Housing

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 23rd March 1945.

Alert me about debates like this

11.8 a.m.

Photo of Mr Pierse Loftus Mr Pierse Loftus , Lowestoft

Yesterday nearly every speech in the House referred, quite rightly, to the housing problem as a national emergency comparable to the war emergency. I wonder whether we realise what that means. Do we really mean it? It seems to me that the procedure by which we are tackling the housing problem is quite different from the procedure by which we tackled the war emergency. It appears to me that the present circumstances in regard to housing are comparable to the days when defence was an urgent matter, and every division, every army corps and every battalion had to be equipped. If each of these units had had to apply as the local authorities have in housing to four or five Government Departments for approval of its equipment requirements, there would have been great delay, and when they had got the approval after many delays they would have had to approach the Treasury to arrange about loans. If we had faced the emergency of national defence on those lines, we would have landed in disaster.

I earnestly suggest that we must now face the national emergency of housing on far more drastic lines. In brief, I think we must carry out the war procedure in order to meet it. We should tackle it by a Vote of Credit in the same way as we tackled war supplies. The Ministry of Health should occupy the same position as the War Office. It should specify its requirements in the mass, it should not be hindered by lack of means, and it should be allowed to go up to the limit of the Vote of Credit. It should transfer its orders to the Ministry of Works, which should occupy in this national emergency the same position that the Ministry of Supply occupied in the national emer- gency of war. Unless we tackle housing on these lines, we shall fail. I am sure that we shall have to face this problem in a far more drastic way in the coming 12 months. There are other implications. Under the national emergency, all rights of property and persons were subordinated to the national need, and the same will have to be done in this case. Here I would like to speak quite frankly. If I have one deep conviction in politics it is that I will oppose to the uttermost the direction of labour in peace-time—the socalled mobility of labour—because I believe that, disguise it how you will, plaster it with questions of security and so on as you may, if we have it as a permanent institution it will be a return to serfdom. In this national emergency. of housing, however, I would agree to the direction of labour, provided only that there was a definite pledge of a clear time limit of, say, three years, after which it should cease.

Turning to another matter I hope thatmy right hon. Friend the Minister of Works will bear in mind the immense requirements for labour of those towns, especially coastal towns, which have suffered from enemy attack. In Lowestoft, for instance, the number of houses damaged by war amount to 13o per cent. of the whole, that is to say, some were hit several times over. Naturally and rightly, some of our local labour has been taken to London for bomb damage repairs, but I would ask my right hon. Friend to let us have some of our labour back at the earliest opportunity so that we can catch up with the immense arrears of work now waiting to be clone. A circular has been issued by the Ministry dealing with the requisitioning of large houses for conversion into flats, and so on. That is an admirable idea, but there is one objection; the local authority must charge an economic rent. I know of one case, not in my constituency, where the cost of conversion to make five flats will be £2,000. If the local authority charge an econmic rent for the five flats, it will work out at about £150 a year each flat. The tenants cannot pay it. In such cases local authorities should, I suggest, be allowed, as a temporary emergency measure, not to charge economic rents, and the Treasury should make up the difference.

There is an immense difference in the spirit in which we should tackle rural housing from that in which we approach the same problem in the cities. There are huge building companies in the cities, almost combines, and here I suggest we could give them a colossal job of building and tell them to get on with it. On the other hand, the foundation of housing in the villages is the small builder and he is the man upon whom we must rely, if we want quick work at a moderate price. The small builder, like the small painter and carpenter in the village, has had a pretty lean time, some have disappeared. but some of them have survived and may be struggling on alone or with one or two other workers to help. Where they have kept going these people have performed a valuable service in preventing farm buildings and houses from going to rack and ruin. I confess that I am a little nervous about the £10 limit in these cases. My right hon. and learned Friend pointed out that the £10. limit only applied where there was no licence and that any one could go to the local authority and get a licence up to £100. That sounds all right, but I wonder how it works out in practice. It presupposes that we can get a licence immediately, from the local authority, but staffs of local authorities are so terribly reduced and are so burdened with work that there must in many cases be great delay. We must try to cut out delays in the granting of licences.

In East Anglia the great majority of private houses, not only cottages but farms and quite good houses in the villages and the small market towns, are built of stud or of the old wattle lined with daub and then faced with plaster. Many of them are in very good condition, and have lasted for 200 or 300 years. Many are good houses in first-class condition now. One difficulty is that if a bit of plaster falls off, water is liable to get on to the wattle and daub, and quickly dissolve it. Very urgent repairs are needed in such cases, and the fro limit may I fear prevent such property being quickly repaired.

In regard to rural housing, I remember that about 15 years ago I took up and pushed as hard as I could on my county council the application of the Housing (Rural Workers) Act. The chairman of the General Purposes Committee was my friend Alderman Wade, a Labour alderman, an admirable administrator in every way, but I think he regarded that Act with a little suspicion as a Tory Measure and he was therefore slow about taking it up. After he had been administering it for six months or so and saw how it could be used and the splended work which could be done under it, he became one of its most enthusiastic supporters and he pushed it everywhere until East Suffolk became the leading county in England for many years in respect of the application of that Act. We can not only repair houses under the Act but can use the Act for all types of purpose. In one case there was a magnificent old stable building, belonging to a mansion, which had been pulled down. It was a fine big brick building of two storeys. The owner came to us, and with a £400 grant it was made into four first class cottages. I welcome the statement in the White Paper that steps are to be taken to make use of that Act in an improved form.

I conclude by wishing the Minister of Works every possible success. In peace time he will have the hardest job of any in the Government. We all know that he will face the job with courage and energy, but he will require another quality also, to be a bit tough in fighting other Departments. He must fight hard and must cut out delay, and do his utmost in every way, as I know he will, to solve this problem which, after the war, will become more anti more menacing day by day.

11.22 a.m.

Photo of Mr Frederick Bellenger Mr Frederick Bellenger , Bassetlaw

The problem we are discussing divides itself into two distinct parts. The first part concerns the country areas. Conditions there are bad enough, as we all know, but I suggest that they can be tackled more effectively than the housing problem in towns, especially blitzed towns like London. The other part of the problem concerns the towns and cities. One-seventh of our total population lives in London. There will not be a drift back to London when hostilities finish but a rush back, of numbers of people who are at present living in and overcrowding rural and country areas. I am not going to say any more about the country areas, although I represent in the main a country district. It has certainly two or three towns with a population of about 20,000. But although their housing problems are bad, they can be partly tackled with temporary houses, if the local authorities can get them. They have already made arrangements to take as many temporary houses as the Ministry can supply. How- ever, I have something like 25 years' experience in London of dealing with the housing problem, and I should like to give the House my experience of what happens in London.

In certain boroughs of London a large number of houses has been demolished, but there is little room for temporary houses in London as there is little space even on the vacant places where houses have been demolished. Many people are still living in air raid shelters. I know of one street near to my office of homeless children living in air-raid shelters, being picked up and taken to school every day and brought back from the schools at night to live in the air raid shelters. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) said yesterday that when the troops came back they would not be docile. They will not, and they certainly will not tolerate an indefinite continuance of these conditions. What can be done in large cities such as London? I suggest that much more than is being done at the present moment is possible. In Kensington and in Westminster, where there are numbers of large houses, and empty houses, very little is being done at present to provide what the Ministry call sub-standard fiats. Some councils, I believe under pressure from the Ministry of Health, are converting some of these large houses in that way. I put a Question to the Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Health the other day, and she told me of about 5o houses in Kensington being converted, at a price at which I know it cannot be done. In any case, it is taking a much longer time to convert those houses into sub-standard flats than need be spent on the large number of empty flats which need only to have a moderate amount spent on them, to be put into a habitable state.

I would like to give the House my own experience. I have to inform the House that I have a certain financial interest in the example I am about to give. Unfortunately, it is a very small one and is steadily deteriorating after four or five years of empty fiats, with no income coming in, though in many cases the ground landlords are getting their ground rent and the interest on loans is continuing. There are about 8o fiats, which I have brought to the notice of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Works, who has been good enough to send his officials down to my office, to consult with the local authority officials. How far did we get? His own officials have told me that these flats can be put into a habitable condition at a very moderate cost because they are not badly damaged by the war. I have not the workmen to do that. I go to the local authorities for a licence, and the answer is "No." As for decorations, licences are not being granted, or at any rate very few are granted. The Minister has delegated his powers to grant licences up to a limit of £100 for cost of repairs. What is the answer? I have not got the workmen, I cannot get builders to supply workmen, the local authorities have the workmen. But when I say to my right hon. Friend or to the local authority, "Requisition all these houses, take them over yourselves and put the people in them," what answer do I get? It is that they are waiting for instructions. Who is to give them instructions? I do not know, but there are from my own experience 80 flats, all coming within the scope of the Rents Restrictions Act, and therefore at controlled rents, simply lying derelict.

Photo of Captain Edward Cobb Captain Edward Cobb , Preston

The result of State control.

Mr. Bellenģer:

It is not the result of State control, it is the result of lack of it. If the Government are going to say, as in fact they are saying, that there must be a £10 restriction all over the country, and that private enterprise shall not operate, they have to put something in its place, and they are not doing so.

The repair of houses or flats is quite different from the job of building houses. It is a much more difficult job to repair flats and houses than to build them. The large contractors can be turned on to erect houses, the contractors who have put up the hostels for our Royal Ordnance factories and other large buildings all over the country. But, in the main, the repair of these damaged houses, in London and the other war damaged cities at any rate, can only be done by the small jobbing builder who has risen from a craftsman, and knows the job of repairing, and who gathers round him a few other craftsmen capable of doing that job at least adequately. I say that to-day—and I have experience of this, because I am dealing with this matter every day of my life—indeed it is part of my livelihood—the fact of the £10 restriction on repairs is having an effect quite the opposite to what the Minister intends. In fact it is slowing down the lettings. In the last four months the number of people coming into my office has not decreased but the number of lettings that have been effected has been smaller, because people will not go into dirty or war-damaged houses. Even if they are compelled to live in them, they will not take a tenancy and pay the rent which the landlord wants, unless they have some reasonable amenities.

Photo of Mr George Buchanan Mr George Buchanan , Glasgow Gorbals

Surely they must have some place now to live in?

Photo of Mr Frederick Bellenger Mr Frederick Bellenger , Bassetlaw

They have. They are scattered over the country, in overcrowded conditions, and what they are doing in many cases is taking highly-priced furnished flats or what are called furnished flats, and paying exorbitant rents.

What is my right hon. Friend doing? He is controlling all the little builders in the local areas. Is he tackling the comparatively large maintenance staffs which are being used at the present time by the big stores? What is he doing about Messrs. John Barker & Co., of Kensington? They have a maintenance staff, although it is depleted, which can carry out work to their premises. So have Harrods and the other large stores. But when it comes to providing small flats for small people it is difficult to get labour for that purpose. If the Minister is to operate the £10 limit fairly and equitably, he must tackle these maintenance gangs which the large stores and other institutions of that nature employ. Some of the banking companies seem to be able to get their work done, whereas the small householder cannot. The Minister must operate the limit fairly, and the only way to do that is to say that there is to be no more private repair work done. The only way is for him to organise some system that will give us flats, which—I am speaking of London—be is not doing at the present time. I go further than that. I disbelieve the figures that have been given to us week by week of the number of war-damaged houses being repaired. The Ministries are going for figures, and what do these figures mean? They mean that perhaps a bit of plaster board has been nailed up to the ceiling in some dwelling, and that is called a completed repair, or a completed second stage repair. We want something more than figures.

I promised not to speak too long, or I could give from my own experience examples which would convince the House that we are not getting housing accommodation in the big cities, and that we are not likely to get it under the present system, because the present system is one of "passing the buck" between one Department and another. I go to the Ministry of Works. They pass me to the local authority. When I approach the local authority they say, "We are awaiting instructions from the War Damage Commission." I have not even attempted to go to the War Damage Commission, because I know how long it takes to get answers to one's letters from them. Where does the solution lie? There must be one overriding authority to deal with this housing problem. My right hon. Friend has very little practical knowledge of the problem which he has undertaken. He is assisted by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, who has great knowledge in these matters, but I do not know how much he is able to influence his political chief. I do not know whether the building industry in London was consulted before this fro limit was fixed. There are many practical men of experience about—not all of them, I will say, with the best of intentions. Many of them are estate agents, who are constantly dealing with the letting of flats, and in the main they are not utilised. They have a wealth of experience which they could give to the Minister if he would only utilise them.

I have given one small example in my own experience. I have no other interest in getting these places utilised. I say that anybody who likes to requisition them can have them. The Minister of Health, the Minister of Works, or whoever it is, can take them over. Has the Minister of Works any power to do it? I do not think he has. In the Vote Office, Members can get a pamphlet, on the back of which appears a pro forma statement which is supposed to be sent in by the local authorities week after week. The pamphlet in effect says: You are to say how many certificates for repairs exceeding £10 you have refused. Not how many they have granted, but how many they have refused. A good deal of the policy that is coming out of the Ministries, especially the Ministry of Health, is of that negative nature.

This housing situation is not going to be solved unless you have man-power. You have not got it at present. When the war with Germany ends, are you going to get it? The Minister of Works and the Minister of Health cannot supply it; there is only one Cabinet Minister who can supply it—that is, the Minister of Labour. How far is the Minister of Labour—a War Cabinet Minister—going to realise the large numbers of building operatives in the Services when the war with Germany ends? We do not know. But unless you get all those men and many more who can help—and there are many tradesmen serving in the Services who were not listed as building operatives in their pre-war trade, but who have acquired a good deal of skill during the war—you are not going to solve the housing problem. You can say what you like about carrying on the war against Japan, but when those troops have finished the war against Germany they will want homes for their wives and children; and will insist on getting them. A friend of mine, who runs an estate office, had a call the other day from an officer in the Air Force, who asked for an unfurnished flat. My friend said, "I have nothing." The officer then asked if he had any furnished flats, and he answered "No, I have nothing." The officer then asked, "What am Ito do?" My friend said "Go to the town council." The officer said, "Will that do any good?" My friend replied, "I am afraid it will not do much good." The officer then said," I have an order to proceed to S.E.A.C., to go to India, and I must place my wife and children, who have no home. I mean to place them before I go." You may say that those in the Services have to do their duty, and go where they are ordered. Of course; but should not we do everything in our power to see that their wives and children are housed, even if only in temporary conditions, while they are overseas?

I think I know something about what the Minister of Works will say. I have had an example in the endless letters which have passed between his Department and me and the local authority. I have been waging this war with the local authority for years, and I have got very little out of it—that is to say, very little repair work done. They used to have what is called a C.B. scheme. I do not know how many houses Kensington has got. It has got thousands, and hundreds have been standing empty for years. What was the ration for Kensington? Two hundred war-damaged houses, which the Royal Borough of Kensington was given, under the C.B. scheme, to repair. They never finished them, because of the fly-bomb trouble. I think I have shown that the situation could be improved. It needs not only goodwill, but practical help from those who are ready to cooperate, and, above all, that there should be one Minister only to whom we can go and present our problems. Above all it requires the labour, which at present the building industry has not got.

11.40 a.m.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Sir Thomas Cook Lieut-Colonel Sir Thomas Cook , Norfolk Northern

It is evident from the Debate so far, that housing is likely to constitute welfare problem No. I of the many troubles which will face us at the conclusion of hostilities. I cannot claim that I represent a constituency which has been ravaged by enemy action, but I am concerned with 400 square miles of an agricultural district, which has made a vast contribution to the war effort in food production, and which desires to continue to do so in the days of peace. I intervene to seek an assurance that rural areas shall receive a fair share of the maximum programme which the Government are able to produce. When I say the maximum programme, I not only ask for a sufficiency of houses, but that they shall be erected in spots compatible with the smooth running of the farms. I listened to the 5o minutes' speech yesterday of the Minister of Health, and I failed to detect any reference to the agricultural areas, although he referred to the provinces. I appreciate however that his statement was of a general nature, and I do not assume that the agricultural districts have been bypassed in his mind.

The average man's outlook on life is based on his home surroundings. If his accommodation is bad or indifferent, he feels that this country is letting him down; he becomes discontented, and tends automatically to become an enemy of the State. But give that same man a decent home, and he will soon appreciate his responsibilities, and life for him will become worth while. I suggest that that comparison will become even mare marked when you are dealing with men who have been enlisted for the past six years, who may have married and had children in the meantime, or who may desire upon demobilisation to marry and return to civil employment with the utmost celerity. The Government have already announced, profiting by experience alter the last Armistice, that demobilisation shall be gradual, and that men will not be called upon to walk.the streets in search of employment. But discontent will not be allayed if those self-same men have to walk the streets, and, so far as Norfolk is concerned, walk the highways and byways, in search of homes.

Allusion has been made in the Debate to ex-Servicemen; I do not feel that I am being disrespectful to the ex-Servicemen of the last war when I suggest that the 1945 brand of serving man is probably a more enlightened individual than his father or his brother of 1918. He will have benefited by all the advantages of advancing science. He will come straight from mechanised battles, which demand quickness of thought, and he will, consequently, give a deaf ear to any Government which seeks to repeat the attractive slogans about housing which were bandied about a quarter of a century ago but were not till-filled. I feel that the ex-Serviceman of to-day, so far as housing is concerned, will judge his rulers by the net results of their efforts on his behalf. I represent an area which is 95 per cent. agricultural, and, if the lists of those requiring houses on the books of the rural district councils of North Norfolk are a fair sample of what is the position throughout the length and breadth of the land, then the magnitude of the task of the Government in this sphere alone is, indeed, overwhelming.

I have referred to the necessity for houses being concentrated upon spots compatible with the smooth running of the neighbouring farms because I think it will be agreed that there has been a tendency in the past for local authorities to concentrate their small schemes in the suburbs of the larger towns or larger villages. That concentration has, of course, been due to the desire to facilitate sewerage schemes, possibly to harness these dwellings to nearby electricity supply, and so forth. But it has had the net result of sealing the isolation of the smaller hamlets to the detriment of labour on the farms concerned. May I express the hope that the Minister of Health will give consideration to instruct- ing local authorities that, in all the schemes with which they are desiring to proceed, due consideration should be given to the erection of smaller dwellings for aged couples and thereby release the more commodious houses for those who have larger families?

As we have already been reminded in the Debate yesterday, the Report upon rent control is still awaited, but I do not think that any reasonable tenant will take exception if the Government find it necessary to bring rents into some relation to the wages which are being earned and also into relation with the cost of maintenance of the houses concerned. I asked a Question in this House recently on the subject of the future of the Housing (Rural Workers) Act of 1928, and the Minister, in his reply, stated that it was proposed to reinstitute this Measure as soon as the time became opportune. I sincerely hope that my right hon. and learned Friend, in the meantime, will consider the advisability of raising the maximum grant in proportion to the rise in the cost of living and in the cost of materials since 1939. In a speech last evening, reference was made by an hon. Member to the number of houses in his locality which remained under requisition, but which, for a long time, have not been occupied. I have referred to the length and breadth of my Division, and I can assure the Minister that, in North Norfolk, there are many small houses of that description. They are not sufficiently concentrated to be of any useful purpose to units, but they are, nevertheless, a source of great irritation in the locality to those who have no homes to live in.

I desire to support the plea which has already been made that prisoners of war should be brought into the field of housing operations. I am not particularly enthusiastic about Italians. For one reason, many of them are not themselves very enthusiastic about a hard day's work. After many difficulties in Norfolk, we have at last persuaded a large number of them to settle down in agricultural employment, and, therefore, if we appeal for recruits to leave their ranks, in that respect, so far as the agricultural districts are concerned, we tend to adopt a policy of robbing Peter to pay Paul. I have no idea how many German prisoners are now in this country. They must be here in very large numbers, and, from among them, there must be many skilled tradesmen, and I see no reason why, at the cessation of hostilities, these Hitler men should not be detained indefinitely in this country to make good some of the damage for which they themselves are responsible.

In conclusion, may I remind the House that, in the days before the war, there was a tragic trek from the countryside to the large towns and cities of young men who sought their fortunes elsewhere, only to be disappointed. It is, therefore, the bounden duty of those in positions of responsibility to make the countryside as attractive as they possibly can to the rising generation during the post-war era. The greatest contribution which the Government can make to retain these men where they are so urgently required is to see that the rural districts have a fair share of the Government's housing programme.

11.52 a.m.

Photo of Sir Herbert Butcher Sir Herbert Butcher , Holland with Boston

Every hon. Member who has participated in the Debate has stressed the great urgency of the housing problem, and to add anything on that point would be unnecessary and a waste of time. I think it is worth while, for a moment, however, to realise that, even yet, we have not felt the full impact of the demand for houses. That will only be felt when the men start returning from overseas, and we face a great danger that, unless we are very careful, those who have been overseas will be those left without houses. I know the Minister of Health is sympathetic on this matter. I have put questions to him, and I know the difficulties he has to meet. I know it is difficult to write these things into Statute law. But I do ask the people of this country to write it as a debt of honour in their hearts, and to remember it in every council chamber, so that, other things being equal, preference shall be given to ex-Servicemen. The hardship of service overseas is separation from the family, and, to get family life re-established, we must help our men to get their homes as speedily as possible.

Now I come to the White Paper, and I am sorry to find such a lack of urgency evident in its paragraphs. It is an unsatisfactory White Paper. I turn to paragraph 4 and find that 750,000 families still need a home; to paragraph 5 which states that rapid completion of slum clearance will require 500,000 houses. That makes a total of 1,250,000 separate dwellings, which, I think, is an optimistic estimate, to say the least. Then we come to the proposals and the Government's plans, and, in the first two years after the end of the European war, the completed permanent houses are going to be 220,000, and the temporary houses 145,000, a total of 365,000, which is about a quarter of the urgent demand with which the Government tells us we are confronted. May I say in passing how glad we are that that horrid phrase "built and building" has disappeared; the statement that 220,000 completed and 80,000 in course of construction is very much more satisfactory, and we are particularly grateful to the Government for that.

I have been seized during this Debate with a sense of frustration, a feeling that we have not anybody and are not likely to have anybody speaking from the Government benches who can deal with the question of labour. According to the White Paper, at the end of the first year after the cessation of European hostilities, we are going to have four-fifths of the pre-war labour force, but according to paragraph 10 there are these additional demands for certain war purposes: building for the export trade and essential civil requirements, the rebuilding of bombed premises and essential repairs and maintenance. Labour is the key of this problem and it is a great misfortune that the Minister of Labour cannot be here and tell us frankly what the position is in terms of manpower. In reply to a question I put to him yesterday he told us that at this stage of the war, there were 90,000 people in other civilian employment who in 1940 were engaged in the building industry. We ought to get those people out of other civilian industry immediately. The Home Secretary told us that certain personnel of the National Fire Service were engaged in work. If they can be spared from duty in the National Fire Service, we ought in the present emergency to take the risk of demobilising those few men from the National Fire Service and allow them to return to the building industry. Labour is the real bottleneck with which we are faced and we in this House will be failing in our duty if we raise optimistic hopes such as were raised by the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Horabin) who talked in terns of 750,000 houses a year. May I retail to the present solitary occu- pant of the Liberal benches opposite that, on two successive days, Members of his Party claimed the nationalisation of the railways, and then made a claim for the nationalisation of the land?

At the beginning of the war the system we had in building, both for local authorities and for private enterprise, was simple. The Ministry of Health was in control of the whole show. They worked through the local authorities, and private enterprise was unfettered. Can anyone say that it is any better with the present galaxy of Ministers, the exuberance of Ministries and the frustration of local authorities? Let us see what are the views of people experienced in these matters. Sir Miles Mitchell, of Manchester, a great expert in these housing matters, says: "Give the job to the Ministry of Health and let the Ministry get on with that lob and that job alone." I believe that if we return to the well-worn path of our experience, we shall press forward more quickly with this housing job. As I have said before, it cost the country a lot to educate the Ministry of Health between the last two wars. How efficient and invaluable it is now. Let us regard the Ministry of Works as a useful Department, with great responsibilities, and let us leave it free to press forward as a separate Department on material, on the one hand, and to deal with the useful temporary houses which we all expect.

I want to deal, for two minutes only, with the question of control. The hon. Member for Brigg (Mr. Quibell), who speaks with such reason and authority on these matters, was not quite fair to the manufacturers of cement yesterday, when he pointed out that the price was going up. This is one of the commodities which is under severe control. These controls, which should, according to the White Paper, act to keep prices down, are, in fact, going to keep prices up. Look at bricks. The intention in keeping all the brickyards in existence in this country was, that they would be able to meet whatever the demand might be and have the maximum amount of production. But, as a result of the operation of controls, we are putting the section of the industry which is most economical in labour and in fuel out of business. The industry can be divided into two kinds, well known to those with experience as the "non-Flettons" and the "Flettons." The Fletton industry, which was the supplier in that connection for the London area, although it has delivered all over the country, is now only producing 16 per cent. of its pre-war output. That is bad enough, but of that 16 per cent., or roughly two-thirds, is being dumped on stacking grounds, and the industry is only selling five per cent. of its pre-war output.

What is the result? Under control, last month a brickyard went out of production that was producing 120,000,000 bricks a year. There are ample bricks in the country, as the hon. Member for Brigg said. There are 600,000,000 bricks alone stacked, to the embarrassment of about six firms. They are not allowed to be brought to London. There is a price control. What is the effect of that price control? The price control means that in the area South of London, we are paying about £25s. a thousand more for bricks on site, than could be obtained in face of competition were restriction removed. On the basis of 20,000 bricks to a house, if my arithmetic is correct, it is £25 a house, and on 10 houses to the acre, it is £250 per acre, and the cost of that has to be borne by the tenant eventually.

