Repair of Bomb-Damaged Houses
Mr Charles Key (Poplar Bow and Bromley)
I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:
in the opinion of this House, immediate steps should be taken to complete all stages of repair to war-damaged dwellings at the earliest possible date, and that to assist in this early arrangements should be made to provide local authorities with the necessary supervisory and technical staffs.
In Government statements which have been made during the last few weeks there appears to be a considerable amount of satisfaction at the attainment of the much-advertised winter target of 719,000 houses repaired in the six months ended on 31st March. There may be some grounds for that satisfaction, but I cannot help feeling that the publicity in connection with it is to be regretted. I am convinced that a wholly wrong impression has been given to the people of this country of what the situation in this matter really is. While the people in the South-East of England may have a clear appreciation of the situation in their own localities, not even they know the condition of affairs in the South-Eastern area as a whole. The people in the rest of the country are not only ignorant of what has actually happened in South-Eastern England, but a very gay and rosy picture has been created for them of the house-repair work that has been done. Ignorance is always dangerous; in this case it is likely to be very dangerous indeed. It may lead to a diminution in the supply of labour and materials in the London area because of the impression that may get abroad that the reasons for directing more labour into the London area have gone. There may also be interference with the steady flow to London of the materials which are essential.
The greatest evil that may be done in this connection, will be among the many thousands of evacuees who are waiting, eager to return to London. This trumpeting of a false accomplishment may lead them to form the impression that plentiful accommodation exists in the areas which they left, and they may return in their tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands, only to find that the stern reality is very different indeed from the wishful picture that they have been persuaded to paint, as a result of mistaken publicity. The conditions which those who live in the devastated areas know would result from that return fill us with dread and dismay. We dare not allow ignorance of the facts to lead people to return to the unnecessary misery and squalor which would result if that return took place. Therefore, we think that every effort should be officially made to give the country a clear and plain understanding of the truth in this matter, to tell people plainly what has been done to those 700,000 houses that are supposed to have been repaired, what state those houses are now in, whether the houses are really habitable and whether the repairs have really been carried out.
The first fact which, I claim, should be told to the people of the country in this connection is that the announcement of the target, made at that Box on 7th December, coincided almost exactly with an instruction issued to local authorities on nth December lowering the standard of repairs that was to be allowed. However one might like to think there was no deliberate dependence of the one fact upon the other, it will be very difficult for one so to do. Between July and December there had been a slow but steady improvement in the standard of repairs allowed. On 4th July, the Government had started the practice of issuing to local authorities notes upon war damage repairs. Serial Note No. 1, issued on 4th July, laid down certain standards at which the local authorities had to aim. The local authorities were told that immediate repairs should not go beyond the standard set. Where extensive war damage had been done to roofs, these were to be covered with tarpaulins, or roofing felt well battened down. Tiles or slates might be replaced to small patches, and displaced window frames could be replaced and sashes and casements made secure. Broken panes were to be hacked out, and the empty spaces filled with translucent material to the extent of half the window area, in order that what was called "a reasonable amount of daylight" might be ensured. External but not internal doors were to be temporarily repaired and rehung and loose plaster on walls and ceilings was to be taken down but only those ceilings open to roof space were to be covered with suitable material. Essential fittings were to be refixed and a minimum of essential services was to be restored.
That basic standard was very poor and very inadequate, even at that time. Some slight amendment was made in Serial Note 21, issued on 14th August. It said:
The present standard is so low, it must be improved at the first opportunity. Where circumstances permit, therefore, local authorities should proceed with a further stage of first-aid repair.
The improvements that were allowed were to be: more roof covering; small patches in ceilings could be plastered; other parts of the ceiling could be covered with board, and rather more translucent material than half the window space was allowed for windows. On 6th September, by Serial Note 25—I am going into these details because I want to be most fair to the Department, if I can—reglazing was permitted, particularly in living rooms and kitchens, internal doors, it was hoped but only hoped, would become available, and authorities were warned that where plaster board was used on ceilings, the surface of the board was to serve as a proper finish, because the board was not to be distempered. Hon. Members may or may not be able to form a picture of what an ordinary working class home damaged in the blitz would look like if repaired to those standards, but after visiting very large numbers of those homes I can say that they are very dull and dismal, very uncomfortable, very uninviting. Wind and weatherproof they may be, but they are far below the standard of houses which I, as a member of a local authority, was party to condemning before the war as not fit for human habitation.
When we come to 11th December, when the target for the winter programme was laid down, we find that even the miserable standard which I have described was too high for the work that was to be done. It was lowered in order that the target might be achieved. It. would
have been much better, much fairer, and much wiser if the House and the country had been told that plainly when the target was announced. Some local authorities, in order to spread relief among a greater number of their people, had done repairs at a lower standard than the July-September Serial Notes allowed. They hoped, indeed longed, to be able to go back to complete the repairs up to the standard of the Circular, but now they found that their lower standard was to hit back at them, and that what they had put forward as a regrettable minimum was to be thrust upon them as a maximum. Serial Note 56, issued on 11th December, says:
A recent review has shown that many authorities are working to standards which, compared with those adopted by others, have resulted in a great saving of effort and a speedier rate of progress.
That is a very euphemistic description of a degradation of the standard of repair,
All local authorities are now requested to adopt this practice, Such action is imperative if the maximum number of families are to be made tolerably comfortable before Christmas; if the London winter programme is to be completed by, or before, the end of March next; and if the materials and labour are to be used to the best advantage.
Among specific lowerings of standards that were to be enforced upon local authorities were these: Rooms not essential for the use of the family or families inhabiting a house were not to be repaired, that is, extra living and spare bedrooms, which, in effect, meant that the ordinary working class family was confined to its kitchen and not allowed to use what was called its parlour. No decoration or painting was to be carried out unless essential for the protection of the work done; for example, the painting of putty or new woodwork, or where one coat of distemper was essential to ensure a minimum of comfort. So essential was it that the target should be attained, no matter how degraded the standard of repair, that even that lowered standard was not sufficient as the job went on. On 8th February Serial Note 95 stated:
The standard prescribed in Serial 56 is a maximum, not a minimum. Any house which has been so repaired as to reach the standard prescribed by the Council where that is more limited than Serial No. 56 or where the householder prefers a more limited standard in present circumstances should be counted as completed so far as the winter target is concerned.
Let the House note that. That is what is meant by 100 per cent. attainment of the winter programme. The right hon. Gentleman may be very proud of it, but it is a very sorry show indeed. No hon. Member would like to live under the conditions which hundreds of thousands are forced to endure in the more severely damaged parts of this area. Of comfort in those places there is none; drabness and gloom abound; draughts and cold, dampness and stuffiness, serious overcrowding and gross inconvenience are not uncommon amongst them. It has to be seen to be understood, and it has to be experienced before it can be appreciated.
The first point I want to make with regard to the programme is that an enormous amount of work still remains to be done to the 700,000 houses which are supposed to make up that winter programme, and there are two further outstanding factors to be remembered. The 719,000 houses in the winter target were houses that had been damaged before 22nd September and did not include a very large number of other houses that were damaged. The target was confined to those houses which, in the words of the Minister of Works on 7th December, though damaged were for the most part habitable and in fact inhabited. There existed another category described in the same speech as the more seriously damaged which, though now unfit to live in, were still worth mending. This second category has still to be tackled. How many houses that comprises it is difficult to say, because I cannot remember having seen any numbers stated, but from investigations which I have made I am convinced that in the London area they total more than 100,000, and that the average cost of reinstatement will be much nearer £400 than £100.
The second factor to be taken into account is that the 700,000 houses were those which had been damaged before 22nd September. The winter target did not include any of the houses damaged subsequent to that date. There, again, we do not know the number, for upon that problem the security black-out has been complete. I hope the time has now come when we can be told the truth about the extent of that addition to this damage programme. There are many areas in South-East England where, the winter target having been attained to 100 per
cent., the local authorities are to-day faced with a far greater summer programme than the winter programme. Taking these two factors together it has to be realised that the task with which we are faced is a colossal one, and the House and the country must recognise that. The House must recognise it because is must be relentless in its insistence that far more labour and materials are devoted to this job than in the past. The country must recognise it in order that it may see the justice of the compulsory postponement of building and decorative work which, however desirable, will be seen to be trivial when compared with this more urgent task. For that reason I was glad to hear the Minister of Health say in the last housing Debate that the £10 licence limit was to be extended to the country as a whole. Experience has shown, first in London and later in the South-East of England, that it led to the freeing of labour and the turning of the attention of building contractors to this repair work. I think that will also be the experience when the limitation is extended to the country on 1st May, and I hope that strict standards of essentiality of work will be laid down before the licences are issued. I say that in view of the leaflet issued by the Ministry concerning the houses undergoing repair during the carrying out of the winter programme. This leaflet said:
Essential repairs will be done to as many of your rooms as are absolutely necessary for the use of you and your family. The aim is to make these rooms tolerably comfortable as quickly as possible. All the repairs to your home cannot be completed now. Some of that work will have to wait until such time as more labour and materials are available.
