Before we resume proceedings on this Measure may I ask, Mr. Speaker, whether you can give some guidance to the House on a matter that I think is of general interest? You will recollect that on 1st August, when we began the Second Reading, hon. Members in all parts of the House were very much concerned over this problem, and during the Recess it has appeared to many Members that an entirely new situation has superimposed itself upon this Measure. I am referring to the extensive additional damage to property, and the step which the Government have taken in the appointment of the Chairman of the War Damage Commission to deal with the question of temporary accommodation. The finance involved and the standard of temporary accommodation which this new Government action contemplates seem to raise a problem related to this Bill, and I should like to know whether the Financial Resolution covers only what is known as the Portal house and does not cover the financial expenditure involved in this new temporary housing policy. May I ask whether Members can have a statement about that, or whether in this Second Reading Debate this related problem can be raised?
I am not aware that the Financial Resolution is limited to any particular type of house. It does not say so. It deals with temporary accommodation. I think the hon. Member is mistaken.
We understood when we were discussing this that the Financial Resolution was held over because the £150,000,000 involved covered only the commitments for what is known as the Portal housing scheme. I wish to submit that the Financial Resolution was held over for the purpose of meeting any additional expenditure which might be incurred through the excessive price of land. If it is necessary to alter the Financial Resolution to make provision for that it does appear that it would not cover the further expenditure which the Government now contemplate.
May we take it from my right hon. Friend's answer that we shall be in a position to-day to discuss the London situation and the question of repairs as well as the general matter of temporary building?
Is it not the case that there is a clear distinction to be drawn between the emergency provision of huts in London under the new scheme announced by the Government and the temporary housing provided for under the Bill?
A Second Reading Debate is always pretty wide. These are emergency houses. I presume that it would be quite in Order to discuss the question of the London situation. In regard to the Financial Resolution, that, I am afraid, has nothing to do with me. It is a matter for the Committee and a question can be asked of the Chairman of Ways and Means when it is moved.
The reasons that led the Government to the conclusion that the programme of permanent houses must be supplemented by the provision of temporary houses were very fully stated by the Minister of Health when the Bill was discussed on 1st August. Since then we have had considerable discussions with representatives of local authorities and the need for the Bill has certainly not diminished with the passage of events. The Government have been anxiously considering how the additional accommodation that will be required after the war may be provided in the shortest possible space of time. They recognise the need for mobilising all the available resources to meet this urgent necessity. Our major difficulty will be the shortage of building trade operatives after the war.
The inescapable facts of the last five years are apparent to us all. There was a cessation of intake of apprentices, there was an increasing average age of the men left in the industry, with a consequent effect of diminution of output, there has been a five years' wastage in the industry, there has been a dispersal of craftsmen to other occupations, and all this has led to a serious diminution in the available labour supply. As hon. Members have just indicated by their questions, the position has been made much more difficult by the demand for urgent repairs of damage from flying bomb attacks and from the necessary maintenance work. The Government have plans ready to increase the building industry as rapidly as possible to cope with the gigantic tasks lying ahead. The target programme, as has already been announced, is 300,000 permanent houses built or building at the end of the first two years. If the industry can give us more, well and good. We hope to standardise and mass produce internal fittings not only for temporary but also for permanent dwellings.
The need for standardisation in some of the component parts is generally accepted. The Minister of Works discovered that there were no fewer than 374 types of chimney cans being used. An attempt is being made to get this vast variety standardised down to, say, half a dozen. But even these 300,000 houses, howsoever we standardise and organise mass production, are not enough. Young men and women will be returning from the Forces in large numbers, desiring to be married and requiring homes. In to-day's "Times" there is a letter from Sir George Burt, chairman of the Burt Committee, who says that the experiment in permanent housing being made by the Ministry of Works at Northolt has succeeded in producing in 900 man-hours a permanent type of house of satisfactory construction.
I have seen the house but no one in my position would be able to check the accuracy of the 900 man-hours. For all these reasons the Government have decided to embark on a programme of temporary house building.
There is one point that I should like someone to explain. We are told that these houses are temporary. Has my right hon. Friend any idea of how long they are to last?
I propose to say something on that point later. These temporary houses will be in augmentation and not in substitution of permanent houses. The aim has therefore been to select methods of construction and materials for temporary building which make the least possible demand on the labour required for permanent houses. The Government have produced their proposals for a pressed steel bungalow with a limited superficial area suitable for a family consisting of a man, wife and two young children. The Minister of Health made it clear that this pressed steel bungalow, which has been exhibited at the Tate Gallery and in some of the larger cities in Scotland, is not the only temporary house in which the Government is interested. We have been investigating other types and methods of construction since the spring, before the pressed steel bungalow was shown to the public at all. Three of these types have been approved by the Burt Committee, which advises the Government on alternative methods of house construction. They consider that the materials and methods of construction of these additional types of temporary houses satisfy the requirements of an emergency house with a life of at least 10 years.
One of these types consists of a light steel frame with asbestos cement external walls. Another makes use of prefabricated units of wood covered with asbestos sheeting. The Government propose to enter into arrangements for the production of these types as soon as suitable terms can be arranged. They have also under consideration a type of house constructed of prefabricated concrete units which has also been approved in principle by the Burt Committee. [An HON. MEMBER: "Is that a permanent house?"]No, I am dealing with temporary houses. Other types of production may be brought into production if they can be devolped satisfactorily and if the price is right.
One is the type which consists of a light steel frame with asbestos cement external walls and the other makes use of prefabricated units of wood covered with asbestos sheeting.
Certainly. It is hoped that when the types already approved are in full production some 2,500 a week will be available. The three types already approved are similar in size, standard of equipment of fittings and cost. The materials used are all such as the building industry has had experience in handling and the houses can all be erected by the industry. It is the intention to use that industry in the normal way to erect the houses. The manufacture will be costed in the factories and erection on the sites will all be arranged for by open tender. These are the arrangements at present being contemplated.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Health and I have had discussions with associations of local authorities on the subject of temporary housing, and later we invited local authorities to indicate whether they wished to apply for any houses and, if so, in what numbers. A number of authorities have not yet replied, but the applications from those who have cover a total of 110,500 temporary houses. Of that total England and Wales have asked for 74,496 and Scotland 36,019. Local authorities have been informed that two of the other types of approved houses, and not only the steel ones, will be available, and they have been supplied with as full particulars as possible. Those who have not so far submitted any applications have been asked to decide immediately so that arrangements for production can he organised at once. Every endeavour will be made to meet the preferences expressed, if any, by the local authorities within the types already indicated.
The most immediate consideration in the approach to a general resumption of new house building is the selecton, acquisition and preparation of sites. Sites in Great Britain already owned by local authorities are sufficient for some 290,000 houses, of which England and Wales have 234,000 and Scotland 56,000. Sites for many more houses are in process of selection and acquisition, and, needless to say, there are a considerable number of sites already serviced available in some of the great blitzed areas.
Could my right hon. Friend say if these sites are to be available for temporary houses or only for permanent houses? We were told in the House that they were to be used only for permanent houses.
I have no knowledge of that intimation. Personally, I hope that serviced sites will be used as rapidly as possible for the erection of whatever houses are available.
My hon. Friend had better put that matter to the Minister of Health. I can assure him that the position at the moment is that the local authorities desire to use whatever sites they have available, and, when the sites are serviced, to have houses erected at the earliest possible moment. I propose to do everything I can, and so does the Minister of Health, to ensure that local authorities will add to the amount of land which they can have available for housing and that they will do their utmost to get these sites serviced at the earliest possible moment.
My right hon. Friend has given the number of sites available and of houses applied for. Will he say how many authorities have replied stating that in no circumstances do they want the Portal type of house?
As a matter of fact, there is no compulsion whatever on any local authority to take these houses. if any authority does not take them, it will mean that there will be more available for other authorities who are more anxious to have them.
I have already said that the costs are to be as nearly as possible similar. I explained as best I could that the bungalows are to be costed. No orders have yet been placed, and they are to be costed at the place of manufacture. The cost of erection will be submitted to open tender. The most immediate consideration is the acquisition and preparation of sites, particularly the servicing of sites. We must do our best to secure that the sites are serviced, that water supplies are laid on, drainage put down, access roads made, and so on.
The hon. Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George), in the earlier discussion on the Second Reading, asked that powers, in cases of necessity, should be given to enable land to be requisitioned for temporary houses. The Government have considered whether any further special action is required to obtain possession of sites without delay in order to ensure that the erection of bungalows will not be held up by any difficulties on this score. The need for avoiding delay is of special importance. The Government have decided to add a Clause to the Bill for sites required up to the end of 1945 which have been approved by the Health Minister and the planning authority as suitable for the erection of bungalows. The Clause, of which notice has been given, will be based on a principle accepted by Parliament in the Unemployment (Relief Works) Act, 1920, a temporary Act passed to meet an exceptional situation after the end of the last war. It will be to the effect that the local authority can in such cases serve a notice on the owner and occupier of the land informing them of their right to make representations to the Minister within 14 days. The Minister, after considering any representations made by any person on whom notice has been served or any other person interested in the land, will inform the local authority whether he authorises the proposed purchase, and, if approval is given, the authority will have the power to enter on the land forthwith. The authority will then be under an obligation to proceed to purchase the land.
As to the financial arrangements between the Health Departments and the local authorities, these are not determined by the Bill itself but by arrangements to be made under Clause 3 of the Bill. In his opening statement, the Minister of Health indicated the broad basis of the arrangements proposed. Terms will be agreed between the Health Departments and the housing authorities under which these authorities will be responsible for the letting, management and repair of the bungalows and will pay to the Health Departments a fixed sum per annum. He said that discussions with representatives of the local authorities had been opened and that it was intended to secure the local authorities against any excessive losses in connection with these operations. To enable effect to be given to this latter point, the Financial Resolution proposes to make provision for the possibility that in some cases, where land on which bungalows are to be erected is of exceptionally high value, not merely may no payment be due from the local authority to the Health Departments, but a payment may be due from the Health Departments to the local authority. An Amendment to Clause 3 of the Bill is being put down to cover this point. Both the general financial basis and the proposals for protecting local authorities against excessive losses have already been discussed with the local authorities' associations.
This is a very important matter and involves additions to the cost of the temporary houses. Do I take it that the discussions have been made with the representative associations of the local authorities and have the representatives of the associations spoken with authority for the local authorities?
I cannot answer that offhand without notice, but I do know that we have discussed these issues with the local authorities' associations in Scotland. There is the particular point of the augmentation and widening the basis of the financial arrangements to permit excessively blitzed areas or high-costed land areas to get exceptional treatment. That point has not been discussed with the areas in the far north where they have had no blitz and where the costs of land are not excessive. I understand, however, that it has been discussed with the London authorities and the other authorities concerned.
It may not be, but it is the point of my answer. Some of the representatives of the local authorities hold that the whole cost of these houses should be borne by the Government. Others are prepared to accept the Government's view that the bungalows to be provided under this Bill should, like the houses under the Housing Act, be the subject of a financial partnership between the Government and the local authorities. The Government remain of the opinion that this is the appropriate basis, but they intend to take steps to protect the local authorities against excessive losses which might arise when it is necessary to erect bungalows on expensive sites or where the expenditure on development is likely to be largely wasted in future.
I think so, but I will look at that point. In certain badly damaged areas there may be a higher proportion of bungalows, with a consequently heavier total call on the local authorities with diminished resources. At the moment most of these areas are receiving Government assistance to the extent necessary to keep their rates stable. When the general financial position of these authorities is considered after the war with a view to determining what Government assistance will be necessary to enable them to carry out their essential functions expenditure incurred in the execution of this scheme will be taken into account, with other factors. The Minister of Health will deal in detail with the protection to be afforded in this Bill on the Committee stage on Clause 3 which authorises the necessary arrangements between the health departments and the local authorities. The Clause has been so drafted as to leave these arrangements to be negotiated between the local authorities and the Ministry.
I am extremely sorry to interrupt my right hon. Friend again. but I think he will appreciate that a very important point arises here. Is the Financial Resolution so drawn that effect can be given to the discussions in the Committee stage in which the Minister will indicate these proposals or has this whole thing got to be thrashed out on the discussion on the Financial Resolution in order to prevent it subsequently getting out of Order?
Of course, the Financial Resolution is not before us at this moment, but by paragraph (c) (ii) of the Financial Resolution, it is provided that the Bill may authorise
expenses incurred by the Minister of Health or the Secretary of State in making contributions towards expenses incurred by housing authorities where land provided by them for the erection of structures to be made available as aforesaid is land of exceptionally high value.
So it is wide enough to enable the point put by my hon. Friend to be dealt with.
Is it wide enough to cover grants to local authorities, not only in respect of the high original cost of the land, but the possible high cost of rendering it suitable to carry these bungalows, and the preparation of the site, a very important item in the local authorities' budget?
I think my hon. Friend had better await the Financial Resolution, and my right hon. and learned Friend, who has already been in close communication with the London County Council and the Metropolitain Boroughs on this very point, will be able to explain it in a way I can hardly do, by deputy. I may say that on the estimates which the Minister of Health has put forward in his discussions with local authorities in England and Wales, the average loss falling on the local authority will be £4 a year, plus site charges (Interruption)—the charges for land and servicing and so on. I am saying that the average loss falling on the local authority will be £4 a year, plus site charges [HON. MEMBERS: "Plusx"]. No, which are expected to average about another £4 a year for each bungalow—I am speaking about England and Wales—for a period of ten years, and £45 a year for each bungalow for ten years falling on the Exchequer. But if, through the excessive cost of land or unavoidable waste in development, site charges will be excessive, the local authority will be asked to bear only 20 per cent. of that, if that exceeds the normal £4. And to cover any cases which may not be met by this concession it is proposed that in the agreement there should be a provision that if the local authority can show, in fact, that the rates have sustained, by reason of excessive or unremunerative costs of providing the site, a greater cost than normal the sum shall be adjusted further, and the wisest possible latitude is being given to temper the wind to the shorn lamb.
My right hon. Friend said a short time ago that he could not tell us the cost because this would be subject to a costing system. Now he tells us that the State is to lose £45 a year, plus the figure of the local authority's £4, plus site charges. How can he tell that if he does not know the cost?
Does it mean, if the local authorities' subsidy to the Portal bungalow is £8, and I understand my right hon. Friend to say that the State will make a contribution of £8 to the subsidy, that each one of these bungalows is being subsidised to the extent of £16 per annum?
No. I am sorry if I am not making myself clear. What I am saying is that the average loss—not necessarily the loss in every case which will fall on local authorities—will be £4. The local rate contribution is expected to be £4, and it is expected that the average or normal site charge will be about £4 in England and Wales. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about Scotland?"]I am coming to that as fast as I can get clear of the English position. That is £8. The Government will bear the rest, except to the extent of 20 per cent. If the local authorities' site charge alone is more than the £4 the local authority will then be asked to bear 20 per cent, of that surplus over the £4. Further, as I say, if there should be any excessive losses in any areas where land charges are exceedingly high, power is given to the Minister—
I will say something about the Scottish position, which is complicated further by our landlords' taxes system, by landlords' rates, which do not apply in England and Wales. The arrangement is that in Scotland the Government, owning the houses, will pay owners' rates to the local authority. It has also been agreed with the local authorities that they will pay a contribution of £6 per house, plus a site charge, which they assume is about £3 in Scotland. That makes £9 expenditure by the local authorities, and against that they get owners' rates.
Several hon. Members have expressed the anxiety that the temporary houses should not outlive their need, and they have feared that they might remain in occupation for far more than ten years, and become in effect not temporary but permanent houses. I can emphatically say that the last thing in the mind of the Government is to offer the people of this country a quasi-permament house in the guise of a temporary one. The Government aim is that some 4,000,000 permanent houses should be built within ten to twelve years after the building of houses is generally resumed. To ensure ar far as possible that a programme of such unprecedented magnitude can be carried through, the intention of the Government, as I have already stated, is by special measures, including the admission of adults after intensive training, to build up a labour force in the building industry. There is therefore solid ground for hoping that in ten to twelve years time the provision of permanent houses will overtake the need, and make it generally possible to remove the temporary habitations which the needs, the necessities, of the immediate future render, in our opinion, absolutely necessary. The Government, however, appreciate the anxiety which has been expressed on this score, and are anxious to allay it. The Bill as it at present stands merely proposes to give the Minister of Health power to remove the temporary bungalow. The Government will therefore move an Amendment to Clause 2 of the Bill in the Committee stage to provide that the Minister of Health, or the Secretary of State as the case may be, may, or if requested after ten years by the local authority shall, remove the temporary bungalows, unless housing conditions require their continuance.