I am not going to detain the House longer because I know how many hon. Members want to speak on this matter. We are driven back to the question of labour, and really, nobody knows where we are in terms of labour. I was approached in my rural area to try to get the release of a man who is a skilled plumber. I took the matter up with the very courteous Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works. I received a letter from him. He has agreed to help me, but apparently, if that plumber can be found a job by somebody who wants to employ him in London, they will ask the Army for him, but if he is wanted to mend burst pipes in Boston he must not come home. I really cannot see that that makes sense or makes for comfort. I am glad to hear that private housing is to start again. Before I finish I am going to say a ward on the question of rural housing. It is easy, as I saw last night in South London, to visualise the terrible damage and the need there is for temporary houses in our cities. But as you go round the countryside—and after all it is only known to the local doctor, the local health visitor and the local Member of Parliament who takes the trouble to go and look into these things—you see that overcrowded conditions in the rural areas are even worse than those in some of the London areas. I will give three examples and allow the House to draw its own conclusions. In one room, in the heart of the most fertile part of England, lives a woman, age about 40, her mother, a boy of 17, and a girl of 12, and there is a husband serving overseas who is entitled to leave and will be returning to join that household very soon. Are those the conditions under which our people ought to be living? In another case a man and a wife and four children were living in one room. In another case an old couple were living in a house so old and so worn out that tarpaulin and sacks were hanging above the bed to keep the rain out.

These conditions cannot be prevented at the moment. The key to the solution of all these problems is labour. I believe that this House will not be satisfied with this Debate. We cannot be satisfied with the present exposition from the Government of its housing policy until we have had, certainly a Member of the War Government, and, preferably, the Minister of Labour to tell us how he is viewing the release of men from the Forces and from civil employment, the training of new entrants into the industry, new methods of application, pressure upon employers to secure and assist them in every way, agreement with the trade unions to relax any restrictive practices that may still remain on these people with great experience. We must ask at some later date for another Debate in which we shall have the advantage and the assistance of the Minister of Labour, who alone can really solve this problem. The admirable Ministers who have taken part in this Debate can only move, if I may say so, on the circumference of the problem, where the Minister of Labour is right at the centre.

12.7 p.m.

Photo of Mr George Buchanan Mr George Buchanan , Glasgow Gorbals

Possibly some hon. Members may be rather critical that after last night a Scottish Member should intervene this morning. I am sorry that the Leader of the House is not present, but I would say this to the occupants of the Front Bench, that what I might almost call one of the most disgusting situations I have seen in Parliament was the Debate regarding Scotland yesterday which a Cabinet Minister—a Scottish Member dealing with the Scottish housing problem—regulated by the time he had to catch a train. That is not the way we should discuss this human problem and face our difficulties. Last night I felt that it was not edifying, either to the Cabinet Minister concerned or to the House, that the discussion of this serious and acute human problem in Scotland should be regulated in that way. Let me say a word to the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Butcher). I shall not "lay about" one Member after another. I thought my hon. Friend was both unfair and unkind. I was going to say that he was the only occupant of the National Liberal Bench, but I will not say that, because I really do not differ from them and the Tories, and therefore he is occupying a seat along with friends. Be that as it may, I waited last night from the beginning to the end, and not even he bothered to wait; in fact, very few waited.

Photo of Sir Herbert Butcher Sir Herbert Butcher , Holland with Boston

I am sure my hon. Friend will acquit me of any discourtesy to the House or to the Chair when I say that a very long-standing engagement prevented me from being bere.

Photo of Mr George Buchanan Mr George Buchanan , Glasgow Gorbals

I have no doubt the hon. Member had a reasonable excuse, but when he asks for fairness, he might try occasionally to concede fairness to others. I shall not compete with misery stories. I listened to the case of the four children in a single apartment. The hon. Member for Springburn (Mrs. Hardie) could produce figures compared with which those are good. In my Division there are cases of five different families in one house, with seven people in each room, all sharing the same lavatory. Such conditions almost beggar description.

I think there is a case not for the Minister of Labour being present, but for the Prime Minister to have intervened in this Debate, and I will tell the House why I differentiate between the right hon. Gentleman and the Minister of Labour. After all, the Minister of Labour is a member of the War Cabinet, but he is a Departmental chief, and he must supply labour to the various Departments of State that may require it. The only person who can really answer for the interwoven Departments, demand against demand, utilisation against utilisation, is the chief of the Government, the Prime Minister himself. I think that in this important Debate, where labour and materials are the counter-stroke of Department against Department, the only Minister who can answer for co-ordination is the Prime Minister himself. Therefore, I feel a shade regretful that he reconsidered his decision not to intervene in this Debate, This is largely a problem of labour, but there is a serious problem of materials as well. You can make a house how you like, you can make it sub-standard, you can make it of steel or of aluminium, but, in the nature of things, you cannot get away from a large use of timber. If you are going into speedy production, there is no material so mobile and so easily used in the construction of a house as timber, and one of the necessary things in an ordinary building programme is a supply of timber. In these days I think we ought to take stock of how we are using our shipping space for the importationo of goods. Frankly, I think housing is the first demand in this country. I would bar almost every import by shipping except two things: those requirements necessary for war purposes and food requirements. When I see canned peaches coming into this country I feel that the space might be better used for the importation of timber for the building of houses. Timber supplies are ample in the world. The one difficulty is conveying them from the place where they are to the place where you want them. So we ought to review our shipping space to see if we cannot allocate more for timber importation and, if it comes to a choice, set aside other goods.

Let me say a word about the supply of labour. It is easy for us—and, indeed, I am tempted to be easy to-day—to talk about the mobilisation of labour but, when you talk about directing men hither and thither and taking partial forms of control over them, the men concerned will ask what terms and conditions are going to be applied. If they are to be so utilised and conscripted, what treatment is to be meted out to those who own land, to those who manufacture goods,. to those who are their employers? Frankly, you will not find men willing to be shifted and carted about with their wives and families, lock, stock and barrel, unless you can show three things—the things you endeavoured to show during the war: First, that your cause is sound; secondly, urgency of need; thirdly, that you can make them believe you will apply the same manner of control to the other sections of the community as well. Unless we do that let us not talk too easily about the mobilisation of labour.

I am not over fond of trusting things to the building trade. I am one of the few Members who sat here all yesterday listening to the speeches. One of the speakers was the hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Sir J. Walker-Smith) who speaks, I understand, with some authority regarding the building trade, and I listened also to a colleague of mine, the hon. Member for Brigg (Mr. Quibell). But I am not going to trust the solution of this problem to the building trade. For years before the war this problem was with us. Here let me say that I am not going to he driven into a war between the rural dweller and the town dweller, nor, indeed, between the ex-Serviceman and Serviceman. The problem is to build houses for all who have need of them, and even in the face of an election I am not going to be driven into cadging votes by saying I am in favour of giving a preference to this man or that. I treat them all as human beings with human needs. In the matter of housing it is not so much for the man that we are providing as for his children. They had no control over what their fathers may or may not have been.

As I have said, I am not over-anxious to trust the building trade as a trade, and I do not take the view that only the experts connected with it, only those who have laid a brick or two, are the people who can solve this problem. I say frankly that I do not know the situation well in England, but I can speak of my division; and here I would beg hon. Members not to apologise as though they were criminals whenever they mention their own divisions. I am often annoyed to hear Members apologising when they bring to the attention of the House the grievances of their own divisions. After all, most of our experience has been built up in our divisions. My experience has been built round my native city, a city of which, with ail its faults, I am not ashamed. Let us take the City of Glasgow. It has overcrowded slums everywhere. What was the situation before the war? In one year fewer than 7,000 houses were built. All those years the building trade kept housing as a sort of "dripping roast." They built cinemas, they got on with the lucrative work, and kept housing as something to which they could turn when the bleak days came and there was nothing else to be done. I am not having the building trade do that in connection with the housing of our people after the war. There has been talk about the increased force which has been built up in the building trade. It has increased by about 5o per cent., I think, in 25 years.

Some of my hon. Friends may differ from me, but I take the view that if capitalism can see a profit in a thing it will produce the goods. Capitalism could provide motor cars ad lib—and motor cars are not things to be ashamed of—because they would give an ample profit. In the matter of housing the problem was solved wherever it could be seen that profits could be made, because before the war, even in the West of Scotland—the worst Hart of the country—the problem of housmg had almost been solved for the well-to-do, the comfortable persons with, say, £500 a year or over. Their problem was solved because there was a profit to be made in building houses for them. The problem of the people, which was not solved, was the problem of the overcrowded slum, the problem which offered the least attractions from the point of view of adventure by capitalists.

I frankly accept the position that I think the capitalist system is going to run, because even if we on this side were to change over to the seats on the other side the capitalist system would continue for some time. I take the view that the capitalist system is going to run, but in the meantime I want people to be housed. We hear talk about the small man. One of the curses of the building trade is that almost anybody who had a shovel, a brush and a pair of steps could become an employer of labour and build houses, but if we are to build houses in a reasonable time under a capitalist system we shall have to adopt the same methods as would be used for securing the output of any other commodity. I am not against adding to skilled labour. I cannot see any difference as regards using female labour between building a house and making a gun.

We heard last night one rather effective speech which all the young Tory Reformers cheered. I hope I am not being sarcastic towards the Salvation Army, but the proceedings reminded me of a Salvation Army meeting, where everybody shouts "Amen." Last night there was a chorus of "Hear, hears." I refer to the speech delivered by the hon. and gallant Member for East Leicester (Colonel Lyons). I had not thought of him as a young Tory.

Photo of Mr Arthur Molson Mr Arthur Molson , High Peak

That speech faced up to the fact that it was labour that was required but that it was impossible to have the labour before the war was over.

Photo of Mr George Buchanan Mr George Buchanan , Glasgow Gorbals

I was coming to that position. He faced up to the position in a reasonable speech. He took the view that as long as the war continued this and that could not be done. Let me say to hon. Members who "Hear, hear'd so vigorously that there might be something in that if we lived in a terribly logical world where everybody was a Member of Parliament and understood all the logic of the situation. But as I listened to the hon. and gallant Member my mind went back to the late Neville Chamberlain after Munich. When he came back from Munich everybody cheered. Let us be frank, no one in this House divided against him. Let us be frank, everybody accepted Munich, and not a single soul would divide against it. If he had gone to the country I am under no illusion about what would have happened. And yet, within a month or two, without anything different having been done, the same people turned him out. There was no logic about it.

The fact is that in these matters other factors operate. The young Tories should not think that they can solve the problem of providing houses by logic. Much more enters into it. It may be there is a war on, but the man who comes back from Germany will know there has been a war on, in fact, will know it much better than Members of Parliament, because he has been there; but he will not say: "I know there has been a war on," he will expect this housing problem to be solved. It may be illogical, it may be unfair, but there it is, and we have to face it, and if we do not face it he will demand that somebody else shall handle the problem. [An HON. MEMBER: "And the hon. Member is playing up to him.") I am not playing up to him. He wants a house and he will not have got it. It is a curious thing to say, but I am not so much afraid of unemployment. It may come, but for some reason or another I have not at the back of my mind the same fear about it. Even if there is unemployment I do not fear it from the country's point of view. What I fear is: "No home to live in." Members talk about the war with Japan, but let me warn them of this. The war has now been going on for five and a half years, indeed for close on six years. People can carry on in a temporary fashion for the first year, the second year and the third year—but six years is rather a long time. Some men who were conscripted at the beginning of this war and were then unmarried are now married, and some of them have three in the family. That gives an idea of how long the war has been going on.

The Government have produced their White Paper, but let the House note the position of affairs in Scotland. Two or three years ago the Secretary of State for Scotland got permission to build 1,000 houses. Less than 300 have been completed. Twist the reasons as we may, that is indefensible, it is wrong. However logically or nicely we may argue about it, as the hon. and gallant Member for East Leicester did last night, that will not work. Men will stand a lot for themselves, but it is their families they are chiefly thinking of. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Key), when he was on a committee with me, could not come to the City of Glasgow. I remember taking my colleagues on that committee to see some of the houses there. We saw men who had been through some of the worst fighting in the trenches in the last war and some who have been through the thick of the fighting at Dunkirk in this war. Every one of them said they could stand things themselves, never bothering, but what they could not stand was watching their children suffer. When dealing with this problem this House should remember that logic will not help very much, and that it is not even the problem of the parents. The men who have children dependent upon them are thinking mainly of their families. I trust that in the next few weeks the Government will take further thought on this problem and handle it with the degree of urgency that it calls for as a human problem, and make greater inroads upon the solution of it than they have done hitherto.

12.25 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Morrison Mr John Morrison , Salisbury

As a more junior Member, I feel myself in a somewhat difficult position in having to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), whose oratory I always enjoy so much. I hope that he will not think I am trying to go back to the war between the countryside and the town, if I turn to the important question of housing in the rural areas, because there are several points in that connection which I wish to emphasise. I agree with my hon. Friend that the task of the Government and of my right hon. Friends who are on the Treasury bench to-day in the matter of housing is, indeed, a vast one, and that to tackle it calls for hard work, and that nothing must interfere with this task as soon as the labour and materials are available. I should like to take the opportunity of wishing both my right hon. Friends on.the Treasury bench the best of luck in the vast job in front of them, which I regard as the biggest task to be undertaken since the war started. My plea to-day is that when labour and materials become available a certain proportion of them should be reserved for work in the country districts, the rural areas and county towns.

Those of us who represent such constituencies, and also live in them, fully appreciate the priority needs of blitzed cities and areas, and in particular the City of London. But, as has been said, not only in this Debate but in other Debates on housing, there is a great deal that requires to be done in the countryside in improving housing conditions and adding to the present number of house. I know only too well, by the correspondence I am getting at the present time, of the shortage of housing accommodation of all sorts in my part of the country, and I hope the Government will see fit to allocate both men and material to house building as soon as it is possible. In that respect I would like to emphasise the importance of releasing local builders' men at the first opportunity. The local builder, with his knowledge of the district in which he has always worked, and of local materials and customs, can do a better job, I believe, than any other firm of building undertakers in his own area. Many of the local builders' men have since the war, had to go into the Forces, or have been moved to London to repair bomb damage, with the consequence that the local man has had a tough time. I welcome Paragraph 38 of the White Paper, which says: The Government have much in mind the housing needs of the rural areas particularly in view of the continued need for increased food production in the country… The White Paper goes on to say that the Housing (Rural Workers) Acts will be amended and brought into line with present-day conditions. I hope the responsible Minister will do that at the earliest opportunity, because I think that would be a great help and incentive to all who are responsible for housing conditions in various parts of our country districts. I want to refer, also, to Paragraph 17 of the White Paper headed, "Conversion and Reinstatement," which deals with the position of additional dwellings, and says: The programme… will also include the conversion of large houses and hostels into flats, and the re-instatement of derequisitioned houses which would not otherwise be fit for re-occupation as dwellings. My hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Sir T. Cook) has referred to small houses for elderly people, and I have in mind the same thing for the more infirm members of our countryside populations. If some bigger houses, as soon as they are derequisitioned, can be made to accommodate some of these older members of the community it will kill several birds with one stone, because many of these old people are finding it increasingly difficult to run their houses on their own in present conditions, and would welcome the opportunity of living in an up-to-date flat, provided they had there own wash-houses and gardens. If accommodation which is suitable, with up-to-date conveniences, could be provided for them I think many of them would welcome it, and that would release other houses in the rural areas for returning Servicemen, or others with large families. That would help considerably if it could be in some way married to the Housing (Rural Workers) Acts. I do not know whether that is possible, but I think it is worth thinking over.

Several Members have referred to the use of prisoner of war labour in connection with our housing problem. Nearly every speaker has said that we are short of labour. My hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk said that he was not particularly keen on Italian prisoner-of-war labour. Nor am I, and I am still less keen on German prisoner-of-war labour, or any other kind of German labour. But be that as it may, I believe that such labour would fill a useful gap if it could be used for the rough work of laying foundations for houses. I agree that the Italians, in some cases, are doing an excellent job where they have learned that job in agriculture, and that if they were taken away for building work it would mean that agriculture would have a reduced labour force with which to deal with food production. But there are others who are not engaged on that sort of work—I understand that very few Germans are so engaged—and if we could release them it would be a great help in getting the rough jobs done when material was available. Reference has also been made to the £10 limit, but that is not really a complete £10 limit. I hope that all unnecessary forms and difficulties which present themselves to local authorities, and others who urgently want housing accommodation, will be done away with so far as possible, in order to help those responsible to get on with the job of building new houses or repairing existing houses.

12.37 p.m.

Photo of Mr George Duckworth Mr George Duckworth , Shrewsbury

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Salisbury (Major Morrison) has raised a number of important points in connection with rural housing, to which the Minister will no doubt give his consideration. I wish, also, to say something about the rural housing problem, but to emphasise that it cannot be divorced from the general housing problem. There can be no doubt at all about the strength of the feeling that exists in the country about this subject, and in this connection there are one or two general observations I should like to make. In the first place, there is a great deal of criticism and abuse of the Government over their housing policy which is quite unjust, unfair, and totally misinformed. I sometimes receive letters condemning the Government in the harshest possible terms for their failure to solve the housing problem. Of course, that is nonsense, because no Government that was not endowed with miraculous powers could possibly solve this problem while the war in Europe is still in progress.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) said that the publie did not approach this problem logically, or with reason. To some extent that may be so, and for that I think the Government have been in some measure to blame. There has been, to some extent, a failure to take the nation sufficiently into their confidence in connection with the housing problem. More might have been done, I think, to make people understand the position, and to place before them the stark, unpleasant facts and the degree to which the bombing of our towns and cities has immeasurably added to the problems arising from war conditions. Therefore, I think the Government might take more trouble, through radio and the Press, to explain the situation to the country, in the same way as they have in regard to the food situation and other of our war-time problems. If they do that I think there may be less criticism and less bitter complaint than we have heard during the last two days. The Government have, in fact, an excellent case. Within the limits of what has been possible they have taken most vigorous and, I think, successful action. Certainly, the repair of bomb damage in London has, I think, been carried out, on the whole, with great speed and efficiency. That is my experience living, as I do, in a street which has been bombed two or three times. No one who has visited Northolt could fail to be impressed by the experimental work which has been carried out, and by the preparations which have been made for a large building programme as soon as labour and materials are available.

I am extremely pleased that the Government have decided to curtail the policy of temporary houses. I have always thought that that policy was short-sighted and expensive, and one that would not, in the end, stand the test of time. I do not believe that steel houses, which may look attractive when they are first made and painted, will stand up for long to the weather. I can imagine nothing more unsightly than these temporary houses when the paint has begun to wear and chip off. There is another consideration to which attention must be given. I still remain in doubt whether our present organisation and allocation of responsibility between different Ministers and Departments is the best that can be devised.

I remember, before the war, visiting Holland, where I was enormously im- pressed by the housing and building which had been done there after the last war. They had carried out a tremendous amount of building and had spent a great deal of money. There was, in that country, an almost uniformly high standard of planning, design, and architecture, which presented a most remarkable contrast to the chaos that took place in building in this country between the two wars. I asked the reason for that and I was told that they had in Holland a highly centralised system of administration and control, and that before any building was carried out there was an investigation by the centralised department before sanction was given. We have, I believe, something to learn from that. I am not suggesting that we should scrap all our existing machinery and the agency of the local authorities, or that we should set up, as has been suggested, a Minister of Housing. But I do suggest that there is still room for greater co-ordination, greater centralised control of housing operations, the elimination of delays and a greater uniformity in practice and standards.

Last of all, I question whether, in these days, the primary responsibility for housing should still be placed upon the Minister of Health. Taking into account the multifarious duties that fall upon my right hon. and learned Friend, when one considers the number of occasions when he has to come to this House with legislation on wholly different matters, I think it is most remarkable and a great tribute to him that he can still give so much attention to the housing problem. But I think the responsibility which has been placed upon this one Minister is really too great. I do not believe that any human being can adequately carry out such a task. After all, we had projected a great National Health Service and I should have thought that alone would almost be a whole-time job for one Minister.

I suggest that the primary responsibility for housing policy should devolve upon the Minister of Town and Country Planning. It seems to me that that would really be a logical arrangement since the whole field of physical development, reconstruction and building does, as I understand it, come under the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, and house building will be by far the biggest item in the physical reconstruction of this country. That may be thought a sweeping proposal, but I suggest that the whole housing section of the Ministry of Health should be removed and placed under the Ministry of Town and Country Planning. I daresay it will be said that there would be insuperable difficulties and that the Ministry of Health is the Ministry responsible for all matters that come under the local authorities; but I cannot believe those difficulties would be in fact insurmountable.

I want to say a few words about the question of rural housing. The seriousness of the situation in the rural areas at the present time is really due to the deplorably low standard of housing that existed before the war. The standard of rural housing in the pre-war years lagged far behind the general standards of housing that we had achieved elsewhere in the country, and there can be no doubt, as has been said in previous Debates and in this Debate, that the main cause of those conditions in the rural areas was the impoverishment of the countryside, the great depression in the agricultural industry, the low wages paid to agricultural workers and the difficulty of providing proper and reasonable housing standards at rents within their means. That point is really of the first importance, because there can be no solution of the rural housing problem unless we can maintain a prosperous agricultural industry, there can be no solution unless agricultural wages can be maintained at their present level and at a level approximating to the wages paid in industry. That is the first essential, but even so, it must be evident from even a most cursory study of the finance of rural building in the past, that the problem is still going to be a most formidable one. In fact, it will be an impossible problem unless building costs can be very substantially reduced, unless interest rates can be kept at a low level, and unless there is the most careful planning and effective control of labour and materials.

It seems to me that the question of building costs is dealt with in the most cursory fashion in the White Paper; almost nothing is said about this all-important question. We are told that after the last war there was a serious rise in costs and that in order to check such a tendency this time the Government will control the prices of materials, standard components and fitments. But that is all we are told. We are not told what particular steps they propose to take to carry out this policy. It seems to me that if we are to judge by the experience of wartime building in the rural areas—the 3,000 cottages—the burden that will be placed on local authorities in future will be altogether intolerable. I understand that building costs have risen by about Ion per cent., whereas the general rise in costs has been only 30 per cent. We have never received from the Government any adequate reply as to the reason for that situation. Why are building costs Ion per cent. higher than the pre-war level? I think we should have a more adequate answer from the Government on that point and some clearer indication of the Government's intention. It is no good saying that prices are to be controlled. We have to reduce prices, and unless we reduce them substantially, in the rural areas there can be no successful handling of the housing problem. I think we should receive a further assurance from the Minister on this matter.

I want now to say a few words on the whole subject of architecture, design and planning. During the last 100 years we have lost the tradition we once had of having the finest domestic architecture in the world. During the 19th century our towns became the ugliest and most squalid in Europe. That decay spread also to the countryside. There was a reaction from this at the end of the 19th century, but it took a most unfortunate form. There set in a revolt against the town and there arose the romantic idea of the garden city. I think that was a most unfortunate development, largely influenced by Ebenezer Howard; it was his idea, in particular, which has left us the legacy of the ghastly, sprawling ribbon development that has spoiled vast areas of this country. After the last war we had presented to us an enormous opportunity to repair much of the damage done in the past. And let no one say it could not have been done under private enterprise. No one who has seen what has been achieved in America in the way of building the parkways outside the great cities, all of which were built under private enterprise and beautifully planned to meet the traffic problem, will say that it cannot be done under private enterprise. But in this country we threw away our opportunities, and I must confess that I have great doubts as to whether we are going to seize the opportunity that is now to be presented to us again. I hope we are going to escape the chaos and muddle and mess we made of planning and building in the years between the two wars. Let us return to the ancient antithesis between town and country and let us direct our planning to that end.

This brings me to the last point I want to make, and that is the position of the Ministry of Town and Country Planning. I find it very difficult to understand exactly what the Minister's position is and what his powers really are, or whether he has really any executive powers. I can never quite understand whether his powers are purely advisory or whether he has any real powers of compulsion. As I understand it, he has only powers to do his best to persuade people to do what he wants. I think the Ministry of Town and Country Planning should have far greater powers. Many local authorities are advanced and enlightened, but there are some which are most recalcitrant and unprogressive, and in such cases the Ministry of Town and Country Planning ought to have much greater powers to bring pressure to bear.

So far as the housing problem is concerned in general, I think that in many respects the Government have much to their credit and have succeeded within the limits which are to-day imposed upon them, but there is no question of the strong feeling that exists in this country on this problem. We must not shrink from making any changes, however drastic, if by so doing we can achieve greater speed and efficiency. This problem must be faced with courage and determination and with the least possible delay.

12.55 p.m.

Photo of Mr Robert Taylor Mr Robert Taylor , Morpeth

It has been said in the course of this Debate that it is unnecessary for an hon. Member to apologise for speaking about his own constituency. What has happened in London, and the need for labour to be sent to London to repair the extensive damage that has been done, is very obvious to us, because we see these things daily and have them very much in mind. In dealing with this problem it is well that we should focus it properly. In my division, as in many others, housing was a difficult problem before the war, and local authorities had the greatest diffi culty in housing their people. By various methods they tried to avoid any appearance of favouritism and tried to give the greatest measure of satisfaction to the people living in their areas. In many cases they made lists of people wanting houses and gave them houses in turn as the houses became vacant. When the war began some of the lists went back to 1932 and 1933. It was practically impossible for people to get houses. When we consider also that we have built practically no houses since the war began, it is easy to understand how grave is the position.

