the land will hold them responsible for their misfortunes.
§ 4.29 p.m.
§ The Minister of Works (Mr. Stokes)
After what I think was 13 years' constructive work below the Gangway I find myself in a strange position today, more especially because it is such a very long time ago since I made a speech in this Chamber; and I almost feel like claiming the indulgence of hon. Gentlemen as a maiden speaker—at least, at this Box. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) for his kindly words of welcome. It is just possible I may have something not so kind to say about him in return a little later on; but that is as may be.
I should like to start by paying some tribute to my immediate predecessor. The Department over which I have the honour to preside is not a politically spectacular one, and a great deal of hard work goes on behind the scenes that no Member of this Committee can have any knowledge of who has not been connected with it. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will agree. It is on account of the hard work which my predecessor did behind the scenes that I have found it possible to take over with the least amount of inconvenience.
I am afraid I cannot satisfy the right hon. Gentleman regarding his inquiry as to when the General Election will take place. It happens that I have not the slightest idea. In fact, I am surprised that he asked me. When he complains about the control which the Government exercise over the industry as a whole, I want to say—because I propose to deal with his comments, for the most part, in the course of my own speech, rather than pile them all up at the beginning—that it is not true that the Government control the industry at every point. What the Government do—and very sensibly in the circumstances, as I shall endeavour to show as I go on—is to lay down the overall programme. A great deal is left to the industry to decide, subject, of course, to the total availability of material and labour. It is quite wrong 1678 to give the impression to the public that we control at every point.
Before I tackle the main subject of the Debate, as it is so long since my Department was discussed in this Chamber, I should like to say a few words about the work of the Department. It really is a fascinating job. Few people who have not been connected with it realise its scope. We travel from parks and royal palaces to embassies overseas, picture galleries and all one likes looking at in the form of ancient monuments. What people do not realise sufficiently is the tremendous scope of the Department in the buildings it looks after and the amount of new construction on which we are engaged, especially in atomic energy research; on top of which of course there was that major operation which took four years to do, and that was the temporary housing programme.
Hon. Gentlemen have no doubt looked at the figures of personnel in the Department. Whereas before the war we looked after something like 8,000 buildings, today we look after 23,000, and added to that is this immense building programme which takes an immense number of technicians. The gratifying feature is this—and for this I pay tribute to my predecessor—that though there were 21,000 people on the staff in 1947, that number is down now to 17,000, a reduction of 17 per cent., which is something very considerable. I want to assure the Committee that we are looking out always for economy. We realise the need for it. More particularly—I speak of course as an engineer—we realise the essentiality of making 100 per cent. use of all the technicians we employ so that the maximum use of their energies may be made, and freed, as time goes on, to go into industry.
The only other point about the work of the Department on which I should like to touch before coming to the main point of the Debate is in regard to the parks. I have had a lot of letters from various Members who are interested in allotments in the parks. We are taking the view that it is quite time that the parks were cleaned up—that the parks were meant for the enjoyment of the people, that there is no necessity to keep any of them at all for the purpose of allotments, and that as soon as they are cleared out of the way and the parks 1679 returned to their proper object the better for all of us.
I know what the Committee is waiting for me to say, and that is what are my reflections both on the Working Party Report and on the Anglo-American Productivity Report, and what I hope to try to do in guiding and helping—because I do not control—this very complex industry. The main object is obviously to get output up and costs down. Any proposal that is put forward that has the slightest chance of helping to do that will be most closely examined by me personally. But, of course, we are going to achieve both objects—increased output and decreased costs—only by collaboration from all sides of the industry, and to this end I want to use the Working Party Report and the Anglo-American Report constructively, and not in any destructive way.
An immense amount of harm can be done if they are used destructively, and, therefore, I do not propose today to indulge in a lot of recriminations about what has happened in the past—except possibly to say this in answer to the right hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate. The criticism and the main complaint that is made is about overloading in 1945 and 1946 and thereabouts. When peace came it was essential to get as many houses built as possible; it was essential to load up to the hilt; but in this veritable haven of private enterprise nobody had the slightest idea of what the hilt was, and the Minister of Health was, therefore, in a dilemma. I am tempted to ask what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Streatham himself did. He preceded me in office. I am tempted to ask what he and his colleague the then Minister of Health did in order to lay forward plans and lay forward figures, so that a close and accurate estimate could have been available in order to get the biggest production out of the industry as soon as peace broke out.
§ Mr. Sandys
The right hon. Gentleman asks what we did. We made very careful, thorough, detailed arrangements to put the present Government—we did not know it would be this Government, of course—or whatever Government it was that came in at the end of the war, in a 1680 position to start in conditions in which they could get into their stride. We provided for a programme of houses which was described by right hon. Gentlemen opposite when they were sitting on these benches as "chicken feed," and which they themselves have entirely failed to fulfil or even to approach.
§ Mr. Stokes
Of course, I cannot answer for my right hon. Friend's Department. My right hon. Friend is going to speak later tonight. All I can say is that there is no shadow of a sign in my Department that any preparation of this kind was made at all. It was mainly covered by withdrawals as some of my hon. Friends have indicated.
However, I do say, having studied the Working Party's Report, and studied it with very great care indeed—it was put in my hands the moment I was appointed Minister to the Department—that I think that the Working Party are wrong in thinking there was overloading. I think the trouble was quite different. There was material scarcity; a lot of brickfields had closed down; it was impossible for my right hon. Friend to wait for stocks to be built up before he started. One does not know what one can do until one tries. [Laughter.] I know, but my own experience in industry teaches me that it is better to overload, rather than to underload, if one wants to get the maximum return.
There was a complete lack of coordination in the industry. I do not say this offensively. I blame the party opposite. An immense amount of the industry seems to belong to that party in some curious way. There are 125,000 different companies. in this industry; 52,000 of them are one-man companies employing no operatives at all except on occasion; and the industry has a most complex structure. It does not lend itself very easily to co-ordination which makes it all the more important to try to co-ordinate it. [Laughter.] Well, that is so. Added to which, they were not accustomed to the idea of pre-planning, which everybody now stresses so much. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] It is refreshing to hear that the anti-planners opposite have now become such ardent pro-planners. Then there was the great disinclination of labour which had shifted 1681 away from the industry to return to their jobs. When the war ended the house building industry was down by 50 per cent. compared with pre-war, and the situation was even worse in the materials industry. In addition to that, there was a great deal of obsolete plant and machinery still in use.
In the event—and right hon. Gentlemen opposite ought to realise it—by 1947, despite all the muddle that was imposed upon us on account of their incompetence, we had got a really balanced programme. [Laughter.] That really is so, and anybody who takes the trouble to study the figures instead of reading the pious nonsense in some of the newspapers can see for themselves that the load has been steady for the last three years. The number employed in the building industry has been round about one million; it has varied up and down by 15,000 to 20,000 during the last three years.
§ Mr. Stokes
Apparently all these private enterprise gentlemen are very busy paying people in full for standing about doing nothing. That is the only conclusion I can draw—which of course I do not accept.
§ Mr. Stokes
There is plenty of time. I am surprised that the Opposition did not put the right hon. and gallant Gentleman up to speak.
It is very interesting that the Working Party Report plumps absolutely wholeheartedly for planning, and I hope the party opposite will take note of that. The main criticism of the party opposite has been that we have built too few houses, not too many. They are now apparently complaining that we are over-loading the industry, which is a completely anomalous situation. I am very glad that they realise what the real position is. The situation would not be nearly so difficult for us if efforts had been made before the end of the war to get matters a bit straighter than they proved to be.
1682 Anyway, I welcome the Debate. [Laughter.] Yes, and I shall get better at it as I go on. Quite seriously, I hope hon. Members will realise the difficulty I am in. [Laughter.] It is not, of course, what they think it is. My difficulty is, as they all know, that I started deliberations with the National Consultative Council a fortnight or ten days ago; I am meeting them again this week, and the success of what I can do depends entirely on the good will of those with whom I am seeking to co-operate, because there is no compulsion about it at all. It is therefore very difficult for me to overstress, or to discuss in too much detail, many of the points in the Reports. In the main, taking the two Reports together, action is called for under three heads: there is action to be taken mainly by the Government—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] That is all right. Then there is a great deal of action to be taken jointly by the Government, industry and the professions; then there is some very serious action to be taken by the industry and the professions jointly.
Let me say at the outset by way of generalisation on costs and productivity, that housing and housing costs are not my responsibility. They are the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health, and he will deal with the housing situation when he winds up the Debate. On the general side, the Report very naturally starts with this criticism on productivity and costs. I know, of course, that costs have gone up. As a businessman of some years standing I know that there is no such thing in the world as perfection; there are lots of ways of getting improvements, and we propose to use these Reports to that end.
However, I do issue this word of warning. Having spent most of my life in engineering production, I am extremely shy of these percentages of measurement of productivity when there is nothing but a monetary yardstick to use as a basis of measurement. I do not believe they really mean anything, and one can argue any case one likes from those figures. It reminds me very much of a remark made by, I believe, Lord Fisher to the Leader of the Opposition who had asked him for some figures: "All right, I will get them for you, but you must first tell me what you want me to prove."
1683 I assure the Committee that I am not complacent about it. I am determined to do whatever I possibly can to improve production and to get costs down, but, as both Reports say, success depends on better management and on better collaboration all round. Make no mistake about it, the men are not to blame for low output if there is not good management nor proper collaboration there to help them. The men on the job can, of course, influence results, but they can only influence results in so far as management, organisation and the rest of it serve them. Here, let me pay a tribute to the trade union leaders in the industry, Sir Luke Fawcett and Mr. Coppock, for what I consider a quite remarkable achievement. In this widely varied industry of over one million men there have been 25 years with no serious industrial unrest; they have proved themselves most adaptable under all sorts of circumstances, without any trouble at all—in temporary housing, for example—and there has been no organised resistance, as there has sometimes been elsewhere, to the introduction of mechanisation, and so on. I am naturally looking forward to collaborating very closely with them in their efforts.
§ Mr. Derek Walker-Smith (Hertford)
Would the right hon. Gentleman include in his commendation the employers' organisations in the building industry, who have always co-operated so well in these matters?
§ Mr. Stokes
Certainly. The hon. Gentleman has saved me the trouble of saying what I was about to say if only he had waited. That was precisely the next thing I intended to say, but as he has said it for me I will save the time of the Committee by not repeating it.
The second point of complaint and general observation in the Report concerns the delays and uncertainties caused by licensing and controls. First, it is essential to have some order of priority so long as shortages continue. It is hopeless not to. Nobody but a lunatic would embark upon a huge building programme of the kind we are trying to have, both industrially and in housing, without taking control of the shortages and seeing that first jobs come first. That has got to be done. It is equally essential to keep some form of 1684 control, so long as it is considered necessary, in the interests of avoiding that frightful thing known by the term "inflation," and to limit the over-all investment programme.
Certain things have already been done since the Report came out. Simplifications have been made by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Town and Country Planning with regard to certain planning requirements. Today, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply announced the abolition of the steel control. We are still studying and will continue to study, simplification of procedure and the removal of small annoyances. I am quite sure that what the Minister of Town and Country Planning has done will be of great benefit there. All the same, it is ridiculous to think that control is going to disappear altogether just because this has happened. We have to keep it on as long as necessary, place first things first and limit ourselves in our over-all investment programme. Despite what the Working Party Report says, it is a fact that there has been a pretty steady programme since the war. As I said when the right hon. Gentleman scoffed at me just now, the labour force has not varied much in the last three years.
I do not want to bore the Committee by going through a whole lot of detail on all the recommendations. Perhaps I can say with regard to the recommendations as to the standard form of contract, the greater use of British standard specifications, the revision of by-laws which is taking place now, building research—which was the result of procedure before I took office—and concentration on technical advice—all these matters are actually being examined and dealt with at the present time.
I want to confine my attention to some of the more important things which seem to me to require action, and action soon, and then to deal with the points raised about the building material supplies, which the right hon. Gentleman asked me to do in his opening speech. With regard to the action required by the members of the industry and the professions, there are a large number of things such as the application of a costing system, the use of mechanical aids, etc., all of which are in hand or being studied.
The things to which I particularly want to refer are pre-planning and manage- 1685 ment—and may I say that I was appalled when I became acquainted, even remotely, with the industry by the absence of planning. It seems to me that to get good conditions on the site there must be three vital prerequisites: The building owner must make up his mind and not change it; there must be as everyone will agree materials in plentiful supply, and, above all, the management must be planning conscious. Even in the mechanical trades one finds great difficulty in changing what I call the Victorian mind, or the Edwardian mind, into a more proper attitude of really getting down to the job and planning in detail.
Unless plans are made before the work starts—and I agree with what the American Report says about this—the building operatives on the site have not a chance of turning out a good job so far as costs are concerned. Then there are the incentive schemes. The right hon. Gentleman referred to these, but they are not employed to anything like the extent they should be, in my opinion—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear"]—I know; but it is mostly the employers who will not do it. Oh, yes, make no mistake about it. I see their difficulty, and I admit that at once. I see that there is no uniform sort of unit; it is a widely variegated industry and what suits one particular set of circumstances does not suit another. We have to study, not each job but a very wide variety of groups and grouping, in order to arrive at a properly adapted system, and we shall not get costs down and better pay packets unless at the same time as maintaining a high standard of work there are incentives to encourage people. Therefore action depends on better planning and better understanding by the men of what is wanted.
It is everyone's experience in industry that when the men do understand what is wanted they naturally give better results. The time has gone by when people can be used as slaves, and men must be made to understand what the requirements are. One of my hon. Friends sent me an example the other day of an incentive scheme used in the London County Council, where they got the staggering result of a reduction of £63 a house in labour costs, which is a great deal higher than anything mentioned in either of the Reports under con- 1686 sideration, or in the Report that came out this morning.
My next point, which follows directly on the other, concerns the joint production committees. If we are to get a proper co-operation there must be a better use made of the joint production committees on the job. I do not believe in having a number of people sitting in armchairs, talking about jobs which they probably do not understand. We want to get them down on the spot wherever that can be done. There are a lot of important jobs which can be done, I think, with the operatives forming part of the committee.
May I say that we read a lot of nonsense about the dangers of full employment. We read that the situation in America is better because there are 4½ million unemployed. I say that the cure for what might be regarded as mentally backward people is not the scourge of unemployment with all its beastliness but education. The way to make them understand is by getting alongside and explaining to them what it is we want. The best way of achieving that is to get this joint production committee system going as widely as possible throughout the industry.
I do not want to say much about the costing system. I think that it applies much more to the big jobs than the small jobs, and economically it is probably not practical even to go into the kind of costing system which the Working Party Report contemplate where the jobs are small. My Ministry have already published booklets on this subject and have given lectures which are well attended, and that policy will be carried on.
With regard to the use of mechanical aids, I think that there is a great deal still to be done. A far greater use of plant is always being encouraged by my Ministry, but there are economic difficulties. The small builder very often cannot afford the capital cost of plant. I am looking into the whole of the question of how that can be remedied, so that the biggest possible use of these mechanical aids may be made by the operatives throughout the industry, whatever the size of the job.
I want to remind the Committee that the whole matter has been before the 1687 National Consultative Council. They have been asked by me to make confidential reports on what they recommend and another meeting will take place this week. There will be a continuous series of meetings until we get solutions to the problems, which, of course, we shall publish from time to time as decisions are taken.
With regard to material supplies, I want first to make this quite clear; I think that the right hon. Gentleman really ought to know this himself already. I control neither the production nor the distribution of these things. If the right hon. Gentleman wants me to, I suppose that we could introduce a suitable Bill——
§ Mr. Sandys
When the right hon. Gentleman talks about building materials, obviously the one with which we are most concerned is timber, which is controlled by the Government, although I know that it is not controlled by his Department, and that is why in this Debate we put down Estimates on different Departments, including the Board of Trade, in order that we might discuss this matter as a whole.
§ Mr. Stokes
I apologise. I did not mean timber. I meant cement, bricks and all the rest. The right hon. Gentleman is perfectly right. Timber control is much more in the Government's hands. I was referring particularly to the production and distribution of cement and bricks. What we do is to give the best possible advice we can to the industry as to what the essential requirements will be. The Committee should know this: We make estimates one year in advance. We naturally cannot make them for the current year, and the estimates for 1948–49 worked out very correctly indeed.
It is perfectly true that on the brick side, at the end of 1949 there was a bit of a run-down of stocks owing to sudden demands. It was not very much, only some 100 million bricks or so. But, by and large, the estimates have worked out very well. It is impossible to say in broad terms, on the four months or so of this year, what precisely is happening in 1950. I should not like to say. The right hon. Gentleman laughingly suggested I might say that the mild winter and spring had something to do with 1688 it. It certainly had. At the time when normally our cement and stock reserves should have been building up, nothing of the kind was happening. I know that in industry it is customary to shut down on concrete from the middle of January to the middle of March, but in this case the demand went right through the year. I was not in office at the time, which, if I remember correctly, was during the General Election.
Secondly, there were the defence needs, details of which I cannot go into, which drew very considerably on the material supplies. Some people ask why we do not stop exports. It sounds easy enough to do it, but when one looks at the problem involved, one begins to get into a mess. Exports cannot be stopped at short notice, and any such step would only become effective in six or eight weeks' time. What we have done is to purchase an amount of cement from overseas, which is beginning to arrive now, preventing the necessity, we hope, of interfering with our exports, mainly to dollar markets and to sterling countries which would otherwise have to buy from dollar markets. Therefore, we hope to have the best of both worlds.
On the figures, there should not be a shortage at all. I know that there is no need to tell people who are short that they are not short. All I can do is to see what I can do with the trade. I have done all I can in having talks with people in the trade, assuring them of the seriousness of the situation and telling them that the steps I have taken are right and sufficient.
§ Major Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
The Minister has mentioned that a certain amount of cement has been used by the Service Departments. I am not asking him to tell us the nature of the work, but can he say whether the estimates of the Service Departments for the amount of cement required for building purposes were known to his Department at the beginning of the year, or whether it was a sudden demand which resulted in the shortage in East Anglia and elsewhere?
§ Mr. Stokes
I am afraid I do not know that one. I will find out and let the hon. and gallant Member know. I certainly became aware of it only recently.
1689 The timber question is not my responsibility, but that of the President of the Board of Trade. It is true that stocks today are not as high as we meant them to be. There were certain difficulties in dollar purchases last autumn, which everyone will know about, and after that there were blizzards on the Pacific Coast of North America which delayed shipments. The stocks are lower than the minimum amount aimed at of 250,000 standards. My right hon. Friend has asked me to say that there is a small reserve of timber in the hands of the Timber Control from which issues can be made to prevent work on building sites being stopped. There are some 38,000 standards in reserve, from which only 1,000 standards have been drawn.
§ Mr. Stokes
That can only be a matter of opinion. The difficulty with soft currency imports is that these countries are trying to charge us too much. If we did what Members opposite would like us to do, to set the whole thing free, I do not think our imports would increase. I would point out that prices are already up some three times. At any rate, there should be no real cause for anxiety. My right hon. Friend assures me that if the licensing authorities behave with discretion, and if the merchants do not demand more than they ought to have, and if it is not spread about that there is an unusual shortage which always set up a panic and makes things worse, there is no reason why we should not get through our immediate programme in the next few months. Our stocks will build up, and are planned to build up, to a much higher level by this time next year.
§ Mr. Sandys
Is that all the right hon. Gentleman is going to say about timber? I did ask him a specific question. The right hon. Gentleman said that there should be no anxiety, but there is anxiety, very great anxiety. Will he tell us what is the present state of our stocks? Will he tell us precisely the number of standards, and whether he is satisfied that there is not going to be a grave shortage of timber during the next few months?
§ Mr. Stokes
I am perfectly satisfied. The question has been before me and my Building Materials Advisory Council long 1690 before the right hon. Gentleman referred to it in the House. From the investigation I have made, and from the assurance the President of the Board of Trade has given me today, I am quite satisfied that if people will behave quite reasonably, there will be no shortage of timber on any building site in the next two or three months, but if people behave unreasonably and make a lot of noise about shortages which do not exist, it will create shortages.
§ Mr. Sandys
The right hon. Gentleman says that if people behave reasonably there will be no shortages. Is he aware, to give one example, that on the L.C.C. Estate at Romford, the building contractor was not able to get timber from the ordinary sources of supply but had to go to the small emergency reserves to get it.
§ Mr. Stokes
I know that difficulty. The merchants do not like short-circuiting because they do not make anything out of it.
§ Mr. Stokes
I do not know the total figures, and doubt whether my right hon. Friend would give them, because I do not think it is customary to give these sort of figures.
§ Mr. Molson (The High Peak)
When the Minister of Health says, "Hear, hear," does that mean he agrees it is not customary to give the figures?
§ Mr. Molson
The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the stocks are published in the B appendix of every housing report.
§ Mr. Stokes
If the figures are there, then the hon. Member can look them up. I have not got them with me at the moment. I am sorry if Members opposite do not think I have adequately dealt with the situation, but, as my right hon. Friend has just said, negotiations are going on and it would be the height of stupidity to 1691 put too many cards on the table. Surely the assurance that this immediate iron reserve is available should be good enough. There are 38,000 standards available, and they have been available for the last two or three weeks, but only 1,000 standards have been drawn. If people who are short will only make it known, instead of grumbling and grousing, their requirements will be met.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Wolverhampton, South-West)
Will the right hon. Gentleman ask the President of the Board of Trade to look into the machinery whereby timber merchants obtain access to that reserve, because, while I understand the importance of not making releases too rapidly, there is a general feeling that the present machinery is too difficult?
§ Mr. Stokes
I shall certainly call the attention of my right hon. Friend to the hon. Member's remarks.
That more or less concludes what I wanted to say, and I end up where I started, by saying—[Laughter.] It is not a bad thing to do at all, especially if one starts on the right foot I started by saying that I realised the need for the utmost efficiency and economy, and that is what I am going to go for. I welcome every form of criticism that will help me to that end. I want output up and costs down with advantage to all. I am confident that this very variegated and widespread trade, with all the professions which are mixed up in it, will co-operate together both to get output up and costs down and to get that extra effort which is required from every one of us—and I mean every one of us not only in the building trade but elsewhere as well—to secure greater production. It is only by greater production that we can maintain our existing standard of living and have any reasonable chance of putting it up higher in the future.
§ Mr. Marples (Wallasey)
On a point of order. As timber is the most important commodity of the building materials which we need today, could we have a representative of the Board of Trade present——
§ Mr. Marples
The fact is the name of the President of the Board of Trade is associated with this matter, but I cannot see a representative of the Board of Trade present.
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ Major H. Johnson (Brighton, Kemptown)
In speaking here for the first time I crave the customary indulgence of the Committee, which I shall most certainly need. I welcome the report of the Working Party, and I do not belittle it in any way when I say that there is nothing very new in it which was not well known to those of us like myself who are even remotely connected with the building trade. The criticism and proposals contained in that Report have been made by many of us for some years past. If by seeing the printed word, it will imprint on the minds of all of us the urgent need for carrying out the reforms and the proposals in that Report, then it will be a good thing. The simplification of the cumbersome licensing system, the simplification of controls and the amendments to bylaws which are envisaged in that Report will accelerate the building of homes which all of us in this Committee want to see.
