On one point I feel sure the whole House will agree with me, that I, in a short career, have never stood at this Box on so responsible an occasion. The people need houses, they need them as soon as possible, and it is up to the Government to leave no stone unturned to supply the maximum number of houses in the minimum period of time. This is just what we intend to do. But this period ahead of us is, it must be, and it must continue to be, a time of the greatest difficulty we have ever confronted in housing. We shall have had nearly six years of war in which housebuilding has been at a standstill—years during which damage has been grievous and widespread, years when housing conditions have steadily and inevitably deteriorated. We may reasonably hope soon to make a start on actual housebuilding and, in those circumstances, the House and the whole country are naturally most anxious to know what are the Government plans and intentions, and to put forward their own suggestions and their criticisms.
The Government fully recognise and share the deep concern about the housing situation and prospects which is felt in all parts of the House and of the country. We know only too well what this problem means, and is going to mean, in terms of hardship and discomfort. We are anxious to have the advantage of the criticism and assistance of the House. So it was, I think rightly, for the convenience of hon. Members that the Government issued on Tuesday a short paper which sets out, necessarily very briefly, the objectives of the Government's housing policy, the organisation for carrying it out, and the action that has been taken so far. Hon. Members, I know, will have studied that paper and I do not want to repeat what is in it. It deals mainly with what is our primary aim, to produce the largest practicable number of separate dwellings, separate homes, in the first two years after the end of the war in Europe. I hope hon. Members will agree with me that that period—a short time as we hope—and the two years that follow, provide sufficient material for this Debate.
Let me, however, make it quite clear right at the beginning that after these six years of total war, during which, in accordance with the wish of the whole nation, we have thrown everything into the war and are still throwing everything into the war to bring that to the end as soon as we can, there is bound to be a gap between the need for houses and our capacity to supply them. That is a plain, hard fact which I, at any rate, have frequently emphasised during the last two or three years, and I believe it is fully recognised by our people that that is a fact and I do not propose to depart from that principle of frankness to-day. We have many heavy handicaps. We have a number of compensating advantages compared with 1919. We have made no promises which I believe we shall be unable to fulfill. Paper plans and competitive estimates provide no roofs to cover people's heads, they only bring and disillusionment, and a programme beyond the capacity of the building industry would mean—as it meant in 1919 and 1920— far too many houses started and very few houses finished—and it might also mean again prices forced rapidly upwards and the programme downwards. That is what happened in 1921.
So it is most important, from every point of view, to realise what can not be done. It is even more important to decide what can be done. There must be a gap and the whole question is, I suggest, this: How quickly can that gap be narrowed? Surely the Government's estimates of what can be done during this emergency period should not be judged by the criterion of what would have to be done if all the needs were to be met, but in relation to the conditions which face us and the resources which will be available during the period of which I am speaking. The only fair test to apply to the Government's plans is this: is this the best possible programme of actual home building to be carried to completion in these two years —bearing in mind always the fact that for an uncertain part of those two years we shall still be engaged in a major war, a major war which must continue to have the first call on our resources; that there will be an intense shortage of building labour as well as a most serious shortage of housing; and that we have accumulated during these six years a vast amount of ordinary maintenance and repair as well as uncompleted war damage repair.
I submit that in these inescapable circumstances, the Government programme is, in fact, a tremendous commitment if we are to fulfil it—a programme of 220,000 houses, completed in the first two years after the defeat of Germany plus temporary houses plus repair of war damage. We can only achieve that if the utmost effort is forthcoming from everyone concerned, and it is for that reason that, as stated in the paper, the Government propose to treat these two years as a period of national emergency when emergency measures must be taken, and to give to the improvement of housing conditions the highest priority among all our civil needs. We shall have to make every effort to make use of every resource, we must use labour saving methods of construction, we must use standardised components, we must use labour and industrial capacity which is normally not thought of in connection with house building. The Government will provide subsidies for local authorities and for private enterprise, the Government must control the volume of contracts let in a way that was not done after the last war, the Government must control the private work—building and repair and decorative work done on private account —the Government must control the price of materials, standard components, and fittings for houses. However, allowing for all the drive, all the co-operation between the building industry and the ancillary trades, between the central Government and the local authorities, we do not believe, after the closest scrutiny, that we can put before the House a larger programme than this as capable of achievement. It is, I believe, properly examined, a vast programme in relation to the circumstances, and it will need all our skill, all our concentration to achieve it. There is a danger that as we look at the needs of the people—what we admit to be a pressing need for a million and a quarter homes, we may underrate the weight of the task to which the Government are now committed by this paper but, if we can do anything more, if we can build any houses more than this, the House can rely upon it that they will be built.
I should like to look back a little to the development of our plans, because I recall that when I came to the Ministry of Health 16 months ago, I found that there was an atmosphere of inquiry into a great many subjects concerned with this problem with which we are dealing today. The value of those inquiries has been very great. This is not the time to talk of the inquiry as to the standard of the houses that we would build after the war, but the Housing Manual for England and Wales, and the volume issued in Scotland, both set a fine standard for our post-war homes. There was another inquiry into the revival of private enterprise. There were, however, two inquiries going on at that time which are very relevant to what we are discussing to-day. The first was a very close examination of the prospective resources of the building industry during this period, and the second was an examination of methods of emergency housing which would economise in building labour when building labour was going to be so very short. The immediate consequences of the first of those inquiries was a statement that I myself made on 8th March, when the Government target for these two years was first announced—the target of 100,000 houses built, or in the course of construction, in the first year, and 200,000 in the second. The outcome of the second inquiry at lust about the same time, March or April of last year, was the first prototype of a temporary house.
Events have not stood still during the 12 months that followed. On one side of the picture, the prospect of increasing the labour force in the building industry has, for a variety of reasons set out in the White Paper, very substantially improved. It was thought that it would take two years to bring the industry up to a strength of 800,000 but it is now hoped to reach that figure in 12 months. That is a very substantial help. On the other side of the picture, our housing resources sustained very heavy losses indeed all last summer and autumn, and loss is still continuing. During the flying bomb period alone, 26,000 additional houses were totally destroyed and 56,000 made unin-habitable. Taking those two factors together—one favourable, the other most unhappy—we cannot alter the target that we fixed a year ago.
I shall deal first with the permanent housing, and there I Shall be mainly dealing, of course, with new construction. However, I could not paint the picture fairly to-day were I not to make some further reference to war damage. At the moment half the building craftsmen in this country are concentrated, and will have to be concentrated for some substantial time, in Greater London. I would like to say in passing that Greater London owes a great debt in this matter to the Minister of Labour who organised this great concentration of labour force. Now, by a great effort, in which the local authorities have played a magnificent part, the wonderful target of the repair of 719,000 houses is going to be achieved. That is clear. But it is repair to a. standard which is barely tolerable, and many of the most seriously damaged houses would take so long to repair that they have had to be left entirely untouched except to prevent deterioration. This work in Greater London must go on.
In the months immediately ahead we must reduce the great disparity between housing conditions in that area and those in the rest of the country. I believe that the provincial cities and towns, and the countryside, will benefit in the long run if we concentrate upon this in the weeks to come. Otherwise, even more drastic measures might have to be taken at a more distant date. I fully appreciate the special difficulties which the big cities are having in connection with the return to them of evacuees. They are now experiencing the strain for which London must prepare. It will be a very serious situation when the evacuees come back to London; it will inevitably cause great difficulties, and our policy must be, and is, to go on with the work of creating the maximum number of homes with tolerable comfort.
With regard to war damage, again, when we consider the programme for the first two years, we have to bear in mind that we shall not only be building new houses on new sites but that those whose houses have been destroyed by the enemy, and were of a standard which entitles the owner to a cost of works payment, and were of moderate size—during this period no large houses will be rebuilt—have a high claim to priority. It may well be that these houses will number 50,000.
I said that I would first speak of permanent houses, which are what we all most want to see. We justify, and, I think, rightly, the provision of other homes, sub-standard in size, by the fact that there will be very large numbers of what are called "small family units." We all think particularly of those coming back from the Fighting and Auxiliary Services and setting up homes for the first time, but we must never forget—and anyone with experience of housing will, I am sure, agree—that the needs of large families are also great and far more difficult to meet. For these families permanent houses, with adequate accommodation for their needs, must be built. The houses that are built will be good houses. So far as my own direct responsibilities are concerned, the Government's views and intentions are shown in our Housing Manual. The lay-out of housing estates will make proper allowance for buildings of community value in a way that was not done in housing estates which were built just after the last war. We have ensured this time that the houses are sited with full regard to the interests of agriculture and of good planning. But it is numbers that are the difficulty. With a building industry starting at one-third of its pre-war strength and, for the first year, averaging only one-half of its pre-war strength, we cannot increase the figure we have given.
I shall say something in a few moments about the relative contributions of the local housing authorities and private house-builders during this period. But first may I say a word about the conditions which will have to be fulfilled if we are to achieve our aim? The House will have observed that we have stated our aim with greater precision than before. There was some criticism of the vagueness of the phrase: "built or in course of construction." But we believe that, with good administration, by the end of the second year the production of houses should be on a balanced basis—220,000 should be completed, with the remaining 80,000 due for completion within three or four months. I would like to point out that this programme is more courageous than some well-informed people have considered possible. My hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) expressed the view last summer, at the time when much of this war damage had not been sustained, that if 200,000 houses were started—not finished—the Minister of Health would have done very well. I have also seen, in a book by a distinguished member of the Liberal Party, Sir Ernest Simon, who knows a great deal about these matters, that if the Government succeed, in the emergency period of two years, in building 150,000 permanent houses it will deserve gratitude and praise. Therefore, this programme cannot be called lacking in courage—
There are tens of thousands who have no homes, but I have no reason to believe that they are more competent to form an estimate of the number of houses that can be built than my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham. I was about to say a few words about the conditions which will have to be fulfilled if we are to achieve this target. I have mentioned the use of labour-saving methods, and I do not want to say much about them now, because they lie in the technical field which is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Works. But I think I should define to some extent what I mean. There are not only the methods of working on the site and the use of materials which call for the minimum amount of labour, but there is also the use of standardisation in fittings and components. With, perhaps, unusual firmness I have told local authorities that they will be expected to use, in their housing schemes, materials and fitments in accordance with the "Handbook of British Standards," prepared by the British Standards Institution, of which I sent them copies in December last. There is no doubt that by the reduction of varieties of, for instance, baths and chimney pots, one can get a considerable economy in labour. I doubt very much whether our production could get going in that period unless some such steps were taken.
No, Sir, I do not mean that, but I say that it would be more easy to produce five or seven different-sized baths than the 200 types which were produced in the pre-war period.
Now may I come to the question of the concentration of our labour on essential work? In my view, and in the view of the Government, at a time like this no other course will be either just or tolerable. That building labour should be- doing luxury work during this period would be utterly wrong. As the House will know, any building work which costs more than £100 requires a licence from the Ministry of Works, but during recent months, in order to get the maximum concentration of labour on war damage repairs in the London area, the licence figure was reduced from £100 to £10 first in the London Civil Defence Region and, more recently, over a considerable part of South-East England. After consultation with the representatives of the local authorities my right hon. Friend the Minister of Works delegated to them his responsibility for administration in the range of £10 to £100, and a very large building force indeed has been made available by that step. If we are to give the improvement of housing conditions the highest possible priority we must take all possible steps to make labour available, and the Government have accordingly decided to extend the reduction in that licensing figure—from £100 to £10—to the whole of the country, and, after consultation with representatives of local authorities, to delegate to them the responsibility for administration within that range in the same way as has already been done in London and South-East England. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is to discuss the matter with local authorities in Scotland next week. It is proposed that the order should be made operative from about 1st May, perhaps exactly 1st May—
It will apply as from 1st May, and will apply to all building work. As regards contracts already entered into, perhaps the hon. Member will leave that matter to be dealt with by the Minister of Works. I would like to say, with regard to this stiff measure, that the experience which has been gained in an area with a population of about 10,000,000 has shown what great assistance can be gained by delegating this responsibility to the local authorities. Many of them—there must be about 200 —have shouldered this responsibility with very great success, although it must have meant a great deal of additional work at a time when their staffs are very much depleted. I believe that local knowledge will be most valuable in seeing that building labour is put to the best use for the improvement of housing conditions, and nothing else, during this emergency period. It may be said that this will be a severe restriction on householders in the provinces, but it is a restriction which, with other inconveniences, and worse, has been borne with fortitude for some time by those who live in London and the South-East. I believe that its extension to the rest of the country is thoroughly justified.
I have been dealing with economy in building labour, and that leads me to the subject of permanent prefabricated houses. On this I want to be brief, because my right hon. Friend the Minister of Works will be dealing with it later, but I would like briefly to describe the position to the House. There is a most expert Committee on this subject, of which Sir George Burt is Chairman, and last year they recommended a number of methods as being suitable from a technical point of view. The process of experiment is being carried an important stage further, because during this year a number of these proved methods will be thoroughly tried out. Groups of houses, 50 or more in each, will be built by the Ministry of Works in co-operation with firms and local authorities, and on the basis of these experiments a judgment will be formed. It is only so that a judgment can be formed as to the saving of labour that is involved in the various systems.
Then, and only then, will it be possible to put large-scale production in hand. Each of these experiments will, moreover, make an appreciable addition to the supply of homes in the districts in which the experiments are going on. This matter is not entirely in the hands of a central department; my right hon. Friend does not wish that it should be. I have referred to the firms and the local authorities, and I am glad to say that a number of technical officers of the local authorities have been brought into consultation by the Minister of Works for the purpose of coming to a conclusion on the types to be adopted, and, a matter in which they are particularly experienced, of settling the plans of the houses that are to be built. The associations of local authorities and the London County Council have nominated architects and other responsible officers and my right hon. Friend and I are sure that great benefit will be secured from having their advice.
That is the sort of point on which the Minister directly responsible should reply. This is a subject of such immense range, and I am anxious not to take an unconscionable time, but I must say a word about the relative spheres of local authorities and private enterprise in this period of which I am speaking. On earlier occasions I have said, and I must say again, that I believe the great majority of the permanent houses during this period will be built by local housing authorities, most of them under contract with builders, large or small. The Government do not for one moment fail to appreciate the widespread desire for house ownership or its social advantages. Private enterprise was responsible for nearly three-quarters of the houses built between the wars, and will soon, I hope, be making a great contribution again. It is almost universally acknowledged to be essential that a start with private enterprise building should be made, not only on general principles, but because private enterprise builders own sites which are fully developed and on which building can proceed apace. In my view, there will be few, if any, areas in which it will not be eminently desirable that private house builders, including the small builders, should get their opportunity.
At a time when building costs are right out of line with other costs and with the general level of prices, and at a time when it is most urgently necessary that priority of need is fairly met—and it is, of course, only the local authority that can distribute this accommodation absolutely on a basis of relative need—the local authority will inevitably be our principal agency. We and the local authorities have made it our business this time to do in advance the preparatory work which last time had to be done after the Armistice. House building has been impossible, but the House will have observed from the White Paper that the local authorities already own land sufficient for 300,000 houses, that lay-out plans for 102,000 houses have been prepared, that sites for 26,000 houses are developed with roads and sewers, and that contracts have been made for the development of 56,000 more. For this work of development the highest possible priority, what is known as "headquarters' priority," a priority which overrides W.B.A. priority, has been given so as to make it possible for every housing authority to be ready to go to tender for a reasonable instalment of their first year's programme as soon as we can give them the word "go."
Before I leave permanent construction, I would like to say a word about a special use of building of permanent character in a way that will provide what I may call temporary accommodation, as opposed to temporary houses. Many hon. Members will recall that on the advice of a committee of which my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham was Chairman, the idea of dividing a two-storey house into two small fiats was put forward. I have been interested to observe that, although we only put out one suggestion on these lines, the idea has already commended itself to a number of local authorities. Three large county borough councils have already submitted plans based on this idea. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Works and I propose in the next few weeks to issue further type plans suggesting alternative and, I think, better methods for using the idea, which can be applied either to houses of traditional type or to houses of a pre-fabricated kind. When houses are short there is bound to be sharing of houses, and it seems to me that it is better to share houses where the sharing is organised and there is equipment for both parties in the house than to do it on the ordinary basis, The extent to which it will be done will depend on whether the need in particular areas is for large houses, or whether the need is less acute for large houses and an extra number of small houses will be better. It is very much a matter for each individual authority.
I come now to the programme of temporary houses, which the Government still believe to be essential as a supplement in this time of emergency, for this simple reason. The temporary house represents the one and only means of giving us this year a quite substantial increase in the number of separate homes, a supplement we cannot possibly omit if we are to make the maximum inroad into the shortage in the shortest possible time. The House will remember that on 26th September last my right hon. Friend the Minister of Production referred to three types in addition to the original steel type, the Uni-seco, the Arcon and the Tarran—these are apart from the houses that are coming from the United States of America, for which we cannot be too grateful and which will be of the greatest possible value.
It is expected that the first will arrive in May. Apart from the American house and an aluminium house which is now being approved, these three types will make the bulk of the production, though there are three other types which have also been approved. Full particulars have been made available of the Uni-seco, the Arcon and the Tarran. The trouble about comparison with the original project is that these are not as highly prefabricated as the steel houses, and large-scale production is difficult chiefly because of the amount of woodworking capacity required, for that capacity is needed for other purposes beside temporary houses. The average cost of the temporary houses is likely to exceed the target figure of £600 originally mentioned in connection with the steel houses. Up to now my right hon. Friend has hesitated to state what the average price is likely to be—very naturally, because the price of a factory-made article cannot be accurately estimated until factories are working on a fairly large scale and the technique of production has been worked out. In deciding upon the types which have been selected, the Government rejected any type, apart from the aluminium house, that seemed likely to exceed £800 over all, and it is confidently contemplated that the average will work out below that. Our experience with the Uni-seco house, which was first in the field, indicates that great improvement in man-hours on the site is secured after a short initial period. We have been forced to adopt types with a smaller measure of pre-fabrication but, of course, the primary object in the choice of any type—
Will the making of these temporary houses, of which I make no criticism, be confined to one firm, or will there be competitive tenders? Are there patent rights or anything like that associated with them?
Perhaps my hon. Friend will await a detailed answer on that from the Minister of Works. The great point with regard to the choice of a temporary house is, as in the whole of this matter, the saving of building labour. Experience up to now suggests that the temporary house, on the average, will take 700 site man-hours, which is about one-third of the site man-hours for building a house of traditional construction.
I think the House would like to know a little more than it has been told about the United States houses. It is a most generous contribution to our needs. It is a house of boo square feet, with approximately the same accommodation as in the English types. The design was modified in a most co-operative spirit as a result of the mission that went to the U.S. The house is more square than the English types, but this will not embarrass the local authorities in the preparation of their sites. That difference will be taken care of by the contractors for the Ministry of Works who deal with foundations.
The terms on which the local authorities let houses cannot be based on the pure chance of whether they are within convenient distance of a port, which may result in their receiving the American houses. I have discussed that fully with the local authorities.
There is no proposal for temporary houses from Canada. Then there is the aluminium house, about which I think the House will also want to be informed. I believe that it will be a valuable addition to the programme, for more than one reason. It is factory-made to a higher degree than any of these types, and, because of the cost of fabrication in the factories in this industry, it will, I am afraid, cost rather more than the other types. It may be about £900. But there are special reasons for which the Government feels justified none the less in adopting this type. It is necessary to bridge the gap in this industry between war-time production and peace-time arrangements and this is an industry which is vital for war and essential for peace production. That reason, combined with the great saving of labour on the site, has caused the Government to decide that it is desirable to meet the additional cost.
Now I come to a most important point. I have seen suggestions that the local authorities have been left in doubt of the Government's intentions as to temporary houses. Let me make it perfectly clear that there is no ground for any doubt whatever. One hundred and forty-five thousand temporary houses have been allocated to the local authorities, and that number at least will be produced. How many more will be produced will depend upon the rate at which we can assure ourselves of an expanded production of permanent houses. Whatever may be the ultimate total in excess of 145,000, I want to emphasise this with all the force I have. We must make possible this year the ordered progress of this programme—the programme which will make our first large-scale increase in the number of houses.
I want to refer particularly, because it is my responsibility, to the work of the local authorities in association with myself. What they have to do is to see that all these sites are ready for the erection of those 145,000 houses during 1945, and that means that each month during the year there must be a sufficient flow of sites handed over to the Ministry of Works for their part of the job. That will be quite essential if there is to be an uninterrupted flow from the factories and economical progress with laying the foundations. How far have we got? We have taken steps to make certain that sites can be obtained quickly—I fear roughly in some cases, but it is for the benefit of the many as opposed to the few. Sites for 40,000 of these houses have been acquired. But it is not only a question of acquisition. In some cases sites are ready developed—not in all, and roads and services will have to be provided. This is another field in which that highest priority of all has been given for the supply of labour. I have asked local authorities to make sure that they will start this preparation and development of sites not later than next month, so as to make sure that they get the full benefit of the summer weather. They not only have to acquire the sites but they will not be able to hand them over to the Ministry of Works for laying the foundations and delivering the houses until they have made their plans for the lay-outs and get the information they require with regard to the services. I appeal particularly—I am sure the appeal will be taken note of—to local authorities and public utility companies to do nothing which will hold up this part of the work. It could hold it up very seriously.
I come back, at the end, to the building of the permanent houses which, I am sure, are what we all of us really want.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Works will deal with that matter in due course. I am sure that an immense amount of delay is going to be saved by what we have done. I want now to direct attention to the question, When can the actual building of houses begin? That is the question we all put to ourselves. My Noble Friend the Minister of Reconstruction said a month ago in another place that he hoped, as we all hope, for the resumption of permanent house building on a limited scale during the course of the current year. I share that hope and I believe that nothing would give greater stimulus and encouragement to the country than the visible evidence of houses springing up in different parts of the country. The first instalment can be little more than a token, but I am taking steps to ensure that where prepared sites are already available, the preparations are completed down to the last detailed plan, so that tenders can be obtained without any delay for a number of houses within the reasonable compass of the building industry. This is with a view to building in the latter half of this year. In time of war any Minister, particularly the Minister of a civil Department, would be most irresponsible if he made any promise which the course of the war might falsify, and I shall make no promises. But I am setting myself a target and I shall be disappointed if before the end of July this year the contracts for a number of permanent houses have not been let by quite a number of local authorities.
I have described what our concern must be—how quickly can we bridge the gap? We shall not bridge the gap by speeches here. We shall not bridge the gap by legislation. We shall not bridge the gap by subsidies. There is a long and arduous task of building work, management and technical supervision before we can get the completed houses which alone are any good to the people who need them, and the Government intend to use all agencies and resources which can be made to serve in the building of houses. They intend to give to the production of houses the highest priority in civil requirements and to apply to this task during this period the concentration of effort which has been applied to the war. But it would be unfair to the country and to those who will have to carry out this work if we were to make promises which it is not possible for the combined efforts of the manufacturing and building industries to fulfil. That is why the Government do not intend to mislead the country by putting forward any target which they believe to be incapable of realisation. But at the same time, provided we appreciate the size and the difficulties of our task, there are grounds for sober confidence. We have the advantages that I have named. The local authorities and the building industry are keen to throw themselves whole-heartedly into this as soon as we can enable them to do so and we may reasonably look forward, by the end of this emergency period, to an expanded building industry capable of producing in the following years on a large and expanding scale which will enable any outstanding arrears to be overtaken very quickly. As soon as these arrears are overtaken, we shall turn to the continued improvement in the standard of housing on which we had embarked before the war and which means so much to the happiness, the comfort and the health of our people.