I have listened attentively to the Debate both yesterday and to-day. Several hon. Members have expressed the opinion that there is need to educate the people about why there are no houses, that we must tell the people the stark facts as to why we are not able to house those who want houses, that we must educate people so that they will not blame the Government because there are no houses. My experience in the borough which I represent leads me to say that, when we speak of education in that sense, there is no need for it. For instance, there are the men who are coming back out of the Services. What are we to tell them when we start to educate them? There is only one thing to say to them. We built no houses because there was a war on. If a man is coming back from Burma, India, or the Western front, we shall not have to educate him to see that we have not built any houses because there is a war on. I have the greatest possible sympathy with the local authorities. Probably they are the people who will be blamed more than anybody else if there are no houses for the men who come out of the Services.

It has been said by several speakers that we need a Cabinet Minister here, preferably the Minister of Labour. It is not to me a question of having the Minister of Labour here. If there is a man who should be speaking from that Box, in my view it is the Prime Minister. What has been the job of the Minister of Labour since the war broke out? I presume a demand would be made upon him for men and women to work in our factories for the air services. I understand the figures have gone up to over a million. I can take my own industry. Owing to sickness, accidents and old age there has been from 35,000 in 40,000 wastage in our coal mines. The need for new entrants into the industry was so urgent that again the Minister of Labour was requested to provide labour for the mines, and he found it with the Bevin Boys. Our war activities as a nation prove that on every occasion the Minister of Labour has met the bill as far as labour is concerned, whether in the Forces or in the civil field. It seems to me that what we want to know is what is the priority for houses, and unless the Government are prepared, as I believe they ought to be, to make the housing problem a priority equal to the war, it seems to me that there can be no solution, because there cannot be the necessary diversion which will provide the materials for the builders to make the houses. During the war we had a very extensive canvass. A committee was set up by the Government to have a comb-out for men with engineering skill, who might be in some of the Services where their skill was not being used to the best advantage. I am wondering if at this stage of the war—hopeful as we are that it will soon be completed—it would not.be wise both in the civil field and in the Forces, where there are men of fairly low categories, to have an investigation with a view to discovering men of skill, whether for providing materials or for the building of houses, so that we might get on with the job.

The thing that is bothering me is this. When the war is over the problem will be aggravated by the greater number of men at home. There will be a hiatus before they can have houses, and the problem will be tremendously aggravated during that period. Having regard to what we have done in the national effort, it seems to me that everything possible should be done to get men on the spot now, to have the materials ready and, if possible, make a commencement of building houses for the men to come back to. We talk of moving labour here and there but there is a tremendous problem in that because, if you move labour from one place to another, you are only superimposing an additional strain on the locality to which you move it, where they are already unable to meet the existing housing situation.

No one has endeavoured more than I have to help towards winning the war, but I realise that unless we have some houses for the men who come back from the Forces, we are going to face a terrible problem. There is a cry now that ex-Servicemen should have the first claim, and it is a natural thing to say for men who have been five or six years away. But there are men who had not a home of their own even before the war started, who have been living in overcrowded conditions with one, two or three families in a house. It is a terrible domestic problem when you have two or three families living in one house. Nothing is more conducive to domestic unhappiness than such a state of affairs. When we say, "By all means give the ex-Serviceman first priority for the houses that are being built,' we are going to make division amongst our own people. It may be popular to say, "By all means let ex-Servicemen have their homes," but let us remember the children of the people who are not ex-Servicemen who may be—God forbid—the children that we shall need later to save the country. I hesitate to enter upon this debatable question as to the ex-Serviceman and the man who is not an ex-Serviceman, because there are many who would be ex-Servicemen at the end of the war if we had not said, "You have your job to do. Stay where you are." Any man who has served the national interest in providing the wherewithal for the Serviceman to have the tools to do the job, is himself a Serviceman. There may be in the near future a flag flown for victory, I want two flags if possible. I want another flag which will show that we have commenced to build some houses for the men when they come home.

1.10 p.m.

Photo of Mr Alfred Bossom Mr Alfred Bossom , Maidstone

I think we have had enough sadness on the subject of housing. Nearly every generality has been touched on and everyone is fairly well informed on this general subject, so I am going to attempt to put forward a form of practical procedure which, I am convinced, could be helpful. There are three things in which everyone who has spoken agrees. The problem itself is colossal. The amount of building that has to be done is greater than we have ever had to face and we have reached a stage of emergency. We have the Prime Minister's authority that that is how it has to be treated. Thirdly, if we do not satisfy it, we are liable to have disorders.

How would a really practical but possibly private executive face this problem? We have to work for speed and we have to have quantity. To be successful, I am convinced that we have to have every satisfactory type of house and have it built whether controlled by the Ministry of Works, by the local authorities, by housing societies or by builders. I think we have got to get all the normal agencies available to take hold of this problem. There are four fundamentals, and the failure of any of these will mean that the entire scheme will fail. First our regulations, our laws, our controls, must be uniform, they must be understandable and they must be quick acting. The sites must be available, they must be quickly found and we must not have technical hold-ups. Our materials must be available in sufficient quantities. Factory space, too, for this type of work must he available at the time required. Lastly, we must have the men, skilled and unskilled, and they must be ready in time. If any of these four fundamentals fail we shall certainly make a failure of our vast housing problem.

Let me say a few words about the regulations, laws and controls. To get speed with the present "set-up" is totally impossible. We cannot get speed with the present arrangements. We have seven Ministries who have something to say about it and 1,500-odd local authorities who have something to say about it, each with its own building inspector, who has powers to put his own interpretation on the regulations. We have seven cities which have their own special private building Acts. It is fantastic to expect to get success with a "set-up" of that sort in an emergency when we must have speed. For the period of the emergency we want the full-time attention of one Minister. I am not worried about which Minister it may be, so long as we have a full-time Minister doing it. The Minister of Health has been suggested, and he has done very fine work in his own particular sphere. But everyone will agree that, with the new tasks with which he has been entrusted, he has already a full-time man's job, irrespective of housing, and so I do not think he can give his full time to housing if he is going to do the other work that he has already taken in hand. As a matter of fact I am rather more interested in the man in the case of an emergency than in the system. If you do not have the right man no system will work. We have to get the man who will do the job. I am a sincere admirer of the magnificent work that has been done by the Minister of Works. We all know a number of unsatisfactory cases in the 700,000-odd houses that have been looked after with first aid repairs by the Ministry of Works, but there are thousands where the work has been done very well indeed. When 700,000-odd special and different jobs have to be done, you are bound to have a number that are unsatisfactory. I like very much the drive demonstrated by the Minister's work. I like his enthusiasm and the enthusiasm that Lord Portal, his predecessor, displayed. They have certainly endeavoured to perform their task, To be successful I am convinced that we must have one full-time Minister looking after this subject.

Photo of Mr Robert Tasker Mr Robert Tasker , Holborn

Would he be subordinate to the other seven Ministers?

Mr. Bassom:

My hon. Friend is asking me to take the position of Prime Minister, and I would not attempt to do that, for the point he raises is a Cabinet decision. There should be one Minister giving his full time to this housing task, and seconded to him should be responsible representatives of each of the other Departments that now are concerned. These representatives should stay in his office building all the time, and they should be capable of taking action and making decisions without having to refer back to anybody else. Of course, I am speaking for the two years of the emergency and not for an indefinite period. They should all be in the same building and immediately accessible to the Minister and to each other. They should have the power of settling permits. A local authority or housing society should be able to make application to the one office which should be able to give a permit. The same should apply to materials controls. I have asked Questions of the Minister of Supply, and he has told me of the number of different materials for which special and individual permits have to be obtained. I know it will not be popular to make that suggestion, but we have had to do different things in connection with other vital issues during the war. Why should we not do it in this emergency, for it is a very serious emergency, and it is no use denying it?

The laws and regulations should be simplified. In reply to Questions which I have asked, the Minister of Health has explained that the emergency houses do not conform to his own model bylaws. The model permanent houses that were built at Northolt suffered from the frost, and do not comply with fire regulations. These things and similar problems should be straightened out if we are to get the houses with speed and in quantity. I am convinced that we must have one full-time Minister at the head of all controls and in charge of all laws and regulations, which laws, etc., should be standardised. In other words, we should centralise at the top, at the policy level, but decentralise below, at the construction level, if we are to get the work done, in the cities, towns and villages. Here again we have to learn a lesson from the war. Our regional arrangements have not worked too badly. I would like to see a regional, or even a county, arrangement and all permits for approving sites and for controlled materials should be granted in the region and not have to be referred back to any central office. In certain cases it is being done now, and this plan should be extended to all considerations of standard materials. In the regional arrangements we should have a group of men, parallelly the men at the top or policy level, who would be technical men and not normal civil servants without special technical experience. We must have reasonable decisions reasonably quickly, and we do not want to have them referred back to some technical man situated a long way away. There are enough technical men in the country who could do this work very well if called for.

As to land, the principles and rules about permits for sites should be settled at the policy level under the one Minister, and then the work should be decentralised to the county or regional level for administration. We must take full advantage of our national technical knowledge if we are to succeed. We cannot have the delays that are bound to occur if questions have to be constantly referred back to higher authorities. As to the materials and equipment, we could easily have at least 75 per cent. prefabricated, whether for permanent or for ternporary houses. I remember that in 1910 the first 20-storey building that was put up in America South of Washington was built in six months from the day the four- dations were completed. In this country, I am afraid we should even to-day take nearer two years to do the same building or at least immediately pre-war. That building was largely prefabrication. Cannot we learn from what other people have done and succeeded with? All the interiors of our houses can be prefabricated, and now that aircraft factories are about to be released, there is no reason why we should not get the operators and workers in them on to making interiors for the houses both temporary and permanent, that are so urgently needed. I have no doubt that this is being done to a small extent, but it should be done to the fullest extent so that we can reach in fact to the very limit possible. For the emergency there should be no difficulty in getting bricks, lightweight concrete plasterboards, roofing tiles, pipes and plumbing units. All these things should be reasonably obtainable for all our needs. Timber will be difficult, and we shall have to economise in its use. Baths and grates will he difficult, and it is certain that we shall have to get some of these items from other places.

As to men, we have heard a lot as to how difficult it will be to get them. We might as well recognise, now, that, if we do not have the men we shall not get the homes, and without the homes we are likely to have the disorders we have heard about from so many hon. Members. I would recommend strongly that we at once get the Service Departments to make a full list of the men in the Services who have been connected with the building trades so that we shall know exactly where they are and shall be able to get them out when we want them. A list should also be compiled of the men in the factories who have been connected with the 'building industry. Each man should be approached and asked whether he intends to return to the industry after the war. And now I am going to make a drastic suggestion, but if we are to get houses we must do some drastic things. I would like to see, within two weeks of the end of hostilities in Europe, all the men who have been in the building trade and who want to stay in it and so earn their living in post-war years, released so that they can get back to their former jobs. They would have to have a certain amount of time, probably a month, to get away from their wartime experience and straighten themselves out, but by that time they ought to be available for working in their old industry once again. I know that this suggestion would seriously interfere with the plans of the Minister of Labour's points plan for demobilisation, but if you asked any man in the Forces, "Would you rather have a home for your wife and children after the war or would you prefer the system of demobilisation as at present arranged to remain unaltered?" there is no question as to what his answer would be. He would rather have a home for his wife and children.

May I say that I feel the Ministry of Works are endeavouring to get too great a perfection in the prefabrication system of production of housing? It is a new system in Great Britain. We have been doing ordinary building for 2,000 years, and even that is not perfect yet. Therefore, I would say that, once the Burt Committee has approved any type of house, though it may not be absolutely and ideally perfect, the Ministry should-go ahead with it to the maximum possible extent. The Ministry should give the necessary orders for the houses and should at once order the jigs and tools required to be made. Substantial orders can be given by the Ministry of Works which will enable manufacturers to get on with quantity production. Everybody will agree that without quantity production we shall not get our housing work satisfactorily done in time. Our local authorities, too, should have the right to purchase or contract for houses which have been approved. Many people seem to think that we should wait until we get perfection, but every year we shall get improvements in pre-fabrication and, in the meantime, we should take the best we have so that we can get homes for our people. If housing societies are ready to provide the money to buy these houses, we ought to let them do so. If private enterprise is ready to help in this way we ought to encourage it. We shall need all types of enterprise and all the manufacturers to help in this problem if it is to succeed. Manufacturers will make improvements in their production if we give them the opportunity, for any man who is making an article naturally wants to improve it if possible.

May I say again the Departments are taking too long to make up their minds? We cannot get perfection and we should take the best available rather than delay. We shall have to do so in the end, and why not do so now and so save delays now? Also the Departments are taking too long to place orders. When they place them they must give written orders, for there are many changes in the various Ministries and I know cases where verbal orders have been given to manufacturers but they feel they cannot go ahead until they are sure that these will be respected by the successor to the man who gave them. We recently had in this country Mr. Jacob Crane, director of the Urban Development National Housing Agency of the United States. He made a careful investigation of our housing problem, and he is convinced that, if we used full prefabrication in houses, we could reduce the costs of our houses to below our pre-war costs. I could talk on that for a considerable time for I am sure that Mr. Crane was justified in what he said. Prefabrication is a new science to Great Britain and there are not many people in this country who fully understand it. Many think they do. They have seen a little here and read a little there but have not practised it. It is an exact and an intricate science. By its means motor cars have been made at half the price that resulted from the old-fashioned system. If this saving can be made with motor cars, it can largely be made in houses.

The United States have their own serious housing problem, and they have set us an example by sending a housing attaché to this country to see whether they can learn anything from us. Why cannot we send someone who already has the right contacts to the United States as a housing attaché to gather information about housing, about high-speed tools, machinery and equipment, all of which we shall want? There is no doubt that we can learn and get a lot from America. U.S.A. experience has helped us before and it can help again. I would also like a housing attaché sent to Sweden to see about our timber, because, if we can get the timber, we shall get a long way forward with our housing problem.

There is one thing I strongly recommend and about which I can speak with experience. We should put the entire housing plan under a master time-and-progress schedule for the entire country, a complete time-and-progress schedule, which should be broken down and worked out for various regions so that the entire programme is covered. The work should be so arranged that the local authorities would know when they would get their houses, where they were to use them, also where the men and materials were coming from and when. Without that information we shall find the situation becoming haphazard, unless we are very lucky. I do not want again to see the mad scramble such as we had after the last war; I want an ordered campaign, for by this we can make real progress. I want to see science brought in and use made of all up-to-date methods and knowledge in this campaign. There is great enthusiasm among the Ministers, they could not be keener, but the present system is not conducive to getting the utmost speed or quantity in the time at our disposal and that time is short. It will be no use complaining about all of this in a year's time; now is the time to take action. We have about reached the limit of the time margin, and we must now take the fullest advantage of the time at our disposal. In conclusion I am convinced we should put one full-time Minister in control of housing and all its ramifications during the period of the emergency.

1.32 p.m.

Photo of Dr Edith Summerskill Dr Edith Summerskill , Fulham West

It is somewhat difficult for me to follow speakers who have technical knowledge, which I do not possess, but I certainly support the suggestion which has just been made by the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. Bossom) that there should be a time-and-progress schedule. It seems plain common sense, and I am amazed that we have had nothing of that kind so far. When the Minister replies, I certainly should like to hear his answer to that suggestion.

I want to make a few general observations as a Member representing a blitzed constituency, which is a dormitory constituency, of London. Normally it contains many people who are working in London, and who like to live in a place which is salubrious and, at the same time, not highly rented. We are experiencing a flood of people—evacuees returning and wanting houses and so on—and we are a little apprehensive as to the future and about the men who will return. When they come back, the men will want to return to their old haunts. The Serviceman had a limited life before he went to the war and he thinks in terms of the little "local" and his own friends. He does not want to be told that he has to go elsewhere; he wants to return to his accustomed haunts, and he will need accommodation near his job. This has all been said before, but Members representing dormitory constituencies near large towns probably feel more strongly about it than others. What has struck me about all this talk is that Members have all spoken strongly, have criticisèd the Government strongly, and yet one feels that the Ministers concerned are not fully appreciative of the gravity of the problem. When we talk about people without homes, it is a question not only of getting roofs over people's heads but also of getting homes for people who consider themselves homeless, if they are living in one room or living with their mothers-in-law. They are just as unhappy as though they had no shelter at all. Many of those people have not yet applied for houses. The demand will be overwhelming. That beng so, it is an immediate and urgent matter and the Government should adopt special methods. Unfortunately, the problem is insidious in its effects, and the Government appear still to feel that they can sit back and delay day after day and week after week.

I am surprised that the Minister of Education has not been on the Front Bench. He is thinking of up-grading education, but surely the first essential, in any educational system, is a decent home environment. I wonder that the right hon. Gentleman does not bring pressure to bear upon the Government. We have heard, time after time that it is essential to have a king-pin among Ministers to deal with this question. We have heard most of these things before. I stood in this exact place on the last housing Debate and heard speeches like those I have heard today from both sides of the House. I heard promises made, when we asked for the same things, and still we have—is it seven or nine—Ministers "passing the buck" to each other. The hon. Member for Holborn (Sir R. Tasker) put his finger on the spot in his intervention just now, when the hon. Member for Maidstone was saying that we ought to have one Minister with overriding authority. The hon. Member for Holborn said: "Yes, have one Minister with overriding authority, but what about the others? Where will they be?" In other words, he wanted to know what would be the status of the other Ministers.

We have heard plain speaking here. I think it is time we spoke our minds. Here we get to the crux of the situation. The obstacle in the way of having-one Minister with overriding authority is that the prestige and the dignity of other Ministers will suffer. The time has come when we should put the feelings of the people above the feelings of the Ministers. I agree with that, and I say it, despite the presence of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works, for whom I have the greatest admiration. Looking at the matter generally, I think the Minister of Health should have the power, and that the other Ministers should work with him, but I leave that detail to people who know more about it. We are very tired of going from one Department to another. This House is losing its patience and I cannot imagine what another Debate on housing will be like unless something is done. The tempers of Members are becoming just a little frayed. We are getting tired of the letters every day; we are getting tired of the representations from people who blame us individually. Here we are, helpless, because the Ministers themselves refuse to get together or to say: "If it means loss of dignity and prestige, I am willing to stand down." We ask Ministers to do that, because that is the next step in the solution to the housing problem.

I sat here yesterday listening to the speech of the Minister of Health and hoping to hear something new. I listened to just the same imposing list of figures alternating with pious hopes. We have heard it before. The country has been fed on promises and targets. The "target" was an invention of an arch-procrastinator. The target is a delightful way of putting things off. It concerns the distant future. It is an ideal method of calming and quieting the House of Commons—the target. We were given a target before. The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) told us—I forget his exact figures—that Scotland was promised some months ago about 3,000 houses—a target. They have received 200. We listen to stories of housing conditions in Scotland which should make every Minister on that bench and every Member ashamed to think that such things can happen in a civilised country. This matter of targets is good publicity, but bad psychology. You can fool some of the people some of the time … but you cannot fool all the people all the time. We have had it here again. Yesterday, we were given another promise. Somebody asked the Minister when the American houses would arrive. I remember that we were told during the last Debate on housing to expect a flood of prefabricated American houses. I went back to my constituency and said: "At last the problem will be solved in a novel way." I remember making a speech in my constituency, believing everything I said. I must admit that when Ministers tell me some things, I feel that they are talking with their tongues in their cheeks, but I went away from that Debate with complete faith in the Minister. I went to my constituency, and my speech comforted all sorts of little women who are living in appalling conditions—living and hoping. I told them about American prefabricated houses. Pictures appeared in the papers of these houses. Yesterday the Minister was asked when they were to arrive, and we were told: "On 1st May." Can we hope that on 1st May they will come? I very much doubt it. Nothing will persuade me to go to my constituency and tell my constituents that houses will arrive on 1st May. I will wait till that date and then we shall see.

We have been told that conditions will be aggravated when the men arrive; we know that. We know there will be an overwhelming flood of applications. Do the Government want people to come back to the same towns and suburbs as those to which they were accustomed, or do they want to decentralise the population? If the Government want to decentralise people, and to stop what we fear may be disturbances in the country, why are they not doing some publicity and telling people to stay in the country districts and the smaller towns? Why are they waiting until the end of the war when this overwhelming demand will come? On prefabricated housing, my constituency—I believe the Minister will support me in this—has done as well as any other borough. We have put up about two dozen. I believe we have done better than any other borough. We have 27 pre-fabricated houses up. I suppose that Wendy's house in the treetops could not have been gazed at more eagerly and pathetically by the lost boys, than these little prefabricated houses are gazed at by our homeless children in Fulham. They go up to the windows and stick their little noses against the window panes and look in, but the chances of their ever living there are remote. I cannot understand how the Minister proposes to house all the families that used to live in Fulham on those sites, which are now occupied by prefabricated houses, because in housing one family, we are forgetting the people of two or three other families who might also have been housed on the same site. I take it that we shall hear how it is proposed to deal with that problem.

This is something which has been said before, and perhaps hon. Members may regard it as a detail, but it is none the less important. It concerns the fittings of the prefabricated house. I happened to go round a Uni-Seco house the other day, and I was shown the fitted cupboards and so on. I said what any woman might have said: "Where do you keep the food?" I was shown a little cupboard opposite the gas cooker and I said "Yes, that is all right for your dry food." They said: "Well, you see, that space over there is where the other food will be kept, when the refrigerators come, but that will be a long time hence, of course." The Minister may say that this is a detail, but it is not an unimportant detail. If the houses are to he manufactured in large numbers, and it is intended to fit refrigerators which are not to be forthcoming for many years, surely the whole design should be revised. To the women who have to spend their lives in these places, providing food, without adequate space in which to keep food, it is a source of continual friction and irritation. I do not know whether the Minister will tell me that refrigerators are to be forthcoming. I feel that the demand in the country for so many things is so great that many people will say that refrigerators are a luxury. But houses are being built to-day without any accommodation in which to keep food which might easily become decomposed.

My final word is about men—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am afraid some hon. Members have a one-track mind. I am shocked about what our visitors must think of this House. There are 400,000 men engaged on this work. The population of London and Greater London comprises one-sixth of the whole population of the country, and I think that London and Greater London has been given 142,000 men. Surely, in view of the size of the area in proportion to the rest of the country that is not being overgenerous for London, one of the most heavily blitzed places in the whole country, and when one thinks of the enormity of the job. The Parliamentary Secretary was with me the other day when we met a deputation from one of our heavily blitzed areas in the East End of London, and we were told that in one ward there used to be 2,000 houses, 1,750 of which are totally destroyed. We were told that 5,000 families are on the waiting list for accommodation, and that every day now a queue can be seen outside the town hall waiting to see the housing manager. What is to happen in a few months' time? These people will not be patient. Furthermore, there is another aspect. Local government is being discredited. While this queue of homeless people stand outside the town hall, they criticise the councillors, whom they blame for this state of affairs, and there is always an irresponsible minority which is anxious to upset ordered government. I would therefore remind the Minister that the seeds are now being sown for a major domestic crisis, and it will be short-sighted of the Government if it does not meet it before it is too late.

1.49 p.m.

Photo of Mr Harry Selley Mr Harry Selley , Battersea South

I have listened to this Debate for two days, and I am quite aware that most hon. Members have dealt with the points in the White Paper. I would like to say a word or two, as a practical man and an old builder—having built my first house some 52 years ago—and to make some explanation to the House. I have never been able to get any Minister to understand that there are two sections in the building trade, the public works contractor and the private enterprise builder. It seems to me that the average Member, when private enterprise is referred to in this House, does not understand, or want to know, exactly what a private enterprise builder is. It is quite true that a private enterprise builder can do public works, but the man I have in mind is the type who probably started from the bench or the bricklayers' walk, and built up a business by building a house or two and gradually developing. That is the way in which my firm developed, starting with three houses 52 years ago, and finishing up by employing something like 600 or 700 men and building about Loco houses a year.

I wish to make this plea. I never understand why a builder is always referred to, either as a speculative builder or a "jerry-builder." I have never heard of a jerry pork-butcher or a speculative pork-butcher. But that is the term applied to a builder, and it is not supposed to he complimentary, but a downright insult. I was building houses before there was such a thing as a borough council, and the members who got on to these new councils were the grocer, the butcher and the baker. No builder was supposed to do so, because it was said he had an axe to grind, and the members who got there wanted to use the axe on the builder. Therefore, he has come into disrepute. Let us be fair. My mother wore a crinoline, but I have never heard anyone to-day criticise her dressmaker. In the case of a house built 50, 60 or 70 years ago one says, "the jerry-builder." Is it quite fair? I could take hon. Members round and show them certain architecture and lay-out, and if the names of the architects were inscribed on all the houses which are called "jerry-built" the R.I.B.A. would have to look up the names of some of their dead members and blame them. Bat it is blamed on the builder.