The Minister of Health has described the National Health Service as being sacrosanct. I do not think that that is a particularly happy word. I know full well what he has in mind, namely, that the National Health Service now forms an integral part of the social services of this country. I am not at all sure, however, that a good housing policy is not a condition precedent to the National Health Service Scheme. We may be in danger of putting the cart before the horse. Is there much point in spending many millions of pounds on a National Health Service when, in spite of the skill of surgeons, physicians and nurses, the patients have to return from hospitals and convalescent homes to houses which are almost hovels, hardly fit for cattle to live in let alone any ordinary human beings?
Some Members who come from constituencies in the industrial North and the Midlands may think that we in Brighton have not got a serious housing problem. They are wrong. In Brighton we have a waiting list of over 5,000 persons, and 1693 unless anyone might think that the waiting list is due to an influx of persons wishing to live in probably what is the most desirable town in Great Britain in which to live, I should add quickly that no one can go on the waiting list unless he or she are Brightonians in the full sense of that word.
Both as a Member of this House and as, until recently, a member of the Brighton Corporation, I have interviewed scores of persons who are on the waiting list. I am not going to weary the House with details of some of their problems, but I think it is only right to say that we have in Brighton families of five living in a room 10 ft. by 10. We have families living in accommodation where there is no light, no gas, no electricity, no water and no sanitation. These persons have to go to the nearest public lavatory, and that in Great Britain in 1950. It is not in any way the fault of the Brighton Corporation or the Brighton housing committee. I am sure that the Minister of Health will agree that the Brighton Corporation and our housing committee are amongst the most go-ahead in this country. I am sure that he will also agree that in Brighton we have always used up our housing quota in very quick time and we have found it is quite inadequate for the needs of the people.
The only control we need to continue to impose is one on the size of the dwelling-house which can be built, and possibly for a short time, until the freer air of competition is got going again amongst builders, a control on the price which may be obtained on the sale of any house. It will be said that today that would not obtain the building of houses to let. That is not true. I can give to the Minister of Health the names and addresses of a number of companies who are willing and anxious to build houses to let on their own land with their own resources at no charge whatsoever to public funds. If we were to give them that opportunity they would be able to let their houses at a lower rent than the councils have to charge. How much better to allow land to be used to show a small return rather than allow it to lie idle, sterile and useless to the community.
I do not believe that the conscience of the people of this country is yet fully awake to the awfulness of this housing 1694 problem. As a new Member in a maiden speech, may I say that I bitterly and deeply regret the fact that the housing problem has in any way become a political issue. I believe that all right-minded men and women only want one thing—to see houses erected whether by private enterprise, by the municipality, by housing societies or by any other means whereby houses can be built in the quickest possible time. It should not be a political issue.
I envy the Minister of Health his job. He has it in his power and ability to do the greatest good for a large number of persons, for he can relieve the sufferings of a great mass of humanity. I ask him and the Government to deal with this problem not with partisanship, but to permit all the means of building to take part in the task. The Minister of Health is fond of quotations and even at times he likes a Biblical quotation. I do not pick any quarrel with him about that, but I wonder if I could with all humility use a quotation which I think would fit the bill. It is more recent; it is four lines from a poem by John Masefield. Here it is.And he, who gives a child a treatMakes joybells ring in Heaven's street,And he who gives a child a homeBuilds palaces in kingdom come.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Baird (Wolverhampton, North-East)
It falls to my lot to congratulate the hon. and gallant Member who has just concluded his speech. He made a very able speech, and his manner was very easy. The fact that he made a speech with very few notes is an outstanding example to his own Front Bench. I should also like to congratulate him upon the constituency which he represents. Sometimes when I am going down to Wolverhampton, in the Black Country, I wish that I had a constituency by the sea, especially the hon. Gentleman's constituency where many of my constituents and myself have spent happy days. I, therefore, congratulate him and thank him.
There has been much talk in recent housing debates that if only private enterprise were allowed its head—the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) made a general statement of this character today—we should get many more houses and more cheaply than we get them under the present régime. For the life 1695 of me I have not been able to detect a single argument to back up that statement. I have been studying the housing position in my division. I cannot go further than that. I am not an expert on housing but I can see what is going on around me. Only last week end I visited a private enterprise housing estate. I was called there because the tenants had all signed a petition asking me to see the condition of the road there. The estate was built in 1938. The builder had immediately gone bankrupt and the road was still unadopted. We are going to do something about it.
What struck me most was not the condition of the road but that the houses built in 1938 were already like slums. They had very few conveniences such as we expect in houses today, and which I believe are one of the major reasons for the high cost of housing. The houses I saw had no out houses such as we get in modern, post-war houses, where the husband can go and potter about and the wife can keep her pram. There were no outside lavatories or outside fittings. I believe that one of the major reasons why the private builder wants control is that he wants to lower the standard of housing.
One point was brought home forcibly to my notice when I was discussing this question of housing with some building trade leaders. I would like to illustrate it by reading a passage from one of the latest reports upon incentive schemes. It says:Considerable experience of operating incentive schemes has now been gained and, with the co-operation of both parts of the industry in all parts of the country, incentive schemes can be more generally applied and can play an important part in securing a reduction of man-hours and some reduction of costs.I find in my area that only about 25 per cent. of the builders are working incentive schemes and that the workers generally welcome such schemes. Many builders, however, are working bonus schemes, which are an entirely different matter. There is a shortage of building labour, and some builders try to attract labourers from other builders by paying a bonus. We should distinguish between these schemes. Bonus schemes put up the price of houses and incentive schemes bring the prices down. There is a lack of 1696 co-operation on the part of a large number of building employers in this matter of incentive schemes.
The main reason why I wished to take part in the Debate was because of one particular experience that we are having in my area. The argument, to which I have already referred, is that if only private enterprise were given its head we should get houses built faster and more cheaply. I have come to the conclusion that in my area the inefficiency of private builders is chiefly to blame for the high cost and slowness of building at the present time. In 1946, Wolverhampton, part of which I represent, set up, under a Labour Council, a direct labour building department. That department has been able to build houses faster and more cheaply than private enterprise. The Department was set up in 1946. In April, 1947, it got its first contract for 50 houses. It built them at a cost of £1,245. Early in 1949 it got its second contract for 58 houses. It built them at a cost of £1,170, as against the average suggested in the Girdwood Report of £1,250. It built houses at £1,170 despite increases of wages and in the prices of materials and it paid a bonus of more than £4,000 to its workers, while also employing an incentive scheme.
This department employs 400 men, of whom some 140 are employed in the construction of new houses. They are now building houses at the rate of 100 a year. The latest example of the efficiency of this department occurred in October 1949. By that time we had a Conservative-Independent majority combined, on the Wolverhampton Council, and they very reluctantly agreed to carry on the direct labour building department. because of its efficiency only, and after a struggle. In October, 1949, tenders were put out for 100 houses to be built. The lowest tender was from a private enterprise firm and the second lowest was from the direct labour department of the council. It does not always happen that the lowest tender works out cheapest in the end. As a result of a debate in the council chamber the council agreed to build 200 houses and to give 100 of them to the direct labour department and 100 to the private enterprise firm.
That happened in October, 1949. What is the position today? The direct labour 1697 building department and the private firm are building the houses on the same site and of the same type. The direct labour department has 30 houses ready for occupation and another 18 are roofed in. The remaining 50 or so are in various stages of completion. The private enterprise contractor is at present commencing to lay the foundations. This is an example of a Conservative council with a small majority benefiting from the prevision of a labour council in setting up this department. Hon. Gentlemen opposite have said time after time what would happen if private enterprise were given its head. I am now giving the Committee proof, in this one instance at least of municipal enterprise building houses much more cheaply and faster than any private enterprise firm could do in that district.
§ Mr. Beverley Baxter (Southgate)
Can the hon. Member tell us why there was that delay on the part of private enterprise? He is giving us a very interesting case.
§ Mr. Baird
It is for hon. Gentlemen opposite to tell us what those delays are. All I can say is that 200 houses are being built on adjoining sites. The conditions and the tenders were completely the same and each side was able to draw on the labour force and the materials available. The conditions were equal and yet municipal enterprise is able to build houses faster and more cheaply than private enterprise. I cannot give the reason why the private enterprise firm——
§ Mr. Baxter
Surely the hon. Gentleman, who has been on the city council, cannot have noticed something like that without having his curiosity aroused. He says he has not the faintest idea about it, but he must at least have a theory even if he has no facts.
§ Mr. Baird
I am not here to give theories; I am here to give facts—and I am trying to give the Committee facts. I could put forward various theories about builders trying to bite off more than they can chew. That is one of the reasons why these people are not faster. I also want to say that as a result of the constitution of the direct labour building department the competitive price of tenders in this area is becoming lower and lower. Furthermore, these houses at £1,170 are the cheapest to be built in this area since 1698 the war. They are a standard threebedroomed type and have better conveniences than many of those in surrounding areas. They were built on what was derelict land——
§ Mr. Harmer Nicholls (Peterborough)
The hon. Member may like some assistance. I have been interested in his area for many years. Is he satisfied——
§ Mr. Baird
I do not need any assistance. As these houses were built on what had been derelict land they were erected on a concrete base, therefore costing more. The employees of the direct labour building department get three weeks holiday, thirteen weeks' sick pay—not given by a lot of private enterprise firms—and are running a superannuation scheme. The joint consultation——
§ Mr. Baird
What I have said does not prove the case for the country as a whole. I am not trying to claim that, but we have had statement after statement in the past in this House to the effect that private enterprise could do the job in post-war conditions—and it is more than likely that we shall have more of that tonight—but at least I have come along with some practical figures of what is being done by municipal enterprise in a small area and I believe that it could be done in many more areas. Hon. Members opposite should bring forward some factual evidence such as I have brought before the Committee.
§ Mr. H. Nicholls
Is the hon. Gentleman putting it on record that in the Wolverhampton area houses cheaper than £1,170 have been built since years before the war?
§ Mr. W. Robson-Brown (Esher)
Is the hon. Member also suggesting that the contracts for tender were placed at precisely the same time with both the private builder and with the corporation's department?
§ The Temporary Chairman (Mr. Diamond)
The hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Robson-Brown) is no doubt well aware that he must resume his seat so that the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Baird) can reply.
§ 5.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Marples (Wallasey)
Unless the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Baird) has slightly more precision when carrying out his dental duties I should hesitate before placing myself in his charge. His charges were wildly inaccurate and he could not have read the Reports which we are discussing. Paragraph 11 on page 65 of the Anglo-American Productivity Team Report referred to by the Minister of Health when he opened—I mean the Minister of Works; I apologise for insulting the right hon. Gentleman—says:In regard to housing by private enterprise, both for sale and for letting, the results achieved in United States since 1945 confirm pre-war experience in Britain that the highly competitive nature of the market for such houses results in high productivity and continually lower costs.That is part of the Report of a Committee which included an operative group.
Turning to the remarks of the Minister of Works, I should first like to congratulate him on a speech which was delightful and will no doubt increase his popularity which is already very high. He occupies a very affectionate place on this side of the Committee because he is so frank. But I do not think that he did his case any good today. I will tell him why. The building industry of this country has three major points which must be watched if it is to become efficient, and in regard to those three it has not been able to be efficient because of the framework of controls with which the Government have surrounded the industry. I will take the three 1700 points one after the other. One is preplanning on a site. The right hon. Gentleman rather sneered at pre-planning on a site——
§ Mr. Marples
The right hon. Gentleman said that he was appalled at the lack of planning that had gone on in this country on sites.
§ Mr. Stokes
May I clear this up? What I said was that when I read these Reports and got into the industry—I was new to it—I was appalled at the lack of preplanning everywhere, not on sites but generally.
§ Mr. Marples
I want also to deal with the remark of the Minister of Health that the Report was an indictment of private enterprise and the opening remarks of the Minister of Works. The three important factors in the building industry are, first, that the contractor must pre-plan by using a time and progress schedule if he is to be efficient; second, he must when carrying out that plan have an ample flow of materials—the lack of flow of materials was placed at the door of private enterprise by the right hon. Gentleman; third, the industry as a whole must have a continual smooth flow of orders to keep it busy. Those are the three main factors in the building industry, and I will deal with them in that order.
First, pre-planning on a site has been quite impossible because of the controls which the Government have imposed. These controls may be socially desirable and they may be very good in themselves from a technical point of view, but they have prevented pre-planning, and the Working Party Report says so.
§ Mr. Marples
I will read it. Paragraph 4 on page 50 says:Existing arrangements for issue of licences and permits cause delays and uncertainties which are inimical to efficiency and make preplanning of jobs impossible.1701 The Report says that unless we pre-plan we shall never get efficiency. The Anglo-American Productivity Team Report says that unless we pre-plan we shall never get efficiency. Yet we cannot preplan because Government controls which may be desirable socially prevent us technically from doing that on a site. The Report says that and I take it that the right hon. Gentleman has accepted that conclusion.
§ Mr. Stokes indicated assent.
§ Mr. Marples
The second point concerns the execution of the plan. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Reading, South (Mr. Mikardo) can restrain his natural exuberance when seated I shall be most grateful. The reason why the plan cannot be executed is mainly because there has been a shortage of materials. The Minister of Works blamed private enterprise for not being able to provide materials. Was he not in this House in 1945 when one of his predecessors, the present Minister of Education, introduced the Building Materials and Housing Bill in which he asked for a global figure of £100 million? He introduced the Bill with these words:Let there be no misunderstanding; it is the intention of His Majesty's Government to go into business both in the manufacture and in the distribution of building materials and components in a big way."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th November, 1945; Vol. 416, c. 904.]Now £100 million plus the organising genius of the predecessor of the right hon. Gentleman produces, in the words of the Working Party, a shortage of materials which is, in fact, the main cause for the loss of productivity. So, firstly, it is impossible to pre-plan because of controls; secondly, it is impossible to carry out that plan because of shortage of materials, even though the Government have had £100 million given to them without a Division in this House—it was agreed unanimously.
My third point concerns the smooth flow of orders to the industry. It is quite hopeless unless the industry knows what orders it will receive several years ahead, because the building material producers have to manufacture the building materials and also the contractor has to arrange his plant commitments accordingly. On page 13 of the Working Party Report. we find a devastating paragraph which says in effect that the erratic 1702 fluctuations of the orders which have been given to the industry, including that bright stroke of political genius, the "finish the houses "has produced a situation which has made it—I read the last sentence now:impossible for the building contractor to organise his business so as to provide for an even and regular flow of work.On those three items—the pre-planning on a site, the execution of that plan on the site, and the regular flow of orders to the industry—the Government have been responsible for private enterprise building not being able to function efficiently. I remember my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) searching for illustrations to demonstrate a point he had made in his own convincing way, so I searched for one and I thought one could liken the Minister of Works and the Minister of Health to two generals, and the building industry to what is known as the P.B.I. of industry. Only Driver Marsden could interpret that with complete satisfaction.
What is really the most distressing part of this plan is that not only have the generals given us order, counter-order and disorder, not only have they injured the industry but, through the Minister of Health, they have insulted it as well. There was a time when the Minister suggested that he or someone else should indulge in a little rifle practice and place one or two contractors against a wall. All I can say is that when during the war he had a bright idea of a "second front now" campaign then if he had been left to execute that campaign, the troops would have landed at Normandy one day, been recalled at 12 o'clock the next day and told to land in Italy two or three days later. I maintain that the Working Party Report being a unanimous report and signed by the building trade representatives, is a blistering condemnation of Government planning.
Now I want to make one or two constructive suggestions, and if I miss out any stages in the logic I ask to be forgiven because I am pressed for time and I will give the points to the right hon. Gentleman afterwards.
§ Mr. Marples
There may be plenty of time for the hon. Gentleman, but there is not for me. My first point is that the Government must decide what is to be the 1703 size of the industry over a period of not less than 10 years. That is necessary in order to carry into operation apprenticeship schemes. Secondly, they roust give it a flow of orders which are adequate and smooth and it is no use cutting those orders, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer did, once they have been given. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer cuts the orders all that will happen is that the existing labour force will be spread out over a smaller number of jobs unless he makes special provision for moving the men from that job to another, and if is difficult to get a building trade operative to go into another trade. You cannot get a bricklayer from Tottenham to be a miner in the Rhondda Valley. Merely by reducing the number of orders you do not necessarily reduce the size of the force in the industry unless you make arrangements accordingly.
Now there may or may not be some sort of slump coming to this country but, as a matter of wisdom, the Minister and his Department ought to have ready a reserve of work which they can give to the industry in case of necessity and in order to maintain an even flow of work. It is no use having that reserve of work merely in a blue-print stage. It is no use having vague schemes for building roads or reservoirs. The plans have to be brought to a practical stage so that, by pressing a button, they can be translated into building work.
§ Mr. Stokes
That is a point I left out. I ought to have said that the reserve of work problem is already in hand.
§ Mr. Marples
I am glad that two great minds think alike. The right hon. Gentleman will agree with me that so far the building industry has been at the dirty end of the planning stick. It has been a convenient cushion for those boys in Whitehall so graphically described by the Financial Secretary as "The gentlemen who know best."
Having made that suggestion, which has already been adopted, may I make one which I do not think has been adopted? It concerns architects. In our Debates we generally blame inefficiency on the contractor, who is supposed to belong to these benches and is wicked, or on the operative who belongs to those benches and is virtuous but somewhat idle—in 1704 political controversy anyhow. Is it not time we turned our attention to the professions? I believe the architects are more to blame than hon. Gentlemen in this Committee think, and I will tell the Committee what I think the architects ought to do. As part of their training they ought to be forced to spend some time on a building site and see the difficulties for themselves. In civil engineering, before a man can become an associate member of the Institute of Civil Engineers, he has to spend a considerable time in charge of a major job. I have always found that civil engineers are more receptive to ideas than architects for this very reason.
I shall give two reasons why I think the architectural profession must insist on an architect doing a practical period on a site. The first concerns pre-planning. It was bad before the war to plan on a site and to find that the building owner would come along and change his mind, but it was even worse to get plans which were inefficiently drawn, not in sufficient detail, and sent by the architect to the site much too late. Every time the contractor carried the blame for the inefficiency of the architect. The architects today will complain that they are short of skilled assistants. So they are, and the reason is that most of the younger architects are in Government Departments checking on the works of their seniors when submitted to them.
The second major reason why I think the architects' profession should see that their pupils go on to a site is the question of research. The public generally, and the Press in particular, are misguided on this question. They state that the building industry—that is, the contractors and the operatives—are not interested in research or mechanical methods. That is not true and it mistates the position for the following reason. The builder builds to a specification and, whether he likes it or not, on any large building he must adhere to the ideas of the architect. He is merely the servant of the architect as far as the technical side is concerned and, therefore, any research should come from the architect on to the building site and not the other way about. No builder will criticise an architect who is in charge of him or make suggestions as to what the architect should do, because the architect will resent it and would not give that builder an invitation to tender a second 1705 time. Any hon. Member with practical knowledge of the industry will know that is a practical point.
Again, the general public think that an operative is not receptive to new ideas. That is not so. I find when I introduce an appliance on a site that the first reaction of the operatives is to greet it with a certain amount of humour and a great deal of noisy language. The second reaction is curiosity, and they go into it fully. The third is appreciation, and the final attitude of the operative, once he has got used to it, is, "If that is taken away from me, I will go on strike." I find that the operative is receptive to new ideas. One thing which is essential to make the industry efficient is to make sure that the architects do the other fellow's job; they will then appreciate the practical difficulties and plan accordingly.
My next suggestion concerns substitute materials. I am not at all happy about the materials which are being substituted for timber. They are adding enormously to the cost of the house, and some sort of inquiry ought to be made into them. I should like to give an illustration to make my point clear. The Ministry of Health sent out a technical circular—100/49—instructing local authorities to use less timber and to use substitute materials. I have had one of the items which are mentioned in this circular costed—the substitution for timber of pitched steel roof construction. The Ministry of Health recommend that a pitched steel roof construction should be used to save.39 standards of timber. That amount of timber costs about 50 Canadian dollars, or the equivalent of approximately £17. The pitched steel construction sytem in substitution for it, however, costs, to build, I maintain, between £35 and £37.
In other words, £20 is lost because a material which is economically expensive is used instead of timber. All this is adding to the cost of housing. I am wondering whether all of it is really necessary, and whether it would be possible for a Government Department not to issue these circulars solely because it is technically possible to substitute another material for timber. Would it not be possible for some co-ordinating committee to go into the question of the economics of the matter? I believe that if we spent £10 million worth of dollars on extra 1706 timber, we could bring down the cost of each house by between £50 or £60. I give that rough estimate to the Committee to show some idea of what I think the saving would be.
The difficulty is that the Treasury work in a watertight compartment. They say that we must save dollars and must, therefore, cut our timber by 25 per cent. But if we were to spend £10 million worth of dollars on timber that would more than save an extra £10 million on the cost of building. Therefore the decision which is being made in the Government Departments means in effect that dollars are being saved at a rate of exchange in which one dollar equals £1.
I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should set up a small sub-committee to do two things: first, to investigate measures designed to simplify the operation of controls and existing licensing procedure from a technical aspect, in order to make such recommendations as may be necessary to enable contractors to plan. This is an important suggestion, because I think that the controls which are imposed have been imposed mostly for social or scarcity reasons. I think that they now ought to be re-examined in the light of technical requirements. My second suggestion is that the same subcommittee should make some sort of investigation to secure a closer integration of the technical and economic aspects of substitute materials.
I summarise by saying that the industry ought to have a steady flow of orders to sustain it, that it ought to have greater attention from the Government, from architects and from building owners in order to enable contractors to pre-plan, and that it ought to have a steady flow of materials. If the right hon. Gentleman, whose predecessor had £100 million at his disposal, blames private industry, he should look at the Building Material and Housing Act, 1945, and then study the 1947–48 account which is submitted by his own Department, in which he would find that the Auditor-General says:The Act provides that the Fund shall meet, to such extent as the Treasury may direct, expenses of the Minister of Works in making arrangements for the purchase, production and distribution of building materials and equipment…1707 The right hon. Gentleman cannot ride off by saying that someone eke has not done these things. He has the power. He had it in 1945, and it was supposed to be exercised in a big way then.
I think that the industry has the right spirit but that the confidence is lacking. It takes hundreds of acts to build up confidence within an industry or anywhere else, but it takes only two or three to break it. The recent fluctuations regarding the number of houses to be built have produced a cynical attitude in both the contractor and the operative. If I speak to an operative on a site, he does not believe any politician, neither hon. Gentlemen opposite nor hon. Members on this side. He is very sceptical about the whole business, and unless he can see that there is to be an even flow of orders and no disruption in the industry, I do not think we shall have an efficient industry.
