Ministry of Works and Buildings.

– in the House of Commons on 21st May 1942.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Alfred Bossom Mr Alfred Bossom , Maidstone

I should not take up the time of the House on the matter of sending a representative of the Ministry of Works and Buildings to America unless I was absolutely convinced that the plan, as proposed, is impracticable and may create a serious situation. The Department itself was established in October, 1940, with the intention of looking after post-war building preparations, and that largely means the providing of employment for people after the war. To succeed in this without too much waste or too much delay, and to give the best to the nation, would require a thorough review to be made of the many phases of the building industry if we are to avoid a repetition of the wastes and troubles which have occurred in connection with war-time building. After watching and waiting for over a year to see some signs of a comprehensive programme being issued by the Ministry, I started a series of carefully-thought-out Questions. As they began to be answered by the Parliamentary Secretary they certainly disclosed at least a great slowness in action, if not also an absence of technical knowledge of a very widespread nature.

When the war ends it will need at least a year and a half to two years of actual preparatory work if we are to be able to start building with good plans, good laws and a good building system all ready in time. There should be included in the preparatory work done in that year and a half a real programme of procedure in which details must be worked out and decided upon. Laws have to be brought to the House and passed to enable these new decisions to be carried out, and, after that has been done, education and distribution of the information that has been gained have to be carried to the industry through our schools, universities, trade unions, offices, shops and even local authorities. All this work must be well in hand before owners or public authorities or architects can start designing the post-war buildings which will be required, for these are the vehicles which will give work to the people when the peace time comes. In July last the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Buckrose (Major Braithwaite) asked a Question about this American investigation. In September a number of technical questions were raised, and the Minister promised that he would have them examined by his committee, and it was conceded that they would add to efficiency and aid in reducing the cost of building work after the war, but apparently no action was taken. In December the United States came into the war. In April of this year it was announced that one man only was going to the United States, and he was, in the words of the Minister, "to study the training and education, both of operatives and managements in the building industry." He was also instructed to make a preliminary examination into the methods of standardisation and any other new development. That is a colossal task. He was to be allowed only eight weeks in which to do it. Anyone looking at that programme, will concede right away that it is totally impossible for anyone to handle such a vast amount of investigation in such a very short time.

Again, as to the question of education, I believe everyone will agree that it is useless to study education unless you study at the same time the result of that education, what it does, what happens to the people who have had it and where it leads them. It seems to me that the Ministry of Works and Buildings has not fully comprehended all the great differences between this country and the United States. There are tremendous differences which must be taken into account. When a man has to go and study the systems of education, if he is not fully conversant with those differences, it will be very hard for him. For instance, take climatic conditions. The United States climate is dry and there is a lot of sunlight. Here the climate is damp and often sunless. This may not seem important but in handling building materials, it makes all the difference in the world. The system of work is entirely dissimilar and the temperament of the people is entirely different. The life desired for the buildings too is entirely different. Their buildings are often only intended to last for a short time. Here we often expect our buildings to last for a century. In the United States when a building is going to be put up or a great development made, it becomes a team operation, quite different from anything in this country. The owner, architect, builder, foreman and operative all work together and all have fairly full knowledge of each other's desires. In this country you would think you were handling special war-time secrets if you want to find out what an architect or owner is going to do.

That introduces a difficult situation for anyone who is going to investigate in the United States for the first time. I have no doubt that this gentleman is a careful, conscientious investigator—I have never met him—but it is the first time he has been to America. He is going in a hurry, he has just eight weeks in which to review all this vast building education problem and he is very liable to get a very mixed and often a wrong impression. The whole subject of education in the building industry is interwoven. You cannot pick it to pieces and study one little piece without considering its full relations to all the rest. It is vitally important that, when the subject is considered, every bit of the studying that the architect makes, the builder makes, the operative makes or the owner makes for that matter, is considered at one time, and in this instance it has all to be done by one man in eight weeks. There are very many great centres of education in the architectural and building industry of America and no one can bring back a reasonable report without having gone at least to Columbia University and seen what they are doing, to Pennsylvania, and to Harvard. In Chicago they teach an entirely different range of subjects. After the war there is no doubt that we are going to have a lot more girls and women in architectural and building offices, so the Middle-Western Universities which are coeducational must also be visited. Then he has to go to Leland Stanford University in California and to Texas if he wants to know what is being done in some of the most modern methods of construction.

