§ Debate resumed (according to Order) on the Motion, moved yesterday by Lord Latham, to resolve, That, in view of the statements on planning made by Lord Reith on July 17, 1941, on October 7, 1941, and on February 11, 1942, by Lord Portal on April 21, 1942, June 17, 1942, and November 18, 1942, and others, and especially in view of the statement made by Lord Woolton on December 10, 1943, that "We will make a White Paper available that will give the full intentions of the Government on this matter immediately after Christmas", this House regrets the promised White Paper has not yet been issued and that the country is still without any indication as to how the Government proposes to implement the promises repeatedly made on its behalf or how otherwise it proposes to deal with the question of the speedy acquisition of land on equitable terms, the question of compensation and betterment and other related aspects of proper planning and the provision of adequate housing accommodation for the people.
§ VISCOUNT MAUGHAM
My Lords, in my opinion the Government have no cause for complaint if they are attacked, as they have been, for not producing the White Paper earlier, and they must submit to criticisms even though they be of a somewhat harsh character, inasmuch as they have made optimistic statements with regard to their hopes and intentions where the White Paper is concerned. It may be some consolation to them to remember that had their views been pessimistic as to the date on which they would issue the White Paper, the charges against them would have been still more severe, and they would have been held up in even more caustic language to obloquy and contempt for thinking it would take so long to make up their minds as to what the White Paper should consist of. All that 216 —even if the criticism has some unfairness attached to it—is only part of the system of modern politics.
I do not think one can complain very greatly about what has been said or about the words which have been used, except that there is one rhetorical phrase which I do think is a little uncalled-for. When it is asserted that the Government are living in slumberland, the people who make observations of that sort might think a little of the lives of members of the Government. Those who know anything about the subject know that during the war it is not the case that Ministers live in slumberland, but that they hardly have time enough for slumber. Hour after hour they are engaged in work on behalf of the country as a whole in the midst of a great war and it really is too bad to use a phrase like that, which represents to the country that this is a body of idlers who sit presumably part of their time in their offices doing nothing except changing the names of various Departments and arranging for the appointment of new Ministers. However, the facts as regards the various new offices and new Ministers were so amusingly detailed that I for one am not desirous of complaining, because I never complain of a little laughter even though the subject in hand is one of the greatest possible urgency and importance.
I should like to say at the very start that, except for the war, of course, there is no matter before this country so serious and so important as that of housing the British people and the returned Service men after the war in decent and respectable dwellings. I know something about it which I could tell your Lordships if I did not wish to keep my remarks within a very small limit; but it seems to me that the question of the lack of housing is difficult and almost desperate and, apart from the war, which must of course have priority, there is no question that we can conceive which is more closely connected with the health and happiness of the people. Some people think that this question will only arise when soldiers return from abroad. My Lords, it exists now. There is no district in this country where there are enough houses for the people. I have heard on oath statements made by people who sleep three in a bed and from people who are crowded in rooms where there is really not sufficient accommoda- 217 tion for more than one. That position exists now and it is only going to get worse after the war. For reasons which I hope very shortly to state, the unfortunate feature of it is that there is no complete answer to it at the present time, nor can there be for some years after the war.
Let us consider what the present position, the undoubted position, is. The facts were detailed in a statement of the Minister of Health two days ago in another place and, incidentally, I will take this opportunity, if I may, of saying that we who have sat in this House to hear appeals, or who have presided over Courts elsewhere, know very well that there is no abler or more straightforward and sympathetic man than the present Minister of Health. What he says you may depend on as being true and reliable. The number of men in the building industry of this country to-day is 40 per cent. of the number that existed in 1939, but the men are older and they are practically all of them organized for war needs. They are not available for building houses for occupation at the present time. They are building, at the moment, for war production and they have been so employed during the war. Some, however, are now engaged under the direction of the Ministers very largely in the repair of war damage. There was a hold-up in that work because at one time only £250 was permitted to be spent for the repair of a house, but on 29th January last a circular was sent out authorizing local authorities to spend up to £500 per house, and the Minister has told us that there is good reason for thinking they will break the back of the repair work by the end of the year. That is most important from the point of view of priorities because you may repair a house fore say, half the permitted amount, that is £250, and so enable a very large number of persons to live in that house. In other words, that is more economical work from the point of view of housing than to build a new house for which there would have to be work upon the foundations and all the other concomitants required in connection with it.
Now there is a new feature which, at any rate, shows the Ministry are doing something. The men who have been used in the airfields' programme in this country are being released, to a very large extent, 218 and directed by the Minister of Works to the various authorities in order to work upon the preparation of sites for houses. That, of course, includes the making of roads and sewers and the laying of pipes for water and other services. The Minister tells us that sites have already been acquired sufficient for 200,000 to 300,000 houses. These sites have been selected by the various authorities. I am going to say a word presently with regard to their selection and what can be done about it. But 300,000 houses is little more than a drop in the ocean, because, although the immediate need is for 1,000,000 houses, in the future the country will need 3,000,000 to 4,000,000. When I say "in the future" I mean in the next ten or twelve years. Your Lordships will find all that set out in the debate in the other House. The immediate problem, therefore, is quite different from that of the ultimate programme. Since we are going to have a small number of men home in the first instance, it is perfectly ridiculous to speak as if we were going to begin to construct even 1,000,000 houses, much less 3,000,000 or 4,000,000 houses.
The most important, and I think, the most valuable decision which the Government could have come to in connexion with the housing problem is to say, as they have said, that they intend in the first instance to devote their energies in the first couple of years or so after the war to erecting, if humanly possible, 300,000 houses, and to leave to the future—not necessarily a distant future because it will be before the end of that programme is completed—the question of the rebuilding of the whole country and providing all the various things, many of which are not immediately needed, that are set out in the Uthwatt Report. In the first instance it may be expected that 100,000 houses will be ready in the first year after the European war is over and a further 200,000, built or building, may be anticipated during the next year. Incidentally I may remark that the number built during the twenty-eight months after the last war was 100,000—that is, in two years and four months—so that we shall be doing extraordinarily well if we manage to realize the figures I have stated, for of course only a very small proportion of the labour force, which exceeded a million before the war, will be available during the first two years.
219 I want everybody to ask himself the question, what is the real trouble about the erection of houses in this country? There is absolutely no doubt that the real trouble is the lack of labour. I shall enlarge on this a little later if I have time. It is not a question of whether the White Paper is going to be published during the next week, and it is not a question of whether the Government accept, lock, stock and barrel, the suggestions which are made in the Uthwatt Report, the Scott Report and the Barlow Report. That is not what stops building. The reason that houses cannot be built now is that there are no workmen to build them. The reason houses will not be built during the whole of this year is the same. During the first year after the war the Government will have to work with only one-tenth, or something like that, of the labour force which is necessary for a large-scale programme of building. That is the fact; there is no question about it. That is the obvious reason why houses cannot be built at the rate at which people would desire them to be built, and the Uthwatt Report, if it ever can be carried out in whole or in part, cannot possibly be carried out in any large measure, cannot begin to be carried out except as regards planning, for at least a couple of years after the war. We shall not get more than 600,000 or 700,000 good workmen during the year after the war and there is going to be a great deal of work necessary before houses are really started on any large scale.
If the White Paper were to be published to-morrow and the proposed Bill were turned into an Act of Parliament a day or a week following, that would not affect in any degree the number of houses that could be built at the present time or within a year or two. These facts rest on arithmetic. We cannot get the soldiers who are fighting, still more the soldiers who will be fighting, home from abroad to lay bricks while we are in the middle of a great war, engaged in military operations on which the whole future of the Empire depends. We cannot do it. Your Lordships must really be sensible about that, and make up your minds in view of unalterable facts that the programme suggested by the Minister of Health as regards the number of permanent houses which he thinks can be built according to all the advice he has been given, during 220 the two years after the war, cannot be substantially increased.
Then we come up against this terrible problem which we cannot avoid. There will be 1,000,000 houses wanted as soon as the lads come back from abroad, and we cannot hope to produce them all. The Government have to face this unalterable fact that habitations of some sort will be needed for large numbers of people when the soldiers return. Something has got to be done about it. They cannot go into the street. Of course, the answer is that an enormous effort must be made to provide temporary habitations for these people, because there is no way of providing anything better than that at the present time. Sneers and jeers as to temporary buildings will not help anybody. It is a roof over the heads of these people that will be needed. A sound building which will keep out the rain, with means of heating, means of cooking, means of washing—all these things immediately are much better than a promise of a magnificent dwelling with all modern conveniences which cannot be provided for two years. You have got to house these people, and if I were a member of the Government I would not hesitate for a moment to say: "I agree that it is an unfortunate predicament we are in, but we cannot do anything better than that because of circumstances which we are unable to alter. We are doing the best we can." Rich and poor alike have got to suffer in the trials that are going to come upon us in this war. The rich will accept these trials as they have taken the deprivation of houses—of which I myself know something—and the reduction of money to little or nothing, with equanimity, or at least with patience, and we have to bear that in mind, and to hope (I think hope without any doubt) that the soldiers, if they are satisfied we are doing all we can to house them and make their lives happy, will not be inclined to join in the revolution promised us by people in another place and adumbrated by the very eloquent and amusing speech which we heard yesterday. There it is. That is the sort of trouble I see before us.
I want to say a word on the subject of the steps which the Government have taken with regard to immediate building—that is to say, as soon as it is possible after the war—of the 200,000 to 300,000 houses which they expect to build. The 221 Government have not really been forgetting that houses are necessary. They have not done nothing. If your Lordships look at the Official Report of the debate in another place on March 15 you will see in Column 275 what Mr. Willink said about the position. I do not want to read the whole passage but Mr. Willink said the local authorities were very anxious about the form of compulsory purchase orders in relation to the further land which they would need to obtain for the purpose of erecting all these houses, and he added that he was going to propose that he should be authorizedto confirm compulsory purchase orders without a pine inquiry. It is a power which was given before and I want to make it clear that such a power would not affect, in any way, the compensation to be paid.So that is going to be done, and of course it should be done in a very short time.
But when that is done, or while that is being done, it is not true that nothing can be proceeded with in regard to the preparation of sites for building. Mr. Bossom who is an expert on building and who recently returned from the United States after investigating American methods of building, said in the course of that debate:In spite of the absence of all decision upon the Scott, Barlow and Uthwatt Reports, upon new highways, green belts, and national parks, most local authorities are ready to designate at once the land they feel they will need. In the last two weeks I have been to half a dozen cities and towns, and always heard the same complaint, 'Can we be authorized to go ahead and get the land we require?' Local authorities should, I agree with the Minister, be authorized compulsorily to acquire the land they will need. The Minister has told us this to-day and we all appreciate that it is an enormous step in getting forward.If you give local authorities these powers, which can be given without the need for any White Paper, they can get on with the work. Do not let me be taken as saving that I differ from what my noble friend Viscount Astor said yesterday, or that I differ substantially from what was said in the letter published in The Times from the Mayors of "blitzed" cities and towns. I think it is quite likely that there are things which they require at the present time because in their cases special circumstances are holding up the construction of houses. With regard to this I would urge the Government to discuss with these gentlemen in person the question of what they really want. Sites can be agreed upon under existing legislative 222 powers. If there is something more they need besides being given compulsory powers to acquire land I know of no reason why they should not be given them. I should have thought that it was quite possible for the Government to meet them in that way.
