Housing

Orders of the Day — Debate on the Address – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7 December 1944.

Alert me about debates like this

Question again proposed, "That the proposed words be there added."

Photo of Mr Douglas Clifton Brown Mr Douglas Clifton Brown , Hexham

A great number of Members wish to speak, and, even with an extension of one hour, unless speeches are kept short, many Members will not be able to get in.

3.27 p.m.

Photo of Miss Megan Lloyd George Miss Megan Lloyd George , Anglesey

The Amendment in the name of the hon. and gallant Member for Preston (Captain Cobb) expressed the deep anxiety which is felt in this House and in the country about the housing policy of the Government, an anxiety shared by the Prime Minister, an anxiety which has been greatly increased by the speech we have just heard. We wish the new Minister of Works well in his very difficult task. We are not going to judge him to-day. By his works will we judge him. We are glad to know that the Prime Minister himself is going to preside at times over this many-headed and top-heavy organisation which is to deal with housing in this country. The right hon. Gentleman said that we could not have a dictator looking after housing. All I can say is, after listening to his speech, I am very glad indeed that we are going to have our particular brand of dictator presiding over this Committee. The changes in machinery, so far as they go, are all to the good, but it seems to me that unless we are going to have a completely new approach to the problem we shall not get anywhere near a solution. One of the most encouraging things the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Works did say was that he was prepared to use unorthodox methods. The House will support him in that. It seems to me that we are faced with very much the same sort of problem as the Government were faced with in 1940, when they had to re-equip an enormous army almost from scratch. We are faced by a similar problem of supply, which can be dealt with only on a war-time basis. It is a tremendous problem.

My hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) spoke of the large number of temporary houses that will be needed. If we take the number of houses over 10 or 12 years, the need will be for something between 4,000,000 and 5,000,000 houses. If we are going to try to deal with the problem by the old traditional method of building, we cannot hope to reach that target. If we mean to get those houses we have, as the right hon. Gentleman said, to revolutionise the whole of our ideas on housing.

I would like to say a word about the immediate question of providing emergency accommodation for after the war. Of course, there are immense difficulties. There is, as has already been pointed out, an acute shortage of houses at this very moment. Families are living together, and hon. Members, I am quite sure, receive letters, as I do, from all parts of the country, from people who simply cannot get houses. Then, we shall have the Forces returning after the war and swelling the queue for houses, and, with it all, there will be a serious labour shortage. Something has been said, not in the Debate to-day, but on an earlier occasion, about the possibility of getting a certain number of houses from America. I would like to ask the Minister of Health if, when he replies, he can tell us anything about the possibility of obtaining timber houses from Sweden, particularly in view of the statement we have just had from the right hon. Gentleman. We have got to secure, somehow or other, accommodation ready for the moment when the Forces will be returning home, and therefore, I press and emphasise this point very strongly to the Minister of Health.

Parliament decided, not very enthusiastically, but, nevertheless, it decided, a short time ago, in favour of giving a trial to the Portal bungalow in a Bill which was given the Royal Assent in October. To-day we have been told by the Minister of Works that although orders for jigs and tools have been given no production of these houses is to be expected until the war in Europe is over. This is the first time that this has ever been made clear. We have been led up the garden-path to find no Portal house at the end of it. That is a very serious statement that we have heard to-day, and it completely alters the whole situation with regard to housing. I think it means that the whole problem will have to be reconsidered by the Government in the light of the statement which the right hon. Gentleman has just made.

I would like to know how many of the non-Portal houses will be available. The right hon. Gentleman said that there were a certain number of other types which would go into production immediately, or on the 1st April. How many of these houses of every type is it expected can be produced within the next 12 months? We are told that 40 Tarran houses will be turned out a week after April. I would ask the Minister of Health when he comes to reply to give us a more categorical statement about the plans of the Government as a result of the very serious disclosure which we have had from the Minister of Works in the Debate.

A very great deal of doubt has been expressed to-day by hon. Members in all parts of the House about the Portal bungalow and about temporary housing in general. The more we see of the temporary houses the less do we like them. I do not believe myself that we are pursuing the right policy in this matter. I would like to ask the Government to put more emphasis on permanent houses and less on temporary houses, more emphasis on prefabricated permanent houses than on prefabricated temporary houses. We all know perfectly well what are the disadvantages of the temporary house. To begin with, it is definitely sub-standard as to size and height of rooms; it is not a family house, it is only a two-bedroomed house. It takes up a lot of land, and, after the statement we have heard to-day, it has not even the advantage of being an emergency house, because it obviously takes a very long time to produce.

The Government say, "Well, do not worry about all these shortcomings. After all, it is only a temporary expedient—something to help us through a critical time—but, at the end of 10 years we shall see the last of them." Does any hon. Member really think that they will all be swept away at the end of 10 years? We know perfectly well the kind of thing that is going to happen. A local authority in an area will find itself faced, either with a shortage of houses or with a slum clearance area or with overcrowded conditions with which it has not been able to deal, and there will be the Portal houses, damp proof, sub-standard, it is true, but with their excellent kitchens and appointments they will be too good to be taken down in the circumstances. A house that will last for 10 years will last for 20 years. I believe that the temporary house has come to stay, and that we might as well face the fact and the responsibility now. We are building a definitely sub-standard house.

What is the justification for this temporary house? The Minister of Works said to-day, so far as I understood him, that the whole justification was the saving in labour. That has been the policy behind the temporary house—to make use of factory labour in order to relieve the strain on building labour. That, obviously, will be a very important consideration when building labour will be down to below one-third of what it was at the beginning of the war. But why do we have to speak of prefabrication only in connection with the temporary house? I think that is an entirely shortsighted policy. Even to-day, a great deal of prefabrication is done, doors and windows and a great many other accessories are made in factories.

The predecessor of the right hon. Gentleman in the Ministry of Works said that, in his judgment, there was no reason why the advantages gained by the saving of man-hours in emergency houses should not also be demonstrated in permanent houses. He spoke as the head of a Department which has been making a good many investigations into this matter, and that is his conclusion. It is perfectly obvious that the whole outlook has changed in recent months. A great deal of research and experiment has been undertaken by the Ministry of Works, and credit should be given to them for their initiative in that and in many other respects. The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson) challenged the hon. Member for Brigg (Mr. Quibell) as to the difference in time taken in the building of a Portal house and a permanent house, and I understood the Minister of Works to say that you could produce three times as many houses with the same labour.

Photo of Miss Megan Lloyd George Miss Megan Lloyd George , Anglesey

Yes, of course, building labour. How does the temporary house compare with the permanent house in this matter? Lord Portal said the other day that the house or flat made of traditional building material could be erected in 900 man-hours as against 2,200 man-hours by normal methods. I believe that the Portal bungalow takes between 500 and 600 man-hours.

That is a very great advance. It is a very remarkable thing that you can produce the permanent house now with that labour in that time, and there are a great many housing experts who believe that that lag in time can be greatly reduced by further experiment. The fact is that the real delay in producing the houses is in the making of roads, the laying of drains and the laying on of water supplies, and the securing of sites. All these conditions apply exactly the same to temporary as to permanent houses. It certainly is not a matter of expense as to whether we should choose the permanent or temporary house. The difference, as one hon. Member pointed out, was that the Portal house costs something in the neighbourhood of £600 and the No. 7 house, which was demonstrated at Northolt, costs about £750. The advantages of building a house which will last for 20 or 30 more years and a temporary house which is meant only to last for 10 years make it well worth paying the difference between the £750 and the £600, and the sinking fund is less. The temporary house is one of the most expensive proposals in money, material and land that can possiby be undertaken.

I agree with hon. Members who said that it would be far better to have one man in charge of the housing policy in this country. The machinery at present is cumbersome. When we want swift action, we shall have only a division of responsibility and of powers, a sort of general passing of the buck. But important as I think it is to have one man responsible for housing, it is far more important—and particularly after the disastrous statement that we have had to-day about temporary houses—that we should have, at the same time, a sound and imaginative housing policy and that we should be confident at least that we are proceeding on the right lines.

3.43 p.m.

Photo of Mr Alfred Bossom Mr Alfred Bossom , Maidstone

In a Debate of this nature in which there has been such a tremendous amount said upon a special subject it is rather difficult to say anything new, but the one thing that stands out right through this Debate, and indeed through all the housing Debates, now is that we need more houses and at tremendous speed. There is no question about that. It is the worry which prevails everywhere, though how we are actually to get this speed is a matter upon which very few hon. Members have touched. We all know that we have not the building operatives in sufficient numbers to provide us with the houses in the normal way. Therefore does it not mean that we must appeal to science and make use of it in every way in order to get the greatest quantity production on a scale which has never been attempted in this country before? We shall also not only have to make use of labour which in the past has only been used for building, we shall have to use all the building labour available from all sources. We shall have to bring forth operatives who have moved to other industries and men from the Services and also use other labour and possibly woman labour to help to do this job. We cannot possibly succeed with the programme without doing this. We also have to eliminate all bottle-necks and the causes of waste of time experienced in the past. They do exist and they can be eliminated.

The entire House will agree with me when I say that we wish the new Minister of Works the greatest success. The importance of his task cannot be exaggerated. We have not another peace-time problem that will compare in importance with housing, and so the more success he has, the more pleased the House will be. But will the present arrangements give the best results? That is an open question. We need houses quicker and better and cheaper. Every type of house of a temporary kind and some houses of the permanent type, too, have been criticised. This is to be expected. I believe we can overcome this if we get the very best scientific knowledge and research and apply it to the use of both old and new materials and to the existing procedures and practices and the law. I go back again on the old subject on which I asked so many questions of the Minister of Health. The building laws which are not up to date and not compatible with the use of the new materials should at once be revised and made to conform with the materials we have to adopt. There are new details of plumbing. I saw them when in the United States and they arc much in advance of anything that I have seen here at home. There are systems of heating, and insula- tions dealing with heat and cold and sound. There is the question of damp-proofing to which the hon. Member opposite alluded just now. Our systems of damp-proofing should be investigated and improved, also current methods of fire-proofing could be looked into with advantage. But to get all this knowledge means much and expensive research.

I asked a Question this morning and received an answer from the Deputy Prime Minister to the effect that in a year pre-war we spent about £69,000 on research, and I inquired how this was divided between the public and private purse. The facts are that £20,000 of that sum was provided by the Government and the remainder by individual firms needing some special inquiry in the industry. The work was done at Watford Building Research Station with the result that the information deduced concerning the research in question was often passed on direct to the parties who had paid for it; it was not given around to all interested in the country. To get the full value we should spread this information all over the country so that all interested can have the advantage of our research work. No experienced group of industrialists would ever attempt such a huge programme without establishing a most complete and competent research and investigation bureau. The nation cannot possibly carry out this housing programme for the next 10 years for less than £2,600,000,000. This I am convinced is the lowest price at which we could get it completed, calculating £650 a house, and 4,000,000 houses for both the public authorities and private builders combined. It is recognised we cannot succeed by sticking to the old processes. There are not enough trained men available to do it. We must use new methods and it is upon these that we must apply our research.

We must pursue prefabrication in all its forms and we must adopt standardisation on a scale we have not hitherto attempted. All fixtures and details should be interchangeable and there should be the fullest modulization. This new scientific development has not been mentioned in the Debate. This science consists of making every dimension inside a house the multiple of a fixed dimension. America, under Government guidance, has now adopted four inches for this purpose, that is the size of all rooms, height, length, and breadth, the distance between windows, the size of piers, the size of windows, doors, openings, in fact everything, with the result that it means a much accelerated speed in erection of all buildings so treated. I would not recommend that we adopt the 4-inch module. We could take, for instance, 3 inches, one of the dimensions of our common brick, which is 9 inches and 4½ inches by 3 inches, and by so applying three inches as our basis we could do away with most of our cutting and patching, truly an important saving in time and money. I was on a committee a little time ago and we had testimony that in England we add to all our costs something like 12 per cent. on each brick work contract due to this cutting and patching through the use of these irregular dimensions. Then again on the question of building construction mechanisation we are much behind some other countries, which have carried research much further than we have. American contractors, for example, use the utmost mechanisation wherever possible. In California it appeared almost like shooting nails into the side of a wooden house and not hammering them. That does not seem very much in itself but the saving of time is remarkable.