May I say one word about the furniture and equipment in these houses? I think it is vital. These houses, all of them, will provide standardised fitments to the estimated retail cost of about £80 to £100. These include wardrobes, cupboards, book-case, immersion heater and gas or electric cooker. The Board of Trade have estimated that additional Utility furniture required to furnish these houses with the bare essentials of accommodation will cost about £45, providing in the living room a dining table, four chairs and two armchairs; in the first bedroom a double bed, dressing chest with mirror and a small chair; in the second bedroom a single bed with a small chair. In addition to that the local authorities have power now, indeed they have had it since 1925, to provide essential furniture to fit out, furnish and supply any house provided by them with all the requisite furniture, fittings and conveniences, and the power to do so at cost price.
One of the serious matters of great moment to young couples entering these emergency homes, or indeed any homes, is the hire purchase system by which they have hitherto been compelled to provide their common fittings and furniture. I have been assured that 150 per cent. is added to the manufacturers' costs in hire purchase transactions. Anything and everything that we can do, whether by providing essential fittings as we are trying to do in these dwellings, or by arranging utility furniture schemes, or by urging local authorities to provide essential fittings and furnishings at cost price, will ease the position very materially indeed for hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens. The need for a Bill for temporary housing is great, and its passage into law is urgent. I, therefore, commend this Bill to the House.
I was rather disappointed with the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman. At times I found difficulty in following his figures of the cost to the local authorities, the cost to the Government and the cost of building. There is a very important issue at stake in these matters. I noticed at the week-end that the Scottish Labour Party conference had been discussing it. Some people were saying: "What matters the cost?" That is not a bad philosophy, but if people start with it they should finish it. It is horrible if they do not carry it through. I want to say a word or two here about the financial side of these proposals, but first I would give a piece of kindly advice to the right hon. Gentleman and to other Cabinet Ministers. Every time we interrupted the right hon. Gentleman he seemed to get irritated; but Ministers must remember that when introducing these complex matters they must not resent interruptions by Members of Parliament. We are only trying to reason with them, so they must not screw up their faces as though we were doing something unholy in this place, when we ask for information.
I cannot altogether follow the figures in this matter. The right hon. Gentleman says: "We cannot tell you the cost of these bungalows, because they have to be the subject of a costings system, which will then tell us the cost." In the same breath, almost, he tells us that local authorities have to pay a subsidy and that the Government have to pay £45. How do they arrive at the figure of £45, if they do not know the cost? Where does that figure come from? Surely if the Government can fix that figure they can fix approximately the total cost. I do not know whether I am different from other people, but I believe that one of the things constantly in people's minds in connection with this question is the amount of rent they will have to pay. We can talk as we like, but we cannot get people away from the fact of the rent that they will have to pay. People might accept the Portal house if they knew what it was going to cost them in rent, but they know nothing at all of that side of the matter. It is no use the right hon. Gentleman coming here and talking about the new Portal house for 300,000 people if he afterwards fixes a rent which the 300,000 find impossible to pay. We ought to know much more than we do about this aspect of the matter. I hope the Government can tell us approximately the kind of rent likely to be charged to a working-class family.
Now about the Portal house. Unlike the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works, I am not opposed to steel houses. Until he took office he was opposed to anything of that nature, but since he has been in office he has changed his views, because of the changed circumstances. I have always been ready to accept the steel house and the temporary house and have never taken the view that the brick house was the only possible type that could be built. Just as science has changed the face of many other things, so it can alter the custom of the stone or the brick house. Nor have I ever taken the view that my hon. Friend had, that only one or two skilled tradesmen could do that kind of work. I am glad to know that his views in that respect also have been modified since he went into office, and I welcome him in that respect as a new recruit to those who have always taken a somewhat different view.
However, I must enter a caveat, in the form of a protest against an attitude of mind which is becoming rather too common. It was expressed in a recent statement by a Member of this House, who said that as people would take these Portal houses the House of Commons should provide them. In present conditions, people would take caravans, but that is no reason why that should be the standard or the criterion that we have to adopt here. The only defence for proposing these alternative houses is that they are better than nothing, but the duty of the House of Commons is to give people the best that is available, and not to approach the matter in the spirit of giving people whatever they are willing to accept when they are in such a state that they will take almost anything. I am glad to see the Minister of Production with us. Hitherto he has taken part only in Debates upon war problems, and I am glad to see him now taking part in a Debate on a human, domestic problem. At the beginning of the war, our troops would have taken almost anything, but that was not the way the Government approached the problem of war production. They looked for the way in which to give the troops the best. I wish the Secretary of State for Scotland would not talk about these houses being up for only 10 or 12 years. He knows, I know, the right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot), the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) and the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen), as well as most of us here, know that the situation in Scotland is so grave that once these houses go up they will be there for more than 10 or 12 years. It is such nonsense to talk as though these were not permanent houses for Scotland. It is no use the Minister misleading the House of Commons on the matter—because that is what he is doing. To put these houses before Scotland as temporary houses is totally wrong; they are permanent. He talks about public opinion; we did not have sufficient strength of public opinion, up to 1939, to clear away the horrible houses we then had, infested with lice and bugs, in many parts of our cities. We are therefore not likely to clear away this temporary house merely by the force of public opinion.
There is a tendency that irritates me; let me tell the House what it is. Before we went into the war, we were always haggling about little bits of subsidies, costs of sites and things of that kind, but when we entered the war and were fighting a foreign enemy such considerations never crossed our minds or entered into our calculations. Now we are getting back to our home life again, and are facing one of the most dreadful fights that this country ever entered, the fight against bad housing. That fight is no less important than fighting a foreign foe, because it aims at giving people decent homes. It is as honourable a fight as we could ever undertake. How do the Government approach it? By long conferences with local authorities, with haggling about £4 for this and that, and high costs of sites here and there, negotiating about this and that, and amending laws and little clauses here and there. That is how the Government are approaching the greatest human problem we have yet to settle. They would not approach a war like that. It is shocking. It is a wrong approach. I would remind the Government that the great bulk of local authorities are afraid of one thing, and that is the rating position. Once the Government start to satisfy the people's housing needs, they are in danger of their schemes becoming subject to existing rating conditions. The position should be reversed; housing needs should be first and the rating position second.
I say seriously and earnestly that the Government should reconsider their attitude in this matter. One of the weapons of the blackmailer is always to remind the victim to consider his position. The Government are very much in the same position to-day. People are under a terrible strain. People want houses: they do not care what kind. Anybody who opposes the building of a house, for no matter what reason, is in an awkward position. The Government know that they can give us almost anything. I have visited the Portal house, here and in Edinburgh, and have gone round it. I say, quite frankly, that it is a good house for a married couple with no children, or if there is one child who has been born in it and trained to it. The Portal house would be all right if you proposed to regulate families to two, by circulating birth control information. But, so far, no Government has been ready to do that, and I hope that no Government will. Now people will knock at the Government's door to get these houses, but in five years they will be cursing the Government for providing them. Whatever you say, it is not a children's house. Our tenements in Glasgow are bad, but from the point of view of the children I think that this house is not the thing at all.
I am a believer in using everything to build a house. I want to say to the hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary, as a fellow craftsman in the building trade, that the country has diluted the great skilled crafts for the purposes of the war. The building trade will have to face for the housing of the population what the other trades have had to face for the purposes of the war. We have to look for other methods of production. I am not sure that if the Government put the same will and determination into it as they have put into guns they could not get a permanent house of concrete built easily and better than they can get with this metal. It might involve a heavy initial capital cost, it might mean certain other difficulties to begin with, but, from the practical production point of view, I am certain that, at least, it would give us a much better house, and a house of a much more lasting character. I admit that the terrible blitz in London has made the position worse. But does anybody seriously think that you can get the Portal houses in large numbers over the blitzed areas? I do not believe it. Blitzed sites ought to be used economically, to get the best out of them. I am certain that the Portal house does not use them economically. Does the Portal house in Glasgow really get the best use of land and sewage services? I am not sure that it does. Even before the blitz, I represented a district of shocking, horrible housing. I was born amongst it, and never experienced anything else all my life. I want something better. I am not against the steel house. I went to see the Lord Weir house, and if I had to choose between a Lord Weir steel house and most of the stone and brick houses I have seen in Scotland, I would choose the Lord Weir steel house. But I am not sure that the Government have entered into this matter with the same resolution and energy as they entered into the problems of the war. There is glory in winning a war, and there is fame in winning a war. There may not be the same fame and glory in solving the housing problem, but the Government and people who do it will have earned the undying gratitude of millions of people in this land.
The discussion to-day is not only on the general question of whether or not steel houses should be built, but whether we are to give the Government authority to build them with the utmost possible expedition. I am sure that it is the will of the country that we should do so, and it ought to be the will of the House of Commons. My hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) has delivered, as is his custom, a most eloquent speech; but it boils down to "Go ahead with steel houses; dilute the building trade." These are his two words to the Secretary of State for Scotland and to the Minister of Health. In addition, he said, "Be sure that you are doing the best you can with the resources of this country to produce the most satisfactory houses." Certainly. But the danger is that the best is the enemy of the good. We must think that the Government have examined these problems, and that the Government are going to do their utmost to go ahead with the most satisfactory house in present conditions. I do not suppose for a moment that this is their last word in steel houses. I should hope not. Like my hon. Friend, I much prefer the Lord Weir house to the Portal house, but we have been told that the Glasgow Corporation—our Corporation—whose housing conditions are a disgrace to the world and to any local authority, have tinkered about with houses until they come to Lord Weir and say, "We should like some houses! The output has been allocated, and there are only a few hundred left." That is what happens if we spend too much time discussing what is the absolute best that we can produce in the circumstances of the day.
I am sure my right hon. and gallant Friend would not like a misunderstanding to be reported in the Scottish Press as to the position about the Weir steel house. The Weir steel house has been given an allocation of only 100, and these 100 are, for experimental purposes, dotted all over the country. The actual mass production of the Weir steel house has not yet been allocated.
We are accustomed to my friend George intervening from time to time, but we are discussing not only the Portal house, but the programme of temporary houses as a reinforcement to the housing position of Great Britain, not only in the Northern portion of Great Britain but all over. Our remarks, I hope, will apply to all portions of the United Kingdom, but with special reference naturally to the areas with which we are best acquainted. What has been said about the best use of services and land affects particularly the great boroughs of London. In many of the burghs of Scotland, there is a good deal of land available for houses, and the difficulty is rather to get houses to put on the land than to get land on which to put the houses, whereas the difficulty in Central London is to find land to put the houses on rather than to find the houses to put on the land. The situation has been greatly accentuated by the conditions of the war, and, if possible, means must be found to fill up the deficiency at the earliest possible moment. It has been suggested that the producers of steel and the workers in steel can supply a very useful trace-horse to get the cart up the hill. What we are discussing is whether that trace-horse should be used or not. It surely goes without saying that that trace-horse should be used. Every potential should be employed at the earliest possible moment.
Not at all. The programme which has been put forward by the Secretary of State of four million houses in 10-12 years infinitely transcends the programme that we are discussing today. Everybody knows that the great programme must be met in the main by the ordinary tried methods of house-building in this country. What I and my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals and other Members fear is that those methods will not be quick enough. We fear the dangers of delay in these matters. It is all very well to tell a woman living under a tarpaulin in London, or in a house in Scotland where the sewage runs from the house above, over her ceiling and turns it yellow and makes the place stink, that there is a programme to be completed in the next 10 years. Ten years is too long to wait under such conditions. It has been a universal experience that by using some new potential we can greatly reinforce these existing programmes, however good these programmes are.
It has been said that the Portal house does not make the best use of the steel, that it does not make the best use of the site, and that in some cases its appearance is unsatisfactory. My hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals has brought in the point that for three or more children it is unsatisfactory. But the first question is, are we to ask the Government to embark with the utmost expedition on an alternative housing programme or not? Our word to the Government should be to proceed, and to do so with the utmost expedition, and then, while this programme is being carried out, to work out all the improvements that we all desire to see; the improvement in the appearance of the house, the improvement in the house which may be necessary for the larger families. That is so long as we cannot get the brick and mortar and the stone and lime houses which everybody desires.
That was not the argument used in the Debate in August. Then, the old vested interests came to the floor of the House and said "Wait." The hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Sir J. Walker-Smith) said "Wait"; the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) said "Wait," and that was the message from a Labour Party spokesman at that time. It was said that the use of the steel of this country was of vital importance for the production of motor-cars. The vital importance to this country of the production of motor-cars is all very well, but this transcends altogether the necessity of the use of steel for any other purpose to which sheet steel can be put at this moment. The people of his country are living in conditions which beggar description, and every measure that can be taken to deal with it must be taken and taken now.
In 1936, we debated in this House, on the Motion for the Christmas Adjournment, a speech by the hon. Member for Gorbals. I remember the speech very well and I had to point out at that time that, in Glasgow alone, there were 30,000 families with one water closet, not shared between two or three families, but between four families.
It was under Tory rule. Lieut.-Colonel Elliot: It was not under Tory rule. It was one result of the rapid fall in housing which took place as against the Moderate output when the Socialist majority was in control.[Interruption.] Many other local authorities were just as bad. The Lanarkshire authority was a public scandal; the local authority of Fife was a public scandal. Fife produced in one of those years 80 houses to serve for the county of Fife. It is not a party matter, but I think it is certainly not a matter on which one party can shovel off all the responsibility on to another.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has conveyed the impression, I am sure unintentionally, that, in that year, only 86 houses were built in the whole of Fife. Of course it is quite untrue. Apart from the action of the County Council, there were many small and large burghs in Fife building very large numbers of houses, as my right hon. Friend knows.
Yes, but I was doing my utmost to indicate that a very big effort in housing by everyone was necessary, and nobody, not even my hon. Friend, would suggest that 86 houses built by Fife County Council and 38 houses provided by private enterprise in the county of Fife constituted anything like an adequate contribution to the housing needs of that great county for a year. [Interruption.] Whatever the programmes of the burghs and the other authorities of Fife, I only say, and I think we all agree, that nobody is going to defend the building of 86 houses by the chief local authority and 38 by private enterprise in the year 1937 met the needs of that great county.
These were some of the contributions of the building trade when it was at full strength and was going full speed ahead and when there were no blitzed areas. We now have a million damaged houses in London alone to add to the task we have to face. The building trade must, of course, mend the damaged and use the old sites to the utmost. The mere mending of these houses will require the use of a great force of skilled tradesmen. It is a matter in which, in the first aid and second aid repairs, skilled tradesmen will be needed to work at their full skill, and this will inevitably absorb a great number of the tradesmen who might have gone to building of new houses for the people. In face of that, we have to find an alternative programme, and this is one which should not only be welcome but pressed on with the utmost possible vigour.
The proposals which the Government have put before us to-day are proposals which will certainly require a great deal more working out in practice in negotiations with the local authorities and otherwise. Certainly, delay has come from the Government and from the House, because it was by the will of the House that the debate on this Bill was adjourned in August. The Secretary of State for Scotland has indicated that the charge on the local authorities will be a fixed charge. An enormous figure is going to fall on the Exchequer—a colossal sum—a subsidy which nobody has ever previously suggested. I do not think it can be said that the Government is niggling and haggling in this matter. That subsidy is calculated on a 10 years' life. No doubt it is that 10 years' life which makes that subsidy of such a size and weight. I agree, however, with the hon. Member for Gorbals that it is not in 10 years that we shall get rid of these houses. I could not help smiling at the clause drafted by the Government to get rid of the fear which some people they said may feel, that these things will still be there in 15 or 20 years' time. The statement was made that the Minister of Health might, and, if asked by the local authority, should, remove these houses if the housing permission permitted. I gather that that was the suggestion.
The day when a local authority comes to the Secretary of State for Scotland and says, "Knock down houses, we have got plenty; take these away," that day we can sing Nunc Dimittis, and the Secretary of State of the time will be taken up to Heaven by a chariot of fire and will be a very remarkable figure, even in the heavenly courts. No, Sir, there will be no vehement demand from local authorities for the destruction of houses for many a long day, and I think we must face the position that we cannot justify the erection of these houses on the ground that they will be removed in 10 years. They must be justified on the ground that they represent the best way, from the point of view not of money but of steel, men, time, and land, to tackle the job now—that it is the most economical way in which to apply the extra resources of our country to help the housing of the people within the next two or three years.
There are some technical questions which it is not possible to go into too closely on the floor of the House. The Government are criticised about the lines of a tank, and about what kind of tanks to produce, and there is a vigorous defence by the Government. These are technical matters. No House of Commons would ever say to the Government, in regard to tanks, that, because they did not think one particular tank was satisfactory, they should build no tanks at all. Of course, the House of Commons says "Go ahead, build your tanks, and alter the programme if necessary." The housewives must have houses just as the soldiers must have tanks, and we have got to have a beginning. I say to the Government, "Go ahead; what we shall criticise you on eventually is the design and appearance of the house, and its usefulness, when these houses are being lived in. But, we shall criticise you first of all on whether the houses are there to be lived in at all. What you will be judged on is not the appearance of your programme but the extent of your performance. That is what we shall be arguing about a year hence." If the Government produce the goods, they will get away with it; the only thing to bring them down will be if the goods are not produced.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just addressed the House has used an argument which comes strangely from one of his critical and original turn of mind, and I confess that I have never heard him make such a speech before. What he has been saying is this—The Government come with a plan; therefore, accept the plan and tell them to get on with it. With very great respect, that is not an attitude to be adopted by any Member of this House, and I should think least of all by my right hon. Friend.
