I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This short Bill is one which in ordinary times no Government would be likely to introduce. It is of limited scope, yet this Government and the Coalition Government before it both believed that it was of considerable importance. The House will have observed that it bears the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stirling and Clackmannan (Mr. Johnston) in addition to my own. It is designed to enable the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister of Health to authorise, under strict safeguards, the use for temporary houses of open spaces vested in local authorities, and to-day I can add to the statutory safeguards in the Bill certain further assurances which, I think, will make the situation easier. It is of the essence of the Bill that it should become law before the end of this Parliament. At a later date it would lose a very great deal of its value, but should it be passed into law before the 15th of this month, in the opinion of those most closely concerned—the particular local authorities which are in great difficulty in finding the complete number of sites for their houses and the Ministers who have been looking into this very carefully—I can specify, in addition to myself, my right hon. Friends the Ministers of Town and Country Planning and of Works—it will be of very substantial value in meeting a not negligible part of our urgent housing needs. As an estimate of what is likely to be the extent of its use, I should say that it will enable something like 7,000 to 8,000 temporary houses in the whole island to be put upon sites which, in the special circumstances of certain cities and towns, are the best, if not the only possible sites for them.
It was within two or three months of the passing of the Housing (Temporary Accommodation) Act last year that I began to receive representations from a few of our most completely built-up and bomb-damaged areas. The three that I have particularly in mind are London, Manchester and Birmingham. I think we all realised that the finding of sites for the temporary houses in the towns was going to be a difficult matter. If one uses land which has been acquired for permanent housing, that is, land which was chosen as suitable for permanent houses, and puts temporary houses on it, it prevents permanent houses being built on that land for something like 10 years. If you put temporary houses on bombed sites you prevent the building that has been bombed being rebuilt for the same period. If you try to put the houses on altogether fresh land, there are few fresh virgin sites in some of these places and those fresh sites will very likely be wanted for permanent housing before the period has run out. May I quote Manchester as an example? I understand that in Manchester there is unanimity in favour of the proposals in the Bill. The allocation of temporary houses to Manchester is 3,000. So far they have been able to find sites for only 1,500. A very careful survey of the area has been made by the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, and they are satisfied that the right place to put 1,000 of the 3,000 allocated is on certain fringes and parts of open spaces. Without these facilities we do not believe that Manchester can take the allocation of temporary houses which is its due and its need—they would have to refuse what would otherwise be available for them. There is a subsidiary point, though the real point is the difficulty of finding sites at all. The subsidiary point is the urgency of the matter. The first Bill only became law last October and through the summer of this year there is going to be an ever-increasing flow of these temporary houses. We have to balance the flow of sites to meet the flow of production and the fringes of open spaces have this great advantage. They are by roads, with services, and the land is already acquired. Not only do you save time in the legal processes of acquiring the land but you probably save somewhere between two and four months in development work.
The position in London and Birmingham is similar to that in Manchester, though the number of houses for which Birmingham is unable to find sites is smaller. The House might be interested to know the position in the County of London, which is one of the most serious problems. I think it is very much to the credit of the London County Council and the metropolitan borough councils that, out of an allocation of 12,000 for the county, they have found sites for 10,301. The London County Council have determined upon housing sites outside the county—their own housing sites—for 2,000, so that they have found 8,301 within the county. The balance is not large—it is 1,700. This will not make any serious inroad on the open spaces in London but it has become impossible to find more sites in London which will not block other development.
Now may I say what the present law is and what the alteration will be? Under the existing law the use by local authorities of public open spaces for housing, unless they find other equivalent land to make public open space in exchange, can be authorised by Provisional Order; but, of course, that procedure is protracted. This is in form a Bill expediting procedure and authorising Ministers to do by simple Order what can at present be done only by Provisional Order. Under the Bill the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister of Health will be enabled, for a limited period of two years, and subject to important safeguards, to authorise a local authority to use for temporary houses an open space vested in them. The three main safeguards in the Bill are these. First, they can give the authorisation only on the application of the local
authority. No local authority will lightly make an application for the use of an open space for this purpose. It will be made only because of the dire need, after the authority have looked at the thing in the interests of the people and balancing the housing shortage against all other considerations. The second safeguard is that authorisation can be given only if the Minister of Town and Country Planning certifies that he is satisfied that this use of the land is, in the words of the Bill,
expedient in the public interest in consequence of the emergency that was the occasion of the passing of the said Act of 1944 and in the particular circumstances in which the authorisation is sought.
The third safeguard is that, even where that certificate has been given in regard to a particular area of land, it is still within the discretion of the Health Ministers to decide whether on balance the authority could do without the houses or have a smaller number.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman says that this can only be done at the request of the local authority in London. Would that be the London County Council, or one of the borough councils, or both? What would be the status of a borough council if it wanted to put up some houses in a special area?
In Scotland the Secretary of State is not only the Housing Minister, but the Planning Minister, so that he will have a double function in that respect. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Town and Country Planning intends that where an application is made by a local authority for this authorisation, he will not give his certificate until a special survey of the area of the local authority has been made, bringing under review all possible sites, and until he has satisfied himself that there is no alternative land available, having regard to sound planning con- side rations. I have referred to the fact that this is a Bill of short duration. The authorisation cannot be given except during a period of two years from the beginning of the Act. In the second place, the authorisation cannot be for a period of more than 10 years. There is an absolutely definite limit to the use of the space. In the third place, there is a clear provision that the land has to be reinstated at the end of the period.
There is a little complication, into which I shall go, with regard to commons. The word "common" has a number of significations. I have not had to take part in the recent Debates on them, but this is the position under the Bill. Only those commons which are either vested in the local authority or are at their disposal come within the scope of the Bill. The great majority of the "commons" vested in local authorities are, I am informed, vested as public open spaces within the meaning of the Public Health Acts. Although they may still be called "commons," all common rights have in fact been extinguished. On the other hand, I believe there may be cases, though they are certainly rare, where a common vests in the local authority but the common rights are still exerciseable. I have had representations on this matter, as one might expect, from the Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society, and I am prepared to assure the House that I should not approve any proposal submitted by a local authority which involved the disturbance of existing common rights. I do not think the case is likely to arise, but even if we had any such intention, there would necessarily have to be provision for compensation in the Bill; as there is none, I can give that assurance.
Another point that might cause concern is rights of way. The Bill provides that no right of way over the part of an open space which is to be used for temporary housing shall cease to be capable of being exercised. It is not the intention to stop up any public right of way under this provision, except where an equally convenient or alternative right of way is provided. I can give that assurance also.
Certainly, but I was speaking of the time when the houses are there.
So far as London is concerned, I ought to say a word about the Royal Parks. They are not included within the scope of the Bill, and I hope the House will be satisfied that there are good reasons for that. I have already said that the problem remaining in London, on the allocation that has been made, is to find sites for no more than 1,700 temporary houses. The allocations are on the footing of a total production of temporary houses of 150,000. Seventeen hundred houses would take about 150 acres out of the 8,000-odd acres of public open space vested in the local authorities. I feel, therefore, that sufficient sites can clearly be found in other open spaces in London without using the Royal Parks for this purpose. There is another serious consideration. I said a few moments ago that this Bill is in form one that simply expedites procedure. It enables the Minister to do, to this limited extent and under safeguards, what can be done already but is done by another procedure. The position of the Royal Parks is wholly different. The appropriation of a local authority's public open space can be effected by a simple Order without coming to this House if there is an exchange of land. There is, however, no procedure under the existing law for alienating any part of the Royal Parks to any other purpose. Special legislation would be necessary, and it might well be very controversial. Certainly it would be outside the scope of this Bill to bring in something of that kind.
I wonder whether my right hon. and learned Friend would deal with the question of those boroughs of London which have no open spaces under their own control, but which have them in the vicinity belonging to another authority or under some statutory body. Those open spaces are the only spaces available for houses of this sort, and will my right hon. Friend extend the Bill to cover them?
I do not know whether my hon. and gallant Friend is referring to commons owned by the London County Council or those owned by a neighbouring borough to that which he represents. Difficulties are, of course, often cropping up over local authority boundaries in Greater London. I would endeavour to assist a local authority of that kind to make arrangements with its neighbour, but it is not within the Bill, and I should find it difficult to frame an Amendment which would deal with the point. So far as the outer part of London is concerned, there, too, the finding of sites has gone forward well, and there are only 6,500 more to find in the whole of greater London. The point my hon. and gallant Friend raises is not covered by the Bill, and it cannot be met unless his local authority can persuade another authority to make application to receive on their land houses allotted for the people of Hornsey.
When one thinks of open spaces, one tends to think of parks and beautiful trees and land which has been beautifully laid out. On the contrary, I have seen photographs of land which the provincial cities are proposing to use—though I have not seen in detail what the London County Council or the Metropolitan Boroughs might wish to use—and, there is no reason to fear that the operation of this Bill will result in the cutting down of beautiful trees or the destruction of well laid-out ornamental parks. There are in our large towns a number of open spaces which, although they have been dedicated to the public use as open spaces, have never been laid out. Many have been used during the war for wartime purposes, like anti-aircraft batteries, and it is that sort of area and, in particular, the fringes, which I contemplate will be used.
We are in this Bill honestly facing an aspect of our housing emergency, and I suggest that we should be failing in our duty if we hesitated to take any proper steps to increase the number of houses which can be made speedily available or if we did not allow for all proper discretion in the siting of the homes that we need so urgently. I hope, therefore, that the House will accept these proposals and enable the Ministers concerned to help the areas that I have named together with a few others that may have similar needs.
We on this side of the House will accept the Bill as a regrettable necessity and purely as an emergency Measure, subject to a number of safeguards which I hope my right hon. and learned Friend will see his way to accept. My right hon. and learned Friend referred to the Bill as a small Measure for expediting procedure. I did not quite follow him. He stated that it would be possible under other legislation to do what this Bill purported to do, except that this Bill would do it more speedily. I am surprised to learn that it is possible under existing legislation to take an open space and use it for housing, except on the basis of providing an equal amount of open space elsewhere.
That would not enable a local authority merely to take an open space and use it for housing without any qualification or safeguard. I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend will find that there must be conditions attached to the taking of open spaces for housing purposes, one of which must be to ensure that the total amount of open space is not reduced. This Bill does substantially reduce the amount of open space available to the public. My right hon. and learned Friend referred to 7,000 to 8,000 houses, which I imagine will take something like 1,000 acres. They will deprive the public of this 1,000 acres for 10 years, assuming that the Bill is not extended hereafter. Possibly neither of us is interested in what may happen in ten years' time. There is nothing in the Bill to indicate that, it is limited to 7,000 or 8,000 houses. The right hon. and learned Gentleman assumed that the total programme of temporary houses would be 150,000. That is the first time that I have heard that the programme is limited to 150,000.