Then the electric-mechanical hand-power tools can be used to do the work infinitely more extensively than we do to-day. One recently saw a man do the work of three with such a tool—three worked by hand and the one man with his electric hand-power tool kept pace with them easily. We must introduce tools of that nature into Great Britain much more extensively if we are to begin to get our work done at anything like the speed and price absolutely necessary to enable our huge housing drive to get under way. To get the most advantage research work must be continuous and not spasmodic. A remark was made by an hon. Member on the opposite side of the House about how much more speedily these houses could be built. Well, due to these mechanised efforts, standardisation, etc., houses of an exactly similar type to ours are being built in two-thirds of the time in other countries and they are better equipped with labour-saving devices, heat, cold and sound insulation as well, all in a way we have not attempted. By these modern advantages they are able to pay four times the amount per hour to the operative that we pay, and yet the cost of the finished house is only one and a half to one and three-quarters of the price we have to pay, and this only in housing; in industrial work, while still paying four times the hourly rate, the cubic cost of the finished building is just about the same. Surely, we ought to learn from those facts. These advantageous processes exist, are known elsewhere, so why not take advantage of them?

Our emergency houses and our Northolt houses are the result of much research, and are a very good result, too, but they are only prototypes. Like the prototypes of the planes and tanks, I believe they can be much improved by further investigation. We have made a good start, but we must not allow ourselves to be satisfied with what we have done. Also, all the information which is obtained from research and wide-range investigation must be made available to all the public and private authorities alike. We do not do this now. A number of our important universities are doing some most valuable research work but often no one knows anything about it unless a special application is made to the individual university in question. All such information should be gathered together by some central body, preferably the Ministry of Works, and then broadcast. It should be issued to the technical papers and also to the daily papers; there should be public lectures so as to let the public know about the possibilities as well as the technical people, and then the public will demand the use of what they know exists. If we are to follow up our building research work, it must be done on a much larger scale than it is possible to obtain by an expenditure of £20,000 a year—£1,000,000 or more would be desirable, for we are far behind—and it would be one of our best investments. By it we can save a tremendous amount of time and money. If we spend as much as £1,000,000 a year, I believe we can easily save on our total annual building bill in post-war years, once we get into full swing, anything up to £50,000 a year by cutting out the needless waste and speeding-up results.

There is another procedure I want to add to research. When we have done all the research, we should time-study that result and its application. I am sorry the Minister of Works is not here, because when he was in the Ministry of Supply he had a body of time-study experts, who looked after the filling factories, and it is no secret to-day that when those original filling factories were designed, they were designed for three shifts a day but, by having these time-study experts examine the work in detail, the factories did all the work in two shifts a day and produced more than the three shifts a day contemplated originally. We can do the same thing with our building industry; it has always been sheltered and never gained by competition as have other trades. No one ever attempted seriously in this country properly to time-study the industry, either a public or private authority. There was an attempt made at Watford which I watched, but it was of little or no value—a lot of young girls and boys trying to take down a few notes when they actually did not fully understand the intricacies of the industry they were trying to examine.

Photo of Mr Frederick Bellenger Mr Frederick Bellenger , Bassetlaw

Architectural students.

Photo of Mr Alfred Bossom Mr Alfred Bossom , Maidstone

We want the highest skilled experts for such a task in order to obtain valuable results, and the Government have done it in the Ministry of Supply. There are dozens of instances where it has been done with great advantage. The improvement in time, quality, and cost would, I am convinced, be well worth while if they could also apply in our housing work. We must make every effort we can in research and then time-study this and afterwards time-study the actual work in the construction of the building when that is being built.

There is one other point, and that is the question of building permits. We are, I am afraid, grotesquely out of line with the rest of the world in this regard. I have said this before in the House, but I am not sure if my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Health agrees with me, and I feel he does not see eye-to-eye with me in this, due to his answers to my many questions. Really we are not primitive, we are antediluvian in this matter. Our building permit system has grown up without any plan, system, or direction. It would almost seem that every Department that wants to have something to say about a building before it can be built can do so with remarkable results. I have taken the trouble to investigate how long it took to get a permit for a big building operation, whether a housing estate or a large building in our big cities in Great Britain previous to the war. I hope the Minister of Health will alter this condition when the war is over. I have found from several members of the Royal Institute of British Architects that the average time taken to get such plans and schemes approved was between six months and a year. It was announced in this House that when the rural cottages were being planned, no less than seven Ministers had a finger at this approving.

Photo of Mr Alfred Bossom Mr Alfred Bossom , Maidstone

It is happening at the present moment. I know of one case of a private individual who had a good small house which had no bathroom, w.c. or range. On the 5th of June this year an application was made to go ahead with these. Three different authorities gave permission, but on the 20th November, the last authority said "No." The proposed work would have made the place into a usable house; it took five months for the authorities to decide it could not be done. It is not desirable that such a condition should be allowed to continue when the war is over. I asked the Minister a question about it, whether he realised that other countries are doing this same work over which we take six months or a year in six weeks. He replied, and I think he said what he did by accident and did not really mean it, for what he said was: I do not think much of the suggestion that the same work could be done in six weeks under present conditions. …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th November, 1944; Vol. 404, c. 2124.] I have taken the trouble to check that and I could give my right hon. and learned Friend a list of towns where it is so done. In Scotland, the Dean of Guild do the permitting (approving) much more quickly than in England. In New York, Buffalo, Philadelphia, Washington, Dallas and New Orleans they give full permission in six weeks or less. If the Minister would look into it, he would be able to give us the advantage of his investigation. He may not be interested in this criticism of the time we take to do these things, or he may not think much of the suggestion, but if he would inquire of the Building Industries National Council, the Royal In- stitute of British Architects, the Federation of Building Trades Employers, the Federation of Building Trades Operatives, or any responsible building owners' association, he would, I believe, be almost disturbed by how they feel about this unnecessary waste of time.

Photo of Mr Valentine McEntee Mr Valentine McEntee , Walthamstow West

And the many local authorities.

Photo of Mr Alfred Bossom Mr Alfred Bossom , Maidstone

It is a purely practical suggestion to cut out a waste of time which we do not need to have.

I do not want to delay the House, because there are very many who want to speak, but I feel there are most important things before us. We must speed up in getting the houses ready and the way to do it, I think, is to cut out waste if we can and make all the investigations that are essential. As I have just said, if we do enough investigation and improve our system of building, as it is capable of being improved, we can save not only time but in our total annual building expense covering all types of building I sincerely believe we shall be able to save up to 50,000 a year once we are well under way again. I have figured it out fairly closely and I do not think this can be fairly disputed. That is quite a lot of money, and we cannot afford to waste it. I think we need one central authority to grant our permits. It is done by the Dean of Guild in Edinburgh. If they can do it there, why not in England? We know they do good work North of the Tweed, but we ought to do it South of the Thames as well. I would like to see one Minister handling the housing work certainly for the first two years and being entirely responsible. I know that some may disagree with me, but if you have a huge job to do as a great military campaign you must have one man to direct policy. For instance, we have one Eisenhower and not three Eisenhowers. I believe the nation will compel Parliament to have one Minister handling housing. The present scheme does not progress satisfactorily so why not have one Minister, right away? I wish the new Minister of Works the utmost success in his task, and I hope that he will insist on bringing the building industry into a condition in which it will be able to do the best for itself instead of being, as it is at present, in some respects much handicapped but by handicaps that can be removed.

4.1 p.m.

Mr. Bellenger -:

The Minister of Works did not satisfy the curiosity of my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) on why Lord Portal recently gave up the office which the right hon. Gentleman now occupies, but listening to the speeches made to-day, and estimating the temper of the House and the country, I believe that we are not so much concerned with what has happened in the past, as with what the new Minister will do in his present office. We shall judge him by results. It is true that the right hon. Gentleman did not prophesy to-day, as he did on a previous occasion in connection with another matter, but the Minister of Health has already done that for him. I understand that the Minister of Health recently said that the second-stage repairs of bomb damage would be completed by the early spring of next year. I am not a London Member, but for something like 25 years I have had practical experience, in a professional capacity, of dealing with house property in London, particularly small property, and I want to say to the Minister of Health, who has made a prophecy, and to the Minister of Works, who has not, that I and others with similar experience will be considerably surprised if those second-stage repairs are completed even by the late summer of next year.

I do not think that right hon. Gentlemen who sit in Government offices have any practical idea of the job facing the men who are, as it were, in the front line trenches. Who are they? For bomb damage repairs they are, in the main, the small jobbing builders. It is all very well to create tremendous organisations of large scale contractors to build Government ordnance factories, aerodromes and hostels—they may be able to do it efficiently, although it has taken some of them a long time to learn how to do the job—but in regard to small dwellings in London, which has one-sixth of the population of this country, and which, in relation to its size and population, is probably our most blitzed town, bomb damage can only be tackled efficiently, speedily and economically by small building contractors. I speak with knowledge of the borough of Kensington, in which I have operated professionally, as I have said, for 25 years, and I have been surprised to see, on numerous boards affixed to house property, the names of builders I have never heard of before, certainly not in London. These firms are being given contracts or jobs by local authorities without any regard to the efficiency of their work.

I make this allegation: that some of their work is scamped. I myself have had to go back, with whatever labour I could gather, and do over again certain work which has been carried out by large building contractors. It is no good the House shutting its eyes to facts which are known by building employers, surveyors and estate agents. I do not think we realise that most of the letting of property is done in London by estate agents, who have seen for themselves the great waste of labour. I will not say that it is the fault of the men, but the fact remains that men stand idle quite frequently. So would an army, if it had not officers to look after the men and give them directions. All sorts of people are put in charge of these men, people who are called foremen and who are paid as such, yet who have never had a foreman's experience. The big contractors often place anybody in charge without regard to whether he can handle men and material, and supervise the hundred and one little jobs which go to make up the repair of a damaged house.

The money for all this is being paid by every contributor to the War Damage Insurance scheme. I would like to know how much of the £35,000,000, which the Minister has said has been expended on war damage, is not for war damage at all, and will be charged to every householder who has to pay 2s. in the £ on his Schedule A Tax for five years. I say that this work could be done more economically and more speedily if we relied on small builders. Look at the present arrangements. I do not want to deal with the long-term housing plan, but I believe that there will be serious trouble in London if the houses which already exist are not repaired and converted. Thousands of flats or suites of rooms could be got ready by the end of the war. They are not being repaired because they are unoccupied. I control, through my office, 100 flats which could be made ready within a short time at far less cost than the money which is being spent on occupied properties. I could put people into them, if they were ready, to-morrow because, like many others, I have a long waiting list.

This is the position. The amount that can be spent on any house in one year, without a licence, is now £10. It used to be £100. For anything over that, one had to get the approval of the local authority, and then the Ministry of Works. What happens? I have put forward applications for permission to do work not greatly in excess of £10, and certainly under £50, and they have been ignored. There are stacks of applications at town halls for licences. If the Minister says that labour cannot be obtained I say that I can get it and so can many others, in a small way. There are hundreds of men who would be willing to give their spare time, perhaps at a week-end, to help to make flats ready for habitation. When I have approached my council they have said, "If you get a licence, where will you get the labour?" I have replied, "Leave that to me; that is my business not yours."

They have replied, "Oh, no, it is not. It is our business to know where you are going to get the labour." Yet the labour is controlled, because 87½ per cent. of every builder's staff now has to go into the pool, or under the direct control of the local authority for war damage repairs, and 12½ per cent. are allowed to be kept by the builder for what is called maintenance. Quite a lot of work could be done even with this very small supply of labour to put flats and houses—particularly flats, as I am speaking of London—into a habitable state. In Kensington there are scores of houses and flats which are derelict and which could be put into fairly good order for less than £50. Then people living in worse bombed flats and houses would be glad to move into them. They want to move into a place which is a little bit comfortable and they want a little distemper on the walls, but you cannot get licences for distempering walls, even for occupied houses, until after the end of the war. But I have seen workmen employed by the council doing outside painting, to window sashes, although ordinary private employers cannot get a licence to distemper the interior walls.

Photo of Mr George Hicks Mr George Hicks , Woolwich East

I am sure my hon. Friend does not want to mislead the House on any of these matters. With regard to the plea for the small builder, and the reduction of the licence from £100 to £10, while the licence was £100, plenty of people were getting third and fourth stage repairs when a large number of bombed-out people had not got first stage repairs. As the result of reducing the licence from £100 to £10, as I stated in my last speech in the House, in a fortnight an additional 14,000 men had been put into the pool to put roofs on, and keep out wind and weather to help those who had been bombed out.

Photo of Mr Frederick Bellenger Mr Frederick Bellenger , Bassetlaw

I quite agree. I am not denying that. My partner wrote to the Ministry and suggested this reduction to £10. What I am saying is that the local authorities should keep strict control on all building work done, but they should not prevent building work being done by the withholding of licences where someone can, by scraping the barrel, get together a few old crocks in the building trade who can do some work to unoccupied properties. At present it is practically impossible to get a licence to deal with unoccupied properties and they stand derelict, the local council refusing to requisition them because they are not in a good decorative condition or because they say they are not in a habitable state for tenants to go into. I think the local authorities are much too rigid in their application of the licensing system which has been given them by the regulation of the Ministry of Works. If only they would get the co-operation of these smaller builders it would be well worth their while and the country's while, because I am convinced that a great deal more work could be done by the small builders to put into habitable shape some of the places that are standing unoccupied and war damaged in smaller or greater degree.