All these Universities teach specialised subjects and vary a good deal, and how is one man to investigate them all in such a short time? He will have to see how the students apply their studies when they go into offices and out into the world. The offices in the United States are much larger than ours over here and the work is more sectionalised than anything in this country. The contractors in America are often more like financial advisers and this makes them different from those in the same position in this country. If this British Visitor to the United States is to make any comprehensive survey and make a study that will help us in our work after the war, he will have to look at the work, training and education of architects, designers, foremen and operatives. He will have to investigate the work of the managers, but the manager in America is a different person from anyone we have in this country. We have no parallel to him at all. I do not know whether the Ministry of Works and Buildings are acquainted with that fact. Those who have been in this House or the old Chamber will certainly say that we ought to learn something about ventilation. In America they can teach us a lot. In regard to plumbing, it is illegal in many towns in this country to do really modern plumbing. Fire protection is a subject on which we can learn a lot for we disagree even on two sides of one road in London. We must have more knowledge of these things. The heating in the small house in America is infinitely further advanced than in this country. The way they treat oil is an example. One can go into a bedroom and turn a switch; the oil in a furnace in the basement will be turned on, and in 20 minutes the house will be at any temperature that is wanted. We cannot do that anywhere in this country.

Concrete, steel, hollow-tile work, plastics, metal and glass must all form part of the educational study of building in America, if we are to get full benefit from the review, but they differ materially from British practice. There are relatively only the bits and pieces that go into forming a building. What about the buildings themselves? I will not suggest studying sky-scrapers because we do not need them here, but there is need to study the standardisation they brought into being. Then there are hospitals, schools, hotels, office buildings and cinemas that should be studied, besides all the numerous gadgets that are put into buildings, many of which we do not use or do not want to use. A careful study will be needed, however, to find out those we want and those we do not want. We are to-day worried about our coal production. Had we made use of insulating materials and insulating our windows as they have done on the other side it might have been possible to save anything from 15 to 20 per cent. of our coal consumption. America claims that she has saved about 30 per cent. by introducing insulating materials and protection round windows. That is a subject which ought to be looked into with great care if we are to use our coal to the utmost advantage. No preliminary review of this sort that is made in eight weeks will be of much value unless it takes all these details into account.

All the various phases of the architectural profession and the building industry need comprehensive review. Again, architectural drawings and specifications are prepared in a different way in America from the way we prepare them here. There is the question, too, of what is known as quantities, about which we have heard so much in this House in connection with war-time building programme costs. They do not use them at all in America, yet every building that is started here has most elaborate quantities. Then the forms of contract and sub-contracts are different in the two countries and a casual review of these arrangements is liable to be misleading. In regard to supervision and expediting, we all remember how this was discussed when we were building the militia camps.

The system of the time and progress schedule is another matter of which, we have heard from the Treasury bench, we are not yet ready to make use. It is conceded both on this side of the Atlantic and the other that if that system were properly applied the same building could be built in Britain or the United States at the same cost, though the bricklayer in America would get five times the weekly wage that is paid in England and the plumber and the carpenter would get 3½ times the wage, and the American building would be completed in about two-thirds of the time required for its British counterpart. That system is of such tremendous importance that it ought to be investigated with great thoroughness. Again, we have not made use of mechanical aids to building to anything like the extent it has been used abroad. I could continue in this way, calling attention to differences, but I am not going to take up any more of the time of the House in doing so.

I think it is an unfortunate waste of time and of public money to send a man across the Atlantic to make a journey of not less than 15,000 miles, all to be done in eight weeks, to attempt to cover such a wide field of investigation, as has been done in this case. It is an impossible task for any man. Even if he had lived there for 50 years it would be quite impossible for him to do all that he has been asked to do in the allotted time. I have not attempted to touch on the legal differences, which are abnormal. In America there are systems of permits such as we do not have here. Our permits are so conflicting that we ought to investigate what is done there. It is no good sending an investigator to America just to run into university classes and to run into offices without following up what he finds. He cannot get very much in that way. Neither can the Minister by setting up lots of committees expect they will give him results unless they know the programme before them. Satisfactory results for building industry education will only be obtained by looking into this whole question, which is a highly technical one, in a thorough way. No casual investigation made by a man sent over the ocean by himself at this time will in my judgment justify itself.