I say that, for those who are not going to vote against the Bill, that is the proposal I made. I shall listen to my hon. Friend's speech to see how he ends on the one determining Parliamentary test—Are you for or against?
I propose to vote for this Bill. No other course is open to me, but I am not going to vote for it with my eyes shut and my arms up in the air, hailing it as my right hon. and gallant Friend has done. He seemed to chide us, and some hon. Members opposite, for seeking to delay the conclusion of the Second Reading and thus afford a little more time for the Government to consider the matter. Are we not now thankful that that time has been given?
Well, let us see. There has been a very curious and substantial change in this Bill and in the Government's attitude to it during the last seven or eight weeks. When, in March last, the Prime Minister announced this great programme, it was to be 500,000 of these steel Portal houses. Last June, when we were debating the Scottish health and housing Estimates, my right hon. Friend the Minister was talking in terms of 500,000, and he was going to have 100,000 Portal houses in Scotland. I asked if the Minister meant that, and he replied that that was what he did mean. In June last year, the figure was to be 500,000; by August 1st it had been reduced to 250,000—a very decided reduction. Further, they were all to be, as far as one could see, Portal houses. There was no reference, in the speech of the Minister in June, to other types of houses. There was no clear definition in the Minister's speech of the two different types now described. But the weight of public criticism has indeed borne upon the Government; the Government has responded; there are now to be three types; and I welcome the fact that they have made that response.
Will my hon. Friend permit me? In the course of my speech this morning, I said—and I repeat—that these types were under discussion before the Debate started. They have not been agreed to as the result of pressure, and there are any number of other types still under consideration, and the Government will welcome any and every type that can be proved satisfactory.
The longer this Debate goes on the more reasonable and sensible do the Government become. May I close this point by repeating that, on 20th June of this year, I asked the Scottish Secretary if my right hon. Friend meant 100,000 Portal houses, and his reply was, "That is what I mean." I will now give way to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman.
If my hon. Friend will refer to Column 1302 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of the Debate on 1st August, 1944, he will see that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works, speaking on the question of the Weir houses, said:
Negotiations are going on with the firm of Weirs, and with the trade union representatives, on the general conditions under which they will be erected. … My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland tells me that discussions are going on very well and that, as soon as a decision is reached, he will be able to give directions to go on building steel houses."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st August, 1944; Vol. 402, c. 1302.]
That is very interesting but it has nothing whatever to do with the point I am making. If the House will permit me to conclude my argument, they will see that there is a logical sequence. I observed that the Government have made changes and I welcome those changes. The Minister, speaking from that Box, announced not one type of Portal house, with vague references to others, but three types of house, and I welcome that announcement. I observe, however, with regret that the two new types are to be of precisely the same design as the Portal house. My right hon. Friend seems to think that there is no authority in Scotland that has refused this House, and I can give him the name of one.
The Leven town council say:
It is hinted in some quarters that the Portal will be thrust upon local authorities whether they state a preference or not. My council feels so strongly in the matter that I am instructed to ask you to raise the question in the House and do what you possibly can to obtain the assurance that local authorities will have free choice in selecting their temporary houses.
That particular statement was contradicted before it was made in this House. There is to be no forcing. I have a clear recollection of the statement from the Front Bench that these Portal houses would not be forced upon any local authority and I have heard the retort to that, that those who did want them would thereby be able to get more than they otherwise would get.
I am sorry that I am interrupted by the Government in this way. I was commenting on three different types of temporary houses. They are all to be of the same design. I will quote the opinion of an official in a well-known coalfield on that point. He said that when he saw it—meaning the Portal house—it looked well in the surroundings of beautiful beech trees and rhododendron bushes in flower, but what would the houses look like in a mining community with the coal-bings as neighbours? They would look like a row of hen-houses.
I wonder if the Government will be prepared to extend the accommodating spirit they have shown to the House and move away from this strictly temporary principle of these houses. There are to be various types of temporary houses, but must a temporary house be temporary in every respect? I will quote to the House from a very remarkable leading article on the matter which appeared in "The Times" of 20th July. It puts in words, upon which I could not improve, precisely what so many of us feel about this matter. It says:
Must the unavoidable temporary dwellings be temporary in every respect, and therefore wholly replaced after a brief span of years? Or is it possible to adopt one or other of the methods of construction with which a number of local authorities are now experimenting, methods which might permit the building of more spacious houses, combining permanent foundations and skeletons with temporary walls.
I ventured to write a letter to "The Times" previous to that date on this same point, because it happened that I had been rather closely concerned with the development of prefabricated houses. I know, as many hon. Members of this House know—as those who come from Hull, Manchester and Glasgow know—that there are a whole lot of new types of houses of a semi-permanent character—
a type of house, prefabricated, which can be almost as quickly built as the Portal house.
Yes, and cheaper—I was coming to that—and a house which is produced in steel or concrete, and which is temporary only in respect of the walls, the outside appearance. The foundations and main structures are permanent, and as the situation improves its outside claddings can be changed and more attractive ones put in their places. That is the appeal I am making to the Government. I ask them to get away from this cold temporary principle and to use the money voted for in this Bill not only for temporary houses, but for semi-permanent houses which will have a lasting value of years. Consider the Bill now before us. It is a staggering proposition that the House is asked to adopt. Here is a dwelling which is going to cost, in the terms of the Government's own figures, £600 per house. With the additional subsidies which the right hon. Gentleman has announced to-day, I reckon, in the short time available to me, that it will amount to an additional capital sum of at least £150.
My rough estimate to-day is that this house is going to cost at least £750 to complete and finance, and in ten years it is to be destroyed. The right hon. Gentleman is going to introduce an Amendment to ensure that it shall be destroyed at the end of ten years—£750 scrapped at the end of ten years. This other type of house to which I have referred, on which Manchester, Hull and Glasgow Corporations are experimenting, and which Lord Weir is building, will cost maybe £850, but it will last 25 years or 30 years. They will be real houses. They will make homes. They will be two-storey buildings. I need not try to persuade many hon. Members because they know my case, but I do beg of the Government to introduce some kind of Amendment—if they do not, I shall endeavour myself to do so—to enable local authorities and the Government to adopt methods other than strictly temporary methods of house building; in fact to extend the Bill to include those semi-permanent prefabricated buildings to which I have been referring.
Can the hon. Member explain the difference between the Portal house and the Weir house which makes the one a temporary one and the other a permanent one, as they are almost identical in details except as to price?
The Government say they will not let it last more than ten years. On the actual possibilities, I am afraid this Portal house is going to last ten or twenty years; it will take us a long time to be rid of it; but it is not what the Government are claiming. I am asking that the Government put up houses in which families can live and grow up, and that there shall be no instructions from Whitehall or St. Andrew's House that people will have to move as their families increase or their houses will be pulled down altogether.
I have the authority of the "Architects journal," and of a great many architects and many public-spirited men in the building trade for the point of view I am presenting to the House. I beg of the Government to consider it and I shall try to put down such an Amendment as will make it possible for the Government to give expression to it in the final form of the Bill.
In so far as the present position is concerned, I am in complete harmony with the point of view expressed, that every form of housing should be developed in this country in order to eliminate to a large extent the great need and the injustices which prevail. I realise, as one who has been in the building trade for the greater part of my life, that there is a tremendous amount of exaggeration about the labour required to construct the ordinary types of house. I was astounded at the statements made regarding the provision of concrete, brick and various other types of houses. In relation to the building trade labour, there has been, all along, that old narrow-groove outlook and spirit developed over a long period of time, due to the fact that men were afraid that they might be thrown on to the street. They have, therefore, protected their craft and industry and refused to allow alternative methods to be developed. As housing has gradually developed, with concrete and various types of blocks that have been used, there can be a tremendous amount of unskilled labour used in the provision of such houses.
There are two or three difficulties which I do not think the Government are facing and on which they are not giving the public the benefit of the doubt. In view of the tremendous housing costs to-day, it has been found necessary to cut down to a lower housing standard for the great mass of the community; and, as it is so costly to provide a decent type of house, the Government are not prepared to face up to the tremendous difficulty. Therefore, they are forcing the average citizen down to a lower standard of housing.
There is a second point, regarding building trade labour. Behind all these schemes I think there is an intention on the part of the powers-that-be to reserve most of the building trade labour in this country for both commercial and the larger housing combines and trusts to provide houses after the war is over for those who can afford to build houses, for alterations, and for commercial development, and as there are not enough skilled men in the building trade to do all the jobs, they intend that that labour should be conserved for the class-interests of the country rather than for the provision of houses for the community generally. Thirdly, I think that with the prospect of large-scale unemployment in the steel industry, as a result of the tremendous war development, that industry has taken a new interest in what they have previously regarded as the separate interest of the building trade in wood and stone and brick and lime. They see an opportunity, which Lord Weir and others previously saw, of entering into the building trade and providing houses, and instead of suffering a loss of income in the steel trade they intend to be serious competitors for the provision of a large mass of houses for the poorer classes in the community.
May I interrupt the hon. Member? Is it not a fact that the motor industry, which uses steel to a large extent, is becoming most alarmed at the prospect of steel being directed to prefabricated houses? I do not think, therefore, that my hon. Friend's allegation against the steel industry is quite correct.
I always recognise the fact that in certain compartments of the steel industry or in fact any industry, a struggle goes on. It is sufficient to say that Lord Weir has just closed down one of his departments in Glasgow which was using labour for the provision of, I think, guns, and is now making steel plates for steel houses. Therefore, some of the workers have had to be sent back to their old occupations because the Ministry of Labour could not provide them with jobs. I say that Lord Weir and others in the steel trade see an opportunity after the war of competing on favourable terms for the provision of houses.
I am not one of those who have taken the view that the provision of steel houses should be completely ruled out. I have never believed that, and I believe that a great deal of exaggeration took place in this House away back in the days of 1923 or 1924 regarding steel houses. I remember the great speech made by Mr. Rosslyn Mitchell. He knew nothing at all about steel houses, but, then, most great speeches are made by men who know nothing at all about their subject. A large number of steel houses were provided in the area I represent, and I myself was employed on the building of these steel houses at that time. There were three types—the Atholl, the Weir and the Cowieson. I say that as against the Weir house, the man who had the smallest number to build provided the best house, and that was the Atholl, because the Atholl house was a steel house in the real sense. The Weir house was made of wood with steel plates nailed on to it, and the Cowieson house was similar, but the Atholl house had steel plates bolted on to a steel structure. Therefore, if anything went wrong internally, such as a mild fire, the Weir and Cowieson houses would collapse completely, whereas the Atholl structure would remain in position, unless it were a devastating fire. It was prophesied that the houses would be damp, but nothing of that occurred, and a son of mine who has lived in one for 12 months has been quite comfortable.
If anybody said to me, "Would you prefer a brick or a steel house?" naturally I would say, "A brick house," but when you are facing the problem of providing houses for the community who are in a tremendously difficult position at this moment, herded together worse than cattle in byres, then I say that the provision of alternative measures can be commended and should be speeded up in order to meet the needs of the community. Even the very appearance of the steel house has been improved as time has passed. They have been sprayed in a manner which gives them the appearance of being rough-cast brick houses, which has added tremendously to their appearance. What makes the housing scheme adjacent to my own house less prison-like is that the houses have been intermingled—a Weir, a Cowieson and an Atholl all interwoven—and, being of a different structure, they give the appearance of a village with different types of houses. The Weir house had the finest fittings, the Atholl house had the finest structure, and if the best points of the three types were combined, a splendid type of steel house could be produced to meet the requirements of the community and would be a boon and a blessing to the great masses of the people in Glasgow who, at the present time, are herded together in single apartment houses. Therefore, I am most certainly backing any form of alternative house, but I would like some form of guarantee that the houses will be removed inside 15 years.
If, however, an improved type of house is put up, like the Weir house at Sandyhills, I do not think there would be need for a guarantee to be given, because there they have been up for 18 years, they are very substantial, and there has been very little change. It would be an insult to any person living in those steel houses in the Sandyhills, Shettleston and Spring-body areas to put them into a less effective type of house. After all, public opinion will decide, and if public opinion were roused to the extent that these houses were completely failing to meet the needs of the community, then it would be for the community through its public representatives and public bodies to see that they were removed from the landscape.
I have met a large number of trade union representatives who have been over the Portal house and have come away feeling very enthusiastic, but I have met other public representatives who say, "Well, we cannot oppose them but there are many things we do not like." Some said it was a great relief to see the higher ceiling in the second house, and everyone I have met has been loud in his praise of the internal arrangements. It has also been felt that the Portal house provides only for newly married people or those with one or even two children, but if you have to use them for families of seven or eight children, as has been done in the wooden houses in the London Road area of Shettleston, it is another matter. I remember when these wooden bungalows went up in the last war, it was prophesied that they were temporary, but they remained for the best part of 15 or 16 years until they were absolutely decayed by internal damp and infested with various insects.
I do not want to exaggerate or to get at cross purposes with hon. Members in relation to this housing problem. I have said during the whole of my life that I would give all the kudos necessary to any individual or to any party in the State or to any Council which would solve this tremendous problem of housing. I agree with the right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) that this is not a party matter. I have gone in and out of houses in the Shettleston area for 28 years doing repairs in the building trade, and the conditions were simply horrible—families of ten and twelve herded together in one room in a small apartment house. One could see in the streets continually between one and two in the morning, men standing in shop doors out of the rain while in their single-room apartment house their wife was being delivered of her baby by a doctor and nurse. Conditions are so appalling that one could not come to this House and say "I am not prepared to support a Bill for temporary houses." Therefore, I say that as the houses are so urgently needed, let us have the provision of as many decent houses of stone and brick and alternative methods as possible. Let us even have wooden bungalows for temporary accommodation and the development of steel houses from the 1924 type. I make this proviso, however, that no very small and unsuitable type of house should be allowed to remain too long in the community, though public opinion will be the guiding factor in this. I say to the Secretary of State, Let us get on with the provision of houses because there are hundreds of thousands of people in and around the West of Scotand who woud wecome amost any type of decent habitation at this moment.
I heartily agreed with everything that the last speaker said when he stressed the urgency of the provision of houses, and when he said that the question of housing should never be permitted to be a party question. It is one of such appalling urgency that the whole of this House should welcome any step which gives us promise that the question will be dealt with with as little delay as possible. I myself feel somewhat depressed when I hear that the Government recognise the urgency of getting on with temporary housing and yet realise that we had the First Reading of this Bill before the Summer Recess and have had to wait for six whole weeks before we can get the Second Reading or the Money Resolution, without which it will be quite impossible to lay down jigs and tools upon which the production of these temporary houses depends. I was one of those who voted against the long Parliamentary Recess for that very reason, that I thought it essential that we should have had the Second Reading of this Bill concluded before we adjourned for the Summer Recess. However, what I consider to be an unfortunate and great mistake, has been made. It has quite certainly held up the provision of temporary housing for at least two months.
What I would like to ask the Government to-day is this. Statements have appeared in the Press in the last few days giving particulars of new permanent houses and the man-hours required to build them. Some of the man-hours for those houses are low. There was one house with steel girders, concrete slabs with insulation material between them and the inside walls. That is a very remarkable and good house of a completely permanent type, and I understand takes only 900 man-hours to erect. I do not know whether that is 900 hours on the site in addition to certain work in the factory or whether that figure represents the entire factory and site construction. I would like to ask how many man-hours a temporary house of the Portal or other such type, takes to erect. Although this House is seized of the great importance of producing houses, and is willing to pass this Bill to provide temporary housing, if permanent houses could be produced in the same number of hours there is no Member who would not prefer permanent houses instead of temporary houses.
I feel that we are to-day discussing this matter under some difficulty, because since we adjourned for the Summer Recess permanent houses have been erected at Northolt, among them this fine house put up in 900 man-hours. We have not been given the number of man-hours required to erect temporary houses and, therefore, because we welcome the Government's intentions to provide housing at the earliest possible moment, we applaud and approve temporary houses which none of us want if it has in the interval been found possible to produce permanent houses at comparable cost in as short a space of time. I would be grateful if we could have an answer on that point. I welcome the statement if I understood it aright—and I hope we shall all be clear on this—that no local authority will be compelled to have temporary houses—
—if they consider that they can produce permanent houses as speedily, as that would meet my point. If, on the other hand, it is still the case that permanent houses cannot be produced in the same time as temporary houses, I hope local authorities will be compelled to have temporary houses of one type or another. I would like an assurance on another point, and that is that when temporary houses are to be erected we shall not have undue delay because of the inter-Departmental arrangements between one Ministry and another. I feel some apprehension on this score, because I have not found that the Ministry of Health is always as speedy in dealing with housing matters as one could wish. In fact, I have long deplored the fact that housing should be under the Ministry of Health because I think that that Ministry is already overloaded with other work. But I hope that if these houses are to come under the aegis of the Ministry of Health, we shall have speedier arrangements in regard to them than we did in regard to the agricultural cottages, or the Brown cottages as they are known.