On the question of materials, there is a shortage of the plaster material for plaster boards. The average small builder deals through a small builders' merchant and buys his material in comparatively small quantities. I am told, for example, by a builder whom I know very well that to get perhaps a yard of lime and hair, which is used as the ground work on laths for plaster walls, takes ten days. It is true that lime and hair are not used in the same quantity as plaster boards but, when plaster boards are put up, they have to be floated over with various forms of cement and it is very difficult even to get small quantities of this material to-day, and at any rate you have to go through a system of form filling which is almost intolerable at times. The Minister of Works says he is going to look into this distribution question of building material. It is high time because, although the big contractors may get their supplies, the smaller contractors have great difficulty in getting theirs. There has been an improvement in the system of drawing up specifications at the town hall of the work to be done by the small builders. It used to take sometimes two or three months to get them drawn up and they were then put out to competitive tender to two or three builders, a waste which I could never understand, because to-day there is practically no competition between builders in price, especially in relation to war damage. It has been reduced to such a fine art and you have to go into so many percentages that you almost have to be a senior wrangler to give the Commission the information that they want.

Although the local authorities should be either under the Minister of Works or the Minister of Health—I do not mind which—I do not think the local authorities can do the supervising and directing of the practical men who have to do the repairs unless they have much more efficient staffs than they have at present. Many men serving on these local authorities who are supposed to be supervising practical builders know less about the work than the small builder himself. He has served his time for many years, from a boy upwards from the lowest grade, dealing with every little thing that goes to make up the repair of a house. As soon as you put up a new house you can be certain that small repairs will soon be necessary. You have to augment your staff at the local town halls. Greater facilities should be given to the smaller builders to get more labour. By all means, when they get it, make sure that it goes through the town hall on to war damage work and that none goes astray on what I may call luxury work. We cannot tolerate that, but it would be quite easy to control it. Give the small builders more men rather than directing the supplies of labour that you are bringing to London to the big contractors. I think they would be much better used and you would get a greater volume of work if they were placed under men of practical experience. Lastly, I would suggest to the Minister that he instructs the local authorities not to be so rigid when applications are made for licences to do war damage work for more than £10. If he will do these three things, I think he will be able to improve the present situation, although I agree it is a problem which is not going to be solved in a short space of time. The Minister was right in saying that this problem is capable of no easy solution. It will be a very difficult one, but what the country feels is that there must be more vigour and energy displayed by the Government and the local authorities than has hitherto gone into dealing with this job of repairing war damaged properties in the large cities.

4.21 p.m.

Rear-Admiral Beamish -:

When I came to look at the list of Amendments on the Order Paper, I was not in any doubt as to what was incomparably the most important thing that this House has to consider on the Gracious Speech. It is housing. The next most important perhaps is the export trade. As has been said, if we do not export we shall expire, but if we do not house the people we can be sure that we shall never export, because we cannot get a discontented population to put their best efforts in anything they are called upon to do. Therefore, I attach immense importance, as I am sure the whole House does, to this great subject. I heartily agree with practically everything that was said by the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) and I was deeply impressed by the scientific approach to the question of the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. Bossom). It is by the scientific approach that we can work towards success. We have before us a most formidable task which, if it is not handled and faced with care, firmness and vision, will create the greatest unhappiness and grave discontent which will bring to nought every effort of reconstruction in this country.

I have a few questions to ask: I would like to ask what steps are being taken now to prevent and control the widespread selling of houses at grossly inflated prices. That is one of the steps towards discontent, judging from my correspondence. Also, what steps are being taken to prevent the letting of houses at very high rents, which almost invariably results in the eviction of the tenants? They write to me on that point, and I have not been able to give them any satisfaction. The other day the Minister of Health poured cold water on to a Question of mine. It was not perhaps intended to be cold water, but it was in fact. I asked him about the two-stage housing system. I cannot pretend to be an expert on it, but after such efforts as I have made to study it, it highly commends itself to me. I therefore ask the Minister of Health and the Minister of Works not merely to put it on one side and say it does not matter. The principle of the scheme is that the house is built on its permanent site, unlike the temporary bungalow, which spreads on to some other site and, at the end of 10 years, when the bungalow is worn out, it has to be moved before building can take place on the permanent site again. The scheme makes a strong appeal to me. A great deal has been written about it by expert people.

It is not possible to speak on housing without touching on controversy. I would like to know whether the Ministers and the Government and, I hope, the political parties in this House, have it in their minds to organise the building industry on a two-shift basis, and whether they have it in mind to combine, as far as possible, the civil engineering building industry with the normal building industry. I want to say what I feel about the two-shift system. I realise, as everybody does, that we are facing a grave situation and that, if we are not careful and if it is mishandled, we shall get into serious trouble and have civil commotion. Conditions might then arise in this country, as they are arising in European countries, in which the Government will have to take charge. Is not the situation in regard to the future of housing sufficiently serious for all parties to combine to deal with the problem? There must be sacrifice and understanding, and employers and workers must play the game.

Cannot we solve this problem by something like the two-shift system which has been such a wonderful success in the factories during the war? I know what the labour difficulties are connected with demobilization, trade union rules, and so on, but I believe that, if I addressed an audience of the building trade, I could convince them that for a year or two they would be doing a great national service by forgoing some of their rules. I cannot believe that it is impossible for painters, plasterers, tilers and bricklayers to be highly trained in a few months—I say three months. If as men became available from the Army, they were trained, it would help towards the two-shift system. I cannot help saying from such practical knowledge as I have that it is possible to train men, I would perhaps not say in plumbing or plastering, but certainly in other things, in a few months. It would be a great test for labour and for the Government, and I urge that those who are concerned shall not merely say that the people would not stand for it. I do not believe that to be true. Unless we face this tremendous problem, and unless the industries concerned, both employers and workers, are prepared to work together, we must look forward to trouble.

4.28 p.m.

Photo of Mr James Murray Mr James Murray , Spennymoor

I intervene in the Debate, not because I represent a bombed area or because I am a housing expert, but because I represent a division different from those that have been spoken about to-clay. My division has four townships, four urban areas and 29 villages. In those villages there are 12 mines producing coal, but only one of the mines has a pithead bath. We have two war factories which I hope will be continued after the war. If they are not, it will become like Spennymoor used to be. There is a factory some miles from Spennymoor which derives its labour from many of our men who were unemployed for years. During the August and November Recesses I made up my mind that I would look round my division. I spent my holidays touring the villages and the outposts of the division. I have no hesitation in saying that my constituents were very pleased to see me. They gave me a great welcome.

I thought that I knew the conditions under which my people lived. For 40 years I have played among them, worked with them, and attended their social functions, their religious services, their educational classes and political meetings. I honestly confess to this House that the bad conditions that I found in some of the houses occupied by people whom I represent were beyond even my comprehension. We are not suffering from a blitz by the enemy without; divisions like mine in the county of Durham are suffering from the enemy within. We have suffered for 40, 50 or 60 years from a terrible lingering disease, namely, industrialitis—cheap coal, increased profits, quick returns. For 90 per cent. of my constituents the kitchen still remains the living room, the dining room, the washhouse, the bakehouse and even the bathroom at nights after the door has been locked and the blind has been drawn. The bath tub still steams for father when he comes home from the pit and for mother after a hard day's work in the house. Those are the conditions in the Spennymoor Division. A very few minutes' walk from where I live I can go to two-roomed houses where women still give birth to children in the kitchen and where eight in a family live in two rooms, and all sleep in one bedroom, though they are of all ages from 14 years, boys and girls, downwards to two.

I need not remind this House that the mothers in my division are bitter, dissatisfied and disappointed. They ask me point-blank, pointing to the paper hanging from the walls, to the roofs where the rain was coming in, and to the beautiful furniture that they will not set against the wall because of the dampness: "Is this what my husband is fighting for?" Honestly, my heart ached for those people. For what do the mothers in my division ask? It is a very moderate request. They simply ask for a new house, a decent place to live in. Why, the cattle even have that, and they do not ask. One night I took a walk from my home, not very far away into a colliery village. There I found a father, mother, daughter of 25, married, and with a child of two, another daughter aged 20 and a son aged 22. They were all living and sleeping in one bedroom. In another house in the same street was a family with a T.B. child attending a clinic, and they were six people, all sleeping in one bedroom. The local authority in the division has for years pressed upon the colliery companies to improve housing conditions and the street conditions. The dirty, filthy old earth-closet is still in operation. The authority has pressed for water-carriage to be installed. With what result? How have these deputations and officials of the council been met?" If you press for these things, the economic position of the colliery is such that we will be bound to close the colliery," and so we have gone on over the years, with this kind of thing.

So to-day I say, without any hesitation, that the price that has been paid is tremendous. In the division we have sorrow, suffering and death. I want to remind the House that it is from places like this, from these dens, that we breed tuberculosis, that every sanatorium in Durham is full to-day, and has long waiting lists. How can it be otherwise? I unhesitatingly say that I would rather live in some of the modern piggeries that I have seen than in some of the houses in which my constituents are living to-day. I know that we have some bright spots and that it is not all dark. In Spennymoor there are 125 homes for aged miners, who receive free coal, free house and, in some cases, free light. They are practically the only people upon whom I called who did not want a new house. They were satisfied with their landlords. The only thing for which those tenants asked was a few more shillings on their pension in order to make ends meet. Their houses were bought and paid for out of the pockets of the miners. Some of those men had worked for 60 years in the mine without getting a penny of pension, but they were satisfied with their houses.

What is the position to-day, as I see it? In all the urban areas there are long waiting lists for houses. In the Crook and Willington urban district the first applicant on the list has been waiting for nearly 10 years for a house. They have 1,679 applications and they have 2,000 people returning from the Forces. I want to ask the House what is to be the position of those people when they return. It has many times been stated in this House that many Service people have never had a vote; I say that many of the people I visited have never had a house, never had a home of their own to live in. On many of my visits, I have found that many of them have never even seen their own child. The total number of condemned houses in the Crook and Willington area was over 848. In 1943, the Medical Officer of Health reported to the Council that he estimated the immediate future housing needs of the area to be not less than 2,500 houses.

In those depressing and terrible conditions, this Council made a very moderate request for 200 temporary bungalows. They were allocated 100, when they can can get them. I sincerely ask the Minister of Health, "What are these among so many?" It is really like feeding an elephant on monkey nuts. A similar situation operates in regard to the Spennymoor Urban Council. They think they have had a very harsh deal from the Minister of Health. They asked for an allocation of 100 temporary bungalows, but when I left home they had had no word at all from the Ministry of Health that they were to have any bungalows at all. In fact, they were informed by the Regional Officer at Newcastle that because they were below the 20,000 population mark, they were not to be considered. What a hope for those people in the Spennymoor township where 250 families are living at the present time in houses that have been condemned by the authorities themselves. They are considered as not habitable, which is the same as being condemned. They would have been condemned had it not been for the war. There are practically 1,000 people there. Yet they have been told, I understand, that they cannot have any Portal houses.

There are 588 applications for these particular bungalows, and the council have decided not to encourage people to make applications, because there is practically no hope of providing them with a house. Yet there are people in Spennymoor living in conditions like this: I went into one place where four people, a man and woman, one son aged 18 and a boy aged eight, were all living in one room with no cooking facilities, no water facilities. Yet when the authorities get in touch with the Ministry at Newcastle they are told there are no Portal homes for them. I have received a letter this morning and I would like to know from the Minister what is the basis of allocation. They are told by the Regional Office that there is no allocation for them. Now I get a letter this morning saying: "You will be glad to know we have been allocated 50." What happens to Crook? They get half of what they ask for. Spennymoor asks for 100. They get half of what they ask for. There are 2,000 houses that need replacing in Spennymoor township. What is applicable to Spennymoor regarding overcrowding and shortage of houses is also applicable to the other areas, in one of which I live. Brandon asks for 150. When I left home they had not been allocated any.

I do not know how the basis of allocation is worked out, because in the Brandon area at the last census there were over 22,000 people. Allowing for about 2,000 soldiers being away, I cannot understand why now we are told that if we have not 20,000 inhabitants we cannot have these houses. This is my own area, the one which I live in. I estimate that there are at present about 20,000 people at home, it may be a few less or just a few more. Why is it that Brandon is being left without any allocation? As I say, there was no allocation when I came away this week. They have asked for 150 Portal houses, or as many as the Ministry care to give them. They have the sites ready, the roads ready, sewerage in, everything ready for putting the houses down. I was in the rent collector's house on Monday night before I left. He showed me hundreds upon hundreds of applications. For 8½ years many people have been waiting for houses with no prospect of getting one. He told me that removals in the last five years have been six over the whole area.

