§ Debate continued.
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ LORD POLWARTH
My Lords, the major issues referred to in the gracious Speech have already been fully covered, and I ask your Lordships' permission, as the only Scotsman taking part in this debate, to touch, as briefly as I can, on only three points of purely domestic concern. The first of these is the question of assistance in the production of food from marginal land. I was glad to see mention of that in the gracious Speech. We had a full discussion on that subject in this House a few months ago, on a Motion put forward by my noble friend Lord Lovat, and I do not want to go into it now in any detail. I would only say that there are two points which require emphasis: first, we must have a comprehensive long-term plan for assisting farmers of marginal land in place of the expedients which exist at present; and secondly, this plan must be produced with the minimum of delay. It is all very well to pass an Act of Parliament, but passing an Act of Parliament will not necessarily produce any more food. Even when an Act is passed, when all the necessary planning has been done and the plans have been inspected and approved, it still takes a long time to achieve any increased production.
Take the case of fertilisers. One of the chief requirements of marginal land is the application of lime in large quantities. Once you have applied the lime, a matter of eighteen months or so must elapse before it has its maximum effect. Take next the question of increasing the production of beef. It is a matter of some four years from the time when you start planning until you produce an animal fit for consumption. Take also the planting of trees for shelter. Such trees are much needed in many of these districts, but it may be a matter of twenty years from the time of planting before they are of any value as shelter and therefore make any contribution to the production of food. The second matter with which I should like to deal is that of water supplies. While I was glad to see mention of this in the gracious Speech, the information to the effect that we were to be given more legislation caused me a little apprehension. Frankly, 156 I believe that we have plenty of legislation as it is. I wish to stress what has already been said by the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, that what we want is not more Acts, but more pipes. Let us give the local authorities the materials, and the authority to go ahead with these schemes and spend money which we have already provided. My recollection is that last summer we passed an Act making further provision of money in relation to water supplies for Scotland. Very little of those sums of money has so far been spent.
In the third place, I wish to draw attention to the omission from the gracious Speech of any reference to a subject that is at this moment causing grave concern in Scotland—namely, the question of the control of Scottish domestic matters. I know that I am arguing the particular case of Scotland now, but the question is of vital concern not only to Scotland but also to Wales and many other districts of this country—the question of the locus and method of control of domestic affairs. Some of your Lordships may have heard of the Scottish Covenant. You may even have heard an interesting broadcast discussion which took place last week—one of the rare occasions on which this subject has penetrated so far South. If I may look at it quite objectively, this movement is bound by no Party ties and it is sponsored by men representative of a great many bodies and different walks of life: political Parties, trade unions, local government authorities, professions and so on. This assorted body has produced what is called the Scottish Covenant. It is a document which expresses grave concern at the growing centralisation and control both in matters of government and, more particularly, in matters of industry—especially socialised industry. This document pledges its supporters to do everything in their power to secure the establishment of a Parliament for Scottish affairs: not a separate Parliament, but a Parliament within the framework of the United Kingdom Parliament, something analogous to the position in Northern Ireland. This document has already been signed by approximately a million adult people out of a total population of some 5,000,000 of all ages. I suggest that that 157 is a rather impressive figure. I do not think that any document which has received such support can be lightly dismissed.
I do not necessarily accept the view that the formation of a Scottish Parliament would provide the solution of the problem which is concerning me. I think perhaps its supporters are a little sanguine if they suppose that the creation of an additional quota of politicians would be a cure for all their ills. At the same time, we must recognise that this document is evidence of considerable concern at the way in which things are going in this matter of control. It is evident in many branches of government, though, admittedly, we have our own Departments for certain affairs, and it is much more evident in those industries which have come within the control of the State during the last few years, such as railways, long distance road haulage, electricity, and so on. There may be a facade of control in Scotland, but, in fact, the virtual control is all concentrated in London. I feel strongly upon this matter, and I know that I am supported by a number of my noble friends.
What is needed first, a full inquiry into the whole question of the method of control of these matters of domestic and local concern, preferably by means of a Royal Commission, but by some means or other. The trouble at the moment is Chat there is a grave lack of information on many matters which would help in reaching the best solution. There is, fey example, very little information concerning the relative contribution of Scotland to the United Kingdom's taxation. 'There is virtually no information on the part played by Scotland in the export drive at the moment, other than figures for dollars earned by the export of whisky. Such an inquiry as I have suggested could surely do nothing but help any Government which was in power. It would point the way to establishing the best method of managing affairs, and at the same time it would clear away a great deal of misapprehension which now exists. At the present time we have a new team at the Scottish Office: I hope that there is no particular significance in the fact that a pillar of the Foreign Office has been chosen and sent to manage Scottish affairs. I hope that he will bring his influence to bear on his colleagues to persuade them that such an inquiry as I 158 have mentioned would be in the best interests of all concerned. I think that any Government which might be in power would be both foolish and short-sighted to turn a blind eye to this growing volume of opinion and to refuse facilities for a full and impartial inquiry. I assure your Lordships that I have raised this matter from no Party motive. I think it is a matter which transcends Party and concerns every one of us. I hope that with your Lordships' permission some of my noble colleagues and myself may at a not too far distant date be able to raise the matter in your Lordships' House.
§ 4.49 p.m.
My Lords, may I be allowed to intervene just to say this? I have not signed the Covenant myself, but I entirely agree with every word that has been uttered and every fact that has been adduced by my noble friend who has just spoken.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT ALLENBY
My Lords, I rise with much trepidation, not only because this is the first time I have had the privilege and the honour of addressing your Lordships' House but also because I happen to have chosen a subject which has already been dealt with by two such experts as the noble Lord, Lord Layton, and the noble Lord, Lord Henderson. I would therefore crave your Lordships' kind indulgence. My excuse for mentioning the subject of Europe and European unity is that, unlike noble Lords who have already spoken this afternoon, although I am no expert I can perhaps express the feelings of a great number of the ordinary men and women of this country, and of certain other countries in Western Europe. I am sure that if a European Union is to succeed, the people must be behind it. In reading the debate in another place in November last year, I was much impressed by part of the speech of Mr. Frederick Lee, and with your Lordships' permission I will quote a few lines of it. Mr. Lee was one of the Socialist delegates to the Assembly of the Council of Europe at Strasbourg. He said:No matter how sincere the delegates at Strasbourg may be, and no matter how unanimous the Governments of Western Europe may be, we shall not make a success of unity in Europe unless the common people of the lands are given an opportunity to know what it means, to know what we are doing, and are brought to believe in it as we do.159 I very much doubt whether any Parliamentary Election has aroused greater interest than that which has just been held. In no part of the world has the result been awaited with more interest, and with more anxiety, than in the countries of Western Europe. After the Election they will have awaited with equal anxiety to learn what line His Majesty's Government intend to take with regard to Western Union and European unity. I am sure they will be as pleased as think we all are to see the references in the gracious Speech to the full support which His Majesty's Government will give to measures for the establishment of an effective system of security. At the same time they will be wondering how, in what form and when such measures will be taken. I think it is the sincere belief of most thinking men and women in the countries of Western Europe that security, prosperity and peace can be assured only by some form of European Union, a belief which is shared by a great many people in this country. Indeed, the Foreign Secretary in another place in November last stated quite clearly our aims and object, and he added that the United Kingdom was playing a full part. Twice this afternoon the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, impressed upon us that this country is playing her part. Nevertheless, and most unfortunately, an impression prevails abroad that this country does not play her full part.