My last word is this. I think that the right hon. Gentleman has a great opportunity. He entertains us when he speaks in the House, and always has done, in a most delightful way. His business ability will be of untold value in the Ministry of Works. He has two things to do: first, to control the exuberance of his right hon. Friend the Minister of Health. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Mr. Molson) tells me that that is no easy task. Well, the Minister of Health is rather mercurial and politically minded, but nevertheless, he has to be controlled if the industry is to build anything for the country. Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman must not allow the industry to be used as a pawn by politicians for their own purposes for getting power. [Interruption.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite know more about politicians getting power that way than do anyone else. Finally, the Minister must make a plan and he must stick to it, be it good or be it indifferent, and until he does that, there will never foe an efficient building industry.
§ 5.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Gibson (Clapham)
As I listened to the speeches of the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) and the hon. Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) I wondered whether I was living in some fairyland, because it seemed to me that they were completely ignoring the facts and history of the situation. If the in- 1708 dustry has been so badly handled during the past five years, if there have been so many stops and starts, why has there been no unemployment in the industry? I remember—and I have no doubt that the hon. Member for Wallasey remembers when, I understand, he was working at the bench—when the Tory Governments stopped housing dead, when they kept stopping and starting over the long period of years.
§ Mr. Marples
Will the hon. Gentleman give a precise date when the National Government or the Coalition Government stopped house building between the wars?
§ Mr. Gibson
If hon. Gentlemen opposite would remember how long I have been at this game, they would not try that kind of trick. I was not talking about the Coalition Government. I was talking of all the Tory Governments between the wars. [HON. MEMBERS: "Which one?"] All of them, and in particular the Chamberlain Government, which stopped housing dead and put thousands of building workers out of work. Indeed, during the whole of the inter-war years it was unusual to find less than 12 per cent. of the workers in the building trade out of work.
§ Mr. Molson rose——
§ Mr. Gibson
I am sorry, but I must keep to a time limit. That state of affairs has not arisen since 1945, yet judging by the impression which hon. Gentlemen opposite are attempting to create, the Government have applied their stops and starts, their controls, licences and so on, and have got the industry into such a mess, that it is completely failing. Of course, that is all nonsense to those who know the industry, as the hon. Member for Wallasey knows it, in spite of his rather foolish sneers about politicians. He is as good a one as I am.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite know that this country has as good a record in house building as any in the world. [An HON. 1709 MEMBER: "Better."] The only people, it seems to me, who do not know that are the Tory party. Everybody else does know—[An HON. MEMBER: "Nonsense."]—even the American delegation who came over here to find out what we are doing in connection with house building. Delegations have come from all over the world. I know, because during the past seven years I have had to meet them and take them around. I will quote from an American newspaper published not many weeks ago, during April. The "New York Herald-Tribune" said, after checking up what the figures were from various international sources:The British have, perhaps, the most sucessful housing record of the lot.One would not judge that that were so from the way in which the right hon. Gentleman opposite opened the Debate.The British have, perhaps, the most successful housing record of the lot. Up to September 30th, 1949, the British programme of subsidies had produced 556,000 permanent post-war dwellings and 171,000 temporary ones. Another 2:62,000 had been repaired, or converted into dwellings from something else. Between September and the end of February this year another 250,000 permanent homes were added, bringing the post-war total well beyond the estimated 851,000 houses destroyed or badly damaged during the war.In other words, as a result of the activities of the building industry—all sides—and of the local housing authorities and the Ministry of Health, we have built houses and fiats in this country which have more than caught up with the damage done during the war.
Why do hon. Members opposite denigrate that so much? Why do they spurn it and turn up their noses at the idea that we should let the world know what is being done? It is because they want it all turned back into the hands of private enterprise, and when they are told that private enterprise have actually built the houses they get into a flat spin. What they really want is that private enterprise should scoop all the profit, as they scooped it before the war for the miserable number of houses they built.
What is true of the nation as a whole is true of London. In the County of London more houses have been built or provided by conversion than were destroyed during the war, and we have a larger proportion of habitable accommodation in London per person than we had before 1710 the war because the population is now 3,300,000 as compared with something over 4 million before the war. The problem is still too big and ought to be less, but a very great effort has been made, and if we want to encourage the building industry we should let them know that we realise what a great effort has been made.
I would be the last to say that anyone can be complacent or satisfied, because there is an enormous amount of work to be done. There are enormous waiting lists, but look at the way in which those waiting lists are dealt with nowadays. In London the waiting lists are left open to anyone who works or lives in London. Between the wars, prior to 1934, whenever the waiting list became too heavy, the Tories closed it and they did that two or three times. So it does not become members of the Tory Party to talk too much about the length of the waiting lists.
On those waiting lists there are a large number, a tragically large number, who urgently need homes, for whom we must go to work, but there are many on the lists who want something better than they have now, although what they have now would not bring them into the definition of being badly housed in any way. I do not blame them and it is good that we should know what they want. That is one of the by-products of our successful policy of full employment and I have no doubt that it will go on.
I am sure we shall not relax in the housing drive, but to suggest that all we have to do is to leave the industry free to operate without control of any kind—they are practically without control now—to let them rip, seems to be flying in the face of all history. As a building trade worker between the wars, I know what happened. We had a lot of unemployment although there was a lot of building going on. It was the wrong kind of building. It was not building of houses for people to live in who could only afford to pay rent. It was of houses built for sale and many a man found himself with a millstone round his neck as a result. The people who most needed houses, those who could only afford to pay rent, were not provided for by free enterprise between the wars. Only the building done by local housing authorities, in slum clearance and re-development programmes, provided that type of house.
1711 It is as true today as it was in those years, that there is no profit, or very little profit, to fee made from the building of houses to rent for the ordinary working people, and, therefore, it is not done. It is just humbug to suggest that it might get done if only we released it from the control of this apparent ogre in the Ministry of Health. It is just nonsense to suggest that We shall not get these houses unless we keep some kind of planned control and, in particular, planned control of the capital to be spent on this activity. I am glad that we are going to have a steady flow during the next three years. I wish it was more. Everyone does, but no one has yet told us in this Debate how we can get more than 200,000 a year out of the present labour force and the material situation and capital situation of this country.
I wish to ask one or two questions. Are we getting all the output of houses we could get for the capital we are expending? Secondly, is the labour which is available being as effectively organised as it could be and is it giving us the maximum possible output? I would like to put a question to the Minister of Works in regard to numbers. I am surprised that some hon. Members opposite have not picked this up. He told me, in reply to a Question, that the number of building operatives employed on house building was increasing and suggested that I was mixing up percentages with numbers.
I checked up what he said with the document issued by the Ministry of Health and I found that there is a difference of 34,000 between the number which the Minister of Works says were employed on new building in March and the number which the Ministry of Health say were employed, although—I give it to him—they said it is provisional and liable to alteration. But the same kind of situation existed in regard to February and January. There is a big difference in the numbers said by the Ministry of Works to be employed and said by the Ministry of Health in their quarterly return of new building to be employed.
§ Mr. Gibson
New housing—I used the wrong word. If this programme of 200,000 houses is to be carried out this 1712 next year, we must get the full quota of building operatives on the sites. There was a policy a year or two ago of having 60 per cent. of the total building force on housing work and 40 per cent. on other work. At present there is 52 per cent. on housing work, including repairs, and 48 per cent. on work other than housing, and I suggest that that 8 per cent. ought to be put back on to housing as soon as possible. Forgive me for speaking rather strongly here, but we cannot build 200,000 houses this year with 200,000 operatives.
§ Mr. Stokes
My hon. Friend has still got it wrong. The actual figure of men employed is increasing. It is perfectly true to say that the percentage is not as high as it used to be, but the actual figure is up.
§ Mr. Gibson
That is not my point. My point is that the vast difference between the figure my right hon. Friend gave me and the figure the Minister of Health gave me in the quarterly return issued by the Ministry this month, is about 30,000.
§ Mr. Gibson
In order to make sure that 200,000 houses will be built, I plead for that balance of men to be returned to new house building, which is the most important building operation in which we can indulge just now. We must go further than that, because from my own experience as chairman of a very large housing authority I do not believe we can expect to build one house in a year unless there are on average one and a quarter men on the site. That means that we ought to have a labour force of 240,000 to 250,000 on this 200,000 housing programme.
§ Mr. Bevan
There is a confusion between the two figures, arising from comparing the number of workmen employed upon new house construction, which would include site preparation and house building, with the number on house building alone. The number on house building and site construction, works out at very nearly 230,000, so my hon. Friend has got almost the figure he wants.
§ Mr. Gibson
I am arguing from my right hon. Friend's own Report, which says what he has just said, that the male operatives of 16 years of age and over 1713 employed on the construction of new permanent houses and the preparation of housing sites in England and Wales is 201,000 for March. The Minister of Works told me it was 235,000, and I am saying that there are 30,000 missing somewhere, which I hope my right hon. Friend will be able to account for. I wish the Minister luck in getting them on to new building, otherwise we shall fail to get the 200,000 houses by the end of the year.
I believe it to be possible to get those 200,000 houses at a lower capital cost, but not if the industry just ignores all the recomendations in the Working Party Report or in the Report of the Productivity Team which went to America. It has been suggested—and the right hon. Member for Streatham referred to it—as a criticism of Government action in this matter. It is nothing of the sort. Nine-tenths of the document is a criticism of private enterprise, its inefficiency and its failure to be up to date. Reference was made to page 65 of the Report of the Productivity Team, but there was failure to refer at the same time to page 64, which contains a lot of recommendations for improving the efficiency of the industry.
If the building industry will adopt the proposals in these Reports for improving its own efficiency, for getting more powered tools on to sites, for the use of hand-powered tools in place of the old-fashioned tools which so many are using these days, and for a close and detailed study of efficiency on the site with proper and complete time and progress schedules, I believe it will find, as the London County Council has found, that it can get a very much greater output of houses without any increase in the total capital costs.
That, it seems to me, is what we must aim at, and I hope the Minister's consultations with the industry will result in this industry—which in the past has been one of the most inefficient and old-fashioned in its ideas in the country—adopting some of these new methods. If we could get half the horse-power per man on to English sites which they have got in America we could rapidly increase output per man considerably.
Although it is clear from the Report that the output of labour is increasing—and "The Times" editorial today makes it quite clear, as does the Girdwood Report—all the increases in costs of 1714 building since 1947 have been due entirely to the increased cost of materials; the labour cost per house has gone down, in spite of the fact that there have been wage increases and that the houses are larger than were being built before 1947. I therefore suggest that the Board of Trade must give serious consideration to the question of the cost of materials. At present it is a pretty free ramp, as far as I can see. Some industries have been already referred to the Monopolies Commission, but when I asked a few days ago about the reference of one which I have discovered to be as bad as any, I was told that the Commission were so busy that they could not take on any more.
I am referring to the sand and ballast industry. My own borough issued tenders for a contract for the supply of sand and ballast, and out of 22 firms 17 quoted the identical figure of 13s. 11d. per cubic yard; and for wash-pit sand, 23 firms out of 25 quoted 16s. 4d. per cubic yard. Then we are told that there are no price rings in the sand and ballast industry. However, as a result of the slight publicity which that Question got, I received a letter which I should like to pass on to the Committee and to the Minister. It is a letter from a solicitor acting for a firm of sand and ballast merchants, who writes this to me:Our clients have, over a period of two years, experienced the greatest difficulty in carrying on their business because of these practices. In December, 1947, they applied to the Sand & Ballast Merchants' Alliance, Ltd., for inclusion in their … Approved Merchanting Scheme. They paid the subscription of five guineas but were informed on the 31st January, 1949, after considerable correspondence that the application was refused. No reason was given … As a result"—and this is the point I want to call to the attention of the Committee—As a result of our clients not being members of the scheme they have to pay 1s. a yard more for the sand they purchase and have lost, over a period of 18 months, more than £1,000. They are only in a small way of business and quite clearly the position is extremely unsatisfactory from their point of view. They are forced to sell to builders at a fixed price. If they did not sell at that price they would not be able to get any supplies at all.I say that the sand and ballast industry and a number of others that one could mention are ripe for inquiry by the Monopolies Commission, and that the sooner it is done and the sooner the ring which controls these prices is broken, the sooner 1715 shall we begin to reduce what is obviously the heaviest element in the cost of housing and also the overall cost of housing for our people, while achieving a larger output of houses for the same capital cost.
§ Mr. Gibson
I am very glad that the Minister of Works referred to the need for securing the complete co-operation of the operatives on the site and of their trade unions. I was glad to hear what the hon. Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples), said about their readiness to absorb new ideas and to operate new machines. That is quite true. There are, of course, a few operatives who will object, as there are employers who will object, to any new idea, but on the whole they are willing, if given a chance, to adopt new ideas and work new machines. They will want paying for doing so, but so also will the employer for using them.
I believe that the method of effective joint consultation on all the sites would lead to a better spirit on the sites. By effective I mean not meetings merely to discuss grievances about wages and conditions but to discuss the possibility of improving organisation on the site and for listening to and making suggestions for controlling the discipline on the site. If all these matters were included, as they have been, within my experience, in respect of most of the jobs in the London area in recent years joint consultations would, I repeat, lead to a better spirit on the site and encourage the men to operate the incentive bonus scheme effectively.
Incidentally, I would make the point that the truth about the incentive bonus scheme is not that operatives do not want it but that most of the employers in this country have so far refused to operate it, as reports of their own federation show. If they will all adopt it effectively and operate joint consultation schemes, I believe that they can considerably increase the output of houses for the benefit of the people of this country.
The pilot survey which the Ministry of Works has recently conducted into costs proves, as has been proved within my own experience, that the effective operation of an incentive bonus scheme reduces costs though the workman re- 1716 ceives more money as a result of it. In the London area we have, on the huge L.C.C. sites, been able to increase the men's earnings by between 20 and 22 per cent., and yet reduce by over £60 the labour costs of the houses we have been building. That has been done by adopting the methods to which I have been referring. I plead for a drive by the Ministries concerned for the widest possible extension of that spirit and of the use of new and modern machinery on all our sites. We shall then succeed in getting the programme of 200,000 houses completed by the end of the year and perhaps save some capital expenditure as a result.
I am sorry to have spoken at such length, but this is probably one of the most urgent problems which we now have in this country. I am quite sure that most people recognise that this Government have done a good job so far; they want them to go on and do better. If we can secure the co-operation of the building industry we can do better. I think we shall secure that co-operation from the trade unions. If we can from the strength and determination of these bodies secure the power to concentrate, I believe we shall be able to get a very much faster completion of houses and approach a little nearer the time when every workman has a house of his own.
§ Mr. Bevan
Before we pass on from my hon. Friend's speech, it might be more convenient if I now gave the figure about which he raised the query. My recollection of the building force employed on house building was roughly correct. The 201,000 workers referred to by my hon. Friend were related to the programme for England and Wales, which is less than the programme of 200,000 houses. The figure of 200,000 houses also includes the Scottish programme, and if my hon. Friend takes the comprehensive labour figure and sets it against the comprehensive national programme, he will find that the number engaged on house building and site preparation is in the region of 230,000.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Mr. G. P. Stevens (Portsmouth, Langstone)
Ever since the House assembled in March it has been depressing for me 1717 to listen to maiden speech after maiden speech, each one an improvement on its predecessor—something which the excellence of the first maiden speech had made me feel was impossible. That very high standard of speeches very understandably makes my task all the harder. This I have in common with my predecessors who have "broken their duck "—I shall be a very happy man when this "maiden" is safely delivered.
I am very happy that the subject upon which I am to make my first venture in this Chamber is housing, for it is a subject which is very close to my heart, as it is to the hearts of thousands of people who live in Portsmouth, many of whom I am proud to represent. All of us receive letters in which our constituents put problems to us and we also of course make ourselves available to our constituents for them to bring their problems to us. I do not know whether this is general or whether it is particular to my division, but the problems that are so brought can be divided into approximately two equal categories. Fifty per cent. of the problems are connected with housing and the other 50 per cent. covers the rest of the subjects.
The housing problem in Portsmouth is particularly severe because Portsmouth was one of the six worst blitzed cities in the United Kingdom. I am well aware that, as has been pointed out earlier, the lists of those who are waiting for houses is not an exact measure of the housing problem. Part of an article which I read in yesterday's "News of the World" seemed to indicate that someone else in this Committee shares that view, but it can at least be said that the waiting list for houses forms a very useful approximate yardstick of the problem. In Portsmouth 7,513 families were waiting for houses in March, 1948—families, not persons; a family may be two, three or four or more persons. In March, 1949, there were 9,636 families on the waiting list and in March, 1950, there were 10,445. In other words, the position had worsened by 40 per cent. in two years. The houses under contract or to be contracted for in 1950, not all of which will be completed this year, total 1,000 or less than one-tenth of the present need. That is a deplorable testimony to the inadequacy of the building programme.
Three reasons are normally advanced, two of which have been advanced this 1718 afternoon, as to why it is not possible to improve on the number of houses to be built. One point which has not so far been made this afternoon is that councils have not in all cases built up to the permitted limits. The second point, which has been made several times today, is that the building force is fully employed. The third reason refers to the limit of the capital investment programme. It is perfectly true that all councils have not built up to their permitted limits, but that is only a half truth because it entirely ignores the financial limitations under which the local authority is working, such as the questions of the amortisation of the necessary loans, the interest on those loans and the extension of the necessary services.
There is in the case of the blitzed cities, the special problem of the difficulty of obtaining suitable sites for development. In that respect there are in Portsmouth—I imagine it is not peculiar to Portsmouth—a large number of sites suitable for the development of one or two houses. These are very suitable for development by the private speculative builder but are entirely uneconomic for development by the local authority. I hope that in considering Portsmouth, the Minister of Health will generously interpret his allocation of private licences whether or not there may be differences of opinion as to the purpose which these private licences are to serve.
Secondly, the building labour force. We on this side of the Committee have often said that not everyone in this country is pulling his full weight; and we have been accused of slandering the working classes. What we have said and meant is that the majority of people are doing a fine job. But there is an important percentage—it may be 6 per cent., or 8 per cent. or some other percentage—who are doing no more than they are forced to do, and therefore are depriving us of that marginal productivity which would not only build more houses, but would cheapen houses. Incidentally, applied to industry overall, they are depriving us of that marginal productivity, the achievement of which would banish inflation. I suggest that paragraph 41 of this Working Party Report justifies that statement up to the hilt. Paragraph 41 contains these words, which I take from the context, though I do not alter their meaning: 1719… by the end of 1948, for the building industry as a whole, productive efficiency was about three-quarters of its pre-war level.It is perfectly true that the paragraph goes on:Towards the end of 1949 it appears to have been running several points higher, and on average productive efficiency during 1949 seems to show an improvement on the 1948 figure.and as I see it, well it might.
A suggestion has been made this afternoon that this refers not so much to labour as to organisation and materials. I saw in the "Daily Herald" this morning reference to the Ministry of Health Report which was published this morning, and I quote again from that paper:The number of man hours for a given type of house is still 26 per cent. above pre-war.It seems very clear to me that if the building labour force, broadly speaking, is wholly at work, and not all of them are hard at work, there is considerable scope by the expansion of incentives schemes for an improvement in productivity.
That will not be without effect upon the third point raised against us, which is the capital investment programme. We have been told this afternoon, and on other occasions, that we can have more houses only at the expense of factories, or schools, or perhaps I suppose of Government offices. I believe that in the present deplorable conditions housing has an overwhelming priority. I rate the need of a happy environment, especially with children, above almost anything else.
I think it true to say that it was the realisation of that before the war, by a Government of whose political complexion I suppose I should not hint at—since I am sheltering under the maidenly umbrella—which led them to bring into operation the largest programme of house building and slum clearance that this country has ever known. I did say of house production and not wigwam production. I believe that a Chancellor with practical financial experience could so arrange the capital investment programme as to increase the housing programme not merely without dire consequences to our economy, but with the greatest possible assistance to it.
I would make a special plea for the blitzed cities of which, as I have said, Portsmouth is one of the six worst. 1720 Theirs is a special problem so far as finance is concerned. The provision for an Exchequer equalisation grant under the Local Government Act, 1948, does not always work out fairly for them. The exodus of a large number of the pre-war population of Portsmouth, largely owing to bomb damage, has had the effect that the rateable value per head of the population has gone above the datum line for the country as a whole, and Portsmouth does not qualify for the Exchequer equalisation grant. It is true that some consideration has been given to this entirely unrealistic result, but the help which is being given in on a diminishing scale and comes to an end in 1951. We have been told it is the end, but I hope it is not regarded as the last word. I hope that, though the door may be closed, it is not altogether bolted.
This Working Party report is addressed to the Minister of Works, and like other hon. Members on this side of the Committee, I wish the right hon. Gentleman well. I look forward to great success from him in a realm in which the Minister of Health—if I may say so in an entirely cordial and non-controversial spirit—has been so dismal and tragic a failure.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Moody (Gateshead, East)
It is a great pleasure to me to follow the hon. Member for Langstone (Mr. Stevens) who has made such an excellent maiden speech. I still shudder when I think of the first time I made a speech in the House of Commons. Compared with my effort the hon. Gentleman has come through with great distinction. I am satisfied that he has made himself master of his facts. He spoke with that sincerity which is always liked in this Chamber, and I am sure that all of us will look forward to hearing him again.
I welcome the opportunity given by the Working Party Report to discuss the affairs of the building industry as a whole. I do not regard this as a housing Debate. The building industry is something bigger than that. I was rather pleased when the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) who opened said that his party were now satisfied that houses do not last forever. I used to think that they did when I tried to refer to some of the tumble-down things for which they were responsible. But I was rather disappointed as he travelled 1721 through his mournful brief. As he had that long period in the political wilderness, I rather hoped he would come back today and tell us he had found those steel houses for which we paid so much in the days of the Coalition Government.
To my mind the Report we have had today does not touch on the problems confronting the building industry. For a number of years that industry has suffered because Parliament has never yet got down to the basic problems. In deciding the terms of reference for this inquiry the Minister fell into the same error as his predecessors. He tinkered about with the whole problem and never touched the fundamentals. The curse of this Report is found in the first paragraph:We were informed that questions of wages and conditions which are dealt with by the joint negotiating machinery in the industries would be outside the scope of the inquiry.I wish to say quite definitely that we cannot have a useful inquiry into the industry if we omit to inquire into wages and conditions which prevail in it. That is part of the industry, although the Minister ruled it out in drafting this Report. We get an elaborate layout and excuses for what has happened, and pious hopes expressed for the future. The fundamental matters are still untouched.
About half the people who formed this Committee are members of the National Wages and Conditions Council of the Building Industry. Nobody who understands the building industry could ever pretend, in his wildest dreams, that that council have made a good job of the task they have had in hand for a number of years. If the Working Party had been permitted to inquire into wages and conditions, the extra personnel on the Committee would have brought new light to the deliberations and broken down old prejudices. At least, they would have pointed the path on which the Wages and Conditions Council should work to secure the peace and harmony which is necessary for maximum output in the industry.
When I first entered the trade our wages were higher than those of school teachers and policemen. Today the position is reversed, irrespective of the conditions in the first two professions. If the progress made by negotiation in any 1722 industry is not equal to that made by negotiation in other industries, then that industry is going backwards and not forwards. That is what is happening in the building industry.