Then the leaflet went on:
Why can't it all be done now? Some 700,000 houses in London have to be dealt with this winter, so there are 699,999 besides yours. If your home was completely repaired now other people would have to wait longer. The first thing is to bring everybody's house up to a modest but tolerable standard as quickly as possible.
I agree; but I say, Let that first be done to every damaged house in the land. Decorations, additions or improvements to undamaged houses must be made to wait until that modest but tolerable standard has been realised in the home of everybody.
I have spent thus much time in stating the task because I believe it is essential that the public should understand what the problem is, as only then can we give proper consideration to how it is to be tackled. I submit that there are two main problems. The first is the problem of repair of all damaged houses to a standard at least as high as that which was reached last September, arid in tackling that there should be no halt at the stage when we come to deal with those that have got priority. In those houses that have been damaged since September there should be no halt at the stage of having reached the winter target. The job should go straight on in these houses to bring them up to the full standard, not only because that would mean greater economy of labour, but because we must minimise the number of visits which parties of workmen have to make to the homes of our people in the damaged areas. One of the most trying experiences of our sorely tried people is to have a party of workmen come and do a bit of repair to the house this week, another party next week and then another next month. Whilst bombing was on, it was necessary to move men for "field dressings" to newly damaged houses, but now we should go on and complete the job with the workmen who go to the house in the first instance.
The second problem with which we are faced is the final reinstatement of all war damaged houses that are classified as "not total loss," and these include not only the houses which have so far been repaired, but also those more heavily damaged that are generally classified as C (a) and C (b) houses. Where inferior and substitute materials have been used in repairs this will involve their replacement. Whilst substitutes are inevitable, efforts should be made to see that, as far as possible, they are permanently suitable for the work that is done, and very careful watch should be kept on the use of inferior materials. I wish to give, as an instance, a case which I was asked to investigate recently, with regard to the use of poor quality timber. I am assured on very reliable evidence that timber is being used in war damage repairs which, in some cases, has a life of less than six years. I claim that care should be taken in the use of such materials on jobs which will involve considerable future work, for example, if it is used as roof timbers, where future replacement will be as costly as it will be essential.
I also urge that attention be given in this business of reinstatement, to what are called the C (b) houses, the badly damaged houses. The longer they stand untouched, the worse they will become, and as a result we shall be losing essential accommodation, at least of a temporary character, which we can very ill afford. The first of these two major tasks can and should be carried out by local authorities. But I want to urge that for efficiency's sake certain modifications should be made in the plan under which the work is being done. There is at present divided responsibility in supervision and organisation. In a given local authority area, some contractors are employed by the local authority, whilst others, often the larger firms, are employed by the Ministry of Works. The local authority have no direct control in those cases, and with shortage of staff they find it impossible to give the detailed written instructions to the Ministry of Works supervisor. Thus, whilst the local authority is responsible for the work, the staff supervising it is not controlled by them. That is bad organisation. Mobility of labour is sacrificed as a result of it, for whilst the local authority contractors and workmen can be moved about from one district to another within the local authority area, the Ministry of Works' contractors are confined in most cases to a given area. I am certain that greater efficiency in repair would result, as well as greater economy in supervisory staff, if all labour were controlled by the local authority and the clerks of works who now supervise Ministry of Works' contractors could be taken and utilised by the local authorities in the general job.
In this connection I want consideration to be given to an alteration in the system of allocation of labour, because this has often been quite uneconomical, particularly from the point of view of supervision of the work. The large firms employed by the Ministry of Works very often have gangs of 100 to 300 men, whilst the local builders employed by the local authority have, in most cases, gangs of less than 30. If these smaller groups were brought up to 50 each by the allocation of imported labour to local firms instead of to the Ministry of Works' large contractors, more useful units would be formed capable of being moved easily and able to operate—and this is important—from a damaged house in the district where they were working, instead of requiring the huts, tents, store sheds and other paraphernalia necessary for large gangs in existing circumstances. That alteration would also simplify considerably the problem of canteens, mess rooms and lavatory accommodation which has caused considerable trouble in some areas.
In any case, if the work is to be done expeditiously and efficiently, the local authorities must be given more assistance in the future than they have had in the past. Month after month, first to this Ministry and then to that, I have led deputations of local authorities, pleading for more technical and supervisory staff to enable them to cope with the growing tasks that confront them. We have met with little, if any, success as a result of those deputations. But the need grows ever greater, and will continue to increase as the normal activities of local authorities have to be restarted. We all know there is difficulty in getting men released for this job, but housing is the most vital problem that faces this community at the present moment. I am convinced that more could have been done in the way of repairs during last winter, with the labour force that was available, if more supervisory and technical grades had been made available to the local authorities. Real economy in the use of man-power makes the tackling of that problem essential.
Lastly, there is the work of final reinstatement. This will be a difficult matter, for it will involve the closing of the claims which owners have upon the War Damage Commission, and a final agreement as to the extent of war damage for each property concerned. I submit that that is an impossible task for local authorities to carry out. The differences and delays in the negotiations would interrupt very much the organisation and flow of the work that the local authority would be called upon to do. Moreover, the work will have to be carried out to the satisfaction of both owner and the War Damage Commission—a very different organisational set-up in regard to repairs, where the local authority has merely to satisfy the Ministry as to its standard of repairs. The local authorities should not be involved in that at all. As this extended first-aid repair work nears completion the services of builders and the materials necessary should be made progressively available to owners to carry out the final reinstatement on terms agreed between them and the Commission. But whatever is done in that respect I submit that first things must come first, and the first things in this case are the necessary repairs at the present moment. Therefore, every effort should be made in the months ahead of us, by the supply of more labour and materials, by the improvement in organisation and the supply of increased technical and supervisory staff to the local authorities to make certain, before the bad weather of next winter comes, that we have done everything we can to assure reasonable ease and comfort in the fullest measure of accommodation which our greatest efforts will make possible for the people of this country.
I beg to second the Amendment.
My hon. Friend, who has considerable experience of war damage in his own constituency, has, I think, convinced the House that the methods of tackling war damage at the present moment are by no means adequate. I hope to show ways in which the present organisation can be considerably improved. I said on a previous occasion that although I do not represent a heavily war damaged constituency, I have experience of doing repair work. I am not engaged, at the moment, in war damage repair work. I hold a builder's licence, but I have no men, and I cannot operate, though I would be very willing to do so, as I have stated in the House previously.
I agree with what my hon. Friend said about target figures. I have looked upon those figures with a great deal of scepticism for some time past. The Minister, or his predecessor, has gone for figures rather than facts. The facts do not justify the figures of adequate repairs, not even of second stage repairs, that have been issued to the public. When we are told that 719,000 houses have been repaired up to a certain standard, the people who live in those badly damaged houses know what that standard is. My hon. Friend has said it is a very poor standard, judged by any test. The people who do not live in those houses, who are living in comparatively well-found houses, especially people in parts of the country other than London, imagine the Ministry of Works are doing an enormous job. They are doing nothing of the kind. What they have done, and I admit they have done fairly well during the period of the flying bomb menace, has been to be quick on the spot during the period of incidents, with a large number of workmen—that may have been justified at the time—to tack up something to the windows, and give the people some sort of assurance that they were being looked after. No doubt it has had a very good psychological effect when the men have come down the street and put in an appearance. But time has gone on, and the people are waiting for the next appearance of the Ministry of Works or the local authority; and too often they have had to wait too long.
I do not know whether the Minister noticed a very interesting article in a newspaper last Sunday. It was written by a colleague of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary. My hon. Friend knows the writer quite well—Mr. Cop-pock, a man who, I believe, belongs to my hon. Friend's own organisation: a practical man. What Mr. Coppock wrote in "Reynolds" last Sunday ought to convince anybody who is willing to be convinced that the practical men are not being consulted. Who are what one would call the "big shots" in the right hon. Gentleman's Department, in the main? Not men who are used to dealing with patching jobs—as much of this work is—or repairing old and dilapidated houses, such as are found especially in the East End. I doubt very much whether these houses are going to be adequately repaired, even when the owners have settled what is to be done with the War Damage Commission. Mr. Coppock said something which I know to be a fact: that there are too many civil engineers at the top in the Ministry of Works. They may be suitable for building Royal Ordnance factories and aerodromes, but not for tackling war damage repairs. It cannot be done as a military evolution. Therefore, I do not look with much favour upon the appointment of a general, who may know something about anti-aircraft gunnery, but who, I suggest, knows very little about housing. However, the Government have appointed him, and they have to stand or fall by the results which he achieves. I should have welcomed some more men of the calibre of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, whose voice, I notice, is absent from most of our Debates on this subject. He is a practical man, and he could tell us, if he would, some of the difficulties of repairing war-damaged houses. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister has a lot to learn before he is able to tackle this problem adequately; and time is passing, and we cannot afford to teach Ministers to do their jobs; the people want their houses repaired.