I would ask the hon. Gentleman not to put a gloss on what I said. What I said was that the allocations to which I referred were the allocations made out of 150,000. The position remains as it has been stated several times, that the number of temporary houses to be introduced will be at least 145,000.
If the number of houses which are to be built on open spaces is limited to 7,000 or 8,ooo, and it is based on a programme of 150,000, as the right hon. Gentleman said, it looks to me as if we are now to be limited to 150,000 houses. If the programme of temporary housing is increased, presumably it will be increased pro rata in the areas where housing conditions are difficult, such as Manchester, Birmingham and London, and in that case the amount of open space required will have to be increased, because the assumption underlying this Bill is that all the available land has now been taken up. There is nothing left in Manchester, Birmingham or London except the open spaces. If the programme is increased, as it might well be and as indeed we were promised it would be, then I assume that the desire of those three cities and others will be greater and the right hon. and learned Gentleman will require more open space. This Bill therefore is not limited to the 7,000 or 8,000 houses, or to the 1,000 acres to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred in introducing the Measure.
It is an ironical fact that in those three cities particularly there is a great shortage of open space. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Town and Country Planning will remember that one of the major defects in London referred to by Sir Patrick Abercrombie and Mr. Forshaw was the lack of open spaces and the maldistribution of open spaces. In many parts of London, Manchester and Birmingham there is a great shortage of open space and those local authorities are engaged in increasing the amount of open space. It seems ironical that, at the same time as they are seeking to increase the amount of open space available to their citizens, they will also be using a certain amount of open space for temporary housing.
The hon. Gentleman could not have heard his right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Health, because the total number in Birmingham is very much less than that. I understand that the right hon. and learned Gentleman attaches great importance to the fact that he himself and the Minister of Town and Country Planning will have to approve any particular applications. But he did not tell us on what principles applications would be considered. I have very great faith in the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Town and Country Planning. I know he is an enthusiastic planner, but he will not be there very long. There is no provision here which will bind his successor. I would like to have seen inserted in the Bill some standard which the right hon. and learned Gentleman will have to apply in considering applications of this sort. I understand he will make a survey whenever an application is made, but to what purpose? What will be his standard? Supposing he finds as a result of his survey, that there is a great deal of open space lacking in a particular area, will he permit land to be used for housing purposes? I would like an assurance from the right hon. and learned Gentleman that in considering any application he will satisfy himself that no other land is available before permitting public open spaces to be alienated for housing purposes. We must not allow public open spaces to be taken as an alternative to a compulsory purchase order. After all, there are many local authorities which, will regard alienating open space as a simple method for providing land for housing purposes.
May I put this specific question to the right hon. and learned Gentleman? When I was chairman of the housing committee in London we were very short of land, and in many cases the only way in which we could find land for housing purposes was to go to an area where housing was very sparse, where there were perhaps one or two houses to the acre. We went to the constituency of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Works and took a very large slice of his constituency. Supposing such land is available, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman make a survey to ascertain whether such land can be acquired, instead of using up public open spaces? If the right hon. and learned Gentleman gives that assurance and if, somehow, that assurance can be put into the Bill, it would give me at any rate very great comfort. After all, it is very tempting to a local authority to take this land which costs them nothing, saves them a great deal of trouble and is staring them in the face, rather than make an effort to create sites for housing purposes as was done by the London County Council, which after all is a very good authority, whereas other authorities are not as good, in spite of what the right hon. and learned Gentleman thinks about it.
Most of the public open spaces which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has in mind will be on the fringes, and therefore there will be roads available but not necessarily services. Is it proposed that such land should be taken, even though the services are not there, and that the services will be provided? It will happen that in the vast majority of cases public open spaces which might at first appear to be very suitable would not be found suitable because of the need for providing the services there. I imagine that must be the case with the great majority of open spaces in a large town. They would not normally have the services readily available although of course they might be in the road. They would not actually be provided on the site ready for the erection of houses.
The Bill provides that the authorisation should be for a period of not longer than 10 years. No one can bind the Minister's successor, but I would like an assurance that the intention is not to apply for an extension of that period. I know the housing situation may well be difficult even in 10 years' time. I hope it will be less difficult than it is to-day, but it may well be difficult. It would be easy to find excuses in 10 years' time for not displacing people living in these temporary houses—assuming that the temporary houses stand up as long as 10 years, about which I have very great doubts as regards many of them. Perhaps that will be the answer to my question. Assuming they do—there are some that might—I would like an assurance that at any rate it is not the intention of the right hon. and learned Gentleman to apply for any extension of the to years, and that at the end of that time houses that have been erected on public open spaces, will be demolished in priority to houses which have been put on other land. I think it is perfectly reasonable to ask that those should be the first to go.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman said nothing about the very difficult question of finance. In two respects, obligations are placed upon the local authorities. First they are required to pay compensation for injurious affection to adjoining owners in respect of the erection of houses. The necessity for building temporary houses arises solely from the conditions due to the war, particularly in the areas where this problem is greatest, such as London, Manchester and Birmingham. It is entirely due to the war that it has become necessary to erect temporary houses. Therefore, I submit that the obligation to pay compensation in respect of the injurious affection should be placed upon the Exchequer and not upon the local authorities. I do not know that it will be a particularly burdensome obligation, but such as it is it would be only right, especially because the land will be cheap, that the obligation should rest upon the Exchequer. The Bill is silent on the matter; I do not know whether it is within the terms of the Bill that the Exchequer should meet the obligation or whether it would need some Amendment to the Bill, and unfortunately time is short. I would be glad of an undertaking that it is the intention that the Exchequer should meet any claim in respect of injurious affection.
Lastly, there is an obligation placed upon the local authorities to reinstate the land in the state in which it was before the houses were built. No one will complain about an obligation being placed upon somebody to reinstate the land. Of course, it is the desire of every hon. Member in this House that the open space shall be reinstated at the earliest possible moment, and I think the local authorities are the best people to carry out this reinstatement. There again, it will be a fairly costly matter, and, for the reasons I mentioned a moment ago, I think the cost of the reinstatement should be borne by the Exchequer. I do not know what the financial arrangements will be in respect of these houses. Obviously, the ordinary subsidy basis may not necessarily apply. The need for these houses having arisen out of the war, I feel that the charge should be spread evenly throughout the country, and should therefore be borne by the national Exchequer.
If the whole of the cost is to be borne by the national Exchequer might there not be, as it were, an inducement to local authorities rather recklessly to utilise public money?
I was not suggesting that the whole of the cost should be borne by the Exchequer, but I was referring to those particular items—the obligation to compensate and the obligation to reinstate land. As regards those two, certainly I think it should be an Exchequer obligation. As I said at the outset, we on this side will, very reluctantly, agree to the Second Reading of this Bill, but we would be glad of assurances on the various points which I have mentioned. Particularly we desire any further assurance which can be given to ensure, first, that the powers will not be recklessly or needlessly used, and, secondly, that the public will be deprived of the open space for the shortest possible period.
The Bill applies not only to England but to Scotland and has the name of the former Secretary of State for Scotland on the back of it. Full figures have been given to us by the Minister of Health as regards England, of the size of the programme of emergency houses, the number of houses which have been applied for by the various authorities, the sites which are available for the houses and the margins and amounts of land which he expects it will be necessary to requisition in this fashion. We should desire to know also from the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland the corresponding figures with regard to Scotland. What applications have been made by the great Scottish local authorities? How far have they got? Is it expected that they can manage without using land in this way? Have any of the great local authorities made application for powers of this kind? Serious as the housing situation is in England, it is a matter of common knowledge that it is infinitely greater in Scotland. Crowded burghs in Scotland desperately need some small amount of open land upon which temporary houses can be erected in order to enable those authorities to deal with overcrowding. There are cases in which roofs are actually tumbling down about the ears of people residing under them, but such houses are all those people have at present. Those are simple questions, and if the Joint Under-Secretary of State can answer them as far as possible just now it might enable the whole position to be grasped and the Debate to go on covering both. Scotland and England.
I wonder whether if it will be for the convenience of the House, if I answer the right hon. and gallant Gentleman briefly at once. No representations have been received from local authorities in Scotland for powers such as are set out in the Bill. We have actually no current need for them. We have taken these powers because they were to be debated in the House and we thought it might be useful to have them. We do not expect, on the present programme and outlook, that it will be necessary to encroach on these public places in any way. Take a great city like Glasgow; we understand that it can get all the ground it wants for its housing programe without encroaching upon the public parks, which I think is very salutary, very satisfactory and desirable.
Regarding the figures for which my right hon. and gallant Friend called, from all the authorities in Scotland the applications number 56,000, of which 34,300 have been allocated—agreed to, that is. There are 3,387 fully serviced sites and another 19,711 sites which have been approved. Those are the main figures which my right hon. and gallant Friend required. He can rest assured that we are seized very deeply indeed of the gravity of the housing position in Scotland and that we shall not hesitate to take any steps to see that the necessary land is forthcoming for the houses. We are, as I have said, in the happy position at present of not requiring to exercise powers under the Bill. We shall have them there in reserve if necessary, but I do not think they will be necessary.
Can the Minister say whether the Special Housing Association is to be regarded for this purpose as a local authority or not? I am not nearly so happy as he is about the fact that local authorities have not made application, because, in many cases, that is simply due to slackness and the attitude that has grown up in Scotland. May I, anyway, ask him whether the Special Housing Association is to be regarded as a local authority for this purpose?
No Government would introduce a Bill like this in ordinary times, because there would be very notable opposition, in which I should probably take part. On this occasion I hope that the House will agree to the Bill speedily. Some additional safeguards may be considered necessary and, if so, I hope they will be adopted, but I am not able to regret very much the necessity to take any action which will bring some relief to the present housing situation. There is a national emergency, which is not growing less from day to day but is becoming of greater gravity with the return of men from the Forces. It gives rise to a state of great anxiety. Therefore I hope that the Bill will become law as speedily as possible. The safeguards in Clauses 1 and 6 are adequate. As regards the special powers of the Minister of Town and Country Planning, there will no doubt be a survey, but I was a little frightened when I heard about it, because surveys usually take a great deal of time. In this case, there is recognition that the survey must be taken without undue delay. No doubt the Minister will see that no common land is used when there is a possibility of alternative land being available. There is also the point about compensation, and I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will give consideration to the point of whether any part of that should be borne by the Exchequer. I should be in some doubt about it myself.