After the war there was a ready influx of newcomers into the trades, but today in the craft unions the curve is falling. This is a serious matter with which this Report ought to have dealt. In the Amalgamated Society of Woodworkers to which I belong, the annual report in December, 1949, disclosed a membership of 196,728. That represents a decrease in the year of 1,892. The curve is falling again this year. One of my hon. Friends said, "Some of them die." Of course some of them die. That is why we have apprentices and new entries into the trade to take their place.
If I may transgress, let us consider those who died. In 1949, 1,661 joiners died. It is remarkable that the average age was 64 years and one month. I hope that the representative of the Treasury will listen to this. That means that Mr. Average Joiner never gets his post-war credits. Although the Financial Secretary to the Treasury may say that the present system is just, it would take a lot more than his eloquence to convince the widows of those joiners, and to make them realise that justice has appeared to be done. When they think of what they have lost, it may make them look askance at the dentists.
This Report ought also to have paid more attention to the conditions under which men have to work on building sites. I am not unmindful of the difficulties. I have myself puddled through on Salisbury Plain when we built huts in 1914, and I know what the winter involves. Many years ago I read, "The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists" and I say in all seriousness that many building sites today are very little improved compared with those described in that well-known building trade book. If we are to attract the right kind of people, we might well consider the conditions in which we expect them to live and to work, and the accommodation which is provided for the tools which good craftsmen think so much about.
The Report talks about productive efficiency and bemoans the fact that the output is down by 23 per cent. That is serious. The right hon. Gentleman knows why output is down. During the war when the cost-plus system came into 1723 operation it became a racket which killed initiative and broke the heart of many a decent craftsman. People who had never been in the building trade before suddenly blossomed forth as master builders. They might have been butchers or even burglars, but they became master builders. And the Master Builders' Federation took them in. I wish that they had "vetted" their members before they took them in, in the same way that we "vet" ours. If they had done that, many of the undesirable builders who exploited the community on a cost-plus basis would not be in business today.
They are the people responsible for breaking the morale of decent craftsmen. The men have seen how the racket has worked and how these interlopers have prospered, and they have been discouraged. It is a crime against society, and it will be a number of years before the effects of that piece of business are wiped out. One of the factors against the success of the Groundnuts Scheme was the same accursed cost-plus system. The matter needs to be inquired into.
The system of registration of building trade employers has also been too slack. Almost anybody could become a master builder if they had a little bit of money behind them. There are thousands of them up and down the country and, because they are not builders, they have to engage some one who knows the job and they have to pay him. That is one of the chief contributing factors to many of the high costs, particularly of war damage repairs. The work is farmed out to people who know nothing about it, and they have to pay for expert advice, with the result that they carry enough administrative advisers to sink any business in creation. In the case of war damage, they were on a good thing, because the taxpayer was footing the bill.
We are beginning to wonder how we can speed things up and regain this lost 23 per cent., and the Working Party Report bemoans the fact that general unemployment is no longer here to help us. What a commentary to put in an Official Report—to say that the building peak was only possible because, at that peak period, there was a large number of unemployed men, and those at work had to cut one another's throats in order to keep their jobs.
1724 This was what was happening in speculative building between the wars, and that is one of the reasons why the repairs to jerry-built property between the wars is so high today. Men had to scamp their work to get the output, and the driving motive was the sack if they did not do it. Those days have gone for ever, thanks to a Labour Government, and we are now in the position that the unskilled worker in the building industry is not very much worse off, if he has a family, when he is out of work than when he is in it. Consequently, never again will he be the "mug" for the employer to be exploited, as he used to be.
We have been told that the financial arrangements made by this Government are disturbing the building industry. I would like to say to the right hon. Gentleman opposite that, five years after the 1914–18 war had finished, my union put a 4s. a week levy on each member for 12 weeks to bring our cash balance up to £2 per member. The reasons for that was that our funds had gone in paying unemployment pay. Today, with all the increased costs, but without any increased contributions, we have a surplus of £1,500,000, because for the last 10 years we have paid out practically nothing in unemployment benefit. I say that the right hon. Gentleman opposite was exaggerating the position for political purposes when he said that the cut in capital expenditure was disturbing the equilibrium of the building trade. It is just rubbish.
What do we require? The first essential is a contented building industry. To achieve a contented building industry, we must first of all treat the average building worker who is not employed by a municipality as a decent citizen. When his holiday is due to him, he should be given a full week's pay without deducting 6d. for administration or paying him only a percentage of his wages. That paltry nonsense in the treatment of building trade operatives must cease, and if the Wages and Conditions Council do not face up to these facts, which are contributing to driving craftsmen out of the industry, then this House and the rest of the country will have to face the consequences.
The joint production committee system should be developed. Where it is working properly, production goes up, but there has been a divergence of opinion 1725 about incentive bonus schemes. I have long held the view that it is not wrong to pay a man for what he does. The trouble in the bad old days was that we did the work and did not get paid. I know that, when the average employer usually had unemployment behind him, it was possible to have individual bargaining and piece-work, which became a cruel racket in the industry. Our people thought they had done with it for good when it was abolished in the industry.
I have for some time believed that, with negotiations at the highest possible level with the various unions concerned, a well thought out and intelligently workable plan could be produced for a bonus system which carried with it a low rate for the cream of the craftsmen, whose work cannot be placed on a bonus system, but which would apply to the job in bulk and not to a particular individual. Such a bonus system could be very helpful in raising production, but architects and others must see to it that the standard of the work is not lowered in order to secure the bonuses. The rate might be reviewed annually, to meet changing conditions, more care might be taken in the registration of builders and a drastic check-up carried out on the costs of materials.
It is well known that, with not only sand and gravel, but very largely all electrical equipment, the products of the light casting industries and other sections of the building trade, there are rings and combines. Any inquiry into the building industry should deal drastically with these people. It is not a case of any particular one, but of all those who make exceptional profits. It is the fact that there has been a growing tendency to get a little bit more until the cost has risen out of all proportion and fairness, to the people who have to rent the houses.
Without reducing our housing standards, we could build in blocks of four or six, and, at least, we could add another half-dozen houses to the acre. Some people do not want gardens, and we have the right to make provision even for these people. I would deprecate any attempt to lower the ceiling height or to use alternative materials for flooring. The present method is the best way, and, in the long run, the cheapest. Of course, we all agree that picture moulding is obsolete, and we can do without it very nicely.
1726 The professional side of the industry, the surveyors and architects, have a right to complain about the slowness in granting permits by the various Government Departments. I hope the new Minister will look into this. If, instead of studying a brief which his Department has given him, he will come out one morning with me and go into the offices of the architects and surveyors, no further than Victoria Street, he would find thousands of pounds' worth of work, with quantities all prepared and the drawings all ready, waiting for months for some sort of decision from some Minister or other. Many of these surveyors and architects cannot draw the money for the work they have done until the job has been started, and the result is that in Victoria Street today the busiest operative I know is the man who takes down the name-plate of the outgoing tenant and fixes the name-plate of the next victim—the incoming one.
This is largely due to the way that the permits are bandied from one Department to another, and this is particularly so in regard to war damage. Many of the jobs, which may involve as little as £200 or £300, with a surveyor's fee of only 6 per cent., can take as long as nine months to negotiate how much shall be allowed, and, in the meantime, the poor surveyor earns his fee three times over in correspondence alone. These things want looking into. If hon. Members could see some of the files relating to war damage—small jobs—which have been under negotiation for eight or nine months, and the stupid replies received from each of the four areas in London, they would find it really Gilbertian. But, of course, it is a serious matter to those people whose bread and buttter it is. Architects and surveyors have every reason to complain about delays, and I hope that the Minister will look into the matter.
Finally, I make this appeal to the Minister. If ever again he institutes an inquiry into the building industry, will he be big enough to inquire into wages and conditions and to realise that the success of the industry must depend on having a contented band of operatives and employers? If they are not given the opportunity to submit evidence, we cannot hope to find the best solution. I hope that will be done in future.
§ 7.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Wills (Bridgwater)
May I begin by asking for the indulgence of the Committee, which it always so kindly gives to those who address it for the first time? It is an indulgence that I shall need all the more after having heard the two other maiden speeches delivered this afternoon.
I wish to make the point, which, I know, has been made before, but which, in my view, cannot be sufficiently emphasised, that the provision of adequate housing for the people is really the greatest of all the social services. When we read these excellent reports and consider housing, we should always bear in mind that it is the most important of the social services. We can pass any number of Acts aimed at improving the health of the people, improving the education of the children, giving wider opportunities to people and making them happier, but such things all depend and are founded upon the adequate provision of homes for those people and those children to live in.
We should ask ourselves whether we are giving proper priority to this provision of homes for our people. I do not think that we are at the present time. We are told by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that we are to go back to a figure of 200,000 houses for the next three years, but even that figure will not be effective until 1951. It is a poor outlook for those who are still without houses. The figure is not large enough, and should the conduct of our affairs, by some unlikely mischance, be in the same hands for the next three years, it offers cold comfort to those whose names are on the waiting lists.
We all know of many sad, pathetic and tragic cases of people who need houses. They are brought to our notice each week and day after day in the letters we receive. I urge the Government to raise their sights and to give more priority to housing, not only on the grounds of sentiment—although, heaven knows, they are sufficient—but on practical grounds. We should have an adjustment of our programme in favour of greater expenditure on housing. It would be a most excellent investment, and I am convinced that in the years to come, it would result in a corresponding lightening of the demands made on the Health Service and on its ancillary services.
1728 There is still another practical reason. Both sides of the Committee are agreed that there should be reasonable flexibility in the labour market, that a man should be able and free to move from employment in one place to employment in another, which is, perhaps, not only to his own advantage, but also to the advantage of productive industry as well. Until we deal adequately with the housing problem, labour cannot easily move from one place to another because there are not the houses for the men to go to. That is a most important consideration. One of the reasons why direction of labour could never have worked lies in the fact that no man could be compelled to change his job and move to another area if there was no house for him in the town in which he was called upon to work.
When we demand that there should be a greater number of houses built, we are told that there is not enough timber. Then we are told that timber means dollars, and that dollars are scarce. If there are insufficient dollars with which to buy timber for housing purposes, then there are certainly not enough with which to buy anything else. We should allocate more of our scarce dollars for the purchase of timber and make savings in other directions. At the same time, we should make greater, more rapid and more skilful efforts to obtain timber from soft currency areas.
It is estimated that by spending an extra 10 million dollars we could obtain enough Canadian timber for 100,000 more houses. That is only something like 2½ per cent. of our imports from dollar areas, yet the sum of human happiness and increased industrial efficiency which those extra 100,000 houses would induce is quite incalculable. Again, it is said that even if these priorities were given there are not enough employed in the industry to bring about an appreciable increase in the number of houses produced. Surely that is where this Report, and reports like it, come in. They state that more houses could be built if greater and more efficient use were made of the resources of labour and materials available, and if we used more dollars with which to get more materials so as to give the labour a more even flow of work.
If many of these practical recommendations were carried out, there is every 1729 reason to believe that a considerable increase in the number of houses produced by the present labour force would result. After all, the present labour force is practically the same as that employed before the war. The main thing necessary is that the Government should create conditions in which the industry is allowed to work most efficiently. Constant changes in investment policy create uncertainty and doubt among those working in the industry and among manufacturers. Such uncertainty acts as a brake upon all sections of the industry. I do not think that could be disputed. The creation of such conditions as I advocate is a matter for which the Government must accept the responsibility as things are at present. It is something the Government must do.
A day or two ago I visited a constituent of mine, a retired builder, who had built his own house a couple of years ago. It was an excellent house. It took 12 weeks to build from start to finish and cost less than a council house. I asked him how he had managed. He said, "I got all the material together on the site. As soon as one chap left another chap came on to do his job and the whole thing went smoothly." That seems to be the essence of successful building and a successful building industry.
We can get greater production from the industry by extending incentive payments. That means co-operation from both sides of the industry. I should also like to see a little more scope in rural areas for the local builder who cannot undertake large contracts. Why cannot he be allowed more easily to put up one or two houses in fairly isolated local districts where they are needed? So often a large part of such houses can be built of material lying in his yard which he cannot use at present.
I cannot see why we should not have some variation in the size of house. There is a demand for four-roomed houses, especially from old people living in houses which are now too large for them. I believe local authorities are discouraged from building smaller houses, and so saving money and materials, because of the present method of giving floor area costs as a basis for assessing housing tenders. This is an argument in favour of a more flexible approach to that problem. We must aim to build more houses, more quickly and more cheaply. Unless 1730 we do this, we shall find that the rents of new houses owned by local authorities, even with subsidies, are beyond the reach of the people who need them most. That is wrong and entirely contrary to what we all want. I already hear of names being taken off housing lists because those on the lists now feel they cannot afford them.
We cannot be satisfied with the target set by the Government for the next three years. By a wiser timber-buying policy, by learning from this Report and by learning from its failures in the past, the Government have it in their power, if they wish, greatly to increase the number of homes for the people of this country and I believe, they have a paramount duty to do so.
§ 7.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Mikardo (Reading, South)
The hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Wills) devoted the earlier part of his observations to asking for the indulgence of the Committee and the remainder of his observations, by the excellence of his speech, to proving that that indulgence was not really required. I am quite sure that I speak for all Members when I say that if he has any more speeches to make with the same fluency, sincerity and persuasiveness that he has shown this afternoon, we shall be very glad indeed to hear them. In particular, I admired the way in which he found it possible to carry out the not very easy task of being politically non-controversial without being sterile because, although he was non-controversial in the tradition of maiden speakers, he had much to say that will give us all food for thought.
Among the non-controversial things he said was that housing is the most important of all the social services. But I would give him a word of warning about that, and that is that nobody began to urge that so early and nobody has urged it with so much force as the present Minister of Health. The hon. Member for Bridgwater might find himself in a little trouble with some of his colleagues if he stands shoulder to shoulder in that solid way with the Minister of Health.
The only other observation of the hon. Gentleman's on which I would comment is that I was interested to hear him say—and I agree completely with him—"If there are not enough dollars for more 1731 timber there are not enough dollars for anything else." I wish he would repeat that more quietly to some of his right hon. and hon. Friends who are always urging expenditure of more dollars for pleasure petrol.
While I am in the congratulatory mood, I hope I may be allowed, on behalf of those who sit on these benches, to associate myself with what was said by the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) in congratulating the Minister of Works on having successfully navigated the short but perilous crossing from one side of the Gangway to the other. When he sat on the other side of the Gangway, the Minister of Works endeared himself to us all by his forcefulness, virtuosity and persistence in making his point. If, today, it looked as if his former coruscating spontaneity was inhibited by having to stick to his brief, I am perfectly sure it is only a temporary situation and that, before long, we shall find him blazing forth once again as he did in the past.
Any stranger listening to this Debate would be struck by the extent to which it has been a well-informed Debate on both sides. If the Government can claim credit for nothing else, it can claim credit for having put into the hands of hon. Members and of all interested citizens in the country a great deal of factual material upon the building industry. Within the last fortnight we have had not only the Report of the Working Party that we are discussing today but the Report of the Anglo-American Productivity Team, to which reference has already been made in this Debate, and the Report, published this morning, of the Committee on Building Costs.
These are all valuable documents, but we must not make the mistake of looking upon them as though they were all blessed with infallibility and omniscience. In particular, the Report of the Working Party, a very valuable document for which I am very grateful, must be recognised as having, for all that value, some quite severe limitations. It is not an objective, unbiased Report. It is a Report by an interested party and it is quite wrong for hon. Members on either side of the Committee to quote this document as though it were gospel, as though it were based on some higher authority, or as 1732 though it were based on the findings of an impartial examination.
The overwhelming majority of the members of the Committee which produced this Report are people who are associated with one side or another, or in one way or another, with the building industry. It is not altogether surprising if the dominant characteristic of this Report is not that it is objective but that it is self-exculpatory. It would not be surprising if the dominant motive were to find somebody else but themselves to blame for all the defects of the building industry. It is not an uncommon characteristic of people in many walks of life, and not merely of builders and building operatives, to try to find somebody else to blame when something goes wrong. Members of this Committee, builders and building workers alike, have exercised a remarkable ingenuity in looking round for somebody else to blame—an ingenuity which, had they devoted it to within their own industry, might have produced some startling results on building productivity.
§ Mr. Molson
Would the hon. Member say the same about the committee of inquiry into the cost of house building, appointed by the Minister of Health? Has he not noticed how very similar are the criticisms made by the Working Party and the Girdwood Committee?
§ Mr. Mikardo
The answer to both of those questions is, "No." I do not apply what I have just said to the Girdwood Committee at all. We are not discussing its Report. The subject today was chosen by hon. Members opposite and not by me and, as I indicated quite clearly, I intend to confine my remarks to this Report of the Working Party, a copy of which I hold in my hand. Although I have had time only to skim hastily through the Report of the Girdwood Committee, my impression is that the conclusions to which that Committee came are vastly different from the conclusions of the Working Party on building, but perhaps the hon. Member can persuade his Front Bench to devote another Supply Day to the Report of the Girdwood Committee and then we can have a good "free-for-all" about that as well.
The point I was making is that this Report is the Report of an interested party, or largely of an interested party; 1733 and we must, therefore, read it very carefully. It is also the Report of an interested party which is notoriously a conventional, a conservative and a traditional industry. We should bear that in mind, too, when we are considering its findings. It is the Report of what is virtually, the only industry in this country which has not yet got around to doing any research for itself. It is an industry which, on its own showing, from its own Report, has scarcely changed its methods or scarcely increased its productivity in the whole of the period between the middle of the last century and the middle of this century.
Having said that, I would say that there is much in this Report, and above all, to my mind, in the Appendices, which is of great value to those who seek to study the subject. It is a pity, on those grounds, that the general impression of what this Report contains which has spread among those who have not read it—and many more people have spoken about it than have read it—is an inaccurate one. To some extent, some of the things said today, notably by the right hon. Member for Streatham, if he will forgive my saying so, added to the inaccuracy of the impression which has been spread.
Reading comments on the Report and listening to the Debate today one would imagine that the Report says the following things: first, that building costs have risen out of proportion to all other costs; second, that this rise in costs is due entirely to a collapse in productivity; third, that this collapse in productivity is due to, first, Government control; second, workers slacking on the job; and, finally, that this slackening on the job is due entirely to the absence of the incentive of the fear of unemployment.
That is the sort of impression which might have been given to a stranger listening to the Debate today; that is the impression he might have been given of what this Report contains. In fact, the Report does not say any of those things at all; it says something quite different.
§ Mr. Robson-Brown
For the sake of accuracy, may I say that, while I have not heard the whole of the Debate, I can say that during the time I have been here I have not heard an accusation from this side of the House of operatives slacking 1734 on the job. Perhaps the hon. Member would quote a particular statement made in this Debate.
§ Mr. Mikardo
Certainly; I did not name the hon. Member because he was making a maiden speech, but one hon. Member opposite referred to workers in the industry—I forget his exact words—not doing more than they had to do, or words to that effect.
§ Miss Horsbrugh (Manchester, Moss Side)
I thought he said that there was a. minority not pulling their weight.
§ Mr. Mikardo
We can see that tomorrow. The hon. Member for Esher (Mr. W. Robson-Brown) must have been out when that happened.
§ Mr. Robson-Brown
But the hon. Member will agree that there was no general impression of that kind from this side of the House.
§ Mr. Mikardo
That sort of impression might have been given by a great deal of the hon. Member's speech devoted to that point. I may add, also, that it was not only said from that side of the House. That was the impression given in many newspapers commenting on this Report. They seized on that one single point of workers not giving of their best. Let us see how far that sort of impression is a true indication of what is contained in this Report. First of all, what does the Report say about building costs? The first thing it says—and no one would imagine it if he had listened to the Debate today—is that building costs arenot out of line with those which have occurred in industry generally.Nobody wants to be complacent about this. We all want to reduce costs and improve efficiency. But complacency is no worse than panic and we shall not find an answer to this problem if we go about it in a panicky sort of way. To help to avoid panic, may I repeat the quotation which I made, that costs arenot out of line with those which have occurred in industry generally"?Moreover, it is interesting to see in one of the Appendices of the Report, the breakdown of the increase in costs as between the ingredients—first, of labour; second, of materials; and, third, of overheads plus profits. Of course, the Gird-wood Committee have given us some more information about that. They tell 1735 us, for example, that between 1947 and 1949 the cost of materials has risen, in spite of rather less materials having been used, and that the cost of labour has gone down. The cost of materials for the average 1949 house, says the Gird wood Committee, is estimated to be £86 more than for the average 1947 house, in spite of some decrease in the quantity of materials used. It is interesting that "The Times" comments on this that there is a hint that there may be some monopolistic practices, thus bearing out some of the observations of my hon. Friend the Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson). On the other hand, the labour cost is estimated to be £9 less since 1947. In fact, the one ingredient of costs which has increased more than any other—and no reference at all has been made to this in the Debate—is not labour, is not materials, but is overheads plus profits. Let us bear that in mind when we are considering these costs.
Second, about levels of productivity. Listening to this Debate one would imagine that this so-called collapse in productivity is something which has taken place in this country and nowhere else in the world; that it is a special manifestation in Britain which has caused it; that it is the wicked Socialist Government which has caused it, or the phraseology of the wicked Minister of Health which has caused it; and that in other countries, where they do not have such Governments or where they have much more taciturn Ministers of Health, there has not been a comparable drop in productivity. But the Working Party Report does not say that.
The Working Party point out, for example, that in Holland the fall in building productivity, as between prewar and the present day, has been greater than that in Great Britain, and it is interesting that the Anglo-American Working Party shows that there has been a drop in the United States, between prewar and post-war, almost identical with the drop in productivity in Great Britain; and I shall take a lot of convincing that the fall in building productivity in the United States is in any sense due to the phraseology of Great Britain's Minister of Health.
Further, the same pattern of fall from pre-war to post-war took place in respect 1736 of World War 1. It is very interesting, and it is shown in one of the smaller Appendices in the smallest type in the Report—but which can be found—that productivity in 1924 was exactly as much below the 1913 level as present productivity is below the 1938 level. No doubt the fall in productivity after the two wars had many causes which were similar to one another. We have also seen, and the Girdwood Committee has underlined it, that in the last two years productivity has taken a turn upwards. We are told in the Working Party's Report that on some of its contracts—and my hon. Friend the Member for Clapham will know more about it than I do—the London County Council has already got back to 1939 levels of productivity.
What are the causes of such fall in productivity as there has been? Far from the Working Party suggesting, as hon. Members opposite have said, that this fall in productivity is due to slack workers and to impeding bureaucrats, they point out that there are no fewer than 27 causes of the fall in productivity, which are listed in a solid block between pages 12 and 16 of the Report. They are not numbered, but if hon. Members care to take the trouble they can separate them out in those paragraphs. The Report says that most of these causes are of a temporary nature. Of the 27—and hon. Members can analyse them, as I have—only six referred to any Governmental action at all, and only one is laid at the door of the workers. That is the sort of balance which the Working Party puts upon the relative value of the causes in the fall of productivity: 27 separate causes, one laid at the door of the workers, six concerned with the relations between the Government and industry, and 20 with the technique of management in the industry itself. That is very different from the picture drawn by the hon. Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) and the right hon. Member for Streatham of the causes of the fall in productivity.