Let me give an example of the way these matters are tackled. My hon. Friend has referred to the Ministry of Works pools of labour doing some jobs, and the local authority pools of labour doing other jobs—both run from separate Government Departments, with separate organisations, and sometimes separate rates of wages for the workmen. We have also the local builders mobilised to do work concurrently with the two pools. Most of these little builders, of the type my hon. Friend referred to, know their job of repairing houses and keeping houses going which are 70, 80 and as much as 90 years old. Many of these builders are short not only of technical and supervisory assistance, but of the building labour itself. They are constantly being milked for the local authority pools and the Ministry of Works pools. Sometimes these little building firms are taken en bloc, or with their repair gangs. They like to hold on to their gangs, because that ensures that they retain their labour, and they try to contribute to the local authorities' pool of workmen. They often put in charge of these gangs so-called foremen, who have never done that sort of work in their lives, to keep the gangs together, so that they can get their workmen back at some time. These little builders are sent from North to East and from South to West, all over London, with the result that the amount of time lost in travelling is, in the aggregate, simply enormous. It might be better if the Ministry made a survey—perhaps they have made it—of the number of jobbing builders' firms in each locality, and tried to get those firms going in the localities, supplementing those firms in the badly-damaged localities with extra labour, because, obviously, more labour is wanted in those areas than in areas like Hampstead, which are not so badly damaged. A large number of the employees of these small building firms are oldish men, who are not really mobile; they suffer from all the complaints under the sun. You cannot get the same amount of work from them if you take them away from their homes, and send them to parts where they do not understand the different types of houses which have to be tackled—for it is quite a different thing to repair a large house from repairing a small house, although that may not be generally realised. A lot of labour, at present, is being badly utilised by being sent from one part of London to another.
I always believe in giving solid cases. The other day a builder in London came to my office, and said, "What are we going to do now? We have a contract with the Kensington Council to repair war-damaged houses in Kensington. It runs on to the end of April. The council have told us that that contract is at an end, because our men are wanted in Barking, for entirely different types of property. There was a lot of grumbling among some of the builders, but I went over to survey the job. I said to the official who was dealing with this matter—perhaps the borough surveyor: I do not know—that some of my men were getting a penny an hour more than the trade union rate." That is often done among builders—and in other industries too—because builders want to retain their men. I do not know whether Kensington is going to get into trouble over this, but that builder has been getting the rate that he has been paying his men. He told me that the official in Barking said, "That is nothing to do with us; we pay the rate, and nothing more." That may be according to the book, and one cannot argue about that; but what has been the effect on the men? I ought to say that if a man travels over a certain distance he gets extra payment. I am not sure of the figure, and perhaps my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary can correct me if I am wrong, but I think that if they go over 15 miles they get an extra 4s.; at any rate, they get extra.
Mr George Hicks (Woolwich East)
I cannot give the exact details, but the extra payment is for travelling time; and those that we send from the country get a subsistence allowance equal to 4s. a day.
That is going to make my case a little better. As my hon. Friend admits, the men get extra for travelling time. But how is that calculated? The distance from their homes to their jobs is measured on a map, as the crow flies. You cannot get from Kensington to Barking as the crow flies, except by aeroplane.
That is a typical official explanation. If you are going to treat your workmen that way, you will not get the best out of them. It is bad enough to use some of these flat-footed, flat-chested, and comparatively disabled men—because that is the material the builders have to work with—without treating them in that fashion, by simply measuring on a map the distances that the men have to travel. Everybody knows that the underground railway and the buses do not go like that.
I should have thought that, with the number of workmen we have working on war damage in London, we should have got better results. I do not want to say anything against the workmen. I hope that I have always been a good workman, as my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary was when he was in the trade. He will agree that for a fair day's wage there should be a fair day's work. We are not getting a fair day's work at present. I am not going to say that it is the men's fault. Much of the labour is unskilled, and many of the men have never been in the building trade before. They have to be organised; and they cannot organise themselves. If they are dumped down on a job, waiting for the foreman to turn up or for the material to turn up, you cannot blame them if they stand about. We hear some cases of men playing cards on the job; but what do you expect when a man has nothing else to do but twiddle his thumbs, because the work is not organised for him. I have talked to individual after individual, and they have told me how work is not planned so that some men spend a day putting a couple of panes of glass into a window. It is not the men's fault. Even if they go into the Army they have to look to their officers or non-commissioned officers to lead them. Those men, who have been organised under the Ministry of Works, are not getting results. I would not mind if this matter were treated as a military evolution, but I would then ask for military conditions to be considered. You cannot fight wars with an unorganised mob. The only discipline and organisation which many of these men recognise is in their allegiance and loyalty to their own employers.
Sir Alexander Erskine-Hill (Edinburgh North)
Can the hon. Gentleman give any instances of the sort of thing he is speaking about? It is a very serious matter, and there should be some proof given. He ought to be able to say that he knows where disorganisation has been caused by ineffective orders from the top.
It is not ineffective orders from the top, but ineffective orders from far lower down. It is not the generals—if I might so call them—in the Ministry of Works, or even in the Ministry of Health; it is some of the junior officers and N.C.O.'s, far lower down than that. I should be wasting the time of the House if I gave specific instances. I suppose every hon. Member could give instance after instance confirming what I am saying, that many of these men are badly organised. If this matter is to be treated as a military evolution there will have to be different methods which I do not think the building industry would tolerate. Methods of dragooning such as we know in the Services are all right for fighting battles, but they are no good for repairing war damaged houses. They have to be very carefully done, and unless the whole of the industry is to be nationalised—which may be a possibility some time but I do not think it is at the moment—you must operate your own private enterprise, about which hon. Members talk so freely, properly. We are getting neither fish, flesh nor fowl at the moment, but good red herring.
My hon. Friend has referred to concentration on war damage and war damage only. I would not go the whole distance with him on that, because I believe there is a considerable amount of maintenance work to be carried out in order to stop serious dilapidation occurring in those houses which have only been slightly bomb damaged, or have not been bomb damaged at all, and are standing empty. Take one illustration—dry rot. Kensington Borough Council, and I believe other borough councils, have issued warning notices to property-owners, estate agents and so forth stating that there is a serious danger confronting London as a result of dry rot in unoccupied properties. What is dry rot? Its inception is in wet rot—dampness. Sometimes the term is misused. The fact remains that to-day there are empty houses which have been rotting for the war years, with dry rot spreading because of the dampness, and these ought to be tackled now, unless we are to get the infection spreading to other neighbourhoods. It is a well-known fact that the spores of dry rot spread through the air and contaminate other healthy dwellings. We will have to carry out a certain amount of maintenance work, and I go so far as to say, with practical experience in this matter, that there is a lot that I and other people in a similar position could do to organise part-time workers—men who come in for a week-end or a light summer's evening and give a hand. They will not do it for the local authority or for the Ministry of Works, but they will often do it for an employer who knows the advantages and disadvantages and who lives on the spot.
If one wishes to do anything costing over £10 in that way, one will have to go to the local authority for a licence, and any one who goes to the local authority for a licence of that sort knows the inordinate length of time and waste of effort involved in getting anything like an acceptance, or even a refusal. Indeed, as far as decorations are concerned, some local authorities refuse point blank. Yet if one goes to other boroughs one sees plenty of decorations, and one wonders where the policy is. There is no policy at all. Take the case of Newmarket. That case has received some publicity. There are two other cases which were mentioned in the "Daily Mail" to-day. They show that some local authorities are prepared to "cock a snoot" at the Minister's £10 licence.
Yes, I know the Newmarket case has been refused, but it was not refused by the local authority. It was only because it was carried to the Ministry of Health that it was refused.
Mr Duncan Sandys (Lambeth Norwood)
I do not wish to interrupt the hon. Member, but he has made several misstatements. With regard to that last statement about the Newmarket case, the amount involved was far in excess of that which the local authority was empowered to approve. It had to come to the Ministry of Health in any case. It really got into the Press before it was finally dealt with. As to the other case about the £10 limit, the average time taken to deal with these licensing cases, with all the other work which local authorities have to do, is under a week, and I do not think that is bad.
I know that the right hon. Gentleman says so, but these applications for licences are piling up in the town halls. As for the Newmarket case, I do not see that his remarks justify his assertion as to a mis-statement by myself. I merely said that an application was made to the local authority to do repairs which were excessive; that it was approved by the local authority and was turned down by the Ministry of Health. There are two other cases to which the right hon. Gentleman can refer and see what is happening there. I can assure the House from my own experience, that I can go to one borough in London and get work carried out, whereas in another borough I cannot. There is confusion at the Ministry of Health as to the policy governing these matters. Whatever the reason is, the fact does remain that war damage repairs are not being done. The right hon. Gentleman can laugh about it if he likes, but I assure him that this is a serious matter to the thousands of people who, not like him, have to live in these badly blitzed houses, and unless they get a quick answer or an assurance that their troubles will be attended to quickly, it will be worse for the right hon. Gentleman and his Government.
Mr Henry Brooke (Lewisham West)
Our congratulations are due to the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Key) on his luck in the draw. I am sure that any other hon. Member from a heavily bombed district who was as fortunate as he, would have selected this subject for debate. My regret is that the Debate has had to be postponed until now, because it would have been more timely had it taken place six or eight weeks ago.