As for planning, we shall go planning mad soon. But there has never been any planning in London in regard to housing. There are no by-laws; for building the matter comes under an Act of Parliament. When I came to London as a ruddy-faced boy, I was astounded that I was not allowed to build a cavity wall. We had to build a nine-inch solid brick wall under an Act of Parliament administered by the L.C.C. Is it any wonder that damp gets through those walls? To keep the walls decently dry they had to be overlaid with a mackintosh, namely, a coat of cement. Do let us remember some of these points. As to the development of London no borough council ever made a plan for its own area. What happened in my experience in South London some 50 years ago was that development depended on somebody with, say, 10 acres of ground, dying. When he died we scrambled for the site and developed it as best we could, so long as we built under the by-laws. I do not say that is right but do not blame the builder all the time. Let us say, as they said in the backwoods in the old days about the pianist, "Do not shoot him, he is doing his best." There has grown up in the last 30 or 40 years in the building trade a type of man who wants leading, guidance, and help, and who does not want all the criticism. In discussions upstairs on a Bill that was supposed to prevent ribbon development I said that I thought, as a man of some experience, I might have given a lead to the then Minister of Transport. But no, it was a Transport Bill. All it did, as I pointed out to that Committee, was to set the ribbon development a little further back from the road. So long as it kept 150 feet from the main road one could build, as is apparent when one looks along the Great West Road or Great North Road and sees the development that has taken place there.

I am not quite satisfied with the target of the Minister, but I know his difficulty. Some Members spoke this morning about timber. The Minister said it was a matter of shipping. If I were doing anything in the way of planning, I should not regard it entirely as a. shipping problem. I should want to know what was being done on the other side, either in Canada or the Scandinavian ports. Before the timber is shipped, we want to see that it is cut to the required sizes. The English market for house-building requires a very specified type of scantlings. As regards the number of bricks, we hear a lot of talk about the men and the number of bricks they lay per day and hour. Just as the elephant never forgets, I, as an old craftsman, have never forgotten my trade and I make this offer, and it is a good advertisement for the building trade. I would like to see, if I can fix a target. I have not used the tools for 45 years, but if the Minister of Works will start a wall in the Palace of Westminster, say a foot high, any type of wall for an ordinary house, I will undertake, if 800 bricks are put there, and I am found a decent labourer who will attend on me with the usual mortar, that I will put in eight hours, and for every brick left over at the end of that time, I will donate Li per brick to any hospital in England that he likes to mention. Is that a fair offer?

Photo of Mr Harry Selley Mr Harry Selley , Battersea South

My preference would be while the House is in session and I would ask hon. Members not to interfere with the performance.

I wish to make this contention, speaking for the private enterprise builder. It has been stated that all opportunity will be given, and an hon. Member on the Liberal benches suggested that money was to be loaned to the municipalities at 2½ per cent. Do not give the municipalities a hidden subsidy. If there is any money going about at 2½ per cent, see that it is handed on to the other people who will undertake to do the same job and give the same result. If that is done I have no fear as to who will build the houses. My hon. Friends opposite are not interested in that. What they are interested in is "Who owns them?" I do not think that matters a button. The great building societies are bulging with cash, and nearly every man in the country has a nest-egg somewhere. Where better could he use it than in buying a house for himself?

The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) objected to the profit motive. He said that of course private enterprise would do it if there was a profit. I would like to know what the working man works for if not a profit? He is certainly not there for the good of his health. If we are to get on with this great problem let us include all the agencies. Do not let us make party politics of it, if there is a private enterprise builder who can produce houses for the occupation of the class of people we all have in mind, and it is not only one class that requires housing.

Some Members speak as if all the men who went to the front were from municipal estates. They went from every class of house in the country. Those men from the £1,000 villas will not want to come back and be housed by municipalities. Give private enterprise encouragement, and I think that it will provide the personnel for the industry. The building of 150,000 houses will require about 15,000 bricklayers for one year. I do not know how many bricklayers there are in the country, but you can multiply that figure as many times as you like, and I will still stand by my statement that 15,000 bricklayers can build about 150,000 houses in a year—and I am allowing for a fortnight's holiday in the year.

Photo of Mr George Hicks Mr George Hicks , Woolwich East

Then there are also the hon. Member and me.

Photo of Mr Charles Williams Mr Charles Williams , Torquay

This competition must stop.

Photo of Mr Harry Selley Mr Harry Selley , Battersea South

I apologise for my hon. Friend; he is an old bricklayer, and therefore he could not help interrupting. I believe in increasing the personnel of the industry. I do not think that only the public works contractors can train them. Get the private builder going, and he will find his own personnel, and pass them on to the bricklayers' union; if not finished bricklayers, at any rate good enough to make the houses we want at present.

2.3 p.m.

Photo of Commander Sir Archibald Southby Commander Sir Archibald Southby , Epsom

There was a time when the fear of unemployment was the major fear in the minds of men and women in this country. I think it is true to say that to-day the fear of not having a house to live in takes precedence of any fear of unemployment. The test by which this or any other Government are going to be judged, after the war, in domestic affairs is that of whether they are able to solve this housing problem or not. I would like to pay a heartfelt tribute to the Ministers who are at present grappling with this almost insoluble problem. It is terribly easy to criticise Ministers; in many cases they thoroughly deserve it, but these three Ministers are doing their very best to deal with a problem which would baffle almost anybody's ingenuity. They have to compete, first of all, with the priority of repairing houses damaged by enemy action. That must be a priority. But the time has come when a start should be made on building houses for men and women to live in after the war. There has been an almost complete cessation of house building in the last five or six years. Even if it means taking men from the Forces, I believe that a start should now be made in creating new homes for people to live in.

But is it necessary to take many men from the Forces? I do not believe that the great trade unions, particularly the building trade unions, are not perfectly anxious to contribute in any way they can to solving this problem. I know that they have very staunch conservative views on the subject of their traditions, and I compliment them for that—I believe that they are more conservative than I am, although they do not know it—but, although they have prejudices, I believe that they are prepared to put those prejudices on one side. Women have shown that they can tackle almost any job that a man tackles, and that they can give a good result—in many cases, a better result even than the man. Is there any reason why women should not be used for building operations? I do not believe that there is any reason. The Debate yesterday and to-day has shown that although there is a shortage of materials, that is not the real stumbling block. The real stumbling block is the provision of labour to clear, to build, and to repair. If it means any diminution of the manpower and woman-power available in the Forces we have to face that, because at present it is almost more important to make a start on house building than anything else. But I do not think not think that that is absolutely necessary.

I asked the right hon. Gentleman recently about the employment of prisoners of war. The fact is that there is a shortage of labour, skilled, semiskilled, and unskilled. Is there a reservoir that we could tap in this emergency? I suggest that there is. There is a reservoir created by the fact that we have in this country hundreds of thousands of prisoners of war, who would be available for building work. I am not suggesting that they should be used for repair work, because I believe that that would be undesirable. I do not think that we could put them to do interior repairs in a partly-damaged house, because in many cases that would lead to friction. But they could be used for demolition work, for the clearing of sites, and for the creation of new houses. Our own prisoners of war, quite legitimately, were used for building houses for the Italian people—indeed, I understand that they welcomed the opportunity of having something to do of that creative character—and I believe that many Italian and German prisoners here might be employed usefully, both to themselves and to our own community, in the building of new houses and the clearing of sites.

I do not believe that we are going to solve the housing problem by some temporary expedient. I listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Brigg (Mr. Quibcll), and I would like to support what he and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Preston (Captain Cobb) said about the two-stage house. I do not think that the prefabricated house, to be pulled down after a period of years, is the solution. But if we could go on from housing one family fairly adequately to housing a bigger family properly in the same building when the war is over, we should not waste any labour or materials. I beg my right hon. Friend to consider, in conjunction with the builders, whether it would not be possible to utilise this immense amount of skilled and semi-skilled labour in order to find a solution of this problem. The houses which were built in Italy, I am told by those who have seen them, were exceedingly well built—if our people built them they would be well built. I do not see why occupation should not be given to prisoners over here by making a start or, the most urgently important matter in the whole realm of our domestic politics, that is, the solution of the housing problem. I throw out this suggestion to the Minister. I do not want to make a long speech; almost every other aspect of the ground has been covered by other Members; but if the provision of labour is the real bottleneck—and I believe it is—not only do I believe it is right that prisoner-of-war labour should be utilised, but I believe that the people of this country will be exceedingly angry if that reservoir of labour is not tapped. We can start now. There will be a long period before these men go back to their own country. We might erect an appreciable number of houses between now and that time, to which the men and women who come back from the war will be able to go.

I get, I suppose, as many letters as any other Member, and most of them are heartrending. The question that is troubling these men is: "How will I find somewhere for myself and my wife and children to live?" There is the other question, of the man who, has been called up, and has had to let his house, and who has now been demobilised or perhaps wounded and is unable to get back into his house—because of the rent restrictions legislation. I believe that priority should be given to ex-Servicemen so that they should be able to get possession of their own houses to live in themselves. The fear is: "Where shall we be able to live when we come back, after the demobilisation scheme has been put in motion?" I realise the appalling difficulties with which the Minister has to deal. I suppose that there has never been such a problem as this. We cannot stop building for five years and at the same time have continuous destruction going on, and have an easy problem to solve. If labour is the difficulty, it is desirable and essential that the Minister should utilise any labour that is available. I believe that in this emergency he would have the good will and assistance of the great trade unions in helping him to utilise the services of prisoners of war in order to create houses for our people to live in.

2.12 p.m.

Photo of Mr Daniel Frankel Mr Daniel Frankel , Stepney Mile End

The hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. Bossom) said that most of the generalities of this matter had been already debated, and that he was going to talk about particular things. I would like to remind him and the House that to hundreds of thousands of people in this country this is not a question of generalities but of many hard realities. During this two-days' Debate hardly anybody has had a good word to say of the Government and of their vacillating policies. The Minister of Health, who began the Debate, supported the Government's past and present policies, as was natural. It was not clear that the Secretary of State for Scotland was anything like so enthusiastic about the Government's plans. Everybody else has made complaints about the Government's policy, and, what is more important, about their lack of policy. Like the hon. Member for West Fulham (Dr. Summerskill) I wonder whether they are too thick-skinned, or too complacent, to take any notice of what the majority of Members think. This matter, as the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) said yesterday, does not start with the Prime Minister's speech. It goes back before that. Nevertheless, it is worth repeating what has happened to those plans for the brave new world which he forecast. The 500,000 Portal houses, now called temporary houses, have been much reduoed in number, and Portal houses are now to be relegated to after the war in Europe. In my view, and in the view of a good many other people, there will never be any Portal houses at all.

I do not think that one can repeat too often the number of Ministries which are responsible for housing. Including the Treasury, I believe that seven Ministries have some authority, though nobody has been able to define the extent of the authority of each, for housing in this country. I often wonder if the Minister of Health and the Minister of Works are really happy while they are working together, or if some of the rumours are true which suggest that there are serious rifts in the lute between them and that there have been delays and disagreements between them, as there have been in other Ministries, too. I notice that the Minister of Works is smiling as if to put that aside, but I can assure my right hon. Friend that a good deal of responsible opinion in this House has been discussing. disagreements between his Ministry and Ministry of Health. I do not think it would surprise many of us, because we think it does exist and that it causes delay.

I put down some Questions to the Minister of Works some weeks ago with regard to the cost of the temporary houses. The House will remember that, when the Prime Minister made his radio speech, we were given a figure of £600, and the Minister of Works has admitted two things with regard to that. He has admitted, first of all, that that figure of £600 can no longer he substantiated, and, secondly, that there is no estimated figure of what the cost will be. That was admitted in the replies to Questions which I and other hon. Members put in this House. With regard to bomb damage repairs, I believe that the target figure given by the Minister responsible will be reached this week-end, but I would remind the House that it will only be reached on a reduced standard which the Minister set up before Christmas. It is my firm conviction, and that of those hon. Members who represent constituencies like mine, that it will not be very long before these repaired houses will need further repair again because of the low standard of the present repairs, which is now enabling that target figure to be reached.

There is much controversy in regard to temporary versus permanent houses. I believe that, to a great extent, it has now been established that there is no opposition to prefabrication as such. It is generally accepted that there can be pre- fabrication in bulk, and that the cost of erecting a prefabricated permanent house is not very much more than that of erecting a prefabricated temporary house. One of the reasons why I have not been very enthusiastic about the temporary houses is the time which the Government have already lost by their lack of plan, their lack of direction, their lack of real Ministerial responsibility, and the lack of one Minister or one Department. In my view, that time lost can never be made up. I believe that we are likely to see again the spectacle of these temporary houses, because of the lack of permanent houses, becoming permanent houses themselves. I cannot imagine people being turned out of temporary houses until permanent ones are ready for them, and I cannot see any possibility, over a good many years, of the permanent houses being ready in any-think like the numbers required.

We have had already a reduction in the number of temporary houses. I think the first promise was 300,000 and now it is 180,000, including 30,000 from America. With regard to the American houses, it is customary, from what I have heard, for an hon. Member when referring to them, to say: "Thanks to the Americans for letting us have these American houses." I would express thanks to anybody who can help us in this problem, but how is it that America has the labour to make 30,000 houses for us when we have not the labour to do it ourselves? I would like to know the answer to that. It would interest me very much. I think that if we could have all the materials from them and could provide the labour ourselves—from what we were told some time ago would be the excess from war production in aircraft factories—we could build them ourselves.

We have also had the much-debated question of the local authorities. In my own borough, which I would remind hon. Members is a very heavily-bombed area, we had, long before the war, a very serious housing problem, which was only very slowly being remedied by the borough council and the L.C.C.—not by the private builders referred to by the hon. Member for South Battersea (Sir H. Selley).

Photo of Mr Harry Selley Mr Harry Selley , Battersea South

They have got no land there.

Photo of Mr Daniel Frankel Mr Daniel Frankel , Stepney Mile End

We did not have any land in that district because it was so closely occupied, and you had to put people up before you could pull down to build again. Nobody knows that better than the hon. Member for South Battersea, as a member of the Housing Committee of the L.C.C., which was directly responsible for trying to rehouse these people.

Photo of Mr Harry Selley Mr Harry Selley , Battersea South

And was also responsible for getting, through the council, £17,500,000 in grants to proceed with the work of slum clearance in London which your party came along after and made use of.

Photo of Mr Charles Williams Mr Charles Williams , Torquay

I have had nothing whatever to do with that matter. The hon. Member can leave me right out of it and go on to his next point.

Photo of Mr Daniel Frankel Mr Daniel Frankel , Stepney Mile End

I am sure you will allow me, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to say that we built a lot better flats and houses than they did. In my borough, in which a very serious housing problem already existed before the war, there are at present 650 families who have been bombed out of their homes and 840 families inadequately housed and in urgent need of accommodation. This takes no account of the many thousands of evacuated people who want to return. The lists of people who wish to have accommodation—lists of both the borough and county councils for my constituency—run into many thousands, and may I say that what an hon. Lady mentioned about her constituency applies even more strongly to mine. People who have been living, perhaps the whole of their lives, in the East End of London, want to return to the East End of London, but what we have been allowed by the Ministry responsible are 500 temporary houses, 200 of them Uni-Secos, and 300 of another type which we are not very keen about, the curved asbestos huts, which may be ready some time next month.

I would like the Minister to say whether it would be possible for us, in view of the fact that the bomb-damage repairs target will be completed this week-end, to use the labour which is at present working in Stepney for dealing with the 3,100 C.B. houses, in which we could put 2,000 families. It would be a pity if that labour were allowed to disperse when there is this other work that could, and, in my view, should, be done.

In regard to the local authorities, I have received a good deal of correspondence from other local authorities, which shows how great their difficulties are. I have had a lot of correspondence from Bristol about the difficulties they have had there. This is what the chairman of the Bristol Housing Committee says: Feeling is running very high here, and we are getting incensed with the vacillating attitude of the Government on housing generally. We think too many Ministries are attempting to handle the problem. I reiterate the request which other hon. Members have made in this Debate that there should be one Ministry, and definitely one Minister, responsible for housing. This is a full-time job, and _pore than a full-time job, for any man, and we hope that the Government will listen to these requests made from all sides. The hon. Member for Shrewsbury (Mr. A. Duckworth) wanted to know what power the Minister of Town and Country Planning had. I think some of us would like to know what real power any of these Ministers have in their Departments, and how it is inter-related, or whether anybody has got any real power at all.

To revert to the case of Bristol, last year the council were instructed to arrange sites for temporary bungalows which, they were told, would be available soon. I am told that the council scoured the district in search of sites, because they did not want to clutter up possible sites for permanent houses, as there is only enough land inside the city for a two years' programme of building. After great difficulties, when they had got a number of sites ready, they were told that there would be no Portals. Later the Ministry informed them that they could not be told what types would be available, and that the council would have to take any type that came along. There have been many prototypes of the temporary house, some of which were on view near the Tate Gallery, and it seems to me that, had they been a little more artistic, they might have acquired a place inside the Tate Gallery for future generations to see what was proposed.

What I have said about Bristol and Stepney is common to nearly all the boroughs in this country. It is common to the complaints we meet everywhere. National Housing Associations are all complaining about the lack of direction and lack of authority so far as the Government are concerned. The hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Key) yesterday dealt with the financial side of this question, and the only words that I want to say about that is that there is no consultation about it. Under the financial arrangements which are at present being made, the poorest boroughs will be the hardest hit. I would also like to say how much trouble will be caused as the men begin to come out of the Forces in increasing numbers, we hope, in the near future. We must bear in mind the many thousands all over the country who have been married during the war while in the Forces and who will wish to come back to a home. We must also bear in mind the many thousands whom I mentioned before who have been evacuated, and who also wish to come back to the districts where they lived before. Although we have had a Debate this week on the Distribution of Industry Bill everybody in this House will agree with me that it will take a long time before the provisions of that Bill can be operated. People must still live near where there is a possibility of their getting work. The County of London itself will still be one of the most important places in this country as far as that is concerned.

I would like to ask the Minister, with regard to the future building programme, whether he is prepared to tell the House, either to-day or at some future time, which of the prototype houses which have been allowed to be built by the Burt Committee he actually proposes to use, in respect of which he has given contracts and to which firms has he given contracts? May the House know the full extent of this picture? The Burt Committee allowed the prototypes to be built and Members and others who have seen them consider them satisfactory, and certain firms have now been informed that they are not to receive contracts. I would like the Minister responsible to let the House know which of these houses have been agreed to by the Ministry and for which houses contracts have been given out.

Four times a year this House passes Votes of Credit for £1,000,000,000 in, order to prosecute the war successfully. What the House wants to know is, that the different Supply Departments that use that money are using it in the interests of the Fighting Forces and in the interests of this country generally. It might be a good thing if a Vote of Credit for £1,000,000,000 was given for the purpose of housing, for building houses which will last and be for the country's benefit lather than for the purposes of destruction. We should have somebody of whom we could ask questions with regard to the spending of that money in the interests of the people generally and who, more particularly, might be able to save some of the suffering which I am certain will come about in this country unless more speed is made with the housing problem. Have we a Ministry of Health looking after this matter, or is it a question of the lack of health? Is there really a Ministry of Works, or are there not enough works going on? Are the Ministry of Reconstruction really reconstructing, and to what extent are they reconstructing? Is the Treasury giving the finance which is necessary in this matter? There are grave doubts in regard to all these things and I am certain that there is grave dissatisfaction among a very large number of Members in this House, and among large numbers of people in this country.

2.35 p.m.

Photo of Mr Peter Bennett Mr Peter Bennett , Birmingham, Edgbaston

Like the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), I feel that this is the No. 1 problem on the home front, but while I agree with him that it is more frightening than any other problem, including that of finding work, I do not propose to go into any detail for the reason that has already been given, that if the respective Ministers are not aware of what the House feels at this time no more talk will impress them. I want, therefore, to take the advice of the hon. Member for Gorbals and, without wrapping it up, bring to the attention of the Ministers two or three matters which are concerning the local authority of my own city of Birmingham. The local authority there have, for some considerable time, given much thought to this problem, as have other local authorities, and they are finding difficulties, some of which I propose to mention because they may also be of general application.

One of the questions is in regard to temporary houses. We put in an application for a number of them, they were allocated and we have proceeded with the preparation of sites, and the whole of the work is in hand. The local authority have taken a very sensible line. They have endeavoured to put these temporary houses on sites which will not interfere with the permanent building programme so that they can carry on the two side by side, but they have run up against a difficulty which is quite unexpected. They surveyed the city and proposed to use temporarily the frontages of certain land which is not going to be built upon. There is, therefore, the roads and the drains in existence but the authority have now been informed that they must not use those sites, because they come under Section 143 of the Housing Act, 1936. The Corporation of Birmingham cannot agree that it is so, but they ask that, if it is to stop them, some steps should be taken to release these sites. It is just the type of land which is suitable for this purpose.

It will not hinder the development of the proper building programme and it would mean putting the temporary houses in a place where they could be taken down, leaving the open spaces available. These places are not in parks but they are just open green land and no harm can be done by making use of them temporarily. What is the difference in the expenditure in time and expense? The estimate for the preparation of the ordinary site runs in the neighbourhood of £75 for drainage and road works and our Chief Engineer estimates that he could utilise these sites at a cost of £12 10s. Not only should we be saving money, but, as the House would appreciate, there would be a saving in time and labour. They ask that the Minister should go into the matter and see to it that they are not held up. The bungalows will be coming in and we hope that we are not going to be hung up over the question of sites when we have a first-class proposition and would like to proceed with it.

The second point that I am asked to bring forward is in respect of the permanent building programme. The city council have approved the first year's programme for permanent housing and have expressed the opinion that the Essential Work Order should be extended to cover the building of houses for the working class. That has been put to the local joint board of the building industry and they have agreed, but it is only fair to say that they do not wish payment by results to be included, because, they say that that would not be suitable. They claim that it is vital as in the application of the Essential Work Order priority No. 1 to the Mulberry and the Phoenix priority that such priority should be extended to rehousing. We know how that Order was used with regard to the preparation of that artificial harbour. We feel that housing should be put into the same category and that anything that was done to hurry that scheme forward and achieve such a magnificent result should be used in connection with housing. Hon. Members may ask why. There is a considerable amount of building labour which, it is stated on good authority in Birmingham, is hidden away and if it was brought forward and put on to an ordinary contract for building working-class houses without priority, it would be immediately taken away and used for something which had a higher priority. The building contractors are not bringing forward that labour, believing that, if they did, they would lose it. The limit will help, but the local building contractors and the local authority are sure that something more is needed and they put this proposition forward.

The third point I am asked to mention is the great difficulty they are experiencing in moving as quickly as they would like due to an overdose of regionalisation. I am not saying anything about the schemes of regional organisation during the war. They have done good work, but many of us can see that, if they are carried on and multiply, we shall defeat our object. We should probably have an inquiry like that which we had before, as in the case of the Geddes Committee, who cut things down. I heard a pathetic story of an overworked building department having to prepare eight sets of drawings to submit to various departments. A local authority which has the reputation for having got on with its housing and which has done as much as we have, and as many others have, should be allowed to get on with the job and not to have all their figures checked and rechecked and gone over again and again by the different departments.

In regard to the question of housing, the Government should do what they did when they wanted an emergency water supply. The Government ran up against the difficulty of different departments overlapping. They wanted water urgently, and what did they do? They brushed the procedure on one side and cut through everything and said to the local authority, "Cut them out and get on with the job of providing water at once." They provided the water. Here is housing, which is a similar job. Can we not work out a national system and get it agreed to? And then they should leave it to us, and we will get on with the provision of the houses.

2.42 p.m.

Photo of Mr Arthur Molson Mr Arthur Molson , High Peak

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), in the course of a speech which, I suppose, indicated the general criticisms that the Labour Party are thinking of making at the next General Election, suggested that the delay in the production of houses was due to no legislation having been passed dealing with compensation and betterment. That has about as much to do with the provision of housing in war-time as the cow with the crumpled horn had to do with the house that Jack built. It is no doubt an extremely important matter. My hon. Friends of the Tory Reform Committee have pressed on the Government on several occasions for a day's Debate on that White Paper. We have pressed in private for legislation upon the subject, and we shall certainly welcome any assistance which comes to us from the right hon. Gentlemen and his friends in obtaining a discussion of that matter, which is vital to the proper planning of the country. It has nothing whatever to do with the present building of houses or the lack of houses when men return at the time of demobilisation.

I would like to say to my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Health that, if there has been a spate of criticism upon him and upon the Government, he is largely to blame for the tone of apology in his speech yesterday. The explanation of the lack of the building of houses is simple. It is that in war-time the building industry is, and should be, the first industry to be constricted and to be called upon to make the largest contribution to the war. In the first place, houses are capital goods and can, for a considerable time, be made to wait. In 1939, very great progress had been made during the 20 years of peace in the preparation of additional houses. There was also the need to concentrate the building industry upon war purposes, and when the camps and the airfields had been built, there was a large reserve of men available to be called up for reinforcements for the Army.

The building industry, unlike the textile industry, consists chiefly of young and strong men who are suitable as recruits for the Army, and therefore they have been used for that purpose. Moreover, when there is a closing down of new construction of houses, it results also in a corresponding economy of man-power in all the many ancillary trades which are dependent upon the building industry. If, therefore, the War Cabinet decided that it was necessary, in order to maximise the war effort, to reduce the production of houses and to close it down for the duration of the war, that was a natural measure for a war Government which was resolved to put first and foremost the winning of the war. If my right hon. Friend had said, plainly and bluntly, that the shortage of houses in this country is a natural consequence of a Government having been formed which set in the forefront the winning of the war, he would I think have been entirely justified, and I think there would have been less criticism directed at him.