There are many industries in the country, as the Minister of Works pointed out, in which the degree of control is much greater than it is in building, and where productivity has, in fact, risen, and not——
§ Mr. Summers (Aylesbury) rose—1737
§ Mr. Mikardo
I have given way half a dozen times. I ought not to go on doing so, for I ought not to go on speaking too long, so I hope the hon. Member will forgive me. In fact, if we read the Report it becomes absolutely apparent that it is the employers who really get a rough handling from the Working Party, although so many of the Working Party are employers themselves. Let us see what the Report says: It says:In the face of the grave drop in productivity remedial measures were not pursued with adequate energy. We think they "—that is, the employers—should beware of complacency. It lies especially with them to seek and apply remedies.Not, I may add, with the Government or with the workers. It lies especially with the employers. If they call themselves managers they ought to get busy and do a bit of managing, as the Minister suggested.
The last extract I want to take out of what is said in the Report is concerned with the question of full employment and incentives. The Working Party, unlike some other people, do not seek a return to what they call… harsh pressures which were once exercised by heavy unemployment.They discussed full employment, but they by no means look upon it, as some other people do, as the villain of the piece. On the contrary, in Scotland they say it is necessary to devise measures to… curtail the period of unemployment of operatives moving from one job to another.I have dealt at some length with some of the things dealt with in the Report. I hope I may be forgiven if I take a few further moments to make some observations of my own about the organisational efficiency of the industry itself. We are all agreed that we need higher organisational and operational efficiency in the industry, and many people, irrespective of their political views and backgrounds, have devoted a lot of time and thought of considering what is the best way to improve the efficiency of this complex and very difficult industry.
There are two difficulties about tackling this task. There are two things which make this industry much more difficult to tackle in respect of increasing its efficiency than almost any other trade, especially any factory trade. In the first 1738 place, I know of no industry in which the structure of both the trade associations and the trade unions is so complex; and the complexity of its structure is a great barrier to any rationalisation within the industry itself. I may add that the complexity of the structure of both the employers' and the workers' organisations is itself also an indication of the conservatism of both sides of the industry, as well as of the slowness of both sides of the industry to change. That is one of the two difficulties with which one is faced in trying to raise the efficiency of this industry.
The second is, of course, that building is by no means a factory trade capable of the organisation of a factory trade; but it is rapidly getting that way, and it could be got still more that way. Notwithstanding the anchoring of site work to the site, much more could toe done to organise it as a factory trade. Sir Luke Fawcett, who probably knows as much about this industry as any man in the country, in a recent lecture, gave a brilliant analysis of the management problems of the industry, in which he showed a number of ways in which, despite the difficulties, some of the techniques applied to manufacturing could be applied to a much greater extent than is at present the case to this industry. Notwithstanding those difficulties there are three possibilities which I think we ought to examine, and which we ought to examine very vigorously indeed.
The first of these is the use of factories to a much greater extent, to integrate with site work in the production of houses and other buildings. We have made one great mistake in the past; we have thought entirely of either building traditional houses or building factory houses. We have thought of building houses in factories in toto. We thought if we could not build the whole house in the factory there was not any way in which we could use the factory. I am sure that that is an over-simplification, and I am sure that there are many things that could be made in factories. Much more than fittings and the rest of it could be made in factories in bulk that are not now made there.
For example, I am quite sure that we could make a great contribution to solving the problem created by the shortage in some parts of the country of bricklayers. They are particularly short in 1739 Reading, because most of them have been sent to build atomic energy establishments, and so are not building houses. We could have made a contribution to solving that problem by setting up panels of bricks in factories. That can be done with jigs very cheaply and quickly indeed, and they can be transported to the site very easily, and in such sized combinations as to make it possible to have traditional brick houses put together much more quickly than in the ordinary way. There are many other possibilities of the same sort.
The second thing is the application of the best techniques of production control. There has been a lot of use of the term "pre-planning." I much prefer the manufacturing term "production control," because pre-planning means that one does the planning first and then lets it sweat, whereas the whole essence of production control is to make a plan in advance, but with a control system so elastic that it is capable of amendment as the job goes along, to deal with any contingencies which may arise.
We have very little production control in building, although I have seen many occasions of shortages of materials in which it would have been effective. I have seen many occasions in which a shortage of materials would not have occurred but for the fact—and it was a fact—that the materials did not arrive at the point at which they were required at the moment that they were required. Very often it is due to failure to programme, to failure to order at the right time, and to failure to progress the orders through. It is not only production control but operational study as well.
In building we are where we were in factories some 30 years ago, when a considerable amount of every worker's time was taken up, not with doing the job but with walking around the landscape. There is a tremendous amount of waste walking around building sites, especially waste walking by those carrying not inconsiderable loads. I did one operational study on a small building site for a whole day, and I calculated that just under 30 operatives walked more than six miles unnecessarily carrying loads during the day, and, still more costly though not more important, two mobile cranes which were on the site, and were very expensive to use, moved unnecessarily three- 1740 quarters of a mile during the day. A man or machine moving about on an operation is not doing any work, and is costing money.
We need much more of that sort of study, but I want to say categorically—because reference has been made today to incentives—with such emphasis as I may command, as a result of having done some work in this field, that incentives are not enough. We must not blind ourselves with the idea that all we have to do is to put in some sort of piece-work or bonus system and everything falls into place. Incentives can be a two-edged weapon. Nothing causes more frustration, irritation and loss of productivity than when a piecework or bonus scheme is introduced but the work is planned badly, or the materials are not there to time, or the work is rated wrongly, or the bonus scheme is not scientifically calculated so that the amount a man earns depends not upon his skill and energy, but upon the luck of the week in getting fat jobs or lean jobs. Far more loss can be caused than may be gained by incentives applied without at the same time the application of the best management techniques.
The third and last measure I want to refer to is this. We ought to see whether we cannot do much more than has been done to get more building units nearer to the optimum size for production. We have often talked in this Committee about the enormous disparity which exists in many trades in this country between the efficiency of the best in the trade and the efficiency of the worst. Now that gap, that disparity, is very much greater in building than in any other British industry. The reason is that in building, more than in any other industry, there are a few units which are bigger than the optimum size, but an enormous number which are much below the optimum size for efficient working. It really is nonsensical that the average number of bricklayers per building firm in this country is three-quarters of one bricklayer. We have 90,000 bricklayers for 120,000 firms. In that one figure of three-quarters of one bricklayer per firm lies the key to the whole of the productivity trouble of the building industry, and we ought to try to do something about it.
One thing I would ask my right hon. Friend to investigate is the system that 1741 was operated during the war, of a mother firm with a group of daughter firms, the mother firm rationalising the work for the daughter firms. It had some defects and above all it had the defect of being run on a cost-plus basis which, as has already been pointed out from these benches, inhibits all efficiency. But it ought to be possible to find some post-war application of the same technique by which, without interfering with ownerships, at least we create something like efficient units.
The second way in which to deal with this question—and I want to be frank—is that we must not, if I might coin an original term, "feather-bed" the smaller firms, because that is, in fact, what we are doing. There is this extraordinary number of firms—one and one-third firms for every bricklayer—many of whom are capable of doing only certain classes of work—of repair work especially, painting, decorating and all the rest of it. What happens? The Government put a "ceiling" on repair work to try to divert labour and materials to the building of houses instead of putting "posh" new lifts in the Grosvenor House Hotel, where they have already got some fairly adequate lifts anyway. The Government puts a "ceiling" on repair licences to divert labour; there is less work for repair firms; there is a bit of unemployment; somebody comes screaming to the Minister because he has succeeded in doing what he set out to do, and he immediately reverses the engines and undoes his work, and says, "O.K., we will now reduce the 'ceiling'; all you chaps can go back on putting new barbers' shops into departmental stores," as they have been doing in my constituency recently.
I know it is always difficult to deal with a situation in which one is trying to divert people from one sort of work to another so that temporary dislocation and unemployment is created, together with a large number of personal problems, but either we try to concentrate our building power on housebuilding or we do not. If we do, we cannot make omelettes without breaking some eggs, and we must be prepared to face these consequences.
The only way in which we shall get a greater relationship between the optimum size of building firms and output, the only way in which we shall narrow this disparity in the size of building firms— 1742 and hence in the efficiency of building firms—is by compelling a diversion to the efficient housebuilding units, of the labour and materials of the inefficient non-housebuilding units. We shall do this by being really tough about non-essential building work, and about not putting in bright new counters in "pubs," not putting in a lot of new lifts in the Grosvenor House Hotel, or a lot of new decorations in cinemas, and a lot of new barbers' shops in departmental stores. If the Government are not prepared to be tough about that, if there is some overriding social or other reason for not being tough about that, let them say so, and let them abandon the pretence that they are planning to devote the major building power to housebuilding. Let us have it one way or the other. If we are to make omelettes, let us not be afraid of breaking the eggs.
I am sorry that I have gone on so long, and I am grateful to you, Sir Charles, and to the Committee for showing me such indulgence. I believe that if some thought is given to the constructive suggestions I have tried to make it may well be that in two or three years' time, we shall have another report from a working party on building which will look a great deal better than the one we are today discussing.
§ 7.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Molson (The High Peak)
The Minister of Health is once more to wind up a housing Debate, and I hope that on this occasion he will not deal with broad matters of socialist ideology, but that he will actually deal with some of the criticisms of his housing administration which have now been made by the Working Party, and which were made a long time ago in the First Report of the Girdwood Committee—a Committee which he himself set up to consider the cost of building.
I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he has given sufficient consideration to an expression of opinion by the Central Housing Committee which, I think, largely explains the difficulties in which the country finds itself at the present time. In 1944, they said:It is obvious to anyone conscious of the limitations of the national resources that it would be impossible to carry out a long-term housing programme of 4 million houses at the present level of building costs.They went on to emphasise how essential it was that the cost of building should be 1743 reduced, if a building programme on the necessary social scale was to be carried through.
I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that while he has been successful in building a certain number of houses, which is considered to be adequate by hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the Committee, that, at any rate, these houses have been built at appalling cost, and he has a direct responsibility for that. I am quoting the first Report of the Girdwood Committee, which has never been dealt with in this House. When I raised this matter last July, it was the Parliamentary Secretary who replied, and he then defended the Minister by saying that he had admitted that he had overburdened the industry at the beginning and he had come to the House and had made a frank admission of his error.
In 1938, 2.9 per cent. of the national income was spent to build 340,000 houses. In 1948, 2.6 of the greatly increased national income was spent to build 192,000 houses. Therefore, despite the great increase in the income of the country upon which the Government and the Chancellor of the Exchequer in particular pride themselves, there has been a decline to only 56 per cent. in the number of houses built, in spite of the fact that approximately the same number of men are employed.
§ Mr. Molson
I am dealing with that later. I am dealing, first, with this particular point of the burden on the national income involved in building houses which, at that time, cost about £1,600, and the latest Report of the Girdwood Committee shows that, contrary to what the right hon. Gentleman believed to be the case two years ago, the cost of house building is still rising and is not beginning to fall. What it comes to is that 14 per cent. of the total amount which the Chancellor of the Exchequer proposes to spend on investment—that is approximately £2,000 million a year—is being spent upon housing. The right hon. Gentleman said that he had looked at these figures very carefully, and he had found that since prewar years the cost of building—not housing alone—had moved in exactly the 1744 same ratio as other costs, which was exactly what we would expect.
I will give to the right hon. Gentleman certain figures. I hope that he will address himself to this matter in his reply tonight, although I frankly admit that he could pray in aid of the report of the Working Party, which takes the view that the cost of building has not risen disproportionately. I take the view that the cost of building has risen disproportionately. A three-bedroomed house now costs three-and-a-quarter times the prewar cost, wages rates now are only two-and-three-quarters times the pre-war cost, and wholesale prices today are only two-and-a-quarter times the pre-war cost. I suggest, therefore, that there has been a disproportionate rise in the cost of building, with all its serious consequences upon the social life of the country and also upon the costs of industry.
§ Mr. Bevan
What the hon. Gentleman is under an obligation to do is to show what proportion of that increased cost lies within the building industry, because if he looks at the Girdwood Report he will see that 60 per cent. of the cost of houses lies outside the control of the building industry itself.
§ Mr. Molson
I am not going to follow the example of the hon. Member for Reading, South (Mr. Mikardo), who chose to take the matter of housing costs as being purely a party matter, which was exactly the sort of contribution he made in the article he wrote for the "Tribune" last week. I want to say quite plainly and quite definitely, as I did in the last Parliament, that there is need to inquire into the cost of building materials. I am not the least desirous of defending the "feather-bedding" of manufacturers of building materials; I am most anxious that the matter should be investigated.
I want to draw attention to what was said about the lack of effort by workmen in the building industry. In paragraph 179 of the first Girdwood Report, it said:… We would make it clear that a serious factor has been the lack of individual effort. Until this problem of personal effort is solved, output cannot be satisfactory and loss of productivity is inevitable.While between the first and second Girdwood Reports there has been an improvement, it still is not back to what it was 1745 before the war. As regards the right hon. Gentleman's personal responsibility in this matter, there is, according to the ReportA serious overloading of the building industry due to a larger volumne of building work of all kinds being put in hand after the war than could be undertaken with the building resources available.That is what the Girdwood Committee said, on page 57, and it is confirmed by the Report of the Working Party. It is not a matter that the right hon. Gentleman can deny.
Last July, the Parliamentary Secretary gave him credit for frankly admitting his error. The right hon. Gentleman will remember the way in which he reduced the number of houses begun in order to increase the number of houses completed, and he admitted at that time that the building industry was "out of phase," to use his own words. He then altered the programme of houses to try to bring it back into phase.
I come to the second point, on which we have heard nothing from the right hon. Gentleman. The Dudley Stamp housing minimum area was 970 square feet. Many American three-bedroomed houses are only 792 square feet. But many of the subsidised houses being built are, according to the Girdwood Committee, from 1,100 to 1,150 square feet. The fact that the right hon. Gentleman considers tenders put up by local authorities upon the basis of cost per square foot tends to encourage, or, at any rate, not to discourage the building of unnecessarily large houses. That means to say that people not really in need of subsidised houses able to occupy large houses and to afford an economic rent for them, are, at the present time, benefiting from that financial assistance, and the discouragement of the building of houses to be occupied by the owner means that there is discouragement of the building of the appropriate houses.
The recommendation of the Girdwood Committee should be seriously considered by the right hon. Gentleman, that is, of reducing the size of many of the houses that are being built and of cutting out many extras, such as refrigerators and other items which could perfectly well be provided by the tenants themselves if they really wish to have them. In the third place, the right hon. Gentleman has made 1746 himself largely responsible for the extravagant lay-out of estates. I hope we shall not hear again tonight an irrelevant diatribe about ribbon development that has taken place in the past. I suggest that, as Mr. Dudley Stamp has said, the width of the roads in many building estates is quite excessive, and that if terraced houses were built instead of detached houses and semi-detached houses it would be possible to bring about a considerable reduction in the cost of housing.
§ Mr. Bevan
The hon. Member is a member of the Central Housing Advisory Committee. He knows very well that no one, during the last four and a half years, has done more to impress upon local authorities both the aesthetic and economic advantages of building in groups of four, six or ten, than I have done. I will improve his education by sending him a copy of an address I made two and a half years ago to the Royal Institute of British Architects on that point.
§ Mr. Molson
I am indebted to the right hon. Gentleman. The only thing I enjoy more than reading his speeches is to hear him speak. If, tonight, we are to hear a speech directed to economies in house-building, then, for the first time, he will be improving the education of the Committee as a whole and mine in particular.
If the right hon. Gentleman had encouraged the provision of more houses to be built for sale, that also, would have resulted in a decrease in price. I have already referred to the undesirability of paying large subsidies, at the expense of the taxpayer and of the ratepayer, for the benefit of tenants who can perfectly well afford to buy a house for themselves. I would say quite dogmatically that it is possible, through building societies and sound builders, for people to buy houses on the hire purchase system at no greater cost than the rent from a local authority. There are many cases where the part-payments required by the local authorities are no greater than the rent charged. If it had been the Minister's policy to encourage the purchase of houses instead of, for ideological reasons, a policy to keep houses in the hands of local authorities, it would have been possible to have produced houses a good deal more cheaply than has been the case
1747 I want to quote the case of a builder, who has sent a copy of a letter addressed to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation to an hon. Friend of mine, to give an example of the obstruction which is encountered by builders who desire to build on land purchased by themselves, and who believe that if given a free hand as to how to build they would be able to build more cheaply. The letter says:I offered four years ago to build 200 houses, without subsidy, to let at rents to be fixed by the council with the tenants to be appointed by the council, provided that a clear run of work for these 200 houses was allowed to me. But the scheme was refused. Three years afterwards the local authorities, together with the Middlesex County Council, compulsorily purchased the land. No compensation has yet been paid, and nothing has been done. By the time the work starts the overhead costs will be sufficient to have built quite a number of houses.Compensation will, of course, in due time be paid in accordance with the law. That is an example of the way in which no encouragement has been given for the provision of houses by private enterprise.
There is one point on which the right hon. Gentleman has made several statements. He talks about the length of the lists of those waiting for houses as indicating demand and not need. Many people, he tells us, "who already have a home of their own would like a new council house which is far better than the houses built before the war. Many people were too poor to have a separate house, but now with full employment they can afford to have a house of their own." The right hon. Gentleman will not give satisfaction to these people because he is of the opinion that the demand for houses does not represent need.
I should like to say to the new Minister of Works how much, on personal grounds, we welcome him in his office. We hope that he will apply that vigour and critical intellect of his to the administration of his colleagues and to the work of his predecessor, and in suitable cases to those in his Department. In particular, I should like to congratulate him upon an action he has taken very soon after coming to the Department which, I believe, may result in increased efficiency and in a considerable saving of public money. He has told us:Experience has shown that there would be advantages, including economies in staff and 1748 expenditure, if, as far as possible, one organisation was responsible for all Government-sponsored building research. Accordingly, as from 1st April the conduct of sociological and economic research has been transferred from my Department to the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, which will thus assume responsibility for all Government-sponsored building research."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd April, 1950; Vol. 473, c. 108–9.]I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on a change of policy which, I am sure, will redound greatly to the advantage of the country as a whole. It was as long ago as 27th May, 1948, that my. right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) made exactly the same proposal in the course of a housing Debate, but on that occasion the then Minister of Works denied that there was any duplication and declared that we should leave the sociological and economic research to "us."
§ Mr. Stokes
I think I made it clear in my speech that this decision was taken before I came to the Department. I have no credit for it at all.
§ Mr. Molson
There is the typical generosity and chivalry which always distinguished the right hon. Gentleman when he was, if not a back bencher, at any rate a front bencher below the Gangway. In that case, if only he were here I should be happy to congratulate the right hon. Member for Poplar (Mr. Key) for having, after two years' reflection and experience, taken the advice tendered by my right hon. and gallant Friend in almost the last thing he did in his office.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Mr. H. A. Price (Lewisham, West)
The Debate we have been listening to today has been on the Working Party Report on the Building Industry. Emphasis has undoubtedly been on housing, and I am very glad it has been so. This is the first occasion on which I have addressed this Committee, and as a Member for one of the three constituencies of the Lewisham borough, which has a very serious problem indeed, I have always hoped that it would be upon an occasion when we would be discussing housing that I would first address the Committee.
During the past 4½ years I have followed with interest the housing debates which have taken place in this Chamber. 1749 During the past three months I have listened to them, and always I have found it impossible to believe that hon. Gentlemen opposite are as satisfied with the housing progress as they have seemed. I have not heard or seen anything during the past three months which has caused me to change my mind. If it were possible for a vote to be taken on what we all feel in our hearts, as distinct from what we say with our lips, the result would be condemnation of the Government's achievements, if they can so be called, during the past four and a half years. I cannot believe that any Member opposite is satisfied with the housing programme of 200,000 houses per annum.
There is one hon. Member of the last Parliament who must be a very bitterly disappointed man. He is quoted by the Minister of Health in his book, "Why not Trust the Tories?" It so happens that not only was he a Member of the last Parliament, but he is a member of the Working Party which has just issued this Report. On page 77 of "Why Not Trust the Tories?" the right hon. Gentleman quotes him as sayingTherefore, it is clear that if we have priority in organisation of materials and balanced distribution of labour we can produce with the same amount of labour as pre-war, if it is properly co-ordinated, half a million houses per year.That is why I say that that Member must be a bitterly disappointed man. Why are we not building half a million houses per year? Have we not had priority in organisation of materials, and if not why not? Whose fault is it? Have we not had balanced distribution of labour, and if not why not? Whose fault is that? Have we not had proper co-ordination, and again if not why not? Whose fault is that? Is it because these have been absent that we have to be satisfied with only 200,000 houses per year?
It has become customary for hon. Gentlemen opposite to defend themselves by a comparison with the achievements of the Government in office after the 1914–18 war. There are many lessons to be learnt from those periods. I have learned one lesson by reading the Holmes Report, issued in 1921. Mistakes were made during the years after the first war, and one of those mistakes was allowing the demand to outrun the capacity of the industry. That mistake was pinpointed in 1750 the White Paper of 1945, which was prepared by the Coalition Government, of which the Minister of Works was so contemptuous this afternoon. Paragraph 13 reads:Only completed houses are of immediate service in relieving the housing shortage. As experience after the last war showed, a programme beyond the capacity of the building industry would have the result that many houses would be started but few completed. Moreover, there would be a powerful pressure on prices if, in the early stages, more work were offered than the building industry could perform.That is one pitfall into which the Government fell after the last war and, though it was clearly marked by the foresight of the Coalition Government in 1945, it has not been avoided by the administration which has been in power since then.
The Working Party Report, following the Girdwood Report of two years ago, deals with many other mistakes, and most of them have been referred to today. It would be impossible for me, in the few minutes at my disposal, to go into much detail, but there are one or two points I must make. Again I must refer to "Why not Trust the Tories?" I refer to this because it was written by the Minister of Health at a time when, in my opinion, he would have been better occupied in other ways. He says on page 75:Even before the war we needed a replacement programme of 200,000 houses a year.Surely today after five years of war and five years of Socialist misrule, we need a bigger replacement programme than that. However, let us take the Minister's figure of replacements of 200,000 houses per year. That is what we are getting today. If the Minister's figure is correct—and surely I cannot be criticised for taking the Minister's own figure—all we are doing today is to replace those houses which fall into disuse as a result of age, insanitary conditions or because they are dangerous structures. In other words, we are not increasing the total number of of units available. It may well be that this is one of the reasons why, despite our efforts, the housing lists continue to get longer and longer.
In the same book the right hon. Gentleman says this:Even to climb back to the housing position we had reached before the war—and you know how far from satisfactory that was— 1751 we require a minimum of four million new houses.Many targets have been quoted, but surely I cannot be criticised for taking the right hon. Gentleman's own target of four million new houses. How long is it going to take to reach that target at the present rate of progress? Even if we forget replacement needs, according to my figures, giving the Government credit for 157,000 temporary houses, which the right hon. Gentleman in the same book so contemptuously describes as "steel boxes," it is going to take 25 years, that is if we ignore replacement needs, but we cannot ignore replacement needs.