My regret about the nature of the hon. Member's speech is that in a situation which is part white and part black, and a good deal grey, he picked out only the black spots for comment. In fact, if he reads his speech to-morrow morning in HANSARD he will see that he gave too dark a picture of what has actually been accomplished. He knows a good deal about my constituency, as I know about his, and there is no danger of either of us underestimating the vast amount of work that has to be done in London. But it does not contribute to the accomplishment of that work in the earliest possible time, which ought to be the one object of all of us, if we merely concentrate on those items in the organisation which have not been as satisfactory as they should have been, arid if we fail to give any credit where credit is due. I know all about the reaching of the winter target not having been as brilliant an achievement as some platform orator might suggest, but I have never heard any Government spokesman refer to it with complacency. To me it seems to be one step in a very long journey, and the moment has come when we must be planning the further steps. In my judgment, since the task has been co-ordinated by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Works, there has been a steady improvement in the London organisation, and in particular I should like to pay tribute to the achievement of Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve during these last eight months. There are points on which I have disagreed with him, and I might disagree with him again, but generally speaking I know of no man in England who could have set about this thankless task more energetically, vigorously and skilfully than he has done.
One of my criticisms concerns the way in which publicity has been handled. Not enough has been done either by the Ministries concerned or, more particularly, by the local authorities to keep all the hundreds of thousands of people who are affected by bomb damage continuously informed of what the plan of organisation is. I know the leaflets which the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley has quoted and which have been left at houses, and I know the circulars and serial notes which have been issued, but one of the first lessons a publicity agent learns is that it is not enough to say a thing once. You must go on saying it until it has sunk into people's minds. That is all the more important with a problem like this, which affects the emotions of everybody concerned. The lesson which Field-Marshal Montgomery has taught the Army is that you must make sure that every man, right down to the bottom, knows what it is all about. Something of the same kind is still missing in regard to publicity work concerning bomb-damage repairs. People are still not sufficiently clear as to the various stages of repairs, for instance, and as to what precisely is laid down in the repair standards which the hon. Member quoted. Now that perhaps the strictest degree of security silence as regards what is called winter damage may be near passing away, I would like to put in a plea that, in future, the periodical statistical announcements concerning progress made in different areas shall not be confined to groups of boroughs, parts of the London Region, but shall be given on the basis of individual boroughs and authorities. Apart from everything else, that will help the more lightly damaged boroughs to realise how heavy is the damage remaining to be done in other places, and where damage has been heavy it will help people in those areas to realise that outside their boundaries too there is an immense amount of work waiting to be accomplished.
On this point of publicity, will the Ministers concerned do more than has yet been done to convey to the people of this country generally what the summer programme is? I know that Circular 54 has been issued, but it has received little publicity in the national Press and virtually none in the local Press; yet this is the circular which defines the main plans on which the Government are going to work from 31st March onwards. I know that no Minister can do it all himself. I regret that the local authorities are not more active in, for instance, arranging frequent Press conferences with the local papers where the latest news on repair policy
can be given. If publicity for essential facts were improved, people would understand and more helpfully co-operate with the plan that is being carried out. With regard to Circular 54, I wonder whether further information could be given as to future intentions for what is known as the winter damage areas. Those areas which suffered their main damage last summer from V1 are now to be authorised to carry out repairs up to a higher standard, the standard of Serial 25. The winter damage areas are those which suffered damage from V2 or additional damage from V1 since last September. The only guidance which these areas receive is in paragraph 5 of the circular:
In the winter damage areas, repairs will be limited to the standards laid down in Serial 56 until all or most of the houses in these areas have been dealt with.
The position may be reached within a few weeks in some of those areas, and so far, to the best of my knowledge, local authorities in those winter damage areas have not received further guidance, and cannot obtain it from this circular, as to what is to happen next, when all their houses have been brought up to the low standard of Serial 56.
The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) spoke about licences. My experience is that decisons on licence applications are not being terribly held up by local authorities just now. In the majority of cases the reason is that virtually no licences are being granted. What is the history of this? The £10 limit was introduced in London at the beginning of October. Then it was found that some local authorities were being too generous in issuing licences. So three months later the Government issued a further circular warning local authorities of this and advising them that they must only issue licences in cases of utmost urgency. The second circular was necessary, because in some places licences were being issued too freely. My suspicion is that that second circular has been interpreted so strictly in some areas that practically no licences at all are now being issued. That is too rigid. I am sure that the £10 limit should stay, and I am glad that it is extended to the rest of the country, but we cannot maintain so low a limit unless a high degree of common sense is exercised by local authorities as to the issue of licences outside the £10. It is difficult to define what the principle should be, but I suggest it should be this: a council faced with an application for a licence should ask itself one question, "Will the issue of a licence for this work speed up, or not, the date by which all houses in this area will be raised to the standard of repair to which we, as a local authority, are at present working? If the issue of this licence will bring more workers in on to repairs, it should be granted; if it is merely going to transfer some men at present working for the local authority to work instead for a private individual who wants his house done up out of turn, it should be refused." It is not the case that 100 per cent. of the possible labour is working for the local authorities now, nor can it ever be quite 100 per cent. The hon. Member for Bassetlaw instanced the part-time worker who might be brought in; that kind of case ought to be recognised in the issuing of licences.
The hon. Member also referred to the quality of the work being done. He said that there was not a fair day's work being put in. The people of London have reason to be intensely grateful to thousands of men and their employers who have come to London at great personal inconvenience to carry out this repair work. At the same time they have reason to say to others of the workmen, "We would rather you were not here, and that you went back." We all know, for there is no secret about it, that a percentage of the men on the job are not pulling their weight and, as the hon. Member said, are not doing a fair day's work.
Mr Henry Brooke (Lewisham West)
I was about to suggest another reason. That is that we are trying to work these men too long. They have now been working heavy overtime for eight months. What are the present hours of work approved by the Government? From Monday to Saturday 51½ hours, and on Sunday another eight hours, making a 59½-hour week altogether. What is the result? A fair day's work on Sunday is not done. It is the Sunday work which is the least satisfactory, and it is the Sunday work which is paid on the basis of double time.
Can we look ahead to the future programme? That has been sketched in Circular 54, which says that it will be
necessary to maintain, at any rate until the end of June, a large labour force on repair work in Greater London.
The end of June indeed! In the borough I represent I should say that, if it is enabled to retain the full amount of labour which it at present has, war damage repairs will be completed in about two years from now. And when I say war damage repairs, I exclude the rebuilding of all the houses that have been completely demolished. But that has got to be done too. In other parts of the country people have been informed that they can start thinking about rebuilding demolished houses which will cost under £1,500. That stage will not come near us in Landon for years, and yet it ought to be Government policy to try and keep the whole country in line as far as possible. There will be jealousy if one part gets opportunities, and a richer allocation of labour, which will enable it to rush ahead of London. In the borough I represent, there are literally thousands of families with their names down at the town hall waiting for homes—families which have some claim on the borough, or had some connection with it before their homes were lost. Some of these thousands are in the Forces, others have been forced to evacuate from London. These people have to face the grim fact—and we must be blunt about this—that there will not be homes for many of them in London for years. The real crisis that this House will have to meet is not now, when, in my view, war damage repairs are proceeding better than the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley will allow, but it will be in the future, when the men are coming back from the Forces and are expecting to find new houses going up but will find they are not because the whole labour force is still required on war damage.
That brings me to my final point. In the Debate on housing a few weeks ago the Minister of Works said that within a year of the collapse of Germany we should be getting out of the Forces 175,000 building trade workers under Class A on grounds of age and length of service, and another 60,000 specially released under Class B. That latter figure is not enough. I plead with the Minister of Works to urge upon the Minister of Labour and his other colleagues in the Government that it will be utterly useless bringing millions of men out of the Services under Class A on grounds of age and length of service, if they have no homes to come to. It is essential that we should bring out of the Forces at the earliest possible moment every man who can play any useful part in repairing war damage and in rebuilding England.
Hon. William Waldorf Astor (Fulham East)
I have occasionally been a constructive critic of the Minister of Works, but I think the attendance of London Members in the House for this Debate is the best proof that things are not going so very badly. I have devoted a good deal of the Easter Recess to walking round my constituency and going to the main incident areas, and I can honestly say that, by and large, people are very pleased with the way the war-damage work is being done, especially in view of the winter handicaps of weather which were much greater than anybody could have expected when the Minister laid down his programme. I think that, on the whole, the people in London are pleased with the spirit in which the work has been done. Attacks which have occasionally been made on the workmen are, generally speaking, unfair. People do not realise that the workmen in London now are often elderly men, who have some physical disability and who have not the degree of skill and cohesion of a pre-war group of London skilled building trade workers. Making allowances for these difficulties, one can say that they have, generally speaking, done extremely well. One can also say that the materials are now coming along, and one hardly ever hears of a case of work being held up for lack of them.
The cases of complaint are usually due to firms being moved again and again. There is one street in my constituency where five different firms have been on the job. This is due perhaps to incidents elsewhere, but, whatever the reason, different lots of men follow each other on a job, and that is what gets the housewife down. It is hoped that one firm will be allowed to see a job through. We want a little more tolerance too as regards decorations. It makes all the difference if a coat of distemper can be put on. A housewife, particularly if she is elderly, does not feel she has the energy to fix up the curtains and put the furni- ture straight if, at a later date, she will have to move them again for redecoration. Many firms are giving one coat of distemper under the heading of cleansing. The house looks far nicer and the lady of the house is far happier as the result. I hope that such tolerance will be increasingly exercised. We hope also that when they put up plaster board it will be of a type that can be plastered over and made permanent.