I will not waste the time of the House, but I felt that some of these things ought to be said from the representative of a division like mine, because all that has been said to-day has, of course, and probably rightly, been really representing the problem of the bombed areas. I want this House to see that there are in constituencies like mine at least some people, decent people, who like to live in a decent house if they get the chance. I wish to remind the House that out of the applications that have been made in the various places which I have visited only 150 of these particular bungalows are to be allocated. What is that among about 75,000 people; what use is it? If some authorities are not to get an allocation why invite them to come to London and see the houses? Why waste time and public money by inviting them to London to see something in which they are not to be allowed to participate? It is just irritating those people. If some councils are left out it will create a bitternes and trouble that ought never to arise. If the numbers of these houses that are available are not sufficient to go round there is always the same way of dealing with that situation as under rationing, to let everyone have the same chance of some of the houses that are going. The men and women who want these new houses are bitter now. They know there is a shortage and their view is, Let every one of us share what there is.

The Prime Minister said in this House a very short time ago that we must tackle the housing problem as we have tackled the war. I say that we must convince the men and women outside this House that we are tackling this problem in that way. At the moment the people outside do not believe we are doing any such thing. Men are being turned out of the factories at the present time. They are being sent to the employment exchange, which means that their spending power is reduced by pounds a week. Following on that is a lack of confidence, for as soon as you take away a man's job he loses faith. Men and women are thinking very seriously, and are saying with conviction that this House is rushing headlong into the abyss of 1918.

It has been emphasised that what is needed is speed. I am sure that if any of us were living in houses such as I have described we would want some speed, we would want to know some reason why those responsible were not getting on with the job. I want to ask the Government if they will look at this question again, the question of placing every possible man on some work of making ready the sites and sewers, turning over to house construction machinery not required for war purposes. If the machinery now installed is no use we ought to take it out and install the machinery that is required for house construction, Let us do as we have done in the war, let cost be a secondary matter; if there is an obstacle in the way let it be removed. Houses are wanted, houses we must have, and we must have them as early as possible.

4.49 p.m.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore Lieut-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore , Ayr District of Burghs

I do not propose to follow the obviously sincere though emotional speech of the hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Murray) because the House knows, and the Government know, that we have all had similar experiences during the entire time we have represented our constituents in this House. The hon. Member is not the only one, I can assure him, whose cheek has blushed with shame as he has received letters from constituents, or visited them in their own homes. We have here before our tribunal, the Ministers responsible. We have had many attempts before, without any great success, to deal with this matter. Now we have a new Minister who has assumed great responsibilities, and has made commitments to this House. We can at last, with victory in sight, see that this job is tackled with a drive and energy which hitherto have been somewhat lacking. I should perhaps apologise, as a Scottish Member, for intervening in this very English Debate, but I was encouraged by the Speaker's decision this morning that Scottish Members were not entirely prohibited from intervening to-day, even though they might get another day allotted to them later. I had to try to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, if only to justify the warning that I gave to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health not long ago in this House. I said to him that the Government might well stand or fall by their capacity to deal with the housing problem. I was criticised for that somewhat dogmatic statement. I stand by it, and I re-affirm it. As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lewes (Rear-Admiral Beamish) said to-day, if there is, unhappily, any social unrest in this country after the war the housing shortage may well be the chief contributing factor. It lies not alone with the newly-appointed Minister of Works but with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health, who is such an urgent and sincere advocate of speedy housing, to see that as far as they are responsible, there shall be no danger of such unrest occurring.

I was glad to see that the Prime Minister had taken a hand in this matter, but I was not glad for long, because, as I listened, I found that he intended to preside only at intervals over what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Preston (Captain Cobb) described as this awkward squad—although I do not think that that is a fair description. I think that the squad is good enough given right direction and unified direction. There are too many Ministries with fingers in this pie of housing. That is one of the greatest difficulties in getting speedy achievements. We see some of the Ministers sitting in front of us, and there are others who are not present, They participate in the preparation of plans. One Minister who is absent is responsible, or should be responsible, for the location of industry. None of the plans for rehousing can be really developed until we know something about the location of industry. The houses must be near the work of the occupiers. The whole thing is so confused that, unless the Government reconsider the matter and have one unified directing head, I cannot see any prospect of success. We all know that the Prime Minister, quite rightly, regards victory as priority No. I, but, believe me, housing is a very close runner-up. I remember reading not long ago that much-mentioned Report of Sir John Boyd-Orr. In his recommendations on infantile mortality in Scotland, he took such a serious view of the situation that he urged, with all the vehemence at his command, that some immediate steps should be taken to provide temporary housing.

With what result were those appeals made to the Government? We have passed the Town and Country Planning Act. Well and good. We have been shown a number of prefabricated houses as models; and most of them are admirable. Lord Portal, to whom I would like to pay tribute for his energy, his tact, and his enthusiasm, which were never damped, has been dismissed. We have encouraged local authorities to make application for allocations. But, with all these preliminaries, we are no nearer getting the houses, judging by the statement of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Works, than we were when we started. For years we heard the excuse of shortage of labour and shortage of materials. That became a classic. In a previous housing Debate I mentioned that When the need arose both labour and material were found. I mentioned the case of the Americans suddenly descending upon us in their thousands, and overnight the airfields and camps were produced. Surely, there is an equally good case for providing houses for the men who produced those airfields and camps. We now have another excuse besides labour and materials—the necessity to house the bombed-out homeless first. Everyone who walks about London, who goes into the tubes or the big public shelters and sees all these unfortunate, white-faced, miserable people huddling there, will agree that the first claim on all labour and material must be to repair the bombed homes. But, surely, the Minister will take care to earmark these 13,000 men, to whom reference has been made, as they become free, for this job of making prefabricated temporary houses.

I believe that temporary housing is so much speedier than permanent housing that we should concentrate on it. But what will happen when permanent houses are built alongside the temporary houses? Are we to have duplicate roads, sanitation, and pumps? That would mean waste. It has not been explained whether permanent houses will be put on the same sites as the temporary houses, or whether the temporary houses will last until they become slums, and then be pulled down for the permanent houses to take their place. Comment has been made to-day, and in the public highways and byways, and also in the Press, on the slowness with which we are getting on with the repair of bombed premises. I believe that some of the criticism has been misleading and misguided. We are told that workmen are seen standing idle, playing cards, and spending most of their time at meals. But I have made inquiries of a number of contractors who are employing these men, and I am told that shortage of material is the chief factor, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Preston has said, and that very often these men, energetic and capable workmen, have thrown up their jobs in absolute frustration. The trouble is that we get a sense of resentment among the public, and of frustration among the workmen.

If that is due to inefficient local authority control—and some of the local authorities are very inefficient—the Government should make it clear that these local authorities are responsible. If the local authorities are responsible, what is the bottle-neck? Why is there this reluctance, apparently, to deal with the bombed houses? Let an explanation be given to the public so that undue and unfair criticism would not continue to be made. I know that my right hon. Friend is terribly keen on this business, but I wonder whether he knows all the facts of the situation. I have here a letter from a very progressive building company, and all they want is Government permission and the necessary materials for the construction of prefabricated houses. They say: All we ask is that the Government, through one of their own official research bodies, should give official information immediately on the various systems of house construction which they have examined, and have the materials canalised and allocated accordingly. That seems to me a pretty reasonable suggestion. Here is a good and well-tried firm, willing to help in prefabrication, whose work is known, accepted and appreciated, and I hope that the Minister will accept this letter from me afterwards. I am not giving the name of the firm, because I do not want to give them an advertisement, and because there are, no doubt, other firms, all of whom are waiting and only require official encouragement and help.

I want to express a certain amount of doubt about some of the remarks made by the Minister of Works. I think we have got rather confused views on the Government's policy. The Minister said, and it was referred to by the hon. Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George), that we would not be ready to embark on the erection of these temporary houses until the war in Europe is won. That was the impression I got.

Photo of Mr Henry Willink Mr Henry Willink , Croydon North

Only the pressed steel type of temporary house.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore Lieut-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore , Ayr District of Burghs

I am obliged to the Minister, and I accept that. I would, then, reinforce a suggestion that has been made that local authorities be dragged away from this belief that only large-scale contractors should be employed. It is easy for local authorities to employ people like Wimpey's or MacAlpine's, which saves them a lot of trouble in the effort to find small men. I have in my constituency a number of builders who have built very good houses, but who are now over age and not on any war work. They have undertaken to collect over-age labour, and, at any rate, ease the shortage that exists in their respective districts. I put that suggestion forward to the Ministers concerned, and what was the answer I got? "Tell them to get in touch with their local authority." I passed on that very unhelpful information, and the result was that nothing has been done, simply because the local authorities prefer to save themselves trouble, and get the big contractors to do the job.

There is one fear that is afflicting many people, and that is the direction of demobilisation in regard to the production of houses. Here, again, is a case where unified control and unified direction are absolutely essential. Whatever Minister is responsible for demobilisation, he must be in such close touch with the Service Departments that demobilisation follows the production of houses, and, I hope of jobs, and does not precede it. Otherwise we shall indeed have the social unrest to which I have referred. It would be far better for the Government to keep our troops on occupation duty in Europe, suitably housed, fed, and cared for, than bring them back to this country before we are ready to put them into decent homes. [Interruption.] Well, I think even to sacrifice the amenities of family life and relationships would be better than bringing them back to feel that they have been let down, as their fathers were let down before them. I am thinking of the country now, rather than of the individual.

There is one final point I want to make. That is in regard to certain local authorities. I do not want to appear too critical, but there are local authorities who are behindhand, or behindmind, in this matter. They are slow and unwilling to accept the responsibilities that modern conditions demand of them. I am talking now of the transfer of slum dwellers to housing schemes. I have often heard it said: "He, or she—usually she—is slum-minded, and will destroy the nicest house within three months." Apart from the consideration of who made them slum-minded and whether or not it was the rich industrialists of 100 years ago who insisted on creating the drab and dreary villages we now see, we, as a community, are responsible for the slum mind. I have seen experiments carried out by a local authority extending over a period of ten years. A complete slum area was evacuated from a particular town and the people put into a housing estate. During the first year, there was something like 40 per cent. disappointment. In other words, the new occupants did not act up to the hopes entertained of them. After a year and a half, that 40 per cent. had been reduced to 20 per cent., and, to-day, it is less than 5 per cent. In other words, by the educative value of maintaining them in decent houses, with little gardens and amenities around them, the slum mind was educated into a clean mind, and that local authority succeeded in doing something which, for generations, has not been tackled, because it was assumed that the slum mind remained permanent. There is no such thing as a permanent slum mind. All people need is to be given decent surroundings, plus the stimulating influence of the clean person and the flowers in the window of the next door neighbour's house and you gradually educate that mind in the community idea, as regards the people themselves and their children, and they will produce a better generation in the future.

I hope I have not been too critical of the Minister. I have not meant to be, but, if he feels as I do, I ask, Would he not consider the value of the encouragement to him and his colleagues if there were one directing head, to unify all the various sincere and honest efforts, so that no step will be omitted and the whole may be combined into the successful achievement, which this House and the country would like to see?

5.9 p.m.

Photo of Mr Francis Douglas Mr Francis Douglas , Battersea North

To-day's Debate has made it clear that hon. Members of all parties in this House are deeply concerned about the housing problem. Of all the domestic issues which confront us, there is none which is so urgent and so important for the well-being of our people. It ought not to be forgotten that it took the whole of the 20 years between the two wars, to relieve the housing situation sufficiently to justify the Government in removing control over rents from all except the lowest rented houses.

The situation which faces us now is far worse than that which arose at the end of the last war. We had already at the beginning of this war a residual of insanitary, dilapidated, worn-out houses which required to be demolished and replaced. We had the problem of overcrowding and to that has been added the cessation of building during the war. There are the wear and tear and the dilapidations which have taken place, worse than during the last war, because of the greater restriction on the employment of labour, the obtaining of paint and other materials to keep the houses in repair. In addition to that, there is the devastation caused by bombing. Particularly, I want to refer to the situation in the London region, which is one of extreme desperation. I do not think that the Ministers responsible realise what the position is. The population of London at the present moment is denuded by evacuation and because people have gone to industrial employment in other parts of the country or are enlisted in the Services. There are far fewer people to be accommodated than in normal times, and when demobilisation and industrial transference begin, the pressure upon accommodation is going to be extremely severe.