This is going to be one of the most important Debates that we have had on the home front since the war started. I think we have to take this matter very seriously, and I hope, if I am more than usually critical, that I shall not be regarded as wanting to destroy all our British institutions. I remember some years ago when the late Mr. Neville Chamberlain opened his Budget he talked about Bleak House. This is even bleaker. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has brought us little comfort and as for his White Paper, I really cannot see why we needed it, except that it saved some of us a little trouble in looking up earlier references. I have had something to do with asking for White Papers, but let it never be on my conscience I asked for this one. What is this White Paper? Chicken food for a hungry nation, like the right hon. and learned Gentleman's speech. It rather reminds me of the shop windows that we have now in areas which have been subjected to blitz and blast, where there is a lot of timber or plaster board round a very little shop window and very little inside the shop. I say in all seriousness that the time that has been wasted in the last three years is such that the situation is not recoverable in the next ten years. That is a serious statement to make, but I am prepared to do my best to prove it.
This problem has, with all respect to the great talent that sits on the Front Bench, been seriously mishandled. We cannot deal with a permanent building programme successfully unless we are prepared to face up to the control of the use of land. It is utterly impossible. We had the interim Report of the Uthwatt Committee in July, 1941, and the final Report in December, 1942. We have never discussed this problem in the House yet. I have said more than once—I said it when the Minister of Town and Country Planning was embarking on his Bill for another place—that we were putting the cart before the horse, that we cannot adequately carry out a housing programme until we settle the, question as to how we are going to use your land, and which land has to be used for which purpose. I feel sorry for local authorities. Goodness knows they have had enough trouble in war-time, and now they are perplexed. They cannot see ten years ahead. They cannot see five years ahead. The outlook for them is somewhat grim. They naturally would have liked to see this problem of the control and use of land faced and settled. I appreciate that hon. Members opposite and I could not very well agree on a programme about the control of the use of land. It is one of the creaks in the joints of the National Government, once this question of private property is touched. I must ask for an early discussion of this problem before we get more in a tangle with the building programme.
Let us look at what the problem is. When the war broke upon us we had heavy arrears of housing which we had not overtaken. We had an enormous number of very ancient houses, three-quarters of a century or a century old, built at a time when there were no building by-laws, no housing Acts, nothing except the greed of the employer to house as many people on a site as he could and we had not completed slum clearance. That was one side of the problem. For five or six years there have been no substantial repairs to shabby old houses which are now approaching a stage of complete decrepitude. There has been virtually a cessation of house building on any considerable scale. Since the war broke out there have been marriages and promises of marriages, and there will be a consequent demand for houses after the war is over. We are faced, as we were not faced in the last Great War, with the problem of the blitzed areas. Never in its history has this country faced such a gigantic domestic problem. It is, indeed, really much greater than I have outlined.
The White Paper does not help us very much. It is a thing of bits and pieces. It has no imagination and no vision, and it shows perplexity over the difficulties of the situation. I do not wish to minimise the difficulties. How do we stand in this building business? There is the Minister for Reconstruction who is, I gather, ostensibly responsible for the White Paper; he has some responsibility. There is my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Health, who has some responsibility. There is my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, who has housing responsibilities. There is my right hon. Friend the Minister of Works. There is now the President of the Board of Trade, who yesterday set up as a master builder in a Bill which will give him the right to build factories and houses. There is another master builder who recently appeared on the scene in the person of the Minister of Aircraft Production, with aluminium houses, and we must not forget the Minister of Supply, who is an important factor in the situation, nor indeed the Minister of Production, and, I would add, the Minister of Agriculture. There is nobody outside this list except old Uncle Torn Cobleigh. [Interruption.] My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy has retired hurt. In a broadcast a year ago, the Prime Minister used the term "military evolution"; you cannot do this with no generalissimo and no major-generals. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, when he speaks of dealing with this problem as a military evolution, ought to regard it as such.
When I was a Member of the Government I made a statement about a national development authority. We cannot run a war without planning. To give the most recent illustration, there was the Mulberry port which was planned over a long period and involved large numbers of people, and which was but one part of the preparation for a great operation which is now carrying us along the road to victory. I suggest that a national development authority, which would take over the thinking of the way to use the land, the purposes for which we are to use the land, the areas to which industry should be directed and so on, is absolutely essential if we are to get a proper supreme command with ultimate and final authority. I understood we were to have that. Apparently we have not got it. I would like also to see attached to that a national development board on housing, comprising all the Ministers concerned with houses and under the chairmanship of whoever was the chairman or Minister at the head of the national development authority. If we had had this, a great many of the mistakes and the alterations we have made might well have been avoided. I should have thought that whoever was in supreme charge of this problem ought to have sat almost day by day with people in the building industry, with people who manufacture the materials that go into houses—with the local authorities, manufacturers and builders all there. Only in that way can we come to some sort of reasonable policy.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Health has a great job to do. He is the agent for the customers, who are primarily the local authorities. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Works ought to be in the same relationship to the Ministry of Health as the Ministry of Supply and the Ministry of Aircraft Production are to the Service Departments. His Department ought to be the supply Department thinking in terms of bulk purchase or bulk manufacture and then of, bulk distribution. My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg (Mr. Quibell) asked whether the baths are to be all of one size. God forbid—his would be too wide for me and mine would be too long for him. The Minister was perfectly right when he said that at this stage one cannot put a price on these prefabricated buildings. The prototype may cost £2,000 or £3,000, but that is no indication of the ultimate cost. That will depend upon the scale of production. If we know how many cold-water systems, hot-water systems, baths, lavatories and so on are required for a planned scheme for five years, or whatever the period may be—so many millions of baths and of every component of houses that can be made on a mass scale —then we can have a policy that will assure continuity of employment over a period and at the same time substantially reduce the cost of buildings. I would like to see my right hon. Friend the Minister of Works charged with these heavy responsibilities. It would be a magnificent illustration of free enterprise in conjunction with co-operative effort on the part of the State, and that ought to satisfy both sides of the House. Whether it would or not, I do not know.
I was glad to hear my right hon. and learned Friend refer to priorities in building. I understand that in Stalingrad, now in ruins, they have their priority. I think it would be far too tough for us to accept. They are building, first of all, the administrative buildings. Over here it would be called bureaucracy if we started doing that in the ruined towns. Next they build basic factories, and lastly, they build houses. I am not going to quarrel with the U.S.S.R. about their order of priorities, but it is quite clear that we must have an order of priority in the building of houses, and I hope that houses will come first, followed rapidly by hospitals, clinics, schools, and so on; and I would put bank buildings, cinemas, lidos and luxury hotels very much down the list.
That question ought to be addressed to the President of the Board of Trade. It will be possible to get factories; if the need for them can be proved, of course we can get factories. What I urge is that there should be a planned programme on a big scale. If we are to build in the next two years or so the number of houses that my right hon. and learned Friend referred to, it means that we shall have to get an allocation of coal for the manufacture of windows, bricks, baths and all kinds of materials used in houses. It means that we shall have to procure the supply and transport of the necessary amount of timber from overseas. It will mean the supply of plaster board for ceilings and walls, and it will mean, I assume, an allocation of a supply of petrol for the transport of millions of tons of raw materials and all kinds of materials to sites. I understand that if 300,000 permanent houses are to be built to the Government's Burt Committee's standard size of 960 super-feet, and 145,000 to the Portal standard of 620 super-feet, this will require the manufacture of 762,000,000 feet of plaster board for ceilings alone. This will mean building up a supply of pulp and paper on a scale that is almost astronomical. It will also involve transport. One could go on giving illustrations of that kind.
What apparently we have not got is any definite policy of planned production for a planned programme. Nobody who has studied the matter will disagree with me when I say that to deal with a problem of this size means a planned programme on a very big scale, having regard to raw materials, manufactured materials and transport, before we can put men on a job of building a house, whether in a factory or on a site. My right hon. and learned Friend referred to various aspects of the programme. It is quite clear that the bomb-damaged areas must stand first. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Works will explain the figures regarding the repair of bomb damage; I hope he is keeping up with the V.2 damage that is being done from day to day. I have seen some of these repairs myself, and I think it is clear that in too many cases the repairs that are being done are not as good as plaster on houses. They will not last any length of time.
I am told, although I cannot vouch for this, that in the case of a double-fronted house, in which four families are temporarily living, when something was done to the house—a little plaster put on somewhere—it was called four repairs, because it affected four families. If that is so, the advisers of my right hon. and learned Friend are leading him up the garden, and leading us up the garden too. I have heard of another case. My right hon. and learned Friend talked about the £10 limit. I have heard of a widow woman who owned her own house, which was knocked about. Nothing could be done for her because the repairs would cost more than £10, and that made it impossible. If anybody had come along and said to a builder: "Have a go at this, but it will cost you more than £10," we should have had to get permission from someone somewhere in the local authority, and it would have come back to the Minister. I heard of another case. I am not asserting that these cases are true; I tell them as they have been reported to me. They are causing a great deal of perturbation among the people of London. The case of a house where there had been a lodger. The house was knocked about, and when it was repaired it was regarded as two houses. My right hon. and learned Friend referred to separate dwellings, but those are not separate dwellings. I am not satisfied, and I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will be able to reassure me, that immediate repairs, first-aid repairs, to blitzed houses are going as well as we have been led to believe. I hope also that the standard of repairs will be improved.
My right hon. and learned Friend referred to temporary dwellings. I do not call them temporary dwellings at this stage. They are shelters. Next winter a very large number of people in this country will need shelter. They are not like the people of Stalingrad, who can live in bomb holes. They are not so docile. This question of temporary buildings is most important. The Government's programme does not go up, it goes down. I was astonished to read that a Noble Lord, who happens to be a member of my party, speaking somewhere yesterday, said that the London County Council should have had 3,000 temporary houses by the end of this month bill they had now only about 20. That is not getting on. There is a place for temporary dwellings, and some of them may lead to a great deal of experience which may be of use in the building of permanent dwellings. I hope that we can at great length see the scale of the problem mentioned in the White Paper and referred to by my right hon. and learned Friend. Believe me, if this country runs into a situation where people have not even the roughest shelter over their heads next winter, after six years of war, there may be very grave social disturbances. I am not going to be an alarmist. I do not wish to be. It is the sort of thing I should hate to see happening; but we cannot train men to be commandos and paratroopers and expect them to behave like pussy-cats when they come home with a sense of grievance.
This is a very serious issue, and we must, therefore, press on with shelter upon the largest scale we can. The major problem of permanent houses still remains. I was to have said a word about the 30,000 American houses, for which we are grateful, but I am bound to say that I would rather have had the equivalent transport in timber boards for flooring. I really would. While I am on this matter let me say that one of the difficulties about timber is that the wood-turning and cutting machinery available is now at its maximum. If we are to turn and cut timber on the scale that we shall undoubtedly need, the wood-working machinery will not be there on the scale required. That is another point which needs consideration.
I appreciate the difficulty about building permanent houses, but I have seen houses not of traditional type which could be regarded as permanent. I hope we shall not get into a dispute between the pro-brick house advocates and the pro-fabricated house supporters. The building industry must take advantage of the scientific knowledge and experience now at its disposal. I put it no higher than that. I am convinced that in the coming months and years we shall need to use every type of house, although I hope we shall not go on multiplying them unnecessarily. I hope that my local authority friends will not mind my saying so, but I hope that local authority architects will not start finicking about, trying to make minor alterations upon a very good standard plan. It is clear to me that every agency that we can use during the next 10 years we shall have to use.
I have said something about the materials situation; the labour situation links up with what I have said, At the beginning of the war the building industry had a personnel of about 1,000,000. They now have about one-third of that number. Before the war a third of the total personnel of the building industry was employed on repairs and maintenance. When we consider the backwash and the leeway we shall have to make up we see that we shall be starting out with nothing, in a sense, for building. I hope that the Minister of Labour and other Ministers will do what they can to re-establish and reinforce the traditional building industry of the country, but it is clear that the labour supply now is such that if the labour used on other work and for war purposes, considering the skill it has attained, could be used for making the component parts of houses, it ought to be so employed.
That is not my problem, thank goodness. We shall have to build up a personnel to carry on the building of all kinds that will be necessary, and we shall undoutbedly be driven to using the labour of people whose skill now could be used for the building of parts of houses, whatever they may be. That is as far as I go. Of course, we must have labour-saving houses. The problem, apart from the materials, is to reduce the number of man-hours in house construction. That is the root problem. We need labour-saving houses also for the housewives. I pay tribute to private enter- prise firms who have shown conspicuous courage and imagination in the development of labour-saving houses and devices in housing.
Reference has been made to finance, which was so lightly dealt with by the Minister of Health. I appreciate that it is a somewhat difficult question, because the situation as regards the building of houses is far from having been stabilised and it is impossible to state what houses will cost; but that does not mean that there ought not rapidly to be some sort of understanding about finance. I would say boldly that bomb-damaged areas ought not to be regarded, merely because they have been unfortunate, as municipal bankrupts for the next half-century. Their position makes them as much a charge as any guns, aeroplanes, land or buildings or anything lost in the retreat from Dunkirk. In my view, the matter ought to be so treated. I see no reason for throwing upon those areas a charge which they could not in any circumstances bear while carrying out their other responsibilities.
About the temporary houses, I would like to see it definitely established that every temporary house belonged to the Government so long as it was in use, so that some could be moved from site to site and so that they could not be converted into permanent houses. There is something to be said for not making the temporary house too comfortable, but I would like to see it comfortable enough for a tolerable existence. I say that, knowing the danger there is that once the houses become tolerable people will become used to them. That would be unfortunate.
As regards permanent houses, we are still in the stage where it is very difficult for my right hon. and learned Friend, for the building industry or for the local authorities to forecast with any degree of certainty what building costs are likely to be and I submit that some arrangement ought to be reached now. It should be done on various assumptions. Assuming that building costs were X or Y or Z per cent. above those of 1939, we should arrange the proportion of the costs which should fall upon local authorities and the proportion. that should fall upon the State. The State can do a great deal by assuring to local authorities money at rates of interest which are equal to what gilt-edged securities would have yielded. A high rate of interest may make shillings a week difference to the rent of a house. There are local authorities who borrowed money after the last war at 6 and even 7 per cent., and they are staggering under a load of interest which has raised the rents of their houses. That is an effect to be avoided. I hope that the questions about finance may receive an answer before the Debate closes. I am sure that we are reasonable men and would not expect to commit the Government to details.
I said at the beginning that this had opened out into a gloomy Debate. It ill accords with the Prime Minister's broadcast of about a year ago, which in the still watches of the night suddenly emerged into the front of my mind. I have read it. Here was a statement of the most optimistic type. No blood and sweat and toil and tears about this. If time permitted I would like to read all that part of it dealing with housing. Hon. Members can look up "The Times" for 27th March, 1944, but I do propose to read some extracts. The Prime Minister said:
The second attack on the housing problem will be made by what are called the pre-fabricated or emergency houses. On this the Minister of Works, Lord Portal, is working wonders. I hope that we may make up to half a million of these, and for this purpose not only plans but actual preparations are being made during the war on a nation-wide scale. Factories are being assigned, the necessary set-up is being made ready, materials are being earmarked as far as possible, the most convenient sites will be chosen. The whole business is to be treated as a military evolution handled by the Government, with private industry harnessed to its service; and I have every hope and a firm resolve that several hundred thousand of our young men will be able to marry several hundred thousand young women"—
I hope he meant one each. It is unusually vague for the Prime Minister—
and make their own four-years' plan.
The Prime Minister continued, in regard to these emergency houses:
I have seen the full-sized model myself"—
that was the first one, and that was not a full-sized one because I saw that—
and steps are being taken to make sure that a good number of housewives have a chance of expressing their views about it. These honks will make a heavy demand upon the steel industry and will absorb in a great pleasure its overflow and expansion for war purposes. They are, in my opinion, far superior to the ordinary cottage as it exists to-day"—
This is bulk purchase and production on a scale to which I never thought the Prime Minister would agree—
Not only have they excellent baths, gas or electric kitchenettes, and refrigerators, but their walls carry fitted furniture—chests of drawers, hanging cupboards and tables—which to-day it would cost £80 to buy.
He goes on and on and on. "Oh where is my Portal now?" Where are these 500,000 Portals? They have gone. This is part of the waste there has been since the Portal house was "boosted" by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.
This is a situation which has become almost intolerable. Time has been wasted, progress has not been made during the last three years on the scale which this House is entitled to expect. I am not blaming the: Minister of Works. He has not been there very long, and I know he is doing his best. But after this long period of time we are now getting to within what may be months of the cessation of hostilities on a large scale in the West, when there will be substantial demobilisation, when there may be some change-over of industry which would mean the removal of people from where they have worked to where they are going to work, and we shall have a housing position in this country which is unparalleled in its history. I beg the Government and this House, in the interests of our stability of life after the war, in the interests of harmony inside this community, in the interests of justice to our people, to see that the Government proceed with all speed to this great task.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Health, who opened the Debate, expressed the hope that he would receive criticism and assistance from hon. Members who spoke in the Debate. He certainly had plenty of criticism from my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), who, I hope, will forgive me if I say I was rather disappointed with his speech. I had hoped that in view of his experience as Minister of Health before the war, and his experience as a member of the War Cabinet during the war, we should have had something more helpful and more constructive from him. I was hoping he would explain to the Government and the House what plans he would have put into operation, had he had the responsibility for drawing up a programme. The Minister of Health is obviously in no doubt at all about the very serious situation which confronts us in respect to the shortage of housing, but I do not believe that he or any other Member of the Government is conscious of how deeply the public mind is disturbed about this business, largely as a result of the conflicting statements which we get from this Minister or from that. The impression created in the public mind is, unquestionably, that the Government have no policy, Do plan which they are prepared to put into operation as soon as possible.
I have made. unfavourable comments before now on what the Prime Minister has described as the "housing squad". I have expressed the view that there were too many individuals in it, and I was unpleasantly surprised, as was my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield, that the House gave a Second Reading yesterday to a Bill which put one more finger in that pie, one more cook to spoil the broth. There is no getting away from the fact, which is a generally accepted view, not only in this House but in the country as well, that we shall never make any real progress until we have one Minister who is solely responsible for housing. There can be no getting away from that and I propose to return to the subject later. I share with my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield his sense of disappointment with this White Paper. I agree that it is on the whole a somewhat inadequate document, but it at least gives us a certain amount of information. It tells us that the short and midterm objective of the Government is the building of 750,000 houses to provide shelter for those people who have no separate dwelling, and a further 500,000 for slum clearance and the abolition of overcrowding, and that it is hoped that at the end of the second year 30,000 permanent houses will have been built. That will still leave us with a deficiency of 950,000 houses, a gap which has to be made up somehow.
The gap will be bridged to some extent by the erection of temporary dwellings of various kinds which the Minister of Health has described. There can be only a limited number of these dwellings erected, for various reasons. They are extremely expensive, they are extravagant, not only in the amount of space that they take up, but in their actual costs and, comparatively speaking, in the number of man-hours they take to erect. They provide sub-standard accommodation, and though one is bound to accept them as a temporary expedient, I hope we shall be able to do something a good deal better-than that very soon. That is where the prefabricated house, which has been invented by the engineering industry, seems to me to be a likely proposition to fill the Bill. I was disappointed to find, in view of what I believe to be the extremely important part the prefabricated house will play in our post-war housing programme, how little attention is paid to it in this White Paper—a few lines in one small paragraph.
I am given to understand that something like 1,000 of these prefabricated types have been submitted to the Minister of Works from time to time, some of them good, some of them quite impracticable. I have seen a few. As I have already told the House, I saw one extremely good type at Northolt among the Ministry of Works demonstration houses. I saw an extremely good one the other day at Datchet; I believe other hon. Members have seen it. I know the Minister of Works has, because one of the first things I was shown when I got there was a smiling photograph of the Minister. I understand that he expressed himself as very well satisfied with that particular house and I believe it has passed all the tests which have been imposed upon it. It had what I think is something quite unique and original, a central prefabricated plumbing unit which serves a pair of houses, and is made in the factory, taken along to the site in a lorry, and dropped into the middle of the house. There is no waste of time of a plumber and his mate going home to find the tools.
It struck me that this house is the kind of thing which will play an enormously important part in providing decent and adequate shelter for the people who need it. The attraction about that prefabricated house is that although the outer skin, which is made of prefabricated material, is not likely to last at the most, I understand, for more than 30 or 40 years, its frame and inside fittings will last as long as the inside of any house, and when the outside deteriorates it will be possible to replace it with normal brick, or stone, or other orthodox materials.
The White Paper tells us that the most promising of these prefabricated type will be put into large scale production as soon as practicable. That phrase "as soon as practicable" filled me, I confess, with the deepest gloom, because one knows that that does not represent speed. The time has surely come for the Minister of Works, or whatever Minister is responsible, to make up his mind now which are the types of houses suitable for this purpose, because I am told by the manufacturers that if they were given word to go ahead now, it would take them from six to nine months before they could get mass production really flowing. They have to get their jigs and tools and all the rest of it. I believe the only way in which we can get mass production of these prefabricated houses is for the Government to give a firm order to the manufacturers. I am convinced that free enterprise is the best and fairest system and that under private enterprise there is a great deal more progress than under State control.
I know that hon Members believe that, so far as housing is concerned, the present time and the next few years may be considered a period of emergency. Where an emergency exists you should use emergency methods. I believe that private enterprise, if it protests against a system of this kind, will only discredit itself, by showing that it is far too rigid to adjust itself to special circumstances. What these firms want, I understand, is a firm order from the Government, which will give the guarantee that they need, to go ahead. They will need priorities of materials, labour, and factory space. The sooner they can get that, the better for all concerned. I have no doubt, from what I hear from my friends on local authorities, that we shall have difficulty in persuading some of them to accept these houses. They are contrary to tradition, and a great many authorities will have to be forced to take them. I do not think that we should allow the predilections of local authorities to prevent this type of house being erected.
I want to speak about two-stage houses—the form of building which consists of putting up the ground floor first—making, in effect, a bungalow—and then, in later years, as the family grows, putting another storey on top of it. I have been told by the Minister of Health that this is not a practical proposition; but there was a series of articles in the "Engineer" last Autumn about it, which made a great impression on me, and my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg (Mr. Quibell), who is a practical builder, tells me that it is a sound proposition, well worth trying.
I propose to say a few words on rural housing, because of a case which has come to my notice in the last few days, affecting the village in which I live, in that very lovely part of West Sussex which lies just North of the Downs. The local authority there have recently been visited by what they describe as a bowler-hatted gentleman from Whitehall—I do not know which Department he came from. He took the clerk and the chairman of the rural district council to my village, and told them where it was proposed to erect houses—choosing, I need hardly say, the most unsuitable site in the neighbourhood, on a steep field, which overlooks the whole of the village. He said that it was proposed to start with something like 20, or 30, houses, and to increase the number later on. We have in the village eight or ten families who will need houses after the war. When the official was asked why so many houses were to be built, he replied that they would be needed by families in neighbouring villages, which the Ministry had decided had far better be allowed to become derelict. If it is the Government's intention to allow small straggling villages to go derelict, and to make out of the larger villages something in the nature of rural suburbs or garden cities, the Government's post-war housing programme will do a great deal to destroy the natural beauty of the country, and ought to be fought against. I have informed my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Health of this case, and I hope that he will look into it, and do what he can to stop it. This is one more example of the kind of thing that is inflicted on the country as a result of State control.
I was glad to hear what my right hon. and learned Friend had to say about private building. The White Paper gives the impression that the only activity which the Government envisage to start with is that of the local authority—in other words, that the local authority tenant is the only person whose interests are to be considered. I hope that I am wrong in that interpretation, because there are people in every walk of life who are badly in need of houses. I am not ask- ing for preference for any one class, but that every member of the community should have a square deal, on level terms. A great number of people will have the money to spend on housing as a result of thrift during the war, and their essential needs should be met, like the needs of those others who become tenants of local authorities. A private builder tells me that all his efforts to get a licence from the local authority have been turned down on the ground that his building is not essential. He builds the type of house a little larger than what is described as a working class cottage, for sale; but the local authority reject his application, obviously because they realise that if that application is granted he will be making demands on labour and material which the local authority want for themselves. I am distressed to discover from another case that private building sites which are about to be developed after the war—in one case it is a private site with all the services already provided—are being acquired by the local authorities for the erection of temporary houses. That, in the long run, will result in a smaller supply of houses than is needed.