There is good reason for that impression. I think we should realise two facts—and facts I believe them to be: first, European unity is impossible, or at least would be ineffective, without leadership, and, second, that effective leadership of any form of European Union can be provided at this stage—and timing, as we have heard this afternoon, is important—only by the United Kingdom in closest cooperation with the British Commonwealth. It is that leadership that the nations of Western Europe have been and are looking for. It is that leadership which they have not found, and they are as yet uncertain whether they are going to find it. It is high time that we in this country indicated clearly whether we are or are not in favour of a united Europe. As is well known, much doubt has been expressed about our sincerity in the matter. Only last November, M. Leon Blum, speaking of the British 160 Labour movement, suggested (I quote his words as translated in the Manchester Guardian) that doubt has arisen as to whetherthe Labour movement are not opposing the European movement.Then, if we affirm that we are in favour, we must make it abundantly clear that it is for us a matter far beyond and above Party politics. We must not give the impression, as did the present Minister of Town and Country Planning, Mr. Dalton, that the only Western Union that our Government would contemplate was a Socialist Union, Thirdly, we must show not only Western Europe but the United States of America—who expect it from us—and the whole world, that the United Kingdom, together with the British Commonwealth, will supply the leadership so essential to success.
At the present time there are far too many organisations dealing with European unity in one form or another. There is the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation; there is the Brussels Treaty Organisation, with all its committees; there is the Atlantic Pact, and the Council of Europe itself. Membership is not common to all. Indeed, the Atlantic Pact covers only eight of the twelve nations of the Council of Europe, but includes two that are not members of the Council. Everyone knows that the surest way to achieve nothing is to distribute a work among a large number of committees. That is what has happened to the United Europe movement. Some may say—indeed they do say—that we have enough problems of our own, and that we should not become involved with the problems of Europe. I claim that that is a shortsighted policy. If the world were plunged into another world war surely almost all our other problems would pale into insignificance. If the threat to the peace of Europe is one of war, then the nature of modern war is such that we are in it, whether we like it or not. If the threat is the infiltration of Communism and its influence in the countries of Europe one after another, the gradual Westward movement of the iron curtain, then again we are in it. The cold war may spread less quickly but not less surely than real war. We cannot allow Russian barbarism to overlay the culture and independence of ancient States in Europe, by whatever means it may employ.
161 In conclusion—and let us make no mistake—in the course of the next few years the Western Powers will be called upon to make great decisions. Only a united Europe will be able to act with the boldness and determination which will be necessary to solve the problems with which they will be faced. It is all the more urgent, therefore, that immediate steps be taken to show the world that we and the nations of Western Europe are in fact determined to form a Union which wilt have among other aims, the maintenance of world peace and freedom from aggression of any kind. Surely the first step is obvious, and it is that Great Britain should indicate, very soon and quite clearly, to the Western Powers—and it should be made known in some way to the peoples of the Western Powers and to the people of this country—whether or not we are in favour of such a Union. And if we are, we should show that we are willing and prepared to give a lead. If we are not prepared to give this assurance, I think we should say so; then Europe will sooner or later unite without us. If it should be later rather than sooner, we must not be surprised if tie eventual leadership of that Union is in the hands of Germany or Russia, or of both. Seldom has it been said of this country that we do not show clarity of purpose and intent in our foreign affairs. Let it no longer be said of His Majesty's Government in the matter of a united Europe.
§ 5.2 p.m.
§ LORD TOVEY
My Lords, I feel it is quite unfair on the noble Viscount who has just spoken that it should be left to one so inexperienced as myself to pass any remarks on his speech. The last time I spoke in your Lordships' House was when 1 made my own maiden speech, so possibly I have some understanding of the ordeal through which he has just passed. The noble Viscount filled me with envy and a great deal of admiration. He obviously knows the subject about which he spoke, and he has given us a fine.discourse on the situation as he sees it. I should—I feel with a certain amount of impertinence—like to offer him my heartiest congratulations and I am sure I voice the opinion of all your Lordships when I say that I hope we may often hear him again.
162 Now may I detain your Lordships for a few moments to draw attention to an omission from the gracious Speech which I and many others observe with great regret—namely, the lack of any reference to the reintroduction of compulsory church parades in the Fighting Services? So far as the Navy is concerned, I am quite certain that the order making attendance at church voluntary was based on a complete misconception. The men, with great justification, objected strongly to the old Sunday routine. When I first went to sea Sunday was a poisonous day. The hands were turned out earlier than on week-days to give a final "spit and polish" to the ship. They were given a hurried breakfast, during which time they had to climb into their "number ones." They had a final "spit and polish" on the upper deck, and the cleaning of the guns, and were then fallen in for inspection. After that the captain spent about a couple of hours inspecting the rest of the ship. It is no wonder that the men loathed Sunday and, rather understandably, the compulsory attendance at church at the end of this very bad routine just made them "fed up." Thus the impression got abroad that it was attendance at church to which they objected.
For years now that routine has been completely done away with and, so far as is humanly possible, Sunday at sea is made a day of rest. Unfortunately, the dislike of church service continued long after the reason for it disappeared. When I was in command of one of His Majesty's capital ships my chaplain approached me as to whether I would agree to attendance at church being voluntary. I said: "So long as you produce a congregation consider satisfactory, I am quite happy." The next Sunday he announced that attendance at church would in future be voluntary. He had hardly got back to his cabin afterwards when an old three-badge able seaman arrived there and said: "Look here, you can't do that there 'ere." The chaplain said: "What do you mean?" The A.B. replied: "You can't have this voluntary attendance." "Why not'?" said the chaplain, "The men will come all right." To which the A.B. answered: "The likes of me will never come again. We should lose all face at the mess tables." If that is the attitude of a senior rating, who has considerable authority on the mess deck, it is easy to 163 understand how youngsters will never have the courage to attend under those conditions. Surely it was never more important than now that our national life, our home life and life in the Services should be based on Christian teaching. In the Fighting Services it is the only possible basis if we are to obtain the higher standard of discipline which is absolutely essential.