I do not accept the estimate which has been made by the Ministers that the second stage repairs are going to be completed by 1st April next year. London Members of Parliament some time ago saw Lord Woolton, who was designated by the War Cabinet to co-ordinate the matter, and Sir Malcolm Eve, the official who was entrusted with co-ordination on the official level. We were told, upon the basis of experience, that 800,000 or so houses which had suffered damage in the London area would receive second stage repairs by 1st April, and that it was hoped that, with more labour being directed to this purpose, the job would be completed sooner. I have had an estimate made by the responsible officers of the local authority of Battersea, part of which I represent, and their calculation was that upon the present supply of labour it will take, from a few days ago when this calculation was made, 50 weeks before the second stage repairs are completed—nearly a whole year. I made inquiries about the amount of labour which had been allocated to my borough and I was told that, if anything, it was above the average in proportion to the amount of damage which had been suffered.

If that is the case, it follows that, over the whole London region, the Ministers' estimates are false and that the public are being deceived. They are becoming extremely restive over this matter. There is nothing which is causing such deep and bitter complaint as the conditions under which people are having to live at the present moment. By fortunate chance the weather has so far been comparatively mild but the worst part of the winter has yet to come, and if it should be a severe winter, there will be most serious injury done to the life and health of our people. It is a ghastly prospect which lies before us if this repair work cannot be completed within less than 50 weeks or so from the present time. I do not get the feeling from the Ministers whom one meets with regard to these matters that there is a real sense of urgency about this question. I am disappointed after the interviews we had with Lord Woolton and Sir Malcolm Eve that the position does not appear to improve and that the period of completion is so long delayed.

I would like to say a few words with regard to the long-term part of the housing programme. The repair of war damage is not sufficient; it is a temporary expedient in order to tide us, to some extent, over the present difficulty, but after that there will remain a vast deficiency of accommodation. According to present estimates, the cost of building after the war is going to be 30, or 60 per cent. perhaps, above the pre-war level. The burdens upon the local authorities are going to be increased by all the multitudinous duties and the expansion which public policy has imposed upon them in education services, and town planning, particularly in those areas which have suffered from bombing and where, therefore, it is an imperative necessity that the rebuilding that takes place should be upon a better planned lay-out. The opportunity cannot be lost, but these districts are going to suffer the double burden of an excessive amount of expenditure upon housing and upon planning, with all the outlay in compensation or purchase of land which that involves.

The rates will go up, in some areas very considerably, and it is high time that, while we are thinking about the permanent housing problem, we should think not merely about the mechanics of it, but about the economics of it. Can we go on imposing, as we are doing at the present moment, a heavy burden of rates upon every house that is built and make them dearer for the tenants who live in them. There is support very frequently on the other side of the House for proposals for relieving industry of taxation. Here is an object which ought to be relieved of taxation. The alternative is that we go on subsidising the building of houses to a larger and larger extent out of the Exchequer and out of the local rates, with consequent discrimination between one class of tenant and another, those who get municipal houses and those who are condemned to occupy the worst houses which are provided by private enterprise. Subsidisation inevitably involves these discriminations, this choice of tenant.

It is time that we relieved houses from local rates, and at the same time we ought to deal with the other part of the problem—the price of land—which is the obstacle to all housing enterprise and replanning. We should at least put some of the burdens of rates upon site values so that we could eliminate at its source the speculation, which every one of us who has been engaged in local affairs knows holds up housing, requires the local authority to pay excessive prices and handicaps the operation of these proposals from the start. I beg the Ministers who are concerned with these matters, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is concerned with national finance, to consider what the economic position of housing in this country is going to be after the war.

5.20 p.m.

Photo of Commander Thomas Galbraith Commander Thomas Galbraith , Glasgow Pollok

There is one thing on which I think there is complete unanimity in every portion of the House to-day, and that is the urgent and vital need for more adequate housing for the people of our country. I am told that in the happy days before the last war there was, generally speaking, housing accommodation available for all, and I can say that in the city of Glasgow, where my constituency is, there were in 1914 no less than 19,000 empty houses. What a very different situation we face at the present time. We have been told on numerous occasions within the past two years by various Ministers that the housing requirements of England and Wales amount to between 3,000,000 and 4,000,000, and another half a million are required for Scotland. We have been told by the Minister of Health that these houses are required to replace the slums and houses which have fallen below the required standard, to provide a separate house for each family, and to eliminate overcrowding. Now that means, as the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) said—I am putting my figure a little higher than he did—that we really require now 4,000,000 houses if the people of the country are to be adequately housed.

That seems to me to confront our country with a stupendous task, but it is one which I think the Government have indicated that they intend to tackle with resolution, determination, and with all possible speed. They cannot move too fast in that direction because, as the hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Murray) told us a few moments ago, the conditions under which some of our fellow citizens live to-day almost beggar description. It seems to me that at one end of the scale you have married couples who cannot to-day find accommodation which enables them to reside together while, at the other end of the scale, you have the most serious over-crowding. I have had brought to my notice recently three cases: one, of a family of 15 persons—a mother and father, four daughters and nine sons whose ages range from 20 years to four months—living in a two-apartment house without any lavatory accommodation or other conveniences; another case was of 12 persons inhabiting a similar house; yet another where there is a family of nine people living in a single room. We cannot have a reasonably healthy nation under conditions such as these, and such cases, I would suggest, are by no means uncommon.

We require speed to relieve such conditions, but in the past speed has not been apparent, for two of these cases I have cited to the House have been known to the local authority for over seven years and nothing has been done. Why? Here I would like the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend. Why has nothing been done? Because the local authorities say they do not build houses which are large enough for these families and that, if they were to remove them into the largest type they provide, that would not relieve overcrowding as defined in the Housing Acts and the local authority would lose the subsidy. I request my right hon. and learned Friend, and I also request the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, to be good enough to look into this matter, to see if something cannot be done to relieve the housing conditions of large families throughout the country.

To obtain speed in the initial stages, the Government have introduced the temporary house, and I think that is altogether essential. They tell us that they will produce 2,500 a week, or 130,000 a year, and I do not see, in spite of what has been said this afternoon, how that could possibly be done in any other way. They are absolutely essential to bridge the gap until permanent houses can be provided. I have been informed by my local authority, however, that they are unable to state the number of temporary houses they will require until they know how many sites can be prepared, and they are not prepared to go ahead with temporary houses if they discover—or imagine they discover—that permanent houses can be provided in about the same time. Therefore, they want to know what labour and what material will be made available for the preparation of sites, and when it is to be made available. When they refer that question to the Minister of Labour, or to other Ministries, they do not receive any satisfactory answer, and they contend that while they are told by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland that labour is available, when they make application to the Ministry of Labour, they receive little or no result. I mention that case because it seems to me that it may be applicable to other local authorities than mine. So much for temporary houses. It seems to me that they are necessary but, from the point of view of my local authority at least, the situation is not too encouraging, and if we are to get speed—which after all is the main virtue of the temporary house—then it is apparent that there should be some greater measure of co-operation between the various Departments concerned.

Let me turn for one moment to the question of the permanent house. The Prime Minister has told us himself that the Government's programme is to give us between 200,000 and 300,000 houses, built or building, at the end of the second year after the defeat of Germany. What I would like to know is, by what means are these houses to be provided? I suggest that the Government should take the House fully into their confidence in that matter for, at the present moment, we really know very little of their intentions. We know the number of houses they intend to provide, and that sites are being acquired; we know that a subsidy is to be provided, though the amount has not yet been determined; but I think that the House has a right to be consulted on the means that will be employed for, if the Government's plan falls short of the country's expectations, then not only will the Government be held responsible but every hon. Member of this House, and I think rightly so, if we are to be satisfied with generalities on a matter of such vital importance. It is true that hon. Members who follow carefully Ministerial utterances may have received some indication of the Government's intentions from a speech made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Health in Oxford on 17th November, when he is reported to have used these words: However much we believe in private enterprise, most of the houses will be built by local authorities. I should very much like to know in detail exactly what my right hon. and learned Friend meant when he said that. If he meant that the local authority will themselves build the houses with their own labour, and will supervise their own building, then I am rather afraid that we shall be considerably disappointed at the speed of the operation, for it does not seem to me that they have yet sufficient experience in the handling of building labour and in the supervising of building operations to lead to speedy construction. I suggest to the House that the whole experience of building in the inter-war years proves that for, as has been mentioned before to-day, while the local authorities built 1,000,000 houses, free enterprise provided very nearly 3,000,000. In Scotland during the same period, where the local authority—due to our somewhat unfortunate rating system—is the only medium to whom the working man can look now for the provision of houses, they provided 220,000 houses; that, spread over the period, is an average of 11,000 houses a year. Therefore it seems to me that we are in this position: the country as a whole needs 4,000,000 houses and the inter-war average of house-building by the local authorities was 61,000. Unless that rate is to be very much improved upon, if it continues as it was then, it will take 65 years to make up the present deficit.

To take a slightly nearer view of the problem, in the first four years after the last war, 97,500 houses were produced. In the same period after this war, on the information we have had from the Prime Minister, we shall have built, or building, between 400,000 and 600,000 houses. To achieve that figure we shall have to do five times as well as we did after the last war, or, if it be left to the local authorities, and they continue the average which they had in the inter-war years, they will save to do 10 times as well as they did during that period. Nothing is impossible—I am aware of that—but I beg leave to doubt whether local authorities have the capacity to achieve such results. If it is the intention of the Government to entrust this enormous building programme to the local authorities, or their intention to give them first priority in regard to labour and materials, my fear is that we shall fall very far short of the target figure which has been indicated by the Prime Minister. Not only that, but I fear that free enterprise, which has done so much to provide houses for the working class in the past, will be out of the picture in that connection for all time. That, from my point of view, would be greatly to the detriment of the country as a whole. Free enterprise is essential, not only as a check on costs but also to provide a standard by which its work and that of the local authority can be judged, checked and compared.

The Prime Minister has suggested that this great problem should be undertaken as a military evolution. I want to suggest, with all deference, that what is really called for is a combined operation. So, I make the plea that every agency should be brought in—local authorities, housing associations, and, most of all, private builders, who have proved that they are capable of delivering the goods. I do not wish to suggest for one moment that it will be a simple matter to co-ordinate the activities of these various agencies, but I suggest it can be done, and ought to be done in the national interest. Adequate housing is essential if we are to increase the well-being and health of our people. If it is provided I am quite sure that many of the problems which seem difficult of solution to-day—ill-health, the continued spread of tuberculosis, intemperance and juvenile delinquency, to mention just a few—will fall into their proper perspective, and be found much more simple of solution than they appear at the present time. The speedy solution of the housing problem is fundamental to the future well-being of the country, and so I ask that to-day we might be told not only the number and type of houses the Government intend to construct, but how it is proposed that they should be provided, what agencies they intend to employ and how they intend to allocate labour and materials so that Members may be in a position to judge of the adequacy of their plans, not merely from appearance but on solid fact.

5.33 p.m.

Photo of Mr Reginald Manningham-Buller Mr Reginald Manningham-Buller , Daventry

I think that perhaps the most satisfactory part, of the speech made by the Minister of Works was his announcement that he was solely responsible for dealing with bomb damage, and for concerting all action in connection with the repair of bomb-damaged property. I welcome the view that there should be a Minister responsible for that matter to this House, but there is little point in making that change if the Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary, in a Debate of this kind, are absent for nearly three hours. I think this custom of Ministers not attending Debates which affect their Department is one which should be terminated at the earliest possible moment. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where are they?"] We have been told by the Prime Minister that the Minister of Health is the ambassador between the local authorities and the Ministry of Works on housing questions. Where is the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works? Where is the Minister himself? If they were here, I would say to them that we are not concerned or impressed by being told about the vast amount of money being spent on war damage repair or, indeed, by the numbers of men employed in London on that work. I feel that whatever the cost and the number may be what we want to be satisfied about is that the work is being done and is being done speedily. The words in the Gracious Speech: Progress will be made with the housing question, were comforting, but I want to be satisfied that everything possible is being done, and will be done in the future. It seems that there is no incentive to speed in the execution of bomb damage repair. One point has not been mentioned in the Debate so far, and that is that most of these repairs are executed on the cost plus basis. Well, we have had some experience with regard to cost plus in the building of militia camps, and when work is required to be done quickly that is a wrong sort of arrangement to make. I do not think it is impossible, with the materials known to be available, to formulate some form of contract with a penalty clause if the work is not done sufficiently speedily. This matter affects my division in a particular way. It has been fortunate in not sustaining much bomb damage. The people there not only have great sympathy with those who have suffered in London and other places which are experiencing delay in the execution of repairs, but they know full well that until those who have suffered bomb damage—who have and they think should have priority—are dealt with, their own housing situation cannot be remedied. So it is of vital interest to them that there should be no delay in dealing with this problem, for which the Minister of Works is solely responsible. In all parts of the country you will find the same situation. I listened with great interest to the hon. Member for Spenny- moor (Mr. Murray) speaking about conditions in his own constituency. The housing situation in parts of my constituency is also extremely acute. Married people who have been directed to employment there have been living as lodgers for years. Their employment will be permanent, and yet there is no provision for housing them after the war. They can have no hope of getting proper accommodation unless the housing problem in London is tackled with vigour.