So far, I have confined myself almost entirely to criticism. Now I want to acknowledge the excellent work which has been done in many respects by the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Works in the last few years. I do not agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) that that time has been entirely wasted. Surely anyone who has seen those demonstration houses at Northolt will agree that Lord Portal has, in effect, created a revolution in the internal equipment of houses. Those houses reach a standard of amenity, comfort, and convenience that the pre-war working housewife probably never dreamed of. The Ministry of Health, both during the time of my right hon. and learned Friend and before, have had a number of Committees, which have published extremely valuable reports on design of dwellings, private building; and a number of housing manuals, many of them, in my judgment, of immense value. It seems to me that the time has come for all that good preparatory work to be brought together, in order that a plan of operations can be undertaken.
I imagine that the key to the situation is the question of labour. It is very easy to simplify the position, but the progress of building will depend almost entirely on the supply of labour. I cannot believe that at this stage of the war it is impossible to find some labour from the munition factories. This applies particularly to the aircraft factories. I hear complaints on every side from men and women in these factories that they have not enough to do, and that they would welcome some job which would make them feel that they were earning their wages. The time has come to overhaul the labour position, and to see whether much more cannot be done, not only to get these people working on the production of building materials, both orthodox and prefabricated, but to withdraw men normally engaged in the building industry from munition factories, and allow them to go back to their own trades.
The White Paper does not give the impression that it is conscious of what an immensely urgent problem this is. It tells us, in the first few lines, that about six per cent. of the population in 1939 were living in overcrowded or slum conditions. Six per cent. does not sound a great deal, but that represents about 2,500,000 people, living in overcrowded or slum conditions. Those conditions have grown a great deal worse since the war began, not only through the normal deterioration of the houses, but as a result of bombing as well. I do not think it too extravagant an estimate that the number is now nearer 5,000,000 than 3,000,000. It is appalling to think that 5,000,000 of our fellow men and woman are living in those conditions. Also, our standard of scheduling for slums is a great deal too low. I was told at one time by the medical officer of health for London that when he was scheduling for slum clearance he drew the line where he did only because he had to draw it somewhere to make a practicable scheme which the London County Council could deal with. It is of the greatest importance that we should, as soon as possible, have a plan which can be put into operation at the earliest possible moment. That is not going to be done while we have this assortment of Ministers dealing with the matter.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield said that we wanted a commander-in-chief. That is what we do want. The preparatory work that has been done by the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Works has got all the necessary dumps and supplies ready behind the front line. Now we want a general officer commanding, who will draw up a strategic plan, and put it into operation at the earliest possible moment. I agree with my right hon. Friend that, unless something is done soon and done effectively, there will be a great deal of loss of confidence by the people in the Government, not only in their ability, but in their good intentions.
We have had from the Minister, as usual, a most interesting speech. It is one of many that have been delivered from the Front Bench over the last 18 months, but it does seem to me that we are almost in the same position to-day as we were when the first promises were made from that bench. I remember that, when it was first proposed that we should have the temporary houses, I had the privilege of taking part in the Debate and I stated then, as I do now, that, in my view, the greatest postwar problem will be that of finding a solution to the housing of the people. Though I, myself, like the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works, am an old bricklayer, and would, in consequence, prefer a permanent house, yet, in order to aid the solution of this problem, I, in common with my fellow hon. Members on this side, would take the Portal house, or a temporary house, though I dislike them very much. Indeed, I think there is no hon. Member on either side who really does like—even the best of them.
I myself have seen the Portal house, which has been improved, and I do not want to say a word of criticism against Lord Portal, because in very difficult circumstances he, at any rate, produced something better than we had had and did get a move on, rightly or wrongly. Had I to choose between living in a room with two children and taking a Portal house, I should have the Portal house every time, and I think we want to look at the position from that standpoint. The most tragic thing that we melt in our constituencies week by week, and I think it must be universal, is the case of the woman who comes to the local Member with the story that she has tried the local authorities-and everybody else for a house, and has met only with refusals. There is nothing more tragic than the situation of a woman who knows that her husband is coming home and that there is nowhere for them to live but in rooms in a house where they are not wanted. I think that those conditions are likely to cause the very trouble which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) mentioned, and, to that extent, each of us has not only the right to criticise but the duty to try to make some contribution towards the solution of that great problem.
The Minister said that one half of the building trade labour in this country was engaged in what he described as the bomb repair programme. I have no doubt that, numerically, that is so, but the fact is that they are not fully engaged in this work. I have made some inquiries about this subject, on which a strong speech was made by the hon. and gallant Member for Preston (Captain Cobb) who has just resumed his seat, respecting the misuse of labour. I contacted an old building contractor who went out of business, as many others did, in my own town, and he told me that it was nothing short of a scandal how labour was misused, in the sense that the men had not the material to work with, or got only a mere handful, which did not encourage them to work because they knew it would be used up in no time. The urgency of this problem of bomb damage repairs in London involves greater supervision. The poor old bricklayers come in for a good deal of criticism, but one of them told me that half his time had been wasted and the costs increased. I hope the Minister of Works will go into this. I know of one building trade employee who is in charge of the work at a certain place, but he is never there. He is 120 miles away, and I see him every week. He appointed a deputy, who occasionally visits the place, those visits being to pay wages. Both men are paid an overriding commission on the bomb repairs. Small wonder there is slow progress. The responsibility should be laid upon the man looking after that work of supervising the work and handling the materials. Instead of that, as I say that man is 120 miles away from where his men are working.
Yes, an overriding commission. There was another statement made by the Minister to-day that I think was received with general approval by the House. I am never against being the odd man out, and, if that is my position on this occasion, I know my hon. Friends will forgive me, but the point is about this £10 limit. If that is the maximum, the Minister is making the biggest mistake he could make. There are hundreds of houses in this country which, for five or six years, or even for longer than that, have had no repairs done to them. I know houses needing extensive repairs, where, indeed, the moulding round the walls would have to come down and all the wallpaper come off before the place could be made fit for a young couple to go into. How far will £10 go in a house in that condition? There are flats, I am informed, even in London, that are not at present occupied because the £10 limit is not sufficient to make them habitable. This is a policy of despair and it does not make sense, I think there should be some elasticity in the Regulation if, indeed, it is being deliberately applied. I will put my right hon. Friend in touch with my informant before the night is out, so that he can see how the Minister himself is the victim. I will give him the information.
Could I interrupt my hon. Friend? It seems to me that there is such a wide misapprehension on this point that I would not like it to pass. There is no question of clamping on a £10 limit beyond which no repairs can be carried out, Indeed, the only purpose of the £10 limit is to give the local authority power, within the range from £10 to £100, to decide which work is the more important. We are short of labour, and some work has to be done and other work left undone. In order to see that the most essential work is done, anything that is going to cost more than £10 has to be submitted to the local authority. It is a very cumbersome procedure, and we are doing what we can to ease it, but it is the only way in which we can get the essential work done first.
In other words, it is not a £I0 limit at all. It has been said that the greatest problem is labour. I am of the opinion that a very large amount of the building trade labour in this country is neither properly used nor properly mobilised at present. I know of some highly skilled men who are doing labouring work at a place where the employers do not know what to do with the men on the job. They would not be there in a lot of cases if it were not for E.P.T. We all know it, and we see that that is one of the worst results. The men are there now, and they were never there before, and, immediately this is over and their wages have to be paid by the firms concerned, a large number of them will be out. Then there are people who have been put out of business but have never been directed to any kind of work. I have said before, and I repeat, that the Ministry of Labour should be asked to ascertain where and on what work these men are engaged, and mobilise that labour so that we can get on with some of the building.
If the labour was properly mobilised, there would be no need to wait a long time before we could start on this problem of building. The bricks are available—enough to build 50,000 houses. There are raw materials such as gravel and sand, which have not to be imported. Clay is available in plenty. Why, in heaven's name, in addition to the various other methods of building, cannot we get on with building some brick houses in some parts of the country and use the temporary houses for the inaccessible parts, where it is not easy to build because you lose a lot of time carrying men backwards and forwards? The prefabricated houses, which are more fitting, will solve the problem in remote parts, and the others could be built in our county boroughs and urban districts. Why not get on with it and manufacture the bricks? Transport is a tremendous difficulty, yet if you want bricks to-day, they come from 60 miles away, while brickyards are idle on your own doorstep.
I know that the present Minister has an unpleasant job, and everybody wishes him well. Anybody who takes on his task, takes on an unpleasant job. But we want to help him, and I cannot see why the release of some labour should not be allowed for the manufacture of bricks. We have even got on with this job in my own county, backward in most things as we are. As regards the interesting speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield, I think he has been misinformed. I know he will forgive me for saying so because I have mentioned the matter to him. I am in favour of the traditional type of house, and I am sure there is an abundance of timber, not in this country perhaps, but in other countries, and it is timber which has been stored for a very long time. I am informed on good authority that there is plenty of this timber in other parts of the world. The one thing we want, so far as this timber is concerned, is shipping. The trouble is that we have an abundance of machinery for the manufacture of joinery which until now had not been used since the outbreak of war. I believe that the building trade, in the main, can solve the housing problem if they are given the bricks, the timber and the necessary labour. There would be more labour available if the powers were used to make it available.
The previous speaker mentioned the two-stage house. I took a copy of the plans of that house to the Minister some time ago. I believe it is the solution of the small planned house, and is infinitely superior to any of the temporary houses. In the first place, you can lay down your roads and sewers and other services in the traditional way. You then start to build a pair of semi-detached houses, taking them up to the first floor level, and the wall up further. You have one bedroom, a sitting room, a scullery, with modern appliances, and a bathroom, and for two people that is a permanent type of house, which may serve them for two or three years until more labour is available. The advantage is that you do not lose any money by it. You come back in two or three years' time and build three bedrooms and the bathroom upstairs. The stairs are got ready, and you take the bath and equipment from the downstairs bathroom, which is temporary. You do this without disturbing the tenant, the footpaths, the sewers or the roads. You lose no money and solve the problem much more cheaply than you can do it by any other house that can be built. The price would be somewhere under £500.
You can put on timber or make use of some of the other materials that are manufactured. You can put on additional concrete and asphalt, and the only thing you would lose would be the asphalt. You would lose nothing but the cost of removing the appliances of the bathroom temporarily provided on the ground floor. It is a practicable proposal and would save an enormous amount of money. Such a house would better satisfy the people than the temporary house. I would rather spend the amount of money that we shall have to spend on this problem, on the amenities of a district and in putting up permanent houses than on those abominations of temporary houses which are intended to last for 10 years but which will be there for 20 years, unless we take steps to see that they are destroyed.
I cannot for the life of me understand why the cost of materials should still be mounting. I was given a reason for it by a representative of the combine of cement manufacturers. The price has gone up by 6s. a ton quite recently. The reason given for it is that there are so many men out of business, and so little demand that the manufacturers have to increase the price. Aerodromes and big factories and all the rest of the buildings are being completed and yet the demand for cement has gone down to such an extent that they have to increase the price, making the small man pay such a price as almost, to put him out of business. They have not quite succeeded in doing that yet, but I do not think that 'anyone could justify that increase of price. I hope that the Minister is looking into the question of the control of prices of cement, timber and all the rest of it. I believe it is very largely in that direction that we can solve some of the problems.
I hope that everybody is not going to think that we are just going to build the council house. If people want a bigger house I cannot see why they should not have one. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear hear."] Then, we are all agreed upon that. The best kind of house is good enough for me. I hope that the Ministry will not have too many of these temporary houses, but will remember that there are such things as brick houses, and particularly foam-slag houses and other methods of supplementing the work of the bricklayer. I hope that the Government will go slow on temporary houses, and will go in for permanent houses and use some of the unskilled labour and also trained labour to build houses with the kind of material that is available. It would be the solution of the most vital problem that confronts us in this country to-day.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg (Mr. Quibell) said that the housing problem was so very serious that anyone who took part in the Debate should not only be critical but constructive. He was very constructive from the point of view of his vast technical knowledge. I do not pretend to possess the technical knowledge, but I hope that I can be constructive from another point of view. The housing problem, as has been said, is the greatest problem with which we Shall be faced in the post-war years. It is capable of producing a most serious social and political crisis in this country. I find, on reading the White Paper, that there seems to be some discrepancy in the figures given to us from the Government Benches from time to time as to the extent of the gap between the number of houses available and the families available to fill them. I go back to 1st December, 1943, when the Minister of Health said that 1,500,000 new houses were required in order to provide each family with a separate dwelling and so eliminate over- crowding. Since that time we have had many months of "doodle-bugs" and V-2s, and many more houses have 'been destroyed, and yet it seems that the more houses that are destroyed the fewer we seem to need in the end.
The White Paper which was issued on Tuesday says that only 750,000 houses are required in the immediate future to provide every family with a separate dwelling. This is rather an important point and I want to try to analyse the situation, in order to discover which figure is right; whether 1,500,000 houses are needed to deal with overcrowding now, or 750,000. I accept the fact that the difference between the total number of houses in this country, and the total number of families is roughly 750,000, but that is not the measure of the number of houses required to provide each family with a separate dwelling in this country. The shortage of houses, the overcrowding and the whole pressure of this terrible problem are going to be borne mainly by the working classes. The total number of houses in this country is made up, not only by working-class houses but by bigger and better houses as well. If these bigger and better houses are to be provided, the working class cannot afford to pay the rents for them.
We had the situation between the two wars that, of the new houses that were built, the greater part were used for rehousing the middle class. "The Economist" said a few weeks ago that, between the two wars, the middle classes of the country were almost completely rehoused, whereas the truth is that since the beginning of the industrial revolution, we have not built enough working-class houses to keep up with working-class needs. At the end of the last war middle-class houses were 2.4 million, yet 1.8 million of that type of house were built between the two wars, an increase of 75 per cent. The working-class houses were 4.8 million at the end of the last war, and 1.5 million were built, an increase of 30 per cent. The increase in the number of families during that period was somewhere about 2,500,000 and 3,000,000 and the overwhelming majority of those families were working class, so that the working class were worse off.
The Minister said that the majority of houses were built by private enterprise, the speculative builder and the building societies between the two wars, with 75 per cent. of the houses to rent. Of the 1,500,000 houses built to house the working-classes, 1,000,000 or nearly so were built by local authorities, and the other 500,000 by private enterprise. I want to insist on the point that the difference between the total number of houses and the number of families in the country, is no criterion whatever of the condition of over-crowding or the number of houses we shall need. There is another point which affects the position seriously, and that is the number of houses in wrong places, in derelict areas and so on. You must always have a margin of empty houses. You have to turn to the census figures of 1921 to see the situation. Out of 7,971,000 houses—and most of us remember the conditions which obtained in industrial areas at that time—219,000 were unoccupied on the day of the census. To take, as the Minister of Reconstruction did the other day, the difference between the number of houses and the number of families and to say that that is the extent of the problem is most dangerously to under-estimate. I suggest that we need 1,500,000 houses now in order to deal with over-crowding rather than 750,000. My estimate is a little below the 1,500,000 and my statistical friends have estimated it at about 1.3 million. But 1,500,000 is certainly nearer than 750,000. The point I want to make is this: I could say smart things about the Government over this, but I do not want to do that. What I want to insist upon is that if we do not face this problem to its fullest extent at the present moment, we shall be landed in a disastrous situation within the next two years.
That deals with the overcrowding side of it. I now turn to the question of slums. That is, not only slums but, as the Minister put it in 1943, houses in poor condition, or so grossly deficient in modern amenities that they are not fit for human habitation. In 1943 the Minister said that on top of the 1,500,000 houses required to deal with overcrowding we would need another 1,500,000 to 2,500,000 to replace these houses that were not really fit for human habitation. In the White Paper, when the problem is closer and the general election is nearer, we are told that 500,000 houses are required in order to remove homes already condemned and to prevent overcrowding. I say that 1,500,000 to 2,500,000 houses to deal with slums and houses grossly deficient in modern amenities is an inadequate figure. Sir E. D. Simon, of whom the Minister spoke so well in his opening speech, said in his book that the Manchester medical officer of health has already said that one-third of the total number of houses in Manchester, or 68,000, are unfit for human habitation. Thirty-nine per cent. of the houses in Hull before the war had no bathrooms, and if you go to a rural area like North Cornwall, you will find that at least one-third of the houses are unfit for human habitation. I have seen estimates, by people who are well versed in dealing with these kinds of figures, which show that we need between 3,000,000 and 4,000,000 houses now if we are going to house every family with the minimum of housing consistent with health, decency and comfort, and that is what we, at any rate on this side of the House, both above and below the Gangway, will insist upon.
One of the troubles in this question is that there are no qualitative statistics about housing. I do not think that any Government has ever had the courage to produce those statistics and face the country with them. However, we have a yardstick over, at any rate, the work- ing-class houses to which I think my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) referred, that is, the age of houses. The working-class houses over 80 years of age are not fit for human habitation. I am talking about the houses built since the Industrial Revolution. On that basis, in addition to the 1,500,000 new houses that we need to deal with overcrowding, I am told—again by these figures which have been carefully calculated, and it does not matter if they are half a million out on one side or the other—that about 5,500,000 houses over the next 15 years will have to be built to replace houses of 80 years and over. In other words, if we want to provide each family—and I come back to this every time—with houses providing a minimum of health, decency and comfort, then we must have a long-term housing programme of building 7,000,000 new houses over the next 15 years. To envisage this housing problem in any other form will, as I have said, lead to disaster.
I want to take up the time of the House for a moment or two in considering the implications of this long-term programme, because they fit in with something which the hon. and gallant Member for Preston (Captain Cobb) spoke about during his speech, and also it affects the handling of the short-term programme. One thing we must take into account in considering the long-term housing programme is the change in the size of the population of this country between now and the turn of the century. I am told—again by people who are experts in these matters—that the peak of the population of England and Wales—42,000,000—will be reached round about 1951. After that the popution will decline very rapidly.
Even if we achieve unity of reproduction, which we are far from achieving at the present moment, at the turn of the century, the population of this country will be somewhere about 35,000,000. If we continue with the birthrate of past years, the population of this country will be somewhere about 28,000,000. Again I suggest it does not matter whether it is a million one way or the other, but I do say this, that having regard to the population trend, it is wrong to think in terms of outside housing estates using up valuable agricultural land for extending the urban areas. What we should be doing at the present moment is basing our housing policies on shrinking our sprawling urban areas. In other words, what is needed is a complete and comprehensive town and country planning policy that will lead to the rebuilding of the urban areas as we replace old houses by new ones.
This means that we have to face another problem that has not been faced during the course of this Debate—that as we build we have to demolish. If we carry out this policy of shrinking our urban areas, of housing the people close to their work as they should be housed—it is nonsense to put people where they have to travel an hour or more in order to get to their work—we shall have to demolish something like 6,000,000 during the next 15 years, or an average of 400,000 houses a year—15 tmes the rate of demolition before this war broke out. This demolition is necessary, of course, to provide space for the new houses inside the urban areas, and it is also necessary to prevent those areas becoming derelict inside, as so many of them are going to become if we continue with this policy of outside housing estates. Another reason why these houses should be pulled down is because otherwise the landlords who own them will be putting down the rents as the new housing estates go up in order to attract families from the new houses into the old. I am not suggesting for a single moment that we should start demolishing houses until we have dealt with the urgent and immediate problem of overcrowding.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield said, this building in urban areas raises the land question in an acute form straight away. Neither the local authorities nor the Government can afford a comprehensive building programme of working-class dwellings in urban areas with the people close to their work because of the high cost of land inside the urban areas. The disparity in the value of the land inside and outside the urban centres forces the local authorities the whole time to go into that wrong policy of building their houses in outside housing estates. I suggest to this House, not on ideological grounds at all, but on grounds of sheer necessity, that means must be found of equalising the value of the land inside and outside the urban areas, so that the only consideration that enters into our planning and the use of the land is the need of the community, and not the value of the land in terms of £ s. d. That means one thing, and one thing only, in my mind and that is that the land of this country must be bought under single ownership — nationalisation, in other words. Without dealing with the land, as the right hon. Member for Wakefield said, you cannot have an adequate housing programme. I think, too, seeing what is happening in my own area with the small local authorities there, that the cost of housing, if we are to have a comprehensive housing scheme, has to be lifted from the rates. Housing will have to be the financial responsibility of the central Government, and the local authorities should act as the agents of the central Government—they should select the sites, they should have a voice in the numbers and types of houses to be built in their areas, they should collect the rents, they should manage the houses, they should look after the maintenance of them, and they should be paid a percentage of the rents for doing so.
I want to turn to some more practical aspects of housing. How, in spite of the labour bottleneck, are we to build new houses quickly so that the immediate crisis is overcome? What I suggest is needed, if even the Government's modest programme is to be achieved, is adequate housing research, adequately financed. I would devote £1 for every house I proposed to build; in other words, I would put up £7,000,000 for research, and the results would be cheap at the price. The fact is that we have no adequate research in this country. We have nothing like the co-ordinated research we have for carrying on the war. Bombs weighing 10 tons are not the invention of one man; they require a great deal of co-ordinated research to bring them about, and exactly the same is required for housing. What have we got? We have a building research station which is not a research station at all, it is nothing else but a testing station. In addition we have what the Minister told us about to-day, the unco-ordinated experiments carried out by a number of private and industrial units which have done very valuable work, but that does not remove the responsibility from the Government of carrying on and co-ordinating research. Of course the Burt Committee reviews these experiments and, after a time, grants a permit to try them out, but that is the extent of the co-ordination.
If we do have a proper department of housing research, which I consider is urgently necessary at the present time, we must have the right people in charge of it—men of scientific standing, with engineering experience. It must not be dominated by the architects, although the architects have their place in it. We need research under three heads—statistical, consumer and technical. We need the statistical research in order to get an accurate, qualitative, statistical picture of the housing situation of this country—a thing we have never had; we can only guess at it at present, and every Government that has been in power in this country has always guessed too low. We must have an accurate statistical picture of the houses we have in this country and their condition, the houses we need, the numbers and composition of families, and so on. Consumer research is required to go into the types of houses and the treatment of the living space in order to enable people to live in decency and comfort. Of course, labour saving and other devices come into this. As a result of that statistical and consumer research, we can arrive at the number of one, two and three-bedroom houses that we require. One of the main shortages in the villages is the one-bedroom house. On the research side there is necessity for technical research to find out the most economical and best way of providing living space and enclosing it.
I regard the kitchen as an engine, just as you have the engine in a car. This will deal with the fundamental problem, the labour problem, for which a speedy answer is required. It must be found speedily by co-ordinated research just as it has been in the war. We have to discover how to reduce the man-hours on the site by transferring them to man-hours in the factory, and by the use of labour-saving equipment on the site; that is to say, we have to find the means of building houses at a tremendous speed to meet the immediate housing crisis. I believe the number of families that will be affected by conditions of overcrowding in this country when the war is over will run into millions, and to get a picture of the idea, I would recommend every hon. Member to look up the Debate of 21st July, 1921, when the housing programme was rejected on the grounds that it was costing too much, and read the speech of Mr. Trevelyan Thomson, then Member for Middlesbrough. Middlesbrough was the only town in the country that had carried out a private survey of housing conditions. Hon. Members will be shocked to find that more than 25 per cent. of the houses of Middlesbrough—2½ years after the last war when the housing scheme was considered too expensive—were overcrowded on the lowest basis consistent with decency—a separate room for every young married couple. In many cases single men had to sleep with married men and women.