I think the Ministry of Works and Buildings would be very wise if they would carry out their own suggestion of sending over a comprehensive committee to go thoroughly into this whole matter in all its phases. The American people are busy with the war and it is not fair to ask them to spare time for one man who is investigating a subject which they know he cannot cover in the allotted time. I sincerely hope the Ministry will take up this subject seriously and not forget their own recommendation to send over quickly a full representative committee embracing men representing the labour side, the material side, the engineering side and the architectural side, in fact all the branches of the industry concerned, and secure by this means a really useful report, because if such work is done properly, we can save hundreds of millions when we come to undertake all our post-war building projects, the total cost of which will unquestionably be vastly more than we have ever spent upon such works in the past.

Photo of Major Abraham Lyons Major Abraham Lyons , Leicester East

This matter was brought up in answer to a Question which I put to the Minister some two weeks ago. I am sure the whole House is grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this question again, speaking as he does with very great authority. If I do not follow him now in this matter it is not because my interest is any less or that I desire to retract the criticism which I made about this projected trip, which seems to me a great waste of time and effort and likely to fulfil no real purpose.

In the few minutes at my disposal I should like to raise a matter which was dealt with at Question time, and I gave notice that if time permitted I would raise it again. Yesterday, I asked a Question in reference to the appointment of a gentleman as deputy secretary in the Planning Department of the Ministry. It must not be thought that I make any suggestion of any sort or kind against the gentleman concerned. I do not, but I have a great deal of criticism to make about the way in which the appointment was made and about what appears to be the refusal to give the House of Commons information about this extraordinary new departure. Apparently a complaint was made of the criticism which I made about other answers which were given to me, and my use of figures and facts which he gave. Whether that criticism was right or not, the House will be able to judge. I will read now the answer which my hon. Friend gave to me yesterday about the appointment of Mr. Lawrence Neal. He said: Mr. Lawrence Neal has been appointed Deputy Secretary in the Planning Department of the Ministry at a salary of £2,000 a year. It was agreed that he should continue to devote not more than one day a week to the affairs of his firm, Daniel Neal and Sons Limited. The appointment was made by selection. The work of the Sea Fish Commission, of which Mr. Neal was a member, came to an end in 1936, but Mr. Neal will continue for a short time to be a member of the Retail Trade Committee which was appointed by the then President of the Board of Trade in May, 1941, in order to assist in the preparation of that Committee's Third Interim Report.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th May, 1942; col. 214, Vol. 380.] I asked him how many candidates were chosen for the selection, by whom the selections were made, whether the appointment was advertised, and whether the Central Register was used, and I further asked how the candidates were chosen for the interview. To those questions I received no answer.

This is an extraordinary new departure. The way in which the Ministry of Works and Buildings makes its appointments and continues to do so is subject to a good deal of criticism inside and outside the House. The gentleman in question is the owner of a firm of suppliers of children's clothing. I make no suggestion of any sort or kind about him, but as managing director or owner of this firm he is suddenly put in the position of a civil servant in a high place and granted a salary of some £2,000 per annum for it. It is a novelty to say that such a gentleman can go about the business of his firm on one day a week. That is a proposition, so far as I understand, entirely opposed to all the established principles of the Civil Service and certainly to the established principles of a civil servant in a position carrying a salary of £2,000 a year.

How was this done? Who decided that this appointment was necessary? Who decided to go outside the Civil Service and into the retail shops to appoint this particular gentleman? Do not let it be said that I am making an attack upon this gentleman. I am doing no such thing. I do not know the gentleman, and I have not the slightest reason to attack him in any shape or form. I desire to make no suggestion about him. I attack the principle that the Civil Service has been left aside and the retail trade has been approached and that a gentleman from the retail trade has been brought into the Civil Service in conditions entirely different from anything known inside the Civil Service. My hon. friend said that the appointment was made by selection. Selection of whom?