The test of the Government having acted like wise custodians of the public interest in this matter is this: Is there one house which they are delaying by their actions? Is it true to say, at the present moment, that if they had published their White Paper at once there would have been any additional houses built? Is it true to say, or rather will it be true to say, that by delay in making up their minds on these most difficult problems of the Uthwatt Report they are going, in the future, to delay the erection of any houses? If that becomes true I shall be one of the first to attack the Government with all the command of language that I possess. But, at present, my belief is that it is absolutely unsound to think that anything of the sort is going to happen. I agree with what Mr. Willink said in the other place, and, as I have said to-day, I see no reason why the Government should not join with these people in obtaining any additional authorities they need, not for the big-scale policy for all the things we want, but for the limited policy for building houses, and, if necessary for building temporary dwellings—or providing temporary dwellings—for all the people who will badly need such habitations after the war.
Now I must say a word about the 1939 ceiling. It is a curious thing that practical builders say they do not care two straws about it. They say that because they have no difficulty in acquiring land at the 1939 price or below it. Of course they are not men concerned to buy land in the midst of the City of London for the purpose of building houses for the working classes. If you want to buy land opposite the Bank of England you will have to pay a substantial sum for it, but if you are going to buy land in rural districts you can get it for £10 a house site. That is the average price of land for rural dwellings. If you are building houses not strictly in rural areas but on the borders of towns the land will cost you £30 a house. But inasmuch as it will cost you, as prices stand—and I hope to heaven they will be reduced before very 223 long—about £1,000 to build each house, an extra £20 or £30 for the ground is not going to hurt very much. Nevertheless, I agree—for I rather pride myself in being fair in these matters—that there may be cases where authorities in towns, in cities, in London, for example, in the area with which my noble friend Lord Latham is so closely concerned, may find that there are people who will want to hold them up by asking too much for land. I think provision should be made for dealing with that. But that has got nothing really essential to do with the Uthwatt Report.
Unless my hand has entirely lost its cunning, I could draft, in five minutes, a perfectly fair clause winch would prevent any of these local authorities being held to ransom, and which, in my belief, would be passed without any comment in either House. All you want is a clause substantially of this character, that the valuer, whoever he may be, in determining the price of a particular piece of land, shall not take into consideration, unless for any special circumstances established before him, any increment of value in the site during the years since the commencement of the war. That is what you want—to ensure no increase of site value owing to the war being charged if the local authority has got to buy the property. And that is what the 1939 ceiling really means if it means anything at all. In another place, I notice, quite a lot of people said: "It is no good talking about a 1939 ceiling because there is none." In a sense that is true, but it is also true that there are cases in which you can prevent people making all sorts of unjust claims which local authorities may be well advised to object to very strongly.
And now I want to say a word as to the defence—so far what it is exactly none of us knows—in relation to the delay in issuing the White Paper. My notion is that the problems which are disclosed by the Uthwatt Report are problems of the utmost difficulty. I suppose it is because I am a lawyer and have been connected with this sort of thing for half a century that I have a terrible feeling that the problems and the results of the Uthwatt Report, if it were accepted in full, would lead to far more difficulties than the draftsman of that Report—for whom I have the highest respect—ever realized. May I just say this? For private reasons I 224 approached this Report with every desire to approve it, and to approve it in the House. Further study made me realize the enormous changes in land tenure which would result if the Report were adopted, and I entertain the greatest fear as to whether these changes would not do more harm than good. Some of the proposals in the Report, if they are carefully considered, seem to me to be of a most controversial character, and therefore matters which, having regard to the statement of the Prime Minister, ought not to be embarked upon in war-time.
However that may be, let me mention, if I may, in a few minutes, the various matters in the Report which I think are fraught with the utmost difficulty and which, if I were a Minister, I should take a long time to consider before I thought I could approve them. First as to the immediate vesting in the State of all the rights of development in all land lying outside built-up areas, with very small exceptions, on payment of what is called fair compensation. The result is, apparently, that an owner would not be able to build a house on his undeveloped land without the consent of the State, which means without the consent of the Civil Service, I confess that I think it very doubtful whether that would be the interests of the State as a whole, and I am fortified in my view by having read what my noble friend Lord Latham said on that topic not very long ago. The next question I want to mention is that of fair compensation if all those interests are compulsorily acquired by the State. There is the greatest possible diversity of opinion as to how that fair compensation is to be ascertained. Speaking with some knowledge of the Act dealing with coal, I think that to assimilate this case to that one is quite absurd. The problem is wholly different; in the other case there were reasons for a global sum which could easily be defended.
The third point is the compulsory purchase of war—damaged and reconstruction areas, the latter including any area which ought, in the opinion of the planning authority, to be scheduled for redevelopment as a whole. It is those last words of which I am very doubtful. That seems to me to allow the Civil Service to determine, without any limitation as far as we know, whether half the land of the country is to be scheduled for redevelopment as a whole. I should have thought that that 225 was very doubtful. There is another point Which seems to me extraordinarily doubtful. The lands, when acquired, are to be disposed of by way of lease only, with such covenants as planning requirements make desirable, to be enforcible by re-entry Private developers will find it exceedingly difficult to borrow money on such leases, and am told by at least one banker that nothing will induce him to lend money on such a lease.
The fifth question, on which I wish to touch in a few words, concerns the clauses as to compensation. It seems, to me that they require much consideration. The proposal that the element of value arising from public demand is to be disregarded is, I think, of very doubtful fairness. There is no need for me to express an opinion, but Mr. James Barr's objections are contained in the Report, and to my mind they deserve to be carefully weighed. Then there is a proposal for a periodic levy on increases in site value. That is strongly objected to all over the country and is again most controversial, but for the moment all I want to say about it is that I see no reason why the White Paper should deal with that, and why it should not be left over for further consideration. It not is bound up in any way with the other suggestions made in the Uthwatt Report. It can easily be left for further consideration. There are very powerful reasons against it, and they are also contained in Mr. James Barr's separate Report. As far as I know those objections have never been properly answered.
I want, if I may properly do so, to say a few words with regard to a long-term policy. I would urge the Government not to try to deal now, in the midst of this war, with points which, if not ruled out because they are so controversial, are at any rate points which can be left over for further consideration when our minds are freed from the ever-overhanging troubles relating to the war. I should have thought that it was a great mistake for the Government to pledge themselves to measures which will stop, or at any rate greatly hamper, any budding by private enterprise or by the public societies with their enormous funds. I am told that the ordinary private builders, who erected over 2,000,000 houses in the period between the wars, will not touch the question of acquiring land for building 226 on their own if the Uthwatt Report as it stands becomes law.
What I would urge the Government to do is to push through any legislation which may be reasonably necessary to enable all the preliminary work to be done for the intermediate erection of the 300,000 houses and the provision of temporary dwellings of some sort for the numbers of people who have to be accommodated. I frankly admit that that is not a counsel of perfection, but it is a counsel which looks facts in the face and which is inevitable. Nothing better can be done during this interim period. It is not a question for Party politics at all. I am just as anxious as any of my noble friends who are at the moment—fortunately for me—behind me, that housing should be got on with and that everything should be done to prevent grievous hardship owing to the lack of proper accommodation. I would suggest to noble Lords behind me, and perhaps to others, that they should give credit to the Ministers who are engaged in this matter—there is a number of them—for integrity, for industry, and for determination. I do not believe that any of them lack those qualities. If they will do that, I will conclude these too-lengthy remarks by saying, for heaven's sake let us get on with the job.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
My Lords, I hope that your Lordships will forgive me if I do not follow the noble and learned Viscount who has just sat down into all the ramifications, of his speech. Only a proportion of it, if I may say so, was very closely related to the terms of the Motion before us to-day. The debate which we bad yesterday, and the really remarkable speeches which certain noble Lords made to us—and particularly the speech, which many of us will not forget for a very long time, by the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, coming from a "blitzed" area—have really made the issues very clear indeed. What is the position that is before us to-day? It is simply this. A few days ago, in another place, the Minister of Health told us that in England and Wales alone we need no fewer than 5,500,000 houses. We know that the short-term scheme of the Government is to provide only 300,000 houses for the first two years. That figure has been criticised as inadequate, and I think that everybody, including the Government, would agree that it is inadequate; but I think 227 equally that any reasonable person must realize that in all the circumstances it represents as much as could be accomplished. I am pleased, therefore, that the figure has not been criticized by your Lordships, because that criticism would have been unfair.
With all deference to the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Maugham, I think that this debate, however, has made it clear, beyond any shadow of remaining doubt, that these houses—the 5,500,000 mentioned by the Minister of Health and even to a considerable extent a proportion of the 300,000 of the short-term scheme—will not in fact be built, nor indeed will even the plans for them be prepared until the local authorities not only have before them the proposals that have been promised at some date unspecified after Easter, but have actually before them and in their hands the legislative powers given to them by Parliament. The noble Viscount, Lord Maugham, disagrees there. He says there is no evidence that any houses will fail to be built because of lack of decision on these points. I confess that I prefer the advice on that subject of the Lord Mayors and Mayors of ten great cities and towns of this country and the views of the noble Lord, Lord Latham, speaking for the London County Council. I only wish that the noble Viscount, Lord Maugham, had been with me the other day in one of the greatest cities of this country, when the leaders of the corporation told me that they had to build no fewer than 70,000 houses in order to meet their housing needs; that at the present moment they had a site within their boundary for only about 3,000; and that they could take no steps whatsoever for obtaining more sites until they had a decision from His Majesty's Government upon this point.
We welcome the fact that the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, drew our attention to the difference between proposals (and it is only proposals that have been promised) and the Bill, between a Bill and an Act, and between an Act of Parliament and a local plan. I think he might have gone further and reminded us of the difference between a local plan and a purchased site and finally of an actual house, with the schools, shops, sewers, electricity and water supply that are needed; and furthermore, a house in the 228 right position, a house situated in the proper centre for industry. The fact is that to-day we have to face, I think, a very frightening conclusion, the conclusion that unless a decision is given immediately upon this subject we shall find ourselves within five years of the conclusion of hostilities in a worse condition in this country as regards housing than we were before the war. As we listened to the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, I think many of us must have felt deep sympathy for him. We know his past, we know his own feelings, his desire to get on with the rehousing of our people. We must have felt sympathy for him because he had to come to us and virtually confess failure.
I do not think any single one of your Lordships wants to discount the difficulties of this problem. Any one who has attempted to deal with this problem knows the intense difficulties. This is not the only problem in post-war conditions which is going to present us with intense difficulties, and we must not allow those difficulties to defeat us. I confess that I should have felt greater sympathy for the noble Lord if he had been just a little franker. At points he was very frank, but I cannot help feeling that before he got up some friend must have reminded him of the old adage that the best defence is attack and that the worse your position the more you should attack. I cannot help feeling that it was a little bit unfair of the noble Lord to turn to those who had spoken before him and almost reprove them for not realizing how busy Ministers are at the present moment. I ask the noble Lord to realize that that is not an excuse that this House or the public are going to tolerate for a moment with regard to this vital problem. If, in fact, Ministers were going to be too busy to deal with this problem why did they pledge themselves to deal with it in 1943? Why did they give repeated pledges to deal with it in 1942, and again in 1941? This is not a new problem that has arisen only in the last month or two when we are anticipating invasion operations.