What we have to do is to see that house-building is stepped upwards in the first years to 750,000 houses per year. I think the House will be convinced that what I am saying does show that at any rate there has been some thought about this problem, and I hope the Minister will not lightly reject what I say. We all know that the curse of the housing problem is the bottle-neck of skilled labour. I am very doubtful, in spite of all that has been said, whether the Ministers of Health and Works will get their 800,000 workmen. I understand that to train 150,000 trainees there must be 7,000 instructors, and they are just not available. Men will have to be engaged on maintenance work, on the building of factories and other public buildings, and that means that, generally, only half the men in the building trades can be used for the building of houses. I must say that judged by these standards the Government's programme is impossible. That is why I am insisting on the necessity for this coordinated research in order to reduce the number of man-hours on the site, and in order to ensure that as much of the work on the site as possible is done not only by craftsmen but by erectors and assemblers. It is not only a question of operators' hours, of labour conditions, wages and so on. It is also a question of the long-term policy. The operators in the building industry want to know what the long-term policy of the Government is to enable them to decide what they are going to do about the increase in numbers and the addition of new methods to the industry.
I wish to turn to another technical aspect that has worried me quite a lot, and that is that we wish to reduce the number of man-hours on the site, and to do this more study must be given to the question of modular planning. The accumulation of materials on the site and their assembly there into the houses by cutting and fitting is the real reason for the wasted man-hours. Modular planning means dimensioning everything that goes into a house so that they fit together—the use of building dimensions consistent with such co-ordinated sizes to enable the house to be built with a minimum of cutting and fitting. That seems to me to be common sense. In other words, it is applying to the building of houses the principles of the Meccano set.
Everyone has said that they do not like temporary houses or the temporary housing programme, but I suggest that there is another approach to this question. There can be a permanent two-storey structure with temporary clodding to be replaced later by a permanent clodding of bricks if preferred. Bricks are the most wasteful things in the building industry, because they use far more man-hours than anything else put together. I think we have to do with bricks what was done with Portland stone. In the old days Portland stone was the support to the roof and the floor. Then along came the steel structure and Portland stone no longer supported the roof but became a filling. We shall have to do the same with bricks by assembling them together in blocks and taking the blocks to the site, and then we can still enjoy the aesthetic beauty of a brick building if we wish to. Then there is the question of labour-saving machinery on the site. A great deal of work has been done with regard to labour-saving machinery and the saving of man-hours and in bringing all the materials possible to the bricklayer. I would suggest that the Minister should take all the steps he can to see that prototypes of these machines are produced and the machines themselves made as quickly as possible, because the resultant saving on the site itself would be enormous.
Finally, I will turn to a question also raised by the right hon. Member for Wakefield and that is the one of finance. I say that we should finance the war against squalor and overcrowding on exactly the same terms as we have financed the war against Hitler, and that is on 1½ per cent. and 3 per cent., for long-term financing; and if the Government see that materials and equipment are mass-produced on Government order and cost-accounted as war contracts are cost-accounted to-day, and the land is dealt with in the proper way, then I suggest that working-class houses will not need to be subsidised. The Government will be able to build working-class houses in sufficient quantities and will not need to subsidise them. I am satisfied that if the Government decide to face the realities of the housing situation as we have been forced to face the realities of the war, and will handle the housing problem as they have handled other war problems, will undertake housing research as research has been carried out for purposes of the war—I say that if they are determined to build houses for the people on the lines of this suggested programme, then such a Government would be able very quickly to build 750,000 working-class houses to rent a year, and I should be very glad to be the Minister to see to it.
The Minister of Health said at the outset that he would welcome criticism, but I want to make it clear that any criticism that I may make is not directed against himself or the Minister of Works, because I think that the men are not at fault but the machinery. It will be remembered that just before the present war started a tremendous effort had to be made to deal with a very great war emergency, the equipment of this country for war. The House will also remember the method which was used to deal with it. There was a great deal of argument, and after it a single Minister was appointed to tackle the problem. I believe that the question of housing is just as great an emergency for this country in peace-time as the equipment of this country for war was in war-time. I cannot see any form of machinery which will give sufficient force and drive for the effort which we ought to be making unless it is the machinery controlled by one Minister alone who is responsible. I raised this question with the Prime Minister in September and his answer to me was that the present arrangement was working with great smoothness. I cannot help reflecting that those great efforts which had to be made between the Departments to produce the state of efficiency that we have now produced in war-time could not have been arrived at by any methods of smoothness.
I cannot help remembering some very notable words which I heard in this House not long after I came into it dealing with the question of the Ministry of Supply:
The work of Supply is so exacting that in my judgment it now requires and has long required the attention of an important Minister. It touches immediately the, most delicate and formidable Parliamentary issues—profits and profiteering on the one hand: dilution, apprenticeship, training and transference upon the other."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st May, 1936; Vol. 312, C. 1437.]
Those words were uttered by the Prime Minister in this House in May, 1936; and later, in May, 1938, he said:
How much longer will the obvious remedies be denied? No mere change of Ministers will meet this occasion. We must have a change of system. Without a change of system you will find yourselves involved ever more deeply in vexations and Ministers in undeserved misfortune, or in misfortune which, if it is deserved, is only because they allow these ill-assorted duties to be imposed upon them. Just consider that up to this moment we have not reached any agreement with the skilled unions after the whole of these two years. It is only now that negotiations are beginning. If you wish to ask the skilled unions to make the sacrifices which undoubtedly are necessary you must convince them of the emergency. Every time a Ministry of Supply is refused the emergency is discounted and denied."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th May, 1938; Vol. 336, c. 1293–4.]
Those words seem to me to be very apt in describing the situation which has now arisen. Finally I will quote once more from the Prime Minister, this time in February, 1939:
Once again I appeal to my right hon. Friend to appoint a Minister of Supply and to group under him piece by piece, section by section and step by step as may be found convenient the immense complicated system or hotch-potch as some may think of committees and sub-departments which are now involved in this gigantic task. We need not argue about styles and titles or about a particular word or phrase which has a prejudicial association connected with it. What if essential is that there should be one Minister able to give executive directions.…—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st February, 1939; Vol. 344, c. 251.]
It seems to me that the time has come when we can no longer delay that solution of this problem. I must give every credit for what has been done by the various Ministers. They have done their best, but the time has come when, it seems to me, some step must be taken by the Government to appoint someone who will be responsible for all the difficulties
and questions that arise in a problem like the substantial rebuilding of this country.
I want to say as a Scotsman that I see no reason why Scotland should not be included in this scheme for the emergency. There is no separate Ministry of Supply in Scotland to deal with the war. There is, for war-time, an arrangement whereby the Minister no doubt consults with the Secretary of State for Scotland in purely Scottish matters, but he has only got the one task before him, and that is his work for the whole of the country. I cannot see that any lesser measure will suffice to form the instrument which can do for the country what is so essential for its needs, and therefore I implore the Government to reconsider their decision on this matter and to appoint someone who will be solely responsible. Recently a Motion was put down on the Order Paper in the name of the hon. and gallant Member for Preston (Captain Cobb), the terms of which I forget at the moment. The object of the Motion was to deplore that the Government had not made a statement on housing or given a clear plan. I was glad when I heard that there was to be a White Paper on housing. When I read that Paper I could not help thinking, first of all, that the Government had under-estimated the size of the problem and that the number of houses, three-quarters of a million for immediate needs, was far too little for the demands of the country as a whole.
The White Paper by implication emphasises that this is essentially a problem of labour, that it is not nearly so much a question of getting timber or other supplies as a problem of man-hours. On that point, I could not help wondering, as I sat here to-day, how it could be that the Minister of Labour, or one of his Parliamentary Secretaries, who exercises such a tremendous amount of influence on any building scheme, was not in his place to take part in or listen to this Debate. I am sure that they have excellent reasons for their absence, and I am not quarrelling with anything but the fact that the most important of all the Ministers in connection with this subject should not have been on the Front Bench to listen to what is being said. I want now to draw the attention of the House to the White Paper where, in Paragraph 9, which is headed "Increase in Building Labour Force", it says:
Before the war there were about 1,000,000 men in the building trades. The number employed in building work at home has since shrunk to 337,000. By normal and special release from the Forces, and by the scheme for the training of apprentices and a special scheme of adult training, it is hoped to increase the labour force in the building industry to 800,000 by the end of the first year after the German war and, thereafter, to increase it up to and beyond the pre-war total.
The Minister hopes, at the end of one year after the war, to have 20 per cent. less than the normal building force he had before the war began. That is described as an increase in the building labour force. I say freely and frankly that unless we attend fully and promptly to this labour problem at all costs, and get a force into the industry as soon after the war as possible—within a matter of months of it ending—not only 20 per cent. less workers than there were before the war, but even more than the normal number before the war, we will not be able to tackle this shortage in the proper manner. We have all this talk about temporary houses, necessary though they have become, only because there is not enough labour to build houses. None of us like the temporary houses, whatever sort they are, so well as permanent houses, but we cannot get them without an adequate labour supply, and for this the Minister of Labour has a great responsibility. I would stop at nothing to acquire labour, from whatever source I could get it. We are told that in Russia houses are to be built by prisoner-of-war labour, and that the same thing is to happen in France. I suggest that for the construction of drains, sites and foundations for houses, we should also use prisoner-of-war labour.
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman, but the Government are on the Front Bench in such strength that I hope that where he has failed, the general sympathy shown to this idea in the House will convince the Government that something of that sort is necessary. On the question of temporary houses, I very much agree with what has been said in several quarters of the House—and I believe my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Preston was the first to say it—that we all owe a debt of gratitude to Lord Portal for what he has done in regard to internal fitments, which ought to be put into every type of house. I hope the various dimensional interior furniture which has been designed and made can be brought into every house. I think that the type of house which is called No. 7—the two-storied house—which requires far fewer man-hours to complete, is something which ought to be encouraged not only by the responsible Ministers in. England, but also by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.
I do not believe that it is right for any of us to lose heart over this problem. If we have faith in what we can do, realise the immensity of the task, and are prepared to take every step to put it right, we shall succeed in getting sooner rather than. later a decent home for everyone who wants one. On this we all ought to be united. This ought not to be a party political issue at all, because the country's need in peace-time comes to the-fore quite as much as, if not more than, it has done during the war.
There have been many Debates on housing during this past year and if they could be recorded as milestones on the road to a solution of our housing problem all would be well. But many Members have come to the conclusion that we are marching in circles, and pass milestones so often that we are getting, dizzy. Indeed, some of us are convinced that these milestones have turned into stumbling-blocks. The Town and Country Planning Bill for England and Wales has passed its Second Reading, as has a similar Bill for Scotland, but he would be a bold man who would suggest that we are to-day any nearer to a solution of our housing problem than we were before that legislation was introduced. I admit that something has been done for the blitzed areas. I do not want to quarrel about any legislation which will expedite the rebuilding of such areas, because local authorities in areas which have escaped the ravages of war are willing and anxious to give all the assistance they can to the rebuilding of blitzed areas. On the other hand, I do not think it is reasonable that local authorities should be still waiting for definite information from the Government as to what they must do to solve this great problem. Although the central Government have to make initial decisions the local authorities have to carry them out, and how they are to go on with plans, in the absence of definite information, I do not know.
I think the time has long passed when the Government ought to have given these authorities more definite information. From time to time crumbs have been thrown out, but there is a lack of policy on the part of the central Government which is having an effect on the local authorities, who do not know where they stand in this important matter. They require to know the financial burden which they will have to carry on account of rehousing; they want to know whether the Government will advance money and, if so, what will be the rate of interest. It is important that they should get answers to these questions without delay. They also want to know to what extent the Government intend to control the cost of housing. It is true that the Minister has been categorical to-day in saying that the Government intend to retain control of building materials and costs, but local authorities are entitled to something more than that. They want to know to what extent materials and costs will be controlled. Members who have spoken today have emphasised the need for high priority for housing and the Minister himself has stated that it will have first priority. That being so, bold steps must be taken to meet that priority. We have had an Education Bill for England and Wales, but what good will it do unless our children can be properly housed so that they can get the advantages of such a Bill? The same thing applies in regard to national health services. We cannot have a healthy nation unless we have decent homes for the people.
Full employment is another subject which has received much attention, but even that cannot take precedence over the need for solving the housing problem. As I say, the control of materials and costs is absolutely essential, but there is also the question of the control of labour, which is the most important part of the task which lies before us. Many apprentices who found their way into the building trades left during the war for other industries, and a great effort will have to be made to overtake the arrears. Further, many building trade apprentices have been obliged to go into the Fighting Forces, and I do not think they will be of great assistance to the country in the very near future. It is true the White Paper says that the demobilisation of the building trade operatives is to be a priority, but the local authorities are entitled to something definite now. They ought to have the assurance that building trade workers will be released from the forces as speedily as possible, irrespective of age group. It is essential that those who are in the Forces who have experience in the building trade should be released at the first possible moment.
I think that we can go even one step further. At the present stage of the war the Government ought to make up their minds that no more apprentices or adult persons with experience in the building trade are to be called to the colours. It is time that the Government made some courageous decision like that as an assurance to the local authorities that they are in earnest about this problem. To carry out this suggestion would be taking a serious step, but we shall never solve this problem unless we are prepared to make such courageous decisions. It is true that almost all the people in the Forces are anxious to get home, but over and above anything else they are anxious to get homes. It almost amounts to criminal folly to be recruiting men to serve overseas when their services are so urgently required at home. It takes time to train for the building trade people who have had no experience of it. Nevertheless, such is the urgent need that something of this kind should be done. Something has been said about dilutees, and an hon. Member said that it would require something like 7,000 tutors to train the number of men required to supply our housing arrears.
This is another problem that should be tackled. It is an extraordinarily difficult one, and we must use extraordinary methods to cope with it. I see no reason why men should be sent to colleges as trainees for any long period. It is a feasible proposition that men of, say, 25 years of age and under who return from the Forces ought to be employed on the same basis as apprentices in the building trade, the Government subsidising the difference between the apprentice's wage and the wage that is considered fair for an adult in the industry. In a very short time, if these trainees were actually on the job, they would make a great contribution to housing, and, as time went on and they gained experience, the industry would obtain real value from their training. It may be objected that this would overcrowd the labour market in the industry, but, having heard figures as to the number of houses over 80 years of age that will soon require to be rebuilt, I do not think there is much danger of that.
I am not one of those who say that we should not have temporary houses. When a person falls overboard nobody asks whether a cork lifebelt or a rubber belt is the best to save his life. They throw him the most suitable belt available. The same process of reasoning should be followed in housing. We must use everything that we have to house our people in the quickest possible time. We ought not to lose sight of the fact that housing is not a temporary problem but a permanent one, and that it ought to be tackled as quickly as possible in a permanent way. A person who has no house would readily and gladly accept a temporary house, but, given the choice of a temporary or a permanent house, there is no doubt which he would prefer. Too much time ought not to be wasted in these Debates discriminating between the temporary and the permanent. They ought not to be compared. They are completely different kinds of houses and we ought not to waste time comparing them—although that may sound slightly contradictory as I have only just made such a comparison myself. There should be collaboration between the ideas embodied in temporary and permanent houses. Has the possibility ever been considered of building the shell of the house as a permanent feature, and using some of the features of prefabrication as internal fittings? There should be a combination of both types. I am satisfied that it would expedite the building of houses if we had the frames made permanent and the fittings temporary. The fittings could be altered to permanent fittings at some later date. Some research ought to be made in that direction. The internal fitments of the temporary houses are far ahead of anything we have had in permanent houses in the past. Even the internal fittings of the houses built just before the war have very little to recommend them. I hope that the internal fittings that we see in the temporary house will be used when we get down to the permanent programme.
I suggest that, at the end of the day, when the Government come to be judged, they will discover that the people have accepted it as a fact, rightly or wrongly, that their purpose was not only to win the war but to make things at home decent for those who have had to fight when they come back. The Government's success or failure in the housing of the men in the Forces will be taken very much into account in judging their record. I do not think that any Member of the House of any side has anything in his mind but the desire to build houses for our people in the quickest possible time. They must, however, remember that the local authorities are those who have finally got to say, "We are going to tackle so many houses here and so many there," and it is they who have to submit the plans to the Department for approval. It is an impossible task to ask them to go ahead when they are quite in the dark as to the amount of money they are to be able to spend, the amount of labour that is to be available and the material that is to be distributed.
My constituency is situated around Portsmouth, and the housing shortage in that area is very great owing largely to tin, requirements of the Services. I have no doubt that that situation exists in other parts of the South of England. People gave up their houses willingly and private schools were turned out. Now they want to come back. Officers and men are returning because they are discharged from the Services owing to age or injury. People have got married and have set up families. The situation is really desperate in our district. I want the Government to do something now and not wait for bricks and mortar. I have a constructive suggestion to make. It is that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Works should go into the matter of requisitioned houses. It is no longer a secret that hundreds of thousands of troops were despatched from areas like Portsmouth. That meant tented camps. Those camps also have a large number of good Nissen huts. There were "umpteen" camps in the South of Hampshire, and on Sunday I counted in one of them a dozen good Nissen huts which are deteriorating; the windows are broken and the doors have been forced open with pick-axes. In the Borough of Gosport, which I represent, the Army are keeping 12 large villas empty for something in the future.
I suggest that these Nissen huts in the camps on the outskirts of Portsmouth should be taken into Gosport and erected on Government ground, of which there is plenty, and that the houses should be given up for families to go into. Some of the houses would accommodate one or two families. It may be asked where the labour is to come from to do this. On the outskirts of Portsmouth there are large naval camps in which there are men waiting for posting. I pay a tribute to the men and officers for the way they have helped the agricultural community with haysel and harvest, also the sugar beet and potato harvest. Now they have less to do, and the men in the camps are bound to get bored. I have a great respect for the naval petty officer and I suggest that a petty officer with a gang of selected unskilled sailors could dismantle these huts, which could be transferred to Gosport.
I now pass to the Navy. I have a particular case in mind which makes me rather cross. A certain doctor was brought back from the war to take the place of another one who had to give up. His house was requisitioned while he was away. When he came back he applied for his house, but they de-requisitioned another one for which he has to pay an extra £65 a year. I do not think that is fair. That is only one illustration of the situation in which people round Portsmouth find themselves. I have a solution to suggest. There is a Marine hutted camp close to me with not a soul in it. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will do something about it. On a different topic, which again is connected with the Navy, I have in mind a chief stoker with 27 years' service. In the course of his life he has put his savings into a house. The house has gone completely like very many others in Portsmouth and Gosport—bombed. He writes to me:
Just a few lines to thank you for calling on my wife re our war damage. I filled in a form which the wife forwarded on. They seem to want to push us off with any sum that they think. I have been in the Royal
Navy for 27 years fighting for the doctrine they preach. Money will not get the home and comfort we had before this war. What I want is a new house built on my freehold site. Why are they not trying to help the men who try to make life worth while.
That is rather pathetic. There are hundreds more in our bombed areas. Are the Government doing anything to give them back their own houses, which are absolutely gone? I think they should.
I want to switch now from the town to the country. The part of the country in which I am interested is Norfolk. I join with previous speakers in asking for some sympathy from the Minister of Labour with regard to rural housing. Ministers, from the Prime Minister downwards, have told us that we must keep agriculture going, and without houses we cannot do that. The houses we have in Norfolk are not too large and I am trying to improve them under the Workers (Rural Housing) Act. I have a row of eight in view. They have two rooms up and two rooms down. I have planned for each house to have a scullery and larder at the back, and on top we will put a bedroom. I am trying hard to get the houses built but my architect cannot get on. He cannot produce a specification for the work because he cannot get any labour. Can the Minister help these architects to get labour so as to get on with their job? Some of the lands officers' staffs attached to the Services who were so busy earlier in the war getting out plans for requisitioning houses should be switched over to the architects. My particular man is the leading architect in Norwich. I have one more point on labour. We are having great difficulty with the staffs on agricultural estates in keeping the houses up to scratch. Repairs are continually wanted. The White Paper draws attention to the training of apprentices. I understand that, if a young bricklayer is an apprentice, he does not get drawn into the Forces. We do not have many apprentices in the country. We have young fellows growing up who are quite skilled bricklayers, and at 18 years of age they are whisked off to the Forces. We want these bricklayers for building and repairing houses.
I understand that the Minister of Health said that the £10 limit is to come in. I heard what the Minister of Works said in its defence, but I do not agree with it. Theoretically, it is to control the amount of materials and labour, but what will happen in practice? It is difficult enough to get a licence for whatever you have to get a licence for, and, if we are to set up another lot of offices to issue licences for repairs over £10, will they have executive power, or will they just turn the job down? We do not have the Essential Work Order in the country and a man can leave his job. When he leaves his job and his cottage, that is the time to do it up. They go suddenly and we have not time to go to someone and apply for a licence to spend over £10. You cannot do very much on £10. If you have to put a new grate in the kitchen and a new copper, and do something to the floor and a bit of plaster upstairs, Ito does not take you anywhere. The application will probably be turned down and we have to fight it. I hope that some special provision will be made so that we can get on. with our repairs. I hope the Government will look into the question of helping us in the country. There is much talk about agriculture, but precious little help is given to keep houses in repair, and there is no encouragement to build new ones.
It has been said that the housing position is a crisis similar to that of the war, but I am doubtful whether those who used the expression realise what the crisis of housing means. Everyone understands that, if we were defeated lay the Nazis, it would be the finish for this country. In the some way, if we are defeated in the war for producing the houses that are required, the country is finished. For associated with the question of housing is health—the campaign against tuberculosis, the overcoming of infantile mortality and the whole question of the population of the country—all of these are associated with this crisis of housing. But one can read the White Paper and never get the faintest idea that the housing question is a real crisis deeply affecting the whole position and the future of the country. You could win the war against the Nazis and, by failing in the problem of housing, destroy the country. I am certain that the Secretary of State for Scotland has a real understanding of the problem but it is not in the White Paper. One hon. Member said it was not a political question, but it is. But first I should like to take exception to something said by the hon. Member for Brigg (Mr. Quibell). He said that there were people who wanted better class houses, and they were entitled to get them, and that met with quite a response on the other side. The people who want better class houses have quite comfortable houses already, and there are masses of people who have no homes, and are packed into sub-lets and that kind of thing. It is a scandal to say that better class houses should be built, until every family has a home that it can call its own.
I am quite in favour of giving the hon. Member a council house, but no one has a right to a better class house, while there are masses of people who cannot get houses at all. This question of housing must be taken up by new methods of utilising materials, new methods of building, new methods of labour and new methods on the part of the Government as far as the land and the materials are concerned. Will those who say this is not a political question, support the proposition that the Government should take full control of the land to ensure that local authorities are not handicapped as far as sites are concerned? The land is a big question in connection with housing. As soon as you come to the question of the land you will find out whether it is a political question or not. It is an offence against the best interests of the country to say that a few people should own the land, and that masses of the people should own no homes. It is more important for the future and the welfare of the country that the masses of the people should have homes than that a few should own land.
Another important issue is the question of financing the local authorities. I agree with those who say that the main burden of the expense of building houses should be a national charge, and that the local authorities should be relieved of it as far as possible. The building of houses means the building up of a sturdy population. It is of the greatest importance for the nation. I have heard it said that local authorities should get loans at 2½ per cent. I heard it said a week or two ago that there were local authorities paying interest on loans they obtained 10 or 15 years ago of 6 per cent. It is terrible robbery. The only justification that anyone can ever put up for usury—it is not a valid one— is the risk that is run. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is taking no risk in assisting the local authorities to build houses, and he is getting enormous advantages. If he lends money to the local authorities and they give people decent homes, that means strong, healthy men and women building up wealth for the country, so what risk is he taking? It is coming back to him in another form.