In my division some of these houses were erected, and when they were nearly completed the Frome council wrote to the Ministry of Health with regard to the rents to be charged for them. They wrote on 22nd June last saying that the matter was urgent, and asking the Minister if he could approve a rental of 10s. a week. They had no answer to that letter, so they wrote again on 1st August. They optimistically awaited a reply, too optimistically as it turned out, for no reply came. They therefore wrote again on 13th September, but a few days ago they reported at a council meeting that there was still no reply from the Ministry as to what rents were to be charged. They wrote on 22nd June, 1st August and then on 13th September, and it is interesting to note that those cottages which could take tenants will be unable to be let when they could be only because the Ministry of Health had not yet answered letters from the council as to what rent should be charged in three months, although told the matter was urgent. I hope that if the Government are as impressed with the appalling need for speeding up housing as every Member is impressed by it we shall not have, or permit, delays of that kind to take place with regard to the arrangements made between the Ministry of Health and the local authorities in the provision of temporary houses.
I want to congratulate the Ministry of Works—and I am sure other Members will join me—on the tremendous drive and energy they have shown in encouraging various forms of construction of houses, and the plans they have made, and the excellent interior fittings they have provided for the houses. I have nothing but praise to give to that Ministry, and I sincerely hope that their energy and drive will not be nullified by the perpetual delay we have to suffer when matters are in the hands of the Ministry of Health. In conclusion, I would like to repeat my request for an assurance that between now and the passing of the Bill if it is found that there is any type of satisfactory permanent house that can be produced in the same number of man-hours as temporary houses, then permanent houses will be substituted for the temporary houses.
I do not think there is any one subject that this House can consider that is more important than housing, for if there is anything calculated to cause serious unrest it is lack of housing accommodation for our men when they come back from the fighting fronts. They have fought for freedom and civilisation and when they come back they will expect this House and local authorities to fulfil the promises we have made to them, namely, that we intend to deal with reconstruction and housing in this country. I have listened with great interest to the last two speeches. I am a bricklayer by trade and very much prejudiced in favour of brick housing, but want to say that I have been privileged during the last few months to visit various parts of the country to see what has been done in regard to housing. I am bound to confess that I have seen some of the houses described by the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) and others, and I have been impressed. Some of the prejudices I have hitherto held have been largely dispelled.
I was in Scotland the week before last and I looked at various houses which were considered to be temporary. I looked at wooden houses which had been up for 20 years, and which were in as good condition as, or better than, the day when they were erected. Those houses are not temporary, they are permanent, and are a great credit to whoever erected them. I visited Lochaber, where the Forestry Commission erected houses of English timber in 1929, and I made inquiries of the tenants as to the accommodation and how they liked it. I can only repeat that those houses are in perfect condition to-day. Every one of the tenants described them as dry, warm and comfortable. I did not get one complaint. I have seen other houses which have been described here to-day. I was prejudiced by the speeches made in this House when the Weir steel houses were erected after the last war. I saw the latest Weir house in Glasgow recently, and I was not impressed with its internal layout, although the general construction has been much improved as the result of modern science and experience since the original was built. That house cannot be described as a temporary house, although everyone who saw it might so describe it. I understand that the general lay-out is to be re-designed and brought up to date to meet the criticisms which have been made.
I went to Hull and saw the Tarran house. If you want speed go to Hull. There was a bare piece of ground in the morning, and about 8 o'clock at night there was a house on it, in which people were having dinner. Hull can give you the good example of speed. I understand that eight or nine girls and three men erected the house in a day.
It is stated that 100,000 can be supplied in a year. I do not like the general construction, but it would last long enough as a temporary house and, moreover, is cheaper than a Portal house. Mr. Tarran told me himself that one is to be erected in London of the same size as a Portal house.
I am talking about floor space. Mr. Tarran is restricted to the same superficial area as the Portal house and he told me that one is to be erected near the Tate Gallery, this week. I think the Government should encourage all the best brains and brawn of the country to make the maximum contribution to temporary housing. I saw one house in course of construction in which no bricklayer is required. He can be relieved to do other engineering work, and the rebuilding of many of our stricken cities. Bricklayers will be wanted for that for many years. This house is as good as any I have seen built for the last 30 years. It is shuttered by a new system of steel shuttering, and they guarantee that they could build 50,000 in a year. It has all modern fitments and appointments, and a laundry outside, and the price is somewhere in the region of £750. It is built by unskilled labour, and absorbs only half a standard of timber per house. Previously we had three or three and a third standards per house. When the war is over, it is our job not only to supply houses but to find work for unskilled men, and this will solve many of our other difficulties.
The next house that I was privileged to see, thanks to the Parliamentary Secretary, was at Northolt yesterday. I was tremendously impressed. There might be certain little improvements inside, but the houses are a real credit to the Department, and it will show the councils what can be done by organisation and by mass producing internal fittings. I had a bit of a shock before I left. I went into two semi-detached houses built by the Steel Federation. They were splendid. I think they were as good as anything that I saw. Every woman I talked to pointed to the clash between different colours, but I am not concerned about that. A woman would soon alter that kind of thing. In general construction, lightness and airiness the steel house was the equal of any that I saw there. It had the traditional partition walls and the traditional ceilings and standard fittings. Steel is used for the framing but it is not all steel by any means. I was afraid of condensation unless there was proper insulation, but some of the previous difficulties have been overcome. In my view, the Steel Federation have produced a steel house which is infinitely superior to the one produced by Lord Weir himself. We have made immense progress and I congratulate the Government, and particularly the Ministry of Works, on the experiments that have been made. To meet the present crisis we have to have alternative methods of solving the difficulty. I welcome the Bill. I hope the Government will not insist on just the Portal house but will produce something equal to it. They ought to give every encouragement to people like the Tarrans and the Steel Corporation and others who can build houses of a permanent character and give local authorities facilities to see them and encourage them to get on with the job of rehousing.
The Secretary of State for Scotland has reminded us of the very great need for new housing and for repairing the ravages which the enemy has wrought in many parts of the country. I do not really think that the reminder was necessary. There is no difference of opinion here or in the country about the very great need for improving housing. Where there is difference of opinion between many of us and the Government is whether the Government have chosen the right method by means of this Bill. It is evident from what we were told on 1st August, and from what the Secretary of State has told us to-day, that in effect the temporary house means the Portal house. A great many of us have seen one Portal house but we have not had an opportunity of seeing a great number of Portal houses planted down together. Anyone who has any imagination at all can visualise the effect that a large number of these houses is going to have in the towns or villages in which they are erected. It is bound to be deplorable. It must destroy the natural beauty of the districts in which they are put down and it will inevitably mean that for many years to come a great part of "England's green and pleasant land" will be utterly destroyed from the aesthetic point of view. That is a most important consideration. It is a most deplorable prospect that, if we have these ugly houses planted down in our midst for many years, we may become accustomed to them and cease to object to them. I believe most eminent biologists agree that eels no longer object to being skinned alive because they have become accustomed to it, and I am afraid that that is what may happen to our national taste. We shall no longer object to having these eyesores dotted about all over the country.
However, these aesthetic considerations are apt to be a great deal less important than they used to be, but surely the material drawbacks to the Bill are most evident. To discuss first of all the cost of these things, we are being asked to provide £150,000,000 for a purpose which the Government allege is purely temporary, and in 10 or 12 years these temporary houses will have been swept away and we shall have nothing whatever to show for the money. I am not a pessimist about our post-war financial position and I believe we have enough initiative and enterprise to recover from the enormous financial sacrifices we have made in the last five years, but I find it very difficult to believe that our position will be so satisfactory that we shall be justified in throwing away £150,000,000 for a purpose of that kind. Surely the money could be spent to infinitely better purpose. Further, this £150,000,000 will constitute a very heavy burden on our housing accounts, which will have to be shouldered by the people of the country. It is bound to be represented in higher rents of local authority houses, higher rates and higher taxation, all of which fall most heavily upon the shoulders of those least able to bear them. Then we have the undesirable fact that these bungalows will occupy double the space of a normal house. We have not such a vast amount of building land available that we can afford to waste it. It is most unfortunate that the Government is proposing to provide accommodation for only half the number of people they would be able to provide for if they built a more suitable type of house. It is bound in the long run to affect very seriously our housing programme because the space that would be occupied by a house built in the ordinary way will be occupied by a temporary house.
Has my hon. and gallant Friend seen the lay-out of this type of house which does not take any more space than the normal type? A very ingenious arrangement has been made for the purpose.
Members far better qualified than I am to speak on these technical matters have said in so many words what is the exact space occupied by the Portal house, and the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) was not contradicted from the Front Bench when he declared that the Portal bungalow will occupy double the space of an ordinary house.
The point is rather important. On a great many estates to-day houses are being built not in a row but staggered, in such a way that they do not occupy the space which the hon. Member for Peckham said would be required.
I am not prepared to argue with the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. Bossom) or the hon. Member for Brigg (Mr. Quibell), who have spent the greater part of their lives in this business, but I would like to ask why, when that point was made by the hon. Member for Peckham, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works, who knows something about building, did not deny these statements when he wound up the Debate on 1st August. If we are to have a reply from the Government Bench to-day, perhaps that point will be dealt with more satisfactorily.
Another great drawback in the proposals contained in this Bill is the divided responsibility which is involved. I understand that the houses are to be produced by the Minister of Works, who will then hand them over to the Minister of Health, who will in turn hand them over to the local authorities, who will be responsible for their erection. I do not think that that will be the only division of responsibility. I imagine that the Minister of Town and Country Planning will have to be consulted and that the Minister of Supply will have his say about the release of the necessary materials, while the President of the Board of Trade will be running very much below his best form if he fails to have a finger in the pie as well. I am sure that all the confusion which is bound to result from passing the buck from Department to Department is bound to result in an enormous amount of unnecessary delay. I hold the opinion, which is apparently not shared by the Prime Minister, that if we are to deal satisfactorily with housing, whether it be permanent or temporary, it must be in the hands of only one Minister who is not distracted by any other calls on his attention. The Government are proposing to appoint a Minister for social security. Surely the business of providing houses for the people is infinitely more important and more difficult. I would like to feel that the Government are going to think again about the creation of a Minister who will be solely responsible for providing houses for our people.
I am not attempting to simplify the problem, for I realise what an immense number of difficulties there are in the way. The first and most outstanding difficulty is the shortage of building labour with which we shall be faced after the war. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works told us that out of rather more than 1,000,000 men engaged in the building trade before the war, only about 300,000 are available now. I am not sure whether those figures include men who are normally engaged in the production of building materials or whether they include only men actually engaged in the building of houses.
If my hon. and gallant Friend looks at HANSARD I think he will find that I said that we had, before the war, roughly 1,000,000 men engaged in the building industry, that to-day we had much fewer than 400,000, and that at the end of the war with Germany it was anticipated we should have rather over 300,000. Those figures do not include those manufacturing building materials but only those engaged in the building industry.
The men in military service were taken according to age, and therefore the personnel in the building industry was balanced and there remains a similar proportion of craftsmen, general workmen and ordinary labourers.
Perhaps I may be allowed to resume. I asked the Parliamentary Secretary a specific question, and I have the answer I want. It is that the figures he quoted on 1st August comprised both skilled and unskilled men engaged in the building trade alone and that there is a further number engaged solely in the production of building materials. That number must also have been reduced by the calls of the Services and the war factories. We can, therefore, be certain there is an enormous number of men who are necessary to the building industry who will be available as soon as demobilisation starts, and the demobilisation scheme which was announced by the Government a few days ago will go a long way towards helping in this problem. People engaged in essential work like building—and they must include those engaged in the production of building materials—will be given an immediate release from the Services in order to engage in the vast work of physical reconstruction. The men who are given an exceptionally early release from the Services or the factories should be given it upon the understanding that they will be prepared to work wherever their services are needed. That should be an essential condition of their early release. The matter of producing building materials is of enormous importance. Everything that is put on to a housing site is prefabricated to a certain extent. The raw materials is not taken to the site and then made up, and the idea that prefabrication is a completely new thing is false.
It is essential that we should have a large army put to work as soon as possible on the production of building materials. It is essential, too, that we should start work now on the preparation of housing sites. As far as I know, nothing has been done up to the moment and a great deal can be done. We have these 300, 000 who are available in the country now. For the most part they have been engaged on vast public works such as barracks and aerodromes, but there must be a large number of them who could be put to work on laying down sewers, gas and electricity mains, making service roads and the rest of it, so that the building could start as soon as the materials were ready and the Government were in a position to say "Go." I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works will not be unduly offended with me if I make the suggestion that it is high time the building unions improved their standards. I do not think there is any skilled bricklayer who would deny that the present output of 240 bricks a day is childish. The pre-war standard of 300 was ridiculous. I do not know of a skilled bricklayer who does not protest against such standards, which have the effect of reducing the skilled man to the level of the least skilled. The sooner the building trade unions get it into their heads that if they are not careful alternative methods will be introduced which will wash out their work altogether, the better it will be and a great deal better for the people who need houses.
It is by no means true that the number of bricks laid per day is 242. That is a purely gratuitous statement, and cannot be supported by any facts. I have many times brought to the House evidence of bricklayers laying 900 bricks a day during the war period. The number 242 was accepted at a certain period for the purpose of basing a bonus on the narrowest form of work, 4½ inch brickwork, but it is erroneous to assume that that is the basis upon which everything has been measured.
The fact remains that that is roughly the standard. Anything above that standard is paid at special rates. This is supposed to be a Second Reading Debate, and I must remind the hon. Gentleman that we are entitled to attack the principle of the Bill.
The right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) poured scorn upon a statement which was made by an hon. Member that pressed steel would be required to manufacture motor-cars after the war and would not be available for housing. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman appeared to think that the sole purpose of a motor-car is to provide a plutocrat with a quick and easy method of killing pedestrians. Surely the manufacture of motor-cars, like everything else that we are going to sell, is of enormous importance. Do we not want to raise revenue in order to pay for these houses which we are proposing to provide? It is childish to talk about motorcars as though they were a sort of luxury which only millionaires and bookmakers could afford to have.
I have a very strong suspicion that behind all this business of providing temporary houses by an arrangement between the State and the local authorities is a desire to make a direct attack upon private enterprise building. There is a sort of idea at the back of the Government's mind that the only people who can deal satisfactorily with the housing problem are the State and the local authorities. If they really believe that it is in spite of all the evidence of the past 20 years. The Minister of Health himself has a Central Advisory Committee which has set up a sub-committee to report on private enterprise building, and everything in the report of that sub-committee confirms the fact that if it had not been for private enterprise during the last 20 years or so housing would be in a far worse condition and that private enterprise provided a very large proportion of the new houses built since the last war, infinitely more, cheaply and at least as efficiently, compared with public authorities.
When debating this matter not long ago, the hon. Member for Wansbeck (Mr. Donald Scott) made a useful and interesting suggestion, and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works thanked him for it and said he would examine it. I do not know whether the Minister meant that he would really examine it, or that he would bring it to the notice of his civil servants, for them to have a chance of providing satisfactory reasons for turning it down. The suggestion was that the ground floor of these houses should be built of normal materials and that a temporary structure of steel or something else should be put at the top for the time being, to form a first floor. That seemed to me a proposal worth looking into. At least there would be half a permanent house. When the temporary programme was more or less completed we should be able to start with the first house and make it into a complete house without taking the whole thing down, as we shall have to do under the proposals contained in the Bill. I suggest to the Minister of Health that he should take counsel and advice from the building industry, which has done so much to provide housing accommodation for the country. So far as I can gather, there has been no real consultation between the Government and the industry on these matters. This appears to be a Government-thought-out scheme in which the building industry has had no say whatever. I am a sufficiently confirmed believer in British enterprise and British industry to feel sure that the industry, if consulted, would be able to produce far better proposals than those contained in the Bill.
I regret very much to say that I do not believe we have had a Government in this country since the end of the last war which was really serious about providing satisfactory houses for the people of the country. I am not prepared to say that a tin can is a suitable house in which to place a British family. It is a rotten, second-rate makeshift. The Government should be persuaded to take the Bill back, to talk a great deal less about the difficulties that face them and to show a bit more determination in tackling the difficulties successfully.
In moving the Second Reading of the Bill, the Minister of Health said that nothing could be more clear than that this House was insistent that the Government should show imagination and special energy in regard to the housing question. At the time the statement was made, if a poll had been taken I believe the House would have expressed the feeling that imagination and energy were conspicuous largely by their absence, so far as Government effort in this matter was concerned. But within the last few weeks at any rate both energy and imagination have been more evident in the work which the Government have done. There was probably more imagination in one of the statements made in the speech to which we have just listened, when we had a sort of mournful moan about the expenditure of £5,000,000 involved in this proposal for housing the people of the country. A rapid calculation shows that £150,000,000 spent on temporary housing in 10 years is merely 7s. 6d. per head per annum for helping the people who suffered all the troubles and trials and deprivations, which air raids and so on have brought upon the people of the country.