§ 5.7 p.m.
My Lords, I rise to crave your attention for a few minutes on a subject which is mentioned in the gracious Speech and which has also been mentioned in your Lordships' House this afternoon—namely, rural water supplies. I feel strongly that this is a matter which cannot be emphasised often enough, in view of the position of the rural areas during last summer. I speak with a certain amount of experience as I control two water supplies and help to supply a large new public school in the South of England. In spite of repeated applications to local authorities, the situation at one time was such that it might have been necessary to close down this school.
Let me for a moment examine the position of the Government and of local authorities in relation to water supplies. I would add that I am not going to press the Minister for any reply or comment on the matter, as I have given no notice that I would raise it. I say this merely to show that it may be necessary to press the matter again if some improvement is not shown. Under the Rural Water Supplies and Sewerage Act, 1944, the duty is placed on rural authorities of providing, where practicable, a supply of pipe water to rural areas in all districts where there are houses and schools. This Act also provides that the Minister of Health may make grants from a £15,000,000 subsidy towards the capital cost of such schemes. What has been the result? Out of a capital subsidy of £15,000,000 the amount spent in the year 1947–48 was £61,000, in 1948–49, £451,000 and in 1949–50, £380,000. From our experiences in the south western areas of this country I can well believe that those figures are correct. Less than 15 per cent. of the schemes proposed by the rural districts have been started, and less than 5 per cent. have 164 been actually completed. There has been a demand for increased agricultural production and for an increased agricultural population. An enormous health service and a large building and housing programme have been initiated. What is to be done in those four cases without water? Is not water the basis of them all? I can assure your Lordships that from June 10 last year to October 14–until "the rains came," as the Book says—over 72 per cent. of the people living in different rural houses that I help control were boiling the water they needed for every-day consumption.
What is the position with regard to materials for the water schemes of this country? Last year we produced and exported a total of £2,485,000 worth of pipe and pipe accessories. This was cast iron pipe and cast iron accessories. Of that total, foreign countries who, so far as we know, were not producing anything for us in return, received £1,020,500. Surely that is a rather large proportion when this country is so badly in need. In 1949 we produced 642,200 tons of cast iron ware and exported 158.000 tons, leaving a balance of 483,800 tons. Why was it not possible to let the local authorities have a little more of that huge unaccounted-for total? With regard to wrought iron, we had exports of a total value of £18,412,463. Of this amount £1,000,000 went to other foreign countries whose return to us was unknown, and a total of £3,000,000 to oil-producing countries. That was understandable. But I still feel that the Government must seriously reconsider their export programme for materials which are a basic need of this country and a shortage of which will not only ruin the Health Service but will cut down housing supply and agricultural production. For the moment I do not wish to say any more. I would like your Lordships to ponder those figures and consider whether the subject is worth debating at another time.
§ 5.13 p.m.
My Lords, I should like first to congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Allenby, on an excellent maiden speech indeed. Dealing with a subject about which I personally know nothing whatsoever, he made it abundantly clear to my mean and ignorant intelligence. I was interested also in the speech of the noble and gallant Lord, 165 Lord Tovey, and I hope the First Lord will give due consideration, as I am sure he will—I believe he is interested in such matters himself—to what Lord Tovey said.
The noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, interested me very much with his picture of the transatlantic hell. I only wish he had brought these views to the notice of the Chancellor of the Exchequer before we devalued; it might then have been considered that we had enough left without devaluing. Our noble leader, Lord Swinton, gave His Majesty's Government some excellent advice on many matters, but there is one point he mentioned which I can reinforce to some extent, and that is on the particular subject of bulk purchases. Bulk purchases are claimed at times to be good for the producer, and they are also claimed to be good for the consumer. Now the consumer is in this country and the producer is overseas. If both these claims are true—and they may be true—we and the Dominions will have a great interest in geeing that our producers have a proper price, and so on. But when we come to the Argentine, are we really particularly interested in seeing that the Argentine producers have good prices and so on? I submit that we have very little interest in the Argentine producers.
At this moment I believe that a unique opportunity has arrived to experiment in the abandonment of this hulk purchase, because in the Argentine, partly as a result of an enormous drought and partly for other reasons connected with President Peron's march towards the middle state between Capitalism and Socialism—to which noble Lords opposite sometimes think they are marching—the sellers' market for meat has ended. A buyers' market for Argentine beef is in the offing, and I have not the least doubt that if the new Minister of Food were to fix retail prices in our shops at some reasonable level and then send out representatives of the meal trade to see whether they can buy the meat to fit in with those prices, they would get all the Argentine beef needed to fulfil the meat ration. In the Argentine, OW1 Yr to this drought, beef is practically the only thing they have to export. They must have oil and they have to pay for it, and meat is the only commodity with which they can pay for 166 it. The opportunity is unique; let the Government do something with it.
I am usually of a cheerful and optimistic disposition, but to-day I feel the situation is extraordinarily gloomy. I do not refer to the economic situation, which always fills me with gloom, but to the situation of foreign affairs. My noble leader has dealt adequately with that subject, but there are certain sections which he naturally is not able to fill in. I wise to call your Lordships' attention to Burma We were in occupation of Burma from 1885, with the interval of the war, to 1946. We have now gone out of Burma, and the position there to-day is rather worse than it was when we went there in 1885. Law and order does not exist more than a few miles outside the principal towns. Those unique resources of Burma, built up by British enterprise—the mines, the forests and the oilfields—are at a complete standstill. The country has reverted to a state of absolute anarchy. That would be bad enough, but Burma adjoins China, and between the two countries is an open and indefensible frontier, indefensible at any rate to the handful of Burma troops which exist to-day. Moreover, Chinese divisions alleged to be rescuing Burma have found their way during the war down from the North. For that reason, it seems to me of the utmost importance that something should he done towards settling things in Burma at the earliest possible moment, because that is the spot which seems liable to erupt next. I believe that some suggestions have arisen out of the Colombo Conference.
There is some talk of a Commonwealth loan to Burma. It is not money they want, however, but Pure and simple Administration. The charming people, the Burmese, fail to unite their country and administer it. I am wondering whether, in view of the known sympathies of their present Prime Minister, it is possible that, if he were offered an American-Commonwealth Advisory Commission, together with a little money, he could persuade his more extreme followers to allow him to accept it. The need is extremely urgent, and requires the elementary principles of government, administration, training of the Army, and so on. Otherwise, before very long, we shall lose the Burma rice production—and rice is 167 the staff of life over the whole of South-East Asia.