There is only one other point I wish to raise. The national emergency in housing is very critical and there is a growing feeling, arising from the position in which ex-Servicemen find themselves when they come back. Public opinion is growing and it is of great importance that there should be visible evidence, as soon as possible, of action being taken. When the temporary houses begin to appear it will be a great relief to everybody. I hope the House will give the Bill as speedy a passage as possible.
I had no idea of entering this discussion when I came into the House, but I noticed the right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) on his feet. He was replied to at once by the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. I had a Question down to the Joint Under-Secretary of State—we have no Secretary of State. Fancy Scotland being reduced in this House to an Undersecretary. The Secretary of State is now transferred to another place and we now have only an Under-Secretary. I asked him how many houses had been built in Scotland since 31st December. 1944, and what steps he had taken to secure early supplies of materials, and the release of skilled men from the Forces.
I know that perfectly well and I do not think it would be in Order, but with due respect to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, may I say, so that you should understand the- point I was making, that it was necessary for me to read out the Question? I have an answer to my Question. The Question was:
To ask the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland how many houses have been built in Scotland since 31st December, 1944; and what steps he is taking to secure further supplies of materials, the release of skilled men from the Forces for the building industry and generally to expedite the building of houses which are so urgently needed in Scotland.
The hon. Gentleman's reply was tantamount to saying that they were doing their very best and that we could rest assured that the matter was having the most careful and serious attention. We have been told that for five or six years. Now we want something definite. Since the matter has been raised on the Floor of the House I want to know what the Government are going to do to ease the situation. Only yesterday I met a deputation of women from Clydebank and a number of them said that their boys were coming home. One family had been blasted out three or four years ago, and they have no houses yet. They are living in a single apartment, a mixed family. Fathers and brothers are coming home and the people have no beds for them. That position was put to me only yesterday. Only last night the Prime Minister told this country that we must provide a home for the boys when they come back. Where are the homes? What have the Government done to deal with this serious business? Have they rescinded the Cabinet decision that, for the duration of the war house building shall cease?
It is clear that we cannot go into those matters to-day on a Bill which is so narrow, and which simply deals with temporary accommodation in certain local areas. We cannot go into the Regulations about building labour and materials.
No. We can have a very wide Debate on the Second Reading of a Bill, but there must be some limit to its scope. Here the scope is limited to sites for temporary houses. The main guiding principle of the Bill is the acquisition of certain public land for that purpose, and that has nothing to do with building materials, which lie outside that scope.
I understand that building materials are to go into the houses, and that they are necessary in the circumstances because of the emergency that exists. Surely it must be relevant to discuss whether there is any real emergency, and if so whether it can be met in some other way.
That has already been done in the sense that there is a shortage of houses which justifies the taking of public ground, but I cannot see how the regulations about the use of materials can be brought within the scope of this Bill.
With all due respect, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I am not talking about materials or about labour or anything else connected with the building of houses. I am speaking to show that the demand made by the right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove in my hearing—and you allowed it to be made, Sir, and there was a promise made by the Joint Under-Secretary in my hearing, again allowed by you—cannot be fulfilled as long as the Cabinet decision stands that for the duration of the war house building in this country must cease. I want to know whether the Cabinet have rescinded that decision. If not, this Bill is so much mockery, and the Government will not be allowed to mock my folk. My folk are desperate for houses. Think of the appalling conditions to which I had to listen yesterday—the heroes of unwritten stories pleading with me to get them homes. I cannot get them homes, because of this decision of the Cabinet.
The point my hon. Friend is trying to make is that of housing requirements, and he is trying to urge the Government to go a little further than they are going. To my mind he is on the right lines in urging that.
If the lion. Member had been connecting his point with the purpose of the Bill, which I have already pointed out is for the temporary acquisition of public land for housing purposes, and if he had been arguing that the Government should take more or less land, I should not have interrupted him. But when he deals with an Order which is quite outside the scope of the Bill, then I suggest that we should keep to the Bill.
No one wishes to question the Ruling of the Chair, but we do wish to try to understand it. If my hon. Friend were putting forward the argument that it is no use giving the power to acquire land because when the Government have it they will not be able to build houses on it, surely that would be a good reason, or at any rate a relevant reason, for arguing against this Bill?
Put in that rather mild way it might have been in Order, but a direct attack on the Government Order is developing 'the Debate very widely and is, I still say, outside the scope of the Bill.
I am entirely in your hands, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. May I put it in this way? I am faced with the situation that this Bill cannot be put into effective operation. It will be of no assistance to us in Scotland, and I would be lacking in my duty, knowing that to be the case, if I did hot draw attention to the fact, because the people in Scotland will realise it. They are faced with the hard fact that they have no houses, and that they are living under hellish conditions. It is our duty to drive that home to hon. Members here. What is the use of saying that the acquisition of land will empower the Government to deal with that situation when, even if the Bill is passed, the Government cannot get to work building houses? The purpose of this Bill is to try to meet our clamant demand. This is not the first time I have stood here and denounced the rulers of this country, who promised the people the Kingdom of Heaven in order to induce them to go and fight, and then, after they have fought the greatest war in all history, here they are returning home—with no homes to which to come. What a ridiculous state of affairs. The Government should be ashamed of themselves. The people of this country will chase this Government when they find themselves with no homes after they have fought and conquered in every quarter of the globe. My constituents, the folk I represent, are coming home after they have done all they have done, some of them having lost a leg or an arm, some of them having been blinded, and they have nowhere to lay their heads after fighting for their country. They have no country. If you have not got a home what is the use of your country?
The hon. and learned Member only seeks to draw me off the trail. This is a very serious business. I am doing my best to warn the Government of what awaits them unless we get the Secretary of State for Scotland in this House. The Prime Minister has played a terribly dirty one on us. I never thought the Prime Minister would do anything of the kind. He has appointed the Earl of Rosebery to be Secretary of State for Scotland, and his only justification, according to his speech last night, was because the new Secretary of State was the son of his father, who was a famous Earl of Rosebery. The day has passed when—
I shall use every available opportunity to draw attention to this injustice, but I do not wish to pursue it any further now.
I want some reply from the Joint Under-Secretary because the onus will fall on him at the Election, which is not very far distant. I want to know what he will reply, when he is faced with this situation with which I am faced. Hundreds of my constituents have no homes, and their sons and husbands are coming home from the war. What is the reply? What must I say to these folk in justification for the sacrifices which not only their men but the women folk as well have made? Fancy trying to rear a family, trying to rear a baby in somebody else's house, having nowhere, no bed of one's own. I have seen a cradle that was kept below the bed. Was that in Germany, in Russia? No, in my native land, the land of my fathers, the land of my nativity. We are treating our people in this fashion. That is what they are coming home to. What is the Under-Secretary going to tell me to reply to these folk? If he does not tell me, I will raise the matter here at every moment I can, to-day, to-morrow, as long as I am here. You can fling me out or do what you like with me. My folk will send me back to fight for them against you folk. I want a reply from the Under-Secretary.
I very much hope my right hon. and learned Friend will get his Bill, but I would like to make this suggestion to him. In some of our cities, particularly in a city like Birmingham, there are happily a great number of open spaces which present opportunities of recreation at the week-end to large numbers of people who work in our factories, and, of course, to children. Supplementing what has been said by the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) I hope that before these open spaces are appropriated, my right hon. and learned Friend, through the local authority, will take every precaution that all land available within the precincts of the municipality shall be investigated, examined and exploited, before these open spaces are appropriated for the building of temporary houses. We all remember that after the last war, owing to the exigencies of the housing problem at that time, houses were rapidly erected, particularly in a locality close to Birmingham. They were of a temporary character, and were supposed to be removed after a short time, but they remain, to this day, an eyesore to the whole countryside. Before we embark upon this somewhat novel scheme, essential and necessary as it is—goodness knows in Birmingham our housing problem is particularly acute at the moment—I hope my right hon. and learned Friend will take every precaution to sec that the people shall not be deprived of their opportunity of recreation which these openings in our cities—breathing spaces for our people—afford, without first exploiting every acre, where he can get a site for houses in the surrounding area.
We have, in Birmingham, the Lickey Hills, spread over a part of Worcestershire with all their fascination and beauty, for our people to enjoy at the week-ends, and in the evenings during the summer. It would be unfortunate if amenities of that nature were interfered with. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will, in exercising his authority through the local authority, or directly, will take care that these amenities, so far as is consistent with the exigencies of the housing problem, shall be preserved. My right hon. and learned Friend is taking steps which are essential in the crisis through which we are now passing. I agree with the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) that we shall face a problem of a most pressing nature when our men come back and find no homes in which to live. Without making any prophecy about the forthcoming Election, I consider that the most difficult question for every candidate to answer, no matter to what party he belongs, will be where we shall find homes for our men returning from the fighting Sentences. And in the Midlands, with which I am particularly associated, that problem will be probably more acute than anywhere else.
The Minister of Health has given much of his time to the solving of this problem, and I hope the House will give him this Bill. While he is doing so much, and knowing his quality and character as an administrator, I know he will take every precaution not to deprive great communities of their opportunities of recreation, and in the cases in which temporary houses have to be erected, I ask that they shall be temporary in the ordinary accepted sense of the word, and shall not be eyesores to the coming generation. Thirdly, the small landowner and the small person enjoying the possession of house property in our cities have had a very raw deal during these difficult times. In their interest, I am sure, my right hon. and learned Friend will take care that, whether the compensation is provided by the Exchequer, as suggested by the other side, or by the local authorities, it shall be fair and square. I have great pleasure in supporting the Second Reading.
It may assist the House if I refer briefly to the spirit in which I propose to discharge the duty laid upon me by the Bill, if the House should accept it. There are other housing points to which replies will have to be made later. Fears have been expressed that local authorities might seek to discharge their housing responsibilities by a lavish use of these open spaces, without regard to the amenity provided by the open spaces. Local authorities, in my experience, are very jealous of their open spaces, and wish to retain them. Only when there is no other way out of the difficulty will they put forward an application successfully so far as my Department is concerned. I can give the assurance asked for by the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) that the certificate will not be given until, after a careful survey of all the land resources of the local authority applying for the certificate, I am satisfied that there is no other way to meet the necessity for houses. The hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. Graham White) was rather appalled at the word "survey," feeling that that might involve an undue delay; but we know in advance the districts where the problem is most acute, and in most of them the survey is well under way; so there should be no delay about that. I hope that, with that assurance, the House will have no difficulty in accepting this Bill.