And moreover, the Cabinet is not appointed on the basis of having only Ministers who are dealing solely with the war. During the last three or four years—we heard the recital from Lord Samuel—we have had our Paymaster-Generals, our Ministers Without Portfolio, our Ministers 229 of Works and Planning and Town and Country Planning, and finally the Minister of Reconstruction, every one of them appointed specifically for the purpose of dealing with this very type of problem. The noble Lord says that is not the point, he has to go to the War Cabinet for its decision. Why has it been possible to get decisions on education policy and health policy? Because Ministers have agreed. This delay has nothing to do with having to go to the War Cabinet, it is due to the fact that Ministers are unable to settle this problem among themselves and to agree. It would have been very much better, I think, if the noble Lord, had bee a franker on that point.
I am quite sure that the noble Lord did not mean to do this, but I think some of us a little bit felt that it was not entirely appropriate, in defending the Government for the delay in making up their minds to do anything, even to seem to be lecturing us on the fact that there was a war and an approaching invasion of enemy territory. I think the last thing that any of us would be prepared to agree to for a moment is that the fact of this great and bloody military operation now hanging very closely over us should be made an excuse for Ministers who are unable to make up their minds about this great and difficult problem. And moreover, surely the more suffering and the more sacrifice demanded from our younger generation, the more we owe to them. Surely it is the more up to us who are here at home to make our contribution by seeing to it that we have something ready to which they can return. Am I not right in thinking that the main purpose of the invasion is to bring one stage nearer the close of this great struggle? If that is so, does not the mere fact of the approaching invasion make it doubly and trebly necessary that the Government should make up their mind on vital problems such as these?
The noble Lord said he had been making inquiries as to what the soldiers were thinking. He had been spending evenings amongst groups of soldiers, and found they were not discussing Uthwatt. I do not think that is very convincing, if I may say so. He did say they were discussing more jobs and housing. Surely it is his job and our task in a legislative chamber such as this to discuss Uthwatt. We cannot expect the troops to know, 230 what is generally admitted by everyone in this House except, perhaps, Lord Maugham, that these houses and jobs are not in fact going to be obtained unless through the Uthwatt and kindred Reports. Perhaps it is possible to put rather too much blame on the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, who has been in office for only four months. It is the Government who are responsible, and I hope members of the Government are not going to sit back while they put the noble Lord in to bat and smilingly watch all the blame being put on one member of the Government responsible for the position. I do implore the Government to realize that this is not just a political question of satisfying Parliament by buying themselves out of one pledge by giving a new pledge of something in six weeks' time or so. This is a question of taking action to enable a problem to be tackled in time—of dealing with a great and vital need. I must confess that nothing so far has come from the Government Benches which has done anything to relieve my anxiety, nor does the promise of proposals after Easter mean that the work even of preparation can then be started. Therefore, speaking for myself, I trust very much that those who are responsible for these two Motions now before us will adhere to them.
§ LORD REITH
My Lords, I come to support Lord Woolton—Lord Woolton, not the Minister of Reconstruction whore we saw and heard yesterday. For that was not the Lord Woolton whom we have known and honoured in happier circumstances than these. I dare say that no degree of amazed dismay and disappointment that any of us may have felt at his embarrassed speech can have exceeded that which he himself, as Lord Woolton, must have felt. The melancholy and terrible chronology of deferment and reiteration of assurances was recited and need not be repeated.
Might I just be permitted to indicate what I think might and should and could have been done? The Interim Development Bill might have been passed early in 1942 instead of in July, 1943; the comprehensive Bill early in 1943 instead of not yet being in sight. On the last occasion when I addressed your Lordships, eighteen months ago, in October, 1942, eight months after leaving office—and I apologize for not having been in your Lordships' House since, but 231 I have been, and am, utterly occupied with my Admiralty work—I urged, firstly, the appointment of a Minister of Reconstruction on War Cabinet level; secondly, a committee of Ministers subordinate to him; and thirdly, a Central Planning Commission for land control. I advocated a properly institutionalized Minister of Reconstruction because only so—and I speak with a good deal of experience of the Ministerial twilight which the noble Lord has been experiencing—can these interdepartmental difficulties be overcome. I advocated a Commission because I believe that a Commission would move faster than any Ministry of Town and Country Planning—and in fact, has the Ministry of Town and Country Planning moved at all? Incidentally, the Commission was promised when the Ministry of Town and Country Planning was announced in January, 1943, and we have not heard any more of it since; but I believe we shall.
I, too, like the noble Earl who has just spoken, was not impressed by Lord Woolton's defence of the War Cabinet. He was appointed a very short time ago but the fact that anyone was appointed at all—and such a one as he in particular—showed two or three things: (1), that there was a public demand; (2), that the Government recognized that demand and wished to meet it; and (3), did it not also mean that reconstruction was to come on the agenda of the War Cabinet? Did it, in fact, mean that or did it not? Might it have meant that by the mere meeting of the demand by the appointment of such a one as the noble Lord the immediate issue passed from the agenda? I trust not. I cannot imagine that they would have appointed Lord Woolton as Minister of Reconstruction had they not meant business, and certainly he would not have accepted the appointment had he not felt that the Government and the War Cabinet meant business. To appoint him and then not to give him time to talk to them—the noble Earl has said all that need be said on that. Anyhow, with the Committee of Defence and the Chiefs of Staff Committee, the burden is quite well shared in the actual conduct of the war. Apart from all that, the Ministry of Town and Country Planning has no war responsibilities or interests whatever—nothing to do with the war.
232 Where are we now, my Lords? That letter in The Times from local authorities, which has been referred to, tells of the frustration of their hopes. Some Bill about urgent housing appears imminent, but if we are not to have comprehensive planning dealing with the location of industry and the proper relation of town and country, it might all have been left to the Minister of Health, who could have amended the cumbersome procedure which has hampered the acquisition of property in the past. The Government, however, with the backing of Parliament and the whole-hearted support of public opinion, decided that reconstruction would fail unless simultaneously and integrated with housing and rehousing proposals, the problems of city congestion and safeguarding the countryside were included. Outrageous and excessive housing density, overcrowding in cities, ribbon development, country slums, misuse of market-garden and farm land due to uncontrolled development were to be avoided.
The Barlow Report had recommended the opening up and redevelopment of congested areas, decentralization of industry and population and such guidance of future location of industry as would secure a better balance in all regions—guidance by means of restriction and encouragement, not by compulsory siting. This was a new conception of town and country planning—positive not just negative. It demanded the solution of compensation and betterment problems. It demanded also that decentralization should be achieved without vandalism on the countryside. And it was to deal with such matters, arising directly from the Barlow Report, that the Uthwatt and Scott Committees were appointed. Yesterday we heard that the Barlow and Scott and Uthwatt Reports are still under examination, the results of which, if any, will appear in a carefully unspecified future. If houses are erected under this limited expediency Bill that we have been hearing about, they cannot be pulled down nor their density reduced, and the terrible machinery of city development will be in gear again as it was pre-Barlow; and nothing can stop it. Integrated national planning, with the right sort of houses rightly circumstanced, will be gone forever.
The blame is not, I think, on landowners—and I speak from my own 233 experience and after having listened to the comments of others. After all, vested interests are entitled, up to a point anyhow, to defend themselves. I do not believe it is the landowners who are blocking progress, and even if it were I should not blame them because it is the business of a Government to govern. By offering equitable terms they can overcome opposition and push the matter through. I gather from Lord Woolton that the difficulty was not what so many of us have suspected, interdepartmental and inter-Party prejudices and jealousies, apprehensions and timidities. Many of us had suspected that and if it is not so we are glad to hear it. Who, then, is responsible and where is the blame? Is it in the Ministry of Town and Country Planning which, after all, had been in existence for ten months before the noble Lord was appointed and which, surely to goodness, in that time might have worked out something for him to approve—or he might not, with his superior wisdom, have approved—and then take to the War Cabinet? Has the Ministry of Town and Country Planning given the noble Lord nothing? If so, there at any rate lies a considerable part of the blame; and it is not with the noble Lord. Or, perchance, having nothing from the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, or having something that he did not think good enough, the Minister of Reconstruction may have tried with the War Cabinet but failed. If so, there, with the War Cabinet, is the blame.
There should have been no doubt, even at the worst of times, that we would eventually win the war and there can be no possible doubt now. This is a war purpose for, in the darkest hours, the star of a Better Britain shone clearest, inspired and drew the people on. But Coalition arguments for winning the war and Coalition procedures bid fair to lead us to more treacherous ground than ever we trod before. Was it only a will-o'-the-wisp? Two years of stagnation are tragic and that time lost cannot be made up. It is very nearly, as so many speakers have said, too late now. It is, at any rate, the hour of crisis. Unless authority is fully conveyed and fully implemented now—and the words of one man could give it and the acts of one other discharge it—I submit, my Lords, and to the noble Lord in particular, that much the burden and anxiety, the 234 heroism and the sacrifices of war, will be robbed of their just reward.
I finish as I began, by saying that I came to speak in support of Lord Woolton. I believe that the import and purport of this debate is that we might address him in some such terms as these: "My Lord, the country looks to you; the country has faith in you; we realize you have great difficulties to overcome, but you have the inspiration of an almost incomparable cause. We believe, my Lord, that you will be victorious and we would encourage and arm you to that end."
§ LORD JESSEL
My Lords, I think we must all agree that we have listened to a great speech. It is a curious thing that last night I did what I do not always do. I listened to the wireless, and on the wireless these words were used about the proceedings in your Lordships' House:The failure to come to a decision on the land policy of the Government was discussed with some acerbity. Lord Woolton said in reply that he expected to bring forward proposals after Easter.To-day I am following the great organizer of the B.B.C. to whom we owe so much. Many of us, I think, regarded that statement by the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, as a sufficient promise in the circumstances. If he is going to bring forward these proposals after Easter, that is not a very long time ahead and we have not lost much.
A great deal of sympathy has beer, expressed for the noble Lord, Lord Wootton, in the circumstances in which he is placed, but I do not feel much sympathy for him myself because I think he is quite strong enough to do without it when he has made up his mind, after reviewing the proposals put forward, which are very intricate and very far-reaching and are going to affect the future of this country for many years. I do not think anybody can blame him because after so short a time in office he has deferred his decision for a few weeks or even a few months. The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, threw out a challenge to the Government and I was rather astonished to hear him make one charge when he was talking about vested interests, because we do not find his clear logical brain as a rule so deflected from good judgment. The noble Viscount has been a Minister of the Crown, and a very 235 good Minister in many ways for many years. He knows perfectly well that when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer—
§ THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR AIR (LORD SHERWOOD)
He never was Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ LORD JESSEL
I am sorry. I had forgotten that, but he has held many posts. He knows perfectly well that when certain interests are affected those concerned, through the bodies that defend their interests, seek an interview with the Minister. I am not a member of the National Federation of Property Owners, but I think he made rather an unfair attack upon that body. I will leave it at that. I do not think it is very material. It must be conceded that in this matter there are a number of interests to be considered.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
May I be allowed to interrupt? I did not attack that body. What I said was that they had declared that the Uthwatt Report must be fought and that they would be in the front rank in fighting it.