The worst fault in the Bill is that it shows an absence of true appreciation of the housing problem which faces us and which presents itself in a three-fold aspect. There is, first, a general, national problem arising from the cessation of building and from the increase in the number of family units for whom housing accommodation is required. In tackling that problem, local authorities will have a very big part to play. Private industry will be engaged for many years in providing houses for sale and not in the production of places to be let at reasonable rents to the working poor. But even that problem of housing the poor is not of the same character everywhere, for in those areas where, because of poverty, the need is greatest, the ability of the local authority to meet the problem will be least. In the poorest areas where the need is greatest the slum clearing subsidy, which has recently been extended to general housing, will be totally inadequate to meet their needs.
Even if the more generous proposals with regard to subsidy eventually materialise, as the local authorities have been led to expect they will, then still in our poorest areas, particularly when you take account of the need the authorities will have to re-equip their general social services by the rebuilding of schools, of libraries, of public baths, of maternity and child welfare clinics and so on, the local authorities will find that their financial resources are very strained indeed. In my humble opinion, too, this general problem which, as I have already said, is nation wide and calls for the immediate planning of a great post-war building programme, is not to be tackled in any way at all by the provision of steel huts or tin sheds. The job has to be done by permanent building if permanent needs are to be met.
In my experience, however, in this London area there is a far more pressing problem, which is the result of the air raids from which our people have suffered. In many districts, added to the general necessity to overcome the lack of houses because of the cessation of building and so on, an enormous amount of housing accommodation has been destroyed. Here again, that destruction has often been greatest in the areas which are poorest, like, for instance, my own Poplar, or Bethnal Green, West Ham or Bermondsey, to name only those areas with which, as a Londoner, and particularly an East Ender, I am most familiar. I admit that up and down the country there are comparable areas where destruction has been along the same lines. Happily, however, they are very well scattered, but where they exist the need for immediate housing is extremely acute.
Then on top of that problem comes the problem of the destruction of housing as the result of the flying bomb. It was localised again, but in rather a different way from what it had been during the period of the normal air raids, and here in the South of England there is a very acute and immediate housing problem, in many local authority areas which had not previously been affected by the normal air raids. But in those areas where distress was greatest, the flying bomb added to the appalling task of the local authorities, and if I had to make a charge of any lack of imagination in the attitude of the Government, so far as this Bill reveals it, it is in this, that they seem to me to be regarding all these different problems as one, which is going to be solved by the building of Portal houses. Quite frankly it seems to me to be an impossible situation to take up because it ignores entirely, so far as the local authorities are concerned, the cause of the shortage, and the relative poverty of the local authorities to meet the shortage of housing accommodation which there is.
So far as that first problem is concerned, the general national shortage of houses due to the lag in permanent construction because of the war, I suggest definitely that it is not to be met by diverting to temporary structures, land which the housing authorities have procured for permanent housing purposes, and it is not to be met by the laying out of specially developed estates with montonous rows of hum-drum, depressing structures, the presence of which many will resent. A real concentration on the proper organisation of the building industry to tackle the permanent housing problem of the country is the real answer to that permanent problem, and wherever new land is to be used for the purposes of providing shelter it should be used for the proper construction of houses, and not marred by the erection of temporary structures. But in those areas where the destruction has been greatest there is a need for immediate shelter which cannot wait upon the permanent building programme which we have in mind.
Even in those areas the temporary structures ought not to be put upon new estates involving the expenditure of labour upon the construction of roads and services. Wherever labour of that type is to be used it can far more efficiently and economically be used in connection with the permanent building programme, and the temporary erection of structures of this sort should be done upon cleared bombed sites, where concrete platforms could be put very readily over the foundations of blitzed and destroyed areas. Apart altogether from being quicker—and believe me there is a great need for urgency, in meeting this housing problem in the poorer parts of Southern England at the present time—it would, itself, introduce a force which would be very beneficial and helpful, a force which will mean the removal at the earliest of these temporary structures.
I suggest also that this immediate problem is not one which should be dependent upon the financial ability of the local housing authority. It is not a normal housing problem, and when it is done the housing authority will still have to face the same financial responsibility with regard to its permanent problem as it would have done if this temporary problem had never existed. It is a war problem, and in my opinion it is as that it should be regarded. It should not fall to the local authorities to act in relation to it in any other way than as the agents of the central Government. During the period of the air raids the housing of the homeless has been the responsibility of the Ministry of Health. The local authorities have acted as agents of the central Government but the cost has fallen centrally; the powers that have been used have been central powers. In the same way, if we are adequately to house our people in the very poorest areas of London, it has to be with the local authorities acting as agents of the National Government in this matter.
Let me try to illustate this by reference to my own local authority area. It is an exceptional one, I admit, but one which I think will illustrate my points fairly clearly. When this war started there were in my local authority area 23,000 inhabited houses. Of that number, 9,000, or over 40 per cent., have already been completely destroyed. The local authority at present have a rate of 18s. 6d. in the £, and it is being kept at that figure because the Ministry of Health during the war have advanced us something like £750,000, only 25 per cent. of which they say they expect us to repay—and even of that 25 per cent. they have very little hope indeed. Our previous housing business before the war had landed us into a housing deficit which results at present in a rate of 2s. in the £. Is it right, is it fair, to ask such a local authority to meet even a part of the expense of housing the people of those 9,000 destroyed houses? This is a national problem. It comes to us not as a result of some local fault, but, I might say, because of our local importance so far as the national war effort is concerned. We have suffered because of our geographical position: are we to be told that not only are we to suffer because of that, but we are to go on suffering because of our abject poverty, with the result that the local authority will be unable to house the people concerned?
This Bill says that the temporary structures are to be made available to the local housing authorities on such terms as the Minister may agree with them. It happens that I have been privileged to be a party to some of the discussions regarding what those agreed terms shall be. It would be very inappropriate for me to enter now into any discussion of what those terms are, but what they are going to result in is very material to the argument I am trying to put forward with regard to the responsibility of my own local authority. In my own borough we shall have very great need of these temporary structures.
I do not know that I have given the clearest picture yet. I have spoken of those 9,000 totally-destroyed houses. I want to add that before the war the average number of inhabitants per house in our borough was six. That is a very high average indeed. With 9,000 houses destroyed, and an average of six persons per house, you can see that we are faced with an enormous task so far as temporary housing is concerned. We may get, as a result of what we put forward, an allocation of something like 2,000 temporary houses. But, on the suggested financial conditions under which that 2,000 houses will be allotted, it would mean an annual addition of 1s., for the next 10 years, to the rates of that local authority. I ask Members, do they consider it right and fair to an authority which has suffered so much that its ability to do this job shall depend on the imposition of an additional 1s. rate? When you remember the addition which is going to come upon us because of the necessity to rebuild libraries, schools, general social services, and so forth, it stands to reason that the ability to satisfy this general housing demand is going to be absent in our area.
The hon. Member need not have any fear about those additional impositions, which he cannot avoid under the present monetary system. If he would support the reform of the monetary system, he would escape that.
Monetary systems do not weigh very much with me, at times when the need for the provision of shelter is so urgent. It will take some time to alter our monetary system. I hope that we shall have some chance of providing shelter for the people of our area long before Christmas, because if we do not, I am afraid there is going to be a good deal of trouble. I have tried to give a picture of the local conditions. I have not yet completed it. I want to get over the real problem in the distressed and poverty-stricken areas. So far as the 14,000 houses that are left are concerned, we have already given 50,000 first aid repairs to them—in other words, we have repaired them on an average, three to four times each. But we have no unbuilton land in our area, no open spaces that can be developed with roads and services. All that we have got are the bombed sites of houses that have been destroyed. Leaving out of consideration those areas which we have decided shall be in our first four-years' permanent building plan, we have already surveyed some 80 sites for taking the temporary houses, and we have accommodation for 1,400 temporary houses at present already planned and laid out for this job. But none of those sites belongs to us. Under this Bill, we have to buy them.
Now I want to come to the problem of the buying of the sites. We have a first-year's permanent building programme. That first-year's programme covers an area which used to have on it some 600 to 700 separate working-class dwellings. We have already given instructions to our local government officials to negotiate for the purchase of this site, and we discovered that when they come to do it they have to undertake negotiations with something like 850 separate freehold and leasehold interests, before it is possible to purchase the site. If, in addition, we have to negotiate for these 80 separate sites, scattered up and down the borough, I am afraid that many of our people will be dead before we can provide them with the temporary shelter which is necessary. We cannot wait, in dealing with this problem, for the slow business of negotiation for the purchase of these individual sites. During the war, the housing of the homeless has been done by the Ministry of Health, by the method of requisitioning buildings in which to put the homeless people. If this job is to be adequately and properly done, the same principle must be applied to getting the sites on which the temporary houses are to be built, and the Government must come forward and requisition all the sites upon which temporary accommodation is to be provided. Only upon those lines will it be possible for us to deal with this job adequately and properly.
I am certain that, in the most poverty-stricken and depressed areas of this country, this war problem, which is the result of the conduct of the war, can only be solved by dealing with it on the lines which I have indicated. It is a far more serious problem than many people in this country realise. I would like to take a large number of hon. Members of this House and show them what it actually means in the East End of London, so far as the living conditions of the people are concerned. Already, the spirit of the people is beginning to rebel against the conditions. This winter is going to be a very trying and testing time. I had a great experience after the last war, as chairman of the Poplar Board of Guardians, in dealing with distress that grew out of unemployment and exceptional things were done there then as a result of that distress. I want to make it quite plain that exceptional things are now in train there, because of this housing shortage, and, unless this House does something quicker and bolder than this Bill implies, the problem of temporary accommodation for the people will not be solved.
The last speaker has certainly painted a picture that must appeal to everybody in this House. The serious situation he has described is certainly not exaggerated. During the Recess, I have been sent by the Navy Department to talk to a great many naval and military units, and I can assure the House that these units are fully conscious of the situation which the last speaker has described. I am certain that we will have to use every possible agency, temporary and permanent, to meet this situation. It is no good saying that this Bill is enough, or that only permanent buildings will be enough. We have to get every possible agency at work to answer this most serious housing problem.
Many people will say that we must only have permanent houses, but let us look frankly at the man-power situation, because you cannot get houses without manpower. The maximum number of building trade operatives we have ever actually had on the jobs—not in the factories—was about 1,250,000, but, in pre-war days, just prior to the war, we had just over the 1,000,000. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works has said that he expects that by the time the war ends we shall have only in the neighbourhood of 300,000, and only about 50,000 will be men under 40 years of age. They will all be a little old and will all be a little slow. But let us look at the whole picture. In those days before the war, when we were thinking of general maintainence and repair of buildings, as well as of building new ones, it took about 300,000 men to repair and maintain our buildings alone, and we have had five years without any maintenance work at all, so we shall face the rehousing drive with only the same number of operatives that used to be employed on repairs and maintenance alone. In addition, we have had two periods of very serious blitzing, an account of one of which we have just heard. In these drastic circumstances, I feel the House will wish to be convinced that every possible agency is being called in to play its part.
There is one advantage about the temporary house, and that is that it will not require as many building trade operatives to construct it as a normal house will. Temporary houses will require about one where a normal house will require 10, and that will relieve a large number of workers for other purposes, such as repairs which will have to go on, for schools which have to be built and for hospitals and social centres which will all have to be dealt with at the same time. We have great towns like London and Coventry, Plymouth, Southampton and Portsmouth, which have to be attended to, and we cannot take all the available men for one purpose, housing. But we must concentrate on getting houses ready and we shall have to employ a lot of new methods which do not follow the traditional building trade procedure. We shall have to do a lot of construction with non-building labour. I am sure that the building trade will agree, because they know they cannot do it all themselves, and that without this temporary help it is quite impossible to provide the indispensable homes for our men and women when the war ends. We shall have to use prefabricated houses, but does everybody know the real meaning of prefabrication? It is not something shoddy, but something which can be as good as or even better than anything else. It means using good, ordinary or non-traditional materials, fabricating these under satisfactory conditions in a factory where there is good machinery and the sections can be produced quickly. By that means only shall we have the chance of getting the houses to meet the demand which is so obviously great.
The mere passing of this Bill will not get these houses. It is only one of the ingredients in the essential process. This whole matter is really a constructional challenge to the nation, and I think the only way you will ever get the houses is by means of a great drive under the direction of one man with energy and by following sound scientific procedure. We cannot leave it to the hit-and-miss conditions under which we attempted to produce those 3,000 agricultural cottages. There we had half a dozen Ministers all having a whack at the task and it is not straightened out yet. We cannot wait for that sort of thing for our post-war results. We have not only to produce these emergency houses most expeditiously, but we have to get permanent houses built as well.
I do not see how we can possibly do this unless it is made the responsibility of one Minister—I do not say a new Minister, but one Minister—with full control of the situation. Without that it is almost certain we shall never get it done. Certainly not in time. I think it will be essential to second to such responsible Ministry, whether it be the Ministry of Health or the Ministry of Works, the people from the other Departments who, in the ordinary way, deal with local authorities, so that we do not leave the local authorities swinging with no one to help them at all. Again, it is not going to be satisfactory, or even possible I fear, unless we give to the Minister who is to handle these temporary houses, the most ample manufacturing facilities. It is useless passing this Bill if the Ministry of Supply says, "You cannot have this factory or that factory." The Minister must have the factories and the men and the materials that are required to produce the prefabricated work in the proper time and order.
I think the Ministry of Health set a very good example a few days ago by issuing its Building Manual, 1944. I think it is very desirable that the Ministry should also issue a pamphlet describing how the proposed temporary houses should be most suitably arranged, for we have heard to-day from one hon. Member that people had the impression that these houses must be laid out in a certain way, which by the way is not the most desirable. The local authorities should be told that a great many ingenious arrangements had been worked out, which they can adopt. These houses need not all look alike.
When I was over in America last year for the Ministry of Works I saw the Baldwin Hills Estate in Southern California on which the buildings, by the treatment of different colours, had been made to look very attractive indeed, and such information should be given in a temporary housing pamphlet. Further, I think that when local authorities submit their requests for temporary houses they should also submit a full statement showing where they wish to place them and a clear description of the lay-out, and this they cannot possibly do in the best way without this information. The authorities should have the information and the Minister should work out the entire plan on a scientific time and progress schedule appropriately based on the facts at his disposal as to the production dates of the factories, etc., so that when local authorities apply they may be told when to get their drains, roads, gas and electricity prepared so that the construction of these temporary houses on the sites can be worked on a scientific plan. I hope that things will not be left to chance. Local authorities should know the definite date when the houses are to arrive. There must also be furniture for these houses and that is an important matter too which should be looked after in some way at the same time.
If we pass this Measure to-morrow, there is no reason why, in seven months' time, the first of these houses should not come off the production lines, and in nine months they should be coming off at the rate of about 2,500 a week, which though not enough would be a tremendous help toward solving the vast problem. If such information, that houses would be produced for certainty at that rate, could be conveyed to the people and they could rely on it that in nine months from to-day these houses would arrive it would give them great heart and encouragement. I was pleased to hear the Minister say that we were to have many types. I hope that they will all be equally well equipped internally. Internal equipment is very important. We have started a new high standard in that direction and I hope that we shall not now let it down. I hope that the equipment will be very solid and substantial because it will receive very rough wear and will not last 10 years. Furthermore, I trust that examples of the equipment will be put into a great many of our domestic science schools so that future users can get the maximum advantage from such improved equipment. It is no use providing new forms of equipment if the people do not know how to use it to the best advantage. The question of whether the houses will be called upon to last more than 10 years will answer itself, for no doubt Members of this House will be exceedingly quick to call the attention of the Minister to the fact that such houses are no longer needed—and in the face of such information he would certainly have them removed.
Is the hon. Member suggesting that the daughters of working class parents do not know how to use equipment? Is he not aware that they have known how to use it for years but have not been able to gain access to it or to buy it?
I am very pleased that the hon. Member interrupted me in that way. It gives me an opportunity of explaining that when I was chairman of the Slum Clearance Sub-Committee of the London County Council I found that there were a considerable number of tenants who did not know how to handle certain equipment to their own or its best advantage. I am sure that the hon. Member will agree that those who do not know how to use such equipment should have an opportunity of learning about it before having to use it. We would all much prefer to have only permanent houses but as we cannot have them, we must do the best we can and get all the good houses that can be produced from any source. I was pleased to see in the papers this morning the account of the houses being built at Northolt under the guidance of the Ministry of Works on a 900 man-hour production plan. This will go a long way towards meeting the demand of permanent houses and if this fully materialises we should not have to build all these temporary houses indicated in this Bill. I am sure that the Minister is not anxious to build temporary houses if he can possibly get permanent ones with equal speed. I am convinced that we shall have to make a mighty effort to get the permanent houses no matter how long they take to build, but in addition we shall need the machine-made prefabricated houses. By getting all we can I believe we shall go a long way towards solving the post-war housing problem and it is for that reason that I support the Bill, for I believe that the Government are fully conscious of the size of the task ahead and will attack it with both vigour and skill.