The first of the new methods is to take the land, and I ask the Secretary of State to say that it is necessary to take over the land, in order to ensure that there is an abundance of accommodation. The second thing is to provide the main bulk of the money from the Exchequer, and to lend whatever is lent to local authorities interest free. Give them the necessary land, give them the interest-free money, give them a supply of materials, direct the material as it should be directed, and they will get on with the building of the houses. Then people will get homes and health and the advantage will come in many forms to the Chancellor. The White Paper says that the Government propose to treat the first two years after the end of hostilities in Europe as a period of national emergency, when essential measures must be taken to meet the housing shortage. There was a period of national emergency before the war, as far as housing was concerned. I heard the right hon. and learned Gentleman's predecessor, the right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) say that housing in Scotland was shocking—a scandal—and he only wished it was in Order to use stronger language. That was several years before the war. In the matter of housing the emergency was present before the war. Two years after the war the emergency will still be in existence; it will exist until every family in this country has a home in which every man, woman and child can enjoy health and happiness. Until that time the emergency must be faced as the war has been faced, and everything must be utilised to solve the crisis of housing.
I am very glad to see in his place the hon. and learned Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Erskine-Hill). Not only do I, like my hon. Friend the Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher), feel that the White Paper hardly focuses this matter as a crisis, but I am also very much disturbed because it makes no separate mention of the needs of Scotland. No one wants to enter into a competition in misery between England and Scotland, but as my hon. Friend said, emergency conditions obtained in Scotland for 10 years. The hon. and learned Member for North Edinburgh commits himself to saying that we ought only to have one Minister to deal with this whole business.
I am of the opinion, as I am sure the Government are, that the housing situation is one of emergency. If we find that, despite that attitude on the part of the Government, there is no mention of the peculiar and persistent Scottish condition, then I cannot see that there is any likelihood that that recognition would be attained by wiping out the Secretary of State for Scotland. Indeed, there are considerable arguments which lead me to the conclusion that it would be well now to wipe out from Scotland the extension of powers of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Works. We have a great many offices, a considerable personnel, a great display of machinery, but very, very little result, as Questions concerning housing have shown. I am not criticising my right hon. Friend—
I am certain that my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Air. Buchanan) does not know to which of my right hon. Friends I am addressing myself. No right hon. Gentleman, in his opinion, should ever be immune from criticism, but I am prepared to offer the extenuating circumstances that, quite clearly, the Minister of Works has been pre-occupied by the position in London, and that is a very good reason why he should leave the business to us on the other side of the Tweed. With regard to the general situation, there are three things I want to say. I was delighted to see the conversion of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Minister of Health to our side of the House and to discover that he dissociates himself from the statements that were made at the Conservative Con- ference on the subject of the dropping of controls. To my mind, we heard from the right hon. and learned Gentleman an excellent and reassuring speech which told us that prices, materials, labour, the size of houses and the siting of houses would all be controlled by His Majesty's Government. That is what we want. But neither the Government nor any Member of it must attempt to speak with two voices. They cannot say one thing at the Central Hall as a piece of electoral propaganda and another thing in Westminster Palace as a piece of commonsense.
I am certain that I can no more answer for the Home Secretary than the hon. and learned Member would wish to say that he could answer for the Prime Minister, but I can say that when the Home Secretary stands on our electoral platform he will uphold controls in the same way as he has upheld them in office. I am arguing that any Member of the party opposite doing his job, as the Minister of Health and the Minister of Works attempt to do theirs, must acknowledge that controls are necessary and will be necessary in the two years after the war, which the White Paper lays downs as the period of emergency.
The second thing I want to say about the general situation was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg (Mr. Quibell) when he spoke about the increase in the price of cement. I hope the Government will not have to add to their difficulties increases in costs that cannot be justified. For example, I am told, on what I believe to be good authority, that the price of foam slag in England is 40s. a ton. I am certain that comes very near to blackmail. I am of the opinion that there is an alternative source of foam slag in Scotland; it is just an accident, and no doubt when the ring extends to Scotland it will be squeezed too. I want to put a few questions to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland about Scottish conditions. I ask him to believe that I am not trying to harass him and I hope that he will be able to answer without the rancour which has characterised some of our previous discussions on this subject. Perhaps I have made a bad start. If sometimes I have spoken with heat it is because it is exceedingly difficult to speak without heat on this subject, but I ask my right hon. Friend to believe that I am simply anxious to get some information which will contribute to an understanding of the subject and that I am not concerned with flaying him.
This week I have put some Questions to my right hon. Friend, Questions which have almost become habitual with me, relating to the two token programmes which were authorised in Scotland for 1943 and 1944. I find that of the thousand houses that were authorised in 1943, 20 have been apparently wiped out from the programme. Can my right hon. Friend tell us which local authority, or authorities, in Scotland cheerfully said that they would do without these 20 houses? Or is my assumption wrong, and if so, will he tell me so? Is the explanation that the right hon. Gentleman could not for these 20 houses find a price that he could accept? Either those who submitted the tenders or a local authority are due to give a little explanation. Secondly, will the right hon. Gentleman try to explain the slow rate of progress in construction? In three years there have been completed in Scotland 246 houses. When I hear this talk about 200,000 houses in two years and think about these 246 houses in three years, on a specially authorised programme, it bewilders me. There has been an average rate of 6.8 houses a month over 36 months. That will not solve any crisis. There is no revolutionary method here.
There is a further point relating to the same problem. After 36 months there are 416 houses not yet begun, although to be fair I will admit that only 20 of these relate to the previous programme; there is, however, a total of 416 houses on which work has not yet begun although for the most recent of them it is 11 months since the work was authorised. Plainly my right hon. Friend has a right to plead that the destruction by flying bombs and the drawing of labour to London affected the 1944 programme, but he cannot claim that the bombing in any way influenced the 1943 programme. Will he tell us—not because I want to blame him or because I want to apply any conclusions to the job he has in hand—whether he made a miscalculation about the amount of labour necessary for this job, or whether an authorisation for labour was given which had subsequently to be modified, and if so, why it was modified, or whether the explanation is that the supply of labour was not of a reasonable standard? My right hon. Friend must believe that he can depend upon us on this question. Is the explanation that he is not getting the backing and the progress which he has a right to expect from the Scottish local authorities? If that be the case, will he say so, and will he tell us which are the local authorities and what can be done to assist him in speeding up matters? But my right hon. Friend, however uncomfortable his position May be, cannot expect us to appreciate the position unless he is prepared to name the backward local authorities.
Finally, all of us have to admit, however reluctantly, that the only possible emergency programme must be devoted to the homeless people, particularly the serving men. We do not like it, but we know there is no other way. It is the people without homes, without privacy, without decency, without hope, who must be our first concern. I urge my right hon. Friend not to neglect any feature which could mitigate the consequences of the overcrowding that we will have to tolerate. For example, is my right hon. Friend satisfied that no use could be made of what are called sleeping houses, houses where people suffering from tuberculosis could sleep overnight when there is gross overcrowding in their own homes? I know that they will not—
I hate to interrupt my hon. Friend, but he went on to say that homeless people should have priority. He was perfectly right, but I would suggest to him that, instead of saying that there should be priority for this or that class in the building of houses, we should allow the local authorities to select the most human and clamant needs, without specifying them.
I should be a stupid fellow if I chucked myself against the common sense which the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) always uses in these circumstances. Although I might reconsider my position, I am inclined to argue that because we are trying to lay down a definite line, and observe justice, we might do better by making our target the homeless people.
The second matter I would press upon my right hon Friend is that he should not neglect any emergency method which may contribute more houses. The first suggestion that comes to my mind may look so fantastic, that the right hon. Gentleman may be inclined to laugh at it. Is he satisfied that there is not a case for utilising the broad streets for these temporary houses, where there are services on the sites, such as in the West end of my own Division? Could he not put down temporary houses on the one side of the street, make it into a one-way street and pick up the services, water, sewerage and electricity, and use the temporary houses for decanting processes, while building more permanent houses? If this is a great enough emergency, I am certain that many methods that might look fantastic, or even laughable in other circumstances, would be accepted as part of this programme, just as fantastic methods were accepted to speed up war production.
One observation we had from the hon. and learned Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Erskine-Hill) must not go unchallenged. He asked the Minister to consider using German labour as a means towards a settlement of the labour problem. I think the hon. and learned Member reduced his argument to an absurdity. Either those Germans would have to be employed as slaves, and would thus undercut the conditions of our own workers, or, on the other hand, they would be employed on trade union conditions, for which our own men have fought the Germans. I think that that suggestion should be put outside the window.
I am not considering Russian trade unions. I do not know whether the hon. and gallant Member would like to model himself upon them. The housing problem takes a different form in the North of Scotland from that which it takes in industrial Scotland. In the Islands, men generally build their own houses. They have access to sand and shingle for the purposes of making plaster and cement. That problem does not exist and their transport problem is also settled. The only problem that remains is that of timber, and such prefabricated fittings as doors and windows. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman seriously to consider giving priority of access, through the organisation already in being, to the only components that stand between these men and the satisfaction of their housing needs, which are just as urgent as those in any other part of the country. The question of labour and other materials does not enter into it.
I hope also that consideration will be given by the Secretary of State to increasing the loans and grants available in those areas, so that they will bear, after the war, the same relation to the higher costs as obtained before the war in respect to prewar prices. The Act of 1938 will not provide anything like the same relative amount of assistance which it was able to give in pre-war conditions. I would also ask him once more if he would vigorously take up with the Services the question of leaving in the Isles the electrical, water and other supplies that have been installed for the use of the temporary Services residents. Those supplies were deemed essential for the Services, but they are equally essential for the permanent residents and should be continued, and fitted into the public services of the Isles cheaply, instead of being merely scrapped.
I am not going to blame the Secretary of State for all our troubles. A few years ago, describing the situation in which Secretaries of State for Scotland found themselves, he said that it was not physically possible for one elderly gentleman to fulfil all the Departmental functions laid upon him, so he did his best to screw all the cash he could out of the Treasury and distributed it as fairly as he could among them. The amount that has been screwed out of the Treasury so far has, obviously, gone no way towards solving the problem on the scale which that prob- lem demands. I hope that before our men come back to build their own homes preparations and plans will be made and, if necessary, enforced upon the county council, who after all, get the Government grant, so that when the men do come home they can have the job of building their own homes. They will not be taking labour from outside, or any materials except timber and certain fittings. I hope this attempt will be made to give them priority of access to the few things that they will need.
In the few minutes that remain before the Secretary of State replies, I want to ask the Secretary of State one or two questions. I do not expect that he will be in a position to answer them to-night, but I want him to give consideration to the matters I shall raise. I should like to have something to say to the hon. and learned Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Erskine-Hill) and to the hon. and gallant Member for Berwick and Haddington (Captain McEwen). I was a little mystified as to what the hon. and learned Member was driving at. If it were proposed to have a Minister of Housing for England, Wales and Scotland, I think he would find very considerable opposition to the suggestion from the North.
What I am recommending is that houses must be ready, somehow, for the troops when they come back. Under the present régime, it does not look in the least likely that they will be ready. Perhaps I might also explain that I made the suggestion purely for the emergency. I did not want it to go on any longer than the emergency.
We are all agreed about the object. I want to give homes, and would call the attention of the Secretary of State for Scotland to one or two matters. In one of the burghs which I represent, there has been difficulty for some time about housing sites. We have had trouble in the burgh of Inverkeithing with regard to a housing site. There was difficulty about acquiring the site, and about retaining it during the period of the war. At the moment the local authority are in this difficulty, that they have been promised temporary houses but the temporary houses had to be erected on a site that was intended for permanent dwell- ings. Negotiations have taken place between Inverkeithing and the Department of Health in Edinburgh, and our impression is that the burgh is only to get a part of the number of temporary houses that was originally promised. Their difficulty is in having a site that was intended for permanent houses, used partly for temporary dwellings, and partly left for permanent houses. I hope that the Secretary of State will give attention to that point and see whether the situation can be cleared up.
The other case is in connection with the same matter of sites for houses. It comes from the Fife county council, who have acquired sites for temporary houses. Like other local authorities, they have been told to prepare for a certain number of temporary houses, some to be delivered during the summer of this year and some later. Despite all that has been said against temporary houses, the housing situation in the whole of the county of Fife is such that the local authority are prepared to accept temporary houses if they can be got. Sites were acquired in the county area. The county council have been told that the sites acquired, while satisfactory for temporary houses, will not be suitable for permanent houses. In some mining areas sites have had to be acquired, which are not suitable for permanent houses but are suitable for temporay houses of light construction, because those areas have been undermined and sooner or later, permanent houses would be wrecked. The county council were prepared to erect temporary houses on those sites, in the belief that the underground workings would not damage those houses during the time they were required, but they are now in the position of having sites that are not good enough for permanent houses and they have not been able to get the number of temporary houses that were promised. They will have to compensate the owners of the land for the sites that they have acquired. They want to know if they are to be left in that position, and whether the Government are prepared to compensate them for the sites that they acquired, which will be of no use for permanent houses. I hope that the Secretary of State will give some attention to those matters.
I should like to say a word about another burgh which I represent, Cowdenbeath. It was one of the worst housed burghs in Scotland long before the outbreak of the war. For a long time there has been a housing problem there. A considerable number of houses was built when opportunity was afforded under various Housing Acts, but the burgh still has a very considerable housing problem. I have raised in this House over and over again the position of that burgh. Like other places to which I have referred in the county, the burgh has been undermined. There is not a street there which has not been undermined, houses have been wrecked, and the town council have had a pretty difficult job in housing their population there. There, again, we have had a little advantage. Twenty houses, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil) referred, have been allocated to Cowdenbeath. It will be some months before they are ready to be occupied, but we are very thankful to the Secretary of State for giving them to us. The local authorities are prepared to take a considerable number of temporary houses to relieve the housing shortage if the Secretary of State can give them definite information that they are to get these temporary houses. They want permanent houses as well but they are prepared to accept temporary houses.
These local authorities have been prepared to acquire sites, and have done so. As I say, they are prepared to take temporary houses, but they want to know when the houses are to be provided. I hope my right hon. Friend will inquire into these various points which I have put to him. I do not expect he will be able to answer them, without making further inquiries with regard to the sites in the county area, and in the burgh of Inverkeithing, but when he has done so I hope to have a satisfactory assurance in regard to those sites.
By common consent this is the major social domestic problem of our time. There is no doubt whatever about that. It is not a new problem; it did not arise during the war. We have had appalling housing conditions in Scotland for a hundred years, generation after generation has failed to solve the problem, and we are faced at the end of this period of war with additional destruction through enemy action, and the effect of the suspension for five or six years of the train- ing of apprentices, and the almost entire suspension of building during that period. We are faced with an added problem, and that at a time when labour arrangements are difficult, when personnel is difficult, and when it will require "all hands on deck" to achieve a solution of this problem. Objection has been taken to-night to a proposal that this should not be regarded as a political question. It is a political question, but that is a different thing from saying it need be a partisan question. The problem is too great, too fundamental, for mere partisan strife running loose. The Debate to-day, to which the Government have listened with considerable interest for suggestions, aid and assistance from any quarter from which they might come, has been of some value.
I listened to my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) and to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Erskine-Hill), and other Members, stating the case for new machinery for dealing with this problem, and we have heard about it in the Press. It is sometimes called a Ministry of Housing. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield called it a national development authority, but by and large the idea was the same, that the activities of all Ministries which at present take any interest in the matter of housing should be canalised in one Ministry with a view to seeing whether there could be an acceleration of house production. I will analyse, from my experience of local government and the Scottish Office, the assumptions upon which this proposal is based. Obviously, if this proposal would add to the number of houses I should welcome it. But I would ask the House to examine carefully the basis upon which this proposal is made before they proceed further with it.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield said, first of all, that there must be control of the use of land. He held the view that control of the use of land was the fundamental difficulty. It is true that before houses can be built the land must be there, and so far, due to one reason or another, we have secured approved sites in Scotland for 112,858 houses, and in England sites for 570,000 houses. The best pre-war year for Scottish house production was 1938, when private enterprise built 6,900, and the local authorities built 19,000, a total of approximately 26,000 houses, so that we now have sites in Scotland for four years' production at the rate of the best pre-war years. Site approvals in England, as I have said, number 570,000, and there is almost a two years' supply of land, so I submit with great deference to my right hon. Friend that it is not the land issue that is holding us up at the moment.
At this moment it is not the approval of the sites that is holding up the matter. I do not know what proportion of this land is actually legally in the possession of local authorities at this moment.
The right hon. Gentleman says "sites acquired." Have they been approved by the authority which is responsible, and are they ready to build on? Could the authorities go ahead and build the houses now so far as the land is concerned?
The land has been approved. We can enter into possession on days' notice. Sites have been approved for 112,000 houses in Scotland, and 570,000 in England. It is not failure to secure land—not failure to get land approved—that is holding up the provision of houses at this moment.
My hon. Friend is wrong. We built in our best pre-war year 26,000 houses. We have nearly two years' sites in England, and over four years' sites in Scotland, on the 1938 figure.
No, I am sure I am not saying that. Let me put my case as clearly as I can. I say that in the best pre-war year we built 26,000 houses in Scotland. That was in 1938. I say that we have sites approved now for new houses in Scotland which would cover four years at the rg38 rate of supply. By these figures I stand.
But my argument was not about the sites which, had been obtained. My argument, in the first part of my speech, was that if we are going to have a consistent long-term programme we really must know what land is to be used to build houses and for other purposes. I was not arguing about the sites available.
I will not carry the point any further than to say that I am trying to make in my own mind an inquiry as to the cause of the delay in house-building now; and, to the best of my knowledge and belief, it is not the inability of the State and of the local authorities to acquire land for housing.
That is what I am putting; and I am very glad that my hon. Friend agrees with me. The next point, if I may be allowed to state it, is whether the servicing of the sites is the trouble. Land by itself, unserviced, is no use for housing. In Scotland we have 10,500 temporary or permanent sites serviced and about 10,700 in process of being serviced. We have, therefore, 21,200 sites either serviced or in process of being serviced, with the present labour supplies and difficulties. In England the figures are up to 86,000. It is not inability either to get land or to service the land that is holding up the provision of houses. There is one other factor: credit. The hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) raised that issue, as did my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield. There has been no refusal by the Treasury to supply loans at a known rate of interest. In the House the other day, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury showed that loans for upwards of 30 years were to be given at 3⅛ per cent. It may be that other methods of finance will be resorted to in future—it may be interest-free money, instead of a State subvention—but at the moment it is not the issue of public credit which is stopping the creation of houses.
I presume that my right hon. Friend is now dealing with England, as well as with Scotland. Is he aware that in my division, a small urban district, which has now had to increase its rates to 20s. in the pound, has been told that the only way that it can get a piece of land for development is by raising a further 4d. rate for interest charges on the loan alone, and that it cannot afford to saddle the ratepayers with a burden like that?
I am not in a position to answer that question, but I know that there are such systems as block grants and arrangements for relieving necessitous local authorities. I take the next point. Is it technical skill which is the difficulty? There is a great shortage of technical skill in many areas—a shortage of architects, engineers, quantity surveyors, and so on. That shortage we are endeavouring to the best of our ability to make good now. I cannot speak in this matter for England, but in Scotland we have the friendliest relationships with the Incorporation of British Architects. We have these architects preparing standard plans; I think there are 37 types. These types are made available to the local authorities, so that they can pick and choose which type they prefer, if any; and they can get that type at the fixed price. Plans are passed automatically; there is no delay; and we believe that by that means we are accelerating production.
I have dealt with the land, finance, credit, and technical skill; now I come to labour. If there were a Ministry of Housing, the Minister of Labour's arrangements, his contacts with building unions, would be taken over. The Ministry of Labour has built up contacts with the building unions for over 30 years, and a Ministry of Housing which incorporated all the activities of other Ministries would require to incorporate also a considerable proportion of the activities of the Ministry of Labour. If there were a Ministry of Housing to-morrow, it would require to consult agriculture, because I presume that in no circumstances would the hon. and learned Member for North Edinburgh propose that a Ministry of Housing should take land for housing without consulting the Ministry of Agriculture or the Department of Agriculture. He would, therefore, still consult the Minister of Agriculture as to the suitability of particular sites for cropping or for housing. He would require to consult also, as we do now, the Ministry of Transport. He would require to consult, as we do now, the Ministry of Education about the siting of schools. He would require to consult, as we do now, the Ministry of Town and Country Planning.
I cannot consult myself on transport or on fuel and power. There are Departments of State which we ought to consult and must consult, and which, if we had a Ministry of Housing to-morrow under any conceivable arrangement would have to be consulted in the national interest before we proceeded with house building. I am putting what I think is a perfectly reasonable case. We either avoid these consultations or we absorb these Ministers, and I put it to my right hon. Friend that, when the local authorities are now in possession of the water supply, drainage plans, roads, streets, and public health, a new Minister coming down and going over the top of local authorities or obliterating their present arrangements and contacts with the Department of Health would not make for an acceleration in house building.
Will my right hon. Friend allow me to reply to the question he put to me? There is all the difference in the world between a Department consulting another Department and one Department having the right to make up its mind. The difficulty about delay in Departments seems to me to be due, not so much to consultation, as to making up their minds.
No; I beg the hon. Member's pardon. The delay arises purely, in my view, because of labour shortage. It is a labour problem, and, unless and until we can get an acceleration of the labour force for building—I am leaving out the question of factory construction at the moment—unless and until we get an added labour force for constructing houses upon the site. I submit that no amount of rearrangement of contact between Departments, or between Whitehall and St. Andrew's House, would of itself solve the problem. I agree that the Minister of Works ought to be in a position to deal with the Health Ministries as if they were acting for the consumers of housing, as we are, and he ought to be in a position to canalise in his Department all the prefabricated parts of the material possible, and should be in a position, after arrangements with the Ministry of Labour, to be able to sell to us, or to sell to the private adventurer on housing estates, the maximum of ready-made, prefabricated materials to accelerate house building.
If that is what is meant by a Ministry of Housing—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—I know it is not, but if that was what was meant, there would be a great deal less objection. In fact, there would be no objection at all, and, so far as I am concerned, I would welcome, too, the Health Ministers being able to go to one source for the supply of their materials, and that source, clearly and properly, is the Ministry of Works. If I might very briefly refer to some matters of a rather more Scottish character—
Two hundred and twenty. We in Scotland are aiming at increasing our serviced sites for permanent housing this year from 9,000 to 32,000, and at increasing the serviced sites for temporary houses from 15,000 to 20,000, thus making a total figure of sites, serviced and ready, for the erection of 52,000 houses this year. Tribute has been paid to the local authorities, and I fully share it. Their difficulties have been enormous, but they overcame them for the most part with great determination. There is, however, a point beyond which it is impossible for the local authorities to continue functioning as local house agents. Before the war we in Scotland had 108,000 building trade operatives; now, we have only 30,000 odd. Therefore, we are down to one-third of our pre-war strength. Our output is low, even at this figure, because at present one-fiftieth of the whole industry are men under 31 years of age. In 1939, one-fifth of them were under 31 years of age. Not only are our numbers down, but the ages are very much higher. Yet we have completed, with this depleted labour force, 36,000 houses which were started pre-war.
We have completed 36,000 houses during the war. The Government proposals for augmenting the labour force are set out in the White Paper on training for the building industry. Our aim is to raise the United Kingdom building force from the pre-war level of slightly over 1,000,000 to 1,250,000 workers, and this is to be done by the adult training schemes and special measures to improve and co-ordinate conditions of apprenticeship, and thereby stimulate recruitment to the industry. In addition, some 900 boys in Scotland are receiving their pre-apprenticeship vocational training under education authority auspices. We have also a Special Housing Association on a non-profit making basis authorised to prepare and produce up to 100,000 houses in the next 10 years. They will only operate in local authority areas with the concurrence of the local authorities, but they will be there to aid and assist local authorities in providing houses. Our target figure—and this was the point about which the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) asked—for two years in Scotland is for 50,000 perpanent houses and 40,000 temporary houses, a total of 90,000 houses in the two years from now. The hon. Member for Greenock asked me some questions about the two schemes which we endeavoured to set going during the war.