Having heard the greater part of this Debate, I am not at all sure that it is not accurate to say: "The plans so far revealed are inadequate to meet the situation." I have read with interest a Resolution from the Labour Party Executive, which is to come before the Labour Party Conference next week. I understand that on that Executive there are the Deputy Prime Minister, the President of the Board of Trade, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport, and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Home Security. It is a novel spectacle, and one which is entirely unconstitutional, for Members of the Government to sponsor Resolutions, for consideration at a conference, which attack the Government.

Photo of Mr Charles Williams Mr Charles Williams , Torquay

I think the hon. Member is going outside the scope of this Debate.

Photo of Mr Reginald Manningham-Buller Mr Reginald Manningham-Buller , Daventry

I bow to your Ruling, Sir, but I was merely using that to show that I felt that I was not alone in expressing the view which I am now putting forward to the House.

Photo of Mr Charles Williams Mr Charles Williams , Torquay

All the more reason for not expressing it, lest we widen the Debate too much.

Photo of Mr Reginald Manningham-Buller Mr Reginald Manningham-Buller , Daventry

I did not intend to continue, Sir, after you called me to Order.

Photo of Mr Arthur Woodburn Mr Arthur Woodburn , Clackmannan and Eastern

In view of the fact that the hon. Member has discussed this, will it be in Order to remind him that there is sometimes a Conservative Conference held?

Photo of Mr Charles Williams Mr Charles Williams , Torquay

I do not think that is a point of Order.

Photo of Mr Reginald Manningham-Buller Mr Reginald Manningham-Buller , Daventry

One thing that impresses me is that there seems to be some idea that a different standard of housing should apply in rural areas. I thoroughly dislike what they call the Dudley rural type house. I thing the solution lies in erecting these prefabricated permanent houses or the wide fronted type shown at Northolt. I hope that, as time goes on, we shall hear less and less about these temporary houses made out of pressed steel. From what we have heard, it looks as if it will be a long time before they are dotted about, disfiguring the whole of the country.

There is another matter that applies particularly to the county part of which I represent, and that is the question of condemned houses. I am not in favour of lowering the housing standard but I am satisfied that in that county a great many houses have been condemned which ought not to have been, and it will be disastrous if our housing situation is accentuated in consequence of the mistakes that have been made in the past. I should like to quote from a book which has just been published and which we were told to read by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Town and County Planning in a recent Debate. It is a book called "Our Building Inheritance." It says: It is a most reprehensible practice which allows medical officers of health to condemn a structure and order its demolition when they have no architectural knowledge to enable them to pass judgment. It is true that the Ministry of Health has a architectural staff, but its existence is something of an anomaly, and it certainly cannot prevent the false diagnosis of buildings and their unjust sentence by the doctors. The County of Northampton presents a serious example of the losses to which absurdities lead. The historic town of Higham Ferrers and many another Northamptonshire village have been threatened with mutilation and the removal of well-built stone houses and cottages merely because the health authority cannot distinguish between good building and bad and is not sufficiently informed of the value, both practical and cultural, of a rural architecture that needs only judicious repair and modern equipment to meet all needs. It seems incredible that anyone can be so blind to what is excellent as to desire to obliterate the beautiful stone buildings of such a county and substitute what is generally so much worse. It is more incredible that we allow such misjudgment to have power and to impoverish us all. I have sent the Minister of Health photographs of no fewer than four reconditioned buildings which have been condemned. I have only had an opportunity of going over one of them myself, and I should be perfectly content to live there. I am absolutely satisfied that it would be healthy to live in. It is a building of about the 17th century, occupied by someone who has been bombed out of London. She spent £200 of her war damage money, and it is still condemned. There is no incentive for the repair of houses which are condemned. Methods have changed. A lot can be done now which was not practicable at the time when these houses were condemned. I would ask the Minister to press for a review of these condemned houses to see whether it is possible to recondition them and make them available for human occupation, and so lessen the housing problem which confronts us in that part of the country as in many others.

5.45 p.m.

Photo of Mr Andrew MacLaren Mr Andrew MacLaren , Stoke-on-Trent Burslem

I do not want to occupy much time because, coming in at the tail-end of the Debate, one is liable to repeat many arguments with which one agrees, and not to add very much to the solution of the problem. As I listened to the new Minister to-day the phrase was running through my mind, "Is your house built upon a rock, or upon the sands?" The right hon. Gentleman was doing his best to introduce himself in his new capacity. I wonder if he, a young man in politics, is fully seized of the enormity of the problem now facing the country. There is nothing more threatening to the stability of the State after the war than the housing problem. It is all very well to say, "Go to the Continent and fight for liberty, freedom and all the other things," if men are to come back from the fight to the slum and the congested area. Those are the things that breed what is called Communism, or Fascism, more readily than anything else I know.

What are we going to do about it? The appointment of a new Minister is the usual solution to problems. If you are in any difficulty, appoint a Commission. When the Commission reports, put it in the Library. The shelves in the Library groan under the weight of these voluminous Reports. I invite any hon. Member to go into the Library to look at the Reports of reconstruction committees after the last war. Who reads them now? I think I am the only one who does so, and I do it for archaeological reasons. What are we going to get now? What we have been having for the last two or three years. Research departments. Research for what? Something that will not be done. Town and country planning—research. Works and buildings—research. The Ministry of Health has been researching until it has become a by-word. What are they researching about? They want to find out the cause of bad housing. It is self-evident. There are three causes. The first is the difficulty of access to sites—I put it in that way—and the next is the rating system, which penalises you if you dare to build a house. When is this House going to wake up about it? When I listen to these Debates I wonder if I am in the House of Commons, or in some fantasy.

We have committed ourselves to legislation on education, a national health service, and half-a-dozen other schemes which will cast such rates on houses as will make housing an impossibility, and the Minister of Health knows it. He knows perfectly well that the rates to be levied on houses commensurate with the requirements of the new legislation are such that we cannot expect any working man or woman to pay the rent and the rates. The three causes, therefore, are land, rating and low wages. We have three or four Ministries dealing with housing, and not one of them has any power to deal with any of these three causes. We go on having fancy schemes about rehousing.

Look at where we are now. There are something like 300,000 building operators at our disposal at the moment. Half of them are now engaged in dealing with demolition in London. Remember there are Plymouth, Hull, Glasgow and other places which have been heavily bombed and which are really sympathetic towards London, but they are waiting until something is done in their areas also. The building operatives will be involved in damage repairs for the next two-and-a-half years. Supposing the war ends in that time—and I am not altogether optimistic about that—where is the building labour to set about temporary work? It is not here now, because we are compelled to use building labour on damage repairs. We are compelled to use brick-layers on these jobs. Great promises have been made to-day that the Government are going to do something about it without at the same time reckoning with the facts.

If I may deal for a moment with temporary building, I have been informed on the best authority that a certain group approached the Minister's predecessor and offered to put up something like 10,000 huts between the date of their offer, about four weeks ago, and Christmas, and they were turned down. I would like to know if that is true. The group was referred to by the Minister to-day. I refer to the Phoenix Group, which put up the quay-ways when they were sent over to France. The temporary hut which they devised was evolved as a result of their experience in sending these docks over to France. They brought this hut, which had stood the test of going over the Channel, before the Ministry of Works, and were promptly turned down. We must know where we are because we heard the Minister state to-day that the temporary huts would not come into production until next year.

Photo of Mr Henry Willink Mr Henry Willink , Croydon North

My right hon. Friend did not say anything of the kind. He said that the production of the steel type of temporary house would not come into production until the end of the war in Europe.

Photo of Mr Andrew MacLaren Mr Andrew MacLaren , Stoke-on-Trent Burslem

I stand corrected. Will there be temporary houses produced before Christmas?

Photo of Mr Duncan Sandys Mr Duncan Sandys , Lambeth Norwood

I think the hon. Member is confusing temporary houses and temporary huts. This group of contractors did first of all put up a scheme for the production of temporary huts, and, as I explained in my remarks this afternoon, we are now trying to bring them into the temporary housing programme instead of the huts, because we are not anxious to continue indefinitely the programme of huts. Housing is infinitely superior.

Photo of Mr Andrew MacLaren Mr Andrew MacLaren , Stoke-on-Trent Burslem

I have been through this hut and examined it. It is far from the ideal home that one would like to remain in under duress for four or five years, but it would be a God-send to thousands of people now. This group promised to produce 10,000 of these huts before Christmas, and they were turned down. I want to know if that is true, because that would have been a great help in bombed areas where people have nowhere to turn, with the hardest part of the winter facing them, for a roof over their heads.

When we come to what might be called temporary houses, we are again faced with the problem of building labour. I do not know how many builders we are going to bring back from the Army, but we want double the numbers we now have to make any effective start on temporary building. Far be it from me to ask women to do things that I would rather be the job of men. We have been experimenting on temporary houses in my constituency, and there is a lot that, women can do. I am referring in particular to what we call slab tile wall sections. It is a process in which you put tiles on a sort of tray pouring over a backing of foam-slag which gives you a wall section six feet by two feet. When it is taken off the tray it looks as if it were brickwork. These sections are hung on steel framework, and the outside shell of the house can be put up in a day and a half. These sections can be made by women labour. I have seen other houses which are highly commendable as temporary products. I cannot see how we are going to get the labour to deal with the speed of production that has been mentioned to-day unless we bring in female labour in many jobs which are not heavy. In fact, some are rather interesting.

With regard to permanent housing, the Government are aiming at an ideal system which most of us here will never see. When shall we begin the building of houses in this country at all? I do not know. The problems facing us are so enormous, and the urgency makes it still more impressive; the dangers that will come upon the State if something is not immediately done are so menacing that we shall have enough to concern us in this country for the next five or six years before we come to deal with permanent housing. I would ask the House—it is no good asking Ministers, because, after all, Ministers have accomplished the great political ideal of becoming Ministers, and that is their main concern—to realise that the problem of housing cannot be solved unless it is courageously faced by men who will have but little interest in the orthodox methods of the past, and who will deal dramatically or determinedly with the root problems that block the way to proper housing.

I repeat that we cannot possibly deal with permanent housing if we persist in our present rating system. It is making housing an impossibility. If the Govern- ment are really serious about this, if we mean what we say about housing and the necessity of housing, let us have the courage to deal with the causes that keep us in the present bad housing conditions. The rating system is doing it. It has been condemned time and time again by commission after commission. It is self-evident. The thing we want more vitally than anything else is housing, and yet we heavily penalise it by a taxation process which makes it an impossibility. An hon. Member for Glasgow spoke this afternoon from the other side of the House about families of 11 or 12 people living in Glasgow in two rooms. I know what that is. I was born outside Glasgow, and lived there in my childhood days, and it still hangs over my mind like some horrible memory. Those houses in Glasgow, with their serried storeys, their one-close entries, no bathrooms and no lavatory accommodation, still have people living in them, It is appalling. It is a standing disgrace. In passing, let me say that I often wondered what the men who live there have thought, when war has broken out and they have been asked to go from those foetid dens to defend their country.

It was that state of affairs in Glasgow, that very circumstance that in Glasgow we could boast of the finest slums in Europe, that more than 40 years ago made the Glasgow people arrive at a solution of this problem, a solution which England has not yet come to understand. We then saw in Glasgow that we could do nothing to expand the city and make it more beautiful, or to rehouse the people in Glasgow, while, even at that time, we had the deadening, tightening hand of speculators in operation in the city, and a rating system which made housing an impossibility. It was in Glasgow that we were able to proclaim, more than 40 years ago, that the royal road to rehousing was to abolish the rating system, put the rates on the site values, and so break down the land monopoly and enable the city to extend its outer perimeters. That was the conclusion arrived at and proclaimed 40 years ago. Now, the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Works, are sending abroad innocents called investigators, to find out what is the cause.

I have repeated the cause now. I hope that when a Member of this House speaks with a measure of real sincerity the Ministries will listen to what he says. It is no use a Member getting up in this House and making a speech, if it is merely to do no more than to have a record in HANSARD so that he can go home and show it to his wife on the following morning. Surely we are doing something more than that, when we enter into these discussions. The home is the tabernacle of the family. It is the home that makes the deepest impressions on the young mind, and that makes the man of the future. If the home is a foetid, bug-ridden place, depend upon it that the child's mind will have that impression for the rest of its life.