§ LORD JESSEL
I think that was only on one point about development rights. They did not agree with the Report in that matter, but they were not going to fight the whole Report. They said they were quite sure that better housing was a necessity and that they were against land speculation because it did property owners no good. What I was going to say was that questions relating to land go to the very roots of the whole of our national life. The interests concerned in land are very great and affect not only well-to-do people. Trades unions, the co-operative societies in which my noble friend Lord Beaverbrook takes such an enormous interest, all the people who are policy owners in the great insurance offices, educational bodies like universities, hospitals, charitable trusts and private people who act as trustees on behalf of others are all interested in land, and in many cases these interests are sanctioned by Acts of Parliament.
I would like to say a word also about the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Latham. He was a little bitter, if I may say so, in his remarks, though I do not think he meant to refer particularly to the Minister. We know that the noble Lord 236 is very keen on this subject, and as leader of that great body the London County Council he is responsible for a report on the position in the County of London. He complained about delay, but how many years is the County of London plan going to take to develop? He himself has told us that it is not a plan for the moment and that he does not expect London to be properly developed for another fifty years. I noticed that in the course of the debate in another place the Chairman of the Housing Committee of the London County Council rather contradicted, as it seems to me, what the noble Lord said. The noble Lord said, speaking about short-term housing, that he had sites for 3,000 houses in London at the present moment. If your Lordships will allow me, I will read what Mr. Silkin, Chairman of the Housing Committee of the London County Council, said on that particular subject. He said:… it is right to point out that local authorities must not make the failure of the Government to arrive at an early decision an excuse for not proceeding as rapidly as they possibly can.Then Lady Astor interrupted and said:I know that the honourable Member speaks for a 'blitzed' area. Does he mean that in London the authorities will get on with re-planning, without waiting for the Uthwatt Report to be adopted?Mr. Silkin went on:I tried to make my meaning clear. What I said was that we could get on for a time. We should have no excuse for sitting back and doing nothing, merely because the Government have not adopted the Uthwatt Report. I should feel that we were strongly to be censured if we did that.That was what he said about short-term housing.
§ LORD LATHAM
May I interrupt in order to say that Mr. Silkin is not Chairman of the Housing Committee, and that I cannot see that his statement conflicts with what I said?
§ LORD JESSEL
I seem to have made another blunder in my nomenclature. He is Chairman of the Town Planning Commtitee, I am told. He knows something about the subject, anyhow, and he has been associated with housing, as the noble Lord knows, for a great many years. I think that what was said by men of experience in another place shows that the local authorities, unless in some cases their circumstances are entirely different from what they are in London, could get 237 on with this work without making the excuse that they do not know the Government decision on the Uthwatt Report. There is another point which I think might be taken into account. The Secretary of State for Scotland, Mr. Johnston—I do not want to weary the House by repeating all the figures he gave—showed that local authorities can borrow from the Public Works Loan Board at 3¼ per cent. Taking the cost of land at £200 per acre, at ten houses to the acre that means £200 per house, and over a term of 60 years the cost would work out, including interest, at only 3½d. per week.
§ Loan JESSEL
Will the noble Lord allow me to make my point? He has had his chance, and perhaps now that he has said what he has said he will not interrupt so much. This interrupting is a very bad habit in this House—of course I do it myself. Sometimes, I know, it is necessary. With regard to what I was saying, I think that that also was a very good point. As to the Uthwatt Committee's Report and the Government's consideration of it, may I point out that whereas the Government are blamed for taking such a long time over the matter—they have, I believe, taken nineteen months—the Uthwatt Committee took twenty months to consider their Report?
Having listened very carefully to the whole of this debate, I do not think that a very good case has been made out against the Government. It is true that there has been delay, and nobody deplores it more than I do. I know the difficulties that it creates even in County al London planning. We do not know where we are as regards roads, we do not know what steps to take. After all, though housing is doubtless the most important matter, the question of the future planning of roads is also very important indeed. When we know what the Government decisions are we shall be able to get on. As has been pointed out over and over again, especially by my noble friend Viscount Maugham, it is not going to make the slightest difference to the 238 great housing plans for the future whether you agree to the proposals in the Uthwatt, Scott and Barlow Reports immediately or whether you do not. What you have got to do is to get on with temporary housing for the moment. Even now, the local authorities, through the wisdow and experience of the new Minister of Health, have been allowed to spend more money in patching up houses that have been damaged. The local authority of which I am a member have now voted £40,000—which, by the way, does not come out of our pockets but from the Government—for the repair of houses in "blitzed" areas, and the work is proceeding as fast as material and labour become available.
There is one other point I should like to make, and I am very glad to see that the Minister of Works is in his place. The matter to which I would refer is that of Crown Lands. There has been something about it recently in a newspaper owned by another noble Lord who is sitting before me—the Daily Express. We all know that the Crown owns a. good deal of property in this country. I, myself, for eight years was on the Committee of Crown Lands in London, and a lot of good work we did. But we always found ourselves very much up against the Treasury ruling that we must act with a view to making a profit. We could not behave like good and generous landlords who have powers of discretion and can say: "This is a thing which is going to be good for the people, and we are going to give it them although it will cost us money to do so." In working on the Committee you must aim always to extract the last ounce in order to make a profit according to the Treasury rule. That is directed by an Act of Parliament. Now I read that the honourable Member for Newark has been asking a question about some land in his division. He states that the price asked for it worked out at £275 for half an acre, whereas land can be obtained very close to that place for about one-third of that price. In consequence of the price which is being demanded, the local rural district council are up against it. Now that is the sort of case into which I am sure the Government ought to inquire.
In conclusion—and I do not want to weary your Lordships—I would say that I hope that a little more straightforward thinking will be done over these great questions. It seems to me to be some- 239 what popular at the moment, especially in the case of those who wish to be Independent candidates for Parliament, to go down to the country and say: "I wish to support the Prime Minister, but I am in favour of the Scott, the Barlow and the Uthwatt Reports. All the things which those Reports envisage will be done at once if only you elect me." In one or two cases the adoption of that cry has succeeded. On the whole, I believe that the people of the country have looked into this question, and have made up their minds. It is, I think, realized that if to-morrow you put into practice the Uthwatt Report, you would be doing nothing to get houses built more quickly, especially after the war.
Great interest has been displayed in this matter and I do not think it will cease to hold immense interest, especially as we have had these promises—which I rely upon—on behalf of the Government. I well recognize the difficulties with which Ministers have been faced. I am glad that tribute has been paid to them for their good work, especially in the cases of my noble friends Lord Portal and the new Minister of Reconstruction. They deserve the praise which has been given them. I know something of what has been done. It is a great pity that it should go out that things are wrong; on the contrary, I think that, with the exercise of a little more patience, things will go all right. I sincerely believe that Lord Woolton, who has done magnificent work for the country, will get this thing put right, and then, no doubt, great sorrow will be felt by those noble Lords opposite who are always criticizing the Government. Mind you, criticism is not a bad thing at all. If we did not have these noble Lords criticizing the Government as they do, this House would be a much duller place. I well remember the time before we had any Opposition—and I think the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, will bear me out in this—when proceedings in this House were apt to be exceedingly dull. Now we have been reinforced by these gentlemen opposite, and their criticisms create a certain liveliness which is undoubtedly a good thing, not only for this House but for the country at large. It is but right, I suggest, that the Government should be told that all is not quite as well as they think. Finally, I hope we shall have that Easter egg, and that it will be a good one.
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
My Lords, I suppose that ever since the days of Job, and probably for a good many centuries before that, the spectacle of a just man struggling against adversity has provoked sympathy from his neighbours, and we all felt that the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, was in that position yesterday. The House was no doubt greatly disappointed that the noble Lord had no specific proposals to lay before it, and I think that the House found it very much easier to extend its indulgence to the noble Lord personally than to him when he is in the position of having to defend the record of the Government. The noble Lord has succeeded to a damnosa hereditas of three years of vacillation, indecision and procrastination. Three years ago the Government committed themselves in the most formal and precise way to a policy of positive national planning. Since then three years have passed, occupied largely by formulae of compromise which were read differently by every Minister who was concerned with them. That, I suppose, is why Ministers always read their statements so carefully in these days, for the alteration of a single word would upset the balance and disturb the interpretation which individual Ministers put upon those statements.
The Government have been committed for three years to a policy of positive national planning, and the explanation which I venture to submit to your Lordships for the failure to make progress is that that policy has never been wholeheartedly accepted by the great Government Departments concerned. Do not let me be misunderstood. I am not maligning the Civil Service; what I am saying is that the Civil Service in those great Departments have viewed this policy of positive planning through Departmental spectacles, and there has been no one to knock their heads together and make them take the sober national point of view. I believe that therein lies the secret of delay, rather than in the pressure which has been suggested of vested interests of a financial kind. These Government Departments are vested interests of another kind. I called them that in your Lordships' House some time ago, and never was I more convinced than I am to-day that Departmental interests are a great obstacle to progress at the present time.
Let us consider the three great Departments concerned. I will take them in 241 alphabetical order. The first is the Ministry of Agriculture. The Ministry of Agriculture is vitally concerned, and rightly so, to preserve our agricultural land; but, interpreted Departmentally, that means keeping industry out of the countryside, that means keeping industry in the towns, and that means good-bye to any policy of decongestion of the congested urban areas, good-bye to the sensible provision for the ever-spill from the great towns—that is, if the conception of the protection of agriculture is driven to its logical conclusion. Then there is the Board of Trade. The Board of Trade is vitally concerned with industry, and I believe that in the Board of Trade there is a perfect horror of allowing anything to be done which might interfere with the efficiency of industry. That, of course, is right; nobody wants to interfere with the efficiency of industry; but let me remind your Lordships that in the long run the efficiency of industry depends on the efficiency of industrial labour, and, unless that labour is properly housed, it will not be efficient and the efficiency of industry will suffer. I feel convinced that that theory of protecting the efficiency of industry is overdone. The Board of Trade itself shows some tendency to interpret planning in the sense of directing or influencing industry towards the Special Areas. That is where I think it is wrong, because that policy, if fully successful, might easily end in upsetting the balance of industry over the country as badly as it was upset before. Then there is the Ministry of Health. The Ministry of Health never forgets that it was the Local Government Board. It views planning through the eyes of the local authorities, and, I submit, still remains unconvinced that national planning is more than the aggregate of local plannings.
In all those three great Departments there is not, I submit, a proper realization that a positive policy of planning from the national point of view involves subordination of Departmental interests. To fill the gap, and to provide the positive policy, is what we hope that the Ministry of Town and Country Planning will do. Until the creation of that Ministry there was no Department whose duty it was to view the provision of houses and industry together in the right places from the national point of view. That is the supreme issue of to-day in this matter of town and country planning. Every 242 speaker has emphasized the importance of houses, and that is why the Government are to blame, because housing should come first, but housing is dependent on planning. It should come before education and the medical services. Three years have passed, and the Government take credit for what they have done for reconstruction, and point to their scheme for a medical service and to their proposals for education, but the provision of homes and the policy of positive planning ought to take precedence over them both.