I hope that the House will give a Second Reading to the Bill because it contains provisions and principles which are of first-class importance, though I do not think that the Portal house is the very last word in design or equipment. As so much has been said about the merits and demerits of the Portal house I do not intend to discuss it but hope to call the attention of the House to the principles of the Bill which are important. The basis of the Bill is that urgent human needs must be met by the direct action of the Government. We are aware of the necessity for the provision of houses; there is a realisation that the need is really a great one. Therefore it is logical to say that it should be made by the direct action of the Government. It should not be left to be met by private enterprise and private interest. If this principle applies to the provision of houses it should also apply in many other fields, and for the essential necessities of life. On that ground, therefore, I welcome the Bill. The Bill makes provision for the houses which are to be built to be publicly owned. Therefore these other things should, in the matter of capital equipment, be publicly owned too. I welcome this principle and would like to see it extended to the whole field of housing.
One of the important results of the public ownership of these houses will be that the letting of them will be in the hands of the local authorities. One of the problems which has not been faced at all in the country, and which is very acute, and will be after the war, is the matter of the letting of houses. A Serviceman came home the other day and told me that he had a wife and two children who had to live in one room. He had heard of a house that was vacant and had been to see the owner of the house, who, as soon as he heard that he had two children, told him that he could not be given the tenancy of the house. That is a monstrous thing, and I submit that, if the scheme for the provision of the Portal type of house is to work, it will mean that the letting of all houses must be in the hands of public authorities.
What is the Portal house? It is a house suitable for a family of two or three people. Therefore, if it is a house that is suitable only for a small number of people, if the scheme is to work it must be possible to have a transfer of families from the Portal house to other dwellings as soon as the family increases. The only way I can see to meet that is to give the local authorities, who have the control and letting of the Portal house and their own council house, the right to decide which tenant shall have the tenancy of any dwelling house when it becomes vacant, as long as there is a scarcity. It seems to me that will be forced upon us, if we are to make this scheme work, and I feel that on general considerations also it is a principle we should accept—that dwelling accommodation should go to those who have most need of it. That can only be done if you have unification, and that unification must be in the hands of the public authorities.
The third principle proposed in this Bill is that the houses should be built for a specific life and removed as soon as they have became unserviceable. In the past, houses have been allowed to outlive their usefulness. Very often they have been substantially constructed so that, after they have lasted 100 or more years, the structure is still strong while the layout and the design and the fittings are so bad that the house should be pulled down. Therefore, the permanence of the shell militates against the pulling down of these houses. So the idea that we should set a life for dwellings is a good one. I think, however, that in the Portal house there is a lot of confusion as to whether it is temporary or permanent. It is composed of materials which will last different lengths of time, according to the treatment and the painting they get. I prophesy, as other hon. Members have done, that the steel Portal house, if it is properly maintained, will last much longer than 10 years — it will last for possibly 30 or 50 years. Therefore that seems to me to be an argument in favour of building a house that is not on quite such a sub-standard basis of accommodation, particularly when it is realised that in most of the towns where these houses are to be built, when the time comes to remove them, if the worst houses of the town are removed first, you will probably have to remove 50 per cent. or more of the total number of dwellings before removing the Portal bungalow. For, when you have said everything against it, it is a very much better dwelling for a small family than many houses built before the last war, or quite a number built before this war. So, while welcoming the principle, I suggest that the Government production of houses, the principle of the ownership of houses, should be applied to a structure on a larger standard of accommodation.
The fourth principle I welcome is the one of mass production. The only way we can get increased production from the labour force at our disposal is by applying scientific factory methods. But why stop at making houses of steel, on a comparatively flimsy scale? Other hon. Members have pointed out that you can apply this method to manufacturing prefabricated houses of reinforced concrete and other materials. I am sure in my own mind that permanent material, such as concrete, could be used to make a prefabricated house which would be really permanent, and I do not think there would be any difference between the cost of those, and what it will cost to make this house of steel sheets. Therefore I ask the Government if this Bill cannot be so framed that it will be possible to build other types of structure than those of thin steel sheets. Surely it would not be impossible, even now, to amend this Bill in such a way that when in a few months' time the necessary technicalities can be gone into, we should be able to apply these principles to making concrete houses which would then be truly permanent. If we are to make concrete houses, there is everything to be said for increasing the size of the rooms, because we make them permanent dwellings by doing so.
The introduction of mass production into the production of houses will create difficulties from the point of view of labour. In the main, we have had a very large amount of craftsmanship put into the production of houses, and because the craftsmen concerned have been working in a world of unemployment and competition, they have very naturally and rightly protected themselves against exploitation, and they have quite definitely reduced output—or rather they have not given the maximum output possible because they knew the alternative was more unemployment. During this war, because of the great public need, many of the things which the trade union movement have worked for in the past have been put into cold storage. If you are going to make the same appeal for the production of houses as that we have made during the war, if you are going to ask for trade union practices to be shelved, for dilutees to come in, for a bigger proportion of unskilled labour to be used, I think you must be able to make the same appeal to the people who are to do this as has been possible during the war, that is to say: "We are asking you to let this thing, which appears to be to your immediate disadvantage, come in, because there is a real public need for it." You can only do that if the people concerned know they are working directly for the community and not for the interests of any shareholders. That leads me to the conclusion that it is logical, if we are to make this scheme work, that we should have public ownership of the factories in which these houses are going to be made.
While welcoming mass production, it seems a pity that it should be applied only to one model of dwelling. One of the big mistakes made in house-building before the war was too much concentration on dwellings of one sort, and it seems to me that we are perpetuating that bad system. Why will not the Government agree to build three to four bedroom houses as well? Why should they restrict it to two-storey houses? Why should not this principle of factory-made dwellings be applied to terraces and to flats? It seems to me there are advantages in the combination, particularly in flats, of permanent and temporary dwellings. I do not see why you should not have either a steel or reinforced concrete frame with permanent floors in it, and fit this up with your temporary panel wall and fittings as a block of flats. Then in, say, five years time, why should you not move the temporary panelled walls and put in permanent ones on the same lay-out or, indeed, a different lay-out, if you found that the number of families of any particular type had altered. A permanent steel frame and a concrete structure, which might last for many years, might be used several times to provide flats of a different lay-out.
I have already said that I think it logical that the factories in which these houses are to be made should pass into public ownership, and I now wish to consider this from another point of view. Little has been said by the Government about the relationship between them and the firms which are to makes these houses. There is very little analogy between this trans- action between firms and the Government and the normal public authority when there is advertisement for tenders. In the first place, there is to be no competition. Contracts are normally on the basis of competition. Secondly, the firms which are to make these factory houses will not take any risk. They will have a guaranteed order from the Government for a good many years, particularly if this principle is to be extended as I would like to see it extended, to be the backbone of our building programme. If you are to envisage factories making houses for sale to the Government as part of our permanent policy there is every reason why they should be publicly owned and no reason why they should be privately owned. The Government can hire the brains necessary to make these houses just as well as any private firms, and can own the plant as well. Therefore, if you are to extend this business it is more economical for the Government to buy the plant than to hire it.
That brings me to something which sums up the whole matter. The underlying principle of this Bill is that housing is a public service and, therefore, as an essential public service it is something that should be run by the public under democratic control, and not left to private enterprise and profit. So I welcome this Bill and ask for its extension. We were told by the Secretary of State for Scotland that not only are houses to be provided by the Government, but that the Government would allow local authorities to provide furniture for them at cost. Will it be just a provision which will allow local authorities to do that, or if they do not want to supply furniture at cost will people in their areas be able to get furniture at cost direct from the Government? If it is reasonable to supply furniture at cost without the intervention of hire-purchase people—who, we are told, have made profits up to 150 per cent.—why not provide soft furnishings, bedding and things of that nature, which are essential commodities, and which will be required in very large numbers? I suggest that this is another of the principles which should be extended to every article of standard equipment which will be needed inside the houses.
Others have said that the Bill will not solve the problem, but I think it gives the Government authority to solve the problem if they really wish to do it. I welcome the Bill, as I have said, because it contains principles which I think are right, but if it is to produce houses—and many more are needed than even the Government have said we require—there must be the same sort of drive which has been displayed in the defeat of the U-Boats and in other matters in this war. This drive will not come if we are only able to appeal to people to work harder because they are to get higher wages, but will come if we can appeal because there is an essential human need to be met. I do not think that that will come about if a few monopoly firms are engaged to do this work. If the factories in which these houses are to be built are owned by the people we shall be able to appeal to those working in them to put forward a greater effort than they would put forward merely for the shareholders of the firm. I therefore ask the Government to extend the principles contained in this Bill.
I hope my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton (Mr. H. Lawson) will not think it discourteous of me if I do not follow him in that very interesting field of discussion about private enterprise and State-owned factories. His contention, I gathered, is that human beings work harder if they know they are working for the State than if they are working for private individuals. I only suggest that he should consider the cost of building in the Royal Dockyards before the war as compared with what it cost to build the same ships in private yards.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman himself started this. It was my business, as a member of the Select Committee on National Expenditure, to investigate these matters and I can say that there is no dockyard that will not prove its case against the hon. and gallant Member.
I do not want to enter into that argument to-day, and on this occasion. All Members, with one exception, who have addressed the House to-day feel that such is the urgency with regard to housing that we must have some temporary houses in addition to permanent houses. The one exception to that point of view was my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg (Mr. Quibell), who made a most interesting speech. He made certain statements—almost allegations—which I hope the Government will attempt to answer at the end of this Debate. My hon. Friend, who is an experienced house-builder, said he was quite convinced that it was not necessary for us to adopt temporary sub-standard houses when other methods of building, other than by using bricks, could be used, which would provide the houses of the standard we want and, what is more, in the numbers we require in a reasonable time.
Although some of us feel that some temporary houses are necessary I do not think we can pass the Government's request for this Bill without satisfying ourselves on two points. The first point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart), when he said that he wanted to be satisfied that what the Government proposed to do by this Bill would provide the houses within a reasonable time. The second point is, surely, one of cost. I listened to the Debate on 1st August and I did not feel particularly satisfied on either of those two points, nor do I feel very much better about it after having heard the Secretary of State for Scotland to-day. On the question of costs, we have got so used to passing staggering sums of money without inquiring how the Government are going to spend them that we may get into that frame of mind in a matter of this sort where no question of security is involved. We are asked to pass £150,000,000, which is a pretty tidy sum even in these profligate days. What is going to be spent on a house? I asked the Minister of Health three or four months ago for an estimate of what each part of the house is going to cost—how much the steel, how much the refrigerator, etc. I asked for a specification, but I have not had any estimate of the cost at all. That is simply not good enough. If we are to spend this large sum, let us at least know on what it is to be spent. It is a large sum. It is £600 for the house itself, exclusive of the land and of the roads and other services. If my figures are correct, the total will be not £750, as the hon. Member for East Fife said, but £800. Eight hundred pound to be spent on a house with a life of ten years is a pretty substantial sum and surely the House has to satisfy itself, before it gives the Government that money, that that is the best that they can, in fact, do.
There is another point on which I am still not altogether happy with regard to alternatives. The right hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate rather skimmed over that. He told us that two other types of temporary house have come along since our last Debate. Are they of the same size as the Portal house? Can anyone else put up a specification and get a grant under this Bill? Can a local authority which happens to have ideas of its own apply to the Government for a temporary housing subsidy and get it, or are we in fact still confined, if not to the Portal house itself, to the size and the general lay-out of the Portal house?
There are two technical points that I should like to raise. One is with regard to the lay-out. I do not pretend to be a technician in this matter but all my technical friends tell me that the great objection to the Portal house, from the technical point of view, is that, in fact, it is a bungalow. In other words, you are requiring 40 per cent. more ground space for a house which is 20 per cent. below the minimum standard laid down by the Ministry of Health before the war. Why is it that we are confined to a bungalow? It means stringing your houses over a very much larger area than a two-storey house while, it you want to build a two-storey house on that site afterwards, your footings are completely useless for the purpose you have in view. In other words, you have to start all over again. I cannot see how this Portal house is going to be of the slightest use to us in London, or for that matter in any large urban area. Surely we are faced with this dilemma. If we put a Portal house on a bombed site, we cannot put a permanent house on that same site. I have been all over my own borough to see where we could build these temporary houses and, as far as I call see, the only possible sites are in public parks or places of that sort or on allotments. If these temporary houses are of no use to the London boroughs, for heaven's sake let us say so, and not lead people to believe that the housing shortage is going to be met in this way.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Preston (Captain Cobb) pointed out that, if we use pressed steel for these houses, we cannot use it for motor-cars. I agree with him that we are relying on the motor-car trade, not merely to supply the shortage in this country, but to provide us with perhaps the quickest asset to our exports. I read the other day that the makers of pressed steel do not want these orders, because it would mean that they will have to choose between making houses and making motor-cars. Surely that is something that we have to take into account. If we have to choose between motor-cars and houses, for heaven's sake choose houses, but that does not mean to say that we should not satisfy ourselves that other materials and other methods of construction cannot be used.
Then there is the matter of time. Can we have any idea when the necessary materials can be released to get on with the houses? My right hon. and learned Friend who opened the Debate on 1st August suggested, I seem to remember, that nothing much could be done under six months after the end of the war with Germany. Surely we have to do something better than that, because the housing situation has deteriorated very seriously since then. We read of what is being done in America to get back to peace time production. They have started to make washing machines, sewing machines, gramophones and all the rest of it. There is no comparison between that and the way we have given up our industry to war needs. I hope we shall be given some assurance that there will be no delay in making an early start on these houses, even before the German war is over. Factories all over the country are turning from war production. Surely it is in this direction that priority has to be given. I am wondering, too, whether we can be told something about acquiring the sites. Surely we ought to be able to get on with preparing sites for these houses, and also for permanent houses. One suggestion I should like to make is that we should use German prisoners. I understand that in Germany our war prisoners have been and are being used to clear up bomb damage in the large cities. Why should we not use German prisoners, at any rate to clear sites in London? They could even prepare footings, so that when the materials are ready we can go straight ahead.
Misgivings have been voiced with regard to the organisation generally. There are too many Departments engaged in it. I have a terrible feeling that an unholy mess is going to be made of the whole housing question. We cannot look at temporary housing by itself; we have to think of it as part of the whole housing programme of the Government. The trouble, as far as I can see, is the divided responsibility. We started off with an unholy trinity of the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Works and the Ministry of Town and Country Planning. Now we have other people chipping in as well. We have Lord Woolton, who comes in in some capacity or other, and now we have Sir Trustram Eve. It seems to me that the Minister of Health is in a completely impossible position. He is responsible, but he has no control over labour or materials or land. It is difficult enough for a Government Department to get on with the job if they have control over all those factors which affect their efficiency, but when three or four other Departments come into the matter, the whole thing is bound to crash. I would suggest earnestly to my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Health that he has quite enough on his plate, with evacuation and with the reform of the health and hospital services, not to take on this job as well. I hope that the Government will give some consideration to setting up, at any rate temporarily, some Ministry which will have the sole responsibility for the provision of houses, both permanent and temporary.
In spite of the careful defence by the Secretary of State for Scotland of this Measure, his knowledge of which might he described as a temporary structure erected on a valuable central site, I do not feel that the Government can be congratulated upon the way in which they are dealing with this urgent problem both in this Bill and the previous one. The Minister of Health has told us that there is an immediate need in this country of 1,000, 000 houses. He said that in January, 1943, his Ministry was advised that they would want a long period before even the most urgent part of the problem could be dealt with by permanent building. Instead of organising the whole productive and technical resources of this country into one gigantic effort to solve this problem, as during the war we solved the problem of rapidly building factories and aerodromes and making munitions, all they proposed was a programme in the previous Bill of 300,000 houses in the first two years and in this Bill of 250,000 temporary steel bungalows. Each bungalow will consist of sitting room, kitchen, and two bedrooms all leading out of each other and covering a ground space of 616 square feet instead of the 900 recommended by the Dudley Committee.
The Minister of Health said in his speech that he hoped these houses would be comfortable. I think it will be very difficult to be comfortable in a living-room of 145 square feet and three draughts from the doorways, as against the 225 to 345 recommended in his own housing manual which he issued last week and sent to every one of the local authorities; or to be comfortable in a kitchen of 74 square feet as against the 90 to 100 recommended in the same publication. I doubt whether the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works would be comfortable in a bathroom measuring 7 feet 4 inches by 4 feet 6 inches, even if he left the door open and the soap outside. Such rabbit hutches as these seem to be only suitable for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, although only Snow White and three of the dwarfs would be able to get in, and one of them would certainly be Grumpy. It seems to me remarkable that the Minister of Health should think that a house with two bedrooms is especially suitable for young married couples. He seems to date back to the Victorian age when there was a convention so narrow and so strong that you could read all the works of Dickens or Thackeray without discovering that either of them had the slightest notion that men and women, especially married ones, sometimes went to bed together.