In a number of the speeches, especially the speech by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), it has been suggested that the time has come when this policy can be revised. The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Mr. Hubbard) last night went so far as to suggest that no apprentices in the building industries ought to be called up for the Army, but should be used for building houses. My own view, and I believe it is the view of the vast majority of the people in this country and certainly of the Armed Forces, is that the time has not yet come when it is possible to divert young man-power from the Armed Forces to the building of houses. That is an issue which I think ought to be made perfectly plain, and it is one upon which, I believe, the answer of the country will be equally clear. We in this House are constantly having letters from men in Burma who have been overseas for three and a half years, from men who are now in Italy and have been overseas for more than four years, and they are asking for a reduction in the period of overseas service. That is a natural and a reasonable and a legitimate demand, but the period of service can only be reduced if the Minister of Labour is extremely heartless in resisting all the claims which are now being made to turn over into peace production before the war has been won. I hope that the Minister of Works, in his winding-up speech to-day, will make it quite plain that the Government have no intention of being stampeded into changing their policy of putting the winning of the war first, merely because of the serious situation which has arisen in this country with regard to housing.

I have been surprised at some of the speeches which have been made from the Conservative benches. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Erskine-Hill) last night said that the Government's White Paper was unsatisfactory because it only contemplated 800,000 in the building industry one year after the end of the war with Germany, and he contrasted that with the fact that there were over a million men in the building industry in peace-time. Has he forgotten that a year after the end of the war with Germany there will still be a great war to carry on with Japan; that there are many other great demands which will be made upon our man-power? The Prime Minister only last week drew attention to the worldwide shortage of food which will exist, and said that British agriculture will be called upon to produce more food than it is producing at the present time. On a number of occasions recently, this House has debated the position of our balance of payments with foreign countries and has emphasised the importance therefore of developing our exports. I would say to the hon. and learned Member for North Edinburgh—

Photo of Captain Edward Cobb Captain Edward Cobb , Preston

I do not know why the hon. Member is pointing at me. My constituency is not Edinburgh, and I am not a bit learned.

Photo of Mr Arthur Molson Mr Arthur Molson , High Peak

I really meant the hon. and learned Member who sits next to the hon. and gallant Member for Preston and I was looking round to see whether he was in his place, but I find that he is not. It is really necessary for the Government to keep some balance between the different demands which are going to be made upon our limited man-power, and it is interesting that the "Economist"not always a supporter of this Government—thought that on the whole the programme of 1,250,000 workers in the building industry after the war tended to be unduly generous to the building industry and would result in the starving of other equally important social and other services. I believe that the real solution of the building problem after the war is not to be found in increasing the industry to 1,250,0000 men, but rather in trying to rationalise the methods of building in a way that was described on 26th September last by the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. Bossom), and seeing that an industry, which has not always moved with the times, introduces new and improved methods, and that there is a greater output of production per man.

I do not believe that the time has yet come when it is possible or right for the Government to consider the general recall of men from the Army for building purposes, but there is one important matter in respect of which I hope the two right hon. Gentlemen on the front bench will bring pressure to bear upon the Secretary of State for War. I believe that very much better results could be obtained if some of the technicians, some of the people with special qualifications, those who could supervise the labour which at present is employed, could be brought back from the Army in order to lend help in the reconstruction that has already begun. I have been given by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Coventry (Captain Strickland) a letter sent to him by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works. Representations have too been made to the War Office for the release of a partner in a building firm over 40 years of age who is now to be sent out to Burma to fight when the only other partner in that building industry is over 70 years of age. I believe that if a number of these men with special qualifications could be brought back from the Army, it would be possible to do a very great deal to overtake the existing shortage.

In the second place, when the war with Germany comes to an end, the situation will indeed have changed, but the present proposals for demobilisation will postpone for a long time the return of the 14,000 men, for example, who, according to an answer that I was given yesterday by the Minister of Labour, were called up from the building industries only last year. There is first of all to be begun the demobilisation of the Class A men, according to age and time of service. That, according to the intentions of the Army, is not likely to begin until three months after the end of the war with Germany. The special release of Class B men, a very large proportion of whom will have come from the building industry, will only be allowed to begin, under the present demobilisation proposals, after the demobilisation of Class A men has begun. I hope that the Government will be prepared to reconsider that matter, if that cannot be done, then at any rate let something be done to bring back into the building industry, perhaps still working in uniform under military discipline, those men who are in the Army at the present time and were called up from the building industries and who would not be eligible for earlier release under category A.

Now I turn to the question of temporary housing. That was an idea of the War Cabinet and all the experts were against it. The Ministry of Health was against it, the right hon. Gentleman—who as a result of his opposition to it became Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster—was opposed to it, the Central Advisory Housing Committee was opposed to it. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) was the chairman of a subcommittee which looked into the matter, and it was only willing to give tentative approval to the Duplex house which, I am glad to say, is now coming into its own. Apart from that, no one connected with housing approved of the idea of temporary housing but we have in this wartime Government the "Mulberry mind." The Prime Minister, and those who are concerned with the direction of the war, thought of applying Mulberry principles to housing and they naturally thought that steel could be used for producing temporary houses. In September the Minister of Production said that the war was going so well that, contrary to what had been said before, he believed that steel could be made available, even during the duration of the war with Germany, for the production of Portal bungalows. He went ahead and gave orders for jigs and tools to be begun before the House had approved, and I think he was quite right to do so. However, the war did not take the course that was anticipated, legitimate expectations were disappointed—that I suppose is why the hon. Gentleman for Mile End (Mr. Frankel) spoke of the Government as being vacillating—what was thought to be possible at that time has ceased to be possible. Therefore we are now confronted with the question of what can be done about temporary housing. It was much criticised in September by hon. Gentlemen opposite on the ground of lowering the standard, of cost and of the difficulty of obtaining the housing sites. All that has been very largely justified in the outcome. So far as the costs of temporary housing are concerned, the huts which, on 28th September were expected to cost £100, were stated by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Works on 21st February to be costing £380 in the case of Curved Asbestos huts and £490 in the case of Seco huts. Similarly it was made plain in a letter in "The Times" yesterday, that because it has not been possible in wartime, as a result of the course that the war has taken, to use steel bungalows, the economy that it was hoped to make in man-power in the use of temporary housing has been disappointing. Steel Portals cannot be produced, and therefore the cost of the houses was very much greater than had been expected.

I do, therefore, think that the Government have been entirely right to turn from prefabricated temporary houses to prefabricated permanent houses. When there is criticism of the change in their minds, I say they are to be congratulated in having made the most of the unfortunate prolongation of the war, by trying to produce as they are doing at Northolt prefabricated houses which instead of being temporary and costly will be permanent and very much cheaper. I was sorry that the Minister of Health did not refer to the cost of building in his speech. Both the Hobhouse Committee on Rural Housing and the Dudley Report made quite plain that this programme of housing would be quite impracticable unless there was a very substantial reduction in the cost of building.

I would summarise in five sentences what I want to say about the housing programme. In the first place, the building industry has been rightly curtailed during the war in the interest of the war effort, and I hope the Government will not apologise for having done that. In the second place, I hope they will try to get release immediately for the technicians and engineers who are needed for supervising the labour which at present is working. In the third place, I hope that when Germany has surrendered the demobilisation scheme will be modified so as to ensure the speedy release of all the building labour available. In the fourth place, I believe that we cannot return even then to the number of men who were engaged in the building industry before the war, and that we must look to prefabrication and more scientific methods of building in order to obtain comparable results with smaller manpower. Finally, I would say that the whole building programme will break down, unless it is possible by these new methods to reduce very substantially the cost of building.

3.3 P.m.

Photo of Sir Percy Harris Sir Percy Harris , Bethnal Green South West

We have had a very remarkable Debate. I have very vivid recollections of many Debates on housing, but none more satisfactory in many ways than the one that has been going on now for two days. All over the country, North, South, East and West, in the towns, in the rural areas and in this House, almost everyone is deeply impressed with the tremendous problem the Minister has to face. The only Member who seems to have thrown cold water on this enthusiasm and who seems to be doubtful whether we are justified in attempting to attend to these pressing needs is the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. I have formed a rather sneaking affection for the young Tories, as I have looked upon them as the forward section, the advance guard, of Members opposite. In this case, however, I would rather prefer what are sometimes called "the old guard" like the hon. and gallant Member for Preston (Captain Cobb), who is now going to change his constituency and who has been very forward in pressing this housing problem, and my hon. and learned Friend the Member fur North Edinburgh (Mr. Erskine-Hill). The 1922 Committee has come into its own, and the younger Tories will have to be careful and look to their laurels, or they will find that the forward movement in the party has left them and gone in some other direction. I am sorry the hon. Member went out of his way to suggest—and I took down his words—that housing for a considerable time could be made to wait. I most sincerely hope that it does not represent the avenge view of hon. Members opposite.

Photo of Mr Arthur Molson Mr Arthur Molson , High Peak

I was only saying that during the war housing as well as other industries must be curtailed, and that is why we have to wait.

Photo of Sir Percy Harris Sir Percy Harris , Bethnal Green South West

We do not want to be told by the hon. Member that when war breaks out the whole of our industry is held up. As I say, I am sorry he made the suggestion because it is perfectly obvious, and not more to the men who are fighting, that housing and industry will suffer while there is a war. Housing cannot be made to wait. It is an urgent problem. It is an appalling problem. I am not blaming the Minister of Health. On the contrary I am going to say that he has got his heart and soul in this question, but he is working under very great difficulties. I am paying him the compliment that I think we have in him a good Minister. He is tackling a difficult problem, but we do not want it tackled in the spirit that housing can for a considerable time be made to wait. It is urgent, as urgent to some of us as food and clothing.

When this war started, in many of the boroughs of the country there was already a housing shortage and overcrowded slums, slums which remain to be cleared. There was a lot of legislation passed to deal with the problem. We were going to make a big push. War came and paralysed all our efforts. As a result building repairs were held up, for five years housebuilding was virtually stopped. People forget that houses wear out like clothes, especially the working class houses which are jerry-built. An extra five years with very few repairs means that they are very, very much older. On top of all this have come the blitz, bombing, the time-bombs, the aerial torpedoes, and so on.

I feel rather strongly about this because—and I say this with great respect for the other London Members—Bethnal Green has almost the worst-housed people in the whole of London, and that is saying a good deal. Even the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin), with his very great knowledge, would not, I think, gainsay that Bethnal Green is about as bad as anywhere in the whole of London. It was before the war. It had appalling overcrowding. The bulk of our houses were worn out. There was a serious shortage because, unfortunately, all the local authorities put together and the private builders could not find homes for the people anywhere else. I cannot help being amazed when the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister in his speeches talks about refrigerators, baths in every house, and all these delightful luxuries which ale quite good, splendid, magnificent things, because I would challenge practically anybody to find in the ordinary house in Bethnal Green even a bathroom or even a tap. Why, even in this twentieth century people are still compelled to get their water from a common tap. It has always been the same there—just these small houses with two families, one up and one down.

Now, on top of this situation, comes this paralysis of the building trade and the destruction by enemy bombs. Over one-third of my area has been cleared away. Only half an hour's bus ride from here one can see grass and flowers growing on open spaces where once there used to be houses. These open spaces are ready for development. The problem is appalling. Great suffering is being caused now, and it will be worse when all the people who have been evacuated come back and when our Service men come home, expecting to set up house for themselves and their families. I was talking last night to a soldier who was home on 48 hours' leave, and he said casually: "You know, what the ordinary soldier is looking forward to more than anything else is not a life of gaiety, not going to cinemas or theatres, but to having a nice little home in which he can take his boots off, put on his slippers and sit by the fireside." What will be the feeling of such men when they come home and find their houses have been blown down and it is impossible to get accommodation of any kind? What will they think when they find out that this House has been merely discussing schemes? Housing cannot wait; it must have priority almost before food. If the Minister of Health will use his influence, and if the Minister of Works, who has special contact with the Prime Minister, will do the same, to ensure that more shipping space should be given to the bringing of timber to this country it would be a fine contribution.

Our people are not unreasonable, and providing we all do our best, and can show that nothing has been neglected, the bulk of them will put up with things for the time being, but if they see in- terests, red tape, tradition, pre-conceived notions, trade union customs, or anything else, standing in the way of their getting their homes in a reasonable time, there will be a row, and the whole House knows it. The speeches of the last two days have proved it. I want to support the plea I have put forward before, that there should be only one Minister responsible for housing to this House of Commons and the country. Like so many other Members who have spoken, I would like to see the Minister of Health as that responsible Minister. That is not to disparage the Minister of Works; he has his function; he is in the position of a Minister of Supply, to see that materials and designs are forthcoming. But it is the Minister of Health who should be responsible, who was responsible in the past, and who is the right person to carry out the job. The Minister of Health made it clear yesterday that the bulk of the working-class houses will be built by the local authorities. People talk as if the Ministry of Works was the Ministry which will build them, but that is not so. The policy of the Government is that local authorities or private builders shall provide the houses. Local authorities by tradition, law, and past practice, have to get their plans approved by the Ministry, and obtain financial assistance, and it is far more satisfactory for them to have to deal direct with the Minister. If there is any difficulty about materials and designs let the Minister of Health point it out to the Minister of Works. I am quite sure that there will be hold-ups, delays and confusion until that policy is carried out.

I am not in favour of the appointment of a new Minister. I am only too glad to see any Member get a job, but a multitude of Ministers results in confusion. The more there are the more delays there are, and the more they have to be consulted the more hold-ups there are. The Minister of Health, who has made a very good impression, should stand up for his rights and should be responsible to the House for dealing with the whole of this problem. The question whether temporary or permanent houses should be made of prefabricated brick or stone should be settled between him and the local authorities. I do not like temporary houses. I think they are extravagant and unsatisfactory and, at most, must be built for an emergency. I do not believe they save very much money or time. Prefabrication, yes; let us take advantage of modern technical experience in other industries. With great respect to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works, the building trade is a very conservative industry, perhaps the most traditional industry in the country. It must be less suspicious of new methods and technique; it must not put obstacles in the way of the use of concrete. Let bricklayers be guaranteed 10 years' work by all means, but do not let them be suspicious of steel or timber houses. So long as they are good houses, well designed and well planned, and provide good shelter, let-them be built. In conclusion, if the Minister of Health will put up a fight for the local authorities, and for getting houses provided on a large scale without any further delay, I am sure that the House as a whole, irrespective of party, will back him.

3.18 p.m.

Photo of Mr Roland Robinson Mr Roland Robinson , Blackpool

I do not often intervene in Debates on housing, but to-day I feel compelled to do so because of the feeling of disquiet that all is not well. I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) who said yesterday that three years had been lost. Undoubtedly, that is not so. All of us know that it has been impossible to build during the last three years, owing to the overriding needs of the war. Nevertheless, during that time a great deal of work on planning for the future has been done, as those of us who have seen some of the new developments in the making of a modern prefabricated house are aware. The last three years has been the time for producing a programme; now we have a programme in advance of the labour which is required for the job. I believe that our three objectives which are to give every family a separate house, to clear the slums and to put an end to overcrowding are good. All will agree that this must be done. While there may be differences of a few hundred thousand houses either way, as to the number which is necessary, we are all in favour of doing this task, be it great or small.

The number of houses that the Government say can be built in two years seems to me to be a reasonable estimate, but if they can do better let them do it. The only question which remains is: Are we going about the job in the right way, so we can make our promises into performance? I am a little worried because there seem to be far too many Ministers and Ministries, each with a finger in the pie. We have a great job to do and there seem to be far too many organisers. We have got too much control and planning, and far too little actual work on the building sites. With this multiplicity of controls, it seems to me it is going to be easy to produce great masses of paper, and very hard to produce houses on the site. I back up the hon. Members who have said that one man and one Department should be given the responsibility of doing this job. I do not mind which Department it is. Any one of them could do the job very well, but let us take one of them, tell the Minister what our objective is, give him the power to do the job, and, especially enable him to control labour and materials. We know what we want; let us get one man to do the job for us.

Such a Minister would have to recognise the great changes that have taken place during the last few years. We must use fabrication, which brings the skill of the engineer to the aid of the older methods in the building industry. Through prefabrication we shall be able to make a great saving in labour, so that it will be possible to do the job with less man-power than before. The other day I asked one of my friends in the industry about the type of house he was working on, and he said that he could build a house with 700 site man-hours compared with over 2,000 under the old system. I am glad the idea of a large number of temporary houses has been abandoned. It seems to me that we should go for the main objective, and go for it as soon as we can. Obviously, we should use a number of temporary houses to meet the emergency. From that point of view, we cannot but feel very grateful to our American friends for supplying us with 30,000 of these houses under Lend-Lease arrangements. I think our Government Departments took far too long to make up their minds that they wanted those houses and take the necessary steps to get them. It is my belief that but for the initiative, the energy and the persistence of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Buckrose (Major Braithwaite) we would still be very far from getting those houses over to this country.

On the main programme the real difficulty seems to be one of labour. I am sorry that not one representative of the Ministry of Labour has seen fit to sit on the Government Front Bench throughout the whole of the Debate. We want to get some new labour into the building industry in order to expand it, and I would like to hear the view of the Minister of Works as to whether that is possible. Some little time ago I went to Stepney to see the work that is being done by members of the Royal Air Force on bomb damage repairs. They were doing an extraordinarily good job and doing it quickly, and most of them had not been in the building industry before but had adapted themselves to it. I believe we could get a little more help speedily if the Minister of Labour would allow some dilution of work in the factories which are at present engaged in war production. Many of them are having to stand off their workers, or alternatively, if they want to keep control over them, keep them in the factories with very little work to do. Surely, the Minister ought to give them permission to use the spare time of their men on some work which would help us in the housing programme.

With regard to the question of using prisoners of war on this job, the first thing we have to consider is whether we have British labour available to do the job. If we have, we do not want prisoners of war to take away the livelihood of any of our people. If we have no labour available and the need is urgent, let us take these German prisoners of war, whom we have the right to put to work, and set them to work in rebuilding the parts of our country which they have destroyed. The obvious thing would be to put them on site clearing and demolition. There are many other small things than can be done. The housing programme would progress more quickly if there were uniformity of the building by-laws over the whole country. It would help also if there were speedier derequisitioning of occupied houses and if the Minister responsible could persuade some Government Departments like the War Office to use only one house where they use two at the moment it would be good. The War Office is often unnecessarily wasteful in its use of accommodation. It is also important to give private enterprise a chance in this work. We should make up our mind quickly about the size of the subsidy which is to be given, for until that is done private builders cannot make plans for going ahead quickly. In spite of what has been said in some quarters, I hope that the Government will give priority in the occupation of these houses to returning ex-Service men and women. I believe that a first priority should be given to those who are disabled, because they need greater comfort than any other people. I hope we shall do all we can in our housing policy to see that everything possible is done to help these ex-Service men.

3.27 p.m.

Photo of Mr Austin Hopkinson Mr Austin Hopkinson , Mossley

I do not want to intervene in this Debate for very long, but I rise for this reason, that probably not many other hon. Members remember all the similar Debates on the same subject after the last war and carry clearly in their minds what the result was. It has been suggested from time to time during the Debate that some sort of superman should be brought forward to deal with this matter as an individual, and the only name actually mentioned has been that of the greatest ballyhoo merchant of the age.

Let us consider for one moment what a competent Minister of Housing, with very great powers, would do, if he had the power and instructions to solve the problem. The greater part of this Debate has been taken up by one hon. Member after another telling us that there is a problem, and some of them have told us this at extremely great length. They have said that there are not enough houses, that people want houses and will want more houses, and they have enlarged upon this until I think the House is convinced that there are not enough houses and that we do want houses. Having agreed upon that, how would a Minister of Housing deal with the matter if he had power? If he were a wise man the first thing he would do would be to find out why there is a shortage of houses, a thing which nobody who has spoken in this Debate has dreamt of talking about. If somebody suffers from a disease and goes to a wise physician, the physician makes certain first of all what the disease is, and if he is a wise physician, he inquires how it was caused. Again, if he is a wise physician he takes steps to remove the causes of the disease. The Minister of Housing, having come to the conclusion that the body politic is suffering from a disease, the first thing to do is to find the causes of the disease, and we have to go back some years—to the year 1910, in fact.

It is now nearly 50 years since I had to earn my own living, and I remember that 40 years ago if any of us got a job in a different district, it was almost always possible to find in that district an empty house of a suitable type at a low rent. There was thus usually very little difficulty in moving a reasonable amount of labour from place to place. There was not a housing shortage 40 years ago and this is the reason. A very large number of private builders were engaged in speculative building; that is to say, having in most cases worked their way up after starting in the building trade as carpenters or bricklayers, they went into speculative building work. The financing of the thing was easily arranged. A large number of other people, wishing to invest their savings and regarding house property as a safe investment with a reasonable return, were ready to invest their savings in the building of small houses. The builder, on the other hand, when he made a profit on his speculation, wanted a good safe investment and his investment consisted very largely in putting a rent on the land on which stood the houses that he built and sold. As the investor who bought the house was usually a small man who had to raise most of the money on mortgage, the builder had to sell his house at the cost of production, or even below, but he made his profit on the land and invested it simultaneously.

Then Mr. Lloyd George came along and put a stop to that. He said, "The builder is not going to have that, it is unearned increment." The result was that the builder stopped building. The speculative builder went clean out and working class property was not built any longer, because any profit that he made was to be taken away from him as unearned income since it was an increase of the site value of the house that he built. Thus the first thing the Government did was to get rid of the whole system under which working class houses were built, and that stopped any further production of working class houses. Then the last war came. We found then that rents had a tendency to rise, because houses had not been built, and they had not been built because of the land values taxation scheme of Mr. Lloyd George. The natural development was that working class house rents began to rise. "Ah," said the Government, "We must stop this. We must put on a Rents Restrictions Act, and not allow rents to rise in this way." They thus cut off any further capital which could possibly be devoted to building working class houses. They said, in essence, "If you invest your savings in any other investment than working class houses you get the full market return on your investment, but if you are such an infernal fool as to invest your savings in building working class houses the Government will see that you do not get the market return."

That finished off any investment in working-class houses, so the system came to an end. At the end of the war there was a great shortage of building material, and also of building labour, and Dr. Addison came along and introduced into a short market a customer backed by unlimited resources and determined to buy anything that was offered regardless of the price at which it was offered. The result was that in the short reign of Dr. Addison—which was terminated by the late Lord Melchett, who put a stop to it—we managed to get the cost of a hovel up to about —1,250 net. When Dr. Addison left, the average rise in the cost of a working-class house was something between 5 and 10 per cent. every month that went by. That is the reason why Mr. Lloyd George got rid of his housing Minister. The heart-breaking thing about it is that the House and the Government are going to repeat exactly the same mistakes that they made before, and repeat them on a larger scale. Surely our adventures with agricultural houses a year or two ago ought to have taught us something. We announced that we were going to build agricultural houses and the price nearly doubled. If we had announced that we were going to build a larger number, the price would have gone higher still. It is inevitable on a short market.

I have explained how we produced the housing shortage after the last war and accentuated it until we got to a position of affairs when it had to stop. The cost of producing houses was such that the country and the taxpayer could not stand it any longer. The way we got out of it was this. First of all, Lord Melchett stopped the Addison scheme, and there was a terrific slump in the cost of houses. Then we went on to subsidies. The subsidy is a most ingenious device. I can best explain it by an analogy which, fortunately, most Members have not heard me use before. Suppose somebody was selling oranges in the street off a barrow at a penny each and managed to sell, say, 100 in a day. Suppose a Government Department came along and said, "To every purchaser of one of your oranges we, at the taxpayers' expense, will give a halfpenny." The price per orange would go up to 1½d. and the orange merchant would pick up an extra½d. profit on every orange and would sell just as many of them. That is the principle of a subsidy. If people are willing to give a certain price for an article and to buy so many, whoever supplies the article shall be provided at the taxpayers' expense with an extra profit of which, if he is a builder, he pockets as much as he can keep out of the clutches of the building material merchant and the building worker.

Finally, they dropped the whole thing and cleared out as fast as they possibly could. Then we began to get some houses. We got quite a lot of houses—more than we had ever got before—but it took years and years of all this footling around, and this whitewashing of the spots, when a little bit of thought as to the cause of the shortage might have saved us all that gigantic expense and all that delay. In practice, as far as local authorities are concerned, it works out in this way. I was a member of an urban district council at the time when the Government thought its duty was to build houses. It was an urban area which had very bad housing conditions, because it was built mostly at the time when the cotton industry was started. I ran a policy of having no housing policy at all. I refused pointblank to allow my council to build any houses, or to take any part in the racket at all. What was the result? We got a higher percentage of new houses between the wars than probably any urban council in the whole of Lancashire.

The thing is so simple if only people would think. As soon as it was known that there was not going to be any municipal housing scheme in my area, all the builders for miles round came bustling into the area, and put up houses as fast as they could. In fact, in order to preserve open spaces, I had to put on the brake, and stop the building of houses. Every time a builder came into our area to build a house he gave us a bit more rateable value. The one thing that was hampering my schemes for the benefit of the district was that our rateable value was so low. After a few hundred houses had been built we got an increased rateable value with correspondingly lower rates, which brought us more houses, with a further decrease of rates, and so on. We have remaining from those days two or three wooden shanties, utterly unfit for habitation, which were forced on my council when I happened to be away. They remain there as a monument to Dr. Addison, who pushed them on to us.