My noble friend Lord Astor summarized yesterday, at the conclusion of what, if I may be allowed to say so, I think was one of the best speeches he has ever made in your Lordships' House, a programme of constructive planning. He told your Lordships what we need new powers for, and he said:We need new powers to amend the Housing Acts, to help the 'blitzed' cities, to provide homes for the men and women in the Forces on demobilization. We need new powers to check ribbon development, that form of housing which kills communal civic consciousness. We need new powers to prevent factories being put on choice farm and market garden land. We need new powers to prevent the past scandal when thousands of unemployed and many idle factories were to be found in some areas, while at the same time new factories were being built in residential and agricultural areas. We also need new powers to preserve that choice and lovely sceneryof our country. That requires positive planning, not negative planning such as we have had in the past. I do not know whether that will be accepted by the Minister of Town and Country Planning as the proper function of his Department, but, if it is not, then in my opinion he ought not to be Minister of Planning. If it is, then he has had time, since he became Minister, to prepare and propose to your Lordships interdepartmental machinery for bringing about the fruition of that programme. If he has not done that, he ought to come to Parliament and, if he found himself frustrated, he ought to have resigned. He ought to realize that his reputation is at stake in these critical days just as much as, and perhaps more than, that of my noble friend Lord Woolton.
I now turn to the question of compensation and betterment, with which the Uthwatt Report dealt. That has been described by Minister after Minister as the necessary preliminary to the sort of plan- 243 ning which I have outlined to your Lordships to-day. Lord Woolton's appointment filled us with renewed hope at a time when we were getting very discouraged. The noble Lord came down to your Lordships' House in December and made some speeches which convinced us that he fully appreciated the urgency of the subject, and he told us that he had the backing of the Prime Minister. That was in answer to noble Lords who threw doubt upon his powers. The noble Lord said he was quite satisfied with his powers, that he had the backing of the Prime Minister. All I can say is that his statement of yesterday has drawn a heavy draft on the account of his credit. I am quite certain that your Lordships are prepared to honour the draft, but it is fair to say to the noble Lord that that credit is not unlimited.
The country thought, and still thinks, that the appointment of the noble Lord was the best that could be made, and I want to say to the noble Lord that he is in a very strong position. He has found various schemes discussed and re-discussed, and held up for one reason or another. The duty lies before the noble Lord, as a plain, honest, straightforward, able business man, to make up his mind about what is wanted in this matter, and, having made up his mind, to go to the Prime Minister and make his report. And which of your Lordships will doubt that he still has the backing of the Prime Minister and that then he can come back to your Lordship's House and say "This is what I consider fair"? If the noble Lord does that, the country will accept it, and the thing will become practical politics. What the noble Lord needs is the whole-hearted co-operation of Departments. He needs Departments which are trying to give effect to national planning, instead of holding it up, as I believe some are doing now by lack of co-operation. I would like to say to the noble Lord that he, too, has the weapon of resignation.
There is only one other point I want to make. I am greatly interested that the noble Lord, Lord Beaverbrook, is to reply. I cannot help remembering that when the noble Lord was sitting over there on that Bench, but perhaps not of it, nobody derided planning more severely that he did.
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
I do not know whether the noble Lord thought I was guilty of advocating wasteful planning.
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
I do not think so. I was going to say but for the noble Lord's intervention that maybe he is going to tell us that there is a reversal of Government policy and that they do not believe in the policy of planning any more. I hope not. But the noble Lord also showed from that side of the House a passionate devotion to the cause of housing. I hope the noble Lord has become convinced that a passionate devotion to the cause of housing and a tendency to deride planning are incompatible. I have occupied myself with housing for twenty years, and if I may quote the sum and essence of my experience to your Lordships it is that without positive planning of the kind that I have described to your Lordships the housing programme of the Government is doomed to frustration and disappointment.
I think the country is beginning to be aware of what is at stake; I think the by-elections show it, and I have this suggestion to make to the Government in conclusion. If the Government still intend to implement this policy of positive planning, which is the only thing that will give us the homes for the people which are necessary to the future of this country—and we stand at a critical stage in that regard—we have got to reverse in some respects the tendency of pre-war days, and only positive planning can do this. If the Government are prepared to adhere to what they have said, if they are prepared in fact to make positive planning a reality, and not merely pay lip service to it, then let them accept this Motion which is on the Paper. All it does is to express regret that the proposals have not been put before us. The noble Lord, Lord Woolton, has done that. He has expressed regret for what was his youthful indiscretion in promising Papers a little bit too soon. We can easily forgive him for that. Having expressed that regret, there it is on the record that the 245 policy of the Government still stands. If the Government resist this Motion the country will think that there is in fact a change of policy.
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
Do not let us run any risk of that. I beg the noble Lord not to turn down that suggestion too lightly. There is no reflection on the Government, except that they have not produced their Paper quite within the time suggested. Let them accept the Motion, and I am quite sure that the account of the noble Lord will then be ample to meet the further draft which he is going to draw upon it, payable some time after Easter.
§ LORD SOULBURY
My Lords, the Motion on the Paper in the name of Lord Latham complains of the Government's delay in producing proposals for dealing with three specific matters. First is the question of the speedy acquisition of land on equitable terms; then there is the question of compensation and betterment and other related aspects; and thirdly, the provision of adequate accommodation for the people. I take it that the first two causes of complaint are ancillary to the third, and that the third matter is one of the most profound importance, as many of your Lordships have said to-day and yesterday. And I think it is generally agreed in your Lordships' House that the adequate provision of housing accommodation must have absolute priority and precedence over almost any other form of planning, particularly in the interests of the returned soldier. These men will want houses quickly when they return. If the original houses they used to have have been damaged they will want to find them repaired; if they have been blotted out they will want new ones, if not on the same site, somewhere close at hand; if they have never had a house and they want to set up a house they will want a house somewhere near their friends and relatives, or their old place of work. But wherever they are they will want these houses quickly, and good houses at reasonable rates. It is difficult to have a matter more urgent than that. It is more urgent than schools, because the house is the home and the home and family life are the basis of school life.
If I understand the noble Lord Lord Latham's argument, it is that the Government's 246 delay in making their proposals regarding the acquisition of land and compensation and betterment have retarded, or if continued will retard, the provision of adequate housing accommodation. That, I think, must be the argument behind his Motion. It is not quite clear to me what he means by "adequate." Various estimates have been given as to the number of houses eventually required. The figure the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, gave was 5,500,000. Say, 4,000,000 or 5,000,000 houses to overtake arrears, provide for slum clearance, obsolescence, family increases and so forth. And the period of construction is, I believe, estimated at something between ten and twelve years. But the demobilized soldier cannot possibly wait for a period of that kind. I think he will have very little interest in planning so far ahead, or planning on such a large scale. And therefore, as the noble Viscount, Lord Maugham, pointed out, the Government have wisely announced a scheme for short-term housing.
A question has occurred to me while listening to this debate, and perhaps to others of your Lordships as well—it is a question which has not yet been answered and which is very relevant—and that is the question Lord Maugham put in his opening remarks: Will the delay of which the noble Lord, Lord Latham, complains have any effect in retarding the provision of houses for the returning soldiers and their families? That is a question which has really got to be answered, and so far as I have listened to the debate I do not remember a single answer to it by any noble Lord. Indeed, the only reference at all to it was the reference by the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, in which he expressed the opinion that that question was irrelevant. I think it is very relevant indeed, and I am quite certain that the returning soldier will find it extremely relevant. The question might be put this way: If these proposals asked for had been promulgated a year ago, could the provision of these houses which are required for the returning soldiers have been accelerated? Or can it be accelerated now if the proposals are handed across the table? If the answer to that is "Yes," then the position of the Government is practically impossible to defend; but, there has been no suggestion that the answer is "Yes."
247 Very briefly, at the risk of a little recapitulation, I should like to show why the answer must be "No" and for three reasons to which reference has already been made. First of all, there is the reason of labour. With the best will in the world there are not the building operatives, young enough or properly distributed, to build for the Ministry of Health more than 300,000 houses at the expiration of two years from the end of the war. It is physically impossible with our resources as they are now, or as they are likely to be, to do better than that. The Minister of Health says that that the most he can aim at and I do not think anyone can question it. With 300,000 houses built or building at the end of two years it is not a question of adequacy or inadequacy. No White Papers, Reports or Acts of Parliament can alter the position. It is regrettable but it is the stern, stark, inescapable fact. Neither this Government nor any other Government with the resources at its disposal can do better than the Minister of Health has indicated. I have no idea when the war in Europe will end, but I shall be pleasantly surprised if the 300,000th house is completed within four years from to-day. We have also to take into consideration the question of repairs and rehabilitation. Probably there is something like two years of repairs to be carried out now.
Then there is the question of sites. Is the Government failure to produce a White Paper or the delay in accepting the Report having any effect on the question of providing sites for these 300,000 houses? There is no evidence produced in support of that. Three hundred thousand houses, it is calculated, will need 30,000 acres. According to the Minister of Health local authorities possess 16,000 acres—that is enough for 160,000 houses, and they have the power to purchase another 14,000 acres which represents a further 140,000 houses. In the Minister's considered opinion, taking into account the land in possession of local authorities and in process of being acquired, we should not be held up with the question of land purchase for this limited programme. Nobody has challenged that. I must ask once more in view of this opinion, can any noble Lord explain how the absence of a programme for the speedy acquisition of land prejudices local authorities so far as 248 acquiring the sites are concerned for the houses, the maximum number of houses which can be built in the next four years? Unless an answer can be given to that the Government position cannot be challenged.
Then as to price, the principle accepted by the Government as announced by the Minister of Health is "compensation in respect of public acquisition of land will not exceed the sums based on the standard of pre-war values." I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Latham, is not in his place because there is a very considerable conflict of opinion between him and his colleague the Chairman of the Town Planning Committee of the London County Council. I am bound to say that if it is a question of balancing authorities I am inclined to give preference to the Chairman of the Town Planning Committee of the London County Council. He says this:A great deal of land can be acquired for housing purposes at prices below the ceiling and in those cases the local authorities can have no complaint that the ceiling has not been fixed. There are other cases in which speculation has taken place in land and in which local authorities may be in a difficulty, but if I should have a guess I should say in the majority of cases land can be acquired at prices below the 1939 ceiling.He went on to say:I know London best of all, and I think it can be said there is enough housing work to be carried out for two or three years regardless of whether any particular plan is settled or not.The noble Lord, Lord Latham, made reference to a price of £12,000 an acre somewhere in London. Obviously the London County Council is not going to purchase that particular plot for housing. In view of the authoritative statement I have just quoted, even if the Government's proposals for compensation were not only published but on the Statute Book at this moment, what difference would that make to the provision of houses over tile next three or four years? No difference whatever.
It is sometimes forgotten—Lord Maugham reminded the House of this a short time ago—by those who are afraid of the speculator that the price of land bears a very small proportion to the total cost of the house. Figures have been given—the figures mentioned by Lord jessel—of 3½d. a week on a house on a sixty years annuity. The land has cost 249 about £20 per house. The average cost of the land for housing between the two wars from 1919 to 1939 has been in the neighbourhood of £25 a house in England and £20 in Scotland. Even if the land were confiscated and no compensation paid at all, the saving to the tenant would not be at all substantial. I vary much doubt whether the returning soldier would think that the wrangling and controversy and the inevitable delay which must be occasioned by endeavouring to settle the complications of compensation and betterment worth such a small weekly sum.