I am dealing with two questions which the hon. Member for Greenock himself put to me about the housing schemes that we endeavoured to set going during the war. I was assured then that there was immobile labour in certain industrial areas following upon the stoppage of munition works, and we secured an order for 1,000 houses under the first scheme. Some of these houses, to the number of 40, the hon. Gentleman said, are not yet begun and he asked why. Twenty of them were finally withdrawn by local authorities in various parts of the country because of their inability to get tenders at all. In two cases the costs were fantastic and one case was a siting difficulty. The total number of houses not begun under the first scheme was 40. I suppose that the hon. Member knows that some of these houses that were not begun were in his own constituency and the failure to proceed there was due entirely to siting difficulties.
In the second programme—the 1944 programme—all tenders were approved, on an average in five days' time. Plans were furnished by the Department in certain cases, and wherever there is immobile labour available we are authorising some small scale production of housing for permanent houses to absorb that labour. Wherever it is proved that there is a number of immobile building trade workers becoming available in any industrial area and where it is possible to absorb them in house building, we forthwith authorise housing to go on there. May I say a word about the temporary house—the Phoenix house. The hon. Member for Gorbals asked when that house was to be begun. There are two sites where the material has arrived on the site and erection is beginning this week on one of them and at the beginning of next week on the other.
I do not think that I ought to say that. There are possible reasons for not doing so and I only hope that in another week's time I shall be in a position to do so.
It is a start. These houses, I am assured, will be ready in the second or third week of April. With regard to the Arcon house contracts have been let for slabbing 800. The building of these houses is expected to start in the third week of April, but the houses should all be completed by the end of June. We had an unfortunate experience in our first attempt at emergency housing. We authorised 600 emergency houses under great pressure and we were unfortunate in the method and type of construction. There has been controversy ever since about the causes of the failure of that system, but we are having a joint investigation—I believe it was completed yesterday—with local authority representatives in each case, department officials, including a medical officer, and representatives of the Special Housing Association. I hope that as a result of this investigation proper remedial measures will be vouchsafed to us and that we shall be able to make the necessary financial arrangements for compensation for destruction of furniture and so on.
I think so. I do not see any objection about that, though I hesitate to give an answer on the spur of the moment, but I see no reason against it, and perhaps the hon. Member will not press me any further on that until I have advice on the subject. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Watson) asked what would happen to Fife County Council in a case where they had purchased land for temporary housing and were now afraid that temporary housing was not to be supplied to them and that they would be left with this land on their hands. The answer is that all the temporary housing that was promised to the County Council of Fife for those temporary sites will be made available this year if they have the land serviced as per schedule. There will be no failure on our part to supply houses, and if there should be, obviously it would be a case for special examination and consultation between the Government and the County Council.
On this grave issue of housing there is no one solution. My right hon. and learned friend the Minister of Health spoke to-day about American houses coming. I do not know how many there will be or when they will arrive. There will be, I hope, prefabricated timber houses from other countries. I hope that Lord Weir's steel houses will make some contribution to this problem, and all the various types of prefabricated emergency houses for which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Works has presently arranged must all be pressed into service. I suggest that whatever criticisms we may have of the temporary houses, we shall be well advised to do everything in our power to make certain that as a temporary measure those houses will be welcome and used, and that when the day comes when we are in a position to supplant them by permanent houses, we shall at any rate be none the worse but all the better for the experiment.
I am very glad of the opportunity of taking part in the Debate this evening. The problem that I have come up against as a London Member is one of the most serious with which we have been faced for a very long time. What is the position? The trouble is not the long-term programme. It is the position which will follow immediately on the cessation of hostilities in the West. The position that we find now—and I know it as representing the constituency of North Hackney—is that we have thousands abroad in the Army, and many men and women in hostels up and down the country working in munition plants, and that even now it is impossible to get a small house in London. For this reason, I do not know what is going to happen when the demobilisation scheme first comes into operation.
I have listened to all the Debate, with the exception of two or three speeches in the Scottish part of it, and it struck me that, even now, quite a number of Members do not realise how serious this prob- lem is going to be immediately after the war. Many of them have drawn attention to the long-term programme, and have said that permanent building is much better than temporary whereas where-ever we go we are faced with the problem of finding some kind of shelter for these men and women at once. This is our problem, and not the long-term problem of finding permanent houses in the years to come. We are told in the White Paper that to make up for existing shortages, we want no less than 750,000 houses, and to deal with the existing slums, or sub-standard houses, another 500,000 are required. May I say in passing that I do not believe that, certainly in London, the question of the purchase of land is a problem? I think that the Government possess sufficient powers to get hold of any land they require for a reasonable sum. A rather good example, of this was given to me during this week. The owners of the sites of four houses which were blitzed had been asked by the local borough council, which wishes to requisition the sites for building, to say in triplicate—every Government Department wants everything done in triplicate in these days—what value they placed on those sites. They replied, after consulting their surveyor, that they felt that for the four £50 was about correct. They were told almost straight away that the borough council proposed to pay £1 each for the four sites, and I am pretty certain that that borough council will get those sites for £1 each. In circumstances like those, there does not appear to be any difficulty at all, if the Government use their powers, in getting the sites they want.
But that is not the point I want to argue. For nearly 18 months now I and other hon. Members of this House have been working extremely hard on the Interdepartmental Committee which is dealing with rent control, a Committee whose report, I believe, will be published in a few days. Naturally, I cannot tell the House what is in that report. One thing I can tell them and that is that all of us were struck with the appalling seriousness of the housing position, and of the problems which thus arose in connection with rent control. One problem is the building of houses after the war. In my opinion it is just as serious and may have just as serious consequences as many of the problems with which we have had to deal during this war.
If the House will forgive me I would like to mention a problem which faced me at the beginning of the war, when I was Civil Lord of the Admiralty. The House knows that the Civil Lord has to deal with the shore establishments of the Navy. An enormous amount of building had to be done, and done quickly. At the beginning of the war, one of our most pressing problems was the building of a complete naval base at Scapa Flow. There is no secret about that now. There was nothing there at all, and what made it more difficult was that the accommodation required included an enormous number of huts and houses, cinemas and so forth for the Navy personnel there. All this accommodation had to be built on bare islands, where there was not a single house of any kind, and therefore we had to find the workers somewhere to live in order to be able to build the huts. However, it had to be done. Another thing which had to be done at the same time—again it is no secret because it was broadcast the other night—was blocking the Western exit of Scapa Flow. We got through our difficulties by improvisation. We bought up all the caravans we could get hold of, and lashed them to the rocks on the island. The workers had to live in them, and then they put up the huts and finally completed the naval barracks.
We are not going to ask people to live in caravans, but we shall not be able to deal with this emergency unless we use something like the same kind of improvisation. It does not seem much use asking some of the Government Departments to deal with this matter. As the House knows, as Civil Lord I did not have to consult five or six different Departments. I could go straight ahead with the job, and occasionally let the First Lord know what was happening and he—our present Prime Minister—gave me full authority to get on with the job. The job was finished in record time.
What I want to call attention to is the discouragement which local authorities are now getting, who are trying to help with housing and who realise how vital the position is. I have in my hand a report from a small local authority. There is no necessity to give the name because the situation is the same all over the country. This particular local authority
wanted to build 100 temporary houses, in order to house the ex-Service men who would be coming back after the war. They got an allocation of 100 houses, and they chose a site which they thought was quite useless for permanent buildings, but very suitable for temporary buildings. It was then their troubles started because they had to get permission from all the different Government Departments. If I may say so, bureaucracy immediately got going, and every Department that was consulted tried to say why they should not build, tried to give every reason why the buildings should not be commenced, and every reason why the site should not be used, but no reason why they should build. I have, as the House knows, had a good deal of experience, in one way or another, of Government Departments, as a Parliamentary Private Secretary and a junior Minister, and the one thing that struck me—although nobody has a higher opinion of the Civil Service than I have—is that they were always prone to give a reason why you should not do a thing and not why it should be done. There is one Department I remember now, where I was putting forward a suggestion with a view to solving a particular difficulty. The senior civil servant said to me, "You cannot do it; what is it?"
I would like to follow up very shortly the experience of this small local authority. They had a letter from the Ministry of Town and Country Planning explaining what the other different Government Department thought of the scheme. The first one was from the Ministry of Agriculture who said they were advised that the land proposed to be used could not be used, because it was allotment land, unless an equal amount of other land was given in substitution. That actually was not true, and was proved to them not to be true, but then they put three things which this local authority could do. They could:
(1) provide alternative land and put up their proposal to the Ministry of Health for approval; (2) submit their Order for confirmation by Parliament"—
That is to say to use the allotment or, and this is the gem of the lot,
(3) drop the proposal.
The House will notice that they did not say, "You must go ahead and we will help you all we can," and the third suggestion was that the local authority should
drop the matter. The Ministry of War Transport come in next. They say:
This Department considers this scheme should not be approved as: (i) it constituted a form of Ribbon Development.
These are temporary houses for an emergency, it must be remembered—
(ii) the depth of the site would Scarcely permit of the provision of a proper service road,
Finally, we have the Ministry of Town and Country Planning itself which says:
… Further planning objections arise on account of site being separated from school and shopping facilities by a classified road. It is also felt that as the site adjoins … a residential area—
To paraphrase, they think that the area would object to anything so common as temporary houses being put there. If hon. Members were in the position of an authority really trying to help, would they say that those three Departments were trying all out to meet a real emergency? I should say certainly not, and that a different attitude altogether must be adopted by Government Departments.
In my view it is important to stress, at this stage, the vital importance of emergency or temporary houses of some kind. At Rosyth in the last war when the dockyard was built in a terrific hurry, there was an appalling place there called "Tin Town" where the dockyard workers lived. That was put up at very short notice. We do not want necessarily to put up "tin towns" but we do want to put up some shelter for the ex-Service men or else, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), that we are bound to have serious trouble in this country because the unfortunate people will have nowhere to go and will not know what to do. I think we have to build some form of temporary houses. I do not mind what that form is. We have to use places like the verges of parks and gardens. You can build a temporary house in the garden of a permanent house-to-be, which can be built during the short time that the temporary house stays there, and there is the advantage that you can use the drainage and other services. Then we might consider ex-aerodromes; and it might be possible, to put temporary buildings along the verges of their enormous runways. There you have the roads ready made. This must be treated as an emergency, and we have to do things in a way which would not be done under ordinary circumstances. I am quite certain that, at the moment, the Government do not quite realise that.
Before my hon. Friend replies, may I also ask him if he is aware that there is a great housing shortage in the villages in Suffolk, and any amount of aerodromes with drainage, roads and electric light?
As a matter of fact, the one that flashed through my mind was a big aerodrome in Berkshire which is very close to a town. However, this is merely a suggestion for trying to get unorthodox ways of doing things, as the Service Departments had to do at the beginning of the war. Before I leave that question of improvisation, may I express the hope that whichever Department is responsible will consider at the earliest moment after the war taking back again those holiday camps, which were built by the Admiralty as naval training establishments but in such a way that they could immediately be changed back into holiday camps and could house an enormous number of people? That was done on a policy. It struck me that after the last war there was enormous waste in the vast military camps, which could not be used for anything else. There are certainly two which we built, one in North Wales, the other in Scotland, and these could be turned straight back into holiday camps. I got into a little trouble at the time in this House because it was thought that building them in that way we were, perhaps, being a little too kind to the person who had agreed to take them back again. However, when I tell the House that the financial arrangements were not only thoroughly scrutinised by the Admiralty financial people, but were agreed with, and passed by the Treasury, I think the House will agree that anyone would be very lucky who got away with anything in those circumstances.
One other thing I must say. We must impress upon the Government the importance of treating this as an emergency, but we must also impress this emergency on everybody else—on owners of land, on builders and on building operatives. I do not quite know the number of bricks laid per bricklayer now, but I do know it has reached a record low figure, and you certainly cannot build a brave new world on 300 bricks a day. We may have to get the employers and the trade unions together, as we have done during the war, and start some form of emergency arrangement between them to get this building done, but the emergency itself is the most important thing. I cannot see how one Minister will solve this. I do not believe that is possible. How can building labour be taken away from the Minister of Labour and put under a single Minister? That is not the solution. The solution is a change of heart on the part of the Ministers concerned. I think that this is a challenge, both to Parliament and industry, and I think we have to face it and overcome it.
Despite what I have heard from the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland, I am still convinced that one of the root causes of the trouble which we are facing in this matter of housing at present is a lack of unity of direction. This job is essentially one, the success of which depends upon real co-ordination of effort, and it is not to be properly tackled by leaving the repair of houses to one Department, and the construction of houses to another; to allow one to be responsible for temporary erections, and to make the other responsible for the permanent erections. Co-ordination of the efforts of all the people concerned is an essential factor in success. The proper use of land, labour and materials in house production can only be secured if all their varying uses for the purpose of house production are co-ordinated by one Minister.
The steps that have to be taken to satisfy the, varying needs of repair and construction in our local authority areas can only be adequately and properly done if the varying needs of each local authority area are related to the damage that has been done, to the population migration that has taken place, the industrial development that is necessary, slum clearance, proper planning and so on. In the carrying out of this work the main agents, at any rate in the early post-war years, must be the local authorities. I am certain that I am voicing the general view of a great number of our local governing bodies when I say that, first, they want one authority to be responsible for this business and, secondly, that that authority should be the Ministry of Health. Local authorities do not want a new Ministry. They are of the opinion that there are probably too many of them already, because during the war they have had to suffer from the inept interference of a great number of Government Departments in the affairs for which they have been responsible. That experience has not only made them very much more appreciative of the Ministry of Health, but it has convinced them of the abysmal ignorance that exists in many Government Departments, particularly in the newer ones, of the constitution, powers, and procedure of our local governing authorities.
Housing is a very big job, and one that requires full-time attention. The Minister of Health must be finding his time more and more filled with the consideration of problems of the development of medical and other social services, and the giving of this task to his Parliamentary Secretary, or even the provision of another Parliamentary Secretary for the purpose, would not meet the need. The business involves a great deal of contact and consultation with many other Ministries, the Ministry of Labour, the Ministry of Works, the Ministry of Supply, and so on, and the person who is charged with this job must be sufficiently high in the hierarchy to be able to deal with the chiefs of the other Departments on grounds of equal status and power. My suggestion, therefore, is that there should be attached to the Ministry of Health a Minister of State for Housing, in much the same way as there is a Minister of State attached to the Foreign Office, and that he should have full powers to tackle all the problems that are connected with housing by way of repairs, construction, the approval of schemes, and the relationship of local authorities and private builders and things of that sort. But whether that be done or not, of this I am convinced: that one of the first and most important tasks that must be faced is the simplification of the administrative machine.
In the early post-war years local authorities especially will have a great part to play in the organisation of housing, and I find that many of them are very concerned about the steady increase in the
number of essential Departments charged with responsibility for various aspects of this problem. That steady increase, they say, is having a very adverse effect indeed upon the expeditious preparation and completion of their housing schemes. Many of the requirements which the newer Government Departments are making did not exist before the war, and as a result the difficulties and affairs of the local authorities are much more complicated. No one Government Department is responsible for approving a local authority scheme in all its aspects, and with so many Departments coming into the picture, together with the very disastrous decline in the qualified staffs of the local authorities themselves, it is obvious that delay and confusion will result. I have here a lengthy report by one of our local governing authorities' associations, who, after careful consideration of this problem, say:
We consider that reasonable progress in housing schemes will be completely unattainable, despite every effort by the local authorities, unless the procedural requirements are limited roughly to those which obtained pre-war.
The Metropolitan Boroughs Standing Joint Committee. They suggest that there shall be one Ministry, the Ministry of Health, which should assume all responsibility for keeping in touch with all the Government Departments concerned with the inter-related aspects of housing, and that that Ministry should agree with those Departments on the conditions which the central authorities deem to be necessary in the interests of this community, and that when the Minister of Health, or the Minister attached to his Department, sanctions a local authority scheme that sanction should carry with it the approval of all the other Ministries concerned. They say that if that were done it would ease very considerably the difficulties with which they are faced. After a local authority have the approval of a central Government Department there is an enormous number of things which they still have to undertake, such as notice to treat, negotiations with regard to each claim, arbitration in default of agreement, conveyancing, the preparation of sites, the laying-out of sewers, water, gas and electricity, the approval of architectural plans, the getting out of quan- tities, tendering, and so on; and they say it is essential that there should be a speed up, first of things at the centre and then a simplification of the activity of the local authorities themselves.
I want to mention particularly that these authorities feel that something ought to be done at the centre to ease their problem. After having acquired in all built-up areas in London the whole of the land for a clearance or development scheme, a great deal of time still has to be spent on the job, because if it comes to the closing of highways, and the work is not carried out as a slum clearance scheme, the authority has to go back to that remarkable and most amusing Act of Parliament called Michael Angelo Taylor's Act of 1817, or the Highways Act of 1835, in order to close up the highways. That involves a great deal of time being spent, because it is necessary to publish notices about it in each of four successive weeks, and, after that, a motion for an order has to be put at the next quarter sessions, which takes at least another four weeks, and sometimes considerably longer. The first claim I want to make in regard to this housing business, therefore, is that the procedure should be simplified and speeded up.
The next problem with which I want to deal is that of temporary housing. A good deal has been said about it to-day, but, so far as the actual doing of the job is concerned, there seems to be, in Government quarters at any rate, a tendency to run away from the problem altogether. I make so bold as to say that in certain areas temporary housing is absolutely essential, not merely for the purpose of finding shelter for those who are homeless now—and that is reason enough for doing it—but in order to make possible the steady rebuilding of badly blitzed areas. I want to take my own authority area as an example, for we speak best about the things of which we have personal experience. In my area there are innumerable blitzed sites, the houses having been destroyed in couples, in dozens, in scores, in hundreds at a time. How many of these sites there are I cannot at the moment remember, but we have already surveyed 50 of them for the purpose of erecting temporary houses.
The greater part of our borough will have to be rebuilt after the war. We have tried to be realistic about our prob- lem, and we have picked out what we regard as a really sane and reasonable programme for the next five years. None of the temporary sites which have been surveyed are included in any part of our five-year programme. We have lost 10,000 dwellings completely destroyed, which is 40 per cent. of our original supply. Of those that are left, it is estimated that they will not provide more than about two-thirds of the accommodation which they could provide pre-war. So that in total we have lost 60 per cent. of our accommodation. We want temporary houses for shelter, and we have made application for some 2,000 of them. Now it begins to appear that we are not likely to get that number and that we shall have to be satisfied with permanent prefabricated houses. The point I want to make is that if, on these sites in the other parts of the area, we are compelled to put permanent houses, when we come after our five-year programme to develop other sites in our area, we shall he faced with the necessity of pulling down permanent prefabricated houses with a life of 20 to 30 years still remaining. We feel that if that is done the possibility of our redevelopment will be ruined. Permanent prefabricated houses are all right where the lay-out now is good, but where the road network is all wrong we feel that only temporary houses should be erected in order that the rebuilding may go on.
There is another problem in connection with temporary houses which I want to bring forward. We have asked for 2,000 of them. We are already preparing our sites, but when we come to total up the effect of the programme which we have put forward, we begin to be considerably worried at the loss of accommodation in which temporary building under existing conditions will result. Take as an example one single site in this area. It had on it 51 houses. As a result of our survey, we can put up 21 of these temporary bungalows. Assuming that our pre-war houses sheltered only one family—and they rarely did that, for there were nearly always two or more—we have lost accommodation for family units to the extent of 60 per cent. as a result of that change. The case is worse than that. The 51 houses had 158 bedrooms. The 21 temporary bungalows will have only 42. Therefore, our accommodation on the site will have been reduced by 75 per cent.
I have spoken of the loss of accommodation. We shall be faced with a great return of people to our area immediately this job is over, and we shall have to find them shelter. In addition, on the sites that we have to develop in our five-year programme are still scattered individual houses occupied at the present moment, and when we come to carry out our programme we shall have to find alternative accommodation for the people who will have to be displaced in order that the programme can be carried out. We were very worried because these bungalows will not provide us with the necessary accommodation. After careful inquiry and a great deal of consideration on the part of members of the council and officials, we put up a proposition that we should be allowed to erect prefabricated temporary terraced houses in blocks of four. If we did that, the 42 bedrooms of the bungalows would become 96 in the terraced houses on the particular site I am talking about. We know—and I want to emphasise this—that there is no technical reason why prefabricated terraced houses should not be erected. We sent our proposals and sketches to the very people who are providing us with the prefabricated units out of which we are erecting huts at the present moment, and this is their reply:
We duly received your letter with your sketch plan of a narrow fronted, two-storey, three-bedroom terraced house. The plan is interesting and could be executed quite easily in our system of construction.
We were very "bucked" when we got that reply, and we sent in an urgent request that we should be allowed to do this job. But without inquiry, without any attempt at consultation with ourselves, without any consideration of the particular problem with which we were trying to deal, the proposal was turned clown and on 24th February a letter was sent to us, which started out with one of those platitudes that mean nothing at all and ended up with a statement that meant a very great deal. It was:
I am to say that the Government are anxious that temporary houses shall be of the best design possible under present conditions, but it has been decided that the manufacture of temporary two-storey terrace houses has now to be undertaken. Preliminary experiments are being carried out with a view to the production of a prefabricated permanent house but, even if this experiment should prove successful, the houses would not become available for an indefinite period.
That decision will stultify the whole of our rebuilding plans.
It is the material of which the Uni-seco hut is constructed. I am afraid that our five years' work will very largely be prevented, because the accommodation that we can provide in these temporary bungalows on the sites available will not be sufficient for our people, and therefore there will be public pressure to extend bungalows even to the areas included in our five years' plan and, as a result, our people, who have already suffered enough, will have to continue to suffer the squalor and misery that they are suffering under present conditions.
There is one more problem that I want to tackle and that is the finances of this temporary shelter business. This temporary accommodation memorandum sets out the conditions under which temporary shelter can he provided by local authorities. They are told that, for each temporary bungalow, the local authority is to pay to the Ministry of Health £23 10s. every year. That in itself is a great injustice. The need for these has arisen out of the war. The people who are going to inhabit them, are casualties of the war, and the cost of the provision of temporary shelter should be a national and not a local charge. How is this £23 10s. to be arrived at? We are told that the tenants of the bungalows are to be charged 10s. net rent. That, in itself, is a grave injustice. Ten shillings net rent in the East End of London means an inclusive rent of 15s. 6d. to 16s. 6d. a week. Here in the West End it means 13s. 6d., yet for houses belonging to the Government and erected by the Government, the poor in the East are to pay 20 to 30 per cent. more than those living in the West End, who have suffered no more. The income is £26 The local authority is to bear the cost of the provision of the site, roads, common access paths, sewers and the main services. That is calculated to cost £4 per annum, in addition, the local authority to be responsible for the maintenance of the places, keeping them in good internal and external repair, and that is estimated at £6 10s., in my opinion a ridiculous sum, quite contrary to the experience of working-class houses of local authorities in the area I come from. There is £10 10s. already. It leaves £15 10s. and the local authority are to pay £23 10s. In other words there is to be an £8 subsidy on the rates for each temporary house built in the area. These houses are most needed in the poorest areas, where the rateable values are lowest, and the existing rates highest. We have asked for 2,000, and 2,000 temporary houses will mean an increase of 8d. in the rates of our borough to meet it—a national charge and we are to pay 8d. in the rates. Westminster has asked for 60, and they will have to levy a rate of 1/75th of 1d. The people in my area are to carry a burden 600 times greater than that of the citizens of Westminster in helping to meet a national duty arising out of a national war. We claim that that is not good enough. The case is worse than that, because the £4 for the site is calculated upon the supposition that it will cost £200 an acre. The average cost of the land which we have bought compulsorily for housing in the borough is 10,000 an acre. The extra cost involved here for sites will be £21 for a bungalow. This is to be shared, according to the Memorandum, in the proportion of four to one, between the State and the local authority, which means an increase of over £4 per annum per bungalow, or another 4d. on the rates. Therefore, in order to provide 2,000—and we want considerably more than that—we have to pay an increase of 1s. per annum in our rates. That system of financing temporary housing is all wrong, and is a great injustice to the kind of area that I represent.