I hope the House has really been brought to think about these things. There will be no solution of the shortage problem until we do away with the causes of the shortage. It is no use going on patching and patching; you have got to stop the cause of the shortage before the shortage can be overcome. We have to realise that there is a short market in housing. It is short so far as buildings, labour and capital are concerned. It is short in a much more important thing than capital or material. It is short, owing to Government action during the war, in the two greatest capital assets of industry—on the one side the spirit of enterprise on the part of the employer, and, on the other side, the will to work on the part of the worker.

3.41 p.m.

Photo of Sir Albert Braithwaite Sir Albert Braithwaite , Buckrose

I am glad to have the opportunity of intervening in this Debate as one who has been able to play some real part in the creation of houses; and also as a member of the London Master Builders' Association and of the Federation of National Building Trade Employers. I feel that the building trade can quite well tackle any of the problems that are before it. I am quite sure that we are prepared to put our weight behind the Minister, or Ministers, if we are given a real opportunity. The operation that the builder has to perform, however, is not the actual building of the house. He has only about 30 per cent. of the job to do. The rest of it is involved in supplying materials and in the transport and other charges of the various components that go to make up a house.

We can put up any number of shells for houses in the quickest possible time, but if we have not got the wood-working equipment and the necessary furniture to go inside the house, what is the good of that? That will cause the bottlenecks of the future, unless we can get our minds on to mass production such as we have in the aircraft and other industries. I want to say to the Minister how impressed I have been with the work on bomb damage repairs. I have taken a substantial part in it, and the firm with which I am associated has had many hundreds of men in South London on this work. The arrangements he has made in recent months have speeded up to an enormous extent the solution of the problem in that part of London. We had to bring these men to London—

Photo of Mr Kenneth Lindsay Mr Kenneth Lindsay , Kilmarnock

Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman, for the benefit of the House, say who are "we"?

Photo of Sir Albert Braithwaite Sir Albert Braithwaite , Buckrose

I think it is generally known that I am a director of a building concern. We had to bring these men to London and to house them. We had to put them into hostels and put them to work under conditions at which I am sure hon. Members would be aghast if they could see them. I have been down to the East End of London watching this work go on, and I have been appalled at the conditions under which the people live owing to bomb damage. My admiration for the men and women who work round the London Docks is unbounded. I could see clearly that what we are doing is no solution to getting on with the real problem. I, therefore, took the opportunity of writing a letter to the President of the United States, setting out my experiences in the East End of London in connection with the rehabilitation of the homes there. I asked him if he was aware of the situation and if it was not possible for him to send us some of the houses which were prefabricated in the United States. I would like to read President Roosevelt's reply, because I believe that in this great man this country has a friend such as we have never had in times gone by. He writes from the White House on 16th November:

"My Dear Major BRAITIIWAITE,

I have received your letter of October 10, 1944, concerning the housing problem in Great Britain and can assure you that I am well aware of the seriousness of this problem. Our production of prefabricated housing units is, I am afraid, much smaller than you have been advised and the great majority of the output is being used by the armed forces of the United Nations. Our production of units suitable for other purposes than housing troops in forward areas is small indeed. I am confident nevertheless that our supply authorities would be glad to give most careful and sympathetic consideration to any orders which your Government's supply authorities may wish to place with them. You are undoubtedly aware of the tremendous admiration which the people of this country have for the spirit with which the civilian population of the United Kingdom have so long borne the privations of front line existence.

Sincerely yours,

FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT."

Photo of Mr Kenneth Lindsay Mr Kenneth Lindsay , Kilmarnock

May I ask whether the hon. and gallant Gentleman wrote his letter to the President of the United States as a Member of this House, or as "we"?

Photo of Sir Albert Braithwaite Sir Albert Braithwaite , Buckrose

I wrote it as myself to a friend. I think I got a friend's reply. I am concerned to learn that we have re-designed the house made in America on certain lines to make it more like those that we have here. I was hoping that we would have the same prefabricated house sent here that the American are making, with all its components, so that it could be put up quickly. I understand, however, that it has been re-designed and that the factories for making them have had to be re-jigged and re-tooled and that delay has been occasioned in consequence. If that is so, the Minister should take steps, if it is not too late, to let us have the proper finished article with every com-ponent in it. It is not only the outside of the house that will be necessary, but the fittings and all the accessories that go to make a complete house.

I am sure that the Minister is right in deciding to get permanent housing as soon as possible. I hope that he will allow immediately a trickle of houses to be built by private builders in every part of the country. There is not a Member of the House who has not in his constituency sufficient available labour to build a few houses right away and get them going on permanent lines. If they cost more, well, it is just too bad, but they will be houses, and that is what matters and they will help to relieve the position. I want to ask why the War Office is not represented here to-day, for they have got a large number of houses requisitioned. In my constituency they have nearly 1,000 houses, and yet half the camps of the country are empty. Is there any sense in not handing these houses back at this time?

Photo of Mr Evelyn Walkden Mr Evelyn Walkden , Doncaster

Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that the War Office are still requisitioning empty camps provided for Bevin boys when they have other empty camps available?

Photo of Sir Albert Braithwaite Sir Albert Braithwaite , Buckrose

We cannot understand what the War Office do. While there is a housing shortage, it is up to them to get busy de-requisitioning private houses. With all the camps free of troops, camps in which there was accommodation for 3,000,000 or 4,000,000 troops, surely we ought to be able to have requisitioned houses back at the earliest opportunity.

I am going to try to complete a record of building 5,000 houses before December of this year. I think it can be done, if we have the proper help and support of the Ministry of Supply, and those concerned in the manufacture of joinery. I think it can be accomplished. If one or two, or even more, firms can really get busy on this job we can make a substantial contribution to the housing conditions of this country at the earliest opportunity. I can assure this House that the building trade are ready, willing and capable. I am sure that my right hon. Friend would be well advised to take more of the actual building trade into his confidence in his deliberations, and bring more of them into his Department and let them have a little more practical idea of what is necessary for the creation of a great housing campaign. I am certain that he has very capable advisers, but in the Ministry of Works there are too many technicians and there is too little practicality. If he will try to bring in the best elements that he can find of practical people into the Ministry to help him, he will soon get the greater advance that we desire.

Hon. Members:

"We"?

Photo of Mr Kenneth Lindsay Mr Kenneth Lindsay , Kilmarnock

May I ask, Sir, whether it is in Order for an hon. Member constantly to refer to "we"—I am not saying that he is referring to a particular firm—as though he is speaking on behalf of particular interests?

Photo of Sir Albert Braithwaite Sir Albert Braithwaite , Buckrose

I am speaking of the building industry and as a member of the Building Council of this country and I am not speaking as anybody else. I am speaking with a knowledge of what I am talking about, and I ask that we should be given a proper opportunity so that we may be able to get on with the job. A lot of sloppy nonsense is talked about the capacity of our building people, but we can do more than anybody else, if we are given the opportunity. If. we are not given the opportunity, that will be the fault of those critics who sit in all kinds of places in this country, and try to retard the work of those who understand their business. We all realise the urgent necessity for rehousing the people. When the men come back from the war, they will demand as of right the very best homes that can be produced with the materials available. If we do not get on with the job now, so as to be ready for them, we shall start something little short of a minor revolution in this country.

I want the Minister to take on the problem of temporary rehousing as an urgent war-time necessity. The temporary houses can be done by his Department, and we ought not to have half-a-dozen Departments interfering with them. There ought to be a vast programme like the one we had for building up the armaments industry at the beginning of the war. This problem ought to be tackled in the same spirit. If one Minister had full control of the matter I am certain that we should get very much better results. I feel on this subject of housing very deeply. It is a matter to which the House will have to devote a very great deal of time and attention. I can assure hon. Members, speaking as an official representative of the national bodies in the building trade, that we shall not let them down, if a proper opportunity is given to us to carry out the work with the materials we shall need.

3.55 P.m.

Photo of Sir Stanley Reed Sir Stanley Reed , Aylesbury

In a very few minutes I would like to put a few points before the Minister. In his long-term policy he has provided that the bulk of the houses must be built by the local authorities, but the people coming home from the Forces do not all want to live in council houses. A very large number will want to live in houses of their own which they can purchase. If the Minister will look at the prices now being paid for small houses, he will realise what little chance there is of that ambition being satisfied until a reasonable proportion of materials and labour are devoted to houses for sale and not merely to council houses for letting.

The second point is that of all the criticisms levelled against the Government the most misplaced is that which has fastened upon the change in the temporary housing policy. I pay my tribute to the ingenuity which went into the design of the Portal house, but I feel certain that the switch-over from the Portal house to the permanent house will save the country £200,000,000 and an immense amount of disappointment and disruption. I do not want to make a comparison between the needs of urban and rural areas, but my journeys have taken me quite a good deal through South London, through Lambeth and Wandsworth, to Belmont and Epsom. Nobody can go to those parts without getting a terrible feeling of the urgency of the housing question. But those spectacles are always before the eyes of people in authority. The needs of the rural areas are not so apparent. I assure the House that in a constituency like mine, which started the war with a housing shortage and has since had evacuees from London and a very large number of other immigrants, the situation is becoming desperate. The rural housing problem can only be satisfied by using the local builder, local materials and local knowledge in helping to make up the deficiency.

The Minister will have certain priorities pressed upon him by the Minister of Education for schools and canteens, by the Minster of Social Insurance for a new industrial palace at Newcastle-on-Tyne and for ancillary buildings, again by the Minister of National Insurance for a great chain of offices from Land's End to John o' Groats to house his new bureaucracy, and by other people. I wish him to set his face like flint against any priority which might interrupt or hamper the housing programme, which transcends all other questions and upon which they all hinge.

Photo of Mr Daniel Frankel Mr Daniel Frankel , Stepney Mile End

Would the hon. Member include priorities for building factories for new industries?

Photo of Sir Stanley Reed Sir Stanley Reed , Aylesbury

I never interrupt, and I do not see any reason why I should be interrupted, so I shall ignore that interruption. It is no use talking about national insurance or education, unless there is good housing behind them. When the priorities are pressed upon the Minister I hope he will once again read the remarks made by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) on the human aspect of this problem. If anything has been well said in this House it was that, and I should like to see the Ministers responsible for housing reading the major part of that speech once every six months. That would have a very useful effect upon our housing programme.

4.0 p.m.

Photo of Mr Lewis Silkin Mr Lewis Silkin , Camberwell Peckham

There can seldom have been a Debate in this House in which there has been such general disapproval and criticism expressed against the policy of the Government as in this two days' Debate on housing, which I hope is now coming to an end. Practically every speaker has expressed dissatisfaction with the Government policy on one ground or another. One of the few exceptions was my hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson), a rather strange exception, because he has generally been foremost in criticising both the Minister of Health and the Minister of Works. The criticisms have not in any way followed party lines. I think a great many hon. Members opposite found themselves largely in agreement with the speech made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) and the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Key), and I found myself in almost entire agreement with the speeches of the hon. and gallant Member for Preston (Captain Cobb) and strangely enough, with the speech of the hon. and learned Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Erskine-Hill); so there has been very little of politics introduced in these speeches during the Debate. In fact, so far as I can remember, the only Member who mentioned one party or another was the hon. Member for The High Peak. I am sure that the Government can derive no comfort from this Debate, and unless they bow to the will of the House, and take urgent and immediate action, I am quite satisfied that serious consequences will ensue.

At this stage I wish to pay my debt to the Minister of Works. On 7th December, on the occasion of the King's Speech, when my right hon. Friend made his first appearance as Minister of Works, I said that the House would expect bomb damage repairs to be completed, as promised, by 31st March, and that if they were I should be very pleased to congratulate my right hon. Friend. I understand that these repairs will be completed as promised, and I have very great pleasure in carrying out my promise by congratulating my right hon. Friend.

Having paid my debt, I want to return to the Debate. What are the main criticisms of the Government which have emerged? I think the first—and this has been expressed by Members from different parts of the House, particularly the hon. and learned Member for North Edinburgh and the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Horabin)—that there is an inadequate realisation and appreciation of the magnitude of the problem. I know that my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Health can be very eloquent in stating what he conceives to be the problem in terms of human suffering, as we all can, but when he comes to translate that into terms, for instance, of numbers of dwellings required, it is clear that the Government do hot thoroughly appreciate the magnitude of the problem. For instance, in the White Paper it is stated that 750,000 houses are required to provide a separate dwelling for every family which desires one. It is also stated there that in 1939 there were as many dwellings in the country as there were separate families. If that is the case then it must be clear that there was a considerable shortage of accommodation, because some families had more than one dwelling, and to a considerable extent the dwellings were not in the places where they were required. That is evidenced by the fact that most large municipalities had thousands of persons on their waiting lists for accommodation which it was quite hopeless for them to provide for years to come. In addition to that substantial shortage of accommodation at the outbreak of war, we are told that there have been 2,500,000 marriages, and an increase of no less than 850,000 in the number of separate families, so one may estimate that that number of families at least will require accommodation. At once therefore, we have a higher figure than the 750,000 stated in the White Paper.

The Minister of Health paid me a great compliment yesterday in quoting with approval something I said, namely, that I did not think the Government would be able to build more than 200,000 permanent houses in the first two years after the war. I meant, of course, on the existing basis of labour that will be available, and on the existing organisation. But since he so thoroughly approves of me, may I say I am of the opinion that instead of 1,250,000 dwellings which are immediately required, the actual number is more like 2,000,000, a figure also given by Sir Ernest Simon, who was also quoted with approval by my right hon. and learned Friend? So the first charge against the Government is that they are understating the magnitude of the problem, and that they have not a thorough appreciation of it.

My next ground of criticism, one that has emerged very strongly during the Debate, is that the Government's plans for meeting the immediate and urgent demand are insufficient. We are told that there will be 220,000 houses completed in the first two years after the war, and also that the 145,000 temporary dwellings which have been allocated to local authorities will, in fact, be provided. That makes 365,000 houses which we are promised will be available. We are also told that there is a possibility, my right hon. and learned Friend does not put it higher than that, of a certain number of permanent prefabricated houses. Against an admitted need of 1,250,000, and against the need which I put at not less than 2,000,000, 365,000 houses will not 'carry us very far. Unless my right hon. and learned Friend can do better than that there will be very considerable disappointment and dissatisfaction. Incidentally, I would like to ask why it is there should be these wide discrepancies as to actual facts.

Why is it that so many well-informed persons other than myself take the view that there is an immediate need for something like 2,000,000 houses, whereas the Ministry of Health put the need at 1,250,000? Is it not possible to get more accurate facts, which would be accepted by all sides to the discussion? In America they seem to have very accurate statistics as to housing requirements, etc., which we do not seem to have in this country. I suggest to my right hon. and learned Friend that he might very well endeavour to get a more accurate survey of housing requirements. For instance, in his longterm proposals, he says that the Government propose to build 3,000,000 to 4,000,000 houses. My hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall spoke of a need for 7,000,000 houses and he seemed to make a very strong case. I myself am much more in agreement with the hon. Member for North Cornwall than with my right hon. and learned Friend.

Whether that be so or not, those are pure questions of fact, which ought to be ascertainable. There ought not to be this wide divergence between 3,000,000 to 4,000,000 on the one hand, and 7,000,000—I have even heard 8,000,000—on the other hand. If the two years' programme is unsatisfactory, the longterm programme is entirely absent. There is no long-term policy. My right hon. and learned Friend yesterday never once referred to anything beyond the two years after the war. Local authorities have been asked to submit their proposals for those two years, but have been prevented from doing anything beyond that period. They are not authorised to acquire any land which they will not want in the first two years. That is not planning for the provision of houses, especially bearing in mind that at the end of the two years all we shall have, at the best, is something like 365,00o houses. The Government are to be condemned if only because they have not submitted any proposal, and they have no policy, beyond the provision of this limited number of houses for the first two years after the war.

Indeed, no real policy of providing houses is possible unless you know where the houses are to be built. That necessitates a land policy. I was astonished to hear the hon. Member for The High Peak say the question of compensation and betterment had no relevance to the provision of houses in the near future. Unless you have a policy for compensation and betterment, for the control of land use, how can you carry out any long-term policy at present? We have constantly pressed the Government even to permit a Debate on the subject in this House, but, beyond submitting a White Paper, which many of us have read and have now forgotten, nothing has been done to bring that policy to fruition. Most persons who specialise in housing matters take the view that the question of compensation and betterment is of vital importance, and at the recent Conference of Housing and Town Planning Associations, at which my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Health was present, and at which there were 2,000 delegates, a unanimous resolution was passed, calling on the Government to come to an early decision upon this question. I hope that they will.

I do not want to go into the merits or demerits of temporary houses. The House has committed itself to the policy of providing temporary houses, much against my own personal opinion, but I accept the opinion of the House. But there has been a good deal of indecision about the provision of temporary houses. We started off with a declaration by the Prime Minister that there would be 500,000. That was set out in legislation, the Housing (Temporary Accommodation) Act, which provides for 250,000 temporary houses. Then we were told by my right hon. Friend's predecessor that there would be 200,000. Subsequently that was reduced to 100,000.

Photo of Mr Henry Willink Mr Henry Willink , Croydon North

I do not think that there was such a reduction.

Photo of Mr Lewis Silkin Mr Lewis Silkin , Camberwell Peckham

I assure the Minister that there was. But that has now been increased to 145,000. I do not mind, for the sake of argument, leaving out the change to 100,000; that still leaves three changes of policy. While everybody is entitled to change his mind once, for the Government to change their mind three times—as I submit, four times—is going a bit far. There has been a failure to carry out even what was promised. It was promised that in London 250 temporary houses per week would be provided, commencing on 1st January. By this time 3,000 temporary houses should have been provided for London. As against the 3,000 temporary houses which we were promised, we have had up to date fewer than 60, probably fewer than 50. I should like to know what has happened to the remaining 2,950. Then I should like to know why there is such a mystery about this temporary housing. Questions have been asked constantly in this House about the cost; how are they working out? Some of us have had a suspicion that they were costing substantially more than the £600 that we were told. I have heard figures amounting to nearly £1,000 mentioned—I do not know if that is true. But we are entitled to know. We gave my right hon. Friend £250,000,000 to spend. We should like to know how it is being spent, whether on the basis of £600 per dwelling or on some other basis. We were told on 7th December about the Phoenix house, but we have heard nothing more about it. What is happening to this Phoenix house: is it going up? I thought it was to be the solution of the problem; but where is it? Then we suddenly heard about an aluminium house, but I have not seen it. My right hon. and learned Friend blurted out yesterday that this aluminium house was costing £9000 or more. Is it proposed to build it? Could we have a look at it?

The Ministry of Works seems to be shrouded in secrecy and mystery. Surely they have nothing to hide. [An HON. MEMBER: "They have nothing to show."] Perhaps that is the answer. Many hon. Members have. referred to lack of coordination between the various Government Departments—I am putting it kindly—and the fact that Government Departments frequently speak with at least two different voices, and that there is too much changing of policy and plans. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Works has been accused of incapacity to make up his mind. Whether that is due to the fact that he gets too much advice—and varying advice—I do not know, but it is clear from the results that my right hon. Friend is suffering from that incapacity. I can assure my right hon. Friend that what I would most like to do is to advise him, and I hope he will take my advice. I would advise him to make up his mind and to stick to it. If he does that, I think he will make a very good Minister.

One of the other criticisms has been that there is no clear division of the functions of the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Works. I know that, if one looks at the White Paper, it is all set out fairly clearly, but that division of functions has not been translated into actual practice. I think most hon. Members have felt, from time to time, some surprise that the Minister of Works has come down to this House and made statements on housing policy which one thought would have come better from the Minister of Health. I am not accusing the Minister of Works of attempting to jump claims. I put it down to the fact that there is not, in practice, a clear line of demarcation between the functions of the two Ministers. Sometimes there is even a certain amount of poaching on the preserves of the Minister of Works himself. Otherwise, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can explain how it is that a temporary house has been put up, and, I understand, is being exhibited by the Ministry of Aircraft Production?

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Miss Horsbruģh):

It is aluminium.

Photo of Mr Lewis Silkin Mr Lewis Silkin , Camberwell Peckham

I know it is aluminium, but it is a house.

Miss Horsbruģh:

And not merely a plan.

Photo of Mr Lewis Silkin Mr Lewis Silkin , Camberwell Peckham

I know, but has the Minister of Aircraft Production also entered into the housing business? We ought to know where we are. I would like to know under what authority the Ministry of Aircraft Production have taken it upon themselves to build an aluminium house and to exhibit it secretly. [Interruption.] At least, hon. Members of this House have not been invited to see it. I presume that it has been put up at some expense, and I shall be glad to know what is the authority for putting up this house and why the Ministry of Aircraft Production has done it. It does look as if there is some lack of unity of direction, and the House ought to know who is responsible. My hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley set out, I thought very clearly, what he meant by lack of unity of direction and what he thought ought to be done, and I should like to associate myself entirely with what he said on that point. But a good deal of nonsense has been talked in the course of this Debate about the multiplicity of Departments concerned with housing and so on. I have no objection to the Ministry of Agriculture being consulted about the use of agricultural land for housing purposes.

I think they ought to be consulted. Certainly, the Ministry of Labour has got to be consulted about labour matters. Nobody wants to take away from the Minister of Agriculture his agricultural functions, or, from the Minister of Labour, his labour functions. Nor do we want to take away from the Minister of Town and Country Planning his town and country planning functions.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, in a speech in which, I am afraid, he was not at his best, tried to meet the case which I thought was admirably put by the hon. and learned Member for North Edinburgh by pretending that a case had been put up which, in fact, was never put up by any responsible Member of this House. Nobody suggested that there should be one huge Department under a Minister, dealing with all aspects of housing. Certainly, no responsible person could have suggested such a thing.

Photo of Mr Henry Willink Mr Henry Willink , Croydon North

Almost everyone has said so.

Photo of Mr Lewis Silkin Mr Lewis Silkin , Camberwell Peckham

Almost everybody has not made that suggestion. I listened very carefully to the hon. and learned Member for North Edinburgh, and I hope he does not mind my referring to his speech.

Photo of Mr Lewis Silkin Mr Lewis Silkin , Camberwell Peckham

My hon. and learned Friend certainly was not making that case. Let us be quite clear about the case we are making. I think that each Department referred to has, quite properly, some locus in housing, and often express an opinion. If they do, quite properly and naturally, differences will arise. One of the causes of delay is that there is no satisfactory machinery for resolving these differences. I have known a case where somebody wanted to acquire land for housing purposes, but the Minister of Agriculture objected, and it has taken nearly a year to get that difference of opinion resolved. What I want, and what I think the House wants, is some simple machinery for getting these differences settled. Nobody has suggested that there should not be proper consultation with the Departments properly concerned, and I think the best method of resolving these differences is to have one person finally responsible for settling these matters. As I understood most of the views expressed in the Debate yesterday and to-day, the proposal was that there should be such a person, possibly at the Ministry of Health, and I should not mind if he were, in rank, subordinate to the Minister of Health. I think the analogy of the Minister of State at the Foreign Office was mentioned. Such a person as I have indicated should spend the whole of his time, thought and energy on housing. He should have no other duties but he should be there to deal with questions which may arise as between one Minister and another, and on these, in the last resort, he should have the deciding voice and be answerable to this House for the provision of houses.

Photo of Mr Robert Tasker Mr Robert Tasker , Holborn

Will my hon. Friend allow me to intervene? I know the difficulties of dealing with housing, but how do we get over the difficulty of the transfer of authority on labour, transport and supply to this Minister?

Photo of Mr Lewis Silkin Mr Lewis Silkin , Camberwell Peckham

I am very sorry, but that is the last thing that I propose. I was endeavouring to make it clear that I was not proposing to do that at all. If I have failed, I can only express my apologies to my hon. Friend and pass on.

Photo of Mr Thomas Levy Mr Thomas Levy , Elland

Will my hon. Friend forgive another interruption? How does he reconcile the enthusiasm of the Labour Party on this question with the fact that there are only 14 hon. Members of the Labour Party in the House at present?

Photo of Mr Francis Bowles Mr Francis Bowles , Nuneaton

How long has the hon. Member for Elland (Mr. Levy) been here?

Photo of Mr Lewis Silkin Mr Lewis Silkin , Camberwell Peckham

I have been endeavouring in the course of my speech to deal with this matter on a fairly responsible level. I have not once referred to the Tory Party. The Minister of Health and the Secretary of State for Scotland both stated that labour was the bottleneck, and the only bottleneck. It is obvious, I think, from what I have said that something more than the provision of labour is needed. I submit to the House that the Government have not approached the labour shortage with courage, imagination or resourcefulness, and I want to make one or two suggestions which I know I shall be told are impracticable and of no value, but which, I think, nevertheless. ought to be made. We have been told by a number of hon. Members that a good deal of building labour is hidden away or tucked away in the service of private firms and so on. The hon. Member for Edgbaston (Sir P. Bennett) referred to it. Why not call upon all building labour to register, as was done in the case of the engineering industry in the early days of the war, and as was done in the case of the miners? if we had a complete registration of all persons who have, say, within the last 15 years, been engaged in the building industry, it would be possible to ascertain how many are being tucked away as maintenance men, and how many could be taken out of munitions who are, at present, in munition factories, and so on. You might well get a substantial number of building workers from such a registration.

