We have had from the Minister, as usual, a most interesting speech. It is one of many that have been delivered from the Front Bench over the last 18 months, but it does seem to me that we are almost in the same position to-day as we were when the first promises were made from that bench. I remember that, when it was first proposed that we should have the temporary houses, I had the privilege of taking part in the Debate and I stated then, as I do now, that, in my view, the greatest postwar problem will be that of finding a solution to the housing of the people. Though I, myself, like the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works, am an old bricklayer, and would, in consequence, prefer a permanent house, yet, in order to aid the solution of this problem, I, in common with my fellow hon. Members on this side, would take the Portal house, or a temporary house, though I dislike them very much. Indeed, I think there is no hon. Member on either side who really does like—even the best of them.
I myself have seen the Portal house, which has been improved, and I do not want to say a word of criticism against Lord Portal, because in very difficult circumstances he, at any rate, produced something better than we had had and did get a move on, rightly or wrongly. Had I to choose between living in a room with two children and taking a Portal house, I should have the Portal house every time, and I think we want to look at the position from that standpoint. The most tragic thing that we melt in our constituencies week by week, and I think it must be universal, is the case of the woman who comes to the local Member with the story that she has tried the local authorities-and everybody else for a house, and has met only with refusals. There is nothing more tragic than the situation of a woman who knows that her husband is coming home and that there is nowhere for them to live but in rooms in a house where they are not wanted. I think that those conditions are likely to cause the very trouble which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) mentioned, and, to that extent, each of us has not only the right to criticise but the duty to try to make some contribution towards the solution of that great problem.
The Minister said that one half of the building trade labour in this country was engaged in what he described as the bomb repair programme. I have no doubt that, numerically, that is so, but the fact is that they are not fully engaged in this work. I have made some inquiries about this subject, on which a strong speech was made by the hon. and gallant Member for Preston (Captain Cobb) who has just resumed his seat, respecting the misuse of labour. I contacted an old building contractor who went out of business, as many others did, in my own town, and he told me that it was nothing short of a scandal how labour was misused, in the sense that the men had not the material to work with, or got only a mere handful, which did not encourage them to work because they knew it would be used up in no time. The urgency of this problem of bomb damage repairs in London involves greater supervision. The poor old bricklayers come in for a good deal of criticism, but one of them told me that half his time had been wasted and the costs increased. I hope the Minister of Works will go into this. I know of one building trade employee who is in charge of the work at a certain place, but he is never there. He is 120 miles away, and I see him every week. He appointed a deputy, who occasionally visits the place, those visits being to pay wages. Both men are paid an overriding commission on the bomb repairs. Small wonder there is slow progress. The responsibility should be laid upon the man looking after that work of supervising the work and handling the materials. Instead of that, as I say that man is 120 miles away from where his men are working.