We have also to consider the question of the shops. A shop is vital for the life of a community and for the little shopkeeper, and, in my constituency, we have people corning back from the Services who want to try to get their shops going again. Is it possible to make some concession, in regard to shops and their repair, so that a little more discretion could be given to local authorities on which they could work? In view of what the hon. Member for West Lewisham (Mr. Brooke) said, and circumstances being what they are, I think we ought to put the Portal houses rather close together and not work to the ideal standards which you have in the country, but accept the fact that, in London, we have to be a little more crowded. I think it right to say that the Ministry of Works and the men, whether the foremen or the workmen themselves, have done and are doing a job which the people of London appreciate.
Mrs Mavis Tate (Frome)
The hon. Member for East Fulham (Mr. Astor) said that the people of London were very satisfied with the way in which bomb-damage repairs have been carried out. In many instances, I think that is the case. In the borough in which I live, I have had my house damaged three times, but in no case was the damage sufficient to be reported, in view of the appalling damage which other people had suffered. In each case, however, the repairs were done in an extremely short time, without the damage having been reported.
I agree with the hon. Member for West Lewisham (Mr. Brooke) that it is a mistaken policy now to continue with Sunday work unless you can find part-time workers who are not engaged on that type of work during the week, but who would be willing to do Sunday work. I do not believe it is a paying policy to keep men working very long hours and working on Sundays as well. But let me assure the House that, though people in London are, on the whole, satisfied with the speed of the building repairs which have been carried out, the workers who came from the country districts and made great personal sacrifices to do these repairs in London, are by no means so satisfied. I agree with the hon. Member for Basset-law (Mr. Bellenger) that there is a very great need for better organisation, and that, if there were better organisation, these repairs could be carried out with greater speed than at present.
One of the things of which these men complain is that in a great many cases there are too many bosses. The local authority will have clerks of works, and, in some cases, a large contractor who has been put in will have other clerks of works, and it is not unusual for men engaged on one contract to be visited by two or three people in the course of the day, all of whom have quite different orders, and this is creating very real discontent and dissatisfaction. These men have come up to London at great personal sacrifice. They volunteered at a time when they might have found plenty of work elsewhere, and, in many instances, they find themselves standing about for three-quarters of the day, not knowing what to get on with next. I think that one of the policies which has made for the slowing down of this work has been the policy of allowing the men only to do repairs in certain districts. It sounds well, but, when a firm of builders engaged on first-aid repairs has to go elsewhere to do repairs in a totally different district, a great deal of loss of time takes place in arranging to leave the one district for the other. They believe that if they were allowed to do a little more than first-aid repairs in the districts in which they are working, instead of being moved to a different part of London, the repairs would be more quickly completed and there would be a great economy in time.
Another difficulty experienced by those in charge is that the men who have come up from the country want to know what their position will be when these repairs are finished, whether they are going back to their own districts and whether they will find work ready for them to do. They wonder if they are to be re-employed by the small builders who employed them in the past. It is a matter of very great concern to them. They do not want to find that, because they made a patriotic gesture and volunteered to do bomb damage repairs in London they are for ever, while the emergency lasts, to be considered as mobile labour. If their minds could be set at rest on this issue, I think they would be very much happier men.
Perhaps the Minister could clear up the point, but are not all these men held under the Essential Work Order?
Mrs Mavis Tate (Frome)
Yes, but some men have been kept in their own districts, and that is why these men want to know for how long when the emergency is to end they are to be considered mobile labour liable to be sent up and down the country. There is also a certain amount of difficulty about the way in which the contracts are paid for. When cheques are paid by the Ministry of Works, I think it is the quantities surveyor who sends a cheque without a definite statement of how the amount is made up, and, when the various contractors in the district come to pay out, it is impossible to know what is the profit for each contractor. There is a great deal of difficulty in understanding these amounts, because the specific work paid for is not stated when the cheque is sent, and that is creating a considerable amount of difficulty.
Finally, if it were possible for the men who came from the country districts to have a few days' leave or a long weekend, I think that, in some cases, where they have been working very long hours, it would help to expedite the work. Many men have gardens of their own, and have been accustomed to rely on them for vegetables and food supplies, and if, during the spring and the working season in the gardens, they could be given a few days' leave to go home and cultivate their gardens, it would give them a rest and they would come back with renewed vigour to their work in London.
Mr David Logan (Liverpool Scotland)
I would like to call the Minister's attention to one or two problems affecting the City of Liverpool. I know that the difficulties of his job are very heavy and this is a question of getting the organisation into shape. I am fully in agreement with the Amendment, but it does not lead to the larger measures which we want to discuss, but deals only with work of a temporary nature for those who have been displaced. If the Minister would take a look along our main roads in Liverpool he would find a tremendous number of shops which have been damaged. If some repairs were done to those shops they could be used. I am not too anxious about the shops themselves, but I am concerned with the accommodation which is found above most shops on our main roads. If we were to have some repairs done, very many of the people who lived in them before would be able to come back to live there. Since the blitzes on Liverpool, has been an exodus. Many people left the city and, amongst them, many of the shop-keeping class, and many of these shops are now derelict. I am unable to understand why some repairs are not done to the housing accommodation over these shops.
I want to refer to this question of mobile labour. Nobody grudges London anything that may be done to alleviate the difficulties of the people of London in their distressful time, but we are most anxious to be in a position to do the best we can for the rehabilitation of our men returning from the Forces. It is no use telling the pitiful story again; everyone knows how sad is the tale of these congested areas. Many thousands of people are to-day without a home, and though, naturally, we are anxious not to oppress the Minister, we do want to elicit some information from him and to urge that this job is of national importance. I want to ask the Minister if it is possible, after the demands of London for mobile labour available have been met, for priority claims to be put forward for our great seaports. I say priority claims of necessity, because I think we are entitled to priority in the large seaports, where we have given of our best, not only in shipping but in the lives of our people, and we have a right to priority for the principal shipyards which have been blitzed.
It is essential for the life of those communities that those who have had to leave should be brought back; and one must also consider that many of them have sons in the Services, who have never seen anything of the effects of the blitz and will return to find that there is no home for them. Priority ought to be extended to these places, and it would be a good thing if the Minister could so adjust the mobile labour position as to give them priority. The nation owes a great debt not only to Liverpool, but to Hull, Plymouth and other such places, which gave of their very best when they were blitzed simply and solely because they were our principal seaport towns. That being so, nobody would grumble if some priority were given to them, and I therefore leave this matter to the consideration of the Minister, hoping that he will be able to do something for those who are badly handicapped at the moment.
Sir Geoffrey Hutchinson (Ilford)
The House will be grateful to the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Key) for having selected this topic, which gives us an opportunity of bringing to the notice of the House, and of the public outside this House, the position which exists in certain areas in Southern England. There are persons who have been rendered homeless during last winter, 'who are still sleeping in shelters, and taking their meals in rest centres, the men going out to their business in different places as best they can, and the women spending their day searching for their belongings amongst the ruins of their homes. That is not an exaggerated picture of what is going on in many parts of Southern England today. I do not blame my right hon. Friend for that state of affairs. On the contrary, I desire to acknowledge the energy, sympathy and imagination which he has brought to his task and to include in that acknowledgment my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary as well, and the Vice-Chairman of the London Repairs Executive, Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve. But we have reached a point in some parts of Southern England now where it is really no longer possible to re-house the homeless families within the areas of their homes.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley drew a picture of a house which had received first-aid repairs. I have visited a good many houses in that state, and those of us who have seen these houses would not, by any means, dissent from the picture which he drew of them. He referred to the progressive reduction in the standard of repairs which has been authorised by the Ministry of Works during the past winter. But it is not fair to draw attention to the progressive reduction in the standard without, at the same time, calling attention to the fact that throughout the period when the standard was said to have been reduced, there was further damage from rockets, and serious damage occurring all over Southern England. If the former higher standard had been maintained it would not have been possible to have carried out in the areas which were suffering further damage even the simple first-stage repairs which have actually been carried out to a fairly effective standard.
It is desirable that the House and the country should appreciate the magnitude of this problem in Southern England. I take the conditions existing in a district of which I have some knowledge. There are more than 20,000 houses in need of repair. It is a task of the greatest magnitude. I take the figures for a single district because these figures include not only the summer damage but the winter damage as well. It is anticipated that the first-stage repairs for those 20,000 houses will be completed, if no further damage is experienced, by the end of June. That is a state of affairs which reflects considerable credit both upon my right hon. Friend and upon the local authorities, upon whom the bulk of the work has fallen. But these 20,000 houses are already inhabited, and if they are in fact brought up to the standard of first-stage repairs by the end of June, we should not have added any fresh accommodation to that which is available for those families who have been rendered homeless. Therefore, I would say to my right hon. Friend that you cannot separate this question of the repair of damaged habitable houses from the wider and, I agree, more difficult question of the repair or reconstruction of those houses which are no longer habitable. If, in the district to which I have referred, the authorities succeed in reaching their target of repairing 20,000 houses by the end of June it will add little, if any, additional accommodation. But it is also expected that some 250 houses which have been damaged so seriously that they are not at present habitable will have been repaired as well. That is not a very large contribution to the problem of finding additional accommodation for the homeless. There are altogether in this particular district something like 2,700 houses which have been rendered uninhabitable or have been totally demolished. I hope that my right hon. Friend is not going to separate this problem of repairing damaged houses from the problem of the reconstruction of those houses which have been rendered uninhabitable or have been demolished.