When we move further Westward we come to a position no less alarming. Pakistan and Hindustan have been quarrelling with each other for a long time—and are on the verge of war. The Kashmir quarrel has festered for many months—indeed, the time might now almost be counted in years—and no practical steps seem possible to compose that quarrel. On top of that there has been the devaluation quarrel, whereby Pakistan—foolishly, in my opinion—stuck to the dollar and Hindustan followed the pound. The result has been a blockade between the two countries and cotton, foodstuffs and jute have been held up from going into Hindustan. Retaliation has meant an embargo on coal. That situation is not getting better, and leaving it alone is bound to make it worse. Surely it is the duty of His Majesty's Government to step in and ask the parties to accept some form of Commonwealth arbitration. After all, there are the makings of an arbitration case: Kashmir, on the one side, devaluation of the Hindustan rupee on the other. In addition, of course, there is the possible makeweight of these sterling balances, in the pursuit of which both countries have been most persistent. They have been most successful in getting His Majesty's Government to "part," and I beg His Majesty's Government to cease releasing balances and to say "You must compose these grave differences before there is a single further release."
When I turn to the home political situation I am not so deeply depressed. I was very interested in the remarks of the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, because his train of thought and mine have been following rather similar lines. But whereas his conclusions—not entirely unexpectedly to me—led to the suggestion that the only bridge to this gulf could be proportional representation, to my mind the bridge is a totally different one, and one more in keeping with the traditions of our democracy. It is that we now have the two great Parties in the State more or less equally balanced, and both know that if they are ever to win power over the other they have to attract the more moderate adherents of the other. Therefore, both Parties can hope to obtain power only by "chucking out" their own 168 extremists. I hope, therefore, that noble Lords opposite will realise that if they want power and a strong majority in this country they will have to abandon their pursuit of State ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange. On this side we have to convince all our doubters that the Welfare State is a thing that can be worked. But at any rate the return to the traditional two-Party system fills me with some measure of limited optimism.
I have consulted certain of my colleagues on these Back Benches on the subject of what the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said in relation to a Coalition. They have decided without any doubts at all that a Coalition is not a feasible proposition between Parties one of which preaches a property-owning democracy and the other State ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange.
The final thing that inspires me with considerable optimism to-day is the last paragraph but one in the gracious Speech:…it is hoped to make further progress with the consolidation and revision of the Statute Law.As one who has always believed that what this country needs is a complete holiday from further legislation, and five years entirely devoted to revising such laws as those on income tax, rent, betting, and licensing—among others—I think we have the makings of a most fruitful Session.
§ 5.26 p.m.
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
My Lords, we now come near the end of this interesting debate on the Address which, if he will allow me to say so, was so ably opened by the noble Lord, Lord Crook. I think I ought to point out to your Lordships that Lord Crook has done this House the courtesy of being in it throughout all the speeches since he opened the discussion.
Before I deal with the main matter on which I wish to speak, which is housing, I should like to say that I do not intend to talk about the difficult foreign situation, or the atom or hydrogen bomb, or about the economic situation, but that this does not mean that I am less concerned with those matters than is any other noble Lord. But I feel that it is no good going on talking about a subject and saying for the most part only the same things that 169 have already been said. With your Lordships' permission, therefore, I shall hardly touch upon them.
Perhaps may be allowed, however, to say that I think the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough—whom I am personally glad to welcome to this House—will agree with me when I say that it is a sad thing to reflect that after we had taken immense trouble to collect stores and send them to Russia, at immense risk to ships and personnel of the Royal Navy and Merchant Marine, and after we had done everything we could to support the Russians, once they were in the war, matters should have turned out as they have between us. This was not for want of trying on our side, but because of the obstinacy of a few persons in the Kremlin—and, I believe, of a lack of knowledge in Russia as a whole of what we and the Americans did to help them and to play our part in winning the war. I think we must all regret that that situation has arisen; we can only hope and, indeed, pray that this cold war may not develop into a hot war once again in our lifetime.
Before I come to the subject of housing I want to deal with two points made in previous speeches. I should like to refer to one remark made yesterday by the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor. He said:if it be the fact that the gravity of the economic crisis has rather receded into the background, think it is partly due to the line that was taken by the Opposition in the Election campaign. They held out glittering prospects and glittering promises.If it is partly due to those things, I think it was due to a much greater extent to the fact that the Chancellor of the Exchequer and others, who had warned us before the Election campaign took place of the difficulties of our economic situation, were strangely silent about them the moment the Election started. At any rate, if they were "glittering promises," they were glittering only in comparison with the gloom in which we live. One advantage that we had over the Government supporters was that these "glittering promises" did look to the future; they were not just talk about what happened between the wars which, in a way, I think, was rather insulting to the electorate, who want to know from the Parties what they are going to do in the future, and not always to be looking back on the past.
170 I noticed this afternoon that the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, concluded his speech by saying that "The Western Allies are resolved to turn their backs on the past." If I may give a little friendly advice—I hope it always is friendly—to the noble Lords opposite, I suggest that they would fight the next Election with more chance of success if they too adopted that motto. There is one other comment which I may perhaps be allowed to make, and that is that I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, that one of the remarkable things about the Election is the complete exclusion of Independent Members. Of course, part of that was deliberate. It was quite deliberate that we lost the twelve University Members, and so they went. Therefore, we have not the chance of seeing such people as, for instance, Miss Rathbone, who was completely independent and sat in another place a long time as representative of the Combined Universities.
There was Sir John Anderson, who, it is true, has no Socialist leanings, but at any rate he is an extremely independent-minded person and has always, I believe, refused to join the Conservative Party. The chance of having any of those Independent Members was completely excluded. One of the things that we, the onlookers, were all impressed with was the success of the Socialist Party machine in getting rid of all what we may perhaps call the "cryptos"; they are now all out in the cold. The Communists we are all delighted to see defeated. The noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, seems to think that that was because we had had a Labour Government. I believe it is the common sense of the British people. It is when we compare oar common sense here with what 'we see in other countries that we realise that the British people are not going to stand for the Communists or for a Communist régime.
The noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, claimed that he had been brought up in a good Liberal school with good Liberal ideas and ideals, and he found that they did not fit into the way in which the Liberal Party of those days were putting them into practice. I wonder how he feels completely at home in the Labour Party, because all those old Liberal ideas and ideals are not at all consonant with the amount of State 171 control and State regimentation, including direction of labour and things of that sort, in which the present Government, which he supports, persist. However, this elimination of the Independent Members from another place has one great advantage. Quite clearly, it adds to the prestige and respect of your Lordships' House, because here we shall be the only place which in future will have these independent persons who, on whichever Bench they sit, can speak out of turn with their leaders, knowing that there will not be a candidate put up against them in their constituency as might happen in another place.