Recrimination is only useful in so far as it points to the mistakes of the past and encourages us to avoid them in the future. I pray that the mistakes which have been pointed out in the Girdwood Report and again in the Working Party Report will point the way for the right hon. Gentleman in the future, but I am not very optimistic about it. My impression is that he is far too wedded to Socialist theory to adopt policies which are essentially of a Tory character. The release of controls, for example, which, according to the Girdwood Report, have added £70 to the cost of an average local authority house is one example which comes readily to mind.
In my effort to look for constructive suggestions I have confined myself to those which I think even the right hon. Gentleman could quite well adopt. They are three in number. One of the greatest problems we have to face in dealing with houses today is rising costs. The Government's ceiling is not a numerical but a financial ceiling, and if it were possible to bring down costs we could increase the total number of houses built without increasing the demands upon the capital resources of the nation. Another aspect is one which touches mostly those people who need houses, and that is the manner in which those costs are reflected in rents, and in that respect the situation is much more serious than is pictured in the Girdwood and the Working Party Reports. These emphasise the cost and the rents chargeable on a typical three-bedroomed cottage. In the part of the world from which I come, Lewisham, there are very few cottages. Most of the new housing units are flats, and the story there is very 1752 much grimmer than the story we read here.
I would like to quote two examples of this from the Lewisham Borough Council. The council are now offering flats which have been built as the result of a scheme started by the previous council. One flat was offered only a week or two ago to a Post Office worker. His wage was just over £6 but the rent of the flat was about £2 10s. a week, despite the subsidy. There is an even better example of this on a larger housing scheme known as the Hether Grove Estate. The rents here are 36s. a week, and for a four-bedroomed flat 39s., despite a subsidy of about 27s. per week. The result was that of the first 80 people to whom these flats were offered more than 40 had to refuse them because they could not afford to pay the rent. The flats had to be let to families a little lower down the list whose need was not so great but whose pockets were a little deeper. If the Tories were sitting on the Government side of the House that would be described as "housing by the purse." It is happening today under a Socialist Government and under a Socialist L.C.C.
That issue alone will kill the Government in course of time. What are we going to do about it? What about the long-term problem which also bothers me? What are Lewisham Borough Council, and other councils who are in the same position, going to do with those flats, in 10, 15 or 20 years' time when it is hoped that costs will be reduced? They will either be empty because they cannot be let at the high rents, or else the rents will have to be reduced, thus casting additional burdens upon the ratepayers.
I would like to make two suggestions, or one suggestion divided into two, for the consideration of the Minister. The first suggestion is that the rate of interest on public works loans should be reduced by half per cent. The second suggestion is that the repayment period might be lengthened from 60 years to anything up to 80 years. I have had the figures worked out and I find that the half per cent. decrease in interest, added to an increase of 20 years in repayment, would reduce the rents by more than 5s. per week. That may not sound very much, but we must remember that lots of tenants of these flats are living on the borderline and are only just making both 1753 ends meet. To them the 5s. is worth thinking about.
The next point, again a local authority point, is that the machinery through which local authorities have to pass before they can commence work on a housing scheme is too cumbersome. The Lord President of the Council made what I thought was a very unfair point during his Election broadcast. He said that since the Conservatives had taken over Lewisham Borough Council nine months previously he had not noticed any decrease in the number of letters he was receiving. The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that it is impossible for any local authority in London, with the possible exception of the London County Council itself, to commence work on a scheme in anything less than 12 months from its first conception because of the machinery through which the scheme has to pass.
The local authority has to submit the scheme to the London County Council for Stage I, which is planning approval, permission to use that piece of land for housing purposes. Stage II is approval of the layout. Stage III is approval of the working drawings. Each of those stages takes from six to eight weeks if there are no queries whatever, and nine times out of ten there are queries. Having received approval at Stage III the authority can go out to tender. They then go to the L.C.C. for loan sanction, which means another six to eight weeks' delay if there are no queries, and there almost always are. Then they go to the Public Works Loans Board to get their money. If they are lucky they can start work within 12 months.
Time is money. If it were possible to reduce this time factor, as I believe it is, I am sure we could reduce the cost of these schemes. We could at least reduce administrative costs in the town halls and at County Hall. I believe that Stage I could be cut out. Borough councils in London are quite capable of being their own town planning authorities. I believe that Stage II could be cut out. Let Stage III stay as it is. I do not see why the London County Council should not retain approval for Stage III, since they administer the London Building Acts and are the Fire Authority, but I do not see why the borough council should have to go to the L.C.C. for loan sanction, as if the basis of loan sanction were some 1754 secret formula of the Ministry of Health. Why should not Lewisham Borough Council be given this formula? We have an excellent borough treasurer who is quite as capable of working out the formula as any official at County Hall. All he has to do is to make sure that the cost falls within the Ministry's ceiling. He can do that quite as well as the L.C.C. If these suggestions could be adopted I see no reason why the waiting period of 12 months should not be cut to anything between three and six months with advantage to all concerned.
The last point concerns research. I am very pleased to see that this matter is emphasised in the Report of the Working Party and in the Girdwood Report published today. There is great need for research and for economy in the use of raw materials. I will not bore the Committee by going into details but I would mention briefly one example of what I have in mind. It has been proved that it is possible by using up-to-date techniques—I hope this point will be of special interest to the Minister of Works—to save up to 25 per cent. of the cement which is used today. I shall be very happy to pass on all the information I have on this point to the right hon. Gentleman. The Road Research Association know all about it. The Department of Scientific and Industrial Research have been approached. So far as I know—and I apologise to the Department if I am wrong—they have not showed any very great interest in the fact that it is possible to save by economies anything up to 25 per cent. in the amount of cement which is being used in concrete today.
Even if we assume that 25 per cent. is too great and we take 12½ per cent., it means there is a possibility of saving a million tons of cement per year and that would be a very substantial economy as well as saving a very substantial sum of money and releasing the cement for other purposes. That cement could be used, again by the employment of up-to-date techniques, for floors instead of timber. I understand that one of the chief handicaps in the erection of houses is the shortage of timber. Again, I shall be very glad to give the right hon. Gentleman details of this matter rather than to bore the Committee with them now.
I have finished my three constructive points. I hope that these, if no other 1755 parts of my speech, will appeal to the Minister of Works and to the Minister of Health who is no longer with him on the Front Bench. I hope that they will be looked at, and that some advantage will result to those who need homes and to the local authorities who are trying to supply them, as well as to the Government themselves. If the last should prove to be the case, the Government are welcome to it.
§ 8.28 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Edward Davies (Stoke-on-Trent, North)
It falls to my lot to congratulate the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. H. Price), upon making an excellent maiden speech. I do so with very great pleasure. It was obvious to all of us that he was very conversant with the subject he had chosen to speak upon in this Committee when addressing hon. Members for the first time. I had a great deal of sympathy with him because some few years ago I had a similar opportunity of speaking on the subject of housing. From what the hon. Member said it was obvious that he is most sincerely interested in this great human problem. Although he did not suceed in being altogether uncontroversial, and some of us would not agree with all of his points, we nevertheless congratulate him upon his courage and upon the wealth of knowledge that he has upon the subject. We hope to have the pleasure of hearing him many times upon this subject and other subjects.
As to his point about the reduction in the rate of interest on loans and its effects upon the weekly rent of a cottage or a flat, I think I should point out that a great deal has been done by the Labour Government since the end of the war to avoid some of the mistakes which occurred after the First World War. The hon. Gentleman whose speech I am not proposing to criticise at any length, said that a saving of something like 5s. a week might be possible. The Government have made the money available to local authorities at a very reasonably low rate of interest.
As a student of local government and one who is vastly interested in this problem, I should like the rate to be lower than 2½ or 3⅛ per cent., or whatever the rate is, but we must agree that that com- 1756 pares very favourably with the rate which obtained after the First World War when I was called upon to pay as much as 5½ per cent. to a local authority—not a Labour local authority—and when some of the local authorities themselves had to pay 5 and 6 per cent. and sometimes up to 7 per cent. for the money which they borrowed. With a house costing £500 or £600, that is obviously a very real obstacle to a working man who wishes to acquire his own property.
Therefore, while I congratulate the Government on their achievement in this direction, I hope that they will continue to appreciate the significance of the hon. Gentleman's point, namely the necessity for making money available to local authorities at reasonable rates of interest. In fact, in the Labour Party propaganda of old we used to ask that the money should be made available at nominal rates of interest because the rates which used to be charged constituted a crippling burden for the local authorities who had to provide houses for so many people who could not get houses unless the local authorities built them.
I should like to refer to a point which was made by the hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson). He made a comparison between the capital expenditure in 1938 and 10 or 11 years later, in order to show in terms of the number of houses built that we do not compare very favourably with 1938. What he omitted to say was that the type of house now built is infinitely superior to the type built in 1938. The type of house that has been produced since the war under the Ministry of Health is much superior to many of the pre-war houses. I think we are all agreed upon that, and the hon. Gentleman was not making a fair point when he omitted that fact.
The hon. Member also referred to a gentleman, whose letter he quoted, who said that if he had the opportunity he was willing to build 200 houses to rent to any tenants whom the local authority were prepared to nominate. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman wanted to convey the impression that that state of affairs is general throughout the country, particularly in working class areas such as the one which I have the honour to represent, but I can assure him that that is not the case. Let us be frank. The 1757 builders have not found that building houses to rent is profitable. They have not built houses to rent because they prefer to build them and dispose of them. They do not want the burden of collecting rents, and they do not want to have their money tied up. It is less profitable to build houses to rent.
It is not that the local authorities are wedded on ideological grounds to building houses to rent. It was not for ideological reasons that the Minister made the local authorities his agent. When the Labour Government came into power there was no alternative. The people in the very poorest sections of the community, who could not afford to pay the fancy rents they were asked, and who certainly could not afford some of the fancy prices for houses that are being asked today, would never have had houses had the meeting of their needs been left to the private builder. Therefore, the local authorities had to do the job. I rejoice that many thousands of families have been moved under these arrangements, but I must confess that the price of building today is making the elders and the councillors on the local authorities begin to scratch their heads, because the very people in whom they are primarily interested, namely the worst off section of the community, will have great difficulty in some cases in paying the week to week rent of some of the new houses which are going up.
In whatever section of the Committee we sit, we are all exercised about this question of costs, and I was most pleased to hear from my hon. Friend the Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson), who knows so much about the building industry, what has been the experience of the L.C.C. in regard to an incentive scheme. Under this scheme, by co-operation of the employers and the workers, he told us, some sort of arrangement had been arrived at which had worked out mutually successfully. He said that no less than £60 per house had been saved in labour costs by that great authority, and that at the same time an increase in the wages of the operatives—and I suppose an equal profit came to the builders—of 20 to 22 per cent. had been brought about, and, what was equally important, or possibly more important, the rate of production had gone up. I understand that on the basis of estimating production per man a house had been built 1758 in 12 months for each man on the job. That was excellent, and I hope that such information as we have been given today has been made available in detail to the Minister, and that he in turn will pass it on to the local authorities. My hon. Friend said that one of the greatest difficulties had been to get the contractors to devise and agree to these schemes.
I know that in North Staffordshire, from whence I come, one or two contractors have tried incentive schemes, not exactly like that of the L.C.C. but with the same end in view, and have done so with great success. They agreed to pay bricklayers a rate of 2s. 10½d. per hour for a certain number of hours, and the output they expected for a normal day's work was what seemed to me to be the low figure of 450 bricks a day. For any bricks in excess of that figure the employer was willing to pay £2 10s. per thousand. The men were doing very well under that scheme. Not only the bricklayers had to be brought into that bonus or incentive scheme, but all those on the job, labourers and all those in the ancillary trades. I believe much can be done in that way to improve production.
Some of us are unhappy because we do not think that a proper apportionment of building labour is being devoted to new housing. While it is necessary to develop our export industries for obvious economic reasons, we think that the apportionment has become rather disproportionate. We feel that in some instances it has become more profitable for contractors to do work on a cost-per-hour basis rather than to build houses, and that it has meant the abstraction from the limited building force of labour which should be available for housing. I want the Ministers, particularly the Minister of Works who we have asked about this matter before, to look a little closer into it.
The Minister of Health has told us at Question time that he has had no complaints about difficulty in getting labour to do new housing work. The Minister of Works himself says that there is no considerable evidence to support this view. In an industrial area like my own where, since the end of the war, all kinds of extensions have been going on; where little contractors have been modernising their factories; where the unlicensed work can go on up to £500 on industrial premises, I think there is some abstrac- 1759 tion. I want to know what is the machinery for keeping control and maintaining a fair balance between work on housing and work on industrial premises?
§ Mr. Stokes
What I said to the hon. Gentleman was that I have no evidence that labour has been taken off housing. If anybody has would they send it to me? Nobody ever does.
§ Mr. Edward Davies
I was saying our experience is that where there is a considerable building force it is not 40 per cent. or 50 per cent. which is engaged on housing, but something in the region of 10 per cent. or 20 per cent., which is unsatisfactory. What I was asking the right hon. Gentleman to do was to give an opportunity through his regional organisation to local authorities and other interested parties to come together from time to time to see what can be done to rectify this position. I believe that such opportunities used to exist.
I wish to refer to two specific points and one is the shortage of cement. We have heard from different parts of the country about the shortage of cement. In common with other areas, we in North Staffordshire have come up against this difficulty, and we are greatly exercised about it. The right hon. Gentleman referred to it this afternoon. Speaking for the Government he said he was not responsible for the position. He said that what the Government were concerned with was the amount of capital expenditure which could be devoted to building and the several industries concerned. But what was done with the cement was the business of the industries.
Whoever is responsible, there is wide spread evidence that important work is being held up in North Staffordshire, in Stoke-on-Trent. A building contractor wrote to me the other day to say that he had had to stand down 14 men, because he had not a sufficient supply of cement. In our area this is a vital matter because, as the right hon. Gentleman will know, there is a great deal of mining subsidence and a great deal of cement is necessary to put into the foundations. Anything which holds up housing in that area, as in other areas is, in our view, most unfortunate and we hope he will look especially——
§ Mr. Robson-Brown
I am sure that when the hon. Member studies the speech of the Minister of Works, he will find that the right hon. Gentleman did not repudiate his responsibility in the matter of the allocation of cement; because he has specific responsibilities in that direction with the cement industry, which I think he will confirm.
§ Mr. Edward Davies
The impression I gained from what was said by the right hon. Gentleman was that there was a large amount of control in the distribution and production of this commodity but that he himself had very little direct control over it. What I was going on to say was that if this is a continuing difficulty, and he has not that power, I hope he will be given power, either to produce cement directly by some sort of public works or by the implementation of the proposals made in our programme at the last election. Why should the country be held to ransom in this, or any other matter?
The Minister of Works reminded us that he is not only concerned with housing; he is concerned with all forms of building. We are all primarily concerned with housing, but from time to time our constituents like a little entertainment and amusement. Representations are made to us about the rebuilding of a theatre or the construction of a football ground, or some other thing different from housing. We are always exercised as to the amount of attention which should be paid to demands made upon the resources of the country. We have taken the view that if people who have worked very hard during the week are to be expected to give of their best, they are entitled to a certain amount of relaxation and entertainment. If in a blitzed city or elsewhere, there was a fire which destroyed the local theatre, sympathetic attention should be given to proposals to rebuild it.
Life ought to have a little colour and a little interest. Our workers would be all the better for that. In connection with our little theatre which was burnt out, one of the first actions taken by the right hon. Gentleman when he came into office was to permit us to go ahead with our rebuilding scheme. On behalf of my colleagues and the people of the district, I thank the Minister for that. I shall come back to the question of principle in a moment. By way of illustration, I 1761 would point out that the Port Vale Football Club, mostly with the help of voluntary labour and makeshift materials, have built a grand new stadium. They recognise that we have not got the men and materials to enable them to go in for any kind of fancy work. They have made shift, and they have done a good job.
There is not a square inch of cover on that ground for the working men, the miners and the potters, who have the right to enjoy themselves. We made a proposal to transfer an old stand from a neighbouring ground. The capital expenditure involved was £1,100. We were refused permission to do the job. Very little new material would be used, and the main cost would be for transport, demolition and re-erection. That refusal comes near to being petty and trifling. Upon what principle is the Minister working?
We read in the Press that at Aintree a fine new stand, costing £60,000, is being provided. The Millwall Football Club have had three covered stands rebuilt, and I have a document in my hand which says that much progress has been made on the site of the former grandstand which has been partly terraced and partly covered. They have rebuilt three stands in eight months, and they talk about other work which has been done. I say, "Good luck" to my friends in Millwall.
Where is the consistency in this arrangement? [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] We on this side of the House are not afraid to criticise our own Ministers. They will listen, and I hope that they listen with sympathy. If we are to clamp down and to say that none of the schemes shall go forward, well and good. We shall understand the position. We shall lament and we shall weep and we shall keep on prodding. But when we hear that some of our friends in neighbouring towns have got permission to go ahead, we cannot understand.
In conclusion, I congratulate the Government upon the work they have done, in terms of planning and in the provision of houses, in a time of difficulty. I do not attribute to them blame for the shortages which we find. The real niggers in the woodpile are those people who were responsible for decades and who presented us with this legacy. After generations, we have to remove 1762 these festering, stinking hovels. I say, "Good luck" to the Minister. Give the Government time and they will complete the job.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Miss Horsbrugh (Manchester, Moss Side)
I listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mr. Edward Davies) and heard about difficulties in connection with cement, a theatre, a football pitch and other things, but I noticed that the hon. Gentleman concluded his remarks by saying, "Give us time." He did not blame the Minister of Health or the Minister of Works for the present state of the housing programme, but just said, "Give us time." As I listened to the Debate, and to the Debate on housing which we had on 13th March, I wondered if we in this House have yet realised that there are many people outside who cannot give us time to deal with the housing problem. I think we are all agreed about that; every right hon. and hon. Member who has addressed the Committee today realises that it is the most urgent and poignant factor in present day life.
What is the use of talking about social security—hon. Members put it as their aim and endeavour or their pride and their boast—when there is no real social security for some of our people? What social security is there for a woman who lives with her family in someone else's house, never knowing when she may be turned out? There is no social security for the people who are without homes today. We cannot consider real social security when there are people who have no homes. When we are asked to give still more time, I wonder if we might ask the right hon. Gentleman who is to reply to this Debate how long we shall have to wait? Cannot he hurry things up? Is he satisfied with the progress we are making at present? Will he still ask us to give him more time at the next General Election or the one after that, before something is done to improve the housing situation?
It is a tremendous temptation to go back and to argue with him about some of the things that have been said concerning what was done at the end of the last war and what preparations were made by the Coalition Government. After all, it was a Coalition Government, and right 1763 hon. and hon. Members opposite were either part of it or were supporting it. Today, the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price), in a very interesting maiden speech, pointed out that on this subject of the overloading of the building programme, there was a warning about it given in 1945. It seems to me a tragedy that that warning was not heeded and that the lessons were not learned. I think that we have to learn them again with a greater speed today.
I think the Debate has shown the immense interest which every hon. Member takes in this subject, and it has also shown—let us be quite frank about it—that there is not a Member in the Committee who is satisfied with the progress which is being made at present. I do not believe that there is one hon. Member who is satisfied. During the Debate, one hon. Member after another seemed to me to be inquiring if no other schemes could be tried, and whether there really was nothing more that could be done to speed the production of houses. We have listened today to maiden speeches from the hon. and gallant Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Major Johnston), the hon. Member for Portsmouth, Langstone (Mr. Stevens), the hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Wills) and the hon. Member for Lewisham, West, all of whom came to our Debate with a real contribution to make to this problem. Some talked of the speed of building, some about the cost of building, but all, after the publication of these Reports which we have in our hands, were ready enough to examine the stern facts of the situation.
Today, we have been talking about the production of houses, and not merely of the housing problem. We all know the housing problem. When I went recently to the great City of Manchester—and I am glad to say that it gave me a very cordial and kindly welcome—I naturally inquired into the question of the housing shortage. I found that there were over 27,000 people on the waiting list, and that the allocation for this year is about 2,000. Many other places are worse, and we all know the figures which have been quoted in the House many times. Today, we are getting down to the facts about the production of more houses more 1764 quickly and at a lower cost. We come, surely, to the problem of men, money and materials, and the efficiency of the organisation which deals with the men, money and materials.
The one thing I thought really hopeful, when I looked at the different reports that we have been discussing today, and when I re-read the Debate of 13th March, was that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health had changed his mind and his plans since that date. I have been out of this House for some time, but I have read a good many of the speeches, and I have wondered whether on any occasion the right hon. Gentleman would get up and say that he had changed his mind and that what had been suggested to him, and what at one time he thought quite impossible to do, he found was possible after all. It seems to me that is what happened between 13th March and 18th April.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) pointed out in his speech that we were told quite clearly on 13th March that there could be no restoration of the cut—the figure was to be 175,000 houses, and that was all that could be done. If we wanted more, it would mean taking it away from the old people's homes, the maternity homes, the hospitals, and so on. We were also told that no further part of the investment programme could be taken for this purpose. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health said that the Government had allocated to house building as much of the national resources that they could afford. It was no use he said, hon. Members trying to dodge that issue. Somehow or other that issue has been dodged, and it has been dodged by the Government. Why I refer to that particularly is because if it was thought on 13th March that it was quite impossible to increase the number, how was it made possible to do so in those few weeks?
There are several questions I want the right hon. Gentleman to answer when he comes to reply. The first is, as I say, how did that change come about; what made it possible to increase the programme from 175,000 to 200,000 houses? At the expense of what particular service, if it was to be at the expense of any one of them, was this increase brought about? Was it found that there were more men available or 1765 more material available, or that there could be extra on the investment programme? I would like the right hon. Gentleman to tell us that, and to tell us clearly. Were more men, more material or more money found between 13th March and 18th April in order to be able to add those 25,000 houses to the building programme, because, of course, that fills us with hope? If, after each Debate, we could convince the right hon. Gentleman that it was possible to add another 25,000 houses to the programme, then at least we should feel that we were making some progress, and progress, I believe, could be made.
The right hon. Gentleman will quite understand that we are interested in this, and that we are hopeful of getting a clear answer from him. We were told at one time that the difficulty lay in the scarcity of building materials, that it was not the Government's fault, that they were doing all they could. One of the scarcities alluded to at one time was timber. I have read and listened to these Debates, and I am still mystified by the answer the Government have given about timber. We were asked to show how more houses could be built without timber. We were told that we could not afford the extra dollars. But now things seem to have changed from the Government's point of view, because only last week the Secretary of State for Scotland said that it was no longer true to say that timber was scarce, although, sometimes, for seasonal reasons, there was a temporary shortage.
Perhaps we can now be told by the right hon. Gentleman how the Government were able to arrange for another 25,000 houses between 13th March and 18th April. Again, can he tell us if there is now sufficient timber for all our housing needs, and whether there is sufficient timber in the emergency supply for the needs of the next house building season? Is the timber now in this country sufficient?