These houses are to last for 10 years. I can imagine during that period, to use one of the Minister's own delicate phrases, there will be several occasions when the wife will have to go to bed for a time and have the care of a baby. Yet, apart from the connubial chamber, there is only one bedroom of 125 sq. ft. in which the rising generation will be able to sleep in restless proximity. The Government say they need larger families and have made an appeal to the country for larger families. By erecting these houses, however, they are more likely to stop child birth altogether, and instead of calling them Portal bungalows they should be dedicated to Dr. Marie Stopes. I agree with the hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Sir J. Walker-Smith) that it is a criminal shame that the workers should have to do their domestic drudgery in such a confined space as in these houses, or that the soldier, the hero of Alamein, who returns from the war, should be given a petrol can to live in, even if it is adorned by climbing plants or judicious variations of colour such as the Minister of Health suggests, so that for the next 10 years he would be constantly reminded by his domestic surroundings of some features of the North African desert which he would be very pleased to forget.
Apart from the size of the bungalows, where are these eyesores to be put? We are told that the local authorities have 250,000 acres in their possession for permanent buildings. Are these bungalows to be erected on this land or on part of it? If so, will they not stop the erection of permanent houses? In that case we shall never get the 1,000,000 houses which the Minister of Health said are necessary in the next 12 years. If the temporary houses are not to be built on the land which local authorities already possess, are they to be built on new land? In that case new land must be acquired and built on before any planning schemes are passed under the Town and Country Planning Bill. What will be the result of that? It will mean interference with planning if land is occupied by these buildings, and, as "The Times" said the other day, it will mean an enlargement of the suburban spread which we are all so anxious to avoid. We shall have a repetition of what happened at the end of the last war. Lord Astor wrote the other day to "The Times" about what happened when he was Minister of Health in the last war:
The prospective needs of servicemen forced us to urge local authorities and private interests to rush up buildings without previous country planning and guidance on siting. Irreparable damage was inflicted on districts and communities.
"The Times" in a leading article said that this mistake must not be committed again. It seems to me and to many
Members that the Minister is making the same mistake in this Bill.
In the last Debate the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin), who speaks with great authority on housing matters, pointed out conclusively that the cost of these buildings will be enormous. The construction and erection of 250,000 buildings will cost £150,000,000, but on top of that there will be the cost of the land, roads and drainage. The hon. Member for Peckham said that in the outer districts of London, if they were erected there, there would be an enormous deficit of rent of about £1 a week on every bungalow, which would fall partly on the local authorities. I imagine that the Minister of Health will explain how much of that deficit will fall on the local authorities and how much will be supplied by the Treasury. Anyhow, the loss will be there and will have to be met by the taxpayers or the ratepayers and it will have to be added to the other costs. Other Members have mentioned that these buildings, being wide, will take up more room than other houses. The result is that when they are removed and new permanent buildings occupying a narrower space are erected, more money will have to be spent on altering the sites, and the drains and things of that sort will have to be rearranged.
I would like to mention a further matter to the Minister of Production. The Government seem to fall between two stools. They envisage a scheme of temporary bungalows in which to shelter people while more permanent buildings are being erected, yet the erection of the temporary building will block the site needed for the permanent building. It therefore seems that the bungalows are not temporary enough and that we need to put up types which can be run up more cheaply, and be more easily removed to make way for the permanent buildings. The Minister stated that there would be new designs, but why are they all to be exactly like the Portal house? Why cannot some of the new types be of a different shape, occupying not quite the same area of land? Why should we always have the same dismal design? It is not as though the design were beautiful. Why should all makers, using various materials, have to copy that plan? Everybody admits that the rooms are too small and not numerous enough. I was reading in the paper about the Tarran house of a differ- ent kind at Hull and I understand that Mr. Hughes, the Housing Director of Manchester, has made certain improvements upon it. I saw another type of house at Birmingham to which high praise has been given. Many of us feel that the Ministry of Works is too closely wedded to the Portal type of house and is not willing to consider other varieties of construction and shape. They insist upon the particular shape being reproduced. The steel carcase of this house is to cost £175 and where the carcase is, there shall the vultures be gathered together.
There is a disconcerting mystery surrounding the particular proposals, and it is causing some uneasiness. I hope that the Minister will be good enough to endeavour to dispel it. I would like the Ministry to set out its general requirements for different types bf houses and to ask for tenders. It is no answer for the Parliamentary Secretary to say that there are only two firms which have the organisations and the presses necessary to make 100,000 steel houses per year. In the first place, the other houses need not be of steel or the steel need not be in the same proportion. Secondly, it is not absolutely necessary for the work to be undertaken by the two big firms; it could be given out among smaller firms in different parts of the country, so long as they were able to do the work.
Far be it from me to suggest that there is anything that savours of a financial ramp. I would be the last person to make any such suggestion about this particular Government, but I can only say that, if there was a ramp going to be proposed, this is the kind of procedure which would be adopted. There is an unfortunate resemblance. We know that certain insects resemble other insects, quite innocent insects resembling very poisonous ones. So do the Government plans resemble those other plans. I ask the Government to give further consideration to different types and a different plan.
I am glad that the Secretary of State for Scotland was able to say to-day that the Government have approved two other types of temporary house because that does go some distance towards answering the point made by the hon. Member who last spoke. In the first day's Debate an im- portant question was asked of the Government by the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin). He referred to the great danger that these house would consume an enormous quantity of pressed steel and he wanted assurances that the demand for pressed steel for the houses would not be allowed to interfere with the development of a vital part of our export trade. That matter was not dealt with by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works when he would up the Debate; I hope that the Minister of Production, who I understand will reply, will not fail to deal with the matter, especially as it has subsequently been raised out-of-doors by the vice-chairman of the Nuffield Organisation.
With regard to the cost of these houses, I was at first uneasy at the idea that the production of the steel houses was to be upon a cost-plus-percentage basis, but I understand that there are only two or three firms in the country who could produce the pressed steel economically, and for that reason it would not be possible to get open tenders. Probably the greatest security for the taxpayer would be obtained under the present costing system—but perhaps the Minister of Production will deal also with that point. The hon. Member for East Ham, South (Mr. Barnes), in what I think the House regarded last time as a most important contribution to the Debate, expressed his anxiety about the duplicating of costs involved in the temporary houses. I believe that is part of the price that we are willing to pay, and are willing gladly to pay, in order to deal with the appalling shortage of houses that there inevitably will be, even when everything has been done to produce the maximum number of permanent and temporary houses, in the immediate aftermath of the war.
But I would like, secondly, to ask the attention of the Minister of Production to one rather important practical aspect. The Portal house requires a large cement raft as its foundation. It is possible, with careful designing, as I think was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. Bossom), for four Portal houses to occupy approximately the same area as would subsequently be occupied by six Dudley houses, provided that there is a cement path round the six Dudley houses. I have been making some special inquiries about this point because obviously that would be an important financial economy, and would also be a great economy in time if we could be assured that in the vast majority of cases the roads and the sewers and the foundations for Portal houses would subsequently be useful for the Dudley houses when they come to be built to take their place. That was the point that was referred to by the hon. Member for East Ham South when he drew attention to the long-fronted Portal house and the greater depth of the Dudley house. By putting two houses lengthwise, and turning the other Portal houses sideways to the road it is, I am advised, possible, with a little careful designing, for the same raft to be used as a permanent foundation for the permanent house after it has been used as a foundation for the Portal house. I hope the Minister of Production will be able to say something on that point when he replies.
The third point is that the Minister of Health in his speech indicated that there were cases where the sites would be acquired, roads and sewers would be put in, only for temporary houses. He said:
… whether they are sites eventually to be used for permanent houses or sites which will be used only for these bungalows."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st August, 1944; Vol. 402, c. 1269.]
I think that the House of Commons ought to hesitate before it agrees to a proposal under which substantial sums of money will be spent, and areas will be taken over for housing purposes, when it is intended that at the end of ten years the temporary houses shall be removed, and these roads and sewers grubbed up. I hope the Minister has no intention of doing that in any case where it can possibly be avoided.
The fourth point arises somewhat out of the speech of the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Key), who referred to the large number of houses demolished in his constituency and other parts of London by the flying bomb. I hope the Government will consider very carefully the possibility and desirability, in cases where a house has been completely demolished, of erecting a Portal house and making use of the foundation, drainage, water and gas supply which was used for the old demolished house. I believe that the Government's answer at an earlier stage was unsympathetic, but I think that as a result of the Clause under which sites may be requisitioned it might be possible for something to be done on these lines, and there are cases, of course, where it would be possible for a second Portal house to be put on the garden of the demolished house. We have an emergency problem to deal with, and although no one will suggest that it is going to be perfect, or that a Portal house is the most desirable kind of residence, when there is every prospect that Londoners will be living this winter in ten thousand shelters we have put up, I hope the Government will do what they can to provide Portal houses.
I hope we shall have some assurance that the Ministry of Agriculture will be more sympathetic than it has shown itself to be, at any rate in my constituency, to applications by the local authority for the possession of sites now used for agriculture in orders that roads and sewers may be put in. There are large numbers of pioneers in my constituency at the present time who have just been called up for the building service, and are now being sent out to France. It is vital that not a single man should be called up for the Army for the building service who is not absolutely essential and necessary for the prosecution of the war.
I hope therefore I may have some answer on these points: the question of the supply of steel, the question of the duplication of costs, the possibility of using the same raft for permanent houses as for temporary houses, that we may have some assurance that the Government will not lightly acquire and develop sites for temporary houses only which are not going to be used for permanent houses, that sites in London will be requisitioned and Portal houses put down there, and that the Army and the Ministry of Agriculture will cooperate and give all the assistance they can to the Minister of Health in dealing with the urgent and pressing problem of housing.
My hon. Friend the Member far East Ham South (Mr. Barnes) asked at the outset of the proceedings to-day whether we would be able to deal with the London situation, as revealed by the declarations last week. We were very glad that it was agreed we should be able to deal with that subject, as some of my friends particularly wanted to ask certain questions about the arrange ments. Most hon. Members will remember that last week an announcement was made that Sir Trustram Eve had been appointed to deal with the particular and pressing situation that had arisen in London. I do not know what other Members felt but I myself had a feeling, when I heard the announcement, and learned of certain other things that happened, that this London situation was getting so pressing that it was getting under the skin a bit. I will put it at no more than that, and one can understand that.
My hon. Friend who has just spoken has hinted, I think, about people living in shelters. There are masses of people in this city living in very dire conditions. What they do during the day one hardly understands, but it is a question of work during the day and shelter at night. I understand that arrangements have been made whereby they are to be sheltered in Nissen huts, at the earliest possible moment. We ask these questions in connection with these temporary arrangements for housing; how long are these Nissen huts to last? Is there to be any limit to the type of family that is to be put in them? One can see that if there is not strict control very bad housing conditions could prevail under such conditions. I do not want to press it too far, but I am sure that, while the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Minister of Health wants to meet the immediate needs of the people as soon as possible, he does not want to create a new slum problem. I have sometimes wondered whether the Ministry of Labour quite know where some, at any rate; of the workers from the building industry are to be found. Last week I was asked by a man who had been directed to another industry, but whose direction had been temporarily held up because he was over 40, if I could intervene. He was a skilled building trade worker. I told him that he ought to go into that industry. He said that he would be only too pleased to go into it to help. He was on the maintenance staff of a local council, and had been doing heavy squad work in Civil Defence.
Railways. That situation has arisen through no particular fault of any Department. I state the fact only in order to give a lead to the various Depart- ments concerned. Before the outbreak of the war many local authorities had to fix up hurriedly demolition squads, heavy and light rescue brigades. Men from the building industry went into those brigades, and almost every local council engaged them, for they were the men to deal with buildings which had to be pulled down. Those squads are now being dissolved, and many of the men in them have great experience of building repair work, as well as of demolition. I do not know what has become of the flying squads that were used for repair purposes. I do not know whether they have been concentrated in London. As the House knows, it has been my business to follow up bombings in the North. I was pleased to see how the men in those squads sometimes arrived at 10 o'clock on a Sunday morning, and then worked on the roofs or around the buildings as busily as bees, hustling in order that the work of those places might go on again as soon as possible. I may be wrong but I think that some of the building trade workers who went into that kind of work have been lost sight of.
I think that the House has shown how apprehensive it is of the present situation. It has a feeling that this temporary housing proposal is not altogether inspiring but temporary housing is so necessary that we have to accept the proposal. It is a case of the mood of the House being that it is willing to wound, but afraid, in the circumstances, to strike. That is understandable. I have seen the Portal house although not the revised version. I did not feel too happy in it. It is bright and its fittings are good. It looked quite nice with the furniture in it, but I knew for the first time when I was in it, the meaning of the word which I have often heard used but have failed to understand—"claustrophobia." The roofs are high enough. It was my lot to spend the first years of my young life and up to manhood in a very large house with a very large kitchen, in which there was a very large family. I would sooner be in a large house with a large family, than in a small house with only a couple in it. I should think that there would be no very affectionate remembrances among those who have been brought up in a house of this sort.
Ministers speak of shortage of labour and arrears of building and all the rest They so multiply difficulties that I feel before they have finished that they hardly believe that this temporary house will be abolished at the end of 10 years. I think that they must feel that the house will have to last more like 20 years. I shall feel certain of that, unless there is a more encouraging advance organisation of the building trade than there seems to be at present. If there are to be 4,000,000 houses built, with the shortage of labour that there is, it can be taken as a foregone conclusion that this house is going to last nearer 20 years than 10 years. But there must be shelters for those who are coming back from the front. It is lamentable that we are not in a position to hold out anything brighter for them than this house. But there is one thing I will say for it. I thought that its fittings were better than anything I had seen in any house, at any rate, that I lived in in my younger life, better than most working-class houses, and I was very pleased indeed to hear the Secretary of State for Scotland state to-day that the local authorities, under the new financial arrangements, can supply £45 worth of furniture to each house, in addition to the fittings. Anyone who knows the destruction of furniture that has taken place from bombing, and who knows anything about the parlous conditions to which young married people are reduced by lack of furniture, must appreciate that that is a very great point indeed. I hope, for my part, that the local authorities are going to take advantage of that arrangement so that they can purchase furniture direct on a large scale and supply it to the young people. Otherwise they will be subject to interests which will certainly make a racket out of supplying furniture.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Ham South made it quite clear on the last occasion that we were not going to vote against this Bill, but we are not too happy about it. I understand that, for five years, the Ministry of Works has had a hard and heavy job putting up various factories and dealing with blitzed areas where factories had to be rebuilt. I think they have done a first-class job, but I should have been able to make a much stronger speech to-day if we had been told about the three new models which, I understand, now exist, in addition to the Portal models. I have not seen these models; I do not know where they are. I think it would be appreciated by the House if the Minister could tell us where these models can be seen, and when hon. Members might be able to see them. I understand that they are of the same size as the other model.
I should also like the Minister to deal with what is, to me, a very important point. It was quite clear in the Debate on the last occasion, as it has been through to-day's proceedings, that one of the things in people's minds is the danger of this situation being used for profit-making on a large scale. I should like the right hon. Gentleman to tell the House whether these three new models are by the same firms which made the other one, or whether they are by subsidiary firms of the firm which is making the Portal model.
It is a lamentable thing that men who have been fighting our battles have to come back to a temporary house of this kind. I hope the Government are going to show much more energy and much more vision in the organisation of labour and material for the building of the 4,000,000 houses so that the men, in coming back to houses of this description, will at least realise the possibility that they will have, some day, a brick house of the kind which is regarded with affection by the bulk of the people of this country.
I would like to ask two questions before the Minister replies. My first question is —what is the likely rent of the Portal house? I represent a district in Glasgow in which the housing conditions are something fearful, and I discussed with some of my constituents yesterday the question whether they would like the Portal house. Their answer was, "It will depend upon the rent." There has been a rumour that the rent will be 10s. plus rates, which, in Glasgow, would work out at 16s. 6d. per week. They said that, if that was the case, they could not look at it. I would like the Minister of Production to give us some idea what the rent will be.
My second question has already been put by another hon. Member. Will the Minister not consider giving the House some information as to the cost of the particular bits of the Portal house? I suggest also that the Government should give us a White Paper in which they should give the prices of some of these other houses which have been mentioned in the Debate to-day. I hope the Minister will be able to give us an answer to these questions with regard to the cost of these houses. This matter is very much in the public mind, and I have heard it said that the Government are selling the Portal house on the basis of the refrigerator that is provided with it.
I think it was very marked at the beginning of the Debate to-day how many Scottish Members, and hon. Members for Scotttish constituencies, spoke, and I was very glad that that happened, because I think that, in the South of England, we, who have suffered the exceptional damage by air raids, are rather apt to forget that the problem in Scotland is no less serious but is of longer standing. We are apt to look at the things under our eyes and forget the others.