Secondly, I suggest that we should employ women. Women have demonstrated during the war that they are capable of carrying out the most arduous jobs of work with complete satisfaction. One has only to go to the shipbuilding yards and see women engaged in shipbuilding—and working side by side with men—I have seen it myself. Or go to the aircraft factories, or to the Royal Ordnance factories and one can see women producing the 17-pounder gun, and so on, almost entirely without the help of men. One has only to see this to feel satisfied that women could properly play a very big part in house building.

Photo of Sir Alexander Erskine-Hill Sir Alexander Erskine-Hill , Edinburgh North

Would the trades unions agree?

Photo of Mr Lewis Silkin Mr Lewis Silkin , Camberwell Peckham

I am very willing to ask them. Would hon. Members opposite agree?

Hon. Members:

Yes.

Photo of Mr Pierse Loftus Mr Pierse Loftus , Lowestoft

As a temporary measure.

Photo of Mr Lewis Silkin Mr Lewis Silkin , Camberwell Peckham

As long as we have hon. Members' support, perhaps we may carry it further.

Photo of Captain Edward Cobb Captain Edward Cobb , Preston

We want a little more than that.

Photo of Mr Lewis Silkin Mr Lewis Silkin , Camberwell Peckham

We shall want the women as well. I believe that we could get them. What could be more appropriate than women playing a part in the erection of houses? I believe that if this were taken seriously, there is a large field of employment for women in that industry in which they could make a substantial contribution to the solution of the problem. A large number of hon. Members have also referred to prisoners of war. We ought to have a speedy demobilisation of building workers at the end of the European war. I do not suggest for a moment that we ought to demobilise workers at present while the war is on. On that question one must accept the word of the Service Ministers. If they say that the men cannot be released during the war with Germany, then I, for my part, accept that as the last word. But the moment the war with Germany is over no questions of priority, such as, that if men were the last to join, they ought not to be the first to be demobilised, should be allowed to stand in the way of their release if they are wanted. I would ask the right hon. Gentlemen to consider whether, leaving aside the general question of demobilisation during the war, it would not be possible to release key men, technical workers and supervisors. They are essential at the present time and a few of these men would go a very long way.

I want to make a suggestion. Formerly, the suggestion was made to carry out what was done before the war on a large scale in Sweden, namely, providing people with building materials and with instructions and guidance and letting them build their own houses. I have asked a large number of workers whether this would appeal to them and I have received unanimous support for the idea. While I would not claim that this would make a vast contribution, I think that a large number of people would be very willing, given the proper guidance, even though they were not skilled building workers, to build their own houses if provided with the material. In a grave crisis such as we are experiencing, every bit is a contribution.

I would ask, finally, on this point, whether we are making the best use of such labour as we have. It is not sufficient for the Minister to say that we shall only have 350,000 building workers at the end of the war, unless he can show that at present we are making the very best use of the labour available. I do not believe that we are. I congratulate, I think deservedly, the Minister of Works upon having carried out the programme of completing second stage repairs within the time he set himself, but I am advised by men in the building industry that this work could have been done with at least 40,000 men fewer than were actually engaged on the job; that is to say, instead of 130,000 men being engaged, this work could have been achieved with 90,000 men if there had been proper organisation and supervision. I do not know whether that is true or not but from what I have heard I should think that it is partly true, at any rate. One has heard so much of men waiting about for material and the job not being properly organised, and of men being able to play cards instead of working, and so on, that there must be some truth in it. If there is any truth at all in that, it would look as if we are not making the best possible use of the men who are available. There is an obligation on the Government to make themselves responsible for securing the maximum output per man, particularly during the period of the shortage of labour. The Government ought to be able to change managements.

I know that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Buckrose (Major Braithwaite) is very satisfied with the building industry and with his own firm, but the fact remains that there are inefficient firms in the building industry and a good many hon. Members have taken the view, to put it no higher, that the building industry is somewhat conservative. It ought to be open to the Government to change managements where they think it necessary to do so and even to take over entirely, as has been done in the case of the building industry during the period of emergency, the functions of inefficient firms. I shall not believe that the Government are really in earnest on this problem, and are treating it as an emergency, unless they take powers to do this sort of thing. They must see to it that building firms are carried on in an efficient and up-to-date manner, that they are provided with mechanisation wherever possible, and with proper supervision and that they plan their jobs in an orderly way. In my own experience before the war very few building firms had a time and progress schedule for their work. It seems incomprehensible that they should not have been able to plan their work a few weeks ahead. Even those firms which had a time and progress schedule never carried it out. You can only tell by the time and progress schedule what stage a job has actually reached. I would like to see the Ministry of Works not only exercising strict control during the emergency period over the building industry. I would even like to see the Ministry with an organisation of its own, which it could apply in certain areas where there was a shortage of contractors, and which could compete with the building industry by tendering in certain cases, so as to keep the building industry "on its toes." If it did that, it would be rendering a very great service. I would like to ask the Minister also what has happened to the standardisation of fittings and household equipment? We were told some months ago—I believe it was before the right hon. Gentleman took office—that orders had been placed for 200,000 sets of fittings. Are those orders proceeding, and what is happening? So much on the question of labour.

I have endeavoured to make a number of suggestions, which, if carried out, would be of some value in increasing the labour force available. I want to say one word about costs, because I think that unless we can bring costs down from the figures at which they stand at the present time they may very well wreck the housing programme. I want to know whether the Government will be prepared to exercise the same control over the price of building materials as they are able to exercise over munitions of war. At the present time there may be price rings in such building materials as cement, but I believe that the Government are in a position, if they so desire, to call for information as to how these prices are made up, and to arrive at a price-buying agreement reached by costing. Will the Government continue those powers during the period of emergency? After all, something like 55 per cent. of the cost of a house goes in building material, and it represents, therefore, an important factor.

The sands of time are running low, the war is, we hope, rapidly coming to an end; the time for action has arrived, and the time for talk has ended. There is, I think I am safe in saying, general dissatisfaction, both in this House and the country, with what has been done so far, and unless the members of the Government responsible can inspire greater confidence that they can deal energetically and speedily with the housing question, I should like to warn them that there will be an irresistible demand that they should retire and make room for those who can inspire this confidence.

4.42 p.m.

Mr. Keelinģ:

Before my right hon. Friend replies, I want to ask him two questions about war damage repairs, in which we Members for Greater London are so much interested. My first question refers to what are called the C (b) houses, that is to say the houses which have been so badly damaged as to be uninhabitable, but which can be repaired. Up to now the repair of these houses has been quite rightly shelved, but I was very glad to see from the White Paper that a special survey has been made by the War Damage Commission of these houses with a view to framing a programme of repair. Since then a circular has been issued to local authorities giving them a certain discretion to proceed. This is all to the good. But, unfortunately, the only men available for such repairs in areas which have not suffered much V.2 damage are the older men. Now this particular Sob, being the most difficult job of all, requires young, active men. Cannot the Minister of Works put some more suitable men at the disposal of local authorities who want to get on with the repair of C (b) houses?

My second point is this. My right hon. Friend himself is apparently not short of technical staff, for the other day au official, called the Material Groups Officer, who descended upon Middlesex to discuss war damage repairs with the local authorities, was accompanied by a deputy and six other officials. On the other hand, the local authorities themselves are desperately short of technical staff. They do not know where to turn. Some of their previous employees are in the Services. I want to ask my right hon. Friend this: In getting men released from the Services, does he enjoy greater priority for technical people than the local authorities and, if so, will he not try to help the local authorities to get release of engineering assistants who would make a very great difference indeed to war damage repairs?

4.44 P.m.

Photo of Mr Duncan Sandys Mr Duncan Sandys , Lambeth Norwood

It has been a long Debate and hon. Members will not expect me to answer all the points which have been raised. It has not only been a long Debate, it has also been a very useful Debate. Certainly from the point of view of the Government it has been a valuable Debate, because it has cleared the air of a lot of misapprehensions. We are indebted to my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) for having asked for this Debate. I think we are less indebted to my right hon. Friend for his speech during the Debate. We had expected that the right hon. Gentleman—a former Member of the War Cabinet, a former Minister of Health, possibly a future Minister of Health—would put forward some constructive proposals as to how we should tackle the housing problem. Apart from describing the White Paper as "chicken-feed," apart from a reference to "Uncle Tom Cobleigh and all," apart from complaining that the Government were lacking in vision and imagination—apart from airy remarks of that kind, he put forward no constructive proposals as to how we should produce more houses than are proposed in the Government's programme. I am glad to say, however, that the speeches of other hon. Members were not so barren in constructive advice, and if I am not able to deal with all the points raised, I can assure hon. Members that their suggestions will be scrutinised and that they will receive replies in writing on any which I am not able to deal with to-night.

In the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield, and in the speeches of several other hon. Members, the same question cropped up again and again. They asked: "Why cannot the Government tackle housing in the same way as they tackled the production of the Spitfire, and the production of the Mulberry ports? Why cannot they apply to the problems of peace the same energies and resources which have been so successfully applied to the problems of war?" That question was asked again and again by one hon. Member after another. The reason was well explained in the speech made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Leicester (Major Lyons) and also in the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson). The reason is a simple one. The war is still going on, and it is idle to expect any Government to produce large numbers of houses whilst the conflict still continues at its very height, not only in Europe but also in the Far East.

Photo of Sir Percy Harris Sir Percy Harris , Bethnal Green South West

I think it ought to be made quite clear that nobody has suggested that at the present moment we can produce houses on a very large scale. What we are asking for is that the plans should be ready for large-scale production directly the war is over. That is quite another thing.

Photo of Mr Duncan Sandys Mr Duncan Sandys , Lambeth Norwood

Not at all. Whenever the Government produce a White Paper or a plan, what is said? "Nothing but plans; plans, plans, nothing but plans." And when we produce a small number of temporary houses, it is said: "Look how few they are." Of course there has been that criticism; every hon. Member knows that that kind of thing has been said.

Photo of Mr Arthur Greenwood Mr Arthur Greenwood , Wakefield

I must interrupt my right hon. Friend for, quite apart from his being unfair to me, which I do not mind in the least, he is really forgetting that the Prime Minister a year ago himself talked about 500,000 temporary houses and described it as a' military evolution. If we are to follow his lead, surely we are entitled to deal with the matter in that large and magnificent fashion with which he spoke about it himself.

Photo of Mr Duncan Sandys Mr Duncan Sandys , Lambeth Norwood

These promises quite clearly concerned the period after the end of the European war. I will say a word or two about the military evolution in a moment. It has been suggested by several hon. Members that we should release men from the Forces and from the munitions industries, in order to build more houses. There is no doubt that we could do it but that does not happen to be the Government's policy. Our first aim is to win the war as quickly as possible. Anything that is needed for the war has got to be found whatever else it may interfere with. Even housing cannot be allowed to stand in the way. That has always been the Government's policy and I have no doubt that that policy has the backing of the entire country. Hon. Members have said that the Prime Minister promised that housing would be tackled as a military evolution, and judging from the tone of the whole Debate I think it is quite clear that hon. Members of all parties firmly intend that housing shall be tackled in this spirit. Subject to the overriding claims of the war, housing will be treated as a military evolution.

The Government intend to take strong action and we are glad to know that in taking that strong action we shall have the backing of hon. Members in all parts of the House. This Debate will strengthen the hands of the Government. If, however, the country expects the housing problem to be tackled at a wartime pace it must also be prepared to accept war-time methods and inconveniences and interferences. All the parties affected—employers, operatives, trade unions, local authorities, professional bodies and private citizens, all will have to make some contribution and some sacrifice. I am sure they will. Once the necessity is fully under-Stood—and it is our business to see to it that it is fully understood—I feel sure that we shall be able to count on the willing, and even eager, co-operation of the whole community.

At the same time there seems to have been misunderstanding still in the minds—

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Seaham

This is just A.B.C.

Photo of Mr Duncan Sandys Mr Duncan Sandys , Lambeth Norwood

If the hon. Member wishes to interrupt me, will he please stand up and do so?

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Seaham

I shall be delighted to do so. My right hon. Friend is talking about this military evolution, but it seems to me that it is more like a rearguard action, and I think that instead of going on in this fashion he might as well read out the programme.

Photo of Mr Duncan Sandys Mr Duncan Sandys , Lambeth Norwood

The hon. Member has not been present during very much of the Debate, and I think if he had been present he would have felt that I should have been entirely out of touch with the general tone and mood of the House if I had not made some reference to the sense of urgency which we all feel and which has been echoed in every single speech during the whole of the Debate.

Since there is still in the minds of many hon. Members and in particular in the mind of my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) some misapprehension, I think that I must very quickly summarise the Government's housing programme once again. Our long-term programme, about which my hon. Friend asked, has already been announced some months ago. It is to provide 4,000,000 houses in 10 to 12 years. That longterm programme should be sufficient to give assurance of employment over a very long period to building trade operatives and confidence to the building industry as a whole. Our short-term programme concerns the period from now until two years after the end of the German war. During this emergency period the Government will seek to relieve the housing shortage by two methods. First by new construction, both permanent and temporary, and secondly by the repair and adaptation of existing houses.

A whole lot of differing figures have been quoted in the Debate. The plan has been the same all the way through, that is, 500,000 houses completed or in the course of construction by the end of that period. At least 300,00o of these houses are to be permanent houses and are to be built partly by traditional and partly by non-traditional methods. Since in any case considerable numbers of families may have to share houses during the early years, the Government feel that it would be right to take account of this fact in our plans. In order to provide the privacy and convenience of a separate dwelling we consider that a proportion of these 300,000 permanent houses should be temporarily subdivided in accordance with the Silkin-Duplex principle. To the extent to which this is done the number of dwellings, as distinct from the number of houses, will be further increased. To these 300,000 permanent houses are to be added some 200,000 temporary dwellings. The greater part of these will be temporary, prefabricated bungalows of the standard design. The programme in the White Paper does not limit the number to 145,000. We have said that it will be "at least 145,000." If the development of prefabricated permanent types progresses satisfactorily, we shall hope to substitute for the tail end of the temporary programme an additional number of the duplex flats in two-storey houses of permanent construction.

It has been said I referred to our intention to substitute permanent dwellings for the tail end of the temporary programme. It was then alleged that this represented a sudden and violent change of policy. I would like to remind the House that there was nothing new in that statement. In the Debate on housing as long ago as 7th December, I said: Neither I nor the Government will need any pressing to consider replacing the tail end of the temporary bungalow programme by some form of prefabricated permanent house. That is our hope."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th December, 1944; Vol. 406, c. 828.] Later, on 31st January, I said: We are aiming at replacing the temporary programme as soon as possible with a programme of permanent house building, employing many of the methods of standardisation and prefabrication developed in the temporary programme."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31 st January, 1945; Vol. 407, c. 1448–1449.] It will be seen that the position was made quite clear long ago. The right hon. Member for Wakefield jumped to the conclusion that there had been a change of policy and demanded an immediate Debate. I am very glad we have had the Debate because it has been very valuable, from many points of view. Side by side with the new construction to which I have referred we shall proceed with the equally urgent task referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling) of repairing existing houses which are now uninhabitable as dwellings either as a result of enemy bombing or as a result of the scarcely less devastating effects of being requisitioned by a Government Department. The repair of many of these houses will take a large number of man-hours, though fewer than the construction of a new house. In any case we have felt it was right to include this work in our immediate programme, since people on the whole prefer to go back to their own home, in their own street, among their own friends, rather than to have a new house built for then somewhere quite different.

This has really been more of a Debate on labour than a Debate on housing. Ultimately, it all turns on manpower. No amount of research into new materials or new methods of construction, on amount of planning and organisation, will produce results, unless we obtain a labour force which is equal to the job. At present the labour force of the building industry is down to 337,000, about one-third of its normal pre-war strength. Of those that are left, an abnormally large proportion are either boys under 19 or men over 55. Of this reduced labour force, about 100,000 are now engaged on urgent work connected with the war or essential civilian industries. About 230,000 are engaged on current maintenance or repairs, including war damage repairs in London.

The House will see that so long as this heavy programme of bomb repairs continues, we are left with not much more than 10,000 men for both temporary and permanent housing combined. Therefore, it is not very surprising that up till now we have not been able to embark on any very ambitious programme of new house construction. As soon as Germany is defeated, we shall, of course, start expanding the building industry up to a total of 1,250,000 men, which is 250,000 above its pre-war strength. Within one year of the end of the war in Europe, we hope to raise it rapidly from the present figure of 337,000 to 800,000. My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw {Mr. Bellenger) asked how many men would be released from the Forces at the end of the German war. That figure of 800,000 we are aiming at achieving by the end of the first year includes 175,000 releases from the Forces under Class "A" on the basis of age and length of service, 60,000 special block releases of building trades operatives under Class "B," 215,000 from the munitions and other wartime industries, and 13,000 new entrants into the industry by training.

Mr. Bellenģer:

That still leaves a substantial number in the Forces, does it not?

Photo of Mr Duncan Sandys Mr Duncan Sandys , Lambeth Norwood

Yes, this will still leave a number in the Forces. The Government have not decided to sweep aside the demobilisation plans. This might well create a sense of deep injustice in the Fighting Services. If an exception were made for building, it might have to be made for many other things. By and large I think the country and the House accepted the demobilisation plan as being a fair one and one likely to command respect and support in the Forces. That is very important. The White Paper sets out the timetable to which we are now working. We shall, of course, exert ourselves to improve upon it. I must, however, warn the House that it is going to be very hard to achieve. It will in any case be several months after the end of the German war before the expansion of the industry really gets under way. Therefore, even if our target of 800,000 is attained, we estimate the average labour force over the whole of this first year will not amount to more than about half a million. Several hon. Members have asked how this labour force will be used and what priorities will be accorded as between various types of work. It might interest the House to know our tentative plans for the allocation of this labour during the first year after the end of the German war.

The work to be done falls roughly into four main divisions. The first big block of work to be tackled is war damage repairs and the reinstatement of derequisitioned premises. A large proportion of this will consist of repairs to dwelling houses and will include many of the very severely damaged houses which are now uninhabitable. We are considering allotting about 200,000 men for all these purposes. Even so, it will probably not be possible during the first year to complete more than about one quarter of the bomb damage repairs and other reinstatement work which will be outstanding. The second type of work to be done is maintenance and repair other than bomb damage. This again includes a large amount of work on dwelling houses. Great numbers of these are falling into a serious state of dilapidation and many are gradually deteriorating through damp and decay. Even for the sake of building new houses, it would be very shortsighted to neglect the houses which we already possess. Ite may be possible to allocate about 150,000 men for these purposes. That is about half the number which would normally have been employed in a pre-war year on work of this kind. Since we now have six years of arrears of maintenance to catch up, this allocation represents only a small fraction of what is really needed.

Mr. Bellenģer:

How are these men to be utilised when they are released? Are they to be controlled for the purposes mentioned by the local authorities or are they going back to private builders?

Photo of Mr Duncan Sandys Mr Duncan Sandys , Lambeth Norwood

Both. After these deductions have been made for bomb damage repairs and maintenance, we are left with a labour force of not much more than 150,000 men for new construction of all kinds, including houses. It is not, of course, possible to ignore all other needs and to starve everything except house building. There is other urgent work which cannot be held up altogether. Apart from the work which will be needed for the war against Japan, we shall have to provide a certain number of new build- ings for such essential purposes as schools, farms, coal mining, gas, electricity, labour training centres, public health services and the exporting industries. However, homes are the most urgent. Therefore, out of these 150,000 men available for new construction, we propose to allocate only 50,000 for all these other purposes, so as to leave 100,000 for new house building.

I have told the House what building labour we expect to have during the first post-war year and how we are planning to use it. The programme of house building which the Government have announced is founded on the basis of these figures. If we are to improve upon that programme—we shall certainly exert ourselves to do so—we shall have to bring to our aid other additional sources of man-power outside the building trades, either to do actual building work on the sites or to prefabricate building components in the factories to a much greater extent than has hitherto been customary.

I have spoken of our plans for the permanent expansion of the building industry. We are also inquiring into various other methods by which the man-power of the building trades could be temporarily reinforced during the emergency period. Any additions to the regular labour force of the building industry which may be necessary in the national interest must, of course, be of a purely temporary character. We must avoid the risk of permanently expanding the industry beyond the point where full employment can be assured. The hon. Member for Peckham suggested that women could be used more extensively in the building industry. I have no doubt that they could play a valuable part, either directly or indirectly, to help in the house building programme, and this is a matter which we are at present examining. It was also suggested by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Erskine-Hill), by my hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Sir T. Cook) and by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Epsom (Sir A. Southby) that prisoner-of-war labour might be used. I can assure the House that we are certainly not overlooking this possibility. If we decided to adopt this course, prisoners of war could probably be used to the best advantage on road making, site preparation and other civil enginering work, for which the proportion of skilled men needed is comparatively low.

Photo of Mr Daniel Frankel Mr Daniel Frankel , Stepney Mile End

They cannot be employed after the war.

Photo of Mr Duncan Sandys Mr Duncan Sandys , Lambeth Norwood

The war may go on some time before there is a Peace Treaty. Anyhow I am not going to give a forecast of the duration of the war in a housing Debate.

Another method of relieving the strain upon our limited resources of man-power is by importing from abroad prefabricated houses or components. Members have already heard about the American houses. I recently sent a technical mission to Stockholm to carry out preliminary negotiations for the purchase of prefabricated timber houses from Sweden. These will be of permanent construction, and would be very suitable indeed for the rural areas. Various alternative house plans have now been agreed with Swedish manufacturers, and in order to get production started a small preliminary order is being placed. Meanwhile we shall go ahead with the financial negotiations for substantial deliveries. This mission will shortly be going on to Helsingfors in order to find out whether we can also obtain timber houses from Finland.

A number of Members have asked for the figures about the progress of production of temporary houses, and complaints have been made that we are behind our programme. I think some misunderstanding has arisen in public discussion, and in the Debates, as a result of the programme for the production of house components in the factory becoming confused with the programme for actual erection of the house on the site.

Photo of Mr Arthur Greenwood Mr Arthur Greenwood , Wakefield

There was no confusion in my mind.

Photo of Mr Duncan Sandys Mr Duncan Sandys , Lambeth Norwood

The right hon. Gentleman says there was no confusion in his mind. There certainly was in his speech, and I assumed that he was speaking his mind. I think it should be clearly understood that it is not possible for the Ministry of Works to receive a bare site one day and to produce a completed house the day after. A number of processes have to be gone through. First, we have to prepare plans and obtain competitive tenders. Hon. Members in all parts of the House have attached great importance to there being opportunity for local builders to tender for contracts for the erection of these houses. It may take a fortnight or so before the contract is fixed. If the job is to be done economically sites for 50 or more houses must be prepared in a run, and the contractor will need a month or six weeks in which to complete the preliminary work of laying foundations and drains. Assuming that a batch of 50 houses is being put up together, it may take a further four weeks to complete the actual erection. Hon. Members will see, therefore, that on an average about three months must elapse from the time when the site is handed to the Ministry of Works by the local authority, until the time when the house is actually ready for occupation. I very much hope that local authorities will realise how absolutely essential it is that they should have their sites ready well in advance.

Photo of Colonel Henry Burton Colonel Henry Burton , Sudbury

We have paid a deposit on a site in our area, and cannot get the money to put in the sewers and drains. How is it possible to prepare sites without having the money?

Photo of Mr Duncan Sandys Mr Duncan Sandys , Lambeth Norwood

I do not know what money difficulties the hon. and gallant Member is having. A lot of difficulties have been experienced over the temporary bungalow programme, but money has not been one of them. However, I would like to have a talk with my hon. and gallant Friend and see what the difficulty is in his area. To return to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield, he complained that the houses for the London area had not been delivered. That is quite true. It was promised that the first 3,000 sets of prefabricated house components which were produced would be allotted to London and that these would be delivered by the end of March. Unfortunately, we are a little behind in our programme. But that is not the reason why London has not received the components which were promised. The London County Council could not provide us with the sites sufficiently soon to enable the foundations to be prepared in time to receive the houses at the full rate at which they are now coming off production. In consequence, a proportion of these houses have had to be diverted to other parts of the country. London could have had more houses than it is now receiving had the sites been ready in time. It is not I who am making any complaint. The complaint was made from the Front Bench opposite. I therefore thought it necessary that I should explain the position.

Photo of Mr Charles Key Mr Charles Key , Poplar Bow and Bromley

My local authority has laid out over 50 sites and yet, at the present time, only one has been occupied.

Photo of Mr Duncan Sandys Mr Duncan Sandys , Lambeth Norwood

I have explained to the House that there are a number of processes which have to be gone through. I do not know what stage the particular sites to which the hon. Gentleman has just referred have reached. But I can assure him that I watch these things very closely, and I ask the House to accept my assurance that there is no undue time-lag in these various stages. We must do the job economically. It is no good placing contracts for half-a-dozen houses at a time; we must do the job on a reasonable scale, otherwise prices, to which some hon. Members have already taken exception, will rise above what they are now. House components and various internal fitments come from a number of different factories, and have to be collected at central depots, from which they are distributed in complete sets to the sites. There is, therefore, a considerable pipeline to fill before the deliveries can actually start.