The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North, referred to the difficulty with cement. We were told at one time that, after all, the cement industry was not nationalised and we were asked how, therefore, we could ask the Government to deal with cement. Of course we can ask them, because at present, as the Minister of Works has already agreed, the Government has arranged to export a 1766 certain amount of cement. Therefore, the quantity of cement that can be used in this country for building does depend upon the Government's decision, since the Government decides how much cement is exported. There was a miscalculation in the programme, and though arrangements were made to export we had to import cement. We hope that with that import the amount of cement may be sufficient.
Why are we getting the 25,000 houses, and out of what other programme are they being taken? Is there sufficient timber in this country? If there is sufficient timber, is it only for this programme or for more houses? Will there be sufficient cement? Will there be sufficient bricks? I make no apology for putting these questions. If we are to understand this tremendously difficult problem we must ask the Government to tell us their policy and give us reasons. I have sat on the other side of the Committee in days gone by and even on the benches opposite in the old House of Commons. I look across and see many who sat on this side and asked questions. Now times are changed and we are the questioners.
I look to right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite to answer the questions. I suppose it was because they had been out of office so long that, when I came back to this House, it seemed to me that in four and half years they had forgotten that it was the duty of Ministers of His Majesty's Government to answer questions, and that it was the right of hon. Members in all parts of this House, above all, of the Opposition, to ask the questions and to be given replies. I hope that, tonight, we shall have more information, because, so far, we have not had it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) in a speech which I am sure we all listened to, as we always do, with great interest, put the case clearly before the Government. He spoke of this Report and pointed out there cannot be pre-planning as long as the controls mentioned in the Report exist. There can be no real planning on the site unless builders are assured of the materials. The hon. Member for Reading, South (Mr. Mikardo) said we could not take this Report as gospel. He said it was a Report of those interested, but whatever one may consider the authors of the Report 1767 to be, they certainly represent a very wide interest in the building industry. They have certainly given us a great many points worthy of consideration. I ask the right hon. Gentleman who is to reply if he has considered the points and if he will tell the House what changes he proposes to make.
Apart from the men, materials and money, it is the organisation of that force which we have to consider, and I think hon. Members will have noticed that over and over again in the Working Party Report there appear the words "necessary flexibility." It might have been an interesting study to count how many times the words were used. We all agree that this is a very complex industry; the building industry is really a collection of many industries working in many different places, and it is brought out over and over again in this Report that the work must be co-ordinated. The same rules and regulations which might cover an organisation such as a factory cannot be applied in this industry. Hon. Members have spoken of the different sizes of the industry and it is interesting that both in the Anglo-American Report and in the other Report we are assured by those who, after all, know their job that it adds to the flexibility of the industry.
I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he would look at the whole set-up once more, with an unprejudiced mind. I hope I am not asking too much of him. There is no hon. Member in the Committee who is not anxious to see an improvement. I urge the right hon. Gentleman to look at this problem once more and to look at it with an unprejudiced mind. If he agrees with the points made in these Reports—and there have been many—on the necessity for flexibility in the industry, will he do something to increase that flexibility?
If we look at the set-up, can we say that it is really flexible? We have controls, planning and all the rest of it; we have our Ministry—not only one but several. We have then the correspondence and the check up with the local authorities. We have the dealings between the local authorities and the building contractors in working out plans. Over and over again in this Debate and in the Report there has been emphasis 1768 on the delay which takes place in sending things back to the local authority and from the local authority to the Ministry—and not only one Ministry but several. It has been said that before building can start there is a delay of 12 months. Is this necessary? Have we become so accustomed to it that we think it is inevitable? Or will the right hon. Gentleman look at it once more to see whether he cannot introduce a little more flexibility and achieve a little greater speed in house building? We will not give time. We will not give any further time if there is to be no change, no effort to improve.
I would ask the right hon. Gentleman, further, whether he is not willing to try experiments of any sort? Suggestions of various sorts have been made by many hon. Members from this side of the Committee. This evening my hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) mentioned a case where a builder, with land of his own, was willing to build 200 houses and to rent them to tenants suggested by the local authority at rents suggested by the local authority. Why are suggestions like that turned down?
The other day one of my hon. Friends, I think it was the hon. Member for Wallasey, asked the right hon. Gentleman whether he would give an opportunity to a builder to try the experiment of building, say, 400 houses on his own land and note the speed at which he could build them. He said there could be inspections on the site during the building to see whether the houses were well built, to see what number were built and the speed at which he could build them. While there are long waiting lists, and while the problem has not been solved, are we to understand that no experiment will be tried?
I agree that one of the agents of the Ministry should be the local authorities. I think they are doing a grand job, but I believe it would be an enormous assistance to them if they were given greater flexibility. There have been suggestions that they could, perhaps, be given more opportunity by being given the value, instead of the number, of houses which they were allocated. There has been a suggestion that they should be left more freely to decide the ratio between houses to be built by private enterprise for sale and others. I know 1769 that we are now a little nearer to that. Are there no other ways in which the right hon. Gentleman can give more freedom and flexibility to the local authorities? Has he seen whether all the present controls are necessary? Has he seen whether more responsibility can be left to the local authority? I believe it can.
I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that, following these Reports, which show the dissatisfaction that there is, he should begin again. We are all agreed that the houses are too expensive and that people will not be able to pay their rents. We are all agreed that they are being put up too slowly. We are all agreed that the delay before actual building begins is too long. The Working Party's Report, the Anglo-American Report and the others bring out these facts—the facts of the delays by controls, and the fact that the building industry is not getting its material. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman what he is going to do about bulk buying. Is he still going to insist that Timber Control must work? Will he give any chance now, after these Reports, for the making of a change?
I know that the right hon. Gentleman occasionally does change. I know it takes him rather a long time to do it. He was urged to set up this Working Party long before he decided to do it. It was suggested to him that incentives were necessary. Every hon. Member who has spoken has been in favour of incentives. I remember that the Lord President of the Council said, in a broadcast, that incentives were "bunk," but I noticed that it was quite soon after that, that the Minister of Health thought he would try the incentive system. There was a certain amount of free competition between the two right hon. Gentlemen who are members of the same Government.
Why a great many of us feel a great deal of anxiety is that estimates have been given us by the right hon. Gentleman over and over again, and they have been wrong. I will not say that a Minister would make a statement in this Chamber and to the country that he knew to be wrong, but I do think it is a very serious matter that those estimates that the right hon. Gentleman has given have proved so disastrously wrong. It is 1770 because we feel that these estimates have been wrong, it is because we feel that there is no real sense of urgency on the part of the Government, it is because we were told that it was absolutely necessary that the housing programme should be reduced from 200,000 to 175,000—and only after great efforts on our part was a change made—that I propose tonight to move to reduce Class V, Vote 1 of the Ministry of Health by £5.
The Minister told us before the last Election that there was to be a house for everyone in the country. He told us in 1949 that the time was in sight when everybody would have a chance of the privacy and comfort of a home of his own. It was cruel to say that if he had no plans. If he had the plans, how have they gone wrong? The Minister has never told us. From that Box, over and over again, he has made speeches and asked us questions. Tonight, I ask him to do what I believe it is his duty to do. I think he will agree with me that it is his duty, for he agreed in the old days that it was the duty of any Minister responsible for his Department to say in this Chamber what was his policy, and to answer questions. So it is the right hon. Gentleman's duty to tell us what is his policy and to answer the questions that have been put to him. Why is the increase of 25,000 possible within four weeks? Has he got the timber and the other materials ready? [HON. MEMBERS: "Time."] I have five minutes more. I will give the right hon. Gentleman his time. I am asking the right hon. Gentleman some questions.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
What other building is it from which the 25,000 houses are to be extracted? Can the right hon. Gentleman assure us that he has the building materials, including the timber, the cement, the bricks, ready for the programme? Has he sufficient timber in the country now? Has he decided on the changes by which he is to bring about more flexibility? Has he decided whether he is to make any changes to deal with bulk purchasing and incentives? Has he decided whether he will try any experiment whatsoever—perhaps by accepting any of the suggestions that have been made—to see if it is not still possible to find out if any addition to local authority 1771 building by private enterprise building could be started, on the arrangement that the houses would be let, and that the tenants would be chosen by the local authorities? If his answer is "No" to all of those questions, will he tell us whether he cares more for his Socialist creed than for housing the people of this country?
I beg to move, "That Item Class V, Vote 1. Ministry of Health, be reduced by £5."
§ 9.16 p.m.
§ The Minister of Health (Mr. Aneurin Bevan)
When I understood that this Debate was to be held and that it was to be opened by an ex-Minister of Works and to be wound up for the Opposition by an ex-Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, my spirits rose. I began to think that we should have a very instructive and pleasant time because, as everybody knows, for more than four and a half years past we have had a succession of Debates and a succession of openers and closers of Debates from the other side.
§ Mr. Bevan
If the hon. Gentleman would shut up, he would hear better. I have not seen him in his place all day, and now he comes into the Chamber interrupting his betters.
The right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove lasted rather longer than the rest. That was perhaps because he was more garrulous. But today we have heard from the Opposition opener and closer not a single new idea. I regret it, because we hoped that this Debate would be a thorough detailed practical examination of the three Reports which have been made. That is what we hoped, but the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys), who opened this Debate, confined himself to a series of turgid generalisations carefully read out in a monotone, and the right hon. Lady the Member for Moss Side (Miss Horsbrugh) has 1772 addressed a series of general questions which were almost a repetition of what was said by the opening spokesman for the Opposition.
Now really, I think that the Opposition ought to take this subject more seriously than that. It is true that in the course of the Debate we have had a number of questions of a practical kind and a number of most interesting speeches. From the opposite side of the Committee in particular we have today heard a number of maiden speeches, which I thought, if I may say so without any sense of even the appearance of condescension, were of a very high standard indeed. Indeed, it has been a most pleasant reflection that the standard of maiden speeches in this Parliament is the highest I have known in very nearly 21 years' experience of the House of Commons.
This industry, which has been looked into so minutely, is, of course, one of the most important industries in the country, if not the most important; but it is essential that we should learn what is the relationship between the State and this industry because it was quite obvious from the opening speech of the right hon. Member for Streatham that he, even at this late hour does not understand at all what the relationship is. I was amazed, because although he has not been a Member of this House for four and a half years, he nevertheless has been a Parliamentary candidate, and a successful Parliamentary candidate on the last occasion.
My heart sinks when I consider the degree of mis-education that must exist in Streatham to send him here, because he does not yet understand that the building industry of this nation, with very few exceptions, is a private enterprise industry. There are a few—a very few—direct building schemes by local authorities. There are a very few building associations. The overwhelming majority of those in the building industry are engaged in private enterprise activities, and that private enterprise industry builds houses for sale as well as for the local authorities. They build houses under contract for the local authorities in the vast majority of cases, and the local authorities license a certain proportion of houses to be built for sale, mostly by the same people who build the houses for the local authorities. There is, therefore, 1773 no distinction here between private enterprise and public enterprise.
The whole of this is private enterprise, and what we are examining today is a series of investigations into how private enterprise has done its job of serving the country in the last four-and-a-half years. That is the main issue before us. I think that those who heard it will also agree that the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, South (Mr. Mikardo) was an excellent contribution to the Debate. We know that it is also the fact that this industry is very much fragmented. It is divided up into very small firms. I think that my hon. Friend said that there was three-quarters of a bricklayer per building firm, and the structure of the industry has followed its historic functions, because the industry does an enormous amount of repair work and builds houses ranging from groups of one or two, up to groups of a thousand and more. The structure of the industry has followed its activities, and, therefore, when the war was over we inherited that structure, but we inherited something much worse—we inherited a whole series of war-time building practices.
In 1945—remember that this is only four and a half years ago—when I was appointed to this office, I found the industry hopelessly diluted by unskilled people who had never taken any part in building at all, working most extravagantly for the Government on a cost-plus basis. That was done by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. I am not blaming him. We all know very well that it was the end of the war, and the Ministers then in charge of the Government had to try to mobilise as big a building force as possible in order to deal with the immediate consequences of the blitz. It was absolutely impossible, as everyone understood, to get tenders to repair blitzed houses. They just had to be repaired. The emergency repairs had to be done and the more substantial repairs done afterwards.
The right hon. Gentleman had to dilute the industry, and all kinds of queer people got into it—all sorts of spivs started to do it. They earned a very considerable amount of money, and the first thing I had to do was to get rid of the cost-plus system. The second thing we had to do was to weed out those who were in the industry merely to make short-term 1774 profits. That was the situation, and Members will recall that in those days I had the job of the utmost administrative complexity, the job of trying to convert into competitive tenders the costs-plus system that was ruining the whole industry, especially in the London area.
I am perfectly prepared to have a most minute examination into the administration of the Ministry over those years, and I am satisfied we can show the best administrative record this country has ever seen in domestic affairs. Indeed, we do not need to say it here, because it has been said outside by other nations on our behalf. My other difficulty, apart from the ones we have mentioned before, was negotiated prices for houses. I am not going to weary the House by referring to demobilisation of the Army and mobilisation of the industry, although that is always forgotten. Because it is so obvious, one would think that we never had to do it, although it was an immense job.
We also had to get rid of another very bad practice—negotiated prices for houses. I spent the winter of 1945 and the early months of 1946 disciplining the building industry again into good practices. [Laughter.]—Certainly. Indeed, I was taunted by Members of the Opposition, who inquired how on earth I could expect to build houses by turning down tenders which were too high. Of course I could do it. I could do it because we could not build houses anyway then, as we had no materials. Therefore, I could spend the time usefully educating the industry back into good practices
I remember very well that one of my chief difficulties was to try to get this principle of competitive tendering established. Members will recall that the builders had formed themselves into ring after ring all over the country, insisting I should agree to prices which were exorbitant. I remember that in Manchester I was asked to approve tenders of 34s. per super foot at a time when competitive tenders were round about 21s. I remember the advice I gave to Manchester at the time. I said, "You cannot accept this tender." "But," they said, "we must start to build." I replied: "You invite prices for pre-fabricated houses." When they asked when they would get them, I told them, "I do not 1775 think you will get them for two years." They said: "That is no good to us." "But when the builders hear you have called in prefabricated tenders they will be only too anxious to send in competitive tenders," I told them. Manchester have not got these prefabricated tenders yet, but we broke the ring. That happened all over the country.
At that time, what was the argument from the Opposition and what did the headlines of every Tory newspaper say?—" Let the builder build." The Leader of the Opposition stood at that Box in the autumn of 1945, when we had hardly drawn our breath, and made a speech full of Churchillian perorations, in which he said, "Build by every single agency, whether private or public. Build, build, build." I remember it very well.
Yet the very same people are now accusing us of overloading the programme. The charge made against us, and the right hon. Lady has repeated it today as though she had not learned any of the facts of life in this connection at all, is that the administrative machine is too slow. But that is the opposite charge. How could you have unloaded the building machine by an administration that was too slow to give it work to do? In the building trade they ought to have left this nonsense behind. It is perfectly clear that no charge can lie against the administrative machine if the industry were overloaded. We cannot have it both ways except in Conservative pamphlets.
We are here dealing with a very simple administrative fact. In the years 1945, 1946 and 1947 the administrative machine outran the building machine. That is why—I say this and I say no more under this head—that no more dishonest and cruel poster could have been put up in this country than "Let the builders free to build your houses." On their showing they were wrong, and at the same time that the Conservative Party has been spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on immoral propaganda—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Yes, I say "immoral." They now applaud these inquiries into the building trade and accuse the Minister of Health of overloading the building machine. They cannot do that, and at the same time keep a decent public reputation.
1776 We have been informed—and some of the reports say so—that one of the reasons for the sluggish completion of houses in the first year after the war was the fact that we had asked the machine to do more than it could do. I will leave the other question and deal with that. It is a curious accusation to level against the Government, for it is an accusation that lies against the building industry itself. It is the building contractor who starts to build houses. If he starts to build more houses than he can conveniently finish, then he unbalances himself. We do not unbalance him.
Let me put it in another may. Every single industry in this country in the last four and a half years has had a full order book. No other industry has complained about its order book being too full, but the building industry does. If a building contractor has contracted to build 200 houses, it is his business to start only that number of houses at a time, which he can economically finish. If he starts to build 200 at a time, and then finds he has not enough labour to finish them, who is to blame? The Minister of Health or the building contractor? The reasons we have heard to account for this are astonishing. I should have thought it was the building contractor, and not the Minister of Health.
No other industry undertakes to do a greater volume of business than it can digest. Why should the building industry? I will give the reason. Before the war a building contractor could immediately take on any job, knowing very well that once he started, there were enough unemployed building workers to man it. The building industry has not yet learned how to adapt its building and conduct its economy in a society with full employment. That is what is at the end of these reports. That is why they complain. The building industry, however, must learn it. After all, we are not going to go back to the past.
I understand the Opposition are in favour of planning. That means that they are not going to plan unemployment—or does unemployment become an essential part of their plan? I should like to know, because if unemployment is not an essential part of their plan, then the building industry must learn elementary wisdom and assemble its bits and pieces, planning its job before it begins the operation of actual construction.
1777 There are more of these reports which have said—I am bound to say that I am astonished at it being necessary to spend month after month in saying so elementary a thing—that there should be some pre-planning. What does it mean? All it means, as I understand it, is that the intelligent and efficient builder plans his time schedules and his materials before he actually begins physical operations. [An HON. MEMBER: "Elementary."]. Yes, elementary, I should have thought. The only reason why the builder has not done it is because he has inherited the psychology of the economic jungle and thinks that he is always going to have a large number of people on the shelf to be picked up when he likes. I have myself, long before these reports appeared and before these committees were established, spoken to the leaders of the building industry, both building operatives and master builders. I have asked them to introduce incentive and bonus schemes. I asked them more than two and a half years ago. I impressed upon them the necessity of realising that the nation was not going to pay a heavy building subsidy or a subsidy for inefficient inertia in the building industry.
One further reason why the building industry is not as efficient as it should be, is that its members carry out their operations with public funds. That is to say, most of the money is paid over before the product is finished. We know very well that in 1946–47, building contractors had two types of contract run-ing together, the contract to build houses for the local authorities and the contract to build houses for people to buy. They deliberately unbalanced their building force on the local authority contracts in order to finish the houses for sale because it did not matter how long they took to finish the local authority houses since they were building with the local authority's money. That is what was happening and therefore it was necessary for us, if we were to have efficient building, to increase the number of houses built for renting and not for sale.
I have been accused once more by the Opposition, and particularly by the hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson), who always thinks that my principles are prejudices and that his prejudices are ideals. He suggested to me that I was responsible for the high 1778 cost of building because I did not allow more houses for sale, and that this was an ideological preoccupation. Well, I have here before me a document, for which I understand the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) will accept some responsibility, called "Employment Policy." It was produced in 1944 and it has some very interesting things to say on this very subject. It says:While the Government do not rely primarily on large-scale labour transfers for a solution of the unemployment problems of particular areas, they are anxious to overcome some of the obstacles which stand in the way of the transfer of workers to places where suitable employment is available for them. Experience before the war showed that two of the most serious obstacles were the worker's difficulty in obtaining a suitable house to rent in areas where work was available, and the special costs that may fall upon him while he is settling down in his new environment.That is not an ideological preoccupation.Since the end of the last war "—the war of 1914–18, and mark this because this is not from me but from the Coalition Government over which the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) presided—the difficulty of obtaining a house to rent has been an especially important factor.A factor in what?—in the immobility of labour.
The document goes on to say:Workers who could afford and were anxious to rent houses in the areas to which they were moving found themselves unable to do so and were forced to buy houses on mortgage. Steps will be taken "—This is where they come to deal with it; I hope the Opposition will listen, because they did not hear their spokesman speak this afternoon—to secure that a substantial proportion of new houses erected after the war shall be available at a rent which will be within the means of the average wage earner.In other words, it has always been accepted by every intelligent observer of our industrial system that it is essential to break down the rigidity of labour and bring about mobility between one area and another, and that a very large number of rented houses should be built.
Yet the right hon. Gentleman told us today—and I want to ask him whether he is now speaking for his party in that matter—that they are prepared to leave it to the local authorities to decide how 1779 many houses are going to be built for rent and how many for sale. That is the proposition. That is what the right hon. Gentleman said. I want to know from him—because it will not be very long before we go to the country again—in making that statement was he speaking on behalf of the Opposition?
Let us look at it from another angle. This is a most serious matter; we have had a variety of different proposals in the last four and a half years. The hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) on one occasion committed himself to the indiscretion of saying that he did not care how many houses were built for sale or for rent, but that they should just be built. The right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove was not so rash as that; he thought there ought to be a proportion between the two of them. Lord Woolton, the Chairman of the Tory Party, thought of yet another proportion. The right hon. Gentleman, to use his own elegant phrase, "passes the buck" to the local authority to decide the proportion.
What I want to know, and what the nation will want to know, is this—and this is particularly relevant to the speech of the right hon. Lady the Member for Moss Side about the pathetic situation of people in many parts of this country. Are they proposing to leave it to the local authorities? Are they proposing to leave it to Tory local authorities, full of speculative builders, to decide how many houses are to be for sale? I warn hon. Members that had this been the policy adopted in 1945 we would have had housing riots all over Great Britain. I want to know from the Opposition, and we are entitled to know, whether that is their proposal. However, we will leave it at that. It is an amazing thing that the Opposition's policy changes between the opening and closing speeches.
Again, it has been alleged during the Debate that the costs of local authority houses are disproportionate, but the fact of the matter is that local authority housing prices in this country since 1945 have risen less than have the prices of other commodities. In other words, since the present Government have had charge of the programme, they have held down the cost of houses below the cost of the products of every other part of the private sector. I will give figures. Housing 1780 prices have gone up over those of 1945 by 14 per cent.; the wholesale index has gone up by 45 per cent.; and building materials have gone up by 42 per cent.
§ Mr. Bevan
I am perfectly prepared to discuss coal at some other time. At the moment we are discussing houses. I am saying, and this is based on the Reports, that the housing programme of this country has been conducted in such a fashion as to give rise to the situation that the products for which private enterprise is mainly responsible have risen 30 per cent. more than the houses for which the nation is responsible. Those are the figures. [Laughter.] I will read out the figures. Does the hon. Member challenge that? [Laughter.] The trouble with the Opposition is that it cannot take these facts; it does not like them.
That is not to say, and I am the very last person to say it, that we are satisfied with the rate of building or with building costs in this country. We know that private enterprise in the building industry has failed to take advantage of its opportunities, and that is what these Reports have disclosed. Since 1945 we have attempted by every single means at our disposal to introduce new techniques into the building industry. There has been the building research station; new systems of construction have been devised; heavy subsidies of over £30 million have been given in order to call new systems of construction into existence. But the industry has not been able to assimilate them. As has been said, its methods are so backward, it is so traditionally minded, that it has been unable to take advantage of the new discoveries that have been made. Therefore, we have these Reports which show that up to this stage the building industry has failed to take advantage of the things we are able to do for it.
I have been asked one or two questions. I propose to answer them. I have been asked how it comes about that we have now restored the 25,000 houses, and therefore restored the building programme to the 200,000 at which it stood before. The answer is very simple. It is one which I should have thought would have rejoiced the hearts of us all. It is because the latest figures 1781 of production in Great Britain show that the productive efficiency of this country can afford an expansion of the capital investment programme to that extent. These were not 25,000 houses less in 1950 because the 1950 housing programme was put into the supply line in 1949. Therefore, the cut of 25,000 houses was really to take effect in 1951–52.