I think the House may be surprised to find me at this Box to-day, because my duties are known to be concerned mainly with war production. Indeed, if I had been asked only a few weeks ago what contribution the munitions industry could make to the problem we are discussing to-day, I should have had to say, unhesitatingly, "None." I would like to remind the House that a short time ago, on 25th July, the American and British Armies were fighting round Caen and St. Lo. We were being "contained," to use a military phrase, by the enemy. To-day, our victorious armies have swept through the whole of France and gained a most significant success in Italy. I am not suggesting that we are any more entitled to-day to predict with any certainty the end of the war, but I am suggesting that we are entitled to adopt a new attitude of mind. Not more than that. That is why it is my task to wind up for the Government in this Debate.
I am here because we are going to try to begin the actual production of emergency houses in a very short time, irrespective of the estimated end of the European war. We are going to begin the actual production if necessary while the war is in progress. That is an entirely new situation of which I should apprise the House at once. I must also say that, in doing that, we must act with the greatest circumspection and be sure that, in fitting the production of these emergency houses into our war machine, we do not disrupt in any way the vital war production, which is my primary responsibility. We must see that this does not impinge upon the production of weapons which are necessary for the Fighting Forces, but I think it quite possible that we can do so in this situation in the war with very little damage to these vital things. I must say again that in doing this we shall have to act with great circumspection.
Two things on the emergency houses have already been done. We have put in hand the ordering of the jigs and tools for the whole of the steel houses. The expenditure so far incurred is very small. The design and ordering of these have been put in hand and the House should know this, the idea being that, if we get the Bill, no time will be lost in carrying out those preliminaries. The second thing is that the ordering and design of the jigs and tools for the kitchen units, and their ancillary equipment, have also been put in hand.
The matter is one of great urgency and I ought to tell the House that these preliminary steps have been taken. As I said, the expenditure is very small and has been incurred under our war powers and I thought it necessary to say this in order to show that we are going to treat this matter, if we get the Bill, as one of great urgency.
Some months ago the Minister of Health made a statement at that Box in which he said that he had taken powers and certain steps in anticipation of the House making a decision, which the House in fact did not make. I interrupted him at that time to ask for his authority. Now we are to understand that the Government are spending public money in anticipation of the House agreeing to a certain proposal. Supposing we do not carry this Bill, will the Government then ask for indemnification because this is not covered by the war emergency powers?
Certainly, my answer to that is unequivocal. We are asking for the indulgence of the House. I mention it for that particular purpose, and if we do not get the Bill, we shall ask the House to indemnify us in this matter, if we have exceeded our war-time powers.
They will belong to the Government. The other matter is the design and ordering of the jigs and tools for the kitchen unit. That is the other matter I mentioned and that ancillary fittings have also been put in hand. There has been some delay over this because my Noble Friend, I think very wisely, has had these kitchen units broken down into sections, the object being, in this as in other fields, to secure the widest possible manufacture in different parts of the country so that not only can we spread the orders but we can save transport by getting them made locally and assembled near the site where they are to be used. As a result of these measures, if we get the Bill, we can get ahead considerably quicker than we should have been able to do otherwise.
When this unit is sectionalised I would expect the manufacture to take place all over these islands. Parts of it may be made in Scotland. I want to discuss for a moment the disadvantage of steel houses from a production point of view, because it has a very direct bearing upon these other types of which the House has been informed. It is not as my hon. Friend suggested the desire of the Government to become engaged in a financial ramp that has caused the fact that there are only very few firms—four or five—that have the technique, the experience and the plans to make the steel houses.
I think the hon. Gentleman was in slightly ironical vein. He passed from a delightful Dickens-like humour to rather Voltairean irony, but if I have been lacking in a sense of humour in this matter I apologise. There is no ramp at all. It is not part of the Government's intention—it would be utterly foolish—to create a bottleneck in a few firms for the production of steel hulls for these houses. But it is the fact that only a few firms have the necessary qualifications and that is a great disadvantage, not only because these firms have now got a very vital task in war production to do but also because it would cause transport difficulties if we had to concentrate the production into very few hands. That is the reason why my Noble Friend for some months before the last Debate took place, just before we rose for the Recess, pressed on with plans for other forms of construction. It may not be quite clear to the House what they are. There are three houses and my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) asked if Members could see them and where they were to be seen. They are at the Tate Gallery, and from to-morrow Members of Parliament can see them and make arrangements accordingly. Of these three houses all have passed the Burt Committee, but two only are finally cleared for production, and the third is still under consideration.
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said, they do not involve a steel hull and they open up a field of competition between one type of construction and another. That is a most important thing—and I want to impress most strongly on the House—that we do not want it to stop there. There is some suggestion that this is a close corporation and that the Government intend to direct their orders here or there. It is nothing of the kind. We would welcome any new devices in building construction, any new forms of house which the ingenuity of the trade or of anyone else can put up. The only thing which must be clear to the House is that the site man-hours involved in the erection of any new type must conform broadly to the site man-hours of those already in view. There is also this important matter, and this deals with the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Cocks) just now, that any type of house must in the emergency period be designed so that it takes the standard fittings of the. kitchen unit. If you get that amount of standardisation plus the need for erecting the house on the same kind of area as the Portal house and at the same site man-hours, you will get a uniformity which I certainly deplore but which cannot be helped because this is an emergency measure.
I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, and I apologise to the House for doing so again, but there have been some ugly rumours in circulation about this matter which ought to be cleared up. Have these specifications been made available to the whole trade? Were they tendered? What is the cost? What financial conditions have governed these things? We do not know at all and the Government have had no authority from the House.
I think I can clear up that point very simply. There are no financial arrangements at all. The costings and the contracts with the firms who have made these three types are not by any means complete. There are no financial arrangements. All there in each case is, is the production of a single prototype which is to be shown and which, as far as the Burt Committee is concerned, has been cleared. I think this gives me an opportunity of saying something about the general affair of competition. All over the housing field, the erection of houses is to be subject to open tender but when you get to the actual building of the houses, perhaps under a patent and so forth, where there is no competition or the possibility of open tender, the Government will apply precisely the same costing system to these houses as they have applied to the munitions of war and of which they have had great experience. That is how it will be done, but I would like to emphasise that no commitments or financial arrangements have been entered into with the builders of these houses, which are merely in the experimental and demonstration stage. If we get the Bill, we shall then have to undertake the negotiation of contracts, first of all on an agreed and maximum price with the usual clause which enables the Government, after that maximum price has been fixed, to go in and ask whether it should not be reduced as the result of mass production, and whether the margin between the cost to the State and the cost to the manufacturer is a fair one. I think that deals with the point raised by my hon. Friend.
With regard to the size of this problem, there are two great uncertainties which make estimation of the numbers which we conceive of being erected immediately very difficult. The first one is, when will the end of the European war actually take place? Secondly, how will it take place? Will there be a clean-cut issue, or is the dreadful music of war gradually going to die down? If you get a clean-cut date, and it is reasonably soon, then the estimates we make of what we can pro- duce may be too pessimistic; but I ask the House not to press me beyond what we have already said about the numbers because there are too many uncertainties and I would feel very anxious if we went beyond what we have already said. What I would say is that these two new types enable production to begin on some scale, not a very large scale, in January next. Now that is impossible on the steel hull owing to the time that it will take to make the jigs and tools, but under the simpler construction of these new types we shall get, if we get the Bill, a certain production beginning next January which will be substantially raised in April and, as far as those types are concerned, will reach its designed peak after the middle of the year.
Now since this housing problem has engaged the closest attention of the Government, and we regard it as probably the most urgent of all the post-war problems and the one which has to be tackled first, two things have happened. The first one is that the bomb damage in London has greatly increased the size of the problem. I am only mentioning this because I think it necessity that the House should know by a very simple illustration what this means. It means, roughly, that to repair the houses which are repairable in London we should consume something like the whole of the prewar annual production of plaster board. As the House knows, plaster board is a necessary ingredient of these temporary houses. Therefore, here is another uncertainty which I cannot resolve to-day, but we are trying to raise the production of plaster board—which is not easy—in order that the programme now upon us and the emergency housing programme can be tackled simultaneously. That is an extremely gloomy thing to have to say, but there it is.
The other thing that has happened is encouraging. It concerns the new type of permanent house, which has been referred to by hon. Members and about which Sir George Burt has written a letter to "The Times" to-day. The figures are obviously capable of considerable revision; I hope not upwards, because they are based on the erection of only one house or, rather, a pair of flats. But if our estimates are realised, and I am hopeful that they will be, I think that this new method of construction, when thoroughly learnt by the trade, may very well alter the balance between the needs of temporary housing and our desire to have permanent houses. I want to say, straight away, that we regard temporary houses as an absolute necessary expedient but if we can bring the man-hours and the cost of a permanent type of building down nearer to the cost of the temporary house then that is an alternative which the Government would embrace with the greatest willingness. Before I get on to many of the detailed questions which have been raised I would like to deal with one other point. The object of the emergency housing is to transfer part of the strain of house building from the building labour force to the engineering labour force. That is a contribution it can make. Of course, the erection of the houses and so forth has to be done by building labour and it is the most common of commonsense projects to use every expedient we can to relieve the strain of this problem. Aesthetically, I am not going to say anything about these temporary houses, but from a practical point of view I ask the House to support us in this matter, as being a practical contribution to this very difficult subject.
If the House will forgive me, I must become even more than usually disjointed because a good many points have been raised by Members which I should like to attempt to answer before I sit down. I hope that the many I cannot answer in the time at my disposal will not be held against me because I assure hon. Members that I mean no discourtesy. I want to try to pick out the points which have been made by more than one Member, or which have a particular significance. The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), and my hon. Friend below the Gangway, asked about the rents of these temporary houses. That is a matter which concerns local authorities and will vary from one district to another. But I can answer the point in the simplest way by saying that the general average at which we aim is 10s. a week.
That is without rates. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Preston (Captain Cobb) asked about the space taken up by the Portal house. The lay-out worked out by the Ministers of Health and Town and Country Planning, which will be circulated to local authorities for their assistance when the Bill becomes law, shows that steel bungalows can be built at 13 to the acre in a satisfactory manner, and this compares with a normal density of 12 to the acre for two-storey houses. A bungalow, therefore, need not take up any more room than the normal council house.
The hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Key) made some very interesting remarks. I think he was mainly concerned with two points which I thought were dealt with by the Secretary of State in his opening speech. The first matter that he raised was about this temporary housing leading to an increase in the rates, something which he regarded as unfair when it was the result of enemy action. The Secretary of State said:
It is proposed that in the agreement there should be a provision that, if the local authority can show that in fact the rates have sustained, by reason of excessive or unremunerative costs, a greater loss than normal, the sum payable shall be adjusted further.
We regard that as a very flexible Clause which will do much to meet the objections. There was another point about the acquisition of sites. These are the words my right hon. Friend used:
The Government have considered whether any further special action is required to obtain possession of sites without delay in order to ensure that the erection of bungalows will not be held up by any difficulties on this score. The need for avoiding delay will be especially important at the outset. The Government have decided to add a Clause to the Bill for sites required up to the end of 1945 which have been approved by the Minister of Health and the planning authority as suitable for the erection of bungalows. The Clause, of which notice has been given, will be based on the principle accepted by Parliament in the Unemployment (Relief Works) Act, 1920.
The effect of that is, in short, to enable a local authority to enter into possession of the site and to negotiate the details of purchase afterwards—to enter in first and to explain afterwards.
I think that anomalies in rating differ between town and country. You have, in some cases, a high rateable value and a low rate; you have in others, a low rateable value and a high rate. It is the burden per week per house that matters, and in our view it will mean about 3s.
Will the right hon. Gentleman be more explicit on this matter of the financial relations between the Government and the local authorities? Does this flexible Clause mean that the Government will meet all the excess costs falling on the local authorities over a certain datum?
The answer is that 80 per cent. will fall directly on the Exchequer over a certain datum line. The next point, which was raised by the hon. Member for Frome (Mrs. Tate), was a comparison between the man-hours on the flatted dwellings which are being shown at Northolt and the man-hours on the emergency factory-made bungalows. I can give the hon. Lady only the site man-hours. The business of estimating exactly what the factory man-hours are has not yet been done. The site man-hours for each flat—and these are only preliminary figures—are 900, and for the emergency factory made bungalow 570. My hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. J. J. Lawson) asked a question about the activities of Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve. He has a special appointment to deal with the problem created by the flying bomb. He is concerned with what really are huts. He is going to put up only 10,000 or 11,000 of them, and they are really quite outside the subject we have been discussing. They are to be erected at the Government's cost and are not to be regarded as any form of temporary houses. They are merely shelters particularly for this winter while we can get round to the matter of repairs on whatever is repairable in London. I expect that their utility will not extend beyond a year or 18 months.
We cannot regard them as houses but only as shelters which are designed to alleviate the problem while repairs are being undertaken. The hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) raised a point touched upon by other hon. Members about the effect on the motor car trade of making pressed steel. This question does not arise because the total requirements of the pressed steel houses are about 15 per cent. of the factory capacity for making pressed steel in this country, and the motor car industry will not be stopped by meeting the necessary requirements. The hon. Member raised some very technical and interesting points with regard to the cement raft and roads and sewers, with which I will have to deal by correspondence with him as they are too technical to deal with across the Floor of the House. These are the main points which I can deal with this afternoon. Before I sit down I would like to make it quite clear that this is an expedient. We share the views of the House that where we can produce a permanent house with anything like the same man-hours as the temporary house, we should go for the permanent house. It seems to us a matter of great urgency that during the war itself we should make some contribution to what will be probably the most difficult of all our social problems.
Have the Government definitely decided that they will not allow fewer than 50 Portal houses to be built in any part of the country? It was so stated in the Press. If that is so, some small local authorities who are in a bad fix for houses at the present time will want to know. Suppose my local authority were to put in an application for 12 Portal houses, for which they already have the land. They did not have to buy the land, which is not sufficient to be a building site for permanent houses, but is sufficient for 12 Portal houses. Will they be turned down because they are not asking for 50?
There is obviously not the haste that has been suggested by the Minister for getting the Second Reading of the Bill to-night, because the Government apparently pay not the slightest attention to whether they get the Bill through the House before they embark upon public expenditure. If we do not get the Bill at all this year, the Government will apparently still go on spending public money in anticipation of getting it. That is exacty what we have been told by the Minister in answer to an interrogation of mine. The jigs, he told us, have already been supplied.
Well, they have been ordered. A prototype will be constructed. In other words, the preparations of the Government for the construction of these houses go forward, independently of whether the Bill is passed. It is one way of doing business. It is a bit unorthodox. It means that the House of Commons has not the slightest control over the expenditure of public funds and that there is no urgency about the passing of the Bill. Indeed, I cannot understand quite where we are getting to. This is not a Bill It is just a Resolution which authorises the Government to spend no more than £150,000,000 on the provision of temporary houses. There is nothing else in the Bill.
That may be all that the hon. Member wants, but I want to know what supervision we have over the expenditure of public money. I want to know how the sum of £150,000,000 is arrived at. We have only an approximate figure. We do not even know what the rents are to be. We have been told that they might work out to an average of 10s., but if rates are to be added to that 10s., in our district the total rent of a temporary house may be something like 17s. or 18s. per week. Does anybody suggest seriously that local authorities will be in a hurry to acquire temporary houses to let at rents of that sort? The hon. Member said: "that is all we want", but is there to be no relationship between the amount of money expected to be spent, and the number of houses ordered by the local authority? We do not even know how many houses the local authorities will require. Judging from the talk from many parts of the country, there are local authorities who will not have these houses at all. Surely the House of Commons cannot embark upon a scheme of this sort without first knowing to what extent the local authorities will be in favour of it? I think I can answer for my own authority. They are not going to acquire temporary steel houses to let at rents of 17s. or 18s. a week. Our people will not live in them. I admit that the problem is exceedingly urgent, particularly in the London area, but we ought to know a little more about the ways in which the contracts are to be placed. For instance, those firms who are to have the chance of building a prototype will obviously be far ahead of other firms in the building of these houses. How are the others going to get a jig? The right hon. Gentleman said that there would be opportunity for the trade to have access to this information. How can they have access to it? It is not advertised. It is not made available to the Board of Trade. All we are told by the right hon. Gentleman is that the same supervisions are to be exercised over the production of these houses as over the production of war goods. The Select Committee on National Expenditure has reported to us that the steel masters of this country have not only been reluctant but have, on some occasions, refused to give their costs of production. How are we to know whether the money spent upon these steel houses and paid to steel firms is properly spent unless we can get information from the steel firms as to the costs of production, and we cannot get that now?
I do not know whether the suspicions that have been aroused in the country are justified, but those suspicions will certainly be increased if the House of Commons passes powers in this slipshod fashion, without any information at all on these very grave points concerning the expenditure of public money. Then, again, the point has been made in some quarters that the prototypes which have been ordered are not the same. I would like to know whether there are several prototypes or only one. If the prototypes are to be made available fairly quickly, will all the firms who are able to make these houses be given the opportunity of having jigs?