Photo of Major Abraham Lyons Major Abraham Lyons , Leicester East

I am much obliged to my hon. Friend. From whom and by whom was the selection made? If it was from a number of persons, there must have been names that were being considered. We hear a lot in this House about the Central Register, but in this case the Central Register was not used. I believe that many Government Departments do not consult the Central Register, but here we know that it was not consulted. My hon. Friend said that it was not made from the Central Register or as a result of advertisement, but that it was made by the Minister. How did the Minister get the names? Were the names on a panel, and were there other names besides those from retail industry who were approached? What is the reason for making an appointment of this nature, unprecedented as I think it is?

I ask these questions, and I hope I shall get an answer, because there is a good deal of concern in this House and outside at the appointments made by this particular Minister. One more word before I sit down. If I have to leave the House before this Debate finishes, I hope that my hon. Friend will not take it as an act of discourtesy either to himself or to his colleagues.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Lindsay Mr Kenneth Lindsay , Kilmarnock

I intervene for a moment because I was present at Question time yesterday and because I happen to know the person concerned in this question. He is in fact a personal friend of very long standing.

It being the hour appointed for the interruption of Business, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Mr. Adamson.]

Photo of Mr Kenneth Lindsay Mr Kenneth Lindsay , Kilmarnock

I am very glad therefore that my hon. and gallant Friend has made it quite clear that what he says contains no personal reflection at all upon him.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Lindsay Mr Kenneth Lindsay , Kilmarnock

I wish to protest, however, against the way in which people's names are brought in, particularly during Questions, without any sort of inquiry beforehand. I know that my hon. and gallant Friend will say that he is attacking a principle, but in the process of doing that, individuals' names are inevitably involved. When I saw the Question, and a reference to the Deep Sea Fish Committee, I began to wonder, because Mr. Neal was on this committee several years ago. He has been giving an enormous amount of time during recent months to a committee connected with retail trade. I have often visited him, and I know that he has often been up all night doing this particular job. When I saw that he was appointed to this new post, I said to my hon. Friend, "You are lucky, because he is in my opinion one of the ablest men of my generation." The point I wish to raise is, Is it still necessary when appointing a person to a position of this kind to issue advertisements and invite applications? I put to myself the question, Suppose that while at the Board of Education I wanted somebody with special knowledge to be paid chairman of a committee, in connection with youth or something like that. I should consider it my business, knowing roughly who was in the field to make the best selection, and I do not consider that it would be necessary to advertise. It will be found that in regard to many special posts Ministers and members of the War Cabinet have had it brought to their notice that So-and-so was the best man for a particular job. Naturally they make investigations, but they have not advertised. I know my hon. and gallant Friend means no personal reflection on this gentleman, but I would like to ask whether it is a new principle that a person does some work outside and some work inside a Ministry in time of war.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Lindsay Mr Kenneth Lindsay , Kilmarnock

I am not concerned with the salary. I presume it is in relation to what he was earning before. There have been a number of such appointments for specific jobs, and to say that they should go through the machinery suggested by my hon. and gallant Friend is in itself a novel precedent. As far as this particular Ministry is concerned, I know nothing about it. I have heard criticisms from time to time—indeed I rather agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. Bossom) on his particular point—but I always thought that my hon. and gallant Friend was very anxious that we should introduce able business men, especially in cases when civil servants are forced to deal with matters falling outside the usual course of their work. In that case Mr. Neal's normal trade has no connection with the industries involved in Works and Buildings. It is a question of choosing a man of first-class business experience, and I congratulate the Ministry on finding a man of such integrity and ability.

Photo of Mr Henry Strauss Mr Henry Strauss , Norwich

The subject raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. Bossom) falls within the province of my colleague, the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, with whom, indeed, my hon. Friend has been in correspondence on the matter. My colleague regrets that he cannot be in the House to-day and has asked me to take his place on this occasion. May I say to the hon. and gallant Member for East Leicester (Major Lyons), who explained that he could not stay for my reply, that we know there is no discourtesy in his leaving the House? To turn to the matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone, I cannot help thinking that his complaint is based on a misapprehension. The work in connection with which Mr. G. H. Jellicoe, F.R.I.B.A., a part-time member of the staff of my Ministry, is visiting the United States is not an alternative to, nor does it in any way prejudice or conflict with, the proposal to send out at a later date a representative delegation to the United Stales to make a comprehensive study of building development and practice in that country. I gather that my hon. Friend would be in favour of such a delegation and thinks that it ought to go now. My Noble Friend and his advisers take a different view and consider that the time for such a delegation has not yet come.