It is difficult to welcome a Bill which takes away our open spaces, and it is difficult also for some of us to welcome a Bill which proposes to build temporary houses, seeing that what we want are permanent houses. We hope that the temporary houses will be restricted to as few as may be absolutely unavoidable. Nevertheless, I welcome the Bill, because the housing situation in my constituency, and I gather, from what I have heard, in other constituencies as well, can be described only as desperate. We not only have to look forward to the coming back of our men from the Army, wanting homes, but in my constituency at least there are still many people whose homes have been so damaged by enemy action that we have a long list of people wanting accommodation, without waiting for the soldiers who are coming back to be added to them. Added to that, there are those who have been living away during the war, at the request of the Government, and who want to come back to their own towns. Therefore, anything which promises some relief in regard to housing will have my support. I hope that if we pass this Bill to-day it will in many places not be put into force because it will not be necessary. Nevertheless, if it will give us extra houses that we should not have had without its passing, it will be a very useful Bill. On those grounds, I am glad to support it.
This is a melancholy occasion. There has never been a time, I suppose, when any Member of this House was satisfied that the people, especially those of our large towns, had anything like sufficient open spaces. Only the other day we passed a little Bill to give the Ministry of Education the power, taking it over in some sort from the Ministry of Health, to provide camp schools, where 8,000 children would be enabled to see the countryside, to see the sky, to see something other than the gloomy slum conditions which they see in our cities. At the end of it all, what are we doing today? We are taking away some of the inadequate open spaces that we have managed to retain. Nobody can oppose the Bill. Nobody can doubt that it is right to give the Government anything they ask for that even looks like an attempt to deal with the housing question. But let us not be mistaken: it is a melancholy and a tragic thing that we are doing. Why are we doing it? This is a contribution by the Government to meeting the housing emergency. This is something to improve the situation.
But why is the emergency there? People are too fond of talking about the housing problem as though it were due entirely to the war. Nobody denies that the war has intensified the problem, but there was a very serious housing shortage in the country before the war. The damage done to our houses, the loss that we have suffered in houses during the war, has been a grievous addition to what was already a grievous situation. The hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) made a very eloquent and moving speech about the conditions in his own constituency. I do not suppose that it is any comfort to him, but the conditions in his constituency are not unique. Every one of our great cities is full of conditions of that kind. I myself represented for years on the Liverpool City Council an area, right in the heart of a constituency which regarded itself as being one of the premier commercial divisions of this country, which consisted of nothing but slums. There was a street with 100 houses in it, and a separate family in every room of every house—nine, 10, and 12 persons, of all ages and both sexes, living in one room. Those conditions went on for years. Certainly the war has intensified that problem enormously, but it did not create it.
This emergency that we are now trying to meet in some small part by this Measure, by giving up a part of our hard-won and meagre open spaces, is the price that we pay for long years of Tory neglect of the housing of the people of this country. They have not just come into power: they have held power in this country for 25 years, and more. To-day they find themselves in an emergency. About what? Not about building houses. This Bill has nothing to do with that.
The hon. Member for Peckham made his speech, and I am making mine. I have said nothing yet that the hon. Member for Peckham, of all people in this House, would differ from. With his experience of London housing, he would be the last to assert that this housing problem is entirely the result of the war. He was dealing with an aspect of the problem: I am dealing with the whole problem.
What is the contribution that is asked for in the Bill? Not a contribution to build houses. It goes one step further back, to the elementary proposition that you cannot build houses unless you have somewhere to put them. That elementary problem is exactly the problem that the Conservative Party in this House have shirked and burked all the time they have been in office and in power. We have had Commission after Commission with reports about the control and use of land in the interests of the community; and they lie still in the pigeon holes of the War Cabinet. Why? Because they raised controversial problems, and the Prime Minister determined that while the war lasted it would be improper, or at any rate impracticable, to deal with questions that raised controversy. The war with Germany is over, the Coalition is at an end. What prevents them now from making their proposals for acquiring for the community the powers to direct the use of land for communal purposes? This pettifogging, pitiable little Measure gives our local authorities power to take publicly-owned land used for open spaces and to use it for this purpose. The Tory Party have never had the courage to face up to the problem of giving the local authorities power to take proper land to deal with their problems.
It is all very well asking for assurances, and giving assurances, that the period of 10 years will never be extended. Even 10 years is a long time. In that to years you deprive a whole generation of children of the use of the open spaces that we take. But who can say that, if any assurance were given to-day, the period of to years would never be extended, and that the assurance would have any meaning at all, or could ever be honoured, unless some day some Government, with a mandate from the country to do it, take into active consideration, with a determination to act, this problem of the control of the use of land?
I ask the House to look at the structure of the Bill. It is a Bill that gives the Minister certain powers, and, when he has got the powers, he exercises them by Order. When he has made an Order, he can revoke it. It is perfectly true that he does not either make the Order, or revoke it, at his own sweet will. His discretion to make or revoke an Order is not an unfettered discretion. He gets broad general directions about the principles on which he is to act when he decides to make an Order, or when he decides to revoke it. Clause 1 gives him those powers. Be it noted that no act that he does under these powers need be submitted to this House. It is all done in the Department. It is he who decides, without appeal, in every case, whether public land shall be taken or not, whether open spaces shall be sacrificed or not. It is he who decides, in the Department, whether, before the end of the 10 years, any open spaces that have been taken shall be given back. I do not know whether it could have been done in any other way, but I am extremely interested to see the Government to-day asking this House of Commons to pass a Bill giving the Government power to act in the Department, without coming to the House, but merely according to broad general principles laid down by the Act. I am surprised to find that, because I understood from the Prime Minister's speech last night that that was a very reprehensible tiling to do. I find this passage in the Prime Minister's speech:
A free Parliament
I am, of course, not reading a newspaper at all. What I am doing is quoting from the Prime Minister's speech last night, and quoting, as I am perfectly entitled to do, from the report of that speech in to-day's issue of "The Times." Of course, if the report is in accurate, the Prime Minister will have an opportunity of correcting it; meanwhile, I am entitled to assume that it is accurate. [An Hon. Member: "Well, get on with it."] I would have got on with it, but
for the interruptions. The Prime Minister said:
A free Parliament is odious to the Socialist doctrinaire. Have we not heard Mr. Herbert Morrison descant upon his plan to curtail Parliamentary procedure and pass laws simply by resolution of broad principle in the House of Commons, afterwards to be left by Parliament to the executive and to the bureaucrats to elaborate and enforce by Departmental regulations.
Well, is that a reprehensible thing to do or is it not? If it is not a reprehensible thing to do, and if the Prime Minister does not think it is a reprehensible thing to do, then it would be a most dishonest thing for him to tell the electors of this country, prior to a General Election, that he thinks it is. If, on the other hand, it is a reprehensible thing to do, then we are entitled to know why the Government are doing it this afternoon.
Like every other citizen of this country, I look to the public men of to-day, and especially to the Prime Minister, who is responsible for the Government, for guidance. I do not always accept it; I am not always bound to accept it. We still have the right of private judgment, but we are entitled to know what the Prime Minister means. We are entitled to know, when he says a thing, whether he means it, or whether he only says it. We are entitled to know whether he is advising the people of this country that it is a reprehensible thing for this party to do, what he himself is actively practising from day to day.
I have, personally, no objection to the structure of this Bill. I do not know how this kind of legislation could be enacted in any other way. I do not see how it would be possible to have a separate Bill on every occasion when a local authority wanted to acquire a bit of land. I think it is perfectly proper for a Bill to do what this Bill does, and set out, clearly and precisely, the principles upon which the Minister is to act, and then leave it to him, in his Department, to apply those principles to the situation and all aspects of the situation as and when they arise. I think it is perfectly right, and I think we shall have to legislate in that way and go on legislating in that way. The whole history and development of Parliamentary procedure by all Parties has been in that direction. I see nothing wrong with it. Apparently the Minister sees nothing wrong with it. Apparently the Government see nothing wrong with it, but if they see nothing wrong with it, then I say that it is a disgraceful thing that the Prime Minister should seek to persuade the country that there is something wrong with it. At least he could make up his mind. If there is something wrong with it, do not do it; if there is nothing wrong with it, do not say there is. I thought it was useful to make those comments on the Bill.
The hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) opened his speech by describing the Bill as a regrettable necessity. That is precisely how I regard the Bill. I think it is regrettable that we should have to consider the taking of part of public open spaces for the purpose of erecting buildings, even of a temporary character. But, as has been pointed out, the housing situation is so desperate that we are bound to use every means available to try to improve it, and improve it quickly. Therefore, I doubt whether there is any hon. Member here to-day who is readily prepared to vote against the Second Reading of this Bill. My object in taking part in the Debate is to ascertain from the Minister whether the case in which I am interested really comes within the scope of the Bill or not, because if it does not I should wish to put down an Amendment for the Committee stage. The wording of Sub-section (1) of Clause 1 appears to be very wide. It provides for a local authority using, for the purposes of the Housing (Temporary Accommodation) Act, 1944
land vested in them, or at their disposal, at the passing of this Act which is, or forms part of, an open space:
The words "land vested in them, or at their disposal," would seem very wide. Like many other hon. Members who have been here for some time, I had many disappointments in the past, in interpreting an Act, and I am very anxious to make sure, while we still have the Bill before us, that the case I have in mind is really covered. The Colchester town council have a recreation ground on land which belongs to the War Department. The War Department have granted the council a lease for 999 years of this land,
but the lease specifically provides that the land may only be used for the purposes of a recreation ground. I understand that the council approached the War Department, and that the War Department have no objection to temporary buildings being put up. The point I want to get clear from the Minister is this. Does the case in which a local authority holds land on lease, and holds it only for the specific purpose of using it as a recreation ground, come within the terms of Sub-section (1) of Clause 1? If it does not, I should certainly wish to put down an Amendment for the Committee stage to ensure that this case was covered. Perhaps the Minister who is to reply will give me a specific assurance on that point.
I wish to add my concurrence, on the passing of this Bill, to that given by other hon. Members, without any enthusiasm whatever, but merely as a regrettable necessity, as the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Lewis) has said. What is of great importance at the present time is the erection of shelter or accommodation so that it shall be available for the men who are now in this country and their families, and the men who will very shortly be demobilised. May I remind the House—I do not think the date has been mentioned before to-day—that demobilisation begins on 18th June? On that day, large numbers of men will be demobilised, and, from that day onwards, there will be a continual flow of people coming home. I do not know how it is with other hon. Members of this House, but my own experience recently has been that I get, week by week and day by day, more and more letters asking the simple question from men in the Services—"Where am I, and other men of the Services, to live, if there is not enough accommodation?"