It is the power of the Labour Party machine which brings me naturally to my next topic. I believe it may be the power of that machine in the background that gives the country what I, at any rate, regard as the disadvantage of still having Mr. Aneurin Bevan as Minister of Health—because I am not at all sure that even he, with the Labour Party machine against him, could hold such a loyal constituency as Ebbw Vale. The electors there are quite as likely to be loyal to the machine as to their present representative. But the most extraordinary omission from the gracious Speech, as the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, said, is that of any reference to housing. It astounds me. Perhaps the gracious Speech was concocted at the meeting of the Cabinet which the Minister of Health did not attend, or perhaps everybody overlooked it; but it is a most extraordinary thing not to find some mention of housing in the gracious Speech from the Throne.
I am not to-day going to discuss rural housing, because that was mentioned yesterday by the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr. Nor am I going much into the price of houses. What I want to deal with to-day is why, four and a half years after the end of the war, we should have this frightful shortage, with an increasing waiting list for houses. I hope that the noble Viscount who is to reply, whatever his brief, will be restrained, because he is sitting next to the Leader of the House, from saying that the present Minister of Health has done much better than the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, did just after the First World War. We have heard that on several occasions, and I have always defended 172 the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, because the building industry was not organised then to anything like the same extent as it is to-day. Nor had he at the end of the First World War the same advantage that the Minister of Health had, to my certain knowledge, at the end of the Second World War.
The Coalition Government—and there were a number of us in it—had planned, and had all the plans ready for the prefabricated houses. It was a general effort between us all, although the late Viscount, Lord Portal, was the person directly responsible at the Ministry of Works. Those were all ready, and they account for 157,146 of the houses built since the war. They were all planned and ready to be put into operation. The sites were purchased in advance. Plans had been made by the Services to release on the priority list those men who were skilled in making building materials so that they could get back early to the brickworks and similar places. The Minister of Labour had planned courses for the demobilised men to learn the various building crafts in special training centres. Mr. Ernest Bevin was looking after that side of the matter, and I had something to do with it, because I had to make the feeding arrangements for these hostels when they were first used. So all the preliminary steps had been taken and the present Minister of Health went in on quite a good wicket. In fact, I should fancy that that is what prompted Mr. Ernest Bevin to say at Brentford in the Election of 1945:I believe we would build four or five million houses, knock down any amount of wretched slums and rebuild our country in very quick time.I think that remark was prompted by the preparations he knew we had made.
What has happened? Before the war, we built in 1934 338,000 permanent houses; 344,000 in 1935; 363,000 in 1936; 358,000 in 1937, and 367,000 in 1938. Those are the figures of permanent houses. And now, in the planned programme for this year, we are down to 175,000 houses. Those are actual facts. Another fact is that we have just about the same number of men available. It varies a little from month to month, but, by and large, according to the statistics, about 1,000,000 men are shown to be employed in the building 173 and allied industries. Let us now look at the waiting lists for houses. As other noble Lords were doing, I went round various cities and towns, in Mr. Herbert Morrison's words, "wooing the electors." I always inquired—and perhaps others inquired—about the state of the waiting lists in those towns. The awful thing is that these lists are increasing, and many towns are not keeping up with the marriage rate; that is to say, the marriage rate is higher than the new building rate for the town. May I quote one or two instances? Birmingham has a waiting list of 56,243, and the houses provisionally allocated for this year amount to only 2,000. Two thousand houses only, allocated to a place like Birmingham with a waiting list of 56.000 people! A few more may be built, but if they are not it will take twenty-three years to go through that list. If one thinks of the number of people who are in their thirties now, one realises that some of them by waiting on that list have a very poor chance of ever getting a house.
I do not want to stop the noble Lord in his interesting observations, but are the cities he mentioned building up to their previous allocation?
§ LORD LLEWELLIN
I have the particulars here, but I have not quoted one where I am told that has happened. Coventry, for instance, has its outstanding allocation only. That is the kind of position to which I think the noble Lord is referring. I was not proposing to quote the case of Coventry particularly, because that has not been building up to its allocation. Does that answer the noble Lord? Bradford has 13,522 people on its waiting list, and there is an allocation of 250. Bristol has 18,000 people on the waiting list. They are a little better off, having an allocation of 1,760; so at the current rate it will take them only ten years to get through their waiting list. But ten year; is a long time for a young married couple to wait for a house. Leeds has 22,989 on the waiting list, with a six-months allocation of 300 houses. Sheffield has 26,272, with an allocation of 800 at present, but the number is to be reviewed. Portsmouth has 10,261 on the waiting list and has only 600 houses allotted for this year. My Lords, it is 174 quite heart-rending to think of the number of people who are waiting for their houses. I must say that I could not agree more with the remarks of the most reverend Primate yesterday on this particular matter. He said:The hard fact of the position is this: that the slums in England to-day are as had as they were in 1939. In some ways, they are worse. There is overcrowding, there is misery, and I believe that a good deal of this juvenile delinquincy which causes us such anxiety is due to the fact that many of these homes are overcrowded, and anything like paternal discipline is almost impossible.Yet, with a situation referred to in those terms by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York, there is no mention of it at all in this King's Speech.
At an early date in the last Parliament, on November 20, 1946, I called attention to the importance of this matter, as I think the noble Viscount the Leader of the House will remember, and I stressed particularly this need for getting on with the provision of materials. I dealt with the shortage of timber—and I hope that the noble Viscount who is going to reply will not tell me in a kind of Goebbel's fashion (I do not use that expression in any offensive sense) that instead of it now being a question of guns or butter it is a question of timber or food, because I do not believe that that is the case. Everybody realises that timber is a material that is vital now. In 1938, when we were building 367,000 houses, our annual import of softwoods was 1,480,457 standards. There was then no control of the amount of timber one used in a house. In fact, your Lordships will have seen houses built in those days which had timbered fronts. There was certainly more timber used then than there is now. It is true that last year we did not import 1,480,000 standards, but we did import 1,032,302 standards, which is about one-third less than it was in 1938. And yet we can build only 175.000 houses. At least, we ought to build only one-third less than 367,000; we ought to build 245,000. Quite properly, we have now control of the amount of timber that goes into each house because this material is in short supply. Noble Lords will remember that in 1945 2 standards were allotted to each house, and then it was reduced to 1.2; so, taking it by and large, there being no control before the war, we are using only half as much timber in the ordinary type of house 175 about which I am talking now as we were; and, for the life of me, I cannot see why we are not building more houses.
I believe the answer is largely this. Everybody who served in the Army knows that if you get a quartermaster who wants to have his stores full it does not matter to him whether the men have good boots to march in; so long as he has the right number of pairs in his stores, he is quite happy about it. I believe that somewhere, lying about in this country, there is a great deal of timber. Officials of the Timber Control, I think, are keeping a little here, a little more there, all the way down the line, so that they will be able to say: "Look at my store. I have got some timber." Someone has got to drag that timber away from these people. It must be someone in the present Government, for only they have the authority to do it. Now, I would like to ask the noble Viscount this. How is it that in spite of the shortage of houses from which we are suffering new food offices are being built up and down the country? There is, for example, one going up at Guildford. We could do without these places in the war; why do we need to have these new buildings now? Does it mean that despite what I may describe—without offence, I hope, to either—as the very welcome change from the régime of Mr. Strachey and Doctor Edith Summerskill, we are going on with food rationing for ever? I very much hope not.