These houses which have been rendered uninhabitable but which are capable of being repaired and the houses which have been totally demolished present at the present time the best opportunity of providing the additional accommodation for the homeless and for the returning Servicemen from the Forces, which is so urgently required. The White Paper which was published before our last Debate referred to this matter, and it was stated that the War Damage Commission are at present engaged in making a survey of those houses which have been rendered uninhabitable by damage. I would like to ask my right hon. Friend what progress that survey is making? These houses fall into two classes. There are the house which are less than 30 years old. These houses are expected to qualify for a cost of works payment, and it is essential that the owners of these houses should receive the highest degree of priority, so that their houses may be rebuilt upon their sites at the earliest possible moment. Have any plans been made with regard to the re-building of the houses which fall into the class which will attract the cost of works payment?
Then there are the houses—and there are many of them—which are more than 30 years old, in respect of which it is anticipated a value payment will be made. The re-building of those houses is going to be a more difficult problem than the rebuilding of the houses in the other class. Many of those houses, although perfectly serviceable, were not the type of house that one desires to build under modern standards. They were houses which were built, perhaps, 60 or 70 years ago on a narrow frontage of 16 to 18 feet. That does not comply with modern housing standards, although, if the house exists, it provides a serviceable and comfortable dwelling. I would like to ask my right hon. Friend what proposals he has under consideration for the re-building of that class of house. These blitzed spaces, upon which these demolished and uninhabitable houses stood, at present, offer the most readily available sites for re-housing. The sites are fully serviced and situated in the parts of the towns where people desire to live, and it is for that reason that I am pressing upon my right hon. Friend that he should give attention to building upon them as soon as possible.
There is one other matter to which I wish to refer in the limited time still available to me. That is the question of technical staffs for the local authorities. My hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley refers to that in his Amendment, but did not say very much about it in his speech. On this particular matter I desire to press upon my right hon. Friend the urgency of the release of technical staff who have gone into other industries and into the Forces and, in some cases, are working in a civilian capacity for other departments. I absolve him and his Department from any responsibility for the failure to get these men back. I put up a number of these cases to him, and my experience has been that the local officials of his Department have selected very sensibly and very properly the men who ought to be brought back; but then the procedure appears to be that the matter is referred to an inter-departmental committee. I have never had much faith in inter-departmental committees. When it gets into that stage the procedure is dilatory and ineffective, and it does not secure to the local authorities the return of many men whom they ought to have had back.
I could give him a number of instances. I can tell him of a case of an assistant architect, in a borough surveyor's office, 38 years of age, who to-day is a leading aircraftman in the Royal Air Force and, according to the latest information which he sends back to his authority, his principal occupation has been peeling potatoes. This man is urgently needed to assist in the work not only of war damage repairs, but in preparing sites for the houses which will be built later on. I hope that my right hon. Friend is going to be a little firmer in the handling of this inter-departmental committee and, if necessary, I hope that somebody will be given authority to give effective decisions in cases of this nature.
Mr David Gammans (Hornsey)
I have only three points to raise, and, as time is short, perhaps I may put them in the form of questions. Can my right hon. Friend, when he replies, tell us what has happened about German prisoners? When we had a Debate on housing a few weeks ago, he gave a promise that something might be done with regard to their employment. I know the difficulties. You cannot use these men on bomb damage repair of individual houses, but there are jobs which German prisoners could do under escort, for example, laying out new roads where temporary houses are to be built, or, maybe, preparing sites for these prefabricated houses that we hope to get from America.
The second point I would like to raise is the dilemma which faces the local authorities in London with regard to temporary houses. If we put the houses on the sites of bombed houses, we cannot re-erect the permanent houses, and the number of people who can be accommodated on the sites in temporary houses is much less than the number accommodated if we put up permanent houses. The alternative seems to be that we should use temporarily some of the public open spaces. To take my own constituency to illustrate my point, if we in Hornsey could use either a bit of Finsbury Park or a bit of Alexandra Park we could put up quickly a large number of temporary houses, which otherwise I do not think we could put up in the borough at all. It would mean an Amendment of Section 143 of the Housing Act, 1936, and I would be glad if my right hon. Friend, or possibly the Minister of Health, could tell us whether, taking London by and large, he does not feel justified in asking the House to amend the Act temporarily in that respect.
They are all near the main sewers. We shall not be able to put up large numbers of temporary houses unless we put them on bombed sites, which would prevent us from building our permanent houses. I would also ask the Minister whether he thinks we have now got to the stage in the repair of bombed houses when we can get rid of this cost-plus system.
I know it was inevitable when one had no idea of the amount of damage that was done to a house and it was necessary to get on with it in a hurry, but now, when we are getting beyond the first-aid stage of repairs, when we are getting to the repair of the C. (b) houses and the splitting up of the large houses into small flats, is it not possible to get away from "cost-plus" and adopt some form of contract? It would not only save money but would mean that the job would be done much more quickly, especially—and I think these two things go together—if it is possible to reconstitute some of the small builders' firms who are used to this sort of job and have the necessary experience for it.
My last point, which was referred to by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford (Mr. G. Hutchinson), is that there is only one real solution to this problem, to get the men out of the Forces, to get back the key men at the top as well as the craftsmen in all branches of the industry. I know we cannot do that while the German war is on, but what worries me is whether the various Ministries concerned are in a position to make a flying start as soon as some degree of demobilisation is possible. For example, has the Minister lists of men in various branches of the Forces whose release he can claim under type B demobilisation, or will there be delay before these men can be found in the various branches of the Forces? I do hope the Minister can give me some definite answers to one or more of these specific questions.
Mr Duncan Sandys (Lambeth Norwood)
The Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Key) asks that immediate steps should be taken to complete all stages of repairs to war-damaged dwellings at the earliest possible date. That is, of course, exactly what we have been doing for the last six months and what we shall continue to do until the job is finished. All available resources of building labour and building materials from every part of the Kingdom are at present intensively concentrated upon this task. Before outlining our programme of repairs for the future, about which a number of hon. Members have asked, it will, I think, be convenient if I explain what has already been done, what still remains outstanding, and what organisation has been set up to deal with this problem.
Our main concern now is the repair of the damage recently wrought in London first by the flying bombs and later by the rockets. However, the Amendment before us is not restricted to London. Enemy air raids had been taking place in all parts of the country for nearly four years before the first flying bomb was launched. Over the whole country 3¼ million houses had been destroyed or damaged up to the end of last May. Even in those earlier times London was the principal target. Out of those 3¼ million damaged houses 1½ million were here in London. Fortunately, very substantial progress had already been made with the repair of this earlier damage before the start of the flying bomb attacks. As a result of the 80 days' intense bombardment during June, July and August of last year some 24,000 houses were irreparably destroyed and some 60,000 were so severely damaged as to be uninhabitable. A further 700,000, though still habitable, received substantial damage. These figures, of course, do not include the large number of houses which received trivial hurt and which needed no further repair beyond what was given to them during the field-dressing stage. A repair programme was drawn up last September. Incidentally, I do not think it is altogether fair of the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley to complain, as he did, that that programme did not include the damage which was done after September. It is clear that at that date we could only include in the programme of repair those houses which had already been damaged before September.
Mr Charles Key (Poplar Bow and Bromley)
If the right hon. Gentleman will allow me, I do not think I was complaining—if I was, I did not mean to complain. All I wanted to get over was the information that was not included. Those are still to be repaired.
Mr Duncan Sandys (Lambeth Norwood)
If the hon. Member wished to underline the obvious, he has achieved his purpose. When the repair programme was drawn up last September it was decided as a first priority to give some relief to the occupants of these 700,000 damaged but still habitable dwellings.
Mr Duncan Sandys (Lambeth Norwood)
Yes, mostly occupied. The hon. Member who moved this Amendment complained in rather bitter terms that too much publicity and the wrong kind of publicity had been given to this target and to its accomplishment. I think he said that the Government had painted a gay and rosy picture of the state of repair and had boasted about the attainment of their target. That is not correct. I challenge the hon. Member to show me any speech made either by myself or by any other Member of the Government boasting, or even expressing more than mild satisfaction with the accomplishment of this target. I am only too well aware of the low standard which we have had to adopt. I am also only too well aware—and said so in a public speech very recently—that there is a vast amount of work still to be done, and I shall refer to that again in a moment.