There would have been enough accommodation, and this Bill would not have been necessary, if the Government, at an earlier stage, had had the courage to put into operation the proposals of the Uthwatt Report on the acquirement of land and betterment, which had been worked out by a special committee. It would not then have been necessary to bring this Bill forward, so that the land used for public open spaces might be used far building purposes by local authorities. The only reason why that Report was not put into operation was that it was opposed by Conservative Members of the Coalition Government, and, therefore, if there is a shortage of housing—and there certainly is, at the present moment, a tremendous shortage, which, unfortunately, this Bill, however many temporary houses it may help to erect, will not remedy—the responsibility for the shortage must rest very largely indeed upon the shoulders of the Conservative Party. On them also must rest the responsibility for having to use land, which ought to be used for recreation purposes, for the building of houses.
It would, indeed, be an ironical situation to find a soldier coming back, perhaps, from the B.L.A., housed in some temporary structure on the fringe of one of our parks, and thinking "Yes, I am living here and am sheltered here, but this is the place where my children ought to be playing games." I really think it is a most discreditable thing—although it was not possible during the war to make use of building labour, for the purpose of erecting houses, for it was very difficult indeed even to keep them adequately repaired, owing to the shortages of labour—that these powers of planning and land use were not obtained. I am sorry that the Minister of Town and Country Planning saw fit to intervene in this Debate earlier to make a statement with regard to his responsibility concerning town and country planning. He should have waited to hear the Debate. Had there been an adequate Town and Country Planning Bill at an earlier stage, there would have been no need for this temporary Measure, and it is only accepted now because no one positively dare refuse any expedient which allows us to put up any kind of shelter.
Before we have begun really to cope with the housing situation, we shall find that we have not only to put up temporary houses, but to adopt the expedient of the B.L.A. on the other side, where, for welfare purposes and temporary accommodation, they requisitioned houses, hotels and large buildings, and even, in one case, a royal palace in Brussels. We shall have to do something on the same scale here. We cannot have the indecent spectacle of men coming back from Europe, or India, or the Far East and not being able to find a home. Although it would not weary the House if I were to quote from correspondence which I have received from soldiers and others, I do not wish to repeat it, because I am convinced that other Members have received correspondence of the same kind. In fact, we all have received correspondence. We hear fine sentiments about the Army and glowing references in the Prime Minister's speeches—and the Prime Minister would still have been a great man and a national leader had he not descended to being a Conservative partisan. We have all these speeches about the serving man, and yet when he comes back, there will be hundreds and possibly thousands of people for whom we shall not be able to find accommodation.
It is the fault of the whole of this House in not having done its duty in war-time by making provision, but it is particularly and emphatically the fault of the Conservative Party for not having enabled plans to acquire land on proper terms to be made. Instead of being limited to the use of park land and other places, we should have been able to put plans into operation to take what land was necessary inside or outside towns, in order to build houses. Until we have those larger powers, it will not be possible to deal adequately with the housing situation. That is one of the things on which the forthcoming General Election will turn.
I am not going to follow the example set by the hon. Member for North Islington (Dr. Haden Guest) and by almost all hon. Members who have spoken from the opposite benches, of making an Election speech. I prefer to reserve that for my constituents, but I would like in passing to remind the House that this Bill is not a Conservative Government Bill but a Bill introduced by the Coalition Government and it is backed by the ex-Secretary of State for Scotland, who is a member of the Labour Party. The right hon. Gentleman may have another engagement, but it is a pity that he did not follow the example of other ex-Ministers during the last few days who have come down to the House to support their own Bills. I address myself to points in the Bill. I think it is possible to get this grain of comfort from it, that the erection of temporary houses on open spaces instead of on land suitable for houses may possibly expedite the erection of permanent houses on that land. I also think it possible that the mere fact that these temporary houses will be cumbering ground which ought to be reserved for recreation may stimulate the removal of these houses, of which everybody wants to see the end, and their super session by permanent houses.
I want to ask my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, who I believe is to reply, three questions. The Minister of Health gave the figures for the County of London of the number of temporary houses for which no land would be available but for this Bill. Can my hon. Friend give similar figures for Greater London, part of which I represent, where the need is equally or nearly as great? The second question I want to ask is this. Clause 1 (6) provides that when the period of authorisation ceases to be in force the local authority shall take steps to reinstate the land, or if the local authority asks the Minister to cause the houses to be removed, the Minister may do so. Apparently the Minister is under no obligation to remove the houses if the local authority defaults. Surely, the Bill ought to be amended to make it a duty of the Minister to see that any temporary buildings on open spaces are duly removed without waiting for requests from the local authority? The last question I want to ask my hon. Friend is as follows. The Minister gave an assurance regarding common rights and it rather appeared to me that that assurance was given at the last moment in reply to a request from the Commons, Footpaths and Open Spaces Society. May I ask my hon. Friend whether that assurance, which is satisfactory to the Society, could not be embodied in the Bill?
The short reply to the first point made by the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling) is that obviously the party opposite must be very satisfied with the speech which was delivered by the Prime Minister yesterday and consequently it is not necessary to make any election speeches in this House.
They have been allowed on. certain points, particularly on the question of regulations, otherwise they would have been ruled out of Order some time ago. I can think of no one in this House who is not prepared to expedite the passing of this Measure. If there is one thing in the country that is really seriously disturbing the people, it is the question of housing. The towns referred to where it will be necessary to encroach upon public spaces are certainly in a very bad way indeed. There are problems that we must face. In my constituency there are mining valleys where we have no recreation grounds or anything that may be described as a park, and I wonder whether the Ministry of Health is really facing this problem. It is difficult to find building space in these valleys at all, and even if they were found, we would be faced with mining subsidence on a very large scale.
A short time ago one of the authorities in my area placed before me—and the Minister is acquainted with the point—a site for a factory, but I was not prepared to agree that the site was a good one, for the obvious reason that it would have been substantially above the water line. It would have meant that we would have had to carry water to the top of the mountain, and there would also have been a sewage problem and difficulties with regard to bricks, mortar, cement and tiles, and it would have been uneconomical. There was no place to which the housing of the people could be directed unless they came outside the local authority area. I wonder whether the Ministry of Health, particularly having regard to the function of the Boundary Commission, is really looking into the question of whether it would not be possible for local authorities in congested areas, and faced with mining subsidence on a large scale, to be amalgamated for the purpose of providing space for housing the people.
A fortnight ago, the question was running through my mind of how many Members of Parliament reside in their constituencies. If I had my way, it would be an obligation upon Members to live in their own constituencies. If they did, they would be confronted with this sort of problem every week-end. I attended a conference a week ago not only of the local authorities in the district, but of the W.V.S. and all the people doing social work in the constituency, on the question of housing. In my constituency we have one of the largest factories in the country. Part of Woolwich was transferred there at the commencement of the war, with the result that the population in the town increased by about 80 per cent. All the houses in the old county town are overcrowded and there has been an enormous inflation of rent. This is going to be a very serious problem, particularly during the transition period when the factory is slowly turning over from war production to peace products. Already, we are faced with the prospect of a redundancy of about 4,000 people by the end of July. People have to pay enormous rentals, particularly for furnished rooms. It is really becoming a ramp and the matter ought to be attended to seriously by the Minister of Health. People put a table and a few chairs into a room and charge their fellow citizens, who should be their neighbours, as much as 30s. or 35s. or £2 a week for the use of the room.
That is because we have never faced the housing problem in this country. We have practised scarcity in this regard as in so many other things, and arising from the scarcity during the inter-war years we are now faced with the aggravated problem of the war years themselves due to the transfer of population. Population was transferred from the East to the West, where it was safer to construct factories, and to man them so that they could work continuous shifts and produce the output required for the war. I ask the Minister of Health to face the problem, especially in our mining valleys. It is as grave as the problems of which we heard in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin). In Manchester, London and other places they have to encroach upon public parks in order to put up these temporary structures. In our mining valleys we have precisely the same problem; in fact, if we had the space no wise person would construct houses there. Already houses are sinking, and we are faced with flooding and all the problems which arise from it—problems of public health due to faulty sewage running into our river beds. We have never faced the fact that houses age like human beings. We have never faced the question of dealing with housing in a proper manner. We have not said, "This house shall be destroyed at a certain age. We shall erect proper houses."
We have not dealt with the question of mining subsidence in a practical way. There are people owning their own houses, which they bought from colliery companies, and those houses are being destroyed daily by mining subsidence. There is no compensation. The people are losing their homes and have nowhere to go. Unless they can get into other local authority areas, and unless there is systematic planning, we shall never be able to house the people who are driven from their homes owing to mining subsidence and like calamities.
So I hope the Minister of Health will look at this other aspect of housing, which is apart from that of overcrowded cities. I feel certain that the people who came to Wales during the war will not return in large numbers, that the people who came to work at Bridgend and other places will not return to London or elsewhere if they can obtain proper housing facilities. The Minister of Health must deal with this great problem which has arisen from the transfer of population from one place to another.
I am certain that we in this House are quite prepared to see that the blitzed areas receive priority and that the next category, called the blighted areas, should come second. But we do want a housing drive, and I am sure that if we tackle the housing shortage of this country with the same vigilance as we gave to the prosecution of the war, we shall get over this difficulty within a reasonable time. We are all receiving letters from people who are coming back, and we find that returning soldiers are becoming very sceptical indeed. They are wondering if they are not just getting their legs pulled and whether there is any seriousness about this business at all. If they become complete sceptics, I am quite sure that the House of Commons will find it out in the long run. Regardless of the coming Election, I think every hon. Member in this House should realise that it is his bounden duty to see that those who have saved this country from disaster and are now returning home after having won the war, should have homes of their own That is the least they are entitled to, and it seems to us that the Government are really not facing the situation as it should be faced. I beg the Minister of Health to deal with the problems I have placed before him, particularly as regards our mining valleys, and the territories which have become over-populated owing to the transfer of the population to munition factories and so on.
—but I wish to devote my speech to the Bill and to the particular problem of London. The Minister, in opening this Debate, spoke of the allocation to London of 12,000 of these temporary bungalows—I prefer to call them bungalows rather than houses because I think that more accurately describes them. Of those 12,000 allocations, sites have been found for 10,301. The first question I ask the Minister is, how many sites have been developed and made ready for the erection of the actual houses? That is a question which ought to be answered by the Parliamentary Secretary in his reply so that we can see how speedily we are getting on with this business.