Can we pass through this country without realising this? Who is there, in this House, who is not ashamed when he comes into a London railway terminus? What do we see as we enter our main stations here in London? A Sahara of slums. Is there no pride left in the Englishman, and have Britishers no sense of dignity? Have we gone so far away from an instinctive feeling of pride in our own country that we are going to tolerate this much longer? Are vested interests so sacred that we must not touch them, and that, rather than touch them, we must set in motion an expensive process of alternative houses and new Ministries? I beg of this House, let Members turn their attention to this housing problem. It is one of the greatest problems facing this country, because it is more than a material problem. If it is not solved, it will decay the spirit of our people. Our people are worthy, much more worthy than most people, of the best houses we can provide for them. If we win victories on the battlefield and our people have to come back to this state of affairs, how true it will be to repeat the words of the Roman Gracchi who, speaking to the returned legionaries, said: "You have gone abroad, you have vanquished our enemies. You have now come back to the Imperial city with the trimmings of victory swinging on your banners—to return to cellars which even your horses would refuse to inhabit." Is that what we have to say to the heroes when they come back to this country?

I hope I am wrong, but I seem to get the impression that there is not much deep thinking but much superficial temper pervading our Fighting Forces and that they will certainly not tolerate what they tolerated after the last war. I appeal through you; Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to this House: For God's sake let us set aside personal career and ambition in this matter and look at the housing programme as a solemn project for raising not merely the bodies of our nation but for opening some fresh era, some highway, to a better soul and spirit for our people.

6.7 p.m.

Photo of Mr Daniel Lipson Mr Daniel Lipson , Cheltenham

I am sure that the whole House will have been thrilled by the eloquent appeal which has just been made, and will hope that it will not fall upon deaf Ministerial ears. If Government policy reflected my hon. Friend's belief and faith in the value of the home, this Debate would not have been necessary. Unfortunately, it does not, and the Debate has been only too necessary. Those affected by the housing shortage will be most concerned about the Ministerial statement which has been made to-day. We know who they are. They are the wives and dependants of the men in the Fighting Forces, men and women who have made that magnificent contribution to Britain's war effort of which we have read with pride in the recent White Paper. They are the men who have been discharged from the Services owing to ill health or those who will be demobilised in very large numbers, we hope, when the war in Europe is over. I feel that they will be very disappointed with the Ministerial statement. They will say that the more there is a change of Ministers the more the policy of the Government, which is the only thing that matters, remains the same.

The real purpose of the Debate was to make the Government go further than they went in the Gracious Speech in their undertaking with regard to housing. In that Speech the Government said that progress to deal with the housing shortage would take place after the war in Europe was over. Apparently, so far as concerns the pressed steel, temporary houses, that remains the Government's policy. I want to say how very sorry I was to hear my right hon. Friend stand by that position. I welcomed his appointment, as I recognised that he had on his side youth, energy and ability as well as a great opportunity, and I wanted him to make the most use of that opportunity. I say to him with all respect that if he is not careful his Ministry will be still-born. Everything depends on the stand he makes now. If the Minister really is alive to the urgency of the housing problem, as he suggested in his opening remarks, he will not be content to wait until the war in Europe is over for the production of temporary houses on a large scale to take place. If he waits—and a policy of indecision will undoubtedly be criticised—he will find it difficult once again to regain the confidence which the country is prepared to give him now.

The point at issue between the Government and those who want immediate action is this: We believe that at this stage of the war a real active policy to deal with the housing situation is part of the war effort, and must be regarded and treated as such. It is in that spirit that I would ask the Minister to approach this problem. The Government have never realised since the beginning of the war the importance of the housing problem. They never seemed to realise that a home was a prime necessity, they never appreciated the fact that even when war broke out there was a housing shortage. After five years of war, at a time when, on estimates which some people question as too low, the need is for 4,000,000 houses, there remains a complete embargo on new houses. I cannot think of any other prime necessity upon which there has been so complete an embargo since the war began as on house building. It is true that 3,000 houses have been built for agricultural workers, but what are 3,000 houses when the need is at least something like 4,000,000?

Photo of Mr Daniel Lipson Mr Daniel Lipson , Cheltenham

My hon. Friend says, "What houses." I shall not quarrel about the kind of houses that are put up to meet this immediate urgency. The important thing to anybody who knows the conditions under which very large numbers of people are living in damp basements, whole families crowded into one room, sometimes with a member of the family suffering from tuberculosis, is that there should be a house which can be a home, some kind of shelter. I have had an instance in my own constituency of a man discharged from the Army, suffering from tuberculosis, and he and his wife and four children live and sleep in one room. That is in an area which happily has not suffered very much from enemy attack. If conditions like that exist in my constituency how much more terrible they must be in other constituencies which started with worse conditions, and which have suffered more from enemy action.

Therefore I say that the Government should in practice regard the provision of housing accommodation as a matter of immediate urgency, and they should approach it in exactly the same way in which they approached all the emergencies that have arisen during the war. It must be approached and tackled by the same methods with which we faced the difficulties of 1940 and the succeeding war years. All obstructions of any kind must be ruthlessly swept aside. It has been said on all sides of the House during the course of the Debate that the urgent need is for houses, and that whatever difficulties exist should be removed. I take it that those on this side of the House, who, it may be argued, represent one kind of vested interest, will be prepared to see the particular interest with which they are concerned sacrificed. In the same way I understand that the appeal which is made from the other side, if it means anything at all, means that whatever trade union restrictions there may be on production should be surrendered for this emergency, just as they have been surrendered for other emergencies of the war.

I am very concerned as to what is likely to happen when the war in Europe is over, if the men come back from serving with no proper homes to which to go. What they want is a home of their own, and it is much more important to give them that than to go into great details about amenities and things of that kind, which are likely to postpone meeting this very urgent need. There will be a very great social problem to be dealt with so far as our fighting men are concerned. They have been away, many of them, from their wives for four years or more. When they come back relations will need to be readjusted. Husbands and wives have not only been living apart, but living under unusual conditions. Will it be possible for those relations to be properly adjusted if they are living in other people's houses, if they are living in lodgings, if a daughter-in-law has to share a kitchen with a mother-in-law? Is it going to make it easy? I am really concerned as to the effect on the nation as a whole of what will happen unless this housing problem is dealt with urgently. For a very large section of our people the dreadful housing conditions they have had to put up with, and for which they have had to pay a very heavy rent in a large number of instances, because these basements to which I have referred, these single rooms, very often cost in weekly rent more than a decent house, have been probably the greatest hardship of all in the course of the war. They have been extremely patient but I ask the Government, What are they waiting for? Are they going to wait until that patience is strained beyond the uttermost limit?

I would remind the Government that when the war in Europe is over it will still be necessary to maintain the national morale. The Government will have a very difficult task before them. There will be men who have been fighting for years in Africa, in Italy and in other parts of the Continent of Europe, who will be expected to go out to the Far East and wage another war under very frightening conditions for an indefinite period. Are we to ask these men to do that, and leave their wives and dependants continuing to live under the intolerable conditions in which many of them exist at present? I hope the Government will realise the immediate urgency of this problem. What is required is action now, and those who require the houses will not be satisfied with the statements that have been made to-day. They want an assurance that houses will be made available in large numbers in the near future.

It is all very well for the Government to say there are no redundant factories, and no men in the engineering industries who are redundant. Any of us who go to our constituencies, and mix with the men and with the employers and with the officials of the Ministry of Labour and the Man-Power Board, know that there are thousands of men who could be more usefully employed in the war effort by helping to deal with this housing problem. Our people have shown very great adaptability. Many of the men whose record in munition output has been extremely high had never had any previous experience. I believe that if an appeal were made to these men, if they were told that they were no longer required for work in the aircraft factories, but that there was another call for them, every bit as urgent, to make decent homes for the people who have helped to save this country and civilisation, they would respond. The sands of time are running out. I believe, in all sincerity, that if the Government wait until the end of the European war, they will be too late. I say, with all earnestness, that the most urgent need is for houses in large quantities now; and I pray the Government to take positive steps to ensure that the people who need them get them.

6.22 p.m.

Photo of Mr Henry Willink Mr Henry Willink , Croydon North

No one can doubt that the day which has been devoted to this all-important subject has been of the very greatest value. It has certainly been of the greatest advantage to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and myself, whom I may describe as the housing Ministers, and to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Works. I would like to say, on his behalf and with his authority, how much he appreciates the good wishes which have been extended to him in the vast field that he has undertaken; and I would like to say to him that there is no one in this House more genuine in extending those good wishes than myself.

The Debate was opened, in two most valuable speeches, by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Preston (Captain Cobb) and my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Mr. D. Scott). With regard to the seconder—and may I link with him my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller)?—I hope that they and the House will hold me excused if I say that most of their important points dealt with rural housing, and that these have been noted and will be dealt with in the Debate next Tuesday. A number of the points raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Preston I will mention in the course of these observations. I have left myself a comparatively short time, because I am the second Government speaker and I was anxious that enough time should be left for all the contributions which hon. Members fortunate enough to catch your eye, Sir, wished to make. I must deal with the matter, therefore, as speedily as I can. There are many points, particularly of a technical kind, which will be noted and looked into by the Ministry of Works. I shall spend most of the time available to me in the field which is my special responsibility, the work of the local authorities, and in the field of permanent housing, which, when all is said and done, is what most of us care most about.

May I say a few words about repair and war-time work? First, with regard to London repairs my hon. Friend the Member for North Battersea (Mr. Douglas), who I see is not in his place, was filled with gloom, as on other subjects was my hon. Friend the Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren). My hon. Friend the Member for North Battersea is really wrong in suggesting that the Ministers concerned with London repairs and those who advise them, know nothing about the matter. The most careful examination is made of the probable date of completion of these repairs. The winter target for second-stage repairs in the London region amounts to 719,000 houses. There are also about 80,000 very severely damaged houses which it would be a misuse of labour to undertake in the winter months, and they will be taken in the spring. Of those 719,000 well over 200,000 had been done by 1st December. We believe that in a number of boroughs the target will be reached before 31st March, but we do not wish to promise too much. We believe that it will all be accomplished by 31st March. As to my hon. Friend's gloomy prognostications, he is referring to his own borough of Battersea. I know what an admirable Borough Surveyor there is in Battersea, acting on the instructions of his Council. It is true that the work is not going on as fast as it might. That is because, in Battersea, all rooms in all houses are being repaired, instead of repairs being confined to essential rooms for those using or likely to use those houses. As a result, repairs are going forward with less than the average speed.

Photo of Mr Frederick Bellenger Mr Frederick Bellenger , Bassetlaw

What is the definition of second-stage repairs?

Photo of Mr Henry Willink Mr Henry Willink , Croydon North

It means repairs which are necessary to make houses reasonably comfortable for occupation.

Photo of Mr Robert Tasker Mr Robert Tasker , Holborn

What about the tens of thousands of houses which have been requisitioned and have remained empty for years?

Photo of Mr Henry Willink Mr Henry Willink , Croydon North

It is perfectly true that a suggestion put forward that a very large number of sub-standard houses, far below the standard of the temporary houses, could be made available this year was not considered a wise one to accept. It would have been impossible to prepare the sites for 10,000 such houses before this Christmas. Indeed, the preparation of sites for huts in most cases takes longer than the repair of houses. Our view was that this organisation would be more sensibly used in accelerating the production of temporary houses, particularly in view of the disappointment over the date at which the steel type can be produced. But there have been other forms of work done in this field. My hon. Friends the Member for Gravesend (Sir I. Albery) and the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) referred to the adaptation, or conversion, of large houses. I am glad to say that the central pool formed in this way is growing. Four hundred dwellings made by the conversion of large houses are practically ready for occupation, and some of the Western boroughs—Paddington, Kensington, Chelsea, St. Marylebone, and Westminster—have schemes which will amount to another 1,500 dwellings produced in this way. But there are strict limits to the extent to which you can produce additional dwellings made out of unoccupied houses, when there are hundreds of thousands of people needing work done on the houses which they occupy, May I add that since 22nd September no fewer than 12,319 premises have been requisitioned, including those requisitioned or taken over under requisition, from other Departments? It is very satisfactory to be able to say that from the War Department I have received 763 houses in the London region, and from the Royal Air Force 56. We are proceeding also with the requisitioning of a large number of large empty houses suitable for conversion, but, as I have said, there are strict limits to the number with which one can deal. We believe that we shall learn—and, indeed, we are learning—a good deal about the most economical and skilful way of doing conversions.

Photo of Mr Frederick Bellenger Mr Frederick Bellenger , Bassetlaw

There are already many converted which are not being touched.