Here I want to digress for a moment, and to raise a point that, I think, has not yet been brought out in regard to food rationing and the effect of the continuance of food subsidies. Whatever the merits of food subsidies in retarding rises in prices, and so claims for increased wages—that was why they were originally introduced by a Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer—they tend to lead to the desire to retain rationing. Let us see what the position is when the Chancellor of the Exchequer says that subsidies must not rise above £460,000,000, as he cannot afford more, and, at the same time, the Minister of Labour is saying: "For heaven's sake do not let us have an increase in the cost-of-living index! If it goes up by more than another couple of points all this non-pressing of wage claims will probably go by the board." A dilemma is created. If 176 more food were made available subsidies would then have to be spread over a larger amount. Either the cost-of-living index would have to go up, or the Chancellor would have to find more out of taxation for the food subsidies. So the tendency is to keep rationing; for otherwise there will be too big a bill for the taxpayer to meet or there will be a rise in the cost of living index. I am not making a particular point about this today, but people ought to have it in their minds. Clearly, that must be the dilemma in which the Government are placed when they do not want to raise the cost-of-living index and the Chancellor of the Exchequer says, "No more out of the public purse." But that, as I have said, is a digression. Whatever happens, I cannot see why the Government are building these new offices at the present time, when they ought to give priority to the housing of the people.
The other point which I would make —and I am cot going to take up your Lordships' time very much longer—relates to getting in more timber. I raised this matter on November 20, 1946, particularly in b regard to timber from Germany. At that time, Lord Henderson who was replying on behalf of the Government said—I am quoting from Column 256 of Hansard for November 20, 1946–We hope for at least 100,000 standards"—that is from Germany—during the first six months of 1947.In fact, we did not get as much. I had been pressing, as Lord Addison may remember, to get more timber out of Germany. I saw difficulties in getting it from Canada or Newfoundland. There are masses of the right sort of timber in Germany, but in 1947 we obtained only 104,737 standards—although Lord Henderson had said the Government hoped for 100,000 standards during the first six months of the year. In 1948, the figure was down to 78,380 standards and in 1949 it was 88,556 standards. If any people ought to supply us with wood to build houses, surely it is the German people who helped to bomb our houses down. We ought to press for more of this timber out of Germany to help us overcome our material difficulties in the housing situation.
I notice—and these are my concluding words—that the Lord President of the 177 Council, speaking in London on January 29, 1946, in his own inimitable style, used these words:The Government will just go bang on housing with all the vigour it can command, and build and build and build until every family has decent accommodation.If we had had some phrase like that in this otherwise somewhat dull gracious Speech it might have enlivened it quite a lot. Four years have gone by since Mr. Herbert Morrison uttered those words. If this lack of progress, these expanding waiting lists, are the only result of the vigour that the Government can command, I think it is about time they went back and gave place to someone who will build more houses for the people of this country.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT HALL
My Lords, we have now come almost to the end of what I regard as a most interesting debate—particularly that part which has taken place to-day. It has covered a number of subjects, and perhaps it will not be out of place or unusual if I refer first to some of the speeches which have been delivered in the latter part of our proceedings this afternoon before I deal with some of the earlier ones. I should particularly like to mention the maiden speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Allenby, which dealt with a very important question. It was a question which was raised earlier in the debate and on which a reply was given by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson. The noble Viscount, Lord Allenby, as Lord Tovey rightly said, knows his subject, and he dealt with it in a very clear, forceful and interesting manner. I would like to join in the congratulations which were extended to him by Lord Tovey.
Then there was the interesting speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth. He spoke on a subject which was dealt with yesterday by the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr—that is the question of agriculture—and he also mentioned the rising feeling on the question of some kind of Home Rule for Scotland. He is not alone in having to deal with that problem; the same question has been raised in my own country of Wales. I will certainly convey to the Secretary of State for Scotland the points which he has made. I was also interested in the speech by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Tovey, who raised the question of 178 compulsory church attendance in the Services. Noble Lords will remember that the discontinuance of compulsory church attendance was made some four or five years ago under great pressure from Service men themselves. Whilst I share much of the noble Lord's apprehension about this matter, I should like to tell hint that the situation is not so gloomy as he suggested and that so far as the Royal Navy is concerned there is a slight improvement.
I come to the main questions which have been raised in the course of this debate. When we listened to the Conservative speeches and read them in the Press, we could not get away from the Election. I think what has really happened should be made quite clear. After four years of Tory campaign in the Press and on the platform, in which every disgruntlement and grudge has been exploited and little recognition has been given to the difficulties with which the nation was faced, after an unprecedented amount of money has been used, not only by the Conservatives but by some trading concerns, and after the many lavish promises made by the Tory leaders during the Election, the Labour Party came through and have gained substantially. They have certainly not lost the Election. To the Labour Party has been given the largest vote that has ever been given to any political Party in this country.
The three major political Parties submitted their programmes to the people, and if it is said that Socialism is defeated, what has happened to the Tory programme, in view of the fact that the Labour Party have received votes far in excess of the Tory Party? And what has happened to the Liberal programme? I am not in any way disparaging the efforts of the Liberal Party, because they worked very hard on this occasion, but it was hardly noticed. It can he said that rarely in democratic history have a Government elected immediately after a war retained their position so solidly after a period of five years. The Coalition Government of 1918 had a much easier task confronting them than that which faced the Labour Government of 1945. As everyone knows, their collapse in 1922 brought little credit either to those in that Government or to our political history. Nothing of that kind has occurred after the Second World 179 War. The Labour Government have emerged from their great testing period stronger and more united than ever, with a great record of work and legislation behind them. It is true that the Election has left a situation which is awkward, but it would he fantastic for any person or Party to imagine that the result of the Election in any way indicates that the country has turned its back on the Government who have so successfully brought the nation through its most difficult post-war period. We can say that the 13,500,000 electors who resisted the campaigns of the other Parties have decided that Labour rule is much preferable to the return of Tory rule.