In spite of that large number of sites, we are still 1,700 short. The Kensington borough council, of which I am not a member, discussed this question last week. I attended the meeting because I knew this subject was coming up, and I also know the tremendous interest taken in the subject of housing and the serious need for accommodation in the neighbourhood. There was a very interesting debate on a high level, without regard to party, on this question of finding sites for temporary bungalows and the recommendation of the committee was that a part of Kensington Gardens be taken. Now that is a Royal park. The reasons given, broadly speaking, were that, on a balance of advantage and disadvantage, it was absolutely necessary that this site should foe used, because there was no other suitable site to be found in the borough. It is fair to say there are arguments on the other side. My hon. Friend the Member for South Kensington (Sir W. Davison), who is an alderman of the borough council, spoke against it and gave his reasons for voting against that proposal, but it was carried by a majority, and therefore I wish to press upon the attention of my right lion, and learned Friend the decision of the council, namely, that, if possible, Kensington Gardens should be used. I knew at the time that special legislation would be necessary, but this Bill has appeared, and I was wondering whether I could frame special legislation to meet this particular point. Therefore, I have put on page 2016 of the Order Paper a new Clause which attempts to deal with this point. Perhaps it may save time, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, if I read it, because then I shall not have to explain it.
Then I will not read it out. It is an attempt to get round the legal difficulty. If my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary can say that it does not do so, then there will really be no point in moving it in Committee. I would much rather get rid of this business to-day, instead of having to make two speeches on the subject. If it does not get round the legal difficulty, then I have nothing more to say, but I hope it may be a way out.
I must say one word to the Minister of Health himself. He said it was really not necessary to build on the Royal parks. My experience in my constituency, not during the last few weeks but for months, has been that this problem of housing is growing worse and worse. I could give my right hon. and learned Friend off hand at least 300 names of Servicemen and Service women who want accommodation of any kind they can get for the days when they come back.
May I make myself clear to the hon. and gallant Member, if he will be good enough to give way? In saying that it was not necessary to build on the Royal parks, I was not intending to convey for one moment that there was not need for a very much larger number of houses than we can possibly provide at the moment. What I meant was, that in order to find sites for the allocation to London of the temporary houses that will be produced, it will not be necessary to go into the Royal parks.
Naturally, I accept what my right hon. and learned Friend has said, but the effect of not building on the Royal parks, so far as Kensington is concerned, would be that we should get 50 less temporary bungalows than we should otherwise do because, according to the chairman of the committee who deals with this, there are no suitable alternative sites in the borough.
I have very little more to say. The real demand for housing is getting frightful. Every day I get letters and every other hon. Member is getting letters, and wherever one goes one meets this urgent demand for houses. It is very largely due to the war, as the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) has said—the fact that there has been a large amount of bombing, the lack of new building over the last six years, practically no maintenance—and this situation has been exacerbated by the return of the evacuees. Where children are coming back they are beginning to overcrowd houses which during the war have not been overcrowded. All these things are adding up to a really gigantic problem, and we in this House ought to leave nothing undone to prevent the speedy removal of that vital problem. Quite frankly, I cannot promise anybody that it is possible to remove that problem quickly. This little Bill gives some small assistance, and for that reason, although I loathe the idea of building on our open spaces, I am bound to approve of the Bill and hope that it will have a quick passage.
This Bill, of course, in its application will not have very much effect in Scotland. I believe the difficulty really arises in the places which have been heavily bombed. There is however one observation I should like to make. This Bill seems to-be somewhat out of focus with the Act of 1944, if I understand the position correctly. The powers granted to local authorities under the 1944 provisions had, for their object, that local authorities could reap the benefit of the financial considerations of the 1935 Act, and the subsequent amending Acts, just as if the houses had been built to meet overcrowding. It must be borne in mind that no local authority has power other than that conferred under the Act of 1944 to build houses of any kind for ordinary requirements. They are confined, in the letting of such houses, to families living in over crowded conditions or in properties which are unfit for human habitation. 1 was not in the House when the Housing (Temporary Accommodation) Act for England was discussed, but I certainly was here when the Secretary of State for Scotland explained the Act to the Scottish Members. If I remember correctly, the proposal became operative as from October last year and expires in October, 1947. This Bill is effective for a period of two years, and no longer, so that local authorities who may proceed under this Measure to put up such temporary accommodation will find that the period during which they can claim the subsidy of the Housing Act has expired before their programme is completed. I am very sorry that the Scottish Law Officers are not here, because I do not know whether there is any difference, in this instance, between England and Scotland.
I am perturbed as to why it should be necessary, in places other than London, to encroach on open spaces at all. If I read the situation correctly, we are to have permanent houses of iron, aluminium or some other metal coming off the assembly line and being sent to the sites ready for the erection. Having watched the erection of—I will not say bungalows, because the abortions they are putting up bear no resemblance to bungalows—these temporary houses, they seem to me to be a waste of public money. It means that houses coming off the assembly line can be assembled more quickly than the Mulberry houses. I do not see, from the Bill, where local authorities are restricted only to such parts of the open spaces as are of easy access to the services required. Temporary dwellings have an unhappy knack of becoming permanent houses. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] No, I am not making an election speech; this problem is far too serious. What annoyed me as regards what happened after the last war was having to clear some of these temporary houses from the city of Glasgow, 22 years after they were built. What is to prevent the Minister from issuing another order to extend the provisions of this Bill?
I am glad to have that assurance. I must congratulate the Minister on being able to look so far into the future that he can judge what the Minister of Health in his place will do ten years hence. I am satisfied that we will not even begin to cater fully for the homeless persons, let alone those who are overcrowded, in the next ten years. Do not let anyone delude himself. The housing problem in this country will not be solved in the next 20 years. It is easy for anybody to talk about putting up 10, 20, 30, 40 or 50,000 a year, but I have been connected with the building industry for the best part of 30 years, and I know exactly how quickly these things can be accomplished. If every man is to be permitted to do the job he wants where he wants, you will never solve the problem. Can I have an assurance from the Minister, or the Joint Under Secretary of State for Scotland—who is grossly over worked due to the absence of his chief—that sanction will only be given for the erection of temporary accommodation on the margins of open spaces or public parks where the required services are easy of access? I do not see any reason why a temporary house cannot be put on a permanent foundation. That aspect of the matter ought to be explored.
I would like to know whether the houses it is proposed to erect will be for ordinary requirements. Will they be suitable for young married people and young couples with families who at present have no homes? The temporary house that it is proposed to erect is useless, and futile as a contribution to solve the overcrowding problem, unless it is overcrowding caused by dual occupancy, where married sons and daughters are living with their parents. I think Scottish Members are entitled to ask the Law Officers for Scotland for an interpretation of these matters, because I do not think that the Minister of Health is skilled in Scottish law. He may be, but I do not think so. I want a further assurance with regard to the extension of powers to local authorities to get the financial benefits of the Housing Act already on the Statute Book, which was limited to two years to enable them to get round the snag of the conditions imposed on first letting. That Act expires on 1st October, 1947. The two years provided for in this Bill are from the passing of the Act. Therefore, the two years period expires in one Act nine months before it does in the other, and I want to know whether a local authority will qualify for the subsidy under the amended Act for the full period, supposing that they had commenced work?
Perhaps it would be for the convenience of the House if I intervened at this moment to answer briefly some of the many and varied points which hon. Members have made in the course of the Debate. My right hon. and learned Friend has given such a lucid and detailed exposition of the main provisions of this Bill that I am sure the House would not want me to weary it merely by reiterating, in a less skilful form, what has already been said. At the same time, two points stand out quite clearly. First, that this Bill, in spite of some of the arguments of hon. Members opposite, is a child of the Coalition. I hope that the present unhappy divorce which exists between the two parents will not prevent the legitimisation of this infant. Secondly, it is an emergency Measure. As my hon. Friend the Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White) said, the peculiar conditions of the war have made the passage of this Bill absolutely vital. For some five or six years our people have been subjected first of all to heavy air bombardment and then the persistent attack by flying bombs and rockets, and the damage inflicted is so great that we must take emergency measures to deal with the situation.
The hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) made several points with which I should like to deal. He raised the question of the ten-year period. It is clearly stated in the Bill that it cannot operate beyond the period of ten years. Should any future Minister wish to prolong it, or innovate a new Bill, he would have to bring it before Parliament. With regard to the cost of renovation or making good on the sites, the local authority, at the end of the period, could request the Minister for permission to remove the houses, and any cost of making good would fall on the national Exchequer. Further, the hon. Member showed some apprehension with regard to the choice of sites. If I may say so, as one who was privileged to live for the first two years of the war in the East End of London, I know how precious these spaces are to the people there. Let me assure him on this point. My right hon. and learned Friend must consult with the Minister of Town and Country Planning, and only after having obtained his consent, after the Minister of Town and Country Planning has assured himself that no other more suitable sites exist, will a certificate be given for the Minister of Health to proceed with his plans. In every case where possible these temporary houses will be placed along roads where they will interfere less with all the precious amenities of the people.
The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman) made several points. I will not follow him in what I presume was a trial gallop for the housing Debase stakes on Thursday, but I would say this: With reference to the method of procedure that the Minister will follow, first of all, after the Minister of Town and Country Planning has assured himself, as I say, that no other better sites can be found, a certificate will be issued to the Minister of Health allowing him to proceed with the plans.
The local authority discusses the proposition, and presumably it will then come before the public attention of those concerned. My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Lewis) raised the point of a particular piece of ground in his constituency, which I gathered is now under the jurisdiction of the local authority for the purpose of recreation. Such a piece of ground; I am informed, comes within the scope of this Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling) asked three questions. He asked, in particular, for figures concerning the allocation of temporary houses in greater London, and sites already approved. Fifteen thousand houses have been allocated to the Greater London area, and 10,216 sites have already been approved.
Yes, Sir. My hon. Friend likewise asked a question concerning commons rights, and made the suggestion that the agreement the Minister announced should be incorporated in the Bill. I hope he will accept the assurance which my right hon. and learned Friend gave him, as I understand that its incorporation in the Bill would be somewhat complicated.
If my hon. Friend will permit me I will look into that, and communicate with him. My hon. Friend the Member for South Kensington (Sir W. Davison) also asked for a certain figure. I have not got it in my possession at the moment, but I will make it my business to communicate with him and inform him accordingly. With that, I hope I have covered some of the main points which have been raised in the course of the Debate, and I hope that the House will now be disposed to give this Bill a Second reading.
What about the temporary nature of this Bill? My hon. Friend said it could not be extended, but surely no Government can pledge a future Government as to the extension of a Bill, or the bringing in of a new Bill.
The terms of the Bill lay it down precisely that it cannot be extended beyond ten years. If a new Bill is contemplated it must be laid before Parliament, and approved by Parliament.