I want to give one word of warning. After the last war we suffered a great deal from the increase in local rates, because local authorities had to face a national responsibility for the maintenance of the unemployed. For years we sat on a seething volcano of discontent in the East End of London, as the result of which 40 of my colleagues spent six months in Brixton Prison. Out of this housing business, a greater social discontent will arise than that which arose out of unemployment after the last war.
No local authority will be able to sit on that problem and keep its people quiet. There is a great responsibility on the House and the Government to see that the financing of temporary houses and the financing of permanent houses does not fall upon the poverty-stricken areas, bringing about an enormous increase in the rates which they have to bear, because if it does the local authorities will be absolutely unable to meet the charge and unable, therefore, to carry out their duty of providing the houses, and great social discontent and disorder will come as a result of the negligence.
We all realise how vital this problem of housing is. We cannot go on indefinitely having families living in other people's houses or unable even to find a house of any sort in which to live. There are very many decisions to have to be made. Let me say here that I do not agree with what was said by the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Key) about social discontent. I represent an industrial area, and I have heard no complaints of any sort in my division about the obvious need of putting the war first at the present time. I agree with the hon. Member, however, about the number of Ministries involved. I have tried to find out who is in charge of this matter. So far as I could find out, there are involved the following Ministries: The Ministry of Health, the Scottish Office, the Ministry of Works, the Ministry of Production, the Ministry of Supply, the Ministry of Labour, and, taking into account subsidies, the Treasury. And the Ministry of Town and Country Planning as well. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) said that we have a very great number of major-generals. He is right, and I can only say, having regard to my Army experience, that what we now need is a really good sergeant-major. As the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley said, we want to find out who is really in charge of housing.
I have not heard anything from the Government about priorities. My hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) mentioned factories. Are they to be rebuilt or repaired before houses are built? We cannot say how many houses will be built or how much money will be spent on houses before we know whether factories are to be repaired first. There may have been some decision by the Government on that point, but I have not heard of it. I cannot see why prisoners of war should not be used to rebuild what either they or their friends have knocked down. One hon. Member suggested that even if prisoners of war could not build the whole of a house, they could at least put in the foundations and make the drains, and if they could not do that, they could be employed in repairing and enlarging drains that already exist. I do not know whether the Home Secretary is concerned with this matter, but as my constituency is an industrial one, I want to suggest to him that some notice should be given as to where the V.2 bombs come down. It interrupts the work of the men in the factories when they do not know where they have fallen.
The Minister of Labour is concerned with this Bill, because he directs workers. He directs some to my Division, and takes others away from my Division. He brings some in from Wales. I wish he would leave the ones that are there and send back to Wales some of those he has brought in. I hope the Minister of Labour will do something about this. I agree with the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley, and after hearing him I would like to know who is actually in charge of the housing problem. Our constituents are continually going for us. If we knew who was responsible for dealing with this problem we should then have somebody whom we could go for in turn.
After hearing the speech of the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Key) and the colossal problem in his constituency I feel timid at putting the case of Plymouth, which has not suffered like London although it has suffered very heavily. For that reason I intervene to make two or three points. The first is that Plymouth will have to provide 15,000 houses, which will be required for the population, partly returned evacuees, partly displaced families, partly returned soldiers and sailors, and others who have lost their homes through enemy action. The problem is very acute. I admit that London has priority, and I welcomed the statement which was made by the Prime Minister that priority would be given to the blitzed cities in this matter of rebuilding. It is very important that priority should be given to such cities. They have not only to rebuild the houses that have been damaged, but there is also the necessity for replanning and they cannot replan unless arrangements are made for housing the people.
In the meanwhile, there is a particular problem connected with Plymouth. A great deal of the city is scheduled to be taken over after the war by the Admiralty. There are many houses in that area which could be put into habitable repair. The Admiralty have not decided when they mean to take the property over, whether it will be in five years, ten years, or a longer period. If the period will be a long one it would be better that the citizens of Plymouth should put those houses into temporary repair so that there could be temporary accommodation in the large area which has been scheduled.
The hon. Member for Bow and Bromley spoke of the necessity for temporary houses. That need will be essential in Bow and Bromley and it will be equally essential in blitzed cities like Plymouth. But there is a disinclination on the part of the local authorities to carry big schemes of temporary houses into effect. Every local authority wants to build for posterity, and the better they build the better will be their city in the end, but meanwhile what is of most importance is the provision of shelter for those families who have nowhere to live, who are split up into houses—families in one room, families in two rooms, and shelter must be provided to give them somewhere where they can lay their heads.
There is one obstacle which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Brigg (Mr. Quibell), to which I should like to draw attention; that is with regard to the provision of labour. From my own experience I know there is a reservoir of labour in the factories throughout this country. People have been reserved in factories for doing maintenance and odd jobs and other purposes, and there should be a comb-out of building labour from the factories, particularly the aeroplane factories which have been mentioned, and which are now possibly producing a reduced output. We could obtain a very considerable supply of skilled building labour if that course were taken. I welcome very much the fact that there is to be control of the placing of contracts. I am afraid of great contracts going to big firms, which cannot put the personal touch into the building they have to carry out. One Member to-day mentioned the question of absentee contractors who take on contracts and themselves practically never visit the sites on which their contracts are being carried out. We all know the small building firms who still have some reserves of labour who could undertake smaller contracts, and the business should be divided among the small firms, medium firms and big firms. I hope that, in every respect, these moderately sized and smaller sized firms will be employed.
There is a case I should like to bring to the attention of the Minister, of one or two owners of factories in the Midlands who have expressed their willingness to put up houses for their own employees, using their own workers, but they have been told that is not the right step for them to take, because all the labour has to be pooled, as have all the materials. But if a firm is willing to put up buildings for its own employees, surely every house put up in any part of the country is one more in the direction of supplying this vast number of houses required. This is indeed an emergency matter, and should be treated as such. Everybody's help should be brought in wherever possible. I feel a good deal of sympathy with the view that there should be a sort of commander-in-chief for the housing problem until that emergency has come to an end.
The Minister asked for criticism and advice. He has already received a good deal, and he will find a certain amount of consolation in the fact that much of it has cancelled itself out. Speaking from these somewhat sparsely populated Opposition benches, I will offer such constructive criticism as I have to submit, as briefly as possible. On one matter there has been complete unanimity of view, that is, that this problem is a very large and urgent one, and is of intense interest both in this House and outside. I am not particularly concerned about the refinements of the estimates of needs. I know, to my regret, as the result of very close investigation, that 20 per cent. of the population of Barrow-in-Furness is in urgent need of new houses. If that be a fair criterion of the average need throughout the country, there are arrears of at least over 2,000,000 houses. At an all-in cost of £1,000 each, that would amount to about £2,000,000,000 expenditure. It is a tremendous task, but I firmly believe that it is well within our compass.
I believe that we shall see much more clearly the right solution to this problem, if we take a brief retrospective view of what the Ministry have accomplished in the last 20 years. Prior to 1914, the high-water mark in the production of houses in this country was 100,000. Arrears accumulated during the last war, and in recovering from those arrears, we were slow off the mark. Over the first five years after the end of the last war, by all means added together, we produced an average of only 60,000 houses a year. Gradually restrictions, controls, and Governmental domination ceased and enterprise, particularly private enterprise, had its shackles gradually removed. Production increased, until, just before the beginning of this war, perfectly astonishing results were achieved by the building industry, when 340,000 houses—three and a half times as much as the highest number ever produced in any year before 1914—were produced in one year. For five years, from 1935 to 1940, the average number of houses produced by private enterprise was something like 300,000 a year. About 60,000 a year were produced by local authorities, and four times that number by private enterprise.
Another feature is worth remembering. Of the local authorities' 60,000 a year 83 per cent. were subsidised, whereas of the 240,000 a year produced by private enterprise not one per cent. received a penny piece by way of subsidy of any description. These very arresting facts are worth consideration, because they provide a very informative pointer. Is it not fair to assume that an industry which was so flexible, so competent, and so efficient that it could raise its production from 100,000 to 240,000 a year within two decades could solve the problem at a very early date, with little financial burden to the State, if we would only restore the same amount of freedom. It is only in a free atmosphere that industry of any kind, particularly the building industry, can flourish; and in that atmosphere I think that 500,000 permanent houses would be produced at a very early date.
Does it not follow that it is unwise for Government Departments to nurse this problem themselves, and to attempt to solve it.by Government Departmental activities? Is it not quite clear that the right course for them to adopt would be the same as that which produced the remarkable results I have just given to the House? Liberate private enterprise; let loose the powers of able and experienced minds to the production of houses, and you will get remarkable results. You will get houses springing up throughout the country, just in the particular places where they are needed, and just in the numbers that are most needed; and you will get them built by local labour, and in accordance with the designs, construction and of the materials you want, and precisely the kind of house which is required to meet the various social habits of the people in different parts of the country living under different climatic conditions. Is it not perfectly clear that that is the right course to adopt? There is the solution staring us in the face, for all who run to read.
Who is to be responsible for restoring the industry in order to achieve these results? It has been said that there should be one Minister of Housing. I agree, but I think we already have a Minister of Housing in the Minister of Health. I have always thought that, inasmuch as the Minister of Health is responsible for local authorities discharging their statutory duties in regard to public health and housing, both of which are so interrelated, inasmuch as the local authorities are charged with the statutory obligation of securing that houses are available for all who need them, and, if they are not otherwise provided, the local authority must provide them, and inasmuch, as the central supervising and directing Department is the Ministry of Health, it is obvious that that duty should fall upon those broad, willing, and I believe, capable shoulders. The responsibility should be placed there and enable us to see that we do get this problem of housing solved. That, of course, would not prevent the Minister of Works being responsible for all the houses built to the order of the Government, and that, of course, would include the temporary houses.
I must confess that I am not greatly enamoured of these temporary houses. I am not so greatly concerned about the political expediency of providing these temporary houses, but I am concerned' with the question of a long-term policy for a complete solution of this housing problem. As I understood, the Minister of Works, who will be winding up the Debate to-morrow, has promised to give us some information in regard to his activities about temporary houses. Perhaps I might be permitted to make a few observations with regard to this particular aspect of the work. As I understand it, the original conception of the temporary house was that it was considered that temporary houses could be built as a complement or supplement to the ordinary activities of the building industry, and that they could be built, because there would be surplus factory accommodation and surplus labour from war time factories which were no longer required for that purpose.
I remember that the Minister of Health did deal with that perfectly clearly, when he was moving the Second Reading of the Housing (Temporary Accommodation) Bill on 1st August last year. He very rightly began by explaining that this house necessarily must be sub-standard—I deeply resented it myself and I do still—to the extent that they would be of a superficial area of two-thirds only of that which is laid down as the minimum by the Dudley Committee, confirming the minimum laid down by the Tudor Walters Committee 25 years ago. They were sub-standard to that effect but he did proceed to say that, so far as these temporary houses, which were then exclusively Portal houses, were concerned, the Minister had obtained a wealth of advice with regard to them, that the materials and method of construction had been very carefully considered, that the house was more scientifically correct than a house had ever been, and the Minister of Works had been giving an enormous amount of time and attention to all that concerned the production of this Portal type of house. He went on to say that it was necessary to find an industry capable of large-scale production at the earliest date and able to rely on an adequate supply of the materials needed for the job, and they found that the pressed steel industry was the industry which could do the job.
The Minister on that occasion proceeded to tell us that so satisfied were they with the whole arrangements, complete to the last gaiter button, that contracts were about to be placed, and he specified the firms who would receive these enormous contracts. He also said—and I am sure he is sincere in this—that speed and economy were necessary in the production of these temporary houses. He wound up his admirable speech by saying:
If Parliament approves this Bill, we intend to use its provisions at the earliest possible date to meet a need as urgent, in the civil sphere, as any we have ever had to face."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st August, 1944; Vol. 402, C. 1269.]
That is perfectly true but I am afraid that all that has fizzled out and the Portal house has been jettisoned, but over and above that, I am rather afraid that the Minister of Works is not particularly pleased that the Portal house has faded out. I can understand that. He has been striking out in further directions, I think perhaps a little recklessly, but, if not, he will put us right in his closing speech, in supporting various temporary houses of various kinds and descriptions. The House is entitled to ask that he should give us as much information as possible of what he is doing with regard to this matter. The thing that disturbs me with regard to temporary houses is that a body terming themselves the Phoenix Constructors come along and present the prototype to the Minister, and in order to find out what sort of house it is and how much it is going to cost, they receive an order for £1,000,000 to build 1,000 of these houses. That seems to me to be a somewhat profligate expenditure of money purely as an experiment. I have no doubt that he will put us right in regard to that.
It is said that very large orders varying from 25,000 to 80,000 have been placed with some bodies. There is the Arcon Construction Company, and also very considerable orders have been placed with the Uni-seco and with the Tarrant people. The House will be interested to know how far it is found to be expedient to go. This is what greatly disturbs me, and I shall be glad if the Minister will relieve my mind upon this. I am very much afraid that most of these new methods of construction are those which will indent very heavily indeed upon building labour. It was the intention of the original scheme, and the justification of it, that building labour would not be indented upon, but would be left free for building work. Further, it was understood that existing factories and warehouses would be available for the production and assembly of the units prepared by these prefabrication methods. Now it is rumoured—and I hope the rumour is wrong—that it is proposed, to begin with, to expend another £500,000 in building new factories in order that these prefabricated units built elsewhere can be assembled in these factories. All that is very disturbing, and I should be so glad if the Minister would remove the doubts and fears from the minds of many who know a certain amount, but perhaps insufficient, about it.
One final point, which has been referred to frequently in the Debate and is very important, the question of labour. It is perfectly true, as has been stated, that the production of permanent houses is limited, and limited alone by the availability of labour. I am perfectly sure that if the shackles are removed from the building industry, it will be able very largely to solve its own building labour problem; it has done it before, and it will do it again.
I will tell the hon. Gentleman in one moment. He is getting impatient but he is quite entitled to the information. Twenty years ago, there were only between 600,000 and 700,000 men in the building industry, and within two decades that was increased to 1,000,000. That is to the credit of the building industry, indicating what can be done by their methods of self-determination. But building production and building labour are not determined only by heads, by personnel. Although the personnel was raised by the building industry itself from about 650,000 to 1,000,000—and I have no doubt that it would be still further extended if the demand were there to justify it—there is another factor, and that is the improvement of the man-hours in production. There, within that same period of two decades, the efficiency of the building industry was such that output was improved to the extent of 40 per cent.; that is to say, that whereas previously it used to take about 1¼ men per annum to build one house, that was reduced to about.8, or a saving in manpower per hour of 40 per cent. Therefore, by those two methods of economy in organisation and production, and increase in personnel, the labour problem can be solved if you will only leave it to the industry to do it.
There are just two other respects in connection with this all-important question of man-power where the Government can greatly assist. One refers to the Minister of Labour and two to the Minister of Works. With regard to the Minister of Labour, it seems desirable that he should "step on the gas" in respect of two admirable schemes he has: one, the adult apprenticeship scheme, in order to bring into the industry young ex-Service men who desire to come into the building trade. It is an excellent scheme but it needs a little stimulating. The other, the rehabilitation of those who have been wounded or disabled in war, who can also play their part in the building industry. Both of those very admirable schemes should be accelerated for the increase of man-power. In one other respect the Minister of Labour can assist, and that is in securing a reasenably high degree of priority for demobilisation of existing building trade labour from the Army. Then there are two respects in which the Ministry of Works can greatly assist. First, he can assist in securing that in such temporary housing activities as he may feel compelled to pursue, the very minimum of building trade labour is used.
I hope the Minister will increase as much as he can the present man-power supply, which is being used so unsatisfactorily and unwisely in the London area. I would be the last to say that it is not important work, but for a long time this scheme has been so mismanaged and badly handled that we have obtained only 30 per cent. of the output we ought to have obtained from the enormous labour force which has been on the job. For this, I am not blaming the Minister of Works in the least; he succeeded to an in?ieritance. But I am not in the least impressed by the number of houses which have been brought into what is called "a reasonable state of habitation." I am not impressed by the fact that 140,000 men have been aggregated and put on this work because I know, and the Minister knows, that they have been extremely badly handled, and that we have received only 30 per cent. of the output we ought to have obtained from these men—
It is not that I could not answer the Parliamentary Secretary, but I do not propose to do so now. I will, however, submit details to the Minister. The facts and the figures have been given to me in confidence, and the Minister knows quite well that such has been the improvement during the last two months, in certain places, that output is four times as much as it was previously over a long period. I will send the figures to the Minister, as I have said, but he already knows them. They will confirm the statement I have made —that the great bulk of the labour force on bomb damage repairs has been wilfully misused. As much labour as is surplus to requirements, and any other which can be obtained, should be drafted into permanent house building. That is the real solution of this serious problem.
I have to express my disappointment, not at having to address the House at this time of night, but at what we have learned to-day from the Minister of Health and the Secretary of State for Scotland. I was left by the Minister of Health with the feeling, if not the conviction, that the Government have not yet appreciated the immensity and seriousness of the problem. As has been said, this is a problem that obtrudes into eight or nine different Government Departments, each, apparently, having but a vague idea of what their Departmental responsibility may be. I am very much afraid that there is serious danger of a great human cause such as this is being stultified by much red tape, diffused and probably lost in the labyrinth of all these Departments. I agree with what has been said by many hon. Members that the sooner we remove this dead hand of too many Ministries dealing with this one great problem, the better. The present system should be replaced immediately by a single authority with Ministerial status in this House.
May I indicate what, in my opinion, that single authority could do? It would work through and with the Ministry of Health and enjoy equal status with that Ministry, but would be directly answerable to this House. This great problem should be confined absolutely to this Ministry. I am very much afraid that the Government will not appreciate the magnitude of this problem until a serious situation has arisen. A single authority could specialise in mobilising all the country's resources for house building. It could survey the country's needs as regards houses and grant priorities according to the needs in the different areas. [Interruption.] I heard the hon. Gentleman's interruption. The present system is likely to develop into a smash-and-grab affair as between the local authorities. The most pestiferous local authority will get its way with the Minister of Health, and that type of local authority is likely to increase.
The authority which I am suggesting would inquire how far prefabrication can contribute towards speeding up not only temporary housing, but permanent housing at the same time. It would consider how far skilled labour, other than and in addition to building labour, could be used for this purpose. It would gather together and encourage labour-saving devices, standardised methods and fittings, and so on. It would, if it did its work, control the price of materials and all the other things that enter into the building of houses. It would have the authority to control the use of land, and, I hope, would have the power ruthlessly to prevent our people in their dire need and distress being, held up to ransom. It would be its duty either to destroy or to suppress the rings and monopolies and all the unconscionable profiteering which has never been very remote from house building and the equipping of houses in this country.
Only such a Ministry could study constantly the best and most economic use of our labour, not only in the making of roads and sewers on the site but all the numerous other things involved. A specialised Ministry would call to its aid not only the builder of houses, but the engineer, the chemist, the technician and the technologist. I believe, though I do not quite share the lyrical optimism of the hon. member who spoke last, that this problem of decently housing the people could be solved in a comparatively short time, were it approached with a real sense of urgency, realising- that modern technology and modern science and the great deal that we have learnt during the war could make a tremendous contribution to the housing of the people. I believe we are in a transition stage in the art and science of building homes for our people. I hope - the day has gone for ever when the building of a house is to be left to a few unskilled labourers, a few masons, a few plasterers and a few joiners, all of whom are often kept idle owing to inclement weather. The house will be very largely built under cover and not in the old fashioned way.
I sympathise with every word I have heard relating to the urgency of providing houses for the bombed areas but there are other parts of the country where, though they may not have been bombed, they have been blighted for many years. In my constituency there are thousands of houses built 100 or 150 years ago, when we had a population which exceeded that of Newport, Cardiff and Swansea. The overwhelming proportion of them have only two rooms. There was never a larder or a pantry in a large number of them. We are in the appalling position that, as our medical officer of health stated this week, we have many persons suffering from tuberculosis who are compelled to occupy the same beds as other members of the family. Tuberculosis patients have been sent to sanatoria in South Wales and some of them have recovered sufficiently to return to their homes, but they have no homes to which to return. Recently we conducted a mass radiography of thousands of people, and we made the skin test on thousands of the mountain farm people, We have collected a great deal of information, and I want to tell the Minister of Health that we are in possession of much useful, even at times very serious, information, but we have no means to establish the basis on which we could improve the health of our people, because we have not the houses. These old houses have become almost uninhabitable, and at least 5,000 new houses are needed. Whatever criticism may have been made of the prefabricated houses, I am sure that my constituency would welcome any announcement from the Ministry of Health that Merthyr Tydfil, which has suffered so long, is to receive at least 1,000 temporary houses.
Not only would Merthyr Tydfil welcome a large number of temporary houses, but Cheltenham would also, because the housing problem is not one that is confined to areas that have suffered damage from the enemy or to the so-called industrial areas, although during the war it is difficult to say which area is industrial and which is not. It is widespread throughout the country. I have seen in my own constituency conditions in which the wives and children of men fighting at the front have to live that have made me feel very ashamed. I am not surprised at the amount of bitterness which has been created. I believe that of all the war problems with which the Government have had to deal, the housing problem has been their biggest failure. The Minister, in his statement, assumed that everybody agreed that it was necessary that during the war there should be practically a complete suspension of new house construction. I think that assumption is very much to be doubted.
We were told by the Prime Minister that the three primary needs of the people to be met after the war are work, food and housing. There has been plenty of work during the war, and the country has been adequately fed, but as far as new housing is concerned, no provision has been made. We have had a statement from the Minister and a White Paper. I want to express very great dissatisfaction with both the statement and the White Paper. We were told by the Government that they were going to treat the next two years as a period of emergency and housing was to be tackled as a military operation. I have to confess that I cannot see in the methods of approach to this problem much sign of a military operation. It seems to be very much more like a phoney war. What would have happened to our war problems in 1940 if we had approached them in the same spirit? How long is it to be before, under these proposals put forward by the Minister, a very large number of our people are going to get houses?
I support the plea for new men and new methods. It is necessary not only to have a super-Minister for Housing but to ensure that the right man is chosen. The success of some of the war Departments has depended on the fact that the right men—like Lord Woolton and the right hon. Member for Central Wandsworth (Mr. Kevin)—were placed in charge. In 194o, when an emergency faced this country in the production of aeroplanes, the Prime Minister selected Lord Beaver-brook as Minister of Aircraft Production. I should like to see him appointed Minister of Housing. [Interruption.] I note that some of my hon. and right hon. Friends would object to that. In 1938, when negotiations were going on with Russia, I suggested that instead of the civil servant who was conducting them we should send out the present Prime Minister. Mr. Neville Chamberlain turned down that suggestion, but I believe that the right hon. Member could have persuaded the Russians to have made a pact with us. I would welcome the appointment of Lord Beaverbrook in this case, because, with his dynamic, not to say daemonic, energy, this matter would be carried through. He lets nothing stand in his way, and he would deliver the goods.