During the last six months all the available resources have been concentrated upon the repair work entailed in this winter programme of 700,000 dwellings. Naturally, we should have liked to carry out complete and final repairs in each house so that the occupants would not have to be disturbed a second time by the return of the workmen to finish off the job. But this would have meant that large numbers of families would have had to wait many months longer before their turn came. As it is, the people of London have had to wait quite long enough. The majority of the London local authorities took the view that tolerable living conditions must be restored to the largest number of families in the very shortest possible time. They, therefore, limited the standard of repairs to what was absolutely essential. However, the precise standard varied considerably from borough to borough. Moreover, there was a minority of local authorities which were adopting an altogether higher standard. This, in some cases, included full internal decorations. If this had been allowed to continue, it would have meant that some boroughs would either have taken very much longer to carry out their repairs or else would have had to be given a disproportionate allocation of labour. The existence side by side of such varying practices was already towards the end of last Autumn beginning to cause discontent and complaints of unequal treatment. We, therefore, decided, last December, after consultation with the local authorities, to introduce throughout London a uniform standard of repair. The standard chosen was largely based on the practice which was already being adopted in many boroughs.
The degree of comfort which we have been able to provide is, of course, far below what we all of us would have wished. But any other policy would have meant prolonging still further the misery of countless families living in roofless and windowless homes. The standard which we have had to adopt may be austere, but the necessity for it has been well understood and loyally accepted by the great majority of the people of London.
The simultaneous repair of hundreds of thousands of houses in one city is a building operation such as has never before been undertaken. The organisation to cope with this immense task has had to be evolved and elaborated as we went along. In the light of experience, we have improved our methods and we shall continue to improve them still further. In order to deal with this problem, special administrative arrangements had to be made, both at the centre and in the boroughs. The organisation of bomb-damage repairs inevitably affects a number of different Government Departments. Those who believe in setting up a new Ministry to deal with every new issue might well have advocated the creation of a "Ministry of Bomb Damage Repairs." We did, in fact, set up a very much simpler piece of machinery, namely, the London Repairs Executive. This body has proved to be a most effective instrument for securing quick decisions of policy, and for ensuring unified central control.
Mr Duncan Sandys (Lambeth Norwood)
Not under any one Department. It is an inter-Departmental body. The London Repairs Executive includes representatives of all Government Departments which are concerned with bomb damage repair. Its special effectiveness is due to the fact that it has a small independent staff of its own, which is ably directed by Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve, who is Deputy Chairman of the Executive. This staff, which has a representative attached to each group of boroughs, is responsible to me, not as Minister of Works, but in my capacity as co-ordinating Minister and Chairman of the Execu- tive. The officials of the London Repairs Executive have, therefore, the advantage of being able to speak to local authorities or to the building industry in the name of all or any of the Government Departments concerned.
From the start the Government decided to concentrate the task of bomb damage repairs in London in the hands of the local authorities who have statutory powers to carry out this work. If it had been practicable, we should naturally have liked to have left the individual householder free to call in his own local builder to do the repairs. Apart from the fact that many householders would not have been in a position to get this work carried out, it is clear that to have allowed builders to leap-frog from street to street, mending one house here and one house there, would have delayed the general rate of progress, and would inevitably have created a sense of injustice among those whose houses were left out. The only fair and efficient way was to allow local authorities to plan the programme as a whole, and to tackle it methodically street by street. That is what has been done.
These onerous responsibilities have for the most part fallen upon the departments of the borough engineers, all of whom have been extremely short of technical staff. The strain placed upon local authorities has been very great indeed. Some boroughs took longer than others to get into their stride. In a few cases, where the local authority appeared to be finding particular difficulties, we advised them to call in some experienced firm of surveyors or builders to assist in planning the work. By one means or another the overwhelming majority of local authorities have, despite many difficulties, succeeded in creating an efficient and effective organisation. The repair of London is being carried out by a very large number of building contractors, most of whom are small or medium-sized firms. In all, there are about 7,500 engaged on the job. Bomb damage repair consists of a vast number of small jobs, each one a little different from the other. This is ideal work for the jobbing builder.
We have, therefore, contrary to the belief of some of our critics who are constantly asserting the opposite, set out to use the small builder to the very utmost. Out of these 7,500 contractors, less than 600 firms are employing more than 50 men. In order to bring in the very small builders, many of whom have less than half a dozen operatives, these firms have been grouped into working parties, each with 100 to 150 men. There are over 80 of these working parties, employing in all about 10,000 operatives.
In order to get the correct perspective of what the Minister is now saying, could he say how many men are employed by these 600 large firms out of the 7,500?
Mr Duncan Sandys (Lambeth Norwood)
I have not the figure in my mind, but I think it would be quite exceptional for any firm to employ more than 200 or 300. The rate of progress has necessarily been determined by two factors—the supply of building materials, and the supply of building labour. In the early stages it was often materials; latterly, it has been almost entirely labour. The most critical materials have been plaster, plaster board, glass and slates. Action of various kinds was taken to speed up production to the utmost, and at the same time to increase the share of the total output allocated to London. The system of distribution has also been reorganised. Previously local authorities and contractors bought building materials wherever they liked, and in whatever quantities they could get. The result was that some got more than they needed, whilst others had to go short. Thanks to the co-operation of the builders' merchants an effective system for the rationing of scarce materials was introduced some months ago. Total supplies are now allocated among local authorities according to the amount of work in hand. In their turn, the local authorities sub-allocate among their contractors. This system is now working smoothly. I recently arranged for a sample cheek to be made among a number of contractors chosen at random in different boroughs. The results showed that, except in two cases, where the builder himself made a mistake in ordering, there was no shortage of suitable materials. I think it is worthy of note that in the course of this Debate, no criticisms whatever have been made about the supply or distribution of materials. Those who remember the Debate on this subject last December will recall that complaints about materials were quite an outstanding feature in many of the speeches.
The hon. Member for Bow and Bromley asked for more labour to be put on to this job. The labour force on London repairs has been steadily built up throughout the autumn and winter. Some 55,000 men have come to London from the Provinces. These include many Provincial contractors, who have brought with them balanced teams of craftsmen and labourers, complete with supervisory staff. It also includes 4,000 Ulstermen, who have either come over individually or with their contractors. This was a particularly valuable contribution, since it came at a time when our own resources of labour in this country had been exhausted. Large numbers of building operatives travel into London daily from the Home Counties. Many of these were, until the recent extension of the £10 licensing limit, engaged on other less essential work. Altogether, we estimate that the introduction of the £10 limit in London and the Home Counties has increased the labour force available to local authorities for bomb damage repair by well over 20,000. Considerable help has been given at different times by sailors, soldiers, marines and airmen, as well as by men of the United States Army. However, a proportion of these have recently had to return to their military duties. By all these various methods the labour force on London repairs has been progressively raised from 22,000 last June to the present peak figure of 143,000. I am, of course, just as much impressed as the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley with the urgency of this problem. However, I feel that, having regard to the general shortage of building labour throughout the country, and the fact that a very large proportion of building trade operatives are not mobile, we really have now as much building labour here in London as is right and it is not the intention of the Government to increase that figure beyond the present level.
My hon. Friend the Member for Frome (Mrs. Tate) and my hon. Friend the Member for West Lewisham (Mr. Brooke) commented on the long hours of work. They certainly are long. Judged by normal standards they are too long. Sunday working should not be indefinitely continued. The reason why we have maintained Sunday working for so long is that while the bombardment continues it is very desirable to have a substantial body of workmen ready at hand, who can be transported quickly to the scene of any new incident, so as to carry out field dressing repairs. When we are quite sure that the end of the bombardment has been reached—and I am certainly not prepared to say that it has—we will reconsider the position in regard to hours.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Lewisham also asked that the £10 licensing limit should be applied with less rigidity. We are doing what we can about that. It must be applied with commonsense and in the light of local circumstances. It may 'be right and proper to license in one area a job which it would be quite wrong to license in another. Local authorities in London, who have now had several months' experience, have learned a great deal, as we all have, as to how this licensing system can best be worked. In other parts of the country, to which the limit has been extended, we shall doubtless have complaints for a few months that licences are either being too freely granted or unreasonably withheld. But I am confident that, with a little experience, each local authority, in their own area, will soon learn to strike a proper balance. In order to secure the fullest co-operation between operatives and contractors, we encouraged the trade unions and the employers to set up joint progress committees. These have been formed in practically every borough, and in most cases the meetings are also attended by representatives of the borough council. Any questions which cannot be settled locally are referred to a central progress committee which is presided over by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary. I have no doubt that these committees have been the means of smoothing out many local difficulties and have contributed materially towards speeding up the work.
The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) complained that the labour force is being wastefully employed. Other hon. Members on other occasions have accused the workmen of slacking. In an emergency operation of this sort it is all too easy to point out the shortcomings. It is not nearly so easy to find effective remedies. I do not pretend for a moment that our methods or our organisation are perfect. They have already been greatly improved and I intend to do everything I can to improve them still further. I have no hesitation in telling the House what are the two principal weaknesses in our organisation. Both of them have been referred to during the Debate. The first is the lack of full and effective supervision. We have already done a great deal to tighten this up and we shall persist in our efforts. The repair of bomb damage is, however, an extremely difficult type of work to supervise. In any one week repairs are often going on in as many as 100,000 different houses at the same time. Under these conditions I doubt very much whether builders could ever hope to find enough supervisory staff to control the work as effectively as they would like.