The programme is now just starting. It is no good laughing at the small numbers. It is the beginning and beginnings are necessarily small. That does not mean to say that the programme is not going to be a large one or that it will not be stepped up rapidly. About 400 houses are now in course of erection and rather over 1,000 have left the factories. They are now coming off production at the rate of about 300 a week. As the programme develops, the rate of output will increase and, in spite of the continuation of the war, I am hopeful that by the end of June some 10,000 sets of house components will have been delivered to the depots and about 4,000 will by then be erected and ready for occupation. Several hon. Members have asked whether the resources of local builders will be used. I am very glad to give the assurance that, in all normal cases—there will be exceptional cases—we intend to invite local builders to tender for contracts for the erection of these temporary houses.

The pressed steel temporary house has been mentioned by a number of Members. I recently reviewed the position. The factory capacity needed for this project is still engaged on war production and will not be available before the Autumn. It therefore seems unlikely that the pressed steel temporary house could be in large production until the Spring of next year. I think we should hesitate to start production of this new type of temporary house at so late a date. I have, therefore, been examining the possibility of producing a pressed steel two-storey permanent house in place of the pressed steel temporary bungalow. These investigations are not yet completed, but, as far as they have gone, the project appears to be promising. If this proposal proves practicable, a large part of the jigs, tools and plant prepared for the temporary house will be of use for the permanent version. There is no secrecy about all these things. The hon. Member for Peckham suggested that the aluminium house was surrounded with mystery. The aluminium house only passed its technical tests this week. I do not think it is unreasonable that we should not invite the public to look at something which is still in the development stage. As soon as we decide that that is a type which is going into production, it will be shown to the Press and the public and, if hon. Members like to go and see it, they will be very welcome.

Photo of Mr William Guy Mr William Guy , Poplar South Poplar

They have been looking at different types of houses for two or three years. This may go on for another three years.

Photo of Mr Duncan Sandys Mr Duncan Sandys , Lambeth Norwood

The development of the factory-made temporary house has focussed attention on the possibility of applying the same methods of prefabrication and standardisation to the construction of permanent houses. There is nothing new in all this. It is merely an extension of what has been going on for a very long time. What has happened is that the acute shortage of building labour and the country's pressing need for houses have, during the last year or so, greatly stimulated the study of non-traditional methods. If we are to obtain the maximum number of new dwellings during the next few years, it is clearly essential that we should take the fullest advantage of any of these new methods which offer the possibility of increasing the productivity of our limited resources of building labour. I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wake field for the support that he is giving to this policy. The new types with which we are experimenting include one which has now become known as the Greenwood house. We are, in fact, building a Greenwood house divided into two Silkin flats.

We have, of course, no intention of attempting to eliminate brick or other well established systems of house construction. So long as my hon. Friend is Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works that could not happen. Nor do we intend to run the risk of creating any unemployment amongst bricklayers or any other building trade craftsmen. The Government, however, consider that, while the housing shortage is acute, a very substantial proportion of our new permanent houses should be constructed by those methods which produce the highest output per head of building labour. The Government, moreover, propose to take these considerations definitely into account when allocating labour or approving plans for new house building. If the advantages of factory methods are not to be lost, production must be carried out on a reasonably large scale, and this makes it necessary to concentrate on a limited number of systems and on a limited range of alternative house plans.

We have given a great deal of thought as to how these difficult choices as between one system and another, and one plan and another, should be made. The right hon. Gentleman opposite said the Government should maintain close contact with the building industry and with local authorities. We are, of course, doing that. In view of some criticisms that have been made in the Press and outside the House—I have not heard them inside—about lack of consultation, I should like to make it clear that we have no intention whatever of attempting to foist on the industry, on the local authorities, or on the public, any sort of ready made, cut and dried Government designed ideal homes. In an important decision of this kind it is clearly right that all the various affected parties should, as far as possible, have their say and make their contribution. These include building trade employers and operatives, civil engineers, architects, surveyors, local authorities and the various organisations which have expert knowledge of domestic requirements.

On the question whether any particular new system is structurally sound and economical in the use of building labour, we look for advice to the Burt Committee. This is an independent technical body on which all sections of the building industry are represented. They have selected about a dozen alternative systems of nontraditional construction which they consider to be technically sound and which appear promising from the point of view of saving building labour. It is, of course, impossible, by theoretical calculations alone, to estimate with any certainty how many man-hours any particular system will in practice require. I have, therefore, arranged for groups of 50 or more of each type to be constructed in different parts of the country. These experiments will be observed by technical officers of the Ministry of Works in order to provide us with reliable information about man-hours and costs and other technical data about methods and site organisation.

Photo of Mr George Hall Mr George Hall , Merthyr Tydfil Aberdare

How long will these inquiries take? If they are to take some months, will not it hold things up?

Photo of Mr Duncan Sandys Mr Duncan Sandys , Lambeth Norwood

It will not hold anything up. They will, of course, take some months, because building houses does take some months, but meanwhile nothing will be held up. While this is going on, the work of evolving a suitable range of alternative standardised house plans will go ahead.

This is a matter which intimately concerns the local authorities. I have, therefore, by arrangement with my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Health and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland set up a technical panel of local authority representatives to advise on these plans and other related technical questions. This panel includes the architects or senior technical officers of the London County Council and of the cities of Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester, and also representatives of the Metropolitan boroughs and of urban and rural district councils. A Scottish member will be added shortly. Hon. Members will, I think, agree that this is a very representative body. By bringing the representatives of local authorities into consultation in these early formative stages, I hope not only to obtain the benefit of their wide and practical experience, but to ensure that the decisions ultimately taken will be such as to enjoy the confidence and support of local authorities throughout the country. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Preston (Captain Cobb) asked when production of these non-traditional types of permanent houses will begin. It is impossible to give firm dates. All I can say is that I hope that several types will be in production in the early part of next year.

When the production stage is reached, it will be necessary for the Government, at any rate at first, to allocate the output of the prefabricated components for permanent houses among the different areas and to organise transport and distribution. Some system of collective, central ordering will also be essential. In so far as it is necessary, the Government will be prepared to guarantee to the manufacturers sufficient orders to get production started quickly. That is an important new departure, but it is one which I feel to be absolutely essential if we really mean to get these non-traditional methods of construction under way with a flying start.

Factory methods of house production, if they are to hold their own, must cost no more than traditional forms of building. However, until large-scale production starts, it will not be possible accurately to estimate the final cost of any particular system. This uncertainty, we feel, may deter local authorities or private enterprise builders from adopting non-traditional methods of construction.

The Government therefore feel that it would in principle be right, in the case of approved new systems of building, that any excess over the cost of a similar house of traditional type should, in the early stages, be taken into consideration in settling the amount of subsidy. We have got to pay for speed.

Photo of Mr George Hall Mr George Hall , Merthyr Tydfil Aberdare

Is "we" the country, or the Government?

Photo of Mr Duncan Sandys Mr Duncan Sandys , Lambeth Norwood

Many hon. Members have discussed the Government machinery to deal with this housing problem. I do not propose to go over the whole ground again. It was dealt with by the Secretary of State for Scotland last night. However, I would like to tell the House that I have, during the last few months, been considering how best the Ministry of Works could 'be strengthened to meet its greatly increased responsibilities in relation to housing. Several right hon. and hon. Gentlemen in the course of the Debate have said that the Ministry of Works should stand in the same relation to the health Departments as the Ministry of Supply does to the War Office. That advice is most welcome; I reached the same conclusion myself some little time ago. It is clear that the Ministry of Works has virtually become a supply Ministry.

I have therefore decided to reorganise it on those lines. The work of the Ministry will henceforth be divided into four main departments. The first department will be that of the Permanent Secretary, who will be responsible for general coordination of policy, finance and most of the functions previously performed by the old Office of Works. Secondly, there will he a department of the Controller-General, who will be responsible for building materials, labour, licensing, control of prices and generally for conducting the relations between the Ministry and the building industry. Thirdly, there will be the department of the Director-General, who will execute all the Ministry's building responsibilities, including factory production, transport and the erection of temporary houses, together with any similar functions which the Government may assume in regard to prefabricated permanent houses. This, above all else, is the part of our work which will require to be carried out with the drive and thoroughness of a military evolution. I am glad, therefore, to be able to inform the House that, in order to fill this important post, the Secretary of State for War, with the approval of the Prime Minister, has consented to make available a distinguished soldier, General Sir Frederick Pile, at present Commander-in-Chief of Anti-Aircraft Command. General Pile's energy and organising abilities are well known to many hon. Members, and I personally place very high hopes in this appointment.

Fourthly, I have set up a separate Department to undertake scientific research and development, experimental building and the dissemination of technical information. At the head of this Department is Sir Reginald Stradling, one of the leading authorities in this country on structural engineering and building technique, and former director of the Building Research Station. The heads of these four sections, together with the Parliamentary Secretary and the Minister, will form a Ministry of Works Council. I am confident that these arrangements, and the changes at other levels which will flow from them, will materially strengthen the Ministry of Works in the discharge of its increased responsibilities.

The Government have been pressed during this Debate to increase their house building, programme. It is very easy to make programmes and promises, but before we make promises we want to be quite sure that we have the means of carrying them out.

Photo of Mr George Buchanan Mr George Buchanan , Glasgow Gorbals

I wish the Prime Minister had thought of that when he made his statement.

Photo of Mr Duncan Sandys Mr Duncan Sandys , Lambeth Norwood

The hon. Member for Peckham was good enough to refer to the satisfactory progress of bomb damage repairs in London. He will, I think, remember that in the Debate on that subject last December, he pressed me to give a promise that London's bomb repair programme of 719,000 houses would be completed by 31st March. At that time I was not at all sure that this target could, in fact, be achieved, and so, as he will remember, I refused to make any promise. The target has, however, none the less, been attained. It was reached two days ago, and by the end of the month it will be far exceeded.

Photo of Mr Lewis Silkin Mr Lewis Silkin , Camberwell Peckham

Since the right hon. Gentleman refers to that, may I just correct him? In that Debate I reminded him of what had already been promised, and I told him that I would expect him to carry out that promise.

Photo of Mr Duncan Sandys Mr Duncan Sandys , Lambeth Norwood

I expressed my unwillingness to confirm any assurance which my hon. Friend thought he had received in regard to that programme, because frankly I was not at all sure that the target was a practicable one. However, as things have turned out the target has in fact been attained and exceeded. Today, in the same way, the Government are reluctant to promise a housing programme greater than they can feel sure of fulfilling. We shall naturally exert ourselves to build all the houses we can. The sky is our target. I believe, however, that it would be better for us to disappoint the House now with the modesty of our promises, than to disappoint the public in a year or two's time by the failure of our performance.

Photo of Colonel Henry Burton Colonel Henry Burton , Sudbury

Before the right hon. Gentleman sits down, in view of the fact that he said he did not understand what I said earlier about finance, I wish to read a letter which I have here from the Town Clerk of Sudbury, Suffolk. It reads as follows: During the first year after the war the Council proposes to erect 133 permanent houses and 50 factory made houses of the 'Seco' type. The site for the 533 houses has been acquired, and the lay-out plans prepared, but no work on the construction of roads, sewers, etc., has begun, in view of the fact that the cost of such work would have to be raised by loan, and, as you know, the raising of loans by a local authority is not possible at the present time. I have a waiting list of at least 250 applicants for the new council houses, and the list is being added to almost daily. That is what I meant by, How are we to obtain the money?

Photo of Mr Duncan Sandys Mr Duncan Sandys , Lambeth Norwood

Perhaps the hon. and gallant Gentleman will send the letter to me.

5.43 p.m.

Photo of Mr William Craven-Ellis Mr William Craven-Ellis , Southampton

I am sorry to have to rise at this time. I have been in the House all day, with the exception of a short period for lunch, and as I am very anxious to say something upon housing, I do not feel that I owe the House an apology for having to take up some time. The two Ministers who have been speaking to-day have, in my opinion, one of the greatest responsibilities that any Government have yet had to undertake. I do not think that these Ministers have yet fully appreciated the magnitude of this problem. A good deal has been said about temporary houses, permanent houses, plans, controls, but whatever may be said, the question of the supply of temporary or permanent houses depends entirely on two things—labour and materials. The White Paper has suggested that by the end of the first year, following the termination of the war with Germany, the labour force in the building industry will be something like 800,000. That number might well be increased. The Minister of Health should have a word with the Minister of Labour about the war factories which are overloaded with labour. The policy of the Ministry of Labour is to transfer people from industries which are not now on the same level of priority as they were, so that their labour is not required, into what are still priority industries, irrespective of the numbers employed. I could give instances of where labour which has been transferred is by no means fully employed. In some factories there are two or three men on a job which normally would be done by one man. Industrialists have written and spoken to me about this matter, and I have endeavoured to find out the motive for the policy of the Ministry of Labour. It seems to me that they are endeavouring to keep a hold on the working classes in quite an unjustifiable manner. The Minister of Health should ask the Minister of Labour to comb out all priority industries, and endeavour to get a large number of men who before the war were in the building industry, and who have, because of the changed conditions, gone into the war factories. He could then increase the labour force by the end of the first year after the German war, to considerably more than 800,000.

A good deal has been said about the distress caused through houses being damaged by enemy action. I do not intend to deal very fully with that matter, but my constituency has been very badly blitzed, and, owing to the shortage of labour, there are many houses which require only slight first-aid repairs. These repairs could be carried out if labour was available, and homes could be provided for people who are living under considerable inconvenience. I will give an example. Just before war broke out many school teachers, together with school children, were evacuated from Southampton. That was compulsory. The teachers were given instructions that they had to evacuate. Now, they have instructions that they are to return to Southampton, and the case that I have in mind is that of a teacher who has a wife and family and whose house has been requisitioned since he was ordered to leave Southampton. The house is still requisitioned, and I would say to the Minister of Health that, if this teacher is now ordered back into Southampton, that house should be de-requisitioned and put in order.

In dealing with this point of housing, I should like to mention the attitude of the local authorities who are building these temporary houses. The case which I am going to quote is that of Streatham. In Drakeford Road, Streatham, temporary houses have been built on the sites of houses that have been blitzed. The houses which are being built contain two small bedrooms, each about 10 feet square, one living room with a kitchen alcove, w.c. and no bathroom.

Miss Horsbruģh:

These are the temporary huts, not houses.

Photo of Mr William Craven-Ellis Mr William Craven-Ellis , Southampton

It does not matter whether it is a house or a hut.

Miss Horsbruģh:

But the huts are coming down afterwards.

Photo of Mr William Craven-Ellis Mr William Craven-Ellis , Southampton

The point I want to make is that this small temporary hut or house is occupying the space of two modern terrace houses, and, if labour were made available for erecting those two modern terrace houses, that same site would provide accommodation consisting of six bedrooms, four living rooms, two combined kitchen-sculleries, two bathrooms and two w.c's. I suggest to the Ministry of Health that sites which are referred to as bombed sites, especially in such cases as this, where the owner is entitled to the cost of replacement, should not be taken over for either temporary huts or temporary houses, because these people who had their houses blitzed may want to rebuild them. In fact, the Ministry of Health has already issued instructions to the effect that people who have had their houses blitzed may re-erect them, providing the cost does not exceed £1,500. Here is a case where the action of the Ministry of Health or the Ministry of Works, by erecting these temporary shelters or huts or houses, is likely to delay the erection of permanent houses.

It is suggested in the White Paper that the Government's first objective is to afford a separate dwelling for every family which desires a house, and under that heading is also suggested the provision of 750,000 houses. The second objective is to provide 500,000 houses for slum clearance and overcrowding. It is a programme of 1,250,000 houses, and out of that number we are to have 220,000 completed houses after the second year, in addition to 80,000 in various stages of erection. I submit that the figure of 1,250,000 shows that the magnitude of this problem is not appreciated by the Government. The second figure as to the houses which are to be built at the end of the second year following the end of the war with Germany, is too optimistic within the framework of the allocation which the Minister of Works has outlined this afternoon.

It would be a great mistake for this House to give an impression or to say anything calculated to raise the hopes of the people who are in want of houses. I can assure the House or such Members of it as are here, that the distress among people who are without a home is very great indeed. To give those people a wrong impression as to what houses are likely to be available to them would be very unjust and might even lead to some disturbances in this country. I have had meetings with my constituents who are living under very distressing conditions as a result of their homes being blitzed, and I can assure the House that their temper is by no means a happy one. While I do not rely upon either shelters or temporary houses for solving our problems, I am afraid that the programme for shelters or temporary houses, such as is announced by the Government, is quite inadequate to fill what has been referred to as the gap. I would like to warn the House that it will require a far greater imagination, and considerably more vigour and action on the part of the Government if they are to avoid trouble in consequence of the housing situation.

What is the problem? I will endeavour to convey to the House what, in my opinion, is the magnitude of the problem facing this country. It is true that there has been no housing, or very little, except for special purposes connected with war since the war started, but there are records to which we can refer. If hon. Members will turn up the "Statistical Record" which normally was published each year before the war, they will find there the number of houses which were required to deal with the normal adjustments of population per annum. I have examined this very carefully, and I have taken an average over 20 years prior to 1914. I have used that period because, since 1914, conditions have been abnormal. I found that it requires 65,000 houses to provide for the annual adjustment of population per annum. I think it is safe to say that the arrears which arose at the end of the war 1914-1918 were cleared off by the end of 1938. Therefore I submit that when we started this war there were no arrears to be accounted for. Taking my average number of 65,000 per annum to provide for the normal adjustment of population from 1939 to 1947—and I say 1947 because I submit that by that year the building industry should have reorganised itself, and got into something like normal working conditions—if that figure is a reasonably accurate one, the shortage as a result of the war should be 520,000 houses. That is my first figure.

My next figure is 300,000 houses to replace the number destroyed by enemy action. Before the war, in spite of what has been done, the overcrowding conditions in this country were very high in relation to the standards of accommodation which have been defined by the Government and which they were proceeding rigidly to carry out. In accordance with the standards which have been taken in 1931 the number of people occupying the then number of dwellings clearly showed that overcrowding was in the vicinity of about 4,500,000, which would require 1,400,000 houses to accommodate. My fourth figure of houses required is for agriculture, and if agriculture is to be maintained in its present state of development and is expanded to the degree of the development that is possible, I assume that 350,000 houses will be required to accommodate an agricultural population. Therefore, if housing-building starts, say some time this year, as has been indicated by the Minister who has just spoken, the real shortage of houses is 258,000. I calculated that that number should be completed by 1953. The House will probably recollect that I calculated the 65.000 houses per annum for the annual adjustment of population up to 1947 and therefore I have now to add 65,000 from 1948 to 1953 to arrive at the total number of houses which we have to build by 1953.

That total is no less than 2,910,000 houses, which means that between the time building starts, which no doubt will be this year, and 1953 we shall require to build an average of 364,000 houses per annum. That is in excess of the peak period, before the war, by about 55,00o houses per annum. I do not look upon that as being impossible, providing the Ministry of Labour will comb out all the excess labour which is now in the No. 1 priority war factories, and will release from the Forces, as early as possible, those men who were in the building industry before joining the Forces. It must be very obvious to this House that there will be a large number of men in the building industry who have passed the pension age but who, in the interests of the war effort, are continuing to serve until the war is over. When that time arrives, it is quite likely that there will be a large number of men who will retire from the building industry. Therefore, we have to think of new recruits. It is true that the Ministry of Labour have designed a training scheme, but these training centres are widely apart, and as the building industry is perhaps the most widely spread of all industries I would suggest that the Government should make some arrangements with the industry to attach to their labour force a percentage of young men so that they can be trained in the industry itself.

As I have said, the training centres which are proposed by the Ministry of Labour are wide apart, and few in number, and can train only a very limited number of young men per annum, nothing like the number that will be required in the industry to keep the labour force up to something like 1,250,000 which, I think, is necessary, and which can be reasonably employed. By that I mean that there can be reasonable continuity of employment. I have noticed, during this Debate, that very little has been said about the slum problem, and I submit that the slums we complain of to-day are due, in the main, to the policy we have hitherto adopted of approving plans of houses which will give them, on freehold land, an indefinite life. To have a balanced industry you have not only to have a programme of construction, but you must also have a demolition programme. So, to avoid slums occurring in future I suggest that the Ministry of Health, which seems very interested in this Debate, instead of approving plans which will give a house an indefinite life, should give a licence only for a certain number of years. While it is frequently suggested that the life of a medium and small house is 100 years I would say, from investigations I personally have made, that that period is much too long. The economic and useful life of such property I would put at 60 years. When I wrote my book, "The Rebuilding of Britain," in 1935, I suggested that the life should be 80 years, but I said I would prefer it to be fixed at 50 or 60. So, for the purpose of arriving at the magnitude of this housing problem, I am going to use a period of 60 years.

I find that the number of houses now standing in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland is 6,692,709, and quite a big percentage of them are as much as 250 years old. Therefore, if we are to have a long-term programme, this is what I estimate are our requirements. The present real shortage I have given as 2,910,000 and, by adding a demolition programme and bringing into it houses which have passed their economic life, and which total 6,692,709, you have no less a total of houses which can be brought into the programme of development and demolition than 9,602,709. I submit that the Government should have such a figure in mind. It has been said that we anticipate building 4,000,000 houses in 10 or 12 years. No one has said how many we are going to demolish and it might well be that, without a demolition programme running concurrently with the programme of new construction, you will reach the stage which we were just about to reach before the war, of having a very large percentage of empty houses. There is nothing more likely to bring about slum conditions quickly than houses remaining empty for long periods. There has to be some regard to the number of houses, in relation to the number of the population—to endeavour to have a balanced position—always providing a percentage of two or three per cent. of unoccupied houses. This huge programme of house building which I have outlined takes no account of the blocks of offices, warehouses, works and factories, many of which have been blitzed and a great number of which are as slummy as many slum houses. I would bring them into a scheme of demolition.

Photo of Mr James Milner Mr James Milner , Leeds South East

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman but he is being irrelevant from time to time. I do not wish to call him to Order, but I hope that he will consult the convenience of the House and prevent an abuse of its privileges by bringing his speech to an early conclusion.

Photo of Mr William Craven-Ellis Mr William Craven-Ellis , Southampton

I should not like to think that I was abusing the privileges of the House. It is not often I speak in the House, because I am not fortunate in catching Mr. Speaker's eye. To-night I have succeeded in doing it, and I respectfully submit that I have not abused the procedure of the House. As a Member I am entitled to do what I have done, and what I shall continue to do.

Photo of Mr James Milner Mr James Milner , Leeds South East

The hon. Member is certainly entitled to address the House and every courtesy has been extended to him in so doing on this occasion, but he is not entitled to persist in a speech which is in part irrelevant, and which is approaching an abuse of the privileges of the House, bearing in mind the circumstances in which it is being made.

Photo of Mr William Craven-Ellis Mr William Craven-Ellis , Southampton

While I am always desirous of accepting your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I respectfully submit that I am speaking within the terms of the White Paper. I am sorry, but I was just on the point of winding up—

Photo of Mr James Milner Mr James Milner , Leeds South East

The White Paper says nothing about demolition of offices and so forth to which the hon. Gentleman was addressing himself. It is an abuse of the privileges of the House that the hon. Member should, in present circumstances, at great length persist in irrelevancies when I have extended every courtesy to him, as, indeed, has the House.

Photo of Mr William Craven-Ellis Mr William Craven-Ellis , Southampton

I was on the point of closing my remarks. I was not aware that I had gone outside the terms of the White Paper, but as you have ruled that I have done so, I will again pick it up and make some reference to it. I hope you will not consider that I am out of Order. It is not my fault that this Debate has to continue. The White Paper has made special reference to finance in these terms: The Government recognise that subsidies will be needed while building costs are abnormally high. I have opposed subsidies in every form in this House since I became a Member 12 years ago. If, due to abnormally high costs, some consideration has to be given, it should not be by subsidy on the house. That policy was followed after the last war, and as a result many local authorities selected the best class of tenant. The greater percentage of local authorities preferred to have a man and wife without a family occuping a house rather than a man and wife with a family. In many cases, local authority houses were let to people who could well have afforded to purchase their own houses and should never have been allowed into a council house. Therefore, the consideration should be given to the potential occupier of a house which is subsidised and is owned by a local authority. An economic rental should be charged but if, owing to the circumstances of the occupier a lower rent was charged, the difference should be made up by the Treasury who are prepared now to make themselves responsible for the proposed subsidy.

There is an even better way of carrying through the financial proposals of the White Paper. We could avoid subsidies. The houses should be financed, as all houses should, by the issue of interestfree, blocked credits. Thus the very heavy charge of subsidies on the taxpayers will be removed. The effect would be that on a house costing £750, where the interest is 3½ per cent., plus capital redemption of ½ per cent., making a total of 4 per cent., on a 6o years' repayment—which is the customary method of financing a council house—an annual charge of £30 would be required. On the interest-free blocked credit for the same period of 60 years of repayment, it would require an annual charge of £12 10s., a saving of £17 10s. Therefore I submit that the method which I put forward would necessitate an annual charge which would be within the powers of the lowest-paid workers of this country.

I conclude by saying to the Ministers responsible that they have one of the largest jobs any Government have ever undertaken, and that they should be prepared to take a much broader view of this matter. A challenge is now being made against democracy and the capitalist system. If we fail, not only might this prove to be the last opportunity which democracy and the capitalist system will have of dealing with these great social problems, but it might well be the end of Christian civilisation.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Bill immediately considered in Committee; reported, without Amendment; read the Third time, and passed.