As this question savours of the law, perhaps I might answer it. The hon. Member is referring to the Housing (Temporary Provisions) Act, which provides for subsidies for two years up to 1st October, 1947. The hon. Member may rest entirely at ease with regard to the quite separate and different two years referred to in Clause 1, Sub-section (1), of this Bill. That has nothing whatever to do with subsidies or finance, but' is simply a period within which the Minister can give authority for the use of open spaces. It simply sets a limit, and it will be, let us imagine, something like 12th June, 1947, if this Bill becomes law on 12th June, 1945. However many certificates or requests the Minister gets from local authorities, he will not be able to authorise the use of open spaces for temporary houses after that date. Within two years from the passage of this Bill it will be quite clear whether there will be any need to do this any more. That period will have no effect whatever on finance.
I listened with interest to the Minister's speech and to the Parliamentary Secretary's propaganda talk. I wonder whether this Bill is propaganda or whether it is really an attempt to do some service. I live in a city which has been very much devastated by bombing. When I look around that city and then consider what is in this Bill, I wonder whether this is a housing proposition that we can put to the country. It provides for temporary accommodation on little bits of narrow sites. Houses of a permanent character ought to have been put up in some of these areas even during the war. There has been a very great amount of derelict labour in some of our congested areas, and houses not of a temporary but of a permanent sort could have been put up in some of our large cities, especially the city of Liverpool.
I do not know whether there is very much life in the Minister; I have not seen any great stimulant from him with regard to the building of houses, except in this proposition. We have been told that some houses are to be put up, and there has been a Debate as to whether or not open spaces should be reserved. The fresh-air fiends say that the open spaces must not be touched. They are a sanctum sanctorum, and must must not be used. I say to the Minister that, open spaces or any other spaces, it is time he set about putting up some houses in the city of Liverpool. One hon. Member has talked about 300 applicants for houses. In Liverpool the lists run into thousands. We have had lists going up to 12,000 or 14,000, and then we have wiped out the lists and started all over again. Whole streets in the city have disappeared. Families have gone away, and now many of them are about to return.
The Service men will be returning. Do as much as we will in Liverpool, we shall not be able to meet the requirements of the people. There is talk about temporary accommodation for 10 years. You will never solve the problem in 10 years. It is said that the temporary houses having been erected, they will be demolished in 10 years' time. That demolition would come at a time when houses will be absolutely essential. It is nonsensical for the Minister to say that the houses will be used for a period of only 10 years. Those houses will stand and will be used as long as there is a lack of other houses. I have been a member of the Housing Committee in the city of Liverpool for 18 or 20 years. We are not able to meet the housing requirements arising out of the war. We are not able to face the situation.
Nothing has been said in this Debate about priority rights. We are talking in terms of local authorities building houses, but nothing has been said about how quickly the authorities are willing to move. In the city of Liverpool we have plans laid out, and it is the Government that have never moved; I hope they will be moved before we deal with the temporary situation in Liverpool. Someone has got to deal with the position. Have the Government decided what they really intend to do with regard to building? They know very well that it is impossible for these temporary houses for a period of 10 years to meet the demands of the thousands of people who want houses. In Liverpool thousands of people want houses. Thousands of young people have been married since the war began. The position of people who lived in the city and had to evacuate is now three times more difficult because of the demands of the young men who have married during the war and will be returning when the war is over. The question of priority will arise, whether the returning soldier is to be given priority or whether it is to be given to those who were blitzed out of their houses. Unless there is an abundance of houses, there will be great divisions in the local authorities over that question.
This temporary Measure, although it may look all right in the dying days of the Government, is no way of dealing with the problem of housing. Every returning soldier will require a home in which to live. It is no use trying to get over the situation by saying over the radio that there are going to be homes for the soldiers when they return. Any Minister who says that is either betraying the country by giving false information, or if he does not know it is false, has no right to be a Minister. If the Minister of Health had as many calls about houses as we get from people in our constituencies, believe me, he would be a little more restless than he is to-day. It is very easy for the Minister to walk into the House and have no responsibility with regard to housing, but in the areas in which we live hundreds of people come along and want to know what is to be done. We are told that this Bill is the answer to the sailors', soldiers' and airmen's prayer: temporary houses on narrow sites. The Ministry, which has priority rights on the radio, says to the people, "Look what we are doing for you—houses for the returning soldiers, homes for the people, and coal at 3s. 6d. a cwt. to burn inside them." Tell us a better story. I hope that in the next few weeks there will be another tale to tell: the story of a departing Government that leaves behind it not only the memory of houses never put up, but wishes never fulfilled.
The hon. Member for the Scotland Division (Mr. Logan) has been very scathing about the Bill. I would point out that his Party is jointly and severally responsible for the Bill, and although he may make an election speech in the House this evening, he should remember that the joint author of the Bill is one of the leaders of his Party. I am sorry that the course of the Debate has meant that we have had two Government speeches in two and a quarter hours on the Second Reading, and that those who speak after the second Government speech may not be able to have replies to their points.
Probably when I was out for a few minutes the other two came in. I hope there will be some opportunity for a further reply. It would facilitate the further progress of the Bill if we were to have a reply to our points, as it would enable us to avoid lengthening the Committee stage. This Bill is a very drastic Measure. The housing position is so urgent that none of us wishes to oppose the Measure, but I think we are entitled to have a great deal more assurance than we have had as to how the Measure is to be carried out. The Minister has given a very satisfactory assurance about commons, and I feel sure that assurance is quite sufficient, but will he give a further assurance about playing fields? The National Playing Fields Association has spent £1,500,000 in grants to provide playing fields, and 50 per cent. of that expenditure has been devoted to the lay out. Can we have an assurance that local authorities will be discouraged from using playing fields where there has been a great deal of expenditure on the lay-out?
The only other point I want to raise is one that has been mentioned by other hon. Members. It refers to Clause 1, Sub-section (6). The hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) said he was not interested in what is going to happen after 10 years. I think he takes too gloomy a view of his election prospects. I should have thought that after 10 years he might have a chance of getting Back into the House again. I think all of us should be deeply interested in what is to happen after 10 years to the open spaces that are being used for temporary houses. There were some wooden hutments built at Eltham, in Woolwich, in the last war as temporary houses, and they are still there. I want to be satisfied that, under Sub-section (6) of Clause 1, these temporary houses will be removed from the open spaces. It is not enough to say that after 10 years the authority will no longer be there. It is not enough to say that the local authority may remove them, or shall forthwith take all the steps requisite to remove them. There are in the Bill at present no default powers. If a local authority fails to carry out the terms of the Sub-section, the temporary houses will remain on the open spaces. I ask the Minister, in the Committee stage, to put in some words that will give him or his successor power to force a local authority which is unwilling to remove the temporary houses from those open spaces.
You could not move a house bodily with the people inside. The temporary housing is for ten years only. That is a pledge. I shall be sorry if the hon. Member is going to make election speeches in the country stating that in his view temporary houses should continue for longer than ten years. The only condition for these houses is that they should be there for ten years and no more.
I rise to make a small point which refers to London. Some local authorities will have a very limited amount of open space at their disposal. Most of these will be authorities for whom it is extremely desirable that there should be ample room for the children in the borough to have recreation. Does the Minister propose to offer facilities to such local authorities to apply for building space outside their own area? I rather regretted what the Minister said about the Royal parks. I think the use of them would be in some measure a solution of the difficulty. It is exceedingly difficult for the overcrowded boroughs to find space for young children to play. It is impossible for them to go the great distance often involved to get to the large parks in other parts of London. At the same time if you are going to leave sufficient space for the children in these localities to play, which are often the most overcrowded and the most heavily bombed, there will be a serious shortage of accommodation for temporary houses. That particular problem could be solved if the Royal parks were available. It might also conceivably be solved by making space available in the areas of other authorities.
I think the Bill is necessary as an Emergency Bill, but there has been a note of pessimism running through the speeches on both sides. Obviously a Bill of this kind cannot be justified, unless we have the optimism to believe that in ten years this appalling problem will be solved. Hon. Members opposite insist that these houses should not be permanent. Our open spaces are our most precious heritage. Not long ago we were fighting to preserve our commons. It would be appalling after that struggle if we converted a large amount of our open space permanently to building purposes. We can only justify the Bill if the House on all sides shows its determination by a new technique—by mass production—to make good the deficiency, not by temporary houses, which are unsatisfactory, but by permanent, well planned, well designed houses before the life of these houses reaches ten years. I am appalled by some of the temporary houses that have been put in London—these Nissen huts.
I understand that these emergency hutments do not come within the category of temporary houses at all. They are not intended to last more than two years. They are being used nowhere except in areas which were subjected to the very heavy attacks of last year. They are described as emergency hutments. They are not within this Bill at all.
I am glad that I intervened to get that statement, because they are an apology for a home and they are deeply resented by many people to whom they are offered. They are cold, draughty and unsatisfactory, and likely to be hot in the summer and cold in the winter. I am glad to understand that on the sites to be provided by this Bill such caricatures of homes will not be erected.
I think this is a thoroughly bad Bill. It might more properly be entitled "a Bill to enable local authorities to build bungalows on the cheap." My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Kensington (Captain Duncan) referred to the debate that we had in the Kensington borough council a week ago when the housing committee brought forward a motion to erect 50 bungalows on the West side of Kensington Gardens. I opposed it, but the arguments were very informative and, I think, justify my suggestion that the Bill would more properly be called one to enable local authorities to build bungalows on the cheap. The committee urged the proposal to put up 50 bungalows in Kensington Gardens for several reasons. One was that it was a level piece of ground and another was that there were already drains there, because an air-raid shelter had been put up. Other similar reasons were adduced to justify this encroachment on one of London's all too few open spaces. I think the London County Council has estimated that we are something like 5,000 acres short of open space. I opposed the motion, not because I am not fully alive to the urgent need of providing housing for the men returning from the Services, but this is a mere drop in the bucket. Hearing the supporters of the motion one would have thought that with these 50 bungalows the whole housing difficulty of West London would be satisfied.