The other, and perhaps the more serious, weakness is the absence of any positive financial incentive to builders and operatives. This is the inevitable result of the cost-plus form of contract. This was referred to by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hornsey (Captain Gammans). However, it is very difficult to see what other form of contract we could in the circumstances have adopted. This type of jobbing work is rarely done for a fixed price. Moreover, any form of fixed-price contract involves the preparation of a detailed specification of the work to be done before the job is started and also a careful measurement after it is finished. To survey and accurately measure up the repairs needed in several hundred thousand houses would, even with a very greatly increased staff, have taken many months. Every hon. Member knows that the public would not have been prepared to wait for this to be done. Yet, without a detailed survey, neither the local authorities nor the builders could have been expected to enter into a firm contract.
One hon. Member asked what contractual arrangements we were going to make in the future. When we come on to the more extensive repairs which still remain to be tackled, I am most anxious that we should try to get away from the cost-plus type of contract. I am, therefore, arranging for certain experiments to be carried out with a view to evolving a modified basis on which some form of fixed-price contract could he introduced. We have not sufficient staff to carry out a full survey and measure up the job as would be done in peace-time, but I am hopeful that we may be able to devise some compromise arrangement which will at any rate provide some increased measure of incentive.
I readily admit these weaknesses in our methods. Nevertheless, the fact remains that during the last six months a vast amount of solid work has been achieved. Repairs up to the emergency standard have been done to over 800,000 dwellings. Over 100,000,000 roof tiles and nearly 60,000,000 slates have been laid. Over 140,000,000 square feet of plaster board and about 60,000,000 square feet of glass have been fitted. Moreover, the pace of the work has been steadily increasing. Last autumn on an average 100 men were repairing about 17 houses each week. During the last month or two they have been repairing nearly twice that number. I think the House will agree that all this could not have been done had not both builders and operatives been inspired by just as great a sense of urgency as those who accuse them of inefficiency and slackness. Moreover, in assessing the results achieved by the repair workers during the last six months, it must be remembered that the rocket bombardment has been continuing throughout the winter. Fresh damage has been occurring daily. Again and again the repair squads had to be taken off their job and hurried to the scene of some new incident in order to provide emergency protection to the houses damaged by the explosion. I think those hon. Members who have visited new incidents will bear witness to the fact that workmen get down to work extremely quickly, very often within half an hour of the rocket falling. As often as not it would be two or three days before the workmen were able to get back again on to their own job. In all, many hundreds of thousands of man-hours have been lost in this way.
The hon. Member for Bow and Bromley asked what priority is to be given to bomb repairs in the future, and other hon. Members have asked similar questions. The priority to be accorded will, of course, vary in each area, depending upon the volume of repairs still outstanding. In London the problem is still acute, whereas in many other parts of the country repairs, as distinct from rebuilding, have long ago been completed. It would not even now he wise for me to give detailed figures of the effect of the rocket bombardment during the past winter. I can, however, without any risk, tell hon. Members that in the London region there are still between 250,000 and 300,000 damaged but occupied houses which are in need of urgent attention. These are in the same category as the 700,000 which we have been repairing during the winter. One hon. Member said that we must not leave the country in ignorance of the facts. I hope what I have said will make it quite clear that the repairs are still far from complete. I have said this many times before, and am very glad of this opportunity to impress upon evacuees in all Parts of the country that conditions in London are still far from normal.
These damaged houses must, of course, be repaired as quickly as possible up to the emergency standard, and top priority is being given to this work. This new damage has not been distributed at all evenly. For the purpose of repairs, we have therefore had to divide the boroughs of London into two categories, those that have suffered heavy damage during the winter and those that have not. We are allocating to the severely affected areas all the labour that they are capable of absorbing and that it is possible to transport. In this connection, certain hon. Members have said that it is wasteful to transport these men such long distances. If we are really to tackle the job energetically in the affected areas and push into them the absolute maximum amount of labour, it is, I am afraid, necessary to transport large numbers of workmen, often quite long distances. We are doing what we can to increase the accommodation locally. In some cases we are building temporary hutments to house the workmen on the spot, but even so it will still be necessary to bring in a considerable number daily from outside—
Mr Duncan Sandys (Lambeth Norwood)
Naturally that is what we try to do, but there is still a balance that has to be transported. Until these urgent repairs are completed it will be necessary to keep a large number of provincial workmen and contractors in London. I can, however, give a firm assurance that we do not intend to bring any further men from the provinces into London. I hope this will set at rest any anxieties which there may be in provincial cities on this score. I feel that London has received its fair share of the labour force available. Its need is very great, but there is also much pressing work to be done in many of the great provincial cities.
In those other parts of London where the emergency stage of repairs is now completed local authorities have been asked to concentrate in the first place on those types of work which will provide accommodation for an additional number of families. This will include both the repair of lightly damaged empty houses which have hitherto been left out of the programme, as well as the restoration of other houses which were so heavily damaged that it was not practicable to tackle them last winter. The hon. Member for Bow and Bromley reckoned that there were at least 100,000 of these heavily damaged houses still outstanding. We have recently made a thorough survey. In the London region there are under 40,000 of these severely damaged but repairable dwelling houses. However, a proportion of these are slums, or obsolete property, which would not be worth repairing and which the local authority would not wish to repair. I am sure the House will agree that in London we are right in according the very highest priority to the completion of these emergency repairs to occupied houses, and such other work as will provide additional accommodation for a further number of families. However, we cannot expect that the long suffering people of London can indefinitely endure the austere conditions which have been imposed upon them by this emergency standard, and we hope that, provided it does not interfere with the provision of accommodation for additional families, it may be possible before the end of the Summer to start on the immense task of completing the final stage of these repairs, including if possible a certain amount of internal decoration.
I have spoken so far of London. In most provincial towns bomb damage repairs are already largely completed. In almost all places occupied dwellings have long ago been attended to. Even the more heavily damaged properties have for the most part been repaired. I am not, of course, referring to the rebuilding of totally destroyed houses. In the whole of the rest of England and Wales there are not more than 10,000 severely damaged but repairable dwelling houses which have not been already tackled. In Scotland there are less than 100. Moreover, a high proportion of these properties have been deliberately left over, because the local authority does not consider that they are worth repairing. However, there are a small number of provincial cities, including one or two which have suffered from recent attacks, where there is still a substantial amount of repair work outstanding. I propose to examine each of these cases and, where there is evidence that hardship is being experienced, I shall consider returning to them all or part of any labour that has been brought to London from those places. I think that is only fair.
The hon. Member for Bow and Bromley asked for more technical staff for local authorities. He has put his finger on a very important point. In all this work of repair and rebuilding and of new house construction, local authorities have been severely handicapped by the lack of adequate technical staff. So many of their trained surveyors, engineers and architects are now away serving in the Forces, and it has been very difficult indeed to find others to take their places. However, a number of local authorities have obtained considerable relief by farming out a proportion of their work to outside professional firms. Where this has been tried, it has usually proved most satisfactory and I very much hope that this practice may be further extended. Meanwhile every effort has been made by the Service Departments to release any technical officers who can be spared. In recent months some 180 technical and supervisory staff have been released and 140 from Government Departments. In addition, the War Office have recently lent 30 sapper officers to London local authorities to help them with bomb damage repairs. While the German war continues it will, I fear, be difficult to release any larger numbers. I can, however, assure the House that the Government are well aware of the importance and urgency of this matter. It has, in fact, been decided to release within a week or so of the end of hostilities in Europe at least 1,000 technical officers. These will mostly be selected from lists submitted by local authorities. As I have explained, the repair of bomb damaged houses is now largely a London problem. The hon. Member for Bow and Bromley has asked to be assured that as far as practicable we shall press on with the completion of repairs to damaged dwellings as quickly as possible. I fully share his sense of urgency. He and I are both London Members. Like all other London Members, we know the distress, discomfort and frustration which so many London families are still having to endure. The people of this great city have borne their afflictions with dignity and forbearance and we are determined not to try their patience for a moment longer than can be avoided.
Captain James Duncan (Kensington North)
I should like to congratulate my right hon. Friend on his statement. I think the number of houses that has been repaired shows that the London Repair Executive under Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve has done an exceedingly good job. I hope that the 300,000 occupied houses which still remain to be done, will be given the utmost repair in the coming months, because the real problem of London does not start until that repair has been done. We have all the unoccupied houses; we have also to rebuild London, which is a colossal job, and until we can get this repair work out of the way, we cannot start in any big way on rebuilding our great city. My right hon. Friend admitted two defects in the organisation of this repair work—lack of supervision and lack of incentive. My experience is that, recently, there has not been so much lack of supervision, owing to the number of supervisors that the Ministry and the Ministry of Labour have been able to provide, but that the supervisors themselves have had no incentive. So it comes back to one fault, rather than two which my right hon. Friend ought to tackle, and that is the lack of incentive not only among the workmen but among the supervisors. I hope we shall be able to get rid of that fault also in the near future, by getting back to some form of contract, so that there should be an increased amount of incentive given not only to the workmen but to the supervisors and the building trade, and particularly to the small builders, who ought to be given their head at the earliest moment.