To sum up this part of my argument, the moist urgent problem in post-war planning is houses for returning soldiers. For the provision of adequate housing accommodation in the next four years the absence or presence of Government proposals for the acquisition of land and compensation and betterment are quite immaterial. In short, much of the pressure for some immediate White Paper or Bill to deal with long-term planning may have political advantage for Government critics, but for the practical object of producing homes for returning soldiers during the next four years it is almost irrelevant.
§ LORD SOULBURY
The noble Lord, Lord Latham, told us we could not separate the short-term Ministry of Health programme from the long-term planning. Is that true? If it is, it is very depressing. As Lord Jessel has pointed out, it is clearly not the opinion of the Chairman of the Town Planning Committee of London County Council. The Minister, if this were true, would be open to censure if he allowed himself to be held up through failure to carry these various long-term Reports into operation. I have no doubt that the returning soldier would join in the censure. What would he say to the noble Lord if Lord Latham told him that the 300,000 houses will have to wait until the long-term plan is framed to comprise the short-term plan? We are told we must not separate short-term housing from long-term housing. That would be poor consolation to the returning soldier. He wants one of these 300,000 houses. If he were a polite, mild man he might reply in the words Lord Addison used last May "I am not prepared to admit that you have got to settle everything before you can settle anything." But it 250 is more likely that he would reply, "Unless you settle something, I shall settle the noble Lord, Lord Latham."
The noble Lord may go on to say: "If only the Government had made up its mind more quickly, we should have had a White Paper, or even a Bill, before last Christmas containing a long-term and a short-term plan." But a White Paper is not an Act of Parliament nor a Bill, and the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, told us yesterday that he envisaged that it might take as long as three years to pass an Act of Parliament dealing with this difficult and contentious subject. I think that is very likely. There is a great Bill before Parliament now—the Education Bill—and it is not going very swiftly, and probably there will be a Health Bill to follow. That will be a very long Bill but not particularly controversial, whereas a Bill dealing with the subject we are now discussing will be extremely controversial and will, presumably, take a long time. If a Bill had been introduced before last Christmas and did not become law before, say, 1946, and no short-term planning was permitted until long-term planning was settled, then indeed I think the soldiers would lose faith in democracy more quickly and for reasons other than those given by the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, yesterday.
Some reasons have been suggested for Government delay. There have been references to vested interests. I have never myself been quite clear what a vested interest is. I do not quite know how to define it, but if I were asked to give a definition of vested interest I should say: "an interest in which the Labour Party and Liberal Party are not, or pretend not to be, interested." But these vested interests, as has been suggested just now, are very numerous indeed. Many hundreds of thousands of property owners are directly or indirectly interested, and through -building societies and insurance companies many hundreds of thousands of working-class people are concerned. Opposition is by no means confined to the National Federation of Property Owners, whoever they are, or any other hidden hand behind the scenes. The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, analyzed the causes of delay. I understood him to say that one of the causes is possibly a Coalition Government. I do not like Coalition Governments any more than he does, but 251 there is no doubt they are definitely necessary in war-time and in times of national crisis. There is one almost constant attribute of Coalition Governments in our history, and that has been extreme sensitiveness to the pressure of minorities. That may be a merit or it may be a defect. The noble Viscount would probably think it a merit. He suggosted that delay was due to the influence of this Federation of Property Owners. It is very difficult to suppose that the War Cabinet is browbeaten by a body of that kind. It is just as likely, or unlikely, that the delay has been due to extreme tenderness towards one or other of the minority components of the Coalition.
However that may be, I think it is relevant to consider the effect on the present Coalition of such extreme controversy as would occur in connexion with the acquisition of land and compensation or betterment. It is far more controversial than any other Bill I can think of, and it may be that the Prime Minister had in mind the effect on the Coalition when he used the words quoted by Lord Horder in another connexion the day before yesterday. The House will remember the words:There is no question of far-reaching changes of a controversial character being made by the present Government unless they are proved indispensable to the war.The Prime Minister added:I could not take the responsibility…without a Parliament refreshed by contact with the electorate.I think that last sentence is particularly important. The Prime Minister also had in mind that there was a war on and controversy with our enemies is, on the whole, especially at this juncture, quite sufficient for the War Cabinet without adding unnecessary controversy at home.
As regards the future, there seems to be an idea prevalent in the country that the people of this country are becoming so conditioned by regulations and rules of war-time as to be likely to suffer postwar planning gladly and patiently, that we are all, to use a cant phrase, becoming "easy meat" for the planner or, as the Labour Party put it in their recent pamphlet The Old World and New Society, 252The demands of the war have accustomed people to new habits.I do not altogether believe that. I rather wish I did. For whatever Government is in power after this war it will have to do a great deal of planning, combined with a great deal of controlling, and in my judgment the British people as a whole do not take too kindly to planning.
By nature we are a very individualistic people and we instinctively dislike Government interference. Already the pleasure of interminable correspondence with Government Departments in efforts, usually futile, to obtain permits to carry on one or other of the ordinary purposes of normal life, is beginning to pall. The ordinary citizen is getting a little tired of wondering, at the end of a day's work, how many Departmental rules he has infringed. Your Lordships may have observed what the Lord Chief Justice said yesterday:There are many people who do not know they are committing a crime, so multitudinous are the regulations and orders that prescribe our activities to-day.The truth is, my Lords, that people have had just about as much regulating and regimenting as they can stand and I anticipate a vehement reaction against Government regulations and restrictions when this war is over. Therefore I do hope the planners—because planning has got to be—will not be carried away by too much zeal and fervour, and that they will do their best to restrain the activities of clever and well-meaning people who appear to enjoy ordering others about and planning their lives for them. If, my Lords, our post-war planning is too drastic, too elaborate, too enthusiastic, too impetuous, if it involves too many prohibitions, rules, and orders prescribing where work is to be done, where people are to live and where we will take our recreation, then I think these plans, however admirable, will not meet with that approbation of the general public which is so essential to their success.
Finally, may I draw your Lordships' attention to two principles which emerge from the writings of Edmund Burke, the profoundest political philosopher of his age and perhaps of any age? The first is the recognition of human society as an organism rather than a mechanism, and the other is the need for maintaining continuity with the past and ensuring that 253 changes, when made, cause the minimum of dislocation. I am not without some apprehension that the planning which the noble Lords opposite have in mind will contravene both those principles.
§ LORD ROCHE
My Lords, I can promise your Lordships one thing and that is that my intervention in this debate at this hour will be very short. I should not have intervened at all but for a profound desire to make it plain that I myself, in common I believe with other noble Lords sitting on these Benches, am as much concerned with the future of housing as noble Lords who sit opposite and are urging that the cause of housing should be advanced. I wish also to make it plain that, contrary to the view of my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh, I do not share the opinion that this Motion ought to be accepted. Why, it is a vote of censure on the Minister of Reconstruction. I rather think that if the noble Lord who moved the Motion and who, unfortunately, is not at the moment present hear it debated, had been present, he would have intervened to demur to that suggestion. The Minister of Reconstruction has regretted that he made a promise and has not kept it, and, with all respect to my noble friend Lord Balfour, with the greater part of whose speech I profoundly agreed, I think the last part of his speech was impossible. My opinion is that this House should reject the Motion and I propose, if it is unhappily pressed to a Division, to vote against it.
I will tell your Lordships why. The Minister of Reconstruction, not to put too fine a point upon it, if one may take a metaphor from the noble game of cricket, was batting on a very difficult wicket, and he made an admission that he had made a mistake. It is so unusual for any Minister, and quite impossible I think generally speaking for any civil servant, ever to admit making a mistake, that it was quite refreshing to hear such an admission. What was the mistake and how serious was it? Mr. Arthur Balfour said—I am not sure that he was the first to say it—that the man who never made a mistake lever made anything. That is true, but it is also true that the mistake of being too hopeful is one of the most blessed faculties a man can possess. What did it amount to? The noble Lord, having been in office only a short time, though 254 the was far enough on to make a definite statement. He made it and now he says frankly "This thing has proved more difficult than I thought and it could not be carried out, but it will be carried out at a certain later time." That is fair, that is right, and it is not a thing for which the noble Lord should stand in a white sheet. He did not do so. Why should he? I am not going to enumerate the noble Lord's claims to our gratitude, but at any rate he clothed the British Army in the shortest time and fed the British people in a war that unhappily has proved long. I am satisfied that we may have confidence that he will carry through this programme. If you depress him by passing a vote of censure upon him you will be doing the worst thing your Lordships could do. Therefore I ask you not to do it.
§ THE EARL OF WARWICK
My Lords, like my noble friend who has just spoken I should like to stick to the terms of the Motion which regrets that the promised White Paper has not yet been issued. I cannot follow the noble Lord, Lord Latham, nor any of the noble Lords who spoke from the other side of the House, and particularly I find it impossible to share the opinion of the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr. The whole subject of land acquisition is one which affects every single part of our national life. The noble Lord, Lord Woolton, was entirely right when he said that it was not only a matter for a War Cabinet decision but a matter for a decision under the leadership of the Prime Minister himself. There was considerable agitation over this question of the promise yesterday. I must say that the fact that the noble Lord was not capable of keeping the promise was something which cheered me very much and seemed to me to be a great sign of good faith on the part of the noble Lord. I would much rather he made a miscalculation of two or three months than that he should have protected himself by a little vagueness, which considering the short time he had held office would have been so very easy for him.
The Uthwatt Committee was appointed with certain limited terms of reference in January, 1941. The Committee took twenty months to issue their Report, a Report limited by specific terms of reference. I think we are agreed that this is a matter for the decision of the War 255 Cabinet. We know the enormous task facing the War Cabinet to-day, and we realize that the Government are not limited by the terms of reference to the Uthwatt Committee. They have to consider from every angle how that Report is going to fit into our way of life. Surely the time they have taken is not so terribly long. It is not as if no legislation had been passed in these nineteen months, or as if nothing had been done to strengthen the position of planning authorities. I think it is most unfair that noble Lords opposite brushed aside so lightly the Town and Country Planning (Interim Development) Act. That Act is not something of no account. I will not weary your Lordships by reading its provisions, but you will find in Section r, Section 5, Section 6, particularly subsections (1), (2) and (3), and in Sections 8 and 9, provisions for extra powers for the Minister in carrying out plans. Although I have not the expert knowledge of the noble Lord, Lord Latham, in this matter, I have discussed it with town planning authorities and with lawyers and I think there is no question that in the period since the publication of the Uthwatt Report something has indeed been done by the Government to assist post-war planning.
The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, said there was great disaffection in the province. I must tell him that in my part of the country I have not noticed it. He went on to say "What is the good of planning unless we know we are going to have the property?" There are powers vested both in local authorities and in the Minister to enable them to get hold of property.
§ VISCOUNT ASTOR
You cannot deal with such things as changing the position of roads, or prescribing sites for factories. We are not merely discussing the putting up of houses. The noble Earl has completely missed the point.