The rising curve of productivity in Great Britain justified us in believing that in 1951–52 we can carry an additional 25,000 houses. In other words, we are making the homeless of Great Britain the first recipients of the increased productivity of industry. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer said, we are in fact adjusting the capital investment programme to the 200,000 houses. That is the answer to the right hon. Lady who wanted to know at what expense we were making the increase. We are taking it out of the increased productivity.
The right hon. Lady wanted to know about timber. We are now able to buy more timber in the dollar area because of the success of the fiscal policy of the Government because we have more money to spend in the dollar area and we are spending more of it on timber. In fact, in choosing between petrol and timber, we are choosing houses for the people before luxury products. I hope that the Opposition like the order of priorities.
The right hon. Gentleman who opened this Debate talked about the absence of planning in the housing programme of the Government. He was the right man to talk about that, he really was. He and his predecessor between them were responsible for that piece of imaginative foresight called the Portal house. They spent £1,800,000 on one steel box. They planned a house for which there was no steel. I have not been capable of that prevision.
§ Mr. Bevan
In fact, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply said today that there was one type of steel that even now in 1950 we cannot de-control; and that was the steel that was not there five years ago when they were going to build the Portal house. And these people have the impudence to talk about planning and prevision!
1782 The fact is that since 1948 the housing programme of this country has been a balanced programme, as the Report itself admits. The "finish the houses" campaign, which was derided, was in order to bring to completion the houses which were at various stages of construction and which ought not to have been started if the building industry did not think it could finish them in time—and we did it with the co-operation of the building industry itself.
No one knows better than I do, because I have had some experience of it in my own life, that the housing problem is a most grievous one. In London before the war one could walk round the city, especially in the centre of London, and see flat after flat advertised for rent. We cannot find one today. There is more housing accommodation in London today than there was before the war. There are more houses per head of the population in Britain today than there were before the war.
The reason why there is this housing need today is because two million who were unemployed can now lift their heads and demand a home to live in. The reason why there is a housing shortage today is because we have not put the old people in the workhouse as the party opposite did before the war. The reason why we in fact are face to face with this problem today is because we have built up the social services and standard of life of the population, so that most people in Great Britain who could not do so before, can now afford to rent a house.
I must say that, looking back on our experience, it is nauseating humbug to hear the speeches we have heard from hon. Members on the other side of the Committee. They do not believe them and they know that they do not believe them. Therefore, so far as we are concerned, we shall proceed with the housing programme and with the rest of the capital investment programme. We know very well it is no use building houses if we do not build power stations. It is no use building power stations if we do not build schools. All these things have to go forward together. It would be easy to build more houses for which we could not find electricity and easy to build houses for which we could find no schools. All these things have to go forward together, and they are going for- 1783 ward under planned direction—not standing still in the old jungle as it was before the war.
Whilst we are not, and shall never be, satisfied with the housing programme as long as there are people without separate houses in Great Britain, we are proud of what we have done in the last four and a half years, and we know very well that all that is in the minds of hon. Members opposite is—[Interruption.] Now that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) has shown his interest in the housing problem by coming in at the last moment—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where is the Prime Minister?"] I am sure that the whole House would like to hear now from the Leader of the Opposition what he thinks the policy—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Bevan
We should like to know from the Leader of the Opposition—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where is the Prime Minister?"] I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman a question which is one of very great importance to us on this side of the House and, I am sure, to hon. Gentlemen opposite. We should like to know whether it is now the declared policy of the Opposition to leave entirely to the local authorities the decision of determining how many licences are to be given.
§ Mr. Churchill (Woodford)
As I have had the misfortune not to be present during the earlier part of the Debate, it would be presumptuous on my part to intervene.
§ Mr. Bevan
Are we to be given to understand that a decision of such importance was taken without consulting the right hon. Gentleman? Does he not know? That seems to me to be a very strange thing indeed. [Interruption.] We would like to know from the right hon. Gentleman what it means. I would like seriously to ask the right hon. Gentle man——
§ Mr. Buchan-Hepburn (Beckenham) rose in his place and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."
§ The Chairman
Order. For the information of those hon. Members who persist in calling "Too late," it is my duty to put the Question moved at the hour of interruption, which is what I am doing.
§ Question put accordingly, "That Item Class V, Vote 1, Ministry of Health, be reduced by £5."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 293; Noes, 299.1789
|Division No. 16.]||AYES||[10.0 p m.|
|Aitken, W. T.||Bracken, Rt. Hon. Brendan||Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.|
|Alport, C. J. M.||Braine, B.||Crouch, R. F.|
|Amery, J. (Preston, N.)||Braithwaite, Lt.-Comdr. J. G.||Crowder, F. P. (Ruislip, N'thwood)|
|Amory, D. Heathcoat (Tiverton)||Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W.||Crowder, Capt. John F. E. (Finchley)|
|Arbuthnot, J. S.||Brooke, H. (Hampstead)||Cundiff, F. W.|
|Ashton, H. (Chelmsford)||Browne, J. N. (Govan)||Cuthbert, W. N.|
|Assheton, Rt. Hon. R. (Blackburn, W.)||Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Darling, Sir W. Y. (Edinburgh, S.)|
|Astor, Hon. M.||Bullock, Capt. M.||Davidson, Viscountess|
|Baker, P.||Bullus, Wing-Commander E. E.||Davies, Rt. Hn. Clement (Montgomery)|
|Baldock, J. M.||Burden, Squadron-Leader F. A.||Davies, Nigel (Epping)|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Butcher, H. W.||de Chair, S.|
|Banks, Col. C.||Butler, Rt. Hon. R. A. (S'ffr'n W'ld'n)||De la Bère, R.|
|Baxter, A. B.||Carr, L. R. (Mitcham)||Deedes, W. F.|
|Beamish, Maj. T. V. H.||Carson, Hon. E.||Digby, S. Wingfield|
|Bell, R. M. (S. Buckinghamshire)||Channon, H.||Donner, P. W.|
|Bennett, Sir P. (Edgbaston)||Churchill, Rt. Hon. W. S.||Douglas-Hamilton, Lord M.|
|Bennett, R. F. B. (Gosport)||Clarke, Col. R. S. (East Grinstead)||Drayson, G. B.|
|Bennett, W. G. (Woodside)||Clarke, Brig. T. H. (Portsmouth, W.)||Dugdale, Maj. Sir T. (Richmond)|
|Bevins, J. R. (Liverpool, Toxteth)||Clyde, J. L.||Duncan, Capt. J. A. L.|
|Birch, Nigel||Colegate, A.||Dunglass, Lord|
|Bishop, F. P.||Conant, Maj. R. J. E.||Duthie, W. S.|
|Black, C. W.||Cooper, A. E. (Ilford, S.)||Eccles, D. M.|
|Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C. (Wells)||Cooper-Key, E. M.||Eden, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Boothby, R.||Corbett, Lieut.-Col. U. (Ludlow)||Elliot, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Walter|
|Bossom, A. C.||Craddock, G. B. (Spelthorne)||Erroll, F. J.|
|Bowen, R.||Cranborne, Viscount||Fisher, N. T. L.|
|Bower, N.||Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.||Fletcher, W. (Bury)|
|Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.||Cross, Rt. Hon. Sir R.||Fort, R.|
|Foster, J. G.||Lloyd, Rt. Mon. G. (King's Norton)||Robertson, Sir D. (Caithness)|
|Fraser, Hon. H. C. P. (Stone)||Lloyd, Maj. Guy (Renfrew, E.)||Robson-Brown, W.|
|Fraser, Sir I. (Lonsdale)||Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral)||Rodgers, J. (Sevenoaks)|
|Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir D. P. M.||Lockwood, Lt.-Col. J. C.||Roper, Sir H.|
|Gage, C. H.||Longden, G. J. M. (Herts. S. W.)||Ross, Sir R. D. (Londonderry)|
|Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D. (Pollck)||Low, A. R. W.||Russell, R. S.|
|Galbraith, T. G. D. (Hillhead)||Lucas, Major Sir J. (Portsmouth, S.)||Ryder, Capt. R. E. D.|
|Garner-Evans, E. H. (Denbigh)||Lucas, P. B. (Brentford)||Sandys, Rt. Hon. D.|
|Gates, Maj. E. E.||Lucas-Tooth, Sir H.||Savory, Prof. D. L.|
|Glyn, Sir R.||Lyttelton, Rt. Hon. O.||Scott, R. D.|
|Gomme-Duncan, Col. A.||McAdden, S. J.||Shepherd, W. S. (Cheadle)|
|Granville, E. (Eye)||McCallum, Maj. D.||Smiles, Lt.-Col. Sir W.|
|Gridley, Sir A.||McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S.||Smith, E. M. (Grantham)|
|Grimond, J.||Macdonald, A. J. F. (Roxburgh)||Smilhers, Peter (Winchester)|
|Grimston, Hon. J. (St. Albans)||Macdonald, Sir P. (I. of Wight)||Smithers, Sir W. (Orpington)|
|Grimston, R. V. (Westbury)||McKibbin, A.||Smyth, Brig. J. G. (Norwood)|
|Harden, J. R. E.||McKie, J. H. (Galloway)||Snadden, W. McN.|
|Hare, Hon. J. H. (Woodbridge)||Maclay, Hon. J. S.||Soames, Capt. C.|
|Harris, F. W. (Croydon, N.)||Maclean, F. H. R.||Spearman, A. C. M.|
|Harris, R. R. (Heston)||MacLeod, I. (Enfield, W.)||Spence, H. R. (Aberdeenshire, W)|
|Harvey, Air-Codre. A. V. (Macclesfield)||MacLeod, J. (Ross and Cromarty)||Spent, Sir P. (Kensington, S.)|
|Harvey, I. (Harrow, E.)||Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold (Bromley)||Stanley, Capt. Hon. R. (N. Fylda)|
|Hay, John||Macpherson, N. (Dumfries)||Stevens, G. P.|
|Head, Brig. A. H.||Maitland, Comdr. J. W.||Steward, W. A (Woolwich, W.)|
|Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir C.||Manningham-Buller, R. E.||Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)|
|Heald, L. F.||Marlowe, A. A. H.||Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.|
|Heath, Colonel E. G. R.||Marples, A. E.||Storey, S.|
|Henderson, John (Cathcart)||Marshall, D. (Bodmin)||Strauss, Henry (Norwich, S.)|
|Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W.||Marshall, S. H. (Sutton)||Stuart, Rt. Hon. J. (Moray)|
|Higgs, J. M. C.||Maude, A. E. U. (Ealing, S.)||Summers, G. S.|
|Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythanshawe)||Maude, J. C. (Exeter)||Sutcliffe, H.|
|Hill, Dr. C. (Luton)||Maudling, R.||Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)|
|Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Medlicott, Brigadier F.||Taylor, W. J. (Bradford, N.)|
|Hirst, G. A. N.||Mellor, Sir J.||Teeling, William|
|Hogg, Hon. Q.||Molson, A. H. E.||Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)|
|Hollis, M. C.||Moore, Lt.-Col. Sir T.||Thompson, K. P. (Walton)|
|Holmes, Sir J. Stanley (Harwich)||Morris, R. Hopkin (Carmarthen)||Thompson, R. H. M. (Croydon, W.)|
|Hope, Lord J.||Morrison, Maj. J. G. (Salisbury)||Thorneycroft, G. E. P. (Monmouth)|
|Hopkinson, H.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester)||Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.|
|Hornsby-Smith, Miss P.||Mott-Radclyffe, C. E.||Thorp, Brigadier R. A. F.|
|Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Florence||Nabarro, G.||Tilney, J. D.|
|Howard, G. R. (St. Ives)||Nicholls, H.||Touche, G. C.|
|Howard, S. G. (Cambridgeshire)||Nicholson, G.||Turton, R. H.|
|Hudson, Sir A. U. M. (Lewisham, N.)||Nield, B. (Chester)||Tweedsmuir, Lady|
|Hudson, Rt. Hon. R. S. (Southport)||Noble, Comdr. A. H. P.||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Hudson, W. R. A. (Hull, N.)||Nugent, G. R. H.||Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.|
|Hulbert, Wing-Cdr. N. J.||Nutting, Anthony||Vosper, D. F.|
|Hurd, A. R.||Oakshott, H. D.||Wakefield, E. B. (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Hutchinson, G. (Ilford, N.)||Odey, G. W.||Wakefield, Sir W. W. (St. Marylebone)|
|Hutchison, Lt.-Com. Clark (E'b'rgh W.)||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir H.||Walker-Smith, D. C.|
|Hyde, H. M.||Ormsby-Gore, Hon. W. D.||Ward, Hon. G. R. (Worcester)|
|Hylton-Foster, H. B.||Orr, Capt. L. P. S||Ward, Miss I. (Tynemouth)|
|Jeffreys, General Sir G.||Orr-Ewing, Charles I. (Hendon, N.)||Waterhouse, Capt. C.|
|Jennings, R.||Orr-Ewing, Ian L. (Weston-super-Mare)||Watkinson, H.|
|Johnson, H. S. (Kemptown)||Osborne, C.||Watt, Sir G. S. Harvle|
|Jones, A. (Hall Green)||Peake, Rt. Hon. O.||Webbe, Sir H. (London)|
|Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W.||Perkins, W. R. D.||Wheatley, Major M. J. (Poole)|
|Kaberry, D.||Peto, Brig. C. H. M.||White, J. Baker (Canterbury)|
|Keeling, E. H.||Pitman, I. J.||Williams, C. (Torquay)|
|Kerr, H. W. (Cambridge)||Powell, J. Enoch||Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)|
|Kingsmill, Lt.-Col. W. H.||Prescott, Stanley||Williams, Sir H. G. (Croydon, E.)|
|Lambert, Hon. G.||Price, H. A. (Lewisham, W.)||Wills, G.|
|Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Prior-Palmer, Brig. O.||Wilson, G. (Truro)|
|Langford-Holt, J.||Profumo, J. D.||Winterton, Rt. Hon Earl|
|Law, Rt. Hon. R. K.||Raikes, H. V.||Wood, Hon. R.|
|Leather, E. H. C.||Rayner, Brig. R.||York, C.|
|Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.||Redmayne, M.||Young, Sir A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Lennox-Boyd, A. T.||Remnant, Hon. P.|
|Lindsay, Martin||Renton, D. L. M.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Linstead, H. N||Roberts, H. (Wandsworth)||Mr. Drove and Mr. Studholme.|
|Llewellyn, D.||Roberts, P. G. (Heeley)|
|Acland, Sir Richard||Bacon, Miss A.||Blackburn, A. R.|
|Adams, Richard||Baird, J.||Blenkinsop, A.|
|Albu, A. H.||Balfour, A.||Blyton, W. R.|
|Allen, A. C. (Bosworth)||Barnes, Rt. Hon. A. J.||Boardman, H.|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Bartley, P.||Booth, A.|
|Anderson, A. (Motherwell)||Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F J.||Bottomley, A. G.|
|Anderson, F. (Whitehaven)||Benton, G.||Bowden, H. W.|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Beswick, F.||Bowles, F. G. (Nuneaton)|
|Awbery, S. S.||Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)||Braddock, Mrs. E. M.|
|Ayles, W. H.||Bing, G. H. C.||Brockway, A. Fenner|
|Brook, D. (Halifax)||Hardy, E. A.||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. J.|
|Brooks, T. J. (Normanton)||Hargreaves, A.||O'Brien, T.|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Harrison, J.||Oldfield, W. H.|
|Brown, George (Belper)||Hastings, Dr. Somerville||Oliver, G. H.|
|Brown, T. J. (Ince)||Hayman, F. H.||Orbach, M.|
|Burke, W. A.||Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Tipten)||Padley, W. E.|
|Burton, Miss E.||Herbison, Miss M.||Paget, R. T.|
|Butler, H. W. (Hackney, S.)||Hewitson, Capt. M.||Paling, Rt. Hon. Wilfred (Dearne V'lly)|
|Callaghan, James||Holman, P.||Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)|
|Carmichael, James||Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth)||Pannell, T. C.|
|Castle, Mrs. B. A.||Houghton, Douglas||Pargiter, G. A.|
|Champion, A. J.||Hoy, J.||Parker, J.|
|Chetwynd, G. R.||Hubbard, T.||Paton, J.|
|Clunie, J.||Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, N.)||Pearson, A.|
|Cocks, F. S.||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayr)||Peart, T. F.|
|Coldrick, W.||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Poole, Cecil|
|Collick, P.||Hughes, R. M. (Islington, N.)||Popplewell, E.|
|Cook, T. F.||Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Porter, G.|
|Cooper, G. (Middlesbrough, W.)||Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)||Price, M. Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)|
|Cooper, J. (Deptford)||Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||Proctor, W. T.|
|Corbet, Mrs. F. K. (Peckham)||Irving, W. J. (Wood Green)||Pryde, D. J.|
|Cove, W. G.||Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.||Pursey, Comdr. H.|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Janner, B.||Rankin, J.|
|Crawley, A.||Jay, D. P. T.||Rees, Mrs. D.|
|Cripps, Rt. Hon. Sir S.||Jeger, G. (Goole)||Reeves, J.|
|Crosland, C. A. R.||Jeger, Dr. S. W. (St. Pancras, S.)||Reid, T. (Swindon)|
|Crossman, R. H. S.||Jenkins, R. H.||Reid, W. (Camlachie)|
|Cullen, Mrs. A.||Johnson, J. (Rugby)||Rhodes, H.|
|Daines, P.||Johnston, Douglas (Paisley)||Richards, R.|
|Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.||Jones, D. T. (Hartlepool)||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)|
|Darling, G. (Hillsboro')||Jones, Frederick Elwyn (West Ham, S.)||Robertson, J. J. (Berwick)|
|Davies, Edward (Stoke, N.)||Jones, J. H. (Rotherham)||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)|
|Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.)||Jones, William Elwyn (Conway)||Rogers, G. H. R. (Kensington, N.)|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||Keenan, W.||Ross, William (Kilmarnock)|
|Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)||Kenyon, C.||Royle, C.|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W||Shackleton, E. A. A.|
|de Freitas, Geoffrey||King, H. M.||Shawcross, Rt. Hon. Sir H.|
|Deer, G.||Kinghorn, Sqn.-Ldr. E.||Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Delargy, H. J.||Kinley, J.||Shurmer, P. L. E.|
|Diamond, J.||Lang, Rev. G.||Silverman, J. (Erdington)|
|Dodds, N. N.||Lee, F. (Newton)||Silverman, S. S. (Nelson)|
|Donnelly, D.||Lee, Miss J. (Cannock)||Simmons, C. J.|
|Donovan, T. N.||Lever, L. M. (Ardwick)||Slater, J.|
|Driberg, T. E. N.||Lever, N. H. (Cheetham)||Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)|
|Dugdale, Rt. Hon. J. (W. Bromwich)||Lewis, A. W. J. (West Ham, N.)||Snow, J. W.|
|Dye, S.||Lewis, J. (Bolton, W.)||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C||Lindgren, G. S.||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir F|
|Edelman, M.||Lipton, Lt.-Col. M||Sparks, J. A.|
|Edwards, L. J. (Brighouse)||Logan, D. G.||Steele, T.|
|Edwards, Rt. Hon. N. (Caerphilly)||Longden, F. (Small Heath)||Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)|
|Edwards, W. J. (Stepney)||McAllister, G.||Stokes, Rt. Hon. R. R.|
|Evans, Albert (Islington, S. W.)||MacColl, J. E.||Strauss, Rt. Hon. G. R. (Vauxhall)|
|Evans, E. (Lowestoft)||McGhee, H G||Stross, Dr. B.|
|Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury)||McInnes, J.||Summerskill, Rt. Hon. Edith|
|Ewart, R.||Mack, J. D.||Sylvester, G. O.|
|Fernyhough, E.||McKay, J (Wallsend)||Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield)|
|Field, Capt. W. J.||Mackay, R. W. G (Heading, N,)||Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)|
|Finch, H. J.||McLeavy, F.||Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)|
|Fletcher, E. G. M. (Islington, E.)||MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles)||Thomas, I. R. (Rhondda, W.)|
|Follick, M.||McNeil, Rt. Hon. H.||Thomas, T. George (Cardiff)|
|Foot, M. M.||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)|
|Forman, J. C.||Mainwaring, W. H.||Thurtle, Ernest|
|Fraser, T. (Hamilton)||Mallalieu, E. L (Brigg)||Timmons, J.|
|Freeman, J. (Watford)||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)||Tomlinson, Rt. Hon. G|
|Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N.||Mann, Mrs. J.||Tomney, F.|
|Ganley, Mrs. C. S.||Manuel, A. C.||Turner-Samuels, M.|
|Gibson, C. W.||Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.||Usborne, Henry|
|Gilzean, A.||Mellish, R. J.||Vernon, Maj. W. F|
|Glanville, J. E. (Consett)||Messer, F.||Viant, S. P.|
|Gooch, E. G.||Middleton, Mrs. L.||Wallace, H. W.|
|Gordon-Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C||Mikardo, Ian||Watkins, T. E.|
|Greenwood, A. W. J. (Rossendale)||Mitchison, G. R.||Webb, Rt. Hon. M. (Bradford, C.)|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. (Wakefield)||Moeran, E. W.||Weitzman, D.|
|Grenfell, D. R.||Monslow, W.||Wells, P. L. (Faversham)|
|Grey, C. F.||Moody, A. S.||Wells, W. T. (Walsall)|
|Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley)||Morgan, Dr. H. B.||West, D. G.|
|Griffiths, W. D. (Exchange)||Morley, R.||Wheatley, Rt. Hn. John (Ed'nb'gh, E.)|
|Gunter, R. J.||Morris, P. (Swansea, W.)||White, Mrs. E. (E. Flint)|
|Haire, John E. (Wycombe)||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Lewisham, S.)||White, H. (Derbyshire, N. E.)|
|Hale, J. (Rochdale)||Mort, D. L.||Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W|
|Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.)||Moyle, A.||Wigg, George|
|Hall, J. (Gateshead, W.)||Mulley, F. W.||Wilcock, Group-Capt. C. A. B.|
|Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil (Colne Valley)||Murray, J. D.||Wilkes, L.|
|Hamilton, W. W.||Nally, W.||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Hannan, W.||Neal, H||Willey, F T. (Sunderland)|
|Willey, O. G. (Cleveland)||Winterbottom, I. (Nottingham, C.)||Yates, V. F.|
|Williams, D. J. (Neath)||Winterbottom, R. E. (Brightside)||Younger, Hon. Kenneth|
|Williams, Ronald (Wigan)||Wish, Major F. J.|
|Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A||TELLERS FOR THE NOES|
|Williams, W. T. (Hammersmith, S.)||Woods, Rev. G. S.||Mr. R. J. Taylor and|
|Wilson, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Huyton)||Wyatt, W. L.||Mr. Collindridge.|
Question put, and agreed to.
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ It being after Ten o'Clock, and objection being taken to further Proceeding, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report Progress, and ask leave to sit again.
§ Committee report Progress: to sit again Tomorrow.