It is necessary to use not only the traditional methods of building, but new methods, to the full. The inventive genius of our people could solve this housing problem. I would like to see somebody take it over, as Kaiser in America took over the problem of shipping shortage, during the U-boat crisis. When the men now fighting come back and realise how their wives and children have been living, and how they themselves will be called upon to live, there may be very serious trouble in this country, if we are not careful.
This housing problem has to be faced with much more energy, and with the belief that we can achieve more than has been indicated by the Minister. There has been too much talk, too much delay and too little action. I appeal most strongly to the Government to face the urgency of this problem and to bring a little more imagination to bear on it; to realise what it means to people not to have proper housing accommodation: What it means for an expectant mother who goes into a maternity home to have a child, and to know that when she comes out, she will be unable to go back 'to the rooms she occupied because the people refuse to have a child there. That sort of thing really must not be allowed to continue. I believe most strongly that unless the Government do something really serious about this, they will find that it is the Achilles' heel, which will bring about their downfall when they appeal to the electorate. I ask the Government to realise the urgency of the job and to get on with it.
On the gravity of this situation, and its urgency, I think we are all in agreement. It does not matter a bit whether one represents a constituency that has been bombed or one that has not been bombed; the pressure is just as great. We realise, wherever it may be, the very great importance of the matter we are discussing to-night. Speaking for the city of Leicester, which I have the honour to represent, I can say that the pressure there is just as great and the serious, real demand for houses just as imperative as in any other similar city. In a bombed area of course the stress must be even more serious. The hon. Member who has just sat down went, I think, a little far in his observations. I do not quite see how a Government can enter into a vast practical housing policy in wartime. The Government have to decide whether they will have material and man-power mobilised for the efficient prosecution of the war, or whether they will stop the progress of the war to take man-power and material for housing. That is the only issue and it is one on which, I believe, the country is in no doubt at all. The first overriding consideration must be the harnessing of all man-power and all material to the efficient prosecution of the war to bring about its speedy termination, and it is extremely unfortunate if, while that is being done, many other matters have to be postponed. But that is what it is, and that has to be faced. One criticism I would make about the White Paper is that while it does fill that position in some respects, it does not more vigorously state the facts and point out how it is quite impossible to embark on this vast programme unless
you have the man-power and materials available with which to do it. It really must be conditioned by circumstances. In paragraph 3—I will read only a minute or two—it states:
The progress has been cut short by the war. The number of houses built between 1939 and 1945 did not exceed 200,000. In the meantime 200,000 houses had been entirely destroyed and a further 250,000 were made uninhabitable by enemy action.
That is the situation which faces the country and which we have to consider to-night. I would respectfully make one suggestion to the Government, that they should not hesitate to bring these facts to the knowledge of the people and show how impossible it is, if you are prosecuting this war as a total war, to divert masses of men and material to the building of houses, much as we want them. I do not think that we shall lose anything by telling the truth and by facing the position, knowing that it is unpleasant and the great difficulty under which our people labour. As for saying that the country is seething with discontent that is sheer nonsense. The country does not like the position: it knows the seriousness of it, and it wants to see, at the first practicable moment, steps taken to abate it; but it also knows that there is inevitable delay owing to the war conditions under which we have lived for the past five years.
There are several other factors apart from this mass production of houses, which, too, must cause delay. Re-conditioning and repair of bombed houses must take up some of our material and enterprise. There are hospitals, churches, shops, schools, garages all demanding repair. There is the conversion that can take place of houses into flat dwellings or joint habitations—not pleasant dwellings, perhaps, not the sort of dwellings we should like to see, but something in an emergency which must be faced. There is essential work of various kinds in the way of power-houses, transport extensions, sewerage and sewage farms which must be looked after and extended and made operative. There is Government policy in planning for the Japanese war, and there are demands overseas for certain fitments. There is the question of post-war military obligations. These are all matters which may make for some further delay. If I may respectfully make a suggestion to the Minister, I should say: Tell the people more vigorously what we have to contend with. Do not apologise for the position that faces us now. It is unfortunate, but it is inevitable—and with the facts before them, the people will readily accept it as the inevitable consequence of the war, and will not in any shape or form call it the fault of this or the preceding Government.
Having said that, may I suggest that this White Paper is a little timid? It is not enough to reiterate, "Do not blame the Government for these inevitable facts." We should make it beyond doubt what the facts are and that when the war is over there is going to emerge the most vigorous housing policy the country has ever had. We should say "Never mind the cost, we shall provide subsidies both to local authorities and to private enterprise to make a reasonable, safe, sound expansion programme."
What is the real position? Are the Government ready for what has to be done, and prepared to get off the mark at the earliest possible moment when the conditions I have endeavoured to indicate no longer apply? My hon. Friend opposite, who speaks with great knowledge of local authorities, spoke about a Minister of State. I do not know if that will solve the problem. What I am certain about is that.we can never get anywhere with overlapping, delay, and procrastination, between half a dozen Ministries or more. There must be some real practical control and direction, whether by a separate Ministry of the Crown, or by a Minister of State attached to one or another of the Departments, I do not know. But I do know, whoever is the officer or Minister, he must be someone charged with overriding authority, so that when we are speaking of housing my right hon. Friend will not be able to sit back and say, "This is very important but it is not for me. Try the Minister of Works." That kind of thing is known as "passing the buck" and you cannot go on doing that on a matter of this gravity.
When the time comes for this country to enter, as this country will enter, into the pioneering of mass housing, I do think that one of the Ministers now should direct his mind to de-requisitioning the many premises which are standing idle. I know that if you de-requisition all the premises which are standing idle, and are no longer wanted for the Services, you will not do more than scratch the surface. It will have no real permanent effect, but it will do something to satisfy the mass of the people who see these empty houses and cannot understand it. I think a great many houses and flats are now used as offices. Why not give them back to people to be used for the ordinary purposes for which they were intended? I think these things will all help to solve the difficulties which can be solved at the present time, but sooner or later, there will be an opportunity, I hope, for overriding powers to deal with what is, after all, one of the greatest national problems of the day.
An hon. Gentleman opposite made allegations that there has been not only a misuse of labour, but a reckless and wilful misuse of labour in the repair of bombed sites in London. That is what was said. I should have thought that some evidence might have been forthcoming in public, not in private, to justify a statement of that nature, which, if true, is serious. Though I am sure nobody would be more glad to examine and carefully analyse these allegations than the Minister who is now being assailed, I should have thought the facts would have been stated in this House. I only want to say that the information which comes to my knowledge is that in the last few months the repair of bombed sites has shown a very rapid progress and great strides have been made in recent months in that connection. And I hope that we should have the information on which the hon. Gentleman based his allegations—because I do not think he could be so reckless as to have made them without evidence. No doubt the facts will be examined and I hope they will be stated in the House. It was said earlier that there should be not only criticisms but suggestions. The hon. Gentleman opposite said that with a free hand the building industry could repeat its previous progress of a programme which took two decades. I hope we shall not take that as an example. The march of progress must really be more rapid than that.
Let us remember that for the last five years there has not been any Minister who, in relation to house-building on any scale, has not been bound to say that it must be stemmed, until the war is over. Let us face up to it. I do hope that we can be sure that there are plans in hand, not merely blue-prints, but plans with all the arrangements made, with all the incidentals mapped out, with transport schemes, with light and power and fitments; plans for sewerage, plans with every kind of incidental arrangement for commencing a vigorous policy on really modern lines as soon as hostilities cease. I am not going into figures and I am not going into costs. I dislike controls as controls, as much as any living man, but of course there must be some direct control on the costs of materials while the scheme is going on. The national interest must be served but we must see that nobody gets a big rake off out of the national exchequer. I welcome the proposals for subsidies that are indicated in the White Paper but if there is going to be a subsidy there must be watchfulness, and the country will not be satisfied to see large sums of money poured out for spurious purposes in a scheme of this magnitude. So far as the White Paper is concerned, I venture to think that it is welcome. We know the difficulties. We know the dangers. We realise the reasons why there has been nothing of any significance done in this direction during the years of the war. It really must be so. I am not trying to burke that issue. People complain to me from time to time, that there have been no houses built in the city of Leicester. Of course not. I can only reply "Are you going to have houses and let the war wait? The war must come first."
I wish the White Paper had been a little more vigorous. There has been no real housing in this country in the last five years. Let us hope the next five years will be different. Whoever the Minister may be, we wish him well in what will be a vast task. While we criticise and make suggestions, let us remember the facts and never hesitate to put facts before him and not merely criticise and make suggestions and allegations which are unfounded. Let us too put the facts and not gossamer before the people who realise to the full, the all-transcending considerations of the last five years.
The critics have been divided between those who have been trying to cash in on the difficulties which the Government are facing and those genuinely trying to produce some constructive suggestions in the nation's need. An example of the former was the speeeh by the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) who did not put forward one single suggestion. It is highly significant that at this hour of the night, when speakers have not the slightest hope of being recorded in the Press and can only have the attention of the Minister, the House is almost entirely filled with Tories. Look at the vast empty spaces.
First I would like, before making any criticisms, to congratulate the Minister of Works on the progress of the bomb damage work in London. They really have got under way. There is only one point which is unsatisfactory still, that is the delay in the payments to builders. It means that many builders, particularly small builders, without considerable capital resources, have to finance some of this work. I regret that paragraph 15 of the White Paper said that the new methods to be used in building the permanent houses will be used during the emergency period when building labour is scarce. It suggests that all these new developments are going to be scrapped later. That is like saying that when the war is over we will put the Royal Armoured Corps back on horses.
We believe that new methods have come to stay not only because of the necessity for speed after the war but because costs by old methods have increased so much that if we stick to old methods it will mean a permanent demand on the Exchequer for money which could be better used elsewhere. That is why we want to see a genuine housing revolution which will push up output and we regard it as important that these new methods should be permanent. We regret the policy of the Portal house, which will make the public think that the new house is necessarily to be sub-standard and temporary. We would infinitely have preferred, if we are to build temporary houses, something more like the Phoenix house which is a real temporary house of three years' life and which would get us over an emergency much better than would the Portal house and which would allow greater concentration on permanent housing. That is why I regret the information the Minister gave last week when the aluminium industry came to him, and when he said he had decided on the Portal house. He would have done far better to go ahead and design a full standard permanent house of aluminium, especially when dealing with a rather expensive metal of that sort. We regret also that the Weir house, which is a full standard permanent steel house, was not adopted rather than these Portals.
I want to say a word about that very important new material, foam slag, which is not only one of the satisfactory new materials but will help the steel industry and the coal industry by providing a valuable use for their by-products. I am not attacking the Minister for what has happened in the past. I know the difficulties, and that all the industries have long-term contracts to provide for the roads, but I suggest he should make a survey of the slag position in England and tell the industry what opportunities he will give after the war—that there will be a guaranteed price—and that he will take so much percentage of their output, or so many tons. That is the only way in which to get this rapid development of foam slag. The original price the Minister suggested would not cover the smallest steel works. He could make the material cheaper by equalising the transport charges for delivery over the country. I think it is well worth his while to do this. A guaranteed price and a guaranteed demand are needed to get this material into production. There is another thing he completely omitted from the White Paper—the efficiency of the heating and other appliances in the house. One of the things we have learned is that a great deal of coal, electricity and gas can be saved by the use of efficient apparatus. No private individual is in a position to buy 15 different gas cookers and test the lot. It has got to be done by the Government, and the right hon. Gentleman should test and licence them; insisting that in all houses to which he is giving a subsidy only efficient heating and cooking apparatus should be used and that when something is really inefficient it should be eliminated from the market. There is enough technical knowledge now, and he could save the housewife 5s. a week by the difference between a house where fuel is really efficiently used and a house wheie heat is allowed to escape like water from a leaky boiler.
I hope in getting this new labour, the right hon. Gentleman will insist with his colleague, the Minister of Labour, that the trainee going through a six months' course shall be aptitude-tested first. When the Ministry of Labour were training for combined operations before they aptitude-tested men they had 25 per cent. failures; afterwards the percentage went down to 3 per cent. That applies as much in peace as in war, and if we have this urgent demand for people, let us see that we have the right men to make a success of the training they are given. I would like to back up in every way what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said about taking the public into his confidence. It has been a matter of surprise to me that Lord Woolton, who was so successful when Minister of Food in making the public realise the magnitude of the problem and developing his public relations, has done practically nothing since he has been the Minister in overall charge of housing. The public can understand this subject; for Heaven's sake take them into confidence.
I would like to add my few words to the hope that the War Cabinet will reconsider the division of housing between two main Ministries. No Ministry can work in a vacuum. All have to deal with other Ministries for this and that, but we do not bisect the subject down the middle. I do not think that if the boo Members of this House were asked to write out the respective responsibilities of the Minister of Health and the Minister of Works as regards houses 150 of them would get it right. We hope that the Government will deal with this problem on a functional basis. The Minister of Health has "plenty on his plate" already. He is behind on health and other matters and he has a lot of problems of his own. Let us put the thing squarely on one Minister, so that he can never say it is his brother from Gozo who is responsible." My brother from Gozo" is a stock excuse of all Maltese who are in the Navy, when something goes wrong.
The Government have produced the argument that they need one Department to deal with all problems affecting local authorities and that it is the Minister of Health who should have that say. But the Home Office deals with local authorities quite independently of the Minister of Health. I would remind the War Cabinet that their single argument has in fact been used by the Prime Minister before the war in favour of the Ministry of Supply, and that that applies now equally to a Minister of Housing.
I will be as brief as I can at this late hour before I and my colleagues walk to our homes. I should like to join with my hon. Friend who has just spoken and to congratulate the Minister on the progress that has been made with bomb damage in London.
Frankly many of us did not expect the Departments would achieve their target figure by 1st April, and it is very gratifying to know they have been able to make such progress. I should also like to congratulate the Ministries and to say I was surprised to find that others in this Debate have not before this congratulated them upon having taken the decision when they found something better than that Portal house to scrap that plan in favour of something permanent.
I was disappointed when I heard the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) describe this White Paper as "chicken feed." It does not purport to do more than present what our available resources can do as far as the Government can foresee. Such honest presentation is very badly needed for the public at this time. I am quite sure that the public do not appreciate the magnitude of the task before the country and the Press could have done very much more to make them realise73x2014;as this White Paper now makes us realise—that even in two years' time there will be half a million homes lacking.
The hon. and gallant Member for East Leicester (Colonel Lyons) used a phrase about "seething with discontent." He said it would be a misrepresentation to say that the public is seething with discontent. Probably he was right, but so far as the men who are now leaving the Forces are concerned I have evidence in my own constituency that they are very close to that state of mind. Four men came to see me and they said "We have lived in Wandsworth all our lives and we want a house in our own part of the world. We have been to the borough council and they put our names on a list where there are 3,000 names already. Is that what we are fighting this war for? " That is how the situation is regarded by ex-Service men. That trickle of men needing houses will increase as time goes on. I would agree with those who have said that there is a very real need to educate the public as to the facts of the situation. I think it is necessary also to get clear in our minds and in the minds of the public the difference between prefabricated houses and temporary houses. Many members of the public have the impression that a prefabricated house is necessarily something sub-standard. Our outlook surely has to be towards using methods of prefabrication in building good permanent houses. Another thing in which I think education is needed outside London is of the continued need in London of many of the craftsmen who have been brought in from other parts of the country for bomb damage repairs. London needs them badly and will need them for one or two years more, and other parts of the country, I think, ought to be better informed than they are of London's really great need for these men. In approaching the problem of housing, it is important to differentiate between the permanent and the temporary problem.
As far as the permanent problem is concerned, I am sure the Ministry of Health were wise in going back to their old ideal of really sound construction. It is also necessary to remember that the building industry must be looked at as a whole and not merely from the point of view of that section of the industry which is dealing with domestic building. If men are going to come out of the Forces and go back into the building industry, and if the building industry is to make its fullest contribution to the solution of the unemployment problem and generally to the expansion that the country desires, every side of it equally has to be developed. It would be a mistake if we made a lop-sided industry by trying to put all our materials and men into the building of houses. There are factories, bridges, highways and public buildings, all of which are needed to put the industry properly on its feet, and if they are provided, I believe that the production of houses will go up rather than the reverse, because you will have a properly balanced industry.
I would like to join issue with a number of those hon. Members who have spoken on the question of getting skilled men out of the Forces. I think it is quite artificial to draw an arbitrary distinction between war and peace because the guns have stopped firing. The war started long before the guns started to fire and war conditions will continue long after the guns have stopped firing. Just as it took three or four years to prepare for war, it is going to take a very long period to prepare for the needs of peace. I do not think that we should stress, now that the German war is nearing its close, the necessity of keeping skilled craftsmen in the Army during the continuation of the Japanese war.
There is only one other main point I would like to make. The Minister of Health this morning referred to the social advantages of the private ownership of houses and of the necessity of encouraging people to build and to rebuild their own houses. He went on to tell us that there were something like 50,000 houses required to be rebuilt, houses that have been destroyed and the owners of which are entitled to a cost-of-works payment. If you are going to encourage men to own their own houses and to build their own houses, you have to allow a certain amount of freedom within the building industry to take private contracts, subject to the general approval of the local authority. We are having serious trouble in London by reason of the policy of the L.C.C. in taking bombed sites and putting temporary houses on them—not merely on the gardens but actually on the places where the original houses were standing—thus sterilising these sites and preventing permanent structures being put up.
I am speaking about temporary huts. I think it is a mistake to talk about "temporary" houses. I think that we ought to keep the word "houses" for the permanent structures, and that when we use the word "temporary" it ought to mean what it says—something to stay up only two or three years. The point I want to make is that in at least one borough in London we have the borough council declaring against the putting up of temporary structures on per- manent sites, whereas you have the London County Council in the same borough taking those sites and putting temporary structures on them. That divergence of policy between the borough and the county council wants adjusting. The policy of the London County Council, if it is to be followed, should be to put temporary structures on the gardens and not on the actual foundations of the houses.
I will say one word about the provision of temporary accommodation. One goes back to the fact that in two years' time, the White Paper prophesies, half a million families will need homes. That problem, I think, must be regarded as something separate from the permanent building problem; it much more approaches a job of military emergency, to be tackled as one would tackle providing hutment accommodation for half a million American soldiers. I foresee that if 500,000 families are to be short of homes you may well have something very close to a social upheaval. In present circumstances there is no excuse for not tackling that as a military emergency by means of mass production methods, and, if necessary, by using Royal Engineers or Pioneer Corps for the job. I would before sitting down emphasise once again the great need for educating the public and the armed Forces to the magnitude of this task, and for doing something now to avert what will otherwise be at the lowest a very bitter disappointment to a large section of the community.
When one rises at this time of night it seems to be common form to apologise for one's existence. I am not going to do that. Somebody has to get up last; it is not terribly late; and as I have said before, it is entirely the fault of the House of Commons if they do not provide themselves with adequate transport to get themselves to their homes. I am not going to speak for long because it is after II o'clock, and I think I can say what I want to submit to the House in ten or twelve minutes. The hon. Member for East Fulham (Mr. Astor), opened his speech with a very proper rebuke to those who have taken advantage of this Debate to indulge in party war; but within zo seconds, the devil, I am sorry to say, had entered his soul, and he had himself indulged in a crack at Members of the Labour Party. If one had to go into these percentages, I had observed something like to per cent. of the Independent Menabers of the House of Commons and about 3 per cent, of the Conservative Party.
I listened to the Secretary of State for Scotland making his speech, with part of which I agree, and I was struck with the description of the consultations that have to take place among the various Ministers. My reason for supporting the idea of concentrating responsibility, if not now then as soon as the war is over, is that having the reponsibility in one Ministerial hand, would exercise a much better psychological effect from the point of view of the public. If we can get the right man there, he will be inspired with a feeling of the urgency and drive which such a Minister will be called upon to put into his job. I think it was the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson) who said that Lord Beaverbrook would be a suitable person for that task. I have had a great deal to do with his Lordship, and I know as the Member for Cheltenham said, he gets what he wants. He once startled me by producing 5o retired admirals to put on the roofs of factories, and if this housing programme were to last only for three months there is no doubt about it that the gentleman in question would exercise a very great degree of energy and drive over a short period. But I am not personally supporting the view that he should be put in charge of a long term programme.
It has been said by many speakers that this problem far transcends the limits of the depressed areas. Most of my own Division has escaped the damage of that particular feature of the war but there is one place which has 1,600 houses of which 500 or 600 were condemned as unfit in 1939. The whole town is in a shocking condition. Only this evening, I received a letter from a sailor serving in the Mediterranean who said he had married a girl just before. he went to the Mediterranean and was looking forward to coming back and finding a home in the place he loved. He asked me, Could I tell him what his prospects were? That was the one thing he was thinking about, the one thing that was worrying him—that, when he was demobilised, he would be able to sit down with his girl, in his own dear little home.
The principal point I am putting to the Minister is that, in some respects, I still do not believe that we have got to the bottom of the nature of this housing problem. It is one aspect of the central problem of the war. That is really why this democracy went to war—to save itself, to save its way of life..But the nature of modern war is such, that in the very achievement of victory you create conditions which are extraordinarily difficult to solve by the democratic method. Anybody who has just come back, as I have done, from Italy and France, and who has seen something of the conditions there, must realise how in the very winning of the war, you create a condition which is almost impossible, technically, to solve by what are commonly referred to as democratic methods. That is one of the dilemmas we are up against. It is many hundreds of years since warlike operations as a matter of course destroyed, on a large scale, the dwelling-houses of the people. War passed through a relatively civilised period. Now we are back again to the most barbaric forms of war in which the dwellings of the people are destroyed, as part of the operation of war.
One hears over and over again—the Prime Minister has used the analogy—that we should tackle this problem as a great military operation is tackled. If, of course, it was tackled as D-Day was tackled and if such resources were available, of course, we know that it could be solved in a way which at present seems quite beyond the bounds of expectation. But while people say that it must be solved as if it were a military problem and want to solve it on military lines, they also want to remain in plain clothes while they do it. Military problems can only be solved, if you are prepared to solve them on military lines. The Ministers concerned when they are told to solve this problem on military lines are really like a general who is in the position of sending a postcard to Private Smith, asking him if he would rather land in Normandy, or Norway, or drop by parachute or perhaps would not land at all, it being clearly understood of course, that the general will be sacked if the Germans are driven out of France. No military problem could be solved on these lines.
The moral I draw is twofold. First, the Government in general and perhaps the Minister of Works in particular, should pay great attention to this public relations department and the importance of that department in his Ministry. They must make it clear to the nation that the price of solving this problem on military lines is that there must be direction of labour and material, and much better control of land than at present. These are matters in which one must tread on someone's corns and tread on them pretty hard. That is the price which has to be paid Back bench Members must play their part and if any back bench Member gets up and talks about the necessity for military operations, and thinks it can be done without organisation and planning on military lines and using military powers, he is either extremely foolish or incompetent.
This is not a party problem. A number of people have pointed this out, but I do not think the nation is going to be very pleased with those who try to make it a party problem and I hope it will be realised that it cannot be solved on party lines. It is no good standing up and telling people to have drive and realism and so on. That will not produce houses. You must have some power to do it on those lines. As the hon. and gallant Member for East Leicester (Colonel Lyons) pointed out and as the White Paper pointed out, you cannot carry this out on full scale "D-Dav" lines, while you are still carrying on this war and the Japanese war. When the shooting stops in Europe, then, as a result of the very bad propaganda we have had in this country, people will think that the war is over. But the problems and real difficulties are only going to start then, and if people want houses quickly, they will have to be prepared to play their part in submitting to the discipline the self-discipline as I prefer to call it which alone can permit the Minister to do the job on "D-Day" lines and that goes for both capital and labour.