§ THE EARL OF WARWICK
So long as legislation for this greater planning of which the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, has spoken comes in time—
§ VISCOUNT ASTOR
Various noble Lords have addressed themselves to me, and I have been careful not to interrupt up to the present. We must remember that after the last war we were forced to put up houses in places where we now regret they were built. We are anxious not to be forced by public opinion to put up houses without having the right to say where they should go, as well as the right to locate industry and schools and hospitals and everything else.
§ THE EARL OF WARWICK
I feel that is rather after the fashion of what the noble Lord, Lord Soulbury, said—trying to make everything impossible until you have been able to make your big plan. I would like to add one word on the remarks of the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, about vested interests. On that I very much agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Jessel, said. Surely your Lordships will not adopt the suggestion that was made. It is perfectly true that this is a very controversial subject, but can anybody imagine that landowners and farmers and the Property Owners Association of which we heard yesterday have Machiavellian schemes to prevent the proper administration of our land after the war? I am surprised that the noble Viscount, who made such a witty and entertaining speech, should have suggested that. Finally I would like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, for his speech yesterday, and to tell him how very much I support him, how sure I am that he is a most suitable and proper person for carrying out this very difficult task, and how certain I am that he will have tremendous support from the country in his task.
§ LORD BEAVERBROOK
My Lords, there has been such a very fine case made out for the Government during the debate, and so many speeches have been made in support of the Government and in praise of my noble friend Lord Woolton, that I am sure my noble friend Lord Latham will wish to withdraw his Motion as speedily as possible. Should he show any desire to withdraw, I would be ready to conform heartily and with complete approval. If he does not intend immediately to withdraw, I suppose I must go on for the moment. As I understand my noble friend Lord Latham's case, he claims that the Government are preventing the London County Council 257 from getting on with their housing programme. I understand that is the case of the noble Lord.
§ LORD BEAVERBROOK
I must say I was immensely impressed by the answer to Lord Latham provided by my noble friend Lord Jessel in the quotations from the statements of Mr. Silkin which he put before the House. Mr. Silkin is Chairman of the Town Planning Committee of the London County Council. He has said that there are plenty of sites in London to enable the carrying on of building operations for the next two years. That was how I understood the quotation which was made in the House to-day. If Mr. Silkin is correct in what he says, how are the Government interfering with the London County Council in getting on with their housing programme? I cannot understand it. But if there is a difference of opinion between my noble friend Lord Latham and Mr. Silkin, then I suppose we can only describe it as trouble in Paradise, or in Wonderland—such phrases are popular now. In any case, I think that the answer supplied by my noble friend Viscount Maugham, in his most brilliant speech, dealt with that phase of the situation adequately and completely. In fact, one speaker after another his referred so extensively to the housing programmes, and has dealt so exhaustively with them, that I almost expected my noble friend Lord Portal to be answering the debate instead of myself. In fact, the only case that I have heard made against the Government to-day was that of my noble friend Lord Reith. I did not quite understand his case in its entirety. He, like all the other speakers, praises the Minister of Reconstruction, out he is blaming somebody. I am not quite clear who it is, but somebody is being blamed for something. So far as I could make out, it was a sort of "Who killed Cock Robin?" speech. The only difficulty in this situation is that you cannot find a guilty man because Cock Robin is not dead. It is quite impossible to have an inquest here when there is no body.
In addition to my noble friend Lord Reith, Earl De La Warr spoke with sympathy for my noble friend the Minister of 258 Reconstruction, but he went on further to say that my noble friend the Minister had not been quite frank with the House. That is a very strange accusation for Lord De La Warr to make. A few years ago he was a member of the Government himself. He was at the Ministry of Agriculture, and while he was there a vast number of schemes was introduced, one after the other, for the restriction of production. Some years afterwards, when he is out of office, he says: "I, and many others with me, were revolted at the policy which we had to carry out of setting a limit to production." And that noble Earl has made an accusation today against my noble friend the Minister of being wanting in frankness.
Now I want to go back for a moment to the debate which took place yesterday. We were told by my noble friend Viscount Samuel that this was the fifteenth debate on this subject in this House, and for a fifteenth debate we have indeed covered an immense range of subjects. In fact we have shown considerable effects of the fourteen debates that have gone before. There has been a great deal of praise for the Government, and some blame from one or two directions. The blame, so far as I understand it, is based on the suggestion that the Government have not provided a planned programme in relation to land. But the Government have provided a planned programme in relation to land. That is the very thing that the Government have done. One of the first stops by the Administration was to produce plans in relation to the land, and the first one was produced by my noble friend Lord Reith. It was a declaration which was directed to the control of speculation, speculation in land. That was the purpose of his declaration, to control speculation. It was a successful declaration for, mark you, metropolitan land has not gone up in price over the 1939 level. On the contrary, it has shown a tendency to fall. Agricultural land has gone up; but by how much? I am told, after a careful survey, by 25 per cent. There has been a 25 per cent. increase in price. But commodities have gone up in price by 54 per cent., and industrial shares have gone up by 50 per cent. So here we find agricultural land lagging behind commodities and industrial shares, and all due to the first step taken by my noble friend Lord Reith in enunciating a land programme, a step intended to control 259 speculation. I congratulate his Lordship on the success of it.
The next step was the invitation to the Committee to prepare the Uthwatt Report. That, mind you, was the policy of the Government. Now the Uthwatt Committee was appointed in November, 1940. Again, my noble friend Lord Reith was the Minister at the time. The Committee's Report was handed to Parliament twenty-two months later. The Committee, mark you, was composed of men who are highly experienced in dealing with land problems. Men who understood all about land and land tenure—or most of them did—sat down to produce a Report, and it took them twenty-two months to do it. Then they handed in their Report and the issues involved were referred to the Government. They were all referred to the Government for consideration and decision. The Government have worked on these findings, and they have, if I may say so, made immense progress in eighteen months. It really is remarkable and surprising that progress has been so swift. Ministers were called upon to consider all these complex issues of compensation and betterment who had no knowledge of land and land tenure at all. They are not landlords, they are not estate agents, they are not men engaged in litigation relating to the land. They are drawn from quite a different class of the community. In eighteen months they have made a great deal of progress, as we all know, progress which has justified us in expecting to come to conclusions at an early moment, and which justified my noble friend in saying in this House yesterday that he hoped that shortly after Easter—did he say shortly after Easter? No, after Easter. What is "shortly"?
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
Will the noble Lord go a little further and be a little more definite, and relieve our minds by saying that they will be produced before next Christmas?
§ LORD BEAVERBROOK
I am delighted to apply myself to the question raised by the noble Viscount, but it is not in my province to say how soon the proposals can be produced. If the noble Viscount is looking forward to them shortly before Christmas, then I will say "shortly before Christmas" instead of "shortly after Easter." The noble 260 Viscount, Lord Samuel, always talks in this House with wit and with wisdom, and I admire his speeches, but he should understand better than anybody the difficulties which confront the Government in dealing with these complex issues, difficulties that are hard to overcome and intricate and tedious to deal with. He ought to know that, because he himself belonged to a Government that produced a town and country planning Act. It was not called by that name, but that was the meaning of it. It was in 1909 that that Act was put upon the Statute Book. It was a most interesting Act. It adopted a 1909 datum level; acid thirty years, and you get the 1939 datum level. The 1909 Act was drawn up by the Liberal Government of which my noble friend Lord Samuel was such a distinguished member.
There were three proposals in that Act. First of all there was a 20 per cent. increment duty on land values, on the sale of freehold, with this 1909 datum line. What has happened to that proposal? It has gone altogether, and the noble Viscount knows why. Secondly, there was a reversion duty of 10 per cent. when land reverted—whatever that means. That scheme has reverted to oblivion. Lastly, there was an undeveloped land duty. The noble Viscount will remember his undeveloped land duty—an annual charge on undeveloped value, on site value, still on the 1909 basis. The noble Viscount has been all through this and knows all about it. What did he call those proposals? He called them "the greatest measure of financial reform we have had in England in modern times." That is how he described that magnificent Act. Those proposals have all gone; nothing is left. Well, something is left, because it left us the district valuers who are spread all over the country. Wherever you turn, as you go about the country, you see a district valuer set up by Lord Samuel's three projects for town and country planning, which have now all disappeared into thin air. The district valuers have found other duties for themselves since those days, but not in connexion with Lord Samuel's town and country planning Act.
§ LORD BEAVERBROOK
It was an Act of Lord Samuel's Government, and the proposals were stuck into a Budget, in order to deceive this House. The noble Viscount Lord Samuel, was a most distinguished member of the Government which made those proposals. Lord Samuel compared our Government yesterday with an Italian opera singer; he said twat there was agitation but no action. But what has been the result of his own town and country planning proposals? Not only no action, but not even agitation. The noble Viscount, who can be congratulated on having failed in 1909, criticizes the Government for not coming forward in a short space of time with mature plans in 1939. In Government circles there has been plenty of action. Consider all the projects for after-war plans which have been submitted to Parliament already. If you do so, you must give great credit to this Government. Immense energies have been devoted to planning a programme for houses, Lord the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Maugham, gave your Lordships a brilliant account of the achievements of the Government in that respect. They propose to build 300,000 houses in two years, and 200,000 sites are already located-200,000 out of 300,000. Another 100,000, to be constructed in the last six months of the two-year period, still await location. That is some plan—300,000 houses in two years.
In the first two years after the last war we had nothing like 300,000 houses, or even a plan for 300,000 houses. The cost, at present prices, will be something like £300,000,000. More than that, the Government plan to build 3,000,000 to 4,000,000 houses in ten years. These long-term plans are in hand. Projects are being carried through. The Government, who are said to be deficient in planning, have already carried out this immense plan for the building of 300,000 houses in two years after the war, and are going forward with plans for building 3,000,000 to 4,000,000 houses in ten years. Further, the Government have planned an extensione of the labour force to deal with that programme—another great project. Before the war there were 1,100,000 people engaged in building; now there are only 400,000. The plan which has been laid down to raise this labour force to the strength required by the programme is a very important plan, a plan for which the Government can take great credit.
262 Mr. Willink—I was delighted to hear the praise of Mr. Willink in this House to-day—who produced this housing project, has also developed a plan for health services. It will not take me more than a moment to recite the benefits of that plan—a family doctor for all, hospitals for all, with no charge at the time, and consultant services for all, and these services widely distributed. The project has been welcomed everywhere. Parliament brings wise counsels to bear on the plan, especially in this House, where we have a consultant service unrivalled in any other public institution. The additional cost of this health service will amount to as much as £93,000,000 in a year. Briefly, the Government say that the right of the citizen to equal treatment, whether in or out of hospital, is no longer a matter of private, but is a matter of public concern. Every one of us must take considerable satisfaction in that plan and give credit to the Government which produced it. It is a remarkable achievement. These two great plans, representing £400,000,000 of expenditure, have come from one Ministry.