That does not mean that there is not an immediate need for the far more limited task on which Mr. Jellicoe is now engaged. As the House is aware, my Noble Friend is making a close study of the building industry and methods of expanding it to meet our needs after the war. He desires to have early information, which is not now available in this country, regarding training and education both of operatives and management in the building industry in the United States. Mr. Jellicoe is eminently fitted to perform the task of obtaining this information. He is a member of the Education Committee of the Royal Institute of British Architects, a former head of the school of architecture of the Architectural Association, and the chairman of the Housing Group of the R.I.B.A. Reconstruction Committee. Mr. Jellicoe's visit is welcomed on the other side of the Atlantic. It is supported by the Central Council for Works and Buildings, and Mr. Jellicoe himself is confident that he will be long enough in the United States to do useful work and to obtain the information for which he is being sent. My hon. Friend's fear that he is being given a task requiring a far longer visit is unfounded. Mr. Jellicoe has been expressly instructed that, if it is necessary for him to devote the whole of his time to the question of education and training, he is to do so, and not to concern himself with any of the other matters which have been mentioned. I am convinced that my hon. Friend's objections to this visit are unfounded.

Photo of Mr Alfred Bossom Mr Alfred Bossom , Maidstone

Would my hon. Friend mind explaining what is meant by education and how you are to segregate a tiny piece of education from the whole education needed for the building industry?

Photo of Mr Henry Strauss Mr Henry Strauss , Norwich

I do not intend to do that, because another hon. Member, who has waited in the House all day, wishes to raise another subject, and I do not intend to give an essay on education or the building industry, but to reply to the points which have been raised as clearly and as briefly as possible so as to make way for him. I believe that, when my hon. Friend realises that the despatch later of a more comprehensive delegation is in no way prejudiced, he will withdraw his objections and share our hopes. In any event, while we welcome his advice, my Noble Friend is determined to get the information which he requires, and which can only be obtained by a personal visit, and Mr. Jellicoe, who is admirably qualified for the task, is now engaged in obtaining it.

Let me turn now to the different matter raised by the hon. and gallant Member for East Leicester (Major Lyons). The burden of his complaint is that no steps were taken, by advertisement or otherwise, to secure an adequate number of candidates for the post to which Mr. Neal has been appointed. The House will, I think, agree that advertising such a post would not have produced any useful result. Posts in Government Departments can often be filled from the Central Register, but the Select Committee on National Expenditure recognised, in their 8th Report, published in June, 1940, that there were two exceptions to the rule; and the present case falls within the second exception, where the post to be filled is of a character requiring special qualifications and for which there is a limited field of choice. It was essential that the man to be appointed should be familiar with Government methods and Government Departments, and that he should also have administrative experience. No suitable permanent civil servant qualified for the post could be spared from the work on which he was already engaged, and the post was one where it was no disadvantage, and quite possibly some advantage, that a capable man from outside the regular Civil Service should be appointed. My Noble Friend and his predecessor considered a number of names, but in present circumstances there was a limited field of persons who were both suitable and available. Many who would otherwise have been suitable could not be spared from the work on which they were already engaged. The Government work on which Mr. Neal was engaged at the time, namely the Retail Trade Committee of the Board of Trade, was soon coming to an end, though the Board of Trade did not feel able to release him altogether, and, as I told the hon. and gallant Member in answer to his question, Mr. Neal will continue for a short time to be a member of that committee, in order to assist in the preparation of their third Interim Report.

Mr. Neal had worked in or with Government Departments for a number of years. He served, as the House knows, on the Sea Fish Commission, which sat under the chairmanship of my right hon. Friend the present Minister of Supply, and my Noble Friend found in Mr. Neal a man of ability, of whose work for Government Departments Ministerial colleagues had had experience for a number of years. It would surely be unreasonable to require of a man in Mr. Neal's position that he should not be allowed to devote any time at all to the affairs of his Company, and it is recognised in war-time that persons brought in from outside the Civil Service may be allowed some facilities for attending to their business. There is, of course, no question whatever that the Government have the first call on his time, and that the period, not exceeding one day a week, which he can devote to his own business must be fitted in to suit the requirements of his post. My Noble Friend was satisfied that he had made the best choice in the public interest, and Mr. Neal is proving to have the necessary qualifications for the post.