I am inclined to agree with the hon. Member for the Scotland Division (Mr. Logan). We are told that this is a temporary Measure limited to ten years. Is there any security that in ten years' time there will be adequate houses for the people in these 50 bungalows, and is it suggested that they should be thrown into the street unless there are adequate houses to put them into? The ten years' limit is all eye-wash. I also agree with the hon. Member for Dumbartonshire (Mr. McKinlay). I think many of these temporary bungalows ought to have foundations which can, eventually, be used for permanent houses. You cannot do that on playing fields or in London parks or gardens. This is in my opinion a most unfortunate Measure. When we were dealing with the Requisitioned Land Bill it was suggested that, where any open space was taken, an equivalent open space should be provided, and that where land had been purchased by a local authority for playing fields or for recreation it should not be taken by the decision of the Commission appointed under the Bill but that it should require a resolution of this House. Our decisions in these matters, which were obtained with great difficulty, are immediately followed by this Bill to enable our all too few local spaces to be built upon.
What does my hon. Friend propose to do by way of providing this accommodation quickly if we are not going to use these strips or parks? Does he propose to build these bungalows on permanent housing sites?
Local authorities have power to acquire land. We all admit the urgent need for houses, but the arguments which justify putting up 50 bungalows in Kensington Gardens because the land is flat and there are drains would justify building houses all over Kensington Gardens. If there is such an urgent need that any open space must be taken, that would justify building on parks, recreation grounds and any open spaces. It is altogether wrong that our all too limited open spaces should be used for this purpose.
A suggestion was made by an hon. Member opposite that permanent foundations should be laid down for temporary houses. I hope that will not be done. Let me tell him from many years of building experience that that would be wasting money. The Minister has been challenged because he does not include the Royal parks. The reason is that in London there are more than 400 squares and open spaces. In Finsbury, for example, which is supposed to be a very congested area, there are the following squares: Northampton, Wilmington, Myddleton, Claremont, Lloyd, Granville, Holford and Percy. In addition, there is considerable open space in Rosebery Avenue and Percy Circus. Most of the open spaces in London are controlled by the borough councils; there are a few, such as the Thames Embankment Gardens, which are under the jurisdiction of the London County Council. Nobody likes temporary houses, but the Minister is entitled to support for this Bill on another ground. There are no other places where he can erect them. In my constituency there is little of Theobalds Road left; if temporary structures were put up where buildings have been demolished, how are permanent structures to be built? That is one of the good reasons for this Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) suggested that the Minister should look round and find places where there is only one house to the acre. As a member of the Town and Country Planning Committee of the L.C.C., he will know of the vandalism of his council in Woodbury Down, where houses which had about 1½ per acre were demolished. My hon. Friend's suggestion will not help the Minister, because if compulsory power has to be exercised to acquire land where there is only one house per acre, it will take a long time to acquire compulsorily and the houses would have to be demolished before other structures could be erected. The point has been raised whether the sites would be ready. The answer must be in the affirmative, because the London squares face roads already made; they are, therefore, already sewered and have electricity, gas and water mains. The question of finance has been raised, but it seems to me that, in the eagerness to secure a grant-in-aid from the Treasury towards the expenses of the local authority, it has been overlooked that these temporary buildings will be rated and that the local authority will enjoy a certain amount of income from them with very little expense.
I regret the provision that the Minister of Health must appeal to the Minister of Town and Country Planning. I regard that as window dressing. It is what my hon. Friend the Member of South Kensington (Sir W. Davison) referred to as "eyewash." How can the Minister of Town and Country Planning say that a temporary building on a London square does not destroy the amenities? Obviously it must do. It is suggested that these temporary buildings will be in use only ten years, but that provision in a Bill cannot commit future Parliaments, and it means just nothing. We know that there are so-called temporary buildings round London to-day which were put up after the last war, some remain to-day because of the shortage of housing accommodation. I urge my right hon. and learned Friend to stop playing about with the housing problem, to employ the people who have been in building all their lives, to stop this "Passed to you, please," business, which means that at the end of six months the plans are just where they were before and nothing has been done. Let the Minister call in the builders who know the work, take the necessary precautions to ensure they do not plunder the taxpayer. I regard the ordinary builder as just as honest as Members of Parliament and other men. They can do the job, but they must have the labour and material. With great reluctance I would have to go into the Lobby to support the Bill if it were challenged, because at present there is no alternative.
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we shall not trouble him to go into the Division Lobby in support of the Bill. We recognise that, in the unfortunate circumstances of our time, we have to take the steps that are forecast in this Bill. The Bill is much more widely drawn than the policy which the Minister has indicated he intends to pursue. I understand it is the intention of the Government that only the fringes of parks and commons shall be developed. It is important that this Measure should not be used, as it could be, completely to cover a common or a park with houses. I understand that the justification for it is that along the edges of parks and commons, where there are main roads with services, it is possible to develop housing very quickly. Clearly, if you develop the back land in a park or a common, you have not the same justification for using the machinery of this Bill. I hope the right hon. and learned Gentleman will give a clear pledge that it is the intention of the Government that only the fringes shall be developed.
When I was rather more closely associated with the right hon. and learned Gentleman than I now am, I had some correspondence with my opposite number in his Department with regard to the utilisation of a common at Epsom. Epsom is just on the edge of the Greater London area, and Epsom Common is the boundary of the Metropolitan Police district, which is generally regarded as the end of Greater London for purposes like this. A few years ago the Epsom and Ewell Urban Council, as it then was, acquired this common. It had previously belonged to a lord of the manor, and the council acquired the soil of the common and are now the freeholders. The land, therefore, is vested in them, and if any common rights survive, it is only vested in them subject to the rights of the commoners. I doubt whether anybody could prove that he had now a right of common over this land. There was a proposal before the Epsom and Ewell Town Council to take this land and use it for housing purposes. There is a great amount of privately-owned land in Epsom that could be acquired if the local authority would exercise its compulsory powers. It has the great advantage that it is on the chalk, whereas Epsom Common is on deplorably wet clay, and it would be an advantage to the people having to live there if they could be housed on the chalk and not on the clay.
I hope that in places like that the Minister of Town and Country Planning and the Minister of Health will see that the pledges that have been given in the House to-day are honoured, and that the local authority are told that, inconvenient as it may be to serve a compulsory order on a landowner, they must see that the privately-owned land is first used before any action is taken to use land that is in public ownership and is used for the purpose of obtaining air and exercise by the inhabitants of the district and of a far wider area. My hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) asked for a pledge with regard to the removal of these temporary houses. I heard three Members of the Government speak, and I regret I was not in the House when the fourth Member spoke, but I am told that no answer was given to this question. Can we have a pledge that when it is possible to remove these houses, those erected on public open spaces shall be removed before those erected on private land, where, in the area of an authority, both types of land have been brought into use? It would, clearly, be indefensible to remove temporary houses from private land and retain houses on public open spaces which have been acquired in the past for the enjoyment of the community.
I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will ensure that in the administration of this Measure the most clear instructions are given that the sate guards he mentioned in moving the Second Reading of this Bill are observed on every occasion, because I am sure he will feel, from the discussion in the House this afternoon, that nothing but the deplorable circumstances of our times would have induced any Member of this House to assent to this Measure. It is recognised, I presume, on both sides of the House, that just as between the last war and this war unemployment made and broke Governments, so it may well be that unless the housing problem is tackled with great resolution by whoever may happen to be in power during the next 10 or 15 years, the housing problem will also probably determine the fate of Governments.
It is only with the leave of the House that I can say anything, but a number of hon. Members have asked for assurances and if I may give them I should be glad to do so. With regard to the observations of my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton), who referred to playing fields, on which money—the money of the public, charitable or otherwise—has been spent for the recreation of our people, I can certainly assure him that local authorities will be strongly discouraged from using playing fields for this purpose. Indeed, I hope there will not be any case where land so laid out will be passed by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Town and Country Planning, or indeed submitted by a local authority. It should be possible to obtain the total area which I envisage being dealt with under this Bill without using land of that kind.
My hon. Friend went on to express doubts about the vigour and clarity of the local authority's duty to remove the houses. I assure him that the Bill, which says that any authorisation shall be for a period of not longer than 10 years, means this: unless Parliament amends the law, at the end of 10 years a local authority not using this land as an open space will be liable to an action brought by any one of its ratepayers for misusing the land, which by that time, the authorisation having run out, it will be bound to use again as an open space. There are other protections also, however, because if my hon. Friend will look back at the earlier Act, the Act of 1944, he will see provisions which operate in two directions; the Minister can force the local authority to act and the local authority can force the Minister to act.
The hon. Member for Central Southwark (Mr. Martin) was troubled, and naturally so, about the particularly precious quality of the open spaces in such an area as his own constituency. I think it is extremely doubtful whether the London County Council will submit a proposition that a small Southwark square should be used for temporary housing. What one has much more in mind is the fringe of such an area—whether this particular area will come under consideration I do not know—as Clapham Common. That is the sort of area which is much more in one's mind as appropriate. The right hon. Baronet the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) restored some balance to the Debate when he deprecated the pessimism which was being expressed as to what our housing conditions would be in 10 years, and others took the same point of view. I can deal rather shortly -with the speech of the hon. Member for South Kensington (Sir W. Davison), who was not in his place to hear my exposition of the Bill and who is not in his place now. To say, as he did by implication, that to enable the city of Manchester to take the 3,000 houses which are its allocation, whereas without this Measure it would not be able to take more than 1,500, to say that that is a drop in the bucket in such an area is to misdescribe the whole problem.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) asked me for one or two assurances. He spoke with regard to fringes. Whether the assurance which he asked me to give related to the action which I personally would take or some Government of this complexion would take in the administration of this Bill, I do not really know. All I can properly say to-day is this: that the applications which we have received so far are in the great majority of cases, with only one or two exceptions, for the use of what would properly be described as fringes. I have in mind one case of a very large park of several hundred acres, which tapers down to something of a point—I think it is in Manchester—and the proposition there is to use a little more than the fringe, but a very small proportion indeed of the whole park. It would be lamentable to use the whole of this open space, but it would not be fair for me to express the view that fringes and fringes only are to be used in every case. After all, the justification for the Bill is in the speed and the economy of acquiring sites where there are roads and services. It is also in the desirability of using, in accordance with the best judgment of the local authority itself, the planning Minister and the housing Minister, the land which is available, and it may be that to go a little beyond the fringe and to take a corner will be proper in a few cases. A great deal of privately-owned land has already been taken for these purposes. Indeed, I have been in the position of a defendant in the courts of justice because my authorisation to take such private land intended for the building of private enterprise houses was challenged. The right land must be taken in every case.
That is all one can say. Strict lines cannot be drawn. Nor would it be right for me to say what would be done with regard to the order of removal. This is clear, however, that there is in this legislation a fixed limit for the removal of these houses. The intention of the Bill is clear: whatever happens, this 10 years is final with regard to open spaces. With regard to other sites, there may have to be in some particular area some extension. With regard to the use of open spaces there can be no extension without the further sanction of Parliament.