Then there are the education proposals—a vast project in planning. The additional cost of the education proposals will rise to £80,000,000 a year. There are the plans for the rehabilitation of men who have been disabled in the war, and there are the projects for the reinstatement of men from the Forces in civil employment. These are most important social projects; they have been worked out with immense care, and they offer us the hope and the expectation that some of the most difficult problems of the transition period will be dealt with. These are the plans of Mr. Bevin, the Minister of Labour, and they are certainly more extensive and far-reaching than any social measures attempted in the past. I need not remind your Lordships of the plans for education now in the Commons. There are projects for highways, on which the Government will spend £50,000,000 to £70,000,000. My noble friend Lord Leathers is the planner. I am pleased to say he has the confidence of this House; the House has shown him confidence over and over again, and well he deserves it.
Then there is the agricultural plan, the four-year plan. Mr. Hudson is now working out a long-term plan. He devotes a great deal of attention to the subject, and you may trust him; judge his future by 263 his past. You know what he has done. He has raised the food value of agricultural production in Britain during the war by 70 per cent. The Ministry is also making a plan now for an increase in live stock and the improvement of live stock. The Ministry of Mr. Willink is planning for 300,000 cottages in the next ten years—a long-term project and that gives me especial pleasure. Next month there will be a national water policy. The water plan includes water for man and beast, for agricultural industry; water for every man and water for all the beasts. We shall spend £20,000,000 for water and sewage in the rural districts alone—another plan. And so I might go on with plan on plan. And the money? Something like £600,000,000 planned so far—three times the total expenditure before the crisis on the Army and the Navy and the Air Force. And there is more to come. Town and country planning in due course and in good time.
The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, made a speech yesterday which I must say—and I agree with Lord Balfour of Burleigh—was certainly one of the best speeches in form and manner (though not the material) that I have heard in this House. He embraced the views of every Party, and why not? He told the House not long ago that he started as a Conservative, passed through Liberalism and Radicalism to Socialism; he thought he was becoming a Communist. That was a short time ago. Yesterday he said on two occasions during his speech that he was a Conservative, and I may say I welcome him back to the Party. Both of us are entitled to fatted calfs, but as Lord Astor has wandered further than I he deserves a big calf. He told us yesterday that if we do not deal with the housing problems of Plymouth the Houses of Parliament will be disposed of and a new form of Government established. That was, I understood, the meaning of his statement yesterday.
I was a little apprehensive when he threatened the whole of the democratic structure if we did not provide a plan to build houses and schools in Plymouth. So here goes. I will try to save democracy and the democratic structure. Lord Astor asked, Will the Government bring in a Bill dealing with town and country planning, and will the Bill be accompanied by 264 a White Paper explaining the basis on which compensation, betterment, redevelopment, etc., are worked out? That was as I understood his question. The answer is, Yes. He asked secondly, Will the Government introduce a Bill amending the Housing Acts, and will this Bill be accompanied by a White Paper containing a statement of what the Government would like to do on planning? Would like to do! The Prime Minister authorizes me to say that we have resolved to provide the necessary homes for the people. In due course we will present our plans. These will not be accounts of what we would like to do, but a clear exposition of what we mean to do and are in process of preparing to do. I repeat the statement: The Prime Minister authorizes me to say that we have resolved to provide the necessary homes for the people. In due course we will present our plans. These will not be accounts of what we would like to do, but a clear exposition of what we mean to do and are in the process of preparing to do.
The answer of the Prime Minister brings me to the end of my account of the planning operations of the Government. I come to an end in a very proper place. For all this planning, of which I have given you such an extraordinary record, with the Town and Country Housing Bill not far off—an extraordinary picture—has all been accomplished under the guidance of the Prime Minister. Planning has been his daily task. We have produced under his guidance the most brilliant projects ever undertaken here or elsewhere, and the whole I believe to be the result of his political genius. Of course there is also the military planning, which must go on all the time while we wage war. And this planning also falls to the Prime Minister. Now look at the results. The victory of Alamein was the outcome of planning, involving not only vast movements of men and materials over the oceans and through distant countries, but the timing of their arrival at the battlefield; then there was the conquest of North Africa and the landing in Algiers. What plans, an what wondrous results!
But there are the plans for defence too. The U-boat menace was a skull and crossbones in 1940, it was indeed. Again plans and more plans. The Battle of the Atlantic Committee met constantly, sometimes night after night, long sessions summoned 265 by Mr. Churchill, with his unfailing capacity for improvisation and adventure. It was due to his initiative in flat Committee that the terror of the U-boat is now banished from the sea, or almost banished from the sea. Our merchant shipping had to be made to serve the ends of a great Empire. Plans once more, plans of Mr. Churchill, helped and heartened by the support of your own Lord Leathers. You ought to take great pride as you recall 1940 and the spring of 1941. Now we enjoy comparative security in Britain, we do indeed. The plans were made by the Night Air Defence Committee, over which the Prime Minister presides, which has held countless meetings and made many decisions. You owe the organization of your safety this clay to the planning of the Prime Minister.
There are all those plans, but there is something more. The Prime Minister has played his part in planning the aircraft production of the United States of America. It was his decision in May, 1940, to launch that great programme, a programme representing the expenditure of countless millions of your money, a programme which resulted in laying down the foundations of the aircraft industry in the United States of America. Without that plan, the plan of the Prime Minister in May, 1940, the United States of America would not be producing anything like 10,000 aeroplanes a month now. I must tell you, too, of aircraft engines—the Rolls Royce engine built in America on our plans, with our money, and our guiding personnel besides. The greatest aeroplane in the world, according to the Americans, is the Mustang. The Mustang is engined by the American Rolls Royce, ordered into production in America by the Prime Minister of Great Britain.
It is well we should have these debates in Parliament. It is desirable that the Government's plans should be laid before you for critical examination in this House. But none of us, I am sure, will willingly vote in the Lobbies of Parliament in condemnation or even criticism of the planning programme of this greatest of all planners. Now for a time, just a little time, let us invite the Prime Minister to turn all his planning resources and all his planning capacity to the single and simple issue of raising France up again, of liberating the Low Countries, of restoring to us and our homes our own children 266 who will be fighting our battles one day soon over the Narrow Seas.
§ LORD LATHAM
My Lords, your Lordships' House must feel highly flattered that the Government have found it necessary on this matter to adopt a novel system of defence. It might perhaps be described not incorrectly as the hedgehog system. One blockhouse, the Minister of Reconstruction, went into action yesterday, and to-day another, Lord Beaver-brook, went into action. I shall not venture to inquire how far the Minister of Reconstruction feels flattered that it was necessary to bring Lord Beaverbrook to your Lordships' House to defend the Government on this matter. No doubt they can decide that question between themselves. Lord Beaverbrook asks who is responsible for the situation in which we find ourselves with regard to planning. I am going to answer that question. The Government are responsible—principally, I think, the War Cabinet. We were told a good deal yesterday about the War Cabinet being engaged upon the conduct of the war. That is not an inappropriate activity for a War Cabinet. I did not previously understand that the War Cabinet had the additional duty of blocking reconstruction and delaying effective action for reconstruction.
Lord Woolton seemed to be quite uncertain himself as to the reasons why the White Paper, promised "immediately after Christmas," was not available and why he could make no definite promise as to the production of legislation. He first of all said that he did not appreciate the immense amount of time which would be taken in working out legislative details in order to bring into practice the principles which he had in mind. The Minister of Reconstruction surely does not invite us to believe that the War Cabinet is engaged in working out principles in legislative detail. That clearly is not the business of the War Cabinet; that is the business of the various Departments. I do not subscribe to the view put forward by my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh that the real delay is with the Departments. I think the real delay is with tile War Cabinet. Lord Woolton was appointed Minister of Reconstruction. We were led to believe that his appointment and his activities would speed on the work of reconstruction, including the important business of the physical planning of this 267 country. Now, apparently, we are told that the War Cabinet is just as effective a bottleneck against progress as it was before Lord Woolton was appointed. If that be the case—and nothing has been said, not even by the noble Lord, Lord Beaver-brook, to dispose of that submission—then the position is worse than it was before Lord Woolton was appointed.
I do beg him—not that I am without sympathy for him—not to complain that certain members on this side of your Lordships' House, and many people outside, interpreted the word "immediately" to mean immediately and to expect its implementation. If he was a little optimistic, well, as a politician he must accept criticism for his faults as well as encouragement and praise for his achievements. There is a phrase used in connexion with legal documents that a party cannot claim to be aggrieved if he has been content to be bound "with out ascertaining." The Minister of Reconstruction was content to promise without knowledge, according to what he said yesterday. If that be the case, the blame is only upon his own head.
If I may now deal with the second blockhouse: We were treated to an amusing, slightly noisy, but mostly irrelevant display of pyrotechnics by the noble Lord, Lord Beaverbrook. I am in great difficulty about Lord Beaverbrook and I am not the only person in this country who is in that position. He seems to me the locus classious of the peripatetic politician. You never know where he is. I am sometimes in terror that he may commence a speech from this Bench and finish it on that. His Ministerial location is only slightly less difficult to solve than the problems of the location of industry. What did Lord Beaverbrook say? I do not wish to be in any way disrespectful or offensive, but really he said very little. He said it loudly, with much volume and many words, but really he said very little. People outside, interested in planning, will regard it as an ominous indication that of all the members of the Government in your Lordships' House Lord Beaverbrook should have been chosen to defend the Government on questions of planning. We know that, apart from a minor falling from grace, Lord Beaver-brook does not in fact believe in planning.
§ LORD LATHAM
Except the planning of his own activities, which no doubt keeps him sufficiently busy. There was an occasion when he fell from grace. It was during a debate in this House on May 4, 1943. He was then supporting complaints against the failure of the Government to provide agricultural housing accommodation, and he said, referring to an accusation which had been apparently made in another place against Lord Winterton:The accusation of being asleep should be directed against the Minister of Health rather than against Lord Winterton. In fact some people would not object, I am sure, to being described as 'The Sleeping Beauty.' We might refer to the Minister of Health as 'The Sleeping Beauty' who wants waking up. He shows no capacity for this job. Are there any cottages yet? We were promised that cottages would be begun in April. Have any cottages been brought into production so far? Is any construction going on?Then the noble Lord answered himself on a resounding note:No. Any plans yet? Yes. The Minister has a plan. It might be called the Edinburgh plan. I know about his plan from reading his speech at Edinburgh. In that speech at Edinburgh he said: 'We must do the work'—you might think that that meant agricultural cottages, but it is not so—Now we are told this Government is entitled to limitless credit for all planning that has been done, including the planning of housing accommodation.
It is quite clear that this debate has provoked much interest not only in your Lordships' House but outside it. We have been concerned these last two days with one of the greatest, if indeed not the greatest, of the domestic problems in this country and the importance which the Government attach to its consideration and its discussion in your Lordships' House is evident from the very successful Whip that has gone on in connexion with this debate. It is true I have been in your Lordships' House but a few months over two years, but I have seldom seen the Front Bench so uncomfortably crowded as I observe it to be this afternoon. It is quite clear, notwithstanding what Lord Beaverbrook has said, that the balance of the weight of argument in the speeches made in your Lordships' House during yesterday and to-day, has been in 269 justifiable criticism of the Government. I think there can be no question of that, notwithstanding, if I may say so with every respect, the sound and sometimes the slight fury of the speech of Lord Beaverbrook. However, I and my friends feel that we have served a most useful purpose in ventilating this matter and we shall do it again if, "as soon as possible" proves not to be as soon as possible. In the meantime, I beg your Lordships' leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.