The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, in his interesting speech yesterday, referred to the increase in the Conservative poll as compared with 1935. For some reason or other he made no mention of the substantial increase in the poll of the Labour Party. From 1935 to 1950 the poll of the Conservative Party increased from 11,750,000 to 12,500,000, an increase of 750,000. But from 1935 to 1950 the poll of the Labour Party increased from 8,325,000 to 13,248,000, an increase of very nearly 5,000,000. I can understand the noble Viscount being somewhat concerned about the growing strength of these two political Parties. If the increase during the next five or ten years is as marked as has been the increase of the Labour poll during the last fifteen years, I have no doubt at all what the result is likely to be.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
I did not refer to the Labour Party because I was not then engaged in any general survey of the movement of the polls in those three Elections. I was pointing out the fact that the Conservative poll had fallen very largely from 1939 to 1945, and then recovered itself, and that the main feature of this Election was that the Conservative Party had mobilised their reserves, which had been demobilised in the previous Election. If I had been making a general comparison, I should certainly have referred to the Labour Party. My comparison was between 1945 and 1950, and I brought in the earlier date merely in order to make my point.
§ VISCOUNT HALL
The noble Viscount did not mention anything of that in the 180 course of his remarks. He simply referred to the size of the poll of the Conservative Party in 1935 and 1950.
§ VISCOUNT HALL
I think it can be said that as a result of this Election there are now very few safe Conservative seats. The strongholds are held mainly by the Labour Party. Let me give a few figures. There are forty-two Labour members who had a majority of over 20,000 each, compared with only ten Tory Members with such a majority. There are 135 constituencies where Labour had a majority of over 10,000, and only 94 where the Conservatives had a similar majority. I do not think the Conservatives have very much to shout about as a result of the Election.
It was to be expected that the question of nationalisation would take a prominent part in this debate, and particularly the nationalisation of steel. It was again raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton. I shall not deal with the matter very fully in my reply, because it has already been dealt with—perhaps not to the satisfaction of the noble Viscount, or members of his Party either in your Lordships' House or in another place—by the Leader of the Liberal Party, who put the matter in its proper perspective when he asked whether it was pertinent to raise the matter at the present time. It is evident that the Conservatives have some strong reason for raising this question. We no longer have a Steel Bill: the Act of Parliament to nationalise steel has been passed—there can be no question at all about that. The agreement entered into is well-known, not only to noble Lords opposite but to all those who took part in the debate in this House. There is some time yet to decide what the action of the Government is likely to be, but there is no question at all about the opinion on this question of steel nationalisation of those mainly concerned in the production of steel.
My noble Leader, in the course of his speech yesterday, referred to the great majorities given to Labour candidates 181 who fought in what might be regarded as the great steel centres, whether it was Sheffield, Middlesbrough, Kettering, or any of the South Wales or Scottish seats. Indeed, two Members who left the Labour Party because of the introduction of the Steel Bill fought steel constituencies, and were heavily defeated. The same thing can be said in relation to other centres of nationalised industries. Some time ago I heard a remark made by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, as to the dissatisfaction of large numbers of men who were employed in the nationalised industries of this country. The reply has now been given, because in every mining area of this country the Labour majorities are larger than ever before. In one mining constituency where the Member had the largest majority of anyone in the country, I saw it suggested (I have not checked the figure) that he received 90 per cent. of the votes recorded. The same thing can be said of the railway centres, whether it be Crewe, Derby or Swindon. When we come to the great cement centre of Gravesend, there a Labour Member was returned. All of those areas registered their complete confidence in His Majesty's Government's policy.
In a debate of this kind the economic position must come under review. I wish noble Lords opposite would indicate a much greater appreciation of the difficulties which confronted the Labour Government when they took office in 1945. I remember a statement which was attributed to the Leader of the Opposition in another place by an American columnist. He said that he had interviewed Mr. Churchill, who had pointed out how difficult it was going to be for him to have to face the House of Commons (this was just before the 1945 Election) and indicate to those men and women who had served in the Services the kind of country to which they were coming back. It was not a question of "Homes for heroes." He said that the peace-time output of this country was only about 30 or 40 per cent. of what it was in pre-war days; that our export trade was less than half of what it was; that the nation was bankrupt; that we had sold large amounts of our overseas securities and built up sterling balances in the Commonwealth and other countries; and that one half of our merchant fleet had been sunk. That was the situation with 182 which the Government was then confronted. I think it can be said that no Government in peace time was ever faced with greater difficulties than was the Labour Government. In addition to the difficulties of production, no fewer than 8,000,000 persons—those serving in the Services, and those producing equipment for the Services—had to be transferred from the jobs they were then doing into peace-time jobs. That was done with scarcely a hitch.
What is the position to-day? After less than five years, faced with all those difficulties, and handling that difficult economic situation, we have built up the production of steel in this country, as a result of the efforts of those who are employed and those in charge of the industries, to about one-third above what it was in 1938. Whether it is under private enterprise, or whether it is a nationalised industry, here are the results of the efforts of management, technicians and the people employed Men who have faced difficulties such as they and the Government have had to face are capable of facing almost any difficulty likely to arise in future. This applies not only in relation to production for our own use. The volume of our exports is about half as great again as in 1938 (I am giving the 1949 figures) and one-tenth greater than in 1948. The total of exports and re-exports for the year 1949 was no less than £1,840,000.000. About 44 per cent. of our exports and re-exports went to the sterling area, 22 per cent. to Western Europe, and one-tenth to the dollar area. The Colonies and Commonwealth countries were our largest single markets.
Very few suggestions lave come from noble Lords opposite in regard to increased production, with the exception of the suggestion that we should drop nationalisation, or in the talk about incentives. I was rather pleased that the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, raised this question to-day, and also that the matter was raised by my noble friends Lord Crook and Lord Williams. As the noble Viscount rightly said, the use of incentives is not a new method in our industrial concerns in this country.
Some of us worked under incentives fifty years ago. As a matter of fact, when I did some useful work the whole of my time was spent on a basis of piece work—payment by results. I would not 183 work under any other system. There have been many changes in the method of production in this country—in the mining industry, in the agricultural industry, in the engineering industry and in almost every other industry—and it means that the method of incentive or the form which it has to take—the measurement or the yardstick which must be applied—has also to be changed. The trade unions, the workpeople and the employers in this country have been well aware of the advantages of incentives of this kind, but that does not mean that we ought not to continue to press for it in those industries where it does not exist. It can be said that both the managements and the trade unions are doing everything possible to deal with this very important matter. Indeed, the Trades Union Congress General Council endorsed a policy which was agreed by all the affiliated unions—this was only two or three months ago—and which recommended that a review should be made within each industry with a view to extending systems of payment by results over the widest possible field.
In the course of his speech, the noble Viscount to-day referred to the question of taxation. This was a plank in the Election programme of the Conservative Party, and the matter was stressed very forcibly. The Government and the Trades Union Congress are fully aware of what is required in this matter, and, indeed, much has been done. Allowances were given in the 1948 Budget which were of considerable assistance in connection with tax upon overtime and, indeed, tax upon wages generally. I do not want to spend too much time upon this question, but let me give one or two instances. As a result of the allowances and reductions which were brought about in 1948, a single man earning £6 a week, with £1 a week overtime, now pays 4s. 10d. on his £1 a week overtime, when he earns it.