Photo of Mr Henry Willink Mr Henry Willink , Croydon North

There are two other fields of war-time work which form part of our programme of house-building on which I should like to say something. On 7th November this year local authorities throughout the country were authorised, where labour was available, to rebuild destroyed council houses where the cost of the work did not exceed £1,500 per house, and, at the same time and in the same way, facilities were arranged for private owners who wished to rebuild their own houses within the same limit of cost. This will be, at present, only with immobile labour. The House knows how we have had to drain the country for mobile labour for London, and when it is suggested that little has been done, I think the Government is entitled to claim that building up a labour force of 129,000 instead of 21,000 when these attacks began, has been an achievement.

The second matter I would like to mention is this. We are most anxious—and this falls within the field of my right hon. Friend—that the training of apprentices shall proceed. On the same day, 7th November, local authorities received a circular describing a scheme for training apprentices on special building work with a view to the recruitment of further craftsmen to the industry. It is only at that apprenticeship age that one has the labour in full supply, and it is most necessary that it should be trained for the work. The intention is that the scheme should apply to the building by local authorities of new houses, new school buildings, community centres and so forth, as opportunity offers. I feel that the development of these, at this moment, is important.

On the matter of huts, I am afraid I cannot to-day add to what was said by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister as recently as last Thursday, with regard to the generous offer to provide emergency accommodation from the United States, beyond saying that we are in cable correspondence daily with the Mission which is in the United States already, and that the matter is proceeding hopefully and satisfactorily; but there are, of course, questions to settle on design and fitments before the arrangements can be completed. With regard to Sweden and the point mentioned by the hon. Lady the Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George) if it were possible, and I should be most happy if it were, to get some of these houses they would be within the field of permanent housing. I can say no more about that at the moment, but it is very much in our minds.

I shall now turn to the questions raised on the temporary houses. My right hon. Friend cannot be specific on the prospects of production. Is it likely that he could be, at the very height of the German war and with the Japanese war still before us. There is no reason to believe that the impossibility, by reason of munitions demand, of producing the steel houses before the defeat of Germany will itself reduce the total production of temporary houses during 1945. As the House knows, since the steel prototype was exhibited and inspected three other types have already been introduced, and of one of these, the Uni-Seco type, I am looking to see, and I have reason to expect, the arrival of 3,000 in the months of January, February and March for London. How wrong would it be to think that nothing was going to arrive except something put into production after the end of the German war. Further, as my right hon. Friend has said, he is exploring, in full consultation with myself, the possibilities of the Phoenix organisation.

The hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) will remember that, on an earlier occasion, he was most pessimistic about the possibility of finding sites for temporary houses in the London region, and I think I should tell the House something of how this matter of sites is going. The London area is, of course, the most difficult of all, and it was for that reason that I asked the assistance of the Minister of Town and Country Planning. I asked him to look at the London Region as a whole and say what land, whether it be to the extent of 3,000 acres or 5,000 acres, could best be used, forgetting for the moment everything about local authority boundaries. He has given me full information from the town planning point of view, about the most suitable land to be used in the London Region, and we are making good progress.

Some 27,000 temporary houses have already been allotted to the local authorities in the London Region, and I believe that they are asking for more. The London County Council and the Metropolitan Boroughs already have in view sites for between 7,000 and 8,000 houses, largely in the administrative county. And I believe that, all over the country, we shall be able to keep pace, in the acquisition and preparation of sites, with the production of the temporary houses and the production of their fitments. The local authorities have certainly seemed to want the temporary houses, for 94,423 have already been allotted to between 500 and 600 of the housing authorities in England and Wales. There are similar figures for Scotland.

As the matter was raised by the hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Murray), may I explain the principle on which this allocation is being made? There are technical reasons why it is desirable that, in the early stages, erection should be as little dispersed as possible; and, of course, the great bulk of the need is in the big towns, particularly those where there has been war damage. The fair allocations have therefore had to be made to places which could claim, on a population basis, at least 50 houses, which could be put up either on one site or on conveniently related sites. There has, of course, also been, wherever there has been war damage, an additional element in the allocation, a weighting for the loss of houses by war damage. I hope that it will be possible, in the second allocation, to make an allotment to the smaller authorities as well. I hope also—and I am considering this at the moment with my right hon Friend—that we may have some special arrangements for the rural districts, because I am most anxious that we should deal as fairly with the rural districts as with any other districts. The really important matter with regard to the temporary houses is that we should get a real correlation between the production of hulls and fitments and the acquisisition and preparation of sites, and my right hon. Friend and I, and our officers, are working in very close collaboration on this.

May I now turn to the permanent housing programme? There has been some confusion at times between the immediate housing need and the long-term housing programme. When I have referred to the immediate housing need, what I have had in mind and have sought to give an estimate of, is the number of houses which would be required here and now to meet the needs of the whole population, including those now serving in the Forces and in war work away from home, of those who would require a separate home; and it is that figure which in England and Wales we have put, and still put, at 1,000,000. We cannot, if we are to arrive at that figure, immediately raise our standards after five years of war and the cessation of building, but the figure is based on the standards of 1939. It is made up on an estimate of the number of additional families since 1939, making allowance alas, for casualties, and of losses caused by the destruction of houses, an allowance of 300,000 for empties, which is only the proper allowance—about three per cent.—to allow for mobility, and 100,000 which had actually been included before the war in confirmed slum clearance Orders on which no further action has been possible. That gives us the million.

I was interested to see in an Oxford pamphlet on home affairs by a lady bearing a name very distinguished in statistical circles, the name of Bowley, that the immediate need was put at a lower figure. But we cannot think that we can do better in the first two years after the defeat of Germany than the 500,000 to 600,000 houses which are included in the double programme of temporary and permanent houses. We have been making very considerable preparations to achieve those aims.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) asked who were going to build the permanent houses. Apparently I had misled him, and indeed I was somewhat misreported, or inadequately reported, on the occasion to which he referred. We do expect that the majority of the permanent houses built during the first two years will be built in local authority schemes but—as in the great majority of cases before the war—under contracts made with building contractors, both large and small—large are sometimes appropriate and so are small. We believe that a very substantial part of the 300,000 houses which are our target for the first two years ought to be houses which have qualified for a cost-of-works payment, that is, where houses of good quality have been destroyed by the enemy. There, too, will be a field for private building enterprise. In the third place, I certainly hope that private enterprise will make a start on general house-building. Conditions immediately after a war, when prices are very high, are peculiarly difficult for private enterprise, but I have in mind, as I am sure the whole House has in mind, that the great bulk of the houses which were built between the wars were built by private enterprise; and that was the reason why a predecessor of mine set up a sub-committee of his Central Housing Advisory Committee to study this very question of how private enterprise could most effectively contribute after the war. The report was unanimous. There were Members of all the principal parties upon it and their main theme was that the matter is so urgent that all agencies must be used.

When that report was published, in July of this year, I was able to announce at once that the Government had accepted the recommendation that Exchequer subsidies should be provided for houses built by private enterprise in the early post-war period. I am at the moment engaged in discussions with local authorities as to the subsidy needed for their houses, but I have good reason to believe that the leaders of the house-building industry are examining how best their activities can be fitted into the general picture I gave, in answer to a Parliamentary question of the conditions which must be laid down if they are to receive assistance from public funds. We must see that some of the abuses with regard to the private enterprise subsidy after the last war are not repeated. There must be limits with regard to the size of house that is built, and some control of the selection of tenants and the rents which are to be paid.

A question was raised in the course of the Debate on sites for private enterprise. It is a fact that private builders already own very substantial areas of developed land on which houses could be started without delay, and I do not think it possible, under the very great stress of preparing sites for the temporary houses and for the local authority programmes, that within the next few months, or really within any period which I could define, a labour allocation could be made to increase the area—which, as I have said, is very substantial—which private enterprise builders own and have already developed.

May I summarise the preparatory action which has been taken in partnership between the local authorities and my Department? We have obtained the best advice we could on three important aspects of the housing question—rural housing, private enterprise and the design of dwellings. May I say to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Preston that I am as aware as he is of the fact that between the wars there was too much monotony of size, too many three-bedroomed houses? He will find that point very fully recognised in "Housing Manual, 1944." As the outcome of the three reports I have mentioned "Housing Manual, 1944" was issued in September, and I would like to say, with regard to the Manual and to the Northolt experiment, that I regard the Duplex house, which was the product of the work of the sub-committee of which my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) is chairman, as having great possibilities. By means of it we may be able to add substantially to the numbers which I have mentioned. It is two for one for a short period. I should also like to say how glad I am to hear the appreciation expressed of the concrete-clad house which was built by Lord Portal at Northolt. I believe that at a fortunate time a real stride forward has been made in the matter of prefabricated permanent buildings and I am myself alive to the possibility that prefabricated permanent buildings will make a large contribution to the solution of our difficulties. My right hon. Friend and I are in constant touch on this very point. But even that prototype at Northholt was not a complete and finished product. I should, personally, prefer it in the form of cottages, and there are various improvements which must obviously be made. They are being looked into.

To continue with my summary. We have passed the necessary legislation to assure the local authorities that the houses they build for general needs will rank for subsidy. We shall bring in a further Bill to fix the amount of subsidy as soon as the representatives of the local authorities—with whom I am in consultation, as I have said—feel ready to discuss the matter. They have been assured that the subsidy, when agreed, will be retrospective and will apply to any houses built under schemes approved after July, 1944; and so there is no reason why there should be any delay. I agree with the local authorities that it is better to wait before we fix the figure.

We have authorised the acquisition of sites by local authorities and have suspended for that purpose the war-time ban on borrowing. Local authorities have acquired land for 230,000 houses: they are in process of acquiring land for another 300,000 houses. When we sent the Housing Manual to local authorities, we authorised them to submit their layouts—and how important layout is. They have submitted layouts for 72,000 houses. Sites for 20,000 houses are already developed; contracts for 30,000 more have been let. Tenders have been invited for 25,000 more house-sites, and negotiations are proceeding in respect of another 75,000. Local authorities have been asked to proceed on the basis, and in the hope, that a start may be made in the spring—by 1st April. We cannot tell whether that will be possible, but all preparations are being made on that basis. I am confident that the local authorities, 99½ per cent. of whom have submitted their programmes, are eager to make a start. Between the wars, they showed what they felt about housing by building a million houses, and I really do not share the gloom with regard to the possibility of building houses expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Burslem. I feel that at quite an early date our short-term programme will merge into the long-term programme—to meet the need for 3,000,000 to 4,000,000 houses in 10 to 12 years—a programme to be carried out at a rate something between 50 per cent. and 100 per cent. higher than the rate at which we were building immediately before the war.

It was felt that three Ministers speaking in this Debate would be inconvenient. I cannot answer specific points made by hon. Members from the other side of the Border, except, perhaps, just to give one or two bare facts which have been supplied to me by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. The target in Scotland is to have 20,000 permanent houses, built or building, at the end of the first year after the defeat of Germany, and 30,000 more at the end of the second year. That figure includes houses which will be provided by the Scottish Special Housing Association. Scotland will, of course, get also its full quota of temporary houses. In Scotland, the local authorities already own sufficient land for 56,000 houses, and are in process of acquiring sites for 35,500 more. All those sites in Scotland, as in England, have been approved from both the agricultural and the town planning point of view, and I should like to assure the House that the machinery whereby these two all-im- portant considerations are taken care of is working now with much greater rapidity and decisions are being arrived at very much more smoothly and satisfactorily in the regions without having to come to London every time. My right hon. Friend believes that, within the next six months, sites for 46,000 houses will be fully serviced with roads and sewers, ready for actual house-building to begin. He is more fortunate than we have been in England and Wales and it is, indeed, right that he should have been, because his need was greater; for since the war began, 35,000 houses have been completed in Scotland and 3,200 are at present under construction. Aplications made for temporary houses by Scottish local authorities amount to 54,000, and 33,000 have been allocated.

It is obvious that it is not for me to say anything about what some may consider or might describe, as the "Unitarian heresy" in the matter of the allocation of functions between Ministers. However, I would like to say just this on the present arrangement. Both my right hon. Friend the Minister of Works and I have very wide fields to cover. The Prime Minister very recently described the arrangement. At the head of the "Housing Squad" is the Minister of Reconstruction, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister promised that he would himself preside whenever he considered it desirable. That is not only a promise—it has already been fulfilled. We are making, I am confident, good progress. The local authorities, on whom we shall depend more than on any other agency, have experience and confidence, which, of course, they had not in 1919. They are eager, as I am, to give the word "go" and, when it is given, I believe they will be found to be ready.

Photo of Captain Edward Cobb Captain Edward Cobb , Preston

The Minister of Health has given us a very full and informative statement, and in the belief that this Debate has served an extremely useful purpose, I beg to ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question again proposed.

Ordered: "That the Debate be now adjourned."—[Mr. Beechman.]

Debate to be resumed To-morrow.