Suppose he is a single miner earning £15 a week, what would be the amount of tax he would pay?
§ VISCOUNT HALL
A single miner earning £15 a week does not object very much to the payment of tax. I could not give you the exact figure but he could not 184 complain any more than anyone else who is earning £15 a week. I thought we were concerned mainly about the lower-paid men. I think I am in as close touch with miners and industrial workers as the noble Lord. I am not suggesting that they do not complain. Let us see what the result of income tax is. A married man with a wife and one child can earn up to £6 a week before becoming liable to any tax at all, and a married man with three children can earn £8 a week before becoming liable. Even if he is earning £10 a week, he pays only 3d. in the pound income tax, or 2s. 6d. per week. Where is this complaint that it is because of income tax that these men are not prepared to work overtime? Really it is an exaggeration of something that does not altogether exist.
The noble Viscount just touched upon the question of devaluation. At this stage I see little benefit in going over the history of this subject. The reasons which led us to accept devaluation were fully explained—
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
The noble Viscount will bear me out that I did not go over the past history at all. The whole of my remarks concerning devaluation related to constructive measures which ought to be taken to hold and then appreciate the value of the pound.
§ VISCOUNT HALL
I entirely agree. I myself did not want to go over past history. I am going just to touch upon it; the noble Viscount will realise that one can do only that in a debate of this kind. Of course, the full effects on our trade, our exports and imports and on prices are not even yet apparent. Nevertheless, on the most difficult and dangerous part of our economic problem, the dollar gap, the immediate and admittedly short-term benefits have been striking and very much in our favour. I do not want to suggest in any way that in this matter we are out of the wood. We have a hard task before us in ordering our affairs so that we can live without special external aid. But we must not underestimate the progress we have already made towards achieving our aims.
I want to turn now to the speech which was made by the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, in his most genial manner. I really thought he was going to complete the introduction of his speech by endeavouring to urge my colleagues and myself 185 to bring into your Lordships' House all the Independents who were defeated at the last Election. Perhaps he would make distinctions, but he seemed to be so benevolent! He, together with the right reverend Primate, have given the House strong arguments and, indeed, have said strong things in connection with the housing situation. There, again, I do not think the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, fully appreciated all the difficulties with which the Government are confronted. It he looks into this matter quite impartially, as he always does, I think he will be bound to admit that a considerable amount of work has been done.
I am not going to refer at length to the past, but let us just deal with the last four and a half years. In the last four and a half years no fewer than 1,120,292 homes have been provided for the people of this country. Of that number, no fewer than 790,000 are newly built houses or flats. May I compare that with what happened in the first four years after the First World War? It was not only my noble friend who was responsible; he had a Government behind him who really controlled his actions. But that Government built 320,000 houses. In four and a half years we have prodded homes for four times as many people as the Coalition Government did from 1918–
THE MARQUESS OF ABERDEEN AND TEMAIR
There were not the same number of homes destroyed in the first war.
§ VISCOUNT HALL
That is quite true; that is what I am corning to. The figure of 1,120,000 includes, of course, the repair of a Very large number of those houses which were damaged, and buildings on sites of those which were destroyed. And this brings me to the point that it was not only a question of building houses; it was a question of repairing damaged houses—and not only houses but buildings of all kinds which were damaged and which had to be repaired. I think it can he said that there was almost as much labour (possibly more) and almost as much material used for the repair of dwellings and buildings of all kinds as for the building of new houses.
The noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, also referred to the waiting lists. We all regret that there are these waiting lists. They are very formidable lists. What we have 186 found during the last four and a half years (and I am not using this as an argument as to why more houses were not built) is that more people want houses. Incomes have increased; and instead of "doubling up" in houses—that is to say, sons and daughters living with their parents—these young people now require—quite rightly: no one is complaining—homes of their own. In former days, they could not afford it. If you were to go into the mining areas in those days you would find that people there, when they first married, could not afford to live in anything but two rooms. Nowadays persons have their names placed on waiting lists twelve and eighteen months before they intend to marry; and local authorities have to make a very close scrutiny when houses become available as to the persons to whom those houses should be let. I must say that there is no complacency, and indeed no room for complacency, by His Majesty's Government in connection with this great housing problem.
The noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, also referred to difficulties in relation to timber, and before I leave this matter of building I ought to refer to some other aspects of the subject. Nearly every sphere of our social and industrial life required some repair to buildings or some new buildings. His Majesty's Government have been very concerned about oil refineries, new generating stations, schools, hospitals and factories in development areas—and even, it may be, an occasional food office.
§ VISCOUNT HALL
It may be. But they have released buildings which they had occupied for some time. I cannot see any difference between building new houses and building good offices which the Food Ministry can use for their purposes, at the same time releasing accommodation for the people to live in—unless of course it is done on an excessive scale. There has been a shortage of material. There is a scarcity of timber I accept the figures which the noble Lord gave of imports of timber from Germany. It is not only a question of obtaining it on the spot, and there have been difficulties in connection with transport. I can assure the noble Lord and the House that His Majesty's Government are giving the 187 housing problem priority among all the problems with which they have to deal.
My noble friend the Leader of the House undertook that I should say something on the question of rural housing in reply to the point raised by the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, who has informed me that it will be impossible for him to be here this evening. The noble Earl will be pleased to know that permanent houses completed, including houses built privately, in rural areas number 120,900. Those under consideration at present number 33,000, and tenders approved add a further 163,000. We are hoping for a further large number of completions in the course of a short time. The noble Earl particularly referred to the very important matter of rent adjustments, and called attention to the difficulties which arose in connection with numbers of the agricultural workers living in council houses with very high rents. The attention of the Minister is being directed to this point.
I am afraid that I have taken up a considerable amount of your Lordships' time in dealing with this matter. I would conclude by asking that some appreciation—though I know that one does not expect much appreciation in politics—may be given to His Majesty's Government; for after all they have carried this country through one of its most difficult peacetime periods to a point where, generally speaking, the people of this country are healthier, better and happier than they have been for a long time.
§ LORD WOLVERTON
Would the noble Viscount deal with the all-important question of the rural water supply, which 188 was mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, and the noble Viscount, Lord Portman? It is of the utmost importance in the part of the country in which I live—namely, East Anglia.
§ VISCOUNT HALL
The noble Earl was good enough to say that as he had produced a large number of details in connection with this matter he would not expect a reply to-day. But I had intended drawing the attention of the Minister of Health to the points put by the noble Earl, and this I will certainly do.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to nemine dissentiente: the said Address to be presented to His Majesty by